I wrote this book ten years ago. It was an experimental novel that was organised in an unusual way. It tells the story of a man who is in a terrible road crash on a lonely back lane and lies extremely injured upside down in a ditch. The fragmentary nature of the structure reflects the delirious memories that float through his mind, often disconnected and obtuse. The start of each chapter begins with the journey and the end with the crash. Sandwiched in between are the reminiscences of his life – the reflections from a ditch. Some are light-hearted and some morbid. All life passes through. It’s the trip of a lifetime.
Even the longest journey starts with a single step. I think it was Lao Tzu the Chinese philosopher who said that. But I’m only quoting from memory and memory is a funny thing.
It is strange the way we accept the permanence of this journey we are on when it is so obvious that the only unchanging thing about it is that it is never the same. We develop our little routines and drift into accepting them. It is just what happens to you. It happens today and it will happen again tomorrow.
I wake up when the radio sounds. I listen to the news and drowse. At the very last moment I prise myself out of bed, piss, wash and dress. I eat my breakfast, grab my coat and scarf, shout my goodbyes and leave the house.
I open the gates. I put my work on the passenger seat, key in the ignition, start the car and back out. I am doing that thing I promised myself I would never get caught up in; I am going off to further my career and make my way in the world.
It is my unchanging routine. I have adjusted to it. I am used to it. I do not question what I am about to do and I do not anticipate that, barring minor variation, it will be much different to any other similar journey.
I could run through the whole course of it in my head. I do not even have to be fully awake. I can run this one on clockwork.
I am doing what I always do, what I have done a thousand times; I am driving of to work.
Love is sweeter than friction.
I am the product of sheer incredibility. Each moment of the whole existence of the universe has built towards the culmination of this moment. It has conspired.
I am upside down and afraid- no – terrified.
The routine has become extraordinary as it was always bound to, and indeed, as it always was.
Perhaps it started in my childhood. Everything was concrete and real then, going on quite the way it should. I had a happy childhood being a little rugged demon, dirty and cheerful, with grubby face, dirty knees and scabs and bruises. My fingernails were black and bitten ragged. My tufty hair dangled over my forehead into my brown eyes. Ten seconds after getting clean clothes on they were torn, crumpled and coated in tree bark, leaf sap, snot and grime.
There is a wonderful photograph of me taken by a neighbour whose son, Jeff, was always immaculate. I had got in my cub’s gear and walked the 200 yards down the road to call for him. We both stand to attention as only boys can do. He with his most serious expression, neat creases and gleaming face, me smudged with dirt, crumpled, crooked and askew; one sock around my ankle and grinning from ear to ear. That summed up my childhood for me: loved and crumpled; free and filthy; running wild through the quiet streets and fields.
In the streets we played cricket, football and tennis. We groped in ditches for sticklebacks and frogs. We played cowboys and Indians, gangsters and war, safe within little gangs. I lived in a pretend world. We hunted birds’ eggs and bats, built dens and raced carts. We built forts and tree houses. The sun burnt us into brown fiends that the dirt never showed on. We kept wild mice, snakes, lizards and slow-worms. The days were long endless bouts of sunshine viewed from the tops of tall trees, from the undergrowth of meadows and the bottom of ditches and ponds. It seemed I lived my life from the bottom of a ditch. Which was more real – the mud and slime of the frogs world or the bright light filtering through the trees?
The world outside was reflected in the surface of the stream and even as a young boy I spent my life peering through the shimmering ripples of the reality out there towards some deeper, murkier world below.
I guess we all live in a ditch with no real view over distance. We don’t even know we are so restricted because so many other peoples’ ditches are really open sewers.
Blackie got a broken nose because he wouldn’t stay quiet while we were in ambush behind the wall. It was serious stuff. Clive lost his temper with him and smacked him straight on the nose. I was transfixed. I had never seen so much blood. It spurted out and poured over his shirt, squirting through his fingers as he howled. In seconds his shirt was a sodden crimson gore.
Adults appeared from nowhere and an ambulance swooped him away never to be seen again. Blackie went with barely a second thought from us. We never did find out if he got his blood transfusion or if they had to operate to reset his squashed nose. He just went.
Some people think I am strange. That is because they are more perceptive than others.
The times, like childhood, that seemed simple and uncomplicated are only so because you are not brushing up against the power of politics, religion, control or possession. You are in control and living in the moment. It was pure.
