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Taking a Breather

My telephone rings.

“Hello?”

“May I speak to Mr. Bun Karyudo, please?”

“Speaking.”

“Hello, Mr. Karyudo. This is your bank manager. I’m calling about an, um… delicate matter.”

“A delicate matter, you say? Well, go ahead. I’ll try to give you the best advice I can.”

“No, I mean, a delicate matter regarding your account.”

“My account?”

Yes. You see, you have an outstanding debt.”

“Really, well thank you very much.”

“I think you may have misheard me. I said your debt is outstanding.”

“Oh, it’s nothing really.”

“I wish that were true, Mr. Karyudo, but your debt is not nothing.”

“It’s not?”

“No, it’s something.”

“Really?”

“Yes, it’s really something.”

“That’s great! Thank you so much again. Wonderful speaking to you. Goodbye.”

 

As regular readers are no doubt aware, I’m about to start a new job in a couple of days. As part of my preparations, I’ve been inundated with massive amount of information, not all of which is in my first language. I’m finding the going extremely tough. I am, to be perfectly frank, not at all sure I’ll be able to cram so many facts into so little brain.

 

Despite my ever-friendly bank manager, I can’t afford to make any mistakes with this job, so I’m going to take a writing break for three weeks. This will be the first time since I started the blog two years ago that I’ve gone completely offline. I know it’s a risk. I hope that when I come back, there will still be at least a few of you who remember who I am. Three weeks is an eternity in the age of Twitter.

 

Anyway, I’ll see you all again in late April. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Times

That part of the world’s population waiting with bated breath beside their computer screens were no doubt shocked to their very marrow by the non-appearance. The rest of the world’s 7 billion people, however, somehow found the strength to carry on with their lives despite the fact that this post is half a day late.

 

I can only offer my profoundest, most sincere apologies (while accepting no financial liability of any kind). I would have written something had I but been able to get to my computer. Unfortunately, at my usual posting time, the keyboard was at the other end of a mountain range of stuff stretching majestically from one end of my bedroom to the other.

 

It all started two and a half days ago when it occurred to me that since my new job will almost certainly involve having to bring work home, I should probably make a few adjustments to the area around the desk in my bedroom in order to make it easier to use. I wasn’t thinking of anything too drastic, of course, just a few minor tweaks here and there. It had long annoyed me, for example, that getting a pen or pencil always involved groping up to the elbow in the darker recesses of my desk drawer. Then there was all the information I’d been given relating to my new job. It should clearly be kept in files somewhere near at hand.

 

Unfortunately, every inch of prime real estate on or around my desk was already occupied. Indeed, the only significant amount of space anywhere in the entire bedroom was an unused portion of shelf at the back of the built-in closet. This left me with only two choices. I could either take myself nearer that space or bring that space nearer me. Upon careful consideration, I brilliantly deduced my desk would not fit into the closet, so I took the bold step of pursuing the second strategy.

 

I began by loading up the shelf with some little used books. This had the effect of coaxing the space from the back of the closet out onto a bookshelf. Then by filling the bookshelf with some old CDs, I could transfer the space to the area the CDs had come from, namely the top of the wardrobe.

 

In this way, I planned through a series of cleverly coordinated item relocations to bounce the space around my bedroom—the top of the wardrobe, the back of a drawer, under the bed, next to the bookcase—until I eventually managed to maneuver it onto my desk, where it would at last be of some use. It was a strategy familiar to anyone who ever played one of those sliding picture puzzles as a child.

 

Sadly, somewhere around the middle of my bedside cabinet, my plans escalated wildly out of control like WW1. Before I knew it, I was embroiled in a full-scale tidy up. The next two and a half days were entirely occupied with filling bags, loading boxes and taking trips to the compactor. So much dust was thrown up into the atmosphere, crops yields for the next few years are likely to be adversely affected.

