Coming Up For Air (Stuck in the disenchanted remix of 1996)
ALL THIS IS SEMI-FICTIONAL
This isn’t actually 1996 at all. This is 2016, the disenchanted 1996. The 1990’s have somehow become the eternal yesterday; digitised depression of another time. In a loop, drained of colour and flavour. We need to finally leave the violent cycles of the 20th century.
Like June 1996, in the ‘disenchanted 1996′ we are amidst a European football tournament that’s catching peoples’ attention. But this time you can’t tell if the St George’s flags are draped on buildings in support of England or the Brexit campaign, and you can’t tell if the English football hooliganism on the continent is this time somehow spurred on by a brexit-fueled sense of global importance that neither the cheerleaders of Remain or Brexit wish to stop being pumped unwillingly into our heads from an early age.
Beer bellies/anxiety bellies. Being part of the ‘disenchanted 90’s’ is almost to ascertain mental health problems, or a OCD at the very least. …and then, last night, Jo Cox… “have you ever tried mindfulness, John?”. …all due respect, but, no, not yet…
Stuck in a moment, but that moment has gone, the mood has descended beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. The coming millennium had once been a beacon of optimism, or so it seemed. 1996. 2006. 2016.
These rambles begin nowhere far-flung, they don’t need to be. Because the immediate, once inspected like you do when you’re young, with free time aplenty, seems just as far away.
17 June disenchanted 1996
“As I wait for Michael to meet me I sit on the church wall, which is a perfectly normal thing for me to do, as I’ve caught the bus from here (usually rushing down the hill for the last bus to town) countless times. But I could certainly count the amount of times I’ve been in the pub opposite. I’ve never frequented the immediate drinking holes. Don’t really know why, but I know since becoming a young adult I have had an anxious relationship with the immediate where ever I am (maybe my adult-age-long feeling of being trapped makes the immediate unnerving?) which makes a reflective walk around this area, with all the shit that’s going off further afield, all the more intriguing. As we head into the likely car crash that is the EU referendum (now stained with the blood of Jo Cox), I worry if I am even in touch with ‘current affairs’ anymore. I became preoccupied with the notion of a climate/mood in society, because I found there to be something in the feel of these times that is draining any belief that things could be changed for the better. Today we are time-traveling to 20 years back when there seemed to be more colour to life.
“Unlike the relentlessly increasing road traffic on the A and B roads over the past god-knows-how-long, the Motorway remains somehow exempt from being an object of despair, as its strangely reassuring drone becomes deafening as our path gets closer to it. Not walked over these fields for a couple of years, but it feels like longer – so late 90’s and it’s early unconfirmed 00’s-focussed anxieties. As we scale the banking pathway we talk of the good feeling to twenty years ago, how our cyberspace dependency has drained any sense of surprise, and overexposed us to everything, and how “the rich just keep on getting richer”. All while the the broadband age has forced us into an eternal present making the 90s still feel like a much sunnier eternal yesterday. “Something must surely break?!” How much longer can we actually function in the undead 90s?”
“Talk of rave. On how I picked up on its existence despite being a child. On how it’s stain spread right into the mid 90s, maybe fading around ’96. On how the binge drinking culture was maybe fueled by a culture-wide need for a rave-comedown replacement. On how we still live in that after party that carries on in zombie form because nothing has replaced it. Michael is old enough to have been directly involved in rave culture. As we see the graffiti ‘KEK Krew’ on the side of the motorway bridge, I pity a generation born into desensitisation and zombie pop culture. But maybe, born too early for total impression, it’s they who should rightfully pity me?”
“Premdor -doormaking factory, shit pay and working conditions. My kind of fate if I don’t figure something else out soon. Even when time seems to be in a loop, it still creeps up on you.”NO future? Just don’t think about it man – keep on keeping on”. Beyond it, on the hill, stands an old hall built for a squire to the nearby country estate (yeah…that one). For me, an emblem of “we’re ask middle class-now con-men”, invited, as my family was, to 1990s xmas-eve dinner parties there. “Everyone’s invited to the party – it’s the 1990s!” Dogshit! – all the worse because it once smelled so sweet. Token, tamed and pleasant, working class family – I tell Michael how at that point of my life it was the first ‘posh’ accents I’d heard this side of the TV screen. Atop of the old Lane, to the right the shiny, branded, replacement school to our ugly 50/60s no thrills education. To the left, new(ish – From the eternal yesterday) apartments, replacing the old estate pub, which held a yearly fair for US, before I merely became ME. Sexual desire before the paranoid cold and calculating approach of the information overload age. I left this youth in such a rush.”
“Turn right onto ‘top estate’. Mother’s estate, and stomping ground to high school in late 90’s – a time of anticipations in ignorance. I’ve been middleclassised, due to being dragged out of one class, and not quite reaching the other – and nobody really wants to drop back down. But what a load of shit it is, and it’s alienated me from the people who I KNOW I share the anger of. “There’s always summat kicking off on’ top estate ” I sheepishly guide Michael over the road, as a ‘lad’ I know by sight who clearly is far beyond ‘lad’ now exchanges heated banter with others across the road, as he struggles to open his door due to being on crutches. Despite being a kid I remember a sort of freedom to 20th century working class life that seems to have been crushed out of existence by economic forces that have become more violent. “All you need is Love” – all my uncles and aunties were from this estate, and everyone sung this song as is this world was on its way. It now hurts to hear it.”
