The Beautiful City of Software

A new frenzy grips the architects, the builders, the carpenters, the painters. The buildings must be changed, must grow, now, now, today. And so they scurry, nailing on curlicues and raising floors, tearing down this staircase, putting up this ladder, and at the end of the day they step back, look up, shake hands and agree to do it again tomorrow, now, now!

GHA40226In the midst of the twisted roadways runs the river, and across its waters lies a bridge. Call it London Bridge. Not designed. Just happened. And always growing, this way and that way, a feature here, don’t like that one there any more, should bring this railing up to spec, cries the engineer, whilst beside him the others hammer together the new houses that crowd the bridge’s fragile shoulders, and yet again it crumbles, down into the rushing waters, patched even as it falls, and saved at the last moment by the railing that the engineer brought up to spec. But touch not the railing now, lest the whole bridge collapse. Heedlessly, the crowds continue to cross the bridge.

Nestled amongst the towers of this city is a little house. Built by yours truly, it has gables and stands proudly on its own foundations. No one knows how I mixed the concrete, how I discovered for myself the secret formulas of the masons. For now it stands, mirroring the towering edifices surrounding it, calling for its own moment in the light. Crudely, yet lovingly, its facets are shaped, aping the towers’ gleaming edges.

For none can see the bones of those towers now, save in the dreams, nay horrors, of the men who built them. Carefully, the gleaming panels were draped over, and hid the gross deformities beneath a respectable skin. The towers reach skyward, bastions of the city, and all seek to build their own towers in homage to them.

None can see the bones? I speak falsely. There are those who live beneath the surface of the living, creaking city. They crawl inside the hidden and forgotten ways, and learn its secrets, for good, for evil and for love of learning secrets. Some, graspers, take their knowledge, and shake the towers with it, as the owners rush to protect and rebuild, patching the bones with sticking plasters and casts painted in cheerful colours.

No one notices the bones of my little house. Bones no better than those of the towers, if a little smaller.

In the University, I discover how to build a crystal palace, beautiful, fragile and empty, devoid of purpose. Perfect in every way except one. For it has no doors and doors cannot be added. I cannot take the bones from the palace and put them into my house. The crystal bones resile from my rough-hewn timber tresses. They shatter.

I hear the men building in a frenzy and the monster grips me too. I rush from room to room of my house, desperate for change and fame and wealth, shifting this, nailing that, never noticing the damage I wreak until out of breath I stop and look back, just in time, recoiling as I realise how close I came to losing my soul. I run from my house, shaking off the claws of the monster as it howls impotently at me, you’ll get left behind!

Down in the market, I wander from stall to stall. Buy this paint! Use these magic bones: make your house into a tower! Be noticed! My house must be festooned with gargoyles to protect those who enter from the crawlers beneath the city’s skin! The noise is unsettling, the message now bland and tasteless. The graspers watch me walking through, asking themselves if I have anything of worth.

Beyond the market lies the city hall, where the men of import gather. I spin a tale of the beauty of my house, desperate to be noticed, and how strong its bones, how elegant its gables. One man turns and sees me, offers wealth beyond my dreams. But inside my heart I now know he offers only the chance to take my house, my pride, for himself, and tear it apart and spread the best of its blocks amongst his towers. And so I reject him, and again I flee.

But then I find the man in the corner of the market. He has no charms to sell me. Instead he tells me of those who still secretly live in the city, building houses with pride, each more robust and trustworthy than the last, and though sometimes they look toward the gleaming edifices wistfully, yet they themselves were once crawlers beneath the surface, for the love of learning secrets. These men and women are gathering, slowly, he tells me, into a guild. A guild that will protect and honour and create buildings that last, unlike those on the bridge, crumbling and tumbling even now, unlike the towers, gleaming and perfect and rotten to the core.

This time of growth and pain and foolishness must be endured, but it shall pass. The wise men of the University shall join us, he proclaims, and together we shall build with beauty and strength. Gradually the towers shall each fail and fall and be replaced by virtuous buildings of grace, beauty and strength, built with love and care for those who live inside them.

I ask if I may join their guild, and ungrudgingly he bids me welcome, and willingly I set myself to learn.

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