A Measured Response


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Opening Chapter:

Enter stage right, trudging.

The moon rose on Ed Ormaloid.

Not that he’d been sleeping. Not exactly. He arose unsteadily from a tarmac surface. Fragments clung to his cheek and made small indentations, of which he was apparently unaware as he gangled his tall, unsteady self in the general direction of somewhere else. He did not know he had just arisen from a tarmac surface. He moved, but you could hardly call him conscious. You’d call him tall, and dark, and skinny. You could call him early middle-aged. You could call him Ed, as his friends might do, had they been there, but he wouldn’t hear your voice.

Somewhere out to sea, a deep green swell was waiting to swallow ships. In an idle moment, it sent inland a cold and salty mist to herald its intention. The message rolled up beaches, licked through alleyways, across the newly cobbled squares and into Ed’s bruised bones, if only he could feel it. Which he couldn’t. His thoughts were vague, his legs were weak, his footsteps missed the kerb and on he stumbled. Long-legged, loose, lopsided, damaged, never gainly at the best of times, which these were plainly not. Had someone shot his albatross? He didn’t really know. What did he know? Not much.

 There are, in our existence, spots of time

Which, taken at the flood lead on to fortune.

 He knew that wasn’t right. He strongly suspected it wouldn’t help even if he could remember why it wasn’t right.

Why ‘newly cobbled’?

That he remembered.

Ed had become increasingly aware of the way that cities seemed to re-design themselves as film sets. He recognised another use for Freud’s old term ‘unheimlich’  or ‘un-homely’. If something is just unfamiliar, that’s OK. But when it is both very familiar and yet somehow not quite right, that is more disturbing. For example, an acquaintance whose familiar face has for some years been framed with increasingly grey hair, one would hardly notice. When the hair is suddenly dyed jet black, forming a hard-looking helmet as if it had been soaked in boot polish, that is obvious and disturbing. Unheimlich. And, of course, there’s no way you can explain that the pitiful attempt to disguise nature had overreached itself and fractured one’s experience of the face. He tried; it didn’t go well.  He related his faux pas to Anna, but she just looked at him unhelpfully, as if it were he that was strange. Missing the point, she said. As usual. (Poor Leonard. He must be distraught.)

Ed found his native town increasingly unheimlich. There was a time when new roads and buildings were functional and ugly. The planners were bribed, the architects brutal and the overall result was often squalid. But it had solidity. Its presence was … incontestable. Now the city was ‘designed’. Traffic was forced into long-winded routes that took you away from the centre you were trying to reach. Its so-called heart had zones and ambience. It re-invented itself by pedestrianising and mock-cobbling its squares and alleys. The few cars that struggled through from remote NCP pounds were then excluded by black metal bollards with gold-painted collars, as if you were supposed to ride up on a dappled grey mare and hitch it to the post.

Old lanes that once housed obsolete and grubby work yards, cluttered with offcuts of asbestos, broken ladders and spikes for unpaid bills, had been scoured and newly fronted, eviscerated into boutiques, their backdrop carefully developed so the modern version looked older than the original, though incontestably cleaner. A new bar would be well stocked with rope and lanterns, using sawn off barrels as seats and tables, allowing you to pretend it was haunted by B-movie pirates. Long black beams made of fibre glass appeared in the ceiling where ceiling beams had no historical justification.

Visitors arrive from Stoke or Quimper, or Dana International Airport, to indulge the cobbled, beamed experience. A cast of extras disporting themselves urbanely at round tables on flagstone pavements, rustling a casual broadsheet over take it -or-leave it biscotti and a mocha latte. Citizens reach their apotheosis as characters in documentary about a time that never existed, simulacra of the little models on the architect’s table. Disneyfied in their own precincts, as if the whole process of walking across town was somehow choreographed. Come along children – Template, Tortilla, Barista – let’s go and join Daddy in the Magic Bean for elevenses.

Anna listened to all this and shrugged. She said his rambling observations were evidence of ‘dissociation’, and typical of him. More ominously, typical of him lately. Perhaps his middle years made him a ‘time snob’ – pining for the days of real wood and green pound notes. Perhaps he should read the rest of Freud and apply it to himself more carefully.

Ed explained that, ironically, an objective awareness of how civic planning caused a geometric increase in unreality had made him more keenly aware of his surroundings, the as-suchness of material objects. They just didn’t seem right. To which, being constitutionally incapable of circumlocution, she responded, “bollocks”. Followed, with a frown, by “typical”. But he was not, this morning, feeling very typical. It wasn’t an experience he recognised.

 

Plod, trudge, wander; misty, shifty, gangly wandering Ed, through damp lanes at an early hour. Anna would have questioned this, perhaps even have explained it. She was solid. Sometimes even predictable.  But Anna was not here.

Ed tried to think, but couldn’t, trudging on, diminishing; diminishing, unheimlich[1] and away.

Ah, what can ail thee, late at night,

Alone and palely gangling,

And here I opened wide the door,

Where no birds sing.

 And that wasn’t right either.


[1] The original text had “unheimliche” but that  is either a noun (in which case, capitalised) or a feminine adjective. The way it is used here, I would say ‘unheimlich’ makes more sense. Adjectives don’t normally carry agreements when used in isolation – HR

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About pauleustice

Professional details on www.bpfe.org.uk, www.bpfe.eu and www.personalisedlearningforum.eu. Genealogical info on www.bpfe.org.uk/trees.
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