I always regretted not going to Matala. One snowy night in the early 1970s I was sleeping on a park bench in Munich until the police woke me up: ‘If you cannot afford a hotel, you should go home,’ they said in that sensible Germanic way. But it was not a decade for being sensible, and after walking aimlessly around the city for a couple of hours I spent the rest of the night shivering on the steps of a locked railway station while a bearded hippie told stories about a miraculous beach in Crete where the sun shone all winter and you could sleep in caves and live for next to nothing.
Unfortunately I was set on heading east, and by the time I returned to Europe Matala’s best days were officially over. All that remained was Joni Mitchell’s catchy, optimistic song, Carey, which celebrated drinking wine at the Mermaid café, getting beach tar on your feet and listening to scratchy rock and roll beneath a Matala moon – a eulogy for all the good times before AIDS, mortgages, Thatcherism and heroin. Whenever I heard it I wished I had gone to Matala.
It was the first famous hippie beach and respectable people got seriously upset about it, although now it is hard to understand why. Bohemians behaving badly had been a feature of many European beaches throughout the twentieth century, but this was for some reason different, something new and worse. Perhaps it was because hippies didn’t seem to care about money (‘worthless, sponging idlers’ said the usually sensible travel writer Ernle Bradford; perhaps rich idlers were more acceptable). Maybe it was the drugs; even the better Greek governments have never approved of cannabis – too Turkish (Turkish governments don’t approve of it either, for much the same reason) – and those were mad days under the Colonels.
By most accounts the hippies and the Matala locals coexisted reasonably happily; young Greeks were impressed, particularly the national servicemen stationed in southern Crete who thought it a much better lifestyle than fighting for Colonel and country, but the Mermaid Café didn’t survive the seventies. The owner had built an extension to his kitchen without the correct permission – hardly a serious offence, particularly in Greece – but he was locked up and tortured, and his café was closed. The caves were fenced off with barbed wire and the party was over. They paved the streets, built a large car park and Matala became popular with package tours. When I finally got there nearly forty years late, I was not hitchhiking any
more, nor sleeping on park benches, and our hotel room had clean, white linen. In Joni Mitchell’s time, Matala amounted to a few small, single-storey houses, none particularly beautiful, two beach cafés and a grocery shop. Now, it has a few hundred buildings, none bigger than three storeys, nor particularly ugly although you would have to look hard to find any that are not rental apartments, gift shops or tavernas. Most of the package tour hotels are further up the narrow valley,
out of sight from the seafront and maintaining the illusion that little has changed. The old graffiti on the sea wall – ‘Welcome to Matala George. Today is life. Tomorrow never comes’ – has been repainted with more flowery, more obviously sixties-esque lettering. You can buy ‘Today is life’ T-shirts. But despite the package tour commercialism, Matala has retained a slightly raffish, hippie air. You can even find a few recidivist old wrecks of the ‘never trust anyone under thirty’ variety who may have been there ever since the sixties. It is a bit like going to a pub at opening time and finding the back room full of drunks locked in from the night before. There are also some younger, fashion-statement Euro-hippies with blond dreadlocks, and American baby-boomers looking for the misspent youth they might have had if they had not accepted the graduate trainee place at General Motors or IBM; but most people are typical tourists, although not many are English and even fewer are Greek. The side of the bay with the cliffs and caves has been left undeveloped with a grove of dusty evergreen trees I could not identify next to the beach. (Perhaps there is a preservation order on them.) I asked the waiter at the Lions Taverna what they were called. ‘They are just trees,’ he said, ‘they don’t have a name.’
The town is not at its best in the afternoon when the beach fills up with coachloads of Russians on day excursions from the big resorts along the coast. They are interested in the hippies – an episode in recent history that passed them by – and I overheard a group asking the man renting deckchairs what the village was like then, but he didn’t know: he was not there either.
But the once famous Red Beach, just south of town, has changed very little, protected from development because it can only be reached by a twenty-five minute scramble over the headland – a bit of a slog on the first day, easy by the end of the week. The cliffs are the colour of rock candy, the earth covered in fine, white dust. The light is blinding, the silence almost deafening and there are moments on the walk when not much has changed since Minoan times.
The beach has only one old building, boarded up and painted with a flaking mural. In recent years, a Belgian sculptor has carved animals and ancient Egyptian patterns in the rocks. The sand is large-grained and soft to walk on with outcrops of black granite smoothed and sculpted by the sea. The water is safe, protected by cliffs on either side, and warm enough for swimming long after autumn has come and gone in England.
