( an extract from The Quiet Man by John Foxx)
He built the ship in the garden shed. Twelve years old. Ruined industrial town. Dark factories empty now. Only a few still in operation. Great brick chimneys on every street. Stone walls fallen in, showing traces of rooms and colourwash sections.
Fires at night. Dark canals. A long way to go. Weeds in the cobbled streets. Torn colour comics on a wet pavement behind the cotton mill on Corporation Street. Pools from old processes seen from the train line, chemical lodges and toxic waste pits.
Clean waterways among trees in some valleys. Damsel flies, water beetle, great crested newts. Smell of wet stone, green leaves and deep pools. Water rills and stone channels under streets and alleys, emerging between houses.
Nearby, stagnant rivers full of black mud, red worms and other mutated things. Pale insects coming from the walls of those derelict houses near the old gas works, looking like dusty pineapples with lobster legs but grey and beige, the colours of generation in forgotten, polluted walls.
Dreamed they were there, then found a few days later. Magical effect of that calm certainty remained with him for life. Connection to other systems. Stillness and wonder.
Other things generating in the weeds and chemical fallout of a hundred years. Radioactive bluebottles with tiny vestigial wings. Biting houseflies. Long grey worms still squirming in dogshit.
Railway crossing. Lost path to a lonely fountain, a holy place by two birch and hawthorn trees between railway lines and bridges. Quite forgotten. Wooden signal boxes with rows of metal levers illuminated by yellow light at night. Coming back from shift work in dusty blue overalls. Budgerigar in a tarnished cage against the window. Smell of coal gas and oily cotton.
Collected things for years, arranging them in the dark wooden shed. Tarpaper roof covered in rampant pink roses.
Gathering the forces together. Process of Instinctive Recognition. Brass pipes and sprigots from the munition works, glass tubes and electrical devices wrapped in greased brown paper. Nameless circuitry and voltaic remedies. Diagrams of anatomy and magneto stimulation points. Connecting maps and musical scores and anatomical diagrams. Gradually linking everything useful he came across in the ruined factories and workshops of this industrial town. Inevitability of escape and a deep instinct to use everything available.
The first dismay in these bleak industrial ruins replaced by calm certainty, then a dawning realisation of all the unique power sources available here. He would sense something was needed, then a couple of nights later he would dream of it and where it could be found or he would get a clear picture of it in his mind. Uncles contributed to the collection. Bringing glass tubes and fused X-ray filaments, ultraviolet lamps and stoppered glass bottles of permanganates and glycerine.
Books on a makeshift shelf. Green, navy blue and maroon cloth covers, gold lettering – The Young Chemist, Principles of Magnetism and Electricity. Weather Patterns. Locating Your Psychic Energies.
Wired the fragments together, carefully uniting batteries and metals and alloys and biological wastes and components from the mills. Unnameable industrial by-products resembling amphibians and soft boiled eggs and formless spawn, some of them still alive. Arranged in linked Kilner jars of dense liquids and connected to batteries made from interreacting fats, acids and metals via video recorders and carbide lamps.
Fragmented clues to another existence discerned from tiny phrases and sentences discovered in books and coloured comics and magazines. Glimpses of possibilities assembled and acted upon. He placed sheets of lead, copper, zinc, leather and fat between selected pages of Weekend magazine, Tit Bits, Knowledge, reproductions of Turner paintings and etchings of anatomica.
Pornographic magazines discovered on the moors were layered with maps, musical scores, artificial food colouring, preservatives and acids suspended in setting lotion in a series of lead and felt lined biscuit boxes. Ghost of a lost boy among bottles and worn workbenches. Did you see someone transparent like an old photograph? Only there for a moment, just passing through.
Any defunct technology was appropriated and co-opted into the system. Fragmented bird and animal skeletons from an abandoned slaughterhouse on Blackburn Road, wired together in ingenious combinations with television aerials and things living in formaldehyde. Adapted to ferocious chemical environments.
