Manchester and The Morning after… (Stories From Forgotten Space)

This is the 5th blogpost in part of a series that has thus far have largely centred around times/spaces where gatherings/events have felt like ample territory for my thoughts on the past (my past),  present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present. This post is centred around the demonstrations taking place outside the Tory Party Conference 2015 in Manchester. There is an urgent aim to map out the here and now, as I don’t otherwise seem to be able to sense it –  constantly looking back over ten years to when it felt that memories and experience stuck, rather than blew away with every given day. These half-truths of stories based around cognitive mapping processes are an attempt to counter this sensation.

4 October 2015

P1040335“Michael picks me up early on and we head over to Ossett, a small town sandwiched between Wakefield and Dewsbury; a ligament in the West Yorks conurbation of towns. On the car radio a program speaks of French Electronica, such as the likes of Air – of whom a sample is played. A warm, lush sound. “Why don’t I listen to this more often?” I think to myself, knowing full well I won’t, as something of my reality cancels it out; the warm sunny glow it evokes is squeezed out between the fear and disbelief of these hyper-connected and hyper-competitive times. We pick up Tony and Michael’s partner (both of whom I cannot remember if I’ve met before), and I have a moment of open embarrassment and inner concern over the utter absence of any memory of meeting Michael’s partner at an event almost exactly 2 years ago, as we drop down the hill that brings you to Dewsbury (an attractive town that always surprises you for being so, due its unjustified negative press in the shadow of the Leeds/Harrogate/Ilkley perception of what is good/nice), . I haven’t felt there to be any duration to time or continuity to its passing during the past few years, to the extent that nothing seems to stick anymore – not like it used to. Further more, if this is a common complaint from the elderly who suffer memory loss, could this suggest that something of contemporary life could be bringing about an epidemic of ‘premature’ Alzheimers? – cold stabs of terror that aren’t appropriate to bring into the conversation right now. But any life so uneventful that nothing sticks, and nothing registers until death, isn’t a life worth living, and this is actually one of the reasons contributing to the utmost emphasis I began to place on partaking in political demonstrations in the wake of the May 8 election results. The sun shines on the now-sandblasted yellow sandstone that Dewsbury is built from. It doesn’t look so dissimilar from my home town, Barnsley, which stands alone in Yorks for being a former mining town that looks more like a former mill town.”kkk“As we wait for our delayed connection in Dewsbury station, two Manchester Airport-bound trains race past at a pace that can’t help impress in a way that an ever-quicker broadband connection can never. Trains used by TransPennine Express franchise trains aren’t the world’s fastest, but in relation to the still-slightly-slower pace of Sunday life, they are like horizontal space rockets, that force our primitive responses to watch them off into the distance towards the Pennines. As our train approaches we see the Sardine Can-scenario usually reserved for the weekday peak-time commutes. It’s heaving, and the member of staff on the train’s tannoy apologises for this in a tone that may as well have openly spoke of the inadequacy of privatised rail services for not putting on extra carriages. He could probably judge the spirit on board this train, as the majority of the passengers were clearly on course for the anti-Tory demo over in Manchester, and a general good air quelled any of our felt-grievances about being crammed into the wobbly section between the two carriages. With people from the Newcastle, Middlesborough, Leeds Metro areas all piled upon this train, there’s a feeling that The North can show London that not all big demos have to gravitate to the capital. My lack of window views means I’m missing out on my felt-need to see the Pennines as they rise up to separate Yorkshire from the blueprint for modernity – the sprawl of Manchester. However, I find great encouragement in that a man is walking around handing out free copies of the left-wing paper The Morning Star; such a refreshing gesture in comparison to the UK’s usual commuter misery-staple The Metro, which somehow still manages to present itself as not being a right wing rag.”