“We walk down the snicket that separates the 1920s-built Junior school from where the former postwar-style high school was – cut off from each other with spike steel fencing from ’98 onwards. For some reason the colour of 1996 is always the same as the colour as Spring green. Maybe because I was consuming a bottle of luminous green ‘quencha’ pop from the school canteen daily, or maybe it’s because, after being bullied was my initial experience of high school, I made a conscious plan to ‘conform’ (ditch the fossil hunting on Jurassic coastlines/the planting of deciduous saplings, for Adidas trousers, lynx deodorant and donkey fringe), and for sometime it seemed a much better and happier way to be. “Cool 90’s, right?”. But twenty years to the month, an history teacher who’d taken an unprofessional disliking to me, told the whole class that my surname “was German” the very day after a feverishly nationalist optimism had been crushed as England lost to Germany on penalties in the Euro 96 semi finals. “NOT being bitter, like…” – but seriously, the incident seemed representative of a blunderously naive calculation of a more fair world coming as the sugar-pop-90s seemed to suggest. Michael spots a gang smoking weed in the corner of the backfield. “I don’t blame ’em”, although I’ve tried not to catch anyone’s eye since we entered the top estate – two blokes on unofficial duty walking past the schools? It’d take some convincing that our aim is to map the mood of the country.”
“NOT EVEN COMPUTABLE” How can the conversation steer from the whirlpool around Jo Cox’s murder as we turn on the radio news and take respite in Michael’s house in Ossett? It is the news. After all, Ossett is within a few miles of the incident’s location; Birstall. Unlike the sprawl of Greater Manchester, the largest place (Leeds) does not stand at the centre of its conurbation. That centre is a mishmash of small towns (Batley, Liversedge, Mirfield, Birstall, Ossett, Dewsbury) that belongs to none of the 4 larger places (Huddersfield, Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield) that surround them. In the centre, but somewhat overlooked, forgotten, and potentially a place ripe for mischannelled rage. I am glued to a reproduction map of the West Riding from 1610 – likely the only thing I’ll discover from it is momentary reassurance. I try to think of something to add to the news story but it’s ‘NOT EVEN COMPUTABLE’. Instead, Michael talks about how his youth hood was guided by a sense that we were headed towards a more tolerant and fair world. What do you do when this feeling becomes it’s opposite? Although I am over ten years younger then Michael, I sensed, and lost, something very similar during my life.”
“We get back in the car and head towards Wakefield to pick Sandra up. Michael puts a CD single on from 1990: The Bridewell Taxis, a local Leeds band who never reached the fame of their ‘Madchester’ contemporaries. It’s a good track! The world I see seems so disenchanted and violent that sounds from a more ‘optimistic’ place make me feel like I’m actually in the dying days; as the scene I’m in is so similar to a car scene in the dying world depicted in The Children of Men film. 5 years back I gritted my teeth at the predicament I was expecting – now it’s boiling my brain. Because it’s the midday I can retain some optimism to talk decently to Michael – just be sure it is daytime! But as the night draws in……..”
“We’re early, so Michael takes us for a drive around the Peacock estate. A large council housing estate just behind a place I lived for 10 months last year. I feel somewhat guilty for living here for nearly a year and not exploring much of the surrounding area. I started off with good intentions, but just got caught up in the ‘getting things done’ mentality that ambushes all but the confidently-free spirited once the heat of late spring pumps us up, before it spits you back out again over xmas/new year. At the moment you can’t tell if the St George’s flags are motivated by the football or the referendum. There’s a sight that mirrors a sight we saw on the top estate up ‘Kek’: an old man stood in his garden next to St George’s flag. Sometimes the sights you see in an individual place are so alike sights in other places of similar social footing it almost feels like a spread of a simulation program – but that would be to undermine the effects top-down mass culture has had (although, around the corner a young man stands outside in a house so noisy with ST George that Union flags, that it reaches an all new level. An all new level of what? I’m not quite sure).
“Far-reaching views down to the South/West Yorks border from East Ardsley motorway junction. A small fleet of police cars, all lights flashing, speed past. Cameron and Corbyn are ‘in town’, paying their respects to Jo Cox. No doubt these cars are on for extra security. Sandra speaks of how this will allow ‘them to bring in even more security and surveillance measures’. I no longer know what to add. As we finally reach leafy and studenty Headingley it necessitates an urge to find something positive to say. My thoughts search frantically for this, sidestepping the stuckness. As we watch a largely younger population go about their business on this warm and dry day, Sandra accepts that today’s cultural mood is fatalistic to the permanence of capitalism, but she says we have to keep on chipping away at this. I agree. But right now I already feel burnt out trying. The young are older than the old.”
