An extract for the self-commentary of the book HERE.
Ogdon sat on the customer’s side of his pub’s bar, staring into the decorative mirror behind the gleaming shorts and their optics. The reflective glass had the word C – O – U – R – A – G – E etched in swirls of artistic lettering at the top of the mirror: an advert for one of the bitters that were sold there. Ogdon could see his own face lower down between a bottle of rum and a bottle of vodka. But it wasn’t his face but that of a Spanish playwright by the name of Lope de Vega who, Odgon always thought, was the author of “La Vida Es Sueño”, but he also thought William Congreve had written “She Stoops To Conquer”, so whether Ogdon was correct about any literary matters was anybody’s guess! In any event, he imagined a dialogue between himself and the reflection in the mirror. There was nobody else to whom he could talk – the barmaid (a replacement for Susan) being down the other end of the bar and she didn’t seem to have anything much in common with Ogdon – and she freely admitted to being a fan of the ‘Big Brother’ TV show and other Soap Operas. And it was now that no-man’s-land of time between popular drinking sessions: and next to no customers were present to listen to his pub small-talk.
Ogdon: There is one people carrier.
Reflection: A people carrier?
O: Yes, a human being who’s infecting the birds with a virus, and not vice versa.
R: Now that sounds possible, but how do you know?
O: Well, the birds are becoming more like red meat than white poultry-flesh when you cut them open.
R: As if they’ve got an animal disease?
O: Turning them gradually, from a bird into an animal or half and half. And they’ve caught it from us humans. Or they have just started to catch it from us humans. That’s why many of them can’t fly any more and only hop about. Their whole essence is somehow corrupted.
R: So, they don’t need roofs to aviary cages any more in the zoo? Makes you want to cry.
O: There is one single bird that is in charge of all the other birds. Did you know that? A sort of Bird God. This Bird God is set to wreak vengeance…
R: Really? What do they call it?
O: Like all gods in religion, the birds know it with different names or no name at all.
R: If it’s got no name at all, what do the birds think of when they think of it?
Ogdon pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket, placed it on the damp drink-stained surface of the bar and started to write out a few of the possible names for the Bird God. He then folded it up and returned it to his pocket. He had by now forgotten about the conversation … until the reflection brought him back by asking a further question: “Can the Bird God, whatever its name, stop birds coming in contact with the people carrier?”
“It remains to be seen,” answered Ogdon, now forgetting his own point or why he had started the topic or even the whole topic itself – as if he had simply been doodling with words and concepts … in the composition of an abstract poem. If he thought the destiny of the whole world depended on the outcome of his thoughts, he would have been more careful with those very thoughts or just tried to be less thoughtful altogether.
“It’s the beer talking” was a saying that Ogdon’s mother often said – usually about his father, her husband. His mother was very wise, he thought, as he called out to the barmaid: “Chalk up on the blackboard that drinks are on Happy Hour all night!”
He returned to his thoughts, desperately wanting the people who were caught up in these thoughts of his to be believeable, sympathisable figures: because, if not, there would be no way that the conflicts in store for them would be sustainable conflicts at all. These people were in danger, he thought, of becoming mere ciphers acting in a game, or a dream, or a lie. Little did he know, however, that the people themselves (Mike, Greg, Susan, Beth and so forth) – currently on the brink of enormous human significance – were essentially real: tangible bodies with flesh and blood, owning minds that could be hurt or filled with joy, thinking thoughts that could be clarified, confused or defused.
Meanwhile, by comparison, he, Ogdon, was the emptiest cipher of them all, less real even than his own reflections. Hence, the sheet of paper.
One viewpoint is that his dream is separate, insulated, uninfecting and uninfected.
An alternative viewpoint would be that the dream itself – this we read – was infected from outside.
Or, yet, as there always are three alternatives, the dream itself infected other dreams, other realities.
The daylight firework-display on the open plateau of the Left Foot Region was indeed a sight to behold. It was intended as environmental context for the Drill’s ‘lift-off’. The bright primary colours of each of the individual swellings or plumes of flame, their sprays, cascades and visible thunderous bangers were so sharp-etched, sharp-edged, they seared to the very optic fuse of one’s retina. The wide shiny blue sky faded by comparison. Some of the colours were not colours as such but various shades of black, many being utterly black slices and slashes of display – accentuating how faded the sky’s otherwise bright backdrop had become. Meanwhile, the revving throbs of the Drill’s engine took sway as the sunlight sparked off the fast-revolving bit-tip at the Drill’s lower leading-edge. The pilot could be seen grappling with the controls in his cockpit as the bit-tip finally met the beachy terrain beneath it with a sickening crunch – both the bit-tip’s self-induced sparks and the crunching noise now outdoing the firework display which had previously outdone all else.
Ogdon turned from the mirror and busied himself with more pressing duties that the current Happy Hour in his pub had created.
