The Snowflake Collector – 1: Barely The End of October

Up at the end of the valley, the far end, before it yields to the glacier which reaches down from the mountain pass, slowly receding now with growing temperatures, lives an old man who looks at the world still with wonder.

He is not as old as he seems at first glance, and much older than his years all the same, for he knows. He knows, deep inside, what holds the universe together and what tears it apart and what being these molecules, what being that energy means. He knows it but he can’t express it, and so he won’t. He won’t talk about it, he won’t, in fact, talk about anything much, he appreciates silence.

When he was young he used to meet up with friends for a drink and a chinwag, and then it began to dawn on him that much of what he was being told, and even more of what he heard himself speak, was an array of variations on themes: things he’d heard said and had spoken before, in this way, or that, or another. Self-perpetuating reiterations of what everybody already knew and keenly agreed on, or hotly disputed, as was their whim.

And so he let go, he let go of his friends whom he loved but could no longer bring himself to like, and let go of the circuitous conversations that did nothing but remind everybody that they were still who they thought they needed to want to be. He was tired. And being tired he got old, older than his years, older than his looks, older than the oak tree in the oldest garden. And he moved, once or twice first, then twice or thrice more, and each move took him further away from those whom he had been, had made himself feel, acquainted with. First the country, then the coast, then the foreign lands, then mountains, then the valley and then the end of the valley, in the mountains again. The remotest place he could find.

It was not that he was happy here, it was just that he was content. Content not to need to desire happiness any more. And here he sat and walked. Sat by the house he’d bought for very little, and walked over the fields and the meadows and up to the vantage points from which he could see the peaks and the woods and the villages, in the very great distance. He liked that distance: distance was space, distance was calm, distance was perspective. Unencumberedness. Distance was good.

Winter came to the valley and it was barely the end of October and going for walks now was harder because everything was covered in snow. And this being the far end of the remotest valley he could find, nobody came to clear the snow or pave the paths or even the lane that led up to his hut. So he was stuck, in a way, and he liked being stuck, it meant, in a way, being safe. Safe from visitors, safe from the desire to go out, safe from choices. The persistent demand of decisions, abjured. Simplicity. He’d craved that. And now, he had it.

What he was able to do still was sit on the bench in front of his hut and watch the world go by. Except the world didn’t go by here, it stood pretty much still. Or so it would seem. And he knew, of course, that this wasn’t true, that nothing stood still, that everything was in motion, always. He found it comforting. Disconcerting too, but comforting; and he’d said so. He’d said so and had been quoted as saying so too.

With each day that passed, winter became more present and more unreal: the snowflakes tumbling from the skies like clumsy, half-frozen bumble bees out of a freezer up in the cloud. There was something in him still that reminded him of the kindness of people, and he let one or two of these snowflakes alight on his hand, and they melted and ceased to exist. How sad, he thought to himself, how just and, yes, how poetic. And he recalled once upon a time being a poet, and that’s when he decided to capture and keep them. Not all of them, obviously, only some. And to collect them. To preserve them. He knew this was futile and went against nature, but therein exactly lay the exquisite sensation of thrill and deep satisfaction. To do something that was futile and that went against nature, but that would be indescribably beautiful. That was more than existing, that went beyond breathing and eating and sleeping and defecating and shaking in anger and dreaming and imagining and sitting and thinking: that was living. That was imbuing the accidental presence of clusters of mass-manifest energy in this constellation with something that surpassed everything, something divine, something purposeful and profound, something quintessentially and incomparably human: meaning.


2: His Task Would Be Immense >

 


{Vibe}

What kind of a consciousness is it that knows itself to exist but doesn’t know why? In what way does that make sense? In what way does it not? The quest. The longing to learn. The yearning for answers. The learning to yield. If only my brain were better at retaining information. What is ‘information’? Remembrance of things past and future. The energy stream, and the particles. Obviously, the waves. The idiosyncrasies. Material flaws. Cracks that let the light shine through. Nonuniform irregularities. Quantum behaviour.

8 The Leopard (and His Spots)

We’re into weird territory now, and I’m a little excited. My hold on reality – loose so as not to say non-existent since early this morning – has just undergone one more lateral nudge. Whatever I’m clasping at now is clearly not what I’m used to. I can’t blame the Bloody Mary: it may have been perfect, but it was not nearly so strong as to give me hallucinations. Do Bloody Marys ever? Is seeing yourself as a youthful rendering in your current day environment a hallucination? Then again, is a somewhat trendy garden bar café restaurant in the currently fashionable part of Istanbul ‘my environment’? And what are they thinking of me in Kingston, Surrey, right now? Should I care?

