reduced territories

The garden bench stands in an area two feet by four, with old brick edges on the short sides and the ivy-covered wall at the back. The surface so bounded is covered with unevenly-bedded squares of old tile (nine inches on a side) and paving slab (perhaps eighteen inches on a side), up through the joins of which grows a spongy little plant with yellow flowers. The tiles are eroded–spalled or blown-out–in shallow, layered oval patches. The paving slabs are coined with a dull yellow lichen. Vegetation–I think campanula–has leached the mortar from the bottom three courses of the wall, then died of starvation, leaving the London stock blanched and powdery-looking, as if some absolute substance–some virtue–has been drained from it. Above that the ivy begins, dense, thick of trunk & inhabited. Dead leaves are scattered over the stones. Warmth comes up from them. I look at this and think it’s the most perfect space I’ve ever known, a micro-place which, like Spencer’s The Blacksmith’s Yard, contains more than a hundred percent of itself. An altar. The old cat sleeps there in the sun, keeping a wary eye on us in case we decide to use the garden hose, or take it into our heads to clip his claws. Once, thirty-odd years old, running on the moor above Holmfirth, I lost my house keys and had to drop down the valley & into Huddersfield to collect a spare set. When I got there, I thought, Oh, fuck it, & ran back instead of getting the bus; I did around 20 miles that morning. Now–for now–my territory is Barnes Common & the river, & 20 minutes is my limit. But I can still get more than a hundred percent out of 20 yards of sandy heath, 20 yards of singletrack with intermittent sunshine spilling in over the head high gorse.

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Filed under ghosts, landscape, lost & found

18 responses to “reduced territories

  1. the origami of truth (or the Tardis)–its bigger inside than out

  2. Julian

    You’ve just summed up my entire life. Drat.

  3. uzwi

    Hi Mia, I prefer the origami image–in which 2-d planes fold into a 3-d space–because it’s real. The Tardis is just something someone made up. It’s easy to commit the linguistic scandal, “It was bigger on the inside than on the outside.” A lot harder to learn origami…

    Julian, why “Drat” ?

    I thought after I wrote the post, I don’t really like the contemporary way of finding “more than 100%” inside something–this idea of “worlds” you can go into infinitely, unpacking more & more content. I don’t mean immersive fictions here, or games, although obviously they encourage it: but activism, expertcy, obsessiveness, specialism, fandom, the mining of a part of life as if it can be the whole, as in “Books are world enough for me” etc. I don’t want to find myself thinking like that, because the position you end up in is massively distorting of perspective. (I think of the bankers who, asked by some TV programme to guess the median wage in the UK last year, set it at around £70,000 because they didn’t know anyone who made less.)

  4. Julian

    I regretted that drat. It’s not like it’s a mystery that’s diminished by being solved.

    The way we avoid falling into obsessiveness, fandom, nerdiness and fetishism is perhaps what you wrote in a post a while back about seeing something in the countryside – some birds in flight, I think it was – as being the kind of moment that might inspire someone to move to the countryside, so that they could have that experience on demand, or perhaps continuously for all their waking hours; or, perhaps, feel depressed that they lived in town and so rarely had that kind of experience; but that moment was sufficient to itself, and didn’t need repeating, or prolonging, and wouldn’t necessarily be better or more fully appreciated the hundredth time than the first.

  5. Lara

    Massive distortions of perspective (unless their bankers’) are good. Jusque au bout is always the way forward. Leap, veer, sprint from one distortion to the next is good. Perhaps: the dialectic praxis life (probably a distortion in itself). But how do you know what is not distorted? Isn’t that the whole point? We haven’t got a clue. The only way to find out is to live out the extreme distortions.

  6. Josep

    Might we call -a French licence poétique- this unique 20 minutes of running a kind of “course” of the heart?

  7. MartinM

    Running? Not the way to go, according to ace baseball player Satchel Paige. His advice for staying young (1953):

    “Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.”
    “If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.”
    “Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.”
    “Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society—the social ramble ain’t restful.”
    “Avoid running at all times.”
    “And don’t look back—something might be gaining on you.”

  8. uzwi

    Hi Martin. I have a neighbour who greets me every running morning with, “Mike! They’re behind you!” I prefer to think that I’m behind them. & gaining every fucking day.

  9. MikeM

    Is there a bit of Albion in this spot, a just-post-war suburbia suitable for a ‘Cockney Keats’, as Angus Wilson put it: I feel Edward Ardizzone creeping in, as well as a feast of similar mind’s-eyes I have taken in by canals in Birmingham, at still serviceable public building facades in the North East, and in the cool of cast-iron shadows. These chipped, warm-worn bricks I will take with me anywhere – they go with the smell and slop of fish as my grandmother guts dab, oil-streaked grass verges and dogs still at the wind. Can we make 110% out of such a small slice? It’s a niche sport, I guess, lavishing the required artifice on whatever’s to hand; it may reek elsewhere of the stylized, and in the end invariable conformity to a lifestyle choice but the difference made up in our flights of fancy between the slice that’s left on the plate and the rest of the cake – isn’t that the game? If we could experience everything, and already knew everything sufficiently to have the multiple perspective, the imagination would die, and we would, being so full, be sad.

  10. I once read an article (I think it was by William Safire) which claimed that those funny rules were actually cooked up by a reporter who whimsically attributed them to Paige; rather than sue for damages, Paige liked and adopted them. I can’t find any verification for this on teh internets, though, so it must be false.

  11. Perhaps you should publish this blog as a self-help book. \’This Crag is Not Mediated: How to Solo Your Own Route to Joy\’.

  12. Val

    “The paving slabs are coined with a dull yellow lichen.”

    That’s my favorite sentence.

  13. uzwi

    Thanks, Mark.

  14. jeff ford

    There’s a Kerouac novel that opens with him describing a puddle of tar in the road the way Faulkner describes the old jailhouse at the beginning of Sanctuary (I think) — object as narrative. What was your experience in the writing of this piece?

    jeff ford

  15. uzwi

    Hi Jeff.

    Object as narrative. I just saw, the other day, someone from Hollywood admitting (a bit late) that we live in an age that has burned out narrative (by narrativising everything, making everything “storyable”) & is soon going to get bored.

    What was your experience in the writing of this piece?

    I can’t add much to the piece itself. I started with this thing I’ve had since I was tiny, of being fully in the space. The Course of the Heart opens with something similar–

    When I was a tiny boy I often sat motionless in the garden, bathed in sunshine … waiting for whatever would happen, whatever event was contained by that moment, whatever revelation lay dormant in it.

    That moved me to the old cat, then to Stanley Spencer, who could find a “world” inside village limits, then to my own sense of a diminished physical space & how–because of this knack of being inside a moment–I could nevertheless live into all of that. The writing came very fast, kneeling on the grass in the sun, in front of the place the garden bench usually stands; & the idea came all of a piece, making its argument as I put it down. Ten minutes ? No more.

    It was one of those times when what you see is what you already think, but you didn’t know it until then.

    Later on I changed one thing: I added “for now” because I don’t feel that particular space, running space, is closed, or restrictively bounded, forever, & I didn’t want anyone to get the idea I was complaining about my life. I just wanted (for the fifty millionth time) to nail that perception about being fully inside the landscape/moment, & also to allow any resonances around that to generate themselves in the way the sentences went together.

  16. jeff ford

    Mike: I liked the piece a lot, found it very effective, and was curious about “how” you did it. Thanks for the generous response. I’ll be pondering this for a while.

  17. uzwi

    It’s a very real pleasure, Jeff.