Marking the center of this field of future prophesy is Reality Checkpoint – a beacon to many realities. Early proposals to light Parker’s Piece were met with aversion as late-night lovers preferred the cloak of darkness. The original lamp of 1894, cast in iron by the Sun Foundry of George Smith and Company, Glasgow, withstood a rumored attempt by Noel Teulon Porter to blow it up in the interests of free love but was in the end toppled by American soldiers celebrating VJ night in 1945. Remodeled by local metal works firm George Lister and Sons, by foreman Sam Mason, assisted by Tony Challis, Four Lamps was born and became the first fluorescent lamp in the UK.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the name Reality Checkpoint was first applied to the lamp in the 1950s as a navigator in the ‘pea-souper’ Cambridge smogs and fogs. By the 70s the name had become known both as a place to get back to reality, as a pilgrim site for LSD trippers with local hearsay including Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd among its pilgrims, and as a location to challenge reality, a site to check your life and question the status-quo.
Marking the point at which to sober up before walking past the police station, the post also stands at an intersection of university and town, a historically factious line between very different realities. Known as the entrance of students to the real world, stories abound in both directions as to whether it is the life of Mill Road or the work of college that offer the challenging reality.
Records show the name was first written onto the post in chalk and then ink, before being painted on for the first time in 1973 by art students from CCAT (Cambridge College of Arts and Technology – now Anglia Ruskin) under the guidance of a tutor. Unofficially scratched or painted on ever since, the name was repeatedly marked and covered in a constant back and forth between residents and council, each seeking to preserve the history and integrity of this post. In April 2017, Artist Emma Smith was given official permission to paint the name onto the post to preserve its name for posterity. In homage to the artists who painted the name in 1973, and continuing their legacy of intervention, this work was undertaken in the very early hours of the morning to appear as people woke the following day.
Stories still abound and multiply as to the meaning of this name and it is in the end up to each of us to find and check their own reality.