PC 124 Night Time

The difficulty about writing a thousand words about ‘night’ is that my butterfly mind keeps landing on some other aspect I hadn’t considered; bear with me? Night – ‘The dark period after twilight and before dawn, generally one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise.’; so says my dictionary under the entry ‘night’. (Note 1)

For most of us it’s simpler to imagine the sun rising, climbing to its noon zenith before its gradual descent and disappearance below the horizon, than thinking of the sun stationary and earth revolving on its axis. Funny to know that we are spinning at 1000 miles per hour, at the equator, and we have no sense of this in any way! In addition we orbit the sun at an average speed of 67,000 mph …… and yet life here is extremely static. Weird what we get used to, or maybe we never knew anything different so ……

Night & day

Late afternoon in the UK; deep in the night-time in Australasia

The setting of the sun, often in glorious technicolour, ushers in the beginning of the ‘night-time’ period. This varies enormously, depending on the seasons and where you actually live on the planet. In the United Kingdom, London is just north of the 51st parallel, where on the summer solstice night-time is a mere 7.5 hours; on the winter solstice this more than doubles to 16 hours. Within the whole of the UK there is wide variation as at this latitude the earth gets flatter towards the North Pole. The islands fit into 50-60º north (cf with New Zealand which lies between 35 and 50 degrees south) and has almost 19 hours of daylight at its northern tip on the summer solstice. (See note 2)

Enough of the geography refresher! Night and Day; black and white! The word night is associated with darkness, evil, the colour black, sinister activity etc etc. Politically you may recall Germany’s Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), the Nazi pogrom against the Jews on 9/10 November 1938, and ‘The Night of the Long Knives’ when Himmler’s black-shirted SS attempted the complete liquidation of Hitler’s brownshirts (SA). The latter has become a common label here in the UK to describe a surprise and complete reorganisation of a cabinet. And then, in 1997, Anne Widecombe, an ex-minister, said that the British Home Secretary at the time, a Michael Howard, was reckoned to ‘have something of the night about him’, as in shadiness or underhandedness!

So light becomes synonymous with living … and goodness ….. and the darkness with evil, ghosts and ghouls. But there are always some of us who enjoy the night time. In Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, the phantom sings of the ‘Music of the Night. He believes that night time sharpens and heightens each sensation, stirs and wakes imagination; that night will slowly and gently ‘unfurl its splendour’. Don McClean sang of the ‘starry starry night’ in his song about Vincent Van Gough and I hope we all wonder at the sights available to us if we look up on a cloudless night. You may recall PC 20 about The Pantanal in Brazil; with absolutely no light pollution seeing the stars arching across the heavens above and the fireflies lighting up the scrub at ground level was absolutely magical.

Many years ago I was visiting a work colleague near Barnard Castle in Northumberland. They lived in a little village in the middle of nowhere. It was night-time by the time I left; I remember walking outside to get the car which had been parked about 100 metres away. Wow! Couldn’t see a thing!

Night

Absolutely pitch black (a nod to the colour of tar maybe?); there were no street lights; mobile phones and their built-in torch hadn’t been invented so I was dependent on walking with one foot in front of the other, arms outstretched ….. in the general direction of the car!

During Officer Training quite a lot of emphasis was placed on infantry tactics. One particular exercise concerned night patrolling to gather information; we were very green and tried to do our best. I had some form of laryngitis and as luck would have it I was the radio operator. When using the set I could only respond in a husky cigarette-racked whisper, at low volume. I didn’t tell the directing staff of my incredibly sore throat and I suppose they assumed we were being very professional! But the real lesson we learned was that one’s eyes needs to adjust to darkness, to night time. “30 minutes to maximise your ability to see” was the advice. And without any moonlight that’s about right.

I prefer the daylight but sometimes needs must! At 0300 I might have been seen walking my Labrador Tom around the streets of Battersea if his success at foraging for fox carcases had caused an upset stomach and he needed to get out. Always fascinating to see who’s up at that time or how to avoid being stopped by a police patrol car who assume that anyone out was up to no good!

Of course we all started off in the womb, in the dark. But did you know that the developing foetus is able to detect light through the outer wall of the womb, even though the eyelids are still shut? And you remember as a child shining a torch on the underside of your hand and seeing the pink light visible through the translucent skin?

Then the word night has been used as an adjective, as in:

Night cap – an old-fashioned idea to keep the head warm in bed at night but survives as a way of going to sleep with some infusion of alcohol.

Night mare – originally a female monster or evil spirit, an incubus, which descended on someone sleeping. And then fun aspects, as in night club, make a night of it, being a night owl.

Being an offshore sailor I am well used to navigating at sea at night, when the various navigation aids of lighthouses and marker buoys enables you to establish your position accurately. Sometimes you needed a stopwatch to tell the difference between a flashing 1 (3) ….. and an quick (3) ….. and these days you would need to know that a red light sequence of flashing 1 (1) 2 (1) 2 (composite group occulting) is actually the Rampion wind farm off the coast here in Hove; 116 wind turbines lit up like Christmas trees!

