Time and the hour run through the longest day

 

I looked up to this clock for most of my young life. It was on the top mantlepiece, the one most likely to wear a fine film of ash from the fire below. It was out of the reach of small children and is so again, hedged about with the same dire warnings. It punctuated our lives with its soft, harmonious chime… time to get up, time for school, time for the train, dinner time, Rosary time, time for ITMA, The Goons, homework, a story read aloud, O Henry, Joyce..( not James. His uncle. Old Celtic Romances,) The Wind in the Willows. THE PIPS..check the clock. ‘This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the News.’ Better get a move on. Look at the time! I imagined that Ratty had a clock like that in his snug little house on the riverbank. Time for bed…bong bong bong… you have insomnia. Time to get up.

It may have been a wedding present or maybe presentation. It was there before me and I treated it with respect as was fitting. My father might lift me up to see how he wound it.  It absorbed ash, tobacco smoke, piano music, yarns and jokes, arguments and discussions, French and Irish lessons, songs, some hideous skiffle crimes committed by my brother and his mates and all the little dramas of a large family. It is a ‘Witness Clock.’ The key miraculously survived to this day.This ceremony of winding has now become my responsibility. There is an element of tension involved…obviously. It was in intervention for a long time, in my mother’s house. Its mainspring was spavined by some enthusiastic winder. For many years it looked down impassively, taking no part in the proceedings.

                                                           

Today is Midwinter. The sun rises far to the South. The ancients watched its progress in the great oscillation, bringing light and warmth back to the earth, new life, fertility and harvest and then Winter again. They constructed enormous stone circles to keep track of time by the stars, the Moon and by the rising and setting of the sun.  I’m fortunate enough to have a headland for Winter and islands for the Equinox and Midsummer. I also have a calendar, a watch and now again, the chiming clock of my childhood. No need to ring bells for Matins, Lauds at ungodly hours, Vespers and Compline for a good night’s sleep. Or is that Complan? No need to lug megaliths, menhirs or monoliths to the summits of mountains to catch the fleeting rays. I have been to Newgrange, beside the fabled Boyne, and have seen the amber light creep up the passageway to illuminate the burial chamber at the heart of the mound. It evoked thoughts of countless years and countless millennia, when people looked back at their lives and savoured memories good and bad and looked forward to the coming year with hope and trepidation.  Too long for my mind to grasp. It is as futile as trying to comprehend the immensity of the Universe and the ever expanding Multiverse. The moon will wobble away from us in fifty million or billion years time and we will all be doomed. Don’t worry about it. Even Stephen Hawking has admitted to the odd mistake. It mightn’t be so bad in the long run.  I came home and had my breakfast and went to work. I was probably a bit late.

We took the broken clock to Tom Black, the ingenious clock-mender, on the road from Monasterboice to Termonfeckin, not far from the Boyne.  He performed some heart surgery. He set it to rights again. On the way back we met a childhood friend having lunch with his family. We reminisced. I recalled the time my father told me to dig and rake his vegetable patch…’and get it done by the time I get home..’ He was an occasional gardener but it never lasted too long. The clock was ticking. My friend and his brother looked over the wall.  ‘are you comin’ for a dip in the Captains?’  ‘ I can’t. I have to have this dug before my Dad’s train gets in.’ (5 past 6 from Amiens Street…on the dot). They came over the high wall like a pair of Ninjas, grabbed spades and forks and set to work. We were finished with plenty of time for a dip. I may even have got a tanner for my diligence. I can’t remember but the kindness of the two lads has stayed with me ever since.

I brought the clock home and put it on a high shelf. I noticed that it was in the company of our youngest son, who arrived too late, by a year, to meet his grandfather but knew and loved his Nana for a good many good years. Beside it is  the Chronicle of the 20th Century. My father saw a few years of the 19th Century and four fifths of the 20th. He experienced the worst of it on The Somme but survived to live with those memories of barbarism. My mother saw all but six years of the century and devoted her life to education and to making things better. The clock chimed, prompting a flood of memories. Forget the ancients. I can comprehend the memory of people I have known and loved and those I know and love today. I have a new mainspring. I look forward to a great stretch in the day

You can watch the sun at Newgrange online right now but you may not see much.  Eight minutes to nine by the clock.It’s a bit overcast. I will leave it to the Druids, romantics, astronomers and archaeologists. When the clock chimes nine I shall make some tea and bestir my self and of course, the tea.

 

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Shambling man-like creatures.

