Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison

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The Cancer Test by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

The Cancer Test by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Tinkering by Rowena J Ronson

Photograph, Tinkering by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: There is a new test that is about to become available which can detect if you are going to ‘get’ cancer within the next thirteen years. So my question to Double Take readers, and to you Nigel my fellow dialoguer is, would you take the test?

NS: Why would anyone NOT take the test? I just took a test for bowel cancer – and have been told I’m OK. I recently had a check-up for skin cancer (because I’d had a skin cancer a couple of years ago) and have been told I’m OK. I think many medical tests give false positives and false negatives, but somehow they’re still kind of reassuring when they tell you that you are all right. There are, of course, other more complex answers to your question. But what would you do?

RJR: It was a question posed on LBC yesterday but unfortunately I did not get a chance to listen to the call-in, or contribute for that matter. I suspect that awareness and funding play a part. But you are right, I am looking for a dialogue that covers the wider and yet more personal aspects of the discussion. With new knowledge that only 1% of our susceptibility to disease is genetic according to modern epigenetic science, awareness that there is a probability that we might create malignant cancers in the future, could be a good thing for many. I guess it will depend if we are realists or relativists, and whether we feel by living our life differently we can create change. It could be possible that knowing would create a defeatist attitude, depression, and an inability to enjoy life in the now for fear of the future. Or it might be that we will be empowered to do everything we can to take care of our health in the hope that by doing so, we will change our susceptibility and not allow disease in the future to flourish.

NS: Isn’t it the case (statistically) that in the next 13 years we all (or at least the older ones among us) have a very good chance of “getting” cancer. Do we actually need a test to tell us this? I suppose if the test is foolproof, then it would be irresistible to know the result. But, as you seem to begin to suggest, whether we have cancer or not depends to a great extent on how we choose to live: what we eat, what we drink, what stresses we put ourselves under, what environment we live in etc. If a test could tell us that we are definitely going to have cancer, maybe that would make us look at all these things more closely. I wonder if we might benefit from regularly having an official letter through the front door confirming that we are definitely going to die. That might also make us change.

RJR: I couldn’t agree more. I realised, again from listening to LBC over the last few days, that most people do not take care of their health or take responsibility for it. Those that called in and took part in the discussions mostly said they knew their lifestyle was making them ill but had no time to do anything to change it. And those that called to say they were reading What Doctors Don’t Tell You, and taking magnesium to prevent strokes, or meditating and eating healthily, were told that they were in the minority and most people will not go to such great measures. I was quite stunned actually. Because I am so aware of what is healthy, and surround myself by those who also know and actively take care of themselves, I did not realise how the majority consider a healthy lifestyle totally unachievable.

NS: It takes a bit of effort to know what is a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and, I think, even more effort to put that knowledge into practice. I think I know quite a lot about ‘natural health’ but I can’t pretend that I live the healthiest of lives. Like a lot of people, I try to do it – but in many ways fall short. The same goes for exercise – I have always done quite a bit, but I know that I could do a lot more. And then there is mental/spiritual health… and the same shortcomings. We can blame the human world we live in (which conspires to push us into the unhealthiest of diets and lifestyles) but in the end it has to be down to us. Perhaps we need a shock (like the prediction of a future cancer) to make us change?

RJR: I guess the same issues arise in our own awareness and simultaneous denial of global warming. We know we are damaging our environment to irrevocable destruction, but we continue to partake in the same ‘unhealthy’ behaviours…..

NS: Exactly. Will we always behave like this? Or is there something that could make us change? Perhaps that last question is a wrong one. The ‘something’ that could make us change is already here – the reality of our own deterioration and the deterioration of the environment. Do we refuse to look at the situation completely because we are concerned only with ourselves and with the short term? Or are we too lazy to behave differently?

RJR: I wonder if it is the survival part of our brains that keeps us selfish and short-sighted. A paradox perhaps, as it this very aspect of us – our will to survive – that will lead to our destruction. I wish too that it were as simple as the fact that we are all too lazy. We have so much working against us – so many mixed messages. Doctors, for example, do not consider there to be a link between nutrition and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Are you surprised?

NS: I know that up until relatively recently many doctors still did not recognise the link between what we eat and illness, but surely that has changed now, hasn’t it? I agree about the mixed messages – even on what is good for us to eat. One health guru tells us one thing, and one another. I think it’s still the case that many conventional medics don’t acknowledge the link between stress and cancer – with most resources put into drug research, into “cures for cancer” – when it seems likely that many cancers could be prevented by a stress-free, well-nourished lifestyle. We are conditioned to think there is going to be a fix for everything, rather than think about taking care of ourselves.