In the evening when the crowds had left, we sat outside the Lions Taverna on the seafront drinking Cretan wine and watching the last of the sunlight on the caves. Sunsets don’t change much. The night is still full of stars, slightly obscured by the floodlights on the caves, and old rock and roll still drifts across the water from the other bars – Bob Dylan’s 119th Dream, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, lots of Bob Marley.
From a distance, the caves look like a natural phenomenon but, close to, you can see that they are man-made, even older than Petra, carved into the rose-red honeycomb stone in early classical times and full of echoes of former occupants, although none of them particularly fashionable: the Romans used them as catacombs; lepers lived there in the days before beautiful beaches were something special to be ruined. The heat of the sun has sunk deep into the rock keeping it warm at night and possibly all winter. I could see myself in the 1970s living in a cave with a cheesecloth curtain over the doorway and a sleeping bag on the stone bed, and I wouldn’t have needed much else in those days. But you cannot sleep there anymore.
In the Lions Taverna, the paper tablecloth was decorated with a map of Crete with, just below it, a tiny island almost obscured by the metal clip holding the cloth to the table. ‘Didn’t St. Paul go there?’ I asked as the name rang the faintest of bells. ‘Oh yes,’ said the taverna owner, ‘that was where he was shipwrecked – he and the ninety-nine saints.’ But I did not believe him as I was pretty certain that Paul had only been shipwrecked once and that was on Malta, and I would have remembered the ninety-nine saints if the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ had mentioned them – saints rarely come in batches of ninety-nine.
I asked what the island was like now and he pulled a face as though fearing he was about to lose another customer. ‘It’s like Matala was forty years ago,’ he said sadly.
Today is Saturday; I need to write that down, because my phone is dead and my watch has stopped – perhaps appropriate on an island where time and the outside world make little impression but mighty inconvenient when I have a ferry and plane to catch on Friday. I can roughly tell the time of day from the shadow of a stick in the sand, but there is no easy way of telling the day of the week other than by keeping a record.
This morning, there are no new human footprints on my part of the beach, but a cat has added my tent to its silent nightly round.
A naked old man with an impossibly long white beard dances along the shoreline, greeting the sunrise. He looks like the ‘It’s…’ man from Monty Python but he moves with improbable fluency for someone of his age. He can sing well too, mostly snatches from old Beatles songs. His name is Wolfgang and his philosophy of life is simple: ‘Everything is easy,’ he says.
If you are eating, he has the initially disconcerting habit of helping himself, uninvited, to your food, but after a few days you cease to notice. I have some new friends who live in the woods and I cannot walk past their camp without being offered tea or beer or food, which is almost embarrassing until I realise that this is how life ought to be.
This is often said to be the island of Ogygia where the goddess Calypso kept Odysseus prisoner, although the supporting evidence is far from conclusive: in terms of flora, fauna and geography, it fails to tick almost any of the right boxes, but then neither do any of the other possible claimants. Ogygia is surely as mythological as the Celtic island of Tír na nOg (is the similarity of names just a coincidence?) where the hero Oisín discovered to his cost that for every day he spent there a year had gone by at home. But I am happy to think of this island as Ogygia because it is, perhaps more that any place I have ever been to, enchanted.
And it is certainly difficult to escape from: ferry connections are unreliable and you can be marooned here for days, sometimes weeks, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.
The permanent indigenous population numbers around thirty-five, with a similar number of outsiders from the rest of Greece and Europe. It has no hotels and fewer than a hundred apartment beds for tourists, so most summer migrants sleep on the beaches or under the trees – which was how it was on most Greek islands forty years ago, but is now usually frowned upon, not to say actively discouraged by the police.
The island is inevitably changing, but only slowly. The road has been paved in the last year, the harbour at Karave enlarged; there might even be proper electricity soon. New houses are being built on the road to Agios Ioannis, but the road stops at Sophia’s Taverna, from where it is a half-mile walk over the rocks, through the trees and far away from the twenty-first century to the beach where I live under a juniper tree.
Pines and tamarisks are fine and good, and palm trees, nodding or otherwise, can be found on half the world’s best beaches, but the sea juniper, juniperus oxycedrus macrocarpa, is the ultimate beach tree, and this tiny island has possibly the largest sea juniper forest anywhere in the world.
