Michael Punt


Even before Terry was an embryo, she was destined to be called Ingrid and it was just something that she had to accept. As far as the world at large was concerned that was her name. But almost as soon as she could talk and find a space away from the oversight of her doting mother, she began to use the name that she felt most accurately described her to herself. As she learned to talk her frequent references to Terry (‘Terry did this and Terry did that’) could have caused some consternation but, as a first-born girl, her mother was assured that imaginary friends were perfectly normal and, considered by some, to be a sign of creativity and high intelligence. All anxiety satisfied; Ingrid/Terry became an indivisible entity destined for a creative life.1 It all worked out quite well. She willingly responded to the name Ingrid while, without effort, in self-talk she was Terry.2 Most of the time the seamless integration of two images, one who she was expected to be and another who she thought she was, became an invisible habit that made her seem like a rather remote child. At a certain moment in her late teens, she encountered the idea of a tulpa and for a short time was tempted to allow other people to call her Terry.  It thrilled her that she was, or could be, her own creation – but in her relatively indiscriminate fascination with boys she soon forgot about such ideas, and never shared her real name with anyone.3 She carried continued with the habit of  self-talking throughout her life and, partly as a consequence of this, most people thought that she was slightly more determined and self sufficient than she actually was. Some even thought the slight hesitation in here speech as she internally translated Terry to Ingrid meant that she was German which she quite liked and played up to.

She was car-sharing to a funeral and suddenly he stopped the car, said something, and pointed to an old red brick building in a suburban street that he said he knew. She was surprised that he had seen it because it peeped out from behind shrubs and trees which were themselves shielded by a fence of cast iron railings. Behind the building’s faux classical façade two wings extended left and right in way that also made them appear as though they were a little shy and preferred to retire into the shadow of the entrance block that extended up to the full four stories. She thought that it was a disused cottage hospital or prison that had somehow got left behind in an ordinary street. Despite the massive façade the entrance was quite modest and human sized, and he led her through it with the assurance of someone who knew where they were going. Across a mosaic floor two doors opened onto a large hall that was at least forty feet high. Rows of wooden straight-backed chairs either side of a gangway immediately established its purpose as an instrument of control. Ahead, over his shoulder, she could see organ pipes and a stage with a chair and a lectern, but her eye was immediately taken to the left and right of the pipes where polished copper plaques were framed in the sort of light oak panels found in churches. On the walls on either side of the stage were large varnished memorial panels inscribed with gold lettering on a black ground. All told there were at least a dozen panels which carried long lists of the rank, name, and military decoration of the glorious dead of two world wars. He stopped and turned pointing to a balcony behind her and said something she did not hear and, but as she looked, she noticed that the hall was nearly a perfect double cube.

This was the so-called ‘Great Hall’, and it had the air of deep melancholy more profound than the usual air of tragedy that most Edwardian buildings seem to capture. Poor ‘Bertie’ who was not allowed to use his proper name, smoked like a chimney, and only reigned for ten years as King Edward.4 And then, just as a new king was emerging so too was a world war fought over declining empires which recast once ambitious buildings like this as emblematic of the lost past. This building said it all at a single glance – even when it was brand new – just a year before the war – it had already become part of the narrative of lost influence. It was no surprise that it was a school designed and built in a moment of educational enthusiasm that, like ‘Bertie’, had to quickly forsake its name along with its hope and optimism. The memorial plaques were perfect. The Great Hall felt as though it had been designed at the outset to memorialize the past and wars that had yet to be thought about. Victoria was indeed a hard act to follow.

