oh, well, whatever . . .

under the volcano

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It’s been a curious week.

Hugo has installed an elaborate Heath Robinson device above his pond, which presumably functions to keep the water pure. It is an arrangement of square black plastic tanks and gnarly white plastic pipes with a bewildering number of ninety degree bends in them. Any noise it makes is masked by the gurgle of the waterfall, but it does seem to be pump operated and has one particular pipe which drips perpetually into a reservoir of sorts. The installation was completed by Wednesday but the restocking of the pond was delayed because of a severe Citadel Dust Storm later that day.

Margaret, who has been having a few days off work in preparation for the Great Slipper Shop Launch, says that on Wednesday afternoon our street was like the dust bowl as a great swirling cloud of pale Citadel Dust descended among the houses. The effect was to make the whole neighbourhood a suburban mini-Pompeii: cars and lampposts, the leaves of hosta and fatsia japonica, chimneys and rooftops, conservatories, huts and gazebos, lawnmowers and wheely bins, sundials on plinths and bird tables, barbecues and reconstituted stone angels, gnomes, resin hedgehogs and wooden toadstools, green plastic chairs from Asda and Tesco’s floral pattern loungers . . . . The foxgloves would have been choked. The birds would have fallen silent. De Kooning must have sat at the window in quiet stoical astonishment. Nothing was spared, Margaret says, everything was enveloped and disappeared beneath an eerie grey dust. Had lovers been lying kissing behind a wall they too would have been buried, suffocated in their last embrace.

Castle Hugo too must have been overlaid with a thick blanket of the noxious dirt that descended. The Alligator and the dwarf conifers. The henge, the platform, the shelters, the station clock. The moose must have worn a thick coat of the stuff and, I imagine, an undignified bird’s nest-like wad must have accumulated on his brow between his suddenly somehow impotent antlers. The junkyard incongruities of Hugo’s estate would probably for a while have been ironically unified by this catastrophe, in much the same way as a fall of snow can bring a miraculous harmony to absolute dereliction.

As it turned out, however, and as if by some strange act of grace, the catastrophe was short-lived and overturned by an apparently random act of nature: the wind got up. When I arrived home from work there was no more than a dusty grey film on the bonnet of Margaret’s car to testify to the Vesuvian inundation that occurred earlier that afternoon.

As a result of her days off Margaret now has more direct knowledge of the consequences of the Citadel’s construction. The noise is constant and cacophonous. Geraldine described it as like living next to the M1 motorway; Big Trevor says it’s like living next to an iron foundry. And there is no escape from it from eight in the morning until teatime each day. Even if the dust clouds didn’t occur and even if there wasn’t a daily audience of workmen in yellow hard hats staring down into the gardens from the red girders above us, sitting out in the sun would no longer be a pleasure in any case because of the unbearable intrusion of the noise. The joy and relaxation of summer in the garden has been taken from us, certainly for this year and probably forever, since even when the construction is completed next year the school will open and all day children and teachers will come and go and peer down at us from the vast windows of the Citadel. And every evening the shadow of the Citadel will bring an early end to our day and cast us into a cold, inescapable gloom. This is the reality of the Citadel.  Griff and Gordon are taking from us the peace and privacy of our gardens, just as they are taking from us the pleasure and warmth of the evening sun.

And there are other consequences that have become apparent, such as the flooding of the gardens at the top of the street because the ground level has been raised in the Citadel field and in heavy rain the water pours into some residents’ garages. And in some other streets the roads are permanently stained and greasy with mud, and on some corners the kerbs are crushed and crumpled and hazardous and unsightly. It also seems that many people are now experiencing difficulties with their television reception, presumably because the girders are interfering with their signal. Most astonishingly perhaps is the structural damage that has been caused to some houses by the quaking that has sometimes emanated from the activities on the site. Plaster has fallen of walls and coving has cracked. Big Trevor’s bungalow has suffered particularly badly. A shelf fell off the wall in his utility room, scattering pegs and screws across the floor. But most alarming of all, a glass chandelier fell from his bedroom ceiling and shattered. Griff has offered generous compensation, of course, although, as most of us know, all the chandeliers in China can never replace the sun.

