The Big Smoke (and mirrors): Stories From Forgotten Space

I have retroactively made this the 3rd blog in a series of map-making’s of meanderings and musings that coincided with decisive events for the wider society. My thoughts on the past (my past),  present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present loosely congregating around these events. With my writings this year, there has been a consistent eagle eye for traces of social change; I am not aligned with any specific party/ideology that opposes the current state of play, yet most certainly not averse to any either, as I’m aware that any jostling for something beyond this sink-hole-for-sanity is essential for my well-being as much as anything else.

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Here is the first post from 9 May: Lost Bus Routes and Pre-Election Reflections

The second from 22 June: London Walks, and Anti-Austerity Musings

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10 September 2015

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“I’ve been approaching Leeds by train for years now (for the best part of the lost-decade, starting 2008), and it is the wastelands (especially the unappropriatable bits) that are its saving grace. It says something that the boring central zone obliterates. I change trains towards Manchester, sitting backwards as the train leaves Leeds. Dead feelings still cling on, yet I know they’re just symptoms of something much larger than myself – something that throughout these years has only ever really become clear to me when staring out of the window of a moving train or bus. Yet I sense movement; movement out of this ‘stuckness’ that accumulates moments of feeling like being part of the living dead. I’m not sure what is happening, whether the world will spin whilst I stand still, but I’ll make any minor manoeuvre to help loosen from being stuck.”

P1040080“Sitting backwards means that I am facing the sharper, most hasty inclines that form Lancashire’s side of the Pennines that we leave behind as we near Manchester.  I think what captivates me about landscapes, is that any given landscape is forced to become an illustrator for the most heavy of shit on my mind at any given moment. These glacial cuts between Yorkshire and Lancashire make me wonder if the water is starting to trickle under our socio-political ice age. But will the flow be guided, or will it burst out destructively? I need change anyway, coming to another town to drink has been a substandard substitute for a couple of years now, but it is beginning to wear thin.”

P1040084“Exit Piccadilly station platforms, and head up the escalators – not really sure why. There’s a banner for a TGI Friday’s eatery, based on a pastiche of mid 20th century American diners. The banner has those thin metal anti-climbing spikes all over the top of it. I can’t quite figure out why this would be necessary at all. But if I was in doubt, there’s also a CCTV camera keeping it company. It’s a coincidence, but it isn’t ironic: control is at the heart of every aspect of contemporary life, from controlled pastiche experiences of mid-20 the century diners, to maximum transport terminal security. No doubt the menu choice will tell you the calorie intake, so we can control that too. If not, I’m sure it will soon. I have to take a photograph, but I’m wary of the presence of an ‘officer’ nearby – as an artist was arrested last year photo-documenting London’s ‘ring’ of CCTV cameras. I exit the station and cut south avoiding the shopping area of Manchester, taking in the Victorian what-might-have-beens prelimery-skyscrapers, much more impressive than the reality given to us with the likes of the Beetham Tower.”

P1040086P1040087“Because my default memory of 2003/Blair-years Manchester is the one my brain reverts to every time I leave the city, I find all successive skyline additions surprising. Just past Oxford Road station on the way to Deansgate a huge blue-tinted glass phallus, complimenting the nearby Beetham Tower, has emerged from seemingly nowhere, with the name ‘StudentCastle’ hanging vertically down the side of the building. Talking of default positions, it will forever remain absurd to me that such a place could now be for student accommodation. It looks fit only for penthouses, Porsche owners, or for scenes from a Dallas-cum-Dubia-deal-doing-drama; not for those who I still (clearly erroneously) see as based at safe-havens from the dynamics of a system that they would be better momentarily safe-guarded from, in order to at least interpret it, through art, English Lit, Philosophy or whatever…..yeah, I’m definitely out of touch here, I guess.

“As I reach the view of Beetham Tower, further down Deansgate – hanging above what now merely resembles the atypical regeneration background imagery of red-bricked former industrial buildings – I come to the conclusion that Beetham Tower just looks like a virtual impressionist’s wet dream. And it may as well be, judging on how out of reach it feels. And I’m not talking about it’s relative height. The glass, the purported transparency of such structures is exactly what makes them seem so inaccessible. Across the road a block of private apartments has been named after the Hacienda night club. A city of so much promise –  one I still look to (perhaps due to being an unreconstructed northerner) for promise, is now a city of signs that lead nowhere.”

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Friday 11 September: Recovery, walking around my home town, assembled like dream-like collage of memories. … I cannot explain why this seems to be repeatedly occurring.

I miss things dearly. Especially those things that never got a chance….

