Ah yes, Elsie is worrying, Steve is drunk in stilettos, the mad woman at the station is preaching and blowing down a harmonica, and Abel is slowly creeping down a tunnel looking for the opening Steve told him about. His mouth is like a miniature chalk mine, his brain is set on automatic as he touches his way through the darkness to the tune from the Spletzer Martin advert.
Underlondon is a vast place, a maze created by accident, innovation, experiment and deceit. Ancient rivers merge with sewers, wine cellars link with catacombs. Deathly dark, as you’d expect, and as complicated as the city streets above it. Large parts are permanently flooded ankle deep in water. This does not bother it’s inhabitants, who, aside from the terrapins and crocodiles, have built shelves for their beds above the flood level. All their belongings rest on these shelves, from marmite to stolen diamonds, vast platforms made from found timber and steel, scavenged, as their life is, from the above-landers.
Sometimes to pretend that everything is alright when it quite obviously isn’t is the most logical thing to do. Sometimes it is the only thing to do. When the carpet has turned into snakes that are curling round your legs, when the patterns on the wallpaper are growing wings and flying off, when there’s a goat in your bath and David Cameron’s head is emerging from your toilet, it is often best just to take a deep breath and carry on. In fact to the experienced hallucinator this becomes the habitual practice, life would not seem quite right if one wasn’t continually ignoring things and pretending. Life has its rules, if you experience something that logically can’t be there then pretending it is not there is the logical thing to do. Of course this can get tricky, especially to the new comer, I have read many an account of an acid victim whose mind gets lost in the “what to ignore and what to take note of” reality whirlpool. Yet riding the whirlpool can be so addictive!
Abel, despite being a newcomer, was a talented pretender. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his slide downwards, he was too good too quickly. Where as an experienced hallucinator has often learnt to ride through the descending waters out of sheer necessity, over the years, sink or swim, Abel had an option, he could have turned back.
He could have asked Elsie for help. She would have helped him, she could have guessed what was about to happen. But Elsie loved him just a bit too much for him to ever love her back. He kept his distance, he could see every problem he ever told her instantly become her personal problem. This closeness made a bubble of nauseau pink enclose him and steal his breath.
So it was that at 2am on February 8th 2020, Abel was found unconscious on the floor of the factory. Stuffed in his pockets they found 18 bottles of Spletzer-Martin 5, and one empty. The hospital pumped his stomach. The company, who had noticed increasing amounts of Spletzer-Martin tablets going missing from their pharmacy, made no statement but deleted him from the payroll instantly.
Dread sat in the corner picking his nose. He was naked. A large man, his skin took on the colour of the shadows in which he sat, altering shades of grey throughout the day, a green tint, a blue tint, a touch of magenta. It could be best described as having that quality you get if you’ve been using watercolour paints but never bother changing the water. You dip the brush in, take it out and splodge it onto the thick pimply surface of the watercolour paper, the result you get is like Dread’s skin.
Abel had been seeing him in the corners for sometime now, particularly at work. At first he’d been afraid, a strange naked man appeared to be following him. No one else seemed to notice though. He didn’t dare ask people outright, he knew his colleagues thought him odd already.
He panicked, was this proof of his insanity? Then he came to the conclusion that even if he was mad, he couldn’t afford treatment so probably best just to keep on as normal and ignore Dread, everything would probably be alright.
Once he tried to talk to him, but Dread is a silent creature, the only noise he makes is a munching sound when he eats from his hands. Abel was not sure what he was eating, it appeared to be light.
Attempts at communication were given up. Gradually though, through some kind of thought osmosis, Abel knew that it was Dread, but dread of what exactly he didn’t know. He briefly mentioned it to Elsie once, but the look of terror in her eyes made him shut up. Still it left what felt like a large hole in his gut, and a churning feeling that made him manic when in public. It didn’t help that his diet now mainly consisted on Spletzer-Martins and alcohol.
After six months of Dread hanging around, Abel was getting used to him. At work in the early hours of the morning Dread was somehow a more comfortable companion than those all seeing, all knowing eyes in the machines.
There’s a woman standing outside Baron’s Court tube station playing, or rather attempting to play, a harmonica. I’ve seen her here before, she hangs out at Baron’s Court Housing project where they do free meals. She wears a wig and theatrical makeup. I thought at first she was a transvestite, like my neighbour Steve who goes to the Coop in stilettos and a mini skirt, but apparently not.
My other slightly more sober neighbour tells me she is an old theatre performer, been out of work for years though, a drinker with mental health issues. “A right care in the community that one” say’s my neighbour “a real special“.
The story goes that she was having medical treatment for a congenital brain disease during the privatisation of the NHS. She could’t afford to continue the treatment with the specialist hospital so ended up going through the Charity Care system. The hack-up job the church hospital did was well meaning but naive and slapdash, her memory was blown to pieces.
This is all just rumours you understand, but she is quite mad!
Still, she stands there at Barons Court station feather bower and all, screaching out lunacy and blowing down that poor old harmonica. The Station manager occasionally moves her along but she’s back the next day. On Sundays she is particularly enthusiastic, her words seem to take on a hell fearing vigor as she denounes the Sunday shopping public.
Abel held his breath, closed his eyes, and counted backwards from 10. When he opened them the machines were still looking at him. Big, metalic, shinning creatures, he wasn’t sure where their eyes were, but they definitely had eyes.
