I kept coughing so went out for a walk. I know how the end of silence is preparation for a great catastrophe. Some afternoons are unable to burn and their pointlessness is a glaring thread of necessity. The mind is a glove with a steady hand when you need it to be, although sometimes it isn't. That's how I know about the end of silence.
At four in the winter afternoon the sky was clear like an ice-blue sash. I had a friend who insisted I should ask a doctor to look into my mouth, as if somewhere in the back of the throat there was a mountain strewn with endless forests. I decided to go to the grave of Agatha Christie’s parents who are buried in South Ealing Cemetery. Although there was a map at the entrance I always found the location of the grave difficult to find, as if it was caught on two banks of a stream that never stayed in one place. There was inevitably a melting, corrosive sensation I felt in the stomach whenever I went there, like the hidden movements behind clothes. Paracelsus reproved Galen for introducing philosophical medicine because it tangled everything into an annoying web of shallow medicine and confusing philosophy. But is that right? I don’t doubt medicine but know that all arts are analogies, and create images, compositions and figures in their own material. Perhaps that’s why my resistance lies in the substratum.
At a nearby junction I saw the weathervane on its thin post at a crossroads, tall, metallic, green, black and unnatural like all signs are, casting no shadow. Nature’s matter has no form and the matter of art is something already formed by nature. I crossed over a railway bridge to the Uxbridge Road without looking at the traffic, as if in that crossing I wasn’t only operating on the surface of things already formed, like wood, iron, stone, wool and the like but instead was moving out from the centre of a substratum of total formlessness. What is true about the centre of gravity? It bites.
That made me grin as I cut across the Uxbridge Road as gently as if it were my own grandmother. For nearly a year now I have tried to eat nothing but soup. A few more days and it’ll no doubt be all over, like animals are when swarming towards a clearing with desperation in their eyes - antelopes, buffalo, butterflies, cats, moles, demons, squirrels, green raucous parakeets - fleeing one razor blade or another from the density inside. Walking like this I use two muscles in order to retain irregular eye-sight. Some people are always looking for a fight or else are creeping away, probably drunk even at this hour. Nothing’s sacred. Or everything is. When I had a nosebleed that lasted for five hours my mother said: ‘One damned thing after another.’ That was years and years and years ago. There was already an idea forming that the buildings were just art’s material and I was thinking about nature’s materials instead.
There’s a face-down building on a small road I passed along which always seems to be the same way, more like a hall of mirrors than a flower. Whenever I pass by its connections seem neither stone, earth, corpse, embryo nor blood, nor anything else and yet the oddly blackened bricks suggest it had once been blood, became embryo, then human and the light was forming its stern impassive face with all this in mind. To be honest I’m always left stranded in front of these bare naked walls. It grew a little colder and a little darker. I walked alone, single file, like Peter Cook’s only twin. Light had that evening quality of butter dripping on the moon.
The garage with its little animal lights and glossy men with their flailing arms amongst the still cars and devouring glow is always inviting and a source of pleasure. I like to walk past these kinds of places: they are bright and mysterious and unearthed and surrounded by darkness. What kind of dark? The black pudding to the sausage. The warmth made a ribbon of ash on every face, and the building is a pavilion of soundless heat swept by the coldest wind. I imagine that in the end the creatures here will be the only ones left. You can imagine the smells of hemp, cork, oil grease and cane in mole hills. It's the same with these garages. They can gently lift the spirit and remind us that the tensions of years of harassed wakefulness can melt away in such sturdy contraptions. I think of them as machines holding fast the industrious act in a tight engine of life being lived as a good portion. Walking on, the elegant rich houses lining the road cutting across the western boundary of Walpole Park and the eastern boundary of Lammas Park are how puritans soften that compulsion of redeeming themselves with suffering. Those inside, they must all be terrified.
