Green Serpent

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Green serpent, I danced with you in order to forget,
But alas the memories returned whenever you left,
Just could not manage without your charming threat,
To take me far away from my mind so bereft.

Green magic, I felt the spell that you cast on my life,
And through your spirit I longed for it’s quick relief from strife,
Imbibing your essence till I was left in a trance,
Leaving me in perpetual need of that one final dance.

Green desire, I see you everyday and everywhere I turn,
But penniless there is no reason to stay with me, although I may yearn,
Has your love for me ended, am I now forlorn?
Alone with my sad thoughts, for you I shall morn.

Green Serpent, now I have found new friends at last,
True ones that give happiness and a love so vast,
So if you try to return some day and mess with my head,
Beware that I now dance with others, and will ignore you instead!

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Golden Rice

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The UK Environment Secretary,  a certain Owen Paterson (of Badger Cull fame) opened his mouth again this week, however this time not to attack badgers for “moving the goalposts”, but instead to criticize all those opposed to genetically modified (GM) crops, labelling them as “wicked”.

His outburst came in an interview with The Independent newspaper, in reference to various environmental NGO’s continuing opposition to the development and use of “golden rice”, which has been genetically modified and fortified with beta-carotene, giving the rice its distinctive golden colour. It also makes it a potential source of vitamin A, when prepared correctly and in the presence of the correct fats (which requires a balanced diet, something generally lacking in developing countries).

Now there are two camps with regards to GM crops. The first consists of a small group of global companies that between them control about three-quarters of the worlds seed markets, and their patrons and supporters; government ministers who are connected with those businesses, and a gaggle of billionaires who have funded the research under the name of philanthropy, but who would, of course, never expect or hope for anything in return in the future. This group, to which the environment secretary belongs, claim that GM golden rice will solve many of the developing world’s food problems, improving health and saving millions of lives. A fairly substantial claim.

And on the other side of the argument are the environmental groups and other non-governmental organisations. They support many of the third world farmers on a local level. This group says that there are a number of issues with GM crops; The seed will be owned and controlled by a few multinationals, restricting farmers rights to breed and exchange seeds. Malnutrition, which the bio-companies claim to work against, is primarily down to problem of access, given the massive amount of overproduction and food waste in the developed world. They also highlight that even though the dose of beta carotene (the precursor chemical for vitamin A) has been boosted in the latest version of the rice, it still has a huge question mark over how effective it will be, as it degrades over time and when cooked. It also requires longer cooking time, and therefore more fuel.

Seems like a lot of work for so little return. Surely it would be simpler to give out carrot seeds (they are a far better, and natural source of vitamin A) and teach people how to grow it?

So, given the two contrasting positions on this contentious issue, one ponders the truth of the situation.

Who would you trust? The conglomerates and their government backers? Or volunteers groups, and African and Asian farmers who fear that they will lose control of their food sources?

Is there a better, more balanced way to deal with the world’s food problems, that directly address the real issues of incomes and food distribution?

And what next? Is golden rice just a “Trojan Horse”, to ease a sceptical public into acceptance of GM crops in the future, with free seed handouts, and other demonstrations of generosity, patent waivers and too-good-to resist deals, only to then be replaced by tight controls on future GM seed ownership, distribution, and rights to buy once enough people have become completly dependent on them?

I think that I will let my poem do the talking on this one.

How to set up a trap and then snare?
Mix a potion of rice with hot air,
Say it cures all and claim that it’s free!
Just don’t mention seeds later won’t be.

Billionaire’s row funds the show,
Then sits on the panel that decides it’s good to go,
False prophets proclaim it saves all that partake,
While counting the future profits they’ll make.

What started as a miracle no longer meets needs,
Awaiting handouts or more debts for new seeds,
Sold our souls for GM golden rice,
Should have bought carrots for a better long-term price.

Moving Goalposts

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A debate has been raging within the United Kingdom on how to deal with bovine tuberculosis in domestic cattle. Unfortunately wild badgers have been targeted as a potential source for this disease, resulting in a cull in two designated areas which has involved the shooting of badgers to reduce the local population by more than 70% in an attempt to demonstrate a lower incidence of Bovine TB in cattle.

Most responsible scientists with expertise in this subject are against the cull and believe that it will not work. There is also the issue of animal welfare, in what seems to so far be a pointless slaughter of wildlife, bearing in mind that there are other more effective control measures such as vaccinating badgers, or management of livestock on farms in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

And so the badger cull debacle turned into a farce this week with the publication of widely contradictory figures for badger populations within the designated cull zones, and also the announcement that the badger cull may be extended again due to the its failure to reduce population numbers sufficiently order to make the cull “effective”.

This is of course an absurd situation. The inconsistent figures published indicate that no one actually knows for sure how many badgers live in cull areas, or how many have been exterminated as part of this cull. One thing has become apparent though. The badger populations are far lower than previously estimated, and may collapse if the cull continues. The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, blames this on the badgers themselves for “moving the goalposts”, a surprising and slightly ludicrous statement which can be interpreted as an admission that these beautiful creatures are in fact more intelligent than our politicians.

