11 The Wood Pixie

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Pyromania [2]

To his left, the sand, brought here from elsewhere to cover the shingles; beyond the sand, the sea, unceasing in its undulation. Wave upon wave, ripples upon ripples. The constant sound of undramatic motion.

To his right, the beach huts. All locked up, this time of day, bar two or three: exceptions. They were modest huts, almost sheds, really, perhaps four feet wide and six feet tall, barely tall enough for a grown man to stand up in. George was no grown man, and at 5’7” he was unlikely to turn into a giant among them. He had a slim and slender stature.

The huts all carried numbers. Here, they were in the low to mid-hundreds. They lined up one by one, not in clusters but in single file segments. Sometimes a dozen, sometimes two. They seemed of an ilk, though occasionally George walked past some newer models, ones with roll-down shutters, or wooden roofs, instead of the black rough material most were covered with. They were not deep, maybe another five or six feet. Inside, there was room to stow away some deckchairs, some wind breaker thing or some chairs and a parasol. Mostly it was too windy for parasols here.

At this time in the early evening, when the sun is beginning its hesitant descent, not over the sea but behind the slightly elevated land, most people have either not been here or they’ve already left. Only now and then do you walk past someone putting away the things they’ve been using during the day, or reading a few more pages in their book, or sitting with two or three friends in chairs outside the open hut, drinking cider.

Many, though by no means all, of the huts have a little gas stove, with only two rings: enough to heat up a kettle or a tin of baked beans. The huts all sit off the ground on stout ledges made of brick, and they are very close to each other, nearly touching, but not quite, unless there’s an actual gap, in which case it’s mostly several huts wide and there for a reason: a public convenience or a small ice cream parlour, or some similar unflattering, utilitarian structure.

Sometimes there is a long gap with no huts for a few dozen or a few hundred yards, and then they start up again. There is nothing strange or exceptional about these beach huts, except perhaps their very existence. It is a little miracle of quaintness in an otherwise strident world. They are so small, these huts, so modest, so impractical, in a way, and they’re not even directly on the beach, they’re on the other side of the promenade: everyone can partake of them, the people sitting outside them watching the people go by, and the people going by watching the people sitting outside them. They are not private. There is nothing exclusive about them, let alone glamorous. Some have whimsical, punning names: “Mad Hutter,” for instance, or “Seas The Day.” Inside the odd one, with its wooden shutters open, you spot little signs or postcards that say things like: “O I do like to be beside the seaside,” or “A day at the sea is good for the soul.”

They can’t be argued with, these huts, they are part of the seafront, like seagulls and groins and the piers and the surfers and the signs listing all the things you can’t do, now that you’re here.

George knew these huts, of course, he’d walked past them innumerable times: he was hardly surprised by their presence. Nor was he annoyed. Nor was he thrilled. Or even delighted. Yet into his mind slipped a thought that put a smile on his face, that was almost a grin. How easy it would be to set them on fire. All it took, he immediately recognised while walking by, was for a small incendiary device to be placed in the gap made by the pedestal each sat on, and within seconds the thing could be ablaze. What’s more—and this thought followed on directly from the first—no sooner would one have caught fire, than the two next to it would do too.

In fact, and George who had a visual brain imagined this as a diagram straight away, you only had to light numbers 2, 5, 8 and 11 in any row of twelve to be sure they would all go up in flames almost simultaneously:

1 – 2  – 3 – 4  – 5  – 6  – 7  – 8  – 9  – 10 – 11 – 12

o – √ – o  – o  – √ – o  – o  – √  – o  –  o  –      o

That’s one in three, George thought, and the smile on his face broadened; and his eyes, dulled by the ordinariness of his life thus far, lit up, just a little.

< Pyromania [1]       Pyromania [3] >


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Pyromania [1]

It was a particularly pointless but spectacular crime that shook the town, the nation, the world.

It could not be explained, even though the Earnest Psychologist tried, on TV, to find reason for it, or if not reason, then at least rhyme. It could not be put to use, even though the Angry Prophet admonished the people for failing to see its hidden purpose; and it could not, so it seemed—oh could it ever?—be forgiven.

The Sacred Sage counselled thus, but the offence was so severe, the laceration so visceral, and the shock so unshakeable that the hand of mercy may not extend for millennia. As for the Messenger? The furious rabble killed her on the spot.

George had recently moved to the area, and he was in no way unusual, other than in the ways that everyone is a bit, especially when puberty all of a sudden gives way to sullen teenage anguish.