At St Mary’s Church there’s always a shiver of terror. Here terrible rapine violence once happened inside it in daylight. And within living memory. The strange angles seem to memorialise something brutal, strange and difficult to absorb. What isn't here is any obvious beauty. ‘The Lord’s side was red and sore, as shall our hearts be evermore.’ But the cross is hers, I think, not mine. When the carpenter puts his shavings into the coffin it’s well to ask: who will lay on them. In the graveyard there’s a medieval burial or two. Is there in this long time of ancestors the strength to pray? I have never seen anyone lie down with them. Next to the graveyard and the church is a long ancient thin lane going through time like a knife to our faltering age. It carries a distinct knowledge of itself founded in itself. It runs next to a secret allotment on one side, houses on the other right through before petering out near the Broadway. What steals the heart is emotion, obviously.
I walked faster and crossed a footbridge, glancing to the right to see South Ealing tube station looking like a long scarf of yellow silk in the darkness. There’s a sort of privation that paralyses and another that doesn’t. I felt there were two faces like flimsy mirrors clinging to the air by my side. I rushed headlong past a closed-faced pub with blank white walls and down the narrow footpath cutting the cemetery in two like adolescence. Time here shuts you into a bundled rag of trees, stones, and marks. On one or two graves were little lights wrapped in the dark hyacinth blue of evening and hysteria. They appeared as golden gnats shrikes had stuck on blackthorn and ivy.
I knew how cold it was because I could see the stars and a plane rising, red and bleeding in the pale heaven. I stumbled about looking for the right grave but couldn’t find it. I walked to the front of the cemetery on the main road and looked at the map again and read the welcome sign. My activity was completely ridiculous. I went back and tried to use my phone's light. But I couldn’t find what I was looking for. The grave wasn’t going to be anywhere else but elsewhere. As ever, it turned back for many miles towards its fluxy source. In death I suppose you float about in endless waters. I read ‘Endless Night’ at an aunt’s house on the coast in Sussex and its dread exerted a power over the scalded time – fifty years or more - like huge magnetic volcanic mountains, reminding me that you can go to hell without shoes. The paperback had a barn owl on the cover I think, and a moon. Dread attracts itself, in a straight line from our region of the earth to those places across the sea where the magnetic mountains and cliffs are located. Some small dreads are attracted by a very large one.
I hurriedly left the place, making an animal choice in a violent motion between the tree thighs and the handiwork of gravediggers. We’re not devils but we are solemn sometimes and stand in the background with a towering thoroughbred darkness in our eyes. Having not found Agatha Christie’s parents’ grave I walked into the South Ealing Road. The sun spilled red light like blood up to the elbows sinking in the dark waters. At this time of evening the road is visible by means of dense and concrete vapours, and can be pure and can be calm, even quiet, even when full of traffic and people. Sometimes the place predicts what it shows innumerable times. Other times there are different names and properties so that each time I walk along it I wonder what sort of place it is, why it’s so uneasy and who its sleeping with, or when it bathes. This evening it contained the sacred mysteries received by all people, like it filled the whole earth and it was filled up like a forest of feathers. A little tulip of a man stumbled out of one of the brightly lit shops like filling a gap in the scenery with gingerbread corsage. I was by now used to anything with three heads – physics, mathematics, metaphysics – where we move from base to scale to scale summit because, as many have agreed, this is a triple cord and hard to dissolve. The man could have been Cerberus – hell dog of Trivia. What do I know? Standing in the long shadows of the leafless trees with his soul under his arm, fanning his head with a tin can of beer, the man’s either incurably mad or tired. After all, the weary body can’t always find a pillow. I watch him in horror and its incurable when you realize that there are people who are unhappy merely because they are.
Among all the possible worlds, why this one? Why this road, why this moment, and why does it hold out its hands as if bleeding? The hands of people are sometimes invisible in fairy stories but never in folk tales. In ourselves we are always no more than fifty miles from the sea. If you poured all the human blood in the world into the Red Sea you'd not notice any difference. We are filling up with the noise of murders, myrtles, oleanders, whatever distress is happening behind garden walls, grass blades and renunciation. I occasionally lack a sense of smell. I walked to the great overpass and within touching distance of the Mercedes Benz and Audi showrooms. These are buildings of glass and light built as jars of euphoria. The cars of the rich are advertised as crocodiles turning into sexy girls but they are really swamps of the deep south where you end up spending a night with a snake-woman - thus prolonging the oldest of serpent and spirit hostilities. It's where you overcome scruples in a very human way.
