Literally Lost: 60
Sunday 13 December 1998
a) where is the action taking place?
b) who is the author?
Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30-worth of book tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.
Back down amongst it, with the light fading, we went in search of the ideal creek bed on which to build our barbecue. Neil was an exacting leader. Many a dry creek that would have done the rest of us nicely Neil rejected on the grounds - if I heard what he shouted through the open window of his Toyota correctly - of unevenness, over-accessibility (ie low inconvenience rating) or poor acoustics. We ploughed through the roughest terrain and then ploughed back out again, until even the Pajero began to work up a sweat. The later it got, the more surprised the wild horses and donkeys were to see us still looking. They raised their heads from feeding in alarm. Some, thinking we must be dangerous, decided it was best to flee. God knows how much smaller life we sent scuttling for safety through the undergrowth. In the end it was the lateness of the hour that settled it. We found a spot that looked suspiciously like the first one we'd turned down and set to work building a fire. This consisted of collecting three leaves and two twigs and tossing on a match. The match was supererogatory. On such tinder a warm breath would have done as well.
It was a wonderful night. Not quiet - the bush out here was never quiet - but utterly still. The heavens almost as vaulted as they'd been over Cook, the stars so distinct that you could calculate the millennia that separated them. Cities spare you the horror of the stars by blurring them; the melancholy of country people must be a consequence of how much time they see whenever they raise their eyes. Tonight everything was a hard silhouette of itself - the trees, the parked vehicles, us, all so sharply defined that we seemed things of outline only, without other substance.
And, if that was how I looked, it was also how I felt. It was as close as I'd so far got, on this journey, to spirituality. I imagined perpetuity for myself as being like this: my profile, a line circumscribing nothing, spinning eternally through space. Not a torment - not at all Dantesque infernal - but a supreme lightness; a sort of distillation, only of spirit into body instead of the other way around. Which might mean that it was physical I was feeling, not spiritual at all. Either way I enjoyed it, sitting swooning by the fire, oblivious to such purely temporal threats as snakes and scorpions.
Literally Lost 59: The book was 'Behind the Wall' by Colin Thubron. The action took place in China. The winner is Florian Barker of Coventry.
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