Monday, 21 March 2011
James Attlee's Nocturne and some writing about the moon
On that evening, under that moon, I went off to Waterstone's to listen to James Attlee talk about his book Nocturne, which is subtitled 'A Journey in Search of Moonlight'. He was a fascinating speaker, with a magpie mind where everything interests him and anecdotes and snippets of facts spill out of him - like W.G. Sebald, he meanders through art, history, astronomy, ancient cultures - everything fascinates him and he makes striking observations and connections. His book explores our attitude to the moon and also seeks to rediscover our lost connection with it. He talks of how we 'simmer in our own electronic bouillabaisse' of streetlighting, how the 'celestial light show' is 'rendered spectrally pale today by the intensity of our self-regard'. After seeing the moon in its full unspoilt glory on a trip to Cornwall, he resolved to get into tune with the lunar cycle and seize every opportunity of getting out there to look at it - really look at it. I'm dying to read the rest of the book - he talked of how he visited such diverse places as Japan and the Arizona desert in pursuit of its 'alchemical light.'
Later, at the bus stop on St Aldates, I gazed at the full moon glowing just beside Christ Church's Tom Tower. So often we're huddled beside the flicker of the TV screen and we miss what's going on out there - and even if we do go outside, the orange glow of city lights, which James memorably described as like being inside a Lucozade bottle, stops us seeing the stars and planets in their full glory. Only the moon survives that blotting out - but the moon too benefits from being seen above a dusty desert or as it rises from the sea.
It was a coincidence that James mentioned that he rediscovered the moon, as it were, while in Cornwall. I've written a children's story, Argentail, set there - and in it a city boy wrestling with trauma is also part-awed, part-scared, part-comforted by the moon and what the moon brings him:
'The iron latch clattered loudly, like striking a tinder-box. The door seemed to swell towards him. He slipped through into the great echoing blackness of the tower, deep and dark as a well without water.
And if he had thought it cold back in the cottage, that was nothing compared to the paralysing, brain-aching cold that seized him now. His breath was a vapour, his own personal fog-bank, accompanying him as he climbed the stairs to the first floor, to the second. Stony echoes left him, bounced back to him, like auditory boomerangs.
At no time could he have said why he was doing this, why he had left the safety of the cottage for this spooky place, where wedges of unearthly blue light from the high windows were laid like stepping-stones before his feet. Up and round, up and round, up and into the great circular room, where the wedges of blue light fused into a flood. He walked across the bare floor and gazed out.
He'd never looked at the sea except in terms of buckets and spades, rock-pools and jellyfish, lilos and waterwings and splashing your sister in the face until she howls with rage. The sea meant holidays. The sea was warm. The sea was a pet.
Not this sea. Not this ocean.
He grasped the windowsill and held his breath, not wanting to fog the glass, not wanting to spoil the view. The sea stretched out, charcoal-dark and glittering, to lands beyond imagination. This was a sea for explorers and invaders. It beckoned and tempted: it said anything was possible.
It also said it didn't care. It didn't care for lost boys with confused feelings, standing at the edge of the land.
A panel of bluish-white was laid in a long triangle across the water. Kick looked up.
The clouds had all gone and the moon was there, huge and pure and nearly full. He felt that the window-glass was acting like a telescope - surely he'd never seen the moon so large?
As a tiny child, like every tiny child, he'd heard songs and rhymes about the moon. A cow jumped over it. A man came down from it.
He gazed now at its strange shadows and hollows.
Then he leapt back, heart racing, a sudden heat breaking out all over his body.'