Prince Charles hadn’t been in a black London cab since he was a child. But he used one recently to travel to a ceremony honouring the cabbies' contribution to London. He gave the driver £10 for the £6 fare and told him to keep the change.

Prince Philip on the other hand often uses a cab – his own. He apparently finds it convenient for short journeys round London, apparently so that he can get around faster by using bus lanes barred to private cars.

In our lives too, something which to one person is a new experience, may have been enjoyed by someone else for years. Sometimes they could have been initiated much earlier into its delights if only they’d been invited to try it.

It may seem strange that Prince Philip has never shared a cab ride with his son, or not at least for fifty-odd years. Perhaps royal etiquette forbids it. But if there is something we really enjoy and someone we know who might also come to enjoy it, it would be sad if we never invite them to share in it with us.

Dustin Hoffman, whose birthday it was yesterday, has created many powerful film moments. Most, but not all, were deliberate. In the final scene of the 1967 film “The Graduate”, Benjamin has rescued Elaine from a wedding in which she had been unhappily participating. They run to catch a passing bus and sit there amazed that they are finally together. The awkwardness of the moment is brilliantly conveyed and its effectiveness was partly due to the fact that the cameras continued rolling when the actors had expected them to stop.

Suddenly they were no longer acting being uncomfortable for the sake of the plot. They really didn’t know where to put themselves.

All of us are acting part of the time. It can be inappropriate, for all sorts of good reasons, to let our real feelings show. So too, all of us are being real part of the time. On our own or in trusted company, we can be true to ourselves. But all of us also put on an act, when to be real would be more creative, open and honest. Sometimes what keeps us acting is fear of an unsympathetic reaction. But in making sure we avoid that, we remove the possibility of a thoroughly loving and supportive response to our real feelings.

Let’s today try and be aware when we are being real and when we’re not. And if there’s a chance that dropping the mask might give people an opportunity to care for us, let’s take the risk.

Goldfish bowls have been outlawed in the north Italian town of Monza. Also banned by the town council are the sale of coloured chicks at fairs and the use of small animals as competition prizes.

But it’s the ruling about goldfish which most epitomises the intended message about the correct treatment of domestic animals. ‘A fish kept in a bowl has a distorted view of reality...and suffers because of this,’ explained council official Giampietro Mosca. ‘Also, this type of receptacle generally doesn't have a filter and doesn't allow for good oxygenation of the water, unlike in rectangular aquariums’.

Human beings whose view of reality is confined to their immediate environment also develop a distorted view of life. Anyone who is only aware of life as they lead it is bound to have a comparatively narrow outlook. This does them no good because, like the fish in a bowl with diminishing oxygen, the air they breathe is not fresh enough for healthy living.

Jesus tells a story about a rich man who lived very well in every material sense but who apparently failed to notice the poor and hungry man who lay daily just outside his property. When he died, the rich man realised he needed Lazarus and wanted a warning to go to his relatives not to be so narrow in their outlook.

Perhaps today we could be more aware of how people live who are very different from us. Such a broadened outlook can be like a breath of fresh air.

Toyota scientists have patented a car which expresses emotion. The proposed vehicle would narrow its headlights when upset while its bonnet would glow red to denote anger. It would even wag an antenna in excitement. The car’s 'emotions' would work by a computer link to braking, speed and steering. Occupants would also be able to key in their feelings.

The car will appeal to people who find it difficult to use their own bodies to express their emotions. Indeed, needing other ‘vehicles’ to express feelings, especially pain or anger, is not uncommon. Sometimes we let rip inappropriately at someone else so that they suffer when we might have done better to allow ourselves to feel the feeling. Sometimes we feel ourselves drawn sympathetically to someone else’s predicament rather more strongly than we might have expected. When we think about it, we realise that this is because their feelings are the same as ones we’d be aware of in ourselves if we did but acknowledge it. Or someone close to us who is going through something similar may be expressing anger or grief and somehow that does for us too.

Each of us needs to find ways of dealing with our own reactions to circumstances. Our bodies have been created with mechanisms for making sure the long term effect of pain or anger is minimised if we find appropriate ways to express it. We’re not helping ourselves if we let other people’s bodies do it for us.

