Volcanic thoughts

‘This volcano going off is just like something from a science fiction film,’ my mother and grandmother have said to me at least four times (each) since Eyjafjallajoekull began erupting last week.

I’m tempted to feel overjoyed that at least somebody else feels like they’re living in sci-fi (see this J.G. Ballard post). ‘Yes,’ I want to say. ‘That’s exactly it. You feel like you’re living in some strange futuristic place where nothing quite makes sense … I’m so pleased you understand how I feel!’

But actually I disagree. It’s not really like sci-fi. Volcanoes erupting make me think of Vesuvius erupting in 79 AD and Pliny (and GCSE Latin). Far from feeling futuristic, the eruption feels so strange because it’s such an ancient, old-fashioned thing. Natural disasters are still known as ‘acts of God’. Proof, perhaps, that they’re so anachronistic that the words around them haven’t taken into account science from the 1960s about tectonic plates.

Obviously it’s pretty bad for everyone who’s missing out on going on holiday, and even worse for people who can’t get back home (although, I have to admit, being forced to spend an extra week on a beach in Spain wouldn’t be such a hardship). But for those of us who weren’t planning on flying anyway, hasn’t it been wonderfully peaceful having the sky free of aeroplanes?

Silence and sunlight swept over London at the weekend, the air completely free of clouds. Normally, even on a cloudless day, thin white lines trail behind aircraft, tracing through the blue. It must be the first time in almost a hundred years that this has happened. We’re going back in time, not forward.

And, for those who have given up on their long weekends away, endowed with a few blank days in London, a new calm has descended from the air. They have all this time, a gift of days. There’s nothing they need to rush to sort out, take care of, tick off. People have been coming into the bookshop, browsing for hours, explaining at the till that as their flight’s been cancelled they’ve finally got time to read something.

I happened to have to go and buy some computer stuff on Saturday to help the fiancé out of some technical emergency. Cycling through London’s quiet sunny streets was bliss. I passed park after park of lazy, snoozing bodies, people strolling along the canal, or sitting outside cafes reading and chatting. I went into the enormous computer shop and it was completely empty. There was one other customer in the entire space of several thousand feet. The staff were, funnily enough, incredibly helpful, and when I mentioned how quiet it was for a Saturday afternoon, they agreed. ‘I think it must be the weather,’ said the girl, ‘although even when it’s sunny it’s not normally this empty.’

Perhaps it’s beacuse of the volcano, I thought. Perhaps we really are going back in time – to a time before computers, a time when people were happier reading and chatting and lying in the sun, rather than watching screens.

Although, I suppose you’re reading this on a screen, so that theory does fall down a bit. Still, it would be wonderful to think that we might keep a little of the calm and relaxed pace of life, finda bit more time to read and think and talk once these few strange plane-less days really are history.

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