 

Thankfully, the task is all but finished. The Andean range of clothes, books and documents that once separated one side of my bedroom from the other has gone and the area around my desk is once again the perfect environment in which to work. I’m now ready to face whatever my job throws at me, provided it isn’t difficult, heavy or explosive.

 

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

Missing My Cue

I had a good time. It was awful, but I had a good time. The it in question was my performance at pool. I knew roughly how the game was supposed to be played. I had to use the stick thing to push a white ball toward one of the many other balls scattered around the table. When hit, this second ball would then obligingly fall into one of six holes, leading my opponent to cheer and clap wildly and insist I go again.

 

Unfortunately, this is not how things actually turned out. The problem was, we rented a table that had a set of badly defective balls, not to mention pockets that were far too small. That’s why, no matter how energetically I used the wooden pole to whack the white ball in the direction of the stripy or spotty ones, I could never get any of them to disappear down the holes.

 

The sad result of being forced to use such substandard equipment was that at no stage did my playing partner have an opportunity to applaud my efforts, although I did at least manage to elicit a couple of sniggers from the people at the next table. How wonderful to know that I was able to bring a little joy into their lives.

 

Yet, despite being deceived into renting abominably substandard equipment, I can truthfully say that I still had an enjoyable time. This was because the person I was playing against was a) an old friend back in town for a brief visit, and b) of a level of sporting excellence very similar to my own.

 

Things were slightly awkward at the beginning of our game, of course. We’d never played pool against each other before—indeed, I hadn’t played pool against anyone for a couple of decades—so my friend was uneasy for the first ten or fifteen minutes. He didn’t relax until it gradually became clear to him that the standard of play I was exhibiting was an accurate reflection of my true ability and not the first stage of some elaborate Paul Newman-style hustle.

 

We did our best with the skinny wooden bats we were given and waved them enthusiastically all over the place, but the balls remained stubbornly on the table throughout, although in an impressive number of different configurations. We had so little success in clearing the table, I eventually came to believe neither of us would ever be able to get anything down a pocket, even if we held a ball directly over one of them and tried hitting it through with a mallet. Eventually, we completely ran out of time to clear the balls, having only booked the table for two hours.

 

It was true our game had not been as successful as I’d hoped. In fact, by the end, it seemed to have provoked an alarming degree of amusement from nearby players. Nevertheless, daunting as it was to walk right past all those stifled guffaws, I somehow found the courage I needed. It came to me the moment I realized there were bars on the restroom windows. Since the beer had been pretty good, and also because I felt sorry for the staff, I decided not to make a scene and complain about the faulty balls and pool clubs they’d given us. Instead, I simply paid my money, threw my change toward my jacket pocket, and sprinted for the door.

 

There was some talk of continuing the sporting theme of the evening by next going bowling. But then my friend said he was pretty sure players were not allowed to throw their bowling balls with two hands. This seemed to complicate the rules unnecessarily, so we gave up and decided to go to an Irish pub instead.

 

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

The Last Day

As last days go, I guess this one hasn’t been so bad. At least the sun shone and the weather was dry. I can’t deny it would have been nice had a stranger or two slapped my back or shaken my hand as I made my way to work this morning. Sadly, due to some kind of administrative oversight, the rest of the world was apparently not informed that this was my last full day of youthfulness before my birthday.

 

You see, when I go to sleep tonight, I will close my eyes forever on my forties. It’s an extraordinary thought and one I still can’t quite get my mind to fully accept. I know it’s a milestone that many of my fellow bloggers have passed already, but I’ve never turned fifty before and I’m not entirely sure of the procedure.

 

Presumably, at some point during the evening, my gravitas will be delivered to the door in an Amazon box and then be surgically attached while I sleep. I must confess, I’m looking forward to waking up tomorrow and at last being a real adult rather than a sixteen-year-old with many years’ experience of faking it.

 

Of course, on the negative side, the spring in my step will likely be removed at the same time, and my settings for hearing sensitivity and bladder capacity will be dropped to half levels. I’m also a little unclear as to whether I’ll be allowed to get out of bed as normal tomorrow morning, or if the expected etiquette is for me to cough and splutter a bit first.

