The Secret Life of Waves

In memory of David Edward Elliott (05/07/1929 – 15/01/2019) and Edward Stone (08/05/1930 – 06/07/2018)

Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing is fixed. Hericlitus

The folk who live in the waves call out to me-
“We sing from morning till night; on and on we travel and know
not where we pass.”
I ask, “But how am I to join you?”
They tell me, “Come to the edge of the shore and stand with
your eyes tight shut, and you will be carried out upon the waves.”
I say, “My mother always wants me at home in the everything-
how can I leave her and go?”
They smile, dance and pass by.
But I know a better game than that.
I will be the waves and you will be a strange shore.
I shall roll on and on and on, and break upon your lap with
And no one in the world will know where we both are.

Rabindranath Tagore

I attended the funeral of David Edward Elliott who passed away recently. He was 89 years old. I didn’t really know him. He was the father of a friend of mine, Jon Eldude, previously Jonathan David Elliott, who had invited me to the funeral. I was more than happy to attend. I only met David the once, at the sheltered housing in Canterbury where he spent his final days. I was taking Jon to visit.

There was a meeting in the common room. The vicar was there. David was talking to the vicar at the top end of the room. They were both standing, as if on ceremony, David with his back to his chair, the vicar standing before him, like a subject before his King.

David was shaking the vicar’s hand warmly, looking him straight in the eye and declaiming loudly in a voice suffused with wry good humour.

“I’m a hundred years old you know. I might not be around next week.”

This wasn’t what I had expected. I knew that he had dementia and had been depressed, but in this room full of lost, lonely and desperately confused people, he stood out like a lantern in a cave.

It is true that what he was saying wasn’t actually true, in the strictest sense of the word, but he said it with such verve, with such confidence, that it might as well have been.

He had a patch over one eye, which made him look like a pirate, and huge hands which entirely enclosed the vicar’s normal sized mitts.

He had been a railway man most of his working life, and he was a steam train enthusiast, Jon told me.

Later he came and sat with us, and I was made aware of the deep affection between them.

David continued with his stories. He said he was a child spy working for the British government during the war. He was working with Tito and spying on the Germans, he told us.

He said he was an early experimental subject for electro-convulsive therapy, for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He said his real father was Lord Tufton, and that he was born into the aristocracy.

He also said that he was of the Elliott clan in Scotland, and that his father was a Scottish butcher.

And on like this, contradicting himself at every turn, and not caring one way or the other. He had a twinkle in his eye, and he spoke with a rakish chuckle, so it wasn’t clear whether he believed it or not. It didn’t really matter all that much.

Jon told me later that the real story was that he was a child in Ashford. He said that a bomb had landed in the next street during the war and that he had been evacuated.

Jon had lived with his Dad for many years, in a council house in Whitstable, where David soon became a local character. Jon said that often, when he was in town, the shop assistants would ask if they were related. When he said yes, they would get all enthusiastic, telling him how much they enjoyed talking to his Dad, and how they looked forward to him coming in as he brightened up their day.

At the funeral Jon read out his eulogy. He said that living with his Dad felt like he was auditioning for an episode of Steptoe and Son, which made me splutter, and that one time he had brought home a bemusing object from a junk shop: a battery powered, singing fish plaque which had amused him.

I laughed out loud at that. I couldn’t help it. That image seemed to bring the old man so vividly to life.

Bernadette Fisher, the councillor, also spoke, and she told a wonderful story.

She said both Jon’s Dad, and Tory councillor Ashley Clark, had been fighting against the Devine Homes development on Duncan Down. One day someone had cut through the wire fencing that the company had put up to stop people accessing the land.

Later Ashley and David, accompanied by his three legged dog, found themselves sitting on a bench nearby. Ashley said, “whoever cut that wire must have been an angel.”

David opened up his bag to show the ex-copper the bolt croppers he had tucked away in there.

“You might be sitting next to an angel,” he said.

Jon finished his eulogy with a beautiful thought. He said: “I feel somewhere between science and mysticism the quantum universe does not forget such spirits and characters like his and he may be on a higher plain or in another dimension waiting for us to join him.”

I do hope so. He was a man I would have liked to have known.

