Time is broken

Over the course of today, I have come to realise the terrible truth behind today’s title.  I am not referring to any example of the horologist’s art, but to one of the four vital dimensions that circumscribe our existence.  With time gone, and after Einstein used gravity to knit it so tightly to space, it can’t be long before all of reality unravels.

Rejoice! and/or Despair! foolish mortals, for the end is nigh!

Some, particularly those working in the saving and pension industries, may question my qualifications to prognosticate so accurately on the end of days.  Who made him the Cassandra of these last days?  I could point to the large chunk of my career devoted to augury during, which I was paid good (well, adequate) money to pierce the veil of time on a 9 to 5 basis.  Instead, let me tell you a story…

It all began, as so many days do, in the morning.  As I was pondering the choice of clothes to wear – a decision dependent on which of the (tradionally) four seasons that today would deliver – I came to realise that I had ceased wonering if today would be warmer or colder than one might expect in mid-April.  So strange has the climate been in recent years, that I have almost forgotten what is “normal” for April: it could be Fimbulwinter or blazing June or any point in between (or, quite likely, beyond).  I just take each day as it comes and have stopped thinking of my garments as “belonging” to a winter or summer wardrobe, but just whether they will be adequate to the challenge of the day.  In this regard, I am unlike the fashion industry who continue to insist on observing an outated, traditional seasonality and however far below zero the temperature falls in April, refuse to stock warm clothing but instead try and tempts us into linen and flip-flops (apparently unafraid of an influx of hypothermia-linked lawsuits).

As I stood pondering how to shield my nakedness from the elements, I blamed our banjaxing of the climate for the difficult decision that each morning now brings.  How wrong I was!

This afternoon, as the mercury pushed its way up the thermometer to a balmy 15 degrees (or nearly 60 for the followers of Herr Fahrenheit), I decided to go for a stroll around the Common.  Some gentle exercise, a little nature watching (or at least looking) and an ice cream cornet seemed in order.  The Common delivered many of its regular delights: young people playing with a variety of balls and frisbees, a Quidditch training session, long-tailed tits “playing” in a tree and a buzzard quartering the sky (presumably on the look-out for a student temporarily dazed by collision with a bludger).  There had clearly been enough Spring for the trees to begin to clothe themselves in leaves, with the horse chestnuts leading the charge (though the oaks and others were not far behind).  Even the fresh dock leaves, back-lit by the sun, showed spears of ephemeral emerald rising from the soil to rival any gemstone (and were probably less steeped in blood).  (Can anyone tell I went to see some poetry on Monday night?)

However, the most surprising sight – and the one which convinced me to put my affairs in order – was of a little bat, flying around enjoying the bounty of insects in bright sunshine at two o’clock in the afternoon.  I’ll admit that he was alone and I can’t be sure of the species (though I suspect he might have been an uncommon Pipistrelle: so good, they named them twice)- but this is just wrong.  He should have been roosting in a cave or belfry, waiting for the fiery orb of day to cede the sky to his gentler cousin.  I can respect that a chap can wake up a trifle peckish, but even I wouldn’t suggest overturning the natural order for the Chiropteran equivalent of a midnight feast.

I am forced to concede that the seasons being in total disarray may owe less to climate change than it does to the space-time contiuum lying in tatters.  This is going to require more than the occasional leap-second to fix matters.  I don’t know about you dear reader, but I am planning on starting a frenzy of Bacchanalian debauchery just as soon as this post hits the internet.

Mine’s a double!  And keep them coming!

Sprung?

As the sun was shining this afternoon and I had some time to kill while my buns were rising (not a euphemism), I decided to go for a stroll around Southampton Common to see if there was any sign of Spring.

The extensive grounds of the current Fish Towers – traversed on my way to the Common – could offer snowdrops, yellow crocuses and even a couple of early (and probably foolhardy) daffodils in bloom.  Floral signifiers of the season-that-is-to-come were harder to come by on the Common itself, though there was a red rhododendron flowering and a very few clumps of mauve crocuses.  I suspect the better informed stroller would have seen many more signs of future vegetative efflorescence – but as previously established, I dropped biology in the 3rd form and my botanical knowledge is somewhat rudimentary.

