Friday, 26 February 2010

Stormy Weather

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right. I'm Jumpin’ Jack Flash,
It's a Gas! Gas! Gas!

The Rolling Stones (Jumpin’ Jack Flash)

AS IT HAPPENED, I WAS NOT born in a hurricane. It must have been a pretty fair Sunday morning because the doctor who delivered me (feet first) was planning on going sailing that day in November, mumble years ago. I arrived at 7.06 a.m. and I’d like to think the doctor managed to head over to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. I don’t know how many hours he had spent dragging me into this world. He might have been tired.

Yesterday, in Northumberland at least, the rains came. The last bits of snow and ice on my courtyard finally washed away. I spent the morning down the coast in Blyth, or in a field outside Blythe to be accurate, standing in the steady rain and a freezing fog, looking at polytunnels. Only a couple of the tunnels were in use, and they were not very warm inside, despite having some heated air pumped in from time to time. Tomato seedlings in one, and sprigs of lavender and bits of geraniums in rows and rows of plastic pots in another. I noticed an almost-dead rubber tree, five feet tall, in a large pot. I imagine it had lost its will to live over the harsh winter we’ve had.

I am familiar with rubber trees. Full-grown, enormous rubber trees in Bermuda. I have climbed about in them, including one that was famously painted by the artist Georgia O’Keeffe in the mid-1930s when she was recovering from a nervous breakdown. There was a rubber tree near my mother’s home, and we’d swing on ropes in it. Outside the Bermuda Library in Par-la-Ville Gardens, another rubber tree giant loomed over the verandas where I’d sit and read in the warmer weather. Rubber trees like to be warm and moist.

Last night I stepped outside in the rain and took a picture of my flat. That’s the photograph above. To be honest, we don’t have a great deal of heavy rain up here. This winter has been unusual for abundant snow. In four years it has not seemed worth taking a look at the rain, much less getting the camera out in it. Four years ago the reservoirs were running dry and we were not to water our lawns or wash our cars. This year I’m taking long showers and deep, hot baths, and I’m not feeling any guilt.

In Bermuda, despite a wet climate, the rain was not dependable. We might have three months of more-than-average rainfall, then many months of severe drought. Our water was caught on our whitewashed rooftops, running into tanks below the ground floor. We were permitted brief showers and very shallow baths. I still have a moment of panic and guilt to work through if I’ve been showering more than 90 seconds.

Curiously, I don’t recall many rainy days in Bermuda, though we must have had a few. I walked to and from school, or had a bicycle, and I can only think some days must have been inclement. I don’t recall having a raincoat or umbrella, which would have been a bother at school. We had a few rainy lunchtimes at school. Normally we ate picnic-style comestibles out on the fields. When it rained we were crammed into the school’s lunchroom. This room was also used if we were to see a film (the only film I recall involved a dam across the Zambezi River). In the lunchroom we had benches without backs and fold-away tables. The lunchroom eventually became the biology lab, same benches and tables. I cannot think where we spent rainy lunch periods after that conversion. Rain must have been rare, or a feature of the night.

During school holidays, I do remember a very few days spent on our dock, sheltered beneath an overturned boat on the planks, with fishing lines lowered through the gaps. I think we took shelter because someone usually had a precious transistor radio. But holidays were not rained out.

In Bermuda, it always rained on either Christmas Day or Boxing Day. We did not suffer this in misery, and we usually went visiting by car (relatives or taxis).

In England, rain rarely interrupted my life. I do remember standing in Piccadilly Circus very late at night in a downpour and discovering that the reflections in the water running around our feet were as exciting as the lights blinking on the buildings around us. An out-of-sight light show. Holidaying with my mother’s people in Harle Syke, Lancashire involved cold summers; we’d have coal fires in August, but misty rain at the worst. And if off to Morecambe for a week or two, every day we’d been walking along the front, or on the sands. Hardly hiding away from downpours.

I remember three hurricanes in Bermuda. Arlene, in August 1963, flattened all our tall casuarinas. The root systems were so dramatic when ripped from the ground that the local newspaper sent a reporter and photographer round to our house. My sister and I made the front page.