RJR: I agree completely and welcome Double Takers to join the discussion.


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THE ART OF SURVIVAL by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

THE ART OF SURVIVAL by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

Fire Under Water by Rowena J RonsonFire Under Water by Rowena J Ronson

In the morning we walked across the dry, scrubby wilderness of the Rodopos peninsula in western Crete. In the afternoon we returned across the same landscape and it was awash with fresh water.Yet nothing had changed, apart from my perception – thanks to a lesson in survival from my hiking companion, Ernst Tellegen.

Ernst had taught me that not only was water a key to survival, but that even when you thought otherwise, it was all around you – even in this apparently inhospitable environment.

Crete’s sunshine resorts are well developed for mass tourism. I managed to get away from all that by staying in the sleepy seaside town of Kissamos, way out west. But even its quiet, perfect beach and calm sea palled after a while – you can only relax for so long. In short, I wanted some action…

From the beach I had seen the long, mountainous Rodopos peninsula. I had been told by the locals how wild it was, and also how there was a wild guy who would take you out into the rough country there.

It seemed like a chance of seeing the real Crete – as it used to be. And to be even farther away from the crowd. As I found when I met up with Ernst, when you explore the Rodopos, you don’t see anyone else. You have a huge chunk of the island to yourself, complete with heart-stop views down over the deep-blue Aegean.

Ernst, 51, from the Netherlands, worked as a handyman and paramedic before settling in Crete in 2010. Realising that the Rodopos was the island’s most unspoilt area, he based himself there and single-handedly built a wood-cabin home in the hamlet of Afrata. He survives by leading day-long survival courses – equal parts walk and talk.

Afrata is the last stop before you go north, into parts that few visit. No roads, no tracks, no paths… it’s rough, tough, forbidding terrain with scrubby, scratchy vegetation and only the occasional tree. The Rodopos is the easterly of two peninsulas that form the Bay of Kissamos, and Kissamos town sits in the mouth of the bay.

So here we were, Ernst and I, hiking many miles away from the upmarket resort-hotels of Elounda, the booze and bikinis of Malia, the ancient remains of Knossos, and even beyond Crete’s far-western city, Chania.

“Where we are,” said Ernst, “we could be the first people ever to set foot.” And this wasn’t bullshit – he doesn’t deal in that. With him, you don’t get the usual stunts and tricks of the “survivalist”. Much of what you learn is about attitude – how to use your brain and trust your instincts.

It’s not a teacher-and-pupil lesson with Ernst showing you something and then you try to do it yourself. It’s more a dialogue on the move, in which he imparts knowledge and insights. It can also be a philosophical exchange about the essentials of life.

“Survival is in the head,” said Ernst. “It’s not 200 ways to make a fire, or eating the intestines of a snake.” In fact, on our trip, eating was not a high priority. At the start, I was offered the pick of five rucksacks. Each had different contents, said Ernst, but all had everything needed to cover the essentials of survival. When I opened my bag, halfway through the hike, I found those essentials did not include a sandwich.

“I never teach people to set traps,” said Ernst. “On TV it looks good – in 10 minutes they have a rabbit and a barbecue. In reality, the animals here – salamanders, lizards, badgers, snakes, field mice – are aware of our presence and will do everything to avoid us.” So we weren’t going to be eating? “You can go three minutes without oxygen, three hours without protection from a harsh environment, three days without water, and three weeks without food, ” said Ernst. No, we weren’t going to be eating.

“The biggest danger is dehydration. Collect water – that is numero uno for increasing chances of survival. If you don’t have enough water, then your body temperature is not regulated.” But where do you find water in the wild? “Trees and bushes breathe,” said Ernst. “In the daytime they exhale oxygen and water. If you tie a plastic bag tightly around a branch with one bottom corner of the bag hanging down, this should give you one cup of water every 24 hours.”

And if there are no trees? “Dig a condensation pit.” He showed me how to excavate a crater 3ft across and 2ft deep, put a cup at its centre, then cover the hole with a plastic sheet, weighted in the middle with a small stone to encourage condensation to run down the plastic and into the cup. Ernst’s most memorable tip was that you can use a condom to carry water: “A good one will take up to 40 litres,” he said.

But didn’t I have to learn to make fire? “If you want to make fire with two sticks,” smiled Ernst. “Make sure one is a match.” And the best way to make fire in the wilderness? “With a Bic lighter.” With a two-bits-of-wood fire plough, you have to practise for days to succeed, he said. “The fire plough is a romantic way of making fire. But if the ship has sunk, and you are on the shore with people panicking and screaming – and perhaps with other people coming towards you looking to eat you – you are not in a romantic mood.”

