14. Betwixt and Between

Walking through a woodWednesday 29th August 2020. Just back from Wales.

It is the woods you know, the woods and the ferns and the river that feel most like home, not the house. The way the trees cling to the hillside, their roots grabbing at the toppling rocks, the lichen coating their arms with a silver skin. They shout so deeply it can’t be heard but it turns my insides. They talk and talk, muttering secrets. The first fit I can remember having was in a woods in Wales like this, maybe that is why its ghosts are so powerful.

I crouch in the mud and hang on to the trees trying to stop myself from falling completely, the dogs hover round me nervously. A rush of adrenalin, I breath in as deeply as I can as if to breath in the wood. Vast moments containing too much of everything enclose me, un-managable stuff, colour, sound, light, texture, smell, too much to cope with. My face hangs just above the mud, reflections in the water dazzle my eyes, memories surround me, mismatched, not making sense, I taste the air, I would not miss this experience for all the money in the world!

Of course I gave up believing in witches, fairies and trolls in the woods years ago, as one is supposed to, but i know here there is something big, something powerful, something that breaths and contains all breath.

When I can stand again we follow the river through the woods to the beach. And then there is the sea. I cry when we reach the sea, as i always do, something in me is not strong enough.

I want to make things that are like the woods, things/situations that are magic. A threshold, betwixt and between, somewhere where the self is lost into the moment.

So here I am now, back in London, trying to straighten out crimped thoughts, drowning in cheap wine, watching strange insects crawl across my keyboard. I am homesick for the trees and keeping myself busy.

Busy doing what exactly?

Explaining that I am a Twilighter, as is Steve. ‘Twilighter’ is the official tittle given to us, first by the arts council, then by everyone as we started to become invisible.

I live in a basement flat on Talgarth Road. It was once a council property back when there were council properties. Officially now I am a squatter, but no one will go to the effort of trying to get me out. There are a lot of us here on Talgarth road. The properties are in bad condition, the road is slowly collapsing into the cellars beneath it, there is no money in buying them up and developing, best just to pretend they are not here. So the buildings became invisible and gathered invisible people, Twilighters, those with problems, illnesses, things that can’t be cured easily, those society would rather not have around.

Now Elsie is definitely not a Twilighter, a very respectable lady indeed these days. She lives in a very respectible flat off the main road, just round the corner from Barons Court. We used to be good friends,  but it seems that has changed.

It was when she realised she couldn’t find Abel that I first noticed the change in her. She searched down the tunnels for him, she was determined, I got worried about her wondering along the tracks of the Piccadilly line in the dark. Then one day I saw her and she looked an absolute state, ill and dirty, coughing and wretching. I asked her what had happened but she wouldn’t tell me. After that she seemed to get very career minded, stopped mentioning Abel so much, stopped talking to me much at all, I started becoming as invisible to her as I am to most respectable citizens.

Or perhaps it was my talking to shouting trees that has freaked her out. Still being invisible has its advantages.

Previous:

13. The Alter

12. Malformed and Obscene

11. Her Pet Project

12. Malformed and Obscene

Abel passed out in the tunnels under LondonAbel stumbles and falls into the ankle deep drain water. He’s been in the tunnels for 5 hours and found nothing but sewage and rats. He’s only managed to keep going through fear of what he’ll become if he stops. Dread is tap dancing heavily in his head, and something seems to be following him. He is lost. Actually he is in the storm drain that carries the Westbourne river to the Thames, but he doesn’t know that.

He tries to get up again but only manages to slide the upper part of his body against the tunnel wall. Then he passes out. If Elsie saw him now she wouldn’t recognise him, he looks so old and ill.

It is the mad harmonica lady that finds him, turns out she knows her way round the the underground rivers very well. She dances along the tunnel, her ripped skirts trailing through the water, singing to herself :

In the blood
in the gene
Malformed and obscene
Its a crack in the glass
And a whisker in the cream

A snake in the garden
He goes unseen
Theres an apple in the tree
And a devil in a dream

There’s bones in these tunnels
Your hands won’t wash clean
There’ll be meat in the belly
Where the carnival has been

————————————

She grabs his arm and drags his now corpse-like body over her shoulder. She is surprisingly strong for an old lady.

When Abel wakes he finds himself in a small cave-like room lit only by candles. There is what looks like an alter on the far wall, and straight in front of him is a roughly carved wooden Jesus on a cross with a hand painted sun as his halo.

