Putting life into perspective

news: Putting life into perspective

ONE OF the good things that have come out of this long, hot summer is the flood of pineapples in the shops. From mid June until today, our refrigerator has never been without a bowl of freshly trimmed chunks bursting with vitamin C.

• Scarab beetle
• Scarab beetle

Dead wood shelters a variety of insects and these, in turn, bring small reptiles, toads and hedgehogs, seeking to top up their body fat before hibernation. The other day, I found a large beetle of the Scarab family. It measured 4.5cm from head to toe and, when eaten, the black wing cases and serrated legs would give the characteristic sparkle seen in a toad cast.

There has been a diminution of toads over the years, partly due to their slaughter on our country lanes, as witnessed by their flattened and sun dried corpses. Unmoving when caught in a car’s headlights after dark, even if one takes avoiding action, there is every chance that the next vehicle along may be unable to stop in time.

Global warming due to air pollution has added to this loss because breeding takes place in fresh water and often toad spawn cannot complete its life cycle before streams and pools dry out.

Before the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century, manufacturing of tools was confined to scattered groups within small agricultural societies and pollution was minimal. In 1789 AD, when James Watt improved and patented his steam engine, which was based on the original model designed by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, he could not have foreseen that, within three centuries, the polar icecap would be in danger of meltdown and world ecosystems under threat from carbon pollution.

This, and the use of vastly increased areas of land to support rapidly rising populations, is preventing threatened animal species from moving to more hospitable regions, because many of them no longer exist. As a race, we are in danger of running out of time, if we continue to bury our heads in the nearest sand dune, hoping it will all go away.

Such truths put personal worries into perspective and give small every day pleasures an added value. One evening last week, we had a swim at Meia Praia after the crowd had thinned. The water was warm and clear, the smell of sun cream reduced to a faint aroma and the sun had lost its bite – such a happy hour that we promised ourselves another visit in two days’ time.

It never happened because the Boss was asked to crew in a series of cruiser races, followed by a long distance dinghy race round the cans in Lagos Bay; and that was that. Now I must stake my claim before he disappears to Matosinhos, near Porto, to compete in the European Laser Masters Campeonato and before an absence of five days.

Although we raced together in dinghies for 21 years, I have always had a healthy fear of water and would rather not go swimming on my own. As for taking a dip out at sea, the idea of being pulled under by some sea monster has long been a fear that defies common sense. On the plus side, when crewing a dinghy, it ensures total effort to be in the right place at the right time to avoid capsizing, especially during an English winter.

There seems to be a masochistic element in any demanding sport that involves going through the pain barrier to achieve one’s best. But the pleasure once it stops, together with the aftershocks from aching bones and pulled muscles, can become addictive when sailing against like-minded people. Celebrating in the bar afterward, helped by the narcotic effect of a few beers, usually resolves any discord between helmsman and crew, and imparts a rosy glow to other sailors’ tall stories. The addiction remains strong until age calls time and there is nothing for it but to go cold turkey and find something to take its place.