oh, well, whatever . . .

the blue swing and the pipistrelles

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When I left the house for work this morning I saw Hugo on his garden path, motionless as a plastic replica, arms at his side, legs set apart, gazing fiercely towards the gate.

‘Morning, Fletch,’ I shouted.

This brought him back to reality.

‘Here, you,’ he said, in his usual slightly rough-edged way, ‘someone’s nicked the swing I had there.’  He pointed to the spot near the gate where since time began the blue child’s swing with a broken rope had lingered.

‘Oh, yeah,’ I said. ‘Who would do a thing like that?’

‘I don’t know what this bloody country’s coming to,’ he said. ‘The sooner we get rid of this government the better, if you ask me.’

It sounded as if Hugo was blaming Gordon for the felony. Gordon has children, it’s true, but stealing tatt from Hugo’s landfill, while perhaps not beneath his dignity, is unlikely to be necessary on his salary.

‘So who do you think it was?’ I asked.

 ‘It’ll be bloody kids, that’s who,’ he replied. ‘Little bastards. They’d steal your granny if she wasn’t screwed down.’  Hugo’s ideas of normal family relations are clearly a little different to those of most other people.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Hey, but kids will be kids, eh?’

Hugo resumed his fixed gazing into the site of his lost swing. Loss can often take a little time to work itself out. Hugo was a figure of abject impotence, like Thor without his hammer. And yet how much, I wondered, could depend upon this blue swing standing at his gate (and not even a white chicken in sight)?  Surely it hadn’t been the centre piece or linchpin of some grand design that he was just about to embark upon. How desperately unfortunate it would be if the swing that had rested there since time began had been stolen at the very moment at which its destiny and purpose were about to be realised. Hugo looked bereft, crestfallen, downtrodden, defeated. The swing had clearly been more important than it looked.

As I drove off to work it struck me that Hugo might be a man who knows the whereabouts of every object in the randomly cluttered universe of his property, and that perhaps he monitors the status of each object with perfect diligence. The truth is I would never have noticed the absence of the swing for days if he hadn’t drawn my attention to it. I also sensed that for him the order of things had been almost catastrophically disturbed by the thoughtless mischief of some passing kid.  It needs to be said that in all probability the swing now lies on its side on some piece of wasteland in Newsham, its seat finally released and jacked up on some bricks as a jump for BMXers. The lesson here seems to be that no matter how accidental the order is it can come to make sense to someone and be an order to which any one of us might become attached. If such an order is disturbed a sense of anomie or existential dislocation may inevitably follow.

As I went through Newsham I looked around for traces of the stolen blue swing, but without success. I did notice however that the old picture house is no longer Kingdom Hall, but is now the New Hope Community Church. I thought at first that perhaps this was a re-branding exercise, but later discovered that this is a different Pentecostal organisation. They are very active in the Third World, it seems, a territory that in their minds may well encompass Newsham too. New hope is a curious concept. Hope is the expectation or wish that something is going to happen, the return of Christ, for example, or the apocalypse. I guess hope that grows old becomes no hope at all, or lost hope, or even hopelessness. To that extent hope is perhaps always new and the adjective redundant.  Hope is always evanescent, which is why it needs to spring eternal, I suppose. For a moment I imagined Hugo sitting by his gurgling pond hoping for the return of his stolen blue swing, gazing with his heron at the pale carp gliding by. I fear their hope is in vain.

When I was driving back into the town tonight I noticed that there was a digger at Park Farm. Some of the out-buildings have already been demolished.  When I see a building disappearing I always feel a deep sense of regret if I’ve never photographed it.  Some old buildings on the quayside have recently been knocked down and I wish I’d photographed them. I wish I’d photographed the Traveller’s Rest, the Wellesley School and Mermaid Cafe.  Photographs don’t stop time, of course. In fact they remind us that time cannot be stopped, that the world has already moved on. This is why they are so poignant. And a photograph is not the truth.  You cannot, except in your memory, walk around a photograph, touch the substances in it, smell the air there. You cannot feel the breeze in a photograph as it blows into your coat. Photographs remind you that there is so much more to the world than the visible, and that those things too have gone.

When I got home I discovered that Hugo had removed every extraneous object from his front garden – the pink table, the wheel barrow, the pile of bricks, the rusty toolbox, everything except the green Mercedes, the Alligator with the broken tail. This new austerity is the concrete embodiment of the pain of Hugo’s loss. Rather than risk suffering again the profound trauma of dispossession he is prepared to foresake the kaleidoscopic diversity of the junkyard in favour of barren beds of graded pebbles and a couple of dwarf conifers in terracotta pots.  It may be that this garden centre minimalism has more kerbside appeal, as Phil and Kirsty might say, but it is a look without depth, bland and superficial at every level.

After tea I went for a walk through South Beach estate, along Wensleydale Terrace and down Ridley Avenue. I walked back up Waterloo Road and along Renwick Road. When I got home Margaret was on her way out. She was wearing a new green jacket. It’s more leaf green than emerald, fashionably faded. As I drank my cappucinno I heard Hugo banging away at the Alligator’s tail for a while. He didn’t do it for long though. Maybe it was the greyness of the evening.  Maybe his heart wasn’t in it.

At nightfall I walked out into the garden. I picked up De Kooning and together we peeked over into Hugo’s world at twilight gleaming on the moose and the henge. At about nine thirty two bats appeared over his pond, flying without rest in apparently erratic trajectories. 

‘What sort do you think they are?’ I said. ‘Pipistrelles?  And what do you think of the thesis that modernity and existential alienation are inseparable? Do you think we’ve lost forever a world we could call home?’

We watched the bats and the solar lights shone in the gloom.


Written by yammering

May 14, 2008 at 8:52 pm

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