Coming Back to The Imagination, prose by Michael Graeme at
Pete Godfrey

Coming Back to The Imagination

Coming Back to The Imagination

written by: Michael Graeme


I’m walking along the promenade towards Saint Anne’s on Sea, today. The Lancashire coast is mostly mud, salt marsh, and shingle, and no more so than here at Stannage Bay, by Fairhaven. Only rarely does it provide a venue for the jolly buckets and spades of childhood. Mostly it’s a place of hazard and all too frequent tragedy. But the light has a cleanness to it, and an optimism. When the clouds gather inland, and when the black dogs begin to circle, there is nothing like a wander by the sea at Saint Anne’s for clearing the mind.

It has me nostalgic, too, for the days of my own buckets and spades, when my parents used to bring us here, on Sunday afternoons. The port of Preston, now long gone, was in its dog-days then, and if you hit the tide just right, you’d witness an exodus of shipping, bound for far away lands. It was a place of magic, a place where the unknown world, the subliminal world, seemed almost within grasp. But it came, too, with a sunset feeling as the clouds of Monday morning gathered on the horizon, and that back-to-school ache sank its fingers deep into the gut. They say you can’t appreciate the light unless you have the dark to compare it with. I’m not so sure. I’ve been retired a few years now, and there are no more Monday mornings for me, yet I find the light here is still very fine, and more, though the lines of shipping are long gone, it still stirs the imagination.

It was the poet Wordsworth who wrote about children coming into the world, trailing clouds of glory. They live in an enchanted world, a world overlaid by the imagination. It allows them to see things, things which animate and enliven their being. They see fairies under the trees, they see dragons in the sky, while adults see nothing. Growing up is like developing myopia of the mind’s eye, and unless we nurture the imagination, unless we can all in some way become poets, we see nothing but what’s in front of us, and the world loses its enchantment.

It’s a quiet day, today, a midweek morning, and the promenade has a more laid back feel to it than on weekends. Odd, isn’t it, how we are drawn to places like this? What is it in the core program of the mind that draws us to the fuzzy edge of liminality? Might it be that, out there, beyond the horizon, we can make of it whatever we like, imagine whatever we like. Is the adult imagination really dead, then, or does it just need a bit of peace, a bit of space, for it all to come flooding back?

The shouty side of the Internet is never more than a lazy click away. I’m referring to the phone, in my pocket. In there, among the loose change, and the handkerchiefs, gargoyles are gurning, spitting bile across unbridgeable divides. Indeed, they have matches and Kerosene, and they are setting those bridges alight, reinforcing the divides. Hands on hips, they glare at one another through a screen of toxic smoke and flames, seeking always the moral high-ground. Anything is game: politics, the climate, the diversity of humankind. Argue, argue, argue. Own them, smash them, shut them down!

You can’t avoid it. Seek a softness of tone, seek inclusivity, seek something a little higher-browed, and the algorithms will discern your triggers from the inverse of your fingers’ innocent wanderings, and will sprinkle them among its servings. I can imagine the worst of human nature, but try not to, while the algorithms thrive on it. I prefer to turn away politely from the embarrassment of others, the hurt, the disputatiousness, the violent affray, while the algorithms force me to look, goad me into comment, and they demand I call judgement on everything when, really, I would sooner have no opinions at all on much of that which vexes the harpies of the Internet.

So I’m detoxing as much as I can, recovering the threads of imagination, or so I think, for even as I walk, the phone is recording my steps, overlaying my route on a map. I don’t need it to. It’s just handy to know where we are in relation to things, though hardly a matter of life and death, since I know this place like the back of my hand. We’re not crossing the Sahara, after all. We’re just mooching up the coast towards Saint Anne’s on Sea. That phone is a devil, and I wish I could be rid of it, but it has already inveigled its way so deep into my life, it has convinced me I am unable to even tie my shoelaces without an app. Just look at the way he ties his shoelaces – what a noob! Pros tie their shoelaces like this,…

There are couples here, hand in hand. Old couples, young couples, strolling at their ease. There are children, there are friends in groups, ambling, chatting, pausing to watch the birds out over the marsh. A guy trains a pair of binoculars into heat-quake of the bay. I don’t know what he’s seeing. More birds maybe, or a sailboat. He has a dreamy look about him, not all gurned up like a gargoyle.

It strikes me the default disposition of the average human being is to love and be loving and, dare I say, even to trust. To break that trust is a serious matter. It is deeply hurtful, deeply damaging to the psyche – as the algorithmic nature of the online world is damaging, planting mind-viruses at every click, rendering the imagination, that door to the sublime, dull and stiff and squeaky for want of oil.

It’s a couple of miles to Saint Anne’s on Sea. The gaily painted beach huts come into view first, atop a stern sea wall, and then there’s the pier striding out towards a glitter of receding tide. Here are the buckets and spades, and the ice-cream, and the bandstands, and the paddling pools. The pier is only half the length now it used to be, having lost the seaward end to a fire in 1982. The pilings that marked the original end were preserved, and stand alone, way out on a plane of emptiness. It has a gauntness to it, this structure, and it stirs the imagination.

Boats used to moor up here, passenger ferries, paddle-boats to and from Liverpool, and Southport, oh,… a hundred years ago. It takes imagination to see it, to hear it, to feel it, now. It’s easier in places like this though, the hardness and the uncompromising materiality of the world on one side of you, and on the other? Absolutely nothing. It does not restore those clouds of glory, which render childhood forever so precious, but it does bring out a little bit of the poet. All you need do is turn your back on the noise, and you’re home again.

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