As it will soon be time to begin working on the proofs of my forthcoming novel and approve the cover design, the agent who is working with me suggested that now could be a good moment to draw together the various threads of the narrative into a concise form, explaining to readers just how it was that the characters made their first appearance on a clear, bright morning, just when a new idea seemed to be on the rise. Unusual events were thought to have occurred at Pode Hole, while the finkers themselves were known to be encouraging in their ceaseless promotion of a single ideal that ran like a sinew through the old systems of value which were then beginning to loosen and snap. Consequently, there was much to be heard about liberty, along with the scatter flown tales of the fennermarsh people, though, to the surprise of most, the first of them to encounter the elusive meedler vong was Amos Cloot. This was, for Professor Quiller, as much of a surprise in her own mind as it was to everyone else. It seems appropriate that it was Oscar Sollermon who said hum ha, in his room at the School of Thought, attached to Ayscoughfee Hall on the river Welland. And no less so that it was Cordelia and Thelonius Greeling who uttered a ha hum in unison, as each of the two sat at their table in the warmth of a spoongrease dinner shop, among numerous shovelling hands and handled forks. At the same time, a girl from Terrington St. Clement caused an occasional lurch for the worse in a finking brain. A quickening lick with a following kick of its own triggered means, thought blue eyed Basil. Odder than not, it might have been a means of giving them ease, although none took much notice of meedlers who were well in need of more than could be given out. And being funny peculiar more than ha ha, it was recognised as language of a sort, in the long held kelter of half remembered thoughts, offering a fleeting impression to whomsoever was curious to know. More urgent than this, the finkers were minded to push the notion of daring to its absolute limit with a look at the how and the what of a life, long lived through, a continuing curiosity in whatever could be learned from the hurtling, endless search for knowledge. There were however, some of a scowling persuasion who were less than eager to remember what each of them had earlier known. In the mind of my protagonist, Woller, it seemed that Agnes Mortimer was someone who would understand how it could be when some things were taken too late and some taken too soon, in curious places from words hauled on in, sudden time quick from the loose bound scrawlings of an earlier gone boomercumlingo. The occasional confusion which ensued was encouraging for those who would follow in the wake of Joller the swoondler. With a calling shout from Colonel Haw, the moodlers and the boomers took a clattering whack on a leaping span over the slow moving water below, without giving much thought to Meemo Leem who was a bogglegone searcher for the zing, the zong and the morfiner juice given out clean by the medicine men; along with the collected works of Doctor Mungo on the mattering means and the question of whether or not a smile was the one and only thing it could be. One for the joy making fakers to wonder about too, thought some. Cornelius Karp was long gone on the inside of his own mind and keen to know more about Orange Orlando, though this was something about which no one other than Milo could tell him – or so he thought. And then there were the curious thoughts of Samuel Amerson Averson who was of the opinion that a whole new way of thinking had become possible, bring into common usage the methods with which each and all could resolve the problems of adapting themselves to their environment in a new, conscious way in what he hoped could be the pursuit of a better made future for all those scattered across the wider region. The common interests of the fennermarsh people would be well served through what he conceived as a finking association independent of the cultural elites of Gosberton Clough and Tydd Gote. And so a suggestion was made that there would be more of a need among the chin rubbing, head scratching searchers to find an easier way to move through the hurling burl of life as it was lived in a time and a place as peculiar as could be seen. Where a jump, running man and a girl in a pair of pea green shoes could spark a fizz and a zizz from the other.
