A Few Unconventional Thoughts about Time

quotescover-jpg-88bTime, there’s a thing. I have a theory about time and it’s this, it’s that time flows differently in different places. OK; sounds a bit mad doesn’t it? Let me explain further. Take somewhere like France. Dotted about France are innumerable war grave cemeteries. The conflicts of the first and second world wars left their mark on the landscape in various ways and even today farmers in the Somme and other places continue to dig up artillery shells and other reminders of the past.

Batterie Todt, Pas De Calais

Batterie Todt, Pas De Calais

On many occasions when trundling through rural France I’ve come across many bunkers, fortresses and other sites. In northern France Liz and I stopped at a war grave cemetery that was picture perfect in its own way. The lawns were incredibly neat, and the hedgerows immaculately trimmed. Sadness pervaded the site like a scent coming over from the adjacent fields. Throughout there is a feeling of peace, of slowness and a feeling that time has stopped here or perhaps just slowed. That’s not strange when you think that time must have speeded up during the action of the first and second world wars, so it seems only fair that nature must compensate, that time must slow later to make up for the fast and frantic earlier time. You can imagine the pace of things even a hundred years ago: The early morning bombardment, the whistles blowing as officers called their troops to go over the top. The advance parties who made ahead to cut the barbed wire, the troops walking apprehensively forward until they walked into the deadly machine gun fire that cut most of them down. Many found their final resting places in these cemeteries, places that are now quiet and peaceful with a silent beauty, timeless and moving with the beat of nature as a backdrop, the humming of the insects, distant cows mooing, and the birds flying past.

Many soldiers’ bodies slipped deeper into the mud of places like the Somme and remain there still. Others have no resting places, their bodies blown to pieces by artillery shells, their names marked on marble walls forever missing in action.

War memorial, France, 1940

War memorial, France, 1940

At one place, travelling from St Quentin to Soissons we stopped by the road to find a huge sword standing in the rock. Like a giant Excalibur, it stood there waiting to be pulled by some giant hand, bearing silent witness to a long ago battle from the Second World War.

We once visited Compiegne, the place where the armistice was signed at the end of the First World War. The famous railway coach there is not the authentic one. No, that one was where Hitler forced the French to surrender in the early days of World War 2. The coach was then taken away to Berlin where the Nazis destroyed it in the closing stages of the war to stop its return to France. The coach that stands here now in Compiegne is a similar one and it’s easy to imagine the scenes all those years ago, the French accepting the German surrender in 1918, then years later Hitler and his gang pressing their terms on the French.

I’ve never been to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland but whenever I look at one of those TV documentary programmes where TV cameras return to the site, it doesn’t look like a place of mass destruction. It looks calm, serene and another silent witness to the death and destruction of the past. Time ran faster here when the Nazi death machine was in full swing. Now time flows peacefully past over those who come to learn about what has gone on before. This must indeed be a sombre place to visit but Auschwitz is not only a memorial to those who had their lives snuffed out in such a terrible fashion but a reminder to all of the dangers of prejudice and hatred. Time hangs heavy over this place but the evil that built and maintained this death camp has long gone.

All the places mentioned here have had their moments in the spotlight of world history. They all lived through times of accelerated pace when time flowed swiftly. Perhaps it’s their time now for a quieter pace while time flows slowly . .

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In The Wars

Just lately I’ve been in the wars a little. My trusty mountain bike was stolen a while ago but I have an older bike in the garage so the other day I dug it out, cleaned it up and pumped up the tyres. After fitting a new inner tube and giving the bike a good oil and clean up I was ready for a quick test spin and luckily, as it turned out, popped on my helmet and gloves. As I went down the avenue I noticed I hadn’t tightened up the handlebars enough, so I turned round and headed back. My big mistake was in not getting off the bike and walking back because the front wheel turned sharply, I turned the handlebars, and of course nothing happened, except that I ended up in a heap on the pavement. Still, I had my helmet on, no head injuries and my natty little bike mitts had prevented any cuts on my hands. As I pushed the bike back home I noticed my leg hurting a little and later on my ankle swelled up. A two hour visit to casualty revealed no broken bones but I was pretty happy no one was around that afternoon to video my escapade and post it on you tube!

Now here’s my other scary moment; I’ve had a little mark on the side of nose for a while, two years actually and it’s a sort of red mark, it doesn’t hurt but every so often it gets inflamed and starts to bleed. Anyway, I went to the doctors about it and they sent me to a specialist who said it’s a rodent ulcer! Sounds pretty nasty but a quick look at the internet shows that it’s nothing really scary and hopefully it can be sorted out soon but the doctor decided to cut a slice of it off and send it for a biopsy. Now it didn’t hurt much as they gave me a local anaesthetic but, that needle going in was another story! That really hurt. Later, my nose swelled up and started throbbing. Anyway, you can get the picture, me looking a bit of a mess and feeling a little sorry for myself, so much so I called in sick at work. Not like me at all.

Now, a couple of days later I was feeling a little better and ready to go back to work so Liz and I went for a drink to the Links, a local pub. Monday is open mike night at the pub so we sat back and enjoyed the various singers. Now, there were three distinct groups at the Links that night. The regulars who of course are always there and never seem to me to care whoever is singing as long as they don’t interfere with their drinking. The second group was the Open Mikers, a regular group that we see at most of the various open mike nights in the St Annes area and also tonight, a third group, the outsiders. The outsiders we had never seen before. They were made up of two singing groups and a small band of their supporters. Now their performers were actually really pretty good, especially one young guy who had a great singing voice and sang some really good foot tapping songs. The thing that really bugged me though was that when the Open Mikers were playing the Outsiders sat at their table and paid little interest, unless one of their own people was performing, then they crowded the stage and gave support and applause. Hats off though to The Open Mikers, who supported and cheered whoever performed, whether good or bad, part of their group or not.

776px-Battle_of_Broodseinde_-_silhouetted_troops_marchingAnyway, I seem to be taking my time getting to the point but that night at the Links pub was the 4th August which just happens to be the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, or World War 1 as we now know it and on that night there was a lights out memorial over all the UK. At ten o’clock the pub lights dimmed and we stood for a minute’s silence, observed I might add by ninety-nine percent of the bar. It was pretty moving really, remembering those who taken part in this conflict, some who died during it in dreadful conditions, and some who lived on to return to their families. It certainly puts my whingeing about falling off my bike into perspective.

One of those who returned was my Grandad, George Higgins, who was in the Royal Horse Artillery. When my Dad, fresh from school started out as a milkman, with a horse and cart rather than an electric van I might add, his Dad, my Grandad, came to visit him at the stables where his horse was kept. He checked the horse out, paying particular attention to the horse’s teeth.

They knew how to look after horses, those Great War veterans.

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