Friday, 20 February 2009

Barmaids I Have Loved (Part I)

Continuing the Conisholme Reflections, see here.
For the continuation of this article, see BTB.

January 10. Conisholme is unusual by British standards: a small village without so much as a pub. (But there is an ice cream parlour, Applebys, est. 1913.) And so I take a bus into Louth, 'the capital of the Wolds', to find somewhere to put my feet up before my reluctant return to Caer Lud and the Tamesis. Very quickly I perceive the depth of history in its pretty Georgian streets. From those strange roadnames- like Orme Lane, echoing Ormus, the name adopted by the Priory of Sion in 1188, following the 'Cutting of the Elm' (the orme) in Gisors- to the towering spire of St James's Church, there is a certain air of mystery which increases as twilight descends.

At the intersection of Northgate and Eastgate, the principal thoroughfare, a small plaque marks the point where the Greenwich Meridian passes. A few yards away, the spire- at 295 feet, the highest of any parish church in the country- reaches gracefully to the skies, as though the two factors were related in some way. Of course, it can't be so; the meridian was only established in 1851, and the spire dates to the sixteenth century. And yet... the placement of these lines seem often to be guided by concerns beyond the arbitrary, despite received wisdom. The greatest of these esoteric axes is Paris, widely accepted as the Prime Meridian for two centuries before London's usurpation; but Greenwich is no slouch either.

Apart from Louth's soaring spire, Waltham Abbey in Essex is another highlight: boasting a star-spangled ceiling dating from the nineteenth century, memorably described by Iain Sinclair as 'a conceptual umbrella carried into the Essex countryside.' Designed by William Burges, this ceiling was in place shortly after the creation of the Greenwich Meridian, which may explain its chronometric theme. And yet the church (of Holy Cross and St Lawrence) is also the burial site of Harold Godwinson, the last king of Saxon England before the imposition of the 'Norman yoke' in 1066. There are other legends, too, which suggest that Waltham Abbey was (and is) a special place, long before the Prime Meridian put it at the centre of time and space.

The concatenation of Louth, the Meridian and its proximity to Conisholme, 'England's Roswell', where something very strange is reputed to have happened a few nights ago, is not lost on me; and as I process the length of Eastgate and Upgate, like many a goddess trail before and since, the Mason's Arms seems pregnant with meaning. If you can negotiate your way out of Merseyside after a bender on nothing but innocence, Louth (in theory) should be a breeze. But when I adopt the position at the oak-panelled bar, I realise the place is deceptive; this is no pub, it's a labyrinth. And getting out of here is not going to be easy... Not when a woman's power to induce involuntary ritual in a man like myself, wired to the Dreaming Mind, is so great; and God's Own Barmaid is pouring the IPA. And not when the pub is screening live World Darts from the Lakeside Club, Frimley Green.

There aren't many people who would attest to the spiritual qualities of the sport of darts; but they are there, if you care to look. The novel London Fields is Martin Amis's panegyric to the game; of 'casual darter or arrowman' Keith Talent, 'you could almost hear angels singing when, on those special nights (three or four times a week), Keith laid out the cigarettes on the arm of the couch and prepared to watch darts on television.' And darts imagery was at the forefront of the Conisholme event, with the 'one bolt to bind them' of Lord Shiva serving as a metaphor for every perfect bullseye: every true (or, as Talent would prefer, sincere) dart foreshadowing the collapse of the whirlybird, Tripura.

Was it unconscious Shaivite devotion on my part which informed my fascination for this game? Its origins, in its modern form, date only to the medieval period; though, like chess, cards and cricket, there are hints of a darting secret history of much older vintage. The board, for example, may well represent a stylised cross section of a tree, in which case its antiquity may be very great indeed. And if such reflections evoke pastoral thoughts- of the Greenwood, and Robin of Loxley- I was in the right place for them. Just over twenty miles from Louth is the county town of Lincoln, one of many places with a claim on the legend of the proto-darter, Robin Hood.

