"After [Benjamin] Franklin came a herd of Electrical Pioneers
whose names have become part of our electrical terminology: Myron
Volt, Mary Louise Amp, James Watt, Bob Transformer, etc. These
pioneers conducted many important electrical experiments. For
example, in 1780 Luigi Galvani discovered (this is the truth)
that when he attached two different kinds of metal to the leg of
a frog, an electrical current developed and the frog's leg
kicked, even though it was no longer attached to the frog, which
was dead anyway. Galvani's discovery led to enormous advances in
the field of amphibian medicine. Today, skilled veterinary
surgeons can take a frog that has been seriously injured or
killed, implant pieces of metal in its muscles, and watch it hop
back into the pond just like a normal frog, except for the fact
that it sinks like a stone."
Dave Barry, "What is Electricity?"
UNDER THE BOARDWALK
by Roy Stead
There's a wonderland, where all your dreams come true. A
wonderland, where Alice never walked. A wonderland, where
nightmares rear their heads and cry to heaven for relief.
A solitary walk is where the path toward this wonderland begins:
a walk along a pier in a southern tourist town.
I stop and stare out, standing by the rail. I stop and stare out
at the waves, buffetted by the night's strong wind, curl against
the shore. The blanket of the sea seems rough tonight, billowing
and wafting gentle, yet crashing fiercely on the pebbled beach. I
stare, taking in the beauty of the scene, yet understanding
nothing of the horror it conceals.
A voice alongside me wakes me from this reverie - warning me,
"Don't jump." I start, surprised a moment, then turn toward the
voice. A girl stands here - two girls. They each repeat, in turn,
"Don't jump," and, adding something when they see no response,
"It's not worth it - nothing's worth jumping for. Besides," The
closer girl confides, " The sea is rough tonight, and you don't
want to jump into that."
I nod, and look at her - a blonde, close-cropped head of hair,
upon a girl, the same age as myself, barely twenty. "Jumping," I
reply, "Hadn't occurred to me. But - now that you mention it..."
"Please don't jump," She laughs, "Or it'll be on my conscience
now you've said that!" I grin, and she responds with, "How are
"I'm fine," I reply, "And I'm not going to jump. Do you live
around here?" Desperate to hear a human voice - whichever it may
be - to end this night upon.
"Yes - in a way. I'm sleeping under the pier."
"I move into a bed and breakfast on Monday," Today is Saturday,
"If they can find one, but I'm sleeping under the pier tonight."
"It's a vicious circle: I can't get a job because I don't have a
home, and I can't rent a place to live because I don't have a
job. It's a vicious circle," she repeats, despondently.
"But why under the pier?"
"We tried," she indicates herself and her companion, "To get
into a squat in town, but there was nowhere with room to spare."
She says this last in a matter-of-fact way, as though the natural
state of man - or woman - was sleeping rough, beneath a pier, in
winter, "And the DSS has a rule - you can't stay in one town for
more than four weeks if you're in a bed and breakfast."
She and her companion - I didn't learn their names - walk off,
along the pier, as I stand, with my thoughts: How can they get a
job, and thus a place to live, if their only address - a bed and
breakfast - must change every four weeks: It takes more than four
weeks to save a deposit on a flat.
I stare out at the rough sea once more, thinking on the insanity
of these rules - devised by some faceless bureaucrat, sitting in
his cosy office. Now, however, I do not see merely the beauty of
the ruffled surface. I also see this as the effect of the wind: a
cold, biting wind.
I shudder, then walk home.
I change. I take off my shirt, and replace it with two T-shirts.
Removing all money from my clothing, I place it on my desk,
beside the computer on which I type these words. Suitably
attired, for warmth, I set off - my mind made up - to spend a
night sleeping beneath the pier. Just to see what it would be
like to sleep rough - to be at one, so far as I can be at one,
with the homeless.
I walk through the town, crossing roads at one am, and reach the
promenade. Lights from nightclubs and fairground attractions
provide macabre illumination as I descend the steps to the
pebbled beach, crunching across the rocks to the edge of the sea,
where I sit awhile in thought.
"Do I really want to go through with this?" I think, as I toss
stones into the oncoming waves. I look around, seeing no sign of
the homeless - merely a courting couple a little further down the
shoreline. As if to demonstrate that they are not 'the homeless,'
I see them stand, and make their crunching way back up towards,
and onto, the promenade. As my eyes follow their path, however, I
notice something further back, beneath the pier yet further from
I rise to investigate, and wander up to what - on closer
inspection - appears to be a mound of cardboard; about seven feet
long, three feet high and one and a half feet wide. Still closer
inspection reveals this mound, improbably, to be a shelter of
some kind. As I approach, I hear a sound from within the
I kneel at the 'entrance,' "Is there somebody in there?" I ask,
"Yes," Comes the muffled reply.
I cannot believe my ears: Somebody actually lives in this thing.
I ask again, somewhat dazed, "Is there anybody in there?"
The reply, less muffled, is repeated: "Yes."
A voice away to my right calls: "Lisa!" And thereby summons a
slim young girl - hardly sixteen - from the cardboard shack. She
walks over to another such structure, which lies nearby, and I
hear more sounds from within the first.
Now, I ask, "Is there somebody else in there?"
"Yes," The answer comes - a male voice this time.
I explain my intention - to spend the night beneath the pier -
and ask how I should go about building such a dwelling as this.
The same, male, voice answers: "I don't know - ask Scouse, over
in the other one. He built them both."
"The other one? The one with the sheet draped over it?"
"Yes - there're only two."