George’s anguish was no different to most, so most would have said, but he alone had to bear it, and he knew that nobody knew what it was. Nor did he care. Nor did he think about it or dwell on its nature. He felt an ache of malcontent with the world that was heavy and sad, and he didn’t have words to talk about it, nor did he have friends who would have responded in terms of pure friendship if he had ever articulated it.

The Earnest Psychologist, in retrospect, tried to reason that the breakup of his parents two years prior would have been an incision of trauma and separation in his life. The Angry Prophet berated the people: your passive aggression, your smug disengagement, your unbearable peace! Someone needed to come and infuriate you! Shake you! His pain is now yours. Own his pain! And turn it on the system that pains you!

The Sacred Sage knew not of pain or system, but he knew of love. ‘Love this boy, he is your son,’ he said, as they shouted him down. ‘The world you are part of—that you are a creation and at the same time creators of—is the world that has all of you in it and all that you hold dear, and it has also him in it, and all that you despise; if you despise him, you despise part of you: the hatred that pains you is the hatred for the part of you that you don’t want to know. Love him like your son; more than your son! Love him and forgive him: extend the hand of friendship to him and say these words: “you are forgiven.”’

But George was not forgiven. They cried, ‘he has not atoned, and he has not shown remorse, he has not begged for our forgiveness, on his knees, as he must, since the horrendousness of his deed has no bounds.’ The Sacred Sage sighed.

George had been wandering along the beach that he had recently moved to, with his father, a spruce man called Mark. Mark was a good dad to George, and he loved his son in an uncomplicated way that as far as he knew and was able to tell made sense and sufficed. It was not an ungenerous love, it was genuine. Real. George had no reason to doubt that his dad loved him, and his dad was far from his mind.

On his mind was nothing specific as he ambled, listlessly, on the promenade from his new flat—he did not think of it yet as his home; events he himself was about to unleash were to make sure that he never would—by Boscombe Pier towards Bournemouth town. He wasn’t thinking of his friends (he had one or two), or his class mates (he was mostly indifferent to them), nor was he thinking of any girl.

Sometimes he thought of a girl; there was one in his class who was undeniably pretty, and sassy too, and whose lips curled up by the edge of her mouth when she smiled, which he thought was attractive, and her name was Sarah, which reminded him of his aunt, who was also called Sarah, but he was not thinking of his aunt either that evening, making his way slowly towards Bournemouth.

He wasn’t thinking of homework, nor of any sports team he may or may not have had a passing interest in, and he wasn’t thinking of a nondescript future. Nor was he thinking there was no future, or that the future would be nondescript. (As it turned out, the future for George would be highly specific.)

He was moving at the languid pace of a lanky youth westwards, and he was going to meet up with some mates. This thought, such as it was, neither uneased nor excited him: it was one of those things that you did. So George’s head was not filled with anything in particular at this time: he was neither angry nor sad, not lonely nor elated. He hadn’t had anything to drink at this point, and he had not taken any drugs either. The Earnest Psychologist found this hardest to deal with in retrospect: there was no trigger, no immediate cause. Not now, and not in the hours and days that followed. The Angry Prophet disagreed: the cause was all around! The cause was there right in front of everyone: just look and you see it, open your eyes!

The Sacred Sage knew not of any cause or what causes might be ‘good’ or ‘sufficient’ or ‘real’; he spake unto them: ‘have done with fear and loathing and hatred and cause. Love him as if he had given or needed no cause.’ They yelled at him chants of shame and abuse.

What caught George’s eye and his attention, and filled his head with a leftfield thought—one that seemed to come out of nowhere and should have fleeted through his mind without trace, but didn’t: it lodged itself there and nested, and laid its eggs and sat on them, warm and soft and heavy, till these thought-eggs hatched, and they were not quiet or timid, but loud and vigorous and demanding to be fed with action—what ignited the spark of mischievous unrest that would have to (there already was no escape) yield onto abject disaster, but also glorious ecstasy, if but for one moment – what was on his mind were the beach huts.

Pyromania [2] >



Sedartis looks at me sadly. ‘How is it,’ he demands to know, ‘that this man is asking for money?’ I shrug, a little impatient:

‘He doesn’t have any and needs some to buy food or alcohol or cigarettes or drugs or whatever it happens to be that he wants.’

‘Yes I can see that.’

I fear this conversation is going to go some obvious place about social injustice and the unfair distribution of wealth and the absence of life chances for someone like this man, who isn’t young, and who isn’t old, and who isn’t distinct in any particular way, other than perhaps that at this moment he has just asked me for money—for change, more precisely, which is materially less, yet symbolically so much more—and that I have given him some (money only, not meaningful change), partly because I for once happened to have some on me, partly because I felt unease at walking past a human being in need of some charity without offering it in the presence of Sedartis, and partly because I forever and always look at people about me who are skidding on the edge of existence and think the ‘there, but for the grace of god, go I’ thought, not because I have a faith or a belief or a god I can readily defer to, but because ‘god’ to me seems as good a shorthand for ‘chance,’ or ‘luck,’ or ‘circumstance,’ or ‘the way the universe has momentarily aligned itself,’ or any combination of these, as any.

