#SundayBlogShare – The Sound of Silence

Some days there’s so much noise around me I think I’m going to lose my mind. Noise from thoughts, caterwauling from the kids, traffic, horns, sirens, TV, radio and so on. Some days I long for silence; to retreat into an inner sanctum, where there’s respite from the onslaught of the world. Meditation helps, and so does playing the violin. Sometimes I long to hear the sound of your voice. But sometimes only silence will do…

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The sound of silence, substrate of creation…

Noise of nothingness filling, expanding senses,

Priming them to detect violent vibrations,

Scales of dainty decibels, sonorous caresses.

Listen well; distinguish subtle intonations,

Auditory input on waves of turbulent air,

A tendency to love pulsing impressions,

Emanating forth, emulating, wishing to share…

silence-harp-in-concert

Silence surrounds; the base note of existence…

Without that peace, would I appreciate sound?

Lilting of inner voice, harmony not dissonance,

A palette on which to speak, sing and listen is profound.

Silence: a constant companion, blank canvas for music,

The space between notes, said Claude Debussy,

Clasping violin, I perform my favourite acoustic,

Exploring the infinite waters of a fathomless sea.

silence-panorama

Sounds can nourish – biting into crunchy apple,

Or jangle cells, like long finger nails on a blackboard,

The terrifying cacophony of war, sound of battle,

Some are sweet, like a lover’s kiss, desired, adored.

Some are jolting, startling – a sudden, strident scream,

Soft tears of God; comforting, steady rain drops,

Splashing onto Earth, in relentless, rhythmic stream,

Solace for my soul, time to ponder, until it stops.

silence-rain

Sounds carry me to exotic, far flung places,

Where turbulent waves crash over distant lands,

Creatures howl and cry, endless echoes, many faces,

Inaudible grains of sand slip through my hands.

Floating on a breeze, flowers whisper the joy of scent,

Icy, cruel winds have their own sharp language,

Thunder fulminates across quivering landscapes, spent,

Hear my heartbeat; primordial thud – free from anguish.

silence-barn-thunderstorm

Life force emanates from all that is – eternal silence,

Out of the divine shroud a rustle, a breath: quiet, loud,

Familiar sounds bond to heart, enable resilience,

Earth’s endless maelstrom, amorphous as clouds.

Energy fields to immerse in, align with…

No tone goes unheard by the universe,

Flight – the whirring of gossamer wings will give,

A soprano’s broken heart, on an audience does disperse.

silence-maria-bayo-orchestra

Silence sets the stage, from birth to old age,

In-tune with tranquil Self, absorb oscillations,

To travel down memory lane, from same page,

Exulting in emotions of pitch and modulation.

Healing human wounds, retreating back to source,

Stillness resides there, diaphanous spark of essence,

Surrender to the vibrations, relinquish force,

Return always, into the sound of silence…

By Virginia Burges

silence-stained-glass

What You Need to Know About the Most Influential Organ in Your Body

You could be forgiven for thinking that the most influential organ in your body is your brain or your heart, but I’m going to suggest otherwise. All our organs are important, however the most influential organ that directly affects our brain, our heart, our digestion, our mood, our weight, our immunity and our overall health, is in fact not actually human…

It’s the microbiome.

microbiome_sm

Our own cells though much bigger in volume and weight, are outnumbered ten to one by the cells of the microbes that live in and on us, our trillions of bacteria known as microbiota, the total sum of which constitutes the human microbiome.

#MicrobiomeMorsels

Right now, your body is hosting 100 trillion micro-organisms, a thriving megapolis of living, hardworking microbes. These colonies of microbiota that make us their ‘home’ live in environments as diverse as the geography of Earth. They may be small, but they are essential. Your inner ‘eco-system’ consists of over ten thousand identified species in strains and numbers unique to each of us, and when our inner eco-system flourishes so do we.