Richard 20th May 2018

Note 1. In fact there is a legal distinction between ‘housebreaking’ in the daylight and ‘burglary’ during the hours of darkness!

Note 1. I often ‘sense’ that New Zealand is geographically quite isolated but actually its reference in the northern hemisphere would be about Nantes in Northern France, such is the asymmetry of the earth.

Poles

Maybe it’s also something to do with the fact that the Antarctic is so much larger than the Arctic and its cooling effect extends hundreds of miles.

PC 123 It Depends on Your Perspective

You can read the following and get the gist, an idea or the truth?

It’s a nightmare come true; thrown into the back of a police car and dumped in this cell.

“OK Gringo, entonces dices que eres inocente” (“OK Gringo! So you say you’re innocent”) the policeman sneers as he thrusts some paper towards me.Sweat drips down my back and the stubby pencil I’ve been given slips in my fingers. The word ‘anxious’ wouldn’t cut it; ‘shit scared’ would be better. So they want a statement; OK ….. now:

My name is Dean Jones. I’m 43, English and a writer. I came out to Cuba to make some progress on a crime novel I’m writing. You can check when I arrived, last week actually, and I booked a little cottage on the outskirts of Matanzas; I plan to stay for a month. I was getting stuck on a particular chapter and needed both some inspiration and a drink, so I walked into town and sat at an outside table in the Casa Blanca – you know where that is because that’s where you arrested me! The place was full of locals, chatting, eating, drinking or just staring into space, their thoughts a million miles away. You know your country has an international reputation for beautiful women, right? Well, that night the clientele included one or two very exotic ones; just couldn’t keep my eyes off!          Anyway, I’m half scribbling my story and half glancing around, and suddenly a rather tubby, grubby man’s coming across to my table. He’s extremely agitated and he screams at me:

“Has estado mirando a mi mujer.” (You’ve been looking at my woman)

He reaches across and grabs me by my shirt, lifting me onto my feet. He’s clearly had a few drinks and although I try to apologise, he’s not hearing anything. I sense I’m in for a beating, but I am a Black Belt in Judo and automatically switch into self-defence mode. His smelly breath, a mixture of garlic and alcohol, wafts over me; disgusting! I decide to jab him in the throat, a generally incapacitating move, but just as I am bringing back my arm to gain some momentum, this chap’s eyes go funny, he clutches his chest, crumples forward, hits the table and slides down to the dirty floor. I never made contact; I never touched him. I am no way responsible for his death.

Two hours later I’m released, with a caution to be more sensitive to the local cultures. The poor chap had had a heart attack and I am in the clear. I make my way back to my cottage intent on reworking my novel’s Chapter 4 but, before I can get started, there’s a knock on the door. I open it gingerly, not expecting anyone. It’s the beautiful woman from the Casa Blanca: “I come in, pleeeze?”

Or you can read the same events from a different perspective!!

Saturday’s are always the same. Pedro sleeps late on his rest day, scratches his raggedy backside a lot and heads to the Casa Branco as soon as he is sober enough to walk. His habits are disgusting. He spits, chews tobacco and wears the vilest T shirt – one he bought on holiday in Venezuela ten years ago – ironically stating the owner is ‘Number One!’ I try to wrest it off him to wash it but he resists.This evening he stands at the bar with his mates, hardly paying me any attention, quietly getting sozzled. Why do I stay I ask myself. I look around the packed place. The normal crowd is in and then, out on the terrace, I see a blonde- headed guy sitting by himself, alternating between drinking and tapping away at his laptop. Every now and again he looks around as if searching for the right phrase or maybe simply inspiration. Both must be in short supply. He catches my eye and dangerous though it might be, I give an imperceptible nod of my head as he’s quite cute, then look away. I don’t think I am the only one he’s fantasizing about.

Just before midnight Pedro suddenly understands that I might have an admirer; being a jealous type I know he won’t stand for it. Right enough, he gets off his stool and lurches over to the guy, who must be foreigner, a tourist maybe. I hope Pedro is not going to make a fool of himself, as he’s completely pissed and unsteady on his feet. He reaches across the table and grabs the guy by his shirt collar and lifts him towards him.

“Has estado mirando a mi mujer.” (You’ve been looking at my woman).”

The other man looks startled and surprised but then gathers his thoughts and I can tell he’s going to do something; the way his body moves, he is getting ready to hit Pedro. But I sense before he makes any contact, my crazy Pedro freezes, clutches his chest, shouts in agony, and crumples to the floor. I rush across to cradle my man, at the same time yelling to the barman to call an ambulance. Pedro is barely conscious, his breathing labored; somehow he manages to look rather serene …… and that’s a first! The police and medics arrive at about the same time. The former take the foreigner away and I jump into the ambulance with Pedro.

That dreadful DOA (Dead on Arrival) is pronounced …. I learn that the police have been informed that Pedro died of a heart attack ……. and I find out where the man is staying. An hour or so later I knock on his cottage door. “I come in pleeeze?” I ask, smiling.

I ditch the pidgin English: “Another dead Russian double agent – with his own nerve agent! Ha! High five!!”

Richard 5th May 2018