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The Number Twenty-Four (And My Inevitable Mortality)
'Hi, I'm Dave.' No shame.
Tomorrow, Friday, I’m cycling, making a tour of dead literary women of England with an alive literary woman of England (👋).
From Agatha Christie to Jane Austen and finishing at the beach with Mary Shelley.
That’s why today is Thursday. Even if, for you, it isn’t.
This morning, I decided to take that hoary self-help motto to heart:
Do something for yourself first thing in the morning. You won’t get a chance later.
I went for a run along the beach.
About a kilometre in, I heard the heavy foot-slap and raspy breath of a long distance runner coming up fast behind me.
Before long, I could feel them right on my heels. Subconsciously, though I didn’t mean to, I sped up until we were matched stride for stride.
My lion race instinct taking over.
(One for Narnia fans: in Turkish, the word for ‘lion’ is not ‘aslan’, but ‘arslan’ 🍑)
I looked over my shoulder to see with whom I was now sprinting down Bournemouth promenade: barefoot shoes, ponytail, nose piercing.
Between agonal inhales, they gasped: ‘Thanks for running with me. I’ve got one k left and I don’t want to ease off.’
I then proceeded to ask my fellow runner a battery of questions, none of which, I swiftly realised, they were in any position to answer, being (as they had so politely explained) into the last thousand metres of what had clearly been a long, hot, fast, hard training run.
I did manage to understand that they were training for some kind of biathlon, a run and swim, possibly in Tenerife, possibly as part of Team GB.
I did not manage to see them over the line, however. Five hundred metres short, I spotted two friends (👋👋) on a morning stroll, flasks in hand.
I stopped to chat, of course, before polishing off my run: my sweet spot is currently four kilometres.
As I turned at the halfway mark, I realised that I was gaining on a tanned cyclist loaded up with panniers. As I got closer, I noticed that they were flying a mini Welsh flag.
I said hello.
Jack was originally from Wales, but now lives in Oswestry, on the borders.
My head did the automatic mental route planning that is the reflex of all long distance tourers: Oswestry, Shropshire, probably down the Wye Valley trail into Newport, over the Severn Bridge to Bristol, then country lanes to Salisbury before dropping through the rolling Dorset hills, down to the coast.
Nope. Jack had just come in on the overnight ferry from Cherbourg, Normandy.
Two weeks of cycling into the wind, round through Brittany and back north. Would’ve taken him only one week if he’d been going the other way.
Living, as I do, by the beach, it’s considered bad ettiquette not to finish a sweaty run with a dunk in the waves and a handful of litter picking.
That’s when I met a council worker, litter tongs in one hand, bin bag in the other.
They wore that rusty, ruddy look of an outdoors dweller: eight hours a day on the beach, they told me, from March to October, walking eighteen miles a day, shovelling sand off the prom or shifting last night’s litter from the shore.
Normally there’s a three a.m. tractor that does the bulk of the litter trawling, but last night they were on a training course. So there’s a lot for the team of pickers to get through today.
There’s no real purpose behind these little vignettes of a Thursday morning, other than to make the point, again, that we are always free to make chance connections, to play the game of propinquity with the world: learn a little, expand a little, and — god dammit — commune with each other and this stupid little universe.
And, when you do get chatting with the universe, it’s always worth remember a little something that the Dalai Lama (fourteenth edition) once said to a pal of mine who runs a garage:
When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.
Ahem. Anyway. As I made my way back up the cliff slopes to my home, a silly poem, an aide-memoire, popped into my head:
Be brave. Say: 'Hi, I'm Dave.' No shame. 'What is Your name?'
Later than I expected, I returned home to start writing this email to you. I wanted to get it done by lunchtime so that I could prepare for this bike ride tomorrow.
Instead, I spent the morning in the Lush Green Hub with a friend (👋), picking out delicious donations, showertime products that might have unsellably passed their Lush-fresh peak, but are still very much fabulous.
Lush are kindly passing these intoxicating products onto Thighs of Steel so that our disgusting, smelly cyclists stay fragrant all the way to Athens this summer. Cheers!
The Number Twenty-Four (And My Inevitable Mortality)
Today’s story isn’t even a story. It’s a silly game, born of the ocean-inspired collision of three things floating on the waves in my mind.
The number twenty-four.
My two shelves’ worth of unread books.
My inevitable mortality. (Or at least, a busy summer wherein I shall do little reading.)
1. The Number Twenty-Four
This is, of course, the best number out there.
No — don’t contradict me, I’ve done a full survey of all the numbers, including many that are top secret, and none of them are better than twenty-four.
I mean, for starters, it’s the smallest number with eight factors — eight!
