Tuesday, January 21, 2014

No boundaries . . .

You're probably far more knowledgeable about Togo than I was  . . .  until a recent encounter with an African priest,  I'm ashamed to say that my knowledge was woefully limited.  Now, as a citizen of a once-colonising nation, I feel suitably chastened.

My new friend, who came from Togo, was very proud of his country, and asked me if I knew how his homeland had acquired its name.  May I share the story he told me.

At the end of the First World War, large swathes of Central Africa were apportioned to the conquering European nations.
How did they decide which piece of land they would acquire?  It was, it seems, quite simple . . .  a map, a ruler and a pencil were all that was needed to mark out the new boundaries.  There was not the slightest need to actually travel to Africa.

However, the French government, who had acquired the slice of land that was to become Togo, felt it might be appropriate to keep the land's original name.  The only problem being that no-one knew what this name might be.  Visiting the new colony for the first time, a French civil servant approached a local inhabitant and enquired, in French, what the country was called.  The local inhabitant who, not surprisingly, spoke no French, looked at him in puzzlement.  "Togo?", he queried in his native tongue, seeking to find out what it was that this strange-spoken new arrival needed to know.  The civil servant smiled with satisfaction, it had been much easier than he'd anticipated.  'Togo', he wrote in his note-book, the new country was called Togo.

It has been known as Togo ever since . . . the people who lived there being far too polite to correct the stupid mistake.

I thought of this story the other day when looking at Google's wonderful globe.  Watching the world rotate before my eyes, I noticed the countries I'd visited, the boundaries of the countries that I'd never seen.

My gaze travelled downwards and I caught sight of three control points, provided by Google, that I hadn't noticed before.  By clicking on them I had the option to stop or start the world revolving, to choose whether or not to show a grid, and, finally, to opt for a world without borders to the individual countries.
Out of curiosity, I clicked on the option to remove the borders.

Suddenly, the world looked completely different.  The territorial and political element had been removed  Our globe had become one entity, a single entity dominated by the elements.

And this, I realised, is true.  Man-made boundaries divide us, but the weather unites us . . . the weather is universal.

Just look at the way the dramatic January weather has brought the nations together and emphasised our unity.  Here, in the UK, we sympathise with the blazing heat in Australia and, at the same time, the Australians express concern for our unprecedented floods.  Across the Atlantic, as the ice and snow plunge further south than ever before, the rest of the world unites in sending messages of condolence to the struggling citizens of the United States.

Supremely indifferent to man-made boundaries or economic wellbeing, the climate incorporates and enwraps us all.

But has the Sun, the puppet-master who controls our weather, made a New Year Resolution to show us our true priorities?

As you can read by clicking here,  Richard Harrison, head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, tells us that the Sun's activity is inexplicably falling faster than at any time in the past ten thousand years.  A lack of activity that could result in the Northern Hemisphere experiencing similar icy conditions to those last suffered in the seventeenth century . . . frozen scenes familiar to us from the paintings of that period.

A lethargic Sun?  That doesn't fit our usual concept of the fiery body that brings life to the planet.  Does this mean that we, too, might be skating on the Thames in the not too distant future?

Who knows  . . .  it's just as well that we can't take a map, a ruler and a pencil  and lay claim to a share of the sunshine!