Mens Temporum . UK

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H.M.S. Frismersk

The unusual time-warping building at the centre of my novel had two names, one the familiar one used by the staff who worked in it, which was “The Pumpkin” and the other the formal one used in government records to give it a low profile, being a top secret site, which was “HMS Frismersk”, a likely name for a nondescript naval shorestation. What follows is a possible explanation of how I came to choose that latter name and maybe the former as well.

British naval assets are often named after places such as counties or cities but this site needed a low profile without any such affiliations so I decided to name it after a lost village. There are a number of these recorded on the east coast of Yorkshire, especially on the north bank of the Humber estuary in an area called Sunk Island because of it being low lying and prone to flooding during storms, which is how the villages there vanished in past centuries. From a historical map I found the names of a number of them but most were unsurprisingly of Viking origin given the history of the region. I felt that with the site of my building being in the south of England these names seemed too northern and I wanted one associated with somewhere more southerly. I noticed the name “Frismersk” on the map and thought about using that one. Psychologically one might assume that I had unconsciously associated the potential name for a ship with the well known Maersk Shipping Company but in fact what interested me most was the prefix “Fris-” in the name, which might signify “Frisia”. In fact the expert opinion that I found online was that the name indeed meant “Frisian marsh” because that community were most likely not Vikings but Frisians or low Dutch migrants working on protecting the area from flooding. Knowing that they were from the low countries well south of Norway I happily adopted that name for my building.

After encountering my new friends Els and Marcel from Amsterdam much later I realised that that city’s origins also effectively lay in a Frisian marsh as it was first established when a bridge was built over the river Amstel and the river was dammed to control flooding. Having learned that fact I accepted the names Frismersk and Amsterdam as synonymous within my mind as maybe they had been even while writing my novel. Perhaps all along my strong desire for a name with a more southerly association had been pointing me at Amsterdam where I would eventually find those memories that I wanted. Much later in 2017 my wife and I would go on that previously mentioned cruise up the Rhine after a guided tour of Amsterdam during which we would see the avenues of trees that Els and her father had possibly worked to preserve.

The coincidental association of Frismersk and Amsterdam didn’t end there. A couple of years after staying in London Marcel was invited to become a professor at Manchester University and the whole family moved to that area permanently. They may have been on the opposite side of the country from the site of Frismersk but Manchester is on almost the same latitude as the Humber estuary, so these Dutch people had eventually migrated to the north of England just as their historical low Dutch predecessors had. To me that surprising highly unlikely coincidence convinced me about the significance of my choice of that name in my novel.

Later as I encountered more coincidences relating to the novel I gave more thought to those involving Els and Marcel. At the risk of stretching my connections too far for some readers I will suggest those here.

In my novel “The Pumpkin” appeared from the outside to be a large featureless dome projecting above the treetops in a wood, allegedly a storage tank for agricultural effluent. Internally it was actually a multi-storied building only accessible through a central shaft leading up from long underground service tunnels that wound between the roots of the woodland trees and finally emerged into the outside world through suitable structures. When one of the characters in the story first appears he is in the wood birdwatching and thinks that the trees have been neglected through cost savings in running the site. Strangely I seemed to have derived his name and behaviour then from what I later found out about Els and her late father Jan. I named the man John Charman, John being the English equivalent of Jan and, being unable to provide any easy equivalent to the name Couenberg, Charman because my wife’s family had once had friends of that name who owned a garage business, apparently a reference to the picture of part of Els protruding from a tunnel under a tree being on that Dutch garage’s website. Also in the story there were several references to tunnels dug near to tree roots, in one case specifically to observe their health and growth. This was an unlikely subject to appear in what was considered by its readers to be a science fiction story about time travel, but maybe I had had another reason to include these references connected with the “something else” mentioned after its title.