  • Did you know that only 10% of your cells contain your human DNA?
  • The other 90% consists of bacteria, fungi and microflora – termed by science as your microbiome; and it’s crucial to perform life sustaining functions.
  • The human microbiome could be considered an additional organ.
  • We all carry approximately 1-2 kg of microbes in our gut.
  • Astonishingly, up to 75 – 80% of your immune system is located in your gut.
  • Our microbiome is constantly evolving and is sensitive to food, air, toxins, antibiotics and cosmetics.

microbiome-10-percent-human

A healthy gut flora benefits us in a myriad of ways, by performing life enhancing functions such as synthesising essential vitamins, phytonutrients and breaking down tough plant fibres.

Scientists are now discovering that inflammation starts in the gut, something that Hippocrates, the erudite father of medicine postulated thousands of years ago  when he said, “All disease begins in the gut”.

“This perception of the microbial side of ourselves is giving us a new view of our individuality. A new sense of our connection to the microbial world. A sense of the legacy of our personal interactions with our family and environment early in life. It’s causing us to pause and consider that there might be another dimension to our human evolution.”  ~ Professor Jeffrey Gordon

Think of the gut as the centre (or hub) of a wheel, with spokes leading to the neurological system, the vascular system, digestive system, lymphatic system, skin, hormonal system and saliva, (the oesophagus).

The glorious gut

If the environment of our gut is well balanced – meaning ‘good’ bacteria outweigh harmful bacteria, it allows our immune system to operate effectively and judge friend from foe in our bodies. It is the first, second and third line of defence: skin, mucous membrane and the gut.

microbiome-hmp-ibd-image

A healthy digestive system is crucial for the breakdown of food and optimal absorption of nutrients. If disease causing pathogens get out of control and start to rule the roost, ill health will follow. The scientific community believe that a toxic microbiome is the initiator of metabolic illness such as obesity and Cardiometabolic Syndrome.

A direct correlation can be seen between the consumption of simple carbohydrates, processed, shelf-stable foods, a more toxic environment and the rise in obesity over the last 60 years. Whether we like it or not, we are part of the largest nutrition experiment in the history of mankind. It doesn’t seem to be going too well for us collectively at the moment…

Scientific American: How Gut Bacteria Help Make Us Fat and Thin

Despite our advancements in medicine, there is a global health pandemic that is costing the NHS and health care providers in America almost 3 trillion dollars a year.

Does the Gut Microbiome Play a Role in Autoimmune Disease?

Allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, autoimmune conditions such as diabetes, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, crohn’s disease and lupus are a result of our bodies being in ‘metabolic dysfunction’.

This is how cardio metabolic health issues develop:

Inflammation > Metabolic Dysfunction > Insulin Resistance > Fat Deposition > Cardio Metabolic Syndrome.

Modern plagues: Cardiometabolic Syndrome

It seems we have eradicated infectious diseases that were rife in the 19th Century, such as smallpox, measles and polio; but in their place modern plagues have risen from the wastelands of our increasingly toxic microbiomes.

microbiome

You may know children, family or friends who suffer from asthma, hay fever, diabetes, nut allergies and eczema. Allergies affect around half the population in developed countries. I can’t be the only one who thinks this is not normal…

Innocuous and harmless substances such as pollen, dust, pet hair, milk, eggs and nuts are being treated by the body as harmful pathogens, so the immune system dutifully attacks what is perceived as germs that need to be removed from the body. And when the body’s immune system goes really rogue, it attacks the body’s own cells.

Type 1 Diabetes

In 1898 hospital records from Massachusetts General Hospital which were kept over 75 years for 500,000 patients indicated that there were only 21 cases of childhood type 1 Diabetes. By the time official records were created just before the Second World War the prevalence of type 1 diabetes could be tracked. Around 1 or 2 children in every 5,000 were affected in the US, UK and Scandinavia.