‘What I need to understand,’ I get from Sedartis, ‘is how do you make it so in your world that there are those who have money and keep it and then have to—reluctantly, more often than willingly—give it away, or bestow it, and there are those who do not have it, or at any rate not enough, and they have to beg for it, or steal it, or at the very least work for it; and how do you make it so in your world that purely having money makes that money increase, whereas purely not having money makes obtaining any much harder: surely, but surely it would be much better the other way round: what is money other than a “promise to pay,” but how do you pay, if not in deed?

‘You cannot pay a person in money: that is just another promise, but the longer that promise is held out and not kept, the weaker it surely becomes, not through ill will, necessarily, but through the depreciation of any hold that a thing or a person can have over anything or anyone else over time.

‘So if today I promise to marry you tomorrow, and I marry you not tomorrow, and I marry you not for another day and another, and then not for a week and a month and a year and another year and another; and then five, maybe ten years pass: my promise to marry you becomes weaker and weaker, surely, not because by necessity my intention has diminished—my intention may still be lasting and good—but think of the potential lovers I meet, think of the glances I exchange; think of the buses in front of which I cross the street, think of the tall trees I walk under: the chances, the probability, of my being able to marry you ever decreases, not through wrongdoing, but because the bond between me and the words I have spoken and the thing or the person that they pertain to gets intermingled with bonds that pertain to other persons or objects, through other words that I speak or things that I do.’

Sedartis is approaching the nub of his question, I sense:

‘So how is it that in your world you decree that money should increase over time: how most extraordinarily ludicrous an idea, which makes people do with money the opposite of what money is supposed to be for: money is there to circulate as an ever-weaving pattern of promises that are quickly exchanged and kept and renewed and newly directed. You give me a loaf of bread, I give you this promise that I or someone else will soon give you something in exchange for your bread that is worth as much as your bread, no less and no more, for example some honey. This can only be good and proper if the promise is called in soon. If you then stash away this promise because you know that in doing so it will become greater, then you withdraw from circulation all incentive for somebody else to garner the honey that goes with your bread. See you not this is so? Money surely, but surely should only ever decline in value over time, so that nobody has any reason to hold on to any of it, but everybody has every reason to constantly keep it in circulation, because that is all it is good for, nothing more, nothing less.’

I have no answer to this—except a tentative ‘inflation?’ which is easily deflected—but I try to reason, as best I can: ‘Well, people, they like to save up for a rainy day, or for their retirement, say: if you didn’t pay interest on savings, or if you had no return on investments, then people, when they are old, would have no pensions and no savings and would end up on the street, like our friendly young beggar just then.’

‘He was not friendly, or young.’

I was trying to adopt a whimsical disposition. With Sedartis, this fails.

‘Why would old people not have a pension, and why would they need savings: are you not, as a community, capable of looking after your old and your sick and your needy? Have you not developed the means to gather from each to their ability a contribution to the welfare of all?’

‘We have; we have a complex system of benefits and pensions and tax credits, and then we have private pensions and health insurance and life insurance and obviously also investments and savings.’

‘Do away with investments and savings,’ implores Sedartis: ‘they are what distort your presence today, they are the root of your immense poverty.’

‘We are not that poor, as a country, for example, or as a society, we do rather well; although there are of course inequalities…’

‘You are destitute. You are deprived because you lose, by and by, all sense of worth and all sense of purpose and all sense of care and all sense of freedom and all sense of joy and all sense of being.’

‘But we are highly evolved, and connected; we have ever increasing levels of literacy and make rapid progress in science and medicine, and although our population is growing, we still cater for larger proportions of it better each year: we do not fare badly, though granted, perfect we’re not.’

‘Oh yes,’ Sedartis concedes at last: ‘you have the potential to be magnificent.’ I am glad to hear him now thus, but: ‘but you waste way too much of it way too much of the time. You do not realise your potential.’

< Projection       Theory >

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10 Secrets, No Lies

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The Snowflake Collector – 12: There Was Nothing Now But the Snow

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EDEN was originally published in random order. Starting 1st August 2018 it is being reposted in sequence. To follow it, choose from the subscribe options in the lefthand panel (from a laptop) or in the drop-down menu (from a mobile device).

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