Oxford University Parks

Few things are better for the tired mind than strolling through nature, which was why I found myself, the day before Storm Eunice made landfall, walking through the University Parks. I’m not quite sure why it’s ‘Parks’ and not ‘Park’; seemed to me it was all part of the same park, but it is what it is.

I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of person who likes reading the plaques on the benches, so naturally I was very excited when I found one dedicated to J. R. R. Tolkien (see below). Further down the path, there was another one dedicated to Marcus & Sue Dutton, two people who clearly loved the park as much as anyone did. The River Cherwell was swollen from all the rain we’ve been getting recently, but despite the light rain there were plenty of people wandering around the area. All in all, a beautiful park (or Parks!); definitely worth seeing especially since you can easily nip into the Museum of Natural History afterwards.


M3: Daddy, my armpit is broken!

Me: Hmm, I think you must be the first person in the world to have a broken armpit then.

M3: It’s OK, I fixed it by tapping it a few times.

These are the fleeting, blink-and-you-will-miss-it, moments that I am desperately trying to retain in my mind. As someone who studies memory and all the wonderful ways in which it works (or indeed, fails), I am well aware of how precious these moments are.

John Gruber wrote something around Christmas time last year that really resonated with me. It was actually something he had written 10 years before, but any parent will tell you this holds true for them too. It’s worth quoting in full:

Late last night, inspecting Santa’s handiwork, a simple thought occurred to me. A decade or so from now, when, say, I’m waiting for my son to come home from college for his winter break, and, when he does, he wants to spend his time going out with his friends — how much will I be willing to pay then to be able to go back in time, for one day, to now, when he’s eight years old, he wants to go to movies and play games and build Lego kits with me, and he believes in magic?

How much then, for one day with what my family has right now? How much? Everything.

The truth is, I’m the luckiest person in the world today. I hope you are too.

How much? Everything. As good an answer as there can ever be.

Alas, we can never go back in time. That’s why I sometimes find myself hugging my son as he is fast asleep, smelling his hair, trying my best to commit that fragment of olfactory information to my long-term memory, hoping to be able to recall it one day, far from now, when the boy has left the nest and has gone on into the wide world to have his own adventures.

What would I give to be able to return to this quiet moment where everything seems frozen in time, and things are just perfect as they are?


Conversations #2

Walked my two sons to school this morning. Overheard the younger one, who is about to turn 5, telling his big brother:

You’re the best ‘Abang‘ (big brother).

Have fun at school. Don’t forget to make new friends!

Seems like it was only yesterday that I held this guy in my arms, moments after he was born, and now, he is already imparting wisdom to others. How time flies!


There’s a word that is sometimes used to describe clear winter nights like this one:


The air is cold and fresh, with very few clouds overhead, allowing one to see the night sky in all its majesty. One can’t help but wonder: what must have gone through the mind of the ancient traveller as he looked up at such splendour?

Today I learned about Orion, one of the most prominent constellations in the night sky. Apparently, depending on its orientation, in particular the direction of Orion’s Belt and Orion’s Sword, it is possible to work out where North is without—gasp—using Google Maps!

See if you can work out where Orion is below:

And here’s a closer look at the constellation:

A few more nights like these, and I’m sure, I’m going to have to invest on a proper night sky app for my iPhone!

I Shall Use My Time

I had originally wanted to give this post the title ‘Welcome 2022’ (very original, IKR?) but, having thought deeper about it, decided to go with this poignant quote from No Time To Die, the latest James Bond film. Without spoiling the plot, suffice it is to say that at the end of the movie, one of the characters recites these lines originally penned by the American writer Jack London:

The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

The start of a new year is like the first few pages of a notebook, fresh and crisp, waiting for pen to meet paper. In my case, I literally bought a new Moleskine notebook* for use as a sort of diary plus planner plus thinking companion this year. But I digress…

As I was making a mind map of all my priorities for 2022, my mind wandered back to this quote. I began to ask myself: am I making full use of my time here on God’s earth? In other words, am I living, or simply existing?

If I’m honest, the answer is both yes and no.

Yes, because I know what I’m doing right now (research + clinical work) is important and meaningful. No, because there are many ways in which I can do better!

Rather than waste more time entertaining lofty ideas, I decided to drill down into the specifics: what do I need to do to make better use of my time?

Quitting social media

The first, and most obvious, step for me was to quit social media. Luckily for me, all I have (or had) was Facebook; I deleted my Instagram account about a year ago and I’ve never really been a fan of Twitter/TikTok/LinkedIn etc. So, I logged on to Facebook and selected the ‘Delete my account’ option. Facebook, being Facebook, makes it more difficult than necessary to delete your account. What actually happens is that your account is put on a (really slow) conveyor belt heading for the dumpster. Instead of deleting your account straightaway, Facebook only does so after 30 days! Plenty of time to develop some regrets and cancel the process, right? We’ll see. The magic date for me is 1 February 2022, after which I will be free from the evil clutches of Facebook! 😁

Now I want to make something clear here. If you, yes you who are reading this, genuinely find social media useful, then by all means go ahead, don’t let me stop you. I don’t want to be that guy, you know, the smug guy who’s not on any social media platform and looks down upon people who are active social media users. But I’m willing to bet that most of you have spent more time than you’d like on social media lately. I know I have! And what did I get for all my efforts? The tiniest hint of a benefit, and a bucket-load of anxiety, agitation, and anguish.

If you know anything about social media, then the previous statement is hardly surprising. These things are designed to capture our attention. In the last few months, as I’ve watched an endless succession of outrageous things that went ‘viral’, only to be forgotten a week later, I am forced to ask myself this hard question: why the F am I spending my time on this garbage?

So this is me, saying goodbye to social media for good.

Upgrading my reading list

The other thing I’ve resolved to do is to stop obsessively checking the news. I acquired this habit during my A-Levels, when I would make myself a cup of Nescafe and open up the BBC News website first thing in the morning, almost every morning. One website is fine (I think) but slowly and surely the list of websites grew to include BBC News, The Guardian, The New York Times, Financial Times (free for Oxford students!) and a whole bunch of others.

Here’s the problem…

Like social media posts, news articles are carefully crafted to keep you engaged. Put another way, nobody wants to hear that nothing new is happening. And so, we are served with one outrageous thing after another (“OMG, look at what so-and-so just said about vaccines!” or “Billionaire tweets about cryptocurrency while high on weed!”). These things clearly are not conducive to a calm and collected mind.

So instead of opening various news websites every morning, I now start my day with reading 2 pages of the Quran (together with their translation) followed by my neuroscience/neurology books. I still glance at the latest headlines but I try my best to stop myself clicking on the links and reading any further. When I’m tired of reading ‘serious stuff’, I turn to stories; in the last week, I’ve finished Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (can’t believe I’ve never read it before, sorry Steve) and I’m about halfway through Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations.

The net result of doing the above 2 things is I find myself in a more peaceful state of mind.

Obviously, there are many other things I intend to do in 2022 but I’ll save that for a later post. Until then, remember, my friend, to use your time wisely.

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy.

By the declining day, man is (deep) in loss, except for those who believe, do good deeds, urge one another to the truth, and urge one another to steadfastness.

Surah Al-‘Asr [103: 1-3]

* For you nerds out there, it’s a Moleskine Classic Expanded Notebook, dotted paper, soft cover (black), 400 pages, 13 x 21 cm