Lost for words
…not strictly, but they are wrapped up in a thick cloud of confusion and contradiction. But I’m putting out there EXACTLY how I’m feeling in the wake of last week’s referendum vote.
Is this the nervous breakdown of a country? It’s becoming an unavoidable truth that what I’ve seen happening over the past few years has gone into overdrive since 23.06.2016. People around me having some sort of meltdown – something I suspect is happening because the strain and the pain of DECADES of Thatcherite Britain has suddenly become unbearable. Brexit, like it or not, seems to have worked it like an accidental alarm-switch.
Was Brexit an unexpected exercise of a country’s nervous breakdown, long overdue? And was this unexpected exercise the last, skewed, but true exercise of democracy we had left?
It is without doubt that there are people in places around the world enduring a hell the English (as this is mainly regarding the English) cannot imagine. But has this country, the first capitalist country on earth, finally broke down under the experience of late capitalism? Has life under this faded-glory-stained neoliberal project hit saturation point?
Last week I was off work, but, after failing to set up a postal/proxy vote, I wasn’t confidently care-free enough to miss voting. So I decided to spend my days off work heading a bit further than usual. It seemed the right thing to do upon a terrain that could, so to speak, be shifting under my feet.
On Tuesday I cycled all the way from Barnsley to York (exhausted, dehydrated, thus all the more porous to the Northern Europe-like feel to North/East Yorks – the red-tile rooftops could convince you there was no body of sea between Yorkshire and Denmark). YORVIK . On Wednesday I went to London, endured a far-more than customary level of alienation at Frustration at the all-out ‘Remain’ consensus congregating around the Kings Cross-based leafleters (even though I voted Remain myself). I felt wounded and inarticulate in a London that felt self-congratulatory-soaked in something that was promoting a cause that had no idea of the type of wounding I was feeling, a wounding I KNOW I’m not the only one feeling, because the wounds are slumped in the city’s streets corners when it bothers to acknowledge them. An anger rising up through the drains of Thatcherite Britain.
But I had too many friends with too many SENSIBLE reasons to vote Remain and too many frightening reasons not to vote Leave for me to take such a reckless leap for the cause of the anger I’ve been feeling for so long now. And on Friday morning I was stunned into inertia just like everybody else.
Aren’t we all lost right now? Heads boiling with a million voices all at once. Looking for blame victims. But I won’t blame 17 million leave voters by calling them stupid or racist. Calling people stupid for what for them is a genuine concern leads to nowhere, except a self-congratulatory flurry of Facebook ‘likes’.
“The Cunt with the gut and the Buzz Light-year haircut…calling all the workers plebs” (The Sleaford Mods)
In recent British history nothing has been as divisive as the destruction of the working class base, built over years of struggle, fucked over by Thatcher, and the market fundamentalism then driven between us all. Yet we overlook ‘the war between all’ conjured by this, and we parrot the words of a more affluent less trapped metropolitan elite for whom issues of race and gender are solely moral issues, and nothing to do with class stratification. The result is what you see in the video above. A top down, media perspective, which doesn’t even need to be based in London to be London-centric, looking at all those intolerant, stupid places like Barnsley -cherry picking the mixed up and politically incorrect voices.“Oh why, oh why can’t they be like us decent London Folk?” A slowly bubbling rage.
“I work my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff “
So, these places where the majority voted ‘Leave’ – what do we do with these people who refused to do “the right thing”?
In 2015 the documentary Invisible Britain followed the music group the Sleaford Mods on a tour of towns not on the ‘cool-list’. Not just ignored by other music groups but also by the London-centred gaze of society. Invisible Britain is perhaps the only contemporary documentation of the great ignored that hasn’t stuck to a preconceived, condescending stereotype, laden with mockery or contempt. Expensively-educated Sacha Baron-Cohen springs to mind…
When you hear the Sleaford Mods, the lyricist Jason Williamson’s anger, if you ask me, is like a momentary placing of the head back on the shoulders of the decapitated and disempowered body of working class rage. Williamson’s seething anger at the alienation and humiliation of a contemporary life experience many can relate to gives a voice to this rage when the world is made to feel so unaccountably chaotic that the only tools for understanding it available are tools to blame yourself with for the hell that surrounds you. But, as the film states, they are still largely a lone voice.
That which informs racist anger isn’t born out of fresh air. Nor can those who spout it vanish into fresh air – which is what I often feel many on the diminishing liberal class long for. Out of mind out of sight.
What do you do with these people, then? “Get rid of the buggers? “. Create two separate States? One called ‘London‘, for the ‘tolerant’ ‘open-minded’ folks and ‘the rest‘? Actually, doesn’t this petition already exist? The ‘I’m alright Jack-multiculturalism’ mantra conceals an hidden contempt.
The Leave result has clearly blown everything else out of the water. And as denial against it kicks in, the truth of what has simmered underneath the seeming tolerance and liberalism of the past few decades is coming out. It’s nasty, and I’m sorry to say the most upsetting things aren’t just coming from ‘racist idiots’ but from the younger section of the Remain supporters, chatting away in the cooler parts of town. Behind the ‘coolness’, their inherited social Thatcherism is rearing its ugly fucking head. Their contempt isn’t for the migrants, it’s for Britain’s socially immobile who will “probably never leave their home town never mind live in another country” (actually heard!). It’s an hidden hatred for the existence of those who “clearly haven’t tried hard enough to better themselves” and join aspirational and cosmopolitan Britain. It’s not a contempt for people from other countries, it’s a contempt for the working class of this country, and it’s equally toxic – if not more due to its invisibility.
