nature

The Last of the Wrist Watches

The search on the WP app isn’t at all good but I’m pretty sure I’ve written something about how unnecessary a wrist watch is these days. Well, now the inevitable has happened and the battery powering my wrist watch has died. It’s frozen on six minutes past seven.

It’s a funny thing but when your wrist watch dies is the day you find out how often you look at it. Four times during that day; the little numskull inside my head department put in a request in for knowing the hour. The arm rises, the hand thrusts out, and simultaneously, I glance down, the eyes making contact and… it’s 7.06.

After the fourth time, moments before the end of the day, I took the useless thing off and put it away in a drawer. Throughout the next day, I looked at my bare wrist four times.

What I’m sure I wrote about previously was the two years before my 21st birthday, I never had a watch, and I did okay despite not having constant access to the correct time. I believe even humans with their dumb indoors mentality and general reluctance to commune with nature’s clues, can at least guess the hour within about 30 minutes accuracy either way. I often test myself for amusement and it works. Try it yourself!

So the upshot of this is an unintentional resolution: no more wrist watches for me.


image by James Coleman via Unsplash.com

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Where Every Day Is Everyone’s Birthday

One thing sure to boggle my mind is an extraordinary planetary fact, and I forgot to mention one picked up from the podcast about planet Venus.

A day on Venus is slightly longer than its year.


The image is a Gif made to illustrate the Transit of Venus last seen from Earth on 8th June 2004 – basically stop-frame animation. The online app – ezgif.com – also allows resizing the finished image. This avoids having to use the WP image editor which rarely works well for me. Time permitting, I could refine it but…life’s too short.

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

The Name Of The Cloud That Ate The Sun

In the ages of yore, a sky ogre, becoming jealous of the day, transformed himself into a great cloud and, gliding stealthily through the high air, swallowed the sun whole. As he slowly digested the heavenly orb, the Earth below became dark and dismal until nighttime seemed to reign the hours in perpetuity.

The men of Earth, fearing for their futures, sent an emissary to appease the cloud and plead that he might release the sun, if only for part of the time.

“And what shall I receive in return?”, demanded the cloud.

The emissary thought hard for a while until a notion occurred to him and he said,

“If you allow the sun’s release for part of the day, we will honour your name in a great book made exclusively for this purpose.”

The cloud considered the offer for a moment and then asked, curiously, “What name?”

The question shocked the emissary as he hadn’t an answer to hand, but he wasn’t anything if not quick of mind, and so he explained,

“Is any name enough for one as eminent as yourself, sir? Surely, we would honour you with many names, each befitting your many natures: there shall be high Cirrus, and broad Altostratus, and elegant Cumulus, and bold Cumulonimbus, and…”

“Wait!”, screamed the cloud, “What are you suggesting? Those…names!”

“Do they not please, sir?”, asked the emissary growing nervous. “Are they not honourable enough”

The cloud curled itself around, self-consciously, and grew slightly redder.

“Well,”, it said, “I was thinking…. of some names…. a bit like Sith, or Neff, or Porr. Something like those. Memorable names; simple ones as the sun, the sky, and the moon have!”

The emissary thought hard and fast.

“But, your honour, are you not greater than the sun you’ve consumed? And as for the moon, well… An eminence as yourself, my lord, deserves the greatest of names, the longest of names, and, clearly, the most obtuse of names, to be both scholarly and divine.”

The cloud considered this and, growing increasingly flattered, finally agreed and spat out the sun into a clear portion of blue sky. It then regarded the emissary below,

“Go on then, man, go and write the book!,” he insisted.

And so the great book was bound and the many names inscribed therein and that is why few men remember, or even know, the names of clouds now, whereas even a child knows the sun, the sky and the moon. Yet a deal has been made and is appropriately honoured, and the sun is set free for some of the day, or until the cloud deems it is time enough and devours it some more.

(448 words)


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt.

photo provided by Sue Vincent.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;” said Shakespeare through Juliette.

I am, it seems, still stuck on the issue of the naming of things. If, I wonder, a rose was called a pig, would it smell as sweet? The subjectiveness of taste, the prejudice of association, the scepticism in the face of a simple truth – who knows? Maybe the pig would become the ideal house pet.

The Naming of Things

Imagine the sun rising, an bright, early dawn, in the garden at Eden. Adam rolling to his right side to lean on one elbow, the back of the hand on his other arm coming up to rub the sleepy dust from his eyes, blinking towards the divine yellow light. In a moment, he jumps up.

“Eve, where are my clean fig leaves?”

