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?
Nearly October. How did that happen? You get distracted by one thing and another then by the time you look round a whole month and more is gone. High time I dusted off this blog before it becomes a haven for spiders, wood lice and death watch beetle taking advantage of my neglect!
First of all I’d like to thank and introduce you to William Martin, a talented writer and educator whom I’ve come to know during my nocturnal forays into discussions among fellow writers and creative minds. You can find some of his short stories and his blog on his website at authorwilliammartin.com and might come across a blog entry by yours truly based on my activities of the last week or two especially.
William recently read one of my short stories that I haven’t yet released. It failed to be noticed in a competition for which it was entered and I wish I’d had his feedback before I submitted it. There’s alway been a niggling doubt about it in the back of my mind but I could not see what it was that I needed to address. William hit the nail(s) on the head. It doesn’t need any massive changes, but in a few places needs some refining.
Now what this story suffered from was a combination of two factors: slavish adherence to word count and good old writer too close to the work to see. So this is a very writerly blog. That’s still not a word and still definitely should be. if you can be motherly or fatherly, why can’t you be writerly? It’s a very similar thing when it comes down to it. Anyway, yes, the issues with the story:
Slavish adherence to word count. I had a maximum of 5,000 words that I absolutely had to stick to. 5,001 and it would have been rejected without reading. What I’d cut was not completely necessary to the story, but did make it very much subject to reader knowledge and reader assumption. Not good things. While I like to credit my readers with the ability to know, use Google and make assumptions, not all of them will and this doubtless made it a rejection pile candidate. Something to bear in mind for anyone writing to a strict limit.
Writer too close to the work. This is the bane of so many writers, especially with regard to short fiction and poetry. For me, those happen in the moment, usually come from a strong and sudden urge to write and have a strong emotional attachment because they came from such a surge of passion. Because I know what I was thinking or feeling in the moment and haven’t forgotten does not mean I’ve captured things perfectly so that anyone can understand. It’s almost like looking at your child and seeing only the good. You just can’t see the bad no matter how you try, especially when they’re young. Always helps to get some input from someone who has no bias.
These things have been picked up by a fresh pair of eyes that was new to my work, new to me and had no reason to be anything less than completely frank. I’m taking a break from fixing the story to write this post then I’m going to set about revisiting the stories that have been listed to the right for some time now because I know I can do better for them. I’m un-feasibly tired though, so I’ll not re-release without pause!
Thanks again to William. Don’t forget to check out his work at authorwilliammartin.com and I’ll be back soon to keep those spiders at bay!
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.
My sleep pattern is as messed up as it gets so it really shouldn’t matter to me, but my body clock is still very confused. I seemed to remember being taught that it was something to do with agriculture so I typed into Google “why do we have BST?”. This article from the museum at Greenwich came up explaining it.
So basically, some guy named Willett a long time ago now liked to ride his horse early in the morning and didn’t like that people were still asleep. I bet those people didn’t much like his horse clip-copping by while they were trying to sleep either! It appears he was a builder and businessman; an employer who no doubt wanted his employees up and at it as early as him. Did he not overlook that when mornings are lighter, so are nights? And if everyone was up and working to earn money for him, did he not lose his treasured horse rides?
These days, though, with a 24/7 world and the whole planet lit up all the time, do we really need to change the clocks? Life doesn’t stop when the sun goes down anymore. In fact I’ve noticed when I’m up through the night that there’s only a gap of about two hours – those between 3 and 5 in the morning – when there’s no-one up and about. Otherwise, I see people online, I hear traffic on the roads and the railway is also only silent for those two hours.
I’ve heard it said that, come October when we fiddle with time again, it’s much safer because it means the lighter part of the day happens when people are heading out. So they were heading out anyway, light or dark and besides that, October shifts us back onto GMT where we moved it from in the first place. No-one relies on the cockcrow to wake up anymore. We all have alarm clocks, most of us on our mobile phones.
So does it still come down to agriculture? Does it still take from sunrise to sunset to bring in a field of harvest? We have huge armies of machines now that make short work of these things. And we have portable lighting. I ask because I’m not sure, being a townie with abnormal sleep patterns. We survived a hell of a long time without clocks never mind changing them backwards and forwards. We’ve since way surpassed the need to follow the sun, so can we not survive again without messing around with the measurement of time?
I suspect there’s no need for it; that it’s just another attempt by humanity to control their world and of course to make every last penny out of it.
Now all this has put me in just the perfect mindset to write all day. Or at least until the next overwhelming daylight sleeping time. Mr Willett would no doubt be appalled!
Oh dear. Maybe it was the medication. It gives me a fever and I have some very obscure ideas. Wrote that short story I was thinking of yesterday, the “Go to Hell” one, and I really hate it. Twee is just not me! It came out at nearly 4,000 words of unoriginal, Disney-movie drivel that I’ll never allow to see the light of day. I’ll have to delete the whole thing so that no-one ever finds it accidentally and thinks I usually think along those lines. It has to have been a hallucination. There is no other plausible reason.
I suppose there is one good thing to come out of it and that is that I was so absorbed in that maudlin rubbish that I didn’t spend any money under the influence of the evil fever. The Internet has the ability to draw me in to shopping sprees at these times, especially Amazon and that “Buy now with One-click” thing. The nemesis of bank accounts everywhere.