….that in hindsight never stood a chance

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Saturday 12 September: The Big Smoke (and Mirrors)

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P1040096“Central Wakefield at 5am. The pouring rain doesn’t seem to impound any felt-miseries at such an hour, maybe due to the rarity of being awake at this time it is making me feel like I’m in a different climate/land. It must be said that I’m finding that there’s a way of looking at the world that seems specific to this time between night and day, possibly epitomised by the ghost train crawling through Westgate station back up to Leeds in preparation for today’s carting of people to and from London. It’s as if the empty train visualises a sense that I can see the inner workings of the ‘man machine matrix’ [Will Self] at this nowhere hour; like seeing the working arteries and veins of a living creature. It makes no difference that I know the train has to have staff on board, because their lack of visibility visualises this Metanomic servitude everything and everyone has to a system that tells us we are our own bosses. As our train pulls in, the man stood in front of me on the platform is so prematurely weak and frail  (accident, degeneration recoverer?) that I feel a bubbling haste at the prospect of missing the train altogether, and can sense anger in me towards him, which almost immediately results in self-detesting; parts of myself I wish didn’t exist, but parts that are part-and-parcel of living in this age where an ideology of ‘rule of the jungle’ has engendered a growing fascistic attitude to our most vulnerable. Social change. It’s the necessity of a movement we can all taste in our mouths, to prise us out of such a miserable way to exist. To extinguish unnecessary ‘survivalist’ impulses riving and tearing through our bloodstream.”

“BBC Radio 4. Listening to the Shipping Forecast. Turbulent seas, maritime nation; so easily forgotten on the mainland; resonates so peacefully with the train’s humming electrical noises. Why does it somehow seem to be a component of a lost world (a better one in my opinion)? I’ve heard it said (somewhere) that the Shipping Forecast would be the last lone voice across the land at the dawn of a nuclear wipe-out. But this voice of the long night, for me, seems more a spectral trace of a parallel/or hidden-from-view world; evoking elements of a Britain that never took the tunnel of Thatcherism. I suppose it evokes the longing for the presence of a socialistic paternal force that is there in times of vulnerabilities we nearly all face at some point. These arable lands we are passing through in this point between light and dark resemble more hinterlands between two different types of world. The following news story suggests it is a forgone conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership contest later this morning – maybe we are indeed in an hinterland between two different times?”

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“With it still only being 8am (although 8am equates to 10am in this cinematic equivalent of all you know elsewhere in the UK) I wait sometime in a cafe staring out onto Euston Road. And I always expect to see somebody I know, as a place for me is a place, whether there are 1,000 or 13,000,000 people under its place name umbrella. I see a woman who looks like an older version of somebody my not-much-younger-self would day-dream about spending his days with, all-too-aware that I’ve been dumbly goldfish-like forgetful about how age hits us all, now I’m in a spell of my life where meeting new people gets harder and harder.  Wake up, Boo! (The Boo Radleys) comes on the cafe radio. Couldn’t care less for it back in the summer of 1995, but I miss the vibe of the 90’s more by the year, and such songs evoke a freshness/sunshine that I cannot imagine now (and I’m more than convinced that our ‘always on’ times have hastened this colour-drainage). It’s certainly not just me who feels this way, when even people who can’t remember the decade are more-than-active in rejoicing in the unsheddable traces of it coating of the present. Good times are environing, not personal/private – even if such a time did prove to be all smoke and mirrors. But this era-based optimism cannot return under the current social reality which was still fresh and believable in the 1990’s. Now it’s just a dead idea-ruling. Perhaps a new age is dawning now; it certainly needs to be too, as the decade we’ve just gone through feels so lost, like a world under general anesthetic. ”

P1040113“After leaving the cafe, and with hours to go before a demo I’m supposed to be attending (I have to attend after spending limited funds on always-expensive train tickets), I turn right from ST Pancras into the Camden area. I manage to lose the macho swagger I use as a self-defense mechanism against the Euro-trotter-scape of St Pancras station, focused on the high-end shop Fortnum and Mason’s. The parks of London give the impression of opening up the seemingly endless chances at play in metropolitan life. Despite the ever-present tragedies of morning drinkers, these parks give out a certain romance, of something Unrealised – enhanced by the social housing surrounding them, but totally obliterated by the exercise machines, that have the presence of colonisers in such parks, disallowing anything but the Utopia/Dystopia of ‘mission: Self-Betterment’.”

P1040116“Half 9 and it’s not unbearably busy at the Oxford Circus/Oxford Road junction right now. On rare occasions I do feel so utterly detached from the world/culture I am attached to that I’m like an alien spectator of The Spectacle. If this could last, well then I’d probably be able to spout such “you-don’t-have-to-buy-into-it” cop-out-philosophy to all those ‘negatives”. Speaking of ‘negative types’ how do you tell if there is or isn’t breathing coming from these disheveled shapes coated in old blankets in these closed doorways (the army of homeless, of course)? How do you know if they haven’t died silently on these sleepless streets? The survivalist fever that funnels us into individualist obedience makes certain the we treat such uncertainties as ‘none of my business’. Next to one of the blanket-coated bodies is a virtual-reality advert-board offering the proposition of having your ‘selfie’ taken with hippy/venture capitalist, Richard Branson.”

