Sunday, 27 July 2008

Lawrence Miles is On Holiday

The Wilderness Years: Part One

I’m in Wales. What am I doing in Wales?

Not even one of the cosmopolitan parts, not even the kind of generic, terraformed urban landscape that might double for London in the event of a Cyberman invasion. It’s... quieter here. I’m in a big house in the middle of a duck-green space that my child-self likes to call “the country”, which is like the “outside” we get in cities, but without the adverts. The nearest settlement is a village, so removed from consumer society as I recognise it that the (only) shop doesn’t sell Pringles. I wouldn’t be able to buy them even if it did, since there’s nothing as technologically gauche as a cashtill here. To get to the shop, I have to walk through a field of cows: at least, I believed them to be cows, having admired their work in episode one of “Image of the Fendahl”. But now I’m told that they’re bullocks, this being the name given to docile, castrated bulls. It seems cruel to turn a creature into a eunuch, and then give it a name that sounds so much like the most popular term for testicles. But the atmosphere of menace around them makes it hard for me to feel any sympathy. When I walked past them today – flanked by them on either side of the pathway, close enough to hear the flies in search of the next ready-meal – they stopped their grazing and stared at me, turning their heads as I passed, never looking away and never blinking. Then they started following me. Not following me the way nice animals do, the way a cat would, if it thought it might get food or attention. Following me the way a gang of adolescents would, if its members wanted to mark out their territory but didn’t have the nerve for a proper stabbing.

Stabbings...! There was another stabbing the day before I left London, not much more than a hundred yards from my house, outside a notoriously violent pub which someone with no foresight (or, just as likely, someone with both foresight and irony) decided to call The Flowers. To escape all that, and then be stampeded by sexually-mutilated cattle, would be the stupidest possible way to die.

In the daytime, I work on the laptop I’ve been given. Sometimes I go for walks in the forest, where I’ve learned to detect the presence of wildlife by the smell of badger-shit. I don’t feel close to the forest. I feel closer to the old yellow diggers that sit rotting outside the farms, some of them not used in decades, now overgrown with vines and gradually being dragged into the earth. Nothing, not even the broken statue of Ozymandias in the poem, is as poignant as the corpse of a JCB being ingested by the dirt and the high grass. At night, I try to study The Iliad and try not to giggle at the homoeroticism (not all of it deliberate, although finding "accidental" references to sodomy in Greek classical literature seems as unlikely as finding "accidental" camp in anything that involves John Barrowman). There’s obvious, inevitable humour in reading that Achilles was promised “seven Lesbians” by the Greek army – seven being an odd number, reminding me of the joke that an orgy is so-called because if there’s an odd number of participants, then the one who doesn’t end up with a partner gets to say 'aw, gee' – but it’s fairly clear in this context that “Lesbians” means “women from Lesbos”, apparently noted for their skills in housewifery. More striking, though, is the couplet from Book Fourteen:

Mean space flew Somnus to the ships, found Neptune out, and said:
‘Now cheerfully assist the Greeks, and give them glorious head...’

I assume this doesn’t happen on-screen in “The Myth Makers”, although it’s hard to judge from the telesnaps.

I’m lonely. Isolation is one of the reasons I was brought here, but there’s a sting to it: I wasn’t expecting to have access to the internet. This means that I didn’t bring any e-mail addresses with me, which means in turn that I can watch the rest of the world on a flattened, luminous screen, but not communicate with anybody I know who happens to live there. I also miss the presence of people – real-life, wrapped-in-skin, all-around-you people - which surprises me, given how little I seem to like them in my native environment. But, oh, yes... women especially. I miss the overfed Chav-girls of the suburbs, slouching nonchalantly outside Asda with their chip-fat breasts bulging out of their ill-advised T-shirts, waiting for someone over the age of twenty-one to buy them vodka. I wonder what my local high-street must look like now, in this weather, in this heat. I imagine boiling flesh straining out of every opening, like a side of ham being forced through a fishnet stocking. Outside this house, the only women I’ve seen here have been the two girls who work in the shop that knows no Pringle. One is plump, Welsh, pierced and smiling, the other pallid, red-haired, Birmingham-accented and almost as out-of-place as myself. They’re both adorable. I don’t like getting near them, of course. In the country, you’re always noticed: I hate being noticed. Perhaps that’s the prime reason I don’t belong here. Standing in a field, there’s no hope of camouflage, let alone any chance of letching.

Nobody else who’s staying in this house has any interest in Doctor Who, which is merciful. If nothing else, then I won’t have to sit through “Silence in the Library” in the television room tomorrow. I’d only complain about the lazy script-editing, and nobody else would understand a word I was saying. Television: when I came here, I didn’t think I’d see any television. Instead, I see it, but don’t have much control over it. I’ve watched every episode of Big Brother this week, although my interest in it ended yesterday, for reasons I don’t think I need to explain. The only thing I’ve insisted on watching (alone) was a topical comedy show on BBC2, purely because somebody I know was on the panel. She spoke four sentences in the entire half-hour, and her presence – all 5’2” of it – seemed to get lost amongst her aggressively tall, aggressively masculine co-comedians. I got the sense that she felt rather intimidated, but I could just be projecting, given that this is exactly how she makes me feel. The poor, short-arsed little genius.

There’s a copy of one of my books on the shelf in my room, as well as a Lego minifigure of Darth Maul, and I didn’t bring either of them with me. I’m guessing that the former was put there because they knew I was coming, but that the latter is just a coincidence. Because in this country, you’re never more than ten feet from a Lego minifigure of Darth Maul.