I’m sorry to say this but they may have just sunken your cosmopolitan dreamboat…
I can’t help but be convinced that, even though what evidently galvanised the victory for Brexit was a deep concern about immigration, the anger isn’t really meant for immigrants, but for the ruling class of this country, as inarticulate as the anger was. As self-harming as Brexit could potentially be to everyday people – it’s an anger about being ignored, overlooked and even looked down upon. And I’m not saying I don’t now find it all scary as fuck.
The same present day top-down reasoning bemoans the ‘loutish’ English for their seeming preference to take to throwing chairs and punches at other football fans than taking to the streets like the French. But after nearly 40 years of destruction of class consciousness and a narrowing of political horizons, creating a state of stuckness that Mark Fisher calls ‘reflexive impotence’, Brexit is a seismic working class revolt, even if it ends turning against the working classes.
The Ignored is geographical in nature, but it is fundamentally underpinned by class.
“The sorrows we suffered and never were free” Decades, Joy Division
In an article looking at why white working class children, out of all ethnic communities, perform so poorly in the school exams they sit before joining the adult world, Paul Mason says that “Thatcherism didn’t just crush the unions, it crushed a story”. Far from pitting different working classes against others, Mason looks at what happened to a specific story. This was a story of a long history of struggle, from the satanic mills and mines of the 18/19th century, towards an increasingly equal and better country for the working class, propped up on paternalism and solidarity. But, he adds, “suppress paternalism and solidarity for one generation and you create multigenerational ignorance and poverty”.
Left to endure the hell of ‘prole-life’ with no explanation to the pain felt, or meaning to guide you through it, it’s clear that migrants, who are nearly always thrown into the very same Ignored-lands, are mistaken as being the cause of this pain rather than being effects of the pain being felt.
After 30 years of misdirected rage towards the neighbours, the headless zombie of working class rage reacts in a destructive manner. I’m not saying what has just happened is a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, but the limits of my own imagination saw that something like this was bound to happen in the UK at some point. The cause for either a leftwing Remain or Leave were not being heard because they appealed to how they thought people should think rather than how they actually felt.
In a competitive world everybody wants to speak, but nobody wants to listen.
Blair and Cameron’s Britain…so much to answer for…
… a Negative Hedonistic Britain
Humiliation. Aimlessness. Shame. Anxiety. Anger. Dead-end pleasure-seeking.
Drink to take the edge off the pain. Drink to run away from the pain. Drink to locate the nature of the pain. Drink to find a way out of the pain.
Sooner or later you can’t see anything else. And I’m not even alcoholic – I just can’t deal with it all once the sun goes down.
I’ll be honest, I’ve hit a point in my life where I don’t think I can carry on in this manner much longer….I’m hearing you England.
Regarding the past ten years I can’t yet express the pain at the deep regret at the world I’m supposed to function in. It bursts out in drunken self destruction- it’d be articulated in sober tears if I hadn’t become so walled up over the years.
“Keep calm and carry on”.
It’s very hard not to internalise negativity. After all, it’s encouraged by a process that has seen this island become increasingly private and lonely over the past few decades.
“Feeling uneasy? then stick your headphones in and drift into private inertia”.
But with each passing post-2010-year I’m finding that what I thought was MY Story – that my struggle with depression has felt to have been caused by a loss, and REVERSAL of a sense that the world was becoming and fairer, more tolerant, less cruel place – was actually lots of other peoples’ too. It’s just that it was experienced in loneliness. It turns out that through the last decades of the 20th century many of us thought the millennium would be the harbinger of something better, and the cost on general well-being from the reversal of this conviction must be so huge.
Post-Rave. Post Britpop. Post Binge-drink Britain… what next?
And so to Friday 24 June…
As my train traveled through Manchester, and as a country tries to function after the morning’s news, I look up at the hills that circulate the world’s first modern city. This is a nervous breakdown! It sort of comforts me in some odd sense, because I feel like I’ve been heading towards one for a long time, and it looks like the rest of the country has found its rightful place beside me for this mass collective breakdown. Things could get very dark very quickly, if the racist incidents being caught on film are anything to go by, but I’m in a Kate Bush-methadone right now, as I listen to a slightly slowed-down version of her Wuthering Heights. It seems to always stir a deep conviction of there being something better beyond, for which the pennines (whichever side of the pennines) seem to become a more than adequate threshold to. Some of us can’t give up on Utopia.
LET IT BLEED…
Hearing that the English national football team had lost to a country with the same population as the Wakefield District (and I think the problem is mainly just about England), it felt like a symbolic act of surrender on a much larger scale. The country needs to collapse into a weeping mess, because if it pretends it isn’t having a nervous breakdown than the pain will just be extended and aggravated. Let this ‘pumped up’ ego-bloated nation, deluded about its place in the world, deflate, otherwise the pain will intensify.