Hurricane Emily came along in late September of 1987. We woke to find it on top of the Island. It moved on quickly, but did a good deal of damage. We had no electricity for ten days. Fortunately, a neighbour had a cooker that used gas in cylinders and I was able to cook all my food. Water had to be dipped out of our tank with a bucket on a rope, enough to wash one’s face and underarms and bits, and to flush the toilet once or twice a day. The trees we’d planted to replace the casuarinas lost in the 1963 storm all came down in 1987.

On 5 September 2003, Hurricane Fabian roared over Bermuda and paused there for the best part of 15 hours. I was not quite alone in my cottage, my dog Aleks rode out the storm with me. The electricity went off almost immediately, and the reason was clear. From the house I could see that every tree in every direction had come down, and any power lines (and other utilities carried on poles on the roadsides) were in a tangle of trees in streets, on lawns and slumped across rooftops. I’d heard a thump, and the ceiling in my living room started leaking, but it didn’t collapse at least. Remarkably, my telephone kept working and through the day and late into the night I was able to speak with friends. One described his roof tiles dropping around his home, miraculously missing his car.

Fabian left me without electricity for a few days, but because I lived across the road from Bermuda’s Deputy Governor, and a few doors down from the Premier, the streets outside my residence were cleared promptly, and cables were going up on new poles within a day or two.

If you want to experience driving rain, a hurricane on an island 600 miles out in the Atlantic is the way to go. The rain comes at you horizontally; the waves break on the edge of the volcanic archipelago and sweep over everything. Tornados and water spouts drop water from overhead.

In Hurricane, Utah, about 15 years ago, I experienced a flash flood. I was with a friend in her car, not a mile from her home, and suddenly we were inundated by water. First from above, onto the hard desert sand and rock. The rain could not soak into the ground and Hurricane’s streets were soon awash as water roared along the valley floor. Cars were being driven up onto anything higher than street level, we followed. And for a relatively short time, perhaps 15 minutes, we watched the new river running through town. And then it was gone, rain and river. The sun blazed through and in an hour dust and tumbleweeds blew down Main Street as usual.

It is raining heavily today in Amble by the Sea. Cailean has refused to go more than a squat outside the door. I have the day off, and I had things I needed to do in town. So, off for a haircut and postage stamps. The barber and the postmistress both wondered why Cailean was not with me. I explained that he was not overly fond of chilly rain. If there’s running water on the pavement, or puddles, Cailean ends up swimming with those very short legs.

I’m enjoying the rain beating on the windows. I'm writing and listening to Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, sung in English. Cailean is in his bed, under his blanket. It’s not all bad, this rainy day.

I can show you
that when it starts to rain
everything’s the same.
I can show you.
I can show you.
Rain, I don’t mind.

The Beatles (Rain)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Ode: To Peace in a Podcast

You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.
Dorothy Parker

I USUALLY TURN TO SHAKESPEARE for an opening quotation. I’m writing about Cailean’s second birthday, and I may have other canine pet stories, so I searched for a line or two featuring the word dog. My first search gave me almost 200, and not one was complimentary to dogs. Nearly all were put-downs of men, comparing them, unfavourably, to dogs.

Perhaps Shakespeare had bad experiences with dogs. Barking during performances at The Globe, fouling the pavement outside his lodging house. Might he have been bitten? Did a puppy chew a favourite quill? And it may be that dogs were mostly street creatures (completely wild or bear-baiters), except for those at Court (and those bred to hunt). One routinely sees lap-dogs in paintings only after Shakespeare’s time, I believe.

If not Shakespeare, then who might give me a good line? William Blake’s “A dog starved at his master’s gate / Predicts the ruin of the state” came to mind. Clearly Blake had a higher opinion as to the worth of a dog. Good man!

And I recalled photographs of Dorothy Parker with her black, standard dachshunds. Ms Parker lived in hotels most of her adult life and her rooms, apparently, were rather filthy thanks to her pets and her reluctance to walk them, and clean up after them promptly. Dorothy Parker is usually a quotation mine, but the only one I could find (above) is about dogma rather than dogs.

A dogma is, briefly, a belief, a principle or an opinion, or all of those. We tend to associate dogmas with religion, and religion with peace and love. Religious dogma, to my mind, has been antithetical to peace and love. I took history courses at my grammar school, and I watch the television news.

A dog is, briefly, what you make him. I suppose one could train a dog to act on one’s dogma, but you could not train a dog to seek out, say, Muslims, by any means except the outward observances of their belief. Clothes, perhaps. I thought of Muslims because many of them find dogs unclean somehow, that's part of their dogma. Give any man a stick and a dog will be nervous, give a man a smile and a dog will likely wag his tail.