Jeff was standing in the middle of the street wide-eyed, petrified to stone, shrieking in such a way that turned your gizzards to jelly and sent waves of horror through you to fuel your nightmares for years. Then not shrieking. He was too horrified to shriek any longer. He so desperately wanted it to not be true. He wanted to climb back out of that nightmare and into the warm summer sun of reality. Yet he was standing, arms held out, like a scarecrow and it was real.
And again adults appeared and fussed around as we stood back in the shadows and watched. No one was volunteering the information.
Clive had put the huge hairy house spider he had found down Jeff’s shirt. A spider so big it filled your hand. Its legs stretched across the bottom of a bucket; and it was so quick and sinister. It stood stock-still evaluating and then would dart and scurry seeking cover. And Clive had gleefully grabbed it and stuffed it down Jeff’s shirt, his face alive with delight. And Jeff had taken a second to register that it had happened. His face blank as the spider must have scurried across his skin beneath his thin cotton shirt. It was too dreadful to accept.
Then he had realised it was true.
He ran to the centre of the road, shrieking and flapping at his body with his hands; eyes bulging. We were at once horrified at what we had done and intrigued. As Jeff had a hysterical fit, slavering foam and diving for the safety of catatonia. We watched.
I remember feeling horrified. I remember feeling grateful that it wasn’t me. I empathised. I could feel that spider crawling under my shirt. I can still feel it. The hairy legs gripping and tickling as it scurried – the horror of it. But another part of me felt intrigued. What would he do? What was going to happen? Would he just die with the terror of it?
We were excited. Our eyes gleamed. A part of us was enjoying this.
The adults milled around in confusion. What was going on?
Eventually someone whispered what had happened. They undressed him in the street; actually stripped him naked. Infront of everyone! We watched for the spider to emerge. It was hard to get his clothes off, as his body was completely rigid. They took everything off till he was naked but nobody saw the spider. It had vanished to feed my nightmares forever. They took Jeff off to be sedated and when we saw him a week later he was fine.
Nobody ever mentioned the event again.
When you are born they do not give you a map to find your way through life.
The whole damn world is run on exclusive little clubs geared to keeping people down – making outsiders of them. The real power resides in grubby little dives and huge faceless palaces. Quiet thin lipped men in suits look down their nose at you and feed sops from the table. Here nothing is important except power and power can be bought if you have the price and know whom to ask – having the right name and connections help. Behind the overt corridors of power there lurks a dim recess of real power. Narrow eyes watch your every move. The games are played out with winners and losers but the strings are pulled by the faceless power brokers. They use religion. They use drugs. They use politics and they are patient. They sit in dingy leather chairs and think in terms of centuries. Fashions come and go. Life goes on.
Love and intrigue? Nothing matters except the hypocrisy of the meetings behind the scenes. Rich or not those rooms are sealed to all but the necessary. You may even rise to sit at their table, but voice your views, as they smile, tilt their heads and acknowledge your genius, and it slides off them like shit off a window. Jeff and Blackie are meaningless little snotty kids with no value, worth or purpose other that to be manipulated like pawns on a board. Little pageants played out on inconsequential stages, which will not touch the minds of the masters – the fashioners of destiny. Us little zits, pimples on the face of the universe, worthless units to become consumers, their work force, and then die our grovelling little impoverished deaths in the meaningless mediocrity of everyday nowhereism. Suckered with the carrot of possibility – ‘You could become one of us – if you work hard – get lucky – get rich’. Bought with little sops – ‘Find your place in life’ ‘Be happy’ ‘There’s a place for you in Heaven’.
And we are all, masters included, pimples of inconsequence, self-obsessed simpletons. In the face of a raging eternity, before the cataclysmic silence, we scream and stand our ground with the magic Tantric repetition of the word ‘I’. We are just leaving our mark for eternity, a name for ourselves, our place in history; just changing the world, imposing my views, sharing my perspective.
What I have to say and do is important, worth listening to.
Every true story is a work of fiction.
Nothing matters in eternity. The sun will grow and the Earth will be subsumed. The sun will die. The universe will die. There is no God. Even a life made of air will fade away. Some way off all there will be is darkness and cold lifeless space. Long before that we will all be dead. There will be nothing to leave for eternity to mull – no fossils – no archaeology for future civilisations.
What does it matter if that’s a million years hence or four zillion.
What the fuck does it matter.
