Uranus

I wander to the place I know least and for a while I maybe like best, in a way; as an idea, as a thought, as a concept: the abstract liking of something from which you are distant, the fascination with unfamiliarity; the lure of the other; the stranger, the comfort, the awe. The steady roll on an invisible plane, the cool electric hue. The very slow seasons. Even the unwitting humour, lame though it is. It is a laconic planet I find here, unruffled, smooth and cyan. The awayness of it all, as at the end of despair. A well-neighboured distance; bookended, escorted by giants: significant in its own right but overlooked, overshadowed and, for no fault of its own, just not taken seriously: why would that be me?

There is no life here, but there is otherness and that in itself is exciting. It feeds my curiosity: to go a step further, to move beyond. To tumble on a different axis, to fall upwards; float frozen but not still, to sense a different kind of heat on a newly defined horizon. I expect to be alone here, but I’m surrounded by character: here, in the outskirts, in the slow moving cold, there are others like me: how did we all get here? What projected us into this orbit, so far away, it would seem, from the soul, so within?

These layers, these clouds, these rocks and these crystals, these rings, this ice and these moons, this magnetotail. They are not, perhaps, home, but they are a meaning all in themselves and they are somewhere, beautiful. True.

For quite some time I enjoy this quirkiness and become part of it, willingly, coolly; I relish the arms length attention I get. Nobody knows me here or cares who I am, but my aloofness my look and my languid demeanour are being noted. My hair the peroxide silver of this unbreathable atmosphere and my clothes the black of the all that surrounds me. If you know where I am you can find me and find me foreign and alien too.

Yet after a while I miss the simplicity of warmth. Not that I know what that means, but it means that I’m out in the cold and I want to come back now, closer to home, closer to the sun, closer to people who don’t understand me, closer to something I vaguely remember as love. This strangeness leaves me estranged from myself, and enjoying it now seems an effort. Soon, I know, I will have to let go, and I realise now that I’m not living my life in chronological order. That puzzles me for a moment until it occurs to me that time too is down to perception and there will come a time when it’ll all simply meld into one, as it must.

Entropy.

Out here I thought I felt a sense of freedom until that sense became quite oppressive. That, too, was a surprise. And so I let go. Slowly, at first and then readier, more. This is not for me, after all, this agreeable spectacle, this isolation: it could quite easily turn into a habit, a mannerism, a cliche, a role.

The young man at a soiree (it was that more than that it was a party a dinner or just a drinks) who’d looked at me and said: ‘are you for real?’ That’s when I knew I was in danger of becoming a caricature of myself. And Uranus could be my place no more. I like this now, this clarity, this resolution. This immense relief too, not to have to be defined by weirdness forever. Strange, yes, curious, always, different, maybe (then ‘different’ to what?), but not impenetrable and not obscure. Not even, in that sense, mysterious, really: there are so very few mysteries in the universe, apart from the multiverse of all possible universes itself, and that, too, is only a matter of consciousness and the cumulative number of braincells firing at it: one day it will just be another reality too. Like blossoms, like spring. Like the awakening, too.

I’m getting better at this, being me. This walk seems to be doing wonders…   

16082015 Perfection

That day the universe was on my side, because for the first time it gave me not just a second chance, but a third; and that really had never happened before, I never even normally get the second chance, and for obvious reasons, it’s just very unlikely to come about; so to be given a third chance: imagine how lucky I felt, and how happy.

I was on my way to the party, that was on Monday. I was in a good frame of mind, I had just arrived in town and seen two decent films, and I’d picked up my invitation and I was determined to go to this party even though I knew nobody there and I thought I might leave it again very soon. But in my good frame of mind I started chatting to a woman on the shuttle bus that the festival laid on from the last screening in the grand piazza to the party, and after seeming a little distant at first she then, as we arrived there, almost grabbed my hand, and we went to the bar and had our first few drinks together, talking a lot about this, that and the other, and I thought this is great: I’m already not alone at the party.

When she left I spotted a good looking man with a beard who was on his own and, buoyed by my success so far, started talking to him, and for a while we had more drinks and chatted about this and that too (though not so much about the other), and he met some people he knew and I talked to them as well, and I quite liked him but I also realised he probably wasn’t that interested in me, and that was fine too.

