Been a long time since I posted. So I thought I might explore time itself as a concept.
The turning of the earth, the changing of the season, the wrinkling of the skin and greying of the hair. We talk of Father Time, of Chronos and chronology. But what really is time? Is it a living, breathing being? No. Is it a form of energy? No. Can we perceive it other than by the position of the planets in relation to the earth’s rotation? Not in any instant manner. Does it even really exist?
When we say I didn’t or don’t have time, yes we do. What we really mean is that during the spell in which I am awake and able to complete tasks of any nature, I may not be or was not able to also complete the task of which you are talking. Time is a concept in the physical mind of the human being.
Have you ever seen an elephant look at its watch and say “oh, time for a bit of grazing before I see the giraffes this evening.” Probably not. An elephant notices the changes in the atmosphere, the difference in the light, but doesn’t seek to explain it in any more detail than is necessary. Elephants are vastly intelligent, self-aware and emotional beings. They could easily have developed the concept of time, but see fit not to. Elephants have specific places where, if they are able to, they go to end their days. They are clearly able to appreciate beginnings and endings. A respect of age and seniority are also among their understandings, but they don’t ascribe hours and minutes to anything.
So why does the elephant ignore the minutiae of measurement in relation to passing days? The answer – the elephant has nothing to gain by it. Time and motion is a strictly human concept that makes no sense to any other creature on earth. Yes, a dog learns that when the light changes to a certain level, or perhaps when hunger reaches a particular point, the humans will be home again. But it has to learn that from observation of human behaviour over many changes in the light. Were you to ask the dog how many minutes or seconds had passed, what would it say? It would shrug and say it really wasn’t concerned about how many wags of a tail it took but that now it was ready for dinner, thank you.
Having looked at it from the perspective of different species, does it still make sense to refer to time? Why do we insist on putting that pressure on ourselves? That society would cease to function is not really a valid argument. Were we to stop putting measurements against the turning of the earth, society would still function, just differently. It would be less stressful. We’d get paid by the quantity, quality or size of the body of work we had produced. Viewed like that, is time a socialist concept then, forcing all to accept the same payment regardless of merit? Was the concept invented by someone who worked for longer but produced work of a lesser quantity or quality than the next person? Maybe that’s it.
Surely everyone has experienced the phenomenon where one day takes longer than the next identical day to pass. Those days where you get lots done but upon consulting the clock, it has barely ticked round at all. Disappointing sometimes, edifying at others. If we were paid by the amount we achieved, those days would be very lucrative. Paid by the hour, however, it hardly seems fair.
Time itself though, not that it has a self. If the past exists, why can we visit it only in memory and recorded memory of others? We know innately that only the present truly exists. Look at this way: you are beside a fresh-flowing stream and want a glass of water from it but somebody insists it must be a glass from half an hour ago. Can you obtain that? Maybe, if you were to somehow travel far enough before the water did so that the water of half an hour ago from where you were is where you are now. But then they change their mind and want it from now. Where do you stand, having chased the stream so that now for the other person is not the same as now for you? And could you know the water of now from there when it reached you, because the water from now where they are is tumbling towards you but it’s not delineated and might not be the same water as they were looking at. In that light, can we really ever say ‘at precisely the same time’? Can we ever experience the exact same moment as anyone else? No. Time is a matter of perception, yet we seek to measure it. But to what end?
We say ‘I love you to the end of time’. To the end of what time – yours, mine or the universe’s? News flash: time itself can never end. Only those who seek to measure it, and we only do that because we have a physical human brain conditioned to do so.
So if the past only exists in memory, and yes the earth itself provides a record so has a memory of sorts, what of the future? Everyone has at some point said “in future I will do things differently.” The future, though, does not exist except in imagination and predictive measurement. It can’t exist because it has not yet reached our perception. The water of half an hour from now, in that analogical stream, is still miles away and beyond your reach. It’s even less available than the water of half an hour ago.
The water of now is the only water on which you can have any effect. Ever. You can take steps to prevent the water of the future becoming something you do not want, but only by acting in the now, although it might be a now that has yet to occur. But when someone says do it now, that now has already gone, swallowed up by their statement. Now also doesn’t really exist. By the time you perceive now, even say that one syllable, it’s already too late!
Time then, although we think we understand it, does not really exist. Chronology exists, the turning of the earth, the changing of the season, the wrinkling of the skin and greying of the hair exist. But not one of them is time. They are simply side effects of the continual flow of the stream of life. A constantly changing, ever mutable thing that we seek to measure to make us feel better; or sometimes worse – nobody wants to grow old! We seek to grow older for the sheer fact that it means continuing survival, but not to grow old.
