One of the great charms of that land is the fact that the geological strata slope to the east and slightly to the south. The modern surface thus cuts through unthinkable millions of years of geologic time. In most directions of travel the rock beneath the surface is constantly changing from lime rock to sandstone to granite to chalk to slate and so forth. The earth beneath has an effect on the visible vegetation and the rocks have been used for local construction. So the architecture, the woodlands and the fields are undergoing constant subtle change as one travels.
For its size,
In the mind of most people there is a perfect English cottage built of stone and timber and surrounded by a garden, fields and walls. But in fact that ideal cottage is as illusory as the typical American face. The reality is far more varied and far more interesting.
While the evolution of humans
is almost absent – and there are some exceptions – the history and prehistory
of modern humans is remarkably rich.
Inhabited dwellings frequently go back centuries. Names hark back to the Romans and the Celts
before. And in the pattern of the
fields, the observant traveler can see even from a train window the occasional
patchwork quilt of fields tilled long before the arrival of the Celts, small
garden plots still identifiable as changes in the grass dating back to the time
They had little thought for the splendid past beyond the window of the rustling train. Their minds were all on the future, on their own quest and for the implications for the world decades hence. But they watched the countryside all the same.
“I never thought a train could
be so nice,” said
Hapgood said, “The English have always had a fine system of trains. Their roads are a little narrow for American tastes, most of them, but early on they started building canals. They had so many canals that it fixed in their minds that travel should be pleasant. So when they built their railroads they tried to make them as nice as the canals. American trains are not nearly so well designed and run.”
He opened the laptop computer
and started idly searching the internet to have something to keep his eyes
occupied. He looked up some local maps,
a bit of
Suddenly on the screen in front of him was the same face, not with the same look of vindictive triumph, but the same. Then the face flashed away before he could find out who it was. He put the laptop away and pretended to sleep.
“Maypole, I should say,” said Hapgood. They probably leave the pole up all year and only put ribbons on it for the spring Mayday celebration.”
“Another excuse for an orgy,”
“Not exactly,” Hapgood qualified.
“But isn’t the pole just a big phallic symbol?”
“I’m sure it is in somebody’s
mind. But the pole itself is the least
important part of the celebration. The
most important part is the children.
Next is the time of year. Third is the ribbons.
Fourth is the music; ‘
Hapgood thought about that a for moment. “That is true in the village community in the same sense that in your own community you can have sex with anybody at all. So they were restrictive in a way that we are not.
“The maypole was a dance for children. The folk would fasten ribbons to the top of the pole and all the children would take the ribbons and dance around the pole, weaving the ribbons into a pattern. In effect it recreated the history of the village, first one family a little more prominent, and in the next generation another family. But nobody enters and nobody leaves the dance. Everyone has times when his ribbon is visible, is on top. And when all is done, each child’s ribbon goes all the way back to the beginning.
“So it is a celebration of fertility if you like. A celebration of the fact that one generation follows another. The children, particularly given the nutrition available in earlier times and slow maturing, had no immediate interest in sex. But when it was time for them to court and marry, they would take an interest only in those they had danced the maypole with when they were children.”
“That is really romantic,”
Hapgood reflected a moment and then said, “Well in theory, there is God’s law and there is Man’s law. God’s law is, of course, perfect and never changing. Man’s law changes under the circumstances.
“The oldest laws we have direct contact with are ancient Hebrew. They believed that there was an absolute divine standard of right and wrong. The law, then, was what would seem just to an outside observer. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ would be a permanent thing. On the other hand, the speed limit on a highway may change as the road is improved or as development occurs along the road.
“On the other hand, we have a Supreme Court, which acts as if there is some sort of absolute standard. They are very careful to preserve that illusion, and of course it is an illusion unless they have some sort of direct communication with God that I am not aware of. The ancient Hebrews did not think it was illusion. They thought their laws were divinely revealed. Yet there are laws they had that we would now consider regrettable. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,’ is the most notorious one.
“Among Christians the Ten Commandments are still accepted as divine law. The rest of the Old Testament is subject to interpretation in light of the New Testament.”
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