The Citizens are becoming more disgruntled by the day and have organised a mass trespass on the site next week to make the manager aware of their complaints. They are telephoning Griff and council officials relentlessly. They are writing letters to the press and to elected representatives at all levels. Their cause is a good one. But it is lost. Yes, it is a disgrace that we are all so powerless, but the duck’s back of economic transformation demands our impotence. Democracy, like the environment or the truth or human and civil rights, must always play second fiddle to Gordon’s toxic little time bomb, the economy.

This week our hapless leader. the Kirkcaldy Robot, his mechanical political virility wrapped in the usual shameless lies and clichés, rummaged deep into the pork barrel in his quest to forge yet more shackles for the population. I wonder what our MP was offered for his vote. Probably the name of the winner of the three thirty at Epsom, I imagine, some shares in Scottish & Newcastle, and the guarantee that the details of his expenses will never be made public.  And since this brave socialist certainly gave them his vote perhaps he got the price he demanded. They’re not the things he should have asked for, of course, but then those things would have been paradoxical: freedom, honesty and a meaningful democracy. The Gulag and Gauntanamo Bay, the boot camp and privatised public services, the enterprise economy, the balance sheet and the like are all orderly little places and perfectly fine for robots, automatons and clockwork consumers. They have a narrow, seductive pseudo-rationality, and offer a reassuring Panglossian illusion of making sense of a confusing and arbitrary world. But humanity will always require a bigger, wilder space. 

Brick by brick, bar by bar, law by law, amendment by amendment, Tony and Gordon and those before them have built an invisible prison cell around each and every one of us. They watch us and they control us. They have insidiously but systematically disempowered us. They make laws on false pretences and then misuse them to curtail our every day liberties. They tell us it’s to keep us safe from the bad guys, the guys we can’t see but who they’re sure are lurking around every CCTVed corner. But it’s us they’re watching. We are the suspects – you, me, Margaret, Brenda, Hugo, Mr Zee, possibly De Kooning too – each and every one of us.

On Friday I spoke to Hugo over the garden fence. He was wearing a soft black and white checked shirt and had the look of a lumberjack about him.

‘I see Gordon’s got his forty two days,’ I said.

‘Bloody good thing too,’ Hugo said. ‘He could have a hundred and forty two days for me. They should lock the bastards up forever.’ 

‘But these are people they haven’t charged with anything. It could be you, Fletch. It could be me. Six weeks in the slammer for no reason?’

‘It couldn’t be me, mate,’ Hugo protested. ‘I haven’t done anything wrong. These people are bloody criminals and terrorists!’

‘If the police had much evidence that they were surely they’d charge them with something, wouldn’t they?’

‘Not necessarily,’ Hugo replied. ‘Things aren’t always as simple as that, you know.’

‘Aye, maybe you’re right, Fletch,’ I said. ‘Maybe the police should be allowed to hold any one of us they like for as long as it takes for them to know if we’re dodgy. Let’s just hope they never have to release anyone without charge. It’d be sad to think they could have enough evidence to hold someone for six weeks in a cell without ever having enough evidence to charge them, wouldn’t it?’

‘I don’t care how long they hold the scum, mate,’ Hugo reiterated. ‘It would be a good thing if they never let them out. If they do let them out they should send them back to their own countries. Bloody Moslems have no reason being in Britain, that’s what I think.’

