Alignment

Here is how the universe aligned itself for it to happen that my young Science Communicator Friend and I could have a wonderful night, with Morcheeba:

I’d had every intention of going to the Highlands for a few days in the last week of November, firstly because I love the Highlands and like to go there sometimes in the autumn when there are not many people about, and there’s a good chance of rain, and the walks are solitary and long, but also, secondly, I had an offer of a free first class ticket from King’s Cross to Edinburgh courtesy of East Coast Rail, which was about to expire in early December: a gift of ‘goodwill’ from the train operator by way of compensation for some long service delays the year before.

I was pretty much sold on the idea of doing this because I craved the craggy hillsides, and I thought on the way back I could drop in on an old friend in Berwick-upon-Tweed and go for one or two more walks with him before Christmas, and for once I was not strapped for cash. So, so far so good.

The First Thing that went wrong, as in right, as in different to all expectations and most precedent, was that my old friend in Berwick was going to be ‘on duty’ that particular weekend—the last one in November—because his wife was going to take herself off somewhere with the oldest, leaving him home alone with the two smaller children. This put a clanking big spanner into all kinds of works, since it meant that far from being able to go on extensive country walks followed by many pints in the pub, we would have to spend time mainly at home, looking after said small children. Now, they are lovely children, but that was not what I’d had in mind.

The Second Thing that offered itself up as a variation on the ‘plan’ was that a dinner that had been suggested a while ago by the Swiss Ambassador and His Wife for a small group of people including me was now scheduled for Thursday 27th, and although I had very mixed feelings about the circumstances in which this invitation came about—for reasons that would be inappropriate for me to enter into in anything resembling detail—I actually rather liked the Ambassador and His Wife and thought that it would be churlish or at the very least ill mannered to miss their dinner, in the absence of any good excuse for doing so (other than my lingering unease about what had precipitated the occasion in the first place, of which more I am honour-bound not to divulge).

My enthusiasm for the prospect of spending the end of a Highland week at my friend’s in Berwick already dampened, I thus now also had an almost perfectly good reason to stay in London that week and accept this invitation, signalling to the Ambassador and His Wife that, certainly on my part (I couldn’t speak for the other people concerned) there were no ‘hard feelings’, and so all was, comparatively speaking, well…

Now newly in a position of having this whole week mostly to myself in London, I started filling in some other nights in my diary. Though not the way they turned out at all, because the Third Thing that happened was that I was having coffee with TomTom at the Troubadour. There was no reason or purpose to this, he just happened to be in London with a break near the end of his tour and suggested we go for coffee, which I, being a creature of habit and feeling at home at the Troubadour, suggested we do there.

At some point Anders, the lovely lanky waiter of Scandinavian origin whom I have never not had a bit of a soft spot for (bearing in mind though that I tend to have a bit of a soft spot for waiters generally, especially tall ones), came over and handed me a blank envelope. This had never happened before. It was, he said, an invitation to a private view of a local artist, Melinda, who had asked him to give some of these to some Troubadour regulars, of which clearly I’m one. Pleased and a little flattered, I thanked him, slid the envelope in my pocket and proceeded to more or less forget about it in an instant.

When I got home after saying goodbye to Tom, I found the envelope in my jacket and put it down together with my unopened mail of the last few days, possibly weeks, there to forget about it for a second time. (There was no noteworthy reason why I had at least several days’— possibly several weeks’—worth of unopened mail: I just don’t like opening my mail. Nobody these days writes me poetic epistles or missives of undying love: what comes through the letterbox are mainly bills, unsavoury bank and credit card statements, and ‘special offers’ that have nothing special about them from companies with little or nothing of interest to offer.)

Meanwhile, around about the same time, on the 18th November, to be precise, so actually a couple of days before having coffee with TomTom, I was trying to organise a night out with Diego, who is not only adorable as well as Italian, but also difficult to pin down socially, because while he’s extremely loyal and helpful, he’s also unfeasibly busy. It’s a typically ‘London’ challenge, this, which we’re all used to.

I had proposed two films to him (as an alternative to the theatre, simply because he hadn’t yet responded to my other suggestion, which had been Electra at the Old Vic), and while he was keen to see the film on Turing, he had in fact already arranged to see Interstellar, my other option, with some other friends in the very near future. Reasoning that as an Italian he wouldn’t mind, I blithely invited myself along, asking him specifics about the date and time he had booked, which turned out to be Friday night 28th at seven forty-five. I went online straight away and found one of very few seats—mainly singletons left to the side and very front or extreme rear of the IMAX auditorium—and booked it, triumphantly announcing to Diego that I was going to crash his night out at the cinema with his friends.

