Wednesday 22 August 2012

Star spotting and Emma's book club

A lesson in science

By Jared Tennant (Perseid meteor shower) [CC-BY-2.0 ( or CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jared Tennant via  Wikimedia Commons 

Sitting in the middle of the green outside my house armed with a hoodie, fold-out chair and a glass of wine is one of the more unusual ways I’ve spent a Saturday night. And it was well worth it.

The challenge I picked out of the Hat on August 10 for the following week was to create and name my own cocktail. But the next evening, while I was sat in with my boyfriend and a bottle of wine, my ‘I want to be an astrophysicist’ youngest brother told us that there was going to be a show in the sky at around 1am.

A quick update from Brian Cox on Twitter (thank you technology) confirmed that a meteor shower was due to pass over the country that night (not that I ever doubted George was right). I’m not sure whether it was the alcohol or the geek in me that got me so excited but I decided that I would be staying up to watch the meteor shower and that my first for the week was actually going to be stargazing, and not the indulgence of more alcohol.

I found it extra exhilarating that I could share my experience with people around the world via Twitter (whether the world wanted to know about it or not) and that I could use other people’s tweets to work out where we would stand the best chances of seeing some shooting stars.

And I learnt a lot in the hour or so leading up to midnight, when the streetlights are turned off in our area, and most of it came from the Meteorwatch site. So, FYI, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every year through July and August, reaching a peak at around the August 12 – 13. During their peak time, the rate can be up to 100 per hour. The Perseid shower is brighter than most and, because it happens during the warmer nights of August, it make them a good starting point for the budding astronomer. The Perseid meteors are tiny particles of debris which fall from the tail of the comet 109P/Swift Tuttle (I know you are impressed). When they collide with the Earth’s atmosphere they burn causing the streaks and flashes in the sky known as shooting stars (therefore shooting stars are actually not stars at all).

However, my own smart-sounding tweets about #ISS and #perseid were slightly undermined by my visit to and my failing to learn to recognise a single constellation. Oh well, thanks to Men in Black, I’ll always know Orion’s Belt. I can live with that.

By NASA (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
We also got to see the ISS pass overhead

But, after all the build up, 45 minutes of sitting out, we had seen nothing.  Nothing but an orange glow of streetlights coming from the town centre (in the direction I’d been expecting to see the shower).

And then George piped up with a “oh, I think I just saw one.” Then boyfriend Glenn did too. Then it was me sat there, the only one not to see a shooting star, while these two tried to explain it to me as proof that they weren’t just trying to wind me up.

And then nothing again for ages. Just me sat there, the girl 20/20 vision next to two spectacled guys and I was the only one yet to see anything. As the girl who really wanted to wear glasses as a teenager, only to be told that she had perfect vision and could go years without revisiting the optician, I didn’t think it was fair that they got to have the cool glasses and the chance to see the meteors first.

Add to this the creepy noises coming from the bushes, and talks about how centrifugal forces are ficticious (apparently it’s centripetal. Yeah, it went a bit over my head too) I was just about ready to give in. I’d seen a few stars and I could just make a cocktail. It would be fine.

Then an unmistakable bright flare fell down the left side of the line of houses in front of us, looking a little bit like the falling embers of a firework.

Saturday 11 August 2012

I don't know what to say.

I don’t know what to say.

Always the first reaction when someone knows that you’ve lost someone. And, all things considered, I don’t think it’s a bad reaction at all. But if you do want more of an idea of what I think you should say (because clearly I am an oracle of all death and bereavement now) read on.

First off, I want to point out that this post was inspired by the video below, which was part of the Jezebel’s ‘ask a mortician’ series. It also covers such gripping questions as ‘Can you tattoo a body after death?’ and ‘What happens to dead bodies in space?’.

I will admit that the biggest reason I like the video so much is because I think the woman is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met-but-not-actually-met on the internet. But she also has some interesting points as well as being super cool.

Obviously suicide come with its own set of issues that are sometimes different to other bereavements. I think if you loose somebody to suicide you worry that people may not be as sympathetic because of the element of choice involved. Luckily, I’ve found this has not been the case but it was something I was concerned about when my brother died.

In fact, in general, I have found that most people’s natural reactions are usually comforting and appropriate and I think that, on the whole, people worry about offending or saying the wrong thing far too much. But, in my experience, some people do come out with some corkers when looking for the right words to say in an uncomfortable situation. So if you want some advice on what I think then this is it:

Wednesday 8 August 2012

What's in The Hat?

