Sounds Ancient

By The Hampshire Ponderer Mr and Mrs Ponderer walked out into the Mid Hampshire countryside on a recent fine day and found it a noisy place. The sounds of the muckspreader, chainsaw and distant traffic were superimposed on the background roar of no fewer than thirteen planes, counting the vapour trails, which perhaps had taken off from Southampton and Gatwick. The appropriate part of our brains did their bits by quickly filtering out this mechanical symphony so that we could concentrate on the soloists. Three buzzards kept us company for fifteen minutes while we walked up a wooded path circling, calling and gliding. Across the field alongside a ploughed patch skylarks zoomed upwards making us marvel how they could fly and sing without apparently pausing for breath. Then a gang of unidentified birds flew out of a tree as we came near twittering frantically. One sound we might have heard but didn’t was a bell. At different times we were in earshot of two church towers with bells but it was a Friday morning so not surprisingly no one was ringing.

The bells of St. Silin, Llansilin (c) disneyandy

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On the appreciation of beauty

By The Hampshire Ponderer This is a snapshot of the heather on Luccombe Down last month. For full appreciation Naturenet would need to be equipped with SmartSmell: the programme that conveys smells as well as words and images, and which it’s understood the editor is working on this at this very moment.

Heather on Luccombe Down

While standing in the heather we felt as if we were breathing air laced with a faint scent of liquid honey and an elusive astringent tang which turned out to be the bracken. On the same visit there were whinchats hopping about, who in their chattish fashion seemed unperturbed by the observers only a few feet away. Well groomed National Trust horses were grazing; dog walkers came and went; and the birds, horses and dogs all effectively reminded us how deficient in the five senses human beings are. We might score 60% for taste and touch, 50% each for seeing and hearing perhaps, but surely only a pathetic 5% for smelling. Of course we’ve got relatively big brains compared to other animals, but use them in such bizarre ways that they aren’t quite the bonus we might claim them to be. Allowing for this it does seem likely that we do have a capacity for appreciating beauty in, for instance, a drift of heather that birds, horses and dogs see in a more utilitarian way. However this capacity has come about in our evolutionary history, it takes its place in the subtle and constantly mobile process of conscious and unconscious thought that keeps us ticking over. Returning to one of The Ponderer’s preoccupations, it seems this process works in similar ways in all creative thought so that apparently differing parts of our lives such as music, scientific discovery and philosophical and religious explorations have a closer kinship than might appear on the surface. Professor Al-Khalili’s recent TV programmes on The Atom were a brilliant history of twentieth century particle physics. The series gave non-scientists an overview of the sequence of discoveries: beginning with Einstein, through quantum mechanics to a Cambridge Professor – whose name I didn’t catch – who is currently thinking seriously about parallel universes. It’s a study that has opened up knowledge about the structures and beginnings of essential matter. At each stage imagination and intuition had a place alongside formidable brain power. But often scientific thinking leads us to areas outside science, to ask questions that need ways of thinking involving decisions of right and wrong and, vitally, decisions where there is no clear good answer; where every possible capacity for creative thinking needs to be used. For this the experience of religious thought has a significant contribution to make. It only works as part of a discussion with a willingness to listen. If religion (or science for that matter) is dogmatic about behaviour and sees debate as a battle with winners taking all, we might as well stay at home watching the football/rugby/cricket or whatever unreality shows we enjoy. Here’s an autumny photo of a natural table d’hôte menu ” enough blackberries for the little boy to have with ice cream for his tea – and for the early birds too.

Blackberries for tea
The Hampshire Ponderer

Britain’s Hitler Oak succumbs… but was it the last of its kind?

Harold Whitlock was a British athlete who won the gold medal in the 50 kilometre walk at the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin. Most famously, the 1936 Olympics were marked by the success of Jesse Owens, the black US sprinter who upstaged Hitler by winning four gold medals. A lesser-known fact is that along with their gold medals, the champions of the 1936 Olympics were each presented with an oak sapling on behalf of Adolf Hitler.

