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The Crab Walks

“Clouted Cream of Devon. The thickened, conspissated, or


curdled cream, common in all our Farm-houses, is of
Egyptian origin…” p.108, Sylva Antiqua Iscana,
Numismatica, Quintiam Furgina by W. T. P. Shortt,
Exeter: 1837.

“The trouble with the Engenglish is that their hiss hiss


history happened overseas…” The Satanic Verses, Salman
Rushdie, London & New York: Viking Penguin, 1988.

We’re walking down the edge of the Teign... the signs say
this is the Templer Walk, but I'm not convinced this is
anything... have we lost the track? We're just on the river
bed and we’re lucky it’s low tide. Anjali's with me - she's
an Indian-born actress - she's just come from touring New
York with the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of
Midnight's Children and I’m dragging her along this
damp, slippery river bed, pointing out where I think the
Bishop's Palace is on the other side. Underfoot its very
slippery and a bit soft... and the rocks are covered in dark
green seaweed... there's a dead crab here and there... and
another... and another.... there's lots of them. I hadn't
noticed them at first, they're green shore crabs... good
disguise in the weed, but once we see one we can’t help
seeing them, shell after shell – like when you learn a new
word and then you see it everywhere - and the crabs all
seem to have been eaten very efficiently by something,

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hollowed out from the back so the shells are
left…perfect… untouched except for a little hole behind the
legs. I say to Anjali that it must have been the herring
gulls...

I thought those herring gulls were going to hollow me out.


In Hitchcock’s The Birds there's a shot from right up with
the gulls and they're looking down on the burning gas
station. It’s an image I’ve had for my own displaced
viewpoint on these explorings, but this time I felt the gulls
were looking down on me like they looked down on that
gas station... the land stretched like a screen and them up
there in that layer, kind of skin, kind of shell… the
archaeologicalisation of site-specificity and dérive turned
on its head (put on its feet), the layers now in the sky.

Notebook: “It is not that the ‘content’ of the Koran is


directly disputed; rather by revealing other enunciatory
positions and possibilities within the framework of Koranic
reading, Rushdie performs the subversion of its authenticity
through the act of cultural translation – he relocates the
Koran’s intentionality by repeating and reinscribing it in
the locale of the novel of postwar cultural migrations and
diasporas.” (p226, Homi Bhabha, The Location Of Culture,
London: Routledge, 1994) Can this be applied to my South
Devon perform/walk work? By relocating the ‘English
seaside’ into Hindu/Indian storytelling? (not to challenge
its ‘content’ but to relocate it.. & thus relativise it.)”

It all started when I disturbed some nesting gulls at the top


of the old steps, just by the Old Quay docks in Teignmouth,

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next to Number 1 Warehouse. I had to shelter in doorways
and against walls and gravestones as my paranoia circled
overhead, or perched itself on gutters and gargoyles. I made
for the unusual shape of St James the Less, hugging the
walls of the houses.

“1268 – 1968 Pride In the Past, Praise For the Present,


Faith in The Future.” 1968 was the year that the
Teignmouth Electron sailed out past the Ness. This
octagonal shaped church is one of only two in England –
why would they change it from the shape of the cross?
Peter nearly locked me in. Peter is a kindly man, a member
of the congregation who lives in a pink cottage next to the
eight-sided church. He shows me the rose tree he has
planted where his wife’s ashes are scattered. In the central
aisle he pulls back the carpet to expose the shape left where
a single tree trunk once stood supporting the roof. He once
tried to turn off a glowing Moses. Above the ghostshape of
the tree stump is the great rising lantern over the nave, 16
windows, through which George Lake of Bitton Street
believed his soul would escape to heaven; which worried
him – what if he went out the wrong window? Where
would you go?

I was walking from Dawlish Warren to Paignton. I was


looking for something; connections back through time and
across space, because this coast is where I would once
come for holidays. I set out to walk back to find those
experiences, when my Nan and Pop would take me out of
school for a couple of days and bring me down here to stay
off-season in a Guest House on the front at Paignton - I

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was about ten. And for a couple of days I’d live in off-
season limbo, the bits of town not shut would be eerily
quiet – I think that’s why I loved those old TV programmes
like The Avengers when everyone in the world but the
heroes fall asleep and there’s free shopping everywhere…
and those George Romero zombies take over the world
movies – Dawn of The Dead - because they make the
world a playground again, they make shopping centres into
landscapes, they make it my off season in Paignton in 1965
again. In the film of Dean Koontz’s Phantoms there even a
line about being “out of season”. Tarkovsky’s Stalker that
I saw re-enacted in a Budapest studio theatre, inside a
wooden box, us, the audience, peering through large slats
into a shifting dune of sand. And last year the herring gulls
– I thought were trying to eat my brains. And, though I
didn’t feel like enjoying it at the time – I was doing that
world as playground exploration thing, but with the fear, as
if the zombies were there too, this time. Anyway, the walk
was about finding those precious feelings again, and the
place where I felt them.
It’s only as I write this
that I notice that I chose
to walk in the summer.

We’d always stay in the


same guesthouse – run
by Jeff and Joy who
were friends of my
grandparents – and the
next door guesthouse was run by the mother of either Jeff
or Joy. The guesthouses stood, and still stand, opposite a

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large hotel that I remember as sandy red and magical, like a
fairy castle… in fact, it’s not red, but it’s called red… it’s
the Redcliffe Hotel, though I think – from a painting that’s
in there – that it was once and briefly red… and the reason
it’s magical is that it’s a wormhole to India, the design of it
is all based on Indian buildings from Delhi – the Red Fort,
the Qutb Minar, the Jami Musjid - and that’s why Anjali
was with me, because I wanted to travel not just across
time, but also across sensibility.

So I’m walking now, on those


slippery rocks, worrying a bit
for Anjali – she was a dancer
until she injured her back and I
don’t want her doing any more
damage. It’s hard work, not
much cooler than the very hot
day I was struggling up Upper
Woodbury Road on the other
side of the river on my way up
to that strange area on the top
of Little Haldon, passing the
Psycho/Amityville Horror
burned-out shell of an old
people’s home house on my left – like a huge version of
those empty crab shells - I climbed over the wall and
sneaked into the overgrown gardens and a voice shouted
“Phil!” No one came.

Past the barely humming substation. One of the greatest


scientists of electricity lived in Paignton. I walked past his

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house - he was as paranoid about everything as I was of
herring gulls. A quiet man, a deaf man. At the end, his best
friend was the local policeman who’d blow his whistle
through the letter box to get him to answer the door. Oliver
Heaviside guessed that all round the planet we live on there
must be some kind of ionised layer that radio waves would
bounce off when we broadcasted them rather than just drift
off into space. It’s now called the Kennely/Heaviside
Layer. It’s up there, all the time we’re walking, exploring,
above the layer of herring gulls, our thoughts and messages
bouncing off it and back
down to us again.

I say to Anjali that she’s


got to get us to somewhere
towards the Ness, even
though she doesn’t have a
map and she doesn’t know
the area at all. She cuts inland through deserted lanes, past
a cricket pitch that seems to be in the middle of nowhere,
no one there, and then through a hamlet of medieval
buildings where people are mending an old barn. It’s hot
and everything seems magical. Along one of the lanes the
shaping of trees and ahead the bending of the road combine
to make a little theatre of dread… a hint of something very
old in the shadows, something still alive long after it should
have been dead, but not just scary… it’s a kind of
philosophical feeling… Kierkegaard calls this the feeling of
possibility’s possibility, the freedom anterior to freedom, a
place where you get the sense of just how big possible can
be. Anjali recognises this feeling and we agree how when

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you see this shape and get this feeling there’s always
something extraordinary just beyond. When we get there
it’s like a magical grove, you’d miss it in a car – like you’d
miss that silvery place in the rain along the New North
Road just before Taddyforde Gate, it’s almost too scary to
stay in, like they built a motorway through Stonehenge and
you broke down in the middle of it. We find a pub in the
next village – Stokeinteignhead - appropriately the Wild
Goose – because we’ve been chasing it without knowing
what it is! It does wonderful food - and we sit out in its
back garden, with the church, and there’s sheep in the field,
and these shed-like cranky lean-to’s, and Anjali tells me
that the day has taken her back to childhood in Bangalore,
reading Enid Blyton adventures.

I eat the faggots – they are so rich and fatty, they are
overwhelming. When I was a kid faggots to me meant tins
of Brains Faggots and I wouldn’t eat them - I thought they
were made of brains. We had an image of Ganesh on our
wall at home. My dad brought it back from a business trip
to Calcutta in the late 1970s, but I remember it all the way
back to much younger days. I’ve projected the memory
backwards. Ganesh gets his head cut off, but rather than
have to carry it to a shed, he gets a new – elephantine –
prodigious appetite for memory.

Was that what I was doing? Because the more I walked the
less I could remember anything about these places I’d been
to as a child. And yet I really wanted to get back to those
feelings I’d had.

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When my Pop died my Nan said: “he loved you, you
know” – and that wasn’t a word generally overused in our
family. I missed that feeling of returning through the mist
to Paignton Harbour – just me and Pop and the fisherman –
feeling safe in the mist, wrapped up as warm in that as in
my old rust jumper. I suppose I still miss my Nan’s
pancakes in the shapes of any animals I wanted…
elephants, mainly, and strange mutant shapes, patterns,
would appear in batter,
spreading out across the
pan… and then the sugar
and lemon… those were
the feelings I wanted to get
back… the sugar and
lemon of being a kid, the
stick of rock and the sea-
smelling crabs in a bucket.

My Nan was a glass blower, my Pop was a pattern-maker.

I started my search at Dawlish Warren station. On the train


down from Exeter I’d kept my eyes peeled. Haldon
Belvedere, up on the hill top is a sort of triangular rocket to
India – built by Robert Palk, the Governor of Madras, to
celebrate his love for Stringer Lawrence, a friendship
almost entirely lived out in India, built on the hill from
where Marconi bounced radio waves off the sky. Go and
visit it when it’s open – Rachel and Daniel, and we take
Rachel’s friend Aurelia, they explore the remnants of
garden, you walk up the drive there and the belvedere
slowly grows out from behind the trees up into the blue and

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inside you curl round the stairs into an inlayed wooden
floored music room, the shape of a Hindu swastika in the
centre. When I got out at Dawlish Warren, the first place
I’d intended to go and visit, maybe knock on the door – the
old wooden station house – was a pile of charred beams
and ashes. There was a sign: “Arson. 5 am at the “Old
Station”.

I thought “bloody kids, this


wouldn’t have happened
before…” and then in a
book about Cock’ood and
Dawlish Warren I found a
picture of the Dawlish
Warren station house in
flames in the 1930s and the writer, just the same as me,
suspecting the young lads in the foreground. In one of the
shelters on the platform, someone has used a cigarette
lighter to burn a swastika into the roof.

Later when I go to show Anjali it has


been painted over in white. I went over
to where there were some officials
investigating the burned wreckage and I
pointed this out. And the moment I
started I knew I shouldn’t have. I knew
that sort of connection – the crime
solved by a brilliant deduction made
from an esoteric symbol, etc. – that
only ever happens in movies, so I said
that too… and I knew that I shouldn’t

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have said that either. I was quickly on the way to becoming
a suspect… which also only happens in the movies… so I
made my excuses and left.

Fire is a dangerous way of travelling. It’s a transition


between yourself and something much bigger – a transition
between a worshipper and a god – because a human cannot
live through it.

