29 May 2011

Good morning from beautiful, downtown Byfield. The big news on the weather front this week – we actually had a drop of rain! Not the rip-roaring deluge we might have anticipated but some very April-like showers, heavy and intermittent blown along by a cold, brisk to gale force wind. Actually, it was a good thing that we didn’t get the Biblical downpour we might have been due as, with the ground being so parched, it most likely would have skidded across the surface and flooded away. As it was, the short, sharp showers have enabled at least some of the precipitation to penetrate through to the roots providing much-needed refreshment for my thirsty broad beans.

The big news on other fronts this week was, of course, the birthday celebrations of Ms Playchute on Saturday. In fact, the celebrations started early as we enjoyed a splendid outing on Friday evening to Stratford to see a performance of The City Madam at the Swan Theatre. Nick and Lucy joined us for a pre-theatre dinner at No. 9 Church Street which was excellent and we then strolled leisurely along to the theatre to assume our front-row seats.

The City MadamThe City Madam is a satiric comedy written by Philip Massinger in 1632 which tells the tale of Sir John Frugal, a rich merchant, who has redeemed his wayward brother, Luke Frugal, from prison and invited him to live in his home. Luke is treated as a servant by the materialistic Lady Frugal and her daughters, Anne and Mary.

John Frugal’s debtors, Hoist, Fortune and Penury, come to his house to ask for his clemency and with the help of Luke Frugal, who waxes lyrical on the benefits of charity, they convince him into granting them a new delay to pay him back. Luke then convinces his brother’s apprentices to steal from their master by forging his accounts. They agree to cheat him out of his money because they would like to become city gallants.

Encouraged by their haughty mother, Lady Frugal, both Anne and Mary reject their suitors Sir Maurice Lacy, son of Lord Macy, and Mr. Plenty, a country gentleman. They feel ridiculed and complain to Sir John Frugal about his wife and daughters’ vanity and pretentiousness. In disgust at their pride and disobedience, Sir John enters a monastery handing all his belongs to his brother.

In contrast to his earlier, charitable views, Luke embraces his new power and wealth, plotting to have his debtors thrown into prison and treating Lady Frugal and her daughters with contempt and distain, forcing them to wear coarse clothing. Unbeknownst to Luke Frugal, Sir John and the two suitors return from their exile, disguised as Indians, to watch the disorder unfold…

All those qualities of Shakespearean comedies we have come to love and expect were there: clashes between the social classes, hypocrisy and deception not to mention the presence of characters who disappear only to reappear in the most absurd disguises which, nevertheless, are completely impenetrable to everyone except the audience. Finally, the disguises are thrown aside and everyone recognises how dreadfully awful they have been and promise to lead honest and moral lives from henceforth.

One amusing footnote from Ms Playchute’s birthday celebrations. As Penelope checked her Facebook account on Saturday morning she was amazed to find dozens of good wishes and wondered how everyone knew it was her birthday. I explained how, since she had entered the information in her profile, Facebook posts a little note to all her “friends” reminding them that it was her birthday. One of her Australian “friends” from her Loreto Convent days wished her well and, in response, Pen wrote that she had enjoyed a wonderful evening at the theatre the evening before and that she had received a Kindle in bed on her birthday. The friend, it seems, was unfamiliar with the term “Kindle” (and, it seems, she was equally unfamiliar with the electronic reading device of the same name) and imagined it to be a euphemism for something somewhat more private, personal and somewhat risqué, shall we say. “How wonderful that your husband still gives you Kindles in the morning!”

Moving from something which was very funny to something a bit more sober, I ran across a link to the following animation of “The Pale Blue Dot” somewhere during the week. I have to confess, I was not familiar with the background. So, from that fountain of all reliable knowledge, Wikipedia, comes the following:

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 from a record distance (6.1 billion km, 3.7 billion miles), showing it against the vastness of space. By request of Carl Sagan, NASA commanded the Voyager 1 spacecraft, having completed its primary mission and now leaving the Solar System, to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space. Subsequently, the title of the photograph was used by Sagan as the primary title of his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.

Now there may have been many animations or other videos dealing with the concept but, as I say, I ran across a link to the following somewhere and thought it was pretty powerful stuff. Text and narration by Carl Sagan:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Pale Blue Dot
Earth, the pale blue dot just over half way down the brown band on the right

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Love to you all,


One thought on “29 May 2011”

  1. Thanks for the Carl Sagan video Uncle Greg, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Along with the tales from your side of the pond. Those too. Also enjoyed them.

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