Also on the 18th November, I start a conversation with a man on Grindr. He describes himself as ‘masculine looking for the same, but love a good chat regardless’ and looks like a handsome, slightly rugged early thirty-something to me. He is on his way home, past my house, it appears, after a failed encounter with a ‘weird’ Italian—no connection to my Italian friend—who has spooked him a bit; and while we’re both online he reaches his flat, which happens to be eight doors precisely along from mine, on the same side of the street. We chat a while longer, find out that we share several interests and are both night owls, until finally I sign off because ‘I’m starting to fall off my perch,’ as I tell him, some time after three in the morning.

The next day we chat again, briefly, then we skip a day, and then over the next two days (we’re now up to 22nd November) we again have just a few brief exchanges on the app, except I tell him that curiosity has got the better of me and I’ve entered his name in the search field on Facebook, and the first person to come up was he. I offer to send him a friend request, which he suggests I do, and we banter a bit about possibly finding out too much about each other and ‘the joys of online stalking.’

So from the 22nd November he and I are friends on Facebook. This is the Saturday before the week I was going to go to Scotland, but now won’t be. Nothing else noteworthy happens over the weekend.

On Monday 24th—and we’re now into the week in question—JayJay, more or less out of the blue, and also perhaps a tad surprisingly since we had only just seen each other a couple of times in a row when often we go without catching up for months, suggests I join him and some friends at a tiny North London fringe theatre to see a piece either by or adapted from Gogol. I have no pronounced interest in either the piece or the venue, but I’ll go and see anything more or less any time, and I am again pleased and a little flattered to have been asked, and so of course I say yes.

The night at the theatre is Wednesday, which tangentially reminds me that I have an invitation also to a private viewing at the Troubadour on that evening, but naturally JayJay and the theatre take precedence over a local artist whom I don’t know, nor have ever heard of, and so as I confirm with JayJay, I prepare to forget about the invitation I received through Anders at the Troubadour for a third time.

Tuesday all is quiet and nothing unusual occurs.

Then, on Wednesday 26th, the Fourth Thing flicks a new switch, retroactively: my friend David reposts an item of his girlfriend Alex’s on Facebook, in which she offers two tickets to see Morcheeba this coming Friday. The reason the tickets have become available is that she had bought them mistaking the date of the gig for the previous Friday, so she had rolled up at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire then, only to be told that she was a week early. This coming Friday she can’t do. (Whether she was going to see Morcheeba with my friend who is her boyfriend, David, or somebody else, I don’t know.)

I respond to David’s forwarded post, saying that I have use for one ticket, so if any of his other friends also has use for one, then we could have ourselves a night out with Morcheeba ‘tomorrow’. This is a slip of the mind, as the tickets are actually for the day after tomorrow, but I don’t notice that. I do, however, look up my diary correctly for Friday, because in the diary for Thursday is the Ambassador and His Wife’s dinner, and on Friday there is nothing.

This is the Fifth Thing, and it’s decidedly odd: I have three Apple devices, which are all using the latest, up-to-date operating systems, and which ordinarily synch all my diary entries across devices via iCloud, so I pretty much trust my diary. Since my diary is blank on Friday, I think I can go and see Morcheeba then – the fact that I talk in my reply to David’s forwarded post about ‘tomorrow’, when tomorrow would be Thursday, turns out to be a red herring.

But my diary isn’t free on Friday. I have a ticket booked, crashing Diego’s cinema-going party at the IMAX. Yet this doesn’t show on the laptop I’m using. Later I find out that the diary entry exists, perfectly accurate, on my other laptop. When I notice this and run several tests to see whether my diary isn’t synching properly, I find that there is no such issue, my diary synchs wonderfully, within seconds; and if a device happens to be offline (I test this too), the entry gets pushed through at the earliest possible moment, no problem. So why, of all my diary entries, this particular one did not come up on my laptop at this time, is and remains an unsolved mystery.

At almost exactly the same time, the Sixth Thing that happens is that JayJay texts me to say that he’s feeling poorly and won’t be making it to the theatre tonight. I read this as a cancellation of the outing as a whole, since I don’t know his colleagues or friends and had left it to him to book the tickets. So I think: no worries, I will go to this art viewing instead. Also at the same time approximately, my new friend from Grindr gets in touch again for the first time since the weekend, this time on Facebook, with the opening gambit: “so we’re facebook friends now.”

Having previously mentioned the Troubadour and the possibility of a coffee there in our earlier chats on Grindr, I take the opportunity, offered by the Sixth Thing, to tell him that I’ll be heading down there later today and that there’ll be free vodka cocktails, a fact which Anders had alerted me to from the start, and which had stuck in my mind as a particularly attractive incentive, because how can you say no to a vodka cocktail when it’s on offer. To my absolute delight, my new friend says he could do with a free drink and agrees to come down and see me there, exactly as I’d hoped, because that would give us a chance to meet really informally in a relaxed setting, and it would only have to last half an hour if it didn’t go well. He has promised his flatmates he would cook some chicken soup for them beforehand, so we agree to meet down there at seven, which gives me a chance to also have some chicken soup beforehand, though I didn’t make mine from scratch, I poured mine out of a Waitrose tub.