I didn’t go straight to the beach or to the Warren, I went the


land side of The Creep, where everyone thinks there’s
nothing to see. There are the Warren Holiday Bungalows
with great eagles on the gates. The angry signs at Gerald’s.
On a chair: FOR TRYING SHOES NOT FOR RESTING!!
On a table: SORRY THIS IS NOT A PICNIC OR REST
AREA!! Pity – shops should be like little leisure centres –
go and have your tea at the Furniture Warehouse, put your
feet up… eat your breakfast in the Kitchen Warehouse…
the world’s a kind of playground. Be a brain eating zombie.
There are “curries” at Bowes Take Away: Chicken, Beef or
Prawn - £2.80. I walk past the mis-engraved bench for
Walter Erich Witt “with treasured mememories” - it says
“here he found peace and tranquillity” but when I walk by
the cars are changing gear going up Mount Pleasant Hill, a
pneumatic drill is working, and a car passes with the
tambourine hiss and bass beat of hip hop - my bones shake
as if I was wearing them on the outside. At the top there’s
this dread place, next to the Holiday Park: an unused gate
with a pathway, like an entrance to somewhere magical,
you wouldn’t give it a second look if you didn’t know what
to look for. There’s the imbalance of stone on one side and

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brieze-block on the other, the trees make a portal and the
gate hasn’t been opened in years, it’s a place for useless
ritual waiting, like the gate in Kafka’s The Trial. A place
for darshan. Up the hill, turn right down the lane past
Golden Sands holiday park and there’s a strange doorway
four feet up the bank, hovering. An hour later after finding
my way past the shells of boarded up properties, the ruins
of monumental stones and mini-gardens in metal bowls on
the industrial estate, vacant units like missing teeth, over
the way from the end of Shutterton Lane houses with
names like Deodar and Keranda, every garden a Z World, I
find I’m on the other side of that hovering gateway, inside
the Lady’s Mile Holiday Park – there’s an accidentally
significant pattern in its concrete step, but I can’t remember
what it was significant of and up at the top of the holiday
park, I sit down among the fairy rings - there’s this great
bowling view to these white buildings, it says hospital on
the map, but I still don’t really know what they are, the
kind of buildings you got in Quatermass movies used for
sinister operations, and there’s a big house up there too, but
I’ve never been there… perhaps its connected to the
weirdness up on the top of Little Haldon… all I know is
that it’s called Mamhead House – because it’s built on a
hill shaped like a breast - getting back towards the sea - me
and Tom, the sound designer, walk up to this strange place,
there’s no name, but an odd acronym and a sign that says:
“No unauthorized chemicals permitted on this site” – it’s a
big place and part of it is like a windowless barn out of the
mid-west nowhere bad movie USA, the kind of place where
something grim, but gothic in a scene from Jeepers
Creepers might take place, but it’s new it’s not old, and yet

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it feels haunted already - it seems to be completely
unmanned, automatic… but there’s a driver delivering
something and he sees us and comes over… sees us
looking… he walks over, a long way: “What’s happening?
What’s the crack?” he says, pretending to be friendly, but
he’s aggressive, interrogating. Just in case we’re terrorists,
set on poisoning the water supply. We’re acting out a little
microcosmic agit-prop of world tension next to a sewage
farm. His last question is “Which way are you walking
next?” But that’s the thing with ‘drifting’, isn’t it? As if he
were going to have us followed.

In the Verandah Room of the Langstone Cliff Hotel the


books on the shelves include Pilgrim’s Progress,
Gulliver’s Travels, Come To Denmark and Arthur Mee’s
The King’s England, Devon volume – including this
epitaph by Hannah More for General Stringer Lawrence:

“As mercy mild, yet terrible as war,


Here Lawrence rests: the trump of honest fame
From Thames to Ganges has proclaimed his name.
In vain this frail memorial friendship rears;
His dearest monuments an army’s tears.”

On the posters it says: “medieval jousting – as seen on TV”


– I didn’t know TV was so old. I go to Giggles Fun Shop,
it’s like an erotic temple… with walking pussies, (not
Maria Edgeworth’s pet, I’m afraid) and phallic ice cube
makers … the male and female… the lingum and the yoni
– the Cow’s Hole at Coryton Cove, a very impressive
phallic gatepost on the road into Paignton.

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Under the Creep I take a left across the dunes towards the
Warren itself. My red and white walking wand attracts
attention. The Warren is a spit of sand, always changing
shape. The far end of the Warren is a Third Space, the
dialectical synthesis of human effort and nature: and both
of them are missing. So, no binary banality. Almost every
trace of the houses that stood on the sand seventy years ago
has gone. It seems natural on the sand and yet there are
gabions buried not far down, among the bones of sailors
that cry out in the pages of local ‘history’ pamphlets.
History is a ghost here, the sea is a fugitive from justice.
Dogfish turn into the soles of shoes. Some miniaturist
regularly updates a sculpture of driftwood and stones.
Large flocks of birds march and flutter like the letters of a
language not settled upon yet.

Time to think. Of how to express Homi Bhabha’s “cultural


difference as opposed to cultural
diversity… (with its) corresponding
containment of it… a norm given by
the host society or dominant culture
which says that ‘these other cultures
are fine, but we must be able to locate
them within our own grid’. That is
what I mean by a creation of cultural
diversity and a containment of
cultural difference.” (p.208, Homi
Bhabha, The Third Space, interview
in Identity; Community, Culture,
Difference ed. Rutherford, J.,

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London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990) Bahbha describes the
mechanism for this so: “the sign of the ‘cultured’ is the
ability to appreciate cultures in a kind of musée imaginaire;
as though one should be able to collect and appreciate
them… to understand and locate cultures … only
eventually to transcend them…” (p.208, The Third
Space.) Bhabha’s antidote to this is “the notion of a politics
which is based on unequal, uneven, multiple and potentially
antagonistic, political identities. This must not be confused
with some form of autonomous, individualist pluralism
(and the corresponding notion of cultural diversity)… (but
made) in that productive space of the construction of
culture as difference…” (p.208-9, The Third Space.)

I have to call Symbolism to my aid – the setting in


astronomical motion of ideas and images, myself within
that motion; neither appropriating the motion, nor
dissolving the uncomfortably granular surfaces of
‘identity’. In their orbits about each other the ideas and
images describe the grids and graphs, the curves of big
space and cosily domestic-sounding ‘basins’ of attraction,
just as politically inscribed and neo-Platonically out there
as the probabilistic “difference” that borrows energy to
burst into momentary existence before paying it back and
disappearing into potentiality again. Through this ludic
geometry ‘I’ make a pedestrian ‘progress’, shaped and
disrupting; identity historicized.

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The intention of this particular
fragmenting of the self is not a
“kind of pure anarchic liberalism”,
but rather the “recognition of the
importance of the alienation of the
self in the construction of forms of
solidarity.” (p.213, The Third
Space.)

The challenge is to resist a culture


of ‘tolerance’ and its appropriation
of the ‘other’ to the dominant
under the guise of diversity, while
resisting, without destroying, the potential for antagonistic
identity becoming actual antagonism. What Bhabha calls
“negotiation”. To neither deny the grit and granular texture
of one’s own accumulated ‘identity’ nor the resistant
friction of any other, while refusing to resist that resistant,
refusing to lock with that friction (into an empiricism, a
division of ideological labour) – not to grin and bear it, but
to continuously lock in and out of it – a kind of Beluosov-
Zhabotinskii reaction – refusing to “snap off a chunk of
visual experience, disconnect it from the continuum”– but
rather than ‘resisting’ entropy, to resist the loss of free
energy bleeding into violence or co-option.

“8/ a/ All create a slow motion action… start off doing


your own movement and then see if you can all end up
doing the same movement… then keep doing that one
movement (in slow motion) …

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b/ Now one of you becomes a catalyst and moves around
the group changing everyone’s action in the same way -
…till everyone is doing the same new action…

c/ now (once everyone is doing the changed motion) the


first person to have their movement changed becomes a
counter catalyst and they change everyone back to the
original motion

d/ when everyone is back doing the original the first


person to be changed back now becomes the catalyst and
changes everyone’s action to a new one – and so on… get
this going and see what patterns emerge.”

(Exercises at Priory High School, Exeter, with year 8 and


10 pupils – Patterns In The Mind, Patterns In The
World workshops for DAISI, winter 2003.)

This is a crude visualisation of the Belousov-Zhabotinskii


(BZ) reaction; that appears to defy the second law of
thermodynamics because those things it works through
seem to be able to become complex – like milk in coffee -
and then go back to being simple – like milk and coffee…
by the equivalent of reversing the motion of the spoon.
Actually, it only puts things off for a time; eventually the
second law of thermodynamics must have its way and the
process breaks down into irrecoverable complexity – but in
the interim the catalyst and counter-catalyst reaction
produces patterns, some like spirals, others like the
branches of a tree. This is thought to be how the
camouflage patterns on zebras are formed. And how slime

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mold comes to move, in its collective patterns – without a
pacemaker cell – as its catalysts/counter-catalysts turn it on
and off. (This is what I am trying to do – to create the
equivalent of a BZ reaction that maintains the availability
of ‘free energy’ and resists the collapse into the easy
hybridity that Bhabha ciriticises, the meme-complexity that
is so hard to resist. For a limited, agitated ‘journey’ of
catalyst and counter-catalyst, to hold ‘out of time’ the free-
floated ‘simpler’ memes (a process that in Bunyan’s
writing Robert Blatchford calls “selection”), not real but
ideological origins in a curved field that resists snapping or
disconnection.

“9/ act out in slow motion:

individual spores (almost like eggs hatching) – becoming


amoeba and eating

running out of food – searching around for more…

this means they come closer together, but in a BZ reaction


– so coming closer, while changing back and forward
from one state of movement to another – what pattern
does this create?

In slime mold these patterns are


spirals…

Now do that again, but this time as you get closer, become
like one organism…

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What sort of pattern did that
create? And how did you find that
you were moving?”

(Exercises for Patterns In The Mind, Patterns In The


World workshops at Priory High School, Exeter.)

In slime mold a whole crowd of these organisms move like


a single slug, but with a circular movement at its centre,
(like the inside of a wave) while the individual amoeba
have a kind of streaming or tree-like shape, reaching out,
branch-like. These movements in slime mold organisms
can be modelled mathematically. By taking the density of
the amoebas, the concentration of cyclic/AMP (which is the
chemical that triggers the amoebas’ movement) in the
amoebas’ vicinity and the fraction of active cyclic/AMP
receptors per amoeba cell, the equations produce the maths
for both spirals and branch like patterns – both the organic
chemistry of the animals, but also
the physics of universal forces
expressed in the maths are in
operation, crossing boundaries
between living and non-living
forces.

“We do not know where life


begins, if it has a beginning.
There may be and probably is no
ultimate distinction between the
living and the dead.” (p386,
Electromagnetic Theory, Oliver

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Heaviside, London: E. & F.N. Spon 1951, first published
1912.)

“9/ now using the forms and patterns you’ve used today,
without any discussion…

a/ make a city…”

(Exercises at Priory High School, Exeter.)

Grit in the eye. Sleepy dust in roofless ‘hell’.

“…Western culture, its liberalism and relativism – these


very potent mythologies of ‘progress’ – also contain a
cutting edge, a limit…. I try to place myself in that position
of liminality, in that productive space… symbol-forming
and subject-constituting… (this) act of producing the icons
and symbols, the
myths and
metaphors through
which we live
culture, must always
– by virtue of the
fact that they are
forms of
representation –
have within them a
self-alienating limit. Meaning is constructed across the bar
of the difference and separation between the signifier and
the signified… its own symbol forming activity…always
underscores the claim to an originary, holistic, organic

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identity… they are always subject to intrinsic forms of
translation… only constituted in relation to that otherness
internal to their own symbol-forming activity which makes
them decentred structures - … then we see that all forms of
culture are continually in a process of hybridity. But for me
the importance is not to be able to trace two original
moments from which the third emerges, rather hybridity to
me is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to
emerge. This third space displaces the histories that
constitute it…” (p.209 – 211, The Third Space)

The history is almost entirely forgotten and is so recent.


The nature is so false and constructed. There’s this snake-
like line of wood posts bending into the sea. I think it must
be some land artist who’s put it there and is enjoying the
way the posts are decaying. But it’s a different kind of
wave breaker – an old experimental groyne - a difference,
rotting.

A washed up dogfish is as hard as plastic. It looks like an


old sandal. It could once sense faint electrical fields around
its victims. A bleak place where ghosts were once
condemned to plait ropes from sand, till the swans turn
black. Out here, in a bleakness that isn’t just about
wilderness; in London I drifted for two hours from the
Aldwych to Monument and I did not see a single child,
with Exmouth so strangely close and yet the waters so
dangerous, just 70 years ago this was the site of a thriving
weekend community (and some all year rounders) living in
foundationless, wooden houses and before that there was a
cliff of sand, when a woman would bring her cattle across

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the river to graze on the Warren and before that there was a
Royalist fort on the tip defeated and destroyed, but once
you know – then the place is haunted with them; figures as
translucent as the dogfish skin, the last cannibalised houses
rising up around me on the waves, people running up flags
and playing tennis and fleeing from the raging tide. There
are Christmas trees buried under the dunes. The Greenland
Lake, once muddy inlet and then open saltmarsh is now
grassland and scrub, the ghosts of these different ways of
being a place blossom and compete: Californian Tree Lupin
(a garden escapee), Autumn Ladies Tresses and Southern
Marsh Orchids.

Things change. The warren has only been here 7,000 years,
the remains of a 500,000 year old desert. Like fire things
change.

