English Mining II - Louise - Fragments
15-01-2021 / David Fletcher
Louise had left the city. She moved to live just outside a small town, with the expressed purpose of working in the cheese making dairy located there. The small town was surrounded by farmland spread over green rolling hills, and a handful of lakes, which attracted dog walkers, fishermen and water sports enthusiasts. The city she left had also been green, filled as it was with leafy streets amid large Victorian terraces, and shops selling fresh expensive food of a high quality. These were the kinds of foods which someone might eat if they had a mystical insight into the endpoint of culinary development, and having gained this arcane knowledge, had wanted to display it through food. Of course, this would be in a way that felt relaxed and casual, and that really didn’t really feel like arcane knowledge at all. The people there though, tried not to think about endpoints mostly, engaged as they were in cultivating nowness: immediacy and spontaneity in their lives. This had been done well in recent years, so much so that now immediacy and spontaneity had become vague concepts that weren’t really understood or thought about by the people there at all.
It was very early in the morning, and time for Louise to go to work.
She jogged quickly down the stairs, the heavy leading foot drawing a firm squeak from the loose floor board by the bottom step. Pulling her coat off the peg, Louise stretched and opened the door in one movement, striding outside and closing it behind her. Putting on her coat, she noticed the real extent of the smell. She had been aware of the thick draft of weed smoke emanating from the open door, passing into the hall and into the fibres of the coat, the fur hood in particular. But it was the immersion of the fabric in the frosty night/morning atmosphere that had given that same smell the space to occupy its true form: that of a green frog burping and swimming behind Louise as it swam through a cool pond of night/morning sky.
She walked up the hard path to where she knew she could flag down the vehicle upon the road at the top of the hill. He would be surprised that she wasn’t at her normal spot but she doubted he would wait long over there, hers being the first stop, and with other people waiting for collection along the route. He would be even more surprised she thought, when he saw her waving down her pick-up from out of the tired morning shadows at the top of Clopse’s Nook. Fucking miles away.
The path cut through long grass and the cold dew dampened her tights around the calf. Barely visible in the darkness, to one side, across the field, were a scattering of houses. On the other side was a lake, visible in the moonlight, stretched out before her as she reached the crest of the hill where the path met the road. From across the water a stream of cold air swam around her head, forcing itself up her nostrils and down deep into her throat, her mouth open and panting at the exertion from the climb. Breathing in the air from across the lake, she imagined healthy, historical Bavarians jumping into freezing cold pools, the fat on their fleshy muscular bodies affirming vitality and stamina. She rubbed her own belly through her coat and dress. She liked the softness of the fat resolutely giving beneath her stiff clothes. She put her hand up her coat onto the bare flesh, both wincing and tittering at the contrast of ice cold on hot. She rubbed her torso, the cold making her shiver, whilst the hand itself heated as it sank into the wobbly soft warming depth of her belly. She pulled her hand back out from under her clothes and back into the freezing air.
If it were the middle ages, she thought, they would have been blood letting him, and covering him with leeches to cure the cancer, if it were the middle ages.
The vehicle pulled to the side of the road. Louise opened the door.
‘What the fuck are you doing out here?’ said Andrew, the driver as Louise climbed into a back seat and closed the door behind her with a firm weighty slam.
‘Waiting for you!’ She said lightly, half smiling. Then, noticing the drivers’ puzzlement and vague irritation she changed tack and offered an apology.
Andrew tutted and looked back to the road as Louise buckled up and they started towards the next collection. As was normal, the tired, heavy quality of the silence prevented any attempts at conversation. Louise was fine with this, happy to look out of the window into the blackness. Andrew sucked loudly on a mouthful of mints, while acknowledging the silence with twitches in his seat, and the clearing of his throat.
She smelled the thumb and forefinger of her right hand. Garlic. Fresh, or at least fresh less a night’s sleep. She had been eating bruschetta before bed. Once defrosted she had modified them by rubbing one, and then part of a second clove of garlic onto the tepid bread, and then by moulding a pile of grated cheese onto the top of each piece before putting them under the grill.
