PC 221 Ephemera

I read that the average Joe, and this is no criticism of you particularly if your first name is Joe but rather like John Doe in the USA, a generalisation, has a daily vocabulary of about 5000 words and knows the meaning of about 20,000; if you are university-educated you might know the meaning of double that number. Given that the Oxford English Dictionary contains some 170,000 words in current use and some 45,000 obsolete ones, these are small proportions!

Here in the United Kingdom there has been a focus on a political spat between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, one past and one present leader of the Scottish National party (SNP), the latter currently First Minister of Scotland. It’s odd that these two individuals’ surnames are almost the same as types of fish – maybe all politicians are slippery? In the greater scheme of things this story is, according to Mathew Syed writing in The Times, simply ephemera and there are more important things to worry about, for instance the state of our united kingdom.

Ephemera is one of those words not in my normal vocabulary yet over the past week I have seen it in print three times! You may recall PC 26 ‘This Language of Mine’ where I admitted to rarely using ‘mores’ and ‘milieu’ and not knowing the correct name for the grammatical construction ‘zeugma’ or even ‘syllepsis’?  Reaching for my dictionary I read ephemera is actually the name of the commonest of Mayflies that in their winged form live for a day.

Rising up as larva from the bottom of this African lake, the mayfly’s wings unfold and it takes flight, the swarm like black smoke from a fire.

So it is used for something short lived or transitory – little snippets of stuff. There are, incidentally, no more than ten words that start ‘eph…’ so quite special.

If you read my last posting about ‘souls’ and ‘sole’ and my made-up word ‘soleful’, I hope you will agree it was weird to find in a little word puzzle in the paper the following day that  ……. ‘soulful’ was one of the answers. Don’t you just love these coincidences?

On a different topic, a recent copy of our supermarket magazine had a piece on composting kitchen waste – complete with an advertisement for a HotBin Composter.

Having established a communal garden here at Amber House (see PC 212) the need for compost is constant, especially as the soil used by the company who did the conversion is not of good quality. Normally I buy it, but here was an idea; I decided we would catch up with those who regularly compost their kitchen waste and buy a bin.

Ordering on line (hotbincomposting.com), I selected the large one, about the size of a wheelie-bin, and went to pay …… chose a card ….. put in the long card number …….. and was informed a verification code was needed ….. clicked ‘send’ …… and got the ‘check your mobile’ message. The mobile reception in our apartment is very intermittent so when the code didn’t appear I asked for it to be resent  ……  and repeated that for the third time. Ten minutes passed, I changed the card (erroneously believing this might help) and started the verification process again. Then I got three codes for the first card; no good! Eventually I got a new verification code, which I typed into the box  ….. only to be told that the 10 minute time limit had expired!! Aaaaaggggghhhhhh! I reached for the telephone and dialled Hotbin’s number ……. 

Above the city of Brighton & Hove lie the glorious South Downs, which stretch from the Itchen Valley of Hampshire in the west to Beachy Head, just to the west of Eastbourne: they cover an area of some 260 square miles (670 square kilometres). Immediately above the city is Devil’s Dyke, a 100m deep V-shaped valley. The name ‘Dyke’ means a water-course or channel and legend has it the devil was furious at the conversion of people to Christianity and decided to dig a dyke through the South Downs so the sea could flow in and drown the village inhabitants. (Note 1)

Its popularity with Victorian walkers ensured the word Dyke is reflected in the local urban-scape – Dyke Road and Dyke Park for example. So it was a wonderful example of the stupid world in which we live, when we can’t disagree about anything for fear of causing offence, when Facebook banned a post which included the word ‘Dyke’ as an example of hate speech, when in fact it was an innocent mention of a local road!

Incidentally, the word dyke originated in the 1920s as a homophobic and misogynistic slur for a masculine, butch or androgynous woman (Sorry, not sure I can use the word ‘Woman’ – isn’t it “a person who …..”? )

In my last post I recounted the sorry tale of trying to send some slippers to my mother-in-law and rather light-heartedly suggested it would have been quicker to hand deliver them, even if I had walked the whole way. Forty-Five days, south down the western seaboard of France, diagonally across Spain and into Portugal; now that would be an adventure. However I sense I would be doing it alone!!

And this realisation reminded me of a chap I met in 1991, Nicholas Crane. Ever the adventurer, Nick decided to walk what has been called the European watershed (note 2), from Cape Finisterre in the west, to Istanbul in the East. Alone!

Starting in 1992, seventeen months and 10,000 kilometres later he completed his epic journey by dipping his toes into the Bosphorus. If you like reading about this sort of thing, Clear Waters Rising is his 1996 book.

Nothing in this postcard is going to move mountains or be remembered in twelve months – just ephemeral bits and pieces.

Richard 12th March 2021

Note 1 Actually the dyke is only on the north side, so doesn’t cleave the hills as legend would have it. That happens further east where the main A23 enters the city through a natural break in the downs.

Note 2. Called the watershed as the rain and melting snow water either ran to his left and northwards into the Bay of Biscay, English Channel, North Sea or Baltic, or to his right down towards the Mediterranean.

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