I would have given you the world

In Catching Infinity, an eternity happened whilst Alice and PW were sitting on a rickety, old punt on the Cherwell and the music of Christ Church Choir reverberated in PW’s mind. It was magic, because the choir was silent that night.

In its prequel, An Evening In Wonderland, it was during the walk from a teashop on The High to Magdalen Deer Meadow, when Alice and PW stopped and saw ethereal orbs of light dancing in front of them like magic. But in reality, those were just the light from passing cars, nothing more.

Magic is to be found in mundane things and ordinary moments.

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Photo: Road to Patong Beach

You fill a whole lifetime
In a single perfect moment
In those heartbeats of yours
So close to mine
I have heard them
The thundering within your ribcage
When I send you to the stars
And the solidarity with mine
When I sleep
In your arms

You are so deeply
Connected to my soul
From the soft dialogue
Between your fingertips and
The skin of my forearm, my face, my lips
You are the air
That I breathe
On which my spirit soars
All it ever takes with you
Is a picnic blanket
And a sunset or two

18th January 2017

There are more stars in the skies than grains of sand in the world. If life is long, all becomes one ❤

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Love and the universe

In a time when we are hurtling towards time-poverty, where things happen at a super-fast timescale, I would like to share something old-fashioned about deep connection with another person and the universe.

January 2017

Upon seeing this sunset from my balcony, we grabbed our picnic food, stuffed it into an old rucksack, and raced 600m to the beach. I think we were smiling as we walked single-file along the busy road leading to the seafront, amidst the traffic and pedestrians living their lives on the streets. I wanted to turn around and tell him this: “I am so incredibly happy to be with you.”

At the beach, just when the world was beginning to turn dusky pink by the setting sun, we fell into step next to each other and held hands. I love holding his hand. A thousand magical things happen whenever his fingers reach for mine.

We found a spot somewhere on the beach and laid down the picnic blanket. It was my old horse blanket, all tatty and memorable, but this was one of the rare occasions I did not think about my home in the Shires. I was here, fully present with this man who lit some long-buried fire in me.

As we sat down, his arms went round me and I moulded my body to his. I could feel him kissing my hair softly. Though the cloud had come in by now and obscured the display, we were lost in the beauty of the moment.

Until I broke the enchantment and moved away from him. ‘Your back,” I said. “You’ll strain your back bearing my weight.”

He was spooning me whilst sitting upright. And I thought about the spinous fibres of his erector spinae dancing alongside his spine, and his quadratus lumborum supporting my weight. He smiled teasingly at me – only a crazy woman would think about erector spinae and quadratus lumborum in a romantic moment like this – but he followed my lead anyway. We moved to a better spot. We found a tree that was just right for us, as its trunk concaved into a hollow into which his back fitted perfectly. I relaxed again, thinking about him in yoga class, on the mat beside me.

An aeon ago, before he became this special person to me, he had been a deeply familiar system of biological parts, subject to my mental dissection and intellectual exercise. He had entered my consciousness as a familiarity, and from then on, he weaved his individual and personalised magic in me. But I had thought about his body long before then, visualised its internal workings. I saw the architectural wonders of his body in my mind’s eye before I even first kissed his skin.

And here he was now, holding me in this enchanted space. He was touching my upper arm softly, like he was tracing the intricate network of arteries, veins and capillaries beneath my skin, subcutaneous layer, connective tissues and muscles. “So soft,” he breathed, watching my face in the fading light. At that moment in time, I thought it was the most perfect moment ever. The world around us faded into a distant blur – the Russian tourists, the Chinese chatter, the beach dogs, the whole world. All that was left was just he and I alone in this vast and magical universe.

It was as if some deep part of me was waiting for this man to breathe fire into my inner being. His molecules – the signature of his essence – somehow fitted in the intricate 3-D molecular structures within me, catalysing a waterfall of beautiful reactions. It is said that emotions arise from the synapses in the brain, but I am not so sure. I felt a visceral reaction deep within me at the taste of him.

We ate goat’s cheese and sundried tomatoes. And sticky mango rice. I tasted that on his lips, his tongue, his saliva, and felt all the parts of me that was capable of expressing joy coming alive, coming to glorious life.

And reading the book by Sophie Sabbage about the art of living on borrowed time, I thought, how exquisite it is to feel and to love deeply. Indeed, we don’t ‘fall’ in love. We rise. We are more, not less, of ourselves in its presence. We are uplifted, not laid low.

And thus we live; we really live.

Jellyfish and Winnie The Pooh

The conversation started between my daughter and I about jellyfish, because I wrote a short story about a girl who kept jellyfish in the bath.

