False Start

I wrote this some time back. Tinkered with on many occasions but still going nowhere. It was in a file with two other ‘false starts’ so that is why it is labeled ‘3’. Maybe I am posting it for the sake of posting something on this much underused blog.

 

3.

So the Visitor walks out of the front door one morning – she is going to a meeting or an exhibition or for a walk. And when she opens the door there is an unfamiliar city out there. It’s not that it is some future city or something from Dickens. No monorails or organ grinders. It’s kind of like a city or cities that she knows but this particular combination of elements is not familiar. Where there should be a tree – there is a post box. Where she would expect to see the bus stop and the almshouses there is some kind of toll-booth and a trailer park. And why ‘trailer park’ rather than ‘caravan park’ or even ‘caravanserai’? Anyway, it is an enclosure for semi-nomadic dwellings. The threshold of the door is the same as it ever was, the door too is the same. The house number is the plate stolen from the power station that became an art gallery. There is still that metal boat sitting in the fanlight and this makes the Visitor think of the shadow of the glass on the wall at night. This shadow has changed recently as the streetlight was moved. [And thinking about it now…isn’t there the handle bar from a burnt-out scooter on the shelf next to the fanlight now? And, even more recently didn’t someone add a deer skull to this arrangement?]

All this makes her wonder if this new building is the first phase of a traffic management scheme. During a previous stay the bus shelter on the other side of the street was moved. The bus stop used to be to the left of the house and now it is straight in front of it allowing people waiting for a bus to stare in through the ground floor window. This is offset to a certain extent by the entertainment to be had from watching the watchers. Now that they have erected this tollbooth – or is it a border post? – that exchange with waiting passengers has been removed. Instead of a procession of drunks, addicts, religio-maniacs and schoolchildren there are interchangeable officials in peaked caps. The thought crosses the Visitor’s mind that this booth/kiosk is just a front for a surveillance operation. Drugs? Bus-lane misuse? Did she fail to notice a revolution that has split the city? Does the border between the two territories now run along the road north of the house? Or maybe the border runs north-south so that it goes through the terrace. This could get complicated. Is she going to have to deal with this difficult new situation and re-learn whole systems. How will she make a living? She is supposed to be making a study of this place. Suddenly she realises that the other occupants left the house before her this morning. How are they coping with this new world? Maybe it has all changed since they left or maybe this shift is local so they are still experiencing the city as it was yesterday. It is tempting to close the door again – either just retreat inside or try again.

 

Or go and write that experimental novel that the Visitor has been thinking about for years. Maybe this is the experimental novel and she has been thinking about it for so long that she has entered into it. And that reminds her of the dream she had last night:

 

‘I was a different sex and much younger. I lived with lots of people in a tall house with an L-shaped plan. And then one day when I was standing on the half-landing of the stair the floor began to move and I realised that the short leg of the L at the back of the house was about to part company with the rest. I jumped to safety in time to see a whole section of the building split away and then come to rest making a void a few feet wide at floor level. Eventually I worked out that the breakaway part of the house had hit the adjacent structure and this had halted its total collapse. Then later I found out that people from the next house had colonised the fallen part. I thought it was time for me to remove my belongings but then I couldn’t work out what was worth keeping.’

 

It was only thinking about it later she realised she was dreaming other people’s artworks. Bits of Gordon Matta-Clark crossed with Gregor Schneider.

 

Back on the doorstep, no chasms have opened up at the Visitor’s feet, nothing is splitting so she thinks that maybe it is ok to go out and she is just experiencing some temporary mismatch between memory and reality. Cognitive dissonance. Nothing more than that thing about dolls houses that she meant to put in her book. It went like this:

 

THIS EXPERIMENT CAN BE PERFORMED IN ANY CITY

 

GO TO THE MUSEUM

-IN PALERMO GO TO THE MUSEUM OF PUPPETS

-IN LONDON GO AND SEE THE MODEL OF THE GREAT FIRE IN THE MUSEUM OF LONDON (IF IT IS STILL THERE)

-IN AMSTERDAM VISIT THE RIJKSMUSEUM AND GO TO THE GALLERY DEVOTED TO DOLLS HOUSES

 

NOW FIND A SMALL SPACE THAT IS PART OF THE DISPLAY, A ROOM IN A DOLLS HOUSE SAY. THERE IS A CABINET IN THAT ROOM IN WHICH OBJECTS ARE DISPLAYED. IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE IN THE ROOM. OPENING THE DOOR OF THE CABINET AND TAKING AN OBJECT FROM THE SHELF. YOU ARE STANDING OUTSIDE OF A SHOWCASE LOOKING AT YOUR SMALL SELF IN THE DOLLS HOUSE. NOW THINK ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE STANDING IN THE MUSEUM – INSIDE A GALLERY WITHIN A BUILDING IN A STREET OR A PARK IN A CITY. YOU ARE AT ONCE AN IMAGINED MINIATURE PERSON, A GIANT, AND ONE SMALL PERSON AMONG MANY DWARFED BY YOUR ENVIRONMENT (AND BY YOURSELF). AND YOU ARE SIMULTANEOUSLY TRAVELLING IN TIME.

 

Actually that last part of the last sentence was added later and is still something of a mystery. She can’t remember where she was when she wrote that.

