I shall return to Saturn. I’ll not ignore it, not have passed it, unawed by its majesty. Unwondered by its spheres. Unswayed. It sways me, Saturn; but not now. Now I am drawn on further, down – not down, across – the path: the gravitation is too strong, its presence too immense, I must succumb to Jupiter. For a moment. For a while. For an eternity that lasts a fraction of a thought. For a whirl of a gas storm. For a communion. With Callisto. Io, Ganymede. Europa. These friends I have not met. These habitations. These absorptions. Thoughts. Sensations. My body, more than my spirit, attracts them and they me. We enter each other’s orbits, and dance. Moons they may be, mere satellites to a planet all of their own, but I enjoy them, their company, their zest, their life. Their juvenation. I visit them, they me. We journey not together, we relish the here. The nowness of it all. It is not mere. Have I not longed so long to be in the now?

This here is good, I like it, though it will not, doesn’t have to, last. The mightiness that overshadows us encumbers us not: we are not oblivious, but we don’t care: choose not to be intimidated by this massiveness, this bold inelegance. The world right now, that world that is not this world and that is this world still though we may never wish it so, it bears great force, great danger, anger too. But not for us. We delicate ourselves out of its artless rage. We are not like that. Are not of it. It not of us.

I no longer feel the need to explain myself and I no longer long for the need to be free. I am free, now, having got this far, and I relish that freedom more than I treasure my life. I am not Jupiter, nor ever want to be. That bulk, that pompousness. That body of hot air covered in cold. That implacability. That dehumanising fervour. And yet, these satellites, seductive with their charm. I’m glad I came here. Happy to have paused. I’ve long abandoned the idea of destination. These are sojourns on a celestial perambulation. How privileged I am. How powerful. How small. Here, seeing Jupiter be big, be brash though not beguiling, I believe my time has come. This is not new, I’d thought on one or two occasions once or twice before I felt the tug above my wings but here I realise my strength is not outwith. You may be one and a half score septillion times the size of me, but you are no match to my mind. You have the mass; the sun has all the power: I have the intellect. To survive. To discern. To accommodate myself in this universe, or any other. To thrive.

I launder my library of references by adding experience. The hunger to live. The need to swallow. The acceptance of millions of potentialities in one go. The taste and the texture. A slither of hope, of forbearing of premonition. A spark of the imagination. A tenderness, returned. And wanted. Handsomenesses. No warriors, these, no battle axe ire, no strategy and no plan. No tactics. No goal. A glorious swim in the sea, a pool of tadpoles of random configurations, a swirl in the mind of the gods. Ye gods. Ye godlinesses. Ye buds of brimming boisterousness. Ye flowers and sparks. Ye spermly waggers of tails. Ye lusciousnesses. Ye beetrootjuiceredvoluptuousness. Ye inspiration.

Ye words.

Saturn calls me back, I know. I’ll have to detour there, a loop. This Jupiter wilfulness cannot last. I feel for Ganymede, I feel for Europa. Ye Kepler-452b. I feel for you too. I feel for my brother who is writing these words in a universe just like ours only different, having acceded that that’s what he’s doing without knowing why. I feel for my coccyx, I feel for you. I feel for you and I sense you are there and I feel strongly for a new love a new warmth a new glow a new smile a new touch of a new hand a new face and new dimples a new tuft of hair and a belly button, a new mind a new generous heart, on the horizon. Where is the horizon, in space, in the orbit of Jupiter, near one of his moons? I baffle myself into submission and accept the reality as it is though I know full well that there is no such thing and there is no such thing as necessity, distance, perspective or pain. There is pain, it is felt, it is lived. Does it have to be, ever? It need not be celebrated quite so. There is no hate, it is an illusion, and there is no anger, it disappears. There is there is there is love.

I like that thought and take comfort in it although I can’t prove it, and I think of my new love on the horizon whom I haven’t yet met. Literally, have not yet met. We know each other, we are in communication, we are getting closer all the time, but the thrill of the unknown persists and we both hold on to it a while longer not because we want to but because we want to believe that we must. So we must. So we do. We’re pragmatic like that, and we have lives to live. So we think, so we hope, so we trust.