 

I’m tired now, and so I think may have to turn in early tonight. Unfortunately, this means I’m going to have to abandon my plans to stay up late with the photographs of my childhood. Originally, I’d planned to lay out the color ones on the desk in front of me and watch them all change to black and white on the twelfth stroke of midnight.

 

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

Accidents Waiting to Happen

Amazingly, I haven’t done it yet. As I unlock the side gate to my apartment building after work each day, I look down at the drain grate directly beneath my feet and gulp. I know it’s only a matter of time. I’m just one dropped key away from having to spend a fun-packed evening groping around up to my shoulder in filthy water.

 

The drain is an accident waiting to happen. But it’s not the only one in my life. Take my new coffeemaker, for example. The water is stored in a plastic container that clips on to the back of the machine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t attach very well, and so a slip is inevitable. The day is certainly coming when the entire contents spill Niagara-like from the edge of the counter and cascade down over the assorted plugs and adapters underneath. On the bright side, I enjoy a rousing firework display as much as anyone.

 

Or there are the two guitars that I keep by the foot of my bed. Some morning, I will certainly trip over one or other of them as I get up. It’s even possible I may trip over both at the same time—one for each foot—and roll with them along the floor in a cacophony of splintered wood, snapping strings and unearthly caterwauling, like a slightly more melodic version of a Justin Bieber concert.

 

But even when we can see the risks we are running, sometimes we simply cannot avoid them. The bedroom is tiny, and so the guitars have to stay where they are since there’s no other place for them. Strictly speaking, I suppose I could tuck them into bed beside me at night. But then my wife would have to sleep vertically while leaning on a guitar stand—something that up to this point in our marriage, she has never shown the slightest interest in doing.

 

Now, you may be wondering why I’ve taken to worrying about all this. After all, I’ve been living with the dangerously placed drain for over a decade, the guitars for about the same, and even with the potentially pyrotechnic coffeemaker for the last three or four months. What explains the sudden upsurge in my anxiety levels now?

 

As many of you know, I have recently handed in my notice at the company where I’ve worked for the last eleven years. In a couple of weeks, I will start a new—and in many ways, quite different—job. I have my fingers, my toes and both my eyes crossed that I won’t be an accident waiting to happen.

 

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

A Post for the Birds

Many people know them as parakeets, but in their native Australia, they are called budgerigars (or just budgies), and now I have one. To be more accurate, my wife and sons have one. They simply turned up with it in a cage the other day and dared me to do something about it. I was shocked, of course, and as I peered in at the little fellow on his perch, the thought crossed my mind that I should at least try to negotiate him down to a goldfish. But then I remembered the water would run out through the bars, so I gave up.

 

My sons spent much of that evening trying to decide on a name for him. The process would have been far quicker had they been willing to listen to any of my first-rate suggestions, such as Igor, Splotch or Beakula. They didn’t even like Budd G. Reegar—one I thought gave him a little class. In the end, they decided on Pochama, which is apparently the name of a Pokémon character. This is a bit of a mouthful for me to remember, however, so I’ve taken to just calling him Po. I’m hoping he doesn’t notice that in his native Australia, the word means “chamber pot.”

 

Regular readers may be a little surprised about the sudden arrival of our little feathered friend given that I’ve sometimes said on the blog that we’re not allowed to keep pets. In fact, this is only broadly true. The actual situation is that we are allowed to keep pets—just not anything interesting, like a cat, a dog or an aardvark. Small, boring pets, are completely acceptable as long as they don’t make too much noise. Fortunately, when my wife and children got Po’s cage and equipment, they showed tremendous foresight in not buying him an electric guitar or a drum set.

 

However, I’m still not entirely convinced we need a bird, especially with a family budget as tight as ours. I’ve been trying to remain philosophical about it, though. I tell myself that either he’ll eat only a little, in which case, we won’t have to spend much on millet, or he’ll eat a lot, in which case we won’t have to buy a Christmas turkey this year.

