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46. The well

Updated: Mar 1


Every man should have a wood, a retreat. This is not allowed in our times; we have, instead, the false gigantism of the Amazon warehouse. We stand on the canal and look at this building: this building that feeds and clothes and entertains a whole district, perhaps some two or three million people. If I were a journalist, I would say that it looked like a spaceship landed here. Sad to report, this Amazon warehouse is not that exotic. There is one strange aspect to this building: it is gigantic and yet does not live up to its gigantism, it is much less the sum of its parts. I have seen buildings that are smaller, yet more gigantic. This grey warehouse just looks like a normal warehouse expanded to a ridiculous degree. My mind refuses to accept that it should be so large. I think that if this warehouse was shut down, the whole district would be paralysed and everyone at its mercy. It is the feeding station; we are like some modern tribesmen, debased in our advances. I imagine my children, full grown, begging outside the entrance, forming cargo cults to the great grey beast. The lights have gone out, but still we wait at the warehouse; we wait for the gods to deliver to us again.

We stand on the canal, over the way there is a motorway and, before us, a caravan and a pack of assorted dogs. It is the home of the sort of man who lives in the interstitial zones of postmodernity: the neo-gypsy. He has his caravan by a dual carriageway and he has his life-size unpainted Father Christmas statue and his canal barge and his pack of dogs. He is not the type of man you want to meet. He is the type of man who carries the vague suggestion that he dumped a girl, escaped from care, fleeing her social workers, into the slicing machine at the back of a kebab shop. Before she was ground to mince, he had his soggy way with her in his caravan, the Land Rovers and BMWs flying past to the new estates just down the road. Yes, he was that type of man; the type of man you find in the cracks between the motorway, the canal, the airport, and the business centre. We did not engage with him, we kept our eyes on our ham and cheese sandwiches.

Later, we stand in the woods. He has, modern feudal lord or, to be modest, modern yeoman, purchased a little plot of wood. He, unlike the neo-gypsy, has made a full escape: the motorway is miles away and it is quiet here. Over the way, another woodland plot features a small cabin and, studded around the perimeter, warning signs: KEEP OUT! PRIVATE PROPERTY! “This must be where the Russian spies hang out,” I say. My companion, who brought me here, is not amused. I am afraid that I am a talkative man, whereas he is a man of action who talks little and brings treasures from the earth. We skirt the perimeter and, finally, ignore the signs and enter the forbidden territory. There are no spies, the owner is away; perhaps, he is still working to achieve his prize. We are in England: there is not a single sod of earth that is not owned here. I stopped under a hedgerow one night, sleeping in my bivvy bag, and the farmer was on me with an incandescent torch in half an hour; everything is owned and subdivided—even the homes in London are sold out by the room. There is no space. “Look, this is progress. This is how it is. Things are much better now, look at all the distractions!” Well, most do not go so far; they push away all thought, just do what everyone else does—get yours and give a resentful smile at the man in the dirt, and, when nobody is looking, give him a kick.

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