David Bouchier

Do I hear a collective sigh of relief now that Valentine’s Day is over? It’s one of those occasions in the year when so many things can go wrong. Cards with red hearts may arrive in the wrong mailbox, plush bears may end up in the wrong bedrooms, flowers may be delivered to the wrong address, and the candlelit dinner may be inedible. Then the whole uneasy balance between romance and commercialism collapses into tragedy or farce. Other annual festivals are stressful too: Thanksgiving, The Holidays, and even New Year.

For ten years now the television series Downton Abbey has been the flagship carrier of international nostalgia. It will be coming to an end next month, no doubt to great lamentation among its 120 million worldwide viewers, and will immediately go into reruns. Fans are already gripped by a kind of preemptive nostalgia at the thought of seeing it all over again. It is a genuine cultural phenomenon.

If you have ever been a teacher it won’t surprise you to hear that attention spans are getting shorter - and it’s not just young people, it’s all of us.  Entertainment and advertising are increasingly produced in tiny fragments, so consumers don’t drift off to watch something else. Curators of museums feel the need to condense their presentations into the shortest possible time span (ten thousand years of history in five minutes). Some radio stations – but not this one – make it a policy never to play more than seven or eight minutes of music without a break.

As usual at this time of year the neighborhood seems to be emptying out as our local climate refugees head south for the sunshine. If they’re not gone already they will be on their way in the next few days. Costa Rica seems to be popular this year, and the Bahamas of course, and even good old Florida although Florida has had terrible weather so far. Whatever horrors winter has in store for us in the northeast a lot of our neighbors prefer not to share the experience.

If you go strolling in the Avalon Nature Preserve in Stony Brook on Long Island you may be surprised by the sight of a large silver sphere, almost hidden in the long grass. The first time I saw it I imagined that the aliens really had landed at last. These visitors from outer space have populated our imaginations ever since H.G.Wells introduced us to the inhabitants of Mars and the moon more than a hundred years ago, and now they have come roaring and beeping back in the latest Star Wars movie. I am interested in aliens.