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

The Height of Folly

My elder son is at home at the moment preparing for an important test. His arduous study schedule involves a rigorous program of lying in bed with his eyes shut, which he then has to meticulously coordinate with his periodic visits to the bathroom.

 

He did seem to come to briefly during breakfast time this morning. I base this on the fact that when my wife shouted through to ask whether he wanted one slice of toast or two, he grunted twice.

 

However, when I then popped my head into his bedroom to say good morning to him—or rather, to his feet, which were the only part of him I could actually see, my words were welcomed with nothing but silence. Perhaps he had merely fallen asleep again. Or perhaps since my greeting did not hold out the promise of additional food, his feet simply did not deem my utterance worthy of a reply.

 

Although I felt rather annoyed by the lack of any kind of acknowledgement at the time, looking back on it now, perhaps it was for the best. When my son does respond to anything I say these days, it is generally to either a) tell me why I’m entirely wrong about everything or b) ask me if I’ve got shorter.

 

This last is an annoying habit he has picked up in recent years. Now I admit, I have never been called a man mountain or been mistaken by astronauts for a continental landmass. On the other hand, I am of completely average height and average build. I’m not tall, but I’m not short either.

 

And yet, my son will regularly tell me how very teeny I look in comparison to virtually every being on the planet capable of standing upright—be it another parent, a penguin or a prairie dog. Well, it’s not funny and it’s not true. I am not, repeat not, short.

 

And the next time he uses my head as an armrest, I’m going to kick him in the shins.

 

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

Cutting Back, Not Cutting Down

I won’t be writing much this week. This is partly to allow rest and recuperation for anybody who managed to struggle to the end of last week’s 19th-century Russian novel of a post about chewing gum. (This should in no way be taken as any kind of tacit admission that this previous post was too long, by the way. Far from it. Once I eventually have the time to add the contents page and index, any self-respecting reader should be able to get through the entire piece in as little as 2-3 days.)

 

The other reason why I’m already on the penultimate paragraph of today’s post is that it now looks virtually certain I’ll be changing jobs in the next few weeks. I’m going to need more time to concentrate on that. I guess this is only fair. Over the last two years, my blog has snatched great stretches of time from my daily life. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that with employment and health issues, daily life has recently begun snatching much of this time back.

 

Now, I realize there may be some out there who find it difficult to believe I’d allow myself to cut back on my blogging for a while because of anything as insignificant as employment issues / starvation avoidance. To all such people, I say fear not! Not only will I continue posting something each week (even if only 3 paragraphs long), but throughout the entire period, I will also be fighting mightily on behalf of our planet’s RAIN FORESTS! This very worthy task I will be doing primarily by refraining from logging and slash-and-burn agriculture until I get settled in my new job. After that, all bets are off.

 

 

 

Something to Chew On

A coin! A coin!

 

This was the thought that rushed excitedly through my head as I stood on the street corner waiting for the lights to change. But when I looked down and fixed my gaze on the small, circular shape I’d spotted with my peripheral vision, my dreams of quick financial gain were once again dashed. Instead of a shiny, gleaming and commercially exploitable metal token, all I found was a black patch of congealed gunk.

 

I considered it for a moment with some puzzlement. What was that…? Suddenly, the answer hit me. I was looking at the remains of a long dead piece of gum. Ordinarily, my thoughts on the matter might have ended there, but on this particular day, I was delighted to have something—anything—to take my mind off the impending bank visit my feet were so unenthusiastically dragging me toward.

 

Goodness, so this was the final resting place of what had once been an eager young piece of gum! How incredibly fascinating! Immediately, I threw together a few deeply ponderable questions of the kind likely to distract a jittery mind:

 

  • Did pieces of gum sit hopefully in packets wondering which sidewalks they would eventually become part of?

 

  • In whose particular mouth had this piece of gum served? Had it been in and straight back out again, or was it tumbled slowly around and around like a rubber boot in a washing machine?

