The mind has a habit of contrariness. Tell yourself you must do something, and it produces reluctance. Tell yourself you cannot do something, and it produces craving.
So it seems to be at the moment. We are in lockdown. The dictionary definition of the word is ‘a security measure taken during an emergency to prevent people from leaving or entering a building’, which would seem to describe current circumstances. But it also means ‘the confining of prisoners to their cells, as following a riot or other disturbance’.
Lockdown particularly means to be held in solitary confinement. It is perilously close to locked up, which means to be imprisoned, punished, or even mentally disordered. Lockdown means isolation, and it tends to be thought of as isolation of an involuntary kind.
The language of isolation is generally judgemental and derogatory. It describes a form of captivity that is more for the benefit of the rest of society than for the individual involved. They are ostracised, blacklisted, boycotted, avoided, expelled. Described as an outcast, a pariah, leper, exile, nonperson, reject. They have been sent to Coventry. They are by the world forgot.
But that’s nothing to the phrases used to describe someone who isolates by choice. Self-isolators, except in unusual circumstances, are judged to be antisocial, inhospitable, unfriendly, discourteous, standoffish, aloof, unapproachable, lonely.
Being alone is a very different thing to being lonely, but it is certainly a state of affairs that some people cope with and others prefer.
Why not, instead, be enjoying a period of seclusion, taking time out, in one’s den, study, or sanctuary? An anchorage is a safe harbour, but according to Shakespeare it also means rest or support to the mind. Whereas an anchorite or anchoret chooses to withdraw from the world for religious reasons. An eremite, a recluse, a hermit. You could use collocation to turn one of those negative words back on itself. Isolation doesn’t sound anywhere near as undesirable when you put splendid in front of it.
An island could be associated with being marooned, shipwrecked or castaway. But a private island is something to be prized, as is an island paradise. A hide-out is somewhere outlaws fall back to when being chased by the local sheriff. A hideaway, on the other hand, has romantic connotations.
People with busy lives pay fortunes to be off the beaten track for a while, to be far from the madding crowd, to cultivate one’s garden, or go on retreat.
Language and how we use it has endless effect on the way we feel, about ourselves and others. If someone asks you how you are, it’s a British bad habit to say, “Oh, not bad.” Or even worse: “Not too bad.” Negative phrases which seem to cover every eventuality from having just won the lottery to being in constant pain. “Not bad,” after all, is rather a long way from “Good.”
We live in uncertain and terrifying times. I do not try to make light of that. But our use of language, our choice of words, will affect how we get through this. Isn’t it time we learned to be a little more gentle with ourselves?
To kick off the new year, I wanted to finish my look back at the quirkier news items from the second half of 2019, as reported in The Guardian newspaper online.
The England team at the Women’s World Cup reach the semi-finals before going out to the USA, narrowly failing to become the first England team in a World Cup final since 1966. Snowball, the sulphur-crested cockatoo, not only dances but does his own choreography, too. As an incentive for good behaviour, prisoners are offered keys to their own cells. A message in a bottle dropped into the seas off the Australian coast in 1969, is finally discovered. A study reveals that chimps are more sociable after watching movies together. And Neuroscientists manage to decode brain speech signals into written text.
Having a healthy social life is shown to help ward off dementia in later life. Scientists produce ‘Atomik’ vodka from grain grown around Chernobyl. Two footbridges, cantilevered out from the cliffs with a 4cm gap in the middle, meet to connect Tintagel Castle with Merlin’s Cave in Cornwall. A cure for the previously deadly Ebola virus is tested successfully in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Growing up in areas with high air pollution is linked to mental health issues, a new study shows. Six portraits of the ‘Petworth beauties’ which had their lower legs removed in the 1820s when the owner of Petworth House, the third Earl of Egremont, required more room to hang other paintings, have been restored to full length by the National Trust.
It is thought the Loch Ness Monster could be a giant eel, after researchers from Otago University find the water contains no dinosaur or monster DNA. Astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope determine that there is water on planet K2-18b, in the constellation of Leo. The planet is twice the size of earth and orbits a cool red dwarf less than half the size of the sun, which warms the surface of the planet to approximately 10C (50F). The annual science prizes the Ig Nobel, given to work that ‘first makes people laugh, then makes them think’, are awarded in a ceremony at Harvard University. A British researcher, part of an international team, wins one for discovering which parts of the body are most pleasurable to scratch. The ankles, apparently, closely followed by the back and then forearm. A Japanese Airline indicates seats with infants up to two years old for the benefit of other passengers booking seats.