So, now comes the question that reaches to the heart of it. Do we seek to measure time, a concept of our own invention, because it is proof of that continuing survival? I think therein lies the answer that needs no further words from me.
Imagine if you will that you are a child living in a beautiful location, rolling hills, lush greenery, ancient trees that have been around for many centuries. The hills and valleys are scattered with all manner of wild flower and animals both wild and farm.
Because your government hasn’t invented welfare and support for young families yet and also hasn’t regulated wages, your parents can’t earn enough to keep you all in food and clothing let alone lodgings. The only answer is for you to work as well.
On a hot summer’s day, the fourth of July, the sun shining across that playground of nature all around you, instead of running out into the fields with your dog, your outdoor toys, your sporting goods, whatever you would prefer to be playing with, you head for the mine down in the valley.
You’re working away, shovelling the coal dug out by the menfolk into trestles hooked to a small, steam-driven transport engine to carry the coal back to the surface. You don’t hear the rumble of thunder above the surface, you’re so far under the ground and the work is noisy.
Around 3pm the alarm is sounded. The engine has ceased to work because water is leaking into it from somewhere above. Everyone is told to head back down to the tunnel away from the shaft. You’re a child. You’ve already worked since sunrise and you’re confused. You know it’s a long way to walk so you decide to wait until the engine is restored.
The engine does not seem to be getting fixed and you know that work has ceased in the mine. There are 40 of you together down there. You look to one another to figure out what to do. There is another way out that doesn’t rely on the engine. It will bring you out in the woods not far from the mine. That seems like the best idea.
Together you make your way along the tunnel towards that exit. You don’t know that the water coming in near the engine is the first hint that the stream flowing through the woods near the exit you’re heading for has burst its banks under the torrential rain that came with the storm clouds.
You’re making your way as quickly and carefully as you can because you know you’ll have to give account for yourself and quickly. You open a trap-door that serves to regulate air flow and go through. You get closer to daylight when the weight of water becomes too much for the structure at the surface to hold. It rushes through in a raging torrent and you’re knocked from your feet by a wall of surging water, washed back all the way to the trap-door where the water just keeps coming and gathering where it can’t get through the door, which opens upwards.
26 of you bear the brunt of it. It takes the breath from your lungs, it’s dark, you can’t see what’s happening but you can feel the force of water crushing the air from you and refusing to let you keep your head above it. Your small form cannot physically fight it. When the water clears and the adults return to the mine, they find the tragic remains of all 26 of you, drowned in darkness when you were so close to regaining the daylight.
These events occurred at Huskar’s Mine, Silkstone, Barnsley, 4th July 1838.
I learned of this recently thanks to information made available by Daz Beattie on the Durham Mining Museum website.
So moved by the story and the spirit of those 26 children, I was compelled to go to the site of the memorial erected to them in the grounds of the parish church of Silkstone. I wanted to visit the place where there memory is strongest and bring them flowers to let them know I wish them love and brightness now they no longer have to face the darkness of the pit; Red, yellow and bright pink sweetheart roses tied by my own hand into a bouquet.
I would urge you to read the page on the DMM website. View the photographs of the memorial and on-going remembrance of the children who paid the ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice that moved Queen Victoria herself to become involved in ensuring the welfare of women and children and that they no longer were forced by poverty to work in the mines. A silver lining to the darkest of clouds.
The inquest that followed showed some prejudice, almost placing blame upon the children for what was simply a terrible and utterly tragic natural event. It causes me to question why the mine wasn’t better protected against such an incident when the stream was known to be there.
Survivors told their tale as best they could. James Garnett, father of George aged 9 and Catherine aged 8 returned to the mine once the water had subsided and found his children but could not return them to the surface until all of them could be brought above ground.
Benjamin Mellow, a superintendent of the mine, stated at the inquest that the water could not have been more than six inches deep by the marks left. When I close my eyes and feel for those children, I can see a lot more than six inches of water. I can imagine only part of the terror they must have felt however brief it might have been.
On the monument in the cemetery is the following inscription:
“This monument was erected to perpetuate the remembrance of an awful visitation of the Almighty, which took place in this Parish on the 4th July 1838.
On that eventful day, the Lord sent forth his thunder, lightning, hail and rain, carrying devastation before them, and by a sudden eruption of water into the coal pits of R.C. Clarke Esq., twenty six beings whose names are recorded here were suddenly summoned to appear before their maker.