 

  • Speaking of which, what was gum’s footwear of choice? In other words, what did the average piece of gum prefer to be trampled by?

 

The lights changed and I began moving forward again, over the road and onward. This was when I realized the splotch I’d left behind was far from a solitary case. In fact, the entire sidewalk around me was strewn with little black stains of flattened gum, as though some delinquent Hansel had staggered drunkenly to and fro, leaving an impossibly chaotic trail for me to follow. I hoped he and Gretel didn’t expect rescuing any time before they were ninety.

 

But this fanciful notion merely begged the question: who was really dropping all this gum everywhere? When I had to wait again at another busy road, I casually and without raising the slightest suspicion gawked directly at the mouth of each pedestrian around me. Yet despite being fairly generous with the time I allocated per set of chompers, I detected no telltale signs of chewing whatsoever. Of course, whether this meant the various jaws around me were entirely free of gum or were just cemented tightly together by it was difficult to say.

 

Hmm… Did office workers even chew gum? I thought for a moment, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing anybody with it at work. I certainly didn’t use it. The thought had never even occurred to me. Besides, I had the strong impression that any such chewing during working hours would be frowned upon by my boss and our customers. Admittedly, this wasn’t something I’d ever asked about. Rather, it seemed to fall into that category of actions not explicitly mentioned in the company rulebook but which were nonetheless unlikely to enhance your promotion prospects, like commuting to work in a tutu or attempting to conduct all meetings in Klingon.

 

On reflection, it seemed office workers might not be the most likely source of the gum carnage at my feet after all. The pleasures of a surreptitious chew seemed slight indeed when set against a career in tatters. A more likely group of culprits might be the students from one or other of the various colleges in the neighborhood. This held particular plausibility for me since in my student years, I had known someone who chewed on gum more or less continuously throughout his waking life. Even now, as I sit here and try to recall his appearance, the part of his face I can picture most clearly is his ever-moving lower jaw, around which I then have to sketch in his other features.

 

Interestingly, when asked why he chewed so much gum, he didn’t always give the same answer. He generally said it was to keep his breath fresh. He did tell me on one occasion, however, that he’d started it years earlier as a way to prevent nail-biting. He found his constant use of gum expensive, he’d said, but at least it was not nearly as painful as chewing fingernails down to the quick. I thought he had a point—particularly if they were his fingernails.

 

Although either or both of these explanations may have been true, I did also hear him mention to a female classmate that chewing was scientifically proven to increase concentration and mental focus, and that whenever he’d been allowed to chomp, chomp, chomp his way through a test, he’d always performed much better than those around him. Whether this was because his score had gone up or theirs had gone down, he hadn’t gone on to say.

 

I vaguely remembered other students chewing gum at college too, although none of them in the same industrial quantities as my friend. Yet I couldn’t recall ever seeing any of them carelessly tossing gum onto the ground. On the contrary, the chewers had shown nothing but the greatest consideration for their fellow students, disposing of their unwanted gum well away from the feet of their classmates. Instead, they’d attached it to the underside of whatever chair or desk they’d happened to be nearest at the time, from which convenient location the cleaners could simply and hygienically remove it at a later date with nothing more than a few quick taps with a mallet and chisel.

 

But this still left a puzzle. If it wasn’t office workers or students who were strewing gum all over the sidewalk, who else could it be? I wondered if it might be children. Perhaps on their way to and from school, they covered the entire neighborhood with their “mouthiwork,” turning innocent-looking walkways into what amounted to fly paper-laced death traps for other pedestrians. It made a certain amount of sense, but given that I was seldom on any stretch of street at the same time as children nowadays, it was difficult to be certain.

 

I tried thinking back to my own childhood. Had I discarded gum on the sidewalk? I was fairly sure I hadn’t, although I had remarkably few memories to base this confidence upon. I’d tended only to buy gum if I could afford nothing else in the store since it’d seemed to involve ten times the work of other confectionary, but with one-tenth the payoff. I remembered it tasting pretty good to begin with, but then my lower jaw being caught in a painful and seemingly endless cycle of chewing something that was soon totally devoid of flavor. For all the joy it brought me, I might as well having been chomping on a bicycle tire.

