26 Jan 2013


People are digging up the road near us to lay some new pipes. They all wear luminous yellow vests and hard hats and drive their big yellow digger things with precision so I presume they are meant to be doing this, but they have been taking a really long time.

As a motorist this is intensely frustrating. The area they are working on stretches the length of several streets, and the network of replacement pipes is quite extensive, so taking a detour to avoid it doesn't always help because every now and then they trick you by moving their temporary traffic lights somewhere else then hold you up further down the street instead.

However, today I passed by the roadworks on foot and my irritation vanished. I was walking past a long queue of stationary traffic (which is always satisfying) and it wasn't raining for once.

The bloke nearest me was driving a diggery thing with an overgrown drill bit on the end that made a thundering DUKDUKDUKDUK noise. It made the pavement shake under my feet as the top 6" of road just a few feet away from me crumbled into slithers of jagged tarmac.

I had a sudden yearning to stop and watch them. My inner nosey child longed for there to be a real life child next to me- because then we could have stopped and watched the men together for a bit and maybe even have asked the nearest one what they are doing (and why is it taking so long??) But I am clearly an adult who should have outgrown the phase of wanting to stop and watch men digging up the road, so I didn't. 

I walked by extra slowly, watching in fascination as the road crumbled into chunks as the DUKDUKDUKDUK carved its way down the spray painted channel on the road surface.

If I'd have had a toddler with me we could have stopped and stared and pointed at the goings on without anyone caring. A lone adult doing the same thing immediately conjures up connotations of mental impairment of some kind (even without the pointing) or suspicion that the lone female in question may have a thing for sweaty men in luminous work wear (which I really don't). 

Who makes up these rules do you think? These social norms that we all conform to.

Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series is an extremely quirky character with many eccentric beliefs and qualities. She is nonconformist, lacks self-consciousness and often skips instead of walking. Luna would have stopped and watched the diggers.

When Eldest was about a year old, our route to the city centre took us by a building site which is now luxury apartments. For months and months during any walk into town, part of our routine would be to stop for 5 or 10 minutes (on both the outward and return journeys) and watch the diggers and cranes. On one occasion we walked past a little boy and his mum. He was being pulled by the arm as mum was walking fast. As E was in his buggy we steamed past them both then settled down for our digger break when we reached our wall overlooking the building site. A short while later the little boy and his mum reached us. The child immediately joined us in our digger vigil while his mum hung back looking agitated. After 30 seconds or so he was told to Hurry up and mum began to walk off without him. The little boy looked longingly at me and Eldest on our digger perch then as he was leaving, looked over his shoulder and asked me dolefully 'Are you going to be here for a very long time?' Children always have time to stop and watch diggers.

When do we stop looking at diggers? And why? They don't get less intriguing. We become indifferent.

What about naturally occurring things like worms and apples and hamsters and daisies? There is a ton of stuff that we take for granted because they are always there. Universal (natural) laws and familiarity explain away the mystery of the world and we become deadened to that childhood excitement and awe of the ordinary.

In GK Chesterton's Orthodoxy, the point is made that to search for scientific reasonings for everything is rather dull. Because we witness things happening over and over and over again, we assume that there are laws behind that event’s continuous recurrence. Throw a stone into the air and it falls down- every time (Aha-Gravity!). Boil water to 100 degrees and it converts to steam - every time (Aha- Thermodynamics!) But Chesterton asks why should this be? His philosophy, arrived at through intuition and logic is that natural laws may not be so natural. He argues that just because something happens repeatedly, this does not necessarily legitimise the existence of a law. Rather, he suggests there is a will behind events of constant recurrence… a will of magnificent innocence, creativity and power.  

The thing I mean can be seen... in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that 
God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity (natural law) that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. (Othodoxy)

God exults in monotony. He's made zillions of daisies and will carry on making them tomorrow and the next day and the next. And I bet he LOVES diggers.