Saturday, July 05, 2014

Chapel Street

Chapel Street Monday
Smacked about, most of its glamour beaten down, Chapel Street still has the gravity of narrative. As soon as you enter it, you have left Penzance, moved into a different story. We walk the line on the map that leads you off of it, pulls you across boundaries.

This is a ghost corridor, an ectoplasm zone. A place of lost time. Dead time. Reflections are bruised in dirty windows. Its empty shops are wounds bleeding rumour. Walk its length to read a grimoire of possible realities.

Two hours off of the train and in our rooms above it, the mysteries of Chapel Street are already washing into us. Corroding our ability to deny its currents, to resist its tales. Possessed by place, possessed by story, when the music begins we offer no resistance.

We take punch, take burning torches. The road becomes a ribbon of fire. A wave of sound rolling down to sea. Stored stories manifest in the ’Obby ’Oss. Penglaz shakes its skull head and bone horse ridden, we dance down Chapel Street into the Cornish dreamtime.

Chapel Street Friday
Old men in the Union’s doorway wheezing cigarette phantoms. A distant drunken, operatic sobbing over a boyfriend. No-Shadow-Ned and Skull-Eye-Keith trade burnt-out futures.

In the explosions of rain I hear the angels of the drowned. The angels of the lost. The angels of the cut rope.

Gutters fill with roaring black streams of dirty water. Chapel Street’s ghosts fall back to the shelter of cracks and stones. Sodden, the psychic skin of the place dissolves like blotting paper used to soak up a spilled bottle of ink.

Noise of the dead as drunken riot. Shades of the past mobbing us, trying to get close enough to tell us their stories. We submit to the interference pattern of the night, knowing our dreams will not be own. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Crowded with Saints and Angels

Penwith Hundred is carved into me. Pull my psyche onto the harsh metal of the dissecting slab, split it open and you can read the evidence maps it contains. Soul ink cartography drawn with each step taken there.

Being on Penwith Moors calls out to information stored deep in my DNA museum. Primal recognition everywhere. In the wind bullied trees, flinching from the Atlantic in landward lean. In the boil of surf, constellations of spray thrown up against the black night sky of cliff backdrop. Forced to respond to the story chant that spills from sun-baked, storm cracked rocks. This was the place, this is the place.

For a few hours today, we become moor monarchs. Sole holders of the roll down to the ocean, to the cannon sound of waves pounding shelves of granite, berserker roar of sea running blindly into caves. We have charter to wander abandoned farms. Move among the huge iron tanks and the broken toothed wheels of obsolete machines now tuned over to the empire of rust. Orange blooms bursting from metal corpses.

We walk the gear fields. Ghosts of dead industry bruise the sky. Underneath foot a hot labyrinth of mine workings. Put an ear to the ground and you hear the temporal echoes of miners thrown down shafts for theft. Forever trying to find a route out, chased by the blind, mutated spirits of Phoenician bull gods who have been breeding down there since their ancestors were added as a sweetener in saffron-for-tin deals.

The moor is grazed by a race of cloud shadows. A moment of darkness on the purple stabs of valerian, white foam of daisies and convolvulus. We push on to Chysauster. Walk into the map of another time. The remains of houses, thwarted currents of closed dream chambers and sacred wells. Stones that whisper in rumours, talk of empires dead before they were even born. The history told by ruins is at least more honest and simple than that of books, saying no more than people lived here, people worshiped here.

We slump in the shade of a hut resurrected from sea-drowned wood. Salt-soaked and full of memories. Uncork bottles, sink teeth into meat and pastry. This is land beyond any property speculators’ interest. Views too powerful to be sold. Territory forever caught between storm horizon and the punch of granite. Each hour here is crowded with saints and angels, every scratch in soil held sacred by invisible guardian.

Out here, landscape possesses you. Reminds you this place is older than the Cornish, older than any builder. Slaps you around till you feel man as pismire. A collapsing moment, a lichen pattern on slate that will not last the coming winter. Out here, we can only walk and listen to the stones. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hunt the Wild

London’s bus routes are ley lines for the paranoid. Purpose occulted by the inner working of TFL, they web the city. Crack their gematria, follow the map of connections they offer and you have mastered one of the key branches of metropolitan magic. The 32 paths of wisdom in the Kabbalah have nothing on the capitals bus routes.

Today we take the 212. Wood Street Library to the edge of the People’s Forest. Climb Friday Hill, the only bit of outer London topology that managed to manifest in two psychedelic songs from the tide-running out end of the 1960s and one truly awful 21st century pop group. This is London spluttering out, its signal lost in interference from the commonwealth of imagination.

The black lines of winter trees scratch the sky. Horizon falling away in palette of bullied, sullen colours. Corporation signs warn: ‘Beware Cattle’ as if the shock of seeing them could prove fatal for a city dweller.

