Rage of the Fleas
by John A. A. Logan
William Blake claimed to have seen visions daily since he was a
One night in 1819, the spiritual apparition of a flea appeared before
him during a séance.
Asked to draw the image he had seen by astrologer, John Varley,
Blake went one better and produced this miniature painting, The
Ghost of a Flea:
not seeing visions in London, or perhaps in concordance with seeing
them, Blake would
wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe."
only ever seen three visions myself, and two of them this year.
But, for now, let's move on to other things
'Twas the occasion of my 48th birthday recently, and I thought I
would take myself down to the centre of my local Highland Scottish
It was around noon as I waited for the bus. Sometimes they don't
come at all now. You wait an hour for the next one, and then it
does not come either.
But a bus came. Lo! O auspicious Birthday Omen!
way down the hill, the young female Polish driver took a sharp right
turn, bringing the left side of the bus close to a group of houses.
We passengers on the left side of the bus had a nice close-up window
view of a scene in a garden.
A man, lying there, face down, collapsed over a low wooden fence,
his trousers and underpants pulled down to his ankles, his bare
I can see he has white hair, he may be about 60, it is hard to tell
from a bottom.
The bus passes by. No passenger says a word. I think a couple of
years ago, someone would have phoned an ambulance, or the driver
would have radio-ed the incident in to base. Or I, myself, would
have spoken up, asked if any one of the dozens who had seen him
had a phone to call for help, as I had none with me.
But I keep quiet. This is the Age of the Automatons, after all,
and I know it
stand out at your Peril.
it is hard to get the image of the man's bottom out of my mind.
I sit on a bench, opposite Superdrug and McDonalds.
After a couple of minutes, I notice a large bloke, about 6 foot
3 and 19 stone, has noticed me, in the Saturday crowd. I keep my
eyes on his eyes, some instinct telling me it is important to do
so. He is coming from the Superdrug doorway, walking towards me,
about 40 feet away now, keeping those predatory eyes on me as he
walks. I stare hard into his eyes and clear my throat loudly. He
stops walking, and looks away to the right, almost dreamily, as
though pacified. I look away also, to my right, at the Town House,
the traffic, trying to look peaceful, trying to be peaceful, no
need to keep staring at him now that he has stopped advancing
after about 10 seconds of looking off calmly into the middle distance
to my right, I hear strange sounds coming from the direction of
the Superdrug doorway. I look back. It is the large man who had
been staring at me and walking towards me. I see that he is now
standing opposite a much smaller man. The large man bends backwards
strangely as I watch, pivoting at the hips, he reclines his mass,
upper body and head, about two feet backwards, and then, as though
launched by a spring within his spine, drives forward powerfully,
mercilessly, to headbutt the smaller man. I see the larger man's
head look like it has struck the smaller man's head, but I don't
hear the right sound. Could he have just missed? The smaller man
has long, unruly, brown hair. He looks perplexed. The larger man
then punches the smaller man in the face.
I wonder if they know each other, or are these strangers meeting.
They are surrounded by hundreds of people, but no-one except me
looks at them.
The smaller man walks off, in the Eastgate direction. The large
man walks with him, they exit my sight with the larger man still
shoving at the smaller one as they merge with the crowd and become
indistinct to me.
I look up at the sky above the buildings where seagulls circle.
I get up, and start walking with the crowd, in the clock tower direction.
a circuit of the town.
Passing the doorway where people sit and beg, I see an unconscious
body, a man on his back, mouth open, legs at awkward angles. No-one
is stopping, or looking. I let the crowd take me on with it. On
a second circuit of the streets, I pass again 5 minutes later, and
see that two human beings have stopped and are attempting to help
and resuscitate the unconscious man. I used to be a human being,
too. But now I keep going, with the crowd.
at the outdoor Costa café. I get a tea. As I exit with my
tray in one hand, I spill a little, into the saucer.
As I take my seat, another man at another table notices my spillage.
"You'd make a terrible waiter," he says.
I know this man. I do not look at him. I pretend to laugh.
"Yeah, you're probably right," I say.
I can see, reflected in a shop window, a blue, flickering ambulance
light, from the next street, the unconscious beggar man's doorway.
As I drink my tea, I watch the passing crowd, the faces. I pour
all the water from the pot until it's empty. I keep drinking. Ten
minutes later, I forget that I have already tipped that pot's bottom
high, to wring it of the last drop of tea. I take the teapot and
tip it high again.
