Thought #38. Dreams.

The majestic St Pancras Railway Station is seething with people. Clara stands near the platform where the train to Paris is about to depart. Embracing a baby warmly, she shuffles her feet nervously.

The sounds of trains rumble along, a feeling of growing anticipation runs through her. After a few minutes, Clara intently listens to the emotionless voice that utters the expected announcement: their train is getting into the station. She looks at the vanishing point as the Eurostar slows down and comes to a standstill. Five minutes and the journey will start.

The train railway carriage smells of life as London is left behind.

– Paul, darling. Please, wake up, I have something to tell you.
– I hear you.
– I’m very happy.
– Me too.
– All I wanted was to be with you, to have our own baby. You can’t know how many times I have prayed to God for this moment.
– I see.
– If only things hadn’t been so difficult.
– I didn’t want to hurt you.
– I know. We cannot change the past.

The ticket collector enters the carriage. Only a woman with her baby at the end. He advances quickly.

– Good evening, your ticket please.

Clara’s has the empty look of people on the vege of madness.

– Are you ok?

Clara remains silent.

– Can I offer you a glass of water?

No response.

– Miss?

A baby doll drops to her feet.

Thought #37. Dust.

In the sixteenth century Nicolaus Copernicus developed a theory in which he positioned the Sun near the centre of the Universe, with Earth and the rest of the planets, orbiting around. Despite being imprecise, his theory had laid the foundations for more accurate hypothesis that would be proved in the following two centuries. Now, we know full well that neither the Earth nor the Sun are at the centre of the Universe. In fact, we already know about the existence of exoplanets, which are planets beyond our solar system. As of today, 3475 of those have been confirmed. Kepler 150-f, an Ice Giant, is the latest discovery.

How are exoplanets found? Being completely ignorant about this subject, I would never dare to give a detailed explanation. However, according to NASA’s website, the vast majority of exoplanets are detected by using a technique named Transit. Stars dim when a planet passes directly between the observer and thus, studying the amount of light shed by a star, we can detect the presence of orbiting planets. Logically, we have not yet seen a fraction of the potential solar systems among the stars that are visible at night with the naked eye. The Universe has immense proportions.

Bearing in mind the immensity of the Universe, I would like to radically change the subject and finish today’s post by talking about dust. Not stardust or cosmic dust, just dust. The one that settles between the observer and the object.  The one that accumulates on cupboards, desks, chairs, kettles, souvenirs, or any other banal item. The arch-enemy of allergics, the annoying thing, which triggers a look of disapproval on your mother-in-law’s face. That is the dust that really matters today. Ergo, I would like to praise dust effusively.

The reason is simple, dust has the ability to tell a story. A storyteller that can reveal the amount of time that has passed since you had a coffee, you read that novel, you played the piano, you used that sunglasses, you cooked your mother’s recipes, you had sex, etc. Because dust does not accumulate on living objects, at least on those parts that we regularly use.

Look around you. Read. Be an explorer like those of NASA who are trying to cast light on the origins of the Universe or the origins of life. Let dust orbit around you, love it, praise it, take care of it. In the end, you will be dust too.

Thought #36. Hope against hope.

15th November 2000. Peter returned from work to find his house had burned down. Amanda’s body had vanished. No ashes to scatter on the waters of the Tamesis River. Peter ended up heartbroken, filled with grief, alone.

20th April 2017. Peter returns to find his house uninhabited, almost lifeless. 6,000 days, nights included, are supposed to be more than enough to get over a loss. But Amanda was special, too unforgettable.

He might appear to endure the distress caused by Amanda’s death but, in truth, he can barely foresee a glimmer of hope in his black reality. After many years of aimless wandering, he is exhausted. Because he is not living but dying, not walking but wandering.

Death is a central part of life. It has always been that way. It just so happens that sometimes a loss is tantamount to a devastating drought. Suddenly, zest for life no longer exists and is replaced by a decaffeinated world, so dehydrated, desiccated, devoid of juice and energy a reality that seems unreal.

