Radway Cinema/Radway Inn, Sidmouth to Norman Lockyer Observatory, Salterton Hill
text by Phil Smith (2005)
1. In the family room of the Radway Inn
(Reading from Norman Lockyer’s Education and National Progress:)
“Here, let me tell you a little story. Three years ago when travelling in America, one morning, at a little station – we were approaching the Rocky Mountains – I was astonished to see a very old French priest in his usual garb enter a rail car. He evidently had little command of English. There was a difficulty about a box of his that I soon settled, and then we settled down and entered into conversation in his native language. He soon learned that I was astonished to see him there. “It is very simple”, he said. “I am very old, and six months ago I was like to die, and I was doing my best to prepare myself for the long journey. I imagined myself in the presence of le bon Dieu and I fancied this question addressed to me, “Monsieur le Curé, how did you like the beautiful world you have left?’ I rose in my bed… I who had dared to preach of a better world for fifty years was, o, so ignorant of this. I am on my journey, and the box, Monsieur, which your kindness has rescued for me, contains a little scientific library, now my constant companion in my delicious wanderings.”
In 1957 the Radway Cinema – just over the road here - announced a sequel to a film that had been shown successfully two years before. Those who expected a simple re-run of the first story in different settings were disappointed. Quatermass 2, in fact, begins with disappointment. The eponymous hero returns from meeting his government funders and leans over his model of giant domes set in a grey expanse. On the screens of his observatory an endless stream of objects fall from the sky.
“The Moon Project – may it rest in peace, “ he says over the model.
He impersonates the sceptical government committee he has just come from.
“Steel domes where people can live in artificial atmospheres! Being alive in a totally dead world!”
Their incredulity is ironical, it turns out.
In Quatermass’s pockets are the remnants of some sort of rock canister that has hurt some picnickers at Winnerton Flats…
The darkness is always falling in that film. But the lights are always blazing in the laboratories, in the offices of the police chief, in the windows of the model of the Moon project…
It’s as if the film has condemned them all to staying awake forever…
Quatermass never sleeps in the three days of the film.
I was speaking to some astronomers at the University of Exeter’s Physics department and they told me of the abrupt world they work in – bright laboratories to keep them awake, and dark skies to see in.
(Place the eye in the top of one of the domes.)
Later in the film, Sid James, playing Jimmy Hall, a bibulous journalist – “a drunk Jimmy Hall is good, sober he’s brilliant” - will be machine gunned down by zombies as he tries to ring his story into his newspaper crouching behind the bar of the community hall at Winnerton Flats…
When I spoke to the landlord here on the phone – Stephen – he explained to me that although they have a screen here, there are no facilities for showing a video of a man being gunned down behind a bar.
I wonder if you would help an old priest, struggling at a station that has probably been closed by now, by – like Norman Lockyer - carrying his box of science books for him?
Let’s walk through the bar now and assemble on the pavement outside… I don’t think there are any zombies outside, but it’s St George’s day so you can’t be sure.
That toothy doorway over there. And the two eye windows – it’s like a friendly version of the Amityville house. Which is sort of ironical for a cinema. As if the movies might look out of the cinema, as well as being watched inside. In a moment we can cross over the road and look through those eyes.
You’ll be playing a part – a bit part, perhaps even an extra… a crowd member… one of those torch carriers in a Frankenstein movie, marching up the hill to burn the doctor’s laboratory.
In 1957 the matinee audience staggered out of the darkness into the light of the circle lobby… and looking through those eyes, they saw... in the disappearing light… the shape of the hill that we are going to climb today - and they began to think of the domes up there in the falling darkness.
There’s a film on today, and we must be careful not to disrupt it with one from 1957 – I’ve promised that we’ll go in silence when we go in - have a look for a moment through the windows – then I’ll just whisper something – have another look – and then we’ll come out and begin our journey.
3. Inside the cinema circle lobby
When the audience came out that evening, they realised that they had been tricked. The domes of the Moon Project were something quite different from what either they or Professor Quatermass had imagined. And they looked up the hill again and they began to wonder whether they really knew what the domes up there were.