She held the back of the hand to her nose in a way that would have suggested to an onlooker the absent-minded movements of someone lost in thought. When the hand neared her mouth, subtlety and yet purposely she licked it. Then holding the hand in-front of herself as if to stretch, she let the damp skin dry hovering in the stream of warm air coming into the back of the vehicle. Bringing the hand back up to her nose, she sniffed at it. Now the garlic smelled like a pollutant. It infiltrated the smell of dried early morning saliva, evoking culinary memories and chemical compounds that were at odds with the essence of her dried early morning spit, foreign to those shared fundamentals of the smell of dried early morning saliva that she was certain that everyone shared. Cloying and comforting, reminiscent of so many things; from the tissue paper licked by a parent and wiped across a dirty cheek, to the faint aroma caught fleeting from a breast just sucked.
The van stopped. The door opened, and along with cold air and petrol fumes, Carl climbed in, bringing with him his own familiar scent, reminiscent of ice cubes long incubated in an unclean freezer.
‘Fucking stinks in here’ he said. ‘Garlic’.
‘How’s it going?’ he asked vaguely as he squeezed into a seat to the left of Louise. Even allowing for a considerable hunch in posture, his tall frame meant that the hairs sticking up all around his crown like a kind of early morning pampas grass of the pillow, were forced to curl abruptly back down again by their contact with the dirty upholstered roof.
‘Not bad mate’ said Andrew glancing back from the front of the vehicle.
Louise smiled at Carl, and then holding the smile without realising that she was doing so, returned to looking out of the window into the black. She started to wonder what Carl’s spit would smell like that moment if allowed to dry on a stream of warm air. Probably, she assumed, that because he would likely never do such a thing, even in private, that it would not actually have any scent at all. It had to be smelled first, sampled, or else it was just nothing.
If it were the middle ages, she thought, they would have been blood letting him, and covering him with leeches to cure the cancer, if it were the middle ages.
‘No, it’s my neighbours!’ said someone from the back of the van, now nearly full, all the collections nearly having been made. ‘They’re fucking naturists. Fucking weird man’.
Louise half listened, still looking out of the window, the morning bright now, and the dairy first in view, then not, surrounded by green and the blue of the sky at the crest of the hill, as the vehicle began the windy climb up Sheephorse Lane.
‘You can’t say that’ said someone else. ‘Not nowadays. They’ve got LGBT rights. It’s their sexuality. They’ve got a right to do that if they’re gay.’
‘They’re man and fucking wife!’
‘Yeah but they’re LGBT gay if they’re naturists. You can get sacked for saying things like that, it’s a form of discrimination.’
Louise, still looking out the window was thinking. Deeply thinking; She was calm; She enjoyed the smell of the shower gel coming from someone sat behind her, and was looking back at yesterday. Sean Ryan the MD had appeared at the door to the vat room as people were about to go on their nine o’clock break. Ryan had just arrived, and after depositing his coat. And bag in his office, had trotted down the steel stairs onto the floor of the dairy. Some other workers, mostly those for whom the rota indicated that this month would be taken up with turning cheeses in the maturing room, or rubbing down and sealing the new batches, were just starting to arrive to begin their shift.
‘Hi guys, good morning I just need to have a quick word with everyone. Could you please come into the hub for a minute? Thanks. Oh, and pass on the message if you see anybody. Thanks.’
It wasn’t unheard of, a call like this to some kind of audience with the senior management, but it didn’t happen frequently. The place generally ran like clockwork, the old methods hardly having changed for hundreds of years. Of course, the business had been owned by countless individuals and companies, but the act of making had been passed down, mostly to local people, and the upper management hardly had to interfere with the daily running of the place at all, so long as quality was always high, which it was, and health and safety always passed, which it did. Any issue not directly related to the making of cheese was usually communicated electronically. Some of the people who had been there for only a little less time than Louise had never had any real contact with Sean Ryan at all, despite his office being in the dairy itself. As someone who had come to the area, to the dairy on purpose, as someone who hadn’t been born here and fallen into the industry through ambivalence, or chance, or tradition, Louise had something in common with Sean Ryan. She often speculated about what his reasons for coming here might have been; drawing no conclusion. All she could do was to make a connection to his motivation for having his office in the dairy, when all the rest of the senior management had their offices in a purpose-built block around the corner. To choose an office in the dairy despite the noise, and most of all despite the smell, which had the ability to put people off eating cheese for life when they spent any prolonged time with it.