I resolve, for the first time really today, to ‘deal’ with the situation. Right up until now, I have been essentially bewildered and in no small measure bemused by my overall predicament, but now it transpires there’s something I must do. This fills me with gloom quite as much as it thrills me. Ideally, I would do nothing. I would sit here and wait for it all – whatever ‘it’ is – to just go away. But conditions are no longer ideal. Whereas until a few minutes ago I was maybe disorientated but principally happy to just exist in a reality that didn’t quite make sense but that would probably, I surmised, explain itself to me in one way or another sooner or later, I am now deeply discomfited. And as the extraordinariness of my state begins to dawn on me, it also begins to impose itself on me with a meaning, a forceful declamation of purpose: it seems to be saying you are here precisely to confront your own younger self. And that is plainly absurd.

The angular waitress is nowhere to be seen and so I halfheartedly wave at a sweet looking colleague of hers who is and has been all smiles. He looks about twenty-seven and three and a half months and wears one discreet earring and a handsome tattoo that encircles his arm below a deliberately high-rolled shirt sleeve. He likes me I think, but then at the moment I am quite likeable, and quite helpless, as I glance up at him and ask him what it was that the young man over there had eaten, offering him an innocent smile: before you interfere with your reality, check it.

He glances halfway over his shoulder and furrows his brow for an instant or two and my heart sinks. There’s nobody there. I’m imagining him, I am losing control. Hah, losing control, I’ve lost it several hours ago, possibly several decades…

He slowly turns back to me and declares: ‘Kebab. Mixed kebab and salad. Are you still hungry?’ – ‘No,’ I reply, only now aware of how odd a question that must have seemed, ‘oh no, not at all, I was just wondering; it looked nice.’ This satisfies him and from his expectant look I deduce that he thinks I will want to order something anyway, maybe another coffee? I pause for a moment and then say, as if that was the most natural thing in the world: ‘do you think he would mind if I asked him a question?’

Ahmed – I later find out that’s his name – cocks his head a bit as if to say ‘are you serious?’ but instead, with a still growing smile says: ‘There is no harm in asking a question.’ I am relieved, but not sure that he’s right, necessarily. Would that not depend on the question?

I feel I have caught myself on the hop and I order, somewhat on a whim, a Mojito this time round and – sensing my window of opportunity close and the boldness in my adrenalin-fuelled heart wane – ask Ahmed to ask young me (without referring to him as young me, for obvious reasons) if he would join me for one, as I would like to, there not being any harm in asking a question, ask him a question. Ahmed seems to enjoy this task, one he has never, I fancy, been given before, and brazenly marches up to young me and asks me if I would care to join the gentleman over there for a Mojito. To my unending surprise I say yes. But then I have always been good for a new conversation, even back then, when I was, or believe to remember being, naturally disposed towards caution.

As I sit there watching myself saunter over to me, I sense an overpowering surge of affection and care. God, I think to myself, if only I knew…

Sedartis

Sedartis appears out of nowhere and joins me on my train journey from Zürich to the unfortunately named Chur, making his presence felt in the empty seat next to mine, as I glance out of the window.

(When I say ‘Zürich,’ I mean a small lakeside town outside Zürich, some ten minutes along the route, where I had boarded the train, having spent the night on the other side of the hill with friends and colleagues, talking mainly about things I am only ever half sure I half understand, but which nevertheless never fail to feed my hunger for thought, invigorate my imagination and massage my malleable mind.)

Where did you suddenly come from, I want to ask him, and how is it I know your name; but before I can speak we are already in conversation:

‘So,’ asks Sedartis, ‘wouldn’t you like a boat on Lake Zürich?’

‘Most certainly not,’ say I in reply, though the question seems scarcely to warrant one.

‘Why not?’ Sedartis insists.

‘Why,’ retort I, ‘what would I with a boat on Lake Zürich?’

‘Whatever you fancy,’ Sedartis enthuses: ‘sail on the water, enjoy it, splash about in it a bit!’

The puppy dog wag of his voice wearies me.

‘I enjoy water much as I enjoy women,’ I say in measured tones, unsure of the ground I’m suddenly skating on, without consciously having made any decision to foray at all, onto ice thick or thin: ‘from a distance. To look upon and marvel at their splendour, be it shallow or deep. I have no need to sail upon or splash about in them.’

Sedartis seems saddened by my lack of alacrity and produces an apple, far too symbolically. He contemplates it for many a long second and then takes a bite from it in a manner that could, though perhaps it ought not to, be described most accurately as ‘hearty.’

He vaguely reminds me of a character in a book I undoubtedly once would have read, but I don’t remember the book or the story (not least as I’m unsure I’ve even done so yet, or whether this is something I am still to do), and I feel that now he’s here it would be rude of me to dismiss, blank or reject him, or to send him away; and so part of my onward journey, simply, unassumingly and innocuously enough, he becomes.


