∞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.

∞² Revival

I grow interested in the myth. More than interested, intrigued. Why is it a myth? Clearly there must be some foundation to it. But nobody knows. Does nobody want to know? Everybody wants to know everything, always; but do they really? Is it kinder on the mind, and warmer on the heart, not to be certain, about certain things?

Who, I wonder, were these ‘two guys in their twenties’. Shouldn’t there be a plaque to them? Should they not be celebrated as local legends in their own, quite literally, lunchtime? (It was around then, after all, that they stepped, in the nude, into leisurely ‘action’.) Do they still take part now, many years later, perhaps in their thirties, approaching their forties or even fifties? They could be dads, by now; in fact, if – as in any respect other than their initiation of this curious custom they appear to be – they are fairly average males then all likelihood suggests that they are. Do they live in Bournemouth, still, or Boscombe? Did they ever?

That may be a clue: perhaps they weren’t actually from here. Maybe they were just visiting, this is a distinct possibility. Because if they were native to the Bournemouth and Boscombe community then surely, but surely, somebody would know who they are. Then again, if, as is said, some ‘mates’ joined them on their first stroll, then there must have been mates to do so. Maybe they were visiting too? Perhaps they were part of a group, of an Australian sports team? Maybe a language school? They could have been hearty Scandinavians, here to learn English! Or maybe they actually didn’t have any mates here at all, maybe they were just talking to strangers at first, but became readily friendly with them, and these erstwhile strangers who were now effectively friends had mates and they joined them, impromptu, and that’s how it all happened. Who knows. Well, exactly: who actually knows?

My early investigation into this matter of waxing importance – waxing, in importance, at any rate, to me – yields nothing. Yes, the Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll happens each year on the last Sunday in June; yes, it attracts a fair bit of attention nowadays, people come to participate from all over the region, even the country, maybe the world, but there is no website and no guide. No official history, and no founders. No club and no charitable foundation. More than intrigued now, I’m fascinated: how do these things come about?

My mind latches onto something, but it doesn’t know what. Maybe it’s my subconscious mind: it knows, it wants, it needs there to be more to this than meets the eye (though what meets the eye would, on occasion, seem quite enough…) and it thinks it knows that there usually is. So likelihood would suggest. And in the absence of certainty, likelihood is our friend. I want to go with that, that notion, that thought. My mind senses, below reasoning, above intuition, that there is a connection and that this can be found. But not by ‘traditional’ means. (What, in any case, are ‘traditional’ means?) It realises, my mind, now, that it has to let go and take an approach that is not a route, that is not direct, that is not determinate or determined, that is neither logical nor pure, neither chaotic nor abstract, neither instinctive nor wise.

So what is it? Perhaps I am making it all up but that doesn’t matter: I stand on the beach looking out to the sea and I notice the air coming in from vaguely the right. Over there. By the headland. Is it a headland? Is it a beach. I like the waves, they are steady and impermanent at the same time. They are waves and particles too. They are full of tiny molecules, but that is not what I mean. They are wet but their power is implacable.

If nobody knows, then maybe they need to be told. I decide to delve deeper and take a detour, via the sea. There is something somewhere that somebody would rather were not the case. I shall find it and let it be so…

∞² Revival

The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll is a joyous event that happens each year on the last Sunday in June. It starts at midday and goes on all afternoon, often into the evening, though not beyond sunset. Anyone can participate irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual, affective or otherwise expressed orientation, looks, or outlook: it’s really just an opportunity for anyone who wants to to wander along the beach in the buff and feel good about it, about themselves, about each other and the universe.

Since nobody organises it, nobody ‘owns’ it, other than the people who happen to be there taking part in it, and since nobody ‘owns’ it other than in the sense that everybody who takes part in it does, there are no rules, beyond those of common sense and kindness. What you wear or don’t wear is up to you, but sunscreen is generally recommended. That said, The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll takes place in any weather at all, and it is not unheard of for everybody to get perfectly drenched, effectively taking a half-day long shower, naked in the summer rain. Many people, especially the hardier ones who cover the whole stretch from Sandbanks to East Cliff, like to wear some comfortable footwear; and hats, owing to their pervasive usefulness, really come into their own here. They also come in all shapes and sizes: something of a niche subculture thrives, whereby participants with time on their hands go to town over creating their own, but this is by no means compulsory. You don’t even have to wear a hat. You don’t have to wear anything, that’s the beauty of The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll.

