The Famennian Age Extinction
Last night I saw the Famennian Age Extinction in an off-licence in Camberwell Green. It was dressed in hospital sandals and soiled hospital slacks. Holding a leather hospital bag under one arm. Shouting EXCUSE ME GHOST. And leaping on to the counter. Wrestling with the shopkeeper over a bottle of iced tea.
I’ve heard the Famennian Age Extinction works in that infested tiki bar we’re banned from on Peckham Road. The one with the rotten, tin-roofed restrooms. Where the bouncers wear beach shirts. Sitting on box crates. Looking mournfully into pre-mixed mojitos. While maggots squeeze themselves out of the walls.
And this morning I am waiting for you beside the newsagents. Looking for dropped scratch cards and cigarette ends. Shouting at the passing cars and buses. And lately when I’m near you I lose my sense of balance. And my taste in music. And I want to enumerate everything and try to make a sense of it with you. I want to hold you like coffee beans. And like cold spaghetti. Cupping my hands.
Yesterday I left work early to vote for the Famennian Age Extinction. At a polling station on Benhill Road. Under a dripping ceiling. In a collapsing pool hall. Eventually I was escorted off the premises by security. Holding each of my shoulders. Blood running down my face. Ballots rattling inside their boxes as though they were alive.
And if I had to describe the Famennian Age Extinction I would say that it was like a family of snout moths. Living in the bricks. Communicating to one another by vibrating their wings. And it was like that Methodist church on Grovesnor Terrace. Where we would sing on weekday mornings. Sneaking secret sips of whisky between recitals. Waiting drunkenly for the complimentary food.
Later I am walking with you towards Brixton. Above the buried river. Along the Effra Road. And I keep looking over at you. Watching you avoid boxes of sweet and sour ribs. Taking double steps over drain covers. And you seem happy. Swinging a black plastic cornershop bag full of beers. And I need you for your tenderness. And for your criminality. And your body. And I need you for your road safety.
And most nights I spend hours blindly dialling numbers on my telephone. Hoping to get through to the Famennian Age Extinction. Hear its panting voice. And worried laughter. Because each night the phone rings once and then hangs up. And I am never quick enough to answer it. Though I know that it is the Famennian Age Extinction. Calling from some lonely far away apartment. Its bony fingers trembling above the keys.
And when I’m near you my heart feels like a bag of water. And when I try to speak to you I feel as though there aren’t any words. Or that if there are words then I do not know them. That they must be sad and elaborate and exhausting to use.
Then we are in the basement of a family restaurant. The owners are laying down ash trays and lighting candles. Pouring wine. Unbundling lottery tickets folded full of cocaine. And I like you most when you are tired. When you forget you are wearing glasses. Then attempt to rub your eyes. Your fingers tapping against the glass. And I like you least by escalators and automatic doors.
And early yesterday morning I went into my local cafe and ordered a Famennian Age Extinction. I sat on a round wooden table by the window. Drinking noisily. Undoing my shoelaces. Slowly taking off all my clothes. I thought the Famennian Age Extinction was delicious. And so I said so. Loudly. And to no one. Then I looked around the cafe and everyone was applauding. People were approaching me. Gesturing happily at my tattoos.
Also the Famennian Age Extinction was a lot like that dog we looked after, while your housemate was in prison. The way it would sit and stare in the living room mirror for hours. And it was like the flat we shared above that crumbling, rat-ridden pub on Southampton Way. Before it was condemned by the council. And boarded up by the fire brigade.
And I am kissing you under an advertisement for kitchen surface cleaner. By a bus shelter on Rye Lane. And if you were a building you would be built out of lemon slices and dry ice. And I can’t talk to you for any time without checking that I still have my teeth. Quietly running my hands around inside my mouth. Sometimes I check my kidneys are there too. Squeezing my sides.
Later I am driving home and I can see the Famennian Age Extinction in the windshield mirror. Sitting on the backseat. Leering distastefully. I begin to play with the radio dials. Acting preoccupied. And the Famennian Age Extinction watches me the entire journey. Making grunting noises. Slowly polishing its glasses with a piece of cloth.
But I would say my favourite part of you is your patience. Also your capacity for class A drugs. And I want to lie under you like blankets. And like goat willow leaves and artificial snow. I want to feature regularly in your dreams. But never as myself. Only ever as a symbol of something more important. Speaking in a different accent. Shaking my long, transparent-looking hair.
Then I’m on the pavement outside your father’s house and I pause to warm my hands against something descending from the sky. It is the Famennian Age Extinction. Hunched like a bird. Glowing hot. Spreading its arms in welcome. Shivering with excitement and pride.
Hibernating during the Tournaisian Age
I am in a pub on Camberwell Church Street holding a half-drunk glass of ale. I am practising hibernating. Hibernating is something I can conjure at will.