We climb to the Great Standing, a hunting lodge built for Henry VIII. A spine through time for more than four centuries, it serves the same purpose today as it always had, to offer an elevated view of the forest. Beyond the faux heritage trappings, this is a building as battery, storing stories. To look out is to connect with the past. The simplest actions writing us into its narrative.

There is a snobbishness in some psychogeographic quarters about enjoying a view, but here it is everything. Suburban solidity and Kray twin ghosts behind us, ahead there is only the Forest. London in Essex as an unmappable line of trees calling us to hunt the wild.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Murder Space

We trawl grey skies, collect signs from clouds. Push along rain polished pavements hoping that adventure is but a few steps away. Sunday morning and a new paths are calling.

The edge of the London is often a blur. A shifting border that can change with the tide of the city. The M25, a wall of drone, constant with fatal collision threat, is the ultimate psychic barrier. However, in some places, the metropolis’s signal breaks down long before hitting it.

E17 is one of them. Edge land. Caught in the crosshairs of city and county-side. Contested territory in an ongoing border war between Essex and London that has last centuries.

We walk three crossroads and are in the demilitarised zone. Traipse on an acorn carpet while Lea Bridge Road traffic growls beside us. Turn our heads one way to a horizon of trees and ponds reflecting an undeveloped sky. Turn it the other for an alternating parade of bus red and strobing ambulance blue. City’s advance spluttering out, forest counterattack only held at bay by thin Tarmac lines and carbon monoxide gas attack.

Here at the edge, childhood folklore crashes back into me. Mythology set in early years haunts memory like a weather system. Throws up unexpected storm fronts after years of calm. Of all the myth transmission channels, few rival that of playground or family. Homer a novice compared to mothers telling stories

Epping Forest is 6,000 acres on maps and hundred times that size in my mind. It needs to be that large for all the legends it holds. Cars appearing to defy gravity by rolling up Hangman’s Hill, trees as an audience for spectre screams. Epping forest is murder space. Buried bank loot space. Ghost soil.

In the 1970s, every TV drama seemed to use it as corpse dumping ground, every schoolyard storyteller as location for their tall tales. In family folklore, it was both hinterland between Essex and London and meeting ground for children and criminality. Step off the path and you risked meeting a killer. Disturb leaf and loam and you could turn up Turpin’s treasure or the skull of a gangster.

It was where you would live rough when you dreamt of running away from home. Anything could happen there. After all, it is where the Third Doctor began his exile on Earth. A TARDIS materialising seemed no more extraordinary a possibility than some headlines that leaked out of it in that febrile fear decade: ‘Black Magic Murder’, ‘UFO Mystery’ and ‘Slayer Manhunt’. In my young imagination it existed simultaneously as ultimate horror film location and the best adventure area.

Now we sit at The Log Cabin. A tea shack caught between trees and Tarmac. The last gasp, last gulp of the city before the forest. Last chance for a killer to enjoy a bit of splosh before heading off the track to bury the body. We watch a line of Lambretas as Mods tuck into a ‘Breakfast in Box’ or ‘Magic Burger’. Frontline fuel for those patrolling the DMZ.

We drink our cups of Rosie. The edge has claimed us. Now people of the border. London remains our muse, but the forest is our new back garden.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Genetic Circuit Diagram

The end of the line is blue. Victoria blue. A bit of the wall, half-heartedly tiled with a William Morris design, offers to disagree, but the obligatory Tube nod to localism is soon silenced.

I gravitate to end of the line towns, to the edges. Either shoved to the margins, the marshes, or called. These places pull at me.

Here at the fringes, dominant signals lose their strength. The city fighting to be overheard above old interference patterns from forest, faith and folklore. In the static, new stories emerge.

This end of the line has ancestral gravity for me. A wooden clock and table that left Walthamstow 70 years ago as part of the London diaspora are now back, just yards from where they started. Survivors of a glacial-paced circular journey. One generation in Essex and the family has returned as well. This place is too strong to fight. London is tattooed onto Smith and Southwell bones. Maps of E17 and SE1 operating like genetic circuit diagrams below the flesh.

Walk anywhere in London and your feet scuff history, kick up stories, but in Walthamstow I am walking streets filled with familial temporal shades, bumping into generational mythology. I have already had my mother call to warn me: “Don’t walk in Epping Forest at night. There are bad things in it.” All the transmitted history and legend of childhood is guide to the here of the now.

It is time to chart mythscape. To map the blurred border between London and county-side. Survey the liminal edge of the city before the trees take over. Note the traces old Essex, rural Essex, not swallowed by London’s greed for space. Time to explore. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

England's desert

I wake up with dreams of a dead life clinging to me that no amount of white tea can dilute. Insoluble past, all poison and tear salt. Among the only things I know that can shift these stains of nightmare are a cooked breakfast, the company of my loved ones and the road with all its potential for adventure.