Read ‘em and weep:
This is why we divide rotations of our Mothership Earth into twenty-four hours: we can comfortably divide the day into halves of twelve hours each, thirds of eight hours each, quarters of six, and so on.
Twenty-four (24) is divisible, not only by both its independent digits (2 and 4), but also by the sum of those digits (6). This is what’s called a Harshad number.
And, just to show off, it can even be divided by the multiple of its digits (8).
The name ‘harshad’ took its etymology from Sanskrit: it means ‘joy-giver’.
Twenty-four also happens to be my birth date, which also happens to be later this month.
And that’s a lot of joy for one number to give.
2. Two Shelves Of Books
For the past three years, I’ve been indulging in the pleasure of buying books.
It began during lockdown, when the libraries were closed and I couldn’t spend any money on anything else (I hadn’t yet discovered bread baking).
Since then, I’ve bought more books per year than I’ve read and this has created an anxiety-inducing surplus.
Which brings us nicely onto…
3. My Inevitable Mortality
There comes a point in every reader’s life when they realise (like a dull blow to the back of the head) that the number of books on one’s shelf (never mind on one’s reading wishlist) vastly outnumbers the number of allotted hours for reading that remain on their own mortal shelf-life.
This is compounded by the accusatory glare of books bought in the first flush of lockdown and still with spines unbent, all hope crushed by the page-limiting design of my summer on the bicycle.
I accept now that I will never do justice to all of the books that sit on my shelf.
But I won’t. I just won’t.
As a writer myself, this pains me further: think of all the years — not to mention all the bankruptcies, migraines, mortgage defaults, psychological breakdowns and RSIs — that went into creating these books, sucking out the heart and soul of every author, hoping for a connection that I will never give them.
Even though I could.
So today’s story is a silly game: herewith, please find twenty-four passages from page twenty-four of twenty-four of my unread books.
It’s my way of paying tribute to the extraordinary love and bloody-minded exertion that we all put into our earthly contribution; a contribution that will leave no trace on the overwhelming majority of humankind.
And, who knows, maybe some of these passages will intrigue me enough to make me pluck them off the dusty shelf…
Twenty-Four Passages From Twenty-Four Unread Books
Hey, let’s make this a proper game, shall we?
Shall we actually, though?
Every one of these passages is from a real book by a real author, published sometime between 1888 and 2020.
See if you can guess the title, writer and, for a very special harshad point, the year of publication.
Answers at the bottom.
Oh, go on then!
After all, what kind of a game would it be with no prizes?
(Well, actually, Dave, it’d be the kind of game that values intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards, but let’s be honest: intrinsic rewards are for squares.)
How to enter the prize draw:
Make any kind of a donation
In your donation message, have a stab at the title or author of any of these snippets
If you’re right (or if I think it’s a great guess), then I’ll send you a free book from my unread shelf of doom and pop it in the post to you (if you live in the UK).
Nah, fill your boots — cheat away!
David Perry (1994) postulates that the surface area — hence its absorption capability — of mycorrhizal fungi may be 10 to 100 times greater than the surfacde area of leaves in a forest. As a result, the growth of plant partners is accelerated.
‘No, not close, but let’s see how far. One elephant, two elephants, three elephants … fifteen elephants … twenty-five elephants … It’s still a long way off, more than five miles away.’
It is Friday and I have sweated out one page and a half. If I did not know this process so well, I would consider it a week of waste. But I know better than that now and I am content.
Rule: Pronounce ‘g’ as in ‘get’.
‘g’ in Welsh never sounds like ‘j’, as in ‘gentle’.
cragen — shell — kraggenn
You can follow these fence lines and walls all across the country on your Rights of Way, you can keep to your codes of conduct and never question this status quo. Or you can cross these lines, look inside this system and find out who put them there, and how. Because someone cast the net; something cast the spell.
Yet accomplished writers usually seem to have something else in mind when deciding how to put sentences together: the better the writers, of fiction and nonfiction alike, the more they tend to vary their sentence lengths. And they do it as dramatically as possible.
She said it took her over an hour, because she was arthritic by then, but when she finally found her clitoris, she said, she cried.
If Ecuador is to leave oil unburned, then Ecuador alone must shoulder the cost of lost oppportunity. Those who have so far put most of the fossil carbon into the atmosphere, the citizens of deep-pocketed industrialised nations, were not willing to take on part of the financial burden of restraint.
To Freud, though living surrounded by women and otherwise seeing so much and so well, women’s relationships seemed increasingly mysterious, difficult to discern, and hard to describe.