A council house development wins the Stirling Prize for architecture. The development of 105 environmentally and socially conscious houses in Norwich has been called ‘a masterpiece’. The tiny island of Sark in the Channel Islands is called a hotbed of crime by the outgoing constable in charge of law and order. The island, which has no cars, also has no customs post, and smuggling is rife, apparently. A man is arrested in the Netherlands after keeping his five adult children in a cellar for years, ‘waiting for the end of time’. They were discovered when one ‘ran away’ to a local bar. The Amazonian white bellbird is revealed to have the noisiest mating call of all avian species, at 125dB, three times louder than its nearest rival.
NASA’s Voyager 2 probe sends back its first message from interstellar space. First launched in 1977, the probe has been sending back pictures of the solar system. There’s a public outcry in Japan after a TV show exposes a business ban on female staff wearing glasses at work. The new Disney+ streaming service attaches warnings of ‘outdated cultural depictions’ to classic movies such as Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp. Thieves break into the Jewel Room at the Green Vault in Dresden and steal ‘cultural treasures’ of ‘immeasurable worth’ in what the German media describe as the biggest such theft since World War Two.
Mixed-sex civil partnerships become legal in England and Wales. An artwork that consisted of a banana duct-taped to a wall, which sold for $120,000, is eaten by a performance artist while on display in Miami. He said ‘he was hungry.’ A painting believed to be by Gustav Klimt, Portrait of a Lady, is found hidden in a wall after being missing for 23 years. Certain species of crocodile can perform a horse-like gallop, where others can only do a fast trot, it has been discovered. Tests were carried out in Florida. What or who they were chasing is not recorded… Fallon Sherrock becomes the first woman to beat a man at the PDC World Darts Championship.
This week’s Word of the Week is the buzz word of 2019, prorogue, meaning to delay, postpone, to discontinue or end a session of a legislative assembly, from the Latin prorogare,to ask publicly.
As this is my last MurderIsEverywhere blog of 2019, it seemed only right to look back at just a few of the oddball news stories that have caught my eye this year.
In January, it was announced that by the time the average child in the UK reaches the age of ten, they have eaten eighteen years’ worth of sugar. As part of the pre-Brexit preparations, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, awarded a £13.8m contract for additional ferries to a start-up company that didn’t actually own any ships and had never operated such a service before.
A yacht called Wild Eyes, which was abandoned in the middle of the Indian Ocean in 2010 by teenager Abby Sunderland, who was attempting a round-the-world voyage, was spotted floating upside-down near the Australian coast after eight and a half years adrift. A beach in Ireland disappeared overnight. Two teenage Indian girls posed as boys for four years in order to keep their father’s barber’s shop going when he became too ill to work. They were honoured by the Indian government. The British intelligence service, MI5, was named among the best LGBT-inclusive employers by the equality charity, Stonewall.
The largest collection of protective symbols to ward off evil were found in a small cave in the East Midlands at Creswell Crags. Researchers discovered that the stripes on a zebra deter flies from landing on it. They experimented by dressing horses up in striped rugs. Numbers of Scottish Terriers—the most famous incarnation of which is possibly the piece in Monopoly—have fallen to an all-time low. Susan Rennie published a dictionary of author Roald Dahl’s most inventive expletives.
Read the rest of this post over on Murder Is Everywhere.
In my last blog I talked about the instances of flooding in the UK and touched briefly on the problems it causes. Or, more to the point, the mess it leaves behind. Of course, if you actually find yourself caught up in flooding, the last thing that should be on your mind is how you’re going to get raw sewage out of the living room carpet.
You have far more important things to worry about.
Like not drowning.
In a House
If you’re in a building, unless it’s in direct serious danger of becoming completely submerged, they reckon your chances of survival are far greater if you stay inside.
Turn off the mains electricity and gas.
Close all the doors and windows.
Fill empty containers with drinking water as tap water will quickly become contaminated.