“Jellyfish are pointless,” G declared. “They have no brains.”

Brains are overrated, as my partner once told me. Sea squirts are born with brains to allow them to move to where they want to go, and then, upon finding their happy spot, they ate their brains up. Jellyfish don’t even have brains to start off with.

But this conversation reminded me of a book I once read, beautifully written by Benjamin Hoff, with the title The Tao of Pooh. The book opened with Confucius, Buddha and Laotzi (the traditional founder of Taoism) standing over a vat of vinegar. Confucius found the vinegar sour, the Buddha found it bitter whilst Laozi found it satisfying.

The jellyfish, without brain and hence, without direction, is the embodiment of the Tao principle of wei wu wei, the concept of “effortless doing”. They just float freely in the ocean, and if you ever watched a jellyfish swim, you could almost see enjoyment in their brainless beings as it flows up and down with the current stream.

It goes where the ocean takes it, no preference, no complaint, all experiences same-same to the jellyfish. This is the Taoist principle of pu, which is to be open to all that life brings us but be unburdened by it.

“Passiveness!” She retorted spiritedly, with her usual fire.

Indeed it is, but it is because Taoism sees nature/the universe as a self-balancing system that does not require an input of external force.

Like the jellyfish, we can learn so much from life around us and go amazing places, IF we open ourselves to it. So dear daughter, two very beautiful teachings from a humble, brainless living being. Just go with the flow of the ocean of life, reconcile yourself with the natural universe and embrace all experiences without being unnecessarily burdened by these experiences.

******

Three philosophers – a follower of Confucius, a Buddhist and a Taoist – fell seriously ill.

The Confucius philosopher: “I will seek out the best doctor and follow the advice and rituals.”

The Buddhist: “Life is about suffering. I will mediate and understand the nature of suffering and hence, gain self-realisation and freedom.”

The Taoist: “I am part of the universe. Thus I will carry on, without fear of death.”

Finding a piece of paradise

I was trying to find a small piece of paradise for a few days, some little place amongst a coconut grove with an ocean roaring beyond. It took me a while, though I live on the tropical island of Phuket. I didn’t want boutique villas or Airbnb houses owned by expats, and I certainly didn’t want hotels.

I wanted rural and real, yet with some modern comforts.

I went north, off the beaten path a bit, and in the shadows of a couple of international hotels, I found what I was looking for. The owner is a 42-year old Thai lady who used to work as an airport representative at Phuket International Airport. Dhao (or Stella) owns a piece of land on which she built eight sweet little bungalows. She built the bungalows away a bit from the sea so that they are not threatened by the sometimes violent monsoon that hit the island during the rainy seasons. “I’ve been here for four years, and I have not needed to change anything,” she said. I like her story as we drove in her little car, laughing like two old friends.

Stella (left) and I:

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Our little house was basic: plastic furniture, a few sticks of furniture, beach mats in the cupboard. But there were butterflies and little birds in the verdant garden where our pink bungalow sits.

“Look,” he said. “There’s a sort of a woodpecker just by the long grass.”

“Love his stripey pants,” I replied, looking out of the window, feeling foolishly happy, loving the peace around us.

We paddled a long way out on one paddle board, just two human beings, the sun, the sea breeze and the open ocean. This is how life is meant to be, I realised, stripped of its complications and unnecessary burdens.

At night, we had the back door open and watched the rain, listened to the call of the insects outside. Yes, there were mosquitoes but hmmm, they never bit me. I slept peacefully and deeply, to wake up to a beautiful blazing day. And the days were indeed beautiful, as well as peaceful and tranquil. I wondered fleetingly how this little piece of paradise would be like when the seven other bungalows are occupied, but no matter, we are surrounded by so much lush, undeveloped space.

I began writing the draft for my new book. He sits cross-legged on the bed, wearing anti-glare glasses, frowning a little as he deconstructed what I wrote. For me, life couldn’t get any better than it was at this moment.

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Stella can be contacted at themaikhaobeachroom@gmail.com

Getting in touch

We often forget, we are magic. Or maybe we have never thought of ourselves in this way. But each and everyone of us is. Magic.

We open our eyes and we see, “Me” and “You”, and then because of conditioning of society, we see “Us” and “Them”. We see the separation, and the gulf, rather than the components, constituents, building blocks and the purity of the architecture that build the human beings we see as “Others”, “Hate”, “Not like me”, “Gay”, “Straight”, “Black”, “White”.