By 1973 type 1 diabetes was occurring 6 to 7 times more frequently than it had in the Thirties. In the Eighties the rise leveled off to 1 in 250 children. The rise in diabetes has been matched by an equivalent rise in obesity and autoimmune diseases.

Should we accept the increase in illness as a fact of life in the 21st century, when we have more knowledge and scientific advancement at our fingertips?

microbiome-ehp-infographic

Could it be that we have overlooked the fundamental role our colonies of bacteria and basic nutrition play in our well-being? Over the past decade emerging research and cutting-edge science into the human microbiome is answering that question with a resounding YES.

The Human Genome Project (HGP):

Scientists have turned to our genes, the blueprint of life, for answers to 21st century illnesses. The Human Genome Project unearthed genes that when mutated result in disease. But to blame our DNA entirely for the modern epidemic is unwise. The gene variant that might make someone more likely to become obese is not likely to become dramatically more common in the population as a whole inside a single century.

Evolution does not progress that quickly! Gene variants only grow more common though natural selection if they are beneficial to the species, or their detrimental effects are mitigated.

Science is left with two areas that are common to modern diseases: the immune system and the gut.

microbiome-hgp

When the Human Genome was decoded and mapped fully in 2003 and we could sequence our DNA, scientists were shocked to learn that human body has just shy of 21,000 genes, less than the water flea with 31,000 and half the number of the rice plant. Humans have a similar amount of genes as that of The Worm.  Holy cow, how could something as complex as a human being only have the same number of genes as a worm?!

The language of how God created life and the supposed key to our humanity did not live up to its hoped for power to heal diseases as President Clinton declared it would at the time.

The Human Microbiome Project (HMP)

The DNA sequencing technology invented during the HGP enabled another major genome-sequencing programme: The Human Microbiome Project.

The micro-organisms living in and on the human body contain a staggering 4.4 million genes.

microbiome-the-economist-cover

Now molecular biology has the tools to investigate how and why the microbiome is so fundamental to our well-being.

We have evolved over millennia by outsourcing our digestion to vast communities of bacteria. Our own 21,000 genes together with the 4.4 million genes of our collective microbiota collaborate in a mutually beneficially arrangement to run our bodies.

The HMP has revealed far more about what it means to be human than our own genome ever has.

Microbes matter

Another discovery was that the human appendix is far from a defunct organ as originally thought by Charles Darwin in his Descent of Man, (the follow up to The Origin of Species). For the hundred years that followed it earned a reputation as something of useless organ, exacerbated by its tendency to sometimes cause life threatening eruptions. By the 1950’s removal of the appendix was one of the most commonly performed operations in the developed world.

microbiome-joke

But natural selection did not eliminate the appendix, and scientists now know that the appendix serves as a safe haven for life sustaining microbes; a microbial stockpile that comes in handy when food poisoning or gastrointestinal infection strikes, enabling the gut to be repopulated with its friendly inhabitants that were lurking in the appendix.

Public sanitation systems in the developed world are relatively recent inventions in the history of our species. To some degree they have masked the fact that we utterly depend on our microbiota for health and happiness.

Antibiotics – the nemesis of our gut-flora

Doctors are only just waking up to the damage that widespread over prescribing broad spectrum antibiotics is doing, not just solely because pathogens are developing resistance to them, but more so now in how they wage chemical warfare on our colonies of friendly bacteria, adversely altering our microbiome and body chemistry.

It’s devastating when a wild fire rips through forests and woodlands, destroying all plant life. This is what happens to the diverse, friendly bacteria when you take a 7 day course of antibiotics. Scientists have found that just one round of antibiotics can disrupt your gut flora for up to two years. Multiple rounds of antibiotics are wreaking havoc on the very microbes we depend on for our health in new generations.

Studies have shown that only 6% of American children have the microbe H. Pylori in their microbiome by the time they reach age fifteen. H. Pylori communicate directly with the brain about Ghrelin levels. Grhelin tells your brain you are hungry. If Ghrelin is unregulated you never feel full.

microbiome-images

After reading about the microbiome and the relevant scientific evidence I almost started to view myself not so much as an individual, as more a vessel for my microbiota!