Every moment in the whole universe has contributed to this moment. This is true magic.
But then there’s love. Love that conquers all – transcends politics, power and intrigue, and makes fools of us all.
Yet love that imbues the universe with purpose has a price.
The day the universe changed was because of Glenys, Welsh temptress of eleven – black hair, dark eyes, twenty-seven real lover’s kisses. And those hot heady days of summer whistling ‘Slow boat to China’ outside bedroom windows; playing ‘Show me’ games in the garage with hard prick and naive mind. As we naively set about groping each other.
‘How many kids do I want?’
I was a kid. I didn’t want any kids. I had no concept of parenthood. I just wanted to be with her and talk and kiss – ‘Real lover’s kisses’ like on the films.
I gave her my favourite Famous Five book when she left. She left me with tales of her new life; the boys in the wood who called to her to ‘get out yer milk-carriers’ and her disturbing tales of older boys and girls in the public toilets. The boy with his hand up the girls dress, her tits out, and him sucking.
I did not really understand, I was ten years old, for fucks sake, but I was intrigued and strangely excited.
Nothing was ever the same
I do not understand why I am alive? It does not make sense to me.
Fuck the universe and time. Fuck its pointlessness. Fuck cowboys and Indians, frogs and caterpillars.
Fuck the tears. Heady fumes of fishy earth and feelings that raged stronger than the silence of forever. ‘I’ wanted to do stuff that would make the world cry. It throbs in me still.
For all we do is done for sex – the status and the wealth, the position and the dare; to be noticed and get laid; to be someone and fucked. But sex is fraught with love and love is even better. Saturated with the desire to be ripped full of endorphins till the universe is full of pulsating light that will never die; to be drunk on life, obsessed and oblivious to the obvious.
Who gives a fuck?
Hey, hey! You, you! Get out of my ditch!
Glenys gave me my first endorphin jag and I was hooked for life. She left me unsure. Sure. But hooked for life. Silly gullible me. Without me even knowing it – it must have brought puberty crashing in on me at ten. Those hairy balls stunted my growth for good. What should have gone to bones ended up as hair and spunk. I was bemused by the former and lacking in knowledge on how to liberate the latter. It left me fucked up and confused by life.
All there was to show for it was an unanswered letter. I had too much pride to write again. From then on it was one brief visit at sixteen but no communication. What had gone wrong? Why had I been abandoned and my love remained unrequited? Why hadn’t she replied?
I was marooned with no desire to change the world. I fooled around with frogs and toads, caterpillars and crows until I repaired enough to strike out anew.
None of this is at all real. The universe goes on forever and infinity is happily living in the Surrey meadows. The celestial dynamo creates coincidence beyond the realms of imagination.
The universe has a billion dimensions and God is happily living in one.
Teenage years are so burning with importance, stances and discovery; so many causes and such a surplus of certainty and passion.
Everything seems so incredibly futile now; all those gestures and sacrifices. What the fuck does it matter how you look, how long your hair is, or what clothes you wear? What was the honour in it? – And the idealism? Was it possible to be in love forever? And all that Rock ‘n’ Roll James Dean rebellion. The brotherhood of the great youth revolution that was going to sweep all before it and unite everyone in a new way of living; an honesty and openness based on sharing and love instead of profit – Far out. It was so futile and far away – really far out along some other time scale.
No careers and mundane crap for me. We were on an odyssey; in search of real meaning. We were looking to live that mythical existence where we were in harmony with ourselves, each other, the planet and the whole fucking universe.
Life should be one long party – not a drudge. It was so indulgent.
What was it all about?
Will the world ever get to that point again? I hope so. Someone has to make it happen. It has to work next time around. There has to be more to your idealism than a fashion statement or some new scam. Someone has to show everyone that it is a better way of living.
But why was it so important?
What is wrong with this civilisation and this way of living?
I am so confused.
I like the sun. I think we owe it a lot. I wish I could feel it on my face.
Then there’s this shit of God with all that final purpose. We cannot know but the big shit sees everything – has all the answers for what makes eternity tick. Well big fucking deal. We are being guided for some celestial purpose. Like living for eternity makes sense. We’ll all meet up together again in Paradise, Heaven or what the Hell and it will be eternal bliss. The very idea sounds childish. What rational being can believe in that? Bullshit. I’ve heard more sense come out of military high command. Kill and be done with eternity.
Cliff Richard can keep it.