Today is 24 February 2010. It is very nearly my Cailean’s second birthday. He’ll be a two-years-old on 8 March. If that seven human years for one dog year holds, he’s a teenager.

This Barking Mad in Amble by the Sea Blog is nearly always written with Cailean next to me. Sometimes he will put a paw on my foot, and I’ll find he’s looking up at me. When the blogging takes a long while, there may be a toilet break required. Cailean always asks to go outside, something all my other dogs did not always do. You are going to meet them.

Happens that I have a fairly good memory and recall that when I was a boy we had an American cocker spaniel, a pretty, pale-gold, spayed female that we called Shammy (being short for Champagne, her colouring). I actually remember that Shammy was born on 24 February 1960. That’s 50 years ago exactly today. I didn’t see the new-born, but chose her from the litter about two months later. My father took me, which is interesting in that he didn’t live with us, and we rarely saw him or heard from him. I suppose he paid for the puppy. He did name it. We celebrated our pets’ birthdays modestly (we didn’t have birthday parties for ourselves) and that may be why I recall Shammy’s.

Shammy came after three short-lived spaniels. Tony, Sheba and Sherry left the safety of the garden and were struck by passing vehicles. They appeared in photographs, and I remember Sheba who brought a pullet to our back door (we lived near a farm) and who dragged her shattered body to that back door and died there. Sherry was with us only a few months, a black spaniel, her body was removed before we got home from school.

In 1971, after Shammy’s loss to cancer, I bought an English spaniel, white and orange, long legs, and as pretty as she was dim. I called her Lexi. I also was given a grey tabby kitten, Pudding, and they lived peaceably, both sleeping on my bed most nights. Lexi died of cancer in 1981, and Pudding lived until 1990, a good innings for a cat.

Aleks, my first miniature dachshund, was born, in England, on 19 October 1996. He was dappled chocolate, cream and silver. Aleks, unlike the spaniels, subscribed to a dogma of forcible intervention whenever anyone approached me. No matter how well Aleks knew someone, if I was in the room he’d get between me and the other person and bark, and even snarl, though he never bit anyone. Eight years later, Aleks was stolen and died horribly. He may have been an irrascible little fellow, but he was devoted to me. His death was heart-breaking for me.

And now Cailean (as my seventh dog, he was nearly called Septimus) is two-years-old. His nature is the opposite of Aleks’s. Cailean has friends everywhere, and knows where they are. A walk down the main street must involve Cailean looking in many doorways. Some shop-keepers (and the postman) have dog biscuits.

Cailean likes visitors, and gives them plenty of attention if they want it. Now that he’s grown up he has bursts of energy, but is content to sleep on the sofa next to me, or in his bed under the desk (at this moment). When he was younger he’d run around like a rat on crack, but not so as to damage anything, and with a look of joy, ears flapping.

Cailean has never mastered the art of jumping onto furniture. He waits to be lifted up. He will jump off the sofa, but not off the bed. Dachshunds, of course, should not be jumping. His favourite game at present is flinging things from the sofa for me to fetch for him. A twist on the game most dogs subscribe to. He has many toys, and the stuffed meercat gets most attention just now, along with a large hard-plastic ball that is weighted so that it rolls off by itself.

Cailean likes his walks, and riding on the bus (he sits on my lap). Excursions are an opportunity to be waggy-tail. He’s wary of mobility scooters (who isn’t?) and, as he’s very small, I have to be careful if he’s on crowded pavements. Children, almost without exception, come running up to Cailean saying: “A sausage dog!” (In Korea he’d be a dog sausage ...)

Will I have a party on 8 March? Neither of us should be eating cake! However, I think I might manage some chicken.

I could not, for example, tell Cailean to keep the Labour Party candidate from the door, or, unfortunately, the BNP people. Aleks would have seen either off, and the Archbishop of Canterbury too. Aleks wanted me all to himself. Aleks was dogmatic: assertive over matters that might be unproven. Cailean wants a party, all are invited. Peace and Love. I must judge who is acceptable. I have to work the velvet rope and his leash, be dogmatic.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Warwick Camp

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth ... And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Genesis 1: 26-28, 31

Well, we all shine on,
Everyone, c'mon.
Instant Karma's gonna get you.
John Lennon (Instant Karma)

ONE REMEMBERS THE ODDEST THINGS. I cannot recall the obvious things. If I go to the minimart without a shopping list thinking to get Fairy original, chances are I’ll come home with Strawberry Ribena and will rediscover I am out of dishwashing liquid when it comes time to rinse out my glass. As I did just yesterday.