But deep inside there is hope. He is hoping against hope that, at the very last moment, she would show up with a big grin on her face. And emptiness will cease, rain will make an unexpected appearance, life will sprout. His reconstructed heart will beat again.

16th November 2000. Obituary. WHITE, Peter, 41, loved husband, father-to-be and friend, died Wednesday at a local hospital following a three-hour uphill struggle after a terrible accident left him burned. He was a lifelong resident of London. Mr. White had farmed for many years west of the Tamesis River. He was a member of a Catholic Church. Survivors include: three nephews, James, John and Peter, and a heartbroken, homeless and pregnant wife…

Though #35. For my own amusement.

I enjoy the solitude of life. There is only so much one can learn by itself. Do not get me wrong, sometimes I can be a good human companion too (ask my dog if you cannot believe me). Do not ask my wife though, she should be tagged as a limited edition human being because she is the only person that really understands my idiosyncrasy. I deeply adore Marta.

I often ask myself big questions. At any moment, you could find me wandering about, listening to my preferred classical “hit”, feeding my brains with some food for thought, aloof. I would like to say that I probably have nothing against you. My rudeness is involuntary, totally unintentional.

What makes us humans? I recently discovered a BBC Radio podcast in which the presenter, Jeremy Vine, and a guest, share half an hour trying to figure out the answer. At the very beginning of each programme, Jeremy asks the guest the question, which is answered as merely foreplay in the form of an essay. After that, Jeremy plays 30 seconds of the guest’s favourite song and they start a conversation, sometimes a monologue, in which Jeremy dissects the ideas presented in the essay and developed during the programme.

Questions like “what makes us humans” are the kind of gambit that I use for my own amusement. Boring, you may think. Ok, I understand it may sound ridiculously boring but I love it. After having been thinking about those big questions, life is simply less harsh, cosier, better.

For example, imagine that I have received unfair treatment by someone that really means a lot to me. Instead of playing the blame game, I do prefer to think that to err is human. Forgive and forget or a way better, just forget. That simple? Do I really need 500 words to say that? Let me give you another example. Instead of blaming someone for not paying enough attention to your needs, why you do not just enjoy the solitude of life and do whatever you like, for your own amusement. It seems quite fair, doesn’t it?

Boredom is healthy. Being slack is often a source of inspiration, an opportunity to grow, to improve. Stress, on the other hand is harmful, at least for me. When stressed, I cannot think clearly and in my opinion, thinking is what makes us human and I do not want to be another kind of animal.

Thought #34. Doomed.

Imagine what things would be like if the human race were hovering on the brink of extinction. The “Voluntary Human Extinction Movement” has already done their homework. You might be thinking  “Oh Jesus, seriously? Somebody help! That bloke’s barking mad!” You may well laugh but I am in deadly earnest, this movement exists and they also have their own pun: VHEMT must be pronounced “vehement”.

According to an article published on the WWF website and entitled “How many species are we losing”, no less than 10,000 species are estimated to be dying out every year. Opportunistically, VHEMT presents an alternative to the human exploitation of nature. Only by taking part in their crusade against the human race should we restore the Earth’s biosphere to its former glory.

Seemingly, the voluntary extinction of one species, the Homo Sapiens, is all we need to amend the legacy of centuries of neglect. The plan is simple: to stop breeding. I utterly dismiss this idea which is tantamount to fundamentalism beyond rational belief. It is true that overpopulation is not sustainable in the long term, but I would not go so far as to say humankind is virtually redundant.

Back in 1961, the Daily Mirror featured a story about rhinoceros on its front-page. Under the headline “Doomed” the reporter unearthed the rinhos condition of endangered species, and as yet we have been unable to save them. “As civilisation marches on, it bulldozes wild-life”, the article said. A statement that continues to be valid nowadays.

However, conservationism has done a great job. Now, we know better than ever which are the species at risk and what we can do to reverse their critical situation. Organisations such as National Geographic, WWF  or the BBC have invested significantly in raising awareness of to this problem. For example, the production of documentaries such as Planet Earth, has awakened many of us from our blissful ignorance to an informed position.

