Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Building Somer

As regular readers will know, after being bullied in my job and then kicked out of it, so facing having my house repossessed and now battling with lying buyers, I have been under a lot of mental stress.  Each week I have to keep up a front so that I can apply for the required three jobs for week that the job centre asks for and then attend the interviews I am called to.  I have had 9 interviews in the last 8 weeks, but seem incapable of saying what they want me to say.  Of course, the approaches in each interview are different and there are a range of candidates, but clearly I am doing something wrong as these are all jobs I could walk into and start doing tomorrow.  I imagine there has been some shift in the fashion of what is required for interviews that I have not caught on to.  I have noticed that no-one wants PowerPoint presentations any more whereas just two years ago they were de rigeur for interviews.  I was rejected from a job in 2003 simply because I did not use PowerPoint and at one in 2010 I was not allowed to proceed to the interview as it was felt my 15-minute PowerPoint presentation was 'not blue sky enough', so I am glad that fashion has passed, finally.

In such circumstances, I now start the day with a panic attack.  Sometimes this is caused by having had a nightmare, something which is pretty common for me, sometimes with two nightmares in a single night.  The variety is diverse with me finding myself in the First World War, being chased by zombies or mutants or slowly torturing my brother over a fire in my grandparents' living room of the 1970s.  There is no point lying in bed once I have awoken as instead of these vividly realised fears I get nameless, shapeless ones.  Sometimes this is difficult as I need to sleep longer.  Tiredness simply feeds the concerns.  I volunteered to work on a sustainable farm for a week, but turning hay exposed me to Farmer's Lung and swept me with a range of mental symptoms which are apparently among what the illness, caused by spores in the hay can provoke.  My mind was literally numbed and I found myself staring into space with my mouth hanging open, then I was swept with complete paranoia which was topped off by me hallucinating that the trees around the field were unwinding like snakes and then walking towards me.  So much for 'trying to get away from it all'.

Trying to keep myself in bed a little longer led to Somer.  It is pronounced 'summer', rather than 'sommer'.  The name came from somewhere in my mind and it certainly would not be the one I would have used if I was writing a story.  I wondered if it simply derived from 'somewhere', something like Ecalpemos, i.e. 'Someplace' reversed, as used in 'A Fatal Inversion' by Barbara Vine [Ruth Rendell] (1987) or even Somerton which I have recently read is a place in Jamaica.  I had tried to meditate and to focus on a single point or a rosebud, the kinds of things they advise in meditation classes.  However, my mind likes greater complexity and once I slip off the single point it goes down the path of worry once more.  I used to envisage the wargames I was playing and plot what I would do next.  I think one difficulty is that with all the problems I have had with the Steam system, finding that old games cannot run on my new computer and not being able to afford subscription to 'World of Warcraft' any longer, it is very difficult to find something that I can lose myself in.  I tried 'Crusader Kings' but one decision can lead to your kingdom being obliterated without you being able to fight back in a way you could with something from the 'Total War' range.  I have written to Sega about the bug in 'Napoleon Total War' which means it crashes whenever an attack starts, but never received a response.

Back to Somer, and in my mind it is a place.  It is an imaginary town.  When I need to escape from stresses I go into it and think of a new building as if I was building something in 'Sim City' but seeing it from street level and for real.  At the moment, there do not seem to be any people in it when I envisage it, but simply working on the architecture does wonders for calming me down.  I had anticipated that it would be French in feel given all the days I have enjoyed on holidays in French towns, but for now it appears to be very English.  The first structure that appeared, and it is not always me deciding what comes next, it often simply appears from my mind like the name, was the lighthouse in the South centre of the town; I have a feeling that the sea is South of that.  This was clearly shaped by Southwold in Suffolk which I visited once for a wedding.  Then appeared a book shop to the South-West of the town, based it seems on the music shop that used to be in Holywell Street in Oxford, though I do not know it is still there.  Another refugee from Oxford appears to be a cinema, its setting is from Great Clarendon Street but the building itself seems to be more like the cinema, the Curzon Mayfair, compressed a bit.  There is a park in the North-East part of Somer, which is quite small and has a sandstone rock sprouting out of it with a spiral path up the side to a viewing platform, though I have never climbed it.  It reminds me of the outskirts of Freiburg-am-Breisgau and something I saw in the drama set in Edinburgh, 'Reichenbach Falls' (2007) in a park where a spring comes out.  To the East of this was another bookshop which appears to have come from Westbourne in Dorset.