We’d by now drifted back towards the bar, and then suddenly out of nowhere the handsomest, friendliest, loveliest of all the men at the party – and it was a fairly big party – stood next to me and looked me in the eyes, and we hugged and we kissed, and I don’t know why that happened so quickly or how, I only know that I’d seen him before, when he was working, taking pictures, and he had pointed his camera at me and the woman from the shuttle bus, and I had raised my glass to him and said cheers, and now here he was and we were kissing and hugging and I didn’t know how or why: we must have been into each other, I suppose.

It was now nearing the end of the party, coming up four in the morning, and people were already leaving and he simply said, “so to Locarno?” and I said, “yes,” and on the way to the car he told me he was staying in a flat with ten people in it and some of them needed a lift, so we may have to wait for them, and I said that was all right, but in the end nobody wanted a lift, those who were there at the party decided to go by other means, maybe walk, so we took his car, a convertible, though he didn’t put down the roof, maybe because it was coming up four o’clock in the morning.

He told me he didn’t have his licence at the moment, but that that was all right, and I thought, well he’ll be driving carefully then, and he did, and we got there without problem, but with a little help from his phone.

As we entered the flat it was dark and already quiet and we walked through a room with nobody in it, into another room which had a large double bed with two people in it, a man and a woman, both young, maybe the same age as he, and there was a narrow mattress on the floor and he said: “this is me, but it’s all right,” and it was all right.

We lay down on his little bed and within seconds we were undressed and were what used to be called making love and it felt like that, it felt like we were just making some love, and the couple in the bed did not seem to notice or mind and then we both fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Now and then the man from the bed would call my young lover’s name because he was snoring and that wouldn’t help, so I would hug him closer to me, and that would.

In the morning we woke up and he said: “dormi – sleep,” but he had to get up and go to work and I got up too though I didn’t strictly have to go to work, but I did have to go to the flat where I was staying, and do some work there. He made me a coffee and we kissed again and hugged and said goodbye and he disappeared, I assumed into the shower.

I got dressed in the room with the big double bed and the little single bed, and a young woman there was also getting dressed, and I left my card on the window sill and let myself out and I walked home in the happy sunshine.

He didn’t phone me or text me, or send me an email, or friend me on Facebook, and I thought, well that’s fair enough he’d told me how much work he’s got on during the festival here and he was young, so maybe that was just that, and that’s fair enough. But a little part of me wished and hoped and believed I would see him again; I would bump into him, I reckoned, at some point during the festival, it’s not that big a town, after all.

Nothing happened till Friday, except I was happy all week, doing some work and watching some films, and then Friday I was out with some friends and we’d just had something to eat and decided to get an ice cream before watching a late film together, and from the ice cream stand I could see him walk towards the Piazza Grande and I thought there he is, but he didn’t spot me and I was too far away to call him and I didn’t know whether he’d want me to call him since he hadn’t called me, and he was gone and I thought, ah well, that’s a pity, but maybe there will be a second chance (even though I don’t normally get a second chance).

Once everyone had their ice cream, we realised we were running late for the film so started to make a move towards the cinema, and there he was again, coming my way now, with a plate of food in his hand and passing at just a couple of feet distance: again I didn’t call him or stop him or say hello, it happened too quickly, we were late for our film, he had his hands full with food and he didn’t see me, again. And again I thought, ah what a pity, but maybe there will be a third chance, even though I had never had a third chance before, or heard of anybody who had.

We went to see the film and then on the way back we passed a bar with a big garden where sometimes they play live music, and one of the group said let’s not go in here, there’s another one which is nicer, but the other one was already closed, so we returned to the one with the big garden, and it’s a huge garden with different sections separated by old stone walls on different levels, and it would be impossible to get a view of it all, especially at night when it isn’t that brightly lit, and usually very busy, and we were going to stand in the courtyard nearest the bar, but then the same member of the group said let’s go up there, and we went up a flight of steps, past another bar, and into another little courtyard and we sat down at a table, and no sooner had we sat down at the table than I saw the back of the head that I recognised.

He was on the phone, stroking his short bleached hair with his free hand, and I recognised his short bleached hair in an instant as I had stroked it too and so much liked the feel of it against the palm of my hand and I recognised the little wrist band that looked like it had come from another festival, probably music, and I thought I should get up now and say hello to him, but he was with a group of people and so was I, and I thought, ah well, he’s here and at one point I’ll get up and say hello or he’ll get up and turn around, and then he finished his conversation on the phone and got up and turned around and there he was.

I said his name, and he said: “Sebastian.”

