Broken city. Shattered buildings, where they had climbed out of the ground, gnawing away at the dense certainties that held them down. I saw so much rubble, so much death – vivid and prowling through the streets, faces carved from chalk, flesh harder and so much more ragged than the bones that support it.
I thought of Erkenwald, summoning the dead to speak, and then dismissing them. These memories of men cannot be so easily laid. The graveyards from the Victorian stews emptied, the plague pits gave up their dead. Churchyards erupted. Bone warriors climbed out of long flattened tumuli, leading skeleton horses behind them. I saw a legion form up by Trafalgar Square, tarnished armour rattling against hollow, dessicated chests.
There is no more history, only now. The past has broken into our world and insisted that we acknowledge it. We are all immigrants in time, losing ourselves as the years pass. I thought I saw the shadows of old buildings staggering up, where the new ones had been shattered. I flew through it all. Ghost lights flickered in Cremorne Gardens as broken dandies danced with their dead ladies. A man fled through Victoria Station, he looked like Chris. The suburbs heave with the children of the necropoli.
Now I will go out into the city again. I have lost thirty five years to yesterdays, I hold a single precious second in the present, and as this broken city I have no future. Like these revenants I shall walk these ageless streets, and reclaim all the lost time that should be mine, and live in it forever.
Every so often there are low, rumbling thuds outside, muttering like thunder. I’m keeping away from the windows. I thought about taking the tube, but when the web was still up it said that no lines were running. There are all those urban legends about stations built through the old plague pits. So many tunnels must pass under churches and graveyards.
I can reach my bike without being seen from the street. Then I’ll go as fast as I can. Chris is coming with me, I hope he can keep up.
It’s worse now that there are no sirens. I thought I heard gunfire earlier, and screaming. Some colleagues went out, and didn’t come back.
There’s nothing at all now.
For some reason I can’t get the ‘unreal city’ sequence at the end of the first section of ‘The Wasteland’ out of my head. Must be the heat. The humidity clings. I’m beginning to feel trapped.
‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?’
Chris says his friend Hal up north has gone quiet, which is very unlike him. News of more ruined buildings in the City. The BBC news website is speculating about earthquakes. It took far longer than normal to load.
I can see the street outside from my window, looking down into the dead building opposite. Funny that I hadn’t noticed all the building works before yesterday. The builders don’t seem to be very active. Some of them are climbing around in the cellar, while the rest seem to be just standing around.
Apparently the rioters at Brookwood are illegal immigrants. Nobody can understand what they’re saying. They just appeared from nowhere. They’ve been contained, it says.
Chris tells me that another building’s collapsed, this time in Aldgate. The builders over there clearly more enthusiastic than the people over the road! They must be really badly paid. Most of them are dressed in rags. The ones without shirts look really skinny.
The building has been almost completely stripped out. Support struts gleam bone white in the sun.
Reading about a disturbance at Brookwood on the news. Then, I went to get lunch. The building over the road has been completely gutted, ready for development. Dead buildings rise again very quickly; in a couple of months it’ll be something completely new. People are more difficult to bring back.
But then again, London is built on dead architecture – layers of the stuff, running all the way back to the Romans and beyond. There’s a layer of ash half an inch deep that Boudicca left behind, when the city first burned; the remains of a temple to Mithras half exposed at Temple Court; street names in Fulham referencing a spring where Belenos was worshipped, 2,500 years ago.
Roman London, Celtic London, Medieval London; all buried, unreclaimable. Maybe it’s the redeveloped buildings that are anomalous, awkwardly reborn where all the rest have fallen away?
Glad I’m cycling home tonight, it’s a hot, sticky day. Just saw Chris Billett, he’s getting even twitchier about his sirens.
I saw two or three unmarked police cars hurtling through the city last night, then again this morning – each the same shade of dense blue, temporary police lights clamped to the roof. They move with all the unreadable determination of a dream, forcing its way into the traffic of the mind and then as quickly disappearing…
I’ve got myself a new phone, and the new phone has a new camera in it, so I’ve been riding round London taking lots of photos and putting them up on Flickr.
I’ve realised that I’m fascinated by light. I’m out and about first thing in the morning, early evening; the magic hour, when sunlight runs across the world not down onto it.
And what surprises me is how blue the light always is.