Cast iron frame and steel strings of a grand piano wired up to aquariums via the wings of roadside bird and animal remains, linked to galvanised tanks of canal water and iron filings on the tarpaper roof.
Electric shock generators amplified through rows of tiny bottles of Woolworth California Poppy. Wired into miniature Japanese tape recorders and regulated by components from Timex Dan Dare watches. Connected through alloy strips and gold leaf and bottles of sulphate crystals from the abandoned chemistry labs of Heapey Bleach Works. Accumulated and stored in cans of film from behind the Plaza, Pavillion and Empire cinemas in town. Suspended in brilliantine and opiate cough mixtures. Carbon arc lamp inserted as a catalyst.
Rescued mechanical and household items – old sewing machines and gas masks and shop tills strung on weaving machines and psychic detection kits with litmus papers, holy water and tungsten and steel filaments and gas mantles.
Later he discovered how to co-opt entire districts. Wired up slag heaps and electrical pylons and even the slow micro-energies released by decaying mill buildings. Systems of silver paper, Gloy and malt vinegar inserted between the damp stones. Thin copper wire and brass stair rods discharging into canals, then distributed back along polluted waterways via gas and water pipes and sewer lines.
In this way he hooked up factories and filter beds and various churches of Psychic Healing. Collecting funds of luminous psychic energies into makeshift battery systems from front room seances, itinerate faith healers and a lucky catholic exorcism. Silver foil wrapped wedges of gum tied with copper wire around iron bars carefully wound with ammonia soaked string. Rubber tubes condensing through Kilner jars full of blowfly chrysalises layered in mercury from smashed barometers. Smell of sour milk and candle wax.
Leaching atmospheric energies from telephone systems, weather and radar fields via adapted transistor aerials.
Then he found he could access radiated sexual desire, guilt and deviancy tensions of all varieties, along with drug and alcohol addiction patterning, via silver paper surreptitiously stuck onto exterior windows with animal glue. Transformed and filtered via old Dansettes and valved radios attached to a cream leatherette-covered Elizabethan tape recorder. Fixed by advertisements for dynamic tension, soldiering wire reels, a pound note machine and woolen clothing soaked in mild acids and caustic soda in water from the canal circuits. Maintained by links from clandestinely wired iron beds in Chorley Hospital. Voltage finally boosted by cluster burst discharges of cruelty, fear, greed, envy, frustration, conflict, despair, inspiration, joy, insight, grief, ecstasy and anger from all over Greater Manchester.
The final improvement was when he discovered a steady state access to all these emissions, carried on the electromagnetic cages of domestic electrical wiring from all the rooms in every city and town of the locality. Made it quite easy to gain lift off, maintain escape velocity and provide inter-dimensional transport for decades.
Around thirteen years old by now. Left with a glad heart into a marvellous adventure, though slightly afraid when finally looking down on rapidly retreating streets and cities, then the blue and distant Earth.
Seemed also to be penetrating time and place as well as distance . . . Travelling without moving. Not sure where to. Some odd effects of memory as though superimposed over another film of himself. Dark versions of New York, Paris, Rome and London through some other lives led in those rooms. Apartment with passing lights from cars and a woman there. Somehow he knew her well. Smell of powder and lipstick. Adult concerns he could only guess at.
He knew that other people couldn’t see him properly. Always once removed, like a projected film on smoke and water. They tended to be restless in his company, looking away into the middle distance during conversation. So he didn’t mind leaving. Froze the scene into a still, then abstracted himself like a cut-out photo. Glad to see it all go, in a way.
Those places – moving through them all now. Bleak rooms and yards, sometimes sunlit. Knew he was from somewhere else and there was something to do. All instructions came in dreams or calm detached insight, always clear and correct. Wiring paths solved, grey mists of confusion cleared and the way forward appeared.
