Sunday, 22 January 2012

Dark Star

Community Orchard Management Committee meetings take place in our Committee Chair's house, a few streets away from ours. I usually cycle but, not wanting to risk my hand, I decided to walk this time. It's surprising how much longer this takes, and what gets noticed as a result, that would otherwise be missed. Like this odd piece of street furniture.

From the ground up to about my shoulder height, it was obviously a lamp-post. From there on skywards, it was empty space. Someone had come along with an angle-grinder, sawn it through at shoulder height, and removed it. They had then thoughtfully covered the hole at the top of the severed column with green-and-yellow striped plastic tape, of the sort that would say to an electrician "Earth".

Standing in the circle of darkness granted me, for once I could look up and see a few stars. But the whole thing begged far too many questions for me to concentrate on finding Cassiopia or a stray planet.

Who would carry off half a lamp-post, and why?

Our City Council are trying to save money. To this end, they are planning to replace the city's lamp-posts with more energy-efficient ones. Our local Councillor has even put "I like lamp-posts" on his facebook page. But according to numerous "Disgusted, Viking City"-type letters in the local paper, what has been happening "on the ground" is that lamp-posts have been disappearing randomly, clumsily and unaccountably from various streets throughout the city, and the only new lamp-post to have been seen anywhere has been put up right next to its predecessor, leaving the latter still in place, and both (allegedly) shining merrily away side-by-side through the night. To cap it all, the two are identical: there's no sign that the newer one is working any more efficiently, or cheaply, than the original. And it's every bit as ugly to boot.

But we might be seeing more than simply an everyday tale of mismanagement.

The price of scrap metal is soaring, and one consequence of the resulting crimewave is that the present right to sell scrap anonymously may not be in place for much longer. Metal marauders will be going on one last frantic binge, and what better cover than as Council workmen removing lamp-posts that everybody knows are due for replacement?

But what if someone even more devious is using the metal-marauders as cover?

What if Astronomers, fed up of the tyranny of ubiquitous light pollution, are having to resort to crime just to get a look-in, hiding behind respectable reputations and using all-night observations as alibi?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Tea Break

We thought we'd have some biscuits with our tea...

We left one extra,
just like the quantity surveyor at JiaYuGuan gate...

He was client-focused!

Time for something a bit more esoteric:

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Fighting the Cuts

Some Wensleydale-and-honey sandwiches are more dangerous than others. Putting together this particular individual had necessitated opening a half-used jar of honey whose lid just...wouldn't...budge. But it didn't slip in my hands either, so rather than just grabbing a tea-towel I went straight for the Nuclear Option: one of those things that look like giant nut-crackers and hold the lid while you twist the jar. But instead of opening, the jar just imploded, taking what looked like a chunk of my hand with it.

Fast-fowarding through three hours spent at A&E, I am now two weeks into the stage of the self-made repair job. A body sends, or makes on the spot, items whose job it is to bridge gaps and prevent invasions or further damage. So, new skin and muscle cells start to assemble, white blood cells gather to fend off infection, and any potentially disruptive movement is minimised by a rapid message to HQ telling me that moving my hand hurts! My only conscious job in all this, in other words, is to leave the site well alone, free of outside interference, and let a body get on with it.

Sadly, this is rather inconvenient for my ambitions of digging the Plot.

Suppose, though, that instead of remaining un-dug for a couple of weeks, the Plot and its neighbours were simply abandonned altogether. How would they look if a visitor were to come back in ten, twenty, a hundred years' time?

Of course the bindweed would have a riot this summer, and doubtless the same the year after, aided and abetted by the brambles. But then, assuming nobody tries to graze animals on them, the Plots would start to do something new. You wouldn't see the self-seeded birch, horse-chestnut and hazel trees at first, they'd be shielded by the undergrowth, which by a happy coincidence is just how they like it. Left to grow undisturbed, long strands of fungi would thread through the soil, somehow coming to an arrangement whereby goods are swapped with any plants they encounter. Going by what has happened in other bits of abandonned land nearby, I'd guess the birches would start to show above the brambles in about ten years, followed by trees with heavier shade, which would put paid to the bindweed's ambitions. Ever seen bindweed growing in a forest?

Meanwhile some more shade-tolerant characters would colonise the ground: perhaps descendents of that sorrel I planted. Snowdrops and other early-flowering plants might get a hold. In twenty years' time, the Plots might be a good place to hunt for blackberries, hazelnuts and mushrooms. And of course, for squirrels.

Birch trees tend to expire after fifty years or so of hard work bringing minerals up from the subsoil and leaving them lying about on the ground for everything else to enjoy. So would anybody. Eventually, then, the Plots would become home to slow-growing trees of the type found in Britain's oldest forests, but perhaps interspersed with a few fruit and nut trees left over or descended from today's individuals. The Plots, then, would be the Ancient Forests of 2112.

And all we would have had to do to achieve this would be to leave the site well alone, free of outside interference, and let the earth get on with it.

Sadly, this would be rather inconvenient for our ambitions...