Friday, 13 September 2013


NAME:                  DONOVAN, JOEY
RANK:                  ENSIGN
NUMBER:                  000517783-9
                         (UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH, 2011)
                         CURRENTLY COMPLETING DIPLOMA

“Canvey is an alluvial island in the Thames estuary surrounded by a fourteen mile wall of reinforced concrete. Nearly 48,000 people live here, and 4,000 new homes are needed. 

“This scheme revives the pioneering spirit of Canvey’s first colonist (Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden) to create a dynamic new settlement on the south Essex coast. Through a process of détournement relics of the island’s industrial past are are transformed into amphibious colonies straddling land and sea: a New Jerusalem via New Babylon.”

“A New Jerusalem! How pompous!” Hindsight is indeed a marvellous thing, but it was within plain sight that the pomposity of these words were rendered unto the ensign. For whilst the rest of the cast and crew of the good ship Dreadnought were enjoying some well-deserved shore-leave, he was left stranded in the real победа, tethered to the rusting occidental jetty pondering where it had all gone wrong.

Yes, the real победа was no 32 kilo-tonne freighter but a light cargo ship that had seen far better days. Cobbled together through haphazard bricolage the vessel was barely ocean-worthy. The name of the vessel was Russian for Victory, but the first two glyphs had mysteriously disappeared, leaving only the word беда.

“Trouble,” he translated for the benefit of his imaginary audience. It was appropriate given his circumstances, for he was in a lot of trouble now thanks to the ship. Quite why he had taken on the task of breaking away from the main fleet to sail into what he described as uncharted waters was anyone’s guess... they weren’t uncharted, of course, just tricky to navigate without the appropriate skills... and a good boat.

It was all in the spirit of the site, of course. Why build a 45,000 strong town on a swamp next to an oil refinery? Because we can! Because people like Cornelius Vermuyden and Wilko Johnson are fucking pioneers, man! A day as a lion or a lifetime as a worm etcetera, etcetera... so he and his misfit crew of heteronyms embarked upon their quixotic quest and now were grounded.

The line between the победа of his fiction and the беда of reality was becoming increasingly indistinct. Wandering alone through the particle cloud of his own mind had taken a turn for the psychotic, and as he watched the sun setting over Shellhaven he wasn't sure whether he was Tatiana dreaming of the ensign or the ensign dreaming of Tatiana... he was watching the same sun set as she, sinking behind the glistening spires of the city far and away. Repetition, remember, is also a form of change.

It was beautiful, in its way, and he wondered if Blake would have felt quite the same had he seen these new satanic mills yearning for a touch of heaven. he could ask of course: it was simply a matter of tuning in to the correct frequency. Cyclothymia granted him a special affinity for waveforms of all kinds, be they the lapping tide of the Thames or electromagnetic messages drifting across the ether. It was simply a matter of getting the dosage right.

The opium fwas grown on the anterior deck of the беда, a combined hydropnic-aquaculture system grafted on to the existing desalination tanks. Load up the pipe and try not to concentrate. That was the trick: nothing was ever accomplished by actual effort, so far as he could tell: it was through trying that he now found himself in this terrible mess. To speak to Blake’s ghost he had to let his mind dwell on something else entirely, and so it was with comparative ease that he soon found himself instead fretting over the dwindling supplies of his crop. It appeared that it was rather moreish, and demand was swiftly outstripping supply: ‘the perfect product’, Burroughs had remarked in Naked Lunch. 

It was Burroughs that had led him to the Opium. The ensign had seen himself as a kind of alchemist, hoping that by pouring in sufficient quantities of radical ideas into the Canvey Project he could somehow transmute his leaden imagination into gold.

Conrad, Burroughs, Ballard, Blake... even Dickens. But there was no longer any Mr. Magwitch lurking on the marshes, and the ensign’s great expectations were to remain unfulfilled. He had to admit that he had failed.

But wait! The ley lines were aligning. Somehow his foggy intellect had sharpened the nebulous mass of his soul into an object sharp enough to puncture the veil dividing this world from the next. Just by briefly recollecting that name, Blake, he now found himself before the spirit of the godfather of psychogeography.

“Mr. Blake sir!” he intoned, “what do you make of these dark satanic mills?”

The ensign’s ethereal hand made a vague gesture to where he thought the columns of Coryton might be in relation to the disembodied Blake, but the ghost seemed disinterested, and when pressed further merely asked to be left alone with his engravings.

Ensign Donovan was crestfallen. Rejection by the ghost of Blake felt like the last straw. What now was the point? Stranded and rudderless and rapidly running out of poppies, all that he had left was the pirate radio stations that he listened to through the mercury in his mouth. Of course, the pirate stations (many based upon the North sea forts not far from Canvey that had inspired Constant’s New Babylon) had long since disbanded, though remnants of their signals still reverberated through the wrought iron supports that held the jetty up.

Yes, everything was clear now: in sharp relief he saw a project that had failed because it had not followed through on its vision. In its attempts to describe a future possible world (if not necessarily a better one) it had not delivered an image that was strong enough, iconic enough or... well, it simply wasn’t as polemical as it thought it was, was it? The ensign frowned. He’d heard those words before: was that a thought of his own or another radio message from the past? He laughed: of course it was the latter, there were no thoughts of his own, there were only radio signals from the past.

But hark: the radio in his brain was crackling to life!

“ENSIGN DONOVAN!” It was Colonel Kurtz... no, wait... Commodore Kotzen? “You have to finish what you have started. Report back to us by the end of August and we may reconsider your commission!”

The Ensign punched the air gleefully. the tide had totally gone out and he was stranded in a rusty boat with a dwindling poppy supply, but everything was going to be okay.

It was going to be okay... right?
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