If you’ve had enough prior warning, think about moving sentimentally important items onto tables or to an upper floor. If you haven’t had much warning, leave it. Nobody ever said during a eulogy, “She died trying to save her credenza. It was what she would have wanted…”
Move to the uppermost floor with water, food, spare clothing and flashlights. Also take a ladder with you, if one is needed to access the roof space, just in case the water gets really high.
If you are forced to take the the roof, rope together all the members of your party to the chimney, so no-one is swept away. If no rope is available, use bedsheets or blankets, knotted together.
Read the rest of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
Do you recognise this woman? No? How about the name Lhakpa Sherpa? Still ringing no bells?
Still nothing? I am as unsurprised as I am saddened.
Lhakpa Sherpa lives in Connecticut. She washes dishes in a restaurant for minimum wage. And yet she has conquered Mount Everest.
Lhakpa was the first Nepalese woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest and make it back alive. She climbed Everest eight months after giving birth to her first child, and again while two months pregnant with another.
One of eleven children, Lhakpa is around 45, although as she and all her siblings were born at home, no accurate records of birthdays were kept. Her whole family are Sherpas. One brother has summited ten or eleven times, another eight times. Her younger sister has done it once.
But Lhakpa is the current holder of the World Record for women. Despite this, her name is almost unknown, her accomplishments unsung, and her climbing efforts unsupported by the kind of corporate sponsorship that has become so familiar for such a remarkable athlete.
Read the rest of this piece on Murder Is Everywhere.
Recently on the news there have been a lot of pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, mounted on an eye-catching white horse, riding through snow up the sacred Mount Paektu, the highest mountain in the country.
It struck me when I saw those pictures that there was something vaguely familiar about them. It didn’t take long to recall why. Back when I was a horse-mad small child (and indeed, a horse mad NOT-so-small child) I had a wonderful book about famous horses through history. One of them was a small grey Arabian stallion, Marengo, who belonged to the Emperor Napoléon I of France.
Napoléon apparently once told an artist who inquired how he’d like to be portrayed, “Paint me calm, on a spirited horse.”
It is said that the Emperor owned 130-150 horses during his career, but the most famous of these is probably Marengo.
Napoléon Bonaparte was noted for liking small, agile horses although it is said that he was not a particularly skilled horseman. He was raised modestly on the island of Corsica, and did not learn to ride until beginning his military career. He had joined the artillery and was serving as an officer when Revolution broke out in France in 1789. Capitalising on the opportunities provided by the Revolution, he climbed the ranks very rapidly—he was a general by the time he was twenty-four.
Read the rest of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere
As climate change starts to move up a gear, so we begin to experience greater extremes of weather. Even in the normally temperate UK, last month’s heatwave has given way to torrential rain, high winds, and flooding. (Yeah, welcome to August.)
I’ve been interested in extreme weather for many years. In fact, one of the things I’ve always wanted to do is go tornado chasing. Just as long as I didn’t have to get too close.
But, with this in mind, I wondered what were the most extreme instances of extreme weather that had ever been recorded. And if you’ve wondered about that, too, read on…
When it comes to the worst recorded rain, it rather depends on how you choose to measure it. The most rain in one minute, for instance, was 31.2mm/1.23in in July 1956 in Unionville, Maryland. Holt, Missouri had the most in an hour—305mm/12in in June 1947.
When it comes to really being hit by rain, however, you need to go to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean during cyclone season. During Tropical Cyclone Denise in January 1966, Cilaos on Réunion recorded 1825mm/71.9in of rain in 24 hours. In January 1980, Cyclone Hyacinthe brought Commerson the most rain in a single tropical storm—a whopping 6433mm/253.3in. And Cyclone Gamede hit the same place again in 2007, this time dumping a record 4869mm/191.7mm of rain in four days.
Just in case you were wondering, the least rainy place on record is Quillagua in Chile, which receives less than 0.2mm/0.0079in per year.
The most snow within a twenty-four-hour period was in Capracotta, Italy in March 2015, when 2.56m/100.8in fell. The most in a calendar month was 9.91m/390in in Tamarack, California in January 1911.
The widest area ever covered by a single snowfall was when between 1-76mm/0-30in fell across nine countries in South Africa in August 2012. The deepest snowfall recorded was on Mt Ibuki in Japan in February 1927 when 11.82m/38.8ft was recorded.
Read the rest of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.