This is as much a note to my easily beaten self as anything, but: right now, in the midst of what currently seems Dystopian, let’s not be swayed by the common rhetoric over the foolishness of Utopian dreams.Beneath my pathos, the pain I showcase idiotically at times is a unflinching dream of that better world.
A semi-fictional broth of occurrences over the past few days.
I had a dream last night. Fuck knows what it was about. But to be honest, what it was about isn’t important anyway. What is important is that I had a dream, and judging my lack of anxiousness when I woke, it wasn’t a bad dream.
You henceforth feel like a balloon slowly losing air, as the components of your daily servitude to the system slide into place, like they’re literally replacing your organs and ligaments. You want to find somebody who will listen when you say “I’ve have enough: it shouldn’t be like this”, but most of them are too busy trying not to think of it to be enable to classify you as of this earth for suggesting such a thing. Better you forgot the dream in the first place.
Under Invisible punches
In the waking hours before my dreaming I had failed to control my frustration again. But I was holding it together so well! Keeping The Noise in check. Channeling it onto better things. Or so I thought. Cumulative blows, that I’m all the more sensitive to because I’m constantly noticing them, especially when I see them landing on the far-less fortunate folk than myself, who meander amidst our blindspots on normally-familiar streets; who lacked my support system; who were destined to be “losers” in “The Game” before they even got started. I’d kept my cool since the new year began, but it literally took one thing, the profit-seeking hiking of rail travel prices, to start a downward spiral that put the seal on the soundtrack of this day.
It all fell back on me: the injustices and fears of a world set into a motion I cannot often see a favourable end to. Cumulative computerised images of the “Epic Fail” culture came pouring back into my head, as the woman sat across from me on the train pointed out that an abandoned water bottle I pushed off the table in front of me in frustration was leaking onto the seat opposite. The way I felt her judgmental gaze on me for my surface-level unacceptable behaviour, like I was a paint-by-numbers pathetic person, gave me aimless and hopeless empathy for the hundreds of angry people who become “Epic fail virals” because of a surface-level idiocy that I can’t help but believe is due to an unmanageable deeper stress. What can I say? I’m a humanist.
We shout “get down, mate” as their morally-wayward actions slap them in the face in front of a camera phone. We don’t question the difficulties they may also have as the world becomes an harder and more fucked up place. Because, despite glimmers of the willing for a more compassionate world, we sense the dog eat dog nature of a lonely and competitive reality, and we respond accordingly.
Sometimes it seems as if the air around me is solidifying and compressing. An agitated persona follows suit – we can see it all around. And it is for this reason that, before I felt compelled to punch the seat, I moved from this no-doubt decent woman’s gaze, and found a seat on the next carriage.
I want to be wherever I am not. I want what they (seem to) have but I don’t want to be them. I want to be myself but the not the self I am.
I know the railway lines between the dysfunctional conurbations of SouthWest Yorks so well that there is barely enough room left to know anything else. The trousers I own, the shoes I wear, seem to be preprogrammed to march me to these destinations.
I stare at the train destination boards, like they’ll show me a way forward, or a way out – but with a 75% chance I’ll be seeking the substitute sedative of cider via a nearby pub after this hour of exhaustive indecision. No gap year trips when my wage packet can only stretch to the day in hand…for every day of my adult life. Although it isn’t an adult life at all – let’s be straight, I’m stunted…but at least I accept it.
Wise I bring the Gap Year up, I guess.
The deadlock I have usually skirted around with artistic focus for ten plus years becomes unavoidable within the Christmas/New Year burnout. Maybe it’s the sight of so many young rosy-faced adults with luggage (the clear indication of having purpose and of being wanted, by someone). It certainly helps impound a sense of lacking a life. As long as I’ve got a piece of art or exhibition on the go, I have a life. As soon as they end I become a wandering ghost on these streets I speak so much of.
Class plays a large part. It really does. I would never underplay this issue of class. You veer close to losing friends when talking ‘class’; it’s one thing many feel so uncomfortable about. I’m quite honest about where I stand, precisely because I have never known where I stood.
I was born into a poor family. Mining, and mill stock. My parents were really struggling. My dad had no job, as the majority of the community, including many of my uncles, fought for theirs in the 1984 Miners strike – the year in which I was born. We had to rely on family and friends. If I’m honest I think most my clothes were second hand until the early 1990’s, by which time my dad had toiled to get a degree and a teaching job against all odds. It looked like our family were in the process of adding the generational improvement of livelihood.
Yet, esteem issues, likely formed in the days before I could speak, due to our family being reliant, and thus subservient to others, seemed to cling on, and on, until I realised they’d clung on way into an adult life where everybody seemed to be headed for some destination, high or low, except me.
My village was literally split (by one road) between a middle class commuter estate built around the same time as the motorway arrived, and the council estates built for people who worked in the local mines, and the not-too-distant sewing factories. The cul-de-sac I grew up on was neither, and I was neither. I came from one, went half-way to the other, and ended up nowhere. I felt bad around the kids from the estate, like a traitor, due to our adoption of a handful or more traditionally middle class values. I felt bad around the settled middle class kids on the other estate, because I felt too common, too clearly ‘thick’ (I was mildly illiterate for much of my teenage life). It was the mid 90’s and the carrot and stick of Blair-year aspiration had convinced us all in some way or another that the middle class lifestyle wasn’t just desirable it was compulsory.