Dual was one of the artists whose work was performed recently at an avant-garde music festival in London’s East End. The audience had individual headphones – otherwise all that indicated a concert was in progress was the huge computer screen counting down to the end of each piece.

Dual describes his (or her?) music as ‘created within the recording studio … creating multi-layered textures and rhythmic- based brooding static ambience. The end results are long and slow developing mantric tones with loose bass; percussive clatter and metronomic scrapes, clicks and pops that follow paths of morphed underwater journeys.’ One casual visitor to the festival described what he heard as ‘like geese being massacred by the motorway’.

There is a wonderful variety of things that human beings delight in. The language used to describe them is often capable of being understood only by other fans of the same pastime. This may have the effect of excluding even further those not yet in the know. But it adds to the sense of comradeship and togetherness among aficionados.

Language often contributes to helping people feel part of a community. Jargon used at work or in relaxation, expressions and ways of speaking which reveal our geographical or social background, can be an important way of defining our identity. Let’s today delight in what unites is with others, at work or play, but also find pleasure in how different other people can be.

Among events not included in the current Olympic games are reindeer sleigh-racing, running in snowboots, elf-dancing and climbing chimneys. But this is what was requested at the annual World Santa Congress. More than 160 Fathers Christmas and their elves, from as far afield as the United States, Japan and Venezuela, came to Copenhagen to enjoy being Father Christmases. Following their summer games which were part of the festivities, they voted to ask the Olympic Committee to recognise the new events.

All is not however sweetness and light in the Santa world. Finland stayed away from the Congress because it disagrees with everyone else's view that Santa's grotto is in Greenland rather than northern Finland.

Unlikely though it is that the Santas’ sports will get Olympic recognition, they have every right to ask. People naturally want their status and importance to be acknowledged. Similarly people are often hurt, as the Finns clearly are, when this doesn’t happen. Many people find it hard to accept this kind of rejection with dignity and equanimity.

There may be times today when we feel inclined to assert ourselves more strongly than usual, and perhaps more strongly than appropriate, if we feel we’re not being taken notice of. Or, when we expect to be taken more seriously than we are, we may feel spurned. If we want it to matter less either way, perhaps one solution is to take a leaf out of the Santa’s book and learn to celebrate being who we are.

A pair of giant green sea turtles at the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham now has their own private masseuse. Gulliver and Molokai have been rubbing up against and breaking the artificial coral in their tank in an attempt to dislodge unwanted passengers like barnacles and limpets. The attentions of the masseuse, Sherene Garry, appear to lessen the turtles' destructive tendencies.

Things latch on to us too. It’s often difficult to shift from our minds thoughts or feelings which are unwelcome passengers. Perhaps they were valuable once, even if painful or unwanted, because we were able to process them in a creative way. Now they no longer contribute to our welfare. Yet they persist. Their doggedness can even make us feel aggressive like Gulliver and Molokai.

Symbolic actions like taking a shower and self-consciously washing away unwanted feelings can help. In the Christian tradition, such burdens can be shared with Christ who'll help us carry them so we put them behind us. Or, if it's guilt that clings to us, God 's forgiveness has a cleansing power.

Perhaps for humans as well as turtles, a massage would help. It’s important to do something. The turtles’ shells keep the barnacles a bit at a distance. We’re not protected by shells and can become quite miserable if we allow such intrusions to get a grip on us.


Most people want to yawn when they see someone else doing it. Well, half of us do, according to recent Japanese research. More or less the same percentage as among chimpanzees. In humans and apes, apparently, seeing someone open their mouth wide doesn't have the same effect and in both species, children don’t find yawning contagious. So, they claim, copying yawning isn’t just the result of visual stimulus. It requires a level of empathy and self-awareness found in more mature monkeys and adult humans.

What monkeys don’t do is stifle a yawn. Human beings can decide that it would be impolite simply to follow suite when someone else is yawning. Hiding a yawn is quite an art and preventing your body from giving way to the urge isn’t always easy but the desire to exercise some control of our yawning function sets us apart from the apes.

