John Vernall lifted up his head, the milk locks that had given him his nickname stirring in the third floor winds, and stared with pale grey eyes out over Lambeth, over London. Snowy's dad had once explained to him and his young sister Thursa how by altering one's altitude, one's level on the upright axis of this seemingly three-planed existence, it was possible to catch a glimpse of the elusive fourth plane, the fourth axis, which was time. Or was at any rate, at least in Snowy's understanding of their father's Bedlam lectures, what most people saw as time from the perspective of a world impermanent and fragile, vanished into nothingness and made anew from nothing with each passing instant, all its substance disappeared into a past that was invisible from their new angle and which thus appeared no longer to be there. For the majority of people, Snowy realised, the previous hour was gone forever and the next did not exist yet. They-were trapped in their thin, moving pane of Now: a filmy membrane that might fatally disintegrate at any moment, stretched between two dreadful absences. This view of life and being as frail, flimsy things that were soon ended did not match in any way with Snowy Vernall's own, especially not from a glorious vantage like his current one, mucky nativity below and only reefs of hurtling cloud above.
His increased elevation had proportionately shrunken and reduced the landscape, squashing down the buildings so that if he were by some means to rise higher still, he knew that all the houses, churches and hotels would be eventually compressed in only two dimensions, flattened to a street map or a plan, a smouldering mosaic where the roads and lanes were cobbled silver lines binding factory-black ceramic chips in a Miltonic tableau. From the roof-ridge where he perched, soles angled inwards gripping the damp tiles, the rolling Thames was motionless, a seam of iron amongst the city's dusty strata. He could see from here a river, not just shifting liquid in a stupefying volume. He could see the watercourse's history bound in its form, its snaking path of least resistance through a valley made by the collapse of a great chalk fault somewhere to the south behind him, white scarps crashing in white billows a few hundred feet uphill and a few million years ago. The bulge of Waterloo, off to his north, was simply where the slide of rock and mud had stopped and hardened, mammoth-trodden to a pasture where a thousand chimneys had eventually blossomed, tarry-throated tubeworms gathering around the warm miasma of the railway station. Snowy saw the thumbprint of a giant mathematic power, untold generations caught up in the magnet-pattern of its loops and whorls.
On the loose-shoelace stream's far side was banked the scorched metropolis, its edifices rising floor by floor into a different kind of time, the more enduring continuity of architecture, markedly distinct from the clock-governed scurry of humanity occurring on the ground. In London's variously styled and weathered spires or bridges there were interrupted conversations with the dead, with Trinovantes, Romans, Saxons, Normans, their forgotten and obscure agendas told in stone. In celebrated landmarks Snowy heard the lonely, self-infatuated monologues of kings and queens, fraught with anxieties concerning their significance, lives squandered in pursuit of legacy, an optical illusion of the temporary world which they inhabited. The avenues and monuments he overlooked were barricades' against oblivion, ornate breastwork flung up to defer a future in which both the glorious structures and the memories of those who'd founded them did not exist.