As far as anyone knows, Earth is the only habitable planet in the universe. Our planet is rich and each species counts, humans included. Life is wonderful as it is. It does not take much brain to work out that our intellect will eventually develop the required new insights to tackle this problem. Imagine what would happen if the human race abandoned Mother Nature to her fate. Doomed.

Thought #33. Cottage for sale.

 

Thursday night.

Rachel is death to the world. Last night, she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She has been busy with her wedding preparation. Yesterday, she took the dress to The Wedding Boutique at Harrods to have it altered. Despite being allergic to London, her recent weight loss and the forthcoming event deserves her presence.

Fortunately, last month she stumbled upon the ad “Cottage with access to the silence, only the sounds of nature” when, at the dentist’s, she skimmed the classified section in a housing magazine. Rachel and John threw caution to the winds and took out a £120,000 mortgage to buy the cottage and the surrounding plot of land. She finally achieved her ambition to own a cottage.

John has just listened to Rachel’s voicemail message: “John, I can’t wait till tomorrow when you get back from your business trip. The weather forecast said a stormy night was expected there, in Dublin. Have a nice and safe trip. I’ll be here, waiting for you. Kisses!”. He takes a deep breath and peeps through the bathroom curtains into the bed.

The hotel room is cosy and warm, ridiculously expensive for the occasion. Luckily, Rachel’s damn cottage is out of mobile signal. He does not feel like calling her back. He chuckles to himself. “Let’s make a night of it, I’ll be there at the crack of dawn.”, he mumbles.

Friday morning.

Rachel wakes up in silence. John is snoring loudly. “He’s a terrible snorer.”, she smiles to herself. She abandons the room stealthily, trying not to make the slightest noise. She is proud of their relationship. Respect, fidelity, devotion, love… deep love. Rachel turns the radio receiver on. She is about to squeeze some oranges when she overhears a news bulletin.

“Due to the devastating storms, Dublin’s airspace remains closed since Thursday night. All UK flights have been postponed until next Monday when the storms are expected to recede. A shuttle-bus service is being arranged by Dublin Airport in association with the major flight operators. Nearly a thousand travellers are waiting for this service, which will become available later today and will bring them back to London, Manchester, Oxford and some other UK capitals.”

Rachel turns the receiver off. She picks up her phone. No signal. She goes outside and lifts it. The phone bleeps. A new SMS from “Aaa John” remains unopened. She hesitates for a brief moment before opening it. “Safe and cosy flight. Love you so much! CU”. Tears, anger, hatred. “Stay cool, she who laughs last, laughs best”.

Friday afternoon.

John wakes up. He feels dizzy. “Rachel?”. Nobody answers. The silence kills. He looks at the wall clock. The clock is dead. “Maybe I could have wound up the clock.”, he murmurs. He heads to the kitchen. He is starving. On the worktop, a torn out magazine page where a picture of the cottage stands visible. He grabs it and finds a handwritten message blurred in tears below the original ad. It says: “Cottage with access to the silence and an unused wedding dress, for sale”.

Thought #32. Invisible to the naked eye.

Human beings possess an extraordinary quality invisible to the naked eye: the ability to imagine how someone else feels in a difficult situation. The word that describes this quality is sympathy and we must not confuse it with empathy, which has a broader meaning and includes also understanding feelings of people who are in a better situation.

When you have the power of understanding another person’s feelings, you are also the owner of a fantastic quality intrinsically attached to humankind: the faculty of producing mental images of what has not been experienced. It is known as your mind’s eye or imagination. Sympathy and empathy, both need this power to exist.

In layman terms, sympathy is feeling sorrow and compassion, but also showing charity and humanity. Empathy, on the other hand, is purely and simply putting youself in another’s shoes, whether those shoes were luxury or humble.

But, why do humans feel sympathy? If evolution was supposed to favour those who are fitter, where is the need to feel the misfortunes of others? Does not sympathy make you weaker, at least emotionally? In my opinion, social intelligence is one of the cornerstones of humanity, being empathy, but more importantly sympathy, the driving force of social intelligence.