I salute Jupiter for all his preposterousness and kiss each of his moons farewell. I’m not sure I need to come back here: this was good, this was fun, this was excellent, while it lasted. But possibly, probably, for me, it has now run its course. I bid thee farewell, most mighty of planets: you have been, I know, quite misunderstood. But don’t worry, my gaseous friend, for so have we all…

109809803459080138948908093049693049609349601346940384 Theory

Sedartis sits and speaks to me slowly.

‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy.’

Where did you get your name from? I wonder. I don’t ask. He composes himself. He has sageness about him. He reads my mind, listens to it, more like; feels it. I went for a wander, he thinks back to me, along a little lake. Little compared to the big lakes where I come from. Where do you come from, I long to know; he stays tuned to my thoughts and replies, without words, the other worlds are many while the same worlds are few. Of course you cannot know where I am from, even though you do. I am content with that, for the time-being, and so he continues:

‘I do not know whether there are any conspiracies or whether there are not, and if there are, who is within them, and who is without. There may be some; there may be many. There may be none.

But let me posit that there are none: let me imagine that what looks like people consciously, actively coming together to conspire is in fact no more, and no less, than a culture.’

A culture, I think, is a conspiracy.


Let me posit that the conspiracy is no more – and certainly no less, which is more grave – than a culture. A culture is a conspiracy. It could be benign, it could be malicious, it is most likely something in-between, it may have, at the outset, no obvious value attached to it: but consider – Sedartis is now thinking harder – the good, the bad and the ugly: are they truly, are they sincerely, are they actually good, bad or ugly?

What of Mephisto, I think, less insistent than he does, is he not ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets das Böse will, und stets das Gute schafft.

‘Exactly.’ Sedartis understands me perfectly: He wills me to think the thought further, think it deeper. I struggle. I get so easily distracted these days…

‘Consider people who do terrible things: murder children. Shoot boys and men. Rape women, girls, and boys and men. Devise gas chambers. Throw youths off buildings.’

My heart feels a hollow pounding: I don’t want to consider people who do terrible things; can’t we consider friendly people, people who may yet be friends, though perhaps they have not yet met? Are we to consider the worst that people do? Why? Sedartis thinks yes.

‘Consider people who do terrible things for some reason or other. Consider how in every single way they are exactly the same as you or me or our neighbour or our friend Jason, except in what they are doing at this particular time. Why do we find it so hard not to think of the other as other? Because it is exactly the same as us. The thought of it is horrendous, frightening. Of course it is true and you have to, you have to concede, though you don’t want to, that you could be that person, you too could be doing these things, you too are them as much as they are you, you are not separate, you own their horrendousness, and they own your love, and that’s what’s so hard not to be destroyed by: the worst thing that any human being is capable of, any human being is capable of; and it overshadows, for a time, for a period, in our eyes, the realisation, the hope, the belief, the truth that – is it not a truth? say it is the truth – that they, this self-same man, that identical woman, the person that is doing the worst thing imaginable is in the very same vein also capable of the noblest deed any human being has ever accomplished. The paradox. The infuriating, numbing, devastating realisation that the man who crushes the skull of a newborn under his boot is the same as the man who lays down his life so a stranger may live. It is not our nature to be one or the other it is only and only our culture.’

But we are not victims.

‘No we are not victims, not of our culture, we are the makers of our culture; that is the call: to stand up, to be tall, to accede to the duty of generating a signal, of being a voice in the wilderness, of saying: no. Not in my name. Of saying no, not in my name, when terrible acts are being committed; and of being first to hold up our hand and our head and say: I am here, count me in, when noble deeds are done. That is the choice: the choice is not between being born good or bad or potent or weak or ill or well or noble or savage, the choice is the culture we want to create.’

Sedartis is silent. The thinking has quite exhausted him. I want him to stay by my side. I feel his presence comforting and serene. So much have I longed for his presence, comforting, sage and serene.

‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy,’ Sedartis speaks slowly, ‘let me assert that instead there is culture. And that the culture there is is the world as it is when we’re in it, and that being in it we are part of and therefore responsible for that culture. And when we give up our hope and say: this is just the way it is, we have already lost, we have failed, we have yielded in resignation to the bad things that happen, and when we throw up our hands in despair and say: that is them, they are like this that do these things, they are other, then we have not understood who we are, not grasped that we are what we see happening around us, that we own every last bit of cruelty as we exult every grand act of mercy; and if we say: they are powerful that have made the world such as it is but I am weak, then we give away what power we have and we empower those that we scold for wielding their power against us; and if we think they are evil that hold this power, we forget that we would have power if we hadn’t so feebly, so faintly so frivolously surrendered it. What is power, and what is it for: it is the potency to shape the world and what shapes the world that you live in: culture. Let me posit that there is no conspiracy, there are not categories of people, there are not those that are good and those that are bad and those that are ugly, nor are there those that are different, nor are they indifferent, there is your human conscience and there is the culture that we create.’

Now I would like an ice cream.

‘So would I.’

10 Secrets, No Lies

Everything can be true, to a greater or lesser extent.

Is what I imagine any less real than what I say before I do it, and when I do it is it then real or could I forget it and make it undone, or could I apologise for my faults, of which there are many, to myself, even, and having done so be forgiven, even by myself, or could I be better or worse than I am and still be the same, or is what’s in my mind any different to what’s on the screen black on white, and should I edit. And prune. And emend. The bit of me that thinks I have no chance of survival outwith the trappings of civilisation knows that even this is as much true and as much false as I want it to be. Must everything be known, and to whom? Even my deepest inadequacies?

I stood in his bathroom, for no reason other than that I was round his house because he was helping me out by doing a piece of work for me that I couldn’t then do myself. The first time I saw him I was sitting at a desk in a large open room where maybe a dozen or so other people sat at or by desks, and we were all working on a project that was very exciting. It was exciting not because it had any meaning but because the task was formidable, the challenge demanding, the technology thrilling and the people assembled were good: they had crest-of-the-wave, or, as one of them liked to put it, ‘bleeding edge’ competence. There was no more point to any of this than there ever was to any other of these corporate projects, beyond making a big brand look like what its executives could be coaxed into thinking was ‘cool’, and apart from one product that this particular project now helped this particular brand launch that was pretty crap on the inside but won hands down on design, the world would not have been any worse a place without any of what we were doing being done, but as I was sitting at my desk, making up inane scenarios of attractive young people using phones, in walked the most attractive young person I thought I had ever seen. (If you imagine this as a film, here is where the music swells and – depending on genre and era – we may just go into slow motion.)

Since then, and several years of sporadically working together later, we had settled into a comfortable arrangement whereby I adored him and he let me do so. I once drunkenly at a party told him that I would never do anything to jeopardise our friendship and he, similarly drunkenly had shrugged his shoulders and said something along the lines of ‘that’s good to know’, I can’t quite remember. Whenever we went out as a group, which we did now and then before he got married, I completely failed to disguise being smitten, which, after a while, became something of a running gag in said group: I adored him, he let me. There was nothing more to it. Now I’d asked him for a favour and he’d graciously said yes. And I went round his house to help him do the work he was helping me out with and I went to the bathroom and there hung two of his shirts.

Maybe not everything needs to be told. Maybe some things are best left unsaid. Imaginations run wild. I stood close to his shirts that hung from a hook or a line on two hangers and guided one to my face and inhaled. Or did I think I would like to but couldn’t. It was as if he were in the room: for a moment I felt, this is you. Two seconds, three seconds, four seconds, five. That’s enough. You don’t cling on to that which undoes you. Or maybe you do, in your mind.

This is and remains my unending flaw (I want to say ‘tragic’ but ‘farcical’ would be more true): the realities of my heart are unhinged. I meet somebody, I fall for them, I imagine the world adjusted and changed and project onto them my idea of perfection and see a settled ideal that requires no more explanation. The other person, more likely than not, is oblivious to any of this and if I make the mistake to make them aware, they annihilate me with bewildered indifference, not unkind but bemused.

