Highlighted Writer for Week #5

Our Highlighted Writer for Week #5 is Peter, who branched out into new territory with his fascinating prose piece ‘Belief’. It’s a remarkable flight of reflection, ranging from ancient symbolism to the Beano’s Numskulls. Very engaging work, so well done Peter!


There is no beginning and no ending to our understanding of time.  Motions of a nodding donkey with a film shown backwards would not reveal time’s arrow.  Imagine that loop of time as if of a serpent eating its own tail.  Ever since early symbolic language showed a voice when carved on the walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb, we have seen images of the hungry ouroboros as a snake eating itself.  Numerous mythologies and religious texts through the ages portray dragons or snakes encircling the whole world in this way.  On a slightly more manageable human scale is the image in an alchemy text printed 400 years ago of a tail-eating wyvern. 

Wyverns are quite fun scaly critters – winged dragons really, but with only one pair of legs.  Mostly, they do not breathe fire, instead their exhalations are chilling.  That Dundee statue which people often think is a fairly harmless two-legged wyvern – be warned.  Creep round behind it, catch it unawares.  You will spot a second pair of strong legs firmly clasped about a bollard.  Prepare for a scorching lick of flame! 

But that source of flame is an aside.  Of sorts.  That nodding donkey with its rhythmic clanks and rattles and clicks and mechanical sighs is endlessly slurping from beneath the dusty dry earth.  A borehole has probed into dark recesses beneath layers of hard rock, penetrating to those sandstones saturated with even darker viscous fluids. 

            These oils have been stewing underground for half an eternity, and, were it not for humanity being prepared to consume everything about it, perhaps even our own ‘tail’ in the process, then the oil might remain undisturbed for half an eternity more.  Instead, these fluids are drawn from those fissures between grains of rock into dark pipes, passing on to tanks and refineries, never having seen the light of day – at least not since past existence as tropical forests being swallowed into primeval swamps millions of years before.  There is topical strangeness to writing this as the price of crude Texan oil from these very nodding donkeys slithers below ground zero into negative territory on the graph and, for the first time ever, people are being paid to spirit it away. 

            In 1865, the renowned scientist August Kekule divined the circular nature of benzene molecules. – a dominant volatile constituent of crude oils. He used a scientific method of deduction to reach this conclusion.  But, 25 years later, he went on record as saying the idea of a cyclic structure had come to him in a daydream about a serpent eating its tail – an ouroboros, no less.  Not long before this lecture he gave, in the amusingly named 1886 spoof ‘Journal of the Thirsty Chemical Society’, they’d cartooned a bunch of monkeys holding tails in a circle.  Were they offering a drunken parody of Kekule’s ideas, or was he parodying their parody.  Enough to make the head spin!  These curlicues of dusty facts were tapped from the deepest reservoirs of human information, stored on spinning magnetic plattens, on data-banks half a globe around.  Just a shame that Cormac McCarthy, with his desiccated observational eye, used Kekule and the ouroboros dream as a lead example for the subconscious helping to generate language within the human brain.  It was an essay of impressively circular arguments which flowed as if in a whirlpool of viscous Texan Crude towards a profound conclusion: an inadvertent channelling of The Beano’s Numskulls, suggesting that ‘It seems unlikely that the itch department is also in charge of maths’. 

            Are those droplets of oil sad, or glad at the momentary recognition when a sharp spark ignites them into a brief expression of piston power, turning an engine over so it can swift cycle back through to how it was an instant earlier.  Repeat, and repeat again, except, consuming that tiger in the tank with a dreadful constancy. 

            Perhaps, instead, these oils are tired. 

            Perhaps instead, they yearn to see more wind turbines scythe, turn and cycle yet again, drawing power freely from the air.  Wind turbines only rotate in one direction, so, time for them is a simple arrow, pointing the way to the future. 

            We know the way the world is. 

What we might want to believe is another thing entirely. 

2020 04 19      Peter Marshall

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