4. Outside the cinema
(Take out the rope and hand it to two people.)
Can you stretch the rope, please?
Even the past was part of his war. He became fascinated by Stonehenge, the pyramids, the stones on Dartmoor, the ancient tomb at Drewsteignton… he followed William Chapple of Exeter in seeing in them, not the ancient landing strips of visitors working in local materials, or religious machines for generating magical energy and projecting the souls of worshippers to the stars – but rather as calendars for the local agricultural industry. Aligning stones on Dartmoor with Arcturus in the Plough.
When the ancient Egyptian built their temples the laying out of the ground was called Pet-ser – the stretching of the cord. Measuring from a central point in the intended building the cord would be stretched by the king at one end and the queen at the other – standing in the empty space, as darkness fell on the crucial day of the year, they would stretch the cord from the imagined building to a rising star or a setting sun. The walls of the temple would then be marked out in alignment to this cord.
Of course, what we know is that the stars precess in the sky. Or, rather, the movement of the Earth through space is not a constant one… indeed we know from Einstein that even if it was we could only measure it, provisionally, in terms of other motions…
… so as you stretch the cord up the hillside, whirling through space, in an expanding universe, microwave remnants of the big bang passing you through all the time, imprinting on you in minute temperature changes please do your best to align with what you can…
ok, let’s go.
(Poss: here are some Frankenstein torches just in case.)
When a new dome was added up there more recently, it was carried up this hill on the roof a Ford Cortina.
(Tie on the metal dome to the wooden box.)
“ ‘Ygnaiih…. Ygnaiih….thfltthkh’ngha…Yog-Sothoth…” rang the hideous croaking out of space. “Y’bthnk… h-eye n’gkdl’th!’ ”
(from The Dunwich Horror by H. P. Lovecraft)
6. Place of fallen tree branch
(Show photo of the storm on TV)
Here’s a satellite picture of the storm I was in – it was being shown on this monitor at Observatory when I finally got up there.
And when I cam down here is the branch that had fallen off the tree onto the verge where I had looked back, sentimentally, at the beautiful world like an old French priest with a boxful of science books.
(Show photo of fallen branch.)
7. At the phone mast
(At the phone masts undo the dome on top of the box. Remove the Charles Fort book from the box.)
Quatermass is driving his strange hatchback car, when “Marsh”, played by Bryan Forbes, suddenly shouts – acting involuntarily - “On no!” Quatermass stops the car and looks across through the windscreen…. And there below, laid out in the valley bottom – on Winnerton Flats – are the domes of the Moon Project – no longer models in a laboratory, but full size and built here on earth…
The professor has been a stooge in an alien conspiracy… not been creating the conditions for human life on an alien planet, but the conditions for alien life on a human one.
(Read from Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned:
And a watchman looking at half dozen lanterns, where a street’s been torn up.
There are gas lights and kerosene lamps and electric lights in the neighourhood: matches flaring, fires in stoves, bonfires, house afire somewhere; lights of automobiles, illuminated signs –
The watchman and his one little system.
And some young ladies and the dear old Professor…
Drugs and divorce and rape; venereal diseases, drunkenness, murder –
The prim and the precise, the exact, the homogenous, the single, the puritanic, the mathematic, the pure, the perfect. We can have the illusion of this state – but only by disregarding its infinite denials. It’s a drop of milk afloat in acid that’s eating it.
So astronomy and its seemingly exact, little system –
But data we shall have of round worlds and spindle-shaped worlds, and worlds shaped like a wheel, worlds like titanic pruning hooks, worlds linked together by streaming filaments; solitary worlds; and worlds in hordes… and world that are geometric super-constructions made of iron and steel…”
That’s from The Book of the Damned, written by Charles Fort…. Who believed that scientists ignored anomalies at their peril.