George has been looking at me as if he were studying me and I wonder does he know who I am. Not ‘know’ as in possess factual evidence, of which none can exist, but know as in sense, as in experience that profound certainty – inaccurate though it may be – that you have when you are in a reality that compels. Ahmed arrives with our second mojito, or is it our third, and I think there would be something tremendously entertaining about getting drunk with myself. That would undoubtedly loosen things up, if we both simply got plastered. Then again, it’s still only about two, two thirty in the afternoon, I still don’t know why I’m here at the Limonlu Bahçe in Istanbul and I can’t begin to think where I’ll be spending the night, but then there is really no hurry and it occurs to me we could go for a walk, but that would entail leaving this delectable oasis, it would mean dodging traffic and weaving through throngs of people and it would mean being reminded that there is a world out there that is simply there and cannot, in essence, be argued with, whereas here, in the speckled shade of the trees, and with Ahmed and his angular colleague our waiters, and with the mojitos softening the edges of perception, and with George in clearly no more of a hurry than I am, I feel safe and, more than comfortable, content. Content just to be and to be for a little while longer. I look at him and think: you’re going to be just fine. Just don’t make all the mistakes I’ve made and keep making, right to this day. I can be so very inept, sometimes. He looks back at me and I think he knows what I mean. And I say: ‘I do not understand my heart at all.’ And I don’t.

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

When Yanosh found him, lying in the snow, he was as cold as the earth and as grey as the sky and as still as the heart that stopped beating. For many years, Yanosh had been coming to visit him, up at the end of the valley, even though he had long ceased to live in the hamlet outside the village, an hour or so’s walk from the hut; and for many days The Snowflake Collector had been lying on the ground in the snow, on his back, his eyes facing up to the sky whence the snowflakes kept on descending.

These eyes, these cheeks, now sunken-in, these bristles of his beard, had long been covered by a blanket of white, and no birds were up here, this time of year, to pluck at the eyeballs, no vermin or hungry beast to tear at his flesh: he was already at rest. When Yanosh wiped the snow off his face, he saw that he’d closed his eyes and fallen asleep, there was no stare, there was no anguish in his features, there was nothing now but the snow.

He had long since grown at one with universe, The Snowflake Collector, and nothing else mattered now. He had his meaning. He had his hut and his priceless collection of snowflakes which grew every day that the sky brought him snowflakes, he had a friend in Yanosh who came to see him every so often when he was in the country and a friendly face in Yanosh’s mother Yolanda whom he saw at the inn on the few and fewer occasions he went down there for an ale, and he had the occasional visitor who had seen Yanosh’s pictures of his snowflakes online or read about his collection in an article or heard about it from a local or an acquaintance, or learnt of it from a book.

Very rarely, hardly ever, had he accepted an invitation to go down from the valley and undertake a journey, by bus and by train and sometimes by plane, to one of the cities to address a conference or a symposium or a convention and talk about his understanding of snowflakes.

He knew that he could not communicate his understanding of snowflakes to the world by talking about them, and he couldn’t by writing about them – which he never attempted – and he couldn’t by showing them to Yanosh who photographed them and posted his pictures of them online. But he felt he could perhaps give something back to a universe that had, in the end, and on balance, treated him fairly and with such care, by humouring these people who now, now that he no longer craved their attention, clamoured for him and professed that they longed to know of his mind.

He knew, The Snowflake Collector, that snowflakes had many dimensions – seven at least he could think of, but probably more – and he could see these dimensions clearly and distinctly in his mind’s eye even though he knew he would never be able to see them with his physical eye, nor represent them visually, nor show them to Yanosh, or anyone else. He would not be able to explain them, nor would he ever be able to convince anyone in the world that these snowflakes had many dimensions, seven at least, but possibly more, because he knew enough of the world and its violent rejection of anything it couldn’t see with its eyes and measure with its instruments and comprehend in the context of its current science to realise that any attempt of his to do so would remain futile; he knew of the world’s irrational fear of anyone and anything deemed irrational, and he felt not foolish enough, any more, to argue or make a case.

What he could do, and did do, was to collect these snowflakes in their physical three dimensions as one who knows of their further dimensions and as one who knows that what he was able to show Yanosh, and what Yanosh was able to show the world, was not just less than half of what a snowflake was, but only the tiniest fraction, because he also knew, The Snowflake Collector, that each additional dimension does not add to a thing as much as the previous one, but each additional dimension increases the complexity of the thing exponentially.

He would never, he knew, be able to explain this or convince anyone that this was so, but the thought alone of it made The Snowflake Collector extraordinarily happy; and elated by this happiness, he felt, for the rest of his days on this earth, in his valley, in love. He was in love with George, the first snowflake he had successfully collected by his own particular method, and he was in love with Yanosh whose loyal friendship sustained him, and he was in love with the valley and the mountains that made the valley, and with the stream that ran through it, and with the trees that he planted on the plot of land that he kept by the stream, two young trees for each old tree he cut down, and with the old trees he cut down just as much, and he was in love with Yolanda who served him his unfussy ale when he went to the inn on few and fewer occasions, and he was in love with the universe and he sensed, because of this, the universe, in equal measure, love him.

