Count the Stars

Have you ever tried to count the stars? I’ve tried to do it once or twice and even though I can’t see that many, I lose track too easily. The world is too big for me to ever fully understand it or to see all there is to see.

It’s not normally my choice to be in a position where I feel small but then who amongst us really likes to? But compared to the stars, that is what we are in our universe. Tiny, little creatures who’ve somehow managed to achieve relative greatness. But because the night sky is so big and the stars are so many I’m okay that in the grand scheme of things I might not be significant.

Realising my insignificance changes my perspective on the world around me. I notice the little things. The birds which fly past racing each other. One flying under the balcony, the other over it, a moment which no one else saw but me and it made me smile.

Next time you’re outside at night, why don’t you take a moment and look up at the sky? You don’t have to be looking for anything in particular, just the twinkling brightness of far away light. It’s a pretty incredible thing that we can see the light from so far away. Go count the stars and remember that you are small but small things can still bring happiness to people.

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The Battle of Salamis

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The Battle of Salamis in 480 BC marked the turning point towards Greek victory against Persia. Themistocles convinced both the Greeks and the Persians that Salamis was the best place for this battle. The Peloponnesians wanted to strengthen and defend the Isthmus, however he argued that the Persians could sail around the Isthmus and attack the mainland somewhere else. Instead Themistocles suggested that they attack the Persian fleet in a narrow strait near Salamis, where the smaller Greek ships could move more easily and the Persians could not utilise their superior numbers. Ultimately the decision of battle was left to the Spartan Eurybiades, whose leadership Athens had accepted to ensure unity amongst the Greek States. However Themistocles blackmailed him into accepting his plan, threatening to leave for Italy if his plan was not accepted. Whether Eurybiades saw the wisdom of the plan or feared the consequences if he did not follow it, he made the decision to follow Themistocles’s advice. Having ensured Greek involvement in his plan, Themistocles sent a message to Xerxes that the Greek ships were going to escape, causing Xerxes to move his ships to block off their escape route which left them in the position that Themistocles wanted them in. By nightfall most of the Persian navy had been destroyed and would no longer be able to supply their troops with supplies, further changing the way in which they fought the Greeks who had proved naval dominance, marking a turning point for the Greeks.

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Guilt

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“Guilt is not a very constructive emotion.” — Paul Keating (The Redfern Park Speech, 1992)

I came across this quote yesterday and I found it interesting. I think everyone would admit to having felt guilt at some point in their lives, and at times it can seem almost natural. But is guilt a good thing? Inspirational media talks a lot about not feeling guilty but people who don’t appear to feel guilty after committing a crime are condemned. So where is the line drawn? Is guilt a good thing or is it a negative thing?

I wrote last year about how the world can at times be seen in shades of grey. However I do believe that there are some absolutes which the majority of the world would agree on. It is when we feel as though we have crossed a line, whether one imposed by ourselves or our society, that guilt becomes associated with our actions. For that reason, I think that at times guilt can have benefits, forcing us to recognise when we have done the wrong thing and feel sorry for it. But at other times it becomes easy to get trapped in a cycle of guilt, waking up in the middle of the night worrying about a choice you made five years ago, and I don’t think that this is helpful. It is impossible to change the past but you do still have to live with the consequences in a healthy way.

I’d agree with the quote, guilt itself is not a constructive emotion, however it can be a motivator for other emotions which are more constructive. What may have begun as guilt for the blessings that you have, can turn into generosity and compassion for those who have less. Guilt can make you do something to rectify the problems, whether small or large, which exist in the world.

Guilt does have benefits at times, helping us realise we’ve done something wrong or motivating us to do better things, but too much of it is detrimental. It’s about finding a balance in life rather than constantly avoiding or embracing it.

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Fence Sitting

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Some days I have opinions that I will refuse to back down from. But there are other days when I find that I don’t really seem to have a hard and fast opinion on various issues and I find myself sitting on a metaphorical fence. There isn’t necessarily a reason for why I do or don’t have an opinion on an issue, but I do want to think about some of the reasons why this might be the case, at least for me even if not for you.

Why do I sit on a fence? I think it’s because generally speaking I like to hear both sides of the argument before I pick my side. I don’t want to make decisions until I hear the reasons behind what each side is arguing and why it is the better choice. I find it easy to understand both sides of an argument because I can usually get where both parties are coming from. So I get stuck in the middle because I see two perfectly reasonable arguments leading to conflicting conclusions which I can’t always choose between.

Even though it can take me a while to form opinions, carefully listening to both sides of the argument and at times fluctuating between sides before I settle on an opinion,  once I have formed my opinions it can be hard for me to change them. Of course some will change more easily (like my favourite book) but most are fairly permanent.

