Look from the balcony, where we have filled cheap plastic pots with compost from the garden centre (we have not actually done this yet but we plan to, and have purchased all the correct materials from our local hardware store). The blinking skyline of lights and cranes and skyscrapers – a skyline many people think of as London, but I don’t, no not at all – is obscured today in thick mist that swaddles the city, mutes the noise, dampens everything down. It has been like this for days and it makes me want to write such trite phrase as fugue state, or dream state, or waking dream, or collective dream, or worst of all, phantasmagoric.
We are in outer London, or maybe greater London, or possibly Middlesex the county that both does and does not exist (or are we now living in the suburbs). The debatability of the geography I find appealing. Friends of have told me it suits me. I am predictable, and happy with that.
But we look down from the balcony at the Overground station that connects us to Spurs country where that girl got shot the other night, to friends in Bruce Grove (home of one of London’s finest Italian restaurants, I know it sounds mad but it is true), to parts of Hackney and the beginnings of the East End (remember, always, Hackney is not the East End despite what you might like to think and indeed say) and on to that skyline we observe from our balcony. Most days, of course, because like I said, the mists are everywhere and obscure everything, there’s no visibility and we cannot see, it is so thick it may even be fog, and I really hate (like, honestly, I really do) to draw anything from Classical myth, from the Greeks and Romans, it’s such a cliché, but all I can think of is the Greek afterlife for those not good enough to get to heaven, but average enough to not deserve hell. A meadow of endless asphodel flowers, a plant ghostly and pale itself. And if that sounds harsh I don’t mean it to be because it’s more about atmosphere and the mood and the vibe that this weather creates than anything else, and anyway, I would be destined for the Asphodel Meadows myself. A strange nowhere land (never say liminal) between one thing and the other is a kind of heaven itself.
So today I picture Enfield Town, and Southgate, Enfield Chase, and Winchmore Mill, as the Asphodel Meadows where people wander forever in a misty pale world, shades or reflections or shadows of their old lives of flesh and blood. Nothing feels real to us today as we listen to a downstairs neighbour coughing constantly – is it bronchitic, cancerous, we don’t know for sure but it doesn’t sound good, it is hacking and horrible and wet and a cause for concern.
Time seems to stand still on days like today. The inhabitants of the towns and the cities withdraw into themselves, insulated by the mist, insulated against each other. These are days for thoughts not conversations.
The mist is spectral up here on the balcony, like a gathering of melancholy wraiths, like cotton wool suspended in polluted air.
We must fill those pots, we say to each other, and then we do.