No other trees, not even yews or olives, look so old, with twisted limbs bleached like bone. It is as though they have suddenly frozen in the middle of some extravagant activity to which they will return as soon as your back is turned, like in a game of grandmother’s footsteps.
Mosquito nets and hammocks are strung between the trees like cobwebs or moths’ nests and decorated with flotsam and jetsam like Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness, treading the fine line between art and litter. Rows of pots and pans line the stone and pebble walls but where are the people? They have blended into the landscape to become almost invisible, their lean bodies the colour of the sand. Close to, they look like ancient Greeks but with longer dreadlocks and a rather disconcerting ‘eighteen-going-on-eight hundred’ look, prematurely aged by the sun and wind but kept permanently young by the simple life, living close to nature if not to what most people would call reality. In classical times, to have glittering eyes was a sign of a god in human form. Now it is a sign of a misspent youth.
At midday, I sit outside Sophia’s Taverna in the shade and catch the breeze which blows a siren-like note across the top of my beer bottle. Sophia’s is one of the new buildings but it sells old-fashioned Cretan food, a choice of only two hot dishes – meat or vegetable – baked in the oven in the morning and kept warm on a hot plate until evening.
One of the taverna locals is Anthony Bijnen, a Dutchman who used to be a software developer painting in his spare time and spending his holidays on the island. Six years ago, he painted a portrait of a taverna owner in the village of Sarakiniko who liked it so much he gave him a house, saying: ‘Every island should have a painter’. Anthony has been here ever since, at first painting taverna signs for a living, later establishing an international reputation as an artist with exhibitions in Athens, Amsterdam and Vienna. He has built a geodesic ‘egg’ which has become the island’s arts centre with facilities for anyone who wants to use them.
The island also has a small group of Russian philosophers doing whatever it is that Russian philosophers do, and possibly a journalist: a copy of the island’s newspaper is dated ‘Sometime in November’; the front, and only, page is covered with doodles and at the bottom is written ‘Sorry, there is no news today’. I sometimes wish all newspapers could be like that.
Today is Monday.
Maria is Greek, of very Minoan beauty; she studies modern dance in Paris and spends her summers here with a little dog with large ears, like a bat with four legs. Walking round the headland to Lavrakas beach, I see her standing up to her waist in the sea, bending forward and dipping her hair in the water then slowly swinging her head and body round to make Catherine wheels of water in the air. It could be a scene from an ancient fresco.
Later I meet her on a sand dune to watch the sunset. We drink ginger tea and someone plays a musical instrument with a series of metal blades like a Jew’s harp attached to a wooden sound box, twanging the keys and drumming with his fingers. The island is full of noises; sounds and sweet airs. We sit in a row like Easter Island statues.
This is the most southerly of all the Greek islands, closer to Africa than Athens, and at night there is no light pollution; the sky is heavy with stars like the Blake engraving from the Book of Job, I am Young and Ye are very Old (or possibly the other way round). In the starlight, Maria dances a slow duet with her favourite tree.
Today is Tuesday.
Lili and Sara are Spanish students who live under the next door tree and remind me of two friends I knew from when I was travelling forty years ago. In the morning we go for a walk led by a gentle, young Greek with long, black hair and beard. We would never have found the path without him – a hard climb under a hot sun and a two hundred metre scramble down the side of a ravine. Journey’s end is Potamos, surely one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with half a mile of the best golden sand gently shelving into safe, clear water. Apart from us, it is entirely deserted.
After one of the best and most refreshing swims of my life, I hang my hammock between the branches of a sea juniper and fall asleep listening to the waves, the cicadas, the bees in the thyme, the occasional bleat and tonk of a goat and Lili and Sara laughing in the sea.
Today is now. Tomorrow never comes.
The sea between here and Crete is much deeper than it ought to be, twice as deep as the White Mountains are high, or so it’s said; and just round the corner to the south the Hellenic Trench is the last Mediterranean home of fin and sperm whales and possibly much else. Did Jonah meet his fish near here? Guy Crouchback in Evelyn Waugh’s Officers and Gentlemen came this way in 1941, escaping after the fall of Crete; one night, half delirious, he woke to find the drifting boat surrounded by shining humps and the sea singing with a low resonant note. ‘Was it real?’ he later thought.
From where I am sitting on the balcony of Giorgos and Maria’s taverna in the hamlet of Korfos, the White Mountains are sometimes clearly visible on the horizon; often they disappear in the mist; at other times it is hard to decide what is mountain and what is cloud. (First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.)