 

I’d persevered with my chewing through the pain barrier mainly because I’d been told it was easier to blow bubbles successfully when the gum had become tasteless. Unfortunately, bubble blowing—like knuckle cracking, tongue rolling and finger whistling—was just one more thing my young body seemed physically incapable of doing properly. I’d begun the same way as everybody else, flattening the gum against the back of my teeth, slowly opening my mouth, pushing a little of the gum forward with my tongue, and then blowing into the proto-bubble thus created in order to get it to inflate. But no matter how hard I’d blown, the process had always seemed much harder for me than for everybody else, as though I’d been the only one trying to inflate a rubber welcome mat.

 

Occasionally, after what seemed like hours of excruciating effort, I’d managed to create a barely swollen, bright red bubble, which then formed the perfect complement to my massively swollen, bright red face. Far more often, though, I’d succeeded only in sending the gum shooting at high speed toward whatever happened to be directly in front of me at the time—be it a TV screen, a streetlight or the back of the school janitor’s head.

 

Remembering this period of my life, I looked down again at the haphazard scattering of black dots around my feet. It was entertaining to imagine every single one of them representing some earnest eight-year-old’s failed attempt to blow a bubble. I smiled and then I sighed. Ah, here I was yet again treading the grim, familiar path to the bank. However much I preferred to dwell on what had long gone, my thoughts were always eventually dragged back kicking and screaming to what was yet to come.

 

Like so many people around the world these days, I spend much of my time worrying. I have a mortgage I have to meet, a son starting college this year, tax demands and utility bills I can barely pay. Too little money comes in, too much money goes out—and the entire rickety edifice of my finances is built upon a job with no security. What if I get sick? What if I’m made redundant?

 

Perhaps this was why I found myself looking on the black marks scattered here and there across the sidewalk with such wistful nostalgia. I didn’t miss the gum. Not really. What I missed was the carefree nonchalance with which I had once chewed it.

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

Trying to Hang On

The white plastic disk is much the same size and shape as a piece from an Othello board game, and is easily the most useless thing in there. Even as I type, I can see it out the corner of my eye, tucked between the stapler and the scissors, trying desperately not to be noticed. I’m not sure how the magnet-less fridge magnet ended up in my drawer. At some point, it presumably became detached from its magnetized base and tumbled from the fridge. It must have been quite a fall to take it around four corners and through a couple of doors into my desk.

 

I pick it up between my thumb and forefinger and examine it carefully. I’m not surprised it’s been hiding. There’s not much call for a fridge magnet that has to be superglued to a fridge. What on earth can be done with such a thing? Too small for a doorstop, too light for a paperweight and too simple for Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer—the truth is, all that remains of the fridge magnet is a worthless, plasticky lump that’s not much good for anything.

 

I try not to think about my job.

 

No, I have to remain firm and focused. It may seem harsh, but given my extensive paperclip and rubber band collections—not to mention my fine selection of colored pencils—space in the drawer is tight, and so I simply cannot allow any freeloading. Every item in there has to contribute if it’s to justify its keep.

 

Still, it can’t have been easy for the poor thing: its entire purpose for existence ripped away from it like that. In the end, I decide the best I can do is try to use the magnet-less magnet as the inspiration for a short essay. If I succeed, the plastic disk will be able to hold its non-existent head up high and live among its fellow drawer-dwellers without shame. And if I fail? The wastebasket looks up evilly and grins.

 

So, magnets…

 

Like many people, I found them fascinating as a child. I remember, for example, a lesson in elementary school in which the teacher pushed a bar magnet slowly toward little round magnets scattered here and there on a table top. Each of the round magnets in turn moved slowly backward at the bar magnet’s approach, something I found it highly amusing at the time. Looking back on it from this vantage point, I find it stirs uncomfortable memories of my university days and the success my geeky friends and I enjoyed as we attempted to meet women during student parties.

