Smoke in a Jar
When I was about eight, playing with matches one day, it struck me how attractive smoke was as it curled and twisted in the sunlight. Deciding to save some, so that it would spiral prettily for ever, I lit a match under an inverted screw top jar, then sealed it.
Next time I came home for the holidays the smoke seemed to have gone, but when I removed the lid an unimaginably revolting, claggy, sulphurous reek of stale smoke burst out like the horrors of Pandora's box. It is still with me, a premonition of hell.
Nobody's favourite. Once, at that sensitive stage of adolescence when you think the world is a stage and that everyone is looking at you, I was standing at the starboard rail of the Harwich-Hook of Holland ferry, trying to look noble and intellectual. Unknown to me, a child had been seasick three hundred feet or so further for'ard, and its mother was attempting to clean it up with a paper hanky. As she tossed the vomit-sodden tissue overboard the wind snatched it and flung it aft like a guided missile. It must have been doing about 40 knots when it hit me, with the kind of resounding slap which only a soggy Kleenex connecting with a face at high speed can make.
Look noble after that, I defy you.
Skye. We were strolling above the shore between Struan Beg and Rubha na h-Uamha one summer afternoon, making for a favourite bay. The sun was shining, the sky as blue as a jay's wing, and the light breeze bore the balm of heather and wild thyme.
We sensed the corruption before we happened on the source. First a hint of the fishmonger's slab, crab paste and kedgeree. Then something feistier, sea wrack and stale sex. As we descended the brae towards the beach it grew stronger, so that the very air stilled and darkened, and the oily swell recoiled from the black shore.
And there it was, perhaps the rankest smell on earth; an abandoned sack of whelks, suppurating in the August heat. Primordial juices ripened and fermented, metamorphosing and evolving. A mucilaginous grey precipitate seeped from the hessian; where it had pooled, the turf was dead.
Even in beauty there is corruption.