Alarm clocks and bells

Sunday 9th October 2011

WOKE early on my first alarm-free morning for two weeks. Didn’t turn over, but got up, pulled back curtains, let the sun shine in, made a cuppa, put washing on, booted this thing up, lit a fag, and ambled into the day. I then read a few online news reports and it started clouding over.

Those of you aware of my fondness for obscure words will, I hope, forgive my need to mention the clepsydra – ‘water thief’ – of ancient Greece. Such clocks were common 2,300 years ago, their uses including the imposition of strict time limits on visitors to Athenian brothels.

The inventor Ctesibius later added elaborate devices, enabling pebbles to strike gongs and compressed air to blow trumpets.

For years I had a wind-up clock with two self-satisfied-looking bells on top: great for waking you up, but with a shut-off lever too intricate for sleepy minds. It seemed to ring even louder after you’d knocked it off the bedside table on to the floor.

Why I switched to the Today programme on the radio is beyond my later comprehension. Brian Redhead’s accent and manner were affable enough, but is it prudent to open our daily ears to the dull despair of global gloom? Though unconvinced by most conspiracy theories, I am damned sure John Humphrys is one of those brutal sleep deprivation techniques used at Guantanamo.

Nowadays I rely on Radio 3. The programme editors are very smart, for they rarely broadcast anything too strident before breakfast: more strings and woodwind than brass or percussion. I awake in gentler mood when the end-games of dreams are underscored by a Bach cantata or Haydn quartet.

But when it comes to serious alarms, dear reader, consider only the small print of this week’s news. Not banks or battles, but bees, dying in their millions, perhaps poisoned or brain-damaged by diesel fumes.

According to Einstein, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

It is time we all woke up to the nightmares of our own making.

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