Like Butterflies

This photograph of my daughter (resident Time Machine artist) and her pretty little winged friend was taken inside a butterfly tent that had been temporarily erected on the lawns right outside the Natural History Museum in London. The butterflies had no airs or graces, they would assert their right to land on your shoulder, head or nose without asking permission and make themselves right at home. Incidentally, not coincidentally, situated almost directly opposite the museum entrance on the other side of the road is the Henry Cole Wing of the Victoria & Albert Museum, where the Normal School of Science (later Royal College of Science) used to be located. During the 1880s H.G. Wells studied biology there under T.H. Huxley, a vigorous public supporter of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory and an advocate of agnosticism, in fact, he coined the word—yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s another H.G. Wells-themed day out.

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day and the tent was alive with these exotic, brightly coloured but short-lived creatures. Like butterflies, our lives are also short-lived, in the grand scheme of things, and so is happiness, which is also a transitory thing. Wells constantly explores this theme in his writings, where his Utopias are all too transitory. In ‘The Time Machine’ the Time Traveller discovers what first appears to be a Golden Age where people of the future are living in comfort, security and happiness, however their Utopia was slowly degrading and falling apart about them. And in his short story, ‘The Door in the Wall’ a boy discovers a green door in a wall that leads into an enchanted garden. For a while the boy is happy in this wonderful paradise, but later, somehow finds himself back in the coarse, harsh real world and, although he catches a few glimpses of the green door at various times in his life as he grows older, events are such that he never manages to find his way back into the enchanted garden. It is lost forever to him.

The dream of unreachable, and sometimes reachable (Wells wasn’t a total pessimist) happiness runs through much of his work. In Wells’s near-autobiographical novels ‘The History of Mr Polly’ and ‘Kipps’ the male protagonists struggle to break-free of their limited, mundane, lower-class lives to find something better. But Wells tells us that even on finding happiness, nothing lasts forever. For instance, in the closing chapter of ‘Men Like Gods’ there’s a particularly melancholy scene describing a man’s last day in Utopia, and it made enough of an impression on me, to inspire me to come up with a short piece of music to try and capture the feeling of something beautiful, delicate and fragile that is forever slipping away.

Anyway, in the story the protagonist, Mr. Barnstaple is accidentally transported into a parallel universe where humanity have eliminated greed, poverty and war, and are doing all the right things. Mr. Barnstaple desires to spend the rest of his days in this beautiful place and does all he can to fit in and make himself useful, however, the task is beyond his abilities, no matter how hard he tries. He realises that it would be best for everyone if he returns his own flawed world (our world) and find some kind of happiness there. Like Mr. Barnstaple I’m still searching for Utopia, well the sound of Utopia at least…

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