I hear the man from the next table say,
"You'll get nothing more out of that teabag unless you squeeze
I pretend to laugh.
"Yeah, I think you might be right!" I say.
But I do not look at him. I know he has been joined by the other
bloke who often sits with him. When they sit together they talk
loud, never saying anything good about anyone or anything. Talking
about women they know, or women who pass, in a loud, braying way
that makes my skin start to crawl off my back. I don't want to know
either of these Hound Dogs, even if we do sometimes frequent the
then, a tourist at another table takes their eye off their jam scone.
Two seagulls which have been waiting swoop in from the rooftop across
the street, low and hard, one gets the scone, the other wobble-lands
on the table, loses its footing, bounces off the elbow of the tourist's
expensive Patagonia jacket, knocks the tourist's glass coffee mug
onto the pavement where it smashes. I see a shard of glass fly eloquently
and predictably, like a tiny jagged star, and embed in the passing
stockinged ankle of an elderly pedestrian who gives a little cry.
The wobbling seagull abandons the mission in disgust, glaring at
its comrade with the scone.
I sniff and look up at the sky.
Happy Birthday, Logan
Surely, we all get
what we deserve in the end
"THE DAY OF THE HOLY RESURRECTION IS HERE
TIME OF THE PURIFIED REDEEMED FLESH!"
I turn my head a little, to see who has suddenly shouted from behind,
but I don't turn it all the way round, I don't really want to see.
Anyway, it turns out I don't have to. The two blokes at the next
table squeal with delight. They start talking about this street
preacher we can hear from the next street.
"Oh, he's back again eh?" says the one who had been watching
the way I drank my tea much too closely.
"Aye, aye!" says the other.
Then I realise the street preacher is swearing a lot. I've never
heard a swearing street preacher before. I almost look all the way
round, to see behind myself, to see him, but no, my neck abandons
the effort again, a lack of faith there in the neck somehow, it
cannot complete the gesture. He is getting louder now, this swearing
street preacher, swearing more, as though invoking some strange
Demon to visit this town today. The two men on my right get up abruptly,
off to see the creature more closely.
I stay seated. When I do leave, it is to go the opposite way.
a circuit of the tiny town centre, passing the now empty beggar's
doorway, then coming level with another scene, the street preacher
down on the pavement, still swearing and preaching, sometimes screaming
now too, as two police officers wrestle with him on the ground.
I stare hard, at the blurred fighting limbs, wondering who is Jacob
and who is the Angel, in this strange new world? Perhaps, at 48,
I am now too old to understand this Brave New World we are heading
into. There are 80000 people living now in this town only big enough
at the centre for 40000 people. How many are Human Beings, and how
many are Angels, and how many only caustic Visions, I wonder now,
as I stand and stare at the police officers bouncing on the bones
of the street preacher. I am one of this crowd, standing and staring.
There is an electrical tension, a vibrant charge, all round us,
in the air. Was it always there? Or has it come now as the world
unravels, with too many wars, too many refugees, too many bombs,
too many boatloads of abandoned spirits swirling in the sea? Surely
as the world comes apart, the tensions have to reach here, yes even
here, quiet old Inverness, and this is where they would show up
first, on the streets, among the central nervous systems of our
own vulnerable, lost poor souls. A collective, subconscious, subliminal
tension, brought in from those dark tendrils of the wider web, and
it must explode out somewhere, in some form, Black Emissions of
the Spirit. Suddenly, I realise that, at my side, stand the two
men from the street café. No, I will not stand with them,
not even to see such Wonders. I walk on
it is time to leave town, the darkness has descended further. I
will go home then and open my birthday presents. I leave the town,
and cross the canal at the footbridge, entering semi-darkness at
the other end of the bridge. Only then, when I am standing on the
canal path, do I see them coming right towards me out of the night.
Another 19 stone bloke, about half my age, his youthful cheeks showing
up under yellow streetlight carrying from the nearby road. He's
coming at me doing about 15 miles an hour on this narrow footpath,
and, to his left, moving at 15 miles an hour alongside him, kicking
up dust, a 110-pound bulldog, or pitbull, or some other banned/extinct/endangered
species of fighting Devil Dog at any rate
both hurtling in
or, all three hurtling in at me, if I count man, bike,
and dog as three separate entities, like an Unholy Trinity of Destruction
heading in from the West to get me for all my sins
One moment they're coming right at me, then the bike rider breaks
to my left, the dog shifts simultaneously to my right. As they pass
me, I clear my throat, loudly.
