Thursday, November 15, 2012

Would you put your head in this?

At the beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s epic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a mysterious black monolith appears before a group of pre-human apes.

It inspires our early ancestors to reach for the stars, and from there human history develops.

Sit yourself down, dear reader. Take a deep breath, and a sip of something restorative. Because the same thing is happening again.

Right now. In Bath.

A monolith, yesterday
Half-way along James Street West, in the vast expanse of the public realm known as the St James Rampire, an equally mysterious object has appeared.

To describe its physical appearance does not do justice to its awesome and disturbing immanence, its being, its pure Isness.  But let us try.

It is about four feet high. In plan it is about one foot square. It is constructed of two oblong blocks, one on top of the other, their corners rounded to give a waisted effect where they meet.

The lower block is devoid of any decoration. The upper block is pierced right through with a circular hole, about nine inches in diameter, lined with blue plastic.

Below the hole, on one face of the upper oblong, is a small, round stainless steel button.

And at the bottom of the large hole is a fine metal grille.

If any further proof were needed that this object is of alien origin, consider this: it is not made of Bath stone, but of concrete.

Well may you shudder, gentle reader.

Well may you take another hasty sip of that restorative beverage.
A proper water fountain, yesterday

Well may you pretend to yourself that this is nothing but a  water fountain.

But water fountains are not like this. Water fountains are Victorian outflowings of temperance and paternalism, and come with enlightening messages like “WATER IS BEST”. Just like the one outside Bath Abbey.

And the object that has appeared on the Rampire is none of those.

Stand and observe it for a few minutes from a safe distance, and you will see that it generates an eerie, impelling force.

People don’t walk past it: they walk around it, forced into patterns like iron filings round the poles of a magnet.

Stand there a little longer and maybe a group of schoolboys will approach it, laughing and chattering as schoolboys will.
Do not put your head in here

One of them, a little braver than the others, puts his face to the hole in the upper oblong and presses the button below it.

A second later he steps back, no longer laughing. A strange light glows in his eyes, the first sign of a deeper understanding, a maturity past his years. The Rampire Monolith has spoken to him, and it will speak again to others.

Only this week, the lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary announced their new Word of the Year: Omnishambles, meaning a dog’s dinner, something shambolic from every possible angle. Rather like our kitchen when yours truly has been making toad in the hole.

But the monolith, which can only be defined by what it is not, is the antithesis of an omnishambles: it is a unithority. Or a symbol of one.

And we ignore it at our peril.

UPDATE: 1 July 2013. The thing has been removed. Or possibly departed of its own accord.

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