Eve, already in the midst of making the first brew, calls back,

“In the airing cupboard, dear!”

It’s another big day ahead, another commission of naming things. It’s hopelessly random; up until yesterday, Adam had to confront Eve with a mime for fig leaf. Leaf turned out to be a cinch but fig, for some reason, caused much hilarity which reduced Eve to tears, entirely down to the fruit’s similarity to the parts of Adam which differentiated him from her. And so fig and leaf had to be summarily named.

Today, for a change, he would name some of the things which stayed put: immobile, stationary, inanimate, and inert. Of course, such words as those would be as alien to him as discombobulation would be to a child, but the sense of it is understood. Intellect precedes language. In fact, were it not for Eve, he needn’t bother with the task of naming stuff at all; he knew what he meant without words, and a leaf is a leaf is a leaf.

(234 words)


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt.

I was also inspired by the following quote,

“Finding the words is another step in learning to see”

This is from an article in Brain Pickings on the book, Gathering Moss, by bryologist, Robin Wall Kimmerer and on how she believes naming confers dignity upon life.

“Bryologist” was a word unknown to me and the significance for me is that as a young child, mosses fascinated me. I used to collect them and study their forms under a small optical microscope I had asked Father Christmas for. All that time and I hadn’t known there was a name for what I could have become had it not been for the distractions of teen culture and girls.

The resemblance of the fruit of the fig to both man and woman body parts is a well established one, I believe.

New Endings and Beginnings

Nearing its end, 2018 has been, for me, a significant year: a milestone birthday, a determination to give up routine work, and a decision, soon to be realised, hopefully, to move home.

We are not moving far, no more than seven miles from where we are now and have been for the best part of twenty years. We had intended to move sooner, sometime around 2008, but there was always something going on (in 2008, it happened to be the banking crisis and the recession, but there were personal things happening as well). Every year seemed to bring with it a doubt as to whether it was the right thing to do.

But there comes a time when you think you’re not going to end up on the proverbial death bed with big regrets, so you sort out those dreams which might be realised and act. Big resolution time!


The justification for our move is food. It would be, wouldn’t it. For years, we kept an allotment, a narrow strip of cultivation rented for a small annual amount – £15, I remember – on which you could grow fruit, vegetables and sometimes flowers for cutting. There are rules and obligations to keeping a plot and this, we felt, wasn’t for us. We simply didn’t have the time and we let it go but the keenness to grow some of our own food remained. So we trust we can begin in the new year with a decent sized garden, and a greenhouse included. Straight from the ground, into the kitchen, and onto the table. There’s not much that can beat that, food-wise.


Moving further away from town, the one thing I think I’ll miss most is the easy walk into town for some casual shopping. It’s not much of a walk, as walks go around here, though I have spotted deer, water voles and the intermittent sighting of a kingfisher, a brief halcyon blue dart heading upstream or down.

Apart from this, I’m happy to leave. With the passing of years, town is reminding me a little too much of the suburbia I left thirty years back – though not as bad as suburbia is now. My regular walks will probably have to be to a pub, about a mile away. It’ll be tough but it’s got to be done.

Catch A Spider

Thanks to Pete of BeetleyPete this morning for reminding me of the late Innovations catalogue. This was a mail order catalogue, a precursor to online shopping, and was included amongst all the crap you found inside your Sunday newspaper. The peculiarity of Innovations was that few of its offers were born of the maxim, Necessity Being The Mother of Invention. Not only were the items practically unnecessary but were often presented as solutions to problems which never existed.

I’ve shared the link Pete found below to give an idea of the absurdities you could have had but the one I want to consider here is the Humane Spider Remover. Basically, its a trap on a stick and operated by a trigger comfortingly remote from the offending “insect”. I assume you caught the spider at arm’s length and release it, in a similar fashion, out of the nearest window.

Now it was with some shock and disgust when a mate of mine told us he simply got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked up the offending critter. Oddly, a lot of the shock and disgust came from those in our circle who I knew to be somewhat arachnophobic.

So it got me thinking: what is it with spiders that we honour them above all other bugs? Happy to swat a fly, chop a worm and stamp on ants but render no harm to our eight-legged friends. This appears to be ingrained in British culture, and is adhered to whether you hate them or not. I wonder, do other cultures feel the same?

Personally, being a bit of a born again Nature Boy, I tend to give safe haven to all critters. I even risk life and limb to allow an angry wasp free passage from inside to outside my window (though I have drawn the line at times with the persistent blighters when dining al fresco – there are limits).


