In an unnerving turn of events, I’ve been encountering a lot of zones recently. You know the ones: fuzzy boundaries, decayed ‘keep out’ signage, nature take-overs, a looming sense of something being absolutely and 100% not quite right but still quite glorious. I’m reading Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer, the third part of his 'Southern Reach' trilogy. These deeply weird books chart the comings and goings of various scientific folk investigating an anomaly called Area X. It’s an affected piece of land with a coastline, a lighthouse, and an inverted tower with…something inside/upside/downside it. It’s a place where animals have human eyes. It’s a place where names don’t matter too much or, if they do, they matter wholly, like the name ‘Ghost Bird’. You may have seen the film version of the first book, which looks a little like this:
I started listening to a podcast called ‘Weird Studies’ and immediately dived into their two-part Stalker episode. The hosts talk in great depth about the Zone in Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, which is one of my all-time favourite films. In this achingly slow, meditative sci-fi mood-piece of a movie, two men are led by the eponymous ‘stalker’ across an illegal zone where…something happened. It is a beautiful, overgrown place of fetid pools and abandoned nuclear buildings reminiscent of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Well, it would’ve been reminiscent of Chernobyl if the film hadn’t been made before Chernobyl happened. I have to remind myself of that every time I watch it. And I’m also reminded that many members of the crew, including Tarkovsky himself, died of cancer not too many years later. The film about a zone was seemingly filmed in a rather deadly zone of its own. It looks like this:
I was playing D&D with some friends (further zones – safer ones, in our imagination), when fellow player Tim Foley mentioned his podcast what he made. Ever the dutiful pal, I went away and discovered another zone: the North West Footwear Database. A secret institution in the Peak District where various perfectly normal folk maintain a record of all footwear, foot-sizes and associated ephemera inside a perfectly normal facility. Please remove your socks and shoes, they say. Have some cinnamon buns, they say. Ignore the big red door. Ignore the red. Don’t think about the red. Don't think about the what? The...something? Anyway, turns out it was a perfectly normal podcast where nothing weird happens at all and you should listen to it, you know, for relaxation:
Why all these zones, I thought to myself? Might it be some metaphysical confluence of phenomena because I, myself, am about to create and enter my very own zone? As of this coming Monday, I’m escaping to the Welsh hills for a week on a self-imposed writing retreat. I will be entirely disconnecting myself from the internet, responding to naught but the most emergent of emergencies, and laser-focusing my mind onto The Great PhD Novel. I have a strict writing schedule mapped out and distractions are being kept to an absolute minimum (I’m not even taking a book to read in ‘downtime’. There will be no downtime.). I will be isolated from all human contact; it'll just be me, talking to me, talking to the characters, who may or may not talk back.
In Area X there are reports of altered DNA. In Tarkovsky’s Zone, the maps don’t work. In the North West Footwear Database, something is singing in the basement. What will I find in my zone? What will I become? Who will I be when I emerge? What will be my '...something'? If I survive, I’ll report back next week.
I have become utterly entranced and obsessed with Camelot Arcade by Ceefax. It’s right up my street: glitchy electronica which homages videogame music of the 32-bit era with a rich Arthurian/synthwave/cyberpunk feel. I could pick many a track, but let’s go with…'The Great Greatsby':