It’s taken me until my 30’s to realise how important confidence is to getting on in life. Without some self-belief you are well and truly stuck. I never knew how to get along in the world I had to get along in because I didn’t know who I was in this world – I didn’t really like who I thought I was because on each side of the fence I felt like an fraud, and imposter. But, getting to the point, this in-between place also gives you clear insight into the strong relationship between class and confidence.
I was an very detached child. Daydreams were mandatory, and I despised any interference in them. I had ideas, desires, expectations. But I came to realise that none of them were practical. Art studies seemed like the only realistic thing I could do. It ensued that my way of finding new and inventive ways of saying ‘fuck you’ (and little else to be honest) to the larger scheme of things (that was increasingly beginning to frighten after the unofficial millennium inauguration of 9/11) would be a semi-sufficient confidence-builder for my fast-approaching 20’s.
My life, and art, became so wrapped up in the ominousness of climate change, relentless capitalism and social breakdown as the first decade of the millennium passed into the second, that I completely unanticipated that I would be 30 one day, and, as the things that concerned me so much unfolded (as they clearly are doing), I’d still have to deal with life as a man in his 30’s come-what-may. I came here totally unprepared.
So here I am, in a well-known train station, on a day off from work, anxiously thinking how I can break through an aimlessness, knowing that I no longer have the time to dwell. And I’m asking any potential reader to bear all the previous text in mind when reading the apparent sweeping judgmental outlook of the following story, as I waited, waited, and watched in station terminals in the 2 Week-period around the Christmas/New Year.
The view from the fault-line
You go to University. You make far-flung friends. Develop a full-student life (sometimes finding yourself a misplaced target of anger from confused and angry drunk old men, once employed in the long-gone heavy industries, from a time before ‘University’ became this city’s main industry). You leave for Xmas and go back to your home town. Showering glittery sprinkles of ‘elsewhere’ upon its dying night life that usually has to rely on underage drinkers and mid-life crisis drunks. (I am neither of these, but this is where I see you all the same).
You head back to university on the 29th/30th December for New Years’ celebrations with your new friends. Suitcases at railway stations (this is where I see you for the second time). You leave University, have a brief spell of indecision involving low pay, temp jobs, Gap Years and other temporary crutches (this is where I see you, and briefly humour you, for the 3rd time). Then you slowly evacuate ‘the building’ for the relatively-fast ascent to career-building and family life.
Yet it doesn’t always happen this way; some of us slip between the fault-lines of the perpetual ruptures of contemporary life, and some of us can’t quite figure out how we even managed to complete a fecking degree in the first place, because we have always felt stuck in a fault-line.
I never went to university. I’ve got a degree, yes, but I never did Uni. I mean, I tried twice, and failed twice. But I was in and out of both too fast to be remembered. I got my degree qualification in my home town. Whatever you think or say about Barnsley (of which I am qualified to do due to being umbilically tied to it), it was never a ‘university town’. Some of the tutors you have, some of people you meet, are great – but it was never a university town (nor should it have to be, I guess).
I don’t resent you. Course I don’t resent you, as part of me wants to be like you. And I’m not assuming you haven’t got heaps of shit weighing you down on a daily basis. But from the view from the fault line you are people, and that’s what I don’t feel like much of the time.
I just lack something.
You’re all grown up now….
Except you’re not. You’re like a bonsai tree, “a bud that never flowers”. I walk out of the station to a pub, cursing a pre-new year landscape that talks over your story in your head every time you justify your life, to the extent that you begin to curse everything in sight.
I try so hard not to be like this. Today was another day when I really wanted those avenues to open up in front of me, so that I didn’t end up staring at train destinations hoping my number would come up.
My truth comes back to me. I know I’m somehow in the right when I look around and see that this is a world that can now only persist through cynicism. A world where we treat the swaves of unhappy teenagers with condescending contempt, ascertaining the assertion that these mere teenage blues will die, that they will take their indie posters down and eventually find their ‘safety niche’ within the cynical superstructure.
I’m talking of the chasm, where compassion should rest, in a Britain that’s been Tory in spirit for decades now. A miserable middlemass that suffocate the unreabilitatable vulnerables. A pessimist is resigned to such a world. Me, a pessimist? No, I’m a damaged optimist, who like many opened his heart incautiously to a cynical world, and survived by becoming lost in another life, a life that has long since had any cause, but has lead to nowhere else either.
The night is cold, revealing the stress scars on my face, as always. I accidently glare in at a fitness club just as its members appear to reach an endorphinated climax. I see a Guardian newspaper headline telling me to cut down my drinking to no more than a pint a day. But there’s no Guardians, or “guides to take me by the hand”; no real understanding of how helplessly walking past another casualty of the homeless epidemic, and then seeing my gaunt face stare back at me from a ‘Tory screen’ telling me how they’re helping the working person, is going to engineer a need for alcoholic comfort.
None of this will be understood until we all come to an agreement that “it is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a five a day diet in Cameron’s Britain”. Until that point this is just another blog pissing into Digital Rain. You can bunk up the tax on drink all you like, because in ToryNation we’ll always find a way to pay.