And we hugged and gave each other a kiss and he told me he had a problem with his flat which he needed to sort, but how long was I here for now and what had happened to me Tuesday morning and I told him I’d left him a card and didn’t want to hang around as I knew he would have to go to work and he said he hadn’t seen the card but now that he knew where it was he would find it, but I gave him another one and he looked so glad to see me and we held each other’s hands and we hugged again and gave each other another kiss and then he had to go and sort his problem with the flat, and I knew that today the universe had been kind to me, because it had given me not just a second chance but a third, and I had taken not the first, not the second but the third chance, and I don’t know if we will see each other tomorrow or ever again, but just knowing that he was glad to see me again today and to see that spark in his eye and feel that hair and hear him say “Sebastian” and smiling at me his broadest of smiles, that alone completely made me happy that day.

{Orlando)

i am orlando

..

breathless

at the bacchanal

bewitched, senses

submerged, my image

mirrored, my mind

magicked, my emotions

modulated

magnified

unmoderated and maybe

immodest, myself

multiplied:

..

masked dancer at the carnival

bald bearded lady, fashionista

beehive diva, torch song bearer of my soul

pole-dancing scientist

shop floor assistant checking out

the other side, experimenter, part-time genius

moustachioed hipster sophist nerd geek self-inventor and

bespectacled spectator

taking in, in-

haling, hailing without praise or

condemnation

participant observer, being-done-to

doer

..

all exposed

..

the pushing

to the fore, persistent rushing shoreward of

wave upon wave:

the daily deluge of disaster 

wilfully

constructed, or else

wantonly permitted to occur and then

dispersed

with breathless kick and fury

horned-up with excitement

round the clock

catastrophe porn paired with power penetration to the 

brain: every

second someone selling something

a tsunami of musthave dispensables

then news again the weather breaking down ten thousand perish in a flood

security alert

three men arrested at the airport

one who fled

soft-spoken leaker of state secrets swears allegiance to

the people; people

protest

the police, the army

bullets rifles hand grenades, ex-

superpower eyeing up her neighbours’ territories, boundaries

unkept, unrecognised, rendered irrelevant

space probe touchdown on the comet, cheers and champagne at

base, break through

the tunnel, high speed trains

dark matter and dark energy

the murder of the messengers

a million on the streets in solidarity, fighters

of and for freedom feeling pain, offenders

in each other’s eyes – our

tears taste all the same

..

a smartphone

with an app the university that taps into the global lecture hall

a telescope array across a mountain table peering deep into the origin of

time, and

cupcakes

talent shows, made-up

realities

downloads, stolen

identities and

printed body parts

milestones in mending memories, the

tantalising likelihood that we are not alone

sandcastles made of stars, stars

made of frivolities

cat videos

and piles

and piles

of rubbish

..

rejects

refugees

residents of uncertainty, nomads by 

adverse conditions, the

collateral of calamity

unwanted

unloved, un-

understood   

disowned dishonoured dismissed dishevelled, dis-

affected

indistinct

in the morass

of mass

morbidity, in-

visible

..

flashes of inspiration

fascinations

colours, glitter

decadences

balls: exuberances

festivals and

congregations, close

communions

travel at the speed of sound, lightspeed

communication

instantaneous pools of

commonality

the vibe and exultation, the

euphoria

the sharpwit razor of precision, the

ingeniousness

the shared experience

the climactic joy, the

sacred orgasm of

life

..

..

..

i rest

i pause

i meditate, i am

orlando

i reflect

..

i have no solution, there are no solutions

i have no anger: anger is void, i 

ease

i learn

i think

i offer

..

..

silence

..

..

i

become

the citizen

and i see sparks of wisdom and then once again i laugh

i love

i give

i take

i lose myself

i win

i love again, i want and want not and want not to want, i 

realise

i am a part of it: i am

a part 

of everything, every

thing

is part of me

..

i am the gods

i am the universe

i am the energy

i am the code

i am the probability

i am the failure and the hope and the despair 

i am the triumph

of existence

..

that is what i am:

i

am

..

orlando

..

..

..

[{Orlando} was first published as part of Orlando in the Cities in A Quantum CityBirkhäuser 2015]

Les Grands Amours

I arrive back in Paris, and see it “properly” now “for the first time.” These mark the “last few days of a fantastic holiday,” and “those few days were wonderful.”

