Time Flies

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The elusive time-traveller - a rare photograph from the chrono-archives

Sunday 25th/Monday 26th October

I went time-travelling on two wheels yesterday – six thousand years into the past – and early this morning we were all time-travellers, briefly, as the clocks went back (as a nation, the UK travelled one hour into the past – a country-sized time-machine).

Imagine the Good Ship Great Britain slipping through the Vortex, in a kind of update of The Philadelphia Experiment (in which a US Navy vessel travels through time, with disasterous consequences).

Sounds like a plot for Dr Who

Apart from the Gallifreyan time-lord’s stubbornly retro police box, there have been steam trains & De Loreans, (both Back to the Future), battleships, starships (in Star Trek IV: The Journey Home, and many of the TV series episodes) and countless other plot devices, including some which do away with hardware or even rationale (The Time Traveller’s Wife). The pioneer of time-travel, HG Wells (author of The Time Machine, originally called The Chronic Argonauts, until he wisely changed it) who stayed briefly in Wookey which I visited today on a rideout, had a more modest chrono-conveyance, a bicycle. He once said: ‘When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair of the human race’. Wells clearly did despair, going by his gloomy prognostications, which he saw come true with dread inevitability – tanks, war in the air, genetic engineering, atomic bombs… On his grave he wished to have the epitaph: ‘I told you so, you damned fools!’ Wells spent an autumn at Wookey (he attended the National School there as a pupil-tutor in 1897, at the impressionable age of 13). In the long and winding road to his becoming a novelist, he endured various jobs including that of a draper in London – the experience of which fed into his cycling idyll, The Wheels of Chance, in which he wrote: ‘you ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.’ It tickles me to think of the young Wells cycling about Somerset, dreaming of time machines… I speculate that his time at Wookey, however brief, fired his imagination – the underworld of the Morlocks seems to have been inspired by the famous caves at Wookey Hole and Cheddar, where Neolithic remains had been found – to the Victorian mind, sub-human cavemen living below ground…

Hart Leap Point

(from field journal)

awens of light breakthrough the cloud, spotlights cast upon the Levels – I watch the drama of light and darkness unfold. A kestrel hovers, poised in the hollow of the wind – he’s come up here, to this high place, for his lunch, like I. In the car park a cluster of vehicles – people having their lunch inside. [I eat my sandwiches on a bench in a bracing wind] A pair of frilly knickers by my bike – cast off in the throes of passion – a quicky in a layby – and left, a tawdry memento. Orange peel scattered by the bench I sit on – spelling whose initial? A glider arcs high overhead, beyond the wheeling birds. A black bird [a raven?] flips itself as it flies along, marking an odd cry. A swathe of rain rakes the dark line of the Quantocks on the opposing side of the Levels – gloominess passes. The sun breaches the cloud and the Levels are flooded with light.

Wind dances around me, light and shadow. Peace and stillness. Blue skies after the gloom. Rising above it all. Finding the centre amidst the maelstrom. Heights from the depths. Warm sun on my face, balancing the chill in the air. Memorial trees and benches – the phantom of other lives linger, here, on these Hills of Peace.


After, I descended, passed Ebbor Gorge, taking some notes from the interpretation board [Pre-10,000BC: remains of Ice Age animals – cave bear, cave lion, hyena, reindeer, wild ox, steppe pika: 3000 BC: Neolithic people sheltered in caves and under rocky ledges] down into Wookey itself, and then through the traffic lights of Wells to Glastonbury. I took the back lanes to the Tor – up through Wick Hollow – parked up and climbed, making heavy weather of it in my leathers, feeling ancient in my bones! On top I let the wind scour away any remaining cobwebs as I surveyed the vista. Here is supposedly another great circle of time, the wheel of the stars of the Glastonbury Zodaic, the local field patterns providing a Rorschach Test for Katherine Maltwood in the Twenties. We see what we wish to. Maltwood is not unique in inventing secret or ‘lost’ knowledge to make her self feel special. Glastonbury is full of such types. I’m sure some would accuse me of being of the same ilk! But what ‘mystery’ do I offer, except ‘stand and stare’, be fully present, cherish each moment and find your creative self?

Finally, I rode on to Shapwick, after a friend had mentioned the starlings which gather in stunning swirling clusters at this time of year. They seemed camera shy when I was there, although I did see countless flocks on the telegraph wires on the way there, as though waiting in the wings for the cue of dusk. I still enjoyed visiting the site of the Sweet Track and the Post Track – the earliest known trackways in the UK. Raised wooden walkways, they provided passage across the reedswamp between Polden Ridge and the ‘island’ of Westhay, a distance of 2km (1.3 miles). I love the fact that the Sweet Track was named after Ray Sweet, who discovered it while ditch cleaning in 1970. The timbers had been preserved in peat and hidden from humanity for nearly six thousand years. Radio-carbon dating has enabled the creation of the trackways to be pinpointed precisely, the Sweet Track 3806BC, and the Post Track 3838 BC. Various offerings (to the ‘Gods of the Wetlands’ as the interpretation board speculates) or lost items have been found alongside the tracks – flint arrowheads, a jadeite axe from the Alps, yew pins, a child’s toy wooden axe – giving us a tantalising window into the people of the Levels. In that quiet place, sitting on a bench dedicated to a Gladys Hill (1903-1996), on that dark autumn day near dusk, it was easy to imagine

the ancestors passing by…

(from field journal)

Ancient Whispers

Wind through the reeds

sighing with time

ancient sound

timeless sound.

Susurration of grasses,

whispers of ancestors,

here in this place

where they laboured

six thousand years ago

to build a crossing place

between two islands,

two communities –

one for the living,

one for the dead?

A Neolithic Avalon.

Dry hiss of leaves,

sucked dry of summer’s juice,

heavy with age,

ready to fall,

giving up the green ghost

in a pyre of colour,

ablaze with memory.

The same sound they heard,

so long ago.

The same sound heard

six thousand years

hence?

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