I can clearly see the route of St. Paul’s journey – he was travelling late in October and just after leaving the Fair Havens in Crete, along the coast from Matala, his ship was hit by an easterly storm, the Euroclydon, notorious in this stretch of water in times past. Unable to land at Korfos, then Sarakiniko or Lavrakas, they eventually took what shelter they could find round the corner to the west under the lee of the cliffs where, with great difficulty, the sailors were able to bail out the boat and bind the hull with cables to stop it breaking apart. But the storm lasted another fourteen days while ‘neither sun nor stars could be seen’ before the ship gave up the ghost off the coast of Malta. Not a good journey.
The taverna is high on the rim of a valley; below, a narrow concrete road zig-zags down the hill to a small, silver-grey pebble beach where there are some ‘rooms to rent with bath’ (shut), another taverna (also shut) and a notice saying: ‘Bus timetable to Karave-port every [ ] minutes if there are passengers,’ but there are no passengers and no bus, and the only people staying in Korfos are me and the ninety-nine saints.
I never meant to come to Korfos but, like St. Paul, I am travelling too late in the year. The weather is still lovely, in the mid-seventies at midday, but at Karave I was one of only four people to disembark. The bus driver with his shock of white hair and beard was on the quay as usual. Could he take me to Agios Ioannis? ‘No. Bus is problemo.’
This was no surprise as most mechanical things on the island are usually problemo, and it was a pleasant walk even with a heavy pack. And hitching is easy in October – almost every car stops if only to apologise for not going your way – although it cannot be relied on as traffic is rarely busier than one car an hour.
From where the road stops at Agios Ioannis I could hear the hum of the generator at Sophia’s Taverna (the mains electricity system is permanently problem), but there were no chairs outside and, worse, no Sophia, just a couple of old hippies I didn’t know sitting on the floor drinking beer. No, the taverna had shut the day before and wouldn’t open again till the spring; they were just there to clear up. Was there any more beer? No.
From the taverna to the beach is a ten-minute walk across a flat stretch of sharp rocks, over the dunes and through the juniper forest. Last year, I met a French woman on the rocks. She was barefoot – not to say naked – and she was walking with difficulty, struggling to keep her balance like someone stepping into a cold sea on a steep shingle beach. I walked five yards ahead of her and threw her my sandals one by one; she put them on, went five yards ahead of me and threw them back, then the whole process was repeated. It is true that some French women cannot catch or throw straight and it took us a long time to get to the other side; but I was not in a hurry, and she was very pretty, and when we reached the sand she kissed me on the cheek and ran off to find her friends.
The forest is one of the natural wonders of the world: many of the trees are over four hundred years old, with that distinctly anthropomorphic quality that Greek trees sometimes achieve with age. I hung my hammock under an old favourite with a view of the whole beach stretching out below and the old Bob Dylan song running through my head: ‘We lay there by the juniper, while the moon was high…’ But the beach was deserted apart from an occasional trickle of refugees from the summer heading towards the port, and the day’s sunshine was punctuated by fierce but brief showers like tremors before an earthquake.
When the hippies leave, the birds start to arrive. For a week or two, the island will be overrun with tens of thousands of them, chattering in the branches, their last stop before North Africa, or so it’s said. Is it true? Most of the year you don’t see any birds, certainly not the owls, falcons and ‘garrulous’ choughs that Homer said roosted in the trees near Calypso’s cave. On the first day I saw two swallows and later a flock of small birds swooping in intricate, constantly changing formations. Perhaps a few weeks before they had been performing the same manoeuvres over the Norfolk Broads; soon they might be in the Rift Valley.
And soon the plants will come back to life after their summer hibernation.
I was woken in the night, first by the brightness of the stars, then by a cat who had come to see what I was doing on its territory (I raised my head and the cat froze in mid-tread, its front right paw three inches above the sand and a ‘What me guv?’ expression on its face. Was it the same cat as last year?), then by the lightning, then repeatedly by the cold; it was much colder than I had expected. Very real.
I would have stayed in Agios Ioannis if there had been anywhere nearby to get food, or if any of my friends had been there, or if my sleeping bag had been thicker, or if the site had been more suitable for the time of year and my tarpaulin could have offered any real protection in a storm; but it billowed and flapped like a spinnaker in a gale; it would have been useless.
