Monday, 27 April 2009

Make the best of it!

Last weekend I was unable to get to the Yorkshire 3-Peaks Mountain Race and so I devised a challenge of my own. With the aid of a useful 1:50,000 map I plotted a footpath and trail route from the Danubian town of Melk (as in Umberto Eco's 'Name of the Rose') to the amusingly named town of Spitz.

The run went over the highest mountain in the area, the Jauerling, at about 3,100'. Total ascent/descent was in the region of 4,000 - 4,500'. Distance? 20 miles as near as makes no difference. I set off at 1.30 pm.

The chosen way led through small villages, deep gorges, along narrow zigzags up and down the sides of valleys, across wide plains and along a variety of surfaces ranging from tarmac country lanes to woodland trails to gravel footpaths and green tracks across fields where there duly appeared a local farmer on a tractor at the very moment (twice it was) when I needed a little assistance with route finding.

The weather was fine, about 20°C and sunny, and so I took care to wear some suitable headgear as protection against the sun's rays. For food I took along a packet of nuts & raisins. The whole business took just over 4 hours. I carried a bottle of water which I replenished with orangeade at the summit of the Jauerling where there is a small cafe´ which was open. It was 5 pm and I was the only customer.

With care I descended a leaf-strewn rocky path marked with red arrows that is used for the annual Jauerling Berglauf (Jauerling Mountain Race). And after half an hour or so I jogged down the road, a broad grin of satisfaction on my face, into the sunny town of Spitz.

After this most enjoyable run I called at The White Horse Inn, back near the starting point, and sitting outside in the golden lamplight of the terrace enjoyed an enormous bowl of meat and veg soup, an ice cream and a beer. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

The 3-Peaks? I wasn't bothered by the fact that I wasn't there. I did what I could in the situation I was in. And, for me, that's always good enough. As the old saying goes: Make the best of it!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Considering the universe in which we have our being

The photograph below shows my small collection of cacti. They have now emerged from their over-wintering place and are enjoying the sunshine. They will flower grandly during one night, and then only 2 or 3 times in the year. They will quickly go to sleep again. With their simultaneous night-time burst of heavily scented perfume they will attempt to attract a rare moth from thousands of miles away in the desert. It is unlikely that the creature will arrive. But this doesn't stop the cacti from trying.

That the universe is a big place may appear to be stating the obvious. But, beware, for in the universe the obvious is not always what it appears to be. What we see in the physical realm is merely a manifestation of something whose qualities are unknown to us. Many sages, poets and holy men have spent their lives delving into the matter and have often come away at the end as confused as they were when they started. One has only to look at the high suicide and mental illness rates to get some idea of the difficulties encountered in going down a path that leads into a labyrinth through which it is impossible to navigate one's way to the tower in the centre. The poet and holy man R S Thomas, summed up an important aspect of life in the labyrinth when he said: God waves the white flag of surrender and at the same time retreats from you at the speed of light.

The images featured on the Astronomy Picture of the Day give us ample food for thought. They serve to nourish our curiosity and our ambition. The images are often composite images made with x-rays and radio-waves and other 'tricks of the trade' to give us the wonderful images that a God would see if his huge magnifying 'eyes' could visit many different frequencies and wavelengths at the same time. On the other hand, closer to home, we can imagine the colours of the flowers as seen by insects, small white and yellow daisies may appear as a large yellow and red flowers to passing insects.

We say flowers are beautiful, and so they are, but when we look at them we are not seeing the real flower. The real flower is what the bee sees. To feed the bee and by this means to multiply is the flower's raison d'etre. The fact that flowers carrying out their vital and important tasks, appear as beautiful creations in our eyes is one of the miracles of creation.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Thoughts at Easter

Concerning Jesus, there's one thing we can be pretty certain of; he didn't die on the cross!

The following Words of Christ appear on igoogle today and are from Luke 24:38/39.-

"Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

Jesus goes on to ask for something to eat.-
They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it in their presence (Luke 24:41,42,43).

A similar scene is enacted in John 20:19,20.-

the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.

and then in John 20:26,27.-
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side..."

We have reports of Jesus showing the holes in his hands and side and his own words uttered at these times. We even have him eating a fish. It is clear, if anything is clear in the life of Jesus, that he could not possibly have died on the cross. As he himself says, "It is I myself ... a ghost does not have flesh and bones"

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The fresh wind of change for sport

Sport doping began as a means to an end during the communist era in Eastern Europe. We remember those great East German and Russian women built like battleships and tanks throwing their spears and hammers half way across the world's Olympic stadia. We gazed in wonderment from the innocent English shores where sport had always been more or less a hobby.

Chariots of Fire meant cutting down on cigarettes and jogging on a beach or up and down some sand dunes coupled with a few press-ups and so on. Gold medal marathon runner Ron Hill's idea of a supplement was a mixture of orange juice, water and a pinch of salt.

We could run like the comic hero Tough of the Track on a diet of fish and chips and steak puddings; and through all weathers and in unsuitable footwear. It was all sport. We spoke innocently of someone being a good sport, meaning that he or she was a fair minded person. The idea of doping was almost unheard of.

But then we saw Arnold Schwarzenegger become Mr Universe, and those battle cruiser East European women scooping all the gold medals and the glory. Not only we, but all of Europe and then all of the world. We decided to become stronger and faster whatever it took to do it.

The Tour de France rider with his baguette and bottle of water, or in one famous case a bottle of wine which caused him to fall asleep at the roadside, became almost overnight a drug experiment on wheels. And in other sports like athletics we saw men built like weightlifters pumped up with steroids winning races that once went to the slim and lithe. It was crazy. It was nonsense. It was big money. And, here in Austria, it is now crashing down.

In the last few days there have been raids and arrests. For the first time those behind the scenes are being rounded up; or at least two or three of them are. More, we can only hope, will quickly follow. Austria, once known as a doping oasis, is getting at long last to grips with the problem. I applaud the Austrian authorities for this overdue action.

Let no stone be unturned in the fight, for it is a fight and it will be a long struggle, against those corrupt and evil drug and blood-doping dealers who would not hesitate to injure the health of young men and women, boys and girls, who strive to make the grade in their chosen sport.

Managers and trainers of young talent have a responsibility to make sure that all their athletes; swimmers, skiers, cyclists, weight lifters, wrestlers, boxers, marathon runners and so on are clean and doping free. When they abuse their position of responsibility and the confidence that parents, friends, relatives and supporters of the young up-and-coming talent have entrusted them with they deserve no mercy. Throw the book at them!