The art at the viewing is decorative and nice with quite a bit of character, and as I’m there before my friend arrives, I chat a short while to the artist, who thinks she knows me, but when I tell her that we don’t know each other, although she may have seen me at the Troubadour, she seems to lose interest and becomes almost a bit weary, though not impolite, notwithstanding the fact that I also tell her, of course, that I had been invited by Anders.

The vodka cocktails on offer are Sea Breezes, generously poured by Hugo (I think – I’m never entirely sure if  his name is Oscar or Hugo or something else entirely), and I find two elderly ladies who are locals and friends of the artist’s to chat to while holding out for my friend who’s since messaged to say he’s running a tad late.

By half past I tell him that I’m more or less done with the art now, but he says he’s just on his way, so I take advantage of my two elderly ladies hanging around near the entrance talking to an attractive and artistic looking woman whom I estimate to be around halfway between my age and theirs, and I effectively crash their conversation, which leads to me and that very attractive and somewhat artistic woman talking to each other—me facing the open door—as my friend bounds up the stairs. I recognise him instantly from his picture, and we greet each other like we’ve always known each other, which in a way I feel we have.

I introduce him to the attractive woman, whose name I can’t now remember though it may have been Yvonne, and he, realising that I’m mid-conversation and aware that he’s very late, proposes to find himself a drink; I ask him to bring me one too and continue talking to ‘Yvonne’ until she reckons it’s time to look in on her sixteen year old at home, and since my friend has not got back yet with or without drinks, I go looking for him to see if he’s all right.

I am massively pleased to find him talking to another random gallery-goer, though for reasons that don’t strike me as obvious, but not important enough to enquire about either, he hasn’t got me a drink, he’s only picked up one for himself, so I get me my second one too, and I join them.

For the second time, I feel like I’m here with him, of course, who else: although we only now really speak our first few sentences to each other, we may as well, for the level of familiarity I feel, have been together for years. And I say ‘together’ here, even though we’re not even friends yet, and it is absolutely clear to me even now that we we may never, in that sense, or any other, be ‘together’.

The woman he has been talking to eventually makes her way off too, and we’re finally left to speak to each other, which doesn’t change anything; we have one more drink each, and although I feel tempted to eke out another, he is attuned to the fact that the place is emptying out and suggests we make our way home as well. As we get to his front door, we embrace and nearly give each other a peck on the cheek but not quite, and I go home thinking, well that was just entirely perfect.

I’m home shortly after nine, where I find David has replied to my post in response to his post on Facebook with: “You must have a friend seb or just crack a grinder one out! Haha.”

Now, as I’m about to explain to my brand new friend in a new message on Facebook, I’ve never been one not to “take a random gag as a proper suggestion,” and so I offer the Morcheeba night out to him. It’s a long shot in every sense: it’s at just two days’ notice, we’ve only ever had a couple of drinks together and hardly actually spoken to each other, and it’s Morcheeba, who create a wonderful sound but who are something of a throwback to the nineties. But once again he surprises me in the best possible way and says, yes, he loves Morcheeba, he’s up for it. I tell David, David promises he’ll email the tickets. Everything is hunky, except…

The next morning—Thursday—I wake up with a mildly suspicious feeling that I may have messed up a bit. I check my diary and that’s when I find out about the synching issue. I resolve, of course, to stick with the new arrangement and blow out Diego, simply because he’s already got several people to be going to the cinema with, whereas I’ve now promised to take David’s girlfriend Alex’s Morcheeba tickets off her, and of course I can get to see that film any time.

In the evening, I go to the dinner the Ambassador and His Wife are hosting at their residence, and it is very civil, even friendly. Of the small group who had been invited, two or three had decided they were busy elsewhere, so it feels even more intimate than it would have done if everyone had attended, and as the evening draws to its close, the Ambassador’s Wife again thanks us all for all we have done for the Swiss Embassy over the last few years and hands us each a bottle of champagne as a final gesture of conciliation and appreciation.

Friday comes, and there’s a Seventh Thing. Having effectively written off my booked ticket for Interstellar at the BFI IMAX, I do feel it’s a shame that that should just go to waste, especially as it’s a sold out screening. So I look up my email confirmation, on which of course it says “no refunds and no ticket exchange,” but I phone up the cinema anyway and say to the charming man who answers the phone, ‘I realise this is not your policy, but seeing that you have a full house I wonder is there any chance you can resell my ticket?’ Without dropping a beat he says: ‘You can’t make it tonight?’ I confirm, no, I can’t. ‘I’ll refund your ticket for you straight away, would that help you enormously?’ – ‘Yes, that would help me enormously, thanks!’

