I didn’t photograph them. They were just ordinary houses, with unremarkable front and back gardens – not unlike the suburban house I grew up in. Without photos, I hold them in my mind, determined not to lose the images of what the houses across the road looked like before land values rocketed and the developers stepped in.
‘When a thing is gone it is gone,’ said Jack stubbornly. ‘When a house is knocked down and another built in its place, why the first house is gone forever.’
‘Even that is not so simple as you would believe,’ said the Dragon, ‘for whatever has stood in the world leave behind an imprint, an echo, a scent, a spirit. What is destroyed is also reclaimed. What has been lost waits to be found.’
Jack was out of his depth, like a swimmer who can hardly see the land. Dragons talk in riddles, yes, in riddles …
‘Time passes,’ said the Dragon, ‘the clock chimes, men are born, grow old, and die, the world changes. All that is true, Jack, but that is not the sum of truth. You are young, but your deepest mind is as old as the mind of the first man who ever was, and what he saw, you can see, and what he knew, you can know, and what he feared, you fear too. You are many Jacks, many minds, many lives, but you live this one now, and that is what you see, like a man in a great house who confines himself to a single room and a single view.
‘And I, I am older even than mankind, and I have seen much.’
Jack thought of the Thames, and how his mother had told him that the Romans had rowed up the river and how in those days, so far away, the banks were thickly wooded and mammoths roamed the land. And how there were rich houses along the banks of the Thames, and the mammoths were all gone, but the river still ran its course. It was the same river. Perhaps his mind was like that river.’
Taking a long range view of human history helps put things in a refreshingly different perspective compared to the short term thinking and planning of politicians with an eye to the next election.
I like the poetic way Jeanette Winterson writes about time - that tricky, slippery dimension that is so abstract, so difficult to understand, yet permeates our experiences and identities.
For a long time Silver sat reading and trying to read the book. Then she noticed that it was getting dark, and that the whole day must have passed. A short day, she thought, but then she knew from past experience that some days are shorter than others, that time is not what it seems to be by the sun and the clock…
The quotes are from Jeanette Winterson’s novel, The Battle of the Sun, published by Bloomsbury in 2009.