I have to go back to the old place first. I left some confidential items in a locked draw on the last day but one, then managed to forget to bring in the key to the draw on the final day. If the pedestal is moved, I’ll have to declare their loss, and all sorts of shit will ensue. So on what is supposed to be day one in the new office, I go first to the old place to retrieve the documents, among them a thick and damning report about a local institution which never saw the light of day at the time it was put together. That is, having had sight of its contents, the institution was powerful enough to ensure the report’s suppression.
The old office is the Mary Celeste. It has the feel of being recently deserted, but not asset-stripped. The lights are out and the humanising touches are gone. The place has history; we were just a moment in it. This solidly-built Victorian construction was once the city’s asylum. Occasionally I used to fancy myself incarcerated, but I know there’s no comparison.
I go to another wing, a well-lit and better carpeted one, to seek out the old place’s legal eagle and show him what I’ve got, in the hope he’ll take it off my hands. Jon sighs mock-wearily, and says with a breaking smile, ‘Oh, give it to the Echo.’ I make as if to hit him over the head with it. But as I thought, and even though he has not seen it until this moment, he is happy to lock it in a safe place where it can quietly gather dust. We say goodbye, and shake hands, wishing each other well.
I drive into the centre. The new building is shockingly nondescript for one positioned at the heart of the city, and it isn’t any better on the inside. Decked out in three shades of institutional green, with heavy dark brown doors leading off it, the stairwell depresses me beyond reason. But I’ve been lucky with the desk allocated to me. Looking out of and away from this grim building lining two sides of the square improves its aspect considerably; from this angle it is dominated by the Greek Revivalist mass of the old town hall. I’m perched level with its frieze, watching pigeons wheel. On the horizon I can see far-off hills, and beneath me the square’s bare-branched plane trees. It’s a big window, a panorama of sky and stone with people constantly moving over the floor of the square. In this corner I am somewhat distant from my colleagues, who I sense are also trying to overcome their initial feelings of dissociation as they unpack and arrange their new desks so that they resemble the ones they’ve left behind. I feel an odd mixture of nerviness and dreaminess; the former at being among new faces as well as old, the latter in having such a distracting view. I try to settle myself by writing something, by writing this. The chimes of the town hall’s clock measure out the quarter hours. There will be no escaping the slow flow of time here.
But then it’s not like I haven’t been here before, or somewhere very like it.
Photo of birdcage and ‘London plane on Hampstead Heath’ by Michael Goldrei via microsketchbook.