Friday, November 23, 2018

And you thought things were bad!

 It is now known when the worse time to be alive was. And it’s not when sitting on the car park mistakenly called the M8 motorway on a Friday night at 5.15,  in a national rail strike, in the sleet, after a curry the night before,  with only the greatest hit ( singular) of Boyzone CD to listen to  and the car heater circulating the air somehow, in some way,  reminding you that the puppy was sick when taking it to the vet last week, and that you forgot to clean it up. 

Although I was  driving back  from Hawick, way down in the bottom bit of Scotland, after a national book week event  at midnight last night, on a very twisty high road, through thick fog with a serious lack of chocolate.

It wasn’t then either. Nope.

 The worst time to be alive on the planet earth was   536 AD.  Probably about two thirty on a Thursday afternoon. As Douglas Adams would say, it’s close to that long dark tea time of the soul, but you still have a few spreadsheets to do before the weekend.

Some of these scientific reasearchy  types have been looking into it. 

We know about the plague, the black death, the Spanish flu and many other incidents when pandemics have obliterated  mankind ( personkind?),  the totals  of lives lost being well over a hundred million.

 But these researchers are now looking back at the year 536 AD and discovering that many more lives were lost in that year, and it was all the fault of those Icelandic volcanoes again.

Yes, I have been booked to go to Iceland Noir three times now and three times something has turned up that has prevented me from going so this entire blog is just a jealous venge.

It seems that in 536 AD, the entire planet was plunged into total darkness as a huge ash cloud blocked the sun.

It lasted for 18 months. ( Can only conclude it was less windy then.)

Without solar heat, the  temperatures dropped, crops failed,  populations and domestic stock starved to death.

People who know about these things reckon that the summer temperature that year went as low as  1.5 c.  (34.7 f) The ten years that followed would be the coldest for the previous 2,300. I have no idea how they know that...

"It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," Michael McCormick, historian and archaeologist, told Science Magazine. He is the chair of Harvard University, initiative for the science of the human past. With his colleague  glacier expert Paul Mayewsi, they  have been performing precise tests on the ice  from a Swiss glacier and have been slowly  revealing its secrets . It had been known that there was an ‘incident’ in the years 500 plus AD and that incident had probably involved a  cloud of something going over the sun and they could calculate the  subsequent devastating effects on life.

In the 1990s, studies had revealed that the annual growth rings in trees showed a pattern that appeared to suggest the summers of the mid 550s were more chilly than they should have been and further  evidence from the glacier  points to three volcanic eruptions around that time..

Now they have unlocked the  mystery.

The year then got worse when the  bubonic plague  infected those at the  Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt around 536 AD that infection wiped out nearly fifty percent of the population.

The researchers found that there were no lead deposits in the ice until 640 AD, which suggests that industry and Europe  was at  standstill until that time, the lead being taken as evidence that some kind of  industrialisation was once again growing.

So  that’s cheery. In the presence of Brexit, the Orange one,  dreich weather and fog on the Ochils, at least it’s not 535AD, at midnight,   about to wish each other a happy new year.  

 Caro Ramsay


  1. I take strange comfort in knowing that, no matter how bad things may seem, I will never live in the worst possible time to be alive. :)

    1. Susan, Susan. You're tempting the Gods! The Harvard fella was studying the science of the human PAST. Remember Iceland is still there!

  2. I think it's good to recall how lucky we are. Even if it's only that we didn't get run over by a bus today!

  3. But, Michael, it’s still today, and there are drivers out there “with a serious lack of chocolate.”

  4. I'm just happy to be alive, relatively healthy, and to have never heard Boyzone. Take pleasure in the small things. (Or are those the big things?)