“For when the tide rises it oft seems to say,


“Friend Warren, you’d better get out of my way.”
And, t’is said, the Town Council, whose wisdom’s
profound,
Intend with a chain to encircle it round,
Then fasten it up to Mount Pleasant, behind it
So that, should the sea drown, they’ll be able to find it.
One member proposes – of whom it is said
There’s more to admire in his heart than his head –
That the use of the new city roller should be
To flatten the Warren and roll back the sea…”

I set off to walk to Dawlish, along the front. I climbed up


on the sea wall, but when I turned round to take a

21
photograph there’s a policeman striding up the wall after
me. Below me to seaward three Christmas trees lodge in
the rocks. On the landward side the spectral outlines of a
chalking competition. It’s not yet 9am. “We’re looking for
a man – 47…” I was 47. “…grey hair…” It’s me! What’s
happened? “Slim build.” I said to the officer: “Well, I’m
47, but even my best friends …” They’re looking for a man
with depression. I look out for, but don’t see this man. Only
more policemen. There’s a bunch of flowers tied to a new
green metal bench. “Donated for the future with loving
memories of the past.” Looking two ways at once. I met the
policeman again: “What a lovely day,” he said, “I can
almost see my house…” and he pointed over to Exmouth.
“Can you see the church, it’s just behind that, in the
haze…” and he waved to it, as if his wife might have been
looking out for him. The Langstone Cliff Hotel appeared up
on my left, nestled in a dip, snug in its modern
endoskeleton, like a hermit crab or a ‘lazy’ lobster. A
misanthropic old railwayman tells me the police have
arrested four lads for the fire at the Old Station House…
maybe they’re the four lads in the 1930s photo. I ask at the
Red Rock Snack bar what the round shape under the water
is? “Dinosaur’s nest…” she says. Time gets mixed up on
this part of the coast. “No, it’s a tower they built to stop the
water washing away the rock… didn’t work… it all fell
down…”

There’s the sign of a leaf beside the railway line.

I do get a strange feeling along this part of the sea wall. On


one side the sea pulls you towards it – on the other the

22
railway tracks whirr just before the express explodes. Like
the channa puri Anjali told me about being on sale on
Indian beaches – put into the mouth whole and bite into the
puri bread and the sweet and sour sauce bursts onto your
tongue. The train passes so close it seems to burst from puri
bread through my head. This is where they filmed The
Ghost Train – Arthur Askey running up the track… “I
thang yoooo! I thang yoooo! You’ve been wonderful to
me!” - the ghostliest thing about that film is the plot –
Arnold Ridley wrote it – the old man in Dad’s Army –
“Can I be excused, Mister Mainwaring?” - his ‘ghosts’ turn
out to be gun-smuggling West Country Bolsheviks… is
there something we ought to be told? Did they have a
revolution in the West Country and no one noticed? History
is an odd thing. It keeps changing.

The surface – every now and again - boils and through it


there’s a racing flash of silver. I climb down a stone
causeway to get a closer look and I see thousands of sand
eels chased by a single mackerel that strikes in a sweeping
curve of quicksilver, the fleeing eels shaking the surface
again, the ripples spreading and intersecting and becoming
new shapes … like a geometry lesson spread out on the sea,
like memes forming complexes chased by one great racing
simple silver fish.

As I come into Dawlish, up above and set back from the


track is a dark, grimy house with eyeless windows. Sinister,
ancient and nameless. It’s straight out of a horror film. The
sort of 1920s seaside continental look, but haunted by
something very, very old.

23
In the concrete, someone has written “JUST WATCH OUT
MUSIC LAND”.

Suddenly I don’t want to walk into Dawlish along the front.


I’ve been there before. I like the beaches, but there’s
something gone wrong about the front. In 1907 Henry
Harris wrote: “This charming little South Devon watering
hole is happy in having no history.” Like it gave it away in
some pact. So I cut inland, up steps, and a winding road
and I reach the top of Strand Hill roofed in trees and cutting
down through walls of sandstone, I descended a little way –
there’s no pavement - and then cut up a path on the right, a
tall stern wall on my right, a wild untended garden on my
left followed by a wrought iron gate through which is an
over-wrought garden, into a little Z World of gardens and
gates – there’s a car with a large handwritten sign in the
windscreen: “You enter this car at your own risk.” I wind
through and find a footpath at the top of Commons Lane,
twice I see there are metal buckets buried in the earth wall
that runs down one side. I follow the footpath’s windings to
a gate – with views inland and back to the Exe estuary – I
can see where I’ve been. I carry on another 20 yards and
climb a stile into a field. Now the inland is laying itself out
for me, but what catches my eye is the hedge by my side, a
thorn tree blown into a bouquet of serpents, writhing in the
hedgerow…

…you get a sort of feeling when things are coming up,


when you are about to find somewhere special. It’s to do
with the shapes of the place. It’s like one is sliding down

24
curved space into attractiveness. Even if you’re walking
uphill there’s no effort in the walking. Because you’re
walking another kind of geography. It’s a kind of physics
of walking… Albert Einstein discovered that gravity, the
thing holding us onto the Earth also pulls everything else,
just enough so that space is bent, curvy. And there’s a kind
of gravity at work here, pulling you towards the good
places… if you know how to feel it… and once you do you
can skateboard down the side of those basins of
attraction…

I climb another stile and I’m in it. Beneath me is the inland


part of Dawlish with a church mysteriously stuck on its
edge, holding back the town from rolling grounds with
lollipop trees – a selfish giant’s garden. And all around me,
hidden in the edge of grass in the field are old tree
stumps… they seem very old… as if this were some kind of
a meeting place, a place of the Old Ones, - one of the
stumps looks like that mountain Richard Dreyfuss and all
the other contactees are irrationally drawn to, seeing its
shape everywhere, in pillows, in piles of mash potato,
travelling to it (drawn by this curvature of shape) for the
alien landing in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. I
wonder if that church is a St Michael’s? It feels like it
should be. Like there is something of angels and aliens
about this place. The great body of air that hangs above the
town should be traversed by a silver craft, curving like a
hunting mackerel across the purple clouds, against the
green hills, over the cream town. Under circling birds of
prey, huge ones, buzzards I assume – and a small reddish-
orange one. There are Christmas trees being grown just

25
behind me. I imagine them next to the telly in a living
room, I imagine them being buried under sand. The homes
opposite are thousands of eyes. Argus the giant lounging on
the hill. This is a magical spot to see everything – “RUN,
you tart!!” (student performance, Site, Landscape and
Performance module, Dartington College of Arts, 2002) -
the carving up of land, the shape of a town, the
suggestiveness of the hills… to sit and see those shapes
forming inside you.

Eventually I’m too excited to sit still and look anymore and
I set off back towards the centre of town, slipping down the
side of that valley of attraction – the hum of people – there
are foxgloves everywhere – like there was a massacre of
saints – I enter a tunnel of small trees and when I come out
there is the beached whale skeleton of a huge glassless
greenhouse on my right, majestic and pathetic, full of
weeds. Then another even bigger hangar-like greenhouse –
this time glazed, but almost empty. I stand in the doorway,
wondering if I walk in whether all the roof will fall like
melting ice … I’ve walked through glass once… I hit it
with my forehead and it was as if the inside of my eyes
cracked… I stand on the threshold – toppling into the
expanse of sunlit space – emptiness tangible, syrupy…
since I started walking my days are full of these spaces …
another near derelict one alive with chaotic plants and then
another, with missing panes, but in use and full of orderly
plants … the path leads past the owners’ home, but I don’t
call for some reason – perhaps it is too sad – the violet
industry was once a fragrant economy around Dawlish, a
brief trade in scent and colour, the transformation of such

26
delicate things into dead labour, into capital.. the trains full
of violet and the aroma of death, of empire, the purple of
priest’s vestments and damp vestries.

Down the hill there’s a


wonderfully dread entranceway,
but it’s to a private garden…

“MOTHER, soft and warm,


your love enfolds me like petals
on a soft red rose”

“Visitors always welcome” –


the church is locked.

“Waiting for redemption here


rests the body of Ebenezer Pardon”

under a stone pylon

I’m in the graveyard of St Gregory the Great’s – the church


I saw from the top and hoped was a St Michael’s and All
Angels, perhaps some old site of the worship of Mercury…
later I found out that for years the church was called St
Michael’s until someone looked at the records… but the
people knew!!

In the corner of the graveyard is the private plot of the


Hoare family – these are not local aristocrats, but Johnny-
come-lately seventeenth century capitalists, making their

27
big money in eighteen-century India Bonds – they have a
bank in the city that has its own artesian well.

Rusting grilles and crumbling stone around a manicured


interior, rotting with discretion, segregated even in death,
so much for the Great Leveller – I remember that I once
asked the famous medium Doris Stokes – passed over now
– if there would be an end to social inequalities after death.
Basically the answer was “no”.

“William Sage, Maj. Gen. In H. M. Bengal Army – a good


soldier and servant of the state for 56 years. He has fought
the good fight. Nepal 1815. Ghuznee 1839. Saugor 1857.
To the poor a brother.”

I walk along Barton Lane and then West Cliff Road.


Almost at the sea there’s an alley to the left and through the
gap I can see across the valley of the town to the seat
surrounded by that petrified forest with the buzzards
circling over the Christmas trees. I follow an elaborately
buckled metal rail snaking the sloping alley. I can imagine
the Walking Wardrobe pulling herself up here.

In the Railway Inn there’s “traditional Indian Cuisine –


with rice, chips or spicy spiral chips” – I have a few pints in
the Exeter Inn where middle-aged people are complaining
about the sun. By the Amusement Parlour a herring gull
swipes someone’s chips. Perhaps it’s incensed by that
strange combination – “amusement”, as if we’re taking
some sophisticated pleasure and “parlour”, like we’re being
allowed into a room opened only on special occasions?

28
In the grease layer just back from the beach there’s the
curdling mix of aggression and helplessness, pushchair and
football shirt. Yet, on the beach with my kids I love this
place. It’s so easy to be here. But, as usual, the working
class get let down – because no one will let them be
exceptional enough. Only on the beach where we’re all
stripped down to trunks and bras – where flags and logos
and clubs are partially voided - does the goodness come
through the fat and ketchup and the warmth is as strong as
the sun. Grandad Smith sat on the beach in a three piece
suit and trilby. He was an RSM in the British Army in
India. We had curry at home long before people went out
‘for an Indian’, my dad despised people who ate Vesta
Curry. One of the carved furniture pieces with swirling
plant decoration that Grandad brought back from India is a
small octagonal table that looks like the church in
Teignmouth.

I catch the train home


from a platform that once
reeked of violets. The Old
Station House at Dawlish
Warren is now a rectangle
of carefully raked beige
stone. It looks planned
now.

Next day I set off for Teignmouth. On the sea wall at Boat
Cove I ask an elderly angler what he’s trying to catch.
“Anything edible.” Up from the train set model front of

29
beach huts and concrete painted with obvious instructions
(where I’m due to be performing in Summer 2004) I zig
zag up the cliff paths. I’m almost linking up with West
Cliff Road again, but I cut left along the top, past a series of
bricked up and abused shelters and viewing platforms, dead
spaces it’s not easy to sit in anymore, like sleeping on
graves. There’s a limit to how many people can sit in a
shelter and after it’s used up the shelters discomfort new
visitors. T. S Eliot should have written The Wasteland in a
shelter in Torquay, his wife Vivien had convalesced there
from the same kind of nervous breakdown, but Tom went
to Margate and wrote it in a shelter there instead. So
somewhere in Torquay is a seaside shelter in which The
Wasteland wasn’t written.

After going through Stuart


Close, recently built large
houses with a florid castle
somewhere in there submerged
in the utilitarianism. Beyond
the Old Teignmouth Road,
there’s a path on the left, back
to the sea; a friendly bloke
chats over his fence and then
there’s a field full of sensuous
shapes, the ground humps and
mounds. At Smuggler’s Lane,
to one side, is an exploded
house. Down on the sea wall I

30
can see the Parson and the Clerk off Holcombe. I climb
down to the beach and once again I walk a winding path
defined by the in and out of the breaking waves.

