Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Step by London Archaeologist.

In my memory, a clear picture of a handful of circles on a step. Copper, blood, saliva on grit. Around, the sound of a high street, the steps leading off. Could have been a child, I suppose, losing a milk tooth, drooling pain over dropped pocket money. Or old men, too, lose teeth naturally. Realistically, though, there was no need searching. It had been a junky or a wino in a fight over a clutch, a punch swung at a jaw.

It is not unimaginable, I considered, that there was once a people with a very specific belief concerning clouds. To many the question must have posed itself as to the limits to the variety of the possible forms of the meteorological bodies. Perhaps they could be infinite, perhaps they repeat. Arising from this uncertainty, the belief might have been that there is a specific place from which, looking up on different occasions, a person could, as an extreme rarity, catch an exact repetition of an earlier configuration. At that moment, that person, and only that person, became free from the otherwise endless cycle of birth and death.

Around me the sound of the high street was cars, a slight rustle from a nearby tree, and possibly children in a playground screaming. The victim would have reeled on being punched, perhaps fallen on his back as he released his hold on the money, of which his assailant would have taken all denominations above those expressed in copper alloy. On his back he would have heard the noises I heard and also the departing steps, perhaps not even running. He would have seen the houses that cleared where the path left the street to bracket a patch of sky, the branches of the tree extending into it. 

The path joins the course of the New River, itself no longer extant except in course, meandering round the backs of the houses. Myddleton, the man who laid what was never in fact a river at all but an open aqueduct or conduit, is represented on the high street by his statue. Further up the path you come across places where water has been restored, but lies still. Occasionally a flood will break out, from beneath a nearby road, reminding you that the course of the former water way now in reality lies underground, all that remains on the surface an act of illusionism.        

 I passed often up the steps on my way home from work, seeking the calm the course offers for the last five minutes to my door. Back at that time I did not have the habit of carrying my camera about with me, but, having done one or two domestic chores, would be happy to make the trip back with it.

For some reason that I do not remember, the household tasks took quite some while, and by the time I was able to return, it was not surprising that all trace on the step had been erased, the coins perhaps pocketed by a passer by, the saliva evaporated, the blood brushed away by feet.

I have long since moved from there to another part of town. However, at the time regularly, and now on the much rarer occasions that I find myself there, I still feel an irresistible compulsion to look and confirm. The cars come and go, of course, and the branches still sway, one time bare, another with shoots, thick with leaves, bare. Children’s voices come from the playground by the New River course. Clouds, planes, birds pass over head, but of course, as I know will be the case, never

 again coins there, blood or saliva in their eloquent configuration on the stair.

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