I feel that glow now, it expands beneath my ribs and makes my breath seem warmer. “I think my favourite building in the world for its originality is the Centre Pompidou,” I tell myself on The Tape, and for a long time, I remember, that was the case. I embraced modernity, pre-, post- and present. I was into things, such as cool architecture; they excited me then, they excite me today. I record and recall seeing La vie de Brian, as The Life of Brian was called there, and us laughing our heads off, the way we only could then. There was an evening, not long after I’d moved to London, when my friend Peggy and, I believe, beautiful Stefan and maybe one or two other people were assembled in my shared living room, lounging on the grubby sofa and draped over a stained but strangely comfortable armchair, watching Airplane! on TV. We laughed so hard at this, we literally ended up on the floor. That capacity for joy, so unalloyed: we had it then, we had it in Paris – that was exactly the era – and I don’t know when or where it went. That freshness, even with an open mind as I try to keep it, has simply gone: hardly anything ever makes me laugh now anywhere near as hard. Perhaps I’ve seen it, heard it, if not all then just too much of it, to tickle me so with surprise?

I remember loving the Pompidou, I remember loving and laughing at La vie, I remember little if anything else, apart from Christian, Judith’s brother, whom I thought “great” and “quite eccentric, in his own way,” and probably fancied, if not was in love with, just a bit. Judith, whom I loved then and still love today, though I haven’t seen her in a decade (and then under sad, troubled, circumstances, of which to speak now would not seem right), was my school pal whom we were visiting in Paris, where she was staying with her boyfriend, Alain. For reasons I don’t recall I spent quite some time with her brother, liking him immensely. (Maybe because Judith was with her boyfriend, Alain?) At one point Christian and I got on a metro train together. As it arrived, we noticed that it had first and second class compartments, and he said we should ride in second class since we didn’t have first class tickets. I, having never been to Paris properly before, convinced him that this must be a remnant of the olden days and that by now the metro surely only had one class for all. So we boarded the less crowded first class carriage. Within minutes we were surrounded by about five ticket inspectors, demanding a surcharge and a fine. I was outraged: I told them they were being completely unreasonable, since it was impossible for me, a Londoner, to know that a metropolitan underground could have two classes. They pointed at the big 1 that was painted on the interior of the carriage, and mentioned the same on the outside. I was having none of it: I live in London, I said, I use the tube all the time and we don’t have any of this nonsense. They let us off. We were made to move to second class, but no money changed hands. I can be stubborn when I need to be, that hasn’t changed…

My forever enduring memory though of these last few days of my Europe tour in 1988, and one of the best and most cherished of all my years of going to the cinema anywhere in the world, was Le grand bleu. I had seen it before, in Grenoble, and fallen in love with it and with Jean-Marc Barr then, but this now was in a league of its own. The film was immensely successful in France, and so Le Grand Rex, one of the largest cinemas in Paris, had put up an extra large screen in front of its existing one. It was, I tell the tape, “a 25 metre screen”, which would make it either nearly the size, or even slightly bigger than, the screen on the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival (which today is still the largest in Europe), depending on whether that was a horizontal width measure or a diagonal, which I can’t remember. In any case, it was huge. (They may even have ‘renamed’ the cinema for that run. It’s entirely possible, but once again I am no longer certain, that the cinema was really normally called Le Rex, and they labelled it Le grand Rex just for Le grand bleu, with the big screen.)

Because the screen was so large, there were now, in the auditorium, new restricted sight lines. The stalls were fine, as was the upper balcony, but from all but the front row, the view in the dress circle was severely restricted, because you would not see the top of the screen (which was blocked off by the balcony above you) or the bottom (which was obscured by the circle in front of you), for which reason the cinema had cordoned off the dress circle altogether. We were not young people to be told where to sit in a cinema with unreserved seating, so while people raced, as the doors opened, to the best seats up on the balcony and down in the stalls, we opened the door to the dress circle behind the red cord and saw it empty with a vast screen beckoning. We snuck in, closed the door behind us and took up the few seats in the centre of the front row of the dress circle, the ones directly in the middle of the screen: your entire field of vision was taken up with The Big Blue: it was magnificent. I to this day can’t get over how beautiful and real the sea and how close-enough-to-touch Jean-Marc Barr were. Other good actors appeared in the film, there was other fine scenery, but I remember him and the sea and the dolphins. And the party on Taormina, I believe, where Jean-Marc Barr turns up dressed in a dinner suit, wearing trainers, looking sheepish and unbearably cute. I could have married him there and then.

I later met Jean-Marc Barr after a performance in the West End of a Tennessee Williams play, and he was gracious and polite; I a little timid and shy, but happy to be face-to-face with him in person, and now getting him ‘out of my system’: he was a lovely, good-looking man, and a very decent actor, and I no longer now had to pine…

“Unfortunately, on the last night” of our stay in Paris, I tell my tape, “Judith split up with her boyfriend, Alain,” and so “went back with her brother Christian,” to Basel, I presume. I, on Sunday, which therefore must have been the next day, took the train back to London and arrived there in the evening, “about 9 o’clock.”

