Mystery box

These days, I wonder who I am writing to. I suppose I write to myself, perhaps my future self. Or as a process of putting down my thoughts on a screen to crystalise them so as to put them into boxes, that I’m so often told I like to put things in.

But it’s funny how much attention one can pay to one’s thoughts, which are mostly formed from passing phases, specific scenery, other people’s thoughts and of course hormonal/neurotransmitter influences. Why even write them down when they may be so temporary? Why immortalise them in this digital realm?

I asked my neuroscience professor last year, where exactly in the brain we have our thoughts. Is it in the speech generation area? Is it in memory? I believe he said the speech generation region (I must research this further). But so often, our thoughts need not be said outloud and usually we can think far quicker than we can physically speak. Those who cannot speak due to damage to this area, can surely still think in words. It is that they merely (and sadly) cannot express them aloud.

This professor also said/quoted within a lecture that “the brain is big enough to ask questions of how it works but is it big enough to understand the answers? So far, I think not.”

When he and I became side tracked in a dissertation meeting recently, discussing the vastness of the universe and the answers to questions that generate more questions, he confessed that he would like to “read the last page of the novel” if he could but that he will no doubt die before that’s a possibility.

I disagreed and said that I wouldn’t want to read it, that surely there won’t ever be a last page.

I enjoy that we don’t understand everything… That we don’t know exactly what is outside our universe, besides more of them. That we don’t know exactly how we apes came to have the large, flexible brain power that we do (although there are a few decent theories). That we don’t know exactly why faith/hope in something enables people to heal or survive more successfully than those without belief (even when under placebo medication). And that we don’t really know what love is.

There are a multitude of things which remain just out of human reach, out of our understanding.

And long may it remain, that answers lead to further questions and that I have a mystery box full of all the black, white and complex greys of the universe to put them in.


Here on Earth (An excerpt)

“Unlike Darwin, Wallace seems to have had no fear that an understanding of evolution would corrupt public morality – indeed he saw the evolutionary process, and our understanding of it, as potentially ushering a wonderful future.  I think that’s because Wallace realised that while evolution by natural selection is a fearsome mechanism, it has never the less created a living, working planet, which includes us with our love for each other, and our society.  When I look out of the windows of my house near Sydney I can see the world of Wallace’s vision.  It is manifest in a graceful pink-barked angophora tree that spreads a bounteous shade – a tree composed of billions of cells.  Once, the ancestors of chloroplasts that give its leaves their green colour were free-living bacteria.  Then, aeons ago, they came to live within a single-celled, primitive plant.  Today, so complete is the union of these once free-living and only remotely related organisms that most of us think of them as one, in this case a tree.

There is a more modest tree nearby called the scribbly gum, a whitish, twisted thing that bears an indecipherable script written on by a beetle on its bark.  The beetle cannot live without the tree, and the tree cannot live without its invisible partner, a fungus so humble that it cannot be seen, which sheaths intimately the scribbly gum’s finest rootlets and improves the tree’s access to nutrients.  Fungus, beetle, bird, tree, and the human sitting in its shade, joyed by the song of the bird and the thought that a beetle has learned to write on bark.  We are part of an interdependent community.

And then there is me.  Billions of cells cooperating seamlessly at every moment and a brain made up of a reptilian stem, a middle mammalian portion, and two highly evolved yet relatively poorly connected hemispheres somehow add up to that thing I call me.  And beyond that miracle of cooperation is my wider world, made up of a web of loves that I could not live without: spouse, children, parents, friends.  Who is to say that marriage cannot be any less complete a union that that between a chloroplast and the cell that hosts it?  Beyond my family circle there is my city with its millions of residents, my country, which coordinates actions through ballot box, and beyond that my planet with its countless dependent parts.  Our world is a web of interdependencies woven so tightly it sometimes becomes love[….]

And from the love that sustains my family to the beetle that writes on the tree, every bit stems from evolution by natural selection.

If competition is evolution’s motive force, then the cooperative world is its legacy.  And legacies are important for they can endure long after the force that created them ceases to be.”

Tim Flannery, 2010, Here on Earth: A Twin Biography of the Planet and the Human Race Penguin Books; p30-31

Happy Valentines Day

Long live love


Ducks don’t give a shit

Christmas day, 1pm.

It is that time of year, where one is meant to feel happy and spend joyous time with ones you love.  So, for those of us who, with the natural ups and downs of life, are going through a dip, it can be quite dreadful.  There is all of this time.  No-one wants to do any work until a few days into January so you can’t throw yourself into anything else either.  Only the abundance of space and awareness that you should be grateful to have love in your life to fall in to.

