I'm having a bit of an insomnia moment, so I turn on the television and randomly tune it to various stations. I come across the 'extreme sports' channel, and watch a film about skateboarders and parkour runners. As I'm watching them using steps, guard rails, benches, ramps, statues and other street furniture to make their way across town in an interesting way, I start to wonder if they see the city in a different way to the rest of us. Do they see jumps, 'grinds' and the like on an almost unconscious level?

Then I start thinking about how I see the place where I work. I see it on three different levels. I see the streets as a map. Main roads to use in order to get to the different areas of town, the junctions that I always seem to be taking, turning left to get to the police station, turning right to head towards Forest Gate. Turning right here to get to Leyton, or straight on towards Stratford. It's all there in my head – in the white and yellow of the A to Z. This is the way I think of Newham as I'm going to a job.

The other way that I think of the streets is as I’m trying to make my way through the traffic.  I stop seeing cars and lorries as vehicles.  Instead I’m watching the spaces that they make.  I’m watching the patterns they make in the road ahead.  I’m unconsciously aware of where the drivers are looking, have they seen me or not?  The way the vehicles move is also in my mind.  Are they hesitant?  If they are then there is a good chance that they will stop suddenly.  Are they speeding?  In that case they may overtake the car that has seen me and has pulled over.  But I spend my time seeing, and aiming for the spaces.

Finally, I see Newham in terms of the patients I have treated.  Over there was the 26 year old who dropped dead playing football.  Across the road is one of our regulars, a lovely old lady with a list of ailments as long as your arm.  That street I’m about to pull into had the drunk who didn’t notice that he had a broken hand.  Now I’m cruising past the road that a twelve year old died in.  A hundred yards from where I’m eating my McBagel is where the teenager got stabbed after the Notting Hill carnival.  Every street has a story, and some memories are always triggered as I drive past them.  For me, Newham is full of ghosts.

19 thoughts on “Spaces”

  1. Hi — I've never commented before but have been reading for some time and just wanted to say congrats on the book. I have read the whole archives and enjoyed every bit but something about today's post really struck a chord with me, as well. Thanks for doing this! — Lexi

  2. The last paragraph reminds me of themes from the novel “Bringing Out The Dead” (I think it was a film with Nicholas Cage as well). It's rather an extreme version of your blog Tom, but well worth a read.Ben

  3. Fair point.I tend to see individual patients in similar ways myself. There are moments when the effect they use for Neo in The Matrix, where he sees everything as direct code, rather than what the code is meant to create, is how I see my patients. I have visions of cells, organs, systems, pathologies, whole individuals, members of statistical and social groups, all over-layed on the person there in front of me.

    It's an interesting way to view the universe…

  4. I agree. You keep saying you can't write and then you publish something like this – I wish I was as coherent in my insomnia moments, I might get something done! What I want to know is, if you think you can't write, why do you?

  5. I think you're exactly right. When I'm on a motorbike the road looks different to when I'm in a car, and again on my pushbike.And when I'm coding, I'm in some kind of otherworld, where only the data shapes exist. It can be a real shock if someone waves a hand between my eyes and the screen, or taps me on the shoulder.

    Altered perception: It's not just for druggies.


  6. I'm a snowboarder and I'm constantly seeing rails and ledges that I'd like to jib (grind/slide on)if it ever snowed enough….I'm eyeing up a rail by our local library, hopefully it'll snow over Christmas

  7. i agree with pinklefish, i just started logging on to your blog. your writing is amazing. i felt your thoughts just leap off the page.

  8. Humans sort their landscape around them in mental maps. It is something we have done since the stoneage. Before maps compasses and GPS our ability to pinpoint places was a mater of life or death.A hunter uses large rocks or special threes, and remember where he and his mates killed the mammut acording to them.

    A medicineman uses the same rock and tree to remember wher the mushroom with the funny effect grew last year.

    Modern humans still sort their world in mental maps according to their “function” in society.

  9. I know the feeling. I'm a Techie up in Manchester and there is an eerir feeling about driving on a wet thursday morning at 3a.m. You identify houses and areas by the jobs you have done there and in a way the city is all yours.

  10. I was going down the path of skateboarding as a profession before I succumbed to my true computer geek nature.Not only do you notice the terrain – how steep is that hill? How big is that jump? Can you slide on that? Are there pebbles around that could stop my wheels or is it well swept? Are there any marks indicating that someone has skated that successfully before?

    You also take note of things like – Is this in front of a business that would complain about me being there? How many people are walking by? How close is it to traffic? .. Besides having fun, you have to take into account the risk of being complained about and dealing with law enforcement.

  11. I've been wondering how you deal with the memories. I think that's the part I'd have the hardest time with, myself. Judging by your straightforward writing, I guess I thought you were immune. In a way, it's nice to know that you're not, but now I really wonder how you deal with it.

  12. Yes, great minds must think alike, because I spent ages looking for an image from that film of Nick Cage helping the ghosts out of the floor.Bringing out the Dead is surprisingly realistic (alright, also condensed, but still…) When I first started writing a script for a comic, the first few lines were pretty much the same as the film's initial voiceover.

  13. I remember them, but I don't get upset by them. What's done is done, nothing about the past that I can change.That's how I cope – complete and utter pragmatism.

  14. Bringing out the Dead, Scorcese's answer to the questions he asked in Taxi Driver.Only one real, glaring, error- John Goodman doing CPR with bent elbows, but since it was so that he wouldn't kill the actor- I can forgive the inaccuracy.

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