My daughter had gone very quiet.
She was driving a train. A simulated train, that is, using one of those miraculous apps on an iPad. But she had discovered something which unsettled her somewhat.
As long as you stayed where you should be, driving the train, minding your own business, you would not notice anything out of the ordinary. But if you dared think laterally, and branch out to explore the space beyond the railway track, you were in for a strange experience.
“Mummy,” she said, swivelling the iPad round to face me, “that is what cyberspace looks like.”
She was bothered. And I could see why: because beyond the track and the fields and the pylons, there was a grey pixellated no-man’s-land, an interminable void, a nothingness.
There is nothing quite so unsettling as nothing at all.
I once looked death in the eyes. A routine op went wrong, yada yada yada. I was rushed by wailing ambulance to a place where they could operate, without ceremony, surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of medical staff, and lit by the unforgiving lights of the operating table.
And I thought clearly: well, this could be it. I am just going to have to let go of this life. I may or may not wake up.
Nothing for it. Into the breach. Except that the breach was not a bright light, or singing angels, or a comforting presence.
It was like Maddie’s cyberspace.
Place is more vital, more part of our life blood than we can imagine. What is life without it?
My good friend Side View and I have a recurring theme in our work. For she lives in South Africa, in the great open spaces, where the evidence of man is there, but it is lighter-touch. The creatures of the wild still own so much of that golden land; and not only creatures, but the landscape itself remains vast and open and untouched. Man has walked there, but not indelibly.
We compare notes every now and then: Side View says she could never live in Britain because the noise of the history beneath one’s feet – the layers of happening everywhere you went – would be overwhelming.
Time and space, they’re linked. For each space is defined by how time has treated it. Have you ever stood in a room or place with an indefinable sense that something has happened there? Is that what ghosts are? Shadows of those layers glimpsed in our time?
Andra Watkins has been writing a series based on a visit her father made to London in 1957. She used her time in London to find the exact spot he took each photograph, and take one of her own. An absorbing journey. And an experiment in lifting the layers of place.
Because those layers lie thick in London, dense like puff pastry, some layers fragile and broken, others robust and visible. I have grown up in England, with an increased tolerance for them; and perhaps an increased dependency, too. Nothingness means not just a lack of any more time, but a loss of all those layers which have come before I existed.
This weekend we celebrate a queen who has presided over sixty years of this temporally crowded island. We will wave flags and hold parties, and we will carouse. But as I said to my friend Penny from LifeOnTheCutoff the other day, when she recalled the Queen’s visit to Chicago in 1959: the question we will ask later is: “Where were you when….”
The where comes first.
The place is the thing, whereby to chart the milestones of a queen.
Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: Once Upon A Place, in a Time Long, Long Ago