To get to where I’m staying from the town centre I have to walk through a park. In London if the parks don’t have ghostly fluorescent lights every few paces then they instead have twelve foot fences and bored people in hats called Norbert who are supposed to be there to stop you taking crack or murdering the crack addicts or mugging the people who are murdering the crack addicts or displaying public nudity to affront the muggers of the would-be crack addict murderers. The few entry points that can’t be blocked entirely are instead festooned with warnings: “This place is seething with evil naked crack besotted murdering muggers who hate everything you stand for.” In reality, Norbert saw a dying fox last June and had to help that drunk teenager find the gate once a few years ago, remember?
But having lived in London I paused before the big dark Oxford park. On the one side, no fantastical warning signs. On the other, no Norbert.
Norbert won’t keep anyone safe, torch or no, apart from the verges and the annual safety assessment. Screw Norbert. I went for a dark walk.
It was properly pitch black at points, when the trees were low. The moon was bright though, and a clear sky was throwing up many stars, interrupted by scales of reflective cloud. It was a peaceful warm summer night. I thought about my concerns.
A person can only see so much. What you can see is dictated by light. All humans have a similar capacity to turn light into shapes. If you have no portable light source you can see no more than all humans can see, unless those humans have a portable light source in which case you’ll see them first, their better vision is directional, and their night vision is impaired by their light source. The playing field is as level as it is by day. Just because I’m impaired, it’s easy to forget that everybody else is too.
And If I’m walking alone through a park, the only thing to be afraid of is people. If I remember that my night vision is no better or worse than anyone else’s then I can shut down any worried voices.
Apart from those about fiends, of course. I did only turn round once. Because the pricking on the back of the neck is a real thing. Don’t turn more than once. You don’t want to see it. I still love this bit from Coleridge, who was my teenage jam.
“Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”
Frightful fiends aside I reckon I’ll be good to stroll through that park every night without fear of public nudity, fly tipping, unregulated discharge of a blunderbuss, naughtiness etc etc.
On my late night perambulation tonight I even passed by the tree where I’ll be blithering about sons and waves and loss and whatever else occurs to me to blither. I took a photo of the sky, and it made me sad because the sky was astonishing and there was no means whatsover to convey that with the camera on my smartphone. But here is the attempt. A useful illustration of the difference between creative intention and bland reality.