On Sand Robots

The creation of the first fully operational sand robot is a tale of maverick science and unparalleled seaside resort ingenuity. For it was a maverick scientist, on holiday at a seaside resort, who conceived the idea of the sand robot, and built one, and made it work. As always with stupendous scientific initiatives, there were many false starts and hiccoughs along the way. From the first glimmer of the idea within the maverick brainpans of Ignatz Edballs to the initial wheezing plodding creaking steps of the prototype sand robot, entire days passed in witless tinkering and frustration and, sometimes, yes, despair. But in spite of all he never gave up, and at last, a fortnight after the spark of inspiration, the world’s first sand robot took its first steps across the glistening sands of Dilapidation-On-Sea.

There was little in Ignatz Edballs’s past – nor, indeed, his present – which would have prepared the world for his matchless achievement. Those holidaymakers whose jaws dropped open as they watched the sand robot bearing down on them upon the beach could never have guessed that its creator was a lowly janitor at a mop factory. Nor would they realise that it was only by accident that he had come to the seaside resort in the first place. Given two weeks’ furlough by his overseer, Edballs packed a suitcase and headed for the railway station, intending to go to somewhere with mountains and snow and goats, for he was temperamentally attuned to mountains and snow and goats. As it happened, he was fatefully distracted by the hoot of an owl in the rafters of the railway station, and boarded the wrong train. Thus it was he found himself in Dilapidation-On-Sea. There were no mountains, no snow, and no goats. He was inappropriately dressed, and he was terrified of the sea. And so, having booked a room in an insalubrious guest house and sat on the hard bed and sobbed, he summoned from within the deepest core of his being a reserve of manly grit, and headed down to the beach, and lay upon the sand, and smoked his pipe.

In all the years he had been mopping the corridors of the mop factory, Ignatz Edballs had been turning over in his mind various ideas for creating an automaton. This was, let us remind ourselves, the nineteen-fifties, and automata were, for most people, the stuff of science fiction. Edballs was not an aficionado of the genre, but his visions of the robot he would build fell in with the conventions of the time. It would be of humanoid shape, and chunky, and it would whirr and clank and plod, and possibly have some flashing lights and buzzers. In other words, it would only vaguely resemble the sand robot he actually made.

He sat on the beach, smoking his pipe, his back turned to the terrifying sea, and he picked up handfuls of sand and let it fall through his fingers. As an amateur scientist, he knew that sand could be turned into glass, however unlikely that seemed to the dimwitted brain. And it was as he considered the unlikelihood that this stuff falling through his fingers could be turned into something solid and flat and see-through that he wondered if it could also be turned into something of humanoid shape that whirred and clanked and plodded, and could even be imbued with primitive intelligence. And so the spark was lit.

The history of scientific achievement is littered with happy accidents. We have already seen how Ignatz Edballs was only sitting surrounded by sand because of the hoot of an owl. It would be splendid to be able to say that it was another hoot, of a second owl, that set in train the creation of the world’s first sand robot. But it was not. Rather, it was the shrieking of gulls. It was this ungodly din that made Edballs look round, towards the sea he feared so, and to note, as he had never noted before, that sand, when wet, becomes impacted, and, while wet, solid. His keen scientific brain instantly realised that, if an adhesive agent were added to the sand while it was wet, it could remain solid when it dried. Leaping up from the beach, he scampered into the streets of Dilapidation-On-Sea in search of such an adhesive. And here there was a second happy accident. In his excitement, running pell mell, Ignatz Edballs collided with a seaside resort hawker, an egg-man selling eggs laid by his Vanbrugh chicken. One egg fell to the ground, and smashed upon the paving, and Edballs stepped into the egg’s spilled innards. He paid the hawker for the breakage, then sat on a seaside resort bench to wipe the egg-goo from the sole of his boot. And then he saw, in a flash, that it was sufficiently viscous to act as an adhesive, the adhesive that could bind wet sand, the wet sand which he could mould into the frame of a robot!

The rest is history. Ignatz Edballs chased after the hawker and bought all his remaining Vanbrugh chicken eggs. Then he returned to the beach. Fearful of approaching too close to the awful sea, he commandeered the services of a sandcastle-building tot to fetch pail after pail of wet impacted sand from the shoreline. Slowly, over the following fortnight, he moulded the sand, fortified with albumen, into a humanoid shape, nine feet tall. When it was done, he inserted various bits of wiring and magnets and resonators, and fashioned a control panel small enough to be worn on the wrist, similar to the one sported by General Jumbo to control his army of miniature soldiers and sailors and airmen in the comic strip you will recall from days gone by.

We must be thankful that Ignatz Edballs never managed to build an army of sand robots. His prototype proved to be an automaton of awesome destructive power. Within seconds of stirring into artificial life, as it plodded across the bright sands of the beach at Dilapidation-On-Sea, the strange sandy synapses in its strange sandy artificial brain snapped into artificial yet malevolent life, and it went on the rampage. It was a slow, plodding rampage, but a rampage nevertheless, as hordes of screaming terrified holidaymakers later attested.

Ignatz Edballs faffed frantically with the control panel on his wrist, trying to halt his creation in its tracks. His efforts were in vain. At the last, he was alone upon the beach with his sand robot, the holidaymakers having fled. As the sun dipped below the horizon, horrified observers on the promenade watched as the huge implacable malevolent sand robot pursued its creator into the cold pitiless sea, the sea that had always terrified him, and now engulfed him, as he sank beneath the waves, and his sand robot, lethal and relentless, followed him, and crumbled, and was dispersed upon the waters of the earth.

3 thoughts on “On Sand Robots

  1. I am the biggest fan of Hooting Yard on the Air.
    It is my favorite podcast.
    I hope you do a podcast every week.
    I really miss listening to your voice.
    You have a magical tone.

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