This process, the making of this particular cheese in this particular way, was ancient. Louise revelled in it. While working, she often found herself in a kind of trance, narrowing her field of vision to the task: just the cheese, the tool, and her hand being visible. She would focus on the repetitive motion her body was making as she performed, savouring the thick smell of the dairy and the feel of the half-formed cheese beneath her fingers. If she managed to block out all else, she felt she was travelling in time. In this state, what separated her mind from that of any of the ancients? All of them performing this task, their mind a simple projection on the inside of a small closed bubble. A bubble of routine and cheese. It didn’t matter when in history any single manifestation of that consciousness emerged, all iterations of it were identical. More than this though, the practice of eating this type of food, the milk of animals designed to suckle their young, felt to Louise to be fundamental to life itself. And further, take that substance, the milk of life, and allow it to rot. Bacteria, a form more basic and fundamental to nature than any mammal, utilized in the creation of cheese. This form of sustenance. But as primal as they were the bacteria were still individual historical organisms, and it was what they contributed that Louise revelled in the most. They introduced the rot, an ahistorical and even timeless process of life, or rather death, not even an organism but an eternal process of organism destruction. Louise thought the smell of the cheese was life and death; and that it was the smell of ancient humans at their work, and at their table; and that it was the smell of all the years, and people, and slow cultural refinements of the food in the meantime; it was the smell of laws about the amount of solids a cheese had to contain to be sold as cheese, and it was the repeal of those laws; it straddled disputes about grazing rights and pasture; and the timeless secrets of the universe, or beyond the universe. But. These ideas in themselves did not entail authenticity.
The people in the city would never have bought or eaten the cheese from the dairy where Louise worked, although they would have been well aware of it, as famous as it was. The cheese that they bought had to have authenticity. For Louise, nothing that was genuinely old, such as cheese from the dairy could possess this. The truly authentic had to come from a place that was without genuine history, without an opportunity to accrue the ghosts of products-past that came from too long in the market place (the only aspect of a products’ history she thought, that enhanced its authenticity was its narrow survival in the face of government health legislation, although at the time this was obviously damaging for sales). On the whole, history created a kind of rough edge around products which forced them to accrue inauthenticity as the years went by: generated through the unwanted baggage of multiple advertising campaigns, of wrappers changed and changed again, of rebranding exercises designed to shift the context of the product in the face of changing tastes. Adaption was never enough. The authentic could only ever be total reinvention. In this way the cheese from the dairy at which Louise worked would never be bought by the residents of the city. And in this way, Louise had come to the old dairy with all its inauthenticity so that she could revel in this ancient material, stinking as it was. But she had no idea why Sean Ryan was there. The only real conclusion that she could come to about him was that he was an absolute cunt.
Her thoughts turned again to Sean Ryan the previous day:
‘Again. Could everyone come into the hub for a minute please’ he had said.
The workers had uttered a scattering of collective assent. They followed Ryan down the corridor, some of them hanging back momentarily to nip into the kitchen in order to click on the kettle, or to grab a pack of cigarettes from their lockers. Ryan went past the hub collecting staff from other parts of the dairy, before coming back, turning through the double doors and waiting for the staff to assemble. When everyone was present, they numbered about twenty-five.
Sean Ryan stood up from the computer desk against which he was leaning, looked around the room vigorously with his head slightly tilted back on his neck, waited for silence and then began.
In the van, Dan, a worker in the blueing rooms at the dairy was talking about his Misses.
‘My Misses texted me last night’ he said.
‘She wrote: ‘is it on?’, I thought she wanted a shag so I wrote ‘No’. Turned out she was asking me if the new series of The Queen was on Netflix yet. Fuckin turned her down and she want even asking for it!’
