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Being Taught

During the lockdown over the last 8 or 9 months we have all probably been taught things that previously we might either have overlooked, ignored, or not been concerned with. As we have become more ‘captive audiences’ a number of things have become  relevant to us and along the way, teach us a few tricks or tips.

Now during this time, I have had a new companion. For those who don’t know me, amongst other things, I am a RSPCA cat fosterer and during the last 6 years or so I have fostered 17 cats- not all at the same time you will be glad to hear!

Fostering a cat is just providing your home and some TLC to cats who for a variety of reasons find themselves ‘homeless’ through changed circumstances (e.g. an owner going into some kind of care or sheltered housing) or some form of human neglect or on some occasions- abuse. So, I look after them in the Princes Risborough area until we can find someone to adopt them permanently and provide the cat with their ‘forever home’- which does happen although sometimes it can take some time.

As I am fiercely independent living on my own, a cat is an ideal companion. They know their own minds and will do what they fancy whether its human owners agree or otherwise and are generally happy in their own company -provided you feed and water them and give them somewhere nice and warm to live in- cuddles play a role but only on their terms!

‘Angel’ my current charge is unique in my case as she is the only cat that I have now gone on to adopt myself, largely because life has not always been kind to her. To begin with, she only has 3 legs now – she was a stray cat when I took her in, and no one is sure how she lost her leg. However, it does not stop her as she belts up and down the stairs of my house at quite a lick. She is also believed to be a cat flu carrier so she cannot go outside. After taking her in I also discovered that she has cancer- so she does have quite a few things on her plate.

However, as a cat Angel has taught me a lot in the time she has been with me. Despite her disability and having a serious health condition, she does not dwell on things but rather just gets on with her life. Although she is a very noisy cat she is not pre-occupied with what has happened to her or concerned about what may lie ahead. That is why I think cats are great examples to us about how to  live in the ‘here and now’. Even though they are experts in chilling out, they are still alert to danger- if Angel sees next door’s cat ‘Meeko’ prowling around she will do her best to scare him off -even if it is through my French windows- but they are not anxious about things. At some level they just accept that there is no point worrying, fretting, or making any grand plans about how to deal with things that may or may not happen.

Animals especially cats instinctively know that when something happens that needs their attention, they will be ready to deal with that. It is the best example you can have on how to manage stress as they are great at teaching you how to relax- they can be on a side of an armchair, be on your lap or frankly up a tree, as they can stretch out and be happy almost anywhere. They can also sleep anywhere and at any time- they do tend to sleep around 15 hours a day so the opposite to us humans but if you want to know how to relax and through away your worries, just look at any cat- they know a few tricks!

Their importance to us as teachers are emphasised by God. In Proverbs 6:6 we are taught:

“ Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise”

Jesus of course taught us in Matthew 6:27  how animals as well as plants show us his Truth:

“Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap or gather into barns – and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of  you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: they do not labour or spin”.

So, Angel apart from being a great companion, has been a good teacher, and during this difficult time I think all pet owners have appreciated the love and friendship that our pets bring us. They have been a critical lifeline for so many people this year, and we won’t forget how much they have helped us get through this difficult time.

Have you heard the one about Princes Risborough, the Vicar and the Wonder Drug?

The news that there are vaccines potentially ready to be rolled out to counteract COVID-19 is truly great news with the prospect that 2021 may see us being protected if they get regulatory approval.

That made me think about another wonderful medicinal creation that is regarded as one of the first ‘wonder drugs’ discovered- the humble but lifesaving Aspirin- and that if it were not for a Vicar born in Princes Risborough and what he did 262 years ago, how different life could have turned out to be for millions of people.

The Reverend Edward Stone was born to a family of farmers in Princes Risborough in 1702, and his family had lived in our parish for several hundred years. By the time he was 30 he was living in nearby Horsenden and had become a Curate in the Bicester area before becoming a Chaplain in the Chipping Norton district of Oxfordshire.

Then on one fateful day around 1757, Edward Stone was walking across a meadow in Oxfordshire when he came across a bark of the Willow tree. He tasted its sap which was very bitter, but it reminded him of a Peruvian Bark (known as ‘Jesuit Bark’) that he knew of which was known for its beneficial qualities – especially in the treatment of what was then called ‘the agues’ (chills or fever). The resourceful Vicar then gathered sufficient willow bark to pound it into a powder and over a period of some 5 or 6 years, he gave it to around 50 people -either congregants of his then parish or possibly family members – there was no ethical regulations in the 18th century for trying out new medications!

He found out that all of those people taking the powder showed an improvement in how they were feeling, and he said at the time “ (the pills) were a powerful astringent and very efficacious in curing agues and intermittent disorders”.

Edward Stone did not know it then, but what he had discovered  was a substance called Salicylic Acid which it is now known is the active ingredient of Aspirin. Stone was no amateur in this as he held his own clinical trials – he gave the powder every 4 hours to people in either tea, water or in small beer and recorded the impact on his ‘patients’.

