Saturday, 4 February 2006

Emmae Gibson 2006

Have You Heard The One About...

I don’t want to go to Hoban Square any more.

The other night I dreamt of bus timetables. The ones I’d looked up showed long strings of inseparable numbers, places, times dep. and arr., fares, concessions, symbols, exceptions; map legend heaven for any transport buff or tourist. I’ve been seeing this bus in town - not dreaming it - ice cream white, pink and blue no.417, destination board saying, HOBAN SQUARE, and I’ve let it be. Bus and I, biding each other’s time, nodding as we pass, until the day I would be able to get on it, the wistful cousin, perhaps, of FULHAM BROADWAY. February 4th fairly beckoned, but it didn’t happen, I was on the west coast.

Back in the region of Auld Reekie, I wanted to see Hoban Square, whatever it was, half an hour away in Broxburn, before I lose my eyesight straining after receding, FIRST buses, so I took the first rain-free morning off, parked the car between leafless trees and walked to the bus stop, my golden yellow papers discreet in a Harvey Nich’s bag. How happily they hummed, quotations, sources and links, all printed out in glossy black Lydian!

“Do you know why it’s called Hoban Square?” I asked a comfy-looking woman in the queue. She seemed to think I was from Channel Four News the way she looked round, before admitting she didn’t know.

“It’s jist whaur the bus feenishes up!” she said, fingering her Bus Pass.

“You mean – the end of the line – a bus station?”

“Naw, naw. Jista kinda turn, y’ken?”

I’d been tempted to research the Hoban connection, but refrained; rather wanted to meet the Square square-on, uninfluenced, the raw, gritty anti-climax I expected. As for Broxburn, it’s named from the Scots word, brock, meaning badger, and burn, meaning stream. Stones and oceans in miniature, with Frances and co! Couldn’t be all bad.

The single-decker came sprayed with seasonal chocolate. The driver’s name badge said, Archie McDowell. He looked as if he’d been born and bred in the driver’s seat and his grey eyes assured me I would ask for nothing but, “Hoban Square, please.”

“He was a Bishop,” Archie said, as soon as I opened my mouth again, (honestly, do I still look like a tourist?) “Catholic” he added benevolently, his eyes seeming to turn green, and white, football strip, home game.

“Oh?” and that curious word, ‘orangeism’ flashed across my mind.

The Bishop was a good omen, though, because I was carrying quotes from the most religious book, perhaps, that R.H. has written. (I haven’t read the one about the Actress yet.) Further, by the guttural voice level of the passengers, old, young, sheepskin coated or belly naked, all seemed to have known each other since Christ left Dunbarton.

Some blurb-writers do not romanticize: ‘Broxburn developed from a village in the 19th century on the Edinburgh-Glasgow road, into a centre-point for transporting people and goods. The discovery of coal, iron and shale resulted in an increase in population and the creation of gigantic waste ‘bings’ which surround the area.’ Top marks for real estate truth. The once mysterious ‘bings’ are apparently full of waste population.

“What d’you expect -” hissed the bus as it shoogled between roundabouts, cemeteries, supermarkets and lazy traffic lights, “- Elvis Presley Boulevard?”

Brown winter fields and three golf courses later, came Ardbeg storage, Outlet Crystal, many Italian restaurants, churches, hairdressers, banks and pubs. We had just passed one called the BADGERS BROOK, when Archie suddenly took a sharp turn off Main Street Scotland and we trundled up a hill. Expectation rose in the climb through the evergreen tended pages of Homes & Gardens. An incredible sun came out, the sky showed blue. I could see at the top of the hill, another bare, red-brown hill beyond the rooftops - and knew at once it was a bing. I’d never been so close to one before. In no time at all I was about to alight, the last visible passenger, at Hoban Square.

Where was it?

The comfy-looking woman was right. And the Bishop, if he were alive, would not be writing home about it, unless there is a language of papal graffiti. I had hoped I would be wrong, but I was right too, about the nitty-gritty, suburban realism. In the burst of midday light, one green-framed bus shelter in a dull lay-by. A man and woman appeared from inside and got on the bus, which left immediately. Apart from any aesthetic concerns, where would I stick the yellow paper?