We create these divisions in our minds and society encourages us to. In time, we lose sight of  who we are. Who we truly are.  Let’s start with you.

Close your eyes. Hug yourself. Take yourself inwards with your breath. Turn your eyes into your body, so that your sight follows your breath’s journey inwards. Begin to feel the muscles beneath your skin. We might be obsessed with the physicality of someone’s touch, but when two people are connected with pure love, the layers beneath the superficial skin and muscles come alive. The cells within us respond to love, which is the most fundamental of four fundamental forces of nature. It is the wind beneath the wings of these physical forces that govern our universe.

But it starts with you, not with your partner or your child. By connecting to your deepest self, you begin to understand you are Magic. You begin to feel Love. You begin to feel that in each and every cell of you. You begin to understand. Magic and Love becomes real. It is then you pass it on.

I recently did this experiment with my partner. We sat facing each other, not touching, physically detached. It took some effort, because we are so deeply connected to one another. By the sheer force of our willpower, we took ourselves away from each other and turned our eyes inwards. His image burned at the back of my eyelids and I struggled to look past him into my own self. At first, I saw the ugliness of me – my need for him, my dependency on him, my fear of losing him. I saw how empty my life would be without him.

But beyond that, there were this bunch of cells. They were just getting on with their own business. At first, it seemed like chaos, like entropy in the world. Ten trillion times a second, the molecular reactions take place in our bodies to collectively confer upon us the attribute of being alive. 

But from chaos rises order. The kinesin molecules walking on the cytoplasm of the cell, transporting a heavy vesicle containing life-making atoms. The calcium pump embedded in the cellular membrane to maintain the processes of life. The constant weave of the long threads of structural proteins. All in the silent theatre of life. Sheer magic (please view the VIMEO below by John Liebler).

And then we opened our eyes and saw each other. When our fingers met, there was this great energy charge happening between us, this seismic force called Love.

Try it ❤

Magic trees

In the small book of Catching Infinity, An Evening In Wonderland, I wrote that as a boy, PW used to hide in the hollowed out trunks of dead, thousand -year-old baobab trees and the whole universe was with him in that small magical space.

Now, a photographer called Beth Moon has published a collection of photographs of ancient trees of South Africa and Botswana. You can read the article in the Smothsonian here.

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In that article, Carl Taylor, a research associate with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, describes the tree: “When the leaves are off they have this immense trunk and these little stubbly branches, so it looks like somebody pulled them up from the ground and reversed them and the roots are growing aerially.”

Now, isn’t that simply magical?

Space-time, your way!

IB Physics students at the British International School Phuket were the first to experience this 60 minute session which started with the infamous apple falling on Newton’s head (and the resultant Newton’s equations of motion and universal gravitation) to current thinking on space-time and gravity.

Uh, what happens if the sun vaporises suddenly, without warning, in a flash? What lies beyond our visible universe? Is space-time in loops? Is space-time a basket with the weave of string theory, in which reality sits in?

With theoretical physics, the only wrong question is the unasked one!

It was a fun, lively session that finished with modelling space-time with foam, coloured paper, wood, cardboard, and of course, imaginations !

Stay tuned to see their creations!

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Photographs courtesy of British International School, Phuket

EVENING IN WONDERLAND WORKSHOP AT PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL, HAMPSHIRE, UK

Nobel Prize For Physics 2016: The Wonderland Way

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 was awarded to David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.

******

Told in the story of An Evening In Wonderland, topology is explained as thus:

It is said that hell is where the mind is. His Ouma told him that in her dark, forbidding Voortrekker way. And hell was indeed where PW currently resided. He could find no peace, and took to prowling the long corridors of CERN at all hours, checking on the progress of the all-night experiments that ran here in the vast, sleepless underground labyrinth.

“You look haggard, Professor,” Alice remarked, surveying his hooded eyes and hair that stood on ends as he ran his fingers countless times thorough it. He looked more like an angry Mohican than a world famous professor of theoretical physics.

Blerrie hell,” he laughed self-consciously. I must build myself a quiet room in my brain.”

It was good to speak to her, he thought, because she understood. She understood all of him. And much, much more.

And so, they talked. They discussed the quietest place they could build on earth.  A box to which a very strong vacuum pump is attached to remove all air molecules so that there is no sound. The box is suspended off the ground so that it is insulated from both sound and vibration. And it is lined with thick steel walls so that there are no wifi, radio waves or anything.

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“I would be able to sleep then,” PW joked. “No demons can get into that box.”

“You forget, my dear Professor, that there will be elementary particles popping in and out of existence disturbing you in your insulated box, because nothingness is actually not empty. It is teeming with the potential for life, for matter, because nothing does not exist.”