Was it his boss spying on him? New company policy to monitor staff ? Or the government tracking him? All seemed very possible, yet there was something else, something in the machines themselves, that knew him.
At first he’d thought he was delusional but now he knew it was more real than anything else he’d ever experienced. Not only were they looking at him from the outside, they were inside him as well, they could see his thoughts, they could taste the ingredients of his being.
He was coming to the end of his 40 hour shift. It hadn’t been so bad, though he’d had to take another one of those Spletzer-Martins. They were meant to keep you going for 40 hours no problem, but he always found he was flagging after 35. Not that it was tiring work, just rotating those huge machines, but failing to do it properly could muck up the whole network which would be catastrophic. Yes, better that he sneak an extra bottle of Spletzer-Martins from the office pharmacy now and then, than risk the whole network going down.
Elsie had told me he’d been feeling rough. To be honest I didn’t care. I didn’t know Abel that well, but I was developing a certain curiosity for the dramas surrounding him.
He is a friend of my friend Elsie. I chatted to him via Facebook and met at gigs occassionally. He’d always seemed quite pleasant and cheerful until that time I saw him in Clapton. It was late at night in a small venue off the main road, he looked so tied and old then, and nervous. He’d seemed a very confident almost arrogant man before, but now he was uncertain, shaky in his speech, and with the guilty look of a man whose just rummaged through your underwear.
Elsie told me he was worried about debt, working long shifts to pay it off. It is a relief that one can do that now, what with these new tablets, just keep working and working till you pay off all your debts, as long as you resist the temptation to get new ones come pay day.
(I wrote this essay last week when I was really very drunk. I’d just got back from seeing a friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years, I checked facebook quickly and found there a video on Slime Molds. Well I just had to write down my grand theory of everything then! It is surprisingly boring. Starts off going on about slime molds and bacteria, lots of random quotes from scientists, then drifts off and somehow ends up mumbling about Rude Mechanicals and hallucinations – anyone curious to know what that’s all about its all in the past blogs, deary me, what a palava!)
Slime molds are fantastic and are our future!
And yes I’m a geek who reads the new scientist and doesn’t fully understand it, but we’ll pass over that.
Slime molds are single cellular organisms that, when they need to, come together to form “slugs”, with head part, body and tale, that go wondering off to find somewhere better. Then they turn into fruiting bodies, with some of them being sacrificed in order to do this.
“Their life cycle intrigues researchers for the questions it raises about altruism. As the individual cells of Dictyostelium divide in two, their population doubles in a few hours. Once they have consumed all of their favorite food — all the bacteria in the vicinity — they will begin to gather at a central collection point. So many come together that the clumped cells become visible to the naked eye.” http://www.princeton.edu
Writing in a paper to appear in the May 21 issue of Science, the researchers were able to measure concentrations of a chemical and mark its effects for the first time as it arose in single living cells and clusters of cells in Dictyostelium, a slime mold. When the amount of the chemical surrounding an individual cell reaches a certain critical level, the scientists found, the cell starts to pulse rhythmically, firing off more chemicals into the surrounding area that prompt other cells to pulse, an effect that cascades through the population. Ultimately, the cells grow in sync with each other and eventually move together as a massive group.
Recently scientists have found that bacteria when in oxygen starved conditions can grow electricity conducting hairs to join with other bacteria and pass oxygen between them. “When the bacteria were deprived of oxygen and iron they should have died. Instead they grew hairs…a communal lung”.
Yes I’m sitting here drunk with my December copy of the new scientist and that’s incredibly sad but…
” I believe that there are electrically coupled processes going on in these microbial communities that are completely analogous to any brain chemistry that we know. That does not mean that an individual bacterium can think, any more than a single neuron can think. But add a few hundred trillion of them in an electrically integrated circuit, and the limits are those of our imagination” Scientist Yuri Gorby.
The scientist I collaborated with at Cancer Research talked about cell memory in blood cells. It wasn’t memory as we know it but it was the ability to store information about what the body had and hadn’t come across before.Many scientists have suggested that it is this type of collective behavior in single cellss that was the starting point for multi-cellular organisms. For humans.
Perhaps in our enthusiasm for a singular worded conciousness and development of the frontal lobes we lost a collective consciousness, the type of “group intelligence” . Ever been in a group clapping to a rhythm and thought “am I in time?” and then become completely incapable of keeping time at that very moment? Ever stopped to think “how should I throw this ball/ draw this picture/ move in this dance” to find that that very thought seems to have hindered your ability to do it? I once did a horrific clowning course which involved complete humiliation in front of all the other students, people constantly running out of the room in tears. But by the end we didn’t care anymore, didn’t think any more, and our timing was perfect, could move in sync without looking at each other, knew when to create chaos and knew when to do nothing.
And thats what I was after with the Rude Mechanicals, but I muck it up with my own need to control things. Its me that needs to change, relax and stop thinking about how to make music, but that is almost impossible now.
Relinquish the self! But thats the thing with the seizures, in them I don’t exsist, there just the Big Thing, but it is horrific and I always scramble back again. Can’t do it you see. Been hallucinating people and animals this week, and bits of people, limbs growing out of funny places.
The idea of the individual was a useful survival tool but now its sawing up most of the workshop perhaps we should stop and think about some glue? Though all this talk about the collective, I can’t bear crowds unless I’m on stage and theyre there to see me.