The Common seemed largely populated by those taking their dogs and/or children out for a walk.  Both categories of the walked seemed very keen to get into any available water, though the children were (fortunately) restricted to puddles, mostly those shallower than their wellies.  In addition to the walked, there were groups of young people engaged in a number of ball games – or training for ball games.  Most of these seemed to be drawn from the broad range of traditional, winter-played ball sports with which I have at least some vague familiarity (if absolutely no skill).  However, one group seemed to be playing a muggle version of Quidditch.  As there appears no obvious shortage of magic-free ball games for people to play, attempting to translate a game for which the ability to fly is critical to both the players and the “balls” does not strike me as an obvious choice.  Still, the young people involved seemed to be enjoying their rather earth-bound version of J K Rowling’s game, so perhaps the loss of its aerial element is not so important.  Its playing may itself have been a signifier of the coming Spring as I have no idea when the Quidditch season traditionally falls or whether it has been changed by the intrusion of TV money.

However, one key and very welcome summer migrant was missing from the Common.  I refer of course to the ice cream van with its familiar song.  I presume they must still be wintering somewhere in Africa awaiting more consistent warmth before they return – though Chris Packham and co have yet to feature them on Springwatch, so I can’t be sure as to their migratory habits.  Still, despite, returning home without a cornet (or any other brass instrument) I am reminded how great it is to have the Common so close to home and remain hopeful that winter is on the wane

Travelling through time

Lest the title generates an undue level of excitement, I should stress that my work on temporal mechanics has yet to bear fruit.  I remain unlikely to encounter a vortisaur or to have an adverse effect on my grandparents’ courting. Nevertheless, by journeying to Scotland I have managed, in a very real sense, to travel into the past.  This is not to impugn the state of the proto-nation north of the Border, but merely to recognise the current climatic differences between the Athens of the North and the Hampton of the South.  Daffodils and magnolias, whose blooms are a distant memory on the south coast, are in very robust flower in Scotland.  I feel like I have been granted a very welcome second spring – even one accompanied by unexpected warm sunshine!

My second bite of the vernal cherry was a bonus, but enjoying the past was the primary driver for my visit to Edinburgh (and beyond).  It was the work of Johann Sebastian Bach that drew me north, as performed by the Dunedin Consort – which means that both the performance and the instruments were appropriate to the time of Herr Bach.  The performers were, fortunately, of a more youthful vintage – though I suspect some of the audience may have known JS personally – and at least some of the instruments were likely to have been more recent reproductions of the period originals (or were suspiciously shiny, if not). The first gig was the St Matthew Passion (the “Harris”) at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh – enjoyed from the front row of the circle, proof of how well my war against acrophobia is going.  Despite being a Godless heathen, I managed to do this on the highly appropriate date of Palm Sunday (yes, the pun was fully intended: need you ask?).  The music is divine (in both senses, I suspect) but I have to say that no-one emerges with much credit from St Matthew’s storytelling – including both the aspects of God involved (the Holy Ghost does manage to escape without a stain on its reputation – or could only be indicted for sins of omission).  For a story about forgiveness, there does seem to be an awful lot of blame bandied about.  Was the early church hoping to fund itself with the aid of ambulance-chasing lawyers?  My saviour was crucified on an unsafe cross, but with the help of bloodsuckinglawyers.com I won 40,000 sesterces and promotion to the Equestrian class?  I think we can all agree that I made the right choice not to pursue my early theological promise (yes, he is going to mention his O level in Religious Studies again).

My second dose of Bach occurred yesterday, even further north in St John’s Kirk in Perth.  This was for the St John Passion – though the wrong St John, as the kirk is dedicated to St John the Baptist.  The good folk of Perth do rather seem to have lost their heads (heids?) when it comes to this particular saint, with two churches dedicated to him within less than 100 yards of each other.  (Yes, I do realise that last sentence could be considered to be in rather poor taste, but it’s been nearly 2000 years).  The Dunedin performance includes not only the passion itself, but also additional organ music and singing that would have been part of a period performance.  We even had a sermon just before half-time, courtesy of the Church of Scotland.  Whilst I could happily have missed this last (though the minister did have a lovely accent), the added music really made the evening something special – the aria Er es vollbracht and the final motet was especially stunning.  It is hard to imagine a better performance of the SJP and well worth the (roughly) 800 mile round-trip that I made to enjoy it!