I will be catching a train out of London to spend a couple of days in the fen country which sits between Cambridge and the Wash. A strange place of wide open space, which leaves the visitor less than sure of their bearings, being as it is, a flatter land than most which was sometime earlier than now, the sea; the hardened edges being created over the years when the water still seeped through in a tidal creep to the softer fringes of reeds and sucking mud. To think about the where of their own physical being in such a landscape, can make a person so minded as to hold one of their arms straight and level against their chest with the other arm in almost the same position, just below the nose in a curious measuring guess at how much of them would have then been under the brine, with only the shine of their glare as an indication that there might have been a disappearing someone deep in there and almost lost. It can be a measure of a persons own worrying at such a sinking way to be gone which catches a shivering hold on the body before the mind moves on to a different, less concerning thought. As the visitor starts to think about what the land was, all thoughts on the matter can quick enough conclude that what it is in actual fact is flat and without expectation. Dykes scar the land from the north to the south and from the east to the west, to the edge of the marshlands which slide wide into the Wash close to Gatt Beacon, entering the channel through to Western Point, past Herrion Sand and the mooring buoys silent out along Freiston Shore. A wilderness of watered land, a created past earlier than the earliest reckoned moments, a line of clodders, slodgers and yellow bellied hops. A land that runs at the call of the stationary engines which hum and pump water wherever and whenever there is water to be pumped, to be sluiced and to be pushed, roaring through in a sounded crash of dirty white foam, down and then off around the channels and the cuts, moving way out into the sea at the Wash. As a person leans back as far as it is possible to lean without falling over and down, the mind wonders at the how of the skies and their eye boggling size which seem to be, by a clod bound starer such as most of us are, raising a hand against the sun, to be without an ended top or a sided stop, weighted fast as they are onto the flat fields below. A wondering gaze holds what could be seen as less than a care for convention or a more usual notion of rural splendour, leaving some of the visiting sort with the opinion that this is a good way for it to be. And if it is hard to mark a recognised edge in a line of sight out in the fields, there is less of an ease in establishing a defining sense of place in the towns that are scattered across the fen land. The earliest communities were established by those who saw only a need to raise the most basic cover over for the people there were to be got inside, out of the flattening wind which hurtles its way in from over and across the eastern fen. At first these communities were rare, though slowly each one increased in size, encroaching on the surrounding settlements in which most of the people continued to live, even to the outer reaches of the fen land, over the mud to the sea, through the shallow cuts interspersed with white salt flats, marshes and open water sounded with the crying of geese. The muddied flats were scoured by the wind which hurtles across the fen, over the land from Fosdyke Wash and the Moulton Sluice - the high old tide of the sea coming in quick through the running creeks, under swinging ropes on the Langrick Ferry, reeds bending under wet slogged boots, over long cloddered earth and the low hanging damp, seen raised to the level of Gosberton Bank, though the channel through Dowdyke is long gone.
Curiosity could be described as an innate basic emotion, a drive to know new things, it is common to human beings at all ages from infancy to old age. And in its development as a sense of wonder, it is curiosity that makes a human being want to learn and pursue knowledge in science and the arts. Curiosity, combined with the ability to think creatively, can eventually lead to a deeper, more abstract way of thinking which is essential to our continued development as sentient beings. It was while thinking about such ideas and in particular, the question of how to extend the reach of the Society for Curious Thought, that it occurred to me that sometimes these things are less complicated than might at first seem the case. The ultimate goal of the Society for Curious Thought is a world of curious thinkers and so, with a slight reconfiguration of the language used to set out our original core values, these can be given a new, more urgent emphasis. A wider society of curious thinkers could foster curiosity and intellectual discovery in pursuit of a better future. We share with each other our various societies and our planet, as individuals and as a wider community; our common interests are therefore well served through also sharing knowledge, developing mutual understanding and promoting cultural exchange through the essence of curious thought. A society of curious thinkers could provide clarity, offering informed opinion and curious thinking through values such as liberty of conscience and freedom of opinion on matters of a practical, speculative, scientific, moral and theological nature. A society of curious thinkers could become a community of the mind whose vital function would be to discover and articulate the functions of tomorrow, an independent association creating a fertile ambience for new knowledge in which the best of what is thought and imagined could flourish. A society of curious thinkers could foster engagement and open discussion between members of diverse communities and continuously consult with individual and collective intelligence on an experimental basis; enabling people of all creeds and religions to create a new dialogue in order to present information and ideas, to promote values of co-operation in a conscious and creative way throughout the world and so make a significant contribution to international understanding. As a supercategorical socio-cultural movement, a society of curious thinkers could encourage people to think in all directions, to reflect on their own inspirations, aspirations and experiences, to how we live now and in the future, to enable people to effect change for a better world.
I will soon be speaking to an artist who is working on a project with people who suffer from chronic pain. The study will involve each individual patient having their own consultation recorded for research purposes, the results forming part of a larger study on facial pain. Because pain can be a distressing and isolating experience, it ought to come as no surprise that it can often be hard to describe in words. The intention therefore, is to create visual images of how each person feels in order to help others to understand it. The resulting visual images will represent their world, in which some of these people have been living long term. The aim is to work with patients to try to discover a visual language for their pain, using photographs to act as a springboard for dialogue between patient and doctor with the aim of improving patient care. For each patient, the study will involve a consultation with a clinician which will be video and audio recorded; the patient might be given an opportunity to refer to visual images as a tool during the consultation. This could involve an image resource of around fifty images of pain shown to the patient twenty minutes before consultation with each patient then being asked to look through the cards and select those which might have a particular resonance for them. Subsequent to this, the video and audio tapes from all of these separate consultations will be subjected to close analysis by researchers to evaluate whether having images of pain to refer to during a consultation makes any difference to the doctor - patient dialogue. The same team also worked on a similar collaborative project several years ago in the hope of creating work which could be cathartic and help people gain a sense of control over their pain, through making real what is invisible to others. In a previous series, photographs and accompanying narratives written by patients were found to share common themes, while at the same time offering unique perspectives. One patient wrote about how hard it was to explain pain to clincians so they could understand it, even though for each individual, gaining the understanding of their doctor was a vital step to getting them to believe in the existence of such pain. Creating visual representations could help others to believe its reality. Many of the photographs showed the visceral nature of pain, making it easy to see how it would be difficult to find words to describe how it feels. Other photographs were more subtle and illustrated the effects of living with pain through images of water running over the rim of a bath, showing how pain builds up until it overflows. Another participant wrote that pain was like an apple which was rotten from the inside, with a core as the centre of the pain coming through to affect the skin.