Lovelocks' Hitler Oak
Another Hitler Oak, won by Jack Lovelock of New Zealand

The whips, each in a terracotta pot, were awarded by the German Olympic Committee. Although the extent of Hitler’s personal involvement in the scheme is not recorded, the potency of his name has made the tag of ‘Hitler Oak’ the one which people tend to remember. Perhaps not surprisingly, of the 130 trees presented, only a few are known to have survived (one source suggests only 16): some unmarked, a few celebrated. Great Britain won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics, so what happened to the British Hitler Oaks? The Observer runs a story which sheds some light on the fate of one, at least:

Harold Whitlock, the British long-distance walker… brought his sapling back to Britain, but decided against planting it in his garden in case he moved to a different address. So he donated it to his former school, the then Hendon Grammar School, where a ceremony marked the occasion. For 70 years it stood giving shade to generations of children and famed as a local landmark nicknamed the ‘Hitler Oak’. No more. Last month the magnificent 50ft tree was chopped down, severing a precious link with Britain’s sporting past. Hendon School explained that the tree had been diagnosed with a fungal disease and was in danger of falling down and injuring pupils.

A shame – but these things do happen. Mind you, the article goes on to quote Scott Sturgeon, head caretaker of Hendon School, saying:

The tree expert I work with said in 20 years he’d never seen such large spores

That doesn’t exactly give one confidence in his expertise – fungal spores are too small to see anyway, but perhaps he had particularly good eyesight. Interestingly, The Observer described Whitlock’s oak as “Britain’s only known [Hitler] oak“. Gilbert Addison, the Tree and Countryside Officer at Breckland Council commented on the story in the UK Tree Care Mailing List:

We’ve got a ‘Hitler oak’ in Norfolk awarded to a local broadsman along with a sailing medal in the ’36 Olympics. I worked on the tree back in the 80’s … The tree was still there in an inferior sort of way last winter.

And indeed Great Britain did win a gold medal in the 6m mixed sailing in 1936, so it looks as though another Hitler Oak still stands in England to preserve this curious quirk of history.

The 2012 Olympics: what hope for heritage now?

A couple of Olympics-related stories today combined to bring a red haze across The Ranger’s eyes. First, the new logo.

Olympics 2012

It’s probably not worth pouring any more hot coals of scorn onto this production – others have done it far more effectively than The Ranger ever could. It may not look a whole lot like Lisa Simpson performing a sexual act, but it looks enough like it (she’s on the right, if you’re still wondering) . International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said:

This is a truly innovative brand logo that graphically captures the essence of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The problem is, he’s probably right. This is what you get when a committee has

Who will really win the Olympic lottery?

The Ranger’s been gritting his teeth for a while now, hearing all sorts of bad noises emerging from London with respect to Olympic funding. Now, don’t misunderstand, the Olympics are very fine, and good for London. That’s not the issue. The Ranger is concerned with the money going to support the games, where it’s coming from – and what it will achieve.

That’s because he keeps hearing that the lottery will have to be paying out for some of it, and as he noted in a previous post:

…what will suffer as a result? Everyday lottery bids such as the ones we Rangers spend lots of time and effort producing, managing and supporting, and which pay the wages of quite a few of us. And it’s not just rangers. Small community groups and charities, culture, heritage, education, children’s facilities, health, regeneration projects… all those things which up to now the lottery has benefited, all will suffer: and the benefit will be concentrated on one main theme – sport – and one main region – London.

Worrying stuff. But just to make things a little grimmer, the Greater London Authority has produced a report from Prof Gavin Poynter and Dr Iain MacRury of the University of East London. The Telegraph describes some of its findings:

The 2012 Olympics will struggle to bring a boom in jobs, sport and housing, according to a new study. The event could result in “white elephant” venues, job losses and a “couch potato” generation hooked on television sports coverage. The report also claims it will be difficult to regenerate parts of east London, where the venues will be built. Researchers analysed the impact of events on Athens, Sydney, Atlanta and Barcelona. They found venues “struggled to make their mark” in improving employment and sports participation… Improvement in sports participation was “mixed, at best”, with Sydney experiencing small increases in seven Olympic sports, but a decline in nine.

So, not only might we pay more than we thought for the games, but they might not even deliver the things we hoped they would. That’s not really very good.