We can go over now to our reporter on the ground, Praxiteles Hubbard . . . Prax, what is the situation there on the ground?
Well, Ulf, what the people on the ground here are telling me is that the situation is very fluid. That’s something you might expect of the sea, rather than the ground, but there it is. What I’ve been able to see here on the ground is soil, some mud, a certain amount of silt, sparse bits of lawn, sand, then large swathes of scrubland covered in gorse and bracken and nettles until you come into more built-up areas, where you’ll find grit and gravel and then great big paving slabs and flagstones, asphalt and tarmac and concrete. Also on the ground is a teeming myriad of insect life, tiny little ants and beetles, and all sorts of things that creep and slither and scuttle. You have to be very careful not to crush them underfoot. Obviously my boots are here on the ground, too, for the time being. Apart from in the very muddy parts where there has been heavy rainfall, it’s pretty solid, despite the situation being fluid, as I pointed out. Gradients vary. Parts of the ground are flat but then there are steeper bits, and in the urban areas you will find steps and stairs. I have yet to come upon any quicksand, but what people on the ground here are telling me is that there are patches of it, so one has to tread carefully.
And what are the people on the ground saying about the situation?
It depends who you speak to, Ulf, and whereabouts on the ground they are. Earlier I was on the ground just south of here, on an outcrop of limestone. There, I was told, the situation was very much what you’d expect, a real sense of limestone, no sign of quicksand, and certainly no paving slabs or flagstones. But come further north, travelling across scrub and moorland, and you can find yourself in marshland, which is barely ground at all. In fact it’s sopping wet, as I found out to my cost. Luckily I have a pair of wellington boots. What the people on the ground there told me is that it has always been marshy and boggy, so the situation is always fluid. And it gets even more fluid during the rainy season, if you can believe that. There’s a great deal of anxiety among the people on the ground, looking up for signs of clouds.
But clouds are in the sky, not on the ground, is that right, Prax?
That is absolutely right, Ulf. As a person on the ground here told me earlier, the sky is not the ground. But, interestingly, just as the ground is scattered with that teeming myriad of life-forms I was telling you about, so is the sky. It’s just that the life-forms tend to be different, things with wings, for example, and as well as tiny insects you get birds, some of which can be huge in comparison.
We know about the people on the ground, but are there people in the sky too?
Yes there are. Most of them tend to be in aeroplanes or helicopters, but you occasionally find a so-called bird-man, a chap with a pair of balsa wood wings attached by a kind of harness, flinging himself off a clifftop or promontory. What’s interesting is that they tend to become people on the ground pretty quickly, usually within minutes. There is one faction among the people on the ground who claim there are other people in the sky, what we might call ethereal beings, or angels, also with wings, but not balsa wood ones. They seem to have their wings already attached, and don’t need harnesses. They can also remain airborne, so I suppose we could say they really are people in the sky, unlike the bird-men.
And have you managed to talk to any of these people in the sky, Prax?
Not yet, Ulf, though I have been putting out feelers.
Feelers? Like the tendrils and antennae of certain insects and plant-forms?
That’s right, Ulf. I’ve been putting out my feelers trying to arrange to talk to representatives of the sky-people. They of course will have a different perspective to the people on the ground, and it will be interesting to find out what they make of the situation, whether they also think it is fluid. Much depends, I think, on whether it rains.
This rain, Prax, I understand it begins in the sky and comes down to the ground?
Not exactly. It actually begins in the sea, goes up into the sky, and then it comes down to the ground.
What are the people on the ground saying about that?
Well, again it depends very much on who you talk to. Some people put their collars up and unfurl umbrellas and say things like “Mustn’t grumble”. Others slosh about in puddles and they do grumble. And I’ve spoken with a few people here on the ground who dance strange jigs hoping to attract the rain.
Were they the people on the limestone outcrop?
No, Ulf, they weren’t. I think it’s important to note that there are all sorts of different people on the ground, depending on what patch of ground you’re talking about.
I’ll have to cut you short there, Prax, but before you go, you’ve told us about the people on the ground and the people in the sky, but are there any people under the ground?
There are. Some of them are miners or pot-holers, some are international women of mystery like Primrose Dent in her sinister subterranean HQ, and some are weird blind albino troglodyte beings who are really rather frightening.
Fascinating stuff. That was Praxiteles Hubbard there, our reporter on the ground. [Pause] To Jaywick now, where cows have wandered down the main street in the early morning dawn . . .