One day when the Vicar of Dawlish and his Clerk had
finished collecting tithes in Teignmouth they set off back
home by the cliff path… or, no… they were visiting the
dying Bishop of Exeter with hopes of replacing him, after
what they felt was a successful bedside attendance they set
off back home by the cliff path… when to their surprise…
but, wait… sometimes there’s mist in the story and they get
lost despite their familiarity with the route… like a drift,
like the Brechtian verfremdem, the quotidian process is
disrupted and becomes visible… when to their surprise they
saw a house they’d never seen before – brightly lit and
ringing with the sounds of merry-making - and at its door
stood the host, beckoning them to join the party. No, it was
only when they got inside that they met him and even then
they never caught more than a glimpse of his form in
silhouette. The weather was cold and misty and they
accepted the offer of hospitality and imbibed freely from
the drinks they were handed. When it came time to go the
Parson, disorientated by mist and drink, inquired from his
host which way they should take. “I must have a guide even
if it be the Devil himself!” The host smiled and said he
would be their guide, leading them through the mist to a
road that was unfamiliar to the Parson and the Clerk.
Warmed by the wine, they set off at speed until they found
themselves up to their boot tops in water. Suddenly a
demonic shriek of laughter rang out and a great wave
covered them and dragged them out to sea.

31
The crazy house had vanished –
The breakers surged and ran;
And to the flanks of their horses
Clung master and clung man.

Prone on the rocks next morning


They stretched there, stiff and stark;
On one rock lay the parson,
On one rock lay the clerk.

Beaten and torn and mangled,


They clung with dead-cold hands,
While their horses wandered harmless
On shining Dawlish sands.

(p.20, West Country Ballads and Verses, Arthur L.


Salmon, Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1849)

A.L. Salmon.

Or next day two stacks of sandstone stood in the waves


where the men had disappeared. But… if they drowned,
who knew about that shriek of laughter. There are no
witnesses mentioned in the story and the Parson and the
Clerk were dead. So it seems that this story comes from the
Devil himself.

Look out for a house that isn’t there. Something like that
dead-eyed house coming in to Dawlish, ones that fade in
and out of existence: the old wooden shops and the Psychic

32
Hut at Dawlish Warren, the eyeless, burned-out old
people’s home in Teignmouth, the minaret towers of the
Redcliffe Hotel.

At Teignmouth I swam at the


Lido, where an attendant was
alternately feeding and hosing
down the herring gulls. Great –
now I was convinced there’d been
a qualitative shift in the relations
between humans and birds. I’d
started to watch the pavement for
their shadows – it’s a new layer –
the Kennely/Heaviside layer
above, then the layer of gulls, the
giant with one hundred eyes, then
my layer, then the layer of
shadows, the layer of Donald Crowhurst and shapes under
the water as if a great fish just shifted its bulk and the sea
shuddered… the layers beneath the surface Homer Simpson
fleetingly plunges through on an excessive bungy-jump –
Morlocks, CHUD, Mole Men – layers of sedimented story,
and I’m sliding through them – paranoia sparking just
enough to be enjoyable.

Cutting sharply inland across one of the bridges over the


railway I’m immediately in the badlands – DOGS
RUNNING FREE DO NOT ENTER – the tatters of a
necktie pinned to metal gates – what is this? Through gaps
it looks like it might be an overgrown ornamental garden.
Or somewhere thugs bring their business partners. Then

33
Dingley Dell – BEWARE OF THE DOGS – note the plural
- and I can see a derelict chalet and an overgrown caravan.
This cliff edge with its barbed wire, high fences and
derelict property is a wild west, a borderland, every wall
just a little bit too high and every gate a little too secure to
be innocent. Maybe the house was here and it’s blighted the
cliff.

I enter a green tunnel, squeeze through a metal kissing gate


let into a wall and double-back into town, through a
double-trunked tree into Mules Park, where mist is rising
out of the lawn and hangs in clumps. I feel the electric eyes
of Charles Babbage flowing from the windows, calculating,
processing binary space, spreading like mist across green
sloping lawns, like a film projecting over everything, like
an electrical spin passing through everything, ricocheting
off the Kennely/Heaviside layer and the layer of herring
gulls, the strange galvanism of unexpected images meeting
in a poem.

“Things all dis-jointed came from north and south;


Two witches eyes above a cherub’s mouth,”

This is John Keats writing in Teignmouth, nursing his


dying brother, Tom.

“Voltaire with casque and shield and habergeon,


And Alexander with his nightcap on;
Old Socrates a-tying his cravat,
And Hazlitt playing with Miss Edgeworth’s cat…”

34
No relation to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy I hope, but fear the
worst.

Beyond the Bolshevik uprising of vegetation in the walled


garden and the rectangular corpses of deceased tennis
courts looking a little like the incinerated station house,
there are the remnants of what seems to be a re-enactment
of The Wicker Man: swathes of grass yellowed by ritual
events that have come and gone, and the ruins of two
wooden structures, one barely standing and the other
collapsed, a chart of wooden bones, and then a dead tree, its
ribs stuffed with fabric birds.

On Teignmouth Pier, just before the Einstein-ian space -

“A COIN ROLLING REPRESENTS A PLANET IN


MOTION. AS THE COIN CIRCLES THE FUNNEL IT
HAS TWO TYPES OF ENERGY, ENERGY OF
POSITION AND MOTION. AS THE COIN CIRCLES
AND DESCENDS IT REPLACES ENERGY OF
POSITION WITH ENERGY OF MOTION. THAT IS
WHY A PLANET SPEEDS UP AS IT NEARS THE SUN
AND AS IT LEAVES IT SLOWS DOWN …THIS LAW
APPLIES TO ANY ORBITING BODY…”

…and beyond the smell of money from the Penny Falls


there’s a haunted pagan Babbage machine, a cruel hoax, an
automatic palmistry calculator: “Hold HAND down firmly
on the SENSOR PLATE until your FORTUNE CARD is
delivered.” I place my hand on the Sensor Plate and drop in

35
my small coin: waves of tiny metal stumps massage my
palm for a few seconds.

“YOUR Hand denotes a very fine temperamental


nature, but you have great ability, especially in Business
matters. You will discover easy methods of making
money...”

At other times Tom and Anjali also have


their palms mechanically read – each,
different, FORTUNE CARD is an
assembly of Barnum Statements, things
we like to hear or doubts to entertain
about ourselves. The cards are
unanimous about one thing: all three of
us will succeed in business, in a world
populated only by bosses.

At the Western end of the front, where the Inspector of


Nuisances would once patrol and where stood one of two
wormholes to Newfoundland through arches of whale
bones, there’s a lighthouse and then a second light further
inland on a pole by Lynton House; from the sea, when
these two lights are aligned, a sailor can judge the Eastern
limit of the Pole Sand. By two lights on land a shape
underwater imagined.

In 1966 Norman Wisdom made a movie called Press For


Time in the town, renamed Tinmouth. There’s a chase
sequence when Norman races after a bicyclist on a

36
commandeered double-decker bus. The bus driver must
have been a real bus driver because he behaves as if he’s in
a very serious continental film. When the chase was shown
locally it bewildered the audience with its geographical
leaps. I bought the video recently. When Norman alighted
at the station (somewhere else standing in for ‘Tinmouth’)
he leaves the station and reappears at the top of the railway
bridge road walking back towards the station itself. As if he
were caught in a loop. The editor had constructed a map of
time doors and wormholes.

On my way to my meeting with remarkably belligerent


gulls I walk the line of sheds downriver of the New Quay
(where Norman’s bus ploughs into the water). It’s a
monochrome, late 1950s, British B Movie world, British
Lion Films, in which nothing will be explicit, no music on
the soundtrack, not comedy but thriller, Jack Warner will
be firm, harsh even, as the detective who’s reaching
retirement, it’s probably directed by Lance Comfort or Val
Guest – this is the world I remember – of discipline, of
virtue in loyalty, in doing the job, of the skilled working
class recruited to manage, of a routine corruption so normal
it was surprised when it was pointed out, of the certainties
of a colourless world, of restrained emotions that weren’t
embarrassing, of having to be grateful things weren’t a lot
worse. I remember the mid 1960s black and white moment,
a bloke greeted my Pop in the city centre, he said: “They’re
prosecuting people now, Ted. I hope they don’t start
investigating me!” I asked my Pop who he was. “Lord
Mayor.” The individualism of the sheds is a perfect symbol
of a British empiricism, a Boulting Brothers plague on all

37
your houses opportunism, the refusal to fall for the lure of
theory, of self-reliance and pig-headedness… the thing I’ve
been carrying around and fighting in my head for forty
years…

In the town I saw a priest in a dog collar and I was sure he


was a counterfeit – a wandering bishop who had invented
his own church - a large, young woman on his arm – the
dog collar didn’t fit his shape and when I watched him he
stared back aggressively.

“Live Eels” said a big sign by the ferry.

“Do you mind if I ask what your


interest is?” someone said to me.

“SUPAWASH. We dodo duvets.”

That night I catch the train home and


there are men digging around the edge
of the burned rectangle at Dawlish
Warren Station – as if they’ve lost something. Maybe they
regret pulling down the ruin so quick. You don’t think the
archaeologists are in conspiracy with the demolition firms
do you?

Anjali and me caught a taxi from Dawlish Station up to


Ashcombe, near the source of the stream that gives
“Dawlish” (“dark stream” or “devil water”) its name. It was
from up here 200 years ago a hay cart was carried by the
stream down the valley and was last seen by fishermen

38
floating far out to sea, still intact, maybe a field of corn
growing in it. Where would it get to? Caught by currents
and Gulf Stream and tides and freak waves, would it
finally come to wash up alongside the Teignmouth
Electron, in the shadow of a never completed futuristic
Bubble House on a Cayman Islands beach? A wooden
bucket of accidental agriculture. Up the course of this
stream a party of Dawlish tradesmen, armed with guns and
bludgeons, traced the Devil’s Footprints through a February
night in 1855. Anjali is puzzled by the Devil, though she
was educated at Convent School near Bangalore she is
perplexed by a fallen angel with no redeeming features at
all. Total evil in one figure is something alien to the Indian
pantheon of gods. Rama, Vishnu and Shiva are three faces
of a shifting imagery in which destruction is all a part with
preservation and creation.

A tiny notice in the church porch takes us to a


small bungalow where a door is opened
narrowly and uneasily, but keys are handed
over uncomplainingly. The church is
dedicated to St Nectan, built on the former
site of “an old Celtic foundation.” St Nectan
was a Welsh saint who travelled to Ireland
and then was called to set his boat out on the
sea - to where he did not know. He landed on
the toothy coast of North East Cornwall and
made a shed for himself and lived as a hermit. A few weeks
before I’d been with Wrights & Sites ‘performing’ at the
Shed Summit at Welcombe Barton, Cornwall, where I was
accessing the myth of St Nectan, his church and well in the

39
village there. Ashcombe is the only Devon church
dedicated to him. An altercation with two robbers led to his
head being lopped off, at which he picked up his head from
the ground and walked back to his shed - foxgloves
springing up where his blood fell. Today his church is
white and colourless. Anjali is a little shocked by what she
sees as disrespect in the ill-kemptness of the church – but I
think she’s actually responding to something that happened
five hundred years ago, when Protestantism ripped down
all the images and whited out all the colours. Last year I
was given the Stephen Joseph Award by the Society For
Theatre Research to explore “Street Performance and
Public Ritual in 1830s to 1930s Exeter” and in the cool,
quiet of the Devon and Exeter Institution on Cathedral
Close it was to the complex clash of regional, national,
class and sectarian identity-making in an ongoing
negotiation around iconoclasm that I was continually
drawn. With few grand secular public buildings, with no
coherent vocabulary of dramatic, cinematic or any other
visual local language, the iconography of Devon is fought
over on the fringes of processions, openings and shuttings,
in street behaviour and cardboard antique gates. A leaflet
from the church says that a statue of the Virgin Mary now
appears at services, a remnant of the anti-clerical
destruction of the Spanish Civil War: a strange reciprocity
for the seventeenth century Iberian prayers said for the
nearby Lidwell or Lady’s Well Chapel destroyed by order
of Henry the Eighth. By then they were saying prayers for
an empty space.

40
At the Shed Summit I handed out pieces of modelling clay
– in the way a Hindu worshipper might pick a stone or a
piece of wayside clay and mould a momentary “ksanika
linga’, calling Shiva into it for a moment, then giving him
leave to go and dropping it again - asking people to shape
the clay into something like their head, so they could carry
another point of view with them, in their pocket or in their
hand.

Behind a curtain we find


a banner portraying the
martyrdom of St Nectan
in a childish and gory
parade.