When I was invited to write for Plats, aside from being pleased to accept the invitation, the most immediate effect on my brain was one of confusion. With so many different subjects on which to scrawl down a few words, it was hard to know just what to concentrate on, given the time and the space in which words could indeed be scrawled down. And then after a good deal of pondering on the matter, it all of a sudden seemed an obvious enough thing not to complicate matters but instead, begin by writing about something that influences my life in myriad ways - the corner of south east London, that I currently call home. This might at first glance appear to be a strange decision as this is not somewhere that has been neglected by the media, with journalists coming from as far afield as Manhattan to wonder at the current goings on here, a correspondent for the New York Times asserting that, “The coming of Deptford has been predicted for some time. It won’t be an easy ride. But with the unpolished location comes that most heady of urban ingredients - an edge.”What might however, be considered an edge to those from elsewhere, could be thought of as something more prosaic to the people who were either born and raised here or who moved to the area in search of a lower cost of living, a job or a course at Goldsmiths College – the New York Times again,”art students with asymmetric haircuts, a boisterous concoction of blue-collar aesthetics and intermittent hipsterism.” All of which is not without interest, it just seems to lack a certain curiosity about the notion of change and what it means; though, yes, of course, all the markers of urban renewal are much in evidence and these are hard to ignore. As is so often the case, the arts are in the vanguard in the form of galleries, studios and cafes such as Bearspace, the Deptord Project on the high street ( a former train carriage ) the Laban Dance Centre, which was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron; and the Art in Perpetuity Trust (APT) gallery and studio space to name but a few. And earlier still, the Albany Theatre, a community arts centre with a tradition of radical community arts and music has its roots in a charity established in 1894 to improve the social life of Deptford’s deprived community. In addition, the local council has plans to regenerate the riverside and the town centre northwards towards the river. Much of the area along Creek Road has been redeveloped, with the demolition of the old Deptford Power Station and Rose Bruford College buildings. Amongst all of this however, there is still a sense of continuity which is an essential element when the developers move in. The high street is one of London’s only remaining authentic thoroughfares, with fishmongers, butchers, habersdashers, ironmongers and bakers lining the street; not to mention the Chinese, Vietnamese, African, West Indian and Turkish shops, restaurants and cafes that are also to be found. There is a market too on Deptford High Street which, as well as being one of London’s liveliest, is also a genuinely local affair catering for local people. That much of this will change as gentrification gathers pace is a given as this has been a recurring pattern in the social fabric of London for two thousand years, the city continually changing and slipping though the clutches of whomsoever would seek to pin it down. And yet, there are other patterns which continue to reassert themselves, such as original street plans emerging from demolition sites and used again after a thousand year long interruption. While this might seem inexplicable, it is nonetheless welcome, demonstrating as it does, that no matter what plans are drawn up for imposed rather than gradual change, sometimes the essential character of a place will survive against the odds. The question of where character comes from is an interesting one, reliant as much on imagination and perception as on ( supposedly ) more objective criteria. With regard to my own experience, I had a vague, peculiar sort of understanding from reading about Deptford long before moving here, most notably from the diarist John Evelyn who with the ( soon to be ) Peter the Great as a guest for about three months in 1698, writes about riding horses drunkenly through the streets in the early hours and firing their pistols with abandon, leaving bullet holes throughout the house. There are also references to the area in Gullivers Travels, one of which mentions “a very decent man from Deptford.” That this man was the captain of a ship ought not to come as a surprise, given that Deptford’s population has been mainly associated with the docks since the sixteenth century – and there are still echoes of Jonathan Swifts novel in Albury Street, where houses once popular with sea captains and shipbuilders still stand. Consequently, it is no accident that close by is the church of St. Paul’s, designed by the architect Thomas Archer as part of a commission for building new churches with the intention of instilling local pride to encourage people to stay in London rather than emmigrate to the new world. In the current context, this could be seen as a reminder of the transitional nature of societies across the globe and the continual waves of immigration, emmigration and change in communities like this, in which the local become universal and brings the world to our door. It seems appropriate to leave the closing words to Giuseppe Tomasi Di -Lampedusa, who wrote, “If we want everything to remain as it is, it will be necessary for everything to change.”