I looked up into Hugo’s little cameras, glanced at his new shiny railings. He obviously doesn’t imagine Gordon’s iron shackles could ever fit him. He doesn’t feel the weight of them on his ankles. I wondered if he thought bored Moslem kids had stolen his broken blue swing. I wondered if he thought the conditions for organised resistance have been taken from us, and I was about to ask him but didn’t. I suspected I knew the answer already, and that in any case he wasn’t a man who wanted to listen to me yammering on all day about politics.  He wouldn’t want me to tell him that we might almost think that Gordon and his globalised gang already know hard times are coming, or that Parliament is even now fitting the deadlocks to each and every one of our cells. Or that democracy has an auto-immune disease and is progressively devouring the body of the electorate. A man like Hugo thinks he knows the nature of the world we live in and doesn’t want to hear otherwise.

‘I was sorry to hear about your fish,’ I said.

‘Yeah, it was a shame that. I’m not sure what happened to them’

‘Oh, I’d heard it was the dust from the Citadel site,’ I said, a little confused.

‘Oh well, who knows,’ Hugo replied. ‘Fish are temperamental things sometimes. The truth is it could have been anything, we’ll never know.’

‘But the dust is a problem, isn’t it? I mean, it could have been that. Maybe you should do a Big Trevor and get some compensation.’

‘Nah,’ Hugo replied, almost scornful. ‘Hey, listen, I’ve worked on the buildings and you’ve got to expect some dust and noise otherwise nothing’d ever get built. Those lads are just doing their jobs, that’s all. They’re not committing any crime, they’re just trying to earn an honest crust. They could do without any earache from us.’

‘But what if they’re killing your fish?’

‘That’ll not be what’s killed them. Nah, it’s probably algae or mites or something like that. You can’t go accusing those lads of things like that when there’s no proof that they did it. Hey, I’m surprised to hear you saying such things after the way you just went on about the Moslems!’

Hugo and I really do live in rather different worlds. I laughed and went in, telling him I could eat a horse.

All week boxes of slippers have been arriving and all around the house various constellations of the critters have taken their places, some lurid, some twee, some silly, some garish, some drab, some meretricious, some cloyingly sentimental. But it’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good, and yesterday Margaret told me she’d persuaded Brenda that the launch party should be postponed for a week because our conservatory was a disgrace as it was still covered in an unsightly film of Citadel Dust following Wednesday’s eruption. Furthermore De Kooning’s comings and goings had left footprints of the toxic dirt in and out of the kitchen and along various windowsills and the last thing they wanted was a health and safety issue spoiling the day. They have agreed to hold the party a week today.

‘But what about my walk?’ I asked.

‘Well you can still go and do it, can’t you?’ Margaret replied.

It has been quite cold today and threatening to rain between the sunny spells. I walked over to Lysdon Farm and down the Gloucester Lodge on the bridleway. From there I made my way back along to South Harbour, and thereafter to Bath Terrace and into the town centre. I went along Regent Street and Hodgsons Road and all the way up the Kitty Brewster. I made my way back across the fields, following the railway line to Newsham and out on to Pheonix Street.

When I got back Margaret told me her grumpy teeth were playing up again. She’s back at work tomorrow and while it may be just a coincidence it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

‘Do you think I look like a Moslem?’ I asked her.

‘I don’t know,’ she replied, looking me up and down. ‘I mean, what does a Moslem look like?’

‘Yes, that’s what I thought,’ I said.

I went out into the back garden with De Kooning. Hugo was at his pond. He’d bought some new fish and was slipping them from their plastic transportation bags into the newly purified water. I also noticed he’s bought two more plastic mallards to go with the original. They are both drakes and both identical in every way to the other one. I noticed too that the sun was gleaming on the moose’s back and head. It is obvious that whatever Hugo thinks of the dust he will always make sure his moose is kept looking spick and span.

The flag irises are past their best now and collapsing under their own weight. Their blue petals are turning thin, brown and papery. However, the lilies are growing well now, the honeysuckle will be in bloom very soon, I think, and the blue cornflowers are making a good show already. I ran my finger through the dust on the top of one of the solar lights, went to fill the watering can and told De Kooning I thought we could probably do with a bit rain.


Written by yammering

June 15, 2008 at 3:46 pm

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