Venus

Venus troubles me. I come here reluctantly; so bright. So mystifying, so inscrutable. So tenebrous, as well, beneath that gleaming skin. Moist. Overwhelming, warm; so uninhabitable, at least for me. And still I feel I ought to spend some time here. Wherefore, I know not. For the experience? For the completion of my being? For the expansion, yet, of my horizon? – These planets travel far and yet not wide, except they do. They are – we all are – on a forward motion we don’t notice. Venus knows. This is a body that’s imbued with universal wisdom, which it can’t express. We move in spirals, not ellipses, our sun drags us with her, and whenever we feel we’ve been here before, we have, but we’re a little further down our path: it’s not the direction of our nose that we travel in, it is the direction of our pate. We have no eyes there, at the top of our head, we have only a string that pulls us, and still we resist.

Here on Venus, everything feels strange; the smells, the flavours, the embrace. The fuzzinesses and the softness, they unsettle me. Long before I become comfortable I become complacent, and that will not do. I start to wander, restless. I think I am getting ready to settle in some sort of way, but settledness entails a great deal of immobility. I like the rest of motion. I need to be alone. Not all the time, but enough. Venus asks me too many questions. It’s not that I can’t find any answers, these answers can mostly be found, but the effort is out of proportion. The thinking that normally invigorates me tires me out, here. The obviousnesses, the courtship; the irrationalities, the repetitions.

At the time there was no myth and no meaning. The time being the beginning, the beginning being the origin, the origin being unknown. I suddenly feel alert, a little, and happier to exist, mainly because of this old realisation that I can’t, I just can’t expect myself to make sense of it all. Any of it, really, it’s just there. Annoying as it may be. I take a step back and I look at my thoughts as they spread out before me and find them unsatisfactory. The thinking I’m doing is inelegant, crude; it will not suffice. Nor is it poetic. And thinking without poetry is like love without mathematics. It has no substance, no structure, no special tingle of satisfaction, no meaning. It is like sex in a haze of drunkenness with someone you don’t fancy. I’m becoming self-referential and it irks me.

Womanhood. Much like aliens, women don’t so much scare me as baffle. I’ve hardly ever thought this through, but there comes a time. And a place. I seriously doubt that now is that time or this that place, but when or where will it ever be, and does it matter? I contend myself mostly with knowing that there are things I can’t know and go where my curiosity takes me, which is not normally here. Nor abnormally. I’m out of my depth, out of my comfort, out of my pond. The mountains, the seas and the rivers, the streams. The landscape and the disorientation. There are too many things happening all at once to get a handle on any of them and there is also the new mix the new blend the new fusion. That both thrills and frightens me, a little. Not because I dread the loss of myself but because I really like my delineations as much as I like my inbetweennesses and my blurrages; the overlappedisation of our existence, I like it. Entropy.

I hear a warm soothing voice that is not in my head and it is not in my memory; it is not my mother, my sister, my wife. (I have no wife, by the way, that was an unnecessary witticism of moderate charm and no consequence.) The voice comes from the ground and from the cloud that envelops the ground and from the all about the sphere that I have wrapped my body around, and it says that there are no mysteries and there must be no pain. She’s trying to reassure me, I’m not sure she succeeds, but her sentiment is benign. I feel her hand on my back on my neck on my thigh and the touch is tender and real. I recall once upon a time being deeply at ease in this presence and as deeply afraid of it too. What embraces you can ensnare you, what holds you may crush you, what loves you will kill you, what desires you own you. What owns you is you. And you thought you knew who you were.

Did I? Maybe a couple of aeons ago; it is possible, then, when I did not yet exist, that I was really quite sure of myself. I had an arrogant streak, not mean, not cocky, but aloof. My journey humbles me. I sense I’m getting closer to the truth, and like everyone else I know that there is no such thing. The energy that we are. The quantum states. The potentialities. The particles and the waves. Of course I am Venus as much as Venus is me: we share the constituent parts, and yet: I don’t belong here. It’s sometimes good to know where you belong, and also good to know where you definitely don’t. There’s nothing definite, ever, and anything can and does change, and you never say never and all that goes with it, and in any case there is only so much existing you can expect to do at one time, but by the time your energy dissolves and changes its form, time ceases too and you are quite literally reborn, only not in the way that you thought you didn’t want to think about, or were taught, or wanted to believe to be nonsense. From one state to another. These states are all within us contained. The energy that you are is your matter your body your molecules your thoughts your emotion your wants and your needs (always, they come as a pair, you knew that already), your shades and your textures, and when they go they don’t go they are simply reconfigured because energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed. I shall not miss myself when I go for I am always around. So are you, so is Venus. So are the superclusters of our sistergods.