Lesson >


Read Sedartis in Paperback or as eBook

 

7 Love

Being invisible to the naked eye has the advantage that you can watch and learn. I sit on a tube train wearing a hat and I examine the people sitting across from me. Nobody notices, nobody minds. I love looking at people. I love people. I love. I’ve put half a century on the clock and not ever experienced ‘love’, not love in return, not I love you I love you too love. I feel love all the time I gush all aglow at the slightest appearance of beauty or kindness or both or even just quirky adorableness and I forever fascinate at the troubled soul. But never has anyone whom I felt myself as ‘in love with’ felt that way about me. Or vice versa. That is strange. As it so seems the norm. Then again, I’ve never subscribed to ‘the norm’.

The boy’s sun bleached hair is lighter blond than it would be had he not spent some time on the beach, I assume. I feel like talking to him but I don’t know what to say. And I don’t want to scare him; I remember what I was like when I was that age, and although I was fiercely independent and unselfconsciously cool I was wary of men of the age I am now. They were ancient. And really what was their point. I put myself in his place and imagine myself looking at me from where he’s sitting, still held in a momentary trance, and I find it surprisingly easy to see what he sees and feel what he feels and know what he knows and be what he is and it hits me: I’m he.

Not metaphorically speaking in a similarity kind of way vaguely so, but for real. No wonder he looks so familiar. And so abjectly alien too. I have manoeuvred myself into a space-time-convolution in which for reasons I cannot begin to imagine I am sitting twelve feet away from myself, some twenty-eight years removed. Holy cow.

{Meander}

The strident thrust of a century recently launched and with great fanfare too. Millennium. Nobody talks about that, no more. A comma makes all the difference. There are aeroplanes flying overhead there are cars on the road there are people in the street about town. Forward motion, always. It likes me not; not always, not now. I long to ease. Not from now on, just for right now. Much needs doing but it’s good to do nothing, once in a while; just to float. Relent to slow the flow of time. Be. Not go anywhere. At all. Except you always do, don’t you. You can sit in a spot for eternity and when eternity is over you will have moved. Away from the centre, around the star, on your planet’s axis, many times. I said it was disconcerting too, but comforting, nonetheless. And it is. Then a kiss.

6 Descending, Temporarily, into the Unrequired Sludge of Unrequited (at Least to Reciprocal Level) Affection, Again

This happens so regularly, so predictably, I should be inured to it.

I am not.

As if he’d read my mind, the man who doesn’t need to shave, on our second meeting, wears the tiniest hint of stubble. He has spent the night in Peckham, but does not volunteer any more details about why or with whom. My impression is that it was a simple case of crashing at a mate’s house, but that impression may just be wrong. I don’t feel I know him well enough to enquire about this or the number of days he hasn’t shaved, so I can’t tell whether this is just the result of one night’s morning’s not shaving, or whether it is in fact the protrusion of several days. Faint though it is, it nevertheless intrigues me because it comes up so different to the soft light blond tuft that sits off the lower side of his jaw bone and the two or three long hairs that sprout from his little mole near the back of his cheek. The ‘stubble’, such as it is, shows up in short little thick pins, which compared to the rest of his head appear black.

We sit opposite each other, discussing comedy, I believe, though my mind is only half on it. The other half of my mind – my conscious mind, we’re always talking about, I have far less of a hold, if any, on my subconscious mind, if that isn’t plainly stating the obvious, which plainly it is – is divided into roughly four areas of attention, each approximately equal in measure: one quarter takes in the astonishing, familiar, but nevertheless new-from-this-angle scenery, on the Dove’s terrace, with Turner clouds in the sky and rowers already back on the river; another quarter takes in the mild tea taste of the light ale my fellow drinker has bought for our second round and that he’d described, after the first sip, as “undeniably unusual but not altogether unpleasant;” a third quarter has registered that the Turner clouds have now once more wholly obscured the sun and I can take off my sunglasses again which I do think is kinder on the person sitting opposite; and the fourth quarter is taking in the person sitting opposite, thinking: you are exactly the kind I would fall in love with, but I won’t, except that I will and if truth be told – and it be! – I already am. Falling. ‘Falling’ is maybe not the right word: sinking, more like. Slowly, as into quicksand. Calamitous, and thrilling. Degrounding, inexorably (or is that just a cliché), in… love?

Perhaps not, perhaps that would be not only insane but also a further distortion of not just the heart and the mind and the soul but most inexcusably of the truth, and truth, we have already exclaimed, be told! A glow of untenable, unsustainable, inexplicable, unwarranted, but oh in life indispensable warmth that says: I like you. More than makes any sense. It will pass. It will solidify, the ground. Mush will turn into dependable clay, on which to build. There will be friendship and love there will be friendship and love and the two will and will not be the same.

Far be it from me to claim that I can’t say I’m not entirely impartial to the occasional quadruple negative…