Thursday 28 July 2011

Fever Diary - 9th February

When I first saw her, a 15 stone police officer was sitting on my back and a somewhat smaller security man lay across my legs. She had her blonde hair pinned back in the fashion I remembered from the last time I saw her. It was such a relief to see the familiar golden halo as she entered the tiny one-bed ward where I had been dragged. Pedro was shouting loudly in Catalan to anyone who would listen. But he too was stunned into silence by her entrance. She was beautiful as always and I knew if she were really here with me in the After Wigan, that all would be well.

I confess all this is in retrospect. At the time I was seized with a violent seizure that only slightly abated when I saw her face. I hardly remember now why I lost my reason to such an extent. I called her name. No. I am ashamed to say I screamed her name and struggled to reach her, to hold her in my arms. On the whole not a sane or rational response that is likely to find favour with any woman. But then, as many women have told me, par for the course in my relations with the opposite sex.

It is at this point that my memory has a gap of some days where I retained nothing beyond a series of moments that seem to have survived a period of complete nullity. A glimpse through a car window of a towering structure at the junction of Lower Regents Street and Charing Cross Road during a struggle with several heavy men in the back of a police vehicle. The screaming of a man in a prison cell that grated on the nerves until I realised it was me and asked myself to stop. Another glimpse through a van window at a Government department called the Ministry of Sound. An injection and a courtroom. An injection and a hospital bed. An injection and Sonia’s face. An injection and Sonia’s voice. An injection…

Fever Diary - 6th February 20--

We are going to have to come to some convention on time. I favour BW and AW – Before Wigan and After Wigan. AW, of course, used to denote everything that comes after the moment I stepped off the end of the pier and into whatever this turns out to be. It allows me to write, without fear of the usual rolling eyes and discreet tapping motion at the temple, about the wake state and the dream scene in a fashion that satisfies anyone reading this journal.

I have had doubts about my own subconscious. Some of the things I have seen here seem unlikely to have emerged from my own mind, despite the wealth of Verne, Wells, Huxley and Zamaytin that I know I absorbed over time.

One thing, however, convinces me that this world is of my own construction. Here, in the AW, there is no such thing as an out of print author. I have just used a machine that acts rather like a literary jukebox. All English language texts of any age are contained within it and can be printed (complete with glossy cover and binding) or transferred to a hand-held device where they can be read at leisure. Who else but a vainglorious author could conceive of such a thing? To never be so lacking in readership that your oeuvre is pulped and forgotten, but to live on, for any individual of any period in subsequent history, to hold in their hand as if newly published. If only the lost library of Alexandria could have been preserved in this manner for subsequent generations, we could have been bored by several more Greek tragedies and a Rameses pyramid inventory.

I have used the machine to transfer the principal works of every author on my reading list to the device lent to me by Miss Statton. I would have preferred the printed option to the glowing screen, but I was shocked by the costs involved and opted instead for the ethereal versions.

One of the titles I have obtained by this method is ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking. In it, there is much on the subject of infinity and of the beginning of all things. I have no way of knowing if the ideas contained within it, as arcane and peppered with diagrams and equations as an Aleister Crowley notebook, are credible or not. But they are unsatisfactory.

Scientists are measurers. They mark out the world in increments that please themselves. They like numbers and proportions and if no scale exists against which concepts may be weighed, they will invent one. Therefore, the concept of one ‘big bang’ to jump start the universe is a comforting one – just as the idea of a flat earth beyond which nothing can exist, was comforting to the ancients. But to the rest of us, particularly those who live through their imagination, it is, as I say, deeply unsatisfactory. A poet has no problem with infinity. Writers have dealt with eternity far longer than Copernicus. But ask a scientist what comes before the primary combustion and you will see a tidy collection of shifty eyes and vague gestures accompanied by mumblings concerning cyclical entropy and chaos theory.

I, for one, have no problem at all with the eternal. A random bacteria on a random rock near a viable star in one small speck of an infinite universe is a concept I can both conceive and appreciate. But perhaps, only After Wigan.