But the most disturbing part of this situation is that due to the wasteful and inefficient way that the cull was carried out (free shooting badgers regardless of whether they are healthy or not – 6 out of every 7 killed have been found to be disease free) the instigators of this cull extension have reverted to the use of trapping badgers in cages before exterminating them.

A very simple question is raised in the mind of the discerning reader; If a badger is trapped, with all the expense, effort and organisation involved with that, why not then simply administer a vaccine and then let the creature free?

During this difficult time, it is more important than ever not to lose sight of the suffering and devastation caused by these non-sensical culls. I have attempted to record a glimpse of their terrible impact in the following poem:

At rest with cubs in warm family sett,
Torpor disturbed by sweet-scented net,
With full moon outside just cannot sleep,
No final goodbyes on this occasion to weep.

Easy finds follow simple neat trails,
Does not seem natural but instinct prevails,
Leads blind follower into rusty cell,
Trapped in baited heaven waiting death row hell.

Piercing pain in back of neck, falls upon broken head,
Eye stares up from coffin deck, watches moon turn bloody red,
Executioner’s shadow suffocates life’s last sight,
Distant scream informs newly orphaned of end to sorry plight!

Curiosity

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This week NASA released some fascinating results from the experiments carried out by the Mars probe “Curiosity” on the Martian soil, which could potentially have very profound implications with regards to the future direction that human civilization may take.

According to the findings that have been published, Curiosity discovered water in the topsoil of between 1.5 and 3.0 percent, which in simple terms means that by heating one cubic foot of Martian soil, about two pints of water can be obtained.

Now, there are of course other, very serious factors, that need to be resolved before humans colonize mars;  high levels of radiation, extreme temperatures, a lack of oxygen on the surface, and now the discovery that the soil contains perchlorate, which interferes with human thyroid function if ingested.

But all these things can be overcome with technology. And the fact that there is now a way to obtain water directly from the red planet’s surface means that we are a step closer to the first human landing on Mars, and then if an economic case can be made, the first Martian colonies.

But what would it be like on that first journey? And what about the psychological impact of living so far away from home? Look at the photos of Curiosity, all alone on the surface. What would it be feeling if it had human emotions?

I am a ton of pristine steel,
Reflective glass and gadgets to feel,
Curiosity has brought me to a barren place,
Open my eyes and enjoy rust covered space.

My masters leer through a distant screen,
Key in commands for their favorite machine,
But why don’t they hear my frozen cries,
When my robot eye is turned up to the skies?

Shield of darkness falls one last time,
Heralds a new beginning for a forgotten crime,
Power down to sleep in the hope that one day,
I will be found and taken away.

Morning Passion…

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An early morning excursion revealed far more than I had expected. After a gentle stroll along an oft-treaded short cut through a local park, a rather thick fog seemed to descend as I approached a wooded area, enveloping all within it’s mist.

I was fortunate enough to locate a nearby bench through the murkiness, and I resolved to sit and wait for the gloom to lift. So as the morning progressed, visibility began to rapidly improve, and I was treated to a true wonder of nature, igniting my thoughts as vividly as the grand display before my eyes. My heart was stolen in a moment of passion, and Autumn has now become, against all odds, the season of love!

I feel so fortunate that I was able to record in this poem a glimpse of what I had seen this morning through the eyes of my enamoured heart.

Enjoy…

Here in the woods there lays a carpet of soft golden down,
And trees beneath which repose beds of ambery brown,
That rustle underfoot and scatter in the breeze,
As watery sunlight glitters amongst the leafy seas.

Abundant fruits promise most mellow flavours,
Floral passions now replaced by pastel papers,
Sounds of crackling chestnuts mingle in the smoky air,
Prize Pumpkins soon for sale in the market square.

Early morning fog cloaks hidden treasures,
Then lifts to reveal a riot of fiery pleasures,
Nature’s last stand brings on it’s greatest shows,
The tinderbox is open! How it sparkles and glows!

Wispy mists battle a distant sun,
But neither can win for Winter’s Spectre has come,
The season resigns to be sentenced by Jack Frost,
So enjoy Autumn’s fragrance before it is lost!

Harvest Moon

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How many of us actually realised that last Thursday night (in the northern hemisphere at least) heralded the yearly appearance of what is known in traditional sky law as The harvest moon?

Well, just to clarify, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, and depending on the year, the Harvest Moon can come anywhere from two weeks before to two weeks after the autumnal equinox. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the 2013 autumnal equinox comes on September 22, so the September 19 full moon counts as the Northern Hemisphere’s Harvest Moon.

It’s name is derived from the fact that in the days before farm machinery, farmers and farm workers would take advantage of the additional hours of light and work through the night in order to complete the harvest, something that was vital not just for the success of the farm, but for the lives of those who were reliant on its sustenance during the rapidly approaching winter months.

Well I am an avid sky and star gazer, and Thursday night was no exception. Whilst admiring the beautiful full moon that adorned the late September night sky with a certain commanding presence, my thoughts turned to those who in the past, and who may still, rely upon the Harvest Moon to give help and guidance through its appearance in the autumnal sky. With this in mind I have strung together a few words which I hope may capture some it’s true value. Enjoy!

