The ice was here, the ice was there. The ice was all around/ It cracked and growled and roared and howled/ like noises in a swound. Ancient Mariner There is frost outside as I write. Not as bad a…
The ice was here, the ice was there. The ice was all around/ It cracked and growled and roared and howled/ like noises in a swound. Ancient Mariner
There is frost outside as I write. Not as bad as the poor old mariner experienced. (Why would the ancient mariner make an indifferent goalkeeper? “He stoppeth one of three.) Never mind. Look at Sir Ranulf. In all his pictures he looks cold. He should wear a hat more often. His wife used to organise his expeditions…to this pole and that pole…on foot…in the cold…on his own… Did he not begin to get suspicious? (A diminutive knight arrived at an Alpine inn in a blizzard and riding a Saint Bernard dog. “Come in, come in, ” said mein host,”I wouldn’t turn a knight away on a dog like this.”) Someone should do something to help these poor frosty knights. After one of Sir Ranulf’s expeditions he amputated some frostbitten toes with a Black and Decker. Toes are not renewable. Which reminds me. I had a neat little Black and Decker angle grinder. I wonder what happened to it.
I thought of Sir Ranulf and the mariner the other night as I listened to the orchestra tooling up to play the Prelude to Wagner’s Parcifal. That’s Sir Percival. Percy to his friends. Seven double basses, six celloes, tympani, strings and sounding brass. What a racket! I almost swounded(?) with the noise. They settled down when the conductor arrived to restore order. (Did you hear about the bus-conductor who murdered his passengers by pushing them off the bus? After three attempts to execute him in the electric chair, they had to let him go. Three strikes and you’re out. At his news conference where he announced his book deal and film option, he admitted to being a bad conductor.)
This brings me, of course, to cryonics, back in the news again. It will be big news in years to come, perhaps centuries, when all the frosted cryogenically preserved people wake up and are cured of whatever killed them, ailments like old age. Maybe they will come back in miraculously rejuvenated bodies instead of the ones they left in. I know that athletes swear by cryotherapy…aaagh!… but they’re held together anyway by sticky plasters. Can it reverse fifty years of wear and tear and overindulgence? That electricity sub-station went on the blink last Christmas, for four and a half days. It was hell. No TV or hot meals. Even the phones died. We were forced to fall back on conversation and sociability. Even jokes. And wine. (Herve, the Belgian, the butt of French and Dutch jokes, had an infallible method of identifying wine that had been adulterated with anti-freeze. It was a big scandal a few years ago. “I put ze bottles in ze freezaire. (He spoke Belgian.) Ze bottles zat do not burst, are ze good ones.”)
I heard a man on the radio explaining how it is done. Your blood and bodily fluids are replaced with anti-freeze, presumably before you die. Then you are encased in a capsule surrounded by liquid nitrogen, which is kept at a low temperature for many years or centuries. This is done using electricity. You pay your bill in advance….See sub-station outage above.
This arrived the other day. Fair warning. We once lost a freezer full of food because some idiot unplugged it to make use of a Black and Decker and forgot to plug it back in again. Rigorous investigation suggested that I might have had some part in the disaster. We were unaware of the danger until my great-great-grandfather clambered out in a wraith of liquid nitrogen, roaring for shpuds and butthermilk. He asked for a lend of a loan of my Black and Decker. The food was ruined too. I had to speak sternly to him about scattering toes all over the place. That’s the last time I’ll lend him any power tools. We had the divil of a job to get him back inside. “And don’t touch any of that wine!”
I don’t like the cold. I don’t want to join Walt Disney and other immortalsin Martian-style capsules high in the mountains. I don’t want to come back and have to turn my great-great-grandchildren out of my house. I can’t even remember where I left that angle grinder. National Geographic informs me that there are frozen sub-terranean glaciers on Mars. Freezing is mooted as an option for intergalactic travel. I’m not going there. Walt should have gone to Mars or even Pluto (family discount.) Pluto is a dwarf planet now. Why is there no Planet Happy or Goofy or Sneezy? I would definitely avoid Sneezy. No, I think I’ll go for the full Mahatma Gandhi on the Dorn of Shennick so that the tide will clean the place up afterwards. Probably need planning permission.
Apologies in advance to our intrepid Winter swimmers, The Frosties, for any adulteration of the sea water after the tide comes back.
Click to enlarge.
One hundred years ago today, at dawn, this little orphan was shot during the final phase of the Battle of the Somme. He was a very small cog in the vast machinery of murder and destruction that convulsed the world at that time. I see something of him in my siblings’ features, in my children and even in my grandchildren. He was one of the 10th Battalion R.D.F, annexed, to his lifelong annoyance, to the Royal Naval Division at Beaumont Hamel. He had no say in the matter. Going to war, getting shot and surviving was, he remarked later, ‘by and large an unsettling experience for a young chap.’
An unsettling experience. He was one of the lucky ones. He carried the scar and walked with a curious flick of his left leg until he died quietly in his sleep, sixty three years later. I can only surmise what inward scars he carried. He was an indefatigable walker, despite a lifelong smoking habit. He spoke little about his experience, remembering some friends and some kindnesses from lads, even from enemies, in the same predicament. He was one month past his nineteenth birthday when he took refuge in a shell crater under the persistent drizzle falling on the lunar landscape of the Ancre/Somme battlefield. Yes, he had a ‘good war.’ He survived.
He was lucky to be sent for officer training after his convalescence instead of being sent back up the line. He was lucky enough to miss his place on the mail boat Leinster, torpedoed by the German U Boat that lurked behind Rockabill lighthouse the previous day. Sin scéal eile. He was lucky enough to arrive at his posting in France six days after the Armistice was signed, an agreement that brought an end to hostilities, only to sow the seeds of an even more savage conflict twenty years later. He was lucky that the pistol of a fanatical Irish republican jammed. Scéal eile arís. The fellow was a bleak and puritanical zealot who never took a drink in his life. He obviously had no appreciation of the etiquette observed in a respectable Irish pub. We are lucky to be here and to know a little of his story. I tried to catch some of it long ago, in a novel, Reprisal. I may try again with a broader perspective brought on by the years.
The Newfoundland Monument.
A century is not a long time. The guns of the Somme, the idiocy and the carnage of those savage years are remembered still with pomp and circumstance. The violence and killing in our own country still reverberate a hundred years on. No amount of commemoration can conceal the fact that we celebrate in a strange skewed way, the act of killing our fellow human beings. The witches’ brew of nationalism and hatred is poisoning old alliances that have kept Europe (relatively) free of war for seventy years. There is no glory in monuments to slaughter. I commemorate, in this decade of commemoration, that little fellow, our father, who had a lucky escape in the mud of the Somme one hundred years ago today.
The Slaughter Tree.
It is dark outside my window. A light drizzle is falling.
At this time a century ago to the hour, he was fortunate beyond measure that a stretcher party of German prisoners of war located him and lifted him up, before his blood leached away into the water of that Flanders shell crater. I commemorate them also with gratitude.
I hope their luck also held.
Snow fell on the rubble of Beaumont Hamel the following morning. The battle was over.