London walks, and anti-austerity-weekend musings.
A collection of thoughts whilst moving around the capital on the weekend 250,000 people came out against the government’s further assaults on social welfare and social life. It is related to a large blog project called Stories From Forgotten Space (using landscape as a platform for quasi-fictional storytelling based on genuine experiences, feelings) which I am currently compiling into a book.
Friday 19 June 2015
“Walking towards Shoreditch, nearly an hour into walking in the city. The self-conscious me is always looking for things to porcupine-myself-up with in a place of such beautiful cyber-people. Sometimes it seems like everyone looks like a more toned, more Photoshopped edit of a pop-culture figure from yesteryear. I pass somebody who looks like a ‘better model’ of The La’s’ frontman Lee Mavers; more like Lee Mavers than Lee Mavers.”
“The proximity of the DLR train to the crucible-cluster of deemed-important buildings in Canary Wharf forces their importance on you as you begin to instinctively stare up at them in wonder (only to refrain from doing so to hide from public their impact on you). I look up at 1 Canada Square (HSBC building). I give a powerless, punchdrunk smile as my eyes sink from the fluffy-cloud-skyline to the gentrified docklands below. Sometimes it all makes sense to me, and I then spend my time trying to explain my reasons that respond to this sense, only that it all fucks up when things inevitably conspires to undo that sense-making. And it is at these points that ‘the idiot’ appears.”
“Greenwich Park. Hot weather. Grass going all orangey/brown – like 95/96. Don’t think I’ve sat down on the grass since I was 12 – not properly anyway. Firestarter, The Prodigy [spring 96] is playing in my personal bubble. Feel 12 again. Want to cause shit/havoc (“Bad bad, bad bad behaviour”). All those “old school” shit-causers; they’re all knackered now, evaded swiftly by others in this anxiously aspirational age; ranting at people eating their tourist-orientated food, who no longer need headphones to be zoned-out to such a physical proximity. Head down the congested road on Blackheath; city traffic passing through summer fields. If I crop out Canary Wharf it all takes me back, somewhere. But just now I don’t need to crop it out, with rucksack on shoulder, ideas momentarily electrified, I feel Danny-Champion of Past and Present. But such a surge of self-belief is spurred on by the very thing that crushes it; the ruthlessly ambivalent city. It’ll get me, for sure it will, it always does. It doesn’t let me stand tall for too long. But right now, as I text myself these thoughts, it hasn’t.”
Saturday 20 June 2015
“Walking through the refuge of a wooded-park in the centre of Muswell Hill, after staring down at the horizon-reaching cityscape commenting on how only 100 years back New York was just beginning to take over London as being the biggest city the world had even seen. Still slightly drunk from the night before, and, thus, having a slightly-guilty sensation in an age of “keep young and beautiful; it’s your duty…”. Especially in an area like this where the “everybody’s middle class now” 1990’s rhetoric doesn’t seem to have become like a cruel joke. They run for reproduction, perpetual vitality rather than exhaustion – no sunken faces around here. These woodlands look ancient, even as the noise from the continuous stream of London buses penetrates them. They may just be ancient; this land certainly hasn’t been dug up for coal at any point like most woods have nearer to home. The failure of the 90’s/00’s freshly-veneered/total immersion-capitalism seems to have never happened here. Or so it seems. London-based TV series’s from the politically-passive late 90’s/early 00’s, like Spaced, feel like they could be in their 10th series around here.”
“The demonstration’s on The Strand now. One of those iconic London streets that I have only just located after a few years of frequenting the city more than before. This is a big demo. Surely too big to be bypassed by the media’s gaze…? It’s as big as the March 2011 one, to which it was preemptively compared. But the feeling is noticeably different. My lasting memory of March 2011 was of hearing a succession of bangs, which I initially thought were some sort of explosive, only to realise that a group named the ‘Black Block’ were smashing the windows of big banks and tax-dodging corporations 200 yards ahead of us in the march. Moments after the bangs a masked young woman cut through the march procession, only to have her arm grabbed in anger by a middle-aged woman in a Unison t-shirt, who shouted “cowards! why don’t you show yourself?”. Although I had mixed feelings on what was the correct approach to counter the much rawer anticipation of systemic wounding, in hindsight I realised the angry response from the then-seemingly-more ‘pedestrian’ protest-approach, was due to the possibility that many who said they were in the Black Block were actually Agent Provocateurs, working in order to allow an aggressive police response, and to whip up hostile sentiment towards the wider demonstrations. And it worked. Only five hours later, on the train back to Wakefield/Leeds a thuggish male, part of a group of football fans on their way back home, had his hands around the neck of a blatantly-peaceful protestor, due to an argument between them, largely sparked by the football fans accusing him of complicity in “the smashing up of the windows of Topshop”, which resulted in the police boarding the train at Doncaster. I, for one, was emotionally exhausted as the tinderstick summer of 2011 drew to a close, prepared for a new world where one would be forced to take sides. The tide of society would consequently dampen this energy, and leave many of us feeling like self-aware-zombies in 2013, 2014. But perhaps the clear lack of noticeable ‘trouble’ on this comparable 2015 march isn’t a negative? Maybe something has changed, tactically; a different collective response is afoot, more based on duration?”
