‘A Citizen’s Diary’ by Norman Jope

(Plymouth, Summer 2013: revised 2015 and 2017)

 

 

It’s been a week spent on familiar circuits, from workplace to home to shop to polis. As I sit on the bus I contemplate the street map’s contortions, the sclerosis of a city whose centre, as with most other port cities, is at its edge. Starting over, there would not be a city of this size in this location, as there would be neither the need nor the justification for it – but it wants to go on living, out of sight of power and influence but still the home of a quarter of a million people. What can it do to make itself useful? By simply being here, I am implicated in that challenge.

***

I try to think in terms of Plymouth, of the story of Plymouth, of the risks and opportunities of Plymouth, of the character and the atmosphere of Plymouth. Perhaps it makes most sense when seen from the heights of Mount Edgcumbe – stretching from one estuary to another, facing the ocean – a singular entity, like the labyrinth depicted on the street-map I project on the wall in front of me. And were it to disappear altogether, I think, I would be able to survey it as a single phenomenon and determine, finally, what it meant to me as my own life intersected with it.

***

So I contemplate the street-map in its confusion – the centre at the edge, a nondescript flyover at its natural centre, estates that sprawl into fields and hills. I can trace its patterns with my eyes closed, envisaging countless journeys from one suburb to another. That experience means more to me than the ‘identity’ of this place – the civic myths, the alibis with which it tranquillises itself.

***

Light burns on the corniche of Madeira Road. At Fisherman’s Wharf, tombstoners impress an audience of potential ghouls. I know that it’s mad to be out of the shade but still, I make it to the Hoe where the candy-striped lighthouse, relieved of its function, is the centre-piece of a human flourishing. I am at home and at the same time placeless – too spaced out by the heat to know exactly what ‘home‘ might be.

***

I sit before the masts in Sutton Harbour, cradling my Asahi lager like a TV detective. Forty-five years ago, my parents would drive down here on a Friday morning to purchase fish for the evening meal. It’s not a gesture that I’ll repeat, as a vegetarian of thirty years’ standing, but it made use of the city – bringing out its pungency in the shapes and smells of creatures caught not far from its shores.

***

A sparrow hops upon my table at the Bagatelle and engages in a capricious dance, moving parallel to my plate. I enjoy this mercurial encounter – the shape of a bird whose heart beats many times faster than my own, who must see my world as I would see the world of a tortoise. Suddenly, it flies off to inspect a crumb in the gutter – I go on wondering what it makes of this street, whose dimensions are those of a vast space speckled with food.

***

Circling once more – New George Street to Market Avenue to Cornwall Street to the mall to Old Town Street and back again to the sundial – I look up at the fluted columns and the worn insignia. A child for whom this city was built, I am growing older with it and there is nothing, not even death, that can rewind our stories to the beginning.

***

At Bretonside Bus Station, piped music is played. Waiting for my bus to depart, I hear America’s ‘Horse With No Name’ outside – ’the first thing I met was a fly with no buzz’ as a trapped fly moves from window to window in silence. Forty years later, this song’s still fresh. It is in this city that I heard it first, taking it into my consciousness and imagining its desert landscape – so that, even now, it is still a part of this city despite its exotic origin and subject matter. Then it dies in my ears like a dried-up stream.

***

I cannot explain my dreams of this place. I roam through a phantasmal landscape, constructed mainly in early childhood, which is a vast and distorted version of this city – it also contains spliced fragments of other landscapes, perhaps encountered on television or in films. These landscapes can be more memorable than what happens in them. They will die when I die, obliterated kingdoms that no séance could ever reveal.

***

Another nocturnal journey splinters as I wake. As I press the snooze button on my alarm clock for a third time, I lose sight of its architecture but I can still place the site of its invention on a map. Again, I glimpse that city of which I am the only custodian and which intersects, uncannily, with the one I inhabit. As I walk to work, I follow the ships that sail from its shores with my eyes turned both outwards and inwards.

***

‘Ocean city’ – wanting to be made sense of, wanting to be of use, and wanting the expensive yachts that were built here to remain. Wanting all the roads that lead out of it to be like sea-lanes.

***

I struggle with the martial traditions – the military flags on the Hoe, the arrival and departure of warships, overpriced nuclear submarines in sheds and the gleam of buttons on jackets. I would love this city even more if it had been built exclusively on trade. Smyrna, Salonica, Cavafy’s Alexandria – commerce and decadence, the aromatic sacks piled high, all comers welcome.