He knew he had only to place his hand in an enamel basin of clear water by the side of the armchair – final connective link – and the whole apparatus flickered forward like a broken film. Simultaneous forward and reverse live video layers blurring the the district for a few seconds as they synchronised into smooth, effortless dream velocity. Through dark clouds of coal gas and electricity, towards all these other cities. Shimmering molecular interplay around and through them. Time like a slow film. Mirrors growing darker in the immediate district. Warm starlight and movie colours and voices. Somewhere else to go . . .
Drift of cold places beneath motorways and along endless roads. From labyrinths of New York and Chicago to Club Gibus in Paris. Old Woman proprietor spitting nearby. Hotel on the street. White static on screen over faces lost and faces found. Don’t forget me. Another life or two lived out in places long ago and far away. Forgetting down the years. Only a thin thread pulled out of black dirt between flagstones along an East End street by warehouses. Cracked tarmac over shiny black cobblestones along the Seine. The bar overlooking the Vatican. Up cold steps a hundred years from now . . . shattered times . . . the smell of coal gas and broken hotels in the cruel light of day. Living like a ghost . . . always returning, circulating like stars around some magnetic pole lost among the population. Empty shoes under the table. Cigarette burns in the formica surface. Dead friends turning away. Who is this anyway . . . then falling, suddenly losing balance. Most embarrassing.
Where to now? Used to receive instructions. Always imagined they were internal. Never seriously considered possibility of an external source. All gone quiet for some considerable time. Perhaps been abandoned.
Waited for a long time before leaving the room. Must make my way alone now. All support systems vanished.
Trying to put the pieces together. Along the motorway tunnels all alone. Somewhere to go to along the canals and railway sidings. Ghost coming home. No maps at all, no understanding of the slow violence of time and memory.
Across Europe from Los Angeles. Displaced skin. Uncomfortable transmission failing. All power sources used up. Bulldozed . . . built over streets beneath this very motorway, or one exactly like this in some other place . . . towns and cities re-arranged . . .
He returned years later. Still a young man, or so he assumed. Though he could not guess what he looked like. Away so long. Reassembled right on Market Street and no one noticed. It was mid-winter, the streets were cold and he went by the big windows of the butchers shop in the centre of town. Thornley’s written in gold on the glass. Sawdust spilling out onto the black stone pavements from the bare boards inside. White marble counters and sides of pork slung from hooks in the boarded ceiling. Warm smell of roast meats from basement kitchens below the streets. He realised that he could no longer eat and turned away. Beer and tobacco from The Royal Oak Hotel. Never want anything like that again. Looked into houses at dusk from icy wet streets. Warm in there. Resigned longing, as if something had broken.
Everything seemed changed. Shops were different. The Arcade. The Human Bat versus The Robot Gangster still in a window but strangely transparent now. Shop empty . . . flakes of limewash on the bare floor. Mill shop gone. Vague shopkeeper almost there. Marketplace deserted under sodium lights. Loneliness of empty cinemas. The Royal. Damp smell of leaky ceiling on gold painted plaster. Wide road driven through the centre of town. Steely Lane overgrown by ghost meadows. Duxbury Woods built over. Endless road links. Supermarkets and petrol stations out there now. Shadows of stupidity. Smiling councillors superimposed over a lost town far away. Christmas on the market and farmers bringing fresh food with the taste of coal smoke. Fading away. Built over. Money changing hands quietly, then you leave. Smile across the years. No place here. Chorley Guardian abandoned. Ruins and leaves above the factory wastes.
Walking at sunset over Rivington. The library closed. Ghost books in gold lettering with moving illustrations. One falls open. Naked figure beside an oasis in the desert. Ruined houses and bus station beyond. He goes away but the book vanishes before he gets home. Never gets home this time. Never arrived. Lost.
Perhaps they forgot. Where can we go to. Reach my hand across the years. It is too late, they have gone. Too far. Your hand appears in books and songs, in dreams.