Since carrying anything, including your phone and money, is such a pain when you wear nothing, there is hardly any trade or commercial activity that particularly caters to the nude strollers. Instead, a convention has evolved whereby the hundreds of beach hut owners – whether they themselves feel compelled to join in the general nudity or prefer to wear their usual beach attire, entirely as is their wont – provide cups of tea, coffee, biscuits, or, if they are of a particularly generous bent, glasses of Pimm’s to the strollers who stop by for a natter. “There are,” after all, and as many a pub and cafe along many a coastline has written on a sign above the bar or on a chalk board by the entrance, quoting Yeats, “no strangers: only friends you haven’t yet met.” And indeed, lifelong friendships have formed here among people who have lived maybe three or four streets away from each other but who have never found an opportunity to as much as say hello, until they stood on the beach by another near-neighbour’s hut, sipping from a disposable cup and maybe dunking a biscuit or enjoying a vape or an old-fashioned fag, overlooking the rhythmic roll of the sea.

Some of these friendships flourish into love, and quite a few of the toddlers who run along on the pebbles here probably owe their presence to this fine, and, at the end of the day, very British Tradition. In that same tradition, though, sex in public is frowned upon. That is not to say, of course, that after hours and after dark, in some of the huts, or over the water at Studland, behind some of the dunes, in the relative privacy of the midsummer moonshine, some love is not made in the old-fashioned way; but in the main, and certainly for as long as the sun sits anywhere in the sky, the day and the evening are fully family friendly.

Nobody really knows now how it all started, but legend has it that two guys in their twenties had entered a dare: to streak from the Jazz Cafe at the Sandbanks end of the bay all the way – some seven or eight miles – along the sea front to the Beach House on the Christchurch Harbour. It was about lunch time, and they reckoned the sun was most definitely over the yard arm, so they had themselves a couple of cocktails for courage, stripped naked and started to run. It took them all of about fifty yards before they got out of breath, and they thought that, while it is perfectly acceptable for Mad Dogs and Englishmen to Go Out in the Midday Sun, it was simply not done to run. Instead, they eased into a gentle canter and then a trot, which readily transmuted into their stroll.

Strolling, they realised to their delight, had the immense advantage of allowing them to hold a conversation while progressing slowly but pleasurably along the beach, and of course their barefaced, bare-chested cheek and unclothed loins attracted a certain degree of attention. Also opprobrium, at first, it has to be said, but they were charming about it and talked to anyone who wanted to talk to them and answered offence with banter and aggression with wit, and before long some mates and then some mates of theirs and some girlfriends and then some girl friends of theirs and then people who didn’t really know anyone but thought they were amongst a congenial bunch, started to join them and by the time they all got to the Beach House, they were having a regular blast.

Of course, the most committed of purists now follow the route in its fullness in the original direction, but there is absolutely no obligation to do so: if you prefer to stroll with the sun in your eyes and head east to west, that’s just as enjoyable, and if you just want to sit on the beach or wander up and down a bit between the piers, that’s perfectly fine. The whole point, as anyone who knows The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll will tell you, is to be comfortable in your skin and celebrate your communion with your fellow humans, without stress or strain or pressure.

{Connexum}

not the essay, just the idea

not the notion that everything is connected, that is not new

and not the question

how connected is everything

but the question

how

if everything is connected

is everything connected

if things are connected

there must be something that connects them

 

and for many things that are connected

we know what that is

we can see it, measure it, build it, make it

we can name it:

the axles the shafts

the electric current the

data the code the signal

 

but what about things that are connected and we

don’t know what it is that connects them

what about

quantum entanglement

for example

the

spukhafte fernwirkung

albert einstein’s

 

there is no doubt that things are connected of which

we don’t know how this is

and

if things are connected

there has to be some thing that connects them

even if that is

a thing we have not yet detected

a thing we have not yet detected and so not yet given a name to

a thing we have not yet detected but may yet find

we can find

 

that would give us

three things in principle:

energy

information

and the third thing

the thing that connects things

for which we don’t yet have a name

but we have

maybe

names

for manifestations of it

the strong and weak nuclear forces

the electromagnetic force and the force of

gravity

 

what if these forces are to the third thing as

light sound heat motion are to the first (energy)

and as

data code and semantic content are to the second (information)

what if that third thing is a thing in itself

that exists and that is partly

as yet only partly

understood

 

as humans we like sets of threes

trios, triumvirates, trinities

they give us a deeper reality

 

at first glance we seem to be living in twos

in the binaries of

male/female

plus/minus

hot/cold

dark/light

day/night

yes/no

1/0

 

but it only takes one thought to know

that neat and simple as this looks and sounds

it is patently not how it is

 

our reality

here too

needs a third layer each time:

 

male/hermaphrodite/female

plus/neutral/minus

hot/tepid/cold

dark/twilight/light

yes/maybe/no

1/anything in between/0

 

even yin and yang are not a duality

but a symbolic expression of the way apparent opposites complement each other as part of

the same

 

and this

is when it gets really interesting, when

dualities are not augmented by that which is in between

but are understood as the whole:

 

yin/same/yang

 

for which the quantum equivalent then could be

on/on-and-off-at-the-same-time/off

 

what if

we’ve always known this and have expressed it in many ways

the elements of

the same the other and the essence

in plato’s timaeus

the father the son and the holy spirit

anicca, dukkha, anattā:

impermanence

suffering

non-self

 

what if that third thing

the essence

the holy spirit

the non-self

is

in principle

the thing that connects

everything

the third thing

the thing for which we don’t yet have a name, a

 

connexum?

∞ Pyromania

The police had no trouble getting the boys to confess to their actions, in detail. What they had great trouble with was understanding them: their motives, their emotions, their reasons; their unnerving casual calm, even now, even now that the extent of the damage, the depth of destruction, the heinousness of their deed was put before them.

The boys, in turn, seemed to understand and simply accept that all of this was exactly the way it was. They expressed no regret, or if so then only when pressed on an angry detail: the twin girls; these beautiful, lovely, five year old girls: did they not feel sorry for them. Yes, they said, they did. And the dog? The cute little spaniel? And the dog too, yes.

The police were not alone in being incapable of understanding the boys. The moment they issued a statement confirming their arrest, hate rose from the ground, like the stench of poison and decay. It spread and quickly it turned into anger: fury against an incomprehensible evil that the people, the good people of Bournemouth and Boscombe felt had nested in their midst and that had, as far as they could tell, nothing whatever to do with them. 

The Earnest Psychologist who had not actually met with or spoken to the boys, invoked many possible causes: disillusionment, suppressed sexuality, self-loathing, confusion, disorientation, parental neglect, parental overbearing, nondescript feelings of persecution, projection, detachment. The words to the people who had lost their huts, let alone those who had lost a friend, a lover, a husband, a wife; a sister, a brother, a mother, a father; least of all though to those who had lost their gorgeous twins, and also not to those who had lost their little dog, to them, these words meant nothing, they were just noise. And it made these people, these good people, angrier still, and more hateful.

And the hate ate into them and turned their misery into madness: a kind of madness, an uncontrollable fear and loathing. For their first court appearance, the boys were driven in two separate vans – why the two separate vans, some people wondered? – the short distance from their police cells to the court building and angry, hateful crowds gathered and shouted vile words and curses at them and called for their heads. Banging on speeding police vans, endangering their own lives, rather than keeping the peace.

The ugliness was pervasive: faces distorted in pain and wrath and dismay. Loud voices, high pitched declamations, over and over again: ‘they’ve ruined our lives.’ ‘They should be shot.’ ‘These two: they belong locked up and the keys thrown away.’

The Angry Prophet wasn’t having any of it: ‘don’t you see,’ he berated them, ‘you made these boys and you will make more of them: unless and until you look into yourselves and begin to ask questions of you and what kind of people you are that you ignore in your midst those you dislike, there will be ones at ever recurring junctures that will do some unspeakable thing, just to be heard, just to be seen, just to know they exist. Wake up, you dull, you smug, you sleep-walking idiots and ask why you are so punished!’

The people did not like to hear this, they shut off his rants, if not from their ears – he was loud! – then from their minds: he has ever berated us thus, he is the madman here, this has nothing to do with us, these kids have gone wrong.

The Sacred Sage was silent for a long long time. He feared not for his life nor for his wisdom, he feared for the humanity in these humans. After the Hapless Messenger had been kicked to the ground in The Square and punched in the face and kicked in the guts and stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle and been left to bleed to death, the Sacred Sage knew: we’re undone. We’re undone: we need to redo ourselves.

