Dogs are barking etc is one of those phrases that rattles around my head. It appears to have Arab origins (except as ‘..the caravan moves on’) but has been famously quoted by people as various as Andre Gide or Valtteri Bottas’s mate. I don’t know why it occurs to me now except I’m typing this in a camper van next to the North Sea. Surrounded my dogs and caravans. Ah.
I’ve just started Alice Bell’s magnificent Our Biggest Experiment. It’s full of extraordinary connections and asides, like the bit below. We didn’t get taught about the 50 million dead and the resultant mini ice age when we studied European expansion. Nor the impact on the violin business.
“As M Maslin and Simon Lewis stress in their book on the Anthropocene (the geological era characterised by the impact of humans) The Human Planet, there is a noticeable dip in atmospheric carbon around the start of the seventeenth century. Maslin and Lewis trace this back to the colonisation of the Americas a century or so before, or more precisely the deaths of 50 million indigenous people. The dead don’t farm and so the unmanaged land shifted back into forests, which in turn inhaled enough carbon dioxide for it to be in bubbles of air from the time preserved deep in the polar ice caps. This regrowth was short lived. European settlers in North America soon got to farming for themselves, not to mention coal mining, inventing kerosene and laying railway tracks, highways, and oil and gas pipelines. Still, this temporary drop in carbon dioxide levels might well have played a role in the so-called 'little ice age', a series of cold snaps between, roughly, 1350 and 1850. This little ice age most likely had a mix of causes – dust from volcanoes intercepting sunlight, for example - but the regrowth caused by colonialism of the Americas might well have been one of them; human forces combining with those from other parts of nature to shift climates, just as they do today.
The little ice age wasn't cold enough to be a true ice age, but it was cold. The carnivalesque end of this involved frost fairs, puppet shows, ox roasts and children playing football on the thickly frozen ice. There are stories of frozen birds falling from the sky, Henry VIII sleighing between palaces, New Yorkers walking from Manhattan to Staten Island and even an elephant being led across the Thames. It's one reason Stradivarius violins are so prized; trees during this period took longer to mature in the cold, making denser wood and thus a very particular quality of sound. The darker side of this mini ice age was people shivering to death.”
I have also just started Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks (roughly a human lifespan) which reminded me of the fact that people speak about 16,000 words a day. Which means I have roughly 174,720,000 words left to say. Many of them, now I’ve learnt it, will be forwallowed.
We’re still in the campervan. We’re listening to Yasmin Williams. In case you haven’t come across her music - have a listen. Absolutely gorgeous.
Finally, a quick thought from Caroline Webb’s How to Have a Good Day: “Merely by saying “Tell me more about that,” you’ll be in the top percentile of listeners that anyone will meet today.”
And that’s it.