This book is nervous like coffee or malaria — it sets up a network of cut-outs & safe drops between itself & its readers — but it’s so baldfaced & literal-minded it practically encodes itself — it smokes itself into a stupor.
Reacting to the anxious climate of family life, they blunted their curiosity, narrowed their perception, and followed the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that ruled the family. Children know at a deep, automatic level what they are not supposed to say or tell or even remember.
After visiting the orange-belt and the opera-house, we went to bathe. Suddenly out of the crowd on the seafront, stepped Mr Aaronson of the Italia. ‘Hello, hello — you here too? Jerusalem’s so dead at this time of year, isn’t it? But I may look in tomorrow. Goodbye.’
The chemicals to which life is asked to make its adjustment are no longer merely the calcium and silica and copper and all the rest of the minerals washed out of the rocks and carried in rivers to the sea; they are the synthetic creations of man’s inventive mind, brewed in his laboratories, and having no counterparts in nature.
We are the poem, his poem says, that emerges from the unity of the body and the mind. That fragile unity — this brief parenthesis of being — is all we have. Celebrate it.
Suddenly and simultaneously they discover me, prone on my belly a few feet away. The dance stops. After a moment’s pause the two snakes come straight toward me, still in flawleess unison, straight toward my face, the forked tongues flickering, their intense wild yellow eyes staring directly into my eyes.
After crossing Bear River I find myself on a somewhat superior road leading through the Mormon settlements to Ogden.
Shadi claims to have been in the Foreign Legion, and he seems nuts enough for this to be true.
After twenty-three days of complete fast, Kundan died. The Jain community was happy to hear this news. I was sad. The monks said he had conquered the fear of death.
The broom is a palm leaf twice his size. He might have been sweeping all his life. Had this been Disneyland one might have thought he was put there to represent a worker from the past. But the hunchback is real, and his task is to keep the desert sand away from the historical copies. The man and the palm leaf seem to be the only genuine articles in all of Babylon.
Undaunted by the reality of being a single parent with a three-year-old son, she took inspiration from a film she’d seen about a woman who’d travelled across the Siberian tundra on her own in the 1920s. ‘I thought, “If she can do that, no equipment, just a big coat, I can walk to London, because I’ll just get myself a good litttle pram and da-da-da.”’
JUNE 10. Very warm. We get water for the camp from a rock basin at the foot of a picturesque cascading reach of the river where it is well stirred and made lively without being beaten into dusty foam.
When Scott Martin wrote a favourable article on Critical Mass in Bicycling magazine’s January 1994 issue, several reader retorts ensued; including ‘I’m disappointed to see Martin supporting this perverted brand of Street Justice,’ and ‘Your glorification of juvenile delinquents blocking traffic and assaulting motorists upsets me.’
Even if your performance is not affected directly, perfectionism may still reduce your ability to enjoy your work or may influence the ways in which you treat others at work.
One might cite Antony, in Antony and Cleopatra, as he tries to answer the question about what kind of thing is the crocodile: ‘It is shaped, sir, like itself, just so high as it is, and moves with its organs. It lives by that which nourisheth it, and the elements once out of it, it transmigrates.’ And, Antony might have added, it progresses through its days and nights very much at its own pace.
With The Greatest Of Thanks And Respect To…
Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets (2005)
Wild Signs And Star Paths, Tristan Gooley (2018)
Journal Of A Novel, John Steinbeck (1970)
Pronouncing Welsh Place Names, Tony Leaver (1998)
The Book Of Trespass, Nick Hayes (2020)
Artful Sentences, Virginia Tufte (2006)
The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler (2001)
The Songs Of Trees, David George Haskell (2017)
In A Different Voice, Carol Gilligan (1982)
T.A.Z., Hakim Bey (1985)
The Dance Of Connection, Harriet Lerner (2001)
The Road To Oxiana, Robert Byron (1937)
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (1962)
Proust Was A Neuroscientist, Jonah Lehrer (2007)
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey (1968)
Around The World On A Penny-Farthing, Thomas Stevens (1888)
Baghdad Bulletin, David Enders (2006)
No Destination, Satish Kumar (1992)
A Hundred And One Days, Asne Seierstad (2003)
All Together Now? Mike Carter (2019)
My First Summer In The Sierra, John Muir (1911)
Critical Mass, edited by Chris Carlsson (2002)
When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, Martin M Antony and Richard P Swinson (2009)
Time, Eva Hoffman (2009)
Days Of Adventure 2023: 26
🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢 What is this?
Nothing to report in the past week: last weekend was adventure prep weekend; this weekend is adventure weekend.
Enjoy the joy.
That’s all for this week.
Thank you for reading and I hope you found something to take away with you.
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