Commissioned by SHELL LIKE for The Mouth Is A Fossil, Bog Buried And Glowing Blue, October 2017
Your visit to Skara Brae
Five other people were waiting outside the visitor centre. Also a small black espresso van to look at – shut but very shiny. Its logo was made from the site’s most Significant Outline. We seven did not make contact, but formed a queue in constellation. A coach arrived as the centre opened.
I got through the interpretation tunnel as quickly as possible. Skin and psyche non-porous. I didn’t want any of it, was absurdly cross at the suggestion that I might. I recall it was quite dark. Maybe colour pencil representations, a touch-screen. I emerged near a tiered display of whisky and continued through the revolving door.
I avoid the reconstruction of House Seven. Dismissing it now, though I would come to need it later. The route beyond was so long and so uniform. I tried not to look like I was running, but I wanted to be there first and alone. As the trail bored on I looked back. The people from the coach had not spent time with the interpretation panels either.
The gate was still locked. I couldn’t have accounted for this; the opening hours on the website say 09.30 – 17.30, and it was 09.36. So I climbed over the gate. The flatness meant that I could be seen doing this from some miles away, but this was what was happening. Once you reach the half-way mark on a gate it would be a dreadful admission to descend the way you came.
It was like being in an animal enclosure. There was a diamond-wire perimeter fence inside which a habitat had been created, on the best scientific evidence. The human, the last example, is happy in this intricate village. The path coiling above the array of furnished dwellings keeps us physically active and entertained. We have a view out to sea.
I wasn’t quite happy though. I was conscious of having broken the rules, if only on a technicality. I was worried that after taking the tube, a sleeper train, a hire car, a ferry named Earl Thorfinn and a drive through early morning mist they’d say “No, get out, you have done the wrong thing and you have to go”. I would be driven out of the village.
I physically hid. Behind one of the roof mounds; a private mood hunkered on a step. I had two or three minutes until I heard his voice, with a lanyard tick. The padlock chain fell and he materialised.
He might have thought –
- Perhaps she came behind me, but quickly, and so naturally she is round here already.
- I understand very deeply why she has done this, besides which she has not undertaken any obvious damage to the site.
- I was late, it was my fault, if I challenge her the apparatus of blame will dredge retribution back to my door in the end.
- This place is so terribly old that no one amongst us may consider it our property.
- I can’t care at all. I have concerns in my life besides this one here in the wine-dark waterproof.
I don’t know because he kept all this with himself.
Looking down into the pool of the house. Turf rolled to the brink. Each uniform blade clipped in turn until the whole dropped out of the world above. The upper air poured over into vertical stone and settled in the bed. It posed in the alcoves and frittered in the hearth. Trying on the lives of the past it found them familiar. It was tricked. It could put butter on the dresser but how would it know what that meant. What the consequences of doing that would be. If it isn’t a dresser.
Around the time I decide I’ve had enough I watch a fresh Oystercatcher lie on the step of the warden hut. Its newness can not conceal that it is dead, having absorbed the grit sin of my trespass. It is glossy with it.
Move some steps back to House Seven, a replica. What was the first house is now the last and I have a task. It’s ok to do that if you bring your own tape measure in advance. This is one way to understand it. By height, depth and width. By counting the number of stones between each stone shelf. You might touch them a little as you get their metric; though the stones themselves are real, their placement in space is imitation. So you can make as many copies as you like.
Outside of me in there, were some others. They joked about whether or not the stone bed would be comfortable. They were surprised because there was a plastic lobster in the floor. It was quite a bright colour, and it doesn’t really occur to us today to keep things like that in the floor. I suppose it was to suggest that you could keep a live one there, in salt water instead of resin.