***

Cities layered on cities, in four dimensions, stretching back before my birth and the birth of my parents, before the coming of their forebears to the city from rural locations… it is as if these layers still exist and could be penetrated, as if I could look out one day from my place of work and see a smaller city amongst fields and hills. And there I would be in 1439, the city’s history before me at last.

***

The sea, as ever, makes some sense of it. A ten-minute walk from the city centre reveals the start of ten thousand miles of water – a terrain into which a ferry or a frigate can emerge, growing from a speck of dust to an island in motion. It is as if this city came into existence as a bulwark against a void that would render its entrenchment and its ‘warrior maid’ pretensions meaningless. How pointless, then, to celebrate that entrenchment – as if it were possible to repel an invader without repelling a part of oneself, the dark dwarf in the distorted mirror.

***

From the charismatic waterfront, the city spills across its knolls and extends six miles in every direction. The valium estates at its edge are compensated with immaculate views. They lead down to a narrow strip of grey at the southern horizon, an escape-route that’s the colour of the bars of a cage.

***

Under a swoosh of horizons I recall the mutable face of the water, seen from boat trips on burning summer’s days – on landing, I continued to walk on its undulating surface. And so it was that infinitude pursued me down the narrow streets of the Barbican, where I spilled from myself and became a rudderless craft. The feeling would be there at night, as I closed my eyes and sailed into night’s anonymity.

***

Over the turquoise veldt of the Sound, I inscribe directions – to France or Morocco, New Zealand or Antarctica. Past the masts of the pleasure craft and the faint mark of the Eddystone Lighthouse, there is an infinitude of destinations and in all of them almost every trace of the city is erased. Mapping voyages through spray, I connect this port of origin with the wider world.

***

I imagine the shoreline unfolded, stretched out for fifty miles like the shoreline of a metropolis. A strip city behind it, a Muscat or a Genoa, answering only to the tides.

***

To live well in a city means to construct a ritual made out of smaller rituals… inscribing one’s habits and preferences on a map the size of a city. This traces an indelible, unique signature that connects a citizen to his or her locale… as long as it is never seen as an end in itself, as a means of defusing a life that is always too brief.

***

There are those who live here and are incapable of living happily anywhere else. There are those who live here but could live happily in another place, if not any place on the surface of the earth. And the rest, who are either passing through or long to escape. In our daily interactions, we are inseparable and –  as we trace our personal routes – create a city of movement and perspective.

***

At a roadside garage between Plymstock and Plympton, one afternoon in the early Sixties, a radio plays ‘If Anyone Had A Heart’ – the singer unknown to me then. I can’t remember anything else from that day – where we’d been, what mood I was in, what my parents were saying. But perhaps I was taking possession of a delicate art – the decision to create a memory – for the very first time.

***

Giving me a lift home – and probably too tired to do so, but for how much longer will he take the wheel? – my eighty-five year old father takes a wrong turn. His working life, as an electrician, involved driving around the city from appliance to appliance – and the knowledge he acquired, over several decades, is that of a taxi-driver. Quickly, the map in his head lights up once more and he finds his way out.

***

A woman tosses her waist-length salmon-pink hair and, on shoulders and midriff, her tattoos appear abstract rather than the usual clichés (hearts, swallows etc). Goth-graffiti skin in sunlight, I think. We board the bus together and, making way for her, I catch her deeply-shadowed eye as she smiles back fleetingly. Her hair is of a completely different colour to the rest of the city. I cannot get her out of my mind and, at night, I fall asleep enveloped by waterfalls of salmon-pink hair, swimming upstream against her tidal beauty.

***

From an inlet where wine was imported for boozy priors, to a rampant warren of privateers and press-gangs, to a war-town replete with dockyards and ensigns, to an expanse of rubble and mass-graves, to a shining post-war vision of a city with immaculate boulevards, to recession cut with intermissions of plenty… the film moves on to a tomorrow I will never know. A twenty-first century baby is brought onto a bus and his mother – who is easily young enough to be my daughter – rocks his pram gently. ‘It’s all yours, son‘, I tell him under my breath like the citizen I am.

***

On the escalator of WH Smith, I see a trio of Mormon missionaries. ‘They’re on a stairway to heaven‘, I think, as they head to check out the map section. Five minutes later, in Waterstones, that’s exactly the song being played in the Costa Coffee outlet – that song, out of many thousands possible. Out of small and random coincidences, we construct the cathedrals of memory.

