There I am, aged six, floating seven feet above the floor in my childhood home in rural Lincolnshire. I am almost weightless, bobbing against the ceiling like a helium balloon several days after a childrens’ birthday party.
I am quite invisible, nobody can see me, and though I cannot pass through walls, I am able to control my ascent and descent just by thinking about it, by visualising where I want to go. I remain there, drifting beyond gravity and light, suspended below the ceiling in the living room, observing my parents watching Peter Sissons read the BBC News at Six.
When Dad gets the job as a policeman, we are still living in Lincolnshire next to the lawnmower shop. The coalman comes for winter when the ditches are full of floodwater and the skies are as clear as a winter lake.
Dad joins the Surrey police force and moves down south without us into the police section house, a kind of youth hostel for police officers, and one time I go to stay with him for a weekend. I stay there in his tiny lodgings with their breeze-block walls, shared bathroom, and communal kitchen. On the shelf is a packet of cigarettes and it is our thrilling secret for a while.
Some time later, the entire family moves with my father into a subsidised police house. I ride in the removal lorry the whole way down, which the removal guys seem fine with, though they don't talk to me much.
When I start my new school, the kids bully me. You talk funny, one of them says, and pushes my head into an anthill.
After school, my new Commodore 64 is the centre of attention. Dad bought it for me off someone from the estate. I learn BASIC and together the Commodore and I produce psychedelic patterns and trace polygons. Soon I am designing games, fantastical shoot-em-ups and racing simulators. Dad comes up to my room and we talk about what I’m doing but then he starts a sentence and walks out without finishing it.
That summer I learn about the solstice for the first time and buy a tatty hardback book about supernatural phenomena from the local car boot sale. I love the X-Files, so I read everything I can about unidentified flying objects and alien visitations.
I think Dad would like it if I was interested in motorcycle mechanics. He always has an old, dismantled Honda in the garage. He makes me spend hours out there after dark. I hop from foot to foot to stay warm, dazed by the fluorescent pit lights, and I hold a wrench or something and wait for the moment we can go inside and wash our hands in green Swarfega.
I go out a few times with him, riding pillion, but I am too jittery to be a passenger worth taking. One time I shifted weight as he was braking into a corner on a greasy road smothered in wet leaves. Dad tore into me back at the house. You need to pay more attention, he said. Join the real world, son.
Part of me wants to, so I go with him to his martial arts and self-defence classes, but I don't like exercise and I am not good at fighting, so I watch from the sidelines on an uncomfortable wooden bench. They have a cardboard cut-out of Patrick Ewing you could measure yourself against. I am growing fast, but I am not going to reach seven feet.
I cannot stop reading the chapter about out-of-body experiences. The book explains in great detail how they have fascinated humans for millennia, shaping folklore, mythological tales, and spiritual practice. And then it gives me a step-by-step guide on how to achieve astral projection.
Dad offers to drive me to football practice. As I get into the car, I am overpowered by a pungent smell. In the footwell is a brown envelope. Open it, he says. Inside the envelope is a large, clear plastic bag full of marijuana.
Having a policeman for a father is cool sometimes. The fumes from that bag of weed fuel my popularity at school for weeks and the kids don’t mind how I talk any more. He has other stories too. He once entered the home of an old lady who had not been answering her calls. She had been lying dead in bed for weeks. He knew it the moment he broke into the house; the stench was unmistakable.
Another time, he arrived first on the scene to a road traffic accident. The crashed car was engulfed in flame, an inferno already twisting the metal, trapping a family inside. The heat was too much, he said, he couldn’t reach them. I don't tell anybody that one.
Astral projection, the book teaches me, is an intentional out-of-body experience in which consciousness exists separately from the physical body and can travel throughout the astral plane.
The book tells me to lie down in a darkened room and try to imagine a line running from head to toe, inside my body, to which my consciousness is attached.
Night shifts are the worst. I am playing with the little ones, building swimming pools out of Lego. We take the legs off the Lego people and pretend they are underwater. But we have been too noisy and Dad is in the room with bloodshot eyes, shouting. I feel sorry for him. It was raining hard last night. I wouldn't want to go to work in that.