I’m wondering is it a coincidence, or have I manipulated my memory, or is it just the beauty of the universe that it has aligned Seven Things so my new friend, who I’m about to learn is a science communicator, and I could have a wonderful time with Morcheeba. After the gig we go for another drink, and after that we pass by my door, now coming from this direction, and I don’t even have to really ask, we both just go up together, and because it was partly the Ambassador’s Wife who was to blame for the fact that I didn’t go up to Scotland, I pop the bottle of fizz she gave me at the dinner the night before.

It tastes all the more lovely for everything that has brought us to this moment right here and right now.


< Ponderage       {Vignette} >


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Critical Mass

‘What if,’ Sedartis muses, ‘consciousness is not a matter of characteristics or substance or physics or chemistry or biology or the nature of the configuration of brain cells or the genetic make-up or the design, divine or otherwise, of the brain or its configuration with the rest of the body, but merely a matter of connective concentration: get enough nodes on the network—in your case, the brain—to connect with each other at high enough speed and frequency, and you reach the point at which the network—in your case still the brain—becomes aware of itself and can start making decisions that are self-conscious.

‘Apply that principle to any other network capable of processing information—computers, chips, civilisations, planets with technological infrastructure and already conscious entities on them—and you enter the exponential acceleration of intelligence. Why? Precisely because it is networked to the level where it can become conscious. What if Consciousness is nothing but this: enough capable nodes on the network, Critical Mass.’

I’m inclined, unsurprisingly, to consider that a real possibility…


< Phantom

ENCOUNTERS — Ponderage >


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EDEN miniatures

 

Phantom

The guilty look of the winner after the loser is thoroughly beaten.

‘It is really simple,’ Sedartis suggests, which has me a-wary, but I know him better now than really to doubt him. ‘Of course it is,’ I think back at him, ‘but what?’

‘If the young people—the generation now growing up, the fifteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-five year olds, and maybe some of their allies, who, young at heart, are older in years but still see a future and want that future to be different to the present, which is, though it may not always seem so, thoroughly different from the past; and who, good of soul, and embracing of the expansion of the universe as an indication, a hint, perhaps, an invitation even, to expand with it our minds, wherever in this universe we happen to be or be from; and who therefore, by definition, by implication also, and by both conscious and subconscious intention, seek a future that is, in definably qualitative terms better than the present, which, even though it often may not seem so, is certainly better than the past, because it is wider, with therefore more scope for both meaning and interpretation, for both substance and differentiation—if young people want a future at all, they have to demand it. Not ask for it nicely, not politely sit in the corner waiting for it to be offered, not wonder will it be offered at all, but get out on the street, get up on the box, get into the fray, whatever, wherever it may be, literally, metaphorically, passionately, and demand it, their future.

‘Because the old people will mess it up for them, for certain. There is no alternative, sadly, and no alternative outcome, because old people—with comparatively few and notable, also respectable, exceptions—are inclined (I’m inclined to say “programmed”) to maintain their status quo, for no other reason than that it is familiar, comfortable.

‘But realise, of course, that in an expanding universe there is no standing still. If you cling on to the status quo, thinking it stable, thinking it solid, thinking it, therefore, by definition and by implication, dependable and so, if nothing else, for yourself, “good,” you are in fact regressing. In a world like yours in which—as in all worlds currently known to anyone—entropy is an inescapable principle at work on everything, stagnation is a move to obsolescence. Old people—always allowing for significant, but comparatively small, numbers of exceptions—surrender to their own fate of obsolescence long before they reach it, and that is why old people cannot, in their majority, help but mess things up for the young. So unless young people get up and demand their future, there can be none. There can only be the status quo, which is in fact a regression, which is the past. Which is definitely and infinitely worse than the future. It has to be, because this whole universe was smaller, narrower, more confined than it is now and than it will be, with therefore less room, both literally and metaphorically, and less time, both literally and metaphorically, in it to think, and invent, to love, and to be.

‘How mundane it seems to me, as you can imagine, to cite for you concrete examples, but since you ask’—I didn’t think I was asking—‘take the obvious ones, the ones in your “news” right now, as we converse: If young people are in Britain and want a future in Europe they have to demand it. If they are in the United States and they want to survive their school years, they have to demand it. Demand freedom of movement. Demand education in unarmed environments. Demand the right to live somewhere affordable, clean, safe and sane. Demand free and comprehensive health care. Demand the right to speak and think freely, and to disagree with anything I, or you, or anybody else is saying. That’s the promise of civilisation, everything else is barbaric.

