Monday, 5 October 2009

Going medieval

There's a scene in the film 'The Man Who Fell To Earth' where Thomas Jerome Newton is speeding through rural America in the back of a posh car. As he heads for his lakeside destination he looks out over Wild West settlers, a wooden one-horse town and some covered wagons - and the cowboys look back at him.

Newton, an extra-terrestrial alien, is aware that he is looking back through time. The Waltons-esque farming family in bonnets, braces and breechers who drop everything to stare at the mysterious black and silver object flashing through their settlement are not. But for an instant both are visible to each other, through the vacuum of a century or more. Something supernatural has happened - like a crease in the fabric of time.

I can't pretend to have enjoyed the same experience as demonstrated in this brilliant film, but from time to time I do get a glorious view of days long gone. I call it 'going medieval' and, while I don't consider it a 'vision' as such, it does seem to be a little more lucid and real than a mere over-active imagination.

At its strongest, I can look down a busy road and witness the scene polarising into two differing views. It's like a filter is being applied, or I am donning magic goggles. I can see the road as it truly is with cars, shops, shoppers, bicycles and people - but I can also see the same street with very different buildings - with horses instead of cars, with people looking thin, badly dressed and dirty, and everything covered in straw. Always lots of straw. Generally, there'll be a fire burning somewhere in the street. It looks medieval... like the 13th century, or something.

The one common factor which links the two scenes is always the sky. Although the medieval one does not have aeroplanes in it, it is always the same colour and has the same clouds. And I am able to flick between both scenes, using my mind's eye, like I am quickly turning the pages of a book to reveal a 'before' pic and then an 'after'. The sky is the only constant.

I cannot claim that the medieval views I experience are authentic in detail - they're probably not. And, like I say, I do not believe them to be full-on visions: they are more like full-colour artist impressions of what might have been, one day, many centuries ago.

I wonder if the source of all of this is that great British corporate tradition, the pop music festival? I've attended a lot and the crowds that wander around such events, particularly at night, do take on an historic air sometimes. And the campfires, singalongs, alcohol and communion with nature are all a bit pagan, are they not?

I also wonder if my favourite scene for a medieval turn, Kentish Town Road NW1, might have entered my consciousness only after I learned the true-life history of the Assembly House pub at the top of the hill. It was here that people would gather, centuries ago, to be escorted through violent lanes to the city of London: protected from bandits, thieves and highwaymen by an armed escort of soldiers.

Certainly, the most common time for this 'going medieval' thing to occur is when I'm about to say goodbye to someone, to get a separate bus from them, to head to another part of town. It arises therefore at the beginning of two journeys, to two different homes, in two different parts of London that could just as easily be two separate villages. The night buses turn fleetingly to carriages, in my minds eye, and I very quickly 'go medieval'.

So what's this all about? It's baffling, fairly rare (it happens to me perhaps just a few times a year), interesting and a little confusing and sad. Anyone else get this?

1 comment:

  1. When I was back there in the art school there was a guy who claimed he got visited in dreams by aliens like Newton in that movie. He used to do paintings of them, and art which he said was inspired by their instructions.
    "Visitors", he would say. "There are signs everywhere".
    Except-let us pause here for an ooo-eee-ooo- this happened BEFORE the movie. We used ta think he was nutso:- then the movie came out and we were perplexed. One day I will use this in my art!