There are other areas of life too where it might be easy simply to copy the behaviour of those around us without too much reflection. Some of the influences in society and the immediate example of those close to us can change our assumptions, attitudes and way of living almost imperceptibly. But we have the ability to choose whether to change, and though it is sometimes very difficult to avoid subconsciously imitating the behaviour and way of thinking of those around us, it’s part of what makes us human to exercise as much control as we can over such external influences.

Perhaps today it might be worth checking on the ways we feel we might be changing at the moment and make sure it’s not just unconsidered imitation.

When she ran in the 100m heats, 17-year-old Rubina Muqimyar was the first female Afghan athlete to compete in the Olympics. Under the Taliban she was prevented from attending school or training. But she represents the emergence of hope. She’s now started studying to become a doctor. Her athletic training was done in the Ghazi Stadium, the forum scarred by that oppressive government’s public executions, lashings and amputations. Her use of it was a sign of positive change. "We are so glad that we have regained Ghazi Stadium for sport, for something that is good," says Muqimyar. "It was a place of so much killing."

Her best time of 15 seconds gave her little hope in the race. Her chances were not helped by the Mullahs’ insistence that she should wear track suit bottoms so as not to show her legs. But undeterred Muqimyar simply did the best she could.

Let’s recommit ourselves today to the areas where we are seeking to improve things locally or wider afield. Not everything changes at once. We may feel that we too are hindered by the equivalent of having to wear track suit bottoms. Let’s persevere. When Muqimyar carried the Afghan flag, she did so with pride knowing that she was playing her part in the rehabilitation of her country. As today we celebrate people whose determination and courage create new beginnings, we hope we may be counted among them..

Three million Italians will apparently pretend this summer that they are taking a holiday when they are not. Some of these will even buy an ultra-violet lamp or take their plants to a neighbour to add credence to their fake vacation. Perhaps the change to routine and the ingenuity needed to sustain the deception will provide the necessary diversion from normality.

Holidays are about doing something different and if this can be done away from home, so much the better. Leading a different kind of life for a while, wherever we do it, is an important ingredient in a balanced life-style. Those of us who take holidays find that the more we are able to distance ourselves from the reality of our normal lives, the more effective the break will be.

Reality, however, will not go away. The reasons given for this apparently well-known Italian behaviour are ill health, lack of finance and not having anyone to go with. Such problems remain for all of us, not just for Italians, whether we decide to take a real holiday, a pretend one, or no break at all. The sad thing about the Italian research is the discovery that so many people couldn’t tell anyone else why they weren’t going away, but felt they had to hide the fact, and their problems with it.

The cliché “a change is as good as a rest” is almost as much used as “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Both have truth in them but the willingness to share the problems that confront us in our daily lives depends on their being people around who are sufficiently relaxed, refreshed, non-judgemental and unpreoccupied to listen. Perhaps today those of us who have had holidays could try and allow our lowered stress level to make us more open to listening to, and available to support, any around us who might want to talk about their problems.

This weekend, busy Indians will be jumping the temple queues during one of Bombay's biggest Hindu festivals. Devotees are now able to text their puja (prayer) to the local mobile operator BPL. Prayers will then be said for them at the temple to the elephant-headed god Ganesh.

BPL says more than 5,000 people are expected to join long queues outside temples during the annual 10-day festival for Ganesh. Tnbeir service is designed toi help worshippers avoid the waiting to ask for prayer.After the prayer, the temple will send the BPL customer a receipt, special offerings and a portrait of Ganesh. 'It helps our subscribers get some sort of a pious feeling,' said Krishna Angara, chief operating officer of BPL Mobile.

Hinduism is not the only faith to have followers who want ‘a pious feeling’ without effort. Jesus warned anyone considering becoming a disciple of his that it would be costly. As with someone who fights a war, he said, the consequences need to be fully considered before beginning and it may be better never to start (Luke 15.31-33). Yet many believers still want what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’, forgiveness without being willing to change, love and acceptance without discipline, good feelings without good actions.

If we follow a religion, let’s today make sure we embrace its totality, not just the bits that offer reassurance. If we don’t, let’s ensure that whatever creed we do follow challenges as well as comforts.