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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Its Just a Matter of Time

Jesus Blasco - Alice in Wonderland

Last week I read something I found very interesting in the 'Metro Herald' our fabulous free newspaper that keeps me sane during my daily commute.

Dr Andrew Jackson, a scientist here at Trinity College (Dublin) is researching the perception of time by small animals and insects.  The project he is leading compares 'flicker fusion frequency' - the point at which creatures begin to see separate flashes of light as a blur.  The hypothesis they are following is that the faster an animal's metabolic rate, the slower objects move for them and the longer their impression of time.

This theory can be used to explain why a fly is able to avoid being swatted so easily.  Our actions as humans appear to them like the bullets in 'The Matrix.'

Ron Embleton - Cinderella

Dr Jackson has carried this train of thought a step further after noticing that small children always appear to be in a hurry.  'It's tempting to think that for children time moves more slowly than it does for grown-ups and there is some evidence that it might', he is quoted as saying.   It certainly seems to be the case for me - as my metabolism slows down, time has speeded up to the point where I never seem to have enough to do anything!

For me this theory compliments another I have always subscribed to - that there is a direct correlation between a person's age and their perception of time.  This is based on the percentage of a period of time in relation to an individual's entire existence.  So for a child of 4 the equivalent number of years is very long time as it constitutes his/her whole lifetime.  For an adult of 54 it has a whole different meaning.

Einstein was studying the concept of time and time-travel towards the end of his life.  He saw time as a river flowing in one direction with us travelling along in a boat.  What he was contemplating in his twilight years is the possibility of us manoeuvring the boat to the bank, getting out and walking back the way we had come.  I've always been fascinated by the prospect of time-travel but as I get older I often think it is better we are not able to revisit the past.  Our memories are unreliable and often inaccurate - we are most likely much happier with our rose-tinted perceptions of the past than the actual reality.

My own journey through time:            

Aged 4

Aged 14

Aged 24

Aged 34 (with hubby John)

Aged 44 (with our son Ryan)

Aged 54 (suitably obscured by sunlight!)

Jim Croce's 'Time in a Bottle' (1973).  I've always found it especially poignant that he died the same year this song was released and in the end did not get his full allotment of time.  The photography in this particular YouTube clip is absolutely breathtaking - if you can spare the time its well worth watching!  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Distant Echo

Throughout the ages many people have pondered the meaning of life and immortality of the human soul  I come from a Christian background so the concept of reincarnation is anathema to my upbringing - and yet I have always been haunted by memories of a distant past that is not my own and a deep sense of loss and longing.

One theory I discovered some time ago is that we inherit memories in the same way our genetic make-up and character/personality traits (the nature vs nurture debate notwithstanding) are passed down to us by our forebears.  Just as a spider knows how to spin an elaborate web with no instruction or assistance, so too do we carry within us the emotions and experiences of those came before.  Its an interesting concept and a possible explanation if we truly do pass this way just once.

I realised early on that I studied history (I have an honours degree in the subject and taught it at high school for a time) not because I needed to learn anything, but because I receive a measure of comfort and familiarity while immersing myself in certain eras of the past.  

In our past two homes I've found corners of the garden that have transported me back to an earlier time.  This is the place I gravitated to where we live now.  There is a tree stump covered in brambles and at the verge of the lawn long grass is allowed to grow wild, catching and reflecting the light of the afternoon sun.

During the summer months I sat here for hours and drank in the scene.  I inhabit an eternal present where time has no meaning.  A little brown bird provided company, foraging amongst the brambles and sunning itself on the stump.  Two white butterflies also kept me entertained, waltzing and twirling in a graceful dance, spinning about in the sultry air.  Yesterday I thought their short, joyous lives must be over as they were no longer here, but then I discovered them in another corner of the garden, flitting amongst the ripening apples positioned to take best advantage of the late summer sun.