And he knew, then, The Snowflake Collector, that he would be able to communicate to the world his understanding of snowflakes and their dimensions not through words, not through the snowflakes he collected in the glass cubes that he cut, one inch by one inch by one, not through the pictures that Yanosh took of these snowflakes in their glass cubes, floating in the mysterious, but not magical, gel that he had developed, not through drawing, describing or dancing them, but through love.

And if only one other person – be it Yanosh, or be it Yolanda, or be it a random visitor to his hut, or be it someone who came across him or his snowflakes or his story – were to experience that love and through that love these dimensions and through these dimensions were to know of the soul of the snowflake, then his work, he was certain, was worthwhile and his communion complete.

He was now, he felt, as he took all the glass cubes he had carefully crafted over the years from the sturdy boxes he’d made, which, after a while, had needed their own formidable shed, and broke each one open and allowed the gel to evaporate and the snowflake he had collected in it to escape back into the universe and become what it needed to become next, and, having spent many hours so freeing his snowflakes, lying down on his back in the snow, welcoming down upon him new snowflakes that he no longer now would collect but simply become a part of, he was now, he knew, as he lay there, after another hour or so closing his eyes and holding his hands open to the sky and allowing the blood to drain from his brain and the pulse to ebb from his temples, he was, now that he had been and no longer needed to be The Snowflake Collector, he was now at one with it all.

11: He Was, Now More Than Ever, His Own Man <


The incident with the van was unnecessary.

It never really happened, of course, but that, considering how unnecessary it was, may be just as well. I had found myself on the edge of a village called Checkendon, waiting for someone to pick me up from the Cherry Tree Inn, where I had spent part of the night. The other, earlier part, I had spent in a converted barn making up words to no end. These words were then taken by four or five individuals of varying degrees of expertise, importance and relevance to the task in hand and essentially messed with, much in the way I don’t like. Since it was a job I was being paid to do and that I had no emotional investment in, I placed a half-pained smile on my lips and retained some other words within, unspoken.

By 1:30 in the morning it had been decided, by one person or another who was in some way or other involved with the project, that it was now time to call it a night. So Tommoh swung on his motorbike and I was given a lift by someone else in a car to a B&B somewhere in the countryside, where, having had only three hours sleep the previous night, I immediately went to bed but did not immediately fall asleep.

Instead, I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what my life had come to and wondering whether Tommoh felt, as I did, that it would be comforting and reassuring now to hold on to each other, to curl up in one bed instead of the two in two different rooms, and to rest in each other’s arms for a while. The option existed of knocking on his door and asking him outright, but I was too tired, and also as so very often before and since, I felt that doing so might just jeopardise an easy and uncomplicated friendship.

I woke up amazingly refreshed. I am not good in the morning. I do not get up and trill a summery tune. I do not sing in the shower. I don’t yoga and I don’t jog. The only time I get to see dawn is when I’m still up from the night before. But the job in the barn appeared to demand that having left there barely six hours earlier, we now return and continue the dance of irrelevance we had so fruitlessly started the day before. Tommoh and I sat down to a hearty breakfast which – it later turned out – I enjoyed more than he did, and he then swung himself back on his bike, while I waited for the shortish man with the blonde eyelashes to drop by and take me back to the barn in his car, as he’d promised he’d do the night before.

This took a little longer than I expected because apparently he forgot all about me, and so after breakfast I checked out and sat myself on a wooden garden table outside the pub, enjoying the early sunshine and continuing my pondering on the stark insignificance of my own existence.

I was just getting to the point where I thought there’s only so much pondering you can do without anything actually happening, when a rather large man in a larger-still van appeared, not quite out of nowhere, but still unannounced. He drove up to nearly as near to the house as he could across the gravelled parking lot – otherwise empty – and purposely decabbed; he opened the back, took from it what looked like a plastic tray of something or other and carried it, his protruding belly leading the way, to what I imagined must be the tradesmen’s entrance or the kitchen or possibly the larder, if people still have them. (I imagine they do, in the country…).

