March 2009


Great Grandma Wise

I am in England while Pam is still back in Malaysia. The reason for my visit is my mother’s birthday. She is turning 90! Doesn’t look it, does she?

Mom is part of what has come to be called “the heroic generation”: those who fought Hitler in the last great war; many of whom died in places they had scarcely heard of before the war started. My father fought in Africa and India, running the motor pool at Cheringa in what is now Bangladesh, which was the airbase closest to the front line against the Japanese in Burma. While we were in Bangladesh ourselves I visited the cemetary where over half his regiment were buried in that conflict.

Needless to say Mom and Dad survived that war, Mom going through the Blitz in London and manning radar stations in the south. Married during the war, they were reunited after a separation of five years and began a family. I am the youngest of their three surviving children that emigrated to Canada in the mid-fifties to escape the privations of post-war England. With nothing more than courage and hope they began anew in Canada and built a life that saw all three of their children to a post secondary education that a devastating war had stolen from them. They retired back to England, and Dad passed away while we were in Germany in the mid-nineties.

All three of their children married and had children, giving them seven grandchildren. Three of those grandchildren are now married, giving them five great grandchildren. That’s fifteen people on this planet that owe their life and their heritage to this truly heroic couple. Only one of them remains, and at ninety Great Grandma Wise is still as sharp as she ever was, with all her faculties and memories intact. It has been a real delight to visit with her again.

Lincoln Bailgate

Spring has already arrived in England. The daffodils and crocuses are in bloom and the grass is green. Colin, my nephew, is eager to get on his fields and get the Spring planting underway. The warm Gulf Stream brings heat early to this part of the world, and the sun is up by six and beginning to have some strength.

On the cobblestone streets of this quaint provincial town are streams of shoppers, tourists and tradespeople who have barely missed a beat from their regular rounds since last autumn. Everyone complains bitterly about how cold it was last winter here, but there really was only a couple of major dumps of snow, and even that disappeared pretty quickly. Hardly worth a headline in a Canadian newspaper.

Street life is therefore possible for almost the entire year, and as a result there are little stores and shops, teahouses and pubs on almost every corner. Lincoln Bailgate, the part of town closest to the cathedral, is particularly thick with them, although Lincoln High Street is similarly busy. The Bailgate and High Street have been closed to traffic for years, as long as I have been coming here. People move around freely, from shop to pub without having to risk injury by dodging cars and trucks, as we do in Canada.

Because of our weather, our lack of city planning, our obsession with the automobile and our indolence, we in North America have allowed our street life to be choked by featureless malls. That hasn’t happened in England, nor in Europe. They have kept their charming individuality and the sturdy independence of their shopkeepers in defiance of the modern trend toward a uniform blandness. In terms of the quality of social life this gives, they win, we lose.

lincoln-cathedral

I was not born in Lincoln, but in Colchester, which is just outside of London. But as I was six when we emigrated to Canada, Colchester means little to me. Lincoln, on the other hand, was where my family settled when they moved back to England. First my sister, who married a Lincolnshire farmer, then Mom and Dad, when his company closed up shop in Canada, and relocated him back here. I have been coming here every two to five years to visit my family ever since.

Lincoln is everything you think of when you think of England; old, quaint and green. There are few hills in this farming county, but on top of the largest sits the imposing Lincoln Cathedral. Construction began in 972, and continued for some three hundred years; fathers passing their skills and their position in the guild to their sons for generations. The result is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture anywhere in Europe.

Coming here evokes a mixture of reverence and relief: reverence for the spiritual and historical traditions of my British heritage, and relief at being free of the terrible burden of that heritage. The beauty of Lincoln’s cloistered galleries carries the claustrophobia of its suffocating rituals that eventual choked the life of the Spirit of Christ’s church in England. Malaysia, with all of its draconian laws, has done less to inhibit the life-giving message of Christ’s resurrection and glory that the weight of that dead ecclesiastical tradition. All of England suffers from that irrepairable loss.

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We miss our friends Bill and Kim who were here with us last year and went home in June. They are our age with kids our age and we shared a similar love for adventure and music. We also shared a similar faith, which is also nice.

Both Kim and Bill were principals in Canada, Bill retiring a few years ago and Kim retiring just days before they flew to Malaysia. Both of them brought a level of competence and caring to the school where I teach that made a lasting impact on this educational environment. I was here in time to seeing the last regime at the school, and it wasn’t a pretty picture: angry and disappointed teachers; a spirit of selfishness and insularity that resisted change and innovation; acrimony and discord throughout the program.

