In any snow fall, no matter how thin and lip-like, you can feel the issues of blood ochre, abyss make-up and Styx undertow. The only impression I had at the beginning was a sequence of blades of light and a sense of being marooned in ambiguity. I was needing to step into the cold and associate with something like a road going on towards the end.
There are two kinds of doing this: natural and preternatural. I noticed a button missing on the only coat that would be up for the job. I put the autobiography of Werner Herzog and a notepad into an old computer bag and was off after testing, laughably, two pens – in case one ran out of ink. Natural motion is a kind of intrinsic thing whereas the preternatural kind comes from outside that. Natural footsteps seemed tuned to the weather which was grey, cold and wisped by snow, a kind of harmony in place with the steady beat, the structure and generation of things.
Preternatural movement isn’t. It’s folded twice. It is violent and against nature as well as structured and ordered which nature makes sense of. We all do the natural move so long as we’re happy to forget the timeless distinction between motion and mutation. That morning I wasn’t sure anything was forgetting that though.
I wanted to see the Charlie Chaplin museum at the Hanwell Community Centre which had in 1857 been a Cuckoo School Chaplin, later, had attended. I’d been there already once, descending into its vaults years before. I had in mind that I was returning rather than discovering, and that I was going back to a proper place. This is a characteristic of natural movement: possessed of this, I was not moving away from my own proper place but rather completing a version of a circle.
There were ferns, huge trunks and plants growing from plants and no emptiness. Although the roads, they were empty except for a mother and child walking across me for a brief moment. I soon ducked away out of sight and was undisturbed until I arrived at the place. Snow was just coming out of the sky. You had to squint to see it though, and none of it settled.
The building was dark and imposing, lofty on its hill. There were cars arriving and leaving – a van from the local council, a red old Honda with a woman who furiously waved me on when I stopped in the car park to let her through. As much as it can, a contrary flees a contrary and so I quickly dashed inside.
There was a café area and a helpful man told me that the museum had been packed up and was gone. The person who had run it had had a mobility problem and so hadn't been able to get up and down the stairs. What had started as a natural flow now entered the realm of the preternatural. Preternatural movement runs in a straight line, like air filling the void, or a drowning body moving through clutching dark water to occupy a place in which it can either rest or move again, naturally.
The friendly man told me that Henrix, The Who and Pink Floyd had performed in the hall, to his right. These things occur across an infinity of lines from the same centre. There was a display in the café area telling the story of Chaplin's life in the place. That was all that was left of what had been there before. A woman with a small child had sat herself down so close to the display that it was impossible to read most of it. She looked cold and angry although she didn’t say anything and the little girl was staring off elsewhere. Corruption and change occur in everything. One of them was probably weeping inside.
There’s another kind of walking – more like inflow and outflow motion. This is the kind of walking needed when everything takes on strong sensible qualities. Think of how fire warms in every direction and not just the one. A voice can penetrate equally all directions. Reflections and observations are like this. I wandered around the building, went up to the higher rooms and corridors and down into the vaults where the museum had once been.
There were old pictures, pianos, tables and radio receivers. One room had art guitars. There are heavy spiritual spheres in the place, and less heavy ones, ones that aren’t easy on the senses, the kind of thing some people think hunkers down in minerals and herbs. I was aware that interior things were somewhere hidden here. But fantasies come and hit me all the time. I had a feeling there was a basilisk down there. One look and I’d be killed.
I fled. Most of the original building that now housed the Hanwell Community Centre has been demolished. I'd looked for the remains of the chapel and its stained glass but there was nothing. If you leave and turn through a parkland you circle round until you’re above it. The sky was overwhelming, like a huge grey eyed fire. A red kite, the third largest raptor in the UK, soared and darted way on the horizon. Kites are playful. They don’t hunt but scavenge. Their feet aren’t the powerful, killing hooks of the buzzard or the muscular peregrine. They frolic in the sky. They dance and laugh, often in flocks. Their red beauty is the sort of attraction that contains that zany craziness you see in those people who mediate air, tongue and lips held together. Some poets can do that.
The grasses were drenched and the tracks filled up with water puddles. We’d had a day before when the rain had never stopped. Some people strike you like a burning lap. A thin guy was bent over his own legs, walking without daring to look out. I let him go out of sight, not wanting to cross him or interrupt his flow. It’s hard to know how he left the park but I assumed he did eventually, probably on wings. I darted through an exit way off and never looked back. Some spirits are inside of subtle matter, others simply in bodies. This was someone hardly in a body so much as possessing one. His motion was violent and thus preternatural.