The novel described the technology inside the building in some detail. The inside of the dome was lined with thousands of silicon slices carrying digital logic circuits on the inner side and analogue circuits on the outer side. In operation the analogue circuits somehow generated the interactive field that could read the thoughts of the people in the building. This was the intended purpose of these circuits but during development it was discovered that they could also generate a temporal field capable of moving the whole of the inside of the building outside of time, possibly as a result of undefined quantum devices having been included in their design. It occurred to me that each of these slices was analogous to Els’s work in that the digital side of one would have looked vaguely like a map of a large city while the other side with its continually adaptive currents flowing through the array of analogue circuitry could be seen as representing the biological growth of tree roots. Furthermore a key element of Els’s work involved the use of “tree-sand”, a balanced mixture of organic loam and coarse sand that was strong enough to support the pavement above it but also allowed the tree roots to grow through it. Of course the silicon used in electronics is itself refined from sand. Also the thousands of slices together formed an entire dome much like the leaves of a tree. These analogies may seem a little forced but they became fixed in my own mind and maybe somehow even influenced what I wrote in the novel years before.

While Els’s pursuits may have been an influence on my writing Marcel’s may also have been. While writing the novel I had quickly realised that I was literally making it up out of my own head. The architecture of The Pumpkin itself resembled that of a human head and I may have given it that name as a derogatory reference to myself as the novel’s pumpkin head novice author. Even the bare dome rising from the woodland bore a similarity to my own bald pate surrounded by the dishevelled remnants of my hair and clearly the characters in the story spent almost all of their time inside my head except when they could escape down the central shaft of my spinal cord and along the long tunnels of my arms to emerge into the outside world as I typed. I previously mentioned sending an extract to the Literary Consultancy for evaluation and the expert there entirely missed the point of the story because he only had an extract. I told him that I regarded it as covert metafiction but he disagreed with me, literally not being able to see the wood for the trees. As the Pumpkin clearly did represent a human head in my mind then that opens further possibilities.

Marcel had told me that he was researching skull densities at UCL during his time in London and I had also discovered that his speciality was the development of medical scanners, which led me to think about such a scanner being used to scan the human head to discover its contents. In the Pumpkin the digital elements of the thousands of silicon slices lining the dome formed a single supercomputer used by the staff but they could also be regarded as representing the cerebral cortex covering the surface of a human brain and so the “grey place” referred to by the name of the main character in the story, Graham, a name that I had insisted on using despite my wife criticising my choice of it. The interactive field generated by the slices could also scan human brains within it. The only issue with this analogy seemed that there were no moving parts within the dome in the novel while a medical scanner contains rapidly rotating parts hidden within its ring. This is however where my analogy gets even stranger.

In the control room of the Pumpkin Graham was responsible for operating the interactive and temporal field generators. His control screen displayed two circles superimposed on a cross-section of the building and when started up one rotated about the other faster and faster until they blurred into a single cardioid that enveloped the whole interior of the building. I have no idea whatsoever why I depicted the operation of the completely stationary array of active elements enclosing the building in that way when nothing actually rotated although the consequent unusual shape of the field enveloping its interior became a unique feature within the story as a result. Even when the director of the building attempted to explain the way that the system worked nobody understood him and eventually everyone just burst out in hysterical laughter at his vain efforts, so the story never really gave a clear explanation. It is just yet another inexplicable detail in my very peculiar novel and I feel obliged against the background of all my other strange experiences to accept that somehow my thoughts were reflecting those of the hidden ring of components in a medical scanner spinning faster and faster around a person’s head.

Having mentioned my view that the novel was covert metafiction spilling over its own boundaries into real life it should come as no surprise that as the author I even depicted myself in it effectively doing what I seem to be doing now, but I will leave that to be dealt with next and leave the subject of HMS Frismersk behind. Finally though I had a thought about the name of Els’s website and small organisation Natura Ingenium. As the Latin phrase looked somehow wrong from my inadequate grasp of that language I asked her about it and she told me that she had taken it verbatim from an old document. A possible translation of the phrase could be “natural talent” although it might equally be seen as “the ingenuity of nature” or “quality of nature”. Is this phenomenon that I am trying to comprehend itself a natural talent of the human mind? Perhaps my own website name reflecting hers in also being a two word phrase in Latin taken from my novel is no coincidence although my source document was far newer than hers.

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