Further to my piece about things that you have to be in the right place at the right time to see…
Yesterday as I was walking to work through the cemetery I stopped and looked behind me to look at the Sun. Not directly, never look directly at the Sun and now I’ve turned into a Public Information service, ho-hum, but I turned and looked and there, hung in a hazy November morning sky was a watercolour orb of light with a contrail piercing its centre.
Not an enquiry about timeless realities.
Chesham is in one of the many valleys which run through the Chiltern Hills and Chesham’s valley at this point runs more or less north-south so the Sun was floating above the eastern hillside. There was a contrail from one of the many aircraft which overfly Chesham’s airspace; low aircraft into and out of Luton and Heathrow and high traffic, many miles up with no intention of visiting these isles. I often look up at the tiny silver dots, usually only brought to any kind of attention by the contrails that they leave in their wake, and wonder just who is up there, where they came from and where they are going. No, it’s not a question about the eternal verities, whether or not there is a god and what does she think she’s playing at but rather a question about who is flashing along in that metal cylinder way up there.
Living here, in this part of the UK you see so many aircraft that I’m sure the majority of people just stop seeing them, they are commonplace, and they get tuned-out of people’s perceptions. I however nearly always look. I look up at that lump of metal. I know how jet aircraft work, I know how they fly; that’s not the mystery, not the wonder. Seven and a half miles up in the sky and speeding along at five hundred miles per hour, full of people, hopes and dreams.
David Bailey, who’s he?
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, there was a contrail piercing the heart of the Sun. “That would make an interesting photograph”, I thought and so I took my trusty camera from my coat pocket. I’ve had this camera just over a year now, I bought it in Poznań last July; I’d taken another camera with me but I’d forgotten to pack the charger for it so I had the brilliant idea of buying another camera of the same make (Canon) and using the charger that came with it. I went to Saturn, no, not the planet but the electronics store in the Poznań City Center shopping arcade. This arcade, I can’t bring myself to use the word “mall”, is actually called “Poznań City Center”, yes, in English, but with the word “center” spelled the American way. Ah well, I can’t criticise, my command of Polish spelling is very limited. As it turned out the new camera is a little beauty. It’s only a point and shoot, well, almost, there seems to be a bewildering array of settings but if you want it, it’ll point and shoot very nicely thank you.
I took the photo, and then I noticed the halo. How could I have missed that? There was a halo around the Sun from the horizon back to the horizon. Oh, wow! The first picture I had taken I had the Sun to one side to emphasise the contrail, the next one I centred the Sun in the frame to catch as much of the halo as possible. The halo was fairly faint and even as I looked it seemed to be slowly fading and the sun rushed higher into the sky and the misty clouds before it shifted in the winds. I took a few more photographs to ensure that hopefully I had at least one good one.
All this is just mine!
I put the camera back into my coat pocket and turned to continue my journey but after a few steps I heard the unmistakable “honking” of geese. I stopped; the noise had seemed to have come from my right, so I turned around again and looked to my left as a wonderful skein of geese flew into view from behind a line of trees. My hand went to the pocket containing the camera and pulled it out, turning it on as I raised it. The geese would fly directly in front of the Sun, I’m sure of it, wouldn’t they? I held the camera up and fired off a few shots, the geese passed above the Sun, I “snapped” away without the time even to see if the geese were in-shot properly. The geese were “in-shot”, the geese, the Sun, the halo and the contrail, all there just for me.
All there just for me? I had been passed a couple of minutes earlier by a girl, a young woman on her way to school or college. She had the tell-tale white cables leading up to her ears, somewhere under her shock of dark hair, her gaze had appeared to be cast downwards as she plodded past me. Maybe she had also looked up and seen the halo, the contrail. She wouldn’t have seen the geese as their flight path was between her and me, she would have had to have done as I did and look behind her, alerted by the honking which she probably didn’t hear, drowned out by whatever it was that she was listening to.
Walking the same route five days a week you get to see the same people day after day, not always, but most of the time. The young woman student, the mother and son, the chap who in the winter always seems to be wearing two coats, the cyclist with the tattoos on his lower legs, he’s almost always wearing shorts. The “Lollipop Man” (or a school crossing patrol officer as I believe they are called now). All sorts of people, some stand out as individuals, some, like school children during term time are just parts of small groups.
I pass these people, and wonder who they are and where they are going. All going somewhere, probably like me, we are all going to the same place day after day. Five days a week and trudging along, full of hopes and dreams. Well, the school children are obviously going to school, most of the adults are going to work but in a broader sense, where are they going? Where are we all going? And now I’ve gone all philosophical, sorry about that.
Being in the right place at the right time and taking the time to look, taking the time to “smell the flowers”, figuratively and sometimes literally. Looking up once in a while and looking behind you. I could have been plugged-in to an mp3 player or some such; I could have marched through the cemetery looking neither left nor right. I’d have missed the halo, the contrail and the geese but I’m so glad that I didn’t.