Ernst’s wit punctuated much of his teaching. “Humour is one of the greatest things on earth – essential to survival,” he said. I even began to see the funny side of the fact that my legs were being scratched to bits by hostile bushes. I had foolishly come in beach shorts, while Ernst wore sensible lightweight trousers.

As we walked through the 30C heat of the afternoon, Ernst came up with surprising gems. “Gut feelings are important – pay attention to them 100 per cent,” he said. “In a survival situation, animal instincts take over – and that’s good.” And he was scathing about costly gimmicks and gear: “What kind of survivor will you be, even if you have millions in the bank? You can have all your expensive equipment and still fall into that ravine and die. But knowing who you are is what is important. The key to survival is knowing who you are and understanding yourself and your needs.”

In the end, Ernst did show me two ways to make fire: one using dry grass and a magnifying glass; one using a firestone (you scrape magnesium slivers from the stone then run the back of your knife down the stone to make sparks to light the magnesium). Both were incredibly difficult.

And he did explain how to eat in the wilderness. “There are three rules for edible grasses: if stem and leaves both come directly from the roots, if the leaves are serrated, and if any flowers are yellow, then you can eat the leaves. They are full of minerals and vitamins A, E and K. Very healthy.”

Ernst reckoned that in any survival situation, you are likely to be rescued within three days (unless you have not told anyone where you are going): “I always tell two different people where I am going. I did that this morning before we set off.”

As well as group walks, Ernst does one-to-one outings, like the one I was privileged to be on. The group trips appeal to the curious who, like I did, want a day of action away from the beach. Those who pay a bit more for a solo trip with Ernst get to ask everything they wanted to know about human survival and to get some intense personal coaching in self-awareness. Either way, it’s a neat adventure.

Some of Ernst’s survival skills relate to the kind of hot and hostile environment we were walking through, but most of his self-preservation teaching could be applied to anywhere on earth – from the desert to the city.

Ultimately, survival is about staying cool when stuff happens. “With all that I know, something can still go wrong,” said Ernst. “The earth is a living creature – it changes continually. The mountains lose stones and rocks by the day – just as the human body sheds particles of skin. That rock that you are holding now, it might be the day that it breaks.”

* Ernst Tellegen (00 30 6940 682656, takes groups of up to eight on his survival walks from €50pp.

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WHO REALLY CARES? by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

WHO REALLY CARES Nigel Summerley

Savour by Rowena J Ronson

Savour by Rowena J Ronson

“Time is not on our side,” says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in something of an understatement, since he is talking about the survival of human beings on this planet.
The world faces “irreversible” damage if most of our electricity is not produced from low-carbon sources by 2050, and if unrestricted use of fossil fuels is not phased out by 2100, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The report says that reducing emissions is vital if global warming is to be limited to 2C – the target figure recognised as the turning point at which climate change becomes truly dangerous.
“There is no ambiguity in the message,” said Ban Ki-moon. “Leaders must act.”
The latest IPCC report was intended as a stimulus to the world’s politicians to do something. There is still hope of a new global treaty on climate by the end of 2015.
But are any politicians interested in anything but themselves and the short term?
Huge resources seem to be being spent on all manner of things that do nothing for the future of humanity (you can provide your own list), even though the cost of doing nothing about climate change will be immense.
But then do any of us really care enough to change – to look at anything but our own problems and our own short time in the world? Until we can genuinely answer yes to this, it is extremely difficult to blame the politicians for humanity’s slide towards a grisly end.

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Half Measures by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

We Are What We Focus On

Half Measures by Nigel Summerley

A suggestion to work towards making half of our planet a protected area for wildlife might sound like the slightly bonkers idealism of some teenage eco-warrior.

But the proposal comes from the renowned Harvard scientist Dr E O Wilson. And he’s 85.

So has he perhaps lost the plot? It doesn’t seem so. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to extinction of species and conservation strategies, and what he suggests is the logical extension of what he has learned during a long and illustrious career.

His goal would be to have huge areas free of human interference, in which wildlife could travel north and south or east and west in order to adapt to climate change.

“Islands” of conservation are artificial – and ultimately doomed because they offer no escape, he argues. They can become prisons where disease and disaster can strike animal populations with fatal consequences.

Will anyone listen to Dr Wilson? ” Half Earth is the goal,” he says but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto.”

He knows he’s up against human overpopulation – and no doubt human hubris, greed and selfishness – but he is undaunted. “Battles are where the fun is,” he says.

