I stood at the mouth of the harbour, six feet beneath the point the fishing boats usually passed overhead.
The dog had just disappeared round the corner into the harbour. I could no longer see him and all bets were off. One thing was certain: he would return smelling like a large hairy fish.
It was a singular place, this: a treacherous harbour mouth with choppy waves which washed ceaselessly off the English Channel; and a nice sandy dog walk.
The difference: in a word, time.
The dog and I had happened upon low tide, when the warm sand stretched firm as far as the harbour mouth and further.
One could stand at the foot of the seaweed-dark boulders which towered above us, fit for holding back the waters which keep France at arm’s length from this island, but redundant. Still, they glowered, as immoveable as the old fishermen who sat, immobile and inscrutable, in the old cafe on the quay.
We walked back home and through our day, me and the dog and the kids. Later we returned: and the moon had tugged the waves inexorably towards the land until it seemed it could go no further. I stood on the promenade and squinted at the harbour as a great fishing boat swaggered through the gap. I was there, just a few hours ago. If I were there now I’d be either floating for my life or I would have forsaken life already.
What a difference a matter of hours can make.
This evening I returned from a rather gruelling day at work. My head felt like it had spent a while in the trouser press. I cooked a rudimentary dinner, and all the while the eyes of the dog were boring into my head. Micro events at the front door: a ladybird waddling across the doorstep; a gas man off to read next door’s meter; Kit Kat on her patrols; all were met with hysterical barking. Methought he needed a little release.
Just a month ago, it would have been an impossibility. But tonight, I grabbed the lead and we headed off into the forest. The dog charged ahead and Felix played forest ranger scout to one of Maddie’s cuddly owls. The two children giggled their way merrily round a forest which, a mere 720 hours ago, have been pitch black and deeply inhospitable.
Time has such a weighty bearing on space.
Every now and then, I think I have stumbled on a Truth. One of those universal eureka moments which is given to very few. It comes when I consider the dog walkers of my forest. In the high days of Summer one never sees them: their walks are spread over the long lazy evening hours, ambling down lanes worthy of Puck’s woodland, rarely seeing a soul, a delighted mutt coexisting in nearby undergrowth.
But as the days get shorter the available time shrinks. Suddenly we are all limited to a few hours to walk, then an hour, and finally a desperate half-hour before the darkness comes. All these temporal events forced together by daylight and its dearth. In December the daylight hours are like Clapham Junction, with all the comings and goings.
I feel as if I am sitting in an exam, just inches away from a truth which evades my grasp. Time and space: so inextricably linked.
That Alexandrian Aristocrat, Philo, crossed a Rubicon, from before to after Christ was born. He reasoned that time was a direct result of space: and if God created space then naturally, time resulted from that.
And ever since, they’ve been talking about it: that other dimension to our lives on this planet. the concept of space-time found maturity in the hands of Albert Einstein, it seems: but the mathematicians and cosmologists will debate for aeons or until the sand in the glass trickles away with finite finality.
In this sea of thought I catch a ripple of something – what -preposterous? Posturing? Pompous? Whatever its quality, it is emitting in waves from the mid 19th century.
It comes from one of my favourite heroes and antiheroes, Edgar Allen Poe.
A cult figure in the mid-landscape of American literary history, Poe has always puzzled and captivated in equal measure. His horror writing is unspeakably unsettling: his forty-odd years a jumble of disjoined, slightly desolate events.
The year before he died, he wrote the strangest extended essay. Entitled ‘Eureka’, and roughly 40,000 words long, it was based on a lecture he gave at the Society Library in New York in February 1848. It is full of the grandest of sweeping theories backed up by absolutely no proof whatsoever.
But I just love the way he writes.
His whole argument works up to this: ‘that space and duration are one.’
Instead of proof he uses the most beautiful of rhetoric, the most ravishing of persuasions.
“It was required in a word that the stars should be gathered into visibility from invisible nebulosity – proceed from nebulosity to consolidation and so grow grey in giving birth and death to unspeakably numerous and complex variations of vitalic development: it was required that the stars should have time to do all this- should have time thoroughly to accomplish all these divine purposes- during a period in which all things were effecting their return into Unity with a velocity accumulating in the inverse proportion of the squares of the distances at which lay the inevitable end.”
Wordy, Poe. Wordy. Shaky on your proof.