When I was almost fourteen, September 1963, all the boys in my form, the Lower Fifth, were drafted into the school’s Cadet Corps. I was a bit younger than most of my male classmates as I’d skipped a few forms during years of some brilliance. The bright lights had dimmed in my head, and there I was with lads of fourteen and even fifteen hearing that we had to gather on the next Wednesday afternoon, when regular classes had finished for the day, to go up to Warwick Camp to be outfitted in our military uniforms.

Next Wednesday came, and an open truck with wooden benches in its bed was waiting below the Assembly Hall. The new recruits and the boys who had been co-opted the year before (they were in their uniforms distributed in September 1962, and had nearly all grown out of those khaki shirts, shorts, knee-socks and puttees, and boots, and were to be given new clothing that would fit for a while) piled into the back of the truck, and sat wherever we could. There must have been nearly thirty of us. Health & Safety would not permit such transport in 2010.

I remember the truck passing Warwick Pond and an elderly woman walking on the side of the road. A number of the boys in our truck yelled obscenities at the poor creature. Vile obscenities, things I may have been hearing for the first time. Rough lot, the military.

At Warwick Camp, the headquarters of the Bermuda Regiment, Bermuda’s real soldiery made up of young males drafted as they finished normal schooling (it is still maintained under those conditions, females need not serve their country), the thirty or so boys from Warwick Academy queued outside a building with a hatch in the wall. As each boy reached the window, a full-time soldier took quick measurements of the boy’s chest, waist and inside leg. Asked what their shoe size might be, I imagine few of us could have answered truthfully. (In 2010 I still do not have an exact shoe size: style, material and comfort dictate anything from 7½ to 8½.) We were given boots to try on over our ordinary school uniform socks, which would prove to be thinner than the military issue we’d wear with the boots when on parade.

After a time, each boy had a bag loaded up with not just the summer's khaki gear, but the Cadet Corps’ winter uniform. Itchy, solid-green shirt with long sleeves, matching solid-green trousers. We had a beret with a badge, and a leather belt with peculiar silvery fastening devices, beret and belt to be used in summer and winter.

It was almost 1964: I was just getting turned on to British rock and roll. I had seen a few lads with long hair and had thought: That’s for me! I was discovering clothes that were not at all like my school uniform, and, God knows, light years removed from the Cadet Corps’ hideous outfits.

The Warwick Academy School Cadet Corps was abandoned a year later. I do not know why exactly, but I was certainly a happy camper when I heard that September 1964 would not entail another truck-ride to Warwick Camp for larger uniforms.

I could sit back, now, and wave an arm about, and dismiss my year in the military in a few sentences. At the time, however, it was dreary and I hated it, and rarely tired of saying so. I never managed to figure out how to march, parade or look as if I had a clue as to what I was supposed to be doing. As I was particularly awkward on the parade ground, I appreciated (and prayed for) rainy days. When we were unable to stand outside, we gathered on the balcony in the Assembly Hall and had lectures of a sort. These I did find interesting. We had a little map-reading (I recall plotting an invasion of Weston-super-Mare) and one lesson on how to survive in the Malaysian jungles (clearly something I needed to know aged thirteen).

One afternoon we were each given a Bren light machine gun, with an empty ammunition clip. We had to dismantle the gun, and then put it back together, at speed. I could not do that. (I was never any good at building models from kits, and they came with a step-by-step picture guide.) Fortunately, in 1964, I never had to assemble a Bren gun and march on an English seaside resort.

What particularly curious thing do I remember from my year serving with Her Majesty’s forces (I had left Bermuda when it came time for me to be drafted into the Regiment for three years)? It was something that took place the week following our outfitting with our first uniforms. We were being instructed on how to wear our uniforms. How to wind the puttees, how to polish the black boots and belt (never, ever, use liquid polish ... and I always did and caught hell for it), how to polish the brass cap badge and belt fastening device. (The really cool lads with girlfriends simply had the girls busy with the Brasso at lunchtime, in the Quadrangle, on the days the Cadet Corps was embodied. I wasn’t exactly cool at the time.)