What happened next is, of course, pure fantasy, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere, called upon to go back to the outskirts of somewhere to pursue the pointless depletion of your brain at the hands of people you have nothing in common or store with (except, I emphasise, Tommoh) and who drain your soul, talking and thinking and living in terms of things that are ‘key’ – what do you do when you’re stuck there and trapped and in front of you is a van: stuff in the back, probably food, engine running. Cab door open. Driver at least twenty, maybe thirty seconds off guard. Possibly more. He’d never dream of somebody doing what I was about to do. A few seconds passed. Tic. Tic. Tic. Tic. No sign of him yet. A van with supplies. Cab door open. Engine running. I would be caught within minutes. Or would I? I could make it to Oxford. At least there would be some punting to do there. I might make it right down to Dorset where I could visit my friends and give them something from out of the back of the van for their freezer, probably. Fair wind prevailing, I might even make it all the way out to Cornwall, where I could abandon the van but pick up some loaves of bread (I felt pretty certain by now that that’s what was in the back of the van) and swap some of them for some fish and make friends with a man with a boat and go out to sea with him and have some fish stew and some bread and decide that living was good by the sea and that that’s where I was going to stay now, together with my fisherman friend…

I slid off the pub bench on which I had perched and picked up my backpack, not very large. I took two paces towards the van, maybe three. No sign of the driver. What was he doing? Having a chat with the chef. Or with the girl at reception. Twenty paces, twenty-four. Thirty. I wasn’t really counting. I stepped up to the seat, passenger side, on the left. Sliding across to the driver’s seat would be awkward, but hey. I unslung my backpack, when: ‘Oi!’

Large man loomed even larger as he strode towards me red-faced with rage. For once, my brain cells didn’t desert me. Cool as a cucumber I reached across the wheel and turned off the engine. Slid back down, re-slinging the backpack, and looked at him frankly: ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you might be a while; you left the engine running…’

‘Fucking this bloody that and the usual,’ but my boldness, I believe, stunned him, into submission. He slammed the back shut, heaved himself into his driver’s position and, revving loudly, took off. He could have crushed me. Decked me or punched me. He did none of the sort. He just made his departure as loud as he could.

I felt a little prouder that morning than I had done before not for infuriating a simple bloke going about his daily job, but for daring myself a tiny bit to the edge. And I thought of Tommoh and his motorbike and that we could always elope together, to Scotland. Or to the South of France. That would be lovely. Perhaps, I then thought, I just have to adopt a style of more dangerous living…

The Snowflake Collector – 8: It Was, in Every Imaginable Sense, a Disaster

No matter how Yanosh tried, no matter where he looked and what he put in his search field, the world did not seem to possess for The Snowflake Collector an answer. Innumerable were the sites and video clips that explained how to preserve snowflakes on microscopic slides or small sheets of acetate, using either – as he had been doing – superglue or hairspray or an artist’s fixative; and they all arrived, going by the evidence Yanosh could find, at results similar to the ones that The Snowflake Collector so far had reached.

But this, Yanosh knew, for The Snowflake Collector had told him, would not do. He would need, The Snowflake Collector had said and determined to a degree that to him was now irrevocable, a way of collecting his snowflakes in the fullness of their dimensions. And while it may have been the case that in their majority these snowflakes seemed, at first glance, so flat as to fit neatly within a thin layer of superglue trapped between two small plates of glass, The Snowflake Collector knew that this was nothing but a deception. A deception and a crass simplification by the lazy mind.

In reality, all these snowflakes – even the flattest among them, but most certainly those that came in the shape of short studs or even, as often they did, in a formation of nearly flat hexagonal structures enjoined with or indeed by short column shaped ones – were miniature crystals of infinitesimal complexity. To squeeze them between two glass plates and store them flat in a wooden case, no matter how carefully crafted, was, to The Snowflake Collector, as looking at the world and declaring it a disk off the edge of which one might fall…

The Snowflake Collector knew, then, that he would have to develop his own substance. He would have to acquire some knowledge, and applying this knowledge he would, through a process of trial and error and elimination, have to come up with a liquid, a gel that would have just the right consistency, that would be clear as glass, and that would dry, at habitable temperatures, with untarnished translucence and would keep the shape and the intricacy and the character of the snowflake he would encase in it, in three dimensions, for the relative eternity he or any other human being could envisage; not an eternity, then, perhaps, but a lifespan of civilisations: the extent of a physically appreciative intelligent presence on this planet.