So, even without a madman with a box – though frankly, who needs a Time Lord for that, I could easily supply both myself – I can thoroughly recommend a little time travel.

Life in the fridge

Not a low-budget, austerity-friendly sequel to David Attenborough’s series of 1993 set in the tropical paradise of Antarctica (or so it now seems), but day-to-day existence in South Cambs in Spring 2013.  It has now been many weeks since the temperature outside has reached the one inside my fridge – and that’s even before you account for the 30mph of wind chill.  I would turn off the fridge as an economy measure and keep my perishable food outside, but fear they would become too cold for reliable preservation – my snowdrops seem to have been freeze-dried.

Given the very limited breaks in the cloud cover, I think I’d also have more chance of obtaining a tan inside my fridge – though I would have to leave the door ajar or the light would go off (or would it?).

Today, the Met Office suggested the ambient temperature in Sawston would finally beat my fridge, but sadly their optimism was misplaced.  They are now promising the same for tomorrow, but my faith has been shaken (not stirred).  Of course to those in the know, we are in an Ice Age and have been for many thousands of years, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by the low temperatures.

Rather than just moaning about this state of affairs, I have tried to take matters into my own hands, using psychology as my guide.  Last week, I bought a jumper – so I now own two!  – but to no avail, the big chill continued unabated.  So, today I have been forced to take more serious action and have bought a very warm jacket.  To make this coat, a flock load of geese will be going cold this Spring – but, frankly,  it was them or me.  I should now be invulnerable to temperatures which would make a copper-alloy simian wince (or worse).  Under the protection of my new coat, I should be able to venture outside virtually naked from the waist up (calm down ladies and/or gents, I will probably retain some upper body covering for the sake of propriety, if nothing else) though may struggle to manoeuver through narrow doorways.  Still, this will be a small price to pay for the heat wave which is about to commence.

No need to thank me – it’s all part of the service for the GOfaDM readership.

Now we are six

Well, we are as long as you consider our age modulo n (for suitable n) then we are six (obviously I am using the royal, or authorial, we here; there will be no republican micturition on this blog).

That’s right, yesterday the earth returned to broadly the same position relative to the sun as was the case on my release date (or “impact” date, as I believe it is now known in the music industry).  Given that this has now occurred on more occasions than I have fingers, I tend to largely ignore it – as evidence of which, I spent the whole of yesterday evening in a committee meeting (oh yes, I know how to have fun – I just chose not to).

The rest of yesterday was more fun (well, it would more-or-less have to be): a trip to the gym, a singing lesson in the Georgian splendour of New Square and a period instrument-based, baroque lunchtime concert from the Collegium Musicum under its leader, Maggie Faultless (which always strikes me as a very challenging name to live with).

As I cycled around, spring was in the air: snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils in bloom, and the birdies singing in the hope of love (though the skylarks seem to have been providing musical accompaniment to my peregrinations through most of the winter).  As well as the usual avian suspects, my inner twitcher was happy to spot a redwing and a yellowhammer.  My journeys to and from Cambridge now pass a brand new duck pond: complete with a growing complement of ducks.  I think this pond must be one of the more counter-intuitive consequences of the current severe drought: according to the local paper, even worse than 1976.

The fields to the east of Trumpington are being redeveloped to permit the construction of  an entire city’s worth of new housing.  A huge swathe has been stripped of vegetation and levelled (rather badly it would seem), and are now permanently covered in vast, shallow lakes of water (presumably from all the rain we aren’t receiving).  Potential buyers in Trumpington Meadows beware: I’d insist my new house was built on stilts, if I were you (if the site is this wet in what is alleged to be the driest year ever recorded, how deep will the water be in a normal year?).