“Head down into the centre to meet Dave. Drink kills dreams. Or at least it happily permits their death. “Never give in!”. But I do, most evenings. A disenchanted 90s night on tap, or whatever…. “nowt tha can do, pal”. Drink makes you numbly ambivalent to a dying world. An apathy-making drug. Even if you don’t think you’re apathetic and that you’re still fighting the same fights with the same degree of sober rawness that you were all those years back when alcoholic medicine was needed less frequently. But habits grow silently over the years. On a short walk from one pub to another my fight to stop my growing cynicism is put to the test, as a beggar in a wheel chair shows us a blooded stump on his hand that he claims has just been recently severed. The lack of plentiful blood and the fact that he wants us to give him money to get him home instead of ringing him an ambulance, makes me come to a conclusion that he’s lying, but he’s lying to raise enough to get access to whatever pain-relief gets him through the night. But then he asks for a cig, to which I tire, and say “We don’t smoke, mate” unaware Dave has a fag in his mouth, to which he responds saying “don’t fucking lie to me”. At which point abstracted compassion goes out of the window and I have this nasty bastard urge to punch him in the face, even boot him out of his wheelchair. Although I don’t, the thoughts makes me feel sick;”I’m actually a right fascist cunt”. I feel all the things I’m not supposed to feel. No moral high ground here, my thoughts are bitter as fuck,”that cunt’s just verbally spat in my face. “Fuck you, Buddy”. The night is hopeless now.
18 June disenchanted 1996
“Saturday morning. Anger on the quiet country roads. Roads are always angry places, especially on Sunday – the day of rest. Doesn’t matter that you have a panoramic view over West/South Yorks – we have no time, and we are all in each others’ way. We don’t hate immigrants any more than we hate any white-looking Briton, it’s just that they’re extra people added to the endless dog eat dog daily gruel – such is the nature of a castrated and dismembered working class rage. White van confidence killer, to misquote the Sleaford Mods. Doesn’t, matter how benevolent he/she may be, the sight is a threat to a walker/cyclist. But today I’m in “no going back” mood!”
As I cycle past a woodland, locked in a fiction of a 1990s comfort zone, I dwell upon what Dave said last night. It haunts me: that my endeavors are useless, futile in the times I now occupy. The image/surface level feed-culture we have, “Instagram doesn’t give a shit how much thought you put it into it, mate”. As I cycle past a farm a young woman cuts the grass outside the farmhouse. Almost a frieze from an imagined pre-WW2 world. I am a sucker for falling in love with the Ghosts that surround me. I humbly accept I’m stuck as I cycle like a fucking child let loose from his housing estate. A-STILL-drunk-baby. But that’s how it is right now. Sorry Mr Record of achievement… Up on the tops now – High up, but flat. Keep on seeing this place as the ‘wiper’ of the headshit accumulated in the ‘hell’ of Now. But it’s an eternal now.”
“The long and exposed road, that follows the ridge-way above the river Don, finally guides me into Sheffield proper. And in many ways these large housing estates are Sheffield proper, despite the attractive nature of today’s city centre. It’s a descent now, easier on the legs, and harmonic with the a disheartened gaze. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was supposed to work out well”. 1990’s haunts me through electronic sounds of 16bit. I’ve lost the energy to care if it’s pathetic listening to the soundtrack to the 1992 computer game Streets of Rage 2 on my Ipod. If we’re talking of what I could otherwise be syncing onto my devices, let me tell you right now that not only was this soundtrack my, indirect, introduction to electronic music full stop, but that the 90’s rave sound, and the spill over on into chart music, had a sense of finality in it – a sense of a climax before exhaustion that reflected so much further than popular culture, as it harmonised with the then ‘end’ feeling of the 1990’s – as in an end to the shit of the 20th century, and a new world coming. How miserable is it that this culture still spooks us as the world shows no signs of abating from a post-200 abyss of sadness and suffering. A beat ’em up game: Streets of Rage 2 was a playful depiction of the extremes in rust-belt America. I wonder what this country will look like in a few more years…
“As I walk around the centre, paranoid I’m going blind in one eye (another story) and trying to dodge the energised Remain campaigners (even tho I’ll likely vote Remain) I feel so tired that the only thing I can think is burn myself out – and I return to a pub and write furiously. I can’t explain what I’m feeling these days, but it’s far from nostalgia. I don’t want to go back to the 90’s at all, I want them to leave the room promptly. It’s just we seem stuck. And that’s what is tiring me out with the whole referendum thing. I’ll be voting to remain because there’s too many people who know too many things and who have told me these things to make me think twice about voting Brexit or not voting at all. “We can work to change things together within the EU”. Maybe so, I get you, I really do, but I’m so tired, and weary, and scared because the real changes that need to happen aren’t anywhere near happening. Does nobody else feel something more deep and fundamental than the anger at the excesses of corporate unaccountability and welfare slashing? That capitalism has died? that its legitimacy as a pillar of civilisation has given way, but we’re all supposed to carry on, trying harder and harder? Don’t you feel so weary?”