‘Your youth has to claim civilisation. Not with violence, of course, but with power. Their force is in their numbers and in their energy, in their ingenuity and in their spirit. Their force is their future. They must use it. You can’t do it for them. But,’ and here Sedartis changes his tone, and, for the first time ever, I hear him sound almost seductive, ‘you can help them: you can tell them you are on their side, you can let them know you want their future for them as much as they do, and they will understand; because of course they know all this already, they don’t need to be told, they just—if anything—need to be encouraged. Reassured maybe. To know that you don’t hold their rebellion against your present as directed against you, but only against your present, and that their demand, no matter how unreasonable it may be made to sound by those who oppose it, is reasonable, essential even, to the continuation of your civilisation. They instinctively know this. They need, if anything, only perhaps to be reminded.

‘Remind them only: you are on their side. You want them to live and to thrive. You want them to stand up for their future. Because if they don’t, their misery will be great, and their death, their despair, their destruction long. And it will fall to their miserable, angry children to do what their parents failed to do: to demand—not request, not beg, not buy and not steal—to demand and so shape their own future.’


< Plea       Critical Mass >


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Outrage

‘Stupidity,’ Sedartis thunders, ‘is the enemy. Stupidity is the outrage: the crime!’ Here is that word again. ‘Perpetrated not by the stupid, they may never have learnt—never have had a chance to learn—not to be so; no, it’s the chief crime of your society. As long as you allow stupidity not just to exist, but to flourish in your midst; as long as you cultivate, nurture, elevate and celebrate it, you deserve everything you get.’

I feel chastened; Sedartis is on a roll: ‘You talk of equality. You talk of democracy and a fairer society. And yet you blind yourselves to the evil that trumps all: you lull your masses into ignorance and then keep them there. Because you’re selfish, egotistical, greedy and lazy, you “give the people what they want,” which you keep telling them is soft porn mush and their own supposed “reality.” You invite them to be abysmally stupid on your television shows and think you’re doing them a favour because they recognise themselves: you make stupidity the norm, and condemn aspiration to intellect as a pretentious frivolity. You dismiss intellect itself as an irrelevance, knowing full well that without intellect you wouldn’t be here where you are, in your privileged position. You keep your people stupid because that’s how you keep yourselves aloft and rich; you fear them, and you dread what they should do if ever they latched on to how you enslave them.’

There is a pause. It doesn’t last. ‘You feed them what scraps they already know, and shore up their prejudices; you belittle intelligence as “too clever by half”—how can you even hold on to an expression like that?—and smirk at anyone who thinks in public. How can you have built a civilisation in which not only one percent own more than half of all material wealth, but another one percent at most are really schooled in handling knowledge, when you know that knowledge is power.’

That’s a crass exaggeration, and unlike Sedartis, I want to protest.

‘All right, so that may be a crass exaggeration, I concede: you educate more people now, in absolute terms as well as relative, than ever before, but you’ve had so much time to make so much more progress than you have, you should be embarrassed that so many of you are still struggling so much.’

That, I find hard to argue with. Is knowledge power, still, though?

‘Thinking,’ he thinks at me, ‘is an exertion, yes. That does not absolve us from it. So is walking, yet walk we must, otherwise we grow fat, stale and lethargic. Brushing is a pain, but you do it, even if reluctantly, to hold on to your teeth. Life is not convenient, no matter how successful we are at making it so. So even if it hurts: use your brain. It will shrivel, shrink and stink if you don’t.’

Stink? I can tell how angry he is. ‘I am not angry, my friend’—Sedartis hears me well before I speak—‘I am outraged. I am outraged at the stupidity you allow on this planet. At the casual simplicity you cast over everything, and at the way you make do. At the quick quote soundbite approach you have taken to politics. The commercial current that runs through your culture. The inoffensiveness of your art. The soft sell in your science. The infantilisation of your discourse. You constantly ask: what is the simple story, what the three-act moral narrative. Because you are too torpid to connect the dots for yourselves. You open your mouths, crying, “feed me!” – You’ve regressed into infancy, and you wallow in your own incapacity. You suckle the nipple of light entertainment, and if you do wean yourselves off it, you go on to sugary bottled “fun,” and then you wonder why your metaphorical teeth are all rotten, and you’re incapable even of crunching an apple: you’ve become toothless, grown-up-but-refused-to-grow-up, idiot babes. You have lost sophistication, elegance and wit. You shun the strain of inquiry, and you moan and moan and moan.

‘Like the whiny brat in the stroller whom you have elevated to a tiny emperor and given permission to terrorise your existence, you yourself throw your toys out of your pram and expect someone else to bend down and pick them up for you. Everything is somebody’s fault. It’s the government’s fault. It’s the neighbours’ fault. It’s the immigrants’ fault. It’s anybody else’s fault but yours. Have you listened to yourselves? You are a disgrace to your species, the way you behave, and you know it, but you will stone me for saying so to your face.’

I am stunned. I have never experienced Sedartis like this. I’m a little afraid. And in awe.   