Every neglected call of God will appear against thee at the day of Judgement. Let this solemn warning then sink deep into thy heart and so prepare thee that the Lord when he cometh may find thee watching.”
Most importantly, here are the names and ages of the children as inscribed:
George Burkinshaw aged 10 years.
James Burkinshaw aged 7 years. (brothers).
Isaac Wright aged 12 years.
Abraham Wright aged 8 years. (brothers).
James Clarkson aged 16 years.
Francis Hoyland aged 13 years.
William Alick aged 12 years.
Samuel Horne aged 10 years.
Eli Hutchinson aged 9 years.
George Garnett aged 9 years.
John Simpson aged 9 years.
George Lamb aged 8 years.
William Womerfley aged 8 years.
James Turton aged 10 years.
John Gothard aged 8 years.
Catherine Garnett aged 8 years.
Hannah Webster aged 13 years.
Elizabeth Carr aged 13 years.
Anne Moss aged 9 years.
Elizabeth Hollin aged 15 years.
Ellen Parker aged 15 years.
Hannah Taylor aged 17 years.
Mary Sellars aged 10 years.
Elizabeth Clarkson aged 11 years. Who was buried at the feet of her brother.
Sarah Jukes aged 8 years.
Sarah Newton aged 8 years.
We couldn’t find any marked graves for these children in the churchyard. But the monument refers to grave one and grave two. Mass pauper’s graves and nothing to mark them that we could find. Poor parents could not have afforded individual grave or headstone no doubt. Had I been the mine owner, I know for certain I would have paid for a respectful burial for each and every one of them. Poor parents, this time in the sense that I feel their heartache both for their loss and how their beloved children’s remains were treated.
Unable to identify any other definite location to pay my respect, I lay the roses on the steps of the monument itself instead. As I walked back towards it to do that, I could barely make my feet take each step. I ran the tips of my fingers over each inscribed name and offered my heartfelt sorrow and genuine pain at their suffering under their seniors’ direction for the sake of money. It pains me now to think that it was a preventable tragedy had someone taken the time and paid the small costs of reinforcing the banks of the stream. Walking back towards the car the tears streamed down my face and I ached to my core for the merry band of bairns who were washed away from us.
I cannot help but feel for every single one of those little souls, toiling in the darkness only to be swept away from this mortal coil by a summer’s afternoon storm. When I think how children are so excited by the thunder, lightning and unusually heavy rain from such storms, the sadness only grows more poignant. Had I been alone there, I would have sunk to the ground and wept.
What upsets me too is the inscription telling that it was an almighty act of God and very nearly if not actually implying that those children were judged and smote from the earth as a result. That written by a religious leader. What comes to my mind is “suffer the little children to come unto me”. (Matthew 19:16, Luke 18:16).
So I still pray for their spirits that they continue to have a new life filled with light and complete absence of darkened tunnels, toil and hardship. We can never let society regress to the point where children live in such poverty again. And yet we seem to be doing just that.
Because I didn’t have the opportunity to meet them in the physical life, I suggested a carvery dinner and ate so much I could barely move, offering each taste and the enjoyment of a hearty meal to the children, just letting them know how grateful I am for the privilege of living in 2014 England, all the time knowing there are still many children the world over that don’t ever get a meal like that. We must steer towards change. Without the children, what future do we have?
Remembrance Sunday is upon us and like many the world over, I shall observe a moment’s silence to pay my respects to all those who fought and died or fought and were forever changed to preserve a way of life.
But I see an argument springing up over the colour of the poppy we should take as our symbol on this day. Some say we should abandon the red and instead wear white as a sign of peace. I think that misses the point entirely.
On Remembrance Sunday and every day of the year besides, we should take care to remember the horror of war, the death and pointless waste of life it brings. The red poppy was chosen because it grew in the face and in the place of such tragic bloodshed. If we do not take the time to remember the violence, what meaning has observing peace on this day?
I will not abandon this symbol of hope born out of hatred, of life born out of so much heinous bloodshed. Remembrance Sunday is about finding that place in our hearts where all those fallen ancestors and contemporaries now reside. It is about carrying that forward and seeing that we still have not learned the lesson that Flanders’ fields tried to give – that in the face of horror great beauty can emerge.
The beauty of courage, of sacrifice, of sheer humanity at its most fragile and vulnerable point should never be forgotten. The red poppy is not a symbol of war or of violence. It is a symbol of the utmost, laid-bare reality of being human and it needs to stand out, to be worn with pride and honour. We owe that to the fallen, past, present and future. We owe it to them to show as much of that courage and humanity in life as they did in death.