Perhaps one of the books in the old priest’s box was Norman Lockyer’s ‘Astronomy’ (take this from the box and show it) in which he considers the mystery of some photographs taken of changing shapes on the moon’s surface – he considers the problem of shadows and their variation over time… and quotes a speculation on the possibility of vegetation…
At the Observatory there is a copper door, gone green, set in a pylon shape – tapering from the bottom to a narrower top - like the doors in the Egyptian afterlife… I don’t know if it was put there with Lockyer’s consent.
When I first visited Norman Lockyer’s Observatory, among the visitors were a group of radio enthusiasts broadcasting a special call sign to celebrate the centenary of the invention of the ‘thermionic diode’ by Sir John Ambrose Fleming who is buried in a village churchyard near here.
Fleming is still today remembered by another group of specialists – electricians – for the Fleming Right Hand and the Fleming Left Hand laws…
… by a flick of the wrist the electricians compute an helicity… a twist at fundamental levels of matter and energy…
In the movie Professor Quatermass races to a half finished housing estate, desperate to report to the police that his companion Marsh has been infected in some way by one of the fallen objects and then arrested by zombie-guards from the Project. On the windswept estate the houses are laid out like a town map… with sharp junctions and corners… box shapes…
It is hard to make out the twists, the smooth curves and the domed planes at a more fundamental level.
It’s easy to mistake what you see – when I first came up here in the storm the backlights of cars – when they braked at the corner at the top – were like large red eyes burning through the murky rain… in the States there’s a story of the Mothman who bears down on motorists – his red eyes blazing through their windscreens – leaving his victims unconscious, slowly to recover their memories of his red eyes… and as I walked up here I thought what it might be like on a rainy night to drive into the back of some huge juggernaut , knocking yourself out on the steering wheel, with the tail lights of the monster burning in your eyes.
So be careful on this next stretch.
8. In the grounds of the Observatory:
(Walk around the periphery of the Observatory. Point out the roots like cables. “Real coaxial cables are regularly dug up here.
If they are still there, pick up the O and F shapes from the fire.
Just before arriving at the Victoria Dome turn left to the piece of concrete with the North pointing arrow.
Take out chalk and draw a hemisphere (dome) at the southern end.)
The Earth is two domes.
We tend to assume that compass needles will always point North.
But since 1980 accurate readings of the earth’s magnetic field at the surface have revealed that there are distinct anomalies and these have been growing.
So in 1980 while most of the surface of the Southern hemisphere was… This is called the dipole…Within this there were anomalous – or Flexible Flux …. In 2004 these areas had grown significantly….
The situation in the Northern dome is similar….
These areas in 1980 and now…. The dynamo for these changes is the convection of molten rock and metal in the outer core of the earth –
These fluctuations are so chaotic, so complex and occur at such a tiny level – compared to the size of the planet – that no existing computer can model them…
Eventually, the poles will reverse and the North will be South and the South will be North
(Chalk the change. Then rub it all out with a wet cloth)
There’ll be no West of Sidmouth, or North of Winnerton Flats….
Just the “of”… floating in space…
(Place the burned O and F on the concrete and show the photograph of the Observatory sign.)
When I first came here I found this sign on the grass, face down.
(Show photo of sign on its face.)
I turned it over.
(Show second photo showing face of Observatory sign.)
When I came here last week I found it burned.
(Open the box again.)
At the heart of the ancient Egyptian Temple was the ben ben stone… a dome of rock representative of the island on which live as born, of an egg from which life had come… a shape that pre-dated the temple…
For the ben ben stone – or what might elsewhere be called a menhir or just a standing stone… is part of the architecture of people who walk, the architecture of travellers…
Only when people begin to settle do they build a temple around the dome – or maybe build walls and make their dome a roof….
But when they walk… the dome, the egg in the landscape is their way of making a place in a journey… a place that is never quite settled… being seen from, approached from, many uncertain eyes, unreliable maps, in shifting fields…
It’s time to go in. Get a drink, have some eats. To look. Enjoy the Observatory.