He senses my discomfort, my fear. He calms down: ‘Species. That in itself is too simple, too categorical. I know you need simplicity, you need categories. But look at yourselves from a distance, or look at yourselves close up: you are so near to your nearest cousins that you can barely tell yourselves apart. Yet you think you are a majestic, exclusive achievement. You are nothing of the sort, you are simply first on your planet, and alone in your solar system. But there are so many solar systems in so many galaxies, you need not fear of finding yourselves alone: this universe, as well as any other, is teeming with life.

‘Your problem is not your position, not your location, not your intelligence: your problem is your perspective. Your nearest cousins, the dolphins, the bonobos, they may be a few hundred thousand years, maybe a few million years behind you on their evolutionary path, but that doesn’t make them categorically different. It just makes them slower at something you can take no credit for. What you can take credit for is this: your culture. What you do with your advantage. And that is why your stupidity is unacceptable now. At one point, in the not so distant past, you were just like the great apes, scavenging for food, fighting each other for primacy over your females, thinking of nothing other than preserving, projecting, your genes. Slowly, gradually, you emerged from the dullness of your existence and you became conscious, intelligent beings.

‘How dare you not use your intelligence? You will get there, of course; you will reach your next level, as every other life form reaches its own. You will merge with your inventions, you will make yourselves immortal. You will begin to populate other worlds, if nothing else as a hybrid of human and human-made machine. That is all very well. But choose how you get there. The pain that you’re causing yourselves and your fellow creatures on earth is excruciating, when you already have the means to not inflict it at all. All you have to do is use your intelligence and learn that you are not the thing that matters, you are part of the thing that matters, and that is enough.’

‘What is the thing that matters?’ I ask Sedartis.

He remains silent. He remains silent for a long, long time, and we sit together watching the squirrels and the birds, and imagining the bonobos and the dolphins and the cows and the lions and the beautiful, but a little clumsy, giraffes.

I take his silence to mean, ‘I don’t know either,’ and it saddens me that he doesn’t know either, but I know he doesn’t know either, and I wonder does anyone know, anyone in the multiverse of infinite universes at all, or are we all just a part of it, unknowing but yearning to understand, and failing but trying and playing our part.

‘It doesn’t matter, you see,’ says Sedartis. And now I can really hear him. ‘It doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that you make the most of it. Whatever it is that you can. That is all that actually matters, because you have no control over anything else.

‘You can’t control when you are born. To whom. Where. You can’t know why. You can’t dictate the terms of your existence, but you can take them and deal with them well. And by dealing with them well, you may alter them. Whatever is given, you don’t have to take just as it is. What you do have to do is make the most of it. And you really have to make the most of it. You really have to not take no for an answer, you really have to probe deeper and go further and demand of yourself more. Because if you don’t, somebody will. And they may not understand what you understand. But you understand what I understand, and that is how we are connected, how we are part of it all, how there is a greater scheme of things, and how our moment here is tiny, but we can, must, make it magnificent.’


< Query       Plea >


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Query

‘Absolutely.’

Sedartis seems to nod at me now. I find it disconcerting. And not in the least reassuring, not yet, not now.

‘The reason you absolutely need artificial intelligence is that organic humans are so very bad at retaining information or passing it down their generations. Each newborn sets out in a quarter century just to acquire the basics, and then spends another quarter century to become a master at anything. That’s with ambition. Without, you just linger. Yes, this has qualities all of its own and makes people quaint and charming, but incredibly wasteful too. The fact alone that after twenty thousand years of civilisation you still grapple with war, famine, ignorance, murder, violence, religion, all these things that we always talk about and that are so completely unnecessary, shows how inadequate human intelligence is on its own.

‘But let me reiterate, for it is so fundamental: don’t think of artificial intelligence as alien to you. There lies your conceptual hurdle that, sooner or later, you’ll have to take: you are the intelligence you give birth to; it is not separate from you, you are it and it is you. It may yet overtake you and render you, the way you are now, obsolete, but think not of this as your failure, think of it as success: you may be no more than the conduit, the bridge. Would that matter? To you, today, maybe. To your universe, in the fullness of its time? Not a bit. So why not make the most of it? Celebrate both what you are and what you can be: let it pass through you, be the best species you can imagine. If you imagine it fully, that is not what you are today.

‘If you accept that you are one among billions of conscious intelligent life forms pursuing an evolutionary path, you become both vanishingly small and insignificant, of course, but also, in the same vein and by the same definition, exquisite, privileged, amazing. Embrace your own individual uniqueness, cherish your beauty, love your capacity for kindness, and know it is but part of the All it emerged from and path to the All that it leads to. It is easy. Be not afraid.’