And I am grateful.  I really am.  I dedicate a significant part of every single day that I wake up, to be grateful for having life within me and surrounding me.  And for so much more that need not be written.  I will never stop practising gratitude.  But these these short, grey, cold days don’t make it easier.  There is nothing ‘natural’ that can bring you relief from acting your way through this time of year.

That is, except ducks!

Because I remembered on a lovely walk today, that the ducks don’t give a shit that it’s Christmas do they?

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.  – Albert Einstein


p.s.  Merry Christmas  😉


All the light we cannot see

“Consider a single piece glowing in your family stove.  See it, children?  That chunk of coal was once a green plant, a fern, or reed that lived one million years ago, or maybe two million, or maybe one hundred million.  Can you imagine one hundred million years?  Every summer for the whole life of that plant, its leaves caught what light they could and transformed the sun’s energy into itself.  Into bark, twigs, stems.  Because plants eat light, in much the way that we eat food.  But then the plant died and fell, probably into water, and decayed into peat, and the peat was folded inside the earth for years upon years – eons in which something like a month or a decade or even your whole life was just a puff of air, a snap of two fingers.  And eventually the peat dried and became more like stone, and someone dug it up, and the coal man brought it to your house, and maybe you carried it to the stove, and now that sunlight – sunlight one hundred million years old – is heating your home tonight…

Open your eyes, he said, and see what you can see with them before they close forever.” (All the light we cannot see – by Anthony Doerr)

When I was twenty-two years old, I went to the Belizean rainforest for two months to investigate the “habitat tolerance and niche partitioning” of two endangered frog species for my MSc biodiversity research project.

It was a conservationist’s dream; seclusion, deep, deep jungle and far fewer signs of human life than wildlife.

A symphony of howler monkeys to wake up to, a chorus of cicadas to lull me to sleep.  Days of both scorching hot sunshine and cloudy haze, nights of insane wind and thunder storms – the kind that could bend palm trees as though a mere daisy in the hands of a child.   The kind that can only be brewed over the top of thousands upon thousands of trees rooted over rolling mountains.

No electricity, no phone, no internet, no books, no people and no way of communicating with any.  (That is, except the local day workers who came to maintain the trails for public access throughout the day.)

During the day I spent my time wrestling with ants and jungle mice for my food stash which, each four days or so, took 20km, 4 hours and too many potential mosquito-borne diseases to go and collect to bring back to camp on foot.  I spent the nights venturing out into rivers I’d mapped out, with only a torch on my head and a pen & paper in my hand,  scanning the river banks seeking the reflective red eye shine unique to amphibians, hoping to find the species I was after.  Swatting mosquitoes and all sorts off me, praying to the universe that a jaguar wouldn’t fancy her luck tackling a lone female human to bring to her young.

Some nights, waking up in complete darkness (darkness unattainable within a city), accompanied with the deafening sounds of the night-time forest, I would think I had blacked out or fallen asleep out on the trail, under a tree.  Only to then feel around and find myself (thank f**kfully) in a cotton-sheeted bunk bed.

Each night I would be pumped up to my eyeballs with cortisol, terrified of entering the jungle alone and walking into the darkness.  I persuaded myself that it was far safer here than walking through the lit streets of Leeds at night.  I encouraged myself to remember what a unique experience it was to be witnessing such beautiful wildlife without disturbing it (as you would in a pair or a tour group).  I also knew that in hindsight, it would be one of the most valuable experiences of my life.  So I had to patiently and dedicatedly persevere through the isolation and nightly stress before I could feel that way.

By the time I left the depths of the jungle and came home via Miami International airport, after not seeing myself in a mirror for a very long time, I remember feeling like I had changed.  I had become aware of how different life could be away from home, of how much of earth still had nature as its only law and of how much I cherished that.  But also how much I, although a conservationist, valued people.

Eight years later I find myself back in university studying optometry* and often being asked how I could explain such a career change.  To me, the two tied together so seemingly, although I have often found it hard to explain.  But it is as Anthony Doerr so masterfully wrote above; it is all the light we cannot see.  And that I hope I might be able to contribute, even if in the smallest of ways, to remind you and me both to open our eyes, and see what we can see with them before they close forever.

Who would believe that so small a space could contain all the images of the universe. – Leonardo da Vinci 



*Optometry: A health care profession which involves examining the eyes and applicable visual systems for defects or abnormalities as well as the medical diagnosis and management of eye disease. 


Dear Bed

We first met on Fulham High Street.

The only reason that I was on that side of London was because we’d just been to a red wine night at Tim and Gi’s.  We had discussed the usual; life’s curiosities, how to put wrongs to rights and when the guys were going to open their own pie and mash shop on the high street.  The next morning, over a perfectly brewed cup of tea from a teapot, they told us about you.