On the road out of


Ashcombe a field is full of game birds. Then as the road
climbs, there’s a huge sign: BEWARE – PARTRIDGE
AND CHICKS - BEWARE – we’re not quite sure
whether this means we should proceed quietly in order not
to disturb a delicate bird or whether to expect a twelve foot
tall Partridge to suddenly stride over the hedge and peck us
to pieces. At the top of the food chain after the dinosaurs
had gone was a giant flightless bird. We tip toe by, but
nothing appears. Except in my head. We pass Ashcombe
Tower, a private house where they have Hitler’s private
telephone. On a gatepost is carved the sign - /|\ - that Mrs
Gordon calls the Name of God – “all worlds and
animations sprang co-instantaneously to being” – I’ve
never seen it on a private building before, it is an ancient
symbol of government, re-emerging as a mason’s mark on

41
public buildings – so why is it here? A mystery. The trees
close over our heads. I can see from the map that we are
walking between ancient graves.

We emerge from the funereal avenue of deep green, and to


our left opens up a basin of patchwork greens: this is the
Shire, the Tolkein bathing of England, it’s very quiet up
here. Yet, when I first came here there was a police car
parked with blue lights flashing in the crossroads, no horn,
it reversed suddenly when the driver saw me… my route
followed his retreat and he looked
sheepish as he fired the car past me.
One interrupts little dramas,
exposes the workings of things that
are invisible at other times. I kept
looking over my shoulder for the
car chase.

At the very top is Haldon


Aerodrome. There are still the
remnants of the old Aerodrome
Club House, torched by Hell’s
Angels in the 1970s, a concrete floor and a fireplace. I
looked for signs of the re–fuelling area, but all I found was
that something had formed a huge circle pattern in the
shading of the vegetation in the body of the aerodrome –
the kind of thing you see in ‘this is where the UFO landed’
photos, a giant fairy ring or some huge fungi growing out in
a ripple… I kept coming across brochures warning me
about “Alien Plants”…

42
“Alien Invader What you need to know. The Law. The
Wildlife and countryside Act has made it illegal to
spread Japanese knotweed.”

(Environment Agency)

“Top naturalist accuses ‘wildlife fascists’


A leading naturalist
has accused his
fellow
conservationists of
being “ecological
fascists” for trying to
eradicate alien
plants and animals
that threaten native
species… “Nature
hasn’t the slightest
respect for species and racial barriers,” (Richard
Mabey) said. “Evolution has always been a matter of
change, of moving on… of miscegenation, symbiosis
and partnerships of all kinds.”

(The Independent on Sunday 6.7.2003)

… there was nothing to see close up, but a pattern moving


through the gorse from afar... like the field I would later
come to along the way to Torquay. Frank Muir was the
commanding officer here during the war. The first
aeroplane to land was delivering Peter Hoare to his home at

43
Luscombe Castle. Close behind were the Honourable
Richard and Lady Florrie Westenra arriving to move in to
their new home in Bishopsteignton. Their planes had blue
fuselages and golden wings. In 1931, worried about lack of
radio contact from her husband’s yacht somewhere in the
Mediterranean, Florrie set out with the local professional
pilot, Bill Parkhouse, in a DH80A Puss Moth, routing via
Farnborough, the Rhone Valley and Montelimar – my Nan
would eat chocolates called Montelimar – until they found
the Honourable Richard in a port on the Riviera.

Crowhurst sent false reports of his journey. No one knew


he was in trouble. No one went to search for him and fetch
him back. He was off somewhere a lot further than the
Riviera. He was travelling along the curve of relative space.

Three months before she died of influenza Winifred


Spooner landed her Moth and folded its wings. At the Air
Rallye, after “Bombing the Submarine”, racing around
pylons, wing walking, and before the exhibition of “Crazy
Flying” the runners up trophy for the Teignmouth Air
Trophy Race was presented to Colonel Strange. The girl
parachutist Naomi Heron-Maxwell landed safely. And one
half of the Western Brothers was on hand. “O, you cad!”
Oswald Moseley landed, fleeing Plymouth where people
had thrown rocks at his plane as he took off. When the
Nazis threatened to invade, the beach huts at Teignmouth
were carried up here and laid out along the runways as
traps.

“Japanese knotweed

44
Fallopia japonica
Case against: Introduced in the early 1800s; spread
countrywide by the 1960s… the Government has
spent millions trying to eradicate it
Case for: Mr Mabey is “relaxed” about the “attractive”
plant… In cities it supports many native insects.”

The Independent on Sunday, 6.7.03

We could see Haldon Belvedere from here, and Hay Tor.


These were the markers of a triangular course for the races
on Air Day. Sacred geometry. Contemporary estimates of
the crowds vary from thirty thousand to sixty thousand.

And we could see down to Bishopsteignton, and ‘Old


Walls’, the Bishop’s palace woven into the farm buildings.
You can go and view it – just ring farmer Ken Dawe at Ash
Hill Farm – Teignmouth 775844. Athelstan, the ethnic
cleanser of the Britons, built the palace to celebrate his
defeat of King Howell (hence Howell Road) at the battle of
Haldon Hill. Round these parts there’s the story of the
Whisht Hounds, heard but never seen, hunting the souls of
babies, or, some say, they’re the souls of the babies
themselves, jet black, with burning coals for eyes. At
Cockington an old lady recalls hearing their whooshing and
roaring outside, but no one goes to look. Is this some guilty
memory of Athelstan’s troops removing Celtic families as
their Saxon neighbours stayed indoors and tried to tell
themselves it wasn’t happening, that it was just the sound
of the Wild Hunt passing by?

45
The way down is a path of flints. Like the path of rocks
from Oddicombe. Even on a wet day it speaks of dryness
and bones. The rock exposed here is just under the skin all
the way along the arched backs of these Little Haldon Hills.
The path becomes more and more loaded with dread and
apprehension. A gulf opens up on the left, a parade of trees
on the right. The flints point us into a field of long trouser-
soaking grass. The ruts in the ploughed field nibble for a
turned ankle. We stumble with the ruins in the corners of
our eyes. A couple of iron gates and there is the chapel of
the Mad Monk. And there – in the floor of what was
consecrated ground, the well still remains – the location for
a Japanese horror film – down which his victims were
stuffed and from which their bones, according to the Sites
and Monuments register, no reference to a source, were
recovered, though R. H. C. Barham “who should have
known better” claimed that anything dropped in the well
would slip under the Teign and reappear in Kent’s Cavern.
The tiles from the chapel floor disappeared into the keeping
of Dawlish Men’s Club (founded 1880) which in its turn
has disappeared. The murders, denied by sceptics, were
recovered by Romantics. A single wall of the chapel stands,
like a hungry one-eyed monster. The Monk would lure
women to the chapel, rob them and throw their bodies
down the well. Or he would disguise himself as a traveller
and rob the wealthy. Or he was a child-murderer from
another place. Or a rapist from Gidley. Or he was a clerk at
Lidwell whose ideas became unorthodox, defamed the
Bishop and was declared a ‘satellite of Satan’. Or was
thrown down his own well by a devout sailor who, raising
his eyes to heaven in prayer, saw the monk’s shadow, knife

46
in hand, on the chapel wall above – those gulls flickering
like knives across the pavement. Or he is a jumbled
memory of the violence to the chapel itself – by men of
puritan religion who hated the voluptuous curve of an
image, the rich colour of a symbol, the sumptuous sheen of
an imitation of flesh. Or maybe something older. History
stretching and distorting him like some kind of monster, a
patchwork, catch-all evil. The place is pulled and bent in
the same way – a 1980 photograph of the ruins that
revealed a complete chapel has in its turn, apparently,
disappeared. Stones from the chapel interweave with those
of Lidwell Farm – as if this were a place where certainties
have disintegrated – as if these places of evil cannot hold
their own forms, but borrow and burrow others. In 1894 the
‘Transactions Of the Devonshire Association’ recorded that
“after the suppression of the chapel this well was found to
contain a large number of human bones which it is affirmed
were those of women and young children.” But no
reference. There was never any parish for this building to
serve so was it always, like St Thomas in the wild, a
suppression of an older place?

In “Issue 9” of TeignScene I discover that the Wicker Man


remnants are the detritus of “public art works”. Apparently
“traditional designs”, their genealogy is ghostly, a suitably
gothic transplantation. Their in-authenticity is perfectly
self-haunting. The fiery pictures in the municipal magazine
look lukewarm, the marks and fragmentary skeletons rising
up without them, from a grave of bogus tradition.

What official, but malevolent force lures the explorer now?

47
And if they found the bones of the victims, where is their
treasure?

Is it in the landscape?

There is something evil up there. I don’t mean a demonic


force – but a very human, frighteningly human, deliberately
chosen attempt to re-make the lives of others in the image
of a bleak landscape – Hitler’s telephone still sending out
its electromagnetic orders, the ancient eroded shapes of the
burial mounds of the Old Ones looming through the damp,
dark trees along the pre-historic Port Way, shadows
drawing back from the ancient route for weapons and
cutting tools, the splintered Earth on the lawn of Ashcombe
Tower, Hitler’s poodle landing in flight on bare strips
rescued from the gorse, above the sharp flint layer, the
arrogance and self-deceiving totalitarian dream, a shadow
image of the big sky imaginations of those aristocratic
women flyers and skydivers already connected to the vast,
ancestors of the artist Tacita Dean whose art works of
eclipse, bathing, futuristic ruins and the shell of the
Teignmouth Electron in the grass teeth of the cayman
beach is an answer to the absence of a great woman
landscape artist, refusing to “snap off a chunk of visual
experience, disconnect it from the continuum” (p40,
Germaine Greer in Tacita Dean, London: Tate Gallery
Publishing, 2001), the hated-saint Athelstan’s pack of
Whisht Hounds, both the souls of babies and their
destroyers, an evil palace of contradictions built into farm
walls, where the people of Teignmouth fled to watch their

48
town burn in 1690, where some accounts float the Devil’s
merry-blazing house that entertained the Parson and the
Clerk, the exclusiveness of the golf course and the hostile
suspiciousness defining space by those who are not its
members, a sad pall across the real friendliness of – I think
it was – the Club Secretary who guided me over the course
– and the Mad Monk, child-murderer and thief, who turns
the disguise of an ‘empty’ place into the desolation of
murder and greed, stilled the mouths of children for the
sound of leaves jittering in the wind and the gulping of
water in the well as a body sinks. It is here. It is now. This
is where the Devil’s Footprints lead – right into the hearts
of real people who reached and reach deep down into the
well within them, and twist the most human and 50,000
year old modern capacity to bring one thing to another into
the destruction of human, chattery, wandering, laughing life
by making it a dead, silenced landscape.

Go to the top of the Little


Haldon Hills. You can face
it down.

Soon after my last foray up


there I was eating scallops at
the Ness House Hotel, the
water sweeping down the
Teign outside, the same that swept Crowhurst out. Scallop
shells were worn by pilgrims, like the one in the poem The
Hunt of The Pilgrim by Lawrence Palk, MP, son of the
Palk who built the Belvedere: about a lost soul, wandering
in the guise of a pilgrim, two Whisht Hounds at his horse’s

49
feet, luring travellers onto his mare, from which you can
never dismount, but are condemned to hunt a phantom stag
across the moor forever – we watch the closely studied
mutating sandbanks in the mouth of the Teign, monitored
by cameras, their flat images mutated into another
viewpoint at the Coastal Imaging Lab at Oregon State
University where “the application of complex geometry
computers are used to transpose the oblique camera images
into map-like plan views. (Like aerial shots.)”

Donald Crowhurst was born in India in 1932. His father


was a superintendent on the North Western India Railway
Railways – “up country” where Colonel Smith had lived.
Crowhurst wrote in his log at the very end of his life:
“Alas, I shall not see my dead father again… Nature does
not allow God to sin any sins except One – that is the sin of
concealment… It is the end of my game…”

In the RAF they called him “Crow”. “To the extent that he
was religious, his religion was scientific precision; if a
thing was true, it must be supremely logical. It must
compute.” When Crowhurst stood, successfully, as a
candidate for councillor his election manifesto was in the
form of a computer programme – with multiple choice
questions, the logical answers to which led inexorably to
Donald Crowhurst: “Liberalism computed.” But all this
train timetable logic was struggling with another part of
him – the part that took him up onto a lonely hill above
Nether Stowey mixing blood with a friend, seeking Black
Magic powers. He had “that kind of over-imaginative mind

50
that was always dreaming reality into the state it wanted it
to be.”

Did he think there was some magic to be conjured by


circumnavigating the world – just as a devout Hindu
circumambulates the image of a god.

