If I’d had audio the recording would have included distant thunder, the pattering of sporadic rain, breezes amongst leafs, and intermittent cheers from the football stadium at the edge of town.
It was a Saturday afternoon in August. Warm, but interrupted by showers running on an automatic cycle every thirty minutes.
I was walking in my childhood town when, near the recreation ground, it struck me there is a certain area to which I return repeatedly in dreams. In fact, I wasn’t sure I hadn’t stood there the night before, beyond that arc of trees on the grassy slope.
So I turned back for my camera, to see if I could somehow chart the space and pin down the essence that draws my subconscious back.
Everyone has such spaces. They are the contours of the cave walls upon which experience plays. Dreams and hallucinogens can sometimes place us far enough outside ourselves to see how fragments of memory, their textures, moods and significances, underpin our perception. They go so far down we cannot ask what our relationship with these sites ‘means’ or ‘represents’. Rather, they are what provide our capacity for meaning and relating.
The house we were born in has engraved within us the hierarchy of the various functions of inhabiting. We are the diagram of the functions of inhabiting that particular house, and all other houses are but variations on a fundamental theme. – Gaston Bachelard (1969: 15)
One dream has stayed with me, of the space below the arc of trees flooded with brackish water. Beneath the surface lie submerged objects: rusted clocks, old coins and sodden books, one of which is titled The Book of Clawed Verse.
The flat space above the slope, meanwhile, is an area for panic, of nightmares from which I wake in terror before recognising what frightens me. But then again, it’s sometimes where I splay my arms and fly. The grass becomes bouncy and assists my gradual lift-off above the trees. These are templates for exhilaration.
So I took some photographs, fascinated by the changes, the degradation of these spaces since childhood. The gap in the hedge that was my route to school is blocked now by a barbed metal fence. Ancient trees once stood one on either side, but those are gone. The dead stump of one remains.
On the grass against the hedge lay an inexplicable lump of concrete whose shape was naggingly familiar – but I couldn’t decide if this were true.
The bowling greens have been allowed to turn into an overgrown wasteland. The tennis courts exude an equally unloved feeling. No doubt, a saving on money and effort, but how slovenly and how fuck you.
The sky was darkening. Rain threatened. I wanted moving images, to catch a fuller impression of the space, but my batteries were low, so I made a detour to the gift shop in the town centre. I found a pound coin on the pavement near the post office, which covered the cost of new batteries and felt like an endorsement.
When I arrived back the sun was bright again, and the trees cast shadows as I made circles of footage. I ran around the flat space with the camera, but did not succeed in taking off.
The sunlight passed. Thunderclouds were massing again. I shot footage of the sky. Was something going to happen? Why assume this wasn’t already something?
In a corner were concrete foundation stones of a vanished building. Tiny, it had once housed some kind of a pump, defunct even then. Now, it returns in another strand of my dreams, of subterranean complexes and chambers, semi-flooded, often perilous, into which I descend and retrieve miraculous secrets from their obsolete machinery of pipes and circuits and analogue dials.
At university, once I slept with an unknown photograph in a sealed envelope under my pillow, at the behest of a social psychologist. I recorded my dreams, to see if the unseen photograph had seeped telepathically into them. On opening, the photo showed a ruined cottage, and during the night I had dreamed of the derelict building within whose long-gone walls I was now standing. But its appearance in the dream was so incidental, so casually background, that it didn’t feature in my written account, and thus the experiment seemed a failure.
My photography elicited suspicious stares from occasional dog-walkers. Two teenage girls chatting on the playground rides kept a cautious distance. Then a man with white hair passed by, walking a collie, and we fell to talking about the peculiar atmosphere.
‘It rains but doesn’t soak,’ he said. ‘Things aren’t growing. My tomatoes haven’t ripened and the potatoes are tiny and green. I’d done something wrong – I thought – because I don’t garden much, until the old boys who do had told me it’s a good year for fruits but not for roots.’
Another bout of rain ended our conversation. From under a tree I shot more sky, until it had eased off as suddenly as it came. Should I wait for the storm that was surely coming? Again, I was seeking a narrative, whereas leaving just then would include me in the happenings of the place, far more than trying to bend out a story.
Gaston Bachelard (1969). The Poetics of Space. Translated by Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press.