Free State

Fiction, essays, reportage.

Airport walk


Everyone looked crisp and clean, air-conditioned. Finally, we passed ‘International Arrivals’, and Martin suggested there should be a separate entrance gate for us – somewhere between international and domestic. Or perhaps between outer space and inner.

They hung there at head height, secured by coloured twine to a horizontal branch. Some were skeletal, just a strip of spine and a strangely intact head. Others had been more recently killed and were folded over on themselves, their dead grey fur still retaining traces of red. The process of decay, the way the bodies were twisted and flensed, gave them the aspect of agony, as though they had died in terrible pain. Their teeth were all perfectly white and clean. A fan of yellow rib bones.

The pathway began to converge with the edge of a field, in which something like beans were growing, desiccated, dried out. On the other side of the field we saw a bale of hay in the bucket of a tractor, rising and falling above the horizon line.

We were directly on the flightpath now, aircraft coming immediately overhead, their thought-cancelling roar erupting over the undulating fields.

Originally built in the late 17th century, Cammo House had apparently been an influence on Robert Louis Stevenson, and the House of Shaws in ‘Kidnapped’ had been based on it. It had been vandalised and and demolished in the 1970s, and the whole area was now a nature reserve.

Childe Roland to the dark tower came …

The airport serves as a locus for disappointed hopes; attempted businesses, failed concerns; abandoned snack vans and people camping on waste ground. Everyone just wants to get there with as little trouble as possible. Nobody, apart from us, wants to linger on its outskirts, for any reason.

We walked across the pock-marked surface of the Ingliston Market car park. Two children were playing amongst the blown cellophane and discarded grease paper with a length of rusting chain. There were a few cars parked along the length of the fence, at a safe distance from each other. From the drivers’ side window, plane spotters would direct the barrels of their SLRs at descending jets.

It was interesting how much of what I had imagined the walk was going to be like was not so much contradicted by the reality, but cancelled out entire. The physical effort had replaced the more detached speculation. The map, no matter how detailed, how accurate, was only an imagined version of the land’s true topography and feature. I was struck also by all these examples of the land’s continuity, not in the sense of a palimpsest, of landscapes traced on top of other landscapes, but in the wide-spread examples of physical and cultural detritus. Standing stones, memorials, ruined houses, the foundations of the mill houses by the river, all just left behind, abandoned. In this perspective, the remains had not been left in place because they were significant, but because they were so insignificant in the new models of use. They were just part of the physical accretion of time, and not worth the effort of pulling down.


2 thoughts on “Airport walk

  1. Intriguing, especially the very real aerial map that gets overlaid by the incoming and outgoing aircraft… set routes known as SIDs… i wonder how they could overlay the groundmap. What are the carcasses of hanging from the fence? They look like ferrets!

  2. They’re foxes. We saw them hanging up at the side of a field we were crossing, then suddenly felt very cold …

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