“The only negatives we receive are perhaps to be expected, due to being received as the march reaches the tourism/consumerism zenith of the capital. First off, we are subjected to a barrage of slurs from a man-woman-man-woman quartet of weekend ‘leisure-seekers’, with one of the women repeatedly shouting “get a life!” as they cut through the march to the opposite side of the road, with bottles of unopened rose wine in their hands. The fact that they clearly deemed it urgent to utter this to us seemed more telling than any general disagreement with the causes being marched for; beyond the initial feelings of “why didn’t I say something back to them?” was a realisation that the demo clearly caused them great discomfort. I think I can see why: when life is narrowed down to a singular romance focused in on the weekend ‘leisure-pursuit’ and all the promises of happiness, meaning, love it has appropriated, protests begin to be representative of possible huge ruptures to that shop-a-day reality. And I say this as somebody who has had this very anxiety about ruptures to those routines-of-least-pain we pave ourselves in the narrowness of the late capitalist world.
Further on, as we near Downing Street, we sense an hostility from groups of muscular young men in t-shirts. But their gesture (which seems to be one of showing solidarity with the coppers by standing in a line with arms folded in front of buildings in this zenith of nationalist value within the capital) looks almost comical, and the absurdity has not gone unnoticed by everybody I spoke to in the march. Everyone was just thinking ‘what the hell are they doing?”
“My friends head back for their respective coaches back North and rooms in London. I aim for some reflective wandering of the city until my train back later this evening (bad memories of Megabus coach journeys back from my failed attempts to study in London still haunt me). After 30 minutes trying to find somewhere to piss, I end up in Waterloo Station wishing to write expletives on the toilet walls over the lack of public toilets – my biggest pet hate of life in the over-commercialised and privatised UK city. However, due to there being a fault on the pay-in barrier and the migrant-worker toilet attendant politely letting us use them for free, I would’ve have felt bad giving him any extra cleaning up work to do. I head back out into South London, and look for the river. I always feel I need to see the river. The helicopters monitoring the protest are still hovering above. The rain begins to pelt down, but it’s the first time in my life I am carrying a waterproof jacket – a sign of age maybe? If my mood sinks now, and we’ve reached the afternoon it isn’t so alarming, it’s bearable. The Thames splashes against the walls as the rain falls. At least we/I have the river, the murky holder on plenty of secrets, that can’t quite be gentrified – it’s ours whether we are from Bermondsey or Barnsley. I have swallowed the world today; it’s the comforting calm before the potential storm caused by surrender to it all.”
“I have walked full-circle, all way down the South Bank and back toward the Bank of England from where the demo initially gathered. The rain that teemed down as the official demo petered out in Parliament Square has all but gone. Yet, this dampened, largely-depopulated area (it’s normal for it to be eerily quiet on a weekend) gives it an unwanted feeling of the aftermath of a party. After all, one common utterance the stands out about this 2015 demo is to not let it be a mere catharsis amidst the carnage. Fading momentum is a huge concern for all of us as we stare down the barrel of deterioration. However, like my weary, now semi-stumbling self, acquiring a slightly macho-self-defensive gate as I slowly begin to see the tailored shirts, suits and bow ties reemerge, as if they were hiding in burrows whilst the protest was ongoing (“it’s safe to come out and play now!”), there is no resignation, not just yet. I walk just that bit further towards the Barbican.”
“Caledonian Street – the very name alludes to a once-felt physical connection of London to the rest of this Land-mass. Unlike today, where by crossing the M25 you almost feel that you’re in a different reality where everything you’ve come to know from your stunted Yorkshire towns/cities seems to has been given the green light to proliferate, uncontrollably. Which makes it all the more strange when I hear a Barnsley/Wakefield accent (very distinct the closer you get to them, very hard to differentiate the further away you are, geographically) coming from a man on a phone outside a takeaway, across the road. The utter weariness caused by the past 2 days (emotional as much as physical) means I literally stumble into the nearest bar that looks accommodating for a man who currently looks that scruffy that going into a more ‘aspirational’ bar would be to surely give my weary self a hard time. But my stumbling attracts the attention of four men with shaved heads, one of who’s glare is not friendly as I order a drink in a red t-shirt with a sketchbook in my hand. Once I sit down, unable to avoid overhearing snippets of their conversation, it is beyond a doubt that they are part of some far-right, ultra-nationalist organisation. There’s one, big hard-looking Ray-Winston-type-cockney (who evokes an image of more physically violent UK cities, the only aspect I don’t long for in the wake of gentrifying cleansing). Then I realise that two of the blokes are Barnsley lads. Oh yes, it’s beyond a doubt; that’s definitely my mother-tongue the one in the baseball cap uses as he drunkenly slides into chanting a bloody-thirsty appraisal of St George. And on a day like this!? A day when I wanted to feel comradeship with folk from my mother-terrain, and beyond, against capitalist onslaught. But I find myself hiding my face in case it turns out they recognise it from town. As today, there was (by all accounts) a far-right demonstration planned for Barnsley town centre, preceding a town pubs-based music festival, which seems to pull together folks of left/left-of-centre sentiment in the town better than anything else since the mines closed. I wonder whether there was thus a consequential poor turn out for the far-right, and they decided to head down to London instead? Anyway, I drink up fast, as I’m reminded of how the threat of real physical violence can still quite quickly rear its head in pubs, even in an age where we are more likely to yell in solitude into our cell phones. I head back towards Kings Cross station. Bland but less chance of aggro.”