You are wearing your trench coat. And your extraterrestrial brooches. Dragging a screeching bar stool across the room. Cursing to yourself under your breath. Gesturing obscenely at the bartender.
When I met you this morning on Kimpton Road you were overflowing with love. Parked with three wheels on the pavement. Looking like you had crashed. I was holding potted plants and vodka. Itching my beard. Climbing into the passenger seat of your car.
I didn’t want to tell you at the time but I was hibernating. Drumming on the dashboard. Taking deep breaths. Trying not to show it on my face.
Hibernating was first invented in the Tournaisian Age. Three hundred and fifty million years ago. It was invented by bored and hungover animals in Camberwell Green. Burying themselves beneath Camberwell New Road. Below the barbers and photocopier repair shops on Denmark Hill. Looking solemn. And uncertain. And waiting for something to happen.
We were swerving through Peckham this morning when you kissed my ear. Told me you had found some sort of inner calm. That it had happened on the tube. Suddenly. At 7am. While pressed against commuters. Somewhere underground, between Oval and Kennington.
Then together we drove to the Old Kent Road. And I was hibernating in the front of your car. We were taking hungover circles around the roundabout at Elephant and Castle. Scrolling through radio static on the car stereo. Waiting for paranormal signals.
Later I climbed out to get you cigarettes and paracetamol. Holding my jacket closed against the cold. When I looked back at the car I could see that you were smiling. Tilting your head and laughing. As though you were listening to a joke.
And when I’m hibernating I feel a constant connection to the distant past. I can walk through Camberwell Green amongst the drunk and strung-out animals of the Tournaisian Age. See them laid out in elaborate death assemblages on the road. Their strange bodies attached to shop front windows. Looking like boot soles and blossomed lilies.
And if I’m waiting at a pelican crossing I like to get down on my knees and rummage around for them in the ground. Upturning chicken wings and takeaway boxes. Scouring the drains and cracks and the braille warnings in the concrete.
But anyway, in the pub, I am lifting a fallen bar stool. Picking up shards of glass. You are snorting something underneath the table. The bartender is suggesting that we leave.
And as I stand up I can feel every blood cell and hormone in my body. And I feel in love with everybody in the room. I can see the love rising off of people like steam. And looking around the pub is like peering through cloudy glass or filthy water.
Later we are hiding from community support officers behind a freight trolley on Milkwell Yard. Below the barred amber prison windows of a cafe. Passing an inky bottle of tonic wine between us. Pulling our coat sleeves up over our hands.
And hibernating is like always living in the past. Feeling everything as if it had already happened. I can taste the tonic wine before it reaches my mouth. Hear the soft drizzling sound of it leaving the bottle.
And when I’m feeling nauseous with all that lurching precognition it helps to look at you. At the cracks and scratches in your eyes. Which are the colour of moldavite. And also at your teeth, appearing and disappearing behind your lips. Like icebergs.
And that was how I felt yesterday when you answered the door. You were tying your bathrobe shut. And yawning. Making stretching motions with your neck.
I had been outside for hours. Gently knocking. Barely making a sound. All day I was full of quiet nerves and anticipation. Pacing the pubs on Camberwell Church Street. Pulling hibernation on and off like clothes.
Inside your kitchen I held a cup of longjing tea. And also a can of super-strength lager. You were hanging coloured cloths over the windows. Lighting candles. Explaining about the Tournaisian Age. How all the animals had been short of breath.
Then, to demonstrate. You sat close against me. Clutching your lungs. And as you spoke your blood was thrumming around your body.
And last night you were dosing out drops of acid. Dripping it onto strangers. Their hands outstretched towards you. Dangling like arcade claw machines.
And as you dribbled the acid, you’d tell each person a little about the Tournaisian Age. How in the Tournaisian Age the world was run by whelks and limpets. How all the lobe-finned fish disappeared.
And then you took me onto that precarious balcony and we stood and looked out over Nunhead Cemetery. Watching the flimsy looking birds being thrown around by the wind. Catching in the trees like litter.
You were telling me about a time you went picking rose hips. Wearing rawhide shoes. Walking over pine leaves. Beside a river that smelt of medicine.
And you said that sometimes being alive can feel like living locked inside a suitcase. Then you made a gesture with both of your thumbs. As though there was a suitcase there in front of us. And you were unbuckling it.
The international encyclopaedia of dogs
Recently I’ve been waking up and believing I am living in the Ante-Nicene Period. And early Christians are riding these monstrous animals in red, thundering dust clouds across the continents. I would say that it is something I am concerned about.
Stirling is my lover and my employer and my best friend. We’ve worked on encyclopaedias before. When I reach my hands through her hair and brush her nose against my lips I feel as though I am falling. Marriage is an agreement to indulge in the profound. I’m not married to Stirling but if I was I would ache to tell her something profound.
