Monday, 3 February 2014

Animals coming out of their holes and things falling down holes.

Yesterday was Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, USA. They got the little animal out of his hole, it was sunny enough for him to see his shadow and so they predict another 6 weeks of winter. I have read that the tradition is rooted in a German superstition that says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, winter will last six more weeks. So we shouldn’t put our winter woollies away yet. 

It’s strange how we put our faith in these odd traditions and superstitions. Take for example Saint Swithin’s (or possible Saint Swithun’s according to some sources) on the 15th of July. According to legend, whatever the weather is like on that day in England will continue to be the case for the next forty days. Forty is one of those magical numbers; Noah’s flood was the result of forty days and forty nights of rain. It probably just means “more days than most of us are prepared to count”. 

Anyway, there it is. Phil the Groundhog says we will have another six weeks (42 days) of winter. (Here’s a link to some information about Groundhog Day.) Let’s hope the storms that have been battering the north coast of Galicia and the floods in the south of England don’t last that long. 

Onto some other cheerful stuff: imagine waking up to find that your car has disappeared into a hole. This is what happened to a family in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. A “sinkhole” opened up in their drive and the car just fell down the 9 metres deep opening. At least they weren’t in the car at the time. I wonder if the insurance company will pay up or of they will regard this as an act of God. If the latter is the case, what had that family done to deserve to have their car swallowed by God in that way? 

Of course, you might prefer to believe that it’s all a matter of geology. According to my research these holes occur naturally: Natural sinkholes – as opposed to manmade tunnel or cave collapses – occur when acidic rainwater seeps down through surface soil and sediment, eventually reaching a soluble bedrock such as sandstone, chalk, salt or gypsum, or (most commonly) a carbonate rock such as limestone beneath. In a process that can last hundreds, sometimes thousands of years, the water gradually dissolves small parts of the rock, enlarging its natural fissures and joints and creating cavities beneath. 

And sometimes they give way and things fall down the hole thus created. Sometimes, although rarely according to all the stuff I have read, they can be fatal. Only recently in Tampa, Florida, half a house disappeared down a sinkhole and so far the body of the man sleeping in one of the rooms that disappeared has not been recovered. 

They happen all over the place. (Does this explain all the holes in the road around here?) Here’s a picture of a sinkhole in Guatemala. And it’s not just on the other side of the world. Ripon in North Yorkshire is apparently very susceptible to sinkholes, the most famous – some 20m deep – dating back to 1834. In 1997, four garages collapsed into a huge sinkhole that only just missed the front of a neighbouring house. Now, that’s not too far from here. Should I be worried?  In fact, should we be worried that the whole of Great Britain might fall down a hole? 

It’s all rather stressful. Maybe I should take up building Lego models, like David Beckham. He told the Sunday Times Magazine: "When the kids finish school, they might have different activities going on, like football or rugby. But when they get home we'll often play one of their favourite games, like Connect 4. They also love Lego. So do I. The last big thing I made was Tower Bridge. It was amazing. I think Lego sometimes helps to calm me down." The 38-year-old said playing with Lego is similar to cooking, which he finds "very therapeutic". 

Lego's Tower Bridge has 4,287 pieces, costs £210 and is recommended for people aged over 16. 

David Beckham’s not the only one to find Lego soothing and helpful. Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond told the Daily Mirror that building Lego models aided his recovery from a 300mph jet car crash that nearly killed him in 2006. "Lego saved my life. It's really good therapy for a brain injury," he said. 

So there you have it: if you are worried about big holes appearing in your driveway, just build some expensive Lego models and all will be well.

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