  

It seems that in Trump’s America, Evolution is a dirty word in many schools. That is a pity. Look at this little fellow. Does he remind you of anyone? Yes. It’s you. Look at his toes, all ten of them. He has developed a  clever adaptation of the fingers. It has taken millions of years to produce such perfection. He probably would make an indifferent pianist or keyboard operator. But the fingers work for him. Maybe Evolution intended to equip him with an umbrella during the aeons of precipitation  when oxygen and hydrogen came together to fill the cavities of this cooling planet with water. However he got a hang glider. Not even Leonardo da Vinci (clever chap) succeeded in doing that. It has taken humans unreckonable numbers of millennia to achieve flight. To give Leonardo his due, he did many other admirable things.  The definition of the Renaissance Man is that he did not specialise in one narrow field, as is the pattern nowadays. Would you go to a fresco painter to design a helicopter for you, or a military fortification? You would look askance at a portrait artist or a writer of sonnets (backwards) who spent his nights sneaking into morgues or tombs to dissect cadavers by candle light. Those are jobs for specialists. They have papers attesting to their qualifications. No room for gifted amateurs.

This is Agatha,  an Aye Aye, a specialist. She has enormous ears for eavesdropping on termites. She has wonderful eyes for seeing in the dark and locating termites. Observe the remarkably long middle finger–for (you have probably guessed it)–locating termites inside trees and drawing them out, the perfect finger food.  There must be days or even nights when she sees the dark silhouettes of bats crossing the face of the moon  and wishes that just once, she could try something different. But no. She has to concentrate on the endless search for termites. High in protein, deliciously crunchy, inordinately nutritious, as the experts might say.

I’m not averse to a spot of evolution, especially when explained by someone like Attenborough. We have followed  his account of the development of life on earth and the many twists and turns of that story. He has opened our minds to marvel and wonder at the myriad complexities of this story. We like to think that human ingenuity has liberated us from the tyranny of a mere struggle for survival. We talk of Progress as if all new things are better and will make us happier. Trump has spoken about beautiful American weapons. Weapons make us feel secure. Nothing bad can happen to us if we have enough weapons. Arm the teachers to protect their schools. Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong film mogul had twelve Rolls Royce cars parked on his driveway. He had nowhere to drive them. The Plains Indians captured horses from the invading Spaniards. This increased their productivity when hunting buffalo, to the extent that they had to lug piles of buffalo hides (their index of wealth)  around, when they went on migration. This slowed them up. The Flathead Indians tied boards across the foreheads of newborn babies to make them more beautiful. This compressed the frontal lobes of their little brains, impairing their development. The tribe died out, a kind of reverse evolution. The wealth generated by The Industrial Revolution, was won at a hideous cost.  We should be able to do better—given our superior intelligence. Rupert Murdoch wants to acquire yet more media.

I watched  a shambling hunchbacked figure emerging from the mist. His head was lowered, oblivious to everything around him. His prehensile thumbs flickered across the screen of his phone, tablet, ipad, ipod or whatever, a Quasimodo of the digital age. In a generation or two his descendants will have developed  thumbs to rival the Aye Aye’s termite-catching finger, (specialised evolution). Their heads will grow out at right angles from the body, (specialised ditto) the better to see the screen. Perhaps, of course, Natural Selection will cull the most ardent screen watchers, by means of bigger, faster motor vehicles, particularly those who combine phone use with driving. Look around any restaurant. Families dining together, a vital bonding ritual since the days of the cavemen, sharing the wisdom of the elders with the young to give them a start in life. No they don’t. The wise old elders are texting and the young are left to their own devices. No mutual eye contact. The meals take place often without a word. They have the latest gadgets, so they must be happy. They are specialists. Nobody chipping arrow heads, painting the walls, stitching furs together, singing songs, sharing stories and jokes, tending the fire, looking out for sabre-tooth  tigers or demonstrating a rudimentary wheel (brilliant idea, might just catch on).

The Chinese used to crush the bones of little girls’ feet and bind them so that they grew into ‘beautiful lilies’. This was to make them more attractive (?) and unable to run away from their husbands (progress?). It was the fashion of the time. The mutilation was usually carried out by the older women of the family. I don’t understand modern shoe fashions. A  bevy of young ladies, fashionably dressed as for a wedding, scampered barefoot across a pedestrian crossing in front of me, carrying their fashionable, but unroadworthy,  shoes in their hands. But I thought shoes were for…..Nah!  They laughed as they ran and talked animatedly on their phones. I hope they weren’t late for the wedding. At least they were able to run. That’s progress I suppose. Grumble grumble. I guess I’m a Luddite at heart.

Not bad but still no cigar.