August 3, 2009

This was probably fall 1959/spring 1960, and I was at primary school. It was called Eccleston Lane Ends Primary School and was a low brick built Victorian building, similar to many other purpose built schools constructed around the 1870’/80’s, particularly in the industrial areas of northern England.

As a child I often felt quite alone and was described as diffident; I found it hard to join in games and was probably not invited to….I seem to remember playing with others in a 1 to 1 situation rather than being part of a team, gang or organised game. I seem to remember being on my own often too, in the playground or standing on a low parapet and holding onto iron railings, looking through them at the lorries and vans passing on the main road. At that time they were often beautifully sign written, hand painted, with the name of the company, the telephone numbers and where they were based…..decorative cream or ivory lettering, often outlined and shadowed, painted onto the cab doors or the sides of dark blue or bright red wagons.

That was in the big playground. Round the other side of the school was a smaller playground, surrounded by old brick walls, with a scruffy patched tarmac surface and a large old hawthorn tree that flowered in the spring, cast shade in the summer and dripped from bare black twigs in the winter.

To return to the school buildings, one had to go through a doorway in a wall, out of the small playground. To the right of the doorway, within the playground, was a shed that contained sports equipment.

It was a day that was neither sunny and warm, nor cold and grey….it was what people used to call a mild day. I was about 6, maybe 7, and I was standing on that spot, just a few feet in front of that doorway, with the grey painted shed to my right. There was playground noise ….boys pretending to be aeroplanes, a football thudding and scraping around and the shouts of a game, girls bouncing balls against a high wall….shouts and screams and footsteps running around me, the sounds of that semi organised freedom that is compressed into 15 minutes before the bell goes and the playground empties.

On that spot a voice started saying my name in my head, quietly but insistently at first…..Mark Evans….Mark Evans…..Mark Evans…..Mark Evans over and over and over, and as it repeated these words, it became not only louder but somehow bigger, emptier and with more echo, and as it expanded in this way, the words began to cease to contain their meaning. The playground noises faded away, the sense of standing on the tarmac surface disappeared, the buildings and my sense of place were replaced by a vast darkness that was unimaginably enormous. The voice continued but no longer sounded like a voice and the words had ceased to be words, but the sound continued to expand and amplify….becoming like an endless wailing bellowing howl, unimaginably loud and continuous, echoing in some vast black space without edges or boundaries. The sound just kept on growing….ceasing to become sound and becoming just a huge booming universal resonance that was like witnessing something primordial and fundamental, as if this was the root of all sound, the raw material of sensation. Any sense of space and time or awareness of contrast was gone, there was nothing to see, or to feel and it seemed that the noise reached such a pitch, such a resonance, such unfathomable depth, that it became truly nothing; not ‘nothing’ as something small, but nothing so big that it contained every imaginable thing in the universe.

When the sensation began to subside, like thunder rolling away, I had an incredibly intense feeling that I had been hurtling at unbelievable speed through, up or down some vast spinning vortex of darkness, completely alone. I really felt as though I had been picked up by a gigantic hand and been thrown across the universe until I had reached the absolute zero limits of something, and then deposited back on earth, as if by a reverse whirlwind that spun itself down to a tiny point to leave me exactly where I had been standing before.

I remember feeling strangely and completely stunned. The activities going on in the playground were as if I had missed about 2-3 minutes. The bell had gone, most people were going in, and I was kind of in the way, standing as I was just a few feet in front of the doorway. The playground was emptier and children were walking and running past me through the doorway, back to the building. I had no one to tell this to, either at school, or when I got home, and it was a long time before I told anyone, I was perhaps in my 30’s, and since then I have only told about 3 people at all….and this is the first time that I have written it down.

Looking back over 40 years, to that moment, it still seems that it was the most real thing that has ever happened to me somehow. If I try and make sense of it, why it happened and why it happened to me, I can’t. If I try and find explanations….was it a fit?, was it a religious experience?, was it a symptom of mental illness?……….I have no success.

The only way I can describe it, as an adult, is in the most general terms. It is as if I had been given some form of insight into the personally specific and the totally universal, and the relationship between them; how they co-exist in reality. I don’t know if it was a gift or a curse,Cynthia Re Robbins I sometimes feel that it is something that I was given but have never discovered how to use; at other times I think it was random, without rhyme or reason or purpose. I have never met anyone who has had a similar experience…..but then maybe many people have and have kept it to themselves, because they don’t want to be thought of as crazy or can’t make any more sense out of it than I can……I just don’t know. And maybe that’s the whole point……that I have some proof of sorts that we really do not know, that we have absolutely no idea at all.

I went back to the same spot and stood on it about 18 months ago. The buildings and playground is still there, though they have a different use; it is no longer a school. The wall and the doorway near where I stood have gone, as has the shed, but I can still identify the exact point were it happened.

I stood on it. Nothing happened, nothing at all. The same person, nearly 40 years on, in exactly the same spot. Just a gritty scruffy piece of tarmac, no children. Just a man standing still for a minute, then walking away.