Back home I have a photograph of me when I was twenty one, hair down to my waist, eyes dark and intense, jeans patched and ragged. It was a portrait of a young idealist eager for battle and impatient to push the changes through. Those dark eyes contained a sneaky smile that peered back with confidence and sureness.
I would love to visit him for a while.
You make even less sense to me than the concept of God, but I like you.
So we hedonistically gather pleasure, live in the moment, sod tomorrow. Who gives a fuck? Tomorrow we rot. – Our minds? Who knows what our minds are? Can a fucking mind rot?
Squeeze this, stroke that, prod the other. Stick your tongue in here. Tick this off. Done that. Been there. Got the scabs. Do it again. Do it again. Something different. More extreme. More. More. More. Jump off this. Adrenaline rush. Fucked her. Fucked him. Sucked this. Ate that. Done this. Been here. Been there. Done that. I spy it all. Consumed.
Watch this. Criticise that. Despise her. Change that. Think like me. Intelligently.
It seems so pointless now.
I’m ten. I’m sitting on the kerb next to Glenys outside her house. We think we’re so very grown up. She’s thoughtful. I’m serious. She’s wearing a white peasant smock with red and black trim and red shorts. Her hair is black and curly. He dark eyes flash at me. And I’m thinking she’s the most beautiful girl in the whole damn world …… but innocently. I don’t want to fuck her. I don’t really know about fucking yet. I’ve been on Johnny hunts with my friends. I have some vague concept that you have to strap on one of these Johnny’s to have sex. It’s a prerequisite. I don’t know why.
I am seriously in love. Just being with her makes my stomach squirm.
She turns her head and studies me intently. I return the stare.
“So how many babies shall we have?”
I consider this with consternation. It is a major decision that has to be thought through. I frown. Seemingly now is the time to ponder such matters. It requires deep consideration.
“I want twenty,” she giggles gleefully.
This breath I am grasping in through grating, broken ribs, is the result of a fifteen billion years or so, all time since the big bang, of infinite change and chance happening.
We’re in the garage playing games. It’s dark. There were three of us – Jeff, me and Glenys. We played Truth, Dare or Promise. It didn’t matter which you got it all came out the same. Truth was who you loved, who would you like to have babies with. Dare was eating dead flies, touching spider’s webs, or getting your dick out. Promise was to do the same. It was just worded different.
Jeff went home and then we played it properly.
Tell the truth now – ‘Who do you love?’ Dare you to show me yours. It was always rock hard. I had hair at ten. I was proud of it. I was the first in my class. It was thick curly brown hair. My prick was six inches. I had measured it. And I was tiny. I was a tiny little ten year old with a big dick. We giggled. I got it out. She pulled her knickers down and showed me hers. There wasn’t much to see. She had a thick thatch of black curly hair and a slit. I’d seen my sister’s slit but she was four years younger than me and it was hairless. We giggled. I always wanted to show her what it was like when it was soft but I never could. I never thought to explore further – to separate those lips. She was eager. We both just never knew what to do.
She went to a different school to me. At her school Billy had already showed her his prick under the desk in class. Hattie had as well. She told me all this with excited eyes. I was inflamed with jealousy. I did not know these rival suitors. I wanted her to be all mine. How could she do this to me? I knew that she was popular at school. To her it was like a different world. It was just exciting. I later met and got to know Hat really well. We talked about it.
What a wonderful world to have a shit day in!
Every atom created by the ‘Big Bang’ – every bit of space, light, heat, magnetism and the myriad of energies, all time and each universal law, every exception, chance happening and thought has interacted to put me here, upside down, bleeding.
In the semi-dark of the shed we played at lovers with deep, passionate, ‘Real lovers’ kisses. We cuddled tight and pressed our lips so hard they hurt. We kissed for minutes and broke apart exhilarated. They were real lover’s kisses. Nothing had ever been as exciting; so thrilling. I would swap them for a hundred ejaculations. There were just twenty-seven. Twenty-seven lingering kisses that left you breathless. That is all – just twenty-seven. I thought there would be more. I thought it would go on forever. I never thought that it would end.
We progressed to touching. She gripped my penis and squeezed it. She asked me to touch. I pressed her slit. I did not know how to squirm a finger in; to feel the wetness and explore those inner regions. I did not know there was a hole in there to explore. But yes, I did. But I did not. I did not relate the tales to the practice. She did not know to rub it. So it never went any further.