I’m smiling in the pub I enter because a barman error lands me with a free pint, and somebody plays Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive, a paint pallette for perpetual pop invention, on the jukebox. Little things make the here and now manageable. I just wish it could last…
Sometimes these things have just got be done. Today was one of those days. High as you go – still transfixed by the Chameleons’ Under The Script Bridge.
Walk out of the Barnsley area, through Staincross down to Woolley, seemingly stalked by two young men in a car, driving around beeping at me. Game playing. I’m sport, basically, for their boredom. But there’s nothing you can say or do. I’m in a cloud of enough unlocatable guilt and paranoia making me sheepish enough, without dealing with those you can’t deal with. I hate the phrase ‘you can’t educate pork’ spouted from the ‘enlightened’ ones in any given town. I hate having to take the position of seeing folk as irredeemable tossers. But I’m not the one making it hard, I’m happy to get a long with any one if they agree not to give me grief. It doesn’t seem like such a hard deal to make. Most days you can brush it off, but there’s always that day when you don’t stand so tall, and then it hits you hard. My only response is to keep walking and walking indefinitely.
As a male and female duo jog up and down a lane that stares down at the Vale of York, I come to the conclusion that all there is save total burn out, is stability, a rock in my life, of sorts. Think about my age. Yeah time’s have changed, but I remember how my grandparents got together at the ages of 14 and 16 respectively. Tomorrow when the shame of another heavy night wears off, I know I’ll be back in strenuously independent mentality. It’s no good though, always burn out. Maybe hastening the burn out by walking as far as I can is a good plan right now.
Long road into Wakefield, things feel on top of me. It’s make or break.
Despite the world feeling so cold, and ‘the good life’ seeming unimaginable, there’s still an interest I give to areas that have a nice shape to them. Sandal, with its mix of old houses, and tree lined avenues has the look of a place a me, a different me, of futures and pasts, would like to be a ‘proper’ adult in.
Decide to carry on past Sandal Agbrigg station, and try to walk on towards Outwood station. I may as well.
The footpath vanishes alongside the trunk road that connects Wakefield and Bradford. I realise I’m in one of those types of zone that could only exist in the country in its current sad and bitter mould; a place made for people only if they are inside a car to begin with. For this reason I try to find a cut through to Outwood station via an ‘enterprise zone’. Why do my thoughts become occupied with the notions of what it is to be mean-spirited when the roads all lead to dead ends monitored by cameras meaning I have to cut through a blackthorn bush in order to get back to the road I originally tried to leave behind? Our country has been structured around meanness. Common humanity helps us break through it, but in times like this at one side there’s a sense of being the weakling, the visible tradegy straggling at the side of the road, and a potential criminal looking up to no good on the other.
“Get down sucker”
I’m that tired, and spaced-out by the motions of walking, I almost stumble into a passing car. As I approach the junction 41 industrial park I realise this too is not a place built for human scale route -finding; these distribution centres hold possibly nearly everything I eat and drink, and more. Yet they are also deserts, vast areas of emptiness with no signs of how to get out. I have no idea to exit, so have to take the long road, as i walk past the heaps of rubbish, likely thrown into the bushes from the thousands of lorries that pass through here, I decide it isn’t worth going backwards to Outwood station. I’ll head to south Leeds, and catch a bus from there. My legs never ache these days, they are numb.
Not many roads are made for walking down. Not in the winter. My tired legs are finding it hard to climb onto the verges as the coming dark night makes it hard for drivers to see you. After crossing the M62, and a small road’s walk, it is literally a single field that separates the sprawl of Leeds from here. There is something disturbing about the lifelessness of the housing estate I enter, regardless of the cold of winter. It feels like a stage set from the near-dystopia drama Black Mirror, precisely because things feel that grim at the moment. ‘Britain is a country in the verge of nervous breakdown” – so said the narrator of the Sleaford Mods orientated documentary Invisible Britain, which I saw recently. These words have since narrated my walks through Sheffield, Barnsley, Wakefield and Leeds over the past 2 days. I wonder why…
I finally make the bus as I arrive in Belle Isle.
The tipping point, on the weekly circuit of emotions. The gate has well and truly closed on the open field of youth. The gates into rites-of-passage-adulthood (property ownership -household, marriage? – as a substitute to the foreclosed horizons of a world beyond work/consume/die) neither entice me or let me in. Every time I look through its window it smiles whilst telling me to fuck off.
Yesterday was Thursday. Thursday evening is the time of the optimist if there ever is such a time. And there is, whilst-ever we remain under the clock of capital. I’m an optimist. I’m too optimistic to forget to forget. And I have become crippled because I’m forever looking for a way out. I can’t, just fucking can’t, accept it. Stubborn bastard that I am, trying every doorway except the ones I’ve been told to open.
So why does Friday always fuck me over? “The end of the working week!”. Maybe I took that too literally? The ending? Yeah, I’m up for that! So I set out across the hallowed avenues and urban hallways of my nearby towns and cities. But as my eagle eyes pick up not a way forward, but the crush and compression of Now, quick fixes rush through my mind like a stampede of life trying to exit a burning room.”Northern Powerhouse?” Go fuck yourself, that should have meant something – if the future had actually arrived. But you stole that and sold us it back. And right now, not one of your new trendy cafes or real beer pubs can be anything more than a more socially acceptable plaster over a scar than that of those emaciated street drinkers, who increase in numbers in tear-jerking numbers around here.