The overpass seemed like a gigantic limb and when I walked by it I wondered whether it ever stopped, or did it run on like that all the time between sunset and midnight in a frenzied muscular holiness? Some architecture is a ferocious calm. You could look at this junction like at high treason, an asylum of crime, and treat it like a mad sacred grove. The pretty lights wedged into the private animosity of fences erected like a crown of acorns. When they flashed I imagined them swapping stories. On some of the smaller roads coming down to here, down by the Clayponds hospital, piles of dead leaves seemed to be made out of other people’s skins. My feet moved back and forth as if between dry sheets or gossip.
Some advances cost millions of lives. If you count our own centuries they all have the invisible graves of generations. Some buildings are like punctuation marks. Others are just welcome companions in the cold. The church in the shadow of the great road, squashed behind an Enterprise van hire yard, is a cataract on its own corpse. There’s a school attached and a stranger thing even that that, which is love. The air is freezing and thin. The atmosphere is always the last thing refracted in white light or a yawn. There is an idyllic trance in all this. I doubled back to look closer. If you wanted a murderer this is where you'd find one. We all have the five syllables whether we know it or not: mother and father. Go figure.
I stop and look at the place because I want a paradigm for the clean vowels of even song. Having walked along the giant road I swung up towards Northfields via Windmill Road. I passed the pub which is one of Brentford FC fans’ watering holes. This is a place of proud, tough spirits, the kind you find in actors and dancers, people with their torches lit up in halls with garlands, good cheer and dreamy suitors. If you walk around here you're bound to be someone's rival. I ought to try and keep a meticulous list of my solitariness as protection.
I nearly went in for a pint but instead scarpered past as if the lights from inside refracted and sparkled too much. The faces suddenly seemed jaded and vacuous, as if their pearl bodies were too ethereal and remote. The gaze of some people is like an unruffled lake. It can be baffling and unyielding like a lunar dynasty out hunting stars.
On Northfields Avenue a young blazing man with a bike and a small child were talking some way off on the pavement. I crossed over to the other side. There is just no need to confront anyone if there’s a way to avoid it in these situations. Situations? When there’s a roaring from the deep and the sky’s lurid and thick with genesis, with the spirit of God moving across the waters and the sky’s bent down to meet you. All I was looking for was faith in invocations, adoration, strong emotions. But it was dark and everyone was hurrying figments home and there were voices pouring through space. The air felt agitated with bats. Cults should be assessed for their different qualities. My observations took in the purity of my locations, and the consequential ablutions, contacts, endings, sacrifices and use of powers. I don’t think walking about like this is useful at all, but it’s not useless either. It’s more a technique in enchantment looking for bonds. Some children have ghosts in their cribs. The high street is always a site of persevering and I am ever grateful.
The station was an apt source of active power. The bridge held open a patient passivity that’s always, always good. The shops layered themselves in a kind of absorbing liquid of light, where everything is kept circulating, seeds in a body without ever dreaming of bursting into life as such. There’s a livid and thrilling aura at this time and in places like this. And underneath that, these places and their intersecting roads and alleyways hold fast the laws of the illegitimate, the mighty legislatures of milk robbers and heart thieves. If you move your head quickly in these circumstances people appear as antelopes, creatures who were the first amongst us, first as pelts, then as sacrifice and finally as ordinary life. If we deny the banal we deny everything that really matters because it is the banal that extracts an essence from everything so we can move on to every other. I noticed that my right hand coat pocket had a huge hole in it as if a frontier had been breached. The dusk was a gorgeously vapid mouth of spiritual death in a mindless body. Without work everything is just coats and trousers without the inner soul and the gut. Hence I sometimes wander without respite and feel old and cunning, then melancholic and malevolent. The living always climb over corpses. It’s no wonder I have fevers from time to time.
