On a visit to a Belgium of the mind, where I am visiting GuyE2, the famous explorer recently returned from the far east and still dressed in a grubby white linen suit similar to that which was so improbably worn by Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo. Unaccountably and uncharacteristically, GuyE2 is a constant mass of energy. He shows me his extensive document of the trip: a book with seven chapters, a travelogue and simultaneously a novel, an interactive entertainment, a work of art. Unaccountably something is missing: he wants me to typset it into a “proper” book.
During a perambulation of the fiefdom, I spot a new an imposing silhouette on the horizon: a tower, or an inverted helter-skelter, zig-zag crazy with the utmost protuberances.
“What is that?”
(During the ensuing, long, pause my facial expressions indicate that I wish to know a little more about it than “new”).
“It’s (xxxx – the name is not important here), a school/ten-level computer adventure game/new tower. There’s a cinema, and a circus run by a strange, slightly malignant midget woman.”
“How does one pay for the circus?”
“That’s just the thing, the woman doesn’t ask you for money, but then she flies into a rage if you don’t pay. It’s almost as if she enjoys doing it.”
We must visit it, that much is unavoidable.
Suitable arrangements are made, and we enter the bottom floor with my (extended) family and several other friends who happen to be in the same imaginary Belgium at the same time. Guy cannot accompany us, but I take on the role of guide, my very limited knowledge of the place already granting me the status of leader among my ignorant posse. The ground floor is, indeed, a school. This is not interesting, we’ve all seen schools before. The next storey also seems to be a school, skip up the stairs, no need to explore, we’ll save this one for later when we’ve done all the worthwhile stuff, if we still feel like it then. The third floor is a college, let’s keep going up, we can always come back, but no: there is at least a cinema here, that’s enough of an “attraction” to warrant a visit. We squeeze through a college-style flat wooden door at the back of the auditorium; the light comes in with us and an entire audience turns to see what has disturbed them. The film has only just started. It is grown-up and boring. Lola and Beth wriggle and struggle; when the snack-vendor comes around we have no money, but a kind Indian man in the row in front buys us treats for the kids. We try to sit out the film, because it would be a waste not to, but after two minutes trying to prevent the kids from muttering their boredom the effort becomes too much. We continue our spiral up the building.
A large window provides a viewing platform: at last this place is becoming less like a school and more like an entertainment. I remember to do some videoing: whip out my camera and then search for a worthwhile subject. There isn’t one, but the hordes of schoolkids, seething chaos below glimpsed from the window, provide the only motion in the scene so I focus on them. I realise that this will form the credits for the movie of this moment: children moving in such a way that they cease to become people and fuse into coloured patterns on the screen. As I film, a theme tune is playing in my head; it’s in the can.
As soon as the last credit has rolled we move on: here is the circus we had been told about, and a performance is soon to begin. We troupe inside: it’s small, much smaller than I expected, like a large living room over-filled with tatty pastel Georgian-repro chairs and sofas. People are already smattered around these, there is just enough space left for our party but we’re going to have to spread ourselves around the room to take use of it. I spot the midget woman near the door: she’s looking at me slightly expectantly. I won’t give her the pleasure of acting unknowing. I stride around the room, carrying Lola, slowly and deliberately examining the decor (star-charts and wildlife posters), waiting for her to be certain that I’m not going to pay before surprising her by getting my wallet out. Crikey, it’s expensive: we’ll be bankrupt before the tenth floor at this rate.
The show starts, a window opens, outside it has unexpectedly turned to night and a magnified dark-blue sky is revealed to us. There is the famous constellation, made famous by the famous Belgian space-explorer; it glows like a tightly-defined pattern of green needles floating in the distance. The midget starts to lecture: of course, she is going to tell us about the constellation, but the cunning hag skirts around the subject, leaving it until last, in the meantime we get astronomy-101, all the bits that everyone with an ounce of education already knows: here is Ursula Minor, here is Ursula Major, also known as the Fat Lady and the Fatter Lady, etc etc etc etc.
And there I must leave off. I’m waking up, but implanted in my head is the knowledge that the rest of my ascent will make a good novel. Well, at least a short story. A novella, perhaps.
Please note: any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely subconscious.