[Original image by Wolfgang Staudt]
[An elaboration and continuation of It all started with]
At 9.48am on a mildly warm and breezy late spring morning in Bath, a young man is tidying chairs and tables away in a large marquee, the evidence of the previous evening’s nuptials strewn haphazardly over the muslin carpet. His languid and arrhythmic movements betray signs of the night’s events, yet with the lingering impression of an accepting, almost satisfied, smile.
Prior Park College towers above the marquee with its neoclassical Bath-stone columns and baroque steps above recently cut grass banks, rolling away into the valley and pond at its base. On the other side of the valley, steep streets lined with neatly packed, slate-roofed houses rise up from the town centre.
The man works back and forth between the tables and the marquee’s central column, against which he leans the collapsed furniture. The morning sun cuts intermittently through tufts of fluffy cloud, bringing to life the green of the landscape, and then subduing it in turn. The man casts a glance over the valley and reflects on how beautiful the wedding was and how lucky they had been with the weather. The newlyweds would arrive soon, at which point he could make his farewell, thank them for involving him in their big day, and return home. An eagle soars silently over the valley below as it scours for prey. The man is looking forward to returning to his quiet house – his quiet life – after a loud few days, to which he is not naturally given: all that marshalling of people, marshalling of agendas and the pressures of perfection in the greatest day of their lives….Nevertheless, he is content in his labours, and thankful to have been here.
In his back and forth, the man ponders his situation – a finite being, a speck in time and space – and, far from being bewildered by his infinitesimal existence, he marvels at the magnificence of it all; at how lucky he is to have opportunity for a brief cameo on this vast stage.
Then the man hears a groan; a straining sound that abruptly erupts into a sharp silence, then a crack, and all is still. He cranes his neck and looks to the inner roof in time to see the structure collapsing towards him, an implosion of white cloth like a sharp intake of breath.
A hundred miles away Daniela finds herself shoehorned into a tube train, amid the hordes of Marathon runners and supporters. It is close to one of the worst times of the year one could choose to travel into central London and Daniela, having made a specific and concerted effort to take this trip today, is wondering how she managed to drop this marathon-sized diary clanger, and how other people seem to so effortlessly make, and execute, successful plans.
The general disorder of ostensibly ordered plans has always been the reality behind Daniela’s bargain with the universe: that she will play the game of life and follow each of the steps she is obliged to take. In reality Daniela has always wished to live as though she were an atom, a photon, a quark, floating through the vastness of space, just watching. Taking it all in. Witnessing the burning entropy as energy lived and died through various phases, but never disappearing. She has always had trouble reconciling herself with the world. For instance: ever since she was a girl, each morning she would painstakingly arrange her hair with a neat side parting, just how she wanted to look: ‘just so’. However, the unsettling duality of this ritual became apparent in time, and eventually wouldn’t escape her daily notice: the Daniela staring back appeared to have a parting on her right side, and to Daniela’s left: in reality, the parting lay on her left side and to the observer’s right. This is literally the opposite to how she wished to appear, yet all the while she was doing her hair each morning she had the contradictory impression of looking at how she wished to appear while simultaneously constructing the opposite look to the outside world.
When she finally manages to extricate herself from the sweaty embrace of the tube network, Daniela emerges onto the teeming streets of South Kensington, brilliant white buildings reflecting the morning rays of sun. Daniela follows the curving road away from the station, past the cafes and bistros, until the Romanesque facade of the Natural History Museum announces itself from behind the greenery of London’s pavement trees, it’s terracotta tiles and brickwork in stark contrast to the surrounding Georgian Stucco. Approaching the museum, she reflects that she has no idea what she might see, or even what she might be interested in; she only knows that just twelve hours ago she had decided, rather randomly, to make this journey.
Last night, Daniela spent her first night alone in a newly acquired studio flat. Until now she had shared with friends – two in particular, though with others for fleeting periods – but with their recent marriage and designs on a home of their own, it was naturally time to part ways. Daniela was excited: space to create her own introverted sanctum. But as the first evening came and went without so much as flutter of excitement – actually, without a flutter of anything – she realised it would no longer suffice to simply be there, as she had been with her friends; to have things happen around her and plans made for her; to observe and interact as she wished: she would need ideas of her own…plans, motivation; wants, needs, passions… she would need conviction.
Arriving at the museum, she follows the flowing crowd into an exhibition entitled: Humanity: A Hiccup in Time. The exhibition consists of a series of images from the solar system, starting with images captured by far-flung telescopes and proceeding backward in time through the oldest images of the cosmos available, and eventually to scientifically-informed artist’s impressions of the early solar system. The exhibition is at pains to remind its viewers of how tiny humanity’s existence has been in the history of its own back yard – let alone the history of time itself. A hiccup. The involuntary spasm of an organ gasping for respiratory relief in the face of real or imagined danger. The solar system, or the universe, having an attack of identity, perhaps, and hiccupping to right itself, thereby seeding the very first organisms that would eventually lead Daniela to this point: appraising the raging storm of Venus’ sulphuric clouds, red spot in its fledgling infancy – and the nascent epiphany that, not only is the history of human existence, culture, language, expression, survival, and spirit, but a hiccup in the history of its habitat, it is barely a hic- in the universe’s own story.