I’m a badly beaten optimist. I should be able to stand proud with these bruises. But it just gets me so fucking wound up, that I just end up looking for the nearest pub (mirror view of ‘drinkers face’ like watching a collision course with premature old age, in slow motion).
What was once an itch I have scratched into a permanent scar.
My no-year resolution has been to stop cursing others even if they almost literally push my esteem-drained body out of the way within the eternal rush hour.
I told myself to break a leg, and look for love. To give it that chance you never fucking dared giving it when there still seemed liked there was all to play for. To see if such emotions can be prised out of the interlocked catacombs where they roam up and down until they finally die of exhaustion. I told myself to take risks: say yes to silly escapades into the foreclosed future – because that foreclosed future may turn out to be far from what I expected.
I told myself all the things. I’ve told myself these things every day. But then there is Friday. Or more specifically Friday teatime, when that jaw-bridge on potential lifts up. That ‘new Dawn fades’ onto a another fucked up state. Rounded off with dead end binge drinking in my home town. I need that guide, with its (his or hers) hand to lead me quickly out of the circuitry of the ever-decreasing Dismaland.
It’s an invisible consolation, when I realise I still have heart, as I feel it break in two as my longing gaze lands on the injustice of a broken army of innocents left to sleep in the streets of possibly the coldest night of the year.
Maybe I should also take consolation in the fact that my anguish is in fact indicative of the fact that I will never stop caring and hoping for something better than this.
Friday is the crusher. But as far as things stand I have always got back on my feet again. The fact that I get back on the same two feet to enter the same old crusher seems illogical to most. But maybe it’s time to take pride in my stubbornness.
….and I’m STILL currently listening to Under The Script Bridge by The Chameleons
It doesn’t feel like we’ve had a summer for years now. Climate Change may or may not be making July/August wetter, but this plays only a small factor in the loss of summer, if any at all. Even when the sun beams down the colour looks faded. The taste is gone.
All the more recognisable for watching the landscape from the tinted windows of a bus as it left Wakefield bus station heading through the summer fields of the hills that form the West/South Yorks boundary. A small, unreliable bus company who purchase old coaches; the tinted windows drain the summer colours outside to look like faded photographs, from a vehicle that provokes faded memories of holidays fooling some unlocatable part of me into thinking we are going somewhere coastal, and not just to our workaday drop-off points. Moving on Up, The M-People, was resonating off the tin and tiles of the bus station, as sounds always do. I make a joke to my work colleagues that now this mildly-annoying song is in my head, I’ll end up spreading it throughout the workplace. But I’m secretly trying to deal with this unending sense of an inner void that I don’t know how to fill; I was hardly M-People-fond, but at least it felt located somewhere in time; if it wasn’t for the faces (intermittently including my own) all staring at their phone screens, and the evident social pressure to look CGI-perfect, it could’ve been 1993, and, of course, it still is in someway, but without the taste and smell, no matter what that taste/smell was. Reality may as well exist on a computer screen if it lacks any tangibility, and we still roam around in a weird CGI-ied version of the last decade of the 20th century. Unwilling to share this truth, unwilling to share the pain of it.
Is it possible to rewind in an ‘always on’ inertia? If so let’s go back to the week following Friday 8 May. I shared a drawing I made in the wake of the Tories getting a majority in the general election. It got the most stirring response I’ve ever experienced in the 7/8 years of posting things online; people weren’t just saying “looks mint man” or “well done John”, they were sharing how they felt in the wake of the realisation of what another 5 years of the Tories’ sheer jubilance in carrying out the brutalities of neoliberalist economic realism would entail (as opposed to New Labour who seem to carry out the same measures through a sheer disbelief in themselves). I felt stirred, because I felt that others were stirred. You cannot be stirred for long if it’s a solitary experience. A sense of collectivity in enraged disbelief at what had just happened erupted. The summer looked daunting, looked like it could ignite – but at least it looked like it could be alive. I thought something new was afoot. But the same shit happened. The fire was dampened very quickly. It fell prey to the now-well-known amnesia and exhaustion of our ‘always on’ lives; psychologically overworked by the never-ending overtime of cyberspacial capitalism, we don’t recall the immediate because the here and now is fracked to death. Just like everything else that once felt like it required urgency, it suddenly feels far away. Was I fool for thinking that this was different to the other times? Maybe.
Life itself feels far away. Again.
Back into deep deep summer and an environing sense of depression takes hold again, like every fucking year to memory now. The possible exception being 2011, which I will return to. Whilst families still go on their holidays, the chain pubs promote ‘summer fun’, and Facebook piles up with photos in the sun, the mood is as heavy as to induce the mental equivalent of the Bends-effect once you try to out-do the environing depression and prise yourself into an proactive state. Mounting frustration; peak-time self-destruction.
