∞ 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.

∞ Pyromania

The Hut made the front page of the Argos. That in itself, George felt, was quite satisfying. He and Andy were already back in Bournemouth by the time they found out, online, that their test had become a local news item in Brighton & Hove.

It nearly didn’t. When they got to Brighton, exactly as planned and with no eyebrows raised from anyone, via Uncle Edward’s in London, they found to their dismay that Brighton beach huts in the main were bigger, fatter and squatter than those on Boscombe Beach and, more to the point, they mostly sat flat on the ground.

George’s approach had been – and to all intents and purposes still was – to plant a tiny charge of homemade explosive under each third hut and, considering the average distance at which they are spaced, hook three charges up to one kitchen timer. Preassembled and primed, it would then be possible for two people to, comparatively swiftly, place the devices in batches of three, in a relay sequence. Bearing in mind the overall distance to be covered, any obstacles and the need to remain inconspicuous, they had, he estimated, a window of opportunity lasting approximately three hours. If one person was able to plant one set every two minutes, then, allowing a margin of error of ten minutes per hour, the two of them would be able to plant fifty sets an hour, which would cover 450 huts. Times three made roughly 1350. That, George thought, was not quite enough. He had been hoping for about twice as many. But Andy was unperturbed:

‘You’re not thinking of the wind.’

That was true, George had not been thinking of the wind. Could he think of the wind?

‘We don’t know what the wind will be doing on Midsummer Night.’

‘It always does something, and it normally comes in from about there.’

Andy was standing on Brighton Beach, facing the water and pointing vaguely to his right. What was true of Brighton was also true of Bournemouth and of most of the English South Coast. The wind, mostly, came vaguely from the right.

That made a big difference. As George knew, although he had never expressed it and didn’t do so now, in the face of uncertainty, likelihood is your friend. And in all likelihood the wind on Summer Solstice Night would do on Bournemouth and Boscombe Beaches exactly what it normally does, come in more or less from the south west: vaguely from the right.

This could double capacity at a stroke. Maybe not quite double. For practical reasons, the individual devices within each set could not be spaced further than two huts apart, not least because George and Andy had by now started making them. But the sets themselves: they could be spaced out a bit. Perhaps as much as three huts apart. So George’s diagram in his mind now looked more like this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 06.01.55

Which meant one set of three could now cover a dozen huts. A hundred and fifty sets would now light up 1,800. That was a pleasing number, George thought, and Andy thought so too:

‘It’s pleasing,’ Andy said. And it sounded slightly odd, coming from a teenager barely the size of a twelve year old, but it was true. It was pleasing.

The project of getting hold of a hundred and fifty kitchen timers had started almost immediately, but the trip to Brighton, via London, proved instrumental, because there are only so many kitchen timers you can nick in and around Bournemouth before somebody starts thinking that’s weird. The field trip to Brighton via London though took in numerous household and hardware stores, DIY centres and ordinary larger scale supermarkets, in none of which digital kitchen timers were considered high enough value items to be individually tagged, with maybe one or two exceptions of the more ‘designer’ variety. George and Andy eschewed these and bagged the smallest and cheapest they could find, and before long their little suitcases were filling up with timers of every type, ilk and description.

Uncle Edward was oblivious to all this, as he was not the kind of grown-up to snoop into teenagers’ bags – or any of his house guests’, for that matter, of whom he had many. He wished them a good night out on the Saturday, when he was going to the theatre and dinner with a friend, and they headed down to Brighton. As previously agreed, they did not tell Uncle Edward they were taking a train down to Brighton, so as far as he was concerned, they were just heading out about town. They did not specifically tell him that’s what they were doing either, because it went against George’s grain to lie to his uncle, whom, after all, he liked, very much.

Following what looked like a potentially fatal setback of the ‘wrong’ beach hut design being prevalent on this part of the coast, the two boys – who here, among the curious mix of the youthful laid-back, the middle aged gay and the residual resident pensioners looked oddly at home – on their stroll happened upon a hut that seemed, and turned out, just about perfect: part of a group that looked a little older than the others, it sat on a low but accessible base, it was in good but not pristine shape and its location, towards the end of the beach, made it, if not exactly isolated, then still comparatively quiet.

With the temperature mild and just a faint breeze wafting in from, vaguely, the right, and the hour approaching midnight now, there were people milling about, but not too many and, as predicted and hoped, none of them paid any attention to the odd young couple among them. At this point, poised and calm, they didn’t look like juvenile arsonists, at least no more than juveniles do without meaning to anyway. They looked like any teenagers, one tall and languid, the other minuscule and mercurial, who probably should be heading home about now, and who might be doing just that, albeit slowly.

The deed itself was done in seconds and, within the specified minutes of deliberate delay, resulted in a resounding success.