Sunday, December 18, 2005
Driving somewhere - Part 1
You are driving in your car, quickly but safely on the motorway, you are travelling at about seventy miles per hour. You look at the dashboard clock, it is 2316 on a December night, the traffic is light and the road is dry. On the stereo the White Stripes track Seven Nation Army is playing. You home in on the guitar riff and your heart beats a little faster. Suddenly a blinding white light is in front of you, a lorry cab is facing you, heading for you, going the wrong way, it’s driver asleep. You have milliseconds to live as Jack White’s guitar slurs around that familiar riff.
You wake up in a white room with a black ceiling. You are lying on a couch. The room is strange and though you could move you feel uncomfortable about doing so. The walls look strange and you don’t want to touch them, you realise this white room is really a large box. You fall asleep again.
You wake up in a black room with a white ceiling. The black walls draw you towards that white ceiling. You begin to rise, you float towards the ceiling, the air feels thick, as inch by inch the ceiling gets closer as your horizontal body obeys some unconscious, unspoken command. You rise until your nose is only a fraction of an inch from the white light of the ceiling. Just when you think you should touch it you fall back, back down into the black walls, back into a warm but suffocating dark depth.
You wake up in the wreckage of your car, all twisted and contorted around you. Like some damaged relationship woefully beyond repair you are tangled in this metal and plastic. Some burned black, some stained, some bloodied. You recognise your car but it is now out of shape and strange as if some surrealist had painted it for you and place it around you in broken frames. Right things are in wrong places, shapes have changed and functions are now impossible. Then you realise you can see this wreck of a car but you are not actually inside it, you are elsewhere. Darkness falls.
Ambulance, silence, noise, your own internal panic and confusion. Shaky movement, voices and blurred edges to everything. Walking across dreamscapes, warm, cold, happy. Sharp pain dull pain and the constant relay of near and far memories.
Back to the white room, back to those white liquid walls that stand and yet flow at the same time, solid yet pulsating, thick as hard concrete one moment and paper thin the next, so thin you can see light and shapes, movement and shadows run behind them. The white room is peace. All is peace and then the black ceiling descends.
Them smell of 1959 is in your nostrils, first day at school, lady teachers with soprano voices and floral prints. The smell of the teacher, the class, the noise, the crack of the chalk, the snap of the book shutting. The cream portable loudspeaker is brought into the room for radio plays and music, static and trailing wires. Sitting cross legged on the linoleum and not daring to move, wanting to whisper, snigger, fidget, give in and forget to be good.
Kennedy is dead, black and white TV in 425 grainy lines, polished wood and open coal fires, I don’t know when, you don’t know when. Brown coins, grey shirts, scarves, a grey landscape and wish for time to pass. You have the feeling of powerlessness and entrapment. School, home, school and a dull inevitability that gnaws. The steady dropping of the leaves of a dying house plant, over fed but under nourished, drowning in water and dying of thirst, needing warmth and light, getting only reflections and cold.
You don’t give a damn about Vietnam because this is Scotland and everything that is in the fire will always burn eventually. What are computers anyway (?) and all the cars have funny names and people think that going on strike will solve their problems. You shift you weight from Tuf shoe to another Tuf shoe, animal trackers with a secret compass in the heal but what’s the point of knowing where north is, when you in the street outside you house? Twin tub washing machine leaks and squeaks and needs constant repair and there are only one or two phones round here. No adventure.
You search for the hidden paragraph buried in the book, page after page of blinding words and perfect sentences. The grammar trips and rushes, the punctuation like railway points and signals governing your speeding breath and lurching pace. Sailing away on this tall tale while the rain pelts at the thinnest window glass, no adequate barrier for cold, but you remain undistracted. Knees drawn up under the blanket, bell, book, torch and candle, the wicked witch of reading and secrecy. Silently turn the cream pages and break your concentration as you think about esparto grass and how bales of it come into the country on rusty ships and are unloaded in more rain or under watery sunlight. That paragraph’s location remains a secret.
Man has landed on the moon. You hear that an American man has stepped on the surface of that great cheesy, distant orb. Somehow the moon is not far enough away to matter. Summertime in Midlothian. Fried eggs and burnt bacon sizzling on black hot plates, tortured by sweaty army cooks. You are watching Top of the Pops and starting to dislike it, you are not quite sure why.
What is the point of having power if you cannot abuse it?
A fine dusting of snow is covering the cracks on the pavement, walking to school, shorts and anorak. Your legs are red with the stinging cold, you head is down. The snow starts to blind and you realise that this kind of snow is no fun, it is panic snow and the coldness on you, gripping you is now a bitter pain. The wetness on you cheeks is snow mixed with tears you don’t recall crying, you want to be home, you want your legs to move faster and eat up these daily seen familiar streets, the bumps and breaks in the surfaces, the splitting tree roots, the uneven kerbs, the bright gates, the rotting gates, the cast iron gates. The cars that are parked and never seem to move, the vegetable man and the post office van, all for once with an added free frozen topping. You want to get home.
Smoking is not what you thought it would be, why should you have to learn to smoke, isn’t it a natural thing to do? Does it make everybody seem so sick? Growing up and the pleasures that grown ups enjoy are all so bitter sweet, so much so, in the midst of this sick, queasy and dizzy feeling, they are only ridiculous. Why can adults refrain from smoking and drinking? I’m sure that goes for all those other odd pleasures they hint at, those x certificate things you don’t understand. Why don’t they just eat sweeter and more elaborate sweets and avoid all these acrid and acidic adult poisons?
Boys have nobs (do you spell it with a silent “k”?) and girls have fannys. Silent letters are fun. Teacher tells you all about them, rules and rhymes to help you remember the contradictions in English. So why isn’t it called British? Do Burns and Walter Scott and R L Stevenson figure in English Literature? Questions come far too quickly and easily to you at this age. I wish that I were you now but back then.
You don’t like Garry Glitter or T Rex, those guys are twats, and as for the Bay City Rollers, you wonder what on earth has become of decent music. The seventies started with such promise, where the hell did glam rock come from? At least we finally got a colour TV, how strange a best it is, a total distraction in this dull sitting room, like some fountain of acid experience running over and over, getting brighter and more explosive each moment. Swimming pools and palm trees and green hills look fantastic, such a colourful world out there yet to be explored.
Trauma, more lights, more action, more muffle voices far away, is that rain. You feel rain on your face, warm rain? Blood. Some body is singing in your ear, or is it a tannoy message or a phone or lo-fi lift music? You hate the questions forming in your head; they pile up like unanswered emails in a traffic jam of riotous information not flowing or making sense. You fall asleep again.