Lone flight at London Victoria

Just looking out of the train window the other morning as we were coming in to London Victoria, I saw one lone pigeon flying across the disused gasometer, and it made me feel instantly melancholy and start thinking too much. Why did such a simple view suddenly make me feel a certain way? Where does this yearning come from – is it all to do with buried memories, a vision triggering off other similar and connected ones from other times, the neurons uselessly connecting and reconnecting in the struggle to find a thought that’s now been erased off the hard drive, but left vague vestiges that can almost be pieced together into a distinct something?

gasometer at St Pancras, London

Gasometer at St Pancras, London by Caroline Ford

A tree wouldn’t see it at all. An animal of the lower orders would see a movement. A more developed animal would see the progress of another creature, either a fellow pigeon, or prey on the wing, or a non-threat. A prehistoric man might remember having seen the view before, and know exactly what he was looking at, but have no name for it. (I’m ignoring the gas tower at this point.) A medieval man might see it as vital food, one of the few things he might poach without getting into trouble. He might think the gas holder was “devil’s work”. A Victorian scholar might think automatically “ah yes, filum Chordata, class Aves”. A 1940s man might be worried that a bomb will land on the vital gas supply. A 1990s chap looks wistfully at the metal girders, and think “What are those structures, when did they stop using them…I like the shape of it.” The person right now looks at the scene and feels his mind heavy with the sighing of many yesteryears, wonder why the flight of a lone bird over London prompts existential musings, and lodge the desire to write about it on a machine and publish it to the whole world.

Assuming we are so different from other animals, I usually figure that what makes us human is the ability to remember the past, and to prefigure the future, giving us a deeper sense of what we are, what we have done, what we want to do, what we have lost and now miss, and so on. In short, we remember, and we dream. Next time I’m just going to fill my noddle with trivia from the Metro…

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4 Responses to Lone flight at London Victoria

  1. Glennie Bee says:

    I do this all the time. The ‘moment’ that has stuck with me longest is from years ago; walking in the Dales I looked over a wall and saw a tree in a field. It triggered all sorts of, not so much thoughts, but emotions: nostalgia, permanence, transience, Englishy-ness, and yes, melancholy… Just a tree in a field.

  2. johnnynorms says:

    Yes, trees in fields often do it for me too. Lone trees, or a good spinney or copse. Thanks for permanence and transience – good words for this syndrome.

  3. ian russell says:

    Something’s up with the notification gizmo, I’m not getting new post alerts anymore, nor is your feed feeding the feed reader. Sorry. Also, I’ve been away.

    Interesting thing I read about birds in J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine – beautiful writing about daily birdwatching – they only recognise their own species and prey/predators as animals. All else are as inconsequential as rocks or wood, they would happily perch on another (harmless) species as if it were an inanimate object..

    Pigeons and gasworks are both feral, I suppose. Once useful, now unwanted. Does that make them sad images?

  4. johnnynorms says:

    I think there are birds that more or less live on hippos and clean up their parasites – they’re like moving rocks. I hope I haven’t accidentally turned any gizmos off – I didn’t mean to.

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