1. Alluvial treasure
Half awake, I hear the words: “He is homosexual.” I return to sleep but pass an uneasy night, all too aware that my hosts are exhibiting me to neighbours during the long hours of narcolepsy.
The accusation is absurd but impossible to fight. A local Russian family takes to dragging me behind their ebony sledge, on trips out to fish through holes in the ice.
A problem in suburban Oxfordshire, where even half-hearted gravel pits attract the lower orders and ambitious clerical staff, keen to escape ‘a future in retail.’
Doubtless we all dream differently, but I resent these increasing restrictions on our denuded freedoms.
Another evening, another visitor. A former Archbishop of Canterbury, bearded and reeking, intoning solemnly his plans for multifaith dialogue - specifically aspects of Sharia suited to those vast estates which encircle our city.
My hosts are disappearing, one less each day at breakfast. A new road scheme is using them as support pillars, for passage over the floodplain. Leaflets offer tabulations of commensurate reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, per kg of body mass.
I too have hopes for the future.
Once upon a midnight, I tiptoe to my frosty car.
Pausing as the deicer clears the screen,
watching the arctic blue antifreeze,
chemiluminescent rare-earth emission.
Someway outside the ring road,
past the alfresco burial arena,
sits an abandoned ruby mine.
Alluvial mounds await my
sluicing and sieving activity.
2. Salutation to the Dawn
Each year we holidayed on the flattest land available. My step-father used GPS data to ascertain elevations - then field trips, with arcane instruments of polished brass, to vet the shortlist of East Anglian cottages.
Norfolk or Suffolk, a journey via A-roads and Little Chefs. Always punctilious in completing the comments book. One year I sneaked a look - “Coffee very hot,” signed and dated in his copper-plate hand.
A hatred of mountains, glaciers and hanging valleys.
Another peculiarity was the immense library of fables and fairy tales, all featuring wicked step-parents.
As a literary academic, he was deconstructing the most egregious, to demonstrate that step-fathers (in fact, adopted parents) were more reliable and less likely to commit gross acts of infanticide or forced labour.
Whilst these studies remain unpublished, details are available - on request - to interested parties.
From choice, I always sleep in east-facing rooms. So that, whatever my fever, dawn finds me cataloguing my gems - in a blue-rich light which hides nothing.
Of all human experiences, the least discussed.
It lurks on bookshelves, in overgrown suburban gardens, under layers of bored management - using loupes to examine flawless crystals for incipient signs.
I am a practitioner, as were all preceding generations.
Many is the medieval peasant who self-combusted from its kindling, burnt down his hut and crawled to a West Country port - up some anchor chains and into the bilge.
Just to escape England.
At university, I formed a solitary society, dedicated to its reification and actualisation.
We read Stoppard’s Arcadia. My friends masturbated on its febrile pages of “tight-rope balance” between concepts of science and art.
I was left colder than Scott’s toes.
I was more taken by the face of a man who’d headed a brick.
Frequently, my countrymen resort to such violence. Or- at the very least - mindless provocation.
In one Oxfordshire town, all males over eighteen hinder pedestrian progress, by the simple expedient of standing in your way.
When asked to move, their progress is tectonic - with yellowy smirking and a whiff of Lynx deodorant.
Local social workers have dignified this custom as indigenous, requiring funding and - if the cause of “aggro” - the harshest penalties for the provoked.
Generations are now incapable of any other activity.
4. My star corundum cult
What would have happened, had I not discovered these sacred combinations of the extraterrestrial and mineral?
My collection of asteriated gems is approaching world class. Their expense and rarity is the entire pleasure.
I often visit “B & M” jewellers, to luxuriate in their ignorance and pathetic offers of heated, glass-filled synthetics.
Sometimes I place a small deposit, simply to remove such excrescences from circulation.
The societal benefit of such activity?
Thankfully there is none.
5. A collection of collectors
At the funeral, I spoke to one of my long-lost colleagues.
An obsessive collector, of Chinese porcelain (items are less important than the activity).
He lived alone, in Hampstead,. A neighbour of the blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton. Their relations were cordial.
Recently, he had fallen for reservoirs - the more depressingly located, the better.
Staines, by the old British Gas offices, his apotheosis. Its grey water of lung tissue.
On Sundays in late February, in the gloom of an emptying carpark, he found the unsuccessful fishermen - even their thermos flasks - a revelation.
My collection is:
Star ruby and sapphire from Mogok;
Kashmir sapphire’s high-mountain morning;
Padparadscha’s drunken sunset;
Tajik ruby’s lava
(from the loneliest mountains on earth).