What happened

I posted this on October 2nd, in a rather distracted state. I may remove or edit it but will let it stand as it is for the time being.


Just over two hours ago I was sitting on the terrace that overlooks the hundred-metre gorge of Ronda, eating supper with my beloved and her mother. We had been watching a family of wild dogs that seems to live amongst the cacti on a narrow ledge high on the cliff. A mother and perhaps eight pups, they troop in a line along ledges that are barely more than kerbs. We watched a wide-winged bird of prey circling above, spooking the swallows, or smugly gliding lower, frightening a giant flock of rock pigeons from their cliff face roost. We’ve noted the cycle of life, here, something one rarely notes in London. Now it’s October, clusters of starlings have begun to swerve back and forth across the gorge, between old and new Ronda. There are red-beaked crows that slide past in cool formation, dipping with the synchronicity of an aerial display.

The tourists, too, have their cycles. They flock in the morning across the bridge, as the first buses arrive, but lessen as the evening comes in. As we ate there were fewer, but still a steady stream, some stunned mid-wander by the vast, grey-scale mountains and the dizzying distance between the bridge and rocks and stream below. They crowd, lean over, take photos. One woman seemed, although it couldn’t be right, to be crouched atop the grille that curves outwards so that tourists can see straight down, arms out behind her like a diver. Then she jumped.

A short, high squeak, like someone leaping into a swimming pool that’s too cold, and then she was out of sight.

I’ve given a statement from the police station, over the phone to a woman who spoke English. Whilst waiting for my turn in the interview room I searched my tiny Spanish guide for the words to describe what I’d seen. I drew diagrams, with lines of sight and possible distances. They didn’t need them so I’ve brought them home, folded, to open by accident one day. My statement is useless, I saw nothing but a distant, nameless figure disappear. Now, it’s official.

Walking back, I met our landlord’s wife, who lives on the floor below. She had her three-month old baby with her, tiny, in a high-wheeled carriage. I helped her carry the child to her door then said good night.

It’s amazing how many clichés run through your head when you see something like that. I don’t know if I should write about this but, with her public death, this woman has sent little ripples through the lives of everyone who saw her jump. She wanted to be seen.



Filed under Uncategorized

14 responses to “What happened

  1. ISA


    I’ve started the joint blog. It’s a simple affair, but if you would like to join in, then all I need is your email to grant you blogging privileges:

    Write to me at:


  2. ISA

    Your post reminds me of a Graham Parker song: Howlin’ wind

  3. Hi ISA. Hope you’re well and thanks for the invite; I’ll have a look now.

    The wind outside is howling right now, through a pale, clear sky. It’s over a week since the woman jumped. She occasionally flares back into my thougts – usually when I’m crossing the bridge. I’m told its a popular site for suicides, like Beachy Head. Very sad.

  4. parallax

    shit – I’ve been thinking about your observation report ever since I read your ‘suicide watch’ blog exb. What art do we make of tragedy? I’m not sure. Certainly it’s not time for an exchange of experience or anecdotes but rather who has captured this moment in a short poetic form? I’d go with Adrian Henri – here’s an except from ‘The Blazing Hat, Part Two’:

    This is the morning that Death left her cloak behind
    after the party
    This is the morning that a beautiful schoolgirl woke me
    with a cup of coffee
    in a vision
    This is the morning that we saw
    words written on water

  5. parallax

    aaargh – sorry exitb, I was so caught up with editing out experience that I forgot to preface my comment with ‘Your story has caught a moment so powerful that it’s hard not to impose as either observer or subject’ . Great observation – great composition exb.

  6. Many thanks, Para.

    As I note above, I was uneasy about posting this but also felt a compulsion both to write and publish very fast. Probably for the selfish reason of getting the experience out of my head and into the world; the same reason, I think, that it felt so necessary to give the police a statement. That the woman chose such a public site, perhaps, gave me a greater feeling of license to share my thoughts.

    That writing about a real experience seems to require, or naturally form, the same structures and ornamentation as fiction was a very uncomfortable discovery. I wouldn’t classify the above piece as an attempt at art, that would feel parasitical, but by using the same resources to record my experience isn’t that, effectively, what I’ve done? Have I been disrespectful? I don’t know. The only person whose opinion would really matter cannot answer.

