Is Your Journey Really Necessary?

On Friday I first heard about the panic buying of petrol. I was at the office that day, and the final bus ride up from West Norwood was very slow due to the congestion of cars around the one petrol station available.

This morning we were up and away early as we had a journey to get through. The bus went along fairly clear roads but when it reached the petrol station there were already queues stretching both ways, and vans trying to outflank each other. Our driver got around and we could see a line curling away up a side road already at a few minutes past 9am.

But that wasn’t our problem once we got on a train and then changed to another one at Clapham Junction, where this fancy display screen showed all the transitions going on:

We got a train to Richmond and then a bus on to Kew, because our very important journey was to meet up and have a day out in the Botanic Gardens.

In addition to all the hothouses and herbariums and the Pagoda and other special buildings, the highlight of Kew is The Hive.

Photographs resolve the detail and you lose the eerie blurriness of seeing the structure close by, although some of that can be recovered by looking at thumbnail images when the file is saved away in a computer directory. The installation is surrounded by discreetly positions speakers, playing a droney sound-loop, like a Can album with a scratch on it. It is possible to wander underneath and see the ghosted-glass on which only the feet of the current visitors are visible. Then go around the pathway circling the mesh, and walk straight into the metal chamber, then look up and behold the edge of the void of heaven:

I could lie in the chamber forever, and I am sure at some point a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion or similar will seize the Hive and declare it their own spiritual centre of the universe.

We looked around the other plant-homes and went to the Treetop Walkway, but I couldn’t get past the first set of stairs due to a wave of approaching vertigo. Some children were happy to go up but others were upset, so it seems the reaction starts from early life and isn’t acquired or developed by specific trauma later (I can’t remember any). I can avoid vertigo until one look or moment activates it in a situation, and then the anxiety is that somehow I will be dragged or impelled over an edge that I might not be near to. I can become anxious near busy traffic that I might be on the brink of carelessness, so perhaps the 2 fears are really the same one, that I don’t trust myself to carry on paying sufficient attention.

Walking around the Gardens is also a reminder that my idea of Hell isn’t being trapped in a small enclosed place. I would simply calm down and become familiar with it. The real Hell would be the Infinite Landscape, with monuments and special locations visible on the horizon yet somehow never nearby, no matter how you walk towards them. An eternity spent trekking inside that world would be the unendurable torment, with ever-increasing disappointment but also the increasing anxiety that some clue or secret was always being missed, or another presence always eluding discovery. Life in that Hell would start off pleasantly, with the truth revealing slowly.

Going back home on the bus, we saw queues of cars still jammed around the station, some possibly even the same ones since the morning. Why is any journey in to and across Hell necessary? Here are the classic British versions of the question, and an American variant.

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