Thursday, 16 June 2016


My spacious cell is open-plan, on one level with two huge triple-glazed windows that daylight streams through from which I can watch the sun rise and set and the skies change. I stand before these panes without bars wrapped in a blanket or duvet with only my pink striped pyjama legs showing, gazing out on the abandoned pub garden and car park below.
At certain times all is quiet. There's no hum of engines, no shrieking car alarms, and no raised chortles and droning voices. You can actually hear the feeble chirp of town-dwelling birds and the swoosh of aeroplanes as they disappear to sunnier or wintry climes. In the distance, the eye can see one or two of these descending, preparing to land at Heathrow; I imagine the passengers buckling up and the crew doing last-minute checks, whilst the pilot and co-pilot, in communication with air traffic control, safely guide the plane downwards so that it touches the runway at a decent speed with barely a perceptible jolt. Unless you really look, you forget how far the eye can see, what it's able to discern if you focus fully; stop for a moment and appreciate seeing the world from an above ground level height. A height that birds think nothing of for to them it's low, merely a stage to the dizzying ascents they accomplish with the flapping of wings, and as if to prove this, overhead, visiting seagulls wheel and glide, preferring an expanse of sky where there's less obstacles.
That is my position. There you'll find me if you dare to look up, studying the outside from behind three sheets of glass, oblivious to your regard. If for an instant my gaze drops and by chance you catch my attention, I won't engage or reciprocate. I do not care for obtrusive curiosity nor do I willingly meets its demands: strike a pose or suchlike. My standing here is not for your amusement, to be openly gawked at, though you at some point might be mine, but then I have the advantage. I can conceal my interest and my searching gaze, as I conceal myself from the world at large. We are coequal only in that we are bystanders going about our business. There, the similarity ends as we are divided forever by our differing perspectives: I choose to look out, mostly to the horizon, whilst you prefer to look in at apartment life as if we were doll-like figures in an open-fronted doll's house. Open for all to see. Your attentiveness legitimised, blatant though it might be, and which causes us to pull our curtains across during daylight hours.
Who is the gaoler in this situation? You, on ground level, or me, some fifty feet above?
Do you confine, even define, my movements or do I? And which out of us is the more voyeuristic?
The argument of the seemingly caged is that curiosity in the world around them is natural when their interactions are limited, whereas those enjoying the freedoms outside would declare that self-inflicted imprisonment is most unwise as we're social beings. Essentially, what it boils down to is that people cannot help but stare at other beings much like themselves who are contained in what from the outside looks like a box on its side with a see-through lid. One can never hope to understand the other, particularly if there's no domineering force: no overbearing mother, no autocratic father, no dictatorial husband, no related or unrelated other fulfilling that role. Therefore, the person submitting is both prisoner and keeper. One and the same, and they know it.
We all fabricate our own gaols, some are more creative than others, some don't have visible walls, others need structure, a concreteness to them or at least the appearance of. Those really in confinement, so sentenced due to wrongful conducts, often like the routine because modern living is hard. It makes too many demands which some of us just aren't made to cope with, and so instead of bearing it, soldiering on, we devise an escape route. We dig a tunnel to an inner safe haven where the world can be kept at a more comfortable, more manageable distance and only ventured into when the mood takes.
Self -imprisonment is a holding back but freedoms such as others enjoy brings risks that are greater: they don't instruct, they destroy.

Picture Credit: Winter - Study of Flying Drapery, Edward Burne-Jones