There is a building in Edinburgh where a basilisk prowls the halls, where spectres lurk and doctoral students shirk. Sorry, this Friday Flashback is not about the worlds largest reclining buddha or a mighty pyramid but something more precious and ephemeral; The Club. A place, a time and a group of people. The place was Edinburgh University, the time 2007-2012 and the people were The Club and shall remain nameless to preserve their anonymity and protect them against potential prosecution or worse, academic disgrace.
Our club was room 6.12 and perilously close to the lair of the basilisk. The basilisk was fearsome and could smell dead rats in the kitchen at 50 feet and yet trixy, luring the best of us into her chambers with no more than a beckoning finger or worse – chocolate. Most club members were retained in 6.12 but there were other members scattered along the hall of the 6th floor. The sixth floor… a level of genius, some say madness, of struggle against ones inner demons, where titans clashed, sherry sloshed, battles waged and writing was done. Or at least thought about. No, agonized over. Horribly and tortuously. One club member would write a sentence and then take all day to meticulously pick it apart word for word. Another examined prayer and song expressed through the roaring of lions and the trumpeting of elephants. Yet another would pick through people’s garbage and statistically, objectively, record it. And me? I wrote about a mole, from the moles perspective naturally. The only thing I picked at was a bag of bacon crispies.
We shared many things in the club; our hopes, dark secrets, theories of about society, sugar donuts, and Baileys on a Friday afternoon. We zealously debated topics from religion to recycling, banking to self harm, civil society to sex, museums to adoption, and space… No, not the final frontier, but THE space, the space between the hands.
You see our concern was of a haunting. Not the physical haunting of a place, but a haunting of the imagination. Under the influence of another club member, I purchased a book, a book about a ghost, a book I shall not name because the book itself is complete and utter nonsense, and despite this, or perhaps because of it, the ideas triggered by the book took form. At first it was confusion over the nonsensical nature of it, which lapsed into jovial recitation of its most preposterous sentences which grew, twisting and writhing like pipe smoke, into references to which only club members were privy. We made sense out of nonsense. Fashioned form from smoke and mirrors, manifesting a ‘thing’ from the ether. A secret language imbued with meaning, and ‘the thing’ into a bond, as real as rope.
Ok, Ok it wasn’t all sober intellectual conversation, there was also conversation over spirits. Gin to be exact. Bombay Sapphire to be utterly precise. Well usually, although we could be persuaded to imbibe a little Hendrix on occasion. We patronised various haunts
with Blind Poets and Under the Stairs and on occasion, sitting on a street corner outside No 56, and even an Old Bell.
Sadly, the writing is finished. The lions no longer roar, the rubbish has been collected and the Mole is dead. A breath in another universe blew on a
fuzzy dandelion and like the seeds we have scattered to the far corners of the globe, some of us further than others. The Club as a time and a place has diminished, a mere spectre haunting the halls of memory. But ‘the thing’ remains, as real as rope.
And the basilisk? Rest assured, the basilisk still prowls the halls as trixy and treacherous as ever. And long may it continue…
I’ve been thinking about my past… No, it’s not deep and sordid, but it is interesting. I’ll have to sort though all those old photos of my travels currently in a shoe box under my bed and show you some. Highlights? Taj Mahal, Sphinx, Mayan Pyramids, Egyptian Pyramids, worlds longest reclining Buddha and to many castles to count. But I do like a good castle, especially a ruin that I can clamber around.
One of my favourites is the Priory in Tynemouth, the chapel of which dates back to the Thirteenth Century and the site itself is thought to have been occupied since Roman times. It has a moat which I was convinced used to be filled with crocodiles, a gatehouse and Keep with portcullis (for all that boiling oil) a well (for wishes) and a graveyard in the middle.
These days the only way in is through the box office and a hefty fee, but it didn’t always used to be that way. The Priory perches on the edge of cliff, overlooking the River Tyne and the North Sea. Bits of it have fallen into the sea over the years which is why they way I used to sneak into the back with my friends is now gone.
The sure footed among us could clamber up the cliff face and get into one of the old ruined windows. They’ve either been enclosed to prevent cliff side assaults by nimble kids or fallen into the sea altogether. Shame, there’s something quite magical about sneaking into an old ruin….
Why? Because in about 20 minutes, I’m going to get dressed – for almost sub zero temperatures and the threat of a blizzard – and cross several soggy and possibly icy British fields to get to the grocery store for nuts, wine and cat food. How can this possibly be happy? Well, for starters, I haven’t left the house in days and feel like I’m developing carbuncles on my backside. Secondly, it’s a celebration. ‘The child’ left this morning and won’t be back till Sunday, along with all the other pesky relatives, and my mother’s bible study will be over for the week by the time I get back (I hope). The cat is exhausted and cranky from avoiding the grasping sticky fingers of ‘the child’. So about 5pm on a Tuesday, the residents of the retreat here on Chicken Road collapse, exhausted and indulge in our favourite tipple. For me, it will be a glass of wine and a bag of mixed nuts. Happy Tuesday!