  7. parallax

    No I don’t think you’ve been in the least disrespectful exb. I thought you captured the moment and made it powerful. When I said ‘not a time for anecdotes’ I meant the story shouldn’t be diluted with an exchange of “Oh yeah, that reminds me of the time when this bloke…” type responses 🙂

  8. Para has said it all, @Baron-eb. . . I particularly agree with his last comment.

  9. MeltonMowbray

    How do you feel about the incident now (if you don’t mind my asking)? Would you describe it any differently?

    The squeak and the swimming-pool were very evocative.

  10. Hi, MM, welcome,

    I don’t mind you asking at all. First there was a wave of what was, really, a sort of reeling in the face of a new experience. Writing the post was, in retrospect, maybe an attempt at categorisation or definition, to codify how I should respond. It was an event entirely outside my previous experience; powerful, public but less than a second of my life.

    Subsequently, I was mildly disturbed by how quickly I forgot about it. Any imaginative compulsion I’d had to speculate over her life, her reasons, personality etc, receded and if I thought of the event at all it was as a remote, stranger’s choice with no bearing on my life. This sensation of coldness surprised me, as it was not how I would have predicted my response. The landscape around here is very elemental, it dwarfs the town and can, in reflective moments, inspire an uncomfortable sense of perspective. It seemed a small, human, finished act.

    That said, I never cross the bridge without one of those unasked-for Proustian flashes of ‘it was here, wasn’t it?’ And there have been episodes where, when I’ve been stressed or unhappy about something, a kind of vertigo of choice and sudden sense of irrational danger rises momentarily. The accompanying thought-images seem associated with what happened.

    If any of that makes sense…

  11. MeltonMowbray

    Yes, it’s surprising how rapidly these apparently important events are absorbed into the general current of one’s life. I saw your reference to coldness and wondered about the ‘chip of ice at every writer’s heart’. Perhaps the experience will be reborn in some unrelated form in your work (which I rather enjoy, btw).

  12. Thanks, MM. I think perhaps you´re right about the chip of ice. Even in the most extreme moments of distress or emotion there can still be a machine-like voice logging experience, drawing literary and archetypal associations, speculatins poetic or fictional usage. I hadn´t drawn the connection before you mentioned it, but now I can see the continuity with other past events.

    On the subject of the event being reborn…

    I wasn´t going to mention this in the original post, as it seemed inappropriate, but of the five unpublished novels I´ve written four hinge on suicides, most from jumping from a high cliff/building; one of them begins with the protagonist as witness to a woman jumping from a building. Many of my short stories contain similar events. I´ve often wondered why this image recurs. Part of the dissociation from the event that I´ve tried to describe has come from a stranger´s tragedy meshing with a private creative obsession in a rather eerie way.

  13. MeltonMowbray

    The actual playing out of that suicide motif must have been unsettling, to say the least. I wonder if it will keep cropping up in your work. I suppose it’s possible that the experience might change it in some way.

    You must have been a bit peeved when that Hornby novel came out. I turned out a novel in the early 80s, which was based on a world chess championship match between an American and a Russian, and was just about to send it to an agent when fucking Tim Rice announced his musical Chess. I could have rammed his technicolour dreamcoat down his throat.

  14. ‘I wonder if it will keep cropping up in your work’

    Ironically, MM, I’d already become more aware of the motif and was trying to, if not get rid of it (I’m not sure it’s wise to block the images that rise naturally), at least move it from the centre of things.

    I don’t know the Hornby novel, I’m afraid. To be honest, with the type of fiction that comes naturally to me, I was keeping a closer eye on David Mitchell and a couple of others. Or at least my agent was; I think she saw Mitchell’s sales as a way in for a novel of mine a couple of years ago.

    Re your Chess novel; ideas either seem to appear in several places at once for esoteric or cultural reasons or one simply becomes more sensitive to any ideas that come colseo to one’s own. Must have been agonising, though. And Tim Rice should always be having something rammed down his throat. Andrew Lloyd Webber, for instance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s