 

END OF FALSE START 3

 

 

 

A Visit to Thomas Carlyle’s House.

Carlyle001

The attic windows of Carlyle’s house in 1857.

Last week I visited Thomas Carlyle’s house for the first time in 30 years. Here is an extract from my post ‘DUST/SILENCE/TIME’ where I briefly discuss Carlyle’s writing room.

EIGHT

Although he raged against the noise of the city, I wondered if Thomas Carlyle also wanted to deny time in his sound-proofed rooms at the top of his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. He had a room built within another room to exclude street noises and the sound of the piano from the adjacent house. But, though apparently sealed from the outdoor world, the wind whistled across the skylight and the sound of the next-door neighbour’s macaw still found its way into his space. Maybe in order to create silence sealing a room is not enough (as Cage noted in his visit to the anechoic chamber). And, as Warhol’s solution [silence without duration] is impractical if not impossible – is easier said than done – it is necessary to impose the active ingredient of time in the form of dust.

On Thursday afternoon, the doors of the room were left open so sound drifted up the staircase and in through the attic window. The space created by building an inner skin to the room was being used as storage. An information text here explained that Carlyle was trying to insulate himself from the noise of the nearby Cremorne Pleasure Gardens as well as street noise. In the entry for Cremorne Gardens the London Encyclopaedia reports: ‘In 1855, during a pageant re-enacting the storming of a fort at Sebastopol, the stage collapsed beneath 500 bayonet-carrying soldiers’. Balloon flights were regular occurrences at the gardens and at least one ended in disaster when the Montgolfier Fire Balloon drifted and collided with the spire of a church in Sydney Street. The disused Lots Road Power Station now occupies the site of the pleasure gardens.

cremorne_edited-1

My recording made in the ‘sound-proof’ room is only quiet. I missed the passing helicopters.

Snapshot, Ridley Road, 5. iii. 16 at about 2 o’clock.

over a few minutes while I am sitting under an awning in the market eating a kebab roll and drinking a 35 pence cup of tea with hail coming down and on my right the grocer playing weekend only Indian film music is it? on the lower right the iron shod wooden-spoked wheel of one of the market carts carved with the name of its maker Hiller Bros on hire E2 in front of me there is a gap and then two streams of people moving left to right right to left beyond them the shoe stall the wig stall the bra stall where all the bras are white so the display is like an Antarctic landscape of cups and the stallholder picks up a detached stockinged leg and prods the fabric over his head where a pool is forming the water pours down onto the tarmac

After Stars

Stars from the gods.

Stars from the gods.

Maybe 40 years ago I would have left the Scala ecstatic but last night the melancholy behind the surface got to me. I thought I was immune to this performance – especially leaning against the balcony rail up there in the gods, higher than the lighting rig, looking down at the real audience with all those back-lit smart phones blinking up at me. Up there was alienation territory…like I was asking permission of myself never to come along to this kind of gig again. I was thinking about live performances, about how the music I hear at Cafe Oto works best live with the recorded ‘version’ acting as a stand-in for the actual event. And I was thinking that music that I listen to first as produced, song-based work almost always disappoints live. The band look slightly too old to be singing these youthful anthems of elation and doubt. They run through a set of moves and poses that come from the book of rock cliché – the pigeon toed, legs apart guitar stance, punk hops, raised fists.

But about half an hour into their set the singer Torquil Campbell theatrically halts the intro to ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’ to tell a story about the ritual he performs every time he comes to London…something about taking the Northern Line to a particular café then standing outside his father’s former house…and instead of feeling distant listening to this sentimental tale I began to dissolve into the present and as the music started I thought about my father and about my life in London and I could feel tears welling up. From there on in I was prey to every naïve or sophisticated nuance of the songs. I was even moved by the audience taking over the chorus of the song ‘Your Ex-Lover is Dead’ (‘Live through this and you won’t look back…’) and I fell for the repeated line ‘put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies…until then, nothing ends’ in the disco thump of ‘No One is Lost’. I have had the feeling of being the oldest person in the Scale before and it could be that I am too old to be at a gig like this…but only because I am at the other end of the experience from the rest of the audience. But as I am entirely invisible there is no reason they should notice…

Here is a link to the ‘official video’ of ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’…hard to relate this to my reaction above, except that this film has a certain sentimentality and/or melancholy too.

It’s all about the mix

mix001This is the 100th post on this blog…I had meant to do something clever like choose my favourite 3 LP box set (3 x 33 and one third…geddit?)..it was going to be either Yessongs or Escalator Over the Hill (no it wasn’t). But I was never going to get round to that and, in the meantime, I found a black bin bag containing around 130 CDs on Kingsland Road this week. Some were unplayable, there were a few free films from newspapers and some old software. There was one CD full of someone’s holiday pictures. The rest were mostly singles, either ‘Landfill Indie’ or the kind of R&B that does little for me. Still I retrieved 27 from the pile..the rest have already gone to Oxfam. Before I did this I recorded the shortest track from each CD for the purposes of experimentation…more of this at some future date maybe. Here is the first experiment/unholy racket…ten tracks that ended up at the beginning of the list played simultaneously and mixed down…it ends well I think.