And yet… under-prepared – he had only gone a short way


before he realised he would never be able to get all the way
round and those parts of him – the logical, empirical, train-
timetable Englishman and the part up on that lonely hill
that led him to take Albert Einstein’s ‘General Theory Of
Relativity’ along with lots of curry so he could understand
everything in the wilderness of ocean - began to liquefy and
redistribute themselves. And, like a god, like a hero, he
could not let the logical part of him, the part telling him he
could not succeed if he did not journey each and every mile
of ocean, defeat the part of him that knew it could discover
and understand everything from each and every part of
every ocean, no matter where he might be.

His deception would have been called fraud if tried in a


court of law, but in the courts of science and heaven
Donald Crowhurst was seeking a bigger kind of truth. His
tragedy – triggered by hubris – is that the parts were not
connected to the whole. There was no self-organising BZ
reaction to re-catalyse, nothing against which to sediment
the patterns that dissolved as soon as they formed. The
“computer” that Crowhurst designed to trigger a special
self-righting mechanism should Teignmouth Electron
capsize turned out to be a cardboard box of switches, relays

51
and transistors that he hadn’t had time to assemble. Wires
ran from gadgets and devices all over the boat to a hole
under the red cushions of Crowhurst’s seat. When the boat
was found drifting empty in the Atlantic, its skipper
missing presumed drowned, the seat was lifted. The wires
ended only in a tangle of themselves. There was nothing to
process all the information. Crowhurst had lost the
controlling centre; but, in gnostic transport, he had no
pattern to save him, no anti-catalyst to right him in the
water.

He was not a freak. He was an ambitious man, trying to


leap over his own limitations, to scale over the details to the
bigger picture, imagining a programme for everything. To
connect all the switches and wires without a self, link all
the caves in one arcade, all the waves in one ocean of mind.
Tragically, his way to do that – and he’s not the first - was
to reject the human mess for an inhuman spirituality: “the
‘world’ will ‘end’ (I believe about the year 2,000, as often
prophesised) in the sense that we will have access to the
means of “extra physical” existence, making the need for
physical existence superfluous.” “I have felt a community
with long seafarers,” Crowhurst had said, but he was
preparing to cut himself off from it.

The Parson and the Clerk – or perhaps their impostors, for


some say the originals have disappeared into the sea -
watched him go. “Why do I go?” he asked. “Because I am
certain that our life is but the twinkling of a star and can
only be characterised by beauty, which is eternal, and not

52
by its duration which in eternity is so short as to be
meaningless.”

His publicist had wanted “Miss Teignmouth 1968” to ride


out on the Electron until just before the starting line when
she would leap from the bow and swim to shore.
Oliver Heaviside, the physicist and mathematician believed
in an even more devastating end of the world, but by
describing it theoretically he turned it into something
creative and physical: “All known disturbances,” he wrote
in ‘Electromagnetic Theory’, “ are conveyed either
electromagnetically or gravitationally. If the first way, the
speed is finite. If the second, it may also be finite, perhaps
with the same value. Assuming then that all disturbances
are conveyed at finite speed, it follows instantaneously that
the destruction of this wicked world may come at any time
without warning. There is no possibility of foretelling this
calamity… because the cause thereof cannot give us any
information till it arrives, when it will be too late…the
theological, metaphysical, legal, moral, and pecuniary
consequences of this indeterminateness of knowledge… are
tremendous. But practically I do not think it makes any
difference.” (p.386, Electromagnetic Theory, Oliver
Heaviside, London: Spon, 1951, first published 1912.)

When he realised he couldn’t get round the world


Crowhurst redefined the race as how far he could push
himself. He sailed in circles in the Atlantic while radioing
reports, bouncing off the Kennely/Heaviside Layer, of a

53
fantasy journey. But he began to feel that the real and the
false journey were now accompanied by a third.

For a moment, not long before the end, he seems to achieve


something; integrating consciousness and relative space…
but immediately it collapses into gnosticism and ‘pure
thought’: “We can bring it about by creative abstraction!”
he writes in his log. “If the shark rubbing itself on the
bottom of the boat got me today it still would not matter.
The solution would not disappear… Mathematicians and
engineers used to the techniques of systems analysis will
skim through my complete work in less than an hour. At
the end of that time problems that have beset humanity for
thousands of years will have been solved for them.” Then
he cuts his line with the material world – “It is finished – It
is finished. IT IS THE MERCY” – probably severing the
safety line he has been dragging behind the boat in case of
a fall overboard, for a moment words, disembodied, had
seemed magical, but that magic failed him, as it fails
everyone, and addressing god directly the log ends mid-
sentence… only physical destruction is left. He probably
leapt into the sea with his Hamilton chronometer in his
hand. Taking time with him down the wave curve of wet
space.

It’s our cheat. Not Crowhurst’s. He should have been able


to return to Teignmouth and say: “ I lied, but I am a hero –
my journey around truth was psychological and
geographical – it was psychogeographical - it was both –
let’s all grow up.”

54
Because of him, we can all walk the journey that he
pioneered for us, without the fatal risks, rather than the
world we can circumambulate an icon of it; it might be a
building like the Redcliffe Hotel, it might be a rock on the
beach, a burned out old people’s home. “…we all spend our
days blithely in the context of the ancient and the distant .
The buildings around us are built from ancient sediment…
The ground that we stand upon is an archive constituted of
the distant past. The evolution of life is embodied in every
face we see… We are the products of processes that are in
general so slow compared to our lives, that it make scarcely
any difference to the way we live if we are totally ignorant
of them … My father, alone in a small boat and struggling
for a metaphysical position, was in a sense lost in time… If
all we do is laugh, we may miss something.” (A practical
approach to mapping time, Simon Crowhurst, in Tacita
Dean, London: Tate Gallery
Publishing, 2001)

In Shaldon there are these small


rowing boats filled with earth and
flowers. There’s one on Marine
Parade. This was a boat that was
used on the river once, for dealing out the nets when they
drag the mouth. One day it was stolen by a lad in the town,
who later became famous as an entertainer and plagiarist.
He stole the boat because he’d heard there was treasure in a
cove inaccessible from the cliffs, protected as a site of
scientific interest. In the boat he packed a bag of earth and
some seeds in case he needed to explain his digging. He

55
had hardly got beyond the Ness when his companion,
appalled by both his seamanship and his lack of morals,
jumped ship, like Miss Teignmouth might have, and swam
for shore. In his panic the companion had knocked the bag
of earth into the bottom of the boat and trod the seeds into
it. When the rower saw what his friend had done he was so
upset he cried. And when his tears fell on the half-buried
seeds they sprouted into flowers and before the young man
could row out of sight, beyond the Ness, he couldn’t see
out of the boat for the jungle of plants. He became confused
and began to dig in the earth. He knew the treasure was
buried in there somewhere, but couldn’t remember quite
where it was supposed to be. The last anyone saw of the
young man he was floating far away from the cove that he
had intended to plunder, he was digging fast and furiously,
sure that every spadeful brought him closer to the truth
about everything, expecting at any moment
a sudden rush of revelation that he would
treasure all his life.

In the “The Best Little Zoo In The West”


the Prevost Squirrels run down grilled,
elevated tunnels like characters from a
Tokyo-influenced sci fi movie. I’m sure the
Kookaburra is laughing at me - “hahaha,
scared of seagulls, hahahaha!” Bloody
birds, they all know!! In the first room of
cages the door to the zoo’s office is open,
and I peer in just like the other displays.

Through a tunnel is the Ness Beach. Under

56
the cliffs there’s a rowing boat; filled with sand and rubble
by the sea and the crumbling overhang. A man sunbathes
dangerously.

The first time I tried to walk along the coast to Paignton I


retreated to the Conservatory Restaurant at the Ness House
Hotel, scared first by gulls, then by bullocks that wouldn’t
shift from my path at the top of a very steep field. I had no
appetite for getting downhill of them in case they bolted, so
I struggled over a barbed wire fence, a bramble bush and
then, scratched and humiliated had to sprint to avoid racing
traffic on a pathless road. It had been a banal, pathetic,
cowardly journey – yet it had revealed a wonderful little
copse of trees, the wind knitting their trunks and drawing
the curtain from their twisted mesh of roots. And now I was
able to choke on some Marston’s Pedigree and watch the
Pilot at work in the mouth of the river, knowing that at that
moment the slow transforming of the sandbanks were being
videoed from the sides of the estuary mouth, This video
system monitors the “evolution of the sandbars and the
coastline in response to waves and tides. The five camera
array is called an Argus System... from the Greek
mythological giant with a hundred eyes.” This system is
one of a network – including Hawaii, USA, Holland,
Australia, New Zealand… all data is relayed via modems,
through telephone lines, to a computer at the University of
Plymouth and then to the world wide web. I liked sitting
there, eating the wonderful food and imagining the erosion
spreading around the world all the time stretching and
twisting.

57
A robin flies into the Conservatory Restaurant and perches
on the back of a chair. A spy for the herring gulls. On the
ferry across the estuary I feel like Tippi Hendren. I’m
crossing the route of Donald Crowhurst’s Teignmouth
Electron. I’m always crossing these paths and routes. Up on
the Haldon Hills it’s the routes of the lonely victims of the
mad monk. All the time I weave in and out of the Devil’s
Footprints; appeared one Thursday night in the snow of
winter 1855. Some said it was a German swan carrying a
donkey’s shoe, others that a sea monster came out the water
at Totnes and crawled to the Exe.

Back home on the train. Two men are now erecting a wire
fence around the rectangle of rubble on Dawlish Warren
Station. The shapes in the pancake batter, the imprints in
the 1855 snow, the eightfold geometry of St James the Less
and at Dawlish Warren Station – the ‘Old Station’ house
had become a shape; at first a rectangle of rubble, burned
wood and fragments of personal possessions, each day it
becomes more abstract, like an archaeological record. Bron
Fane (Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe) revealed in a pulp
paperback that the shapes in the snow were made by the
weapons of the ufos of the shadow Negons hunting the
heroes of his novel who, in a space-time craft, had escaped
to 1855:

“The disc ship spun like a gigantic coin flipped by a


gambling gargantuan... There was a rift in the clouds… and
as Zelby dived low again to evade the withering fire of his
pursuers the South Devon countryside opened out like a
great white and silver panorama… Topsham, Lympstone,

58
Exmouth, Dawlish and Teignmouth… and the heights
above Starcross in the west were visible like the wings of a
settling cosmic predator… “Look out” here they come
again!” shouted Elspeth… The grey white pencil-weapons
raked across the clouds… “we’ve cleared up one of the
world’s greatest unsolved mysteries!” said La Noire… “the
Devil’s Footprints .. Now we know what caused it... those
pencil weapons of the Negons…” (p.150 – 157, Bron Fane,
U.F.O. 517, John Spencer, no date)

Z worlds… I see I’ve written in my notes: “Symbolically,


the temple can be seen as a complete world” and so can
these little places… in which I keep meeting these gods and
monsters – Argus, Ganesh, Mister Punch, the Sea Slater…

The next day I set off back up the Ness, up the steep climb,
skirt the bullocks and, after a week of, for me, hard
walking, super-sensitised, scared of bullocks and paranoid
of gulls, under-hydrated, I felt weaker that I have ever felt
before, except for illness, and I knew I was entering a new
place for me, an unfamiliar sort of weakness… I sort of
know what I’m going to see, but as I climb the hill and my
heart beats faster and faster and my head gets lighter and
lighter, now I’m not sure what limits there are on this
journey and where I come out at what other side.

A field or two beyond Labrador Bay car park – where Nan


and Pop would stop to look at the sea before the last few
miles into Paignton - by the way you are not allowed to
walk your dog in LABRADOR Bay! – I find the field of
healing curves, yoni-like, and it’s giving me darshan,

59
within its folds, a circular shape overlaps long ferns in the
ground and once again I wonder how this shape comes – a
goat on a chain, expanding funghi, a ufo landing, an ancient
site? Columns of thistle rise up within and across the
circle’s edge, like a Venn diagram. A pile of shorn thorn
bush branches lies nearby. The whole field is threaded with
animal paths, veins or water gunnels. You could take a
picnic and spend a whole day there, reading that map.

I walk down a green tube of trees. Thistle lingum reminds


me of the concrete columns in the electricity sub-station.
There’s a house called Bun’s. At Maidencombe beach a
middle-aged couple react guiltily when I bid them good
morning – I guess they’re married, but not to each other.
I’m writing the seaside novel in my head. The
archaeological remnants of a concrete walkway lie in bits,
like a fallen dragon’s teeth. This is a wonderful place for
gentle contemplation of the disappearance of the post war –
that I found at Lake Balaton.

