Time is an illusion

I have been alive for 777,824,940 seconds! Although this is untrue now. every second slips by into the past as we continually strive for the future. I remember reading somewhere once a quotation from a man who said "There is no point hoping for the future, as it will never arrive, just as the past cannot be changed. The only hope is to live in present, as no one can escape this moment, at least not until death." I might have read this somewhere, though it's just as likely that I made this up. More than likely I imagine.

Time feels like a typically human attribute given to a property over which we have no control. Inexorably linked, forever aging, it's something to be fought and resisted. Or at least that's what cosmetic companies want you to believe. SciFi fans dreaming over the space/time continuum, and how we can manipulate the fifth dimension. We spend so much of our lives concerned with the many aspects of time that most of us don't even take the opportunity to consider what is really important.

Of course I could go on for a while discussing existentialism and other philosophical opinions, but now's not the time. Instead I'll leave you with a quotation about time, one I haven't made up:

"Actually, there's only one instant, and it's right now, and it's eternity. And, it's an instant in which God is posing a question, and that question is basically, 'Do you wanna be one with eternity, do you want to be in heaven?' And, we're all saying, 'Nooo thank you, not just yet.' And so time, is actually just this constant saying 'No' to God's invitation... Behind the phenomenal difference there is but one story, and that's the story of moving from the 'No' to the 'Yes.' All of life is like, 'No thank you, No thank you, No thank you.' And then, ultimately, it's, 'Yes I give in, Yes I accept, Yes I embrace.' I mean, that's the journey. Everyone gets to the 'Yes' in the end, right?" Richard Linklater - "Waking Life"


Khalepa ta kala

The Greeks did it in style, they made a bad day on Eastenders look like a drop in the ocean. I remember studying the Classical Example during my second year at university and really enjoying the Greek plays that we had to read. The Bacchae was written by Euripdes in around 400BC, and won him a posthumous first prize in an ancient Greek literary contest, called the Dionysia. The play itself tells of how the god Dionysus takes revenge against the city of Thebes after he is exiled by Pentheus, his cousin and unbelieving that Dionysus is really a deity. The eventual outcome of Dionysus's revenge is brutal and murderous; Pentheus is decapitated by his own mother, and he turns Pentheus's father and wife into snakes. It beats Eastenders any day.

It wasn't until a couple of years later that I ended up revisiting the themes involved in The Bacchae, in a book called The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The story follows Richard Papen, who has just started at University in Vermont, and his group of five friends who are all reading ancient Greek.

The narrative devices used by Donna Tartt are very interesting, and serve a useful purpose in creating the relationship betweenm the narrator, Richard, and the reader. The use of the homodiegetic 'I' in The Secret History, opens up the theme of confession in the character of Richard. It draws the reader into the thoughts of our narrator, and the use of time highlights the fact that Richard is trying to make sense of his own actions through his narration. The narrator uses the prologue to make his confession of being partially responsible for the murder of Bunny, one of his classmates. Despite seemingly giving away the crux of the story immediately, what it does instead is set up the sense of fatality that follows the narrators story. I brings back the Greek idea of the Fates, and how destiny is preordained and it is the story of how the characters reach that point which becomes the main point of interest.

Donna Tartt uses the narrative to create a sense of separation between the narrtor, and 'his' character. Richard looks back, disbelieving of the events that took place as he tries to make sense of it all. The reader is constantly reminded that Richard is recalling his experiences from a more reasoned viewpoint in the occasional narrative moments of "I suppose that..." and "Now I see that..." These devices help to bring the reader closer into the mind of Richard and his perspective, and what is even more interesting, is that the reader begins to understand the reasoning behind Bunny's murder. Through the use of the prologue, and through Richard's narrative, the reader begin to understand why Bunny had to be murdered by his friends, and it becomes very easy to agree with those reasons.

I mentioned at the beginning of this novel's affliation with the classics, indeed there are many latin and Greek words inserted into the dialogue and the narrative. What I enjoyed most about this novel is the way that Tartt draws the reader into the mysterious world of ancient Greece through the main characters. The use of idiolect help to create an 'otherworldly' feel, Henry in particular seems so obsessed by this world that it only ever appears fully alive when he is immeresed in its philosophy and traditions. It is the attraction to this beautiful, mysterious world that eventually causes the defining moments within the story, enabling the characters to become murderers by leaving "the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime".