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Untitled“As we approach Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), towards the gathering of people, via the carpark next to the Aquatics Centre (a onetime novelty addition to this built-up environment, constructed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games held here), I look up at the surrounding fir trees and into the clear blue sky – it looks computer-generated. I am moving in and out of a melancholia over an unfinished course (at MMU) that is a cipher for an unfulfilled adult life – I lapse into melancholia whenever self doubt and estrangement kicks in when I’m in large social situations.  All the more appropriate that I am telling the other two about always feeling like a spectator of my own life, like I’m always in 3rd person to myself, as we’re discussing a potential lack of political engagement within my age group (late 20’s to late 30’s?) compared to those either side of us. Perhaps what my age group shares is the experience of growing up amidst mass political indifference as the so-called ‘end of history’ 90’s passed into the 00’s via the smoke and mirrors of Blair. An ambivalence to anything happening around us that was only compounded by the illusion-of-democracy-erasing military invasion of Iraq, which sent the “nothing you can do but get pissed [find your own privatised happiness]” mentality into a full-throttle common conclusion. My MTV-ED age group share an inability to act, to risk getting our noses broken in the midst of political fracas – maybe because there was an assumption around that millennial moment that everything had already been said and done, and was on constant replay for us now? Whereas today, the only thing that seems to have meaning is to overthrow this ‘nihilizing’ empire, and those ten years younger than I are politically active not because they haven’t been jet-washed with the isolating media technologies and forms like us (as they’ve had it ten times worse since the birth of Broadband), but because they have been left with no illusions about this political-economy offering them any future worth enduring.”

P1040333llllllll“I move in and out of the crowd, to the toilet and to find [expensive bottled] water, and back onto Oxford Road – the crowd density distorts my perceptions to make me think I am walking far further away. I get Flashbacks to my time here after now standing on this section of road for over two hours, as if the duration of my presence is helping me absorb my old haunts. As I reflect on my inability to act, I realise that doubt is the main obstacle to invention and intervention, and I’m plagued by way too much of it. And all I usually find I can resort to is the sober resistance of a long-time depressive. I think of my life since I came to this place aged 19, and it conjures a soundtrack that is one constant noise….and it makes me nauseous. Leaving that course due to severe weight loss-provoked-anxiety/dysfunction meant I had to go back and face certain demons I’d been literally running, cycling [and swimming – at the Aquatics centre!] away from. This forced out the beginnings of my political awareness and the beginnings of being on the road I am still on. Even if that road now feels blocked.”

“I’m awash with an hard-to-explain fusion of personal and political memories and feelings as The Manic Street Preachers’ If You Tolerate This  plays out to the large crowd packed into the quintessentially narrow streets of this sardine tin-city of mills and terraces. Somebody shared this song on the all-important Facebook newsfeed during the past few days. There is something appropriate about it in 2015, even though it was released 17 years ago(!) this autumn, with a Brit-pop after-the-party musical style, in the year between the ‘things-can-only-get-better’ New Labour victory and the millennial malaise that had Travis/Toploader as its let-down soundtrack.  The Manics’ song almost shouts at us “hey, why the hell didn’t we pay attention to the meaning back in the late 90’s?”. They are playing this song, among others from the stage where speakers are soon to enter articulating opposing ideas to the Tories with the aim of giving this crowd hope. If You Tolerate This, in the face of what we’re fighting against, and what disturbing policies are being suggested at the conference up the road, sends shivers all down my arms and legs -“this is serious, deep stuff”. But shivers are nothing close to what hearing The Smiths’  ‘There is a light that never goes out’ is like, played out onto the streets of this city. This all-so-private song, that yet millions upon millions of us have a special place for in our lives, without shame. It’s like when the radio plays your favorite song, and you know that everyone else is hearing too, and how that makes your hairs stand up on your neck. But I bet nearly half the crowd are thinking and feeling exactly like me right now. Why does such a song seem to unite the longings for emotional companionship with the desire for a socio-political revolution? Yet, it does: emotional loneliness and the miseries of living under a ruthlessly-market driven system that requires our atomisation, are part of the same process. Such a song jerks those tears ever-harder in an age when we are all ‘lost-in-commute’ in cyberspace, trying to find our destination, and sick, ever so sick, of living under this system. There is a Light is like a minute’s silence within a national anthem for a de-territorialitised nation of ‘sensitive type’s’, unable to reify themselves for the market-individualism of these times; a silent moment in which they all silently contemplate how they’ve endured, to which the ‘light that never goes out’ becomes an optimistic beacon for our will to survive. As the crowd begins to move, I suppose the sight of wheelchair-bound protesters, draped in skeletons with placards saying ‘fit-for-work’ is a sobering and chilling reminder of the stakes on survival in these times. “Don’t get ill, whatever you do”. One placard sticks with me more than any other: “ConServitude and Social Darwinism” – but so many reminders, yet no sign yet of a closure on this compassion-less reality”