I am much happier now than I was before I came here. I knew I would be, I doubted it not. But now, much as I sense the draw of the earth that is so near and so familiar and so welcoming too, I must surely go on a detour and find me a distant adventure. Home beckons, but I have to explore…

Outrage

‘Stupidity’, Sedartis thunders, ‘is the enemy. Stupidity is the outrage: the crime!’ Here is that word again. ‘Perpetrated not by the stupid, they may never have learnt – never have had a chance to learn – to be less so; no, it’s the chief crime of your society: as long as you allow stupidity not just to exist, but to flourish in your midst, as long as you cultivate, nurture, elevate and celebrate it, you deserve everything you get.’

I feel chastened, although I have no answer. Sedartis does not expect me to: ‘You talk about inequality. You talk about democracy and a fairer society. And yet you blind yourselves to the evil that trumps all: you lull your masses into stupidity and then keep them there. Because you’re selfish, egotistical, greedy and lazy, you “give the people what they want,” which you keep telling them is soft porn mush and their own supposed “reality.” You invite them to be abysmally stupid on your television shows and think you’re doing them a favour because they recognise themselves: you make stupidity the norm, and condemn aspiration to an intellect as a pretentious frivolity. You dismiss intellect itself as an irrelevance, knowing full well that without intellect you wouldn’t be here where you are, in your privileged position. You keep your people stupid because that’s how you keep yourselves aloft and rich; you fear them and you dread what they should do if they ever they latched on to how they were enslaved by you.’

I sense a pause. It doesn’t last. ‘You feed them what they already know and shore up their prejudices, you belittle intelligence as “too clever by half” and smirk at anyone who thinks in public. (How can you even hold on to an expression like that?) How can you have built a civilisation in which not only one percent own more than half of all material wealth, but another one percent at most are schooled in handling knowledge, when you know that knowledge is power.’

Is knowledge power, still? ‘Thinking,’ he thinks at me, ‘is an exertion, yes. That does not absolve us from it. So is walking, yet walk we must, otherwise we grow fat, stale and lethargic. Flossing is a pain, but we do it, even if reluctantly, to hold on to our gums. Life is not convenient, no matter how successful we are at making it so. So even if it hurts: use your brain. It will shrivel, shrink and stink if you don’t.’

I can tell how angry he is. ‘I am not angry, my friend,’ Sedartis hears me well before I speak, ‘I am outraged. I am outraged at the stupidity you allow on this planet. At the casual simplicity you cast over everything, and make do. At the quick quote, soundbite approach you have taken to politics. The commercial current that runs through your culture. The inoffensiveness of your art. The soft sell in your science. You constantly ask: what is the story, what is the narrative. Because you are too lazy to connect the dots for yourselves. You open your mouths, crying, “feed me!” You’ve regressed into infancy, and you wallow in your own incapacity. You suckle the nipple of light entertainment, and if you do wean yourselves off it, you go on to sugary bottled “fun,” and then you wonder why your teeth are all rotten, and you’re incapable even of crunching an apple: you’ve become toothless, grown-up-but-refused-to-grow-up, idiot babes. You have lost sophistication, elegance and wit. You shun the strain of inquiry, and you moan and moan and moan. Like the whiny brat in the stroller whom you’ve elevated to a tiny emperor and allow to terrorise your existence, you yourself throw your toys out of your pram and expect somebody else to bend down and pick them up for you and hand them back to you. Everything is somebody’s fault. It’s the government’s fault. It’s the neighbours’ fault. It’s the immigrant’s fault. It’s anybody else’s fault but yours. Have you listened to yourselves? You are a disgrace to your species, the way you behave, and you know it, but you will stone me for saying so to your face.’

I am stunned. I have never experienced Sedartis like this. I’m a little afraid. And in awe.   

