Among the many thousands of things that I have never been able to understand, one in particular stands out. That is the question of who was the first person who stood by a pile of sand and said, ‘You know, I bet if we took some of this and mixed it with a little potash and heated it, we could make a material that would be solid and yet transparent. We could call it glass.’ Call me obtuse, but you could stand me on a beach till the end of time and never would it occur to me to try to make it into windows.
Much as I admire sand’s miraculous ability to be transformed into useful objects like glass and concrete, I am not a great fan of it in its natural state. To me, it is primarily a hostile barrier that stands between a car park and water. It blows in your face, gets in your sandwiches, swallows vital objects like car keys and coins. In hot countries, it burns your feet and makes you squeal and hop to the water in a fashion that people with better bodies find amusing. When you are wet, it adheres to you like stucco, and cannot be shifted with a fireman’s hose. But – and here’s the strange thing – the moment you step on a beach towel, climb into a car or walk across a recently vacuumed carpet it all falls off.
For days afterwards, you tip astounding, mysteriously undiminishing piles of it onto the floor every time you take off your shoes, and spray the vicinity with quantities more when you peel off your socks. Sand stays with you for longer than many contagious diseases. And dogs use it as a lavatory. No, you may keep sand as far as I am concerned.