12112228_10153215165338581_3376164827703981927_n“We watch most of the demonstration pass us, and as we stay stood down by MMU we join it right at the back. After heading under the bridge, where Oxford Road passes under the inner ring road, we pass a large camp supporting the homeless (echoed by the large graffiti lettering saying ‘homes for the homeless’ written onto a derelict building just over the way). On a visual level only, it resembles the scenes of urban inequality when US cinema dares to show us that nation’s rotten insides. And this is frightening; Manchester is no longer the chilled millennial studenty-indie-music city it became sold to us as in the late 90’s; the politics of class war is once again visible on its streets – a stark reminder that we can’t return to that bubble, we have no choice but to fight back.  As we head towards the town hall, we end up clustered among the Black Block – hoods up and mouths covered (“should I be doing that?”). They are frustrated because the crowd has stopped; “what we fucking stopped for?” says one of them with an accent that sounds neither north nor south. Their haste for more direct action against the conference opens up the wounds of my dilemma between who I am, what I think is right, and that inability to act on this makes me uncomfortable about being more cowardly than I wish I was. I begin to lose my temper for reasons I can’t figure out, as my emotional confusion creates my own haste. I leave the crowd and go walking by myself, angry, and mildly paranoid that my abnormal movements will attract attention from the airborne police who may think I’m up to something, rather than just being my aimless self. Constantly feel a need to prove myself, but just walk around chuntering to myself. ”

llll“I eventually return to a level of sociality, retreat from my desire to find a pub, and locate my friends near a pub at Deansgate – where I do have one pint. We head down from here towards Oxford Road, surrounded by an increasingly fragmented group of demonstrators. I assume ‘the demo’ has come to that ‘glass of cold water in the face’ moment of late capitalist ‘realism’ where everyone starts thinking about work tomorrow, and what’s in their fridge for when they get back home (a thought conveniently attended to by the Sainsbury’s store we are now approaching). But as we begin to walk back down Oxford Road this proves to be a massively wrong assumption: whilst stood around the The Thirsty Scholar pub under the railway bridge, the police jump out of a van, approach and arrest a couple of members of an anarchist-leaning group who are having pints outside the pub. Tensions flare up as members/or friends of the young men being taken jump up, brandishing the cards we got handed earlier which state that the police have to state a clear reason for why they are detaining somebody. One of the friends I traveled with tries to intervene to help the young men being incarcerated, only for a police reaction to result in a scuffle that looks like it could get very messed up. And although it doesn’t, the potential sends my cowardly heart right into my mouth, and I’m shaking like always. I watch for what feels like an age with my customary dumb-spectator-glare, only to get more and more annoyed at my inability to act. I end up manically meandering up and down the nearby alleys where the graffiti-mural of ‘dirty old town’ Manchester no longer has that tame-millennia-mush-reflectionist-culture feel to it, and now takes on a look of ‘why we fight back’, which is what could be said of Manchester-2015 in general. As my friends stand on the pavement of Oxford Road absorbing what has just happened, they are in hearing distance of a pub bouncer who is that deeply bored with existence that his initially “everybody hear me(!)” dislike for the protesters is cut short to start talking about the football scores. I’m still shaking, and give in to half a pint within this focal point of trouble, The Thirsty Scholar. I realise I’ve walked into a poetry event, as the woman on stage recites verse on her guilt on walking past an homeless person who is asking for spare change – a guilt I feel I have documented thoroughly during the past few years. The event turns out to be part of this weekend’s nationwide ‘We Shall Overcome’ events.”