Louise, still dreaming. She could smell the burning of hair. There had been only a couple of occasions in her life when she had smelled burning hair that had not been the obvious result of setting something on fire. She froze, a surging of something or other coursed through her body, tightening her throat. What she knew was this: that the smell of burning hair was often the first thing experienced before a stroke. And so, she anxiously scanned the room for an alternative source of the smell, while at the same time steeling herself for the development of the unimaginable.
Inside the van some of the workers were becoming animated.
‘Muslims can get away with anything police have no power’
‘So true Linda. We are British but we have no rights.’
‘We gonna be over-run another boat load of immigrants landed today, why do they let them in? Most of the violence that happens are foreigners.’
‘Not all Muslims are bad. And some immigrants have nowhere to go because of war and famine in their country’
‘There is only us who lets them in Danny’
‘Yes, I agree but we have to look after our own first’
‘Exactly Maz I agree too many do-gooders’
‘They are taking over’
‘They give nothing to this country so why should we give them anything?’
‘They are and people will find out in the future so annoying’
‘They get a home and all the benefits never paid a penny’
‘The immigrants go through all these different countries why don’t they stop there? Because they don’t get money and housing like they do here’
Louise was still emersed in yesterday. She found the smell. This man, this boy, was burning the hair of a horse with a blow torch designed for a kitchen. He had written ANN CAN on the horse’s back with the flames in large letters whose style was surprisingly refined, in that they seemed to resemble letters that a ghost might write in a cartoon. The letters left the skin of the horse clearly visible, and although it made no sound it was hard to tell whether the pink flesh was tender and burned or just the animal’s natural colour.
None was an expert.
The boy had chained the horse to one of the settling tanks and was encouraging it to pull, although the beast would never be able to cause any real damage, the tanks being solid and screwed into the concrete floor. Eels, about 30 of them where swimming in the still liquid cheese.
The eels where poured into the ‘cheese’ from a large plastic semi-transparent tank where they had been floating in a pale green water. The boy took the tank from behind the camera, opened the cap and turning it upside down, shook it. The eels bunched together at the neck of the tank and the boy took his finger and squeezed it in between them so that one, and then two, then three eels plopped into the pool. ‘Fingo!’ said the boy, turning to the camera, licking one of the clean digits on his left hand and wiping it onto the lens that was filming him. The camera man screamed a long high-pitched scream that seemed contrived, a planned dialogue with the boy. When the scream was over, he wiped the lens clean.
‘Yes, Linda if their country can’t help them why should we? I have worked all my life and I had to fight for what I received, they comes here and except everything. Send them back its their country problem not ours.’
‘I do feel for the children but it’s mainly single young men coming over, other countries should take them in but they won’t.’
Yes, but it’s not our problem think about the children over here who are abused who need help. We got to help our own first.’
‘There’s too many do-gooders in this country that’s what I think.’
It was on. She felt him hitch up her skirt as he pushed her hard over the work bench. Her arms spread forwards and outwards across the metal, her sweaty hands gliding across the surface until the moisture was gone, and they came to an abrupt dry stop, a glistening trail of sweat behind each of them. He pulled down her knickers, and with his palm facing upwards pushed his thumb with ease in to her vagina, his fingers fumbling towards her clitoris with crude strokes. She experienced a momentary pause when she felt detached, and lucid; she could see the clock, and see the bench, she thought about the ride into work, and thought about Sean Ryan; and could feel the cock as it pushed it into her. They fucked frantically for about half a minute, her wetness crawling up the very bottom of his shirt, until they both came, grunting and stuttering; gasping and yelping.
The van finally reached its destination. The workers got out of their seats, stretched, and climbed one by one out into the cold. They walked, some alone, some still talking in small groups across the car park and into the cool air of the dairy to begin their shift.
David Fletcher is an English artist who lives and works in Hamburg. His practice takes a multi-disciplinary approach but is rooted in a continued dialogue with painting, which he views as a ‘first choice among many – many being infinity’. His work draws on a tension between the biographic, the epic, the sincere and the stupid. He is interested in how material properties and processes can transform and extend into the metaphorical and linguistic realm – and thus alter perception and thought.