Whilst I think it’s important that we have opinions on issues and that we know why we have them, I still think the ability to ‘sit on a fence’ is a useful one. But regardless of whether you have a steadfast opinion or not, you should still take the time to listen to other people and whatever they have to say even if you don’t agree with their opinion.

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Stories of Life, Part 5

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I’ve heard it said that we are an average of the 5 people we spend the most time with and whether it is because of the memories we share with other people or because of the impact they have on us, I think that it would be hard to think about what tells our stories without mentioning other people around us.

I tell so many stories, about things that I have done with people because the are perhaps the easiest method of sharing with people who I am. I knew someone who would time how long it took me to mention certain things in conversations with new people because that was something I did as regularly as clockwork. But it’s not just stories of my life I share, it’s the stories of my enemies, my friends and even total strangers. I tell stories I think as a way of me trying to understand my life and also to impart some of the things I’ve learnt over time to other people.

But the people around me also can explain who I am. I’ve caught phrases come out of my mouth and think “that’s something _________ would say” so I feel as though I’ve taken a little bit of who they are. It’s not just words, it’s actions, hobbies and things that I’ve done which have been influenced by others. In fact probably about half of what I do has been influenced by the people around me.

I don’t know who would tell my story best,  but I know that different people would tell different parts of it. And I would do the same. I know that as well as telling them, I am made up of the stories of other people’s lives, so intertwined that at times it is impossible to say who I am made up of.


Stories of Life, Part 1 – Objects

Stories of Life, Part 2 – Words

Stories of Life, Part 3 – Trees

Stories of Life, Part 4 – Marks

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My Blogging Journey

It’s that time of year again. A time of year where I get to celebrate having reached another milestone, even if most of my friends don’t know about it. In celebration of my blog’s 2nd Birthday, I thought I’d share a little bit of my blogging journey with you all.

I started regularly writing this blog two years ago but the process really began three years ago, if not longer. I had been wanting to get more serious about writing and over the years one thing which different people kept saying was that to be a writer you actually have to set aside regular time to write. The easiest way I thought of holding myself accountable to this goal was to create a blog and say I would be posting at certain times. True, I haven’t always kept the deadlines, but I’ve always done my best to stick close to them. It’s at the end of each year that I compile some statistics on my blog and I’m always amazed at what I’ve managed to do. Last year I wrote about 19,000 words and this year I’ve sent more than 20, 000 words out into the world.

I created the site about a year before I actually started writing and over that year I came up with some ideas for blog posts (some of which waited another year to actually be written). Eventually a year after I first decided to start blogging, I realised that I really needed to start this, I didn’t really have an excuse not to, and so I hit publish on my first post on June 4th 2015. It hasn’t always been easy writing about my thoughts but it has been something which I’ve looked forward to every week, the chance to just sit and write.

So thank you to all those who have read, liked, commented and subscribed. It’s nice to know that people care about my writing as I’ve been on this journey over the past two years. As I said last year I’m going to try  another year of blogging and see where it takes me, perhaps one day I’ll no longer have the time for it, but whilst I do, I want to enjoy it.

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Politics in Ancient Sparta

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Many changes in Spartan politics have been attributed to Lykourgos. However as Plutarch writing in the 2nd century AD said, “nothing can be said about Lykourgos that is not disputed”. Historians question whether he was a real man, many men or just a myth. What we learn about Lykourgos suggests that he sought advice from the Oracle of Delphi who provided him with instructions on how to improve Spartan politics and life. These instructions were recorded in a document known as the Great Rhetra.

The Great Rhetra introduced land distribution (known as kleroi) and the common messes, called syssitia. It also introduced a council of elders, known as the gerousia. The gerousia was made up of 28 gerontes, men of high standing over the age of 60. The other two members of the gerousia were the two kings of Sparta descended from two families – the Agiads and the Eurypontids. By the 5th century the judicial function of the kings had greatly declined and they were responsible for three areas: maintenance of public highways, adoption of children and the marriage of heiresses whose fathers had died. One area kings no longer had power in was the authority to declare war. After the reign of Cleomenes (520-490BC), it appears that the power of declaring war passed on to the ekklesia. The final group of people in Spartan politics were the ephors, five Spartiates* over 30 who were elected for a year. They do not appear to have been included in the Great Rhetra and are instead believed to have been introduced at a later date. Over time the power of the ephors increased as they gained various powers and administrative functions. By the 7th century were a key part of the Spartan political system.

*Spartiates were Spartan males over 30 who had been born to Spartan parents and successfully completed the agoge (military training).

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