In the corridor behind the Great Hall, they met two women who were smoking. At once they both hid their cigarettes behind their back in a perfectly synchronized single movement. Nothing was said and the women seemed curious about their presence, but his purposeful air and apparent familiarity with the building gave them the impression that they were supposed to be there and in any case with plumes of smoke rising behind them they did not want trouble. In the corridors, with only borrowed light from Georgian wired glass panels, there was a whiff of ‘Arts and Crafts’ in the varnished parquet floors and door furniture. One door was fully open and revealed a classroom in which the gloom of the corridor gave way to a high airy space. One wall was pierced by three huge three-quarter length sash windows divided into 30 smaller panes. Light and ventilation without freedom. The fourth floor, which from the outside looked like servants’ quarters, was partially set in the eaves and the rooms were more cramped. Despite the gloom and oppressive height, it recovered some of the human touch of the entrance foyer. The parquet had not been varnished for years and it was almost possible to touch the brown ceiling which had also been neglected. It was darker than the lower floors because, unlike the floors below, its borrowed light came only from the northeast. Empty glass cabinets lined the wall opposite rooms which once were equipped as laboratories. These were in a state of partial decommissioning, and whoever went into salvage what was valuable must have lost heart years ago. Between the overturned stools the floor was littered with reagent bottles, tripods, and Bunsen burners. He pointed to the end of the corridor and told her that it was the dinning hall but did not bother to go further instead he forced one of the doors against the rubbish. On the walls there were impressively large illustrative images of chemical formulae. These had been defaced in trivial ways with numbers added to the atoms to make impossible molecules. To her surprise this annoyed her, and she said something. A periodic table which had been inscribed in letters five inches high covered the end wall. This too had been modified to turn some elements into a mild obscenities. It made her cross and with grace and good manners he turned and led her out of the building down a side staircase and into the car where he simply told her that he had spent seven years there but did not elabourate. That was it. She had no idea of where she was or how she had got there or even what it was that she had looked at. It was quite obviously some sort of a school, possibly his, but all she was able to say later was that en-route to a crematorium, she had been taken inside a building that was possibly some sort of mausoleum or hospital for the shell-shocked.

In contrast, the cremation was a lively affair. The coffin, covered in luminous pink fun-fur, made its way to the furnace to the tune of a popular torch song. Mourners sang and applauded and afterwards took flowers from the wreaths and then made their way to a local lido that was a favourite haunt of the deceased. But, despite the gallows humour, noise and flambouant dress, it was a forlorn affair in which the extravagant gestures toward a life lived without care only revived the memory of the protracted misery of his illness. In solidarity with the dress code, she had borrowed her mother’s old green coat as a vintage trophy, but it was really too threadbare to carry it off. Her mother used it as a dressing gown, and it smelt of talcum powder and she felt silly. So, she left as early as possible hitching a ride home with someone she vaguely knew from work. They retraced the route past the well-kept redbrick houses set back from the road with tidy gardens behind low walls. Originally designed for commuters in an age of public transport there were no garages, but some gardens had been updated and sported a widened gate and a tarmac drive for one car. They passed the building with its pretentious façade, an eclectic mixture of classical features laid out in redbrick and Portland Stone (apparently ‘one of the finest secular building in terms of its architectural quality and character is the very grand Edwardian style…’) but she did not turn to look.5 Instead, as they drove, they chatted about work and the funeral and she fiddled with the piece of metal or something that had worn a hole in the pocket and been caught up in the intricacies of the coat lining ever since. She felt its weight and profile and tried to imagine what kind of thing it was that had become an integral part of the coat that her mother was so attached to. For no reason that she understood it made her think of Bertie’s son, George.6 George, who also smoked like a chimney, forbade his wife to use her first name in deference to his grandmother, and whose physician confessed to giving him morphine and cocaine in order to catch the printer’s deadline so that his death could be announced in the daily Times rather than the more sensational evening papers.7

1 Hoff E. V. A Friend Living inside Me—The Forms and Functions of Imaginary Companions. Imagination, Cognition and Personality. 2004;24(2):151-189. 

2 This double naming is also not as unusual as it sounds – especially in first born. See. Brinthaupt, T. M., and Dove, C. T. (2012). Differences in self-talk frequency as a function of age, only-child, and imaginary childhood companion status. Journal or Research in Personality Res 46, 326–333

3 Laursen, C. (2019-11-28). Plurality Through Imagination: The Emergence of Online Tulpa Communities in the Making of New Identities. In Believing in Bits: Digital Media and the Supernatural. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

4 Edward VII was christened Albert Edward but on accession chose to use his second name rather than diminish the name of his father, Albert, who had been publicly mourned for forty years.

5 Edmund Bird, (January 1997), Consultation Draft Report & Character Assessment Statement for the Proposed Brixton Hill Conservation Area, (London Borough of Lambeth Environmental Services)

6 George V was christened George Frederick Ernest Albert and, although happy to use his first name forbade his wife to use her first name, Victoria, in deference to his grandmother.

7 She had recently read Watson F. The death of George V. History Today. 1986 Dec;36:21-30. For a more recent account see, Ramsay J H R. A king, a doctor, and a convenient death BMJ 1994; 308 :1445