Fever Diary - 31st January 20--

There has been some debate about this journal, revolving principally around its circulation. My first reaction to the idea of some sort of private therapeutic diary for the benefit of Dr Statton and my own ‘recovery’ was lukewarm. After realising the accessibility of the messages hanging in the ether to anyone who cares to stumble across them, I insisted that the entries should be as public as possible. On the basis that I would not show her any of my writing otherwise, she reluctantly agreed. I have always regarded myself as a political writer. Even in my dreams, it seems, I insist on bludgeoning the reader with my own unfashionable views. The journalist’s malaise.

It is said that great and enduring writers are a product and a reflection of the age in which they live. Political and historical context is all. This being the case, I currently find myself a man without context. A large fragment of the world my mind has created for me to experience, contains a wealth of new chapters that I appear to have slept through. To this end, I am rudderless and voiceless, unable to express any view that is not coloured by my own brief sliver of perspective. Faced with a world of choice that does not immediately announce its significance to the age, I find myself falling back on my journalist colleagues for guidance.I begin with the Times newspaper’s contentious list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. A handful are familiar, the rest necessarily unknown to me, apart from one name that I shall resolutely ignore as unworthy of the accolade. A reading list made up of their greatest works gives me a literary perspective as well as one that throws a light on the development of the novel, of poetry and of the essay as a craft, even if the selection is subjective to fashion and partiality.For the political, I draw upon an old friend. Tribune. Bevan’s baby looks somewhat dog-eared and class war-weary these days. But I am gratified to see easy access to its back issues remains at the newspaper library, which no longer stands in Colindale, but hangs, like everything else, in the ether.I have, under Miss Statton’s guidance, also snatched a glimpse of this invisible library at my disposal through the device she constantly carries around. As I have since discovered through my introduction to the contraption I am using for this entry; a window on the world shows you only what passes from one side of the pane to the other. It does not discriminate and therefore paints a constantly shifting picture of the universe in which it exists. Without preparation, she advises, I can find myself disappearing up arcane cultural cul de sacs that will serve only to confuse my ambition to obtain a modern overview of all that has occurred since the war. I am therefore restricted to this journal or ‘blog’ (derivation?) and ‘The Times’ news page. It is tempting to venture further, but I am slightly cautious having only recently emerged from a semi-catatonic state.I find this experience both frustrating and exciting. Overwhelmed with all that I have to absorb, I find it difficult not to leap to conclusions that are instantly gainsaid by Emily’s dogged recitation of past events that render both my view and my method of expressing them invalid and patently inaccurate. I have already been upbraided for referring in conversation to the ‘negro view of colonial power’. The altered orthodoxies of language are probably the most noticeable and, for the most part, welcome. I am fortunate that she is highly educated in both social history and psychology with a younger person’s encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture that I find constantly surprising and helpful. Her articulate and measured responses to my endless questions are thoughtful and eked out like morphine to an addict, constantly aware of my being overwhelmed. She is not typical of her generation, whose argot appears largely indecipherable and delivered as a babbled lingua franca of restricted code.In a way, I resemble a patient with brain trauma, except instead of learning to walk or speak again, I am being ‘brought up to speed’ in a measured and careful way by a guide of some sensitivity. I am not comfortable with what I reveal to her, unintentionally, about my own psychological barriers. But in a sense, this is the only way in which I can repay her. The quid pro quo is painful but necessary and relieves the loneliness I find creeping up on me, like a baleful burglar in the night. Below is the Times list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945, found amongst old copies piled in the corner of Miss Statton's consulting room. I have started to read them in the order in which they are listed, although there is a temptation to leap to familiar friends to see how they developed in later years. One imagines Anthony Powell would be quite incandescent at the ranking. I will skip Tolkien, I think. I am heartily at one with Eileen’s fellow Inkling at Oxford who greeted yet another reading by the earnest Professor at the literary discussion group with the words, 'Not those bloody elves again'.1. Philip Larkin 2. George Orwell 3. William Golding
4. Ted Hughes 5. Doris Lessing 6. J. R. R. Tolkien
7. V. S. Naipaul 8. Muriel Spark 9. Kingsley Amis
10. Angela Carter 11. C. S. Lewis 12. Iris Murdoch13. Salman Rushdie 14. Ian Fleming 15. Jan Morris
16. Roald Dahl 17. Anthony Burgess 18. Mervyn Peake
19. Martin Amis 20. Anthony Powell 21. Alan Sillitoe
22. John Le Carré 23. Penelope Fitzgerald
24. Philippa Pearce 25. Barbara Pym 26. Beryl Bainbridge27. J. G. Ballard 28. Alan Garner 29. Alasdair Gray30. John Fowles 31. Derek Walcott 32. Kazuo Ishiguro33. Anita Brookner 34. A. S. Byatt 35. Ian McEwan36. Geoffrey Hill 37. Hanif Kureishi 38. Iain Banks39. George Mackay Brown
40. A. J. P. Taylor 41. Isaiah Berlin 42. J. K. Rowling43. Philip Pullman 44. Kurt Vonnegut 45. Colin Thubron46. Bruce Chatwin 47. Alice Oswald 48. Benjamin Zephaniah49. Rosemary Sutcliff 50. Michael Moorcock