The schoolteacher in charge of the Cadets, Mervyn White, who was a few years later to die of some rare and peculiar disease contracted in the Amazon jungle, held up a belt. One end had a pointy-out bit, the other end a slit.

“This is the male. The piece that sticks out. This is the female. The slot. And the male fits into the female. Like this.”

Mervyn jiggled the bits of brass together, and then pulled the belt out tight. It was securely fastened so long as the pressure was applied. If the belt had not been adjusted and was too loose around one’s waist, the male might slip out of the female, and that would be a problem. The forces on the belt buckle, acting to wrench the ends apart, would not break it open so long as the male piece was in the female correctly.

We did not have sex education classes at Warwick Academy. Our biology textbook had drawings of male and female rabbits' genitals, but not a great deal of information as to what the bunnies do with them. We had no lessons in psychology. We learnt nothing about family happiness, security or mores. For that matter, we heard nothing about contraception, abortion or STDs.

We did have Religious Knowledge classes. The master for that subject was our Cadet Corps commandant, Mervyn White. We spent most of our lesson time following Saint Paul. I disliked Paul from the start, he was too bossy. Of course, our classes covered the Ten Commandments (we had to memorize them, stand by our desks and recite one or more as the teacher demanded). Stephen Fry points out that the Ten Commandments are the hysterical work of desert tribes, and that those people have done nothing but make life (and death) a misery ever since, and to this day. We wandered in Genesis, avoiding Chapter 38 which was a bit much for teenagers. The Creation of Adam and Eve (or was it Lilith?) was, I suppose, another brush with sex education.

Male and female, created he them. Like himself. In his/her very own image. Well, that seemed odd even when I first heard it as a young boy. We knew (having seen the pictures) that God was a man. Where was the female part? Under the long robe? One may, after fifty years, think that the writer of Genesis (Moses?) understood that human males and females each have hormones that are “male” and “female”. God knows, hormones were not to be discussed in Religious Knowledge, or at our uptight school at all.

So, sex education from the Bible, by way of Mervyn White. And from the School Cadet Corps, by way of Mervyn White.

At my age, I still cannot polish brass without thinking of sex. Candlesticks, bowls and knobs. That said, I do like a brass band playing Jerusalem.
Freud might like that.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Just Another Spatial Twist Continuum

Balk logic with acquaintance that you have
And practise rhetoric in your common talk;
Music and poesy use to quicken you;
The mathematics and the metaphysics,
Fall to them as you find your stomach serves you;
No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en:
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.
William Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew. Act I, Scene I)

AFTER SEVERAL DAYS OF HEAVY RAIN, without let-up, we had a break yesterday. The day began with clear skies, a pale, frightened blue. However, one could see mists forming over the North Sea (by evening we were fogged in) and swirling around the keep at Warkworth Castle.

Warkworth Castle is awfully old, and tumbled-down, but still substantial. Shakespeare set a scene in Henry IV (Part 1) in the Castle. Warkworth was hardly new in the 14th Century in the days of Harry Hotspur (Sir Henry Percy) who may have been born there in the 1360s. (He may have been born in Alnwick Castle, a few miles inland, the other Percy homestead in this part of the world.)

With the break in the weather yesterday morning, I hitched up Cailean and we headed across town and sat out on the Amble Pier.

A full-bodied lady, not a young woman, in a sweat suit and scarf with a woolly hat under her hoodie approached us as we sat looking out at the Sea through the Harbour entrance.

“Is he friendly?”

“Well, yes. Just ignore the yapping, he feels it is his duty to protect me.”

Cailean is a talkative little fellow; miniature dachshunds tend to be chatty. He also likes to hop and put his front paws on one’s shin. A kindly reply (Aren’t you a lovely dog?) gets his tail wagging. A scratch around the ears gets his whole body wagging.

“Not as cold as it has been.”

“No, this is rather pleasant. Even with the breeze off the water.”

And I mentioned the days of rain. The English like to form queues and talk about the weather.

“This has been a brutal winter. Still, mustn’t complain.”

For some reason we mustn’t.

And I watched two ruddy-faced women packing up their fishing gear, industrial-size rods, not the hook-and-sinker hand-lines that I grew up with. The women looked alike, almost twins. With them was a younger girl, as pallid as they were red; washed-out, straggly blond hair, and, I’m thinking, the features one associates with Down’s syndrome. The girl was so very white that I wondered if she might be an albino. Rare genetic misfortune if so.