The sharp breeze seemed to belong here, in what constituted the Square; adjoining the pavement, a three-sided row of grey, single-storey dwellings, the kind they build for elderly people, one central tree, concrete slabs, no sign of human life and the bing waiting eerily on high. I walked to one end where a green park began with paths leading round the back towards open fields, the reddish layered heights of the man-made mountain beyond. It reminded me of the skirted mesa hills between El Paso and Las Cruces, only they were ochre and sunbaked.

Leaving Hoban Square behind I tightened my scarf and made my way up the sloping field, the wind upscaling as I went. At that point I heard a whistle. A little brown dog barking in the distance, running towards me, figure of a man some way off. His pet looked like a cross between Corgi and Jack Russell. Fearing for my ankles and cursing Diana Slickman, I tacked sideways, but the dog changed direction too, ignoring his master’s voice.

A swinging choreography ensued, which eventually brought the three of us face to face in the middle of the field. The dog continued to dance on the grass, the man who was comfy-looking and almost elderly, but had escaped waste population, obviously thought I was lost.

“Can I help you?”

I usually get on well with older men, so I entered into the swing of the bing thing. Which pleased him no end. If I had wanted a tour guide…in a sheepskin deerstalker…. We stood surveying the alien landscape while he answered my questions. This bing was shale, which had been mined here, paraffin oil extracted from it, then dumped to the side, ever higher and higher. Deep, deep mines, thousands of men, millions of tons of shale. Wild horses run around on it now, and optimistic trees struggle on the top of the “red ash.”

“No’ very nice, is it? There’s no saying what else might be buried in there,” he said grimly. “You’re actually standin’ on a smaller bing. The Council put grass on it.”

Underfoot was close enough. The sun had vanished and we walked back down to escape the icy bing-wind. He blamed the Council for the poor amenities, the vandalized signposts pointing in the wrong directions, the Square of senior citizens’ homes being bought up. As other dogs, leads and people began to appear on the path, he took a biscuit out of his pocket for every dog.

“One more question,” I said, before he and his dog crossed the road. “The Hoban connection?”

“Oh, he was a Canon. In the parish here. About the 1930’s.”

Canon Hoban! So much for your Bishop, Archie. Then he asked me a question.

“Are you… a tourist… or have you come to live in Broxburn?”

I told him the whole truth, though not the whole canon of Hoban, which didn’t faze him; I think his lunch might have been waiting on the table. Tomorrow if he passes the bus shelter, he might see the yellow page I blutak’d inside, and wonder at the colourful word-pictures of Amaryllis Night And Day:


A bus was coming. No numbers on it, only the destination, FINSEY-OBEY. Not a place I’d heard of. The bus was a tall and delicate thing of bamboo and rice paper, sheets of yellow, orange and pink pasted together and candlelit from within like a Japanese lantern. It was much bigger than a double-decker, towering so high above me that even when I tilted my head back I couldn’t see the top of it.

I went back to the lopsided signpost and put one there for passing dogs, masters and mistresses. If the gold withers away, the words will still be written on the wind:


Sometimes between two people it’s as if one is a lock and one is a key and they take turns at being lock and key; but at other times it’s as if both are keys or both are locks and nothing can be done.

I hope someone else will ponder one of the personal favourites I left on an empty seat in the return bus, driven by a replacement Archie. Out of Pilgermann context it might not seem to be about what it is really about, but to me, is part of the essential R.H:

The miracle has happened, no explanations are necessary. With a miracle one is immediately thou and the rest follows, the rest has been going on before one arrived, the moment is prepared and ready.

The centre of time is, as I have said, the waiting. This is now off the centre, this the motion of the everything, the action of the universe, the destined world-line of the soul, the living heart of the mystery.
Back in my hometown car park, I pinned a leafless, young tree with the news:
Loneliness… is the essential human condition. Everything else is gravy.

Thank you Diana. Bings of blessings on you and the unfolding worlds of your brainchild, sa4qe!

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