The massive support for Jeremy Corbyn, as much as it shouldn’t be dismissed as mania, or as something that will fade into insignificance, is too little to late in regards to this year’s deep summer to provide any sense of a break from this shitty reality. At which point let me point out that I have never been averse to either socialist, anarchist, insurrectionist or reformist measures; any ways of making cracks/leakages in the global glacier of ‘capitalist realism’ with the aim of something better (what could be worse than the [no]future of diminishing returns it has in store for us?) has my backing. I am not aligned to any oppositional force, nor am I averse to any.
But more is needed. The only true summer moment of the past ten years I can think of was the English Riots of 2011. I’m not saying they were constructive (and what made them stand out more was that they were situated amidst a year of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and plentiful large-scale protests), and me, as scared of confrontation as I am, was as anxious as anyone about what could occur at the peak of their escalation. But they at least gave a sense of life to a country that has otherwise been in a coma under neoliberalism, to which no amount of ‘fun in the sun’ simulcra can make me feel otherwise.
The last few years have barely tasted or smelled of anything. I have been preoccupied with ghostly traces of a past that won’t go away. As deep summer rolls on I realise I’m just as stuck as I was the year before, staring at the appearance of the movement of people ‘getting on’, all the more impounded in this deep and depressed illusion of summer.
It’s all about being stuck
Maybe (in fact, probably) there are small and still-barely-connected energies at play, setting in motion the forces to build a continuity capable of shifting this neo-ice age of the neoliberalist political economy that coats the recognisable world (like rare creatures frozen in ice that could speculatively be brought back to life by science, the shared convictions of the 60’s and 70’s that the world could be shaped for the better still stare back at us as they float underneath this icy coating). But in spite of this probability, the sensation we still have to battle day in day out, on a Alone Together (a brilliant book which brilliantly manages to miss the elephant in the room) basis, is one of being stuck.
We rush around at a faster and faster pace, cyberspacial info swirls in and out of our heads, faster and faster. But it’s a trap; the more we try to evade the hell of being stuck the more we impound a very specific technological framework that serves to make the possibility of alternatives to the current state of play seem impossible. The more we rive and tear the more we become trapped. Or so it increasingly seems.
How have we managed to reach a point where we are both manic and deeply bored creatures at the same time? A Hyper-Malaise prevails. Disbelief, an inability to be excited by life alongside a Feverish chasing up on errands “surely it will all make sense once I finish the next task in hand….?” Anxiety and boredom are the ruling coalition, and realisation of this is so depressing on an solitary basis. Relief comes when somebody shares the same conviction, but it is thus far a rare occasion amidst the sea of commands to find the current state of play a deep forest of yet-to-be-discovered enjoyments, rather than what it really is: a wasteland of intoxicants to momentarily soften the blow.
Yet the depressed are potentially the ‘drowned and saved’ (to use the title of J.D Taylor’s blog – an inspirational writer of my generation if ever there was one), waiting to be joined together. They are thus the true optimists in-waiting, because the intolerable state of realistion they find themselves in makes for a deep deep desire and longing for a way out, amidst these deep deep depressive excuses of a summer.
I must first of all explain how I was alerted to these lyrics from The Fall’s track Frightened, it’s only fair: via a great Youtube lecture by Mere Pseud who referenced them with a not-too-dissimilar-intent as my intent. But when I heard him echo the lyrics to his lecture audience I thought: that’s my life that Mark E Smith’s talking about… (although the original lyrics say ‘sixteen’ not ‘fifteen’ – maybe I started puberty, and thus a descent into a thinking-person’s-dead end a year younger than Mark E Smith?). It’s not the done thing to acknowledge that you’ve become stuck at a point in your life – but I’ve got fuck all to lose in pretending that I haven’t.
On rolls the deep summer. I have grown to despise both August and December (“you miserable fuck; why do always hate good things?”). I struggle, self-destruct and smash my fists against more psychological walls in these 2 months more than at any point in a year. It’s taken me a good decade of my adult life to fully realise this, to the point where I wish the ‘we’re all going on summer holidays’ and ‘season to the jolly’ months would vanish from my time on this earth. I wrote about the Xmas/New Year period in a blog last December called Share The Pain, with the conviction that our current social structure makes the adversities of life (both age-old and utterly preventable) far harder to deal with, due to the denial of the fact that life isn’t actually that great all the time. A society-hating society driven by implicit commands all based entirely on individualist fulfillment, where there is an immense deep-sea-like pressure to feel individually fulfilled more so around two points when we are supposed to living the good life; mid-summer and Xmas. The result is the knife of the pain-denying, market-individualism, that enshrouds us, punches deeper into ones coping mechanisms, making one feel more like a fuck up; a lonely, aging fuck up.
Genuinely decent human beings say to me “your art’s fucking mint man, it must make you dead proud”. This is possibly true, but only when I’m actually in the process of making. Otherwise there remains a great void, intermittently filled with the screaming-schizoid-noise of contemporary life; emptied only to be filled at some later point, like an urban sewage system.
“…I don’t know how to use freedom. I spend hours looking sideways, to the time when I was Sixteen” (Frightened, The Fall)
(A dream I had when I was 20 where I was encased in a rock on some distant planet, watching the around me)
I can roughly trace my thereon-after sensibility, of depression, to a point when I was 15, when the glow of life fostered by childhood vanished in the short space between hearing Radiohead’s then-2-year old track Paranoid Android and going out and buying it from MCV in Barnsley’s Alhambra Shopping Centre, and what I can now see as the beginnings of feelings of total emptiness from which the only state in which to resume the inescapable tasks of life was one of ‘controlled anxiety’, that broke into panic when the control-based routines were interrupted. The wider state was (and still is) one of ‘managed depression’.