Along this way I’m indistinguishable from the conventional


hiker. I should have brought my red and white détourned
ranging rod. It rules by a different measure. It’s not the
straight rod of the archaeologist or map-maker, but equally
its unequal red and white segments set it aside from the
rough staff of the rambler. The shapes – in the pancake
batter, the eightfold geometry of the church, the prints in
the snow, the ‘Old Station House’ rectangle, the Venn
diagrams of thistle - become more abstract, more like
archaeology.

60
Watcombe beach in June is almost deserted. I sit on the
rocks stage right as the deep dread water clunks below me
full of huge monstrous lobsters and crabs, silkies and
mermaids. A guppy fish slithers across a rock. First the
lapping water stirs with urgency as if a great body had
shifted its weight out of view, then water broke on a rock
like the thing had lifted its head. The second time I came,
there were bratwurst and kalamari for sale at the café.

The top of the combe is like jungle. I remembered the Art


Trail that had foundered along this way, like the
atmospheric railway before it. I’m sure there are lots of
other ghost trails, like the one the Parson and Clerk
followed to the bright, dead-eyed house in the middle of a
nowhere.

“In Memory Of Basil and David Who Loved This View.”

Oddicombe beach I get down to on the Cliffside railway – a


week later it jams and smacks a tourist’s face into its glass.
The sound it makes is like the Tardis travelling through
time. There’s a brief moment of ‘darshana’ as the sea looks
into me – it opens its blue curtains and closes them again.
Then off the railway to wonderfully redundant beach huts
and the great collapsed whale shape of a cliff stranded and
decomposing on the far end of the beach. I walk along an
ascetic rock path – like I’m now in Pasolini’s Oedipus
Rex. A couple of pints and some crab cakes at the Cary
Arms and I can hardly get out the door let alone up the
sharp hill to Babbacombe. There’s an optical illusion from
the window of the Cary Arms – what appears to be a rock

61
bridge on the other side of the bay is an upturned D of rock
in front of a sheer rock face, the empty space is not there.
Vision, cliffs, houses on Dawlish Warren, the flights from
Haldon Aerodrome – they all fade and pass. Everything
turns liquid as I stagger up the hill.

I wonder if crabs are like lobsters. If they cannibalise the


first to moult their outer skeleton. Can you imagine that –
sitting around with your friends…watching, waiting,
wondering if you’re going to be the first one to split their
armour? Some lobsters get ‘lazy’, they stay in the same
hole and never move, eating what food falls their way,
slowly growing into the shape of the hole, stuck. Which
one am I becoming? Or am I like the lobsters kept in
floating keeps until the market price gets high enough?

The manager of the Babbacombe Theatre is uncertain


whether to allow me to photograph his box office. “Are you
local?”

IN LOVING MEMORY OF
MR PURSHOTTAM H. BHOJANI 1897 – 1988
MRS. RATENBEN P. BHOJANI 1908 - 1992

“Insert money and point at view. ATTENTION. Do not


point at the sun. Patent pending.”
On the seat in the shelter it says: Wotch Yor Backs. While
I’m using the telescope a bloke I smiled to earlier comes
over. “Clear day today,” he says. “I can see Exmouth,” I
say – at a loss. “You can see right out to Portland Bill.” Is
he trying to pick me up? On the promenade I walk behind a

62
young woman who is wheeling an aged person of
indeterminate gender who is screeching repeatedly “Mum!!
Mummy! Mum!!” The falsetto is so intense, the emotion is
mythic, archetypal. I’m in a tragedy and I want to do
something – but that’s the point isn’t it?

Sticker: “A Parliament For The English!”

An elderly aproned man is spooning water from a boat in a


hotel car park.

Heading into Torquay, there’s a strange concrete lingum


just off the road – what purpose it once served I can’t
imagine. Maybe the council erected phallic symbols in the
1960s? In 1981 Teignmouth unsuccessfully tried to stage a
topless beauty contest at the Carlton Theatre (it was
cancelled like the Press Conference for Donald
Crowhurst’s return at the same venue) and – equally
unsuccessfully – topless waitresses were briefly serving at
the Georgian Two Restaurant. 231 Babbacombe Road is
called Timeless House.

The second time I climbed the hill up to Babbacombe I was


fitter. I was walking with Tom. And we were joined by a
man named James who’d walked from Dorset. We’d seen
him pass us while we sat in the café at Maidencombe and
I’d said to Tom: “very serious”. He’d stopped and talked to
two couples we’d said hello to. He told us the men were
former marathon runners who had switched from running
to walking and were joined by their wives for a short way
(my Mum and Dad do that) – news of each other ripples up

63
and down the coastal path. We saw a sign for Kent’s
Cavern. The little 1930s wood and brick entrance building
is as much a part of the archaeological record as the bones
and teeth of the hyena, bear, rhinoceros and elephant,
reindeer, wolf, lion, woolly rhino, mammoth and bison
collected in the dark and the damp by the frail Catholic
priest John MacEnery – his find of a man-made flint
arrowhead and the tooth of an ox under two feet of
stalagmite floor, which accumulates at a few millimetres a
century, disproving the literal interpretation of the book of
Genesis. 80,000 artefacts. The mud and rock dug out
become the car park. Some of the rock is wet like offal. The
black on the stalactites is human skin and grease. Beyond
The Long Arcade, at a sort of cave crossroads, our Guide
takes replica bones from a wooden chest. She takes out a
little piskie skull and shows it to the children. Or is it a
memory of the small, dark Picti? Then our guide takes out
the cast of a Neanderthal skull, bigger eyes and smaller
brains, and compares it with one of our party - yet, we
should be careful: for these people were not inferior
versions of us, but parallel evolutions from the same
source, walking the same world on a parallel path,
occasionally crossing ours. We’ve found necklaces they
made and their stone tools have been found in Kent’s
Cavern. They were not imbeciles and but for certain
climate changes it might have been a Neanderthal guide
showing Neanderthal children the skull of a Human and
making jokes about tiny eyes and obese brains. When they
died it cut us adrift. “We are unique and alone now in the
world. There is no other animal species that truly resembles
our own… The birds were cut off from the rest of the

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vertebrates 65 million years ago, when a cataclysm wiped
out the dinosaurs, or rather all the dinosaurs but the birds.
Our own isolation is much more recent.” (p.3-4, & p10,
The Neanderthal’s Necklace, Juan Luis Arsuaga,
Chichester (UK): Wiley, 2003) So here we are – adrift,
alone, Crowhust-like, walking between the bones below
and the dinosaurs above.

The guide talks of modern people arriving from Africa


50,000 years ago – “what’s the difference between them
and us? – not a lot” – for there was a creative explosion
between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, when our minds
stopped being like a Kent’s Cavern with one chamber here
and another there, each a place of separate specialisation:
knowledge of animals, sex, memories, etc. Instead they
became like one Long Arcade where all our knowledges
could meet and make new patterns. So if I have made some
odd connections in this narrative I have only been doing the
thing that makes every human on this planet what they are
– putting 2 and yellow together and making a lido. The
same evolution that Donald Crowhurst conducted on
himself in the middle of the South Atlantic. Combining
animals with humans with things. An “anjali” is a gesture.
(Place the hands together, slightly cupped, fingers pointing
inward and then raise them to the
bowed face.)

The guide turns off her torch and in


the pitch black she lights a mixture
of moss and fat in a scallop shell and
in the brilliant light I remember the

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scallops I ate at the Ness House Hotel. Coming up Kent’s
Lane we rejoin the Babbacombe Road when from Lower
Warberry Road on the right, there’s Oliver Heaviside on an
unsteady bike, his feet on the front fork, trailing unpaid gas
bills and rate demands. Except for these crazy forays on his
“new fangled machine “ he lives like St Nectan, a hermit at
Homefield, with all the wonders of the world in his head
growing like foxgloves. Heaviside Calculus is still used by
pure mathematicians, in those inner landscapes of
abstraction. There are craters on Mars and on the Moon
named after him. The glove of ionised particles around the
Earth bears his name. He won’t hear you if call out to him.
And he probably thinks you’re out to get him anyway. He’s
slightly paranoid. He contests anyone who pooh poohs
maths and equally any mathematician who wants to
disappear into an ocean of only pure maths. For all his
loneliness and isolation, Oliver has gone there to keep
everything together. A Crowhurst with a self-righting
mechanism, setting out to reconcile the mighty forces of
electro-magnetism with the soft caress of gravity, taking
the first trip towards a theory of everything.

Abstract thoughts – like a piece of flint embedded in old


sediment – change everything.

I cut right before I reach the Strand where, at number 13 a


dead child was once delivered by post. The mail delivered
by Whist Hounds.

“Crab! Crab! No more now to be had!


In the street or beside your own door;

66
You will sorrow in time, when all of you find
That I cannot bawl “Crab, crab!” more.”

Then towards Old Mill Road, Seaway Lane and Hennapyn


Road. There was a strange exploded stain on the side door
of an old house. I seemed to be passing through a
swallowed village. I cut across a road and I was in a
country lane. At a turning I found a hotel being converted
into flats – it had been the house of William Froude. In the
roof he built a tank of water for testing warships in model
scale, he formulated his Law Of Comparisons – how the
bigger can learn from the smaller – then built another tank
over in the Old Mill Road. Within these apparently
conventional middle class homes wind storms raged and
freak waves rippled, lofts became oceans and sheds
commissioned navies.

At Hennapyn Road I cut down an unsigned path, a quarter


inch of wood from a growling dog and out into a jungle of
beautiful weeds. This heavily camouflaged public footpath
brings me out next to Livermead House, the former home
of Christian Socialist Charles Kingsley.

Rudyard Kipling wanted to run through Torquay wearing


nothing but his spectacles.

Hercule Poirot was an asylum seeker here – a Belgian


refugee seen by Agatha Christie. In the “trash” of Agatha
Christie the “world conspiracy is thwarted by an alliance of
the good, which knows of no ethical distinction between
British and oriental men and women.” (p.307, Agatha

67
Christie and Archaeology, ed. Charlottte Trümpler,
London: The British Museum Press, 2001) The novel is
called ‘They Came To Baghdad’. At the bottom of
Livermead Hill ‘La Rosaire’ looks empty and ‘house from
Psycho’. I look around for the shelter where Eliot didn’t
seed his anti-semitic wasteland. I cross the road and take a
left down a road signed “cul-de-sac”. Often the
psychogeographic walker slides phantom-like through the
ends of these no-through-roads. Steps down to a beach,
with the arches and castellated shapes of the Livermead
Cliff Hotel on one side, on the other, around layers of
barnacled rock, the water gulps in a gulley, beneath a rude
sandstone outcrop with steps up to a PRIVATE sign from a
world of B movie deserts and guns. Phoenician traders
maybe landed here, taking tin from Dartmoor and leaving
behind the recipe for Clotted Cream. Or was it the
Egyptians? Everything is from somewhere else. The only
sure thing about identity is its uncertainty.

Sometimes I am walking
like the Walking Wardrobe
of Dawlish. Putting on dress
over dress over dress.
Feeling that at any moment I
might open the door and,
through the fur-lined inside,
feel my way back to Narnia.
At the furthest Paignton
beach, Broadsands, Monty Python filmed a gigantic electric
penguin with arms like tentacles terrorising bathers, then a
cupboard with ferocious teeth came out of the sea and

68
chased Carol Cleveland up the sands, the spines of cactus
plants removing her clothes one by one (reversing the
Walking Wardrobe). BZ.

I saw a concrete ball in a front garden – clearly it had fallen


from the top of a gatepost at some time. It reminded me of
summer evenings in Delaware Road, Coventry, playing in
the sinister twilight with my friends… I read a story in a
comic book of a tiny ball suddenly floating down to earth
which when it was examined turned out to be a miniature
planet, devastated on one side by the landing. And
somehow I’ve remembered that the planet
landed on a friend’s front lawn in our
road on a summer’s night and every time
I see a concrete ball it takes me back to a
time that never happened.

This wanting to find those old childhood,


holiday, Devon feelings…. we make a
completely new world out of our
memories… I wanted to find some of the
wonderful things I knew were just over
the Nostalgian border – that routine
fetching the newspaper and saying good
morning to all the same people, sitting on the beach in suit,
shirt, tie, and trilby. But I didn’t find my memories. Early
misty morning mackerel fishing in my rust red jumper.
Feeling a glow inside like the lighting effects in The
Greatest Story Ever Told. That world – other than the odd
dusty window display – had gone. Its order has turned sour
and withered. And so had my memories. I should have

69
attended that meeting of the Teignmouth Useful
Knowledge Society in 1853 on ‘Memory’. I wandered in
Paignton and I couldn’t remember any of it. I knew I had a
memory of it, but I wasn’t actually remembering it. As if
I’d never been here, it had slipped away.