Although on the surface The Secret History might appear to be just another college campus tale of murder and deceit, it delves much deeper than that. The themes invoked by the main characters bring up many of the questions raised by the Greek playwrights of old, and the reader genuinely feels drawn into this ancient world. Ulimately it is the attraction of this world that bring about the downfall of the characters involved, and each fatal flaw wins through; it is a place where beauty is harsh.


Trolley Ghosts

A few years ago, whilst I was travelling I ended having to sleep in Madrid airport for two nights whilst I waited for my ride to turn up. This is actually the end of a far more entertaining story, involving dwarves, ant infestations, and an epic tale of the wait for Brioche day. However, this is not the moment for these things to be discussed, despite the passage of time my demons in Madrid have yet to be exorcised.

It had all seemed simple to begin with. I was confident, even if the guy I was travelling with wasn't. "It'll be easy," I said. "Its an international airport and there'll be good seats." Never in all my life have I known time to pass so slowly. Perhaps some background is necessary here, we were only waiting in Madrid because the other guy we were travelling with was driving our camper van up from Cadiz to pick us up from Madrid. For some bizarre reason it was cheaper for two of us to fly to Madrid, and for one of us to travel with the van on the ferry back from the Canaries. Twisted economics if you ask me, but who were we to argue, money was short after spending ten months travelling around Europe. So it was these circumstance that led me to spend over 50 hours in an airport with just my best friend and four cheese and chorizo sandwiches to keep me going.

The obvious metaphor for airports is like being in limbo, its the dragging of time whilst you await your holiday heaven or hell. It certainly has the effect of thinning time out, and after a while you begin to feel as if this 'thinning' is having an effect on you as well; like butter spread over too much toast (as Bilbo would say). Surreal moments just stroll along all the time to say hello, eccentric characters and situation just seem to happen naturally at airports. At least they do to me.

We originally arrived late at night, and our first plan was to have a quick tour of the three terminals. Now Madrid airport has opened another terminal, it was being built whilst we were there, and this has opened up a whole new luxury area for travelling English hobos. The most comfortable area for night seemed to be at the end of Terminal 1, and this proved popular as we shared it with a few other stranded passengers for the night. I didn't actually find the airport floor too uncomfortable, in fact I slept pretty well. Actually, this is a lie. I would have slept well if it wasn't for the tannoy announcement every fifteen minutes reminding us to keep hold of our luggage at all times. I eventually gave up trying to sleep sometime in the early morning, and upon visiting the toilets I noticed that the facilities had needle dispensers in the cubicles. For insulin injections or heroin I guess, though I didn't inspect any closer.

Sleep deprivation and too much cheese was beginning to have an hallucinatory effect on my thought process. No longer was illiterate in Spanish, I could understand all the announcements, read all the posters, and then to top it off someone spoke to me and I understood her. It wasn't until my mate replied to the question that I realised she was speaking English after all. So for a few minutes we sat and diligently watched her luggage whilst she went to the toilet, presumably not to jack up on heroin. The only hope that kept me going was the knowledge that in two days we'd be back in England, and on our way home for a big welcome return and a weekend of fun at a music festival. Our ferry at Calais was booked, and now all we needed to do was wait for the van turn up.

At about ten in the morning I found myself observing a group of excited young Frenchmen. Dressed smartly, they were all gathered around in the arrivals lounge drinking white wine in copious amounts. Before long they started singing, it actually sounded like football chants, but before I could and join in with a shout of "Allez le bleu!" I found myself staring at another poor selection of cards in another game of shithead. By now the game had worn thin, in fact it had worn thin four months ago, but when it rains and you live in a van there's not much else to do; except painting by numbers of course.

