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February 23rd to February 28th 2004
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MONDAY February 23
Leap Year Challenge comment
My Leap Year Challenge remains open. Simply tell us all what you intend to do to make February 29 the truly special additional day that it deserves to be. There will be a prize for the most amusing or inspiring letter. So far, my favourite is from a reader called Tom who says: "An extra day to spend as however I please? Well I'd spend that extra time to listen to all those who I've never had the time to spend with.
TUESDAY February 24
Leap Years and Leap Days comment
We have had leap years, and therefore 'leap days' for hundreds of years. Back in 1972 though, to make the world's official time agree with where the Earth actually is in space, scientists started adding an extra 'leap second' on the last day of the year. Now they have stopped. The Earth's orbit no longer seems to be slowing so much. Nobody is quite sure why this is... or what it means. But I'd like to think that, if the earth is making better time, perhaps better times lie ahead for more of its inhabitants.
WEDNESDAY February 25
Leap Year responses
Many readers have told me how they intend to use their free extra leap day on February 29. Dave writes: "I intend to use it to watch all those shows that I have videotaped but never got around to viewing." Hilary, meanwhile, says: "I won't be having, 'soup of the day', it'll be three years old!!" And Mary adds: "Although I am giving my 19th birthday party on Sunday I will be moving into accommodation for the elderly on Monday because, by the more conventional method of counting, I am just about to turn 76!
THURSDAY February 26
Anticipating fits by Rupert Sheldrake
Christine is epileptic and has seizures two or three times a week. If she did not know when they were going to happen, she would not dare to go out and would be fearful of climbing stairs. But she does know, because her dog, Annie, warns her. She puts her paws on Christine, and tries to lick her face. Christine stops what she is doing and lies down, and soon afterwards she is racked by a fit. "I can't explain it. But Annie can tell when I'm going to have a seizure," she says.
Jackie, in Mansfield, has several severe fits a week, and after collapsing on a main road became fearful of going out. She contacted a charity called Support Dogs, who trained a dog, Sam, to give her warnings of seizures. Now she says her life has changed. "Sam lets me know when a seizure is coming 20 minutes before it happens. If we're in the house, he warns me by barking. If we're in public, he will sit in front of me and stare, remaining rigid like a stuffed animal. This allows me to find a safe place to have a seizure".
In the 1990s, a vet, Andrew Edney, made a pioneering survey of dogs that give warnings of fits. No particular breed stood out. Dogs of all kinds and ages do it, both male and female. Usually they "herd" the person to safety and encourage him or her to lie down. When the seizure is taking place, they either stay by the person or seek help. And they are remarkably reliable. As Edney commented, "No dog seemed to get it wrong, one even ignored 'fake' seizure attempts."
How do they do it? No one knows. Perhaps they detect tremors, or subtle smells. But some dogs can do it from a distance, and run in from another room to give a warning. There may be more to it than the usual senses. But whatever the explanation, thousands of people like Jackie and Christine depend for their freedom and safety on dogs with this unexplained ability.
FRIDAY February 27
Three Quintile Triangles by Bernard Fitzwalter
You may have seen, pictures showing dozens of sky-divers all linking hands for a few seconds before they fall away from each other and open their parachutes. The planets are doing something similar this week. Every so often two planets will meet at the harmonious angle astrologers call a quintile, and once in a while three planets will manage to join up in a sort of quintile triangle. Over the next week no fewer than seven planets will get together to produce three different quintile triangles at more or less the same time, which is something very rare, and what makes it all the more interesting is that each of these triangles contains two of the outer planets, which means they have spent not days, but years getting into these positions, and it will be years before they do so again.
What does this mean? Well, all quintiles are good no matter which planets are involved. They foster agreement and positive interaction, helping energies flow to good purpose, but quietly, and without fuss. The quintiles of the outer planets suggest that long processes are now at a moment when something good can be produced, and there is certainly no shortage of candidates among the divided nations and long-running wars in the world today. Given how quiet quintiles are I'd go for diplomatic solutions rather than military ones. We must wait and see. For us all as individuals, this wonderful cascade of quintiles gives us a chance to make the changes we have been wanting to... easily, successfully, and without fuss. It's too good a chance to ignore. Whatever your personal ambition, big or small, give it another try this weekend, and let the quintiles ease the way.
SATURDAY February 28
No thought for the Day