But all we need is the odd. I had found all these layers. And
the glow is still there, stratified. Living in the ruins of
utopia right now. A fallen planet you can catch in your
hand.

So much of the Redcliffe Hotel is missing too; the minarets


have gone, the echoes from the Qutb Minar Mosque –
perhaps there’s still a resonance in the shape of the
windows? The ripples from the Jami Misjid and the Red
Fort have receded, although the military crenellations of the
ballroom reminded Anjali of the Red Fort, and the Prayer
Steps, reputedly oriented towards Mecca, are still there. It’s
as if Colonel Smith had been a Knight Templar returning
from a holy land, suspected of “going native” and
smuggling Islam (or something even more secret) home in
his architecture and, like all those stories about old belief
lingering on within the official one, more is guessed from
what is not there than what is. Like all my walking to
recover something from the past. Each missing layer
plucked away on the spines of cactus plants in hotel
gardens.

But Nan and Pop weren’t


missing. They were here. I felt
the presence of their love. The

70
adventure, the safety, the warmth inside the cold out on a
misty, shaky sea. But I couldn’t find it HERE anymore.
Finally, with Anjali, I did go and knock on the door of one
of the guest houses. One last try for memory.

I wasn’t going to call, but there was no lunch available at


the Redcliffe Hotel – and, as we came out, I thought - why
not? So Anjali and me made our way over to the
guesthouse where I’d had those happy childhood times…

When Isaac Singer – ‘builder’ of The Wigwam (the


grandiose Oldbury House where Isadora Duncan made love
to her bitterest enemy under the piano) and father of the
Paris who bought Colonel Smith’s house – came to
Torquay two local families would not sell land to such a
“flamboyant” businessman – was that code for “Jewish”?

As Anjali and me made our way up the drive I suppose we


might have been mistaken for a couple looking for a place
for the night.

After all, if you believe them, people will tell you that
another Smith – Colonel Smith – had a secret Indian wife
in Redcliffe. Why do they think she would be secret?

I ring the bell.

“um… this is a bit of an odd request…”

“I’m VERY busy…”

71
“O…”

“Wait there …two minutes…”

And he goes and we stand there. I think of Nan and Pop


and coming here and I start to feel the presence of the place
and I feel some tears coming a long way off that I push
back. I can’t reconcile the happiness of the memories and
the abruptness of this. I can’t put
together the security I know I once felt
here and now this hovering on the
doorstep, excluded. He comes back.

“Right. I’m very busy…”

“Um, well my name’s Phil Smith and


I’m a writer and I’m working on an
autobiography…”

He reacts, but I plough on.

“…and I came here a lot when I was young and I wondered


if we could quickly have a look round…”

He shakes his head.

“No. You’ve chosen the busiest time – I’ve 8 to 10 hours of


work ahead of me…”

Anjali and me are going: “oh, right… right… o, well…”


and retreating down the drive. Perhaps he thinks I’m

72
another John Cleese, but why is he acting like Basil Fawlty
then?

My head is chopped off – like the decapitated ghosts of Old


Lime Avenue, Torquay – but an elephant head grows in the
place of mine. I know
now this has never been
an autobiographical walk.
The memories I have are
not just mine. Not just of
the past, not just of Nan
and Pop and Jeff and Joy.
Although I’ll always love
my Nan and Pop and remember them and wished I’d loved
them more and better when they were alive and wished I
hadn’t left my Pop with sharp words the last time I saw him
alive. No, this walk through nostalgia is a walk into the
future, a pioneering wander through the familiar, only to
find everything changed and full of endless wonder. But the
wonder looks back at you, looks into you, and you look
back at it.

A confectionary fish disappearing up a drainpipe.

A four foot high bottle of milk on a gatepost.

The musical notes on a choirmaster’s gravestone.

Even the paranoia about the herring gulls has now become
a parable for the sensitivity to all sorts of things this kind of
walking gives you– at St James the Lesser the bible on the

73
lectern was open at the previous day’s reading: Jeremiah,
chapter 15, verse 3: “And I will appoint over them four
kinds, saith the Lord: the sword to slay, and the dogs to
tear, and the fowls of the heaven… to devour and destroy.”
You know, even with those bloody fowls of heaven, I had
begun to enjoy watching their shadows move across the
pavements I was walking on.

Inside every holiday is another holiday. Later, no, before,


on the outskirts of Paignton, alone, I picked out an
overgrown path, in the long grass I climbed up hidden steps
made of railway sleepers, and entered into a liminal, border
world, which I wasn’t quite sure was garden or wasteland.
Eventually I left behind the backs of houses and burned
mattresses and for the first time in all my walking I could
hear no cars. Only insects and water and birdcalls and a
rippling sea of greens and yellows. I disappear into the
pattern of a butterfly. Holiday. Holy day. My random
fluttery routes helped me avoid the predator. Here the giant
partridge cannot get me! I chopped myself up into the
parcels of a huge field on the other side of a stream, lain out
like landscape in the eye of a bird, it took me four
photographs to get it all in. I began to feel all the
experiences of the walking becoming a field, a map,
something I could fold up and put in my inside pocket
(touches heart) and take home with me. I begin to see
where the different routes connect. Donald Crowhurst’s
yacht to those rowing boats full of flowers, pulled up and
waiting. Filling up with meaning. Shells waiting for the
right hermit. “If only it could have talked!” Chips Barber
wrote. St Nectan carrying his head. The Electrons leaping

74
in the Kennely/Heaviside layer. I felt I could leap like them
and not fear where I might end up.

Ganesh is the god of overcoming obstacles. A dish of


sweets is always at his side.

The deeper one goes in, the more likely one is to pop up
just where one wants to be.

I emailed Anjali a little while after we’d finished our


walking together. I’d realised that those crab shells we
found weren’t the casualties of any gulls. The crabs had
slipped out of their old carapaces and that was what we
were finding. Like ghosts the living things had slipped
away, hardening again somewhere else.

I left my shell behind… the boat on the beach, the lazy


lobster growing its extended organism into the world, the
electron leaping along the ionised layer….

“Tat tvam asi”.

That’s how you are.

Under the Redcliffe


Hotel there is one
remaining wonder – a
whitewashed tunnel,
from what is now the bar, sloping down to the sea. At the
beach end on the left is a room where sound does very
strange things, and in there I found two prehistoric sea

75
monsters: Sea Slaters in their armour, creatures from the
time of dinosaurs, things that I thought were going to leap
at me if I got too close. And they can move with great
speed. In the icing sugar castle I had come eye to antennae
with time before the kind of memory I was trying to recall
and it was living on the walls of a capsule that clanged and
shimmered with sounds like that of a universe ringing as it
is born with no one to hear.

The year has been different from previous walkings – it has


been a year of mythogeography, of making more and more
connections, of riding a web across the city and swinging
on its threads into the county beyond, learning to ride its
graph-like cross-hatching slopes and to feel its bubbling,
magma-like, ghostly dimension of probability suddenly
pushing virtual particles through the smooth gradients of
curved memory.

“…we may press our analogy a step further, and ask, since
our hypothetical worm and fish might very readily attribute
the effects of changes in the bending of their spaces to
changes in their own physical condition, whether we may
not in like fashion be treating merely as physical variations
effects which are really due to changes in the curvature of
our space; whether, in fact, some or all of those causes
which we term physical may not be due to the geometrical
construction of our space.”

(p.201-2) The Common Sense Of The Exact Sciences,


William Kingdon Clifford, London: Kegan Paul, Trench &
Co., 1885)

76
An1887 march of working class students from St Luke’s
College - “(m)ost… had come from British or Board
Schools” (p.256, The History of Saint Luke’s College,
Exeter, Fuller, F., Exeter: Saint Luke’s College, 1970 ) -
against the poor standard of the maths teaching and the
disciplining of their leaders, became stalled at the Fore
Street Tavern Assembly Room, the marchers unable to
spread or theatricalise their cause.

Mythogeography is about walking a local history of the


physics emerging in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
century: the smooth rolling valleys of Relativity with their
webs drawn up around great ornamental concrete balls –
worlds fallen to earth in 60s sci fi comix I read then, but am
in now. And when I access that memory I can walk as a
line drawing, as a two dimensional Flatlander, slipping
between things, sliding over the graph-mounds, virtual
history popping through me without injury, seeing my
edges ‘pulled’ into new shapes by the mass about me – and
then the quantum path like a FunnyHouse at the Fair, like
dancing with ghosts on a bouncy castle – the absolute
predictability of surprise. A walking that is also a militant
protest alongside those working class Exeter boys. (“Why
don’t they tell you this?” says a student on the Site,
Landscape and Performance module at Dartington College
of Arts after I’d given a quick half hour talk on Relativity
and Quantum Non-Locality – demanding a transitional
programme of access to a scientific culture already almost a
hundred years old.)

77
Mythogeography is about walking a physics of local and
marginal histories. It’s about the trashed angel statue in the
St Thomas graveyard, about the stories as we walk, about
the huge guardian dog that was never made for the spire.
Rupert Sheldrake speculates in The Physics of Angels that
angels might be conscious stars – “Materialists believe that
our own mental activity is associated with complex
electromagnetic patterns in our brains. These patterns of
electromagnetic activity are generally assumed to be the
interface between consciousness and the physical activity
of our brains. Consciousness is somehow supposed to
emerge from these patterns. But the complex
electromagnetic patterns in our brains are as nothing
compared with the complexity of electromagnetic patterns
in the sun.” (p.18, The Physics of Angels: Exploring The
Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet, Matthew Fox &
Rupert Sheldrake, Harper San Francisco, 1996) Encounters
with angels, with the cultural shapings they take, are a kind
of astronomy. We become walking radio telescopes. The
white statues with their great wings roll down the mounds
of space. We come face to face with massive bodies and,
simultaneously, with a gossamer, unrespectable ‘just
knowing’ (the memes of Mercutio’s Queen Mab) -
“…angels know through intuition, according to Aquinas…
and they can assist our intuition… Intuition is the highway
in which angels roam….” (p.2 The Physics of Angels.)
Human identity pleasurably fragments somewhere between
shapely physics, the complexity of the sun and the
boomingly kitsch pseudo-psychological iconography of
angels. In there is a pleasurable space – a
mythogeographical playground - for coming apart and

78
spreading around? Where conscious stars materialise, not
just as angels? In Gustave Doré’s engravings for Dante’s
Divine Comedy the angels fragment, atomised, like
electromagnetic descriptions of Near Death Experiences,
the time tunnel the battleship passes down in Final
Countdown.

Mythogeography is about walking in cultural space. Of


being aware that the complexity of planet Earth is reliant,
for its stability, on the massive expanses of emptiness in the
cosmos: “A universe that is big and old enough to contain
the building blocks of complexity will be very cold and the
levels of average radiant energy so low that space will
everywhere appear dark… If we were to smooth out all the
material in the Universe into a uniform sea of
atoms…(t)here would be little more than about 1 atom in
every cubic metre of space.” (p112-3, John D. Barrow,
The Constants Of Nature, London: Jonathan Cape, 2002)
It is walking the emptiness – gratefully – dancing from
atom to atom, metre by metre, aware that the complex map
is an exception, bought at the ‘expense’ of galaxy after
galaxy of almost blank ones. It is knowing that everything
has been bathed in cinema history just as much as physics.
And that the next step is a walking of everything, a walking
of fields rather than bullet paths: “I’m walking backwards
for Christmas, across the I-rish sea.” A stepping backwards
out of identities and into the deep sea of strings.

It is walking in the absence of the Neanderthals. Walking


with their memories is a service of remembrance. 1945.
50,000 BP. The Neanderthals were with us all through our

79
change to cognitive fluidity. And then, 28,000 years ago,
they were not. “North of the Pyrenees, the more modest
canines of the polar fox, even smaller than those of the
common fox, were the most popular. They were perforated
at the root for stringing. The Neanderthals of the Grotte du
Renne and Quinçay used them also. It seems they saw
something special in the artic fox that escapes us today.”
(p.297, The Neanderthal’s Necklace)

Mythogeography is a Third Space itself, beyond, or rather


beside hybrid, a place on the route of intuition, dread and
ambience. Mythogeography is an underwater local history
of space and time, riddled with wormholes – through which
to “magically pop out where you want to be”.

Phil Smith

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