Thursday, 25 November 2010

Heart of Darkness

I have had a message from my daughter in Africa. She is not always in Africa, that just happens to be her present location. I was a little surprised to receive her communication. Like all daughters (I assume) I only tend to hear from her when she is in need of pecuniary support. It seems however, that she has "joined a tribe". I take this in my stride as last week she "bought a island". Even though it is snowing here and my new accommodations are somewhat draughty I am not jealous. My all encompassing fear of spiders and large insects has put the whole continent on my travel blacklist. I have had leave from my doctor to make a tentative return to work, actually more of a social visit and, if this doesn't drive me to a catatonic state, I may be back to full duties by the new year. For the moment though I have decided not to brave the cold and am huddled over my laptop writing a residency proposal that involves flying and distraction. I found this quote from Douglas Adams' radio series.

There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.
 The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
 Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it. The first part is easy.
 All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.
 That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground.
 Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.
    Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.
 One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it.
 It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.
If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.
 This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration.
 Bob and float, float and bob.
 Ignore all considerations of your own weight and simply let yourself waft higher.
 Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful.
 They are most likely to say something along the lines of, 'Good God, you can't possibly be flying!'
 It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.
 Waft higher and higher.
 Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.
 When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve.
 You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your manoeuvrability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it was going to anyway.
 You will also learn about how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly cock up, and cock up badly, on your first attempt.
There are private flying clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few genuine hitch-hikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.
— Douglas Adams, 'The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy'

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