As promised, here is a list and short explanation of the firsts that are in The Hat:
  • Read a book by an author I've always wanted to read - This is what I picked out of The Hat this week and, after much deliberation, I've chosen to read Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent. I do actually have quite a long list of authors and books I want to read but never get round to picking up so I'm not sure why I've chosen this beast of a book to read in a week. But I'm getting through it. 
Ok, so it's two books in one but even half of this monster is
quite a lot to get through in a week
  • Eat something new - I've tried quite a few different foods in my life time. The one that always springs to mind when I think of unusual food experiences is walking round Gatorland in Florida, holding and cooing over the baby alligators, throwing hot dogs to the fully grown crocs and then eating them all in a kids 'gator nuggets' meal. Yum. And then there were the bits in the soup in Cambodia that I initially thought were mushrooms but actually turned out to be some animal's intestines. But, despite such culinary heights as these, there are still plenty of foods I want to try. 
  • Cook for my parents for a week - Living at home, I miss choosing and cooking my own meals. I could just do this anyway but it's so much easier having somebody sort out dinner and cook for you. So I thought I'd be nice (and get to eat exactly what I want to eat) for a week. 
  • Try a new martial art - This is one I am a bit worried about. I tried Ju Jutsu (NOT jujitsu, apparently there's a difference. Who knew?) once in the spirit of finding an activity that my boyfriend and I could take part it together. It all went downhill from the moment I was asked to do a forward roll. But I feel like it would be cool to be a kickass black-belt and there's nothing I won't try in the pursuit of looking even cooler. 
  • Bake a soufflĂ© -  Notoriously     difficult to cook. And, good or bad, I thought the pictures would make a good blog post in themselves. 
  • Knit something - I've wanted to learn how to knit for ages. Started so many scarves when I was younger and never got more than an inch in length.
  • Try a new sport - I've never been one for sporting activity but I'm sure somewhere out there is a sport that is made for me and I would really really enjoy if only I could just find it. All I know is that it's not squash. Or Jujustu. 
  • Perform a random act of kindness - I remember reading about this 'random act of kindness' malarkey quite a while ago and thinking it seemed like a lovely little idea. The kind of lovely little idea you think 'awww' and then do nothing about. But my first post on this blog, and the Aung San Suu Kyi quote, got me thinking about it again. 

Thursday 2 August 2012

The development of loving-kindness

Of all weeks to visit the Ipswich Buddhist Centre, I picked the night when they were discussing Buddhism and death. Pretty appropriate, I think, considering the reason I ended up going was due to this blog. But it did make for a more intense evening than I was prepared for.

The task was to go to a meditation session but, having been curious about Buddhism in the past, I decided to go to the newcomers' night, which is held once a week. The idea of the evening is to provide a relaxed and informal session where meditation beginners and those who are new to Buddhism can go to find out a bit more.

After being made to feel welcome and having a brief chat with some of the other people there, we were taken upstairs to a quiet room to meditate. I really had no idea what to expect but there were plenty of cushions and blankets and mats and to make you feel comfortable while sitting and there was plenty of advice offered also.

Not sure I'm quite ready for this yet...
Picture by Tevaprapas Makklay

 The meditation was The Metta Bhavana, or development of loving-kindness. It is a meditation to help you become kinder to yourself and others.  

Now, I’m not a religious person, But who also doesn’t want to develop a more ‘warm and open heart’? I think spending 30 minutes sitting quietly and thinking warm and positive thoughts towards yourself and other people can’t be a bad thing.

Although I found my concentration wondering at a few points, I did find the experience very relaxing and I’m now keen to practise it again.

As well as the calm and focus of meditation, hearing of some of the concepts of Buddhism – the interconnectedness of living things, nothing is permanent, karma and re-birth – in the past have made me curious to learn more. When I was travelling in South East Asia I visited quite a few Buddhist temples and spoke to a lot of people who practised the religion but I still feel I know relatively little about it.

That is why I choose to go to the newcomer’s evening rather than just the meditation session earlier in the week. The evening also featured a discussion on a concept of Buddhism; this week’s topic being death. Considering they discuss 21 different topics on rotation, I did pretty well to come along on one the two weeks of the year they dfocus on death!

What was said was interesting. In basic terms, Buddhists believe in rebirth and the idea that the consciousness moves on when the body dies. After a talk about these beliefs, there was a chance to contribute to an open discussion. Much of the discussion focused around people’s experiences of ‘letting go’ when older relatives, who have been suffering with a disease, and seeing their death as something positive.

While there was some talk of unexpected death, it was mostly focused on how it can be a reminder of your own imminent demise, how death is inevitable and that nothing is permanent, but little of it seemed particularly helpful for somebody grieving an unexpected death. 

I am in no doubt that, had I been braver and brought the issue up myself, that they would have been open to talking and perhaps something more comforting for me would have come from the discussion. But I am never really one to speak out in group conversations, despite feeling welcome and engaged.

There was one quote that I found comforting. It said that death was just an enforced period of meditation. Given the positive experience I found meditation to be, I think that idea is reassuring.    

Ipswich Buddhist Centre holds its Newcomers' Night is every Wednesday between 7:30 - 10pm