She was just a journalist, but not of the kind that quickly make up a convenient narrative that is simple and clear and easy to understand and that puts the headline “MONSTERS” on the front page with pictures of the two young perpetrators, as others did, without hesitation, she was one who had spoken to George’s crestfallen, hollowed father, to Andy’s shellshocked mother, to one or two teachers and one or two friends and who had written a piece that simply and plainly and in gentle, differentiated language, but clearly, had stated that these two boys, Andy and George, were not evil, or different, or monstrous or inhuman: they were simply two boys who had done a terrible, perhaps inexplicable thing, but that it was not unforgivable. That in fact perhaps the only way we who now grieve for the elderly couple, the twins and the dog, and the others, perhaps the only way we can now move on and make things better again is to forgive them. Soon. Not absolve them, not shrug our shoulders and say: shit happens. But forgive them. Step towards them, embrace them, comprehend them.

The people were not ready to hear this, to read it in their local paper. They let a day pass, then another, then their rage took over and they waited for her, in broad daylight: she stepped out of her office at the Bournemouth Echo on Richmond Hill and was making her way towards the Koh Thai Tapas on Poole Hill for a bite to eat with a friend, when they pounced on her in The Square and took her life for speaking a truth they were not ready to hear.

The Sacred Sage saw only Sorrow. But he knew then that he needed to counsel, and be his counsel never heard. He knew that his lone voice would be drowned out and that the anger, the fury, the pain and the hatred would stir these people and eat into them for a while, but if ever the the anger were to surrender to wisdom, the fury abate into knowledge, the pain ease into power and the hatred reveal itself to be love, then he would, sooner or later, have to counsel, and this would be hard and seem futile but it was all he could do and it was at the same time everything that he must.

And he spake thus to anyone who would listen, though nobody would: you are these boys and they are you. Every fibre, every molecule, every thought, every heartbeat, every quantum particle that they are is you. You have not made them, you are them. You are them as much as you are the lovely twins and the cute little dog and the beautiful elderly couple. Own this part of you. And then heal it. Heal it not by hating it, attempting to expunge it, heal it by accepting that you are capable of this. You are capable of building these huts and putting into them quaint souvenirs and enjoying them with your lover, your neighbour, your friend, your gorgeous five-year-old twins and your grandparents who have been together for sixty years and who have never done or said anything vile in their lives, and you are capable of blowing them up and burning them down. You and these boys are one. I and you, we are one. I am no wiser, no sager than you. I am you too. The Messenger, whom you destroyed: she is you. All is one. We are this. This is who and what we are. We are Boscombe Beach, we are Bournemouth Town, we are the country, the world and the universe. We are God. And we are Andy and George. And Andy and George therefore, too, are God. Everything we do and everything we do not do and everything we say and everything we do not say and everything we think and everything we do not think is who we are. And since we are God, it is for us and for us alone and for us together to make ourselves Divine.

And having spoken thus, the Sacred Sage, unheeded, stood, bare but for his simple robes, forlorn, and smiled. He smiled because he knew, being sacred, and sage, that no matter how angry, how furious, how pained and how hateful these humans were now, they were also still God and their godliness would one day – perhaps far into an unfathomable future not yet envisaged, unknown to us yet and deep as the reach of the Thought of God itself – come true. For surely, surely it is so.

∞ Pyromania

Morning crept up on Boscombe Beach like a girl, home late from a party: a little tousled, a little ablush; in the small hours, with a hazy memory at best of what had happened.

Andy and George had taken a boat from the boat house at Christchurch Harbour and tuckered out a bit to sea, not very far, just enough to get a good view. The completion that Stefano and Paul experienced on Studland Beach together in physical union, they, Andy and George, had on their boat in a serene, cerebral, perhaps even spiritual way: they sat next to each other, close, close enough to feel each other’s presence, but not holding hands or intentionally touching, just so close that what was between them was nothing more than proximity. And they watched in equal awe and wonder, equal to each other, equal to that of spectators elsewhere. They did not take pictures, or videos; they sat in the little boat they had ‘borrowed’, bobbing up and down a bit on the shallow waves of a calm sea with a subtle breeze coming in more or less from their left now, as they were facing the beach.