It’s always disappointing though when you read something back and your only reaction is a facepalm. Really saps your confidence and makes you wonder whether everything else you ever wrote was that bad but you were blind to it at the time. I suppose it’s necessary to have off days (or nights as this mixed up sleep pattern demands). If you only ever had great days of blindingly good creativity, you’d be so full of yourself you’d burst something vital. So I should be glad I wrote a load of awful rubbish and step away from the keyboard at least until I’ve had another good sleep. I think. I might still be hallucinating though.
I remember once, I had a raging fever and thought there were pigeons on the coffee table, and I talked to those pigeons for some reason in an American accent. Pigeons make me smile to this very day because of that ridiculous figment of my imagination. But should it then be good or bad for my writing to be consciously working from my sub-conscious? Is imagination conscious or sub-conscious? When I write, whatever it is I’m writing, I have no concept of time. I don’t hear anything from outside my own head. It can go on for hours and I won’t eat, drink, move until it lets go of me. Is that not on some level the same as hallucinating? Why all these questions?
Sometimes I do have a thought without asking a question. Just not very often. Zen and the art of writing rubbish. But I did right 6 pages of piffle, no question about that. What an embarrassing waste of time. Of course, no-one would know if I hadn’t said anything but it feels like the universe is pointing down, laughing and won’t let up until I confess it to anyone who’ll listen. Maybe I should speak to the doctor about the side effects of this stuff. It clearly makes words come out that should have been kept firmly locked in. Still, it won’t give me back all that time wasted on a terrible night’s work.
I know I’ll be one of those people who on my death-bed wails that I didn’t have time to do everything. Where does one draw the line and say “no, this is what I want to do”?
This week saw me return to work on a phased return plan after 18 months of illness. It’s good to be back and not sat here wondering what was to become of me. At the same time, I’m exhausted and getting very little writing done. Did some this morning before I set out, but it’s hard to settle to it when you know you have to be somewhere else imminently. Just getting ready to leave the house is so exhausting that by the time I get to the office, I can barely sit up straight. Plenty of mental energy, but physically am goosed.
Perhaps it was foolish to set a deadline for being ready to enter the beta reading phase on Inkredible. Time is fleeting and if I’m not careful madness will indeed take its toll. Writing is my art, my passion, my soul and it’s impossible to imagine letting go of it even a little. The simple fact is, if I don’t sacrifice a vast proportion of it, I risk losing everything. I can’t stay awake until all hours doing edits or writing new stories and chapters. I have to be up early enough to perform that physical feat of getting ready and getting out. When I get back to the 9 to 5, five days a week, that means being up by 5.30 and writing until 2 or 3am is just not going to happen without serious consequences. The blood might begin to spill off the page and into life.
So what do I do? Do I forget about all of the other things I need to do at home? Some things can slide a bit more, other things absolutely cannot. Do I find some way of never needing to sleep? I wish! Do I set aside an hour or two every night for writing and hope it doesn’t result in disjointed work? Or do I only write at weekends after catching up on everything else? I’ve been spoiled I suppose by having nearly every day to myself for so long. What I can’t do is give up. To give up writing would kill me a little more each day. Perhaps I could train the cat to do some of the household tasks; vacuum up her own hair for example. Perhaps I could hire someone to come in and do the cleaning. Perhaps I could get myself cloned and send the copy out to work. Right now, I could cry I’m so tired and I hate to turn out sloppy work which I no doubt will when I’m done here. Maybe I already have in the above! But ultimately, I’ll be writing and it will calm my anxious spirit. Maybe I’ll kill someone and even if I do it badly I can edit it next time. End of July can turn into end of September, end of October, end of the year as long an ending comes about.
Oh my, it’s July 2nd already and time is ticking by fast. Set myself a deadline of the end of this month to get Inkredible ready for beta reading and since I did that, I swear the seconds halved in length.
First advance beta sections went out last week and feedback was fantastic, so feel pretty good about what I have written. It’s the bits I haven’t written that bother me. So much more to do and available hours are hugely reduced starting Wednesday.
In about six weeks, my writing hours go down to two or three a day in which time I also need to eat, keep house and theoretically rest as well.
So why are you wasting time blogging, Miss McHugh? Well because I’ve been so focused on writing I haven’t done any writing about writing and I can’t let everyone think I just gave it all up now, can I?
Favourite line from this morning’s burst of activity: “Let’s just say I have a hunch, Wilkes, and it’s not the weight of this coat.” William Walker, out on site and bundled up against the cold.
Back to it while I’m on a roll!
Where did the day go? Was up at 4am, set up this site, got to noon and somehow the hours fell into a black hole from which nothing of merit escaped. I was supposed to have written at least another thousand words on Inkredible this afternoon. Max is waiting for me to arrange his trip to see the gypsy, not to mention Callaghan and Matthews can’t continue their enquiries until I let them out of the car. Luckily it hasn’t been a hot day and they should be reasonably ok. The seven bodies being excavated have laid there long enough that they won’t really be in any hurry to get anywhere but the seven newly discovered graves could be more urgent. My characters will be most unimpressed at my tardiness and I’ll need to win them over by dedicating tomorrow almost entirely to them. Sorry, Max – I’ll write you a good day to make amends!