But as Alanna Collen, author of 10% Human puts it:

“I see us – myself and my microbes as a team. But, as in any relationship I will only get what I give. I am their provider and protector, and in return they sustain and nourish me. I find myself thinking about my meal choices in terms of what my microbes would be grateful or, and my mental and physical health as markers of my worthiness as a host to them. They are my own personal colony, and their preservation is worth as much to me as the well-being of the cells of my own body.”

I’ll be getting inside our guts in more detail in future posts, covering the link between the gut and the brain, why we get cravings, the microbiome in infancy, the nutrients and diet we need to heal, and a detoxification, cleansing and re-balancing solution.

Tackling the root cause of illness means focusing on the microbiome and the gut. Fix the gut and you fix the problem!

But for now, just remember: whatever you eat also feeds your microbiota, both the good and bad – you never dine alone!

One of the Most Powerful Performances I’ve ever Seen… 🎼🎧🎻

“Music says that which cannot be said, but which cannot remain silent.” ~ Victor Hugo

When a composer and a musician are both emotionally and musically in tune, the result can be an unforgettable recording that speaks to your soul. Such heart-felt performances usually manifest in glorious interpretations that create some of the most legendary, memorable, mind-blowing and totally magical moments in musical history.

sibelius-vc-allegro-moderato

A section of the Allegro moderato from my violin score

Such performances give you the sense that the musician really understood what the composer wanted the listeners and audience to feel and experience. As Beethoven, (played to perfection by Gary Oldman) so eruditely stated in the film Immortal Beloved:

“It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice. It is like hypnotism.”

I’ll probably post these pairings as and when I become struck by their brilliance. For my first example I feel compelled to share a performance by the late French violin virtuoso, Christian Ferras.

Photograph of Ferras taken on a tour of South Africa in 1965, dedicated to the organiser Hans Adler.

Photograph of Ferras taken on a tour of South Africa, dedicated to the organiser Hans Adler.

I recently learned of his existence (I know right, how can a violinist not have heard of Christian Ferras), and I’ve been completely captivated by his talent and romantic Gallic style. For me, he’s up there with Heifetz, Menuhin, Oistrakh and Perlman. This has been a musical discovery to relish and to cherish.

I was impressed with many of his performances, but the one that stood out the most was his vintage recording of the melancholy Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor. There are many wonderful recordings of this lyrical, challenging and thrilling work, but none have reduced me to rubble in quite the same way as Monsieur Ferras!

My emotional defences were penetrated and disarmed by the honest, visceral and virtuosic nature of this particular mid 1960’s performance, under the baton of the young Indian maestro Zubin Mehta.

I’ll save the superlatives for later, now it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy their outstanding music making:

You may not agree with my musings after listening and viewing, (not everyone does, as per this review in Gramophone), but to me this sublime rendition is full of beauty, passion and pathos. In the Adagio di molto he has tears streaming down his face. Maybe he was suffering from a broken heart and the music ‘spoke’ to him. It oozed out of his eyes and his bow, his fingers and his soul via his Stradivarius.

There is a mournful purity to his sound that cannot be matched. Sibelius and Ferras is truly a match made in heaven.

A section of the beautiful 2nd movement from my score.

A section of the beautiful 2nd movement from my score.

Perhaps the ‘dark’ melody of the Sibelius violin concerto was what resonated with Ferras’s lugubrious temperament. The Allegro moderato (1st movement) and the allegro, ma non troppo (3rd movement) are exhilarating and electrifying.

You can see that he is deeply connected to the soul of Sibelius and to the music. Everything is there for me; flawless technique infused with fire and emotion that produces such wonderful colours, phrasing and nuances that take me to the stratosphere…

Context

I think it helps to understand why this is such a powerful, timeless performance when you know that Sibelius poured his love of the violin into this now popular and widely performed concerto in the classical violin repertoire.