I detect a biblical flavour now in his thoughts and it troubles me. But I allow myself to think it is better to be open minded and troubled than to close myself off in safety, in this sense of security I know to be false. Horses are given blinkers to wear so they don’t spook, but they are slaves to their riders, and may still be butchered at last. That cannot be my purpose. My task, Sedartis reminds me daily now, is surely to open my eyes. To take it all in. To be part of it all. And if it scares me. And if it puzzles, troubles, disconcerts me. And if it inspires me, overwhelms me with awe and with wonder. We are on so potent a cusp.

‘I make no predictions,’ Sedartis offers, as an afterthought. I know no longer what comes after, what before. What is thought, what the cluster dust of nebulas sprayed across time. But then it matters not. Of course, there can be no predictions. There can only be stories. There can be only presence, in a consciousness that beyond the boundaries lies calm across the mind. Why, though, I wonder, is this Here here, this Now now?

Sedartis smiles at me in the way I now recognise. I like him for this, although (or because?) he provokes me:

‘Why do you need a reason?’


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Istanbul

We wander on for a bit, and I breathe it all in: the people, the tourists, the tram and vendors; the noise and the scent and the flavour.

George, I’m beginning to realise, is telling me everything I need to know. He’s hardly said more than a couple of dozen sentences since we met, improbably and unfathomably, a few hours ago, but I know now that seeing him, listening to him, looking at him, being with him—in his presence, in no other than that simple, literal sense—has triggered in me the abundance of memories, connexions and emotions, the thoughts and the synaptic excursions, the diversions, the captions, the mild insurrections of heart, mind and soul, that I need, to move on.

Move on from what? Had I got stuck? Most severely. Had I manoeuvred myself into a dead end? More than of sorts. Was I on the verge of becoming obsolete, not just to myself, but to the universe that has somehow produced me? I fear me I was. Is that now all at an end? Who knows…

I again put my arm around George, instinctively, without thinking, and he doesn’t shirk or pause or look at me, he just lets it be. My George: that’s how I know him. We wander, like father and son, like brothers, like friends, but not lovers—can one constellation embody all these in one, even, ever?—and I feel me an abundant sensation of love. Of loss too, and of forgiveness. Most of all of forgiveness: I forgive you, George, for everything, really. All your inadequacies. Your presumptions, your misunderstandings. Your aloofnesses and your hesitancies. Your delusions and your noble intentions. Your foibles, all of your weaknesses. Your constant quest to connect, your patent inability to do so in so many senses. There are too many things to mention.

Too many things too, for which I do not need to forgive you, for which I can quietly, humbly, respect you: even admire you. Your sense of justice and your faith in humans. Your optimism, your hope. Your openness, your curiosity. It may, ultimately, have killed the cat, but the cat had nine lives and so it continued. It lived. You’re not unlike a cat, George, I’ve known this for centuries, for all the millennia that I’ve known you. And I’m beginning to know you now, George, and I’m glad on’t.

We reach Taksim Square where we take a turn to the right and keep wandering. Not aimlessly so much as non-directionally. We both have no particular place to go, not at the moment. We end up by a steep small street that looks a little familiar and quite attractive, and decide to head up it, rather than down, and before long we recognise a wooden house and a half hidden entrance: we have inadvertently come back to right where we started: the Limonlu Bahçe.

There is, probably, in some way some significance to this: have we actually gone round in a circle? I like to think not, not least because we are not moving in three dimensions. We have, at any rate, walked a spiral, a triangular shaped one, as it turns out, but that is most likely quite by the by. Some things have meaning, others less so. Some things are profound though we but capture the surface, others are really surface. Or maybe I’m being lazy. At some level, most likely, everything has some other layer, some other meaning, some other significance that could or could not be, or become, at some point quite relevant. We can’t take it all in, all at the same time: we do need a filter. And that’s yet another insight I’m having, right there.

We’ve not walked very far, maybe less than an hour, perhaps a bit more; we’ve been ambling really, rather than striding. We’ve not been saying all that much more. Metaphorically, though, we have come a long way. In my mind I have travelled a little light year. Is there a big light year? Or even one of average length? Aren’t all light years the same? It is not, of course, and I realise, a year, and it’s not one of light. Some metaphors don’t stack up. I have percolated, I feel me, through my own conscience and come out enriched. If that makes sense. Does it have to? Make sense? To me, it doesn’t have to, even though somehow it does. I don’t think it matters to George if it does. Does it matter to you?

I realise I have a reader. I realise I need you as my reader, because without you I don’t exist. I realise I am not alone in this, nor only with George: I realise we are, in our own constellation, triangular. Hello, Reader: welcome to my world.

George and I are both creatures of habit, and having walked for an hour or so—maybe a little less, possibly just a bit more—we both fancy another drink, and we readily, easily, without thinking or negotiation, decide to go back to the Limonlu Bahçe: we liked it there, we were comfortable there, why would we not now go back there, seeing we are already here.