Then I hear the bike skidding to a stop behind me. I hear the dog
skidding to a stop also, its coal-shovel paws tearing up the canal
footpath earth that perhaps Thomas Telford himself once ordered
to be laid there. The man, and the bike, and the dog, all skidding
to an emergency stop behind me, they must tear up 30 feet of canal
footpath each, just in the act of stopping.
Then I hear the angry voice from behind, calling loudly,
"Have you got a problem?"
I stop and turn. He's about 30 feet away now in the semi-darkness,
staring at me. He has his bike half-on to the footbridge, its front
wheel, so he means to cross there, at least he and his canine were
not only skidding to a stop in outrage just because I dared to clear
my throat at them. His squat canine companion/weapon stares at me
also, impassive, from beside the bike's stationary rear wheel.
Have I got a problem? It's such an enormous question, really. I
try to think it all over as I stare back at him, and at his dog.
There seems to be slightly more humanity and compassion in the dog's
eyes, than in the owner's, though that isn't saying much, all of
their eyes are twinkling orange in the dim streetlight. Where would
I start, in trying to express to them my problem?
I think it all over for several more seconds, then turn my back
on them and walk on.
After 5 seconds of walking I stop again, and turn. I see that they
have reached the far end of the footbridge. I clear my throat loudly
at them. I sniff. They don't react this time.
I walk on, kicking the road beneath my boot after a few more seconds,
then I try to leave it all behind me as I head up the hill.
Back at the house, my presents are still on the floor, unopened.
I open one. The Incredible Hulk, on DVD discs, all the episodes.
I put one on.
more like it.
I haven't seen this stuff for 30 years.
"I Something?I felt a chill rushing through my body.?shouted
with pain and anger. I had a feeling inside me like a hundred people
shouting all at?was happening. I felt a surging infusion of?once,
like a locomotive beginning to roll. I could feel a?strength, my
muscles vibrating with a strange life of their own. force welling
up inside me
Bixby is such a poignant, noble, lonely David Banner.
the raging spirit that dwells within him
But it seems that Bixby's own actor-spirit is at the heart of this
I watch another episode, the Hulk fighting a bear in a river, which
gets some green paint rubbed off on it in the struggle, before the
Hulk throws it 40 feet in the air, settling the matter.
Then I Google Bixby, to see how he was rewarded for the poignant
moments he brought to this show
and which I remember making
me happy, and arousing my sympathy, even as a child
Well, it seems Mr Bixby wasn't rewarded. His life became a life
of tragedy, just like the fictional Banner's
during the making
of the Incredible Hulk series Bixby's wife had left him, then the
next year their 6-year-old son died, and the year after that his
wife, blaming herself for their son's death, killed herself
am Googling Mr Bixby, I hear a scream, coming from the night, outside
I peek out the curtain. Two people are standing on the road, dim-shadowed
figures, outside my neighbour's house, right next to my garden.
The neighbour's door flies open, I hear shouting from inside their
house, then the door slams shut. The indistinct figures remain on
the street, watching my neighbour's house.
I sit down again and watch another episode of The Incredible Hulk,
the volume turned up to drown out further shouts from next door.
Twenty minutes later, just as David Banner is being taught self-hypnosis
by a hypnotherapist-psychiatrist whom he hopes will help him contain
the Beast Within, I hear a vehicle draw up outside my house, and
the doors slamming on exit in that manner only the police really
know how to properly do.
I hear their hammering knock on the neighbour's door.
I turn down the Hulk, and return to peek and twitch at my curtain.
Perhaps this is what 48-year-olds do when faced with external stresses?
I see one of the neighbours, a 19-year-old girl larger than either
of the two male cops who have her handcuffed, she is bent over slightly,
her heavyweight boxer's shoulders drooping dispiritedly, as they
herd her along the driveway and shove her in the back of their van.
I hear one cop tell the grandmother who must have phoned the police
on the girl that she should call the station in the morning.
back down, to reflect on my Big Birthday Day Out in Inverness.
The Hulk is freeze-framed on the screen, mid-transformation, eerily
eyeing my remaining presents which still await opening on the carpet.
now, let us conclude with a little interlude of Poetry
especially to all those neo-visionaries, and mid-transformation
Hulks, out there listening
A Poison Tree
BY WILLIAM BLAKE
angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.
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