Thursday, 12 July 2012

Dundee Law

A cold curtain of rain drew down its own grey light. The city lay, pitifully small, under its monochrome. This photograph, this graven image, this still-born thing: what place is this? And the wind barely picks up at all. And the clouds scowl lower and lower until the monument stands topless behind me. And the sky-reflecting streets throw back the last fogbound hints of daylight.

Time. I have one point upon which I stand. Hard standing. A point of vantage. This is one location where I might, as a god, look down. What I see is a world stripped of its essence. I mean, this place has no heart, for all its engineering. All this shape is just design. So here I stand above a cosmetic cosmos, a unilateral universe, on a promontory that is haunted by lovers, wet with the passing clouds, obscured by the way the world rotates with me outside it. Here I stand and wait, for whatever it is: whatever my bones and soul and streaming blood are crying out for. 

Nothing. Two people walk from there to there, a man and a woman. Hand-held and eyes-for-you-only, they walk away in the mist. For them this is romance: it tells their story, sings their tune in each drip of the rain-wet stones, in the far away snake’s-hiss of traffic. 

Aloneness is not the same as loneliness. And, God knows, there is enough of that in a city like this. You can feel it in the closes and in the dark pends. This place is full of people struggling with their lack of connection: broken, dislocated people bending under the yoke of being just themselves. Over there, behind the rain cloud, half hidden in the folds of it are high-rises filled with pockets of human bleakness. These were meant to be a great solution for urban living. But no matter how close to heaven these peoples’ souls are lifted the great grey boxes shut them off from God and each other. 

I slip myself out from behind this pillar of the Law tower, into the proper rain, and the feeble wind that slopes the wet in a single direction: from the North. I am walking with a military bearing. I have my hands clasped behind me, like a soldier, like some veteran or the lovers who are now gone. Between earth and sky, there is only the monument and me, the fallen and the waking dead. I am myself both loved and lover but, whereas the mass of beings in the street- and tenement-scapes below me are crippled by their loneliness, I am merely alone. Solitary, I have no sense of anything else.

© BH 2011

Don't recall where that came from. It had been 20 years since I'd stood on Dundee Law. Then the jets scudded over the city on their way to Leuchars or, was it, Libya? Dundee Law is a place where sky and rain meet and the ground is an irrelevance. People become sociopathic by just standing there.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Les Frères Lupis

It can only be an imagined interior. I never saw such a thing, never was in it. Only hearsay, gossip and rumour brought the brothers to me. Should you ever look for them, assuming that they are still above ground, you’ll find them on a downward sloping Scottish hillside. Halfway between Pettifoggit and Shougle, somewhere in the trees where they made their living.

Word was that they were brothers but who knows the truth of that? Neither were they young men. It seemed that they were old and as grim as oldness deserves. If they had womenfolk, none were ever mentioned.

There were times when I had occasion to drive over the hill and, on the northward descent, I’d think of them, their existence advertised by empty buckets hung from the trees. I don’t know if this was a kind of superstition, a way to propitiate some pagan beings, or tree spirits. Perhaps they were hung that way to put them beyond the use of witches. Much in the same way as you crack a hole in bottom of a boiled egg so that witches can’t use them for boats.

I thought about them in passing. After all, I had my own peculiar and modern life to lead. Passing the lichen-hung woods in which they wandered, I was still given to wonder. Fantasies of their lives came easily enough. Flashing past the sloping woods on some summer day, I’d be struck by impressions of stony-faced old men in overalls tending chickens, sheep, a solitary cow. It seemed like a vision of the world held back, a time-shifted tableau, another epoch visible through a hole in ancient woodland.

By all accounts they did not welcome outsiders. Diffident and set in their ways, it would seem you’d get short shrift in any encounter. Hence the speculation, I suppose. In a moment’s conjecture you could imagine bizarre practices, dark and hidden secrets. As if we who drove by in a haze of exhaust fumes, a flash of windscreen reflection, were apparently normal. We gave it no more thought, maybe a joke when visiting or over a drink, but no more thought. 

We christened them Les Frères Lupis. The mad brothers. And there it lies, in a little-known backwater in the annals of local colour. 

Years later I passed that way again. Twenty of them easily had been laid to rest. A long interval of other strangenesses, the usual, stuff, the world progressively, as ever, going mad.

These old men would be dead by now. If not dead, then, propped up in some kind of institutional decay. Seated patiently, or not, in God’s waiting room. The truth of those earlier days, perhaps, was more like this. These two old men, old even then, set in their ways, had been struggling to survive. Who knows what sacrifices they had made to keep their furrows straight in that dismal place? How little they may have wanted to be there and how hard escape may have been.

If there was superstition behind the holed buckets, if warding off evil was the purpose, probably that evil lived in a world that was changing around them. Old practices becoming slowly useless, obsolete, while all they had were two heads full of pointless tricks and totems with which they shored up their crumbling lives.

Of course they were grim and cantankerous. That was the least of it. Maybe they hated each other. Maybe they hated the world. In its turn, the world didn’t care; cast them in outlandish roles as ragged-arsed misfits. Left them to dwindle in some wooden shack or a tumbledown cottar house.

Goodbye, Frères Lupis, you mad brothers, whoever you were. Yours was the tough choice. The world has moved on even as it was moving for you then. It is no more sane. Spring is coming again in the woods where you used to live. The lichen is grey-green, bearding every birch and rowan. In the sunshine, the woodland seems just as haunted, more so, where your memory is in it. The slope still falls away from the road. Your buckets have all gone. Taken by witches, who will soon be the only ones who remember.

© BH 2012

Some truth, some embellishment. There were two old men, and buckets.