***

Almost all of what has happened to me here could have happened in another city… a medium sized city, a European city, a port city, a working-class city, a remote city, a charismatic city. So why not here?

***

From the graveyard of St Budeaux church, Kit Hill is to the left and Dartmoor to the right. The Tamar and Tavy flow between them and the corral of Ernesettle – one of the post-war Abercrombie estates – is directly ahead. The material of the city is reconfigured, on the journey from lookout to lookout – perspectives multiply and it is the most beautiful Panopticon, I delude myself, that could ever exist.

***

Later, I’m beside the Plym at Laira – the tide out, the amphitheatre opposite. There are egrets, cormorants, an isolated heron. A single log in the mud – Plympton to the left with the redbrick chimney of my old school, Staddon Heights with its mast to the right. I stand on the embankment, sharing the time of estuarine birds… a time comprised of winged arrivals and departures and the suck of the moon on water. From here, as I write this down, I can abolish the traffic.

***

Back on the Hoe, near where the Beatles sat, I listen to a cover version of the Who’s ‘My Generation’ played to an audience of bikers on a Thursday evening in August. Blanche and Jack, to whom this bench is dedicated, hope that I am enjoying the view. A luxury cruise-liner in the Sound is the size of Drake’s Island. I try to imagine Blanche and Jack, the adults in life’s prime that I might have encountered as a child or in a Sixties photograph. And, of course, I am enjoying the view.

***

In the summer of 1989 I tried to sum up the city in a single poem entitled, simply, ‘Plymouth‘. It seemed possible at that time, and from that distance – after all, I had been living in the Midlands for over six years – and nor was the gesture false. But the effort seems ludicrous now, when the subject-matter of my carefully-structured poem surrounds me on every side and stretches for miles.

***

For the city is everything that can be said about it, a narrative that swirls in its streets and mutates over time into many millions of words. I have added my presence and my words, as I will add my absence and my silence too in time – bereft of neat solutions, enjoying my place in the labyrinth.

***

 

 

 

‘A Citizen’s Diary’ appears in Issue 3 of EPIZOOTICS!

ISSUE #3 LAUNCH

Dear all,

We are very pleased to announce the launch of our third issue.Click here to download it as a PDF. (Due to some last minute edits that needed to be made, we’ve taken the link down while we improve the issue. It will be back up shortly, we promise!)

Many thanks to all our contributors and we’ll be in touch soon with details of the submission window for our fourth issue.

All Best,

Caitlin, Harrison, Matthew and Peter

Issue #3 Preview: ‘An Everyday Sort of Story’

An Everyday Sort of Story – William Telford

Sanchez was in the hallway. His tie was loose, his shirt had sweat stains all up and down it and in the rucksack over his left shoulder sat an uneaten baked quinoa falafel sandwich. He puffed out like a guy who’d just won a sack race, in a heatwave, dressed as Darth Vader.

‘Hows your day?’ said Sara-Caterina-Carlotta as she took his bag, scuzzy folded corduroy jacket, and rolled up copy of The Economist, and pecked the reddest bit of his cheek.

‘Well, ya know…said Sanchez, shrugging. ‘It was, well…’

Sanchez thought about his day. There had been no earthquakes, wildfires or volcanic eruptions. No airplanes had crashed five minutes after take-off killing everyone on board. In overcrowded developing nations no apartment blocks had suddenly collapsed trapping a whole Zumba class in the basement gym. All across the States school days had begun and ended to the sound of riotously excited laughter without some kid who’d never had a girlfriend and spent way too long online showing up with a semi-automatic. In dusty Middle Eastern plains government forces had not peppered a bunch of riotously excited people with sponge rounds, rubber bullets, tear gas or live ammunition. No one had been decapitated, anywhere.

In Berlin, not far from the building where Adolf Hitler’s doctor had prescribed him methamphetamine, no one had driven a hired van into some diners sitting outside a vegan deli. While in a small English town, not far from a chemical weapons research establishment, no Russians had been hospitalised after being exposed to nerve agent by spooks, or hoods, or hit men, or someone who just plain couldn’t abide them.

Elsewhere, the American president had not declared war on North Korea, or Iran, or Liechtenstein. The leaders of North Korea and Iran had not declared war on America, or each other. Liechtenstein had not been invaded by Switzerland, again. And those Hondurans and El Salvadorians were getting along just fine.

