​To pretend or not to pretend?  To mask or not to mask?  Quite frankly, it is a subconscious decision one makes daily – whether or not to disclose to the world how one really feels.  Few do.  We, each, have a default button and adhere to a certain pattern of behaviour; the expected is the armour behind which we hide.
It is February.  Thank goodness.  January seemed especially long and hard this year, much to do with the extreme weather and lack of light, I suspect.  However, the sun was actually shining earlier as I walked up to the post office and the bulbs are beginning to peep through the soil.  Spring will return but, sadly, I see no reason for my cynicism to abate.  I feel increasingly isolated in my views on a world which seems to have lost the plot.  Question Time, once again, was immersed in the endless Brexit debate engulfing the country. Oh, so tedious.  Then, of course, there is the serious debate as to whether there should be special changing rooms for transgender people?  Similarly, who could dismiss the question of gender fluidity in nursery schools?  Try me.  No wonder I love The Waltons!
It has not been a good week but my bits of paper denoting topics for discussion seem to be breeding.  Where to start?  Perhaps with the most ridiculous in ascending order?  The sun lounger wars it is, then.  I cannot believe the footage of holiday makers emerging before dawn to reserve a sunbed or, worse still, sprinting – on release – to put their towel on one of the hundreds of identical beds lined up poolside.  Each to his own.  Personally, I can’t think of anything worse than going to one of those resorts with regimented sunbeds.  Imagine lying – day in, day out – bang next door to someone else who’s bang next door to someone else who’s bang next door to someone else!  No wonder battery hens and intensive farming still exist …
It was announced, this week, that Thomas Cook are piloting a Choose Your Favourite Sunbed scheme.  Up to six days before departure, the customer will be able to choose his/her poolside lounger for the duration of his/her holiday all for a mere 25 euros.  What’s more, there will be access to data showing when each lounger is party to sun and shade.  Perfect.  No need for further decision making until the inevitable chips or no chips with the pizza! 
Ascending, I have noted down risk assessment.  Not sure if it qualifies as ascending, actually; perhaps more a move sideways.  To the point!  Becca, Classics teacher extraordinaire, recently had to forego three hours of a Monday morning to attend a Risk Assessment seminar.  Apparently, it is compulsory today that all schools be made aware of said risks and staff be schooled in the completion of the accompanying forms.  So far so good.  Examples of the risks encountered in the world of the classroom?  Well, endeavouring to open a window, put up a poster by standing on a stool, or kneeling on a desk to name but a few.  The forms denote different numbers according to severity of risk and one must decide that appropriate for the risk involved in, say, kneeling on that desk.  Help!  Worst scenario, one could slip off and crack one’s head on the corner of a neighbouring desk thus rendering oneself unconscious and susceptible to a blood clot on the brain.  That is the worst scenario and, therefore, the risk factor should surely be 10?  Don’t be silly.  That’s why it is necessary to employ someone, full-time, to drive round the country enlightening staff at every school – for 3 hours – as to the potential risks and just how to complete the forms.  No words.
Actually, that did remind me of perhaps the funniest incident of my time working in a shop whose name I can’t mention!  My cynicism, then, had not reached its present depths and, thus – in the stockroom one afternoon – I was a little surprised to learn that the electrician who appeared had travelled from south of the border to change one light bulb!  I jest not.  Moreover, seeing me standing on a ladder to reach the shelves above, he questioned me as to whether or not I had been on a stepladder course and, thus, was in possession of the resulting Stepladder Certificate.  He had to be joking?  Apparently not.  It would seem that Health & Safety stipulates that one is not permitted to climb higher than a certain number of rungs without having said certificate.  Oh, boy!  How we laughed.  The reality, however, is not funny.  I think these little green men in search of intelligent life on this planet are years too late … or maybe not.  Who said intelligent life had to be human?
On Wednesday, it was reported that Wikie, a 16 year-old female orca, has been successfully taught to ‘mimic the duration and pitch of human speech’ enabling her, through her blowhole, to communicate words such as ‘Hello’ and ‘Bye Bye’.  A third word in her vocabulary is ‘Amy’, the name of her trainer.  For this highly intelligent mammal is captive, held in a French marine theme park in Antibes for human entertainment.  
‘The discovery, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, puts killer whales on a footing with humans.’
Victoria Allen, Science Correspondent, Daily Mail, January 31, 2018.
That’s what I was afraid of. 
Testing Wikie’s communication skills was not the original remit of researchers but the scientist who led the study, Dr Jose Abramson of Complutense de Madrid University, ‘believes basic ‘conversations’ with her may one day be possible.’
Once more, the arrogance of man.  To what end, teaching a captive wild animal to mimic human speech?  Highly intelligent, these social mammals live in female led groups or pods to each of which is attributed a specific dialect; collections of distinctive calls which are unique to said pod or group of pods.  Are they able to learn?  There is data to prove that captive orcas, moved to different locations, have changed their calls to fit in with their new pod. 
‘Killer whales live in a society organised around females. The vocal traditions that these animals learn as they grow up are crucial components of their behaviour. But they are only part of a suite of knowledge and behaviour that they acquire, largely from their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers.’
Luke Rendell, MASTS Lecturer in Biology, University of St Andrews.
‘‘Talking’ killer whale reveals orcas can learn to mimic human speech.’
I found the above article when I keyed in ‘Orca learns to talk’.  I expected to find more of the same – the comparison to mankind and excitement in being able to ‘train’ this giant mammal to mimic our language.  Instead, I read of the evidence suggesting the ability of this killer whale to learn and the subsequent importance of its ‘cultural inheritance’.  Orcas, like us, have a need to belong.  Only then can they thrive.  Ironically, as Luke Rendell says, this experiment only served to highlight the enormity of that which we deprive these complex creatures in rendering them captive.  Intelligent life?  Tick.’
‘Know, Nature’s children all divide her care;
The fur that warms a monarch, warm’d a bear.
While Man exclaims, ‘See all things for my use!’
‘See man for mine!’ replies a pamper’d goose;
And just as short of Reason he must fall,
Who thinks all made for one, not one for all.’
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man: Epistle III
This is Trish, signing off.