Friday, 13 January 2017

The sphericon



Now, where to begin? The most common - and most irritating - response to an opening line like that is, why don't you begin at the beginning? as if it were that simple. Not many things go in straight lines between birth and death.

Ok, I will just paint in the background with a broad brush to give you a slightly greater chance of glimpsing the nightmare world inside my head, but don't blame me if you have a job finding your way out.

An Irish priest is staying with his friend, the abbot, in a large, ancient and semi-commercial Cistercian monastery. He has been working for some time on the concept of perpetual motion using kinetic energy, and has made a prototype machine in the shape of a sphericon, powered by the movement of steel ball-bearings within internal chambers with gravitationally operated valves which open to allow the balls to run to the opposite, lower chamber, the valve of which is open too, but quickly closes as the sphericon lurches upward - a bit like a mercury switch. The shape of the sphericon means that the object moves both side to side and roughly in a straight line. It has a tendency to go off at tangents, depending on the terrain - like me.

In the middle of the night, he makes his way to the vast, circular Chapter House of the medieval monastery, because the floor area - although somewhat uneven -  is large enough to test the sphericon for the maximum possible time it might take the thing to run out of momentum without bumping into furniture.

He places the little plastic object somewhere near the centre of the huge room and sets it off with a gentle push, then makes his way to the edge of the Chapter House to take up position on one of the bench seats which run around the whole circumference. He is hoping it will be a long night.

The low light, the late hour and the rhythmical clicking noise that the sphericon makes as it wobbles around have a soporific effect on the elderly priest, and he nods off to sleep within ten minutes.

When he awakes, the sphericon is still moving and clicking, but he notices that he is not alone in the room. On the far side, he sees a monk seated on the bench, his face and head covered by his cowl. The only exposed parts of the monk are his hands and feet, both of which are almost inhumanly large.

The priest clears his throat and begins to speak to the monk, apologising for not noticing him enter and - not knowing the time - expressing his hope that he was not interrupting any imminent meeting. He does not recognise the man, despite numerous visits to the monastery in the past.

Unnervingly, the monk ignores these nicities and begins a softly spoken, tangled account involving the accidental death of children. The priest begins to fear for both his safety and the sanity of the man, and so attempts to change the subject by asking him what his prime duties at the monastery are.

The hooded monk says that he is in charge of the gift shop, and begins to list all the items sold to the visiting public there, one by one. He does not stop until he has named every single item, but as he speaks he rises to his feet and walks over to the sphericon, watching it move around as he lists the entire stock.

The priest catches a few glimpses of the monk's face under the hood, and his features are grotesque. His enormous nose curves droopingly downwards, almost touching his equally grotesque chin, which rises sharply upwards to meet it. He looks like Mr Punch.

The monk resumes his rant on the vulnerability of children, equating the sphericon to a baby which the preist has brought into the world -  a baby which is small, delicate and vulnerable - and as he does, he raises one great foot over it.

To the priest's horror, the monk brings his foot crashing down on the sphericon, sending bits of plastic and ball-bearings spinning and rolling across the huge stone floor.

The priest awakes with a start, realising that it was the cessation of clicks that woke him. The sphericon has stopped moving.

22 comments:

  1. Now where the fuck did that come from?

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  2. Ps anyone heard from " The Rach" ?

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    1. Rach has left a comment on Weave's blog, so we must have said something wrong again. Maybe it's a New Year's resolution not to speak to us anymore?

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    2. I cant read all this.

      I just left a comment on John's blog that will probably see me thrown to the wolves.

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    3. Oooh! I am going to scuttle over and have a look. Re you not reading this, I don't blame you.

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  3. The evolution of the bathroom wall was interesting to read about, and helped me to see what you showed us in the photograph. Isn't it good to live in a place that is uniquely yours, not that of some outside decorator.

    I liked reading the tale of the sphericon on Friday the 13th, following a night of a full moon. Monks in hoods always spook me out a bit.

    My jumbled dream memory from last night involved a library, from which I'd borrowed a collection of books, morphing into a shabby ocean liner. None of my fellow passengers understood my language, nor understood why I would want to read books.

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    1. Yesterday, I was shown a group of full-sized figures which were nothing but hoods and cloaks - no faces - in marble, so I suppose it reminded me of my precise above. The sculptures are called, 'Spooks'. Was your liner a good or bad dream? Sounds like a metaphor for life, so I suppose both.

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    2. Tom, I think it was a bit of both...but I woke up before I could make a final decision.

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    3. Yes, making final decisions in sleep is a dangerous thing to do. I have never met anyone who has successfully done it and woken up afterwards.

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  4. Oooh I enjoyed that....all the right components ...religion, spooks, frightening thoughts. Strangely, your description of the monk put me in mind of a Kathe Kollwitz sculpture...I do like her work.

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    1. Just looked her up. Not much that reminds me of this, but to each his own. That's the beauty of imagination.

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    2. Tom, the reason it reminded me is a little convoluted, but ... one of my favourite films many years ago was 'The Ninth Configuration' by William Peter Blatty, and in one scene there is a sculpture of a monk/priest whose face is hidden...very dark and grey and rainy and atmospheric....and it was this sculpture that put me on to Kathe, and then I visited her museum in Berlin, and somehow your story did make me think of her.........still reading??

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  5. The poor priest, though the monk does not seem to frighten him much, until the very end.
    I think a sphericon not the best object to hold perpetual energy for motion. To much energy to go over the edges.
    It's been years since I've had a dream in a dream. I always knew, though, that I MUST wake up and get out of it. Accomplishing that while the dream swirled around me was so difficult.

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    1. Tell that to the priest, not me. He is called Father Joe (Slocombe).

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  6. I have a piece of pottery which is a figure with no face. Now I shall find it creepy (as various friends do already). One day I shall put it on to a post, so thank you for the idea.

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    1. Greta. I look forward to that, Weave, along with a load of bullshit spun around it.

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    2. You're not Greta - I meant 'great'!

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  7. That priest looks and sounds Irish but is in fact Belgian. The Belgians haven't cracked perpetual motion yet but we have. You hear that whirring sound to my left?

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    1. Well I cannot be held responsible for that priest. I would love to tell him he is wasting his time, but you-know-who works in mysterious ways.

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  8. Physicists have dreamed of perpetual motion since forever. On a family vacation, my father diverted to a dreamer's home, high on the bluffs over the Mississippi River, to examine his perpetual motion machine for his employer, Goodyear Aircraft, later Goodyear Aerospace. Dad was an Apollo engineer, so reasonably credentialed. After he rounded us up to leave, I just had to know, "Did it work?" "Another dreamer," he replied. That's the sum of my experience with perpetual motion.

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    1. It is basic physics. Energy expenditure versus generation. Someone has to find a way of equalising it, but as soon as there would be any application - such as rolling across a floor - this system is drained.

      Now alchemy...

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