No major construction companies had gone into liquidation owing millions of pounds and throwing workers to the wolves. No retail empires had gone down the crapper blaming the internet, and business tax and everything except sweatshop products no one wants. And nobody cracked open a bottle of Dom Perignon after making a packet shorting on failing construction firms and retail empires.

Worldwide, no one was gunned down, stabbed or had acid thrown over them. No young actors were sexually molested. A guy called Enrico Duarte Grossmann didn’t suffer a cardiac arrest after eating an x-tra long double dog and chicken fondue burger in a slider shop in Cement City, Michigan. No one put their heads in their hands and full-on regretted the way they’d voted.

And in offices up and down the land no one made a third of all staff redundant and then chewed out the survivors when they failed to hit targets. Or maybe they did.

‘So,’ said Sara-Caterina-Carlotta, impatiently. ‘How was it?’

‘You know,’ said Sanchez, exhaling through his nose. “Just your run-of the-mill, garden-variety, everyday sort of nightmare.’

“That’s nice,’ said Sara-Caterina-Carlotta, wrinkling her nose and patting him delicately on the reddest bit of his cheek. ‘Now, you want to hear about my day? You’re not going to believe what happened on the unit.’

Issue #3 Production

We’re very pleased to be nearing completion of Issue #3 of EPIZOOTICS! We’ll be sharing the issue cover and a few submissions from the issue in the coming weeks.

All best,

The EPIZOOTICS! Team

ISSUE #3 CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

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Submissions for EPIZOOTICS! #3 are now being accepted for publication in
late 2018. We invite submissions of literary criticism, poetry, fiction, microfiction, artwork, photography, translations and interviews.

In particular, we would like to develop a forum for questions concerning the anthropocene, the post-human, the ecocritical, the phenomenological, the spatial, the philosophical, the contemporary and the migratory. There is no set theme. However, we are looking for experimental, philosophical, contemporary and risk-taking material.

General Submission Guidelines

  • We do accept simultaneous submissions, but please notify us immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere.
  • Poetry and fiction can be of any length. Please send 3-5 shorter poems, or one long poem/sequence. Fiction can be short – up to 100 words, or long – up to 5,000. We are happy to publish reviews and essays on recent books and anthologies also.
  • All work must not have been previously published, either in print or online.  We write to contributors as soon as a decision is made.
  • Email submissions to epizooticszine@gmail.comin word document form preferably in A5 format.
  • If you have an idea for a potential essay, review or interview, please get in touch with a short description of what you would like to do.
  • Please include a short biography with your submission.
  • Poems and prose remain the copyright of their author.

 

DEADLINE 1st AUGUST 2018

Issue #3 is underway!

call-of-the-peaks

 

We’re really excited to announce that, as of June 2018, EPIZOOTICS! #3 is in development. The call for submissions will be released shortly, and we will also be working hard to commission some excellent work that explores and critiques what it means to be a contemporary animal. As usual, the issue will feature prose, poetry, essays, reviews, artwork and everything in between.

We’ll be in touch with more information and promotion shortly!

 

Peter, Harrison, Caitlin & Matthew

EPIZOOTICS! #2

 

Call For Submissions

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 Photo courtesy of Phil Elverum

Submissions for EPIZOOTICS! #2 are now being accepted for publication in
early 2017. We invite submissions of literary criticism, poetry, microfiction, artwork, photography, translations and interviews.

In particular, we would like to develop a forum for questions concerning the anthropocene, the post-human, the ecocritical, the phenomenological, the spatial, the philosophical, the contemporary and the migratory. There is no set theme. However, we are looking for experimental, philosophical, contemporary and risk-taking material.

General Submission Guidelines

  • We do accept simultaneous submissions, but please notify us immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere.
  • Poetry and fiction can be of any length. Please send 3-5 shorter poems, or one long poem/sequence. Fiction can be short – up to 100 words, or long – up to 5,000. We are happy to publish reviews and essays on recent books and anthologies also.
  • All work must not have been previously published, either in print or online.  We write to contributors as soon as a decision is made.
  • Email submissions to epizooticszine@gmail.comin word document form preferably in A5 format.
  • If you have an idea for a potential essay, review or interview, please get in touch with a short description of what you would like to do.
  • Please include a short biography with your submission.
  • Poems and prose remain the copyright of their author.

DEADLINE 31st JANUARY 2017