He senses my discomfort, my fear. He calms down: ‘Species. That in itself is too simple, too categorical. I know you need simplicity, you need categories. But look at yourselves from a distance, or look at yourselves close up: you are so close to your nearest cousins that you can barely tell yourselves apart. Yet you think you are a majestic, exclusive achievement. You are nothing of the sort, you are simply first on your planet, and alone in your solar system. But there are so many solar systems in so many galaxies, you need not fear of finding yourselves alone: this universe, as well as any other, is teeming with life. Your problem is not your position, not your location, not your intelligence: your problem is your perspective. Your nearest cousins, the dolphins, the bonobos, they may be a few hundred thousand years, maybe a few million years behind you in their development. But that doesn’t make them categorically different. It just makes them slower at something you can not take credit for. What you can take credit for is this: your culture. That’s what you do with your advantage. And that is why your stupidity is unacceptable now. At one point, in the not so distant past, you were just like the great apes, scavenging for food, fighting each other for primacy over your females, thinking of nothing other than preserving, projecting, your genes. Slowly, gradually, you emerged from the dullness of your existence and you became conscious, intelligent beings. How dare you not use your intelligence? You will get there, of course; you will reach your next level, as every other life form reaches its own. You will merge with your inventions, you will make yourselves immortal. You will begin to populate other worlds, if nothing else as a hybrid of human and human-made machine. That is all very well. But choose how you get there. The pain that you’re causing yourselves and your fellow creatures on earth is excruciating. When you already have the means to not inflict it at all. All you have to do is use your intelligence and learn that you are not the thing that matters, you are part of the thing that matters, and that is enough.’

What is the thing that matters, I ask Sedartis. 

He remains silent. He remains silent for a long long time and we sit together watching the squirrels and the birds, and imagining the bonobos and the dolphins and the cows and the lions and the beautiful, but a little clumsy, giraffes.

I take his silence to mean ‘I don’t know either,’ and it saddens me that he doesn’t know either, but I know he doesn’t know either, and I wonder does anyone know, anyone in the multiverse of infinite universes at all, or are we all just a part of it unknowing but yearning to understand and failing but trying and playing our part.

‘It doesn’t matter, you see’, says Sedartis. And now I can really hear him. ‘It doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that you make the most of it. Whatever it is that you can. That is all that actually matters because you have no control over anything else. You can’t control when you are born. To whom. Where. You can’t know why. You can’t dictate the terms of your existence, but you can take them and deal with them well. And by dealing with them well, you may alter them. Whatever is given, you don’t have to take it just as it is. What you do have to do is make the most of it. And you really have to make the most of it. You really have to not take no for an answer, you really have to probe deeper and go further and demand of yourself more. Because if you don’t, somebody will. And they may not understand what you understand. But you understand what I understand and that is how we are connected, how we are part of it all, how there is a greater scheme of things, and how our moment here is tiny, but we can, must, make it magnificent.’

∞² Revival

I resolve to dive in. Not the water – that’s way too cold for me, this time of year, early summer, just after the solstice and before the sea has been warmed by long days in the sun – but into the experience of it all. There, inside the experience, may lie a clue. If not a clue, then perhaps an insight, a truth. It could be random, it could be real. My research has yielded nothing. I have spoken to cafe owners and life guards; to beach goers and hut holders. To dog walkers (where they’re allowed, the dogs) and to joggers. Hoteliers, I spoke to, two of them. And two police officers, one a young woman, the other a young man, both attractive, both friendly, both clueless as to the origin of this tradition that is still, after all, fairly new; but a tradition nonetheless. Age has no bearing on the soul of a matter, be that a culture, a person, a people, a place: roots burrow deep, far deeper, we know, than the living thing that we see may suggest.

Everybody, of course, has a story to tell. Most of them charming, some of them harrowing, all of them sad, in a way. I’m surprised to find that is so. No matter who I talk to, and for how long, there is always, always a moment of sadness. How did I miss that, in my perception, and for so long? How sadness seeps through the seasons, irrespective of who you are. Here, many remember, with a scarred sense of fondness for how it all brought them together, the Solstice Spectacle several years ago now, when two youths had set fire to almost all of the beach huts along the seafront in the most brazen, most wanton, act of arson anyone could recall. Nobody refers to it now, as some ‘newspapers’ did at the time, as a ‘massacre’; and few people, though the sadness over the girls does prevail, the twins, who’d perished, aged five, having been put to bed in one of the larger huts, while the parents were sharing a rare moment of intimacy, just outside, in the twinkling night of summery stars, are weighed down now by sorrow.

