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We cannot escape the past, or the extra-heavy molecules that defined it

Ian Martin fits out the last chance saloon

MONDAY.  Idea for the restoration of a ‘historic train station’: start calling it a railway station again.

TUESDAY. To Switzerland, where I’m presenting my design for a ‘last chance saloon’. It’s actually more of an upmarket bar, and will provide a welcome touch of glamour in an otherwise pretty utilitarian suicide clinic.

It’s neo-Classical obviously – the client wants ‘firmitas, gravitas, dignitas’. Fluted pilasters round the walls. Acanthus leaves. Scenes from the Iliad in hi-def watercolours, etc.

But there are cheeky touches of humour to lighten the mood for those with a one-way ticket to oblivion. Bistro blackboards with ‘bar meals to die for’. A nautical bell that sounds last orders every quarter of an hour, round the clock. Exit signs everywhere.

The idea is that visitors can slip away here. Not intubated in some anonymous hospital bed with moving patterns on the wall and chevroned cards on the bedside table, all ironic, Bon Voyage. No. Here they can die congenially, sipping an ACTUAL ‘lethal cocktail’ in a discreet, ultra-comfortable booth.

Obviously this gig calls for taste and discretion, which is why I’m charging slightly over the odds. However tough the economy is in the cruel outside world, suicidally low fee bids help nobody.

WEDNESDAY.Redesign the political landscape, with a more ‘savage garden’ feel and an electrified fence around it.

THURSDAY. Invitation to a ‘historic East End pub’ from my mate Dusty Penhaligon the conservactionist. Imagine my disappointment when I get to the pub and it turns out to be bloody DERELICT. 

‘Ghost and Compasses’ the sign says still, just. The boarded-up doors are open. I enter the gloom of what once was a public bar. Empty apart from Dusty, who’s brought along a carrier bag full of beer and a psychogeographer, which frankly is no substitute for a proper pub with functioning toilets. His morose guest turns out to be the widely acclaimed, slightly ludicrous Dr Roman Whey, Regius Professor of Lost Worlds at the University of Edinburgh.

This isn’t a social invitation at all. Dusty and the nutty professor are apparently now setting themselves up as the Ant and Dec of ‘historiographical ectoplasmology’. As far as I can make out, this involves taking an area of London, collating vast quantities of information on what it all looked like in the 1960s and proving that things were better then.

Mourning and moaning, Penhaligon and Whey: one of them pining for the good old days, the other flatly opposed to any change at all. Maybe not a marriage made in Heaven, but certainly one made in the energy field created by human memory through which we may channel the past.

‘Look around you, feel the vibe…’ says Whey, his fingers combing the air. ‘This place shut in 1968. We’re surrounded by molecules from a mythical time, pre-dating the internet.

A generation before Thatcher. As far as these molecules are concerned, HENDRIX IS STILL ALIVE’. Dusty looks a bit worried and wonders aloud if we shouldn’t shut the door to stop the ’60s atmosphere simply floating away.

Whey gives a little chuckle. ‘Oh, molecules from Swinging London never leave. They’re much heavier, you see. High soot content’.

Yes, I say, helping myself to a rusty can of Double Diamond, this is all very interesting, I’m sure. But what am I doing here? ‘We’d like you to join us’ says Dusty, making squinted eye contact. ‘We plan to bring back forgotten urban landscapes through the sheer power of magical narrative engineering.

‘If we can combine Roman’s geo-psychological dowsing, my theoretical expertise in physically reconstructing the past, and your wide-spectrum sarcasm about everything…’

My mobile suddenly goes off, startling the room. Especially all the Bakelite-era molecules. I take the call outside, and keep walking, quickly.

FRIDAY. A very cross Dusty calls. How dare I leave them like that? Because you’re idiots, I patiently explain. You can’t just conjure up the past. Right, he says. See you back there tomorrow, we’ll prove it.

SATURDAY. Return to the derelict pub. It’s disappeared! Instead, I’m looking at a supermarket car park.

But how… Whey and Dusty look unbearably smug. ‘Historiographical ectoplasmology’ they say, in unison. Are those WANDS they’re carrying? The Ghost and Compasses shimmers briefly as a phantom image, over by the trolleys. Spooky.

SUNDAY. Recreate the past by falling asleep in the recliner, as I did last week.

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