Friday, February 20, 2015

Introducing Prince Axel

 One of the best things about being a writer is MSU.

 Making stuff up.

Did anybody read Susan's blog last week and not think of a new Bond villain who sits and plots the downfall of western civilisation while watching the seahorses in his tank going about their own guerrilla tactics?  

Or was that  just  me?
I was wandering around the aquarium in Long Beach, tickling the horseshoe crabs etc and I saw this display showing the different layers of the ocean and who hangs around in each doing what.

The sunlight zone is from the surface to about 200 meters depth and it is the extent of visible light and heat from the sun. The thermocline - an interaction of wind, warm water and rapidly cooling water  - is strongest in the tropics yet is almost  non existent in the Polar regions. This ocean layer nourishes life of every colour. The colours lessen on the way  down as the increasing lack of sunlight filters some out.  The first colours to go are the reds, then oranges, yellows, greens, and then finally blues.

The next zone is the twilight zone (200 meters to 1,000 meters) The light here is faint and flickering. The thermocline causes  great temperature changes. Bioluminescence begins to appear on life. The eyes on the fishes are larger and generally upward directed. Human eyes can detect nothing.

In the midnight layer (1000-4000 metres) there is constant darkness. The only light is from the bioluminescence of the animals themselves. The temperature is 4°C.  There is no light, no day, no night. There is organic rainfall; dead microscopic organisms, faecal matter, the odd carcass.

The abyssal layer ( 4,000 to 6,000 meters). It is pitch-black. Three-quarters of the area of the deep-ocean floor lies in this zone. The temperature is near freezing and only a few creatures can be found at these crushing depths. The deepest fish ever found was at 8,372.

Then there is the Hadal Zone (6,000 to 10,911 meters) in the Mariana Trench. The weight of water overhead is that of 48 Boeing 747 jets).  There are only tiny single-celled organisms; foraminifera.

And in the novel that I am writing, I have a character who is lying in a coma. And it struck me that the layers of the ocean could work as a metaphor for the character swimming in the deep blackness of his own conscious mind as it probes and tries to feel its way out/up into the real world. Or maybe that is what the character is hiding from.

My research tells me that much of what is universally believed about coma is not true but as it is a pleasant panacea for the relatives, the myths are allowed to persist. Patients so do not hear or see anything so they do not think. They just are.

As I would rather be happy than right I just refuse to believe this. I am told by experts that the little bits patients do recall are only because the incident occurred when they are 'close to the surface' anyway and ready to re-emerge. The fact that they have been played their favourite pop tunes and read their favourite stories is neither here nor there, except it makes the family  feel they are doing something  about the  situation.

I have met a few folk who have been in a coma, (traumatic not induced) and they tell similar stories of picking up minutiae, the scent of peppermints, the fact the girlfriend had started smoking again as he could smell it off her breath and could recall conversations between his girlfriend and his mum- the latter giving the former a row for going back to the fags. That young lad was in a coma for 8 months, the girlfriend starting smoking again when the accident happened, so some of his memory seems to come from the early days ... before he dived deep if you like.

                                              Whale fall. A long way from Skyfall.

So in my book I have that analogy going on. Then I saw the display on whale fall ( when a whale dies and lies decomposing on the floor of the ocean and creates a whole ecosystem of new life, and that ecosystem can go on for decades). And there was organ donorship right there, new life from death. That  also fits in with the book and gave me its working title ‘Whale Fall’. I know the publisher will fling that out the minute they see it, but it is a good pet name for the book and will help keep me focussed.

And the book is set in Glasgow. I want it to be in that area of the city with big hotels, good restaurants and classy nightclubs. The streets here are all named after the Crimean War and run down to the Clyde and Atlantic Quay… oh I thought that’s handy. So I have invented a new street in there called Inkermann Street. On that street is a building called the ‘Ocean Blue’. Many of the buildings here  are old tobacco warehouses. The council has a policy that any new buyer can do as they  wish with the building as long as they  keep the front.


Who would not want to keep frontage like the above? So to have something like that as a base, I have designed a  couple of penthouse flats, restaurants, offices but down the middle, in a central glass tube is a huge aquarium.  And in that tube is another tube at huge pressure for creatures of the deep deep (very technical I know and  I have no idea if a glass tube, no matter how thick, can contain pressurised water to keep a fish alive if it likes to live at a pressure of, say, three jumbo jets but it is my book and I can do as I want.) I have a patient who is a deep, deep tiny submarine person and he has a windscreen so the glass is capable of it!

Isn't MSU great!


So imagine sitting in a restaurant,  very posh and watching the central wall which looks like this.  Then as the evening goes on, the light falls, and the inner tube ( where the fish have their  luminescence) will slowly become visible,
And out of all that blackness appears this......
                                                 The Prince Axel Wonderfish

Not pretty. But wondrous. And I do wonder what Prince Axel thought when he was told that is was being named after him.    'I saw this and I thought of you...'.

His is Thaumatichthys axeli, his Phylum: Chordata

He has a luminescent organ dangling from his toothy jaws to attract prey. The first specimen was trawled from a depth of 11,778 feet by the Galathea expedition of 1950-52.  He is black of course, about 18 inches long.
Here is a very short video of him blinking his lure,  but blink and you will miss it.

Caro Ramsay 20/02/2015


  1. Caro, I cannot tell you how much I love your mind. It is as wondrous as the lure on the wonderfish!

  2. Gee whiz Caro, when I make things up NOBODY believes me! Especially my wife.

  3. MSU is the university of life... it's what we do every day! Ain't it GREAT to be alive? Loved the column, Caro.

  4. Personally, Caro, I've always found your allure to possess far more luminescence and depth than Prince Axel's.

    Question: How do you come up with all this fabulous stuff? And don't say fishing for it.

    1. I heard that she gets really close and personal with Dippy, and Dippy whispers ideas in Caro's ear.

      But that may just be a fish story...

  5. I want to read this book. All Hail Prince Axel!