They knew they had done something terrible. Beautiful, outrageous. Gorgeous. And terrible. With dawn now creeping home on them too, George started the engine of the little boat and drove it straight to the shore where they landed not far from Boscombe Pier. Once again, nobody really took notice of them, two pale, dishevelled teenage figures, as they wandered along the beach, absorbing the gash of a wound they had inflicted on it: hut after wrecked hut, smouldering in the morning haze. The odd fire still burning. Water puddles from where people had attempted to extinguish a blaze. Ruined belongings. Melted plastic crockery and disfigured chairs. Exploded gas bottles and broken glass. Splinters of wood, singed at the edges. Blackened, browned. And every now and then, not often, but here and there, the blue flashing lights of ambulances and police. Surprisingly few fire engines. But ambulances and police. And yellow tape now, here and there, and blue and white tape too, and then, mixed into the smell of coal and sulphur and burnt wood and overheated metal, a different smell, an alien, unfamiliar one, sweet and pungent in equal measure.

Here is where George, instinctively, without noticing, took Andy’s hand and when they had been walking slowly before, they now moved with hesitation, caution, peering between the people who in places gathered, in places stood forlorn, in places comforted each other, surrounded by those now busy, answering the call of catastrophe: the rescue personnel, the life savers, the paramedics and the competent bystanders turned volunteers. A white-sheet covered body. A stretcher. A woman, terror in her eyes. The quiet, undramatic unfolding of disaster aftermath.

Moving through the scenes in silence, slowly, Andy and George, holding each other’s hands, began to sense that they had attained a kind of absolute: none, not one of the beach huts they passed was unscathed. All were damaged, most were destroyed. And the loss on people’s faces: they were only beach huts, that had gone, not homes, not schools or hospitals, not museums, temples or shrines. But for the devastation written on these expressions, it might as well have been all of those. Cherished these huts had been, loved. The few, modest possessions each had contained had meant more to their owners than treasures in a bank vault or safe. To some cynic much may have been tat, to these people – honest, simple, unassuming people – they had embodied memories and harboured care.

Nothing epitomised their loss more poetically than a ceramic figure of a fat beach couple, grinning ear to ear, one bucket in one hand with a shovel sticking out of it, the other waving a little flag, both arm in arm, with their sun hats on, standing on a mound of sand with the omnipresent caption “life’s a beach” in thick letters embossed on it: its shards lay shattered on the ground next to the burnt shelf it had fallen from, and two disembodied chubby faces now grinned idiotically from among char-stained debris.

George and Andy walked along the beach for a while, then went up to George’s flat, where his dad was out – presumably, they thought, outside somewhere, assessing the damage, talking to neighbours; they didn’t mention it or ask – they went and sat on George’s bed. Then George lay on his back and Andy did so too. And Andy turned over to his side and rested his head on George’s shoulder. And George put his arm around him a bit and they fell asleep.

When they woke up it was four thirty in the afternoon, they had slept uninterrupted for nearly twelve hours. George’s dad sat on the sofa in front of the television, which had the news on, showing the scene no more than fifty yards from where he was sitting, only outside. George got up, used the loo, went into the kitchen, said ‘hi dad’ and poured himself a glass of water, took it back to his bedroom, where Andy now stirred. He gave him to drink from his glass and Andy now got up too and used the loo and then they both went into the living room and sat down on the other sofa, at a right angle to the one George’s dad was sitting on, and George’s dad looked at them both and said ‘are you two all right?’

Andy nodded and George said ‘yes’ and then they sat in silence and listened to a reporter from the beach not fifty yards from where they were sitting, only outside, and there remained sitting in silence as the reporter described the spectacular fire and confirmed that the number of casualties so far was twelve but could rise as there were some people missing and several were in hospital with severe burns and among the victims were two girls who were twins, aged five, and a picture came up showing two lovely, lively, smiling girls, aged around five, and there was also a dog that had died in the fires.

George’s dad was shaking his head in incomprehension and a nondescript anger, and Andy and George sat on their sofa at a right angle to him, and then George got up and went back to his bedroom and lay back down on the bed on his back again and Andy followed him and lay back down on his back next to him, and this time George turned over and put his arm around Andy and Andy turned towards him and put his arm around George and they lay there, not really sleeping and not really waking and certainly not dreaming, their foreheads touching and their arms oddly entwined, but in a comfort all of their own, and an hour passed, or possibly two, and then the doorbell rang.

∞ Pyromania

The display on the night was magnificent. The dreadful beauty of destruction. Summer Solstice in Boscombe and Bournemouth would never be the same again. Some people, idiotically, would refer to it later as the Midsummer Massacre. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. But it was violent, catastrophic. And exceptionally elegant too. The people in Totland, on the Isle of Wight, probably had the best view, apart perhaps from some revellers who had gone down to the Needles and stayed there till sunrise.