- Just the raw excitement. – The intensity.
- I remember it well.
Life makes no sense.
I would loiter outside her house, whistling ‘I’d like to get you on a slow boat to China’ nonchalantly. It was in the charts. I’d heard it on the radio. She’d come to me. It was our secret code.
I gave up playing with the boys.
The big question is really just how can this whole universe go on without me? What other question can there possibly be?
If a tree falls and nobody is there to witness it does it really fall? This is Zen and the art of existing.
If my consciousness is not there to experience all those swirling galaxies and sparkly suns can it be said to still exist?
Am I a bunch of chemicals in a few buckets of water?
In my camp at the bottom of the road, we’d crawl inside, safe away from the world. I lay back in contentment. She rested her head on my stomach and we talked quietly and passionately about the life we would have together. Her little sister crashed in on us one day and accused us of kissing. We were indignant. We weren’t! For some reason we weren’t. It was just nice being together.
Trying to make sense of it all before you die – that seems to have some worth!
After they were ready for bed I would come to the window of their bungalow and talk to her. She shared a room with her little sister who found it most amusing. Glenys asked me once if I had seen another girl’s fanny. She grabbed her sister and, after a fearsome struggle, pulled her pyjama bottoms down and held her so that I could see her naked slit. She squealed and wriggled. We laughed. She was embarrassed and sulked in her bed. But I think she secretly found it exciting.
Shagging is communication
You see I believe in atoms. I believe there is some mystical energy that holds atoms together. In the words of Bob Marley – ‘There’s a natural mystic flowing through the air’. And atoms make up the fabric of this universe.
I believe in energy.
I believe in space and I believe in consciousness.
In the words of the simpering ‘Monkees’ – ‘I’m a Believer’.
I don’t take these things for granted. The story is far too far-fetched for that.
One instant there was nothing – absolute nothing. The next instant all the atoms in the universe exploded out of nowhere.
Who could have thought that one up? Some fireworks show. Ever since they’ve been spinning their way out filling the universe.
And those atoms last forever. They never run out of energy. Of course I know some of them decay. Some get changed from one atom to another; these bits of spinning nothing. They are here for eternity.
I believe in atoms though I’ve never seen one.
I am made of trillions of them. Infact, a rough estimate of my present twelve and a half stone is that I have a few more than 17,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of them. I don’t even know how to say how many of them that is.
Quite a few of them could be originals made in that first Big Bang explosion billions of years ago and still going strong. No need for second-hand atom salesmen here. These beauties never wear out. An atom is not just for Christmas.
But even more incredible is that a lot of them have been recycled through the furnace of fusion and fission, founded in the forge of solar heat and hammered on the anvil of sunshine; then blasted out in Supernovas to become cosmic debris, planets and me. I am made of stardust.
Ours is the dust that sparkles; the dust that thinks.
I believe in the magic stardust.
I don’t believe in religion. Let’s make that quite clear. Of course, God could be punishing me for being an atheist but it’s not likely. I’m a lot older than all the Gods of man.
I may be an atheist but that doesn’t mean I believe in science.
I believe in mystery.
I think religion has some great poetry and wonderful ideas. It has some great stories. It also tries to grapple with my mystical atoms even before they knew they existed. But God? – No! – Far too human a creation. And who first had the idea of relating morality to the mystical? That’s a weird concept isn’t it? A god apart from the cosmic flow who thinks on a human level and is concerned with the mundane way we live our lives with rewards of paradise and punishments of hell. Sounds like a good crowd control mechanism.
‘Jah would never give the power to a bald-head.’
‘Getting quite crowded in that heaven, man’. And forever? Jesus, even ecstasy might begin to wear a little thin after the fourth billion years or so.
‘You’ll get pie in the sky, when you die, that’s a lie.’
So fuck god and fuck heaven. At least eternal agony might keep you awake. Eternal delight might prove the greater damnation.
My atoms are billions of years old and their mystic union does not have a name. My nirvana has more in common to a nuclear explosion than the green pastures of a future life.
Give me the spirit but not the book.
Religion is the greatest curse. It has fucked up the whole planet for far too long. I think about this sexually repressed culture with its exclusive arrogance and brutal xenophobia and I see religion. I see just wars against the heathen. I see torture, corruption and confessions. – For we are truly sinners in need of flagellation and must carry our guilt before our very eyes. We are not worthy of eternal life. We must repress our mirth and convert the pagan. How else would they reach eternal blessings?