Without being sympathetic, and thus showing a genuine interest in other causes, solidarity or sustainability would have never been considered. Aloofness does produce the contrary effect: meanness, hostility and lack of understanding about the essence of life. The big problems that our societies face can only be solved by using our mind’s eye to imagine how it would be to have a better world.

Without being sympathetic, and thus showing a genuine interest in other causes, hatred and intolerance pop up. In consequence, we cannot expect nothing but war, poverty and a plague of inequalities. And this is the reason why social intelligence is the force to be reckoned with, so we had better praise sympathy. Maybe, one day, these invisible forces will take over the world. Sympathy and empathy are highly evolutional traits that deserve attention and care.

Thought #31. The killer who was never caught 2/2.

Back on her desk, Beth wonders why the killer has changed his pattern. It is unusual for a serial killer to make the slightest change in the modus operandi. “We must’ve overlooked something, this case must’ve been a coincidence”, she mumbles. David is sitting next to her, apparently aloof. He wonders why the death has been advanced in time. It does not make any sense. Confused and stumped, they rack their brains to find an explanation for the happenings.

Beth and David make a thorough review of the events and after careful consideration they draw a conclusion: the 10th body does not belong to the case. It was sheer coincidence to find it in Walthamstow Central Station. They both know that there is little statistical evidence to support this “coincidence”, however. Two printed sheets of paper rest on the workstation, showing a list of Underground lines and the Prime Numbers sequence.

01:00 p.m. Inspector May holds an online press conference. The news has crossed borders and nearly a thousand media are accredited to attend this event. Joana is the press officer in charge. She has advised Paul to be wary about unveiling too much information about the case. In short, he only said that Police had not ruled out any possibility. Nothing about David’s insights.

07:00 p.m. Gathered around the desk table of Paul’s office, a copy of the postmortem examination is handed out to Beth and David. She died of a heart attack. No traces of having been poisoned. It all seems to indicate that they were right in assuming the disconnection between this victim and the rest of the lot. Paul cracks a smile. Beth and David mimics him. No mystery surrounds the circumstances of her death.

9:00 p.m. Today’s last briefing is conducted by constable Beth. She addresses the members of the special operation, following Paul’s instructions. On Sunday, they will have to swarm Walthamstow Central Station with plainclothes officers. They will have to pay special attention to vending machines and snack and beverage stalls because all the victims have been poisoned so far. They will ask anyone that behaves suspiciously for identification.

Saturday, 22nd of December, 2011. 11:00 p.m. The station has been already occupied by plainclothes officers. Some regular police officers cover the surrounding area, otherwise, it would become suspicious after the fuss created around the case. People were in panic. In fact, the security measures have been reinforced throughout the network of tube stations. A group of officers alongside each entrance provides a sense of security among the citizens.

Monday, 24th of December, 2011. 7:30 a.m. The atmosphere at Metropolitan Police headquarters is unbearable. They have been wrong about yesterday’s operation. No death, no arrests, no killer. Probably, the killer is aware of the police’s findings and has given up. Maybe they will never catch the assassin. Paul is hopeless about solving the case. “23” is the tenth Prime Number and there is no death yet. “If only the killer had acted”, he thinks amorally.

8:00 a.m. Paul receives the call. The mayor cannot wait any more. He has been put under extreme pressure both by citizens and political opposition. He must make an statement, he cannot bury his head in the sand. He has no option but to address the nation and explain the unsuccessful operation, revealing all the details. Paul’s unshaven face shows an angry expression. His last case and he would end up as a complete idiot.

8:30 a.m. The press conference is scheduled for midday. Less than four hours left. David, the computer technician, is desperate and this situation is driving him mad. He cannot think clearly. His analitical mind does not allow him to work under pressure, except that he is about to solve the case. Looking at the picture of Friday’s corpse, he realises that police have not investigated her digital footprint. David beckons Beth to his desk.