But the subsequent notoriety of what George and Andy never gave a name to, what by no stretch of the imagination could be truthfully described as a ‘massacre’ – either by intention or by outcome – and what therefore, somewhat clumsily and by the uncomfortable default that envelops events that happen too quickly and then linger, became known as the Solstice Spectacle is largely attributable to a couple of unassuming and in most senses of the word pretty average men in their thirties, Stefano and Paul, one Italian, the other English, who had decided to spend the afternoon on Studland Beach and – having previously been oblivious to its naturist stretch – found themselves teased out of their swimwear for the first time in a more or less public place by sheer opportunity.

Having brought along a picnic hamper and two bottles of Verdicchio (Stefano had insisted it not be Pinot Grigio, for once!) and gone through said bottles with unsurprising ease by the time it got dark, they had then felt comfortably relaxed but also just a tad horny, but not wanting to risk making a nuisance of themselves or incurring the wrath of other naturists, had withdrawn a bit behind some dunes and the long grass and no more than lain in each other’s arms and maybe fondled each other a bit and then, in the unusually warm air of the night – even for a Midsummer Night, on an English beach – dozed off. They had woken up again at what must have been some time after midnight, maybe close to one, and the alcohol having eased off but not so much their libido, Stefano had remembered that he may just have a tiny bit of M left in his backpack, from a session he had been to with a couple of guys a few months ago, which had been really rather enjoyable. This proved to be the case and although the little sachet he’d pushed down one of the outside pockets of the backpack at the time on parting and more or less forgotten about contained just enough for maybe twice two shortish lines, that was certainly enough to give them a pretty good time for the next couple of hours or so.

Stefano was in a blissful place looking out over the expanse of the sea upside down on the sandy slope towards the beach with Paul over him and inside him, the two of them so into each other, so in synch, so absorbed in their rhythm that nothing, nothing else mattered, that everything, everything was good and warm and I am you and you are me, and the way they were together they both got to the point where soon, but please not just yet!, but soon they both would erupt; and they built up to it and they moaned and groaned and called each other’s names and oh yeah and oh god and dio mio and not yet! and I want to cum, and me too and yeah do it and yeah do it and just as they did, Stefano a fraction sooner, which tipped Paul now over the edge too, just at that moment the sky and the beach and the sea lit up and their orgasms lasted and lasted and their happiness and their joy and their union was complete and a chain of lights adorned the coast, in explosion after explosion like gorgeous fire crackers in the distance, and blue flashes sparked and yellow flames rose and thick smoke rose in the purple red orange skies and both of them lost their minds for minutes and maybe for hours but for these moments they were it all and it all was they and that was the universe and the universe was wonderful and one.

There were maybe two dozen or so other nude people who had elected or ended up spending the night on the beach and none of them had really been particularly aware of these two. Sure, if those who had settled in closest had kept quiet and still for a while they would probably have heard, faint in the distance, the unmistakable noises of two people getting high on a recreational substance and on each other, but nobody did, because they had their own conversations, one small group even had their guitars, some had their whispers and others their quieter unions to celebrate and so nobody had minded or noted the glorious coming together of Stefano and Paul.

But now everybody was on their feet, by the water, watching the spectacle unfolding on Bournemouth and Boscombe Beaches, all the way from Sandbanks to Christchurch: it was awesome in every original sense of the word: awe-inspiring and profound. Stefano, still high as a kite, and like the the others on the beach largely naked – some, perhaps, had put on a shirt or wrapped a shawl round their shoulders – was in a Heaven all of his own exclaiming in Italian, ‘mamma mia! che bello! dio mio! che spettacolo! che spettacolo! che spettacolo’ and Paul, equally high but less Mediterranean in his expression kept hugging him and smiling and laughing and smiling and kissing him and then they just held hands and stood there, naked as the universe had made them, among the others who stood there naked and amazed and awed.

And so it came to be that by far the most vivid, most famous, most watched and most liked, most discussed, also, most shared and most, in its own peculiar way, cherished video of the most horrific devastation ever unleashed on the English Seaside was also, and looked and felt and sounded and would be experienced for decades by people the world over as, a fantastic, poetic, ecstatic celebration of humans just as they are, as they are when in love.