A hazy blue stillness. Nothing moves. Until a sudden ripple disturbs the soupy water, stirs the suspended particles. Powerful legs propel the creature through the water and paddle madly as the alarmed frog attempts to secrete itself in a dark crevice. Panic subsides; danger has passed and the frog allows itself to hang in the water, recovering, before its strong legs push off again into deeper water and the cover of thick weed. Nearby, clusters of lustrous jelly eggs float just beneath the surface. In a matter of days, each egg’s black nucelus grows and changes and tiny embryos begin to wriggle in the thick mucous, waiting for the right time for their release.

In an article for Scientific American entitled Are Viruses Alive? Professor Luis P. Villarreal wrote,

“What exactly defines “life?” A precise scientific definition of life is an elusive thing, but most observers would agree that life includes certain qualities in addition to an ability to replicate. For example, a living entity is in a state bounded by birth and death. Living organisms also are thought to require a degree of biochemical autonomy, carrying on the metabolic activities that produce the molecules and energy needed to sustain the organism. This level of autonomy is essential to most definitions.”

A chance encounter with a dead frog discovered in my pond reminds me of the connection between electricity and life and the work of Luigi Galvani who experimented with the effects of electricity on dead tissue, famously making dead frogs’ legs kick in response to electrical charge.

NOW medics routinely shock people back to life using defibrillators.

[A voice from the future says, “Can you believe that once people were thought to be dead just because their heart stopped beating?”]

Sadly my frog is definitely, permanently dead.

NEXT – Trying to activate my stone



For several years now I’ve been having a relationship with this small rock. Here it is…

I went looking for a special stone on the beach in my lunch-break one day. Of course Eastbourne beach is covered in likely candidates – thousands, maybe millions of them – but this one was special. I didn’t so much find this one, as it found me. I saw it from the promenade, sitting up on top of all the others.

It’s a flint. It’s bigger than a heart, smaller than a head; small enough to hold in my hand but heavy enough to call “a rock”.

I climbed down onto the beach and picked it up… and that was the beginning.

I have a small collection of rocks, all of which are pretty unremarkable, except for some reason I have picked them up and kept them. Here’s another one…

I believe this is an Iron Sulphide nodule. I like this one because it reminds me of distant planets. It’s very compact and seems far too heavy for its size.

And this one…

This was part of an artwork, Impossible Changeling by Caroline Wright. Again – it found me. It was one of  100 gilded stones which were distributed by the artist on Eastbourne beaches for people to find. I’ve no idea how many were eventually found, but, like the flint, this one stood out for me among all the hundreds of thousands of pebbles on the beach – I couldn’t miss it.

Lyall Watson in his book The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects[1] calls objects such as my rocks, “notions”.

“A notion, is an inanimate object which need have no intrinsic value or practical utility, but which nevertheless demands attention and exercises power over those people to whom it appeals… a thing with meaning, a mind thing; something of consequence which inspires thought. And once chosen a circuit is completed which provides a flow of energy that gives a notion its power.”

Now this all sounds a bit metaphysical to me and I’m more of a pragmatist than a metaphysicist, but these stones have led me to explore some new thoughts and ask some questions – the most fundamental one being: “In the beginning… why did some clusters of molecules become this thing we call life while others remained ‘inanimate’ like my rock.” And anyway… what is life? What is “the spark of life”? And where does the spark come from? And of course, a proposition posed some years ago by artist Andy Holden, a suggestion which has stayed with me all this time, “Maybe there is no such a thing as an inanimate object.”

[1] The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects (pp72-74)

NEXT – An Encounter With A Dead Frog…