We wrote, once, on rock. Also mud, sand, silt. By a stream, one of us
created a half-moon with small white stones picked from the water. Another
took a burning stick from the fire and waved it through the air, sending out
vanishing circles, squiggles and strokes into the dark. (These lasted longer
in our eyes, which store impressions of their own.) Next morning, after a
night when no one slept because we were too hungry, angry at each other,
someone drew a deer-like beast in the ash.
We buried our ideas in preservative clay, and hired librarians for their
muscles. Three strong men could move a whole book from shelf to table. A
scholar asked for the wrong one but felt he had to read it anyway.
We visited the Roman fora to read that city's daily newspaper, the Acta
Diurna, a publishing project of Julius Caesar. Some of us only read the arts
section, others only the crime. It was hard, time being money, to read each
article all through. At the end of every day, soldiers tore the sheets from
the wooden posts.
As pilgrims, we carried paper to far-away marble pillars in order to copy
their carved wisdom. The paper must be moistened, pressed to the relief
letters and dabbed with an ink-soaked cloth. This is two thousand years ago.
We have chopped papyrus, scrawled on birch bark and palm leaves, on bamboo
and silk-worm excrement, on rawhide. A young man once etched a poem in wax
and thought this made him immortal. So did another.
Now we write in light and read the darkness.
And we do more than that. Before I could wield a pen, my father helped me
spray-paint my initials into the dirty, growing wool of a pet Welsh lamb.
Tom Howell knows exactly what we are up to. All our tricks.