In the morning, I packed up and went to Korfos and the comfort of Giorgos and Maria’s taverna, which was open but empty. And down by the sea between Karave and Korfos I found a beautifully restored little shrine built in honour of the ninety-nine saints; the reason they were not mentioned in the bible was that they were 1,300 years too late: they had been pilgrims returning to Spain from the Holy Land and, like Paul, had been hit by the Euroclydon, but unlike him they had been able to land on the island and they stayed there until the storm broke twenty-four days later.
After they had set sail they realised that one of their number, St. John the Hermit (Agios Ioannis of the beach?), had been left behind because God had made him invisible and he lived alone on the island for reasons I could not follow, later returning to Crete after throwing his mantle on the water and riding on it to Paleochora. The journey took him three hours, or so it was said – much faster than the ferry. Most days at Korfos, I lay in my hammock between the pine trees in the valley or sat on the balcony looking out to sea and wondering whether I ought to be doing something more important. Then one morning I heard the call of something lost behind the hills and I walked for half a day, although not in a straight line, up over the top of the island without seeing another person or crossing a road, with only a few startled partridges for company. Sometimes, walls indicated where fifty years ago there had been fields, before the island’s population had dwindled from five hundred to fewer than fifty. Now it is almost all pine forest.
And then on the far side, high on the edge of the cliffs on the hypotenuse of the island, I found a small group of houses unlike anything else, and I knew I had arrived somewhere special. I had been told the year before that a group of Russian ‘philosophers’ lived somewhere nearby – former space scientists or nuclear physicists or something of that kind, and this was them – but even when forewarned the reality came as a bit of a shock: this is not the kind of place you expect to find on a Greek island, or anywhere else.
The comparison that first came to mind was with The Magus, when the hero walked through the pine forests of Spetses suddenly to be confronted with the sinister world of the ‘Waiting Room’ where nothing was quite as it seemed and would never be quite the same again. John Fowles wrote eloquently about the strangeness of Greek islands, and this one certainly has its weird moments, which is one of the reasons why I like it (although other people might not feel the same). But this wasn’t at all weird: it quickly seemed to be the most natural thing in the world for a group of Russian scientists to build a surreal community on the southernmost tip of Europe and be waiting for you to turn up.
It reminded me more of the remote Central Asian monastery of the Sarmoung Brotherhood which the esoteric philosopher Gurdjieff claimed to have come across in Meetings with Remarkable Men. But the Russians were not part of a cult, just a small group of hospitable, intelligent people who happened to like living in one of the most beautiful places in the world: the cliffs here are higher and steeper than on Santorini – above the clouds on bad days – and they face due west to an unbroken horizon. It should not be thought unusual to find a group of middle-aged Russians belatedly enjoying the free-thinking youth they had been denied by the Brezhnev regime, a peace dividend after half a lifetime at the coal face of the Cold War in Space City or Chernobyl.
They were happy to invite me for supper and show me round. A circular house had a pyramid roof made of green wine bottles, the stones in the walls fitting together as neatly as in an Inca monument. A small house had been cut into the rock with a glass wall looking out to sea; this was ‘the writer’s room’, currently empty. I was shown a book by the last person to live there – five hundred pages without capital letters or punctuation. Another two rooms were entirely subterranean, accessed through a small trapdoor: one was a hexagon, the other a pentagon with a floor pattern based on a design by M. C. Escher. Electricity came from solar panels and a multicoloured wind generator made from recycled washing machines, or something. A beam of light shone vertically into the night sky as a marker for UFOs, and they were building a funicular railway a thousand feet down to the sea. I told them about the funicular railway between Linton and Linmouth powered by water from the river. ‘We will power our one with beer,’ said Boris.
The Russians grew their own food, painted pictures, made beautiful things – both practical and absurd – did nobody any harm and spent their spare time considering Pythagorean philosophy and the practical possibilities of immortality, all in all not a bad life.
And Gurdjieff turned out to be their favourite mystic, which was particularly surprising as he is hardly a fashionable thinker – too deep for most people, too much like hard work for me. I enjoyed Meetings with Remarkable Men, but I can’t say I was any the wiser by the end of it – a series of misleading tales that take the reader on a wild goose chase where nothing can be taken at face value. I never attempted Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson which takes the concept of a ‘difficult’ book into a different dimension, but perhaps uniquely among modern philosopher-mystics Gurdjieff was capable of laughing at himself, and there was plenty of laughter when dining with the Russians.