Fever Diary - 23rd January 20--

The first sensation was of numbness from the neck down combined with a tremendous ache in the glands at the back of the head and nape. Prior to this was a complete blackout. No feeling, no pain, no distant voices of hospital staff and, mercifully for a devout agnostic, no shining light or choir of angels. In fact, if I were a believer in some eternal after-life, I would have considered myself, as Carlyle, ‘to a certain extent bilked’ by the first sight of my new horizon.
As I struggled to open my eyes, I appeared to be lying in the foetal position in the lee of two metal dustbins sited in an alleyway between a public house and a row of new brick-built houses. Looking at me across a bundle of shabby blankets was a glossy black Labrador, his deep brown eyes watching me intently. For quite a while, perhaps ten minutes, I could not move and remained paralysed and helpless, my eyes locked on the dog. He also seemed curiously still, as if in silent empathy.
I experimented at first simply with the motion of my eyelids. Closing and opening them seemed to be as much as I could manage and I started to suspect a stroke. But why deposited unceremoniously in an alleyway? As far as I was aware, my medical bills were paid up and although I know in theory that they often discharge seriously ill but penurious patients, I could not believe they would have done so in this instance. There is usually some foundation or other that allows at least a few days grace. But then, how long had I been unconscious and in what mental state? For all I knew, I could have discharged myself, wandered into the street and suffered some sort of episode in a remote part of the city. In which case, I felt I had better try and get to my feet and seek help before the snow that I could just about perceive on the pub windowsill at the corner of my vision, started to work on my extremities.
When I did begin to move, it was my fingers and my torso that first felt the damp of the thawing snow beneath me. What I had first thought were a shapeless bundle of covers, turned out to be another sleeper, his face obscured by a woollen hood, his breath sending cloudy messages into the freezing air. As the sensation returned to my legs, I began to shiver uncontrollably and felt certain the movement would waken my slumbering compatriot. But he remained insensible and I smelt a sour alcoholic odour from him, mixed with the sweat and urine combination of the long unwashed. It was almost a relief, as I knew stroke victims often lose their sense of smell. But movement was returning and despite the cold, I felt euphoric and foolishly happy that I was going to be able to walk around on my own two feet.
The first effort was profoundly painful as I levered myself up on one arm. The cold air razored the damp of my clothing and forced a deep shuddering breath that would have seemed impossible only an hour, a day or a week ago. Cramp turned the screws on my elbows and shoulders as I laboured to inch around on the palms of my hands to a more comfortable sitting position. Blinking with the effort, I stared comically at the great army boots I seemed to be wearing on the two inaccessible peninsulas of my feet. As I looked them over, it occurred to me that I could remember little about the immediate past. I knew I had been in hospital and I knew I had been there some time. Memory and detail were largely absent, although I was angry with the staff for having somehow allowed me to be in this state.
Another quarter hour seemed to find me in a much-improved condition and I was ready to try standing up. As I did so, my boots scraping noisily on the cement, the sleeper grunted and cocked a bloodshot eye in my direction. He yawned and sat up, seemingly unsurprised to find me standing above him. He had dark eyebrows that almost met in the middle and the same dark brown eyes as the dog.‘Feeling better?’His accent was unmistakably Spanish and I hesitated before answering, as my throat seemed dry and clogged with phlegm. Turning aside, I spat into one of the bins and cleared my throat with a rattling cheer. ‘Yes. Yes, I think so.’Good. I was really worried about you, man.’He patted the dog, which opened its mouth as if laughing and then suddenly raced off. The sleeper laughed and tossed a cigarette butt after him. ‘Fair weather friend, eh? He get warm from us then he bugger off, isn’t it?’I reached out a hand to the rim of the nearest bin and held myself upright, swaying slightly with the effort. I shook my head slightly to try and relieve some residual dizziness and my companion cocked his head to one side in a concerned fashion. ‘You OK, Lewis? You still sick?’I contemplated the question for a moment and then smiled, my lips feeling stiff and unfamiliar. ‘No. No, I think that’s all finished now.’I held out a hand. ‘I’m Eric. What’s your name?’The Spaniard looked at my hand as if it were a dead flounder and frowned. ‘You still got the fever. We got to get you hospital.’I withdrew the hand and ran it over my chin, which seemed to have been a stranger to the razor for some time. He sounded like he was from the north. Barcelona, perhaps? I searched my memory for forgotten phrases. ‘Molt de gust de conèixe'l. Com es diu?’He looked mildly surprised and stood up, revealing a bizarre outfit of army surplus trousers and a lumberjack style shirt. ‘I din’t know you speak Catalan, Lewis. You OK?It was then that I saw the box like contraption above the door of the pub behind him. At the centre was the unmistakable double ellipse of a camera lens.