In another field, a new lake or reservoir has been deliberately created by man – and this just about manages to maintain a little water in the bottom.  In the corner of the field next to this purpose-built lake, is a dip in the ground.  This has been permanently filled with deep water for months, and is now home to a thriving community of mallards.

It does make me wonder if the human race has even the vaguest idea how to collect rain water (or, indeed, to prevent its collection).  Perhaps the water companies should start hiring a few ducks…

Airborne Dairy Products

Unaccustomed warmth has returned to South Cambridgeshire these last few days – and with the hours of daylight finally exceeding those of darkness, even an old curmudgeon is forced to admit that Spring has arrived (while its dogs now chew contentedly on winter’s traces after a long chase).

Evidence of the new season abounds – and regular readers will be pleased to know that the cycle shorts are back (and still remain lycra-free).  My magnolia stellata is in bloom – though curiously, its flowers are white rather than the beige colour that paint manufacturers seem to market under the name.  In fact, I am very fond of the magnolia – but have never seen one with beige flowers.

Butterflies, on the whole seem to be rather more sensibly named – blues are blue, whites are white.  I raise the butterfly as the Brimstones are fluttering around once again (well, the lads are – apparently the gals are rather paler and can be mistaken for a white and so may be in with a chance for a part in Midsomer) after their long hibernation.  Brimstone is, of course, another name for the element sulphur many of whose allotropic forms are yellow.  The only other chemical element with its own butterfly would seem to be the copper – and the butterfly is somewhat copper coloured.  The nobility are widely represented with Dukes, Emperors, Queens and Monarchs galore, the navy get a look in (in the military sense, rather than the shade of blue) and even punctuation gets a mention (though only the comma, so far).  It would be quite nice to discover a new butterfly so that I could name it after one of the other elements or punctuation marks – the Apostrophe would be such a lovely name for a new member of the Papilionoidea.

The most intriguing of our lepidopteran visitors is the Camberwell Beauty – rather a smart number which is only an infrequent migrant from Scandinavia (though, thinking back to the Vikings – you can never be too careful, today fluttering around South London, tomorrow pillaging monasteries).  I’ve been to Camberwell – well, to be perfectly honest I’ve been through it many times on the bus but never disembarked – and beauty is not a word I would tend to attach to it (except in an extremely heavy-handed attempt at irony). It does have a green – though, in other respects it very little resembles its fictional near namesake, Camberwick Green – but apparently, it was not here but in Coldharbour Lane (so it was nearly named the more alliterative Brixton Beauty) that a couple of Beauties were seen in August 1748, and where its discoverer named it (he also named it the Grand Surprise, which suggests that my somewhat disparaging views on Camberwell were shared as early as the 18th century).

The Grand Surprise is reportedly a strong flier and seems to exist on both sides of the Atlantic – which suggests it’s a very strong flier indeed or a hitch-hiker – possibly with the aforementioned Vikings, though they weren’t mentioned in the Vinland Sagas…

Harbingers

It’s not just exotic fruits, today has brought two further harbingers of Spring.  For the avoidance of doubt, these signs prefigure the tilting of the Earth’s northern hemisphere towards the sun and not the recent Flemish performing arts based kids’ soap opera (and there’s a conjunction of adjectives I never expected to be able to use).

Portent 1: For the first time in 2011 I have been out cycling in shorts!

Portent 2: The first snowdrops are flowering in my garden.

To boost the visual appeal of this blog, I decided to include a photograph of one of these events.  To spare you, my dear readers, any further distress, I have gone with the snowdrop option.

A harbinger of Spring

If there is sufficient public demand, a picture of the author in cycling shorts might be posted at some time in the future.  If nothing else, it could be used to keep slugs off your brassicas.

Returning to less disturbing thoughts, I found myself worrying about the common name for members of the Genus Galanthus (as regularly readers will have realised, this blog is sponsored by the Linnean Society).  It makes about as much sense as rain flakes (as opposed to Reign flakes, the Queen’s breakfast of choice) – perhaps we should refer back to the Greek nomenclature and create the composite (but more logical) name of Milkdrop for these early heralds of Persephone’s return from the kingdom of Hades. Unless you have a better idea…