– “Beth, I have something to tell you, but you have to be prepared to act on a hunch. We know nothing about the discarded body. Only her name and age: Clara Hinder, 38. I have tried to locate her on Facebook but there is no account with such a name. Where are her belongings? Could we gain access to them?”, he said hastily.
– “I also had the hunch that we were overlooking something, but the postmortem was conclusive and decisive. Wasn’t it?”, replied Beth.
– “You haven’t answered my questions yet. I need her mobile phone!”

11:00 a.m. After many calls, Beth had almost lost her patience when she realised that if there were a person who could do her a favour, it would be Roger, an old friend and an expert on “police shortcuts”. Roger makes an appearance and hands out a special authorisation to Beth.

11:30 a.m. David is trying to hack into Mrs. Hinder’s mobile phone. It is impossible. The device could only be accessed by using a six-digit PIN number or the owner’s fingerprint. After 10 failed attempts, the contents of the phone would be auto erased. “One hundred thousand possibilities and only ten attempts, it is impossible”, he thinks aloud. Beth approaches David nervously.

– “I have overheard you. I think we have a chance.”
– “I’m all ears, tell me about it.”
– “If only we could hack her fingertip.”
– “Go on, please.”
– “The corpse is still inside our building.”

David jumps up and runs through the office, heading downstairs into the gloomy room where postmortem takes place. The lifeless corpse remains restful, undisturbed. He turns on the lights and grabs the right hand. It is cold and numb. He places the forefinger on the phone sensor. It does not work.

11:45 a.m. In 15 minutes the mayor could jeopardise the whole operation. Beth and David look at each other in despair. They take a deep breath. David is still holding Clara’s hand.

– “Try again, sometimes my phone sensor is a bit sluggish”, she tells David.

Following Beth’s advice, he repeats the process. A slight vibration and the phone is unlocked. Five percent battery left. Beth and David sit down on the ice floor, childishly. No Facebook account, no WhatsApp app installed, no Twitter account, no e-mail address configured, no SMS sent or received in ages. A video of the victim is the only will. Unopened, unsent, unseen, virgin. They nod to each other.

12:30 p.m. The mayor press conference is over. All the nation is overwhelmed by the police findings. The murder could not act any more following this scheme. No more train stations, no more Prime Numbers. The mayor receives the honours. Paul ends up unhonoured.

Beth and David have just seen the video. Mrs. Hinder has just revealed the secret. The first body was the leader of a cult called “There is no Tomorrow”. They claimed that the end of the world was expected to materialise on 31st of December 2011. Eleven members had been chosen by God to leave this world in advance. They would go to heaven, directly. Their followers did not know who has been elected until they received a videomessage from the last victim. Mrs. Hinder died of a heart attack. No traces of having been poisoned. No message handed out to the next victim, no more suicides. Beth and David will bury the 11th name, they will keep this video secret, forever.

Thought #30. The killer who was never caught 1/2.

Friday, 21st of December, 2011. 7:00 a.m. in the morning. The news bulletin opens with the 10th death in a row. “London Metropolitan police are conducting an investigation after the body of a middle-aged woman was found fully clothed, lying prone on the ground of Walthamstow Central Station. At first, constable B.I., the first police officer arriving at the crime scene, speculated about the possibility of a natural death. She soon changed her mind after seeing the sheer terror in the woman’s motionless face.”

Paul looks at his kettle. It definitely needs descaling. The sound of boiling water muffles the radio receiver, making the news bulletin unintelligible. The toaster is on. He is about to breakfast on tea and toasts, as usual. Suddenly, his mobile phone rings. “What the hell?”, he murmurs. He is chief in command for the special operation launched on account of the series of killings that have been taking place recently. He warned the team not to bother him unless a new corpse was found. “It cannot be the case, not again”, he tells himself.