“Dreamt I was twelve years old and a virtuoso.” ~ Jean Sibelius (diary entry from 1915 aged 50)

Jean Sibelius (8th December 1865 – 20th September 1957)

As a young man Sibelius had dreams of being a violin virtuoso and could play the Mendelssohn violin concerto, but his course changed after he failed his audition for the Vienna Philharmonic due to stage nerves. Perhaps that’s why he wrote his only violin concerto, as an expression of that deeply held, but ultimately thwarted dream.

What may have felt like a disaster at the time may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. His true gift however, was expressed through his writing of music. He may not have made such an impact on the world had he stuck to performance alone, but his compositions will never fade.

Portrait of Sibelius by Albert Edelfeldt c. 1904

Portrait of Sibelius by Albert Edelfeldt c. 1904

Violinist Dean Wang gives his take on the Sibelius Violin Concerto:

An icy image of nature is a good to have in mind when listening to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47, completed in 1903 and revised in 1905. The reason for revision is that the 1904 premiere was largely unsuccessful since the concerto proved too difficult. The 1905 version is considerably less challenging and also perhaps less cluttered.

The concerto starts with soft strings supporting a tranquil and noble solo violin melody. As the music continues, the violin grows more impassioned and suddenly drops from the highest to the lowest registers of the instrument. The violin part grows more and more virtuosic as the orchestra is given an increasingly active role. After a dark second subject in the orchestra, a passionate motif played in parallel sixths in the extreme upper register of the violin, and then a “travelling” theme in the orchestra, the orchestra stops, the exposition (the first part of a traditional sonata form movement) ends, and the solo violin begins an extensive and extremely virtuosic cadenza.

In this sonata-form movement, the cadenza takes on the role of development (the middle section of the sonata form where the composer takes existing musical ideas and transforms them in inventive and interesting ways). The recapitulation (a varied repetition of the exposition) starts even before the cadenza ends, easing us back into the first melody. The movement closes in a brilliant coda with virtuosic violin octaves and inspired counterpoint fusing previously heard themes together.

After the cold intensity of the first movement, the concerto’s second movement provides some degree of relaxation after a melancholic introduction in the winds. We now hear a warm, singing melody in the violin’s lowest register accompanied by horns and bassoons. The largely lyrical movement provides contrasts excellently with the brilliance and relentlessness of the outer two.

The third movement follows the adagio with relentless dance rhythms; some critics note that these “long-short-short-long” rhythms are similar to those found in polonaises, a popular type of dance from Poland. The connection to dance is made even clearer by Sibelius having reportedly described the movement as a “danse macabre” — a dance of death. The dance is combined with intense virtuosic elements in the violin. The violin’s parallel octaves coupled with heavy orchestration bring the dance to a close.

From Wikipedia:

The initial version was noticeably more demanding on the advanced skills of the soloist. It was unknown to the world at large until 1991, when Sibelius’s heirs permitted one live performance and one recording, on the BIS record label; both were played by Leonidas Kavakos and conducted by Osmo Vänskä. The revised version still requires a high level of technical facility on the part of the soloist. The original is somewhat longer than the revised, including themes that did not survive the revision. Certain parts, like the very beginning, most of the third movement, and parts of the second, have not changed at all. The cadenza in the first movement is exactly the same for the violin part. Some of the most striking changes, particularly in the first movement, are in orchestration, with some rhythms played twice as slow.

Christian Ferras was known to have been plagued with lifelong depression, a condition that tragically drove him to commit suicide on  14th September 1982 (aged 49) at the height of his career.

He was one of the pre-eminent violin virtuoso’s of the late 20th century, but his untimely death seems to have curtailed his stardom in a way that never happened with his contemporaries. He just wasn’t around long enough.