There were several members of a family, all albinos, at Hurricane High School in Utah back in the 1990s. That was a close-knit community, and one might expect oddities with families doubling back on themselves.

The girl on the Amble Pier was mumbling to herself. I’m hard of hearing thanks to decades of extremely loud music (I have felt too embarrassed to consider a hearing-aid, but my eyesight is crap too and I have difficulty reading the captioning on the telly, so I really should have my ears looked into). The girl didn’t seem threatening.

In July of 1968 I spent several weeks in London with my mother. One day we were sitting on a bench at Marble Arch and a woman appeared, screaming obscenities, which she soon directed at us. We’d stayed sitting while other people in the area got their skates on. This mad woman was, I suppose, quite mad. Nowadays we have tablets one can (and really should) take.

When I was in Lower 4 at Warwick Academy, our Physics master was a Welshman with a Spanish surname. Go figure. One day one of the few girls in the Physics class must have been grappling with some demon, perhaps her blob, and she took umbrage at something the teacher had said, had addressed to her. He may have asked her for a formula. (I still recall a few formulas relating to motion ... S = UT + ½ AT² ... though I couldn’t explain them.)

The girl, who would have been about 12 or 13, stood up and screamed abuse at our teacher. It was the first time I’d ever heard a girl swear, and she did it with considerable volume and variety. I wasn’t sure how Gabe (the teacher) could possibly do the disgusting things that Carol (the girl) suggested he do.

Carol disappeared then and there. She walked out of the Physics class and Lower 4. I think she was switched to a Commercial course and spent the next few years typing and doing shorthand. The Academic students rather looked down on the Commercial boys and girls. Commerce was for dummies.

My first job was in the accounting and finance department at AIG.

Gabe was not a very inspiring teacher of Physics. I have an unsettled grudge against him. At the end of a term, back in Lower 4, we had to sit an examination. When Gabe had marked the papers and brought the results to class, he was in a state of bloody-minded rage that was almost a match for Carol’s. Gabe said that all the pupils that had failed the examination would have to take it again. And it turned out that only one of us passed it. Me. And the vile man suddenly decided that I should stay after school and take it again too.

I wasn’t too fond of Physics after that. Certainly no fan of Gabe.

That said, Gabe and one other teacher were the only members of staff from Warwick Academy who attended the funeral of my step-mother who’d taught History at the school.

I’m sitting on the Amble Pier watching the mists forming in the Coquet Estuary to my left; Cailean is watching a piece of paper that has blown past us.

I have a GCE “O” Level in Physics, and I took Physics and Pure and Applied Mathematics at “A” Level, along with classes in Statistics and Engineering Drawing. I picked up an “A” Level in Biology too.

When I studied the mechanics of DNA, I think the scientists had the strands spiralling in the wrong direction. Cannot say that ruined my life, I didn’t come undone when I found out years later.

I’m reading a life of Alan Turing, his was possibly the greatest mathematical mind of the 20th Century, and there’s rather a lot of Physics to wade through. And Scientific Philosophy. And there’s no way one can measure how long a piece of string is. In fact, existence itself is dodgy at best. “What is?” We cannot really answer that, so how the devil can we deal with “What will be?”

“We were talking about the space between us all ...”

I've wondered why the Mormons don’t come knocking at our doors here, or gather in pairs in railway stations. Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?

Saw a programme on the telly the other night, on Time. The presenter and his guests all had ideas about time. And space. Apparently, if aliens don’t invade us and carry us off into Captivity and make us build pyramids for their worlds, our sun is going to burn out in several billion years’ time. That would be the end of the Earth’s time, and our solar system. Galaxies will dissolve; the Universe will expand until the spaces are so vast that the stars seem to go out. The Big Crunch is not a definite.

At the end, perhaps, all time will exist simultaneously. Carol will shriek her vulgarities at Gabe. I shall squint through the fog at Warkworth Castle. Harry Hotspur will say his lines in the Globe Theatre. The Angel Moroni might even drop through Joseph Smith’s ceiling.

“Is he friendly?”

“The Angel Moroni?”

“No. Your little sausage dog.”

“Sorry. My mind was wandering a little. Yes, he’s quite friendly, just likes to yap a bit.”