Society on Tindersticks, and The Snow Hasn’t Even Melted Yet.

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It’s not hard to find the crater-sized hole in the ‘Rivers of Blood Speech’ and all its wannabes – that hostilities between different groups of people only really flare up when the material conditions of the majority are either under threat, immiserating, alienating or all three, and then when groups of people who “didn’t used to live around here” appear, they become a tangible source to blame for the suffering that is often too immediate and in the face of people for them to see the roots of its cause.

But as much as we can feel proud and smug about ourselves for acknowledging this and being “better than the bigots on the streets”, knowing that the problem isn’t caused by “all these immigrants”, our acknowledgement does nothing to halt the death drive hidden in the DNA of this social system with dynamics that divide the majority into seemingly competing forces, whilst being invisible enough to escape most of the blame being dealt out. And as there seems to be no end in sight to the amount of austerity and deprivation the system could drag us to, the rise in aggressive tribalism, racist and random attacks seems inevitable.

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The frustration in public places is more and more evident; whether people class themselves as liberal, nationalist, socialist or try not to class themselves as anything, all seem more tired, disillusioned and generally more fearful of everything. It’s obvious in the pubs (now like haunted houses, trapped in melancholy clinging to the ‘big nights out’ of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s), the high streets (where, once again, the mood is one of denial of the present, like a place that doesn’t know its own time-period) and the train stations. Random aggression, and scenes where people are in the grips of a breakdown are more common.

In Barnsley town centre last Tuesday ,early afternoon, I saw a man already very intoxicated, throwing punches and squaring up to inanimate objects, such as signposts, like nobody was watching him do so; then making gestures to a man with learning difficulties suggesting he would cut his throat.  The police eventually turned up to speak to him, but I was wondering what is outlook on life had become, what is material conditions had become like, in order for him to be reduced to that state.

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On Saturday I was at the famously run-down Wakefield Kirkgate station, which always feels like a place murmuring with frustration about life (Wakefield Kirkgate is a real place; it serves a significantly poorer populace that the mainline station, Wakefield Westgate, just half a mile away). Two young men, who by the sounds of their accents must have been either Irish, from a traveller community, or both, were trying to get to Knottingley, a station about 12 miles over to the east. They asked me when their train was, but I had no idea, as I was waiting for a train south, to Barnsley. True, they possessed a bit of ‘laddy’ lairyness, but it wasn’t in anyway aimed at me, nor did they say anything inappropriate.

I left the station for a bit, just to keep the blood flowing in my legs on the cold day, as the train was delayed by 15 minutes. When I came back, the train was delayed by a further ten minutes, and as I walked up the platform I looked back to see the two young men talking to a well-dressed young man who had just appeared on the platform. But there seemed to be an uncomfortable change in exchanges of expression between the two parties, as one of the two men was stood right up to the face of this well-dressed young man.

As I walked back down towards the Shelter, where quite a few more people were gathering now, I heard this well-dressed young man on the phone to somebody, talking about some “crack heads at the station”. How he knew this, I’m not quite sure. I wasn’t sure who had done/said what, but when they returned to talk to him, he reacted in a rude manner to them, which fired to two men up, who then began to get more confrontational with him.

After a few words were exchanged, an older man intervened in the conversation, saying without looking “shut the fuck up”, to which one of the young men said “who are you fucking telling to shut uo, baldy?”. I’m not sure why the older man needed to get involved aggressively, and this is why from the onset I felt the situation would have played out slightly differently if these two men hadn’t evidently got non-English (tax-payer) accents. But he seemed frustrated anyway (everyone there seemed a little frustrated, anyway), and it was making him more frustrated (I saw him take a puff on his inhaler afterwards).

I feared for the emergence of a tribal turn to all this when the old man kept asking “weer’ tha from mate?” (where are you from, mate?) to which the more vocal of the two men replied “yer mothers cunt, mate”, and this resulted in the old man chasing the two men, who really did run like hell (one of them cutting right across the tracks to the platform on the other side), to which he sat back down and began to talk about them to the other people in the shelter, with an air of “we don’t like outsiders” to it.

But the two young men then began to hurl abuse from the other platform. Yes, they were behaving idiotically, but the reactions began to be about who they were/where they were from rather than what they were doing. But they were also obviously scared, as whoever they were trying to get hold of over the phone, they were now trying to get them to come meet them in Wakefield (it’s amazing how well you can hear everything in a half-derelict train station). As they repeated the thing about his mother, the older man started shouting “why dunt tha guh back tu weer tha cem frum? (why don’t you go back to where you came from?) to which they replied “you can’t even speak properly mate”, to which he replied saying something about being from around here, and that they were “fookin’ pakki’s” and that they should “get ovver t’ fukkin tower wi’t rest oh ’em” (get over to that fucking tower with the rest of them), pointing to the Mosque you can see from the station.

(by the way, I’m not mocking the Yorkshire accent here – this is also how I usually speak)

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A younger girl chipped in, saying “shut the fuck up, why dunt yer?”, that “if me dad woh ‘ere he’d knock ‘fook art ‘oh ’em” (if my dad was here, he’d knock the fuck out of them). I just felt like the people in the shelter were beginning to team together, and as much as it was probably more down to social cowardice that made me so muted at the beginning of this debacle, I remained mute because I realised I didn’t agree with either of the two, newly formed, parties. Despite the aggressive behaviour of these two young men, it’d raised the ugly tribal side of my home town, Barnsley (I could tell they were all from my home town by the accents); almost a negative/a distortion grown from historical traces/reasons for socialism in the town, taken hold of by fear, resulting often in racism and general hostility towards others.

I have a weird complex with my home town, it seeps into its residents pathology whether they like the place or not, its cultural Psyche makes its subjects unusually porous to it, strange for the relatively small size of the place. It sinks itself into you, whether the cultural of the place fits you or totally alienates you. And due to this I often feel like I owe it big, and it owes me big, only to be forever finding myself disappointed. The anger aroused in the station eventually, (due to the persistence of two young men’s obnoxiousness), eventually revealed a force against them for who they were, rather for what they had done, and it deeply saddened and worried me. My town is enbedded in me (I can’t escape this), and due to this you cannot help but want to see positive forces within it, but time after time it looks for answers from destructive forces (it’s so enbedded, that I would even suggest my own self-destructive moments owe something to it).

I think my frustration over my social cowardice, which always seems to reign supreme in such situations, is a reminder of my nervousness over expecting to see more and more of such random angry events in the coming years in this country. Protests, Occupy movements, even when protests appear to turn violent (well, when a few windows are smashed, in comparison with the many heads the police smash, often before the excuse of retaliation is valid) are likely to grow again, now that the labotomising flag-waving-enforcement of 2012 is done with, and this can only really be a positive. But as a form of reaction, I fear it will be in the minority compared with the disparate destructive reactions in this country.

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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