Fever Diary - 22nd January 20--

Fever Diary – 22nd January 20—

I have stepped off the end of Wigan Pier. The last time I remember the nurse taking my temperature, it was 104 degrees. If this is a fever dream, as I have surmised, then this ethereal journal may not last very long. Every week one reads in the newspapers of such cases. A man disappears from home or work or somewhere in between and isn’t seen for months or years. He comes to a realization, in the street perhaps that he doesn’t know where he has come from or where he is going. Just as one may enter a room and forget entirely why one came. In such cases, the victim gradually comes to understand that he doesn’t know who he is. But although I have no memory of how I got here, I believe I am very aware of who I am. Although, naturally, in a dream one may be convinced of a fact that on waking turns out to have been a complete fiction.

There have been fever dreams before, of course. Some accompanied by vivid hallucinations and an undercurrent of dread or menace. Whilst lying in a Cologne hospital ward, I once dreamt a long and complicated scenario accompanied by the pervading smell of burning onions and a malevolent toad slithering beneath my bed. But this current episode is a curious hybrid of dream logic and sensory overload that I know I have not experienced before, whatever my temperature. In the hallucination that I find myself enjoying (and occasionally suffering) I seem to be able to think and feel as ever I did. Curiously, a kind of detachment that I always strove for in my waking life seems to come very easily now. This may well be the over-heated brain playing philosophical tricks on my perception. But I suspect it is more the collision between the very familiar landscape of the England I know and the profoundly alien intercision of the fever world I now inhabit. I both know and do not know this world.The delusion lays a curious topography over the once familiar contours of a landscape skewed by my affliction. Although, I’m not sure affliction is the right word. I find that although I can touch and feel in this largely benign fugue, I am completely free of disease for the first time in nearly twenty years. I felt that instantly. It’s true, I bleed if I graze my knuckle against a wall, but the previously constant shard of ice beneath my breast is mercifully absent here. Perhaps if it returns, I will know that I am about to wake up or die. Neither option appeals to me at present. I am tired of the tedious routine of the chronic patient. In this respect, the dream is a relief, whatever it signifies about my current state of health.There are still newspapers here, at least. They speak to an extraordinary explosion in telegraphic means which as I always suspected, tend to retard rather than enable international communication. I hope that I can write a little longer for whoever seeks me out in the universe of perpetual dialogue I seem to have projected for my own amusement or torment. The electronic cacophony that this world now seems to endure is a hard place to be heard. Perhaps I have made it deliberately so, as a reflection of how my political writing is treated in the real world. Amidst the largely docile and benign headlines from my own country of the imagination, I perceive the ominous soccer-rattle of ravens beneath Britannia’s skirts, the malignant clatter of the machine gun behind the arras. I have not left Albion as it was. But what have I done to it?

NB: I have just eaten prawn cocktail flavour potatoes.