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ash-cloudSo for six days the earth spewed its guts and extended to us mere mortals a reminder that we are, and always will be, only human. The ash cloud’s gradual spread across mainland Europe was really a gift, and I wonder if, in time, we’ll come to mourn its passing.

In my (highly romanticised) opinion  wasn’t simply an inanimate object but a living, breathing, pulsating reminder of our mortal existence, of the unpredictability of life and the beautiful serendipity of chaos. A poke in the ribs that said, “Er, don’t take life too seriously, have a few days on me”.

As tourists made a mad dash for Calais, the British Navy were poised for a modern-day kitsch rendition of Dunkirk. “It’s the spirit of the blitz” screamed the tabloids; a nation united in the spirit of love and kinship, if only for a moment. All it takes is a war, or a volcano.

fimmvorduhals_2010_03_27_dawn[photo by Henrik Thorburn]

“It’s all just an election stunt,” cried the miserablists. What? People actually care about the election this time round?

I was in Sweden, where the trains were at a standstill and the hire cars had vanished. People, people, everyone and not a lift in sight. From a little island retreat in the Stockholm archipelago, I watched the weather drift through the dreaming spires of the old town. Visions of Kerouac fluttering in the wings as I contemplated a mad dash across a Europe that was now littered with legitimate bums. The days were bathed in warm spring sunshine that ushered in colour after a heavy winter, so I decided instead to wander the streets and enjoy this small gift of time.

In a tea garden one day I met Stina, who runs an open-mike radio show for the handicapped, where the laughs are real and never self-deprecating. We munched on pancakes with blueberry syrup and cream. Free pancakes. Buttered smiles all around the room.

Wandering around galleries I discovered Lee Lozano’s enviable collection of phallus’s and choice use of language. I never knew art could be about penises and rude words – no teacher ever mentioned that when I was at school. Maybe I could have made it as an artist after all…

Then the snow arrived, and its flurries brought me to Gordana, the Romanian with the kaleidoscope eyes. We strolled around the town while she told me of her homeland and stories of the evil Count Dracu, who impaled anyone who crossed him, and from whom Bram Stoker drew some inspiration for his Dracula. Despite the cold there was little spark as she held my arm, and I willed the volcano to continue its chaos long into the spring.

And then the ash cloud dispersed and the televisions celebrated  ‘a swift resumption of normal service’ to cheers from industry types: “Hey, we can make money again!”

A swift resumption of routine, a swift return to normality.

One of the seats on one the flights was mine, and I had to take it, because for me, like everyone else, normal life waited. What a downer.

It felt as though, for a little while, the world woke up from the deepest of slumbers, and we opened our eyes to the skies and our hearts to one and other, and for the briefest of moments we were awakened to the wonders of the world. And it felt good.

But tomorrow won’t be like today, and it’ll be back to reality, and I’ll miss the volcano.

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