I can lie there for hours and get nervous about large animals. I feel the weight of every large, living thing that has ever been stacked up against me. It can be unbearable but I think it helps to talk it out.
Stirling has hair the colour of amaranthus blossom and eyes like amber indicators blinking on a wet road. We have business meetings in our kitchenette. The two of us in socks and dressing gowns and soaking hair and the eggs applauding in the pan.
The first book we ever made together was a guide to common urban lichens. It was Stirling’s idea. Stirling has all the best ideas. That summer, I spent a lot of time in the rain photographing lichens. Lichens are beautiful but difficult to empathise with. Stirling has a way of looking at me that makes me feel lost.
The Late Pleistocene Era is a major source of anxiety for me. It was a time when humans were regularly eaten by large animals and glaciers were rising out of the ground like teeth. I walked with Stirling for a mile over pale parmelia and we moved as though we were floating. This book hopes to cover all the common urban lichens known to the northern hemisphere. It is intended as a guide.
My favourite part of Stirling’s body is her mouth. My favourite part of Stirling’s mind is the part of her mind dedicated to her mouth. I have learnt to live in this dirty city without wonder. When I am out pacing in the evenings under the lobaria and the caloplaca I can sense the enormity and indignity and impossibility of life. Stirling has toenails like red bottle caps and she is always right.
I drift in and out of these fantasies of panic. The worst are focused on the Ante-Nicene Period. And early Christians are drinking saltwater and eating snakes and climbing into people’s windows. This book is dedicated to common urban lichens. And to Stirling. I think things are getting better. We have strategy meetings in the shower or the bath. Stirling says the hot water helps to draw her ideas to the surface.
It’s not extinction that terrifies me but inheritance. After the Silurian extinction bony fish took over the oceans. It makes me sick to think they didn’t know what they were doing. For the last three months we have been working on a new book. It was Stirling’s idea. It is called the international encyclopaedia of dogs. I’ve been breaking into people’s houses at night and taking pictures of their dogs.
Lately, I’ve been trying to think of life as a breathing exercise. As a mechanical process tending towards calm. Stirling has these little bumps under the skin behind her neck and it is where her love for me is held. We roll our fingers over them together in the mornings and ask god to make them bigger. Dogs are easy to understand but difficult to photograph. This book is dedicated to the English otter hound which was bred to rescue the English fishing industry from the undeterrable English otter. This book is also dedicated to Stirling.
I would say my biggest worry is being eaten by a large animal. Stirling has skin the texture of sow thistle seeds and lips like two orange segments drifting in shallow water. I can’t know everything about it. We’ve been to see dog acrobatics in the basement of Euston Station. We’ve attended wolfhound wrestling and chow-chow races and we’ve wept though Labrador choirs singing in the Royal Albert Hall. Stirling has a right to me how the fossil record has a right to bones. If I stand up too quickly I get packs of Dandie Dinmont terriers howling in my ears.
During the Late Pleistocene Era our ancestors first evolved to smile. The Late Pleistocene Era is also known as the Smiling Era. At that time smiling was an expression of deep anxiety and dread. This book hopes to introduce the reader to every internationally recognised breed of dog. It is available in braille. I would lead Stirling through a congregation of dogs and Anatolian shepherd dogs and Canadian Eskimo dogs and stumpy tail cattle dogs would part around us in a wriggling tide.
It’s not like there is a history of happiness. I’ve got Stirling now and she’s like a cloud of powder paint moving over naked bodies. I’ve got Stirling now and I can look her up as though she were organised in layers. I would like some sort of colour testimony of everything. It would be like a safari park where all the animals have been replaced with dogs.
As it happens we are waiting on Stirling’s new idea. Stirling has every new idea. I feel entitled to a life of careful ecstasy. I have ancestors with reckless, skinless bodies and ancestors with flowering appendices and ancestors who lived blind in the microscopic dark and conjured their own estimations of the world. Stirling’s new idea will be bound in softwood. It will be printed on glossy paper. We are like two expectant parents, hoping for an encyclopaedia.
Stirling has teeth as white as wild white currant berries and a talent for talking business. Honestly it is impossible to describe anything using words. I should state my love for Stirling in terms of potassium ions and the direction of magnetic north. Statistically, I am more likely to be killed by a motor vehicle than a large animal. Motor vehicles are our modern-day large animals.
When Stirling’s new idea arrives we will clutch it in our arms and run screaming into the ocean. We will sit it on our knees and marvel at its tender independence. I have no way of knowing what is best. The most vivid memories I have are from the Ante-Nicene Period and I am a young man and Stirling is there, in the sunlight, on the grey dunes, speaking to something buried under the sand.