I have many memories but the strongest is from the early Middle Ages.  Strangely enough I'm not a princess in a castle tower, nor am I an important prominent person.  Instead my recollections are those of a peasant.  The landscape fills my mind with vivid detail - a field of wheat or corn ripening in the sun bounded by a forest.  Where the cultivated land ends there is grass caching the silvery light at the edge of the trees.  I can hear children playing and the sound of people working.

Often we are given the impression that this period of history was a fearful time - one of war and pestilence, hunger and want where the populace wore dun coloured clothing and lived in squalor.  That is not my recollection at all.  Instead I have a perception of community and co-operation, a simple life but one of plenty and a deep sense of contentment.  I don't know if represents a tiny window of time or a prolonged period of prosperity.

I try to reach back to discern more detail but it is out of reach and the distance is too great. All I can do is sit in the sun dreaming of the past .....

.... and listen to the distant echo of children laughing.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Little Women - Whitman Edition 1955

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

Before I launch into this post I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who left comments on the last one, and Earthen Magic a special thank for going back to all the associated links and leaving such magical messages.  While I'm in 'thank you mode' I'd also like to tell Yurika from Japan how thrilled I was to get the comments you left on earlier posts - I tried to reciprocate on your blog but couldn't find a place to leave a message.  Everyone else - I won't mention you all by name but you know your friendship means a lot to me.

I always feel a bit self conscious when I put up a post like the last one - on this occasion I nearly took it back down again and would have done so but for receiving the responses I got to it.  Sometimes I do feel I must be delusional and a bit of an eejit for thinking I can write a book - especially when I read what I've produced in the cold light of day!  

Now on to this post.  It was inspired by one Barbara from the ever delightful March House Books Blog featured recently.  You can see Barbara's post here.  Her edition has glorious illustrations by the sublime Rene Cloke - they really are superb.  I'm not the first to respond to Barbara's post - another good blog friend Darlene from Darlene's Foster's Blog feaured this post which includes a photograph of Louisa May Alcott    

Both of these posts prompted me to get out my version of the story and page through it again.  The book I have was published by the Whitman Publishing Company (Wisconsin) in 1955.  It is a 'modern abridged version' but still very wordy for a child running to 283 pages.

I LOVED this book when I was very young - maybe a little bit surprising as I tended to be drawn to bright and shiny things - large format books with vibrant illustrations in full colour.  This edition is the size of a medium hardback novel and includes pen and ink illustrations by Jill Elgin with muted olive green washes of colour.

I think what makes these illustrations so successful is how wonderfully they portray both the characters and events of the book.  And there are a lot of them.  I've only included a handful here but this edition is packed full of them.  

These two were amongst my favourites.  I adored the picture of Meg in her unaccustomed finery.  I'd still like to do something with this dress one day - it would be perfect for a paper doll!  I read through this part of the story again and was startled to realise how young these characters were.  Meg is 17 in this scene and Laurie is even younger!

More illustrations follow.  This story was already 100 years old when I first read it - I think why it endures so well is how universal and timeless it is (a bit like Jane Austen)  - and how 'real' and sympathetic the characters are.  (I know as Barbara said you either love it or hate it - as childhood memories go it is so entrenched in my psyche I can't but love it.)  

This one of Meg's wedding is one I've always wanted to incorporate into something.  It has a lovely graphic quality with its circular design and a great sense of movement.

The cover is the only illustration in colour - I must say I was always intrigued by this hat!

Each chapter is prefaced by a small illustration - a handful of these are repeated throughout the book.  There are a few others beside those I'm showing here - the house, a horse and carriage for Laurie and the portraits of the four girls shown on the frontispiece.

Many chapters are introduced with a montage representing one of the girls.  At some point I went through these and identified them all - writing the appropriate initial (in red ink I'm afraid!) underneath each.    

Whitman produced two different series of books at this time - Whitman Classics (of which this is one) and Whitman Adventure and Mystery Books.  Besides Little Women I also owned their Fifty Famous Fairy Tales.  I no longer have this book and would love to see it again.  I've just discovered there is one on offer at Amazon - now should I or shouldn't I ? ....   hmmm ......  


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