There was a red queen delirious in a shop window, a sharp eyed wordless girl with feet of dust and winter. The glass was not ready to reveal all her souls but there was an immense grief in her. She seemed to be returning to a chorus of dancers as if to make up one single, exact and certain story. Her drama was all in the exaltation of the sparkling fabric, the ruby bodice and flared trousers, her soft thighs, high cheekbones and swelling breasts. She was the impossible painted dream of someone else's distraction. Her mysteries were those of evenings, sandlewood paste, celestial beings far away from the sorrowing cold. You must never insult these images because you owe them more respect and desire than your mechanical vowels can express. There's something vast and countless in this, like an immense distance and sadness vanishing into the night. Sometimes a walk is a lake of memory and astonishment.
I walked on past a nondescript house. I had once known a man living there. He had cooked me a steak in a thirties flat in Acton overlooking the underground station. He had been a sound recordist and spent some time in Moscow with Billy Joel and another time in a London studio with David Bowie. In his early days he had worked with the Beetles. He was a gentle man with sunken cheeks and unsettled, pleading eyes who had made some mistakes and eventually died. The house was like a grassy clearing full of inchoate memories worn like a shroud. You rarely know what it is when something happens. Everything is prepared in silence for silence. It becomes emaciated with red robes and skins of molten gold. This is eventually felt as an extravagance and tends therefore to be dismissed. That's a shame. Remembrance is nothing less than a voracious madness. Sometimes the devil is only there for contrast. One of the best shops in the road is a fish shop from the salt-holy sea. It has marble pillars and statues and sun-gold earth light flashing into its version of a mad night full of masks and beggars. I had a portion of chips from there once at midday and it was like having rosemary in my hair -which is old, white and dismal by the way. I’m a hermit’s cell and hideous.
The church at Northfields is a converted cinema. Inside was like a set from the Arabian Nights. I saw Ghostbusters in it. It was the final film shown before it closed. What is it now? A lamb to the slaughter? We shall see. The bus stop opposite the station was lit like a bridal dress. Some shadows appear from the corner of the Best Western hotel over the tracks like anatomical horses and a fatal illness. When a train passes beneath the bridge what you hear is a breed of drum majors foaling a regiment. There’s dust, slime and sand beneath our feet. Each of the people on the streets are pieces of mirrors. Shut your eyes and there’s the sandman running across the wall of the library overlooking the tiny park. The time is pinching me when it gets like this and I scamper off in the direction of West Ealing, freezing cold and hardly a man of any one’s word. I can hold neither water nor my urge to freedom. I read recently that despite everything the scientific revolution has slowed down to just a mere trickle and there are no transmogrifying inventions any more. Ideas are like toadstools. They grow in patterns and speak with trees.
The beauty parlor is where everything’s all one. It gathers hope, destiny, the touching aspects of human life which admits to being terrified. It converts real fear into a single impermeable bond of faith and optimism. It’s when you don’t behave that you feel your pulse. You see souls hanging on the wall like coats on a rack and burst into sympathetic tears. I love people who don't think they're good enough. One side of the road looks paralysed, the other just sheer bloody frightened. One day I decided to rush through the world like an open razor. There was an old woman with a trolley bag waiting by one of the bus stops, one-sided like a spider’s shadow. You ought to be able to see this, I thought. This was a long day and the world is old, each one, one after the other, old. Pliny discouraged the wearing of facial hair. These days faces can be bitches. The windows of shops at night are a brace of bottled forget-me-nots ready to be emptied down our throats. It’s in this way we gulp the stream of time. Two centuries ago the allotment between Northfields and West Ealing had a wall of bottles as one of its perimeters . Nature overseen by the cooper, the publican, the shoemaker, the physician and the tailor reminds us that earthly things are evil if dead. Who has a nail, a thorn, a spear? The cups of the night were freezing. They're the unwilling loss that somebody found. In quiet depths walks mirror the defenseless images that bend over everything. I was glad to get back indoors out of the chapping cold.