I have long intended to read The Thousand Nights and One Nights to give it its correct title. I have the complete four volume edition translated by Powys Mathers and Dr J C Madrus, and I realize it will be no hardship. Like most children of my generation I knew the nursery version of some of Scheherazade's stories. But those are remote from the sequence of tales, many them rich in sex and violence, told by the wife of the king to keep him from killing her, because he was convinced that she would otherwise betray him. Remember how every night she concludes the previous night's story, and sets up the next one to keep his curiousity alive. It is brilliant concept and proof of the the power of fiction. It confirms what I have felt for a long time that stories are better than so called fact. For who can verify the facts of a simple incident, while a story is complete in itself, unassailable by definition, and can contain truths which are missing from simple reportage?
I am standing opposite the entrance to the Victoria Arcade. Near me a hulky man, quite normal in appearance, starts shouting: "What are you doing in my country? Stamp it out. Stamp it out," he bellows. "Foreign legion. Stamp it out! " The object of his anger is an empty Stella Artois beer can lying on the pavement. Repeatedly, he stamps on the innocent Belgian artifact, until it is squashed flat on the brick pavement. Nobody takes any notice of him. He strides off radiating hatred.
A couple of minutes later, a woman street cleaner arrives pushing a mobile rubbish bin and wielding a pair of tongs. With the tongs, she lethargically picks up cartons and bits of paper and releases them into the bin. The can is a problem because it is so flat. She is far from athletic and has some difficulty bending down to lift it with her bare hand. Taking advantage of the pause in her progress, she takes out a cigarette and lights up; the foreign can is now out of sight and out of mind.
It is half terms. School children gather in the centre of the town, Dress code is jeans or miniskirts. Tee shirts are colourful and interesting. A thin boy wears one bearing the words: "I hate people". Two of his friends, a girl and a boy, one behind him and one in front, attempt an embrace with him, like a sandwich filling, in the middle. A people sandwich.