It’s a simple matter of geography, he says.
Of course, they say. Which is how they prefer to express themselves, in situations such as these, when in reality – or whatever it is that now stands in for reality – they have absolutely no idea what he means.
It’s a simple matter of geography, he says. For while the current provision is of great effectiveness, the matter of undesirable entrance remains. For if one wasn’t an island (and by one, he means the nation, which means himself) then one could solve the issue quite sufficiently with much less trouble.
Of course, they say.
It’s a simple matter of geography, he says. For while the current provision is of great effectiveness, the matter of undesirable entrance remains. For if one wasn’t an island then one could solve the issue quite sufficiently with much less trouble. For the problem is that, for us (and by us, he means people like him, which means himself) the unstable nature of the coastal land mass, the mutability of the border and the erosion of the line, make a permanent solution more than challenging.
Of course, they say.
It’s a simple matter of geography, he says. For while the current provision is of great effectiveness, the matter of undesirable entrance remains. For if one wasn’t an island then one could solve the issue quite sufficiently with much less trouble. For the problem is that, for us, the unstable nature of the coastal land mass, the mutability of the border and the erosion of the line, make a permanent solution more than challenging. For in addition, the sovereignty of the seas means that we (and by we, he means those people in the room who said ‘of course’, which means himself) cannot just, without the necessary technology and the proper expert advice, realise the most logical management of the intractable situation.
The commissioned panel of experts are uncertain. They feel, ultimately, that the plan is both flawed and financially prohibitive. They feel that it is legislatively unsound. They respectfully suggest that the solution is a metaphor.
To the engineers he invokes Mexico. To the aesthetes he talks of ancient China. At a dinner event one evening for the party faithful the conversation unavoidably turns to the subject of Berlin.
The legislature is divided. The loss of access to the coastline is unavoidable and regrettable, but they are reminded of both the continued availability of flights, and the increased virtuality of experience. An environmental expert is commissioned to report on the positive impact of a rewilded coastal landscape without human intervention. And while the relocation of shipping imports and the loss of sea tourism may lead to a temporary financial downturn, government experts reassure the public that the economy will recover.
The youngest member of the parliament tables a question. Isn’t it the case, she asks, that the horrors of the illegal trafficking of vulnerable peoples is best addressed by precisely the opposite of the proposal being debated, that surely the policy which they have gathered to consider can only drive the desperate elsewhere rather than ameliorate their suffering? And she wants to say something else, about how much it is, about the bigness, the muchness, the everything-ness of what they plan to do. She wants to scream to them about the loss of the other future, the one that, years from now, it will be impossible to say what it would have been, not knowing that it would have been better, but only that it might have been. She wants to speak as her mother would of actions and consequence. Speak as her mother would of not going where one is not welcome. Speak even, perhaps, of sadnesses she has no right to claim - of Gaza, and the Gulag, and the Ghetto. And though these might be the more laudable motivations, yet it is that, most of all, she wants to ask them how the child who is too poor to buy a plane ticket will ever feel the sting of salt on the soft skin of their city feet, or the breath-catching shiver of an Atlantic wave.
Much later, when it is all done, she asks herself why she did not say these things. These things that maybe, although probably not, but at least possibly, might have made a difference. She looks back upon herself, asking the question, and although it cannot be seen, yet still there is some kind of bruise, a soft-spreading purpleness that forms over her mouth as faces in the chamber stare, some space whence plump and apple-cheeked, now Munch-like, she is held as prisoner in the eyes of those across the vaulted room, captivated in this break in the steady pulse of time, the rows of ghoulish displeasure, like an old school photograph, dampened and attacked by rot, recovered warped and discoloured, as the clipped vowels carry themselves across the floor of the parliament, the disapprobation not of words but of timbre, as she learns in this moment that a response is to be distinguished from an answer.
The voters are enraged, temporarily.
Of course, they say.
It takes 9,801,000 kg of sand to build the wall.
It takes 2,762,100 kg of cement to build the wall.
It takes 10,692,001 bricks to build the wall. Which is one brick more than calculated. When asked to explain, the project manager asks the parliamentary committee if they have heard of the coastline paradox.
Of course, they say.
When challenged on the economic impact on coastal populations, the opposition are reminded of their failure to understand the revolution that has been enacted. The rejection of concrete and steel. Each eroded brick must be replaced. A brick is too heavy to import. The clay pits, the Wealden clay of one hundred million years ago, is excavated, each year mixed into a recipe. The machine method is favoured over hand making, such as the scale of the manoeuvre demands, but also for it is important to emphasise that this is a progressive operation. The retraining of fishermen as machinists, lorry drivers, kiln workers, and bricklayers is a case study of economic transformation and realignment to market need. In metal sheds the green bricks are stacked to be fired, rotated between cooling and firing so that a constant supply is maintained. Fears for the erosion of communities are proven unfounded. Inhabitants become accustomed to the smell of salt mixed with sulphur.
For added security and to mitigate the likely erosion by sea winds, a second wall is built fifty centimetres behind the first. Rumours that the second wall is a reaction to the lower than expected attrition rate of the existing wall and the need to maintain employment are strenuously denied. Although the distance is carefully measured, at points the gap is somewhat larger or smaller due to the curvature of the coastline. In order to maintain the integrity of the line it is necessary to square the sweep of the land mass.
Somewhere within the arc, a mythology begins. There are whispers of cave people, naked forms who at twilight drag their nets through the water, identified by children from clifftop residences, but there is no photographic evidence. There are last orders public house tales of small enclaves of self-sufficiency on the repatriated outlying islands. A manged fox or rabbit is sometimes seen wandering along the sand, prompting the murmured possibility of human burrowers.
At the winter solstice, when the sun is lowest in the sky, those still inclined to the figurative observe that, at the spot where the ten-metre walls are furthest from the warmth of the sun, the earth tilted most extremely on its axis, the shadow of the walls are at their highest. And though the curve is not what it once was, still as the angle moves into the acute a swarm of shadows fall like a graphic equaliser and a city of flattened skyscrapers lies upon the echo of the cliff path.
Even in the darkness, there is life. Between the two walls microbes expand into the infinite of the paradox. In the repeating curve of a fractal, small animals begin to make their homes. Bacteria feeds on the accumulated leaf fall and soil, detritus collects and nourishes.
In time, the feel of the sand between their toes is no longer an ache.
Before the walls, they say, our lives were being restricted and destroyed.
Before the walls, they say, we didn’t know who we were.
is Associate Professor of English Literature and Head of Department of Humanities at Kingston University, London. She teaches on both the BA English Literature and the BA English and Creative Writing, and is also course leader for the MA Literature and Philosophy. Both her critical and creative work is concerned with the intersection of identities and modes of expression, in particular ideas of embodiment, spatial politics, racial and gendered politics, and concepts of transgression. She is the author of 3 monographs including most recently Rethinking Race and Identity in Contemporary British Fiction (Routledge, 2016), as well as 3 co-authored edited collections, numerous articles, and creative fiction and non-fiction. She is also the author of Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction (Hodder, 2017). She is happiest by the sea but lives in London with her partner, daughter, and a very musical cat.