Friday, 28 August 2009



We’re standing round the fire. It has been raining so we sent the kids home. The parents all turned up together after I’d rung one of them on their mobile saying it was raining heavily and all the kids were wet. One man who was visiting the garden had an umbrella but didn’t much like the one kid standing in front of him and falling back on him so as not to get rained on from the drips of the umbrella. He tried walking him over to the Gazebo saying, “I’m going over here. Are you coming too?” Then he walked together with the boy who now stuck to his side, linking arms, and then tried to unravel himself from the boy and deposit him under the gazebo which he then walked quickly away from. The boy just followed him out again. The parents had been in a café together. They collected their kids and the dripping garments here and there lying around the garden and one by one went.

It was a miracle that the fire was still burning in all that wetness, but we’d lit it before the rain had really come down and now it was established, though smoking a good deal from the wood closest to the surface which was wet and getting wetter.

The area around the fire is mud with ingrained footprints of various sizes. The man with the umbrella has also gone by now, some time after he’d been bitten by another boy because he didn’t know about keeping a particular distance from this boy and had overstepped a mark without even realising he was doing it. Though he’d been bitten through a heavy tweed trench coat, somewhere on his shoulder, I think later more than when it actually happened it was beginning to affect him. I think he felt marked.

A man who recently started as a volunteer- who was quiet with his hood up, buried into his own body that day in august- the day of the street festival that we all attended, but since then, since coming to the garden, has talked and moved a great deal and now begins again, whilst walking up and down, collecting more wood, to speak. There is time to listen. It is early and wet and we are all gathered around the fire. I don’t remember the exact words that this man used so tied in with the gestures were they as if he were sewing them together with his own body motions. But I will try to describe the images and scenes that he conjured up in his brief account, spurred on by the fire, the warmth within, that we leaned into, towered over, the mud and spitting rain all around that we drew our backs up against.

He was one figure caught into the movement of a swelling crowd outside the gates of Buckingham palace. He’d been going down there every day and when not directly outside the gates was walking with the throngs around St James park, drifting along the side-lines of the river, with the birds, pigeons and over weight squirrels that every one was feeding. People were crying, holding hands tightly until the blood was squeezed from the fingers and palms, gathering, kneeling in groups, whispering to one another. Fresh flowers at the gates of the palace were piling on top of older ones, cards with countless different personal messages, scrawled signatures, bodies giving way to gravity, collapsible but with a lightness. Tom was entrapped in the folds of such enchantment. There was the magic of a feeling written on the surface of things that he had never experienced before in his writerly academically grounded parental home even though his journalist father had been exiled by the Croatian government for his left wing writing. Yet such matters had never been discussed in terms of how it impacted on the body, on the nervous system, on ones ability to stand or fall, cry and remember. All in all for Tom it had been a bit of a blank because without that impact on the body, on the organs, on the digestion, in that push and pull of an intertwined mobility- of a heaving crowd that locked one in to something, released one out, only to come back the next morning for more- a crowd that possessed you and that you possessed, no memory could catch on- nothing anymore could burn which in his household had become a kind of melancholic letting go- a normalised stretching of the rationalised arguments like dry parchment over a body that had led to this or that being known even whilst going about ones daily life as if nothing much had happened.

Tom grasped the mood that summer of 1996 around the time of his 21st birthday. The summer of the catastrophic car-crash in the tunnel of a Paris ring-road in which the princess, the princess Diana died. It affected Tom like nothing before. He caught on to the mood and felt like he had never felt before.
One day, in the mass of this shared heaving spasm Tom was spotted by his uncle and his uncle took a look at Tom’s pale yet flushed face, his stinking clothes, the euphoric sparkle of eyes drifting well above the body and said, “you don’t look quite right” What is the matter with you?” Soon that phrase took hold and everyone was asking, “What is the matter with Tom?” It got so that even Tom was asking that and in that question, the crowds’ momentum at Buckingham palace halted. Its ability to take him with it halted, and the expression of that very question was re packaged into a curt diagnosis that related to Tom alone, not the crowd, the vehicle of his then expression.

Without that mobile reactive crowd of which Tom was a part he felt washed up, half-dead, unable to express himself. He still remembers the doctor who diagnosed him, a balding man who would not look directly at him but only at his mother, his father or other family members who attended the sessions. If Tom made a gesture it seemed like that gesture was sectioned off, marked around, and examined like something to hold in ones hand. If Tom moved forward in a gesture, using that gesture as a point of convergence as with the palms of the hands pressed tightly between strangers in St James Park, his psychiatrist moved away, his image becoming progressively more and more blurred around the edges. Tom was pronounced psychotic. Then in the conversations that followed- meandering chats and discussions between the doctor and his mother about his childhood or with other family members- out of these “little conversations” he was given the label of autism.

For around six months he was taken to a place where he lived and stayed- ate and slept. It was a frightening place in which were housed other people with strange and explosive behaviours. Tom became caught up in avoiding upsetting what could not be monitored. He began not talking. Some of these people looked strange to him. There was something not symmetrical about their features or their eyes. He looked in the mirror and noticed that his own head was large, that his jaw was very pronounced or so it appeared to him right then, more pronounced than the jaws of his family members. He began to see himself as different; as the result of some terrible mistake for the first time in his life.

We begin talking about the session at the garden. How it had nearly been a catastrophe but somehow hadn’t been. No one had fallen, slipped or been injured. However it did touch on a kind of madness or intensity with the fire in the middle of the ground, left over from the Guy Fawkes night and lit again on request in which everyone was drawn into this central magnet, adults and children, workers and visitors in which some kind of quiet tangible distance between children in entirely different areas and through different practises which at most other sessions mark out their ability to casually touch one another was somehow collapsed into the noise and furore of that centre-stage sucking us into a limited but tangible warmth and organising actions accordingly. It was more then just a spectacle; it was a new pacing device which somehow brought to the scene a heightened rhythm that spun into relief the opposites of hot and cold, rain and fire, in which and through which all dramas, all cataclysmic episodes could possibly emerge and out of which finally came that story about the crash and in its telling our listening stillness.

In the events in the garden of that day we hardly noticed Edward, a boy of 13 who was systematically throwing glass and ceramic bowls, jars and flower-pots against a nearby whitewashed brick wall in the far corner, far from the warmth of the fire, in the driving rain. Consequently that event became as natural as the rain itself; a backdrop to all that was occurring. It was neutralized. We knew it only from the smashed remains of jars and containers found later and pieced back together into the small recollections, sightings and alignments that various people made in relation to Edward’s whereabouts during the course of that session. Never in fact were they known or seen in the event itself.

Nov 23 2008

Ruth Solomon

No comments:

Post a Comment