uuuu“Our friend James, who met up with us towards the end of our time in Manchester today, takes us home in his car, parked on a side-street halfway down Oxford Road. As we exit via the Gorton area of the city, through the mixture of the very-manchester-like red brick terraces, the nowhere place Tesco extras/ Subway sandwich establishments, and drunks stumbling home from Sunday drinking, that seem to constitute the entirety of East Manchester, it all leaves me under an ominous cloud of confusion as to where we go from this point onwards, in the future, and today – as personally speaking, what do you make of the remaining waking hours after such a bombardment of thought and feeling? How do you deal with it, so as to function the day after? As we link up to the motorway system, The conversation leads back to the actions of the police in the city, and focuses in on mild-terror-provoking potential future predicaments in a more extreme, less tolerant world, where state power goes to extreme lengths to stay control. All the more barren does such talk feel due to traveling amidst the overlooked and sinister-beauty of this landscape made up of motorway bridges as they twist and rise in front of the martian-like Pennine terrain, that feels like an unwelcoming ideal setting for the bleak future projections all-so-poorly hidden behind our conversation of tired banter. I decide I can’t go home just yet, and as we pass over into West Yorkshire I ask to be dropped at Dewsbury station, (I mean, we’re going past it, so I may as well) and as the day’s toll on my energy becomes apparent, I exit at Leeds station, almost crawling up to a large Wetherspoons that is scarcely populated in a city that looks deserted in comparison to the one I have just been in.

5 October 2015

P1040337“Trying to wake up this morning, after yesterday, was incredibly hard. Is it specific to my own make-up that I find ‘attending’ demonstrations to be an emotional rollercoaster to such an extent that I experience what a more far-flung version of myself would attribute to ‘jet-lag?’. But the emotional ‘wave-pool’ hasn’t died down yet, as now I’m up and about I’m borderline manic, which I make visibly evident in my haste of avoiding the subway on the way to Wakefield Kirkgate station, skipping over the dual carriageway, and jumping over the railings. I feel charged, you see, and I don’t want to go back to anxious sleep-walk of ‘everyday’ life, from where it’s ‘nihilizing’ affects beat me into daily-depressive-pleasure-seeking. This is why the sight of a stag-do on platform 1, gearing up for a night out (likely heading to York or Newcastle), already spilling beer everywhere, at 12pm on a dreary Monday, doesn’t initially stand out for being out of context. But then I realise that this isn’t down to that fact that I’m out of sync with any normal sequence of events: it’s because such a sight is utterly normal fullstop. It’s just one of many potential scenes from an already-anticipated slideshow; one of limited imagination and possibilities; a slideshow on endless-repeat. The return of the 80’s; not in class warfare, but in caricature, comic book and video-game fancy-dress-rehashing. A now-seemingly-obligatory ceremony for a Nowhere Time. And it’s literally standing in the way of my need to sustain the idea that there’s something beyond this Flat Earth Digi-box-Dystopia. I’m now on platform two as the train pulls in for Barnsley. I’m restless. I’m sat behind two men of baby boomer age – one with a Lancastrian accent, the other American. I can’t help it, but beneath the perpetual turmoil of my self-esteem, I’m quietly looking at the other passenfers and thinking “do you want social change? Are you sick of all of this too?”

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“As I leave Barnsley train station I notice the headline on the piles of The Metro newspapers, ready to pounce on the easy-target of commuters made porous to such amnesiac-titillations by the drudgery of their 9-5’s. Today’s dish is a slur, focusing on a few minor occurrences to tarnish the entirety of yesterday’s demonstrations. It annoys me so much that I head into the interchange, down to the bus bays, looking for a copy I can take with me for documentation purposes only. I become engulfed by a sinking feeling, which captures me off guard as I battle with faltering energy levels. There is an era-long set-in sense of defeat around here. People may use the word ‘depressed’ to describe a place with a derogatory slant with the aim of shining a preferential light on themselves for not being from there (fuck knows what city of gold they come from...). Being from there, well, the word takes on a very different slant altogether. If the song ‘There Is a Light…’ compounded and united disparate longings I have whilst in Manchester yesterday, then it’s The Smiths’ lyrics “…for there are brighter sides to life and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often” that currently gives voice to an otherwise unjustified sense of let down, as I walk past the bus lanes. In the wake of being at/or doing anything that momentarily suspends this so-called ‘everyday’, I always get this sense articulated by these Smiths’ lyrics, as I come back to my extended-sleeping-quarters  (for most my life) of the Barnsley Borough. I have seen slight glimmers of something that could take the place of this ‘everyday’, and I’m in no way referring to town centres such as this one being ‘Shorditched’ into an unending hipster’s paradise cyberparty. I’m talking of something that feels alive, and is beyond the black and whites of ‘fun/boring’ of this current reality.”

 

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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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  1. Everything I’ve Done in 2015 | John Ledger - December 6, 2015

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