I wasn’t particularly interested in you at first.  You were just lying there, ginormous.  You seemed high maintenance and quite dull, lacking in energy.  Something that only old people would be interested in.

I had absolutely no idea. 

The sales guy told me how supportive you would be, how you would conform to my being in a way that I had never experienced before.  Each individual aspect of you would enable two of us to make it through the night, without even a peep.  He encouraged us to get closer to you.  I significantly remember how disappointingly little bounce you had on first impact.  As I laid there just waiting, with sales man talking away, everything gradually began to go quiet…  I could feel your cushioning moulding around me, a gentle yet sturdy pressure.  The way you pressed against my waist and yet gave way to my hips.  I had never felt anything like it.

I knew then that I had to have you in my life.

You took weeks to come.  There were so many painful, early mornings, waking up with the cold, hard feeling of the faux wooden floor beneath as the last of the air leaked out from under us.
We go through life, completely unaware of what we may be lacking sometimes.  What beautiful things are out there that could add so much value and joy to our lives, things which we may have never even considered.  But then one day, someone or something enters your life and from that moment, you can barely picture your life without them.

I think I cried with joy when you arrived.

Over the first couple of years, I remember how well you held up.  I really was able to sleep, undisturbed throughout the entire night for one of the first times in my life.  I hadn’t known I was capable of it.  But however fantastic you were at night, during the day you were gradually becoming the mark of things going sour.  Or perhaps you simply highlighted the fact that there was and would always be something a little sour.

Gradually, these sour occasions evolved into something much larger than yourself, and resulted in the huge upheaval that followed.  From here, I no longer even associated you with the bitterness.  Instead, you became my rock.  For a few weeks, I barely left your side, and you stayed with me, supporting me through the longest, darkest nights I’ve ever had.

When it was time to move, I insisted on you coming with me.  So you did.  I made space for you in my life and you stayed with me, as a constant, through the most changeable and mind-shifting year of my life.  Together we experienced a succession of new things, you were open and welcoming to them all.

But you remained mine.  You were mine to come home to at the end of every stupid, wonderful and disastrous day.  Throughout the new, you and I stuck together.  I didn’t need anyone else and I didn’t want to share you with anyone else.

When it was time to move again, this time I couldn’t take you with me but I refused to give you up.  So my parents agreed they would look after you until I came back at some point.

And while I was away, I never forgot about you.  Every night I was acutely aware of what I was missing.  Because once you have knowledge of how great something can be, you can’t undo that.  So I longed for you.  I would tell strangers about you.  You were the only thing that I missed from home.  The routine of having you in my life, was something that I knew I wanted for myself again one day.

The first time I got you back, almost 10 months later, I can remember falling into you.  I laid there smiling for almost an hour, just appreciating having you back.  I felt such enormous gratitude for having you there.  As you are now still, here in this room with me.

But now, the time has come to give you up.

I can’t say that I’m excited about it.  We have gone through so much together.

More recently, you have kept me company whilst going through a whole new range of challenges.  Challenges which I would never have suspected that I’d take on when I first met you.  As I said, I had absolutely no idea what future was to lay ahead of us.

And contrary to my first years with you, my last year with you has been scattered with the sweetest and most beautiful of occasions.  Reminding me, that it was never your fault all that time ago.  And now that I’m willing to share you with someone else,  I think it’s time to let you go.

Be good to your new home because they’re good friends of mine and most of all, because I know you can be.  You beautiful, life-changing object.

Thank you.


I grew up in a house of hoarded junk.  The utility room cupboards overflowed with collections of old margarine tubs, takeaway boxes, 100’s of jam jars and whatever else my mum could perhaps foresee using in her utopian future where all food she made had its own perfectly sized container to reside in until a later date.  Be it 2 days in the fridge or 20 years in the freezer.

My mum and brother both like(d) to hold on to stuff.

My Dad did not.  You could see it in his face.  He really, really did not.

I mostly just didn’t like the mess and claustrophobia that it created.

Seven years since that house has been lived in by my family and 37 years since my parents’ wedding day;  I was moved this weekend when I saw my Dad eye up the tiniest, most ridiculous-sized, little jam jar (which we had just used to cover a scone in) and then pocket it to take home for my Mum.




Don’t build a home in someone else my friend, don’t build a home on moving ground.
Don’t intertwine your foundations to another, don’t live a life of being bound.

Don’t watch life pass you by my friend, don’t sit still and stare.
Don’t take a backseat ride through this world, don’t say life is unfair.

Don’t pass up any opportunity my friend, don’t fail to recognise choice.
Don’t move the way fear makes you move, don’t ignore the power of your voice.

But that’s just it, don’t listen to me my friend, there is no “don’t” worth taking.

All there is, is the way you want to move, and knowing that this life is yours for the making.