Mike reached the area on the horizon (a horizon now turned into the hard-rippled ground beneath his feet) where the rest of his party seemed – at the previous distance from which he had viewed them – to have slowly sunk from sight. The others had, in their turn, been pursuing two stick-thin figures of child-size that, it was assumed, were the stolen or missing identities as children of Amy and Arthur who were also in the same party pursuing the same figures. Mike’s wife Susan and her teenage daughter Sudra were also in the party, so Mike panicked when thinking that something evil had befallen them. He could not remember why he was so behindhand with his own pursuit.
Any possible quicksand needed to be respected by means of a slow approach to its suspected whereabouts. He had shouted out warnings to the others. However, there was no sign of quicksand at this headpoint in the northern coalfields. The sky had, by now, grown even darker and he wondered how dark any sky could possibly grow. Was there a black blacker than black? Despite this, there was a thin effulgence which picked out an untidy mound of what appeared to be old stiff and rumpled carpet in the vicinity of where the others had last been seen. That was the only way he could describe the sight before gingerly approaching the odd crumplings to investigate what it was and whether any blackness could exceed any other blackness. This and different rhetorical questions buzzed through his head, some relatively sensible, others completely crazy or off-the-wall – and he felt himself desperate in not being able to differentiate the crazy from the sensible.
He was a hawler, he knew, and, amid the current mishmash of his mind’s thoughts and questions, the concept of ‘hawler’ seemed – against all the odds – to crystallise. A miner went down to gather fossil-fuel never expecting to return to the surface. The word ‘miner’ derived from ‘mine’ – as in ‘belonging to me’. It all seemed so simple. That was why the Himalayas were so high. It made sense. And the Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral seemed to set a varying context of clarification. And the Ewbank – a brand of non-electric carpet-cleaner. Hoover, too. Who? Bewhiched – Susan’s Herstyle – much was unravelling as he tried to gather his thoughts… Hurler … Horla… hair-curler…
He looked down at his own hands. The nails were too long – the recent events preventing all manner of ablution or body-care. His tongue felt his teeth, teeth that now seemed too big for his mouth – a most uncomfortable feeling. He needed to sink them into something juicy … or creamy. He needed to reach the core of things and haul off its bone-caged heart. Feast off its pulsing meaty pith. Milk its weakening metabolism. And he knew, in this context, that filters could work both ways…
At that sudden point in his thoughts, all the teeth clamped and became (or felt like) a flickering hinge of two scooped out bones.
Soon, however, the storm of thoughts subsided and Mike became worried again about the others in his party. There was a gap in the blackness of the ground beneath his feet; he lowered his head to peer into the ragged aperture. He sensed it was merely an oubliette of vacant earth – so he was amazed to find a further sense that followed the first sense indicating it was the start of a shaft that reached beyond any conceivable depth possible within the context of earthen tunnel-able dimensions. When did depth become height? Another question that was soon forgotten when he saw, in the thin effulgence, that there was a spiky hedge filling the gap in the ground – and, at the back of his mind, he somehow recalled the time when he had first encountered such a hedge, needing to thread his own body through such a tangled mass of twigs and sharp leaves. But, then, it was a horizontal hedge which grew along and from the surface of the ground. This new hedge was a vertical one; he knew instinctively it would be relatively easy to push aside and penetrate its nettly growths in a downward path – but if he changed his mind and tried to come back up through the hedge, such growths would have closed ranks, changed points of direction, with each spike jagging against the matted grain, making any escape impossible.
He heard the other’s voices below him from within the hedge’s ambit but he could not judge whether they called for help or for him to join them in the renewed pursuit. Nor could he judge if they had fallen accidentally through the hedge that had opened up its scratchy spindly arms to welcome them into the undergrowth (in the true sense of that word) or if they had jumped with joyful shrieks into its enticing knots of wood-nymphs. His mind was evidently still trying to play tricks on itself. At least all this explained the stick-figures that had tempted them this far. Explanation, however, is not a two-way filter.
Reflection (talking to itself with alternating prurient relish and prim properness in a now empty pub):
It is hard to reconcile the earlier characters of Mike, Susan, Sudra, Amy and Arthur with their later madness in undertaking such a downward search. Mike had soon faced this conundrum even more starkly by investigating the so-called crumply mound of ‘carpet’ only to discover it was a pile of discarded clothes. All of them had indeed needed to take off their clothes to be able to slide with greater ease through the hedge-filled tunnel as the spikes would have otherwise snagged on the teased and worried material of even underwear. Therefore, they spent their first sleep-stop completely naked (it couldn’t be called ‘spending the night’ as the thin effulgence that seeped through the tunnel was uniform, thus not being able to differentiate between seasons of time), but they had managed by then to re-establish their personalities, inhibitions and vulnerability to fear – just like the real people that they had been when first walking through the city zoo, certain then what was dream and what was not dream. This hedgy drop was another area – as with the zoo – where one could be oneself without fear of becoming other than oneself. Not confused by what was real and what was not real. By what was and what was not.
Ogdon (returning out of the blue to his position opposite the mirror, cigarette glowing redly):
But don’t forget when they were in the zoo, someone, for whatever reason, left quite unreported one of the sights they saw in a cage just before leaving the zoo!
Reflection nodded sagely.