25th April 2022

Forty-two years ago, the crisis of the moment (at least as far as ‘the West’ was concerned) was the taking of 52 hostages in Iran.

The hostages, US diplomats and citizens, were seized on November 4th, 1979. The Shah had been deposed and had come to the USA for cancer treatments. The revolutionaries wanted him back. Basically.

No doubt there was a lot more to the story.

It’s hard to remember a time when sources of information were limited to newspapers and radio or television broadcasts. Maybe it was naive, but in general, back then, I think most people trusted that what we heard from the BBC was factual.

One thing was certainly the same, however. There was not a thing the vast majority of us could do to influence to outcome, one way or the other.

So when my friend Tim asked if I wanted to go camping, in Sudan, I said “Sure. Why not?”

Don’t worry, I won’t take you through that again. It’s somewhere in my archive.

The point was that we spent three weeks off the beaten track (there was no track most of the time) and very much out of contact.

We had sneaked a bottle of brandy into our kit and we solemnly toasted the hostages each night, hoping to hear, at the end of our very mini-ordeal, that they would have been released.

Not at all, in fact. They were held 444 days.

All of this is a very round-a-bout way (do I ever get there any other way?) of mentioning that our carrier of choice on that trip (Tim getting free tickets to be precise) was Swissair.

Tim was compiling a mental compendium of airline information and entertained himself by going through the contents of our seat back pockets. Most airlines had an in-flight magazine.

The Swissair magazine offered a list of items you could request from the cabin crew.

Tim began to chuckle. Should you require it, the Swissair crew could provide you with string.

We tried to imagine what you would suddenly need to tie up, 40,000 feet in the air above the Atlantic.

Which I regret to say, is still not the point.

But every time string comes up, my mind goes back to that time and that trip and all it entailed.

String doesn’t tend to come up much these days, but it did recently.

A day or two ago I mentioned my string theory. Or lack, thereof. I bet you thought I meant something else.

Heavens! No, I meant plain old string, and I am still trying to develop a theory.

Grant and I were on our way to the vet for something cat-related, I’ve forgotten what.

Grant is an attentive driver. He’s always saying he doesn’t notice things because he’s concentrating on the road.

This particular day he must have really been watching the road because he suddenly said:

“There’s string all along the road, see?”

Sure enough. There was a length of string all along the side of the road, all along…….

“Damn!” said Grant. “I just missed the turn!”

He did and the silly thing was that the string had actually crossed the road and gone off in the direction we should have gone.

So we went the long way around, but when we came back we looked out to see where the mysterious length of string began and ended.

It didn’t matter in the least, of course. I told Grant he should get out and wind it up. I pictured him turning up at someone’s door and presenting them with it:

“You dropped your bit of string!”

Tim would have done just that.

Instead, Grant and I began to consider how exactly a piece of string gets itself unwound all along a country road and then across the road, ending up in a barn.

It was one of those mysteries with no solution.

But we couldn’t help looking out for the string in the following days to see if it was still there.

What we discovered was that it had been moved. Or perhaps it had been discarded and a new piece unraveled, because it no longer led to the barn. It started further up the road going in the opposite direction.

Why? We are waiting to see where it goes next.

But as yet I have no string theory.

What we do have is another mystery.

Here’s Lily, hot on the trail.

She was following the tiny trench worn by little mouse feet navigating under snow.

Nothing strange about that. I picked her up to carry her past the thing.

What thing?

That lump to the squirrel’s right.

Bear shit.

What bear? Where? They are certainly around, not far from here, but even little bears are big. You tend to notice them and people tend to proclaim, in that case:

“Bear sighting!”

We aren’t exactly sure if we should announce “Bear shit sighting”.

It’s very unlikely. But on the other hand, whose bum could it have fallen out of?

7 thoughts on “Mysteries

    1. I was given a detention punishment once (unfairly, of course) of writing an essay about the sound grass makes when it grows. The holy nun was incensed when I actually enjoyed the challenge.

  1. So it seems that bears do not only ‘shit in the woods’ after all.
    There are lots of places I would love to have gone to that I didn’t manage to visit.
    I have a mental list of them, and Sudan is not even on the page.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I has almost gone there once before because my dad wanted to see the confluence of the Blue and White Nile. We ended up in Egypt instead because it was the only place we could escape to quickly. Dad had decided we should leave a ship in Aden which was deemed a bad mistake. The visa for Sudan would have taken far too long. I learned at an early age the value of foresight especially when travelling!

  2. Had you rolled up the string you may well have condemned some young maiden to being lost in the woods forever! Likewise, if you ever see a trail of rice or breadcrumbs, leave well alone. They could be a marker or, even, the makings of a meal for that bear!

    1. We think it must be a measuring system, but how it works…that’s another mystery. Grant is putting the trailcam back in action to see what he can “catch”.

  3. 1979 … the only thing I remember of that year is that it was my first year in school. The string story is quite fascinating … I’m sure we would have forgot about where we were going and following the string! I should read about your camping in Sudan – that sounds exciting!!

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