Nothing is forever except change. The Buddha

Eddy Stone

Jon is much wiser than he thinks. He often surprises me with his observations. It was Jon who helped me to get over the death of my own father last year. He told me about a programme he had watched on TV, and suggested it gave insight into the processes of life and death. The programme was called The Secret Life of Waves. It was made by David Malone, and it was on BBC 4 on the 31st July 2018. This was less than a month after Dad died; so I watched the programme at Dad’s house on i-Player.

That was strange, watching a programme my Dad wouldn’t have watched, mid-afternoon on his own TV, without him there. Dad, too, had dementia, and would often make up stories to fill in the gaps in his memory, though his were never quite so ornate as David’s. So he swore blind that he had once had a boat which he kept by the side of the house in Marston Green, a town with no lakes or rivers, a hundred and fifty miles from the sea. In fact it was my brother-in-law’s boat he was thinking of, which was, indeed, tucked by the side of the house; but that was here, in Whitstable, only a year or two ago.

The Secret Life of Waves is a science programme, about waves and wave formation, but it contains an odd piece of biographical information, which is why it stands out.

At the beginning of the programme we are introduced to David Malone’s Mum, who is sitting on a bench with her husband, on a cliff overlooking the sea. It was this view, Malone tells us, that first informed his fascination with waves.

“What is so exciting about waves is that they reveal what is usually hidden from view,” he says. “You can actually see energy in action. They present insight into the forces that rule the Universe. Waves are not made of water. It’s not the water that’s moving, it’s the energy. Water is the medium that transmits the energy. Waves are a form of transport of energy.”

Insight into the forces that rule the Universe

The bulk of the programme consists of various demonstrations of the truth of this proposal.

Waves are made by wind, he tells us, and he shows how this happens by blowing on the still water in a pond, to watch the ripples spread out to the furthest shore. We see waves in water tanks with model boats bobbing up and down on top; we see the circulation of the water, using coloured dyes, as the wave passes through.

He explains why this is. “Energy is the invisible force that drives the Universe,” he says. “Energy can never be destroyed, it can only change from one form to another. Even after the wind dies the energy lives on in the waves.”

This is when the programme shifts, and he starts talking about waves in general, as opposed to the watery waves we’ve been discussing so far.

“Waves of energy are found throughout the Universe,” he says. “The world is actually filled with waves. Everything is in motion, in process. Waves are process.”

Thus mountains are in the process of rising and falling, like the waves in the sea; it’s just that we don’t see it this way as it is happening too slowly for our eyes to register. There are hidden waves throughout the world, too fast, too slow, or in a medium too invisible, for our eyes to catch a glimpse of. There are waves in the vacuum of space, waves in the congealed heft of matter, waves in the sky, waves in the sea, waves of heat and waves of cold, waves of electromagnetic energy in the very life around us. There are waves in the terrifying expanse of intergalactic space-time, and in the infinitesimally small, paradoxical world of quantum reality, where thoughts, like waves, can influence matter. Waves are everywhere, as movement, as change. Everything is in the process of change, as the Buddha pointed out over two and a half thousand years ago.

“Our lives are in continuous change,” Malone says, speaking now about the human dimension: “a dynamic process of change.”

It’s at this point that he tells us that his Mum had died during the making of the programme, and that he had been thinking of her the whole time.

Now this was something new. A science programme with personal information in it. How often do you see that? Science likes to pretend that it is entirely objective, that it is only about the measurement of facts. But scientists are human too. They too have feelings, and here was one person in a science programme willing talk about his own, difficult, human experience.

It wasn’t only about grief. He was telling us about life. Life too is a wave. It is a wave of energy that passes through us, like the waves in the sea. We are not flesh, any more than sea-waves are water. We are energy, and energy never dies. Just as the sea-waves’ energy is transformed as it crashes on the shore, and becomes something else – a sound, a wave in the wind, which then joins the rest of the air-currents to make new waves in the ocean – so our life-energy wave carries on too; to where we do not know.

Perhaps, as Jon suggests, it shifts to the quantum universe and enters another dimension. Perhaps his Dad really is an angel. Perhaps his Dad and my Dad are sitting together right now, in some hyperdimensional portal between alternative realities, drinking quantum whiskey, and reminiscing about things that never happened.


Just because you cannot see something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.


From The Whitstable Gazette 28/02/19

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  1. I always enjoy reading your column and this one was particularly moving, well written and thought provoking. I mean to watch the whole of “The secret life of waves” when I get a chance as your summary made it sound fascinating. The wave in the photo you used is inspiring and energising!

    Liked by 1 person

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