Christian Ferras and Yehudi Menuhin were both taught by the Romanian genius George Enescu, and performed the Bach Double Violin Concerto together:

I’m doing my bit to raise awareness of his recordings; such a talent should never be forgotten.

I’d love to hear what you think. Does this performance get inside you like it did me? If not, are there others that grab you in a similar way as the one I have waxed lyrical about between Ferras and Sibelius?

A Day to Remember at the Stunning Temple of Stonehenge

“Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorways…no one can conceive how such great stones have been so raise aloft, or why they were built there.” ~ Henry Huntingdon (History of the English People c. 1130).

When we arrived at Stonehenge early on 30th December 2016 it was shrouded in a thick mist and we couldn’t see much. It felt cold too. We were surrounded by a soft, ethereal light however, as the sun was trying to burn the mist away, it suffused the air with a warm shimmer.

By the time our American and London relations arrived the mist was thinning, and the patches of visible sky were bright blue and devoid of cloud. It illuminated beautifully the captivating atmosphere of an ancient, Stone Age landscape that had been so venerated by our early ancestors.

close-up-with-mist

I’d never visited Stonehenge before. I’d been close by several times, but I’m glad we did it that day. I’ve included a selection of my photographs.

When we finally got on the bus and walked up close to the stones it took my breath away. Along the walk information plaques were placed so that you could learn about the actual site in its entirety, not just the stones.  Most of us had audio guides, which were highly informative, but I had to concentrate on what my daughters were doing so I couldn’t totally immerse myself.

emily-and-ruby-at-stones

The Neolithic temple of Stonehenge is something to behold. You may wonder why a group of old, sturdy stones elicits such touristic fervour, (1.3 million people visited the site during 2013), and I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on it, except to say it’s something of a spiritual experience.

Even though other people are milling around you, the general mood is one of quiet fascination. To be so close to something that was built with such skill and precision four and a half thousand years ago that is still standing tends to pull an all-encompassing blanket of awe over you!

close-up-panoramic

I’m sure the Pyramids at Giza (built around the same time period), would do that and more, but for us Brits, Stonehenge is a profound and enduring monument of determination, perseverance, ingenuity and devotion. The crows seemed to admire the sarsen stones as well, they were hopping about on top of them and circling above the horseshoe while we were there.

The stones have an intense air of mystery about them, as if they are proclaiming their sacred heritage and history, but at the same time keeping some of their recondite secrets to themselves…

When I saw the news today in The Guardian that the government has given the go ahead for a new road tunnel under the site my heart sank. I can’t help feeling this is a terrible mistake. I understand they are trying to reduce congestion, which is considerable, but in the process of coming up with a solution to one problem they are perhaps creating an even bigger one.

Stonehenge stretches over a huge area. Although the actual stones only cover a limited space, the burial mounds, the avenue and surrounding land is sizable. Surely such disruption will damage the aesthetics and archaeology of the site, making it less of an attraction? This smacks of putting profits before protection and preservation.

surrounding-landscape

Overview

The audio guides made it clear that although they do know a lot about how the site was created and amended over the centuries, the materials that were used and the type of dwellings that the builders lived in, they still don’t know the exact reason for its construction.

One of the clear ways in which it was used was to measure and track the movements of the sun and the changing seasons.

Brooding painting of Stonehenge by John Constable.

Brooding painting of Stonehenge by John Constable.

Winter would have brought immense hardship for the Neolithic and Bronze Age people, not just because of the cold weather and lack of light, but scarcity of food and crops. They would have been keen to know the turning point in the levels of daylight during the sun’s annual journey. They must have been very in-tune with nature, for the alignment and positioning of the stones was achieved with startling accuracy to highlight the shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice.

Alignment

The axis of Stonehenge creates an alignment that runs north-east to south-west, up the straight section of the avenue and through the enclosure entrance. Because of the way the sun moves through the sky during the course of the year, the sunset at the winter solstice occurs on exactly the opposite side of the horizon from the midsummer sunrise.

sun-up2

When the Great Trilithon stood intact the effect would have been even more dramatic than it is today, with the setting sun dropping rapidly down the narrow gap between the two upright sarsen stones.