Stomachs given a ritual coating of grease, we push south and east. The city shrinks in height as we pull against its centre. Stutters out in a parade of car lots, chicken joints and motels that look like prison camps. We pass tattered barriers of police tape that shake with deep trauma. Day-Glo death markers. Murder bunting.

We keep with the compass direction across the artificial borders of county. Move on till we hit land stolen from the sea. With nowhere left for the car to go, we take our chance to explore.

Dungeness is one England’s shifting edges. Land created by long shore drift. Swash and backwash accreting shingle. Pebbles and stones deposited till a burial cairn grows into a headland. This country’s only officially recognised desert is edge space. Phoenix territory. An end of line where people and things come to die or be reborn.

On Romney Marsh we navigate by lines. Follow ghost trails of clinker and timber that mark disused train tracks. Walk under leys marked by telegraph poles. Take direction from the songline hum of pylons to the nuclear reactor siblings of Dungeness A and Dungeness B.

In this landscape, you feel the pull of landmark gravity more keenly. Even the obsolete drags you across the shingle. Fossil spaces – buildings that outlived their original purpose – still sing songs of their former lives. We march to them not to find shelter nor succour, but something of ourselves. Something lost. What was forgotten in the static of the city, now waiting on the horizon as derelict memories. Ready to be walked to, ready to be reclaimed.

Beyond the dunes we begin to dissolve. Eroded by salt and tide. We have reached the edge of national narrative only to find stories embedded in the landscape. Doctor Syn and Pigbin Josh. Smuggler battleground and Doctor Who invasion site.

We read John Dunne poetry painted on wall as offering to the weather. Words matter here. Far in the distance, lettered several-feet high on a pair of massive chimneys, are written the sacred promises: FOOD and PUB.

The air is filled with the doom drone of nuclear reactor. Left-handed pylons, sinister in every sense, hold up wires humming dread. The sentient metal giants that walked the fields of childhood imagination, mark trajectories of leukaemia paranoia. Axon claws and Edge of Darkness conspiracies manifest in the square-box shadow of unwanted Magnox.

On this headland, shades are a crowd. Haunting the carcasses of dead train carriages living new lives as fisherman’s homes, clutching to the fading memories of driftwood press-ganged into shack duty. Ghosts of a dead future of white hot technology swim in the warm water outflow of Reactor B. They sit blind and ever listening for sky echoes in the giant concrete curves of Greatstone Island’s acoustic mirrors.

The ears are the ultimate in dead-end technology, Standing stones easily outpaced by the planes they were meant to detect. Further redundancy added by growing noise of the 20th century. Ambient sound as sabotage to Ministry of War’s plans for a whisper network.

For all the obsolete machine landmarks, concrete ears to out-of-work lighthouses and power plant shells, there is no crowding of the sky. England’s desert gives its abundant life space. Lack of surface vegetation and dryness no deterrent to its scattered colonies of fish-smokers, artists and conspiracy freaks. Here at the edge, the horizon can be reclaimed, autonomy rediscovered. Here at the edge, there is plenty of room for stories to be born.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

X26 – Full of Night

I have a sleep disorder. Empty hours pile up in the dark. The bed, the room become claustrophobic. With no escape into dream and uncooperative knees, I am developing an addiction to riding buses through the shifts of night.

The short stagger to the crossroads’ stop makes the X26 a favourite. The bus is a stew of languages. Spanish, Nepalese, Korean and Yoruba fizz and froth around me. Words become sound, then noise. The only signal in the static I can pick up are random words of Polish: malpa … owad …zapach … monkey … insect … smell …

In this Babel bubble I am freed of other passengers’ audio commentaries, their mobile phone confessionals. Free to find my own words. Free to stitch stories from momentary gasps of sodium orange. From suburban signs caught in light as the bus stops: ‘David Cameron Hair’; ‘The New “Piggies”’; ‘Genuine History Sale’.

Cheam seen in limited avenues of sickly neon and strip-lighting appears to be waiting for a zombie apocalypse. Surrey as imagined by George A. Romero. Streets drained of stuttering traffic, drained of footfall. Fear breeding in the silence of suspended civilisation. The taxi dispatcher peering out from his mesh fortress seems less in fear of abusive customers than whatever lies beyond the thin edge of light.

This half-dark remakes the mundane, paints with Dr. Caligari distortion. Moves us through a dark mirror. While my body may deny me conventional dreaming, the bus at least tracks a landscape of REM contours. We pass the X26 going in the opposite direction and I swear I catch myself, not in the black reflection of this window, but riding out to Heathrow. This other David is full of night and too busy scratching words onto paper to see me.