Bill and Kim would have none of that. Their cheerful competence and get-it-done attitude swept through this place like a cleansing breeze. Clean-up days and class trips were organized; extra sessions laid on for English training; even staff meetings became more positive and goal-oriented. They just had no room in their busy lives for negative nonsense, and it simply disappeared. The new crop of teachers never knew anything different and they simply kept pace. The result is that we now have a different attitude here that is Bill and Kim’s lasting contribution to this school.

Although they have gone back to Canada, Bill and Kim are still impacting this program. They started a support group in Canada for Malaysian students who graduated from this program and are now studying in Canada. Recently they rented a bus and invited the ones who were in the Toronto area out to their house for a get together. Forty-five of them showed up! Our friends Ken and Susan, who were also part of the sea change that happened here, did a similar thing in Montreal, hosting thirty-five of them.

We miss our friends from last year, but we are grateful for the impact for good that they have had on so many lives in Malaysia and back in Canada. It is amazing what two caring people can do, and we are fortunate to count them among our friends.

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Going to the mall is very definitely a national pastime here and the malls are amazing.  Malls are open 365 days a year and are air conditioned, what’s not to like?  Our local mall includes a Lagoon Waterpark and two other theme parks as well as an ice rink.  There is even a local hockey league and several of the staff are key players.  As you can see by the picture, there is even a Wendy’s close at hand but sadly, no Tim Horton’s.

My birthday happened to coincide with a play-off game between two teams, each of which has one of our colleagues on the roster.  The group went out for supper at Tony Roma’s and then cheered for our favourite team.  Being teachers, of course we were assigned a team to cheer for and given banners to wave and there was much singing and cheering.  I am sure no one in that mall had ever heard the theme from Hockey Night in Canada before  and I am reasonably sure that they just thought we were all out of our minds.

Farshad and Les even treated the crowd to a post game, jersey removing “fight”.  It was good fun, with a great group of staff and hopefully Steve’s throat will heal before he goes to England this weekend.

glowing-sun-sun-prominence-ga

Our sun is a typical star, right? Nope, you couldn’t be more wrong, but your opinion is entirely understandable, since that is how it is often portrayed. In fact our sun is more massive than 95% of all stars. Stars without our sun’s mass are incapable of holding habitable planets in orbit, immediately eliminating them from contention for the possibility of sentient life.

So what about the 5% of stars that have our sun’s mass, or greater? Surely they could hold planets? True, and in fact a number of planets have been detected around stars more massive than our own. But their size is their nemesis. More massive stars are hotter and radiate substantially more ultraviolet light than our sun. Ultraviolet light breaks the bonds of biological molecules and UV light is itself disastrous for the formation of an atmosphere. Our sun emits less than 10% of its energy as UV light, making our sun very rare indeed.

But it is not only our sun’s mass and the nature of the radiation that it emits rare, but so too is its stability. Unlike many stars, our sun has singularity. Many stars are binary, and the nearest ‘one’ to us, Alpha Centauri, is in fact three stars in close proximity, making life impossible. Nor is our sun variable, as most stars are, emitting a change in the amount of radiation produced over time. Our sun is remarkably dull in this department, with almost a negligible variation in radiation emitted. Apparently this radiation is not only stable, it has been consistently so for a remarkably long period of time, perhaps as much as 5 billion years and will remain so long into the future, as much as another 5 billion by some estimates. These factors: distance from the cataclysmic center of the galaxy,  high mass, consistent radiation, low incidence of UV radiation, singularity and longevity make our sun almost unique in the galaxy.

Speculating about life around other suns is fun, and I love a good science fiction story as much (and probably more) than most. I will see the new Star Trek movie as soon as it hits the screens in KL. Aside from driving movies and science fiction novels, keeping the notion of extra-terrestial life alive is also a good funding strategy for NASA and other science agencies that depend on public acceptance for their financing. But beware of public opinion on this subject. It can be manipulated for purposes that serve the needs of the few, at the expense of the understanding of many. The Earth is rare, and perhaps unique.

Okay. Pam and I are new at this, and hosting a blog is going to take some getting used to. But we do want to stay in touch, and we are not too old to learn. So bear with us and forgive our mistakes as we attempt to navigate our way around this new domain.”

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It has now been two years since we started this adventure in blogging and it has been great.  We have often been frustrated with our total lack of knowledge  of computers and the terminology involved in this world but we have learned many things.  We are very grateful to our son, Jon who has been a huge source of information and encouragement and has bailed us out more than once.

Thanks to our blog stats we know we have 213 posts on our site and we have had close to 23,000 hits: 378 on our busiest day.  Sadly, we have had only 388 comments so please, if you drop by, say Hi.  Don’t worry, your comments will not go directly to the site as all comments must be approved, and can be edited, by us before they are posted.

At this point it is a real joy to have this web journal to keep as a record of all we have experienced in these past two years.  I must admit though that we still do not  fully trust computers yet, so now  want to figure out how to print it in hard copy.

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