Having undertaken this hugely valuable research he summarised it all in a very detailed paper that he submitted to the President of the Royal Society in 1763 and in presenting it he told them:

“My Lord, among the many useful discoveries which this age has  made, there are very few which better deserve the attention of the public than what I going to lay before your Lordship”.

The report was accepted and published, and the use of willow bark started to be used in the very early science of medicine but it would be another 90 years before chemists were able to isolate Aspirin’s active ingredient and made it more palatable to take and in 1899 the German company Bayer patented and sold what we now know as Aspirin. Within 50 years of that, Aspirin was officially recognised as the world’s most popular painkiller.

Aspirin is truly a wonder drug- it is now routinely used to reduce pain, fever, or inflammation. It is now accepted as part of the treatment given to people after a heart attack and decreases the risk of death. Taken over a longer term, Aspirin can help prevent further heart trouble, strokes, and blood clots. It is also believed that it can decrease the risk of certain types of cancer. What Edward Stone probably didn’t know though is that as incredible a drug as Aspirin is, it can cause stomach bleeding, so it has to be used carefully and may not be suitable for everyone. I, for example, can't take it as I suffer from Acid Reflux.

However, you cannot underestimate the role that our own Rev Edward Stone played in the modern discovery of Aspirin. He is remembered in his home parish of Chipping Norton with a plaque put up to commemorate him (above) but here in Princes Risborough he is hardly known of.

So, whenever you next reach for a packet of Aspirin, you might want to say a mental 'thank you' to the role that our local boy the Revd Edward Stone played in helping to bring to us the wonder that is the humble Aspirin!

And it's a welcome to the new site!

It's been a fair few years since my website went live and as I have been told by my great webdesign team at Web Design Unlimited, time has moved on and the site was in need of an update - especially when considering the issue of security etc.

So here is my new home. Please feel free to look around. The main change you will see, apart from what I think is an easier and lighter feel to everything, is that my Blog is now broken down into individual categories to make it easier for people to find what they need to find.

Please let me know what you think about it -a big thanks for those kind of people who tested it for me and of course to Ann at Web Design Unlimited for masterminding everything!

I must now get busy writing...........................

Fancy living in 1911 or 2011?

he publication of initial results from the 2011 Census makes for some fascinating reading. Although the headline data that has filled newspapers and the online media is the increase in the population for England and Wales, there are a range of other less known nuggets in the results that should give us cause to pause.

If you compare 2011 to its 1911 predecessor it is striking just how much our length (and hopefully the quality) of our lives has improved. In 1911, there was a 13% chance that a baby born would die before its 12 month birthday- now that chance is down to just 0.4%. For adults in 1911 men could expect to live to the age of 49 with women living an extra 8% in time at 53. Compare that with our lot in 2011. A baby boy born now can expect that he will live to 79 with a female baby to 83 (women are now living 5% longer than their menfolk- so we are closing the gap!).

Now I reckon these are amazingly significant statistics. It means that over the course of the last 100 years men and women are living for an extra 55%-60% longer. Now of course, there are a whole range of factors in play here. Social conditions in 1911 were in a number of parts of the country appalling which impacted on peoples’ health and mortality rates. Infectious diseases such as TB, Polio, Diphtheria, Measles, Scarlet Fever and even Diarrhoea accounted for many deaths (as an illustration the number of deaths due to TB has fallen by 95% over a 100 year period), that could be linked to living conditions and without an NHS service to call upon, life expectation was low and relatively bleak. Women were also more likely to suffer complications and die during pregnancy. Whilst you were more likely to die through an infectious disease, that wasn’t true of Cancer which at the turn of the previous century had accounted for less than 5% of deaths compared to over 40% 100 years later. The reason for this is not clear   but may be linked to the fact that a number of cancers tend to present in more elderly people and the average 1911 citizen would be fortunate to get to 60 let alone their 70’s or 80’s where illnesses such as Prostrate Cancer for example is more prevalent.

Population wise, England and Wales has increased from 36 million in 1911 to 56m as measured in 2011. That is an increase of some 20 million people but remember, it is over a 100 year period so it has been increasing by just about 0.5% or 200,000 people each year- although the trend has been sharply up as the increase in the last decade (2001-2011) is the biggest every registered. As commentators have indicated, around half of the reason for this increase is due to the amount of net migration. In 1911 for example, the country was a net exporter of the population with a net number of 100, 000 people or so immigrating to the likes of Australia, Canada and the US. But that trend reversed from around the 1960’s and now there is net migration of around 250,000. The other main factor is that as a nation we are living longer,  due to a genuine revolution in improvements in sanitation, health and living conditions, and much better access to healthcare, this is despite us frankly, breeding less. In 1911 there were 3.5 children per household compare to 1.8 children in 2011 – roughly a 50% reduction.

Overall then, you would want to be living in 2011 rather than 1911- you are far more likely to live in better conditions, you are less likely to suffer through infectious diseases (and more likely to have them cured) and much more likely to live longer. That is a really positive story but there is a downside to it which is the strain on our pensions and social care to look after us living longer. That is a challenge that the next 100 years and beyond will need to take on…. 

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