Previous:

11. Her Pet Project

10. Water

Pisces
6th March

There are several hundred people living under London. No one can say when the first people started living down there, but it has certainly been growing steadily since 2000.  They are a close, strong community due to the harshness of their circumstances. The elder generation are mainly people who lost their homes during the big recession, those who couldn’t get jobs, the sick and the disabled who were abandoned as successive governments privatised the NHS.

The elder generation, although mocking of the above-landers, still hold a buried shame and desire to return to the daylight. The second generation however, now in their late teens and early twenties, don’t have this desire. Born in the tunnels they are proud of what they are, scavenging is their art and the above-landers are cattle to be milked.

The biggest difficulty about living down there is finding clean drinking water. Although Underlondon is partially flooded most of the time, and contains the old buried rivers of London, the water is dirty and the rivers have become sewers. Instead the people of Underlondon have sort out the ancient springs, trickles of fresh water flowing from cracks in the brick work. These springs are precious to the people down there and the holy qualities of the springs, appreciated in the past, are returning.

Where as many an above-lander has come to the rational conclusion that there are no gods, the Underlondoner knows there is nothing more rational than treating what sustains your life as Divine.

Previous:

9. So where were we…

8. Drunken Delirium
7. Hallucinari
6. Dread
5. Slapdash
4. Eyes in the Machines
3. Underlondon
2. Abel
1. What YOU Need!

( I know I should be listening to CD’s instead of writing this, but I really can’t stand those little black speakers I’ve got, and when I do listen to a piece I like on CD I have to listen to it again and again and again.)

9. So, where were we…

 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.

Previously:

8. Drunken Delirium
7. Hallucinari
6. Dread
5. Slapdash
4. Eyes in the Machines
3. Underlondon
2. Abel
1. What YOU Need!

8. Drunken Delirium

Steve

Elsie paid the bill for Abel’s hospital stay, of course. Once he was out he took up residence in her flat. He had no job now so couldn’t pay any rent. Elsie lived round the corner from me, I saw Abel hanging about Barons Court and West Kensington, there was something lost about him. He made friends with my neighbour Steve, the transvestite I told you about, I think it was their shared love of alcohol. Abel started to spend his nights and days round Steve’s flat in drunken delirium. Occasionally they ventured out to the Coop, Steve dressed in high heels and furs. They made a strange couple, brought alcohol and intimidated customers.

One day, after Elsie hadn’t seen Abel for five nights running she went round there at 2pm and knocked on the door. She waited, she knocked again. A howl came from within, then the sound of locks being unfastened, eventually she was confronted by a man in a stained white lace blouse, and a pair of grey pants one size too big, which he was partially hanging out of. He had long greasy hair hanging down in rats tails, he was so thin and so waisted one touch and he’d have fallen like a leaf. It was Steve. He’d obviously been asleep and she’d woken him.

“Where is Abel?” she asked

“Wha?”

“Abel”

“Da?”

He beckoned her in. She was reluctant, the place stank of rot and seemed covered with newspaper, but she was worried about Abel. She stepped through the doorway and into the house.

“Tea!” cried Steve, who seemed to be coming round a bit

“Er, no thanks”

Steve put the kettle on, swigged from a bottle of gin and placed two teabags in two dirty mugs.

“Where is Abel?” She tried again.

“Who?…Oa…”

Then slowly “I’ve seen im, I’ve ad im round here.”

The kettle boiled, he tried to pour it but missed. Tried again with more success and handed Elsie half a cup of black tea with teabag still in it and a spiders web decorating the rim.

“Is he here now?”

“Na, gone, gone”

“Gone where?”

There. Needed his tablets”

“What tablets?”

“His tablets, yer can get em there, they can get anyfing for yer there. it’s the tunnels see. But they’ll charge, not money, other stuff”

Elsie had two contradicting thoughts simultaneously:

1. “Oh no, what’s happened to him? I must find him!”

2. “Bloody idiot, why am I running after him? I’m not his mother!”

She stood there in the slime covered kitchen, her dark blonde hair covering half her face, a frown appearing over the top of her large brown eyes.

” I’m a lesbian you know” said Steve

Elsie took this as a sign to leave.

7. Hallucinari

6. Dread

5. Slapdash

4.Eyes in the Machines

3. Underlondon

2. Abel

1. What YOU Need!

7. Hallucinari

A sick dog and a doctor  oil painting
The Patient, 12ft x 8ft Oil Painting

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.

6. Dread

5. Slapdash

4. Eyes in the Machines

3. Underlondon

2. Abel

1. What YOU need!