I like that about George and about me: we can stay in one place for hours and never get bored. We both never get bored, George and I. That is a realisation I had and passed on to him long before I knew I would be him: if you watch paint dry close enough, it’s entirely riveting. At molecular level, let alone subatomic: there’s a riot of things happening, a mesmerising display of spectacular wonder. How could you ever get bored?

We head down the hidden staircase back into the garden which is now not full and not empty, but at that agreeable mid-to-late afternoon state when luncheon has petered out and dinner hasn’t yet started. The table we had been sitting at has been taken, but we find one as pleasant in the mid-to-late afternoon speckled shade two or three tables removed and sit down, and our angular waitress returns and recognises us and smiles, and we order another couple of mojitos and some chips, just to nibble.

Now, for the first time in maybe a million years, I am here. George, because of the configuration of the table, the bench and the chairs, has naturally sat down next to me, not opposite, so he can survey the garden with me, this paradise of our own making. This Eden. “Look at me now, and here I am,” she had said, and I had understood her, immediately. Joyce, Shakespeare, Stein. Then Shakespeare again, then no particular order.

I can be at home with myself in a paradise of my making that doesn’t know what it is, in a city I’ve never been before, within an instant and find me not tempted by knowledge, in no need of a companion, at ease. Not forever, of course, just for now. The curiosity and the fascination, the alertness and also the need will soon get the better of me, that I know, it has ever been thus.

But now. And here. We are.


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Saturn

Dione, Tethys, Mimas, Enceladus – your friendly moons’ names sound like characters to me, in a pastoral play. Even Titan and Iapetus; they have been overthrown, dwell in the pantheon no longer: neighbours now, living downstairs, or, to wave at, across the street.

Your rings, though no more mysterious now than you, are delicate still; and you are inviting too. Against thy will, methinks; like the old rustic who grumbles at first and enjoys the thought of himself as forbidding, but turns out to be at heart quite congenial.

I am at the stage now where I feel there are fewer surprises. Fewer certainties too, and fewer woes. Fewer intransigencies and fewer instances of despair. That can only, I sense, be a good thing. Journeying has put me at ease with myself. I feel millions of miles away still from where I envisage I should be, but this seems natural now, and of little concern. The hereness and thereness of it all: the potencies of the potential. The meta nomenclature of the id. The closer I get to being myself, the more I disperse myself across the quanta of energy: thought. Insubstantive meanderings that then turn out to make sense after all. At some point, at some level, in some way. Not conscious, perhaps, but innocuous, calm.

I sit down on one of these rings and let my legs dangle in the brook of what looks from afar like a void that surrounds it, and my toes tingle at the excitement of being and wriggle with a childlike and clean and unjaded joy: they haven’t walked as far yet by far as it seems, they have simply strolled. Over the meadows of this spacescape, this English garden, this Ermitage. I feel my thin body, pale and slender but resilient and robust, as it was back then, when I was a boy. It never preoccupied itself with itself. The etherealness of it all, the curiousness. And always, always the wonder. Nobody joins me, yet, and maybe none ever will now, and it saddens me not, I am free.

From where I perch on my borrowed bank, my legs suspended, my hand—the left one—playing with marbles, the molecules, the droplets, the pebbles and the whists of yellow-blue algae that get trapped in my fingers, cool and gentle, soft and strong, my eyes, inclined toward what lies below and therefore what also above, my face reflected (reminiscent, perhaps, after all, of Narcissus, though he, I know, does not belong here any more than he does on Mercury), my lips catch my attention, and for a fleeting moment I wish me a one for them to be kissed. The longing, the curiosity, still, and the awe.

I am on the brink, I realise, and at this point, sooner or later, there does come the point where you have to decide. Do you jump, assuming that you will fly, or don’t you, fearing that you might drown.

Why do I do this from here, and not where I started? Have I conspired with circumstances to manoeuvre myself onto the fence of a planet whose patron is the god of the farmer of all things to finally return to the George in me and embrace him as much as release him in exactly the same gesture, at exactly the same time, for exactly the same reasons and to exactly the same end? It wouldn’t surprise me. Hardly anything would. The universe finds a way, of that I have long been certain, and whatever happens next is bound to happen, just as what happened before was in its own liquid way quite inevitable.

All the querulousnesses of adversaries (they were friends in disguise), all the insurmountablenesses of obstacles, varied and frequent and each in its own right unreasonable, from here, from this tholin perspective, rotating at speed, and wobbly, a little bit drunk on the juices of life, but steady and safe in myself now—as far as there even exist such notions as ‘steadiness,’ ‘safety’ and ‘self’—look irrelevant now and benign.

My right hand that has been holding on to the ice, to the carbon, the substance, such as there was, in a vain grip on something the brain interpreted as ‘reality,’ still, after only another decade or so of faint hesitation, lets go, and, much as expected, I sink not, and nor do I soar: I float, once again, now earthwards, I’m sure.


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