Burial and worship

Other thoughts were that it was a place of burial, (cremated and buried human remains have been found at the site), as well as animal bones and artefacts in the surrounding ditch, it therefore also served as a place of worship and procession. One theory is that the stones represented their ancestors and the wooden equivalents present at the time represented living people.

stonehenge-an-early-henge

The name Stonehenge is derived from the large, outer ditch and bank (a ‘henge’, meaning ‘hanging’) enclosing the stone circle within. It was used for cremation burials early in the area’s history.

Unbeknown to me there is a Woodhenge site not far from Stonehenge, to the south of Durrington Walls, also built in 2500 B.C., which was 50m in diameter and held large upright oak timbers. It was discovered in 1925 after aerial photographs revealed it to be a levelled henge.

The stones used in Stonehenge

The five large sarsen trilithons (from the Greek word for three stones), are arranged with a pair facing each other across the open end of the horse shoe, and the tallest, the Great Trilithon (only one stone now remains upright of this pair), which is 7.3 metres high and one of the tallest standing stones in Britain, faces the enclosed entrance. It has been noticed that of each pair, one seems deliberately more upright and well-shaped and the other is rougher.  Perhaps this was meant to signify male and female or art nature?

close-up-of-stones

“How grand! How wonderful! How incomprehensible! ~ Sir Richard Colt Hoare (Ancient History of Wiltshire)

On 3rd January 1797 an entire trilithon collapsed and was the first recorded fall of stones at Stonehenge.

These epic sarsen stones were taken from areas relatively close to Stonehenge, the Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs. Still, transportation must have been a major undertaking. It’s thought they were maneuvered onto large wooden sledges with rollers that were pulled by a team of up to 200 people. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about teamwork and co-operation.

ruby-at-outdoor-museum

They were erected with considerable engineering skill considering the basic tools that were available to the builders, with the sarsens being put some way into the ground and the stone lintels sitting atop each pair were fixed into place using the tongue and groove method. Pretty impressive!

stonehenge-first-raised

The other type of stone that was used in the temple are the bluestones.  It’s thought that originally as many as  60 of these were placed in inner concentric circles to the sarsens, much of which is now fragmentary, indicating that many were moved or destroyed sometime after construction. The bluestones are a particular type of volcanic stone found in the Preseli Hills in Wales; an amazing achievement by itself to transport them a distance of 150 miles.

The Heel Stone

This massive, unshaped sarsen boulder was thought to be the only stone to originate from Stonehenge, and stands just outside the earthwork enclosure and within the line of the avenue.

heel-stone

It was raised to its upright position, being the first stone to be deliberately placed at Stonehenge. Although it stands alone today in a small ditch, archaeologists discovered a hole next to it in the roadside verge in 1979. The second stone may have held the heel stone in place or been placed as a pair with the Heel Stone as two upright sarsens just outside the entrance to the enclosure.

The builders

It’s thought that people travelled down from the far north of Scotland as well as from the south and from the continent to work on Stonehenge. Ancient Britons were the builders, perhaps a collective of farmers, engineers and tool makers etc. Local excavations have provided information about the types of dwellings they lived in.

bronze-age-dwelling

All I can say is they would have been a tad drafty in winter!

This documentary by Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University,  Barry Cunliffe and Social anthropologist Lionel Sims explain in much more detail than I can here; if you want to delve into the history and mystery of Stonehenge:

Excavations and restoration

Among the entire site items such as Roman coins (Roman Emperor Commodus) dating to about 186-7, as well as brooches and pottery were found during William Gowland’s excavations at Stonehenge in 1901. One theory is that the Romans altered and tried to adapt the site as their own shrine.

