Once upon a time in South-East England, a cucumber mad cul-de-sac named Cucumis Corner was on the cusp of a revolution. Yes, a revolution! A full blown revolution, straight from the grass roots, or, to speak in terms of paronomasia, straight from the cucumber vine. A new way of doing things, of seeing things. A Revolution of Time itself. But before we get too carried away, let me explain.
The year was 1996 (or was it?) and a young child named Thomas Lancelot Huygens had been excitedly experimenting with the power of his own voice. These experiments were conducted in summertime at the bottom of his family garden, amongst a network of hairygreen life cables - vines with offshoots of bulbous vegetables. Thomas sat in the middle of the cucumber patch with three apparatus necessary for this research: a pen, some scraps of coloured paper, and his very own anti-pubescent vocal chords. His mother had promised him a game of swing-ball three hours ago, but she was still very much locked away studying in her studious study with the guidance of this new and bizarre thing called the internet. An invisible, all knowing entity. A God that actually answers your questions. Thomas began by impersonating the crackle-shriek-squeal sound of an internet-modem and proceeded with whispers, murmurs, teeth-whistles, tongue clonks, speech — all the while noting the effect his sounds had on the surrounding environment.
The results at this stage were minimal; a bee continued its clumsy dawdle from one pink cucumber blossom to the next, a pair of butterflies settled graciously on the lawn and folded their wings like twin sails of a calm boat, and a family of magpies jump-jump-skipped along the garden fence, same as yesterday, same as the day before yesterday. It was as if they had absolutely no idea that this was the birthplace of a revolution, the maternity ward, and they were the very first victims.
Victims of what? Voice. Animals are usually very shrewd at avoiding the nastiness of voice, but in this case the poor honey collector, ex-caterpillars and the one-for-sorrow tribe became the first sentient beings to lose their life, or, have their life taken from them. Of course, it goes without saying that all humans are victims of voice at some point or another, and I guess, unless you’re an unfortunate (not unfortunate) mute then you are all perpetrators of voice, also. I’ve never really liked the phrase ‘it goes without saying’, for if something goes without saying then it doesn’t need to be said. I have no time for impracticality. I’m who? I’m what? I’m where? Then again, it’s sometimes fun to rejoice in the madness of speech. Here is something that goes with saying: Thomas was a different kind of perpetrator.
Things you need to know about Thomas at the age of six: his clothes, duvet, wallpaper, lampshade, life were all dominated by the popular television series Thomas the Tank Engine — his bedroom floor was notoriously zig-zagged and zag-zigged with a network of miniature railway tracks, all inter-crossing and weaving and roaming up polystyrene hills, alongside plastic trees and through cardboard tunnels. Whenever Thomas (boy, not train) played with his trains he always took the place of The Fat Controller, because in his opinion The Fat Controller was a terribly ineffective controller — a man who dished out plenty of orders, but never actually did anything. Thomas’ other interests at the age of six included Buzz Lightyear, bath-time and cake mixture.
‘Why is God called God? Have you ever met him? Does he make mistakes? Can we send him a message from daddy’s pager? Does he decide how much we live? Why do we get an extra hour’s sleep? Why doesn’t grandma remember me? Why? Why? Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhy?’ Thomas asked approximately seven hundred questions a day. His mother was usually too busy to provide stimulating answers for Thomas’ excitable mind, and would often give this out-of-office reply: ‘bloody hell Tom, any more why’s and you’ll question us out of existence’. His father only ever heard one out of the approximated seven hundred questions a day (excluding weekends) and that was: ‘Can you turn the nightlight on?’
James Huygens - Thomas’ older-by-four-years brother - on the other hand, found ample time to respond to his younger sibling’s inquisitions. Why is God called God? Because he delivers pizza. Have you ever met him? The other day, he confused pepperoni with ‘pepper only’. Does he make mistakes? Clearly. Why doesn’t Grandma remember me? Because you’re too small. James soon exerted his rights as an older brother, following in the footsteps of all great older brothers, by altering Thomas’ middle name from Lancelot to Askalot.
Thomas sat at the bottom of the garden with his legs intertwined in the intertwined vines, measuring the size of his six-year-old feet against a fully ripened cucumber. The year was still 1996 (or was it?), it was summertime and events were happening all around the world, some to be remembered, some not to be. I remember them all. Children in Europe and America were sufficiently hyped about the half-animated, half-live-action big-screen story of a young boy and a Giant Peach: a story that has interesting parallels to this one. The flags of patriotic pride were blowing in the winds of every nation; especially in Britain where the St George’s cross was plastered upon walls, windows and cars as footballing glory in Euro 96 flourished, flourished, flourished, then floundered ... down came the flags. Some were even burnt. And good old 1996 (?) was also the year in which the Greenwich Peninsula was selected as the site for the Millennium Dome. This ignited a wildfire of excitement and non-excitement about the turn of the century, about this venture into unknown time via a significant landmark. As always, people were looking into the future four years in advance - probably more than four years of worrying: will there be a bug? What is Y2K? Is the world going to end? Is Time itself going to finish? What good can possibly come from such preposterous thinking? Nobody bothered to look at the small boy with scruffy blond hair, nobody realised that the Revolution of Time was hatching right beneath their nostrils; a revolution that smelt of dirt and cucumbers and dead magpies.
Not just dead magpies. Magpies that had had the life sucked out of them, all four of them — sorrow, joy, girl, boy — completely shrivelled and grey as if their blood and memories and liquids and brains had been vacuumed, extracted, stolen. The perpetrator was the small boy with scruffy hair — not that the temperament of his hair, nor the smallness of his stature was related in any way with this crime — no, it was something in his voice, something about his voice, something to do with his voice. He actually had quite a pleasant manner of speaking; just the right balance of excitement and frustration you’d expect to hear coming from the mouth of a six year-old - he was certainly no Darth Vader, more like R2-D2 with those modem impersonations.
And yet, in a tangle of cucumber vines on that fateful summer’s eve, young Thomas Askalot Huygens, after gradually experimenting with whistles and moans and murmurs, clenched his fists and expelled the tiniest of screams — at which point the clumsy bumblebee zipped to the ground, the two butterflies poof! disintegrated and the family of magpies immediately imploded. As the sky bulged a twilight shade of red, so did Thomas’ young cheeks, and despite all his best efforts he vomited in the far corner of the cucumber patch.