Monday, February 07, 2011

Andy Ogram and the Seagulls

For some patients sleep in a hospital can be a problem posed to routines kept in a bodily or subconscious way that people did not even know they had or even had learnt so long ago that they’d forgotten how they’d got them. Things like being sober or drunk or drugged regularly in certain ways and at certain times.

Night time noises and silences are different. Traffic can sound like a sea washing in and out on a shingle beach, which may account for why city citizens like seaside holidays, they can feel unease trying to nod off in inland rural quiet. They may be spooked by sudden owl and fox calls. But things are changing now and that’s the only thing that isn’t.

Humans aren’t the only species to re-locate. Dog foxes’ barks or the crazy yatterings and chitterings of fox cubs at play have now become as much a part of British urban night noise as the meeps and whoops of emergency vehicle sirens and klaxons.

Several clues told cockneys once that they had arrived at the seaside, the smell of salt water and ozone with a usually less powerful undertone of sewage than the tidal Thames. Another dead give away was the crazed laughlike bickering of seagulls, sweeping across above along the wet slate rooftops. One bird might start up and a couple of others might echo and more would follow, like kids shouting “Fight” in a playground until a teacher or dinner monitor came to disperse the twenty or so who were shouting it by now. Only it was never clear who dispersed the swirling gangs of screaming gulls, perhaps they were blown apart by the wind.

Nowadays, not like the good old days of awaydays on trains, you wouldn’t even look up you heard such a racket split the air above a city street. Not even up on the valley side hills above the Thames. Hay meadows, dairies and orchards once were up here and their ghosts haunt on in the names of avenues and lanes.

Now a brick, breeze block and concrete tsunami has rolled over the hills making the unwaved ocean of outer London. Or another analogy might be a tree with roads for veins and cars for corpuscles. Speeding and keeping these corpuscles moving is all that seems to matter by the early 21st century. High streets and shops are out, hypermarkets and carparks are in so hubbys can come to retail parks in hatchbacks to get their flatpacks, their knickknacks and their own little piece of the world of leather.

And so the sheds spread; you could be reminded of Joni Mitchell’s line about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot except whatever Essex and Middlesex may have been (ie mainly boring downs and fetid swamps), it was not the Garden of Eden.

Nobody can be arsed with expensive Victorian retail palaces any more, concrete a couple of fields, slap in prefab shed big enough for the artics’ loading bays and the for the forking fork lifts to fork about inside, and there you are:
Consume, retail, consume, expand.
Consume, retail, consume, expand.
Consume, retail, consume, expand.
And continue until the planet is used up, die out, be replaced by rats as the dominant species.

Meanwhile sheds spread across the land like scabs and spots growing from pus eruptions spattered out of the Great Wen. From above they might look like white flat topped rocks standing in  grey-brown sea. And if I was a seagull, what would that mean to me?

White means guano yunno, glowing like a pub sign in the dark to be apprehended by a thirsty fat boy. This is the place to fly in, to meet your mates, give the pinions a rest, put the webbed plates down on terra firma , and stand around in a crowd screaming mindlessly. And then you could even mate with a mate and rear a gull family to scream mindlessly at.

Actually, as any attenborough will tell you, gulls are birdbrained, but their vocalisations in the context of their flocks, are not  mindless. They demarcate collective territory warding off potential scavenger competitors like the crows, and they also establish and challenge claims to individual screaming places, roosting and nesting sites.

Put any species in proximity and one way or another, such conflicts tend to be acted out. Put four men in a  bedroom off a ward and such disputes can sometimes happen. Especially, if alert to its duty of care, but bowing to the pressure on beds and hoping nothing will happen, the hospital houses a psychologically disturbed semi-vagrant with a Russian criminal.

When you are recovering from the recent insertion of a wire into or near to your heart via a small hole cut in your groin, as Andy Ogram was. Or when you are fasting in preparation for surgical procedures prior to undergoing a heart by pass, as the man in the net bed to Andy was.: it is not restful to see and hear someone provoke  someone else almost to violence. It is difficult to sleep knowing that this is like hot ashes that will again and again be blown back into flame. Throughout the night the sound of spitting and cursing will repeatedly reawaken Andy. The person who provoked the spitting and cursing will indignantly and loudly defend themselves, declaring that they are the only person in the room so they can behave however they wish, even though they are actually sharing the room with three others, one of whom they are engaged in shouting at.

But as all the seagulls, who circle above the hospital in the morning know, worse things happen at sea and a shed in London is the place to be, whether you’re being warehoused inside for the sake of your health or roosting on the roof. 

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