A deep crisis of confidence soon engulfed him, for Yanosh’s research online remained fruitless. The Snowflake Collector now even undertook his rare and adventurous journey two or three times, by yellow bus and little red train and larger green or white train along the lakes into the biggest of any of the cities in his country and to the enormous library of the university there, to study the properties of chemical solutions at different temperatures and their reaction to coming in contact with ice. But hours and days and nights and weeks and months of labour both in theory in the city and in practice at home in his valley did not yield up to him any liquid or gel or substance of any kind that would catch a snowflake and leave it intact and absolutely unharmed, suspended in a glass cube in three dimensions, one inch by one inch by one.

The Snowflake Collector sensed the end of the season draw near, and with it he felt this abyss of despair once more gaping up before him, calling him to fall, drawing him close to surrender, willing him to give in. He did not feel, The Snowflake Collector, that if in this undertaking, as in so many others before, he failed, he would find the strength, the courage, the spirit to pursue it again next winter. Or any other endeavour. He was now, he felt certain, exhausted, spent. He had given the universe his all, and the universe had, once more, rejected his offering. Yet again, crushed by defeat and destroyed by his own, maybe lofty, ambition, he had exerted himself, but he had not excelled. It was, in every imaginable sense, a disaster.

The snow melted. The stream, where he had a small plot of land on which he planted two young fir trees for each mature one he cut down, had already swollen with the water from the fast disappearing masses of white that had covered the meadows and the sharp inclines of the mountainside, and The Snowflake Collector was no more. He had ceased to exist, his purpose evaporated like the miserable puddle of water left on the window sill from the erstwhile snow, with the warm morning sun. The devastation was drawn into the furrows of his troubled forehead, and when Yanosh now came to sit with him outside his hut, their silence was one of sadness and loss.

The stale stench of failure now clung about him, The Snowflake Collector knew, and he felt despair not just for himself but also for Yanosh. This friend. This loyal lad, still growing up, still becoming a person. Had he not let him down terribly too. Had he not drawn him into his project and made him a part of it and did the ruins of it now not lie scattered before his innocent eyes, his young heart cut and bleeding; for what? A delusion? A whim? A fantasy? For a false and forever frustrated illusion that there could be such a thing as meaning, as purpose, as friendship and love?

Tears ran down The Snowflake Collector’s face and fell on the cold folded hands in his lap and he felt he was already dead. Yanosh could not bear to look at him. But he sat still by his side and bore with him his pain. And thus they remained, awaiting in silence the dread bounce of spring.

7: Every Day Brought New Gifts Now <

> 9: So as Not to Chase Away its Wonder

18b Reprise

My encounter with him takes me right back. Back to when everything was different and new and a little bit daunting. But also, obviously, exciting. He is up for things, he’s up for seeing some art, he’s up for hearing Morcheeba, he’s even up for a book launch next Tuesday, though that is now unlikely to happen as he seems to have mistaken Thursday for Tuesday and realised he needs Tuesday to cram for a deadline Wednesday morning. Either that or what’s happened in-between has brought everything down to a fairly abrupt if hilarious (sort of) conclusion. At this point I’m unsure which, but I say to myself: if our friendship/connection/whateverthiscouldbecome survives what’s happened in-between then it will survive pretty much anything. When I say ‘whateverthiscouldbecome’, I should first of all quickly check back with the reality I am currently mostly familiar with.

We have arrived at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the place is as yet fairly empty, with only a couple of dozen people or so huddling near the very front, by the stage, so we are able to get ourselves a couple of drinks and leisurely hang about the part of the stalls that will soon fill up with  gig-goers, standing. I don’t remember what prompts the question, but it comes mid-conversation, as an aside, almost, or a sub-clause, certainly not a big deal, when he asks me how old I think he is. It’s a question in parentheses (a by-the-way-kind-of question that may or may not have slipped into another, much more pertinent topic of discussion) and I say, ‘well, putting together the information I have, I think you’re probably a bit younger than you look,’ – bearing in mind I originally thought he looked comfortable in his very early thirties – ‘so I’d say possibly mid- towards late twenties, about twenty-seven?’

‘Yes, I am twenty-two.’