A writing exercise at the Phoenix Project, Glastonbury, November 2000

The temperature was below zero in the bathroom this morning. The bedroom was cold enough, outside of the blankets that is, but the bathroom was particularly deep-frozen. The soap was a frosted pink dollop attached like a mutated icicle to the side of the bath. The toothpaste tube was unsqueezable.

I didn’t stay there long. I got back to the bedroom and put on my clothes. Then I put on my clothes again, a second layer of them, all over. I tried to peer out of the window but the ice-bound patterns of vapour on the panes made it opaquely impenetrable. There was sunshine somewhere out there, struggling to get into the house but not succeeding very well. It was probably cold sunshine.

With the day starting like this, everything was bound to take longer than usual. So I’d be late. It simply couldn’t be helped. I tried to phone the p;lace where I’d made the appointment but the line was frozen. Words got stuck and couldn’t move on down the line, so that the next ones bumped into them and the result was so unintelligible that I gave up and put the phone down. I didn’t feel like going outside where the telephone wires lived.

Breakfast was alright. I lit the gas stove and, released into the absolute heat-vacuum, the little orange and blue flames filled the whole world. My porridge was cooked in no time.

There was no point trying to drive, or even to take a bus; and my bicycle looked too brittle to even touch in such extreme conditions. So I walked, well covered up with gloves, scarves, hat & coat and fur-lined boots. It was the only thing to do. The world shivered and shook with my every step, gone into that well-below-zero mode where everything is echoey and crisp. I slid, trod carefully, took my time, proceeded gradually.
I was just over an hour late when I got there.

The receptionist closed her eyes and turned away from the polar blast which followed me through the door. I winced on her behalf, and shut the door firmly behind me. I was here. The receptionist showed me into the office. There he was, sitting at his desk. Finally, after all these years, here we were face to face again.
I stood looking blankly at him.

He offered me a seat.

“You’re a bit late”.

“Difficult … getting … over … here” I said, trying to unfreeze my jaw bone.

“Difficult? What’s it like out this morning? Wasn’t the trip OK?”
“Oh … OK … Yes …”

I felt like a packet of something which had been left and forgotten about for several weeks at the bottom of a supermarket freezer.

“Oh”  … I said, with images of ice ages encroaching on the whole world … “Oh” … I said … “Really” … “It was nothing, really …”

He lit a cigarette, stood up beside me, and switched on the video player.

There was an image of the two of us, saying nothing, like there was plenty to say but he was too tired and I was too cold to actually make words.

I stared at the screen.

It wasn’t a live image of us now, and there was no way that it could have been filmed. It must have been constructed on the computer. I was fascinated.
“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Oh” said his image on the screen. “Oh, well, you know …”
I noticed that he himself was not speaking at all.

“Oh” he said, “you know … it was nothing really.”