So into each other, so absorbed by their bodies, the parents were at that time, that they didn’t notice the bangs, or the heat, or the flames from the beach in the distance at first, or the smoke: they took it for fireworks in the sky, for being at one with each other for the first time in ages; and the chain lit up so quickly, by the time the Calor gas bottle exploded and they’d rushed back to their hut, just a few yards, a few steps really, no more, it was way too late. The devastation still registers in the young mother’s eyes; the young father holding her hands, as they sit, outside their new hut, overlooking the sea. They are no longer young now, these two, but they do have a son and a daughter, aged twelve and fourteen. They are not happy, but they’re content. And they have no anger now in their hearts, and no hate. Then, they did, they tell me, they wanted them dead, the two youths who had done this to them, who had taken their daughters. Now? Now they feel a kind of resignation, and calm. Life is like that. ‘Life is like that,’ the young father, no longer young now (maybe a little young, still), but proud of his son whom he shows me a picture of, after he’s shown me one of the twins, and before he shows me one of his daughter too, ‘life goes on; has to, really.’ The young mother, who I know, although she doesn’t tell me, feels guilty for having left the girls in the hut while stealing, for the first time in weeks, maybe months, a bit of time just with her man, to enjoy, to inhale, to taste and to have him, in the freedom of the seaside air and after the long struggles for daily survival, in and out of the sun, smiles a wan smile of undying regret. She could have saved them, her eyes – though they be adorned by kind lines after all – tell me, pleading for my forgiveness. I have no need, nor do I have any gift of forgiveness for her, it has nothing whatever to do with me: I only feel love for these people, and thank them their honesty and their trust. ‘Thing is, we couldn’t have saved them,’ her husband, squeezing her hands, so in tune he senses her anguish without needing to ask any question, tells me: ‘it was just too quick. When this kind of catastrophe strikes you down you have to, if you can, just get up again. Kids die in accidents. In a car crash. If we’d been lying there with them, and had fallen asleep, we’d both be dead too?’ His voice inflexes a question. The doubt. The ‘catastrophe’. It sounds a little incongruent now, but true. Maybe he wants to be sure, more sure than he is. Who can blame them. I salute them, I wander on.

‘Boscombe & Bournemouth has had its fair share of tragedy,’ the old lady tells me, ‘maybe more than.’ She sits further down the beach, in front of her own hut, that is hidden a little, tucked away behind a bit of a bluff, and she nods at me sagely. I expect her to go on, but she doesn’t. There’s something in my memory that I can’t recall that makes me think that I know what she’s talking about, but the look that she gives me suggests that the time isn’t right. And so I don’t ask, and she doesn’t tell. Some things are best left unspoken. Yet for a while. 

And so I take the plunge. The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll. I have never been naked in public. I’m innately shy. People don’t think so, they think I am confident, bold even. I’m not. It’s the last Sunday in June and I’m curious: will it happen. And how? The weather is glorious, hot: more than thirty degrees. I shower, smear sun cream all over my body, wear shorts and a shirt and flip-flops; the near compulsory hat, and the shades, and head out. It’s just gone lunch time and I expect to be disappointed. For a while it looks like I might be; and then, suddenly, unnoticeably almost at first, then more and more obviously and quite naturally, it happens. Here a naked person, another one there. A couple, a group, some talking, some smiling, without exception all sunning themselves and their bodies in the luxurious heat, they are strolling along the beach. As I get there, they are vastly outnumbered by clothed people, but the clothed people don’t bat an eyelid, with the exception perhaps of the odd tourist. I am on my own and I don’t know how to do this now, where should I stop to undress? I feel lost, I must look it, too. I need not fret, it turns out. A big burly man with a lot of hair on his chest and a belly protruding far over a very small penis beams at me baring the broadest of grins: ‘you look just like someone who’s come to stroll in the nude.’ For the duration of half a thought I want to say, ‘sorry? Who? Me? Oh no, don’t worry about me, I’m just looking for a place to buy ice cream.’ But his friend smiles at me too and I like her for that. She’s generous, kind. Their mutual friend, I assume, seems to be thinking about something, but he too gives me a nod of encouragement, and so I say: ‘Yes. I am.’

‘I hope you’re wearing sunscreen?’ the big man, who steadies my arm as I step out of my shorts asks me, and his friend cocks his head a little as if to comment, not strictly approving, but not dismissing either, my soft cotton trunks. I take them off too. And the shirt, and I put them all in a little backpack I’ve brought along for this purpose, and I step back into my flip-flops and put on my hat and say: ‘thank you. My name is Sebastian.’ We shake hands and they tell me their names and I put on my shades and we stroll.