Survey by Qualaroo

Basim Magdy - Young People's Writing Project # 2

We invited 16-25 year olds for a creative written responses to Basim Magdy's exhibition, and the idea of the city of Bristol in the future. Here, Theo Watkins shares his.

A Clipping Of Truth

 

In his mind, Theo thought of Bristol as a crusty white bread roll, turned slightly stale, a few days past its ideal date of consumption, but heated-up for about twenty-seven seconds in a microwave, creating a sweaty, pulpous scrap of perverse subsistence. This is an unnatural state for a bread roll, an obvious betrayal of its necessary life-cycle. Bristol was also a faint, strangely milky scent: precisely what Theo smelt from one of his newly severed toenail clippings, held up to his nostrils as he gave a heavy and hearty sniff. Both of these things are not ideal, not exotic or exciting, but oddly pleasurable. A piece of resurrected bread, while not at its optimal state, goes quite well with baba ganoush and certain salad leaves — inexplicably better than fresh bread does in some unexpected ways. Deriving pleasure from the smell of a toenail clipping, meanwhile, is equally untraditional, not something Theo would suggest for anyone else to partake in, but a personal, singular source of worldly comfort.

 

Theo can always remember relating things to other things; certain objects were the same as smells were the same as concepts were the same as people were the same as tastes. An all-encompassing synæsthesia. In the past, this had always been a subtle way of thinking, a bubbling sense that stuff was just the same as other stuff, even if they were completely incomparable in any logical way. After pollen salts were legalised, this mysterious pattern of thought became heightened for Theo, to the point in which he would record the various connections on his HaoMind™—not in order to discover any grand patterns, but merely for the sake of recreational documentation.

 

In the olden days, Bristol hadn't been thought of in this way, it had been brighter and lighter. It was pretty, petite, almost weightless. Theo couldn’t recall the specific associations Bristol had back then — as those days were pre-pollen salt addiction — but the actual memory of how Bristol had previously been was now a peach-based cocktail held within half a coconut. Or indeed the sound of a glockenspiel played inside of a child’s pillow-fort. Due to the nature human’s perception of time, this memory of the city Theo inhabited for many years was far from precise, and in fact Theo sometimes thought that his mind was surely playing tricks on him. Perhaps Bristol wasn’t as he remembered, perhaps the llama market and city centre bingo games were complete confabulations. Of course, Theo had no way of verifying, as all of these memories took place before the internet was restarted, and all of his friends from that time were either dead or in space. But after a small amount of consideration, Theo decided that these memories must surely be real. They were too palpable, too much of a cemented fixture in the architecture of his brain to be in any way bogus.

 

About two months ago, Theo had visited Bristol with his family. The sight of his great-grandchildren playing on the hank-riders — innocent joy on their pudgy little faces — was undeniably heart-warming, and indeed quite revivifying for an 107 year-old man such as himself. But this feeling was tinged with a clear sense of melancholy—Bristol’s soul was missing from the equation. This shining metropolis of endless shining structures, roads upon roads of coffee houses and kale clinics, was aesthetically overwhelming, a full feast for the eyes. But he was sure the community spirit had vanished, the jolly atmosphere replaced with an air of colourless vapidity. This obviously had its benefits: an apparently booming economy, a plethora of services readily available — including rim gyms and an unbelievably fast outer-ground system. A day out in Bristol was extraordinary, its pleasures were tangibly evident, even if, for Theo, they were imbued with a heavy sense of aching nostalgia.

 

‘Did you build Bristol, grandpapa?’ one of his great-grandchildren once asked, awed that their great-grandfather occupied this funhouse city before the redevelopments started.

The answer to this was of course no, Theo had never built anything in his life, and was in fact mostly against the mayor’s original plans to resurface Bristol with sponge-metal all those years ago. He was of course too politically unengaged to actually do anything about it at the time, but if anyone asked: ‘Are you for or against Tilly Garland resurfacing our city with sponge-metal?”, he would answer ‘Against.’, mostly because that’s what his friends would say.

 

Although Theo happily reaped Bristol’s benefits whenever he visited with his gigantic family, the material enjoyments that this once charming city now offered came at a spiritual price. This is how Bristol had somehow transferred from a peach-based cocktail held within half a coconut into a resuscitated bread roll. Other locations were now closer to how Bristol had been, unusual and unpredicted locations, ones which were more like the coffee stains or the feeling of polystyrene against the base of a bare foot in Theo’s youth. Some said Bristol was now at its peak, better than it had ever been, but Theo always thought the term ‘at its peak’ was a bizarre one; peaks are lonely, with thin air and little fauna. So, in a way, Bristol was indeed at its peak—its sterile, godforsaken peak.

 

For more information about Theo's work, visit his website.

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