In this blogposting...*AGM XXXI
* Birdsong in the Trenches
* Wildlife at the Zoo
Proceed at your own risk...
Our next tumultuous AGM - and yes, it’s the 31st - will take place this upcoming Thursday 16 February at 1100.
The venue is new to AGMs - the Newcastle Art Centre. It’s at the town end of Westgate Road, almost opposite the Assembly Rooms. There’s a map in posting 337.
The Art Centre is a lovely place. At the front, it’s a shop selling all kinds of locally produced cards, gifts and crafts. At the back, it’s an art gallery and small cafe, which spills out onto a sheltered, hidden courtyard, where a unique sculpture will watch our proceedings and make sure we all have a splendid time.
It’ll be nice to see you there, whoever you are.
The Life’s Lessons debacle has itself turned into one of Life’s Lessons: Real life is far more inspirational than anything dreamed up on the internet.
As if to prove the point, a friend of mine has pointed me in the direction of an amazing new book. Its author, Bronnie Ware, worked for many years in palliative care for the dying as well as in various hospices. In her book, she records the commonest regrets people expressed in the their final few weeks of life - and they make illuminating and sobering reading.
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.”
This, she says, was the most common regret of all. Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams.
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
She says that every male patient she nursed said something like this. They had missed their children’s youth and the companionship of their partners.
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
So many people, she says, suppressed their feelings in order to keep the peace with others - and regretted it bitterly.
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
Many people regretted letting golden friendships slip away over the years.
“I wish I’d let myself be happier.”
Many people, says Bronnie, did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.
As a list of ‘If Onlys’, this is surely about as heartbreaking and as near-the-bone as it’s possible to get. Again and again, I’ve wondered if these sorrows and regrets of dying people are so common because they are built in to ‘the human condition’ and that, ultimately, most of us tend to live our lives in a way that leads us inevitably to express regrets like these.
I’ve thought about them so much that I’ve paraphrased them to make them into a kind of ‘code’ of the best advice available, handed down by the dying to the living...
Be true to yourself. Resist the temptation to live your life according to others’ lights.
Don’t work so hard.
Try to express your feelings whenever you can. Do not hide them.
Stay in touch with your friends and other people you value.
Nobody’s life is easy and some people’s lives are crowded with torment and pain of one kind or another. Even so, I believe that, somewhere amidst life’s trickeries and disappointments - its problems and hurt - this thought-provoking Code has a place.
BIRDSONG IN THE TRENCHES
The recent rather dreary BBC drama Birdsong has prompted a discussion in the Letters column of The Guardian about whether there really was birdsong in the atrocious battlefields of the First World War.
A reader wrote...
‘My father, an Oxfordshire lad who joined up aged 15 in 1914, once broke his almost total silence about the Great War to tell me about the goldfinches he had seen feeding on a few remaining teasels, and the sound of their singing in the wasteland between the British and German trenches.’
WILDLIFE AT THE ZOO
This, also from a recent Guardian, is sobering, too. But in an entirely different way.
You can take the animal out of the wild (though that's not to say you should). But you can't always take the wild out of the animal. Every once in a while, visitors to zoos get to see rather more of nature in the raw than they had perhaps bargained for.
It happened recently at Colchester zoo, when Ash, a nine-year-old female barn owl, flew into a window during a display and landed, dazed and unsteady, on a ledge in the lion enclosure – where one lion knocked her to the ground, and another ate her. ‘It was over in seconds,’ a visitor told the local paper. ‘People were horrified. Women and children were screaming. My little boy was in tears.’
Similar shock followed an incident at Chessington World of Adventures last May, when 20 shaken visitors saw a baby bearcat or binturong – cute doesn't do them justice – being summarily ripped apart by a pair of lions after it dropped into their cage from a tree.
A binturong or 'bearcat'
Abroad, visitors to Ankara zoo in Turkey last March watched a Bengal tiger kill a lion, ‘severing its jugular in a single stroke of the paw’, while others witnessed a fatal attack by Balou, a male Syrian brown bear, on Klara, a female, at Stralsund zoo in north Germany in 2009.
A Syrian brown bear
And visitors don't see everything: no one, for example, was there to observe the fatal scuffle at London zoo in May last year that led to the death of a seven-month-old baby gorilla, Tiny, at the hands of a new silverback male.
Zookeepers witness more – and are, sometimes, victims themselves. In Britain, three elephant keepers were killed by their charges in three different incidents in 2000 and 2001. In Caracas zoo in Venezuela in 2008, a student zookeeper was killed by a 10ft Burmese python, which then tried to swallow him.
The following year, a rare white tiger attacked and killed a keeper at Zion Wildlife Gardens in New Zealand, in front of eight foreign tourists.
And very occasionally, of course, visitors themselves can get hurt. That's rare, though: not all zoo inmates are like Santino, a 30-year-old male chimpanzee at Furuvik zoo in Sweden, who every morning for the past 11 years has collected a small pile of stones to lob at the hated human intruders. Fortunately, chimpanzees have really bad aim.
Wild animals are wild. Even (or maybe, sometimes, especially) in zoos.
I don’t know about you, but I’m on Santino’s side.
Incidentally, if you Google for an image of ‘Santino’, as I just did, this is what you get...
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