While there is still a fight of any sort, anywhere, we need that symbol to remind us of what we must never allow to happen again. We must never allow fields be so ploughed by bombs and so nourished with blood that they flourish with aptly blood-red blooms again. When there is nothing left in this world that places a single thing under threat, then we can wear a white poppy alongside the red. The sacrifice made to bring about peace must always take equal if not greater precedence to the result in the minds of all humanity.
It’s red for a reason. Remember that whilst remembering how lucky we are that so many laid down their lives in the hope of a better world to come. Bow your head at 11am today and again tomorrow and whisper your gratitude for that lasting memory of hope against hope.
When nights are still light at 8pm, I get a little sad. They’ll soon be light at 10pm and then they start getting darker again. I want it to be perpetually ‘almost summer’ so there’s always warmer weather to look forward to. It’s like eating the first third of a chocolate bar and knowing that there’s not as much left to enjoy later. The spring flowers, late to arrive this year because we haven’t long left winter, will be just as fragile and just as short lived as they always are. My favourite flowers, those early bursts of colour and life, but they also make me sad. No sooner do they appear than they’re gone again and won’t return until we’ve trudged through another long dark winter.
This is not a post about the weather. No, it’s about the passage of Time. Few things highlight how quickly it slips away than the changing of the seasons. Children growing up, people we don’t see often looking older when we meet and the seasons. We turn them into a rite of passage. Baby’s first Christmas is so soon followed by long summer holidays from school and with the passing of every summer another year’s progress. But that all stops and as adults we carry on less governed by the seasons except to bemoan the impact on traffic or the pain of fitness classes in preparation for the beach. We still all fit our lives around the big seasonal events, women maybe more so than men.
Do we really want to wish our lives away like that? Can’t wait for summer or planning for Christmas already? I looked up this evening and it was still light at 8.15pm and I felt a pang. A grieving in advance for the dwindling days and a grieving for the days passed that will never come back. We can’t store Time and it feels like such a swindle.
No, I don’t want the nights to get any lighter. I want them to pause right here, right now, because I know that what is to come will also pass and fade like the flowers only just appearing in the garden. Tomorrow will be lighter still and the darkness another day closer. I leave it to you to decide what that means.
One minute I was tired but couldn’t sleep, the next I’d written several thousand words and by some subliminal means become convinced I needed an X5 steam cleaner, an X-Hose and an Octaspring mattress. I switched the background TV off when Victoria Principal started trying to sell me something to put on my face. She does look pretty amazing for 63 so maybe I’ll regret that later. In thirty years or so.
I don’t clearly remember what I wrote. It was another one of those sessions of switch off conscious thought and let the story write itself. Of course it still has to use my fingers to tap out the words but when I come out of it, I feel as rested as if I’d been in a deep sleep. That makes me wonder if it is a sub-conscious thing altogether and while it goes on my conscious mind is indeed asleep. I know I killed people. I should probably hope I was here writing the whole time and not in fact in the throes of some psychotic break brought on by stress and an accidental overdose of pills. I’ll keep an eye on the local news just in case.
There was an entire sub-plot that I didn’t like which I think I completely deleted and replaced with something totally different. So I killed three minor characters there too. Well, they served no real purpose. I can remember writing their pitiful part in proceedings and remembering is never a good thing. Remembering means I had to try too hard to write it. Not remembering has its own inherent problems of course. I have a lot of reading back to do before I go on or I won’t know what’s going on in my own story. Might be pleasantly surprised or might be horrified. Although if it’s supposed to be horrific and it is, that’s a good thing, right?
The more I think about it, it has to be a sub-conscious thing. I didn’t so much as move except to type in all that time. I’m someone who always has to have a drink to hand, usually a cup of tea, and not only did I not take a sip but there was more than half a cup of stone cold lapsang souchong beside me when I stopped. Wasn’t aware of any aches and pains but it turns out my back is killing me and I didn’t notice. I was in effect not really here.
I’ve read about automatic writing as a means to contact the hereafter. To do it you must enter an altered state of consciousness. How different then is it from this? And if it isn’t any different, which of these is true: that people for hundreds of years have scribbled from their own sub-conscious believing it to be a spirit, or that I am not in fact writing this novel but am channeling the spirit of a writer?
Now I must make breakfast before my state of consciousness becomes easily defined as ‘un’.