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Times and Places

Driftway 1

Afternoon space is where I am. I’ve spent a lot of my life in the Afternoon Dimension, and now I’m exiled there by lockdown, along with a few million friends. And I’m a teacher, which means that the never-quite-stable reality of schoolspace is always just hovering around Afternoon Land. I’ll explain, sort of, after a fashion.

Everyone is somewhere else apart from you. You’re right here.

 Afternoon Space is a feeling, a mood, one triggered by particular events or times, yet also having a very clear set of characteristics. As a simple experiment, wait until city life returns to normal (which I presume it will in some way) and take a walk at around 2:35 in the afternoon. It can’t be in the school holidays; you’re looking for people and things that don’t fit in. By 2:35, the longest of office lunches is probably over and it’s too early for the schools to finish. The roads are generally slightly quieter. It helps if you try this on a warm day. Look at the spaces, at how they feel different, how the usage of them changes. Look carefully. Afternoon Land.

Or I could choose another name that I very much like for its connotations. Penelope Lively once wrote a book called The Driftway, this was the canal tow path that links times and places across what should be vast divides of history, but of course, aren’t. Not a furious leaping time travel, but a slow artistic collaging of worlds and lives and emotions. It’s quite beautiful, and I’ll write about Lively soon, (along with Helen Cresswell and Diana Wynne Jones, a trinity of women who defined my imagination).

I borrow the name then, and try to use it in my own world, to apply it to the liminal space that I find so fascinating. The Driftway for me tastes of dust and calm, old sunlight, and half silent roads.  It’s both the electrical substation and the standing stone; it’s the way that an eleventh century scare story about murderous robbers in the forest will twist into a warning about serial killers in Meadowhall car park.

This isn’t limited to the past; it’s right here and now, but the patterns and feelings of childhood mean that it’s far easier to access if one does so via cultural artefacts brought from twenty or thirty years ago. So the Driftway is   Watch With Mother, or perhaps See-Saw, but it’s also The Domesday Book, Nationwide, mysterious wi-fi networks, and the carvings on Gardom’s Edge.  It’s the communal dreaming of wherever you happen to be; it so happens that I’m in Yorkshire, but the Driftway doesn’t respect nation state boundaries and will shift and surprise you by a canal in Amsterdam or in a Kyoto back alley.  

Not Yorkshire. Datchworth, in fact. But very much Driftway.

The Driftway is in the shapes of the fields.  Ten minutes from this room, there’s a half wild park, built a hundred years ago on a rubbish dump and quarry; the gorse and heather there are indistinguishable from those out in the Peak wilderness.   There are neat tarmac paths, but they lead you past long grass that seems tougher and coarser than elsewhere; it’s a descendant of the hay that grew here to feed the horses stabled in the grey buildings that adjoin the parkland. I think there’s something in that juxtaposition (a collage of time and place) that demonstrates the essential Driftway-ness.   

What it suggests, to me at least, is the haziness of the the distinction between past and present.  Here in the silence of Afternoon Space, the Driftway, we can be anywhen we choose, not that we always have much choice in it.  Electrical transformers hums and sing inside their little pen; if you walk up that hill, you can find curbstones with EL carved carefully into them, indicating that this house was wired into the mains.  

Stone stories, in Yorkshire this time

These hills and valleys reach out, curve away, fill me with disquiet sometimes; it seems like an empty sea, an archipelago that’s not quite been installed yet, the promise of a possible future implicit in the present and past.  Sometimes I walk here and find offerings carefully placed on old stones, so as to find the light of sun or moon; those stones are carved with memorials, MARK 1980, a tulip labelled 1938, strings of names and letters wound all around, incantations against loss and vanishing, bargaining a way into the Driftway, becoming syllables in longer stories that aren’t easy to tell.

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