'Suddenly, no, at last, long last, I couldn't any more, I couldn't go on. Someone said, You can't stay here. I couldn't stay there and I couldn't go on. I'll describe the place, that's unimportant. The top, very flat, of a mountain, no, a hill, but so wild, so wild, enough. Quag, heath up to the knees, faint sheep-tracks, troughs scooped deep by the rains. It was far down in one of these I was lying, out of the wind.'
Samuel Beckett, 'Texts for Nothing: 1'
It seems like a long time ago now, but I was once a boy scout. It's not that long when I think about it in perspective, but it feels like a long time. A very long time.
Whenever I tell people that I was in the scouts, I hear the same old assumptions; and, to be honest, I can't disagree with any of them. It strikes people as strange for a child to look for order and discipline in their free time, after spending the day behind a desk in school. But for me, joining the scouts was an opportunity to meet new friends and seek out adventure. That was its appeal.
It was in the scouts that I met one of my best friends. We bonded almost immediately through a shared sense of humour, and could appreciate the absurdity of the uniform and the badges. There would be activities every Friday evening, where we would learn new skills and share wisecracks, all the while preparing for the away-from-home activities planned in our calendars. Together we looked forward to the adventure weekends and camping trips that were to come.
One such event was a night hike scheduled in the autumn time. The whole troop met at a specific point, dropped off by our parents, and wearing our backpacks we head out into the valley in the dark. I walked with my friend, and we shared a sense of excitement while climbing a steeple and seeing the stars reflected in an anonymous lake.
'How long have I been here, what a question, I've often wondered. And often I could answer, An hour, a month, a year, a century, depending on what I meant by here, and me, and being, and there I never went looking for extravagant meanings, there I never much varied, only the here would sometimes seem to vary.'I often think of that night, even now. We passed the lake and entered a forest, no longer seeing the clear night sky above our heads, no longer seeing the moonlight. I can feel the cold on my skin, and remember buttoning my cuffs to avoid the draught. There was mud under foot, everyone following the two compass leaders with their minds on the camp so far ahead.
'Texts for Nothing 1'
In some ways I think it was one of the longest nights I ever spent. But my friend made it feel short, as we passed the time together. We talked about the walk itself, and then moved onto impersonations of troop members, characters from films and television shows we liked. We talked about school, our brothers and sisters, and chocolate (both carrying ample supplies). And we planned what we would do with the next morning, heating beans over a camp stove.
'And in the way of sensation? My God, I can't complain, it's himself all right, only muffled, like buried in snow, less the warmth, less the drowse, I can follow them well, all the voices, all the parts, fairly well, the cold is eating me, the wet too, at least I presume so, I'm far.'
'Texts for Nothing 1'
When I think of the time before he died, one memory remains particularly strong. I think back to the night hike we shared, and the hill we faced halfway along our journey. My legs ached, and fatigue had set in. Knee-deep in grass, I complained to the sky and whoever would listen. I remember him smiling and rolling his eyes at me: 'Come on,' he said, 'we're almost there.'
Reading Samuel Beckett's first of the Texts for Nothing, I feel an almost overwhelming personal reaction. It's a story written when Beckett's father had long-since passed away, and seems to be located out in the country hills they shared together.
'[...] we walked together, hand in hand, silent, sunk in our worlds, each in his worlds, the hands forgotten in each other. That's how I've held out till now. And this evening again it seems to be working, I'm in my arms, I'm holding myself in my arms, without much tenderness, but faithfully, faithfully. Sleep now, as under that ancient lamp, all twined together, tired out with so much talking, so much listening, so much toil and play.'I still think of him often, now five years since he passed away, and wish he was still around.
'Texts for Nothing 1'
I miss my friend.