Few people know that at midnight in Belfairs Woods little tree-elves, timid and often drug-debauched, manufacture tinkly-orange magic-spells then wand them into water: the spells drift along Prittle Brook past trampolines in gardens and tennis-courts, under roads, by Westcliff schools and allotments, past some cranky-looking buildings that will in time be knocked down to make space for non-cranky-looking buildings, drift, under, into:
Priory Park! How long I have spent decoding your mysteries, uncovering the shocking secrets of Mr. Jones; R. A. Jones, 1849-1925, the jewellery-merchant and philanthropist who gifted this park and others to the people of Southend and who is buried alongside his son in the priory grounds. Not one of the biographical sources available finds it worthwhile to mention that from 1888 to 1901 this same Robert Arthur Jones operated as Acting Grand Master of the pseudo-Masonic lodge “The Priory Of Sion” during a period in which the Grand Master proper, Claude Debussy, recuperated from a non-lethal but trying malaria. The Priory Of Sion! – that most occult of organisations, whose members, according to the authors of “The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail,” are believed to represent the interests of none other than the living descendants of Jesus Christ and his wife the Magdalene!
One’s mind slips naturally from Priory Park, uphill along Victoria Avenue, we find ourself outside St. Mary’s church. Enter the churchyard by way of a yew-lined path and stand at the nadir of a concrete-edged grass heart with a war-memorial at its centre: follow the line of that memorial upwards with our eyes past bricked-up doorways, the church-tower leaning-looming down on us as we stare: this memorial obscures the glass angels and their bells, follow it upwards, all the way up to the lightning-rod and then what? No, ignore it, ignore the graves and grass and stone, reflect instead upon that ugly scene in the 1970s when the academic world tore itself apart arguing over which Mary is commemorated in the name of this church. Could there be a clue in the stained-glass windows? Many were sure there must be. Reputations were lost. Anonymous bomb-threats were received. But the questions linger; and what about that curious inscription on the war-memorial? – “One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.” Is it true that on this site there once stood a Pagan grove where psilocybin was harvested and thrown at strangers? According to some sources, “The BrotherotherSisteristerhood Of The Heart Pierced By Everything” was finally suppressed by Christian soldiers in the year 1132AD.
One thinks of James Joyce, not known to have visited Essex (although there are those extended absences that appear throughout accounts of the man’s life; months, sometimes years, when he could have been anywhere), Joyce who wrote on page 1132 of the first handwritten draft of “Finnegans Wake” the following words: “the deeping dark and southing end, low as you cango.” Strangely this appears nowhere in the final, published version, even though in Joyce’s original manuscript the words have been heavily underlined half a dozen times. It is known that Joyce corresponded with the film-maker Jean Cocteau throughout the 1930s, and Cocteau was Grand Master of The Priory Of Sion from 1918 to 1963.
Modernist wordplay and Surreal mirrors: this way lies madness. Tell it to Cider Ken: once Kenneth G. K. Blurt, token Brit aboard one of the later Apollo moon-landings, Kenneth disintegrated into alcoholism and the very worst displays of public lewdness within six months of his return from the lunar surface; Ken could until recently be found stumbling along Southchurch Avenue shouting that it was all a LIE, the whole thing was a fake, sure the astronauts landed on the moon but it didn’t look anything like that. Some say he would even say sometimes that Southend-On-Sea, S-O-S that’s meaningful, not a coincidence. Some awful cosmic pun. But Cider Ken is gone now, no-one could tell you where.
Madness: seeing symbols in anything that does not contain symbols. And yet: those tree-elves, their magic, inside Priory Park it seeps from the water like oxygen shedding from blood, it rushes into what rides remain: swings, little slides, a roundabout so stiff it will hardly turn at all, a see-saw that doesn’t see and doesn’t exactly saw either (“Like some sort of factory to make weak children,” interjects Mr. Rellink at this point), no matter, there the elven spells bond with kids running runningshoutingplayingplaying there: the S-O-S was answered, the Magician bleeds what life he can into our besqueezed streets. Prittle Brook truly is an artery, on a scale we’re not supposed to see. Priory Park is one of Southend’s seven chakra-points: I have tentatively attributed it to Svadhisthana, the six-spoked wheel symbolised between your hips, that cog whose unhurried forceful turning describes the drive and velocity of one’s Will; but I cannot yet claim to have…
So did I speak, but Mr. Rellink interrupted: “Sh!”
I concealed my anger. We stood in silence for a while, there on Clifftown Parade: there, a thin divinity of frost over everything, every car and pavement, every tree and beat flowerbed dreaming of some distant Spring, every hotel roof and over the statue too. Behold a pale sun. After a bleak interval Mr. Rellink spoke again: “The moment approaches. The celestial alignment!”
I checked my watch. Immediately to our left towered the statue of Queen Victoria, “REGINA ET IMPERATRIX,” on her stone throne sat looking forwards and pointing, pointing off a bit to her right, down past the trees and seafront cafés, past road and sand and sandy sludge, across the chill Thames, pointing through the doorway defined by two huge carcinogen-pumping Limitation Ltd. chimneys over in Kent, the erect middle fingers of the dead hands of some creature it’s perhaps best not to think about. “The clues I decoded! That four-dimensional shape made by drawing lines on a map linking every SS1 newsagent that ever was; the secret behind the Secret Room at Southend Museum; numerological arcana penned onto the walls of the toilets in The Royals and always wiped away soon after; the length of the pier in inches, centimetres, metres, kilometres, yards, feet – and the horrific figure obtained by multiplying them together. This, all of it! – the mystery of the buried shoe and what they did to its sole, the foulness beneath Foulness, the other Hadleigh Castle: it all points in one direction.”
This direction: with stone Victoria, following with our eyes her extended finger, across the water. “Of course it had to be now, the Winter solstice,” I shivered. “At exactly twenty-eight minutes to midday… It’s, it’s now, it’s… The alignment! …But there’s nothing!” The deserted beach, the hungry sea, those distant chimneys. “There’s nothing there! It was all a…”
“You fool,” hissed Mr. Rellink. “Don’t follow the curve of the Earth with your eyes but look out, look, that way; can’t you see? Your pathetic excuse for a visual apparatus. There: eight and a half light-years away, that twinkle-screaming dot, Sirius you call it, the dog-star. We’ve been among you for a long time.”
“Sirius? That’s ridiculous; this, this is a…”
“We’re the dogs and you’re the cats, we like it that way.”
“But I thought you were on my side! I told you everything, my research, I…”
“You know nothing. Would you like to: would you like to know why Queen Victoria secretly visited this town weeks before her death? What sick totem did she kneel before and kiss? – ‘North Street’ became ‘Victoria Avenue’ in honour of the fact that from now on all your ups are down. What have we been keeping in the Priory all this time? It’s not Jesus, it’s not him or his brats who get resurrected. It’s the Cross. The actual one, his actual Cross, it’s been here for longer than you and it’ll be here when you’re not. Didn’t you know that? Didn’t you always know that?”
“I…” A sudden stabbing in my chest, clutch. “Uh!”
“At that age when your first heart-attack starts eyeing you up, eh? Bloody hurts.”
“I’m not that old! I…”
“Getting faster and faster these days though, isn’t it.”
He left me shivering next to stone Victoria.