The roads were busy. All of the cars and people in the streets by the shops down towards the Greenford/Hanwell cluster were just dreams and visions and thoughts, communication systems working along enigmatic sequences and orders. They were all beyond me. Demons and spirits have the same existence, knowledge and power. Some spirits are deaf and dumb and dangerous because without reason. The buildings are thirties here and locate themselves in the heart as dense humours and melancholies. Or maybe it was just that the snow was beginning to rise slightly and the light darken.
Some little statue in a garden had nothing else to do but to please me, but had also the aura of an upturned tarot. These things are small but help keep the world in equilibrium, distracting our minds and letting the sky and its god women go on their way. They are never a frivolity. She can leave us all behind or wander in us like wandering around a no-man’s land, or a shrine to the dead. There’s always a shadow in the undergrowth and gleaming jewels. She was like a little perch of moonlight opening out on the lawn, something shining out the centre of the world.
Many of the faces were fearful, suspicious and credulous, incapable of distinguishing the possible from the impossible. I was feeling disturbed by fanatics. I hurried on past a stall selling fresh vegetables and fruit. Had no one heard of prisons, fire or death here? I looked over my shoulder and realized they all knew those things and were doing what they could to free themselves from them the best way they could. What counterfeit’s we all have to play on: fear, anger, religion, romance and that sort of thing. These are our essential languages but introduce so much confusion and doubt it’s impossible to assert anything with conviction. Are terrestrial spirits hostile? Who can say for sure? The lives of spirits can’t be compared with ours.
I crossed over into another park that was also a golf course. Despite the snow there was a man playing a solitary round. I could see the arc of the Wembley Stadium far off through trees. This land seemed wiser and more powerful. Air and water seem to undergo less than composite bodies. I saw, alongside the lone red kite, carrion crow, magpie, pigeon, two mallard startled by my approaching the river, like Aeneas frightening the shades. There are bodies of fire on the main road. These are gods and are hard to know.
To cross the main junction I had to walk down underground as if into the desolation of Nola. The grey construction was a hidden temple of Portus, under a cliff as if Mount Cicada, cemetery of plague victims. The walls of the tunnels were clear and refined by secrets. They were there to ward off the underground spirits who might be good or bad. I coughed badly down there.
Everything was spinning. Although barely past noon the sky was darkening. The roads were fuller than the footpaths. There was a man half dressed at a window staring out at the passing traffic, as if amazed or in dread. I crossed the road and avoided his eyes. Sometimes we fear the void in someone else’s look. Their lives are threats because they might steal us away. Walking occurs through a continuous space which is not interrupted by any void and this frightens anyone insensible to the insane claims of physics. It all started with Newton.
Moses didn’t distinguish spirit from soul, contrary to the Egyptians and Dionysius of Apollonia. A whole thought can be penetrated by a whole in one direction but not in another. This is a good line of thought when looking for safety and protection. The sky seemed to expel the light, like a massive fluid splitting sidewise and becoming more width than length like pores between fibres of direction.
I could feel a tension rising. At a double bridge there were roadworks that had completely stopped the traffic . One of the huge heavy loaded lorries carried the laurel and eagle insignia of the poets who are never touched by lightening. I half expected to see Apollo and Jupiter amongst the workmen assembling their things in yellow hi-viz. In Naples the only thing that burns is the pubic hair of beautiful girls and the wood of wine barrels, the wine untouched. The snow exploded close to my face. I needed to find innumerable differences. Hemlock fattens many animals but destroys humans.
The sky looked like quicksilver absorbing oil. In the rough area of grasses leading to the shopping park verbena plants lay around, and the snow began to settle a little. I went into the Hobbycraft and asked about some of the prices on items that weren’t labeled. A young man was helpful. Some hear the hum of traffic and prefer it to music. Are these disgraceful and unworthy of appearing human, or have they something else better?
Some bonds are tenacious, others blind, others both and others neither. This was a snake charmer sentence. I sat in a Costa and ordered a large black coffee and read Werner Herzog’s autobiography for an hour or so. It is a strange book, where his undoubtedly magician’s soul is disfigured by his crude machismo and boasting. Of course that’s his joke. But it can make a reader like me uneasy, like when we realize that the soul of a wolf remains in its dead skin. The loneliness is palpable. He moves from one event to the next and each has its own dominion for a while but then gets blocked by the next. I think he thinks we are afraid of him but actually he’s little more than insane laughter when he speaks. I think if he knew me he’d dislike me. It would be mutual. I think we’d work well together because of this. I sat at first at a table by the automatic door but after half an hour I realized that the door was jammed open so I moved from the ice cold wind that had frozen my hands and feet.