– “Inspector May speaking”, Paul answers reluctantly.
– “It’s me, Beth. Sir, following the protocol, the area has been cordoned off. The mayor is coming and has requested your presence. Walthamstow Central Station, right at the entrance.”, by her hurried voice’s tone and the location of the body, Paul knows full well that it is going to be a long day.
– “I’m on the way. Don’t talk to the media. Don’t talk to anyone!”
– “Yes, sir.”, they both hung up in unison.

7:30 a.m. Paul arrives at the surroundings of Walthamstow Central Station and a noisy flock of curious people are already trying to poke their nose into the investigation. From his position, Paul can see Beth accounting to the major. He jumps to his feet and approaches the scene, clawing his way amongst the crowd.

– “Good Morning, mayor Palmer”, Paul utters with a serious countenance.
– “Good Morning, inspector”, Mr. Palmer says while gesturing to Beth to recapitulate the facts.
– “Inspector, all the officers are completely baffled by this murder. We couldn’t have predicted this twist in the case. We managed to foresee the station but the assassination was expected on Sunday 23rd.”, Beth pointed out.
– “Well, it doesn’t make any difference, we’re going to arrest the killer at any cost. Mayor, as you may’ve been informed, the first body was found in Elephant & Castle Station while I was holding a dinner to celebrate my retirement. I had to put off that dinner for a while. I promised to stay in command until the case is solved and I’ll keep my promise. It’s all I can tell you at this moment.”
– “I understand. Keep me informed. Officer, inspector”, mayor Palmer says as he beckons his bodyguard. He leaves the scene jostling through the swarm of prying people.

9:30 a.m. The Metropolitan Police’s headquarters is a hive of activity. David, the computer technician remains silent whilst Beth relates the story. By his puzzled and thoughtful look, you can guess the news comes as a complete surprise to him.

The agenda for today’s briefing consists of a unique item: under no circumstances should anyone leak any information about the current inquiries. The inspector ends the meeting with a muted applause and his favourite phrase: “Do I make myself clear?”. The instructions are as clear as day.

The special operation command has been working hard since the first body was found 21 days ago. Nine deaths, all poisoned. Nine stations, each from a different line. But, things are seldom as they seem. David had requested an urgent meeting on Tuesday to announce an unexpected connection between the deaths. Unfortunately, the meeting, postponed until Wednesday, was broken up after the room’s door burst open and constable Beth announced the 9th death. David was talking ten to the dozen, trying to shed light on the recent deaths. He looked at Beth and came out with a name. “Heathrow Terminal 5 station”. Beth nodded at him in agreement. The news left the inspector speechless. A deathly silence fell on the room.

A few minutes later, David managed to resume the speech, giving detailed account of his findings. The connection between the string of deaths was purely and simply numerical. Looking at the calendar on the wall, David reeled off the first few numbers that were crossed out: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11. It was a well-known sequence, and as yet no officer had discovered the link. Prime numbers. The team looked on in awe as David rendered the second discovery: the stations had not been chosen at random. They also followed a clear pattern: the last station of a line, the line chosen in alphabetical order. A two-slide Powerpoint presentation showed a couple of Wikipedia articles supporting the explanation.

To be continued…

 

Thought #29. The blinkered game.

A strange threesome, arranged along the picture, as if it were an unsolved puzzle, except that it is not.

A woman, dressed in blue and advanced in years, shows a scrawny physique. She tell us the story of a world marked by poverty and hunger, a world of social inequalities and gender disparities. She is not ill, she is a death-in-life symbol.

The little sign that says “tourist” indicates the presence of foreigners, probably wealthy visitors. In a global world where the plight of the poor is also a business, where only a part plays God over the rest, we cannot shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The blinkered animal next to the woman. It unveils another dismal reality. For want of willingness to help others, the vast majority of us are incapable of understanding the boundaries between a sense of guilt (or the lack of it) and our own ability to contribute to improving the quality of life of hundreds of human beings.

A blinkered person usually features, amongst other characteristics, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, intolerance and tunnel vision. In my humble opinion, they represent the plight of the rich. Because underneath that external display, blinkered people are just insecure and ignorant.

If only we opened our eyes. If only we were not on another planet. But, I am hopeful.

food for thought