We have the gun.
Our first reaction to anything new is suspicion. It must be crushed. Our first reaction to anyone enjoying themselves is that they ought to cool it. Then there’s decorum. What about ecstasy? Ban it. Marijuana? Ban it. How safe is it? Who gives a fuck? Couldn’t we make it safe? Ban it. Enjoyment is suspect. So we create the mafia. We create O.Ds. We create an under-culture. We give it allure. It is dangerous and exciting. It is criminal and wrong. It gives you heavy cred. LSD for the spirit? Ban it.
Heresy must be crushed.
My atoms laugh at you.
All cultures are harnessed, repressed and shackled; stale and stagnant. And how many lively minds with wondrous ideas were destroyed in Africa? How many great minds were untouchable in Asia? How many scientists burnt in Europe? The history of Man is littered with the armies of the Lord.
Religion is the greatest tyranny of spirit and the worst idea we ever had. Leave it to the shaman to hunt the atoms energy. Sort the morality with logic and secular control. There is no evil only fucked up minds. Behind every fucked up crime is a fucked up reason.
They have never sorted out if the purpose is to punish, remove from the streets or cure and consequently fall between all three.
My atoms spin faster in the flames.
You are all part of me – every plant and animal; every race and culture. You live in me. I eat you in and shit you out. I piss in your gene pool. I breathe myself into your lives. I send my atoms to live in you and yours live in me. Jesus, Dylan, Roy Harper, Margaret Thatcher, Woody Guthrie, Pinochet, Churchill and Merlin all spin in me. You make strange conspirators but I welcome you into this dream we call consciousness, life. No one is missing. Together we built this great machine. This saggy old body is the temple I worship in. I have last years grass, Shakespeare’s ear and the sparrow’s wing.
I am a taxi. I give your atoms a ride. I take them in; give them a home and let them go. And the strange thing is that I think this body is mine. I think I control it.
Therefore we share the sun.
This moment is the sum of all the moments in this entire universe.
I don’t know whose idea it was. We did it regularly – Jeff, sometimes Dave, and other shadowy kids who have been almost lost in the foggy chimera.
First we would hunt the red throated stickle-back as it darted into the over-hangs in the stream. We’d work our way upstream so the waters would carry the clouds of mud from our boot-steps back past us and we could see. We drove them before us like beaters. Studying the shimmering waters dappled by the rays of sunlight streaming through the leaves of the bushes on the bank, though we were four feet down in the cool earthy odours of decay, it smelt like life. It was always hot and sunny in my youth. Our bodies brown as berries. It was always hot. We wore shorts and boots with long socks to stop then chafing. Our limbs were stick thin and we were quick and nimble like pumas. They would dart from one shelter to the next, a patch of weed, some over-hanging grass and we’d dash our nets deftly after them, our jar in one hand to transfer the catch.
We’d set our catch down on the bank. The sticklebacks mouthing back at us as they tried to claw oxygen out of the still water. We’d take them home but after a few days they would loose their colour, become grey and pale as if the life force flowing out of them left them transparent. We tried everything, weed, mud, water-fleas. Nothing worked. They would become ghosts and die. Strange that. To become ghosts before you died. They were not meant for captivity. They needed the rushing water and dappled light. Boredom was too much. Sometimes we took pity on them and took them back.
After we’d fished it was time to build the damn. We’d collect wood, old branches and wedge them across. We’d pile grass, weed and mud. The idea was to damn it up so there was no flow. Then it became a fight to build it higher and higher in order to stop the water flowing over – until it collapsed or overflowed and gouged a huge hole in the dam wall. It was our favourite game.
This one time we found these logs and turf. Perfect. They were the ideal tools. Our construction was overwhelming. Eagerly we shored it up. Downstream the water dried up to become muddy pools separated by glistening smooth rippling banks of sticky glutinous black mud. Upstream the water backed up until it began visibly creeping up the bank. We piled on more turf, thickening and strengthening the walls. We used the logs to shore it up. It was immensely successful. The water formed a big pool with a bubbly scum that slowly swirled. We were totally absorbed. We were scurrying back and forth with more and more turf. We were eagerly locating potential weaknesses before they formed. Gabbling and directing each other. The water grew higher and higher like never before. The thick wall of turf leaked small rivulets but we’d plug them as fast as they appeared. We were keeping ahead of the game. A new layer on top as the water lapped higher. It was a giant construction. We had to reach up now to put the fresh turfs on. The wall was so thick. Hours had passed. This was monumental. This was the stuff of legends. The technicalities were addressed as the tiny, manic constructors rushed and schemed in exhilarated wonder. There was debate and action; co-operation; teamwork. It was utterly amazing.