I thank the bearer of the mysterious male voice, and wander over
to the other dwelling, where 'Lisa' is crouched, talking to
somebody inside. As I approach, the conversation trails off and
dies. Lisa is ordered away, back to her own house of cardboard. I
kneel before an entrance flap, and find myself face-to-face with
yet more of 'the homeless.' Again, this dwelling holds a man and
The man speaks, asking me what I want. Again, as to the unseen
man of the first hut, I explain my intentions. I ask how I go
about building something like the structure within which they are
- or will be - sleeping.
Perhaps I should explain myself. What seemed at first to be mere
mounds of cardboard revealed themselves, on closer examination,
to be carefully constructed dwellings. The walls were cardboard,
but this was secured, by some peculiar mechanism, to both the
ceiling - of metal - and the pebbled beach. I could see no
obvious method of affixing the walls to either.
"You just get some cardboard," the still-invisible figure
"And drape it over something, like you've done?"
"Something like that," he goes on, "there're some boxes over
there. A silhouetted arm gestures behind him, pointing in the
direction between the two extant structures.
I stand up, and survey the scene beneath the pier. The beach
looks desolate - there is nothing over which to drape the
cardboard. No beam, no pole - no suitably-long plank of
driftwood. "What do I drape it over? There's nothing except what
your two 'huts' are draped over."
A frenzied, whispered conversation ensues within the cardboard
house, at the end of which I hear the girl state, distinctly:
"He'll help you to build something." A pause, followed by some
contorted movements within, as I stand up and - again - survey
the beach. I still see nothing as the man crawls out from the
'entrance,' and stands silhouetted in the flickering light from
the promenade; there is no moonlight.
"Thanks," I start, then begin following the now-silent figure.
His lank, greasy, long hair - uncut for many months - is the most
recognisable feature of the silhouette. He is, of course, fully
clothed. We wander up, across the crunching pebbles, our feet
sliding over them in a parody of perambulation. Coming to a
concrete space, the figure turns and makes his way up the stairs
onto the boardwalk proper; I follow.
Desperate for something to say in this, somewhat uncomfortable,
situation, I venture: "I didn't catch your name," in a
"Just call me 'Scouse,'" he mumbles, "Everyone calls me
"Okay, Scouse - but what's your real name?"
"Is that K-E-L or C-W-L?"
"Yes." He shuffles further, descending once more to the beach
along the more Western staircase. I follow him down, and decide
to check my guess as to his origin, asking him where he comes
"Merseyside," he starts. When pressed, he just answers: "Near
"How long have you lived here, Kel?"
"Why - if you don't mind me asking?"
"My stepfather." A curt answer - asking not to be pressed on
this point. I respect this wish.
As we walk, he complains occassionally of the singular lack of
cardboard on this stretch of beach. A young couple wander past,
walking in the opposite direction to us. They obviously catch a
word or two of Scouse's complaint, since they start before
pointedly ignoring our duo.
"What did you do...before, Scouse?"
"I was in Prison for three years."
"What for - if you don't mind me asking?"
"Burglary, robbery, ABH, assault with a deadly weapon, mugging."
The litany of crimes assails my ears, and - for the first time -
I find myself wondering what I have let myself in for here.
Trying to be casual, I venture, "Seems like you covered the whole
"Yeah," Scouse descends into silence once more, and I follow in
a similar state. Eventually, he grabs a seven-foot long by one
and a half foot wide metal trough, barely an inch deep. I help
him to carry it back a little ways, but he stops me, and tells me
to grab, "that fence-thing, over there behind the deckchairs."
I look, but see nothing. A closer examination, though, reveals a
four foot high piece of portable metal fencing; I hadn't noticed
it, but Scouse had obviously seen it on our way along the beach.
My respect for him went up again. We walk back, with our various
burdens, under the boardwalk.
Scouse begins by balancing the metal trough on a St Andrew's
Cross-bar beneath the pier, and motions for me to place my fence
under the other end to support it. The resulting structure is
surprisingly solid. He then grabs the carboard boxes and rips
them open, careful to make strips as long and broad as possible
from them. He places one end on top of this structure, and
secures it with a rock from the beach before piling pebbles and
smaller rocks on the base: "To stop the wind from blowing it
away," he explains.
I decide to venture another question: "How did you find out how
to make one of these, Scouse?"
"I just came up with it, and it worked," he replied, sending my
estimation of him up still further. "Graeme Dean Stollen," he
said, in apparent non sequitur.
"Graeme Dean Stollen is my name," he repeats. I get the feeling
that he has had to search hard to drag this name from his mind.
Maybe it's been years since he's had occassion to use it. As I
continue to stack the meagre store of cardboard around my own
hut, just as Scouse-Kel-Graeme had shown me, he vanishes off
toward his shared dwelling.
After a little time, he returns with a sheet - made from what
seems to be a hospital gown or an old nightdress. "This might
help keep the wind off you," he states. I'm touched by the
thoughtfulness, but protest at the generosity. He dismisses my
protestations, since, "We have a blanket already - we'll be
Scouse-Kel-Graeme retires for the night, and I bed down - alone
- within my hut, using my rolled-up jacket for a pillow. I lie
there for hours, listening to the roar of the waves and the thrum
of passing cars and vans melt into the crunch-crunch of late-
night beachcombers and the flapping of cardboard in the biting
wind. Eventually, I realise that - with the cold wind and the
hard pebbles on which I am lying - I'm not going to be able to
sleep, although I am exhausted.
I rise, brush off several adhering pebbles, and crunch along the
beach myself. I walk further, and see one - even less fortunate
than Scouse and his companions - asleep in a doorway. Rising up
the staircase, I walk home to sleep in my own bed, passing - as I
go - a police van which lies stationed on the promenade. It looks
like a raid on the homeless is about to be launched.
As if there weren't enough serpents in 'paradise.'
(c) 15/9/91 Roy Stead
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.