Following Regent’s Canal out of Camden Town, I wind past hyenas in a cage at the zoo, landing midafternoon cross-legged atop Primrose Hill, the whole of London spread out across the horizon down below. Passing some bobbies afterwards on my way through Chalk Farm, I realize: I encounter more police per day in the US than I have throughout the entirety of my month-long stay here in the UK. The immense psychic toll of all of that surveillance finally begins to sink in, inspiring fury and a desire to immigrate. By day’s end I’m back at the flat downing tallboys listening to DJ Edu’s “Destination Africa” mix on Radio 1Xtra. Heat collects beneath me as I lie on a couch taking stock of my surroundings: white walls, exposed wires, lightly stained wood cabinets, track lights, scarlet curtains. A doorway appears wreathed by a rectangle of fire. All I can do, though, is listen and observe, the dream’s interface not yet robust enough to support more advanced interaction.
Clouds appear puffy and white with shades of gray the way they do in the paintings of Turner and Constable above the stack of three-level Victorians at the corner of Cowcross and St. John. To sit at a table under an awning at a café here in London is basically to resign oneself to inhalation of secondhand smoke. I see little evidence of Glastonbury and Windsor and the other acid-fueled free festivals of the 1970s remaining here in England’s cultural DNA. The same goes for Madchester and late-80s / early-90s rave culture. The neoliberal counter-reformation has wiped clear near about every last trace of these consciousness-expanding influences, allowing Her Majesty’s loyal subjects to throw themselves whole-hog again into their old habit of killing one another with cigarettes and drink.
Having finished Sword of Wisdom, I spend the first part of my sixth day at the British Library dipping into Jeff Nuttall’s Pig, a book written in the afterglow of Ulysses and Naked Lunch. This being a research junket, though, there’s only so much a’ that one can take, so I shift gears and thumb through another of Nuttall’s books, a hippie manifesto of sorts called Bomb Culture. At the end of the book’s preface, Nuttall writes, “What can be said in words about how the vat was brought to the boil I hope to have put down in the following pages” (Bomb Culture, p. 10). Nuttall’s book antedates Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style by a decade, feels more directly immersed in and connected with the hip counterculture than the latter, and says all that the latter says, only with knife-sharp clarity and glamour galore.
On the train again headed back to London after a lovely time in Cornwall. We toured the hills and fields, dined on regional fare — baps, fish and chips, pasties, clotted cream, cones of Cornish whippy — communed with ducks, geese, crows, and seagulls, not to mention dogs, dogs, all manner of canine, Boscastle is a doglovers’ paradise — plus wildflowers, we mustn’t forget wildflowers, hedgerows dotted with dainty purple foxgloves and daisies, with time set aside Saturday night, after all this Arcadian hiking and lazing about, for a candlelit evening tour of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Among the displays of charms and potions and wishing mirrors, the items that most intrigued me were the colorful Golden Dawn artifacts and the ornate robe worn in rituals performed by Argentum Astratum.
“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.
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.”