That weekend our garden shed is broken into and the contents are scattered all over the garden. My father is unsurprised but also angry. When I find a cigarette butt at the end of the garden, I do my best amateur detective impersonation and deduce that it must have come from the trespassers. Dad goes very quiet and takes it off me before Mum sees.
My father doesn't work in that particular office, his is a different beat. But it doesn't help because under the shadow of night, someone slashes all four tires of our rusted, blue Volvo 240 GL. When the brick goes through the window of the police office next door, someone comes the very next day to fix deadlocks to all the doors.
There are other jobs, I think.
Imagine the line vibrating, gently at first, just quivering. Imagine your consciousness vibrating with the line at exactly the same frequency. Visualise the line separating from your physical body and rising up out of it with your consciousness attached. Once separated, your consciousness is free to travel the astral plane, the intersection of this bodily world and something beyond it.
That year at Christmas, and others too, Dad's duty sergeant lets him come home for an hour to eat Christmas dinner with us. Dad keeps his police radio on the dining room table, turned down low. We hear all the emergency calls being issued and, when things are quiet, one of the policemen sings a sweary version of a Christmas carol and tells someone to go fuck himself. We all laugh, except Grandma who pretends not to hear.
Dad waits until the moment comes where his badge number carves through the radio static and he pushes back his chair and goes back to work. I walk to the door to say goodbye. Imagine getting paid not to spend time with your grandma, he says on his way out.
The seasons change and the nights lengthen and I try to take a journey somewhere else. My routine is always the same. I come in from the garden, where I have been punting a football around on my own, and I make a cup of tea with hot, buttered toast.
I go up to my room, shut the door and tune my radio to Capital Gold Sports. Jonathan Pearce helps me visualise the players moving about a waterlogged pitch somewhere in North London. The game finishes and the darkness closes in. I turn off the radio, lie in my bed, and try to leave my body.
Dad comes into my room, just as the daylight is fading and I'm getting hungry because I skipped lunch. I am in the middle of programming.
He wants me to help him in the garage. He has bought a motorbike secondhand and is having trouble starting it. I am expected to assume the usual positions; monkey wrench valet, bolt-holder, pit light-bearer. Always on hand with the grease and the tools.
I have been developing levels for a new game all day. It's a space exploration epic in which the protagonist moves through stratospheres and exospheres in order to reach escape velocity.
I would appreciate your help, Dad says, in that way where he is not asking.
Do I have to? I say.
Yes, he says.
I keep my eyes fixed on the screen. He bought me the damn computer. I say nothing and adjust the hitbox of some alien sprites.
It’s your choice, he says, and then reaches down and pulls the plug out of the wall. The screen goes dark and a black hole absorbs everything.
You’re not busy now, he says.
For a moment both brief and timeless, a new space forges in my head that is not one thing nor the other. I experience an instant, hazed moment of distorted vision, presence and not, the taste of blood, tones rising in my ears.
I stand up.
So, he says, are you coming outside?
I swing at him. The punch is pathetic, weakly thrown, clearly telegraphed. He grabs my wrist and terminates the arc of my hand inches from his face, before gripping my arm tightly, drawing it down to his side and leaning his face into mine. I can feel his breath.
Be careful, he says. One day someone might hit you back.
I lie still and imagine a line. The vector is barely perceptible, but I see it, running the length of my body, from my forehead to my heels. It begins to shiver, with tiny trembles at first, hardly there. Then I see its frequency increasing, humming, glowing, and with absolute concentration, eyes closed, I picture the full length of the line. I’ve never witnessed something so straight, so geometrically pure; my thoughts are aligned.
I visualise the line rising up, feel the floating sensation, and I am drawn toward the ceiling. Something separates deep inside me.
For a moment, I drift into a lucid sleep. Thousands of images flicker across my vision in a millisecond, a liminal blur, and then I wake and I am only inches from the ceiling, staring at the rough paintwork, the tiny fissures in the paint clearly visible, gravity and light. The positions of all horizons make themselves known to me. I look down at my sleeping body and an immense sense of calm passes over me because here I am, aged six, floating seven feet above the floor in my childhood home in rural Lincolnshire.
I am almost weightless.
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