 

I suspect this image may surprise some people since the more natural association of magnets with romance is of opposites attracting. In fact, this also happened at the student parties—individuals being drawn irresistibly together from opposite ends of the room until with a final snap, they locked firmly at the mouth—it just didn’t happen to me.

 

So let’s jump again, this time to a happier memory from when I was about ten or twelve. I remember being in a variety store and passing a display of cheap compasses, really little more than toys. Having just enough money, I decided to buy one. As I looked carefully at the various needles and their orientations, I realized I had an excellent selection of norths to choose from and I wondered which to go for. I really had no idea. In the end, I shrugged my shoulders and selected the one pointing in the most interesting-looking direction. This was admittedly a slightly unexpected episode since compass needles are supposed to be permanent magnets, but I guess sometimes, permanence isn’t eternal.

 

Of course, some magnets are in a sense not actually magnets at all, but are instead temporary electromagnets created through the use of electric currents. This is the technology I get to see close up whenever I go through the metal detector in an airport. And then get to see close up again 3 seconds later. And then again. And again. My hand luggage gets off no more lightly, since it’s being blasted with X-rays at the same time. And even after all that, I am very often asked to open my suitcases for inspection when I arrive at my destination. Some readers may make the very reasonable suggestion that security staff might simply never before have seen someone passing through an airport with a bag on his head, but in fact, I generally remove my bag when I travel by airplane to ensure my appearance matches that shown in my passport photograph.

 

Despite these past run-ins with magnets, however, I find that on balance, I’m glad magnetism exists. After all, if the phenomenon in all its forms were to disappear tomorrow, we would immediately run into very great difficulties. First and most obviously, the notes on our refrigerators would fall instantly to the floor. A related issue, and one almost as catastrophic, is that refrigerator doors would no longer stay closed. They would therefore have to be tied shut with, say, a firehose or a bedsheet wound up to form a rope. The devastating problems this would cause when trying to get milk for our cornflakes in the morning are almost too terrifying to contemplate. As well as this catalog of horrific aftereffects, it may also be worth mentioning in passing that the entire universe would—according to the science website I checked two minutes ago—completely disintegrate. Needless to say, this would also be something of an inconvenience.

 

So despite the problems I have with it at airports, I think I may decide to keep magnetism after all. This bighearted decision on my part will not only allow the universe to continue existing, but also help organisms as diverse as sea turtles, pigeons and monarch butterflies avoid getting lost as they go about their lives. This is because these creatures—and many others—are thought to use our Earth’s magnetic field to help them find whatever destinations they seek.

 

The most interesting example of all is probably that of the European robin, a smaller and cuter fellow than its North American namesake. Research suggests this remarkable bird may literally be able to see magnetic fields as variations of shade superimposed on its normal view of the world. Even more remarkably, it seems the ability depends only on the bird’s right eye, which has to see sharp and well-defined images for this magnetic sense to work properly. The scientists know all this because special goggles were created to allow changes to be made in how clearly the birds could see out of each eye. “European robin goggle maker”—now there’s an occupation to put in your passport.

 

I can’t help feeling a little envious of the robin. Hoped for successes, dreamed of achievements—I have cherished destinations I’d like to navigate to in my life too. Sadly, I have little idea how to reach most of them. How much easier it would be to have the equivalent of arrows superimposed on my world to point me in the right direction. As a bonus, when it came to social interactions, perhaps fate could add helpful annotations.

 

  • “Speak now.”

 

  • “Smile here.”

 

  • “Pause and look thoughtful.”

 

 

But navigation through life for we mere humans is a far less easy thing, for fate has decided not to provide us with any such helpful hints. Whether the choice before us is trifling or massively consequential, often there is nothing for it but to shrug our shoulders and choose whatever lies in the most interesting-looking direction.

 

 

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)