Strange matter, and matter than can exist in strange states.

And indeed, the latter is the gist of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics winners’ research topic: matter that can assume strange states. Matter in these strange states plays a big role in superconductivity and superfluids, where it flows with almost zero resistance at low temperatures.

The three guys who won the big prize this year used topology to study these weird phenomena. Why topology and what is topology?

Well, simply because topology simplifies things. It is the maths of shapes, but unlike geometry, it is a lot simpler and whole lot more relaxed. Measurement and accuracy don’t really matter in topology, unbelievable as it may sound.

Because the only thing that really matters in topology: is holes, namely how many holes you’ve got. A teacup with a handle and a donut is the same thing topologically because both have one hole each, and if made from squidgy rubber material, you can morph one into the other.

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Basically, it is about what you can do with squidgy rubber ball, donut, pretzel, complicated knots…depending on how many holes you want in your model. But apart from the number of holes, the type of holes are also taken into account: the hole you get from cutting through a length of ribbon (1-D), punching a hole through a piece of paper (2-D) or the hole inside a balloon (3-D) are examples of different types of holes.

So what’s the big deal?

This is it: using this unbelievably simple model, scientists can begin to understand and explain the behaviour of really complex stuff (and predict new phenomena), because an average substance may contain a trillion trillion atoms, all interacting with each other.

“Gee, all this talk makes me feel like eating a donut,” PW said with a grimace, playing idly with a rubber band on his desk, wondering how many holes he can make out of it.

“Eating won’t help, because you can’t hide from your thoughts, Professor,” Alice said wisely.  “You just have to make peace with them, like untie the Gordian knot.”

Wonderland: Shapes & Illnesses

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At first glance, you might think that this drawing is that of a mandala or some mathematical shape which I am so fond of. But actually, it is a diagrammatic representation of the Barr-Epstein virus.

Virus symmetry is one of the most beautiful, naturally occurring structures of nature. Though incredibly tiny (the smallest animal virus is the one that causes foot-and-mouth disease at 20nm), viron symmetry is highly structured and falls into highly organised categories: helical, polyhedral (cubical) and binal symmetry.

Not so bacterium structures which sometimes look like primitive spaceship.

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My daughter who is studying Biology for her International Baccalaureate commented dourly that there is so much stuff to learn for this subject. I don’t want her to just memorise stuff, but to be excited by the knowledge (or else the three years of preclinical medical course would be hellishly long for her).

So relating virus and bacteria to us and our daily lives:

Virus and bacteria cause infection in the body. When their presence is detected, the body switches on its inflammatory response, which is its strategy for fighting infection.  However, inflammation can kill, though it was meant to be our body’s lifesaving strategy.

But here’s the useful piece of information that you might not previously know: virus and bacteria cause different types of inflammatory responses. Studies done at Yale University by Ruslan Medzhitov showed that a body recovering from colds (often caused by viruses) benefit from feeding, whilst those suffering from fever (typically caused by bacteria) should be starved, especially of carbohydrates which breaks down into glucose. For me, this is a really exciting discovery because it means that Medicine can move forward from blanket prescription of antibiotics – which does not work in many cases anyway – to a wellbeing system of managing health through nutrition.

The old adage of feeding the cold and starving the fever seems to be on its way to be proven ‘true’ by modern scientific establishment.

In the meantime, I leave you with some viruses.

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Note: In my novella which will be published on the 21st November 2016, An Evening in Wonderland – A Brief Story of Maths, Physics & The Universe (suitable for young adults), the protagonist Alice Liddell urged her beloved Professor to close his eyes and look for the symmetries in the world within and also out there in the universe, for within the shapes lie the truth that he was seeking.

You can read an interview with Ruzlan Medzhitov in the New York Times by clicking on the link here.

 

Eenvoud kan so mooi zijn

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Excerpt from  Chapter 11, The Jam Jar:

She paused, remembering. “With Hennie, it was always the simple things. There is such beauty in simple things, Dominee Dirk, eenvoud kan so mooi zijn. Like swimming in the waterhole on hot afternoons or sitting on the stoep at night. Boermusiek and braai. And sweet naartjes. The things that we have in abundance here. Hennie and I loved those as we had loved each other. We didn’t want complicated things like accelerators so large that it can be seen from the skies. We didn’t even want to travel. Life was good without needing to look further. I think with the right person, things just fall into place, though we were very young then. There is such sweetness in certainty, Dominee Dirk. And that can only come when life is simple, yes?”