Monday, 31 August 2009

The Ice Factory

When I was a teenager I used to argue a great deal with my father. In fact that’s more or less all we ever did together. These arguments usually ended with me abruptly leaving the house and walking through the night-time streets of East London while a sense of injustice seethed within me.

More often than not I would end up at the same location – an ugly industrial refrigeration plan, which I called the Ice Factory. I had discovered this place by accident one evening and found myself immediately fascinated by the sound of the machinery. It was a mixture of industrial noises, oscillating within a narrow range, but somehow always sounding like it was building towards some awful climax. Standing by the metal fence that ringed the perimeter, listening to that sound, I used to enter a trance-like state.

After a few visits I began to develop a notion that the gates of Hell were located somewhere within that building. The idea just popped into my head one day and at first I was amused by it. It was no more than a flight of fancy, something to take my mind off the memory of the quarrel with my father.

But the more I visited the place, the stronger the idea became, and the more plausible it seemed, taking hold of my imagination with such force that even when I wasn’t physically there, when I was sitting at my school desk or lying in my bed at night, I found myself mentally revisiting the Ice Factory.

In time I began to indulge myself in a fantasy in which I climbed the perimeter fence, sneaking unobserved past the security barriers, making my way along corridors resonant with that unholy sound, descending through lower and lower levels until the walls around me changed from brick to rock and at last I found myself face to face with a pair of great bronze doors. I knew that I had only to put out my fist and knock, and the door would be opened to me.

That was forty years ago but I can still remember the anger I felt as I left my home and set out on one of my twilight visits to the Ice Factory; just as I can recall with perfect clarity how that ugly building sang my anger back to me. People sometimes ask me why I chose to write for teenagers, not for adults. I’m not sure I know the complete answer but I suspect that memory is part of it.


Paul Lamb said...

I realize this memory recalls a lot of anger and torment you felt as a youth, but I think you are nonetheless lucky to have such a memory, especially as it speaks to your chosen profession. Coincidentally, I recently read The Philosopher's Pupil by Iris Murdoch, and a young character does get to pass through a pair of brass doors to the inner sanctum of a local industry. It doesn't not turn out too well for him.

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks Paul. Perhaps I'd better check out The Philosopher's Pupil though I remember that reading The Sea, The Sea nearly drove me crazy because I disliked the characters so much.

Paul Lamb said...

Yeah, some of her characters are unpleasant. There are plenty of this in this book too.