17 Majestically Useless Items from the Innovations Catalogue

One hello and two goodbyes

I have written before how I could become in time one of the last sons of Middlesex. I mention this because recently I have seen photographs of this once agrarian county of England being consumed by the creeping tide of a London expansion. Suburbia was to be its new crop, perennial and unyielding, though eventually showing signs of going to seed. Looking over these photos of precise grids of similar houses, of clean, barren streets between orderly rows of little shops, I feel sadness even though I never knew its countryside. I imagine the farms and the people working the fields, and the villagers, self-contained and neighbourly, and their children playing in the streams and brooks, under a broad, open sky.

Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life“. But I bet he never lived or worked in its suburbs.

They say that the entire human population can be housed in average sized family homes, with a small garden, in a suburb not much larger than Texas. I think this would be a good idea. And we could all go to work in Oklahoma, leaving the rest of the planet to be “rewilded”. Or at least managed in a sustainable, close to natural way.

I, myself, had a desire to leave as early as ten years old but had to endure it a further fifteen years. Yet, after a further quarter of a century in my adopted home, I can see the invasiveness of urban culture around me. Expansion seems inevitable, grace, peacefulness and beauty is discounted and up for grabs. Our government has promised 300,000 new build homes each year to solve a “crisis”; it’s not clear for how many years.

Idealist, or fantasists, I’m not quite sure, talk of going to Mars. It may come to that and I feel as sad for that generation to come as I do for the generation I imagined in the old photos, losing their lifestyle, their future and their culture. For progress.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #65.

Middlesex was an English county, known as a “Home County” for being close to London, the capital and traditional seat and home of the monarchy. In 1965, it was divided between Greater London and neighbouring counties; it ceased to be although addresses containing Middlesex were valid until the introduction of national alpha-numerical “post codes” made this inclusion unnecessary.

The name derives historically from the domain of the Middle-Saxons, the collective immigrant/ invaders/raiders (along with the Angles and other Germanic peoples) who came to rule some time after the Romans, around the 5th Century and up until the Norman conquest in the 11th Century.

The radical north-west suburban expansion into what was coined “Metroland” on account of the above ground extensions of the London Underground rail networks, began in the early twentieth century. Further sprawl was partly contained by the “Green Belt”, a narrow ring of permanent countryside, though this is continually under threat.

In Samuel Johnson’s day, London more or less finished at about Hyde Park.

#writephoto – Calm

Calm Excites

Calm excites. An accidental paradox.
Emotion springs, gathers in pools, gains ground, and flows:
a vibrant stream; a turbulent brook; a rolling
river, winding down but never petering out,
sustaining through innate strength; on the surface,
barely a ripple noticed, while below, the deep
unspeakable swell of the soul easing.


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #WritePhoto Prompt – “Calm”

For me, there is a sense of peace which is attainable, although it might be just momentarily experienced, but imagining or being given an image of such a place, or time, elicits excitement. Even in a moment of calm, sometimes I catch myself unawares and it’s thrilling to realise, here I am at peace. A paradox of responses.

Thaiku

Thank you for the fall
the bestest season of all
apart from the spring

Here in England, the Autumn can go any kinds of ways. For a few days last week, the sun shone brightly in a clear sky and you could sense its benign radiant heat while the breeze, uncharacteristically, also carried some warmth – in mid October! (Remember, “October can be nice, also.”)

The English – and probably the British by extension – are known to complain about the weather and, god knows, we have enough of it to complain about; if heat is not your thing, there are those days to complain about; if you hate the cold, your opportunity will come soon. If you miss the rain, or think it too wet, we can cater for those too. We offer a democratic style of objection to climate.

But this Englishman doesn’t complain – well, not much normally. Not only do I think of its inconsistency and variety and not forgetting its moderation, as a blessing but I don’t get why humans take against nature so. The weather was here long before we were. If you don’t like it blame your nomadic antecedents who pitched up, threw away their bivouacs and tents and took to farming. They must have recognised the benefits.

Nature, if we imagine it to be anthropomorphic, would regard humanity as an adult might regard a petulant child. You know, the kid you might see in a café or restaurant, first adamantly wanting pizza, and then not wanting it the moment it arrives. That’s the English with their weather.

The seasons are not as complicated and more inevitable. There can be a few surprises, as we’ve had this month, but the cycle of seasons ultimately prevails. Yet each season as it emerges from the previous one and goes on to merge into the next, gives us its special beauty. These wonderful experiences are things we ought to embrace psychologically, not fight.


image: untitled photo by Chris Lawton via Unsplash.com