Tag Archives: ghosts
They start between six and six thirty in the evening. They’re usually distant. If they have a motive, it’s internal and psychic: like the sounds of someone with a head wound, they are not rational except in relation to themselves. At times they seem to move closer, the way sounds do on a wind, especially in the night. For a moment, the listener is able to distinguish more than one voice, perhaps even differentiate male from female. There are qualities of both plaintiveness and aggression, but words are hard to make out. They reach a peak by ten in the evening. By midnight they have moved away for good, and the centre of the little town is dark and quiet.
I woke up a few months ago in a shower of unpaid bills. I’d forgotten to top up my current account. All I felt was a kind of cheerful disappointment with myself. I walked around for a bit thinking mildly, “You’d better get a grip.” Then I began to see the terror of it: a lifetime’s anxieties exchanged for a state of warm dissociation interrupted by brief moments of politicised rage. Later I went to see Haneke’s Amour at the Gate in Notting Hill. The Gate is a smallish cinema, maybe a hundred seats. Eighty of them were occupied by couples over sixty, all acting as if they had arrived recently from an Anita Brookner novel. That was a lot more disturbing than the film. It’s a wonderful film, but I didn’t feel I belonged in that demographic, or that I’d gone to see it because it was in some way addressed to that demographic. To watch it for those reasons would seem to me to rigidify the meaning of the film and limit its scope.
“Sometimes as it blows across the Great Brown Waste in summer, the wind will uncover a bit of petrified wood. Mammy Vooley’s head had the shape and the shiny grey look of wood like that. It was provided with one good eye, as if at one time it had grown round a glass marble streaked with milky blue. She bobbed it stiffly right and left to the crowds: who stood to watch her approach; knelt as she passed; and stood up again behind her. Her bearers grunted patiently under the weigh of the pole that bore her up. As they brought her slowly closer it could be seen that her dress–so curved between her bony, strangely-articulated knees that dead leaves, lumps of plaster and crusts of wholemeal bread had gathered in her lap–was russet-orange; and that she wore askew on the top of her head a hank of faded purple hair, wispy and fine like a very old woman’s. Mammy Vooley, celebrating with black banners and young women chanting; Mammy Vooley, Queen of Uroconium, Moderator of the city; as silent as a log of wood.” [The Luck in the Head, 1982, from Viriconium, also in audio download.]
“Sometimes I feel as if I went a step too far, walked too far ahead of myself. I think in the end that’s how it feels to get older. You look around, you feel exposed, as if it would be better to give the rest of your life time to catch up. But it doesn’t. You’ve outstripped it, somehow. Not by reinventing yourself, which is the usual source of this feeling, or by outgrowing yourself, or shedding any kind of skin: but simply by outdistancing the greater part of yourself. It’s not too late, you imagine: that part of you could still catch up. But it never will. You’ll always be waiting, hanging back, having a rest, giving it a chance, but it will only lose ground further. Older people have a ruthlessness because of this, not so much a lack of compassion as a very clear idea of what they want.”
You got involved with an East Midlands junkie who claimed to have a telepathic link to another world & to be able to control a 3d printer with their mind alone, & they turned out to be seventeen not twenty seven as they said, & after their staffie/mastiff cross, which they were looking after for a friend in rehab, bit two fingers off your ex’s left hand when he came back from an oil-exploration contract in one of the ‘stans, you forget which one, they fitted all the lights in the house with blue bulbs then tried to commit suicide in your bath in an excess of adolescent self-disgust. It was a cry for help. They’ve gone now–last you heard they were with a grindcore musician in Peckham–and you’re glad, but you miss their smell, which was instantly exciting; & their dysfunctionality, which you remember as “character”. The sex was tremendous, if a little full on & tiring.
I like it when people drift off from one life to another. Or live double lives, but the second life isn’t much different from the first. And it’s not recorded, so no one writes about it until years later, when someone unrelated discovers a box of Polaroids at a flea market or some files of emails on a hard drive. These would be ordinary people, who felt the continuity of their lives, but whose acts could only be seen as a discontinuity in the lives of others. I’d like it to be clear that the pathos of this (and I mean that honestly) might best be seen from outside the lives themselves, or from a later point in time; but that the testimony of those left behind is as “correct” an emotional perspective as that of the person who moved on. I’d like to read a book comprised of hundreds of stories like that, not too much above anecdotal length, which would document the cultural web and styles of a generation. A book like that wouldn’t take sides; it would be kind, unjudgemental, and imply another scale at which this behaviour could be viewed.
Wind all yesterday evening and now rain. It poured in the night but I heard nothing. I was struggling with a nightmare in which it was impossible to leave the earth. Now lights burn orange behind the tinted glass of the stacked apartments: people are appearing on balconies & at windows, staring morosely out at the wet tiles & ruffled water of the swimming pools. Slick palm fronds whip to & fro in the wind. It is as dark as a winter morning in Britain out there; everything we came to escape. Drink another cup of coffee. Read the labels off the tins. “What do we think this is?” “It’s sugar.” “& anyway why would you decorate a self-catering apartment in Tenerife with crap reproductions of Goya?” La Nevada O El Invierno: gales, ice, bent trees. Five figures struggle forward, leading a donkey on to which is strapped a dead pig. They are accompanied by a dog, & they are looking as if they wished they hadn’t come. The dog can’t understand any of it. Neither can I.
Storms move furtively along the horizon all morning. Then without warning a terrific stench of cowshit pours in through the open windows on a wave of moist air. Appallingly close flashes of lightning, whistling explosions of thunder. A few large splashes of rain on the hot dry concrete outside, then a torrent. The power fails. Through the brown darkness in the room the furniture looms–old, inert, of threatening but apathetic shape. Before each blast of thunder there’s the sputtering dry sound of the discharge, like the sound of water globules dancing on a hotplate; afterwards, a sense of pressure relieved from the ears & sinuses. In the houses on either side the radios have stopped working & the children are kneeling up on the window sills silently watching the air come down as water. The opposite side of the valley disappears in a soft grey haze. After ten or fifteen minutes the sky brightens a little & some chains of black birds appear against it as dots very high up. The thunder moves away. People run up & down outside in the abating rain, laughing & slamming car doors. They are glad to have escaped with nothing worse than wet hair. The children begin to shout & jump. From the farmyard someone can be heard shouting, “Goo on there! What’s the matter with you ? Get on!” to an unfortunate cow. The electricity comes back on. [Holmfirth 1980.]