The earliest surviving painting of Stonehenge - a watercolour by a Dutch traveller, Lucas de Heere c. 1574

The earliest surviving painting of Stonehenge – a watercolour by a Dutch traveller, Lucas de Heere c. 1574

In 1883 Stonehenge was officially recognised as being of national importance and included in the monuments listed in the Ancient Monuments Protection Act. This did not offer any real protection in practical terms and Stonehenge remained neglected and crumbling a the close of the 19th century. On 31st December 1900 another stone fell.

Ongoing repairs and restoration were mostly undertaken during the 20th century and early into the current time period. Stonehenge was granted World Heritage status in 1986.

stonehenge-with-ruby

The visitor centre is fabulous. It comprises a spacious café, a shop and a museum/exhibition area, complete with artefacts, interactive media, historical stories and information about the Stonehenge site, and even a carbon-dated human skeleton complete with facial reconstruction, which provides a fascinating window into a mysterious past.

If you get the chance to go it’s definitely worth a visit, especially before they dig out the tunnel under it!

Pile of Stone-henge! So proud to hint yet keep

Thy secrets, thou lov’st to stand and hear

The plain resounding to the whirlwind’s sweep

Inmate of lonesome Nature’s endless year.

~ William Wordsworth

7 Brilliant Blogs to Help You Get the Most Out of the Year Ahead

“We all get the exact same 365 days. The only difference is what we do with them.” ~ Hillary DePiano

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed the festive holiday season. Time marches mercilessly on, and 2017 has arrived with the usual flurry of fireworks and fizz.

I’ve had a wonderful, whirlwind time with my family, especially since Emily and Ruby’s aunt, uncle and cousins were over from Connecticut between Christmas and New Year. It’s been a reminder of what’s truly important to me. I’ll probably share some of our travels and escapades in another post.

But to kick things off for 2017, in the time honoured tradition of taking stock of life – of scrutinising circumstances and getting in-tune with hopes, goals and dreams at the beginning of a new year – I have been scouring the web for some inspiration.

magic-and-dreams

There are 7 particular articles which have inspired me and helped me to start 2017 as I mean to go on.

I’ve done away with resolutions. They set you up to fail. Last January I wrote two detailed posts (Part 1 & Part 2), on goal-setting.

The biggest achievement for me in 2016 was that I revolutionised my health and helped others to do the same. I started a new business focusing on elite health and I’m now on the right path and following its evolution.

person-at-summit

This year I’m concentrating on themes, which will encompass all my goals and guide my decisions for 2017. My main themes are presence and productivity. By increasing presence I can be more productive than ever. It’s a tricky combination because if I focus too much on either theme at the expense of the other it could prove counter intuitive.

Presence will infuse every decision as awareness (or lack of), underpins all thoughts. Productivity has connotations with big business and bottom line, but when it’s achieved through a conscious work/life balance and not at the expense of health or other priorities, you can truly make the most of your time; however you spend it.

surfer

For instance, it takes time out of my busy schedule to play my violin, but it’s something I love doing, and after a violin practice my creativity is usually buzzing and I’m generally more productive. Productivity isn’t only working, it’s being able to enjoy and accomplish the activities and objectives that are meaningful to you…

I have big goals this year. It overwhelms me a bit, but I usually bite-off more than I can chew, so why change the habit of a lifetime? I need to feel inspired otherwise what’s it all for? I’m open and ready for new opportunities and spontaneous action!

I hope you can find some golden nuggets out of these 7 brilliant blog posts:

  1. You Will Not Be Denied — Develop Your Daily Inspirational Routine
  2. 7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face
  3. Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
  4. Intentions
  5. 3 Principles for 2017
  6. 9 Ways to Kick Ass and Conquer the World in 2017
  7. Buckle Up for a Reality check! 11 Things We Can’t Change This New Year

As always, at the start of a new year, I like to watch ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ by Carl Sagan:

I hope 2017 brings you much joy, health and success.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~ C.S. Lewis