“A bit of peace” as I sit on a slate bench beside a stream, flies and potato bugs visiting on occasion but nevertheless respecting my space, allowing me to stare off into the shadows of the woods across the way. Earlier in the day I peeked into Merlin’s cave and glimpsed ancient Arthurian ruins along the coast of Tintagel. It pleases me immensely to think as Ithell Colquhoun did, viewing Cornwall in mythic terms, imagining time-traveling Druids and phantom islands shrouded in mist and communities settled by survivors of doomed kingdoms and sunken lands of yore.
Trees, fields, pastoral countryside gleanings as fellow rail passengers sip their mimosas and cackle and carp above cans of Diet Coke. The current flat is an improvement over the former — many-windowed, all mod cons, like the observation deck of a starship — but because of its location on a busy road, the raucous sounds of the urban core fill the space day and night. Let us go, then, on a vacation from our vacation. Due to my assigned seat here on the train to Cornwall, I find myself sharing in what Philip K. Dick called “the great secret,” or the knowledge that we are moving backward in time. A driver meets us at the station and takes us along winding narrow hedgerow-lined roads to the wild and windy coast.
“We’re transforming Old Street,” reads the sign affixed to the construction site, next to which stand a team of bobbies cuffing a bewildered homeless woman, her possessions in plastic bags at her side. I observe and take note from the upper level of a double-decker bus headed to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History. My thoughts return to the woman throughout the afternoon, part of her lingering in my awareness as I view paintings and illustrations by Mervyn Peake and Austin Osman Spare. Apart from Éliphas Lévi and a small Fabian contingent that included H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, the figures I’ve been reading about at the British Library seem to have left these stones unturned.
Acting as group navigator, I lead us to the Bridge Theatre for a knockout performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We pause for a group photo along the waterfront beside the London Bridge, then proceed on our way, thrilled to be present amid the commotion of the city.
The day begins with comrades and I busing down to Trafalgar Square, where thousands gather to protest the president, picket signs in hand. Elated by this show of force, I settle in afterwards at the British Library for another round of research. Objects of study include a full run of Gandalf’s Garden and books by Ithell Colquhoun. Dare I share here the fruits of this research, or shall I exercise discretion, assuming that the terms of my use of this material will be made manifest in the days ahead? “All in due time,” I decide over a bowl of Spicy Tonkotsu. “All in due time.”
A long, rewarding day of research in one of the reading rooms at the British Library culminates in a relaxing evening in a park, the latter being my preferred space to write of late. A bell tower rings the hour as a woman in a violet dress and matching sandals strides past. I close my eyes and witness a crumbling facade amid a landscape of “unverified personal gnosis.” Elsewhere in the city, figurehead greets slumlord-in-chief, as in a Trauerspiel on the banality of evil.
Pint glasses clank together in a bin behind a bar emptied of patrons on a gray evening — the eve of another workweek. Pubs of this sort are all wood, leather, and tweed. Old-timey, tradition-bound. But comfortable all the same. I’ve been reading up on witches these past few days, Alex Mar’s book Witches in America leading me through a brief history featuring figures like Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley and groups like the OTO. I’m of mixed mind regarding this history, curious but wary. The power of these traditions seems undeniable — but what are the principles guiding this power, and toward what end?