For some reason I began thinking about the use of capital punishment during Roman times. I had been staring at the man with Serial Killer Eyes at the time. He was in his late forties, shabbily dressed in an old suit, dishevelled would be the cliched description. He would stand up for a few minutes and then perform a circular inspection of his surroundings. Not seeing whatever it was he was searching, he would sit down again, his head hanging and eyes locked on the floor. This carried on for about an hour or so, until, finally he left and was never seen again. Strangely enough, some time later, a woman entered arrivals dressed in knee length boots, short skirt and blood red lipstick. These scenes played out before me in a cinematic way, I was feeling so detached from reality that I wasn't sure what was going on. Smoking a Lucky Strike, she stood right by where Serial Killer Eyes had been, and remained there for a good fifteen minutes. Checking her phone, taking a drag, checking her phone, looking in the mirror, taking a drag, tapping her foot, muttering under her breath, taking a drag, and, checking her phone. Finally she seemed to give up and left as swiftly as she had arrived. My friend and I looked at each other, and we both knew we didn't need to discuss the possible scenarios that were playing out in our heads. Apparently the punishment for parricide in ancient Rome was to whip the guilty party, then place them in a sack with a dog, a cock, a viper, an ape, and then thrown into the sea. If no sea was available, then they would be burnt alive.

Our second night started with concern that there was a blatant disregard for the tannoy announcements going on in Terminal 1. We had gone to where we had slept the previous night, but after a few minutes the small number of people who had been there promptly disappeared. All that remained was my mate, myself, and a lone bag placed on top of one of the check-in desks. The security cameras were all focused on the bag, and we began to discuss whether or not we might get to see one of those bomb disposal robots come round the corner. But we were to be disappointed, instead it was stern looking security guard who came to the rescue, and after inspecting the bag for some time he began to stare intently in our direction. We swiftly moved downstairs.

Long after my friend had gone to sleep I sat and watched the silent night workers of the airport. The constant business of cleaning was always occurring, sweeping rubbish from every part of the floor, needles dispensaries needed emptying, and trolleys needed relocating. At around 2am I could see a snaking movement in the distance weaving towards me. The glare of the lights gave the airport a hazy atmosphere, but as he approached I could see that it was a man pushing a long collection of trolleys. He passed me by, his face had a resigned sad look to it, and his eyes gave the impression of inevitability; there will always be trolleys to collect and move around. He quietly shuffled away, looking as if he had been left behind, forever cursed to haunt the airport terminal.

It was finally our last day at Barajas Aeropuerto, with some luck our driver would turn up after lunchtime and we could be getting on with the serious business of covering the distance to Calais. My first chuckle of day came when I was watching a young boy being carried by his mother. She was attempting to rush to the toilets with her son, but it ended up being to little too late, and the boy was sick all down her. The best part was that he had tried classic 'hold it in with my hands' trick, resulting in the vomit spreading down his arms instead. This incident kept me smiling for a while, though I was starting to realise that lunchtime had been and gone, and our van still hadn't arrived. A quick phone call and all was revealed that he might be late, more like nine he said. G-R-E-A-T.

Appearing suddenly, deus ex machine, was a young Spanish girl who proceeded to swear with such brilliance I couldn't help be impressed. Her use of the word 'fucking' was exceptional, and after her splenetic outburst at the lack of email facilities in the airport she calmed down enough to invite us to a party in Lisbon. It was a moment when that fork in the road appears and which way are you going to go. Tempting as it was, our sensibilities rose to the surface and we turned down the offer for the prospect of spending another few hours waiting for our elusive chariot.

The clock struck nine, and we knew the van would be finally arriving, our hopes were high, but the ever present tannoy announcements seemed destined to play with our fragile minds. The alerting beeps kept making us think that an announcement was being made directly to us to inform us that the van had arrived. Vacating the building to escape the madness, we sat outside on trolley and soon received the phone call we had waiting days for. Sure enough, our van, Sandy, rolled around the corner sounding like a Royal Enfield Bullet. Apparently the exhaust had just fallen off, so now we had to cover one thousand miles in thirty six hours, unable to go over fifty five miles an hour. It would certainly be more interesting than sitting in an airport for any moment longer and we spluttered away from the terminal, focused on the new challenge ahead. Behind us, a shadow from the dark emerged, silently took control of our trolley and steered it off into the distance.


80 Years of Solitude

In 1831, an unpaid gentleman's companion set out on a voyage that would lead to some of the most dramatic discoveries in the field of science. The voyage was only supposed to last two years, yet after five years the research taken in areas such as anthropology, botany, geology, biology and ecology helped Charles Darwin to become one of the most eminent scientists of his time. The discoveries he made during his time on the HMS Beagle led to the eventual publication of the Origin of Species. This study, considered heretical and highly controversial by many leading people at the time, ultimately proved to be one the most important scientific studies in human history.