She awakes from sleeping in the armchair, waiting for her son to arrive. Make-up on the delicate old face. Standing by the window, gazing out. Bus depot over the road. Lights on all night. Passing by. Engineer whistling. Walks by. Waiting. Never arrives, not for years.
Left you there too long. Can’t retrieve this damage done. Just a ghost, still waiting. One day I will arrive, you will see. Gone away now far too long.
No one seemed to recognise him, they all seemed uneasy or afraid, as if it were somehow important not to acknowledge him at all. Turn away. Deny that presence.
He was faded and transparent, resembling several other people. And there was something forlorn, fundamentally altered. He could not realise that he radiated a terrible loneliness of unfathomable distance and time. Displayed indications of other conditions not dependent on any premise recognised here. All this glimpsed unconsciously through proximity and transmitted as a howling void of terror and distance and disembodiment. Of course everyone turned away. Down wet stone streets forever.
When he was a child he knew he had dreamed of this. His grandfather would tell him the story. The Astronauts Return. Unknown and unrecognised, a long lost play at Santy’s Theatre. He was fascinated, not realising it had already happened, even then. Through the Odeon foyer, Cinema Manager Mr Green says ”hello” then looks puzzled. He too is transparent. Fading dinner jacket with silk lapels by filmstar photos on the deco staircase. Cigarette smell of the big green moquette and chrome sofa in the foyer.
Through the town, displaced and unacknowledged. It had already happened. He looked in a shop window. Dark clothes. Can’t quite make out the face somehow. Blue skies then intermittent rain. The old street empty now. Overgrown in part. Rearranged.
Shadow of the pilot on lupins growing from the sand. Must have been years. Projected film across his face as he spoke to the woman from the pet shop. Then the sequence in Woolworth - stole a toy gun, beaten by his father. Sobbing alone up the stairs. Other kids playing in the streets all around. Isolating agony. Dread in the pit of the stomach. Never forgotten.
Glimpses of uncles returned from war lost among market stalls. New concrete roadway empty and weed grown. Built by mistake through the fields. Grass covered building from the train. Watched him as if they knew. Eyes far away and still kind but knowing they could not speak. Knowing it had already happened. Navy blue gabardine coat and black beret. Cycle clips. Along the canal.
Father and mother still there. He was now much older than his parents. They walk by with a shudder. Lifted up to the sky on his father’s shoulders in the park. Summer Sunset. Going home now. Sees them go by, a series of shadows. Himself there as a child. Small, unknowing. Years before, from a distance. What happened, where did he go to? Maps and diaries contained in music scores and diagrams he can no longer read.
Dark Victorian shop on Steely Lane. Smell of the foundry behind dim stone walls. Wet streets. Black soot on every surface. Glass bottles. Slippery Elm Food, Asfoetida, Liquorice Root, Sarsapiralla. Smooth, dim, deal tables and benches. Dark smell of cordials and tinctures and woody substances, herbs and remedies. No one comes. Mrs Gent – Proprietor. Temperance Bar. Lost lodges and waterways in the grounds of abandoned factories. Groups of children playing. Hide out there for years becoming the guardian of this place. Never seen. Never recover the maps. The engines long since dismantled, dispersed, taken away by enterprising junk dealers. Now disguised on the scrapyard near the railway.
Childhood friends injured by wrecked fighter planes and a room full of fibreglass. Old electrical devices exploded with water and chains. Just a ghost now, waiting for the ship to arrive.
One night it comes down hovering then goes away swiftly without landing. Burnt patch in the rhododendrons. One child dreams of this and visits the site. Dream memory recognised through the years. 1957. He feels a sudden inconsolable grief and loss. Terrible dreams of returning. Grief of awakening replayed over and over. Those days are gone.
The mortal fear and despair of those left behind. Kids avoid the spot, sensing something dark there, a shadow on the garden. Sit still and someone will come. Always in hope. Someday, someone will come. Just wait.
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