It felt like somewhere I had always been destined to go without realising it, or maybe somewhere I had been many times already only to forget all about it the moment I left. Is it real?
2010 or thereabouts
Someone is making breakfast on the embers of last night’s fire and the damp smell of wood smoke hangs in the still salt air in narrow seams slowly intertwining with the smell of pine resin and coffee. The combined scent is as heady as opium or frankincense, or so it seems as I lie half awake in my hammock, in my outdoor cathedral. I trail my hand in the sand; floating, infinitely comfortable, a still point in a slowly turning world. The sea glints through the trees. You are kneeling by the fire, wearing someone else’s shirt and jeans, both far too big for you, rolled up at the legs and sleeves; you are humming a song I cannot quite recognise. I had forgotten how pretty you looked wearing clothes.
Last night, we cooked a large dish of chickpeas with onions and tomato purée, local olive oil and wild thyme from the woods. Other people brought wine and raki. It cost almost nothing. The bottoms of the pans are black with smoke. Later, one of us will wash them in the sea.
Nothing lasts. Particularly food. People too, I suppose. Books fall apart. But the woods have always been here. The Egyptians came in quinqueremes (or not) to gather juniper berries for embalming their dead, butting past my hammock, waking me with their sudden chatter and then when I looked up they were gone. All good dreamers pass this way some day. St. Paul would have seen these woods as he sailed past, although his mind would have been on other things, driven by the storm. What would he have made of us, living without any concept of original sin? Am I keeping some kind of a record, full of secrets to impart to the world when the time is right? No, this is it.
You carry a chipped blue and white enamel mug very carefully as though it is unimaginably precious, a couple of inches of coffee at most inside, black and opaque with a slight film like petrol on a wet road. You put it down on the rock beside my hammock and lay your head on my chest. Sleeping. Faithless. Leaning. Echoes of other realities. There is sand in my sleeping bag, new mosquito bites on the back of my hand and above my right eyebrow, and probably beach tar on my feet, but I don’t care; a gust of cool sea air sends a shiver of happiness down my back.
I shall come, as most men thought, to little good, but come to Oxford and my friends no more.
Odysseus lived here for seven years and pined for home, but how soon after his return to Ithaka did he start to wish he was back on Ogygia with Calypso?
The hammock hangs between a pine tree (the rope cuts into the branch causing the sap to run) and a sea juniper. They grow very slowly, their branches often dying back for years then for no obvious reason coming back to life. (Was that why the Egyptians thought them so special?) Last night, someone was singing Tom Waits songs, the fire casting a giant shadow against the tree canopy.
Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?
Soon the weather will change; without saying anything, people are starting to think about leaving. They already have that pensive look – ‘Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam or maybe I’ll go to Rome…’ They are natural nomads, but my travelling days are over. I am not going anywhere: this really is my home: there is no retreat from here, no other shore. Unlike Odysseus, I shall end my days in these green mansions. Under the greenwood tree.
Boris told me a long, complicated story about how the ancient Egyptians had been physically able to communicate with their dead ancestors who ordered their lives and told them which of their relatives to marry and have children with, but it all started to go wrong with the arrival of the Jewish slaves; the bloodlines became confused and the lines of communication were broken. This was why the Jews were expelled. He says that all Jewish theology stems from having once been party to a great truth that they cannot quite recapture. Or something like that. I wish I had been paying more attention.
Boris is Jewish and he is puzzled that my sister and my eldest daughter should both have Jewish godfathers, but he is far too polite to ask why.
Ours is a way of life that won’t survive; soon, people won’t to be able to live like this. Sixty years ago, Malcolm Lowry mourned the encroachment of ‘civilisation’, the ‘creator of deathscapes, like a dull-witted fire of ugliness and ferocious stupidity’ – he knew how to put words together. This seems like the end of the line, the final domino to fall. Perhaps the woods will survive.
When people think they hear someone calling their name it is sometimes said to be a sign of madness, sometimes of religious enlightenment.
‘What am I going to do with my life?’ you ask. Your shirt smells of someone
‘Soon you will change position,’ I say. ‘It will be almost the same but, for some inexplicable reason, more comfortable. You will be aware for a while of me stroking your temple or that dip where your collarbone meets your shoulder, and then I will stop, but it may take you a while to realise that I have stopped. You will become conscious of my eyes looking into yours only a few inches away and you will wonder without coming to any definite conclusion whether your own eyes are open or shut. And we will lie very still, our breathing going slowly in and out of phase.’