Darwin has been commemorated in many ways since his death in 1882, an Australian city is named after him, his face is on a ten pound note and he came fourth in a poll of the Greatest Britons that have ever lived. On the Galápagos Islands where Darwin did much of his work there now exists the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is dedicated to the conservation of the ecosystem of Galápagos.

The most famous resident of the Charles Darwin Research Station is an ancient tortoise of the sub species Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni , one of eleven types of tortoise found on the islands. Found on the island of Pinta in 1971 by hunters trying to eradicate the goat problem on the island, he is the last of his kind and now lives by the melancholic name of 'Lonesome George'. There have been concerted attempts to get George to mate with other female tortoises, Geochelone elephantopus becki, which are the closest to his race, in the hope that some of George's genes would pass down into future generations. However, despite his best efforts, there has yet to have been any eggs produced from this breeding program, puzzling the scientists who are studying him.

Yet there is still a small possibility that there could be other Pinta Tortoises alive on the island, as any small tortoise could have easily been overlooked when George was removed. Yet more problems lie in the way of any potential happiness for George, as the island's vegetation has regrown to such an extent after the goat cull that it is incredibly difficult to navigate around Pinta. There is an team currently implentmenting the first stages of restoring the island, but hope for George remains slim and it is becoming increasingly likely that he will die the last of his kind.

It was announced this week that the Charles Darwin Research Station plan to introduce the Española tortoise - George's closest relative - to replace George as Pinta's dominant herbivore. This is an effort to restore some balance to the vegetative state of the island, yet it is the first time conservationists have tried to replace one species with another.

Thanks to instituitions such as the Charles Darwin Research Station there are great efforts being made to protect these incredible islands. Their mission statement is:

To provide knowledge and support to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity of the Galapagos Archipelago through scientific research and complementary actions

Through this, hopefully, they can prevent another species ending up like George, spending his life alone.


Hap e's

I'm sure in the past I've drank many bottles, can and pints of Heineken, but I've never paid much attention to the label itself. I suppose living in a consumer world we are all subject to the power of marketing, to even the smallest degree. The attention to detail that goes into creating a brand, or a logo is phenomenal, and not surprising considering the profits that can be at stake. Much of modern day brand power is about convincing the consumer that they will be better off with their particular product.

This does not just extend to physical appearance, but also the well being of the consumer. Yogurts that have 'good' bacteria to help digestion, or cereals that will make you feel more awake in the morning. It even extends back to the days of Guinness adverts in the 30s and 40s proclaiming "Guinness For Strength" and other iconic images of that advertising era.

I had never seen anything that had struck me like the Guinness adverts since, but the other day whilst making a cup of tea (fair trade of course, to calm my ethical conscience) I read the back of an empty Heineken bottler in our kitchen.

"Why do the e's in our logo appear to smiling? It's because only pure water, hops and malted barley go into our beer. We simply believe natural tastes better."

Sure enough, the e's are smiling at me! I had to laugh, because the instant connection I made in my head was to the drug ecstasy, surely not something Heineken would not want to be affiliated with.

After some research I found that this marketing ploy was first implemented by Alfred Heineken in 1951, after he had spent two years working in the sales department for Heineken in America. He learnt the importance of advertising, and on his return to Amsterdam he set out making some the most influential changes to the brand of Heineken that had ever been seen. He turned the brand colour to green, and created the combination of the red star, banner and a hop vine. But most importantly to me, he tilted the e's in the name Heineken backwards slightly to give them the appearance of smiling. He lived by the motto "I don't sell beer, I sell warmth."

Before finding this out I would have assumed that this marketing ploy had occurred recently, not over fifty years ago and its a testament to the vision of the man that he was able to understand the need for creative advertising. Living in a world now saturated by consumable products, the need for ever productive advertising is driving companies to make greater and greater claims in their attempts to convince the consumer of the superiority of their brand. Alfred Heineken was one step ahead during his time, but he spelt out an accurate prophesy for the modern age when he said:

"In the end life is all about advertising."