I have tried to envisage some restaurants and so far have produced only one, on a curved street close to this bookshop, it is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's restaurant the Axminster Canteen in Axminster, West Dorset, but thrust into a street from Swanage in East Dorset.  South of this is a small square with a cafe to the East side and a memorial in the middle; it is cobbled but I cannot place it. I think it is from France, perhaps using elements of the square in St. Omer but being more cramped than that one is.  I guess Somer is developing from places I have been happy in or think I might be, as I have never visited Axminster and whilst I have been to Edinburgh, never went to the park shown.

Much of the town remains unfilled in and as yet has no residences that I might go to 'live' in.  I have insisted that my mind puts in specific buildings and locations, such as the square in Bath where they play petanque, but it seems I cannot force things into the structure, they do not remain there when I revisit Somer.  I guess I have to walk around and 'explore', though at present I simply tend to 'appear' outside one building; only able to face in one direction and see it becoming more detailed.  I have read at least one science fiction story in which men's minds slip into an imagined city.  I do wonder if this is doing me harm or exposing that I am suffering from some serious mental condition.  However, for the moment it seems to be working and at least allows me to lie in bed that little bit longer without feeling drowned by all the worries pressing on me.

P.P. 05/08/2012
After finding for some nights that I could not call up any images into my mind's eye and even when I tried to think of Somer there were large gates blocking my 'entrance' back into the town, I found that finally I could begin to 'construct' more of it.  My mind ran me through a host of new buildings and locations that it felt should be present.  To the West, beyond the bookshop, appeared a large chunk of University Parks from Oxford.  I imagine a lot of people quite like these.  They have an interesting mix of sports fields and pleasant walks going down to the small River Cherwell.  Interestingly, I did not envisage cricket being played here, there is another location for that right over on the East side, it is modelled on the ground at a small village near Thame in Oxfordshire.  There used to be a railway running passed the village and you enter it through the remains of the railway bridge; the top piece has been removed so it is like passing through a gateway.  The railway embankment cuts the village off from the busy road.  I remember cycling through there and seeing a cricket match taking place as if it had come from some 1930s novel.

I have brought a chunk of the Cherwell into Somer, but North of the park it turns into the River Itchen which runs through Winchester in Hampshire and sitting on it, far closer than they do in real life are 'The Tun' and 'The Willow Tree' pubs; the former is now a Spanish restaurant but in Somer it retains the pub it was back in the mid-2000s.  The small square to the East of the town has acquired a favourite restaurant of mine,  'Oscar's' from Leamington Spa, a French restaurant which is the closest I have found any restaurant in Britain to be to numerous small town restaurants in France that I encountered while cycling.  If it still exists I recommend going there.

Just to the North-West of the square is the odd park which brought in elements of Freiburg-am-Breisgau and then suddenly acquired a tall, slender round tower, a bit like a Europeanised version of a minaret and I have no idea where that came from.  The square which has opened out to the East of this park, however is more familiar it has been lifted with the market place clock tower, the Beffroi from Amiens.  Between this and the park has appeared a place from a dream that I remember years after I had it.  It is a branch of Woolworths, the lamented store that used to be in every British high street.  This one has an added element, two cylindrical funicular railways, going up from the shop floor to the top of the park's rocky outcrop.  The branch of Woolworths seemed to be a mix of the one in Guildford, Surrey, and I think the one in Hayes in Middlesex, that I visited as a boy.

So Somer continues to grow and I wish I was an artist so that I could capture its wonderful eclectic growth.  It seems to be doing its job.  However, my mind got so busy with this latest round of construction that I found I could not get to sleep.  It now has two residents, though so far both of them were facets of me.  The first was me as the puppeteer from 'Masquerade' by Kit Williams (1979) which seemed rather appropriate, but then I stepped out of him to become more myself, dressed in my 18th century brocade suit over a loose white shirt and wearing my favourite ski-hook knee-high laced boots.  I suppose I have always had fun when dressed like that.  I do hope other people start appearing in the rather empty streets of Somer soon.

P.P. 07/10/2012
By chance I came across an article that mentioned the Japanese book about a man whose consciousness ultimately becomes drawn into a constructed city.  It is 'Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World' by Haruki Murakami (1985); the English translation came out in 1991.  I read it in hard back version that I bought from a remaindered bookshop so it must have been pretty new to the UK when I read it, though I was not aware of that because I picked up on the 1980s feel to the story.  The book has a whole Wikipedia webpage about it.  Whilst I would not recommend it as an enjoyable read, it is certainly a book which can trigger off some thoughts.  Perhaps my unease with it comes from it taking a Japanese rather than Western perspective so making it harder for me to engage with.  Maybe I read it when I was too young, though saying that I think I am a lot less experimental in what I read than I was at the time, twenty years ago.

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