In Twenty-First Century Grail, author Andrews Collins gets his first good look at a key found in the yard of St. Margaret's church in Binsey at the very moment that Wayne Rooney scores his first goal for Everton; as Collins and friends repaste in the Bricklayer's Arms in North Oxford. 'A moment more contradictory in atmosphere there could not have been,' Collins writes. My own revelation- of the Conisholme 'landing' as a metaphor for the imminent fall of Tripura- was meagre in comparison, but garlanded with a similar fortuity. As I pushed away my ballpoint, the Tony Buzan pie-charts and scribbled marginalia, I did so just as Ted Hankie completed a maximum 161 checkout on his way to victory in the Lakeside semi-final. Not only is Hankie better known as 'The Count' (and is a man with a pronounced obsession with vampires, often donning black capes and throwing plastic bats into the crowd), his opponent on this occasion was one Martin 'The Wolfman' Adams, so named for a beard which affords him a certain resemblance to a lycanthrope.

Shiva, in Indian mythology, is closely associated with the lunar god Chandra; having been granted the moon by the Devas and Asuras, he is often depicted with the crescent on his head. And like the dart-chucking Lord Shiva, vampires and werewolves are also creatures of the moon. As I ducked beneath the frosted glass and peered up into the sky, I realised that the match- and my first visit to Conisholme- coincided with the first full moon of the year, traditionally known by the Algonquin as the Wolf Moon. And for the second month in a row, I recalled, this moon was very special: corresponding with its annual perigee (the point at which it is closest to Earth.) December's full moon was ever rarer: coinciding with the closest perigee in a fifteen year cycle.

Was this the Cosmic Joker at work, bestowing a patina of synchronicity upon my Tripura speculations? Considering the significance of lunar placement to the Tripura mythology- nakshatra Puskya, the alignment intuitively described by John Harrison as 'a hole where the moon was shining through'- I couldn't but imagine it was. And the darts, too, seemed to fit with the whole. The tournament, I realised, had begun on January 3: the first match had ended only hours before Shiva launched his red dart at the turbine's spinning cities in the early morning of January 4.

I later discovered that January 10 was also a significant day in the Hindu calendar; one which echoed the theme of alignments so prominent in the language of Conisholme. (The three cities of Tripura are on consecutive, overlapping spheres of earth, heaven and sky; they are in complete physical alignment only once in an age, at nakshatra Puskya. Louth, evoking Lugh and his milky chain, recalls galactic alignment in 2012; and is built over the terrestrial axis of the Prime Meridian.) Paush Poornima, full moon in the Hindu month of Paush, sees thousands of pilgrims gather in Allahabad (or Prayag, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh), to bathe at the spot where three sacred rivers converge: the Ganga (believed to have descended to Earth through a lock of Shiva's hair), the Yamuna and, significantly, the Saraswati- the celestial river of legend. The precise location- about seven miles from the centre of Allahabad- is known as Triveni Sangam; and is further venerated as the site of the inaugural sacrifice made by Lord Brahma after his creation of the world.

Very interestingly, Allahabad- and Triveni Sangam itself- are close to India's equivalent of the Prime Meridian: at 82.5 E longitude, the basis of Indian Standard Time. Running at +5.30 hours GMT, its chronometric hub is at the Allahabad Observatory, a few miles away in the town of Mirzapur.

Respect the darts ... More to follow...


Therese said...

That reminds me of the Sylvia Plath poem, Lady Lazarus. After being restored to life after depression, resurgent with her power and her pen, she writes:

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Jimmy Bastard said...

Barmaids is it? by the love of god. Now if ever proof was needed about aliens amongst us, there you have it.

Spitting in glasses, shining and polishing, blathering to their pals. But serving ? God no... much to busy to be serving the likes of you, ya big feck.

Sure it is the money I'm here for, but it doesn't mean I have to work too!

Away now and feed the jukebox, god the cheek on the man.

Ben Fairhall said...

That is a fantastic quotation, Therese, I will use that.

As for modern poetry, do you know much about The Wasteland by Eliot? My interest in this work has been piqued because of its obvious Grail and Arthurian allusions, and also due to the fact that it was composed in Margate, on the Isle of Thanet.

I visited Thanet last year, and as modern wastelands go, it takes some beating.

Jimmy- Are there no Glaswegian pubs you can recommend for my next visit?

VileVeil said...

hmmm, some links with my own life here.

I'm a big devotee of Shiva-Mahadev and I am also (when not in India) a dancer (ala Nataraj) in a rock band called Nine Dart Finish.

nice post Ben.