Here in the season of mists we await,
The silver sky maiden to arise and awake,
For upon her presence is written our fate,
Time is short and much is at stake!

Rising up high and clearing the sky,
The magical orb casts a spell through the night,
And thus we shall stack our bails so high,
Whilst the maiden pauses and bathes us in light.

Dawn approaches and our work is done,
The maiden has disappeared with the rising sun,
And so we give thanks to our dear harvest moon,
Though lingers a feeling that the year past so soon.

You can run…

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I live in a sprawling city, where I share my space with 9 million other inhabitants, surrounded, in the main, by monotonous concrete edifices, or other structures of equally wearisome complexion.

So sometimes I need to escape for a while, in an attempt to find redress to the imbalances within the equilibrium of my spirit that modern life imposes. Let’s face it, even the most hardened city dweller amongst us must at some point in their lives at least ponder as to whether or not there is a better, or at least more natural way to live? Who does not like to occasionally leave behind the daily diet of technological over-dependance, combined with sensory and information overload, thanks to the sea of gadgets and devices served up in all manner of brutalistic 20th or 21st century buildings, streets and transport services that clutter our lives to the point of distraction? An escape plan should always be at hand, in case it needs to be called upon at short notice!

On Wednesday this week, I made one such escape attempt, to the countryside, where the space and openness somehow allow me to release all those jumbled up thoughts that have built up in my mind,and to give them some semblance of order or meaning.

Well, that was the intention. I have a standard escape route; public transport to the edge of town, followed by a stroll down the final streets of the city before encountering the vast ocean of green freshness as the fields that lay beyond open up in front of me.

And so from there I continued my journey along the road, as it morped from city street into country lane, reveling in the sense of escape that one experiences upon leaving the “big smoke” behind, free to roam the countryside, uninhibited by formal street layouts and obtrusive dwellings.

All good so far. Silence, panoramic views of field upon field, only interrupted by the occasional hedgerow or cluster of trees now displaying their full complement of glorious autumnal shades, and the vast overcast September sky meeting the landscape far away in the distance. But as I scanned the horizon, something caught my eye, something unnatural and out of place. That horizon, that meeting place of earth and sky that I so enjoyed, so admired, punctured by a towering white monstrosity piercing the sky.

My curiosity of course got the better of me, and I made my way across numerous post-harvest fields, public footpaths and rights of way, horrified to see more and more of these almost extra terrestrial structures multiplying on the horizon as I got closer, all lined up in formation like a battalion of ancient warriors.

One final coppice, one final stile, and I had arrived. And there, towering over me, stood my nemesis, overbearing with three great sword like arms pointing out from its very heart, like a Martian war machine from H.G Wells War of the Worlds; the sum of the very things that I had tried to run away from. A huge, plain monolith, full of machinery, driven by the latest technology, it positively oozed aggressive modernity, the other monolithic machines carefully positioned around it only adding to the menacing effect.

And so I had run, but I was unable to hide. The symbols of dependancy still found me, even drew me too them. I reject them and despise them at times, and yet they comfort me, and, like today, almost instinctively I seek them out, without wanting to. I feel so over-dependant, and yet cannot let go. A pardox.

Have you ever tried to go even a day without depending on a machine to do your bidding, or to blight your sight and mind with a screen of second hand information set amongst repetitive rows of man made architecture that prevent you from seeing what is in the world beyond?

Happy is the one who still can, but many of us, I feel, have gone too far down the road for such redemption.

Liquid History

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The annual Thames festival culminated on Sunday evening with something quite unexpected and thought provoking. An opera, but not in the usual sense!

A fleet of nine beautiful historic vessels took to the river and performed the main act of ’1513: A Ships Opera’ in front of Tower Bridge on the River Thames as part of the Thames Festival 2013.

The instruments of the Ships’ opera were wholly made up of traditional steam whistles, bells, horns, hooters, sirens and cannon, which created the most unique sounds.

Lightship 95 from nearby Trinity Buoy Wharf led and conducted the operatic performance and lit up the historic ships on the river as they tooted horns, sirens, bells and whistles.

The result was both charming, and quite a refreshing surprise. It was as if the river itself was calling out, finally allowed to express itself after so many years of silent struggle.

And indeed the dear river that has given birth not just to a sprawling metropolis that takes centre stage in the world, but has also, as some would argue, like so many other rivers have throughout the ages, given meaning, focus and indeed life to whole civilisations, and has so much to tell us.

From prehistory, (30 million years ago the Thames was a tributary of the river Rhine!), through the ice age when it was 10 times its current size, finally settling into its current meandering pattern a mear 3000 years ago, the river has literally forged the landscape that we know today.

And of course, the river has been a magnet for life, and for habitation, since animals and hominids first encountered it; water, one of the absolute requirements for life to exist, providing an essential source of substanance, taking on the role of a provider, the giver of life and prosperity, taking on a ritualistic meaning in the very earliest societies and civilizations, something that is echoed, in fact copied still today in both western and eastern religions and cultures, thus continuing to play its role as a giver of good tidings in the mindset of many people today.

So next time you see a river, no matter how great or small, just ponder and seek out it’s journey, it’s story, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.