Leaving, I tried a cut through but ended up in a dead end Post Office complex which had the stillness of melancholic humours. It was a place of vast distributions. Some people’s arms are too thick and they have obtuse expressions on their faces. Some of the lorries were being driven by alligators. Srya says you gain everything in moisture and light. But here the snow was hard not wet and the sun dark. Along the roads the cars, vans and buses seemed to fill the world with duplication. Sometimes you have to smile at emptiness and carry on again. Nothing was clear anymore, in the sky or on the earth. Everyone lowered their eyes. Scurrying back along the road there was so much that was invisible it was almost hilarious. You can be drunk on the soma of the air when it breathes immortality in its harsh foam. Everything streamed together driven up from below as if braced on the back of a giant turtle. The road was a thick snake or rope from the depths. There are frictions from which all the marvels come, and the stakes are always high. Everyone walks alone and knows they are already dead unless, by lucky happenstance, they teem with the science of resurrection. I didn’t dare to do much more than walk and keep crucial uncertainties at bay.
I left the main road and hot footed it for a park land. The track ran down the far side of it like a long, near invisible wound. The high fence to the left held back high bramble and a long ledge covered in wild grass in opaque dark waves. In the afternoon wintry light the snow was now like painted diamonds in the cold breeze, amulets on the torso of a possessed cosmos. A strange tall woman on an electric scooter stood upright and moved towards me as if an enchanted body dripping in the shimmer of the burial light of her vehicle. Her face was half covered by her scarf like a dark mass distilled into a kind of escape. In the enormous silence and slowness of her mysterious passing it was as if walking upstream of dangerous dreaming. Across the fields solemn rooftops and the yelling sky looked like a sacrificial fire of blackness , but bright as if a stolen rite or an ambush. I walked as if rushing back to find my life or trying not to go mad.
There are regions in these places and times when we all would disappear. A single house had not yet taken down its Christmas lights. Perhaps they were Georgian, working on a different calender from mine. When confronted by powers that aren’t mine I often feel they are elusive. A man was cleaning his car with an elaborate hose contraption even though the light was fading and the snow swirled around. He wasn’t afraid of being caught out – or maybe he was! Many worlds are folded away in empty rooms and empty lives. Some people are defenseless. Others are misleading. I felt my shadow was heavier than my actual body and this made me feel delicate and subtle. Not bad.
Who hasn’t had those days of running away and betraying someone? The small roads were membranes of eccentric and deceitful meanderings. Hedges grew taller as I left the estate. Silence and desolation were like the syllables of a chant I couldn’t hear. A large crow exchanged a glance with me from a branch, dissolving the increasing loneliness into a crackle of sidewise yoking.
The street lights came on and studded the hanging air like pearls. Shops had their emeralds and rubies dressing up the dark which was now palpable. All compounds were filled with the light swirling snow that freshened the face and made it easy to misunderstand things. You shouldn’t look down on anyone especially when you see how vigorous and impure these places we live in are. I was walking around like a melancholic king beset by ungrateful subjects and felt light and stepped up.
Passing the ancient church without a moment’s hesitation my mind was filled with nothing, as if suddenly an immense wall of grey, smooth rock. Everything is always on earth. A long time the walk was silent, especially over the bridge across dark waters where monotonous shapes chained together moved slowly like torn fabric thread by thread ruined into the distance. The pathway between the course and the public gardens foamed dark billows of leaves and branches without leaves too. I hurried through the shroud light as if brought to earth in the mouth of a beetle.
What did I yearn for in that smoky darkness? A veil. Trees are tents sheltering the ground. What is stretched out on the other side. I couldn’t see anything but the surge of dark light and the opened out firmament. What was perishable and shabby seemed like gold to me. Creation, nothingnesss and freedom choked up from a deferred, unresolvable sense of doom. A rat ran across the pathway through the park up the hill. When you move uphill like that, in the dark, with snow falling and the sky at the slope’s head, you’re always something passing and there’s something ever violent in that movement. We’re at this moment like a straight arrow and preternatural, something unearthly, secret, a prostitute or merchant, a scandal in the space of light. I was more than just taste, sense, lymph – I was something that had to be exchanged.
Every convulsion comes like this, between the small darkness and the high trees, the long roads and the mouth offering a substitution. St Stephen’s church – now converted flats – glowed into the fast arriving night. The snow seemed to be just imitating itself. Shapes and forces pressed in. The steeple opens out into its own plural. The double is hidden in its first deed. Who knows what that is. Or was. In some way though, even now, it announces things as they really are. In some register that the world exists is far more amazing than how it does so. In others, we wonder whether it even does. There’s a frenzy of pleasure in the bleakness, a succession of lights sparkling against the winter sky. The natural realm circles round, a shifting lunar cataclysmic emissary. A fox streams low over the road and over a wall in a remote existence like a sacred girl. There’s a kind of autism in rituals. The rows of prim houses are watchful. Are they resentful as I come along like a small, dark curse? Who doesn’t want to blend with your shadow and become crumpled up in the emotions? What filled up the air as I left it was a negotiation with appearing naked while staying invisible.