10 things I love (and 3 I do not) about Fulford Show

10 things…

  1. Walking there from our house – so no battling with Bank Holiday traffic!
  2. Early morning mist on the expanse of field as we get there first thing to help put up the stalls and gazebos
  3. Being one of the few ‘veterans’ who knows how to put up an old-style gazebo! Getting all the numbered poles in order, and raising the edifice in such a way that its legs don’t drop off at the crucial moment is a Black Art.
  4. Bacon butties and coffee for helping
  5. The queue at the Social Hall door: people carrying everything from giant beetroots (complete with leaves) to bottles of wine, floral displays and model castles. I have to get there with our wine and fruit before the doors ‘close for judging’ at ten – it’s almost apocalyptic.
  6. Fulford Community Orchard stall – I generally put my name down on the rota for the whole day. The produce we sell there – jams, chutneys, cake and cards with arty pictures of the trees in all seasons – helps pay for tree maintenance and insurance. Barry brings his apple-press and we hand out juice to the kids, who always want to know how the almost steampunk-looking device works.
  7. The other stalls! We take turns away from our own stall to amble around. I’ve bought some amazing (and very cheap) things over the years: big planters, winter pyjamas, an entire set of bed-linen – deep purple with a design of cursive letters (for £1), lego Vikings, numerous books and even a book-case. One year someone came selling nothing but root ginger. We bought enough to keep us in stir-fries for months.
  8. The actual ‘show’ part: seeing everyone else’s beautifully-crafted work, seeing if Dee or Azzie have won in the Jam (‘Have you got your jam ready? Let Midsomer Murders commence!’) and finding out what I’ve won for my wine. It always wins something because so few folk enter wine. It’s a bit of a cheat, really, but it’s nice to say ‘my prize-winning wine’…
  9. The ‘auction’ – well it’s a bit more like a free-for-all. Everyone has the chance to buy any exhibits that haven’t been ‘reserved’ in advance. I’m afraid I reserve our wine, but not the fruit or veg.
  10. The takings! For our stall these help keep the Orchard going for another year. For the show as a whole, they keep the whole thing on the road – the show pays for itself.

3 things…

  1. Taking down the gazebos – it means it’s all over for another year. Worse still if it’s raining and they’re all sodden wet.
  2. Weather lottery! We’ve sweltered in 30 degree heat (and none of us was used to it), and braved freezing squalls. Some August Bank Holidays it’s blowing enough for a poorly-anchored tent to get airborne. More than one year we’ve been in pouring rain – not too terrible by itself, but grievous if it’s also windy and you’re having to wrestle putting up the gazebo ‘sides’ before everything gets wet. But then, at least it’s something to boast about afterwards.
  3. The field is silent this year, and I’m at home. The Social Hall is locked and empty – I checked, moved by that strange way you think that if you return to a place where you once lived, then you’ll also go back in time to the years you lived there. Or just in case someone had decided to go ahead with a few informal stalls anyway. I have no idea how long a tradition the show is, but I like to think it’s one of those things that ‘Hitler couldn’t stop’ back in the day. We even had a Spitfire flyover last year, for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. But this year, Plague has done what War has never managed. It makes sense to hold off at the moment, but it’s too sad. To cap it all, Barry – our apple expert and Custodian of the Press – passed away in March. Of a heart attack – not Covid. He always was a one-off. We have a bottle of his home-made cider waiting in the kitchen. This evening we’ll drink to his memory, and to the Return of Fulford Show.

‘I will choose free will’

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The more Metal among my readers may recognise the phrase in this title, but we now turn from the apparent perversity of people’s decisions to the even more uncanny matter of the mechanics of how they’re made.

In 1983 Benjamin Libet of the University of California San Francisco set up an experiment to determine the speed with which people take decisions. His volunteers were asked to perform a simple movement, at a time they chose, while a pickup measured the ‘readiness potential’ – a signal in the brain’s motor cortex known to precede physical movement.

Readings by the volunteers of the timing of their decision, from the second hand of a clock, showed that the signal in the motor cortex – of which they were not consciously aware – came half a second before their conscious decision. In other words the decision was made subconsciously and only afterwards did the subjects’ brains construct the perception of freewill.

Argument at once began to rage over how accurate the subjects’ timing readings could be, given that their attention should have been focussed on whether or not to make their move. Experiments in other fields of brain study have shown how a single line of ‘time’ is reconstructed by the brain ‘after-the-fact’ so, it was argued, we still have freewill – it just doesn’t look like it in that one experiment.

In 2009 Jeff Miller and Judy Trevena carried out a new version of Libet’s experiment in which volunteers had to listen out for a tone before making a 2-way decision: press the key or leave it. The experimenters found a ‘readiness potential’ building-up in both cases – press or leave – and concluded that the potential just signified attention, and not decision-making. Our state of attention is not something of which we are fully conscious, though it can of course be controlled with practice.

Libet’s own conclusion about his findings was that the readiness potential signalled preparedness to push the button but nevertheless a person could decide, within the final tenth of a second, not to go through with their decision.

But it could be said that this view – which acquired the nickname ‘Free Won’t’ (as opposed to ‘Free Will’) – just pushes the question one step along by leaving the mechanism for the final ‘restraint’ decision unexplained.

Improvements in measurement equipment – including siting the pickups within the brain – have in some cases shown even longer intervals (up to two whole seconds) between ‘trigger’ signals and apparent decisions.

Arguments still rage then: do we have fully-conscious freewill, or do our decisions bubble up, mostly uncontrolled, from depths we cannot reach?

 

 

Crystals in Time

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It’s a crystal…

Like sugar, or salt, or Copper Sulphate: playing its own shape through space.

Except it’s a crystal with a difference.

It repeats through the fourth dimension.

It plays on a never-ending loop, through time; over and over.

Once set up it could, in theory, outlive me, you, civilization; the world, the sun… and pulsate on, for ever, into empty space.

And yes, someone – two of them in fact – has built one.