I wrote this some time back. Tinkered with on many occasions but still going nowhere. It was in a file with two other ‘false starts’ so that is why it is labeled ‘3’. Maybe I am posting it for the sake of posting something on this much underused blog.
So the Visitor walks out of the front door one morning – she is going to a meeting or an exhibition or for a walk. And when she opens the door there is an unfamiliar city out there. It’s not that it is some future city or something from Dickens. No monorails or organ grinders. It’s kind of like a city or cities that she knows but this particular combination of elements is not familiar. Where there should be a tree – there is a post box. Where she would expect to see the bus stop and the almshouses there is some kind of toll-booth and a trailer park. And why ‘trailer park’ rather than ‘caravan park’ or even ‘caravanserai’? Anyway, it is an enclosure for semi-nomadic dwellings. The threshold of the door is the same as it ever was, the door too is the same. The house number is the plate stolen from the power station that became an art gallery. There is still that metal boat sitting in the fanlight and this makes the Visitor think of the shadow of the glass on the wall at night. This shadow has changed recently as the streetlight was moved. [And thinking about it now…isn’t there the handle bar from a burnt-out scooter on the shelf next to the fanlight now? And, even more recently didn’t someone add a deer skull to this arrangement?]
All this makes her wonder if this new building is the first phase of a traffic management scheme. During a previous stay the bus shelter on the other side of the street was moved. The bus stop used to be to the left of the house and now it is straight in front of it allowing people waiting for a bus to stare in through the ground floor window. This is offset to a certain extent by the entertainment to be had from watching the watchers. Now that they have erected this tollbooth – or is it a border post? – that exchange with waiting passengers has been removed. Instead of a procession of drunks, addicts, religio-maniacs and schoolchildren there are interchangeable officials in peaked caps. The thought crosses the Visitor’s mind that this booth/kiosk is just a front for a surveillance operation. Drugs? Bus-lane misuse? Did she fail to notice a revolution that has split the city? Does the border between the two territories now run along the road north of the house? Or maybe the border runs north-south so that it goes through the terrace. This could get complicated. Is she going to have to deal with this difficult new situation and re-learn whole systems. How will she make a living? She is supposed to be making a study of this place. Suddenly she realises that the other occupants left the house before her this morning. How are they coping with this new world? Maybe it has all changed since they left or maybe this shift is local so they are still experiencing the city as it was yesterday. It is tempting to close the door again – either just retreat inside or try again.
Or go and write that experimental novel that the Visitor has been thinking about for years. Maybe this is the experimental novel and she has been thinking about it for so long that she has entered into it. And that reminds her of the dream she had last night:
‘I was a different sex and much younger. I lived with lots of people in a tall house with an L-shaped plan. And then one day when I was standing on the half-landing of the stair the floor began to move and I realised that the short leg of the L at the back of the house was about to part company with the rest. I jumped to safety in time to see a whole section of the building split away and then come to rest making a void a few feet wide at floor level. Eventually I worked out that the breakaway part of the house had hit the adjacent structure and this had halted its total collapse. Then later I found out that people from the next house had colonised the fallen part. I thought it was time for me to remove my belongings but then I couldn’t work out what was worth keeping.’
It was only thinking about it later she realised she was dreaming other people’s artworks. Bits of Gordon Matta-Clark crossed with Gregor Schneider.
Back on the doorstep, no chasms have opened up at the Visitor’s feet, nothing is splitting so she thinks that maybe it is ok to go out and she is just experiencing some temporary mismatch between memory and reality. Cognitive dissonance. Nothing more than that thing about dolls houses that she meant to put in her book. It went like this:
THIS EXPERIMENT CAN BE PERFORMED IN ANY CITY
GO TO THE MUSEUM
-IN PALERMO GO TO THE MUSEUM OF PUPPETS
-IN LONDON GO AND SEE THE MODEL OF THE GREAT FIRE IN THE MUSEUM OF LONDON (IF IT IS STILL THERE)
-IN AMSTERDAM VISIT THE RIJKSMUSEUM AND GO TO THE GALLERY DEVOTED TO DOLLS HOUSES
NOW FIND A SMALL SPACE THAT IS PART OF THE DISPLAY, A ROOM IN A DOLLS HOUSE SAY. THERE IS A CABINET IN THAT ROOM IN WHICH OBJECTS ARE DISPLAYED. IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE IN THE ROOM. OPENING THE DOOR OF THE CABINET AND TAKING AN OBJECT FROM THE SHELF. YOU ARE STANDING OUTSIDE OF A SHOWCASE LOOKING AT YOUR SMALL SELF IN THE DOLLS HOUSE. NOW THINK ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE STANDING IN THE MUSEUM – INSIDE A GALLERY WITHIN A BUILDING IN A STREET OR A PARK IN A CITY. YOU ARE AT ONCE AN IMAGINED MINIATURE PERSON, A GIANT, AND ONE SMALL PERSON AMONG MANY DWARFED BY YOUR ENVIRONMENT (AND BY YOURSELF). AND YOU ARE SIMULTANEOUSLY TRAVELLING IN TIME.
Actually that last part of the last sentence was added later and is still something of a mystery. She can’t remember where she was when she wrote that.
END OF FALSE START 3