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“Down near Embankment now. The amount of bodies lying down in doorsteps/parks/under bridges, looks like the results of warfare. Which, of course, it is.”

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“After confusingly walking back and forwards, over the river, I eventually find myself in Waterloo station. In a city of plenty, why does the panicky grip of scarcity take hold? A mentality that physically sticks you to the ground in a seizure of confusion. Reminds me too much of the humiliation of anorexia, so I end up just sitting and eating on a bench in the busiest station in the country. Waterloo leads to all that rests at the other side of uncircumventable gateway of London to where I’m hail from. I imagine what my life might have been if I’d have hailed from the other side of the gateway, in a land that cannot help but seem like a dreamy, green and pleasant mid-century England, due to all the children I’ve overheard talking to parents in the station sounding like they belong in Enid Blyton novels.”

“I get up and walk. Slowly get going again. Crossing back north over the river, a friend texts me saying Corbyn has won the majority to become next leader of Labour party. “You shouldn’t rest your hopes around things” – yes, but I can’t keep down a small smile that emerges on my face.”

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“Always rewind to a default position of surprise when I pass Downing Street, surprised that it’s not really a street at all; more a half-way between Granada Studio’s Coronation Street set and an aggressively guarded compound. Whenever you see a photo/story featuring No 10, it only focus’s on the house, not the street, which is mainly constituted of massive Portland stone ministerial buildings that that sandwich no 10 in.”

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“After over an hour of confused meanderings, useless, utterly negative, exhausted text-book scribings; unsure if this demo is actually occurring (I got the time/place muddled up) I finally encounter it flowing down past Trafalgar Square. I follow it down to Parliament Square, back down past no 10. The larger the crowd, the less alienated I actually feel. I eventually find some people I know. The demo has most certainly been strengthened by Corbyn’s election victory this morning, and that he is attending this demo shortly. When we get to Parliament Square he gets to the stage. You can’t hear a word he is saying, yet the uproar from the crowd gets rid of any uncertainty towards what is happening. “Always be wary of the crowd” – maybe so, but, trust me, as somebody who’s spent a lifetime feeling alienated from groups in the usual course of life, I feel there is much to be gathered from a large group of people sharing a disparate yet unified energy. It suggests, or even ascertains a potential for an alternative to the current state of play that seemed unimaginable in this country a couple of years back. ”

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“It’s a quest to retain an optimism from which alternatives can be nurtured within. But too tired to deal with the growing atmosphere of lairyness that seems to be taking over the area close to King’s Cross/ST Pancras. Football fans heading home meet half-drunk pleasure-fix-seekers to make for an environment I never expect in London. But London is England; the shit, perpetual con-trick of our corporate culture, and the ensuing frustrations are all out to play here on a Saturday just like any other town or city up and down the country. Large swaves of London are still just the England-kept-provincial under Thatcherite occupation, but on steroids. After leaving an Internet cafe I need somewhere to sit with a pint for some time but can’t find a cash machine. I walk up and down, in what seems like miles judging on how tired I am now. I finally find one, only for it say it will charge me £1.50 for using it. Have to walk all way back again. Pass more homeless that I have to shut my head off to this time, drained of social compassion. A group of men mock a trans-gendered person in that abuse-disguised-as-laddish-banter style we all know well; “it’s water off a duck’s back, no doubt”, yet I doubt that very much – more like collateral damage. 13 million people and still they find time to pick on one of them. Eventually find a cash machine and a pub that is only just off the main road. So it feels so odd that it’s completely absent of the UKWEEKEND aura. Sit outside, nobody hassles me. I write and relax and find a potential in the city, and in the country again, for something different than this lost-decade I share with most. Things might be changing, but this is a long-long game, and I carry on in a punch-drunk manner.”

“On the train back I close my eyes. Intoxicated by the sensory overload of a London, that, these days can often resemble the hallucination of walking inside the World-Wide-Web, and, inevitably, alcohol. I am exhausted. I see pictures of things traveling so fast I can’t make them out – traveling faster than the speed of the train. The drink’s kicking in, and again I’m feeling I need companionship, and not just meaningless, nihilist bullshit; something that at least feels real. Tired of consuming the boring medication to endure the ‘Boring Dystopia’. How do I return to a point where things are fresh and can surprise again?”

P1040095“As I leave Westgate at 11pm, I misjudge my timing crossing the road. Yet I am certain the motorist speeds up. For sometime now I’ve been thinking how private vehicles encourage primal power trips, a driving force in us, unnecessarily so, due to the dog eat dog atmosphere we are forced to inhale. The driver, in a white t-shirt, may as well have been flexing his muscles at my slightly disheveled self as I scurry across the road. There’s so much work to do: the Tories more than anyone are masters at making us hate one another. But I’m so fucking tired of this game.”

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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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