His particular double take on saving animal species from extinction is daring and brilliant, and surely deserves support from all of us who value the natural world.

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Talking About Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Rowena J Ronson


Talking About Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Rowena J Ronson

Issues of leadership, conflict and deceit came up for me as I watched the long anticipated sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise ended with the simultaneous escape of the apes into the Redwood forests of California with the virus, created in the scientists’ labs – ironically tested on these fine animals – spreading its deadly infection globally throughout the human race. I started watching Dawn holding my allegiance with the apes.

They seemed to be living a peaceful existence, in harmony with nature, and without the necessity for destroying the planet’s natural resources. Their needs were simple and in tune with their surroundings, their communication subtle and respectful. Conflicts were handled with ease and their leader, strong and compassionate.

In fact it was their leader, Caesar, who really captured my attention. He was a commanding and powerful autocrat who led his tribe with wisdom, fairness and integrity. And if his authority was questioned in any way, he would show his disapproval with his stance and emotions without reserve. I knew he listened to both his head and his heart, and therefore possessed an intuitive nature. and I felt I would be able to trust his decisions if I was a member of his team. I also suddenly had renewed respect for this authoritative choice of leadership. I questioned my more democratic style and the benefits of being open to new ideas.

The other interesting observation I had while watching the film was how my allegiance tended to shift from ape to man and back again. Once I really listened and could see the situation from the perspective of any particular aspect, I would then feel myself edging towards that side of the seesaw. Back and forth I went. Each time, my focus and aspirations were for the rise of the oppressed although in truth, both sides were oppressed and oppressor concurrently.

I find myself experiencing similar feelings watching the current propaganda spilling out across the world about the conflict in Israel and Gaza. The speeches, letters and articles full of opinions, perspectives and fabrications are compelling and manipulative by intention. It is nigh on impossible to see the wood from the trees or to feel real trust for whatever argument is being promoted, and indeed justified, at any one time.

In the age of innocence portrayed during the dawn of Dawn, Caesar said, ‘Ape must not kill ape’ and I wished for more peaceful times, where life was respected and being a member of one’s own race was experienced as an honour and a privilege. Russell Brand speaks of universal connectedness and asks us to question our paradigms in order to make subtle yet monumental shifts in our consciousness. I like his style.

And I would recommend watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for whatever lessons you might learn from the experience.

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Pouring Money Away by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

Until The End Of TimeOne of the world’s leading cities has just stocked up on water cannons for dealing with rioters – no great surprise.
But that city is London – which does come as something of a shock.
The water cannons are the idea of Mayor Boris Johnson, although they can only be used with Government approval.
The city’s police bought the cannons second-hand from Germany. “They were purchased at this time, as it was cost-effective,” they said.
The mayor approved the purchase, apparently to give the police more power to curb large-scale public disorder.
But what large-scale public disorder are they expecting? And aren’t water cannons more the mark of a repressive, dictatorial regime than of metropolitan liberalism?
Yes, there were riots and looting in London a few years ago, but those were sparked off by the police’s shooting of a suspect alleged to have a gun – something widely disbelieved at the time.
If the police had taken more care, perhaps there would have been no public disorder.
And wouldn’t the £200,000-plus for water cannons be much better spent on addressing, however marginally, some of the urban inequalities that might fuel rioting and looting?
It would not even be prevention being better than cure, but prevention being better than exacerbation.

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Climate of Insanity by Nigel Summerley (photograph by Rowena J Ronson)

Breaking Bad by Rowena J RonsonCLIMATE OF INSANITY?

by Nigel Summerley

We are all more or less agreed that the planet is warming up and that this is most likely the result of our relentless burning of fossil fuels. Right? Well, not all of us.

Some politicians – the very people we look to do something because they have the power to do something – think this is dangerous bunkum and will do anything to assist the cause of climate change denial.

Wyoming’s State Legislature has just rejected new national science standards for schools, because they include teaching about the human contribution to climate change.

Wyoming seems to be resistant to central regulation but also to anything that might jeopardise the coal, oil and gas businesses.

State Representative Matt Teeters, one of those opposed to the new standards, has been quoted as saying that they “handle global warming as settled science. There’s all kind of social implications involved in that that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming.” And he thinks they might help to “wreck Wyoming’s economy”, which is very much tied up with fossil fuels.

So Wyoming prefers to try to ensure its kids remain ignorant about the global warming issue – when they are the ones it’s going to affect, not the politicians with their short-term concerns and vested interests. It’s almost unbelievable.