The next moment we were rudely interrupted. Two Bobbies peered down at us with a rough ‘What do you think you’re doing?
Five muddy faces peered back up at them with startled expressions.
Unbeknown to us the road was lower further back and the stream had backed up so high that it had overflowed onto the carriageway. Cars had to splash their way through an ever-deepening puddle that was filling the hollow.
The pride we felt was immense as we were lectured and made to dismantle the creation of a lifetime. We watched as it collapsed and the pent-up water crashed its way down to rescue hundreds of stranded fish. It rivalled the damn busters’ greatest exploits. A tidal wave smashed its way down the muddy banks.
My whole childhood has been culverted in now, tamed and lifeless, confined to the dark just like that stream.
So what is this life all about? – The pursuit of happiness? – The search for love? – The quest for wealth and comfort? – The tantalising teasing out of exquisite pleasures?
Doesn’t it all get just the smallest tad jaded after a while?
Maybe it’s to understand and explain? -Or perhaps to serve the greater cause? Or is it to develop compassion? – Or to dissect infinity? -To forge a union with God? Could it be to appreciate the endless subtleties of beauty? To do and die? (That made me laugh out loud and wince in pain). To exist? To make the world a better place? – To find solutions to every problem?
What is this life all about?
Is it really just the selfish passing on of genes?
The trouble is – you just don’t think.
The road was icy. Although the sun had worked its spell on patches, turning them to slush, the majority of it was a sheet of glassy black ice.
It was all right if you took it steady but I was in a bit of a rush, it was my morning meeting and I couldn’t be late for that. I pushed it a little. I was not going too fast –forty – forty-five, fifty-five on the straight wet bits, certainly not any more than that. It wasn’t the sort of speed that could do a lot of damage.
I’d just got overconfident. There had been no problems. I’d even started to listen to the music again. The road was largely wet. There was little left of the snow and ice. Just some slush. My speed had crept up a bit.
There were some tall hedges that must have been shielding the road from the sun. The black ice looked the same as wet road until you were on it. The bend was gentle but it went on a bit. I suppose I didn’t think to slow down. I’d done this journey a thousand times. Nothing had ever happened. I knew it like the back of my hand. I would do it a thousand times again.
At first it was just a glide. I wouldn’t even call it a skid. The front end just started to slide on the bend. It was nothing much. After all I wasn’t going too fast. I thought I could handle it. I turned into the skid and twitched the wheel waiting for the tyres to grip. The wheel was completely slack in my hand. I waited. Then I saw that it was not going to happen.
It was so slow and graceful like something out of a ballet. But it was serenely inevitable. It was now obvious that there was going to be nothing I could do about it. I was going to bump the embankment.
‘Shit’, I murmured under my breath, annoyed with myself. This could prove costly. I could imagine the damage to the wing. Bodywork was expensive. Not only that but it was bound to bend the bodywork into the wheel and that was going to make me late.
I braced myself.
I imagined the car bouncing off the bank like a ball off the side of a snooker table.
The wing hit with a crunch that slammed me forward far harder than I had somehow expected.
The suspension took the wheel up, we bounced, and the car rode the bank.
This is when time flipped. One minute it was all slow and graceful, then the bomb went off and it was madness.
The energy involved was enormous. How could so much energy be stored in such a mundane speed?
The journey was transformed into a mobile explosion.
One side of the car rode up the bank and then it was as if the whole thing jumped. I was flying through the air. Then it rolled and we were back on the road careening side over side, crashing and shattering, screeching, with sparks, glass and confusion. Sky, road, sky, road. My head inches from the screaming tarmac then jammed towards the wheel and controls, then rammed towards the side, the G forces thrusting me here and there, wrenching me around, hurling me towards here and then there, caught up in some huge roller coaster of a washing machine gone mental. I could not make sense of it. On and on, over and over and then crunch and up the other bank to slam into the ditch and finally crunch into a tree on the other side before settling with a final squeal, upside down.
The noise subsided. The madness slowed. I could see the sky reflected in the settling water and I thought of sticklebacks.