Stephen Coates

The following should be read in context of this film with music:

These were the last days

I wasn't sure whether it was the war and if we were dead or just that the city had entered a different, final phase. In some ways it seemed to be going about its business as usual, in others it seemed more like a ghetto in Warsaw in the 40s. Law and order were breaking down, bartering and black markets had sprung up, privation and confusion had taken hold. A door had opened and something had changed. Perhaps the strength of the explosions had ripped something apart, disrupted the fabric or the collective psyche, the complex interaction between matter and conciousness.

I myself seemed relatively unharmed, free from pain and able to wander at will without suffering hunger or thirst. Occasionally I ate or drank when the opportunity arose but more out of a sense of duty and habit - or even just out of curiosity. My body seemed, like the city, to have become transparent in some way - not that you could see through it, more that it was made of energy or just the idea of solidity, opacity, colour, size, weight and form - like a collection of properties stored in some digital file.

Suddenly normality would take hold again, reassert itself as if the city had shaken its head free of some confusion. Taxis pulled up to the pavement, families on day-outs nonchalantly shopped. An effiminate, Italianate young man stepped from a cafe to smoke a cigarette and good naturedly eye a passerby. An old man sat nodding at a table by another cafe. A young mother pushed a pram whilst another child ran alongside tugging at her arm. Lovers touched, Shopkeepers chatted. In the distance I could see a funeral procession of mourners headed by a priest. I was filled simultaneously with sadness and admiration at this normality. The very ordinariness of existence - something I had always feared - seemed beautiful after the strangeness I had witnessed.

The old man suddenly woke and looked up. My heart skipped a beat. He looked exactly like my grandfather, dead these ten years. Then the skipping child stopped and gazed at me too - it was my neice lost to us two winters back! How could this be? What was this place? I looked around - more and more faces seemed familiar. The old man held out his arms. It was my grandfather! I rushed toward him laughing with my own arms outstretched to meet his embrace.


I obeyed the command but spun to see the speaker. There was no one moving near me. In fact, there was no one moving whatsoever. The street was frozen. A bird hung in the air, forever about to swoop on some scrap of food. The traffic lights were stuck between amber and red. The ordinary street folk I had admired were stiff - caught between postures - my grandfather awkwardly so with eyes partly closed, a foot raised. The smoke from the waiter's cigarette was fixed in a plume of exhalation as if caught in the freeze frame of a film. There was complete silence.

Then again:


The voice, though quieter now, was increasingly familiar. But still I could see no one speaking.

"This is not the time!"

Suddenly, I did recognise the voice. Amongst all this confusion of images and experiences, this was perhaps the strangest of all - for in fact, l knew the speaker well

In the stillness, it was my own lips that were moving.


I dreamt that the city was dying and yet that did not seem an entirely unhappy thing. As with any fading conciousness, the barriers between past, present and future, between dream and reality became blurred and indistinct. Walls of concrete and stone seemed permeable and insubstantial. The ground beneath me throbbed and hummed like a giant machine breathing in and out. helicopters and black birds criss-crossed the darkening sky as huge lights pulsed slowly on and off. On Fleet Street, an old woman in a bonnet approached me with out stretched hand. I stopped but she walked up and passed right through me. I felt a brief sensation of warmth and on turning, saw a young man in a tall hat walking away.

I passed down through the inns of court. Throngs of people appeared and disappeared. I could hear seabirds and smell a tart reek from the river. In a corner I saw a child lying but when I approached, it was only a dead hare garlanded by wild flowers. The blare of horns blended with the barking of dogs and the noises of horses, laughter, and wild singing. Suddenly, I was alone standing on a boggy moorland sloping gently down to a wide river. The sun was setting and in the middle distance campfires glowed and flickered as dark figures passed between them and me. A mother called to her children but with words which sounded foreign to my hearing. The background changed again and I stood in Covent garden. The world was spinning, holes opened in the sky through which I could see other places, other cities...


I walk through the ruins one last time to the house in the little alleyway behind the church in Clerkenwell. Everybody is gone now and I know that I will not survive another winter here. I believe that you're still out in the ether somewhere but there has been no blip on the radar, no distant ship smoke on the horizon for so long.

The house is silent. In an upper room, I take a spool of tape (the last one) from my case and cut and splice enough to make a loop. I thread the loop into the Studer - one minute, no more, is all it will need. I connect the radio microphone into the old amplifier and the amplifier into the Studer. I climb the spiral stairs to the roof and step out onto the parapet. Outside, the smoke has cleared for once and through the darkness, stars shine down brighter than they have seemed for years. I thought this house might survive but it still feels a miracle to stand here. I make some adjustments to the solars and connect them to the batteries powering the transmitter and the equipment below. There is not much direct light anymore but then not much will be needed. I rotate the transmitter like a giant gramophone horn toward the direction from where I last heard your voice. Other transmitters and receivers teeter on nearby remaining rooftops calling and listening for signals that will never now come. I look around for one last time at the broken horizon and the shadowy fragments of city that remain and climb back inside.

In the lamplit room, I make final preparations. I take the microphone, press the record on the Studer and speak. A single take and it is done - but then I have rehearsed this moment for so long. I stop the tape, connect the Studer to the transmitter and switch it to play. I gather my things, shoulder my bag, blow out the lamp. I step into the corridor and descend the staircase to the ground floor. For a moment, I pause, remembering the rooms as they were, full of lights and beautiful things, books, maps, dancing guests, the sound of laughter, voices.

All gone.

I step into the night and close the door behind me. There is no need to lock. I look up to the roof where I can see the transmitter silhouetted against the stars. One day the tape will break, the panels fail, the roof fall - but not yet. One day, this will not matter anymore, there will be no one to care - but not yet. For now, I can almost hear the voice broadcasting out in an infinite loop across the distance and the years between us:

"I loved you, I loved you, I loved you, I lo..."