Art-making became a prominent feature in my life from 3 years after this point, and proceeded to give a discontinuous continuity to my life. The broken bits, the gaps in the process of making, are where I keep on becoming aware that I’ve been spinning around since I was 15, going nowhere emotionally (and FUCK ME I’m tired of writing this every damn year).
People have said that I live in the past. I do: from 15 onwards I have never been able to picture a future. The thing is the place where I have become stuck doesn’t exist. it’s a void I hang over. A nowhere land, which I am all to aware can’t be revisited. A transient moment that was never superseded, where any memory becomes more desirable than the voided-present that sucks in the future.
I think this is the reason I have been enchanted by non-fiction writers who deal with depression and anxiety as something constitutive of the times I inhabit. They make it seem so sensible as to why I should’ve felt this way from day one of my self-designated adult life. Writings on ‘hauntology’ refer to how the future seemed to abandon us, in the latter half of the twentieth century, to the point where it has become impossible to imagine anything but a slow entropy dragging down life quality in this eternal-present-land. It’s a conviction felt more by those who grew up in the 1970’s, but I was duped by a sense of progress amidst the hazy, new-shiny-capitalist Utopianism of the early 90’s, once it had convinced us that socialism had been buried with the collapse of the Berlin Wall , and that was a good good thing “let’s party man!, things can only get better!”.
I genuinely have spent hours looking sideways, as I’ve always been tasking-up the day in hand to avoid the hell of empty time. In-spite of the bookshelves filled up with mindfulness, which is alienating dead language when you feel like I do, the only empty time I can actually appreciate is on trains, or when I’m caffeinated. The problem is this alienation comes from a general conviction, embedded further into our perceptions of the Other by social media, that most are building a life of continuities of emotional and material progression. And it isn’t a total illusion, as I have felt like an observer of life, as it drives past me at some insignificant bus stop.
When I try to think of myself in these terms it’s pretty much like the scene in the Truman Show when Jim Carey’s protagonistic character hits a wall painted as an horizon; the ability to perceive more than what’s in front of me vanishes.
“Back to the 90’s, feel good hits!”. Even those born too late into the decade to remember it are overly nostalgic for its hyperbolic optimism in the faded, yet CGI-ied, depressed continuation of it in our times of disbelief. We never really exited the 90’s. 9/11, The Iraq Invasion, and Broadband folding of all that’s ever been into a digitised ever-present, pushed us right back into the decade we were supposed to have left. So, what exactly are we trying to achieve, what exactly are we innovating, striving for? Why do I feel so alienated from this? As much artwork as I make, I forever remain in a renegade state of mind, because the general command to better ourselves comes across as equally absurd and stressful.
The boundary between what stunted me as a human being in my mid teens and the conviction that it closely corresponds with entering a ‘secretly depressed age’ is very blurred to say the least. But it isn’t so strange that I feel more optimistic and full of life when I find somebody who owns up to feeling this way too. I’m still an optimist. If I see clues to a genuine way out of this I can sense it in my bones.
I think we can sense when we have been duped long before we can acknowledge it. There’s a ray of light, as tiny as a spec in the midst of the long night in my eyesight, conjured by growing evidence that many more are admitting they feel like me. I have sensed for some time that there is no future for me the way things are. From my perspective it can only be a good thing the more people there are who own up to feeling the same.
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.”
Having got used to handing over king-size portions of your weekly wage to be granted entrance into London in a way that doesn’t destroy the soul (obviously excluding Megabus and any unhappy long wait in a Victoria coach station aisle that oozes the desperation of forgotten people, including me), you almost feel like you’ve somehow typed in a cheat code that teleports you there when you find train tickets that get you there and back for 10 pounds.
The last attempt at getting there by train was thwarted by severe weather, which enhanced the feeling of total ease in getting there this time around. The writer Will Self talks about how one can experience walking from London to LA, by walking to Heathrow and then from the LA airport, as if it is one unbroken ramble, due to the strangeness of the experience of air travel making us feel like we haven’t really traveled at all, but (perhaps for somebody used to using the underfunded, neglected rail system connecting northern English towns) I get some sort of similar feeling traveling by the mega-fast, electricity-run East Coast train (I say Mega-fast, because nothing at HS2-level faster is really needed for the majority of people in the country).
For this reason there felt to be a level of unbrokenness to the walking that made part of my journey to Wakefield Westgate station, and the walking I was doing as I got off the train at King’s Cross. So I decided to carry on walking to my destination, Bermondsey, just south of the river. It really doesn’t take long at all, and once you have a general grasp of the city you can get to more or less the right places without map guidance, even if you don’t find yourself taking the most direct route.
The skyline has changed since I was down last. It’s beginning to look like the thing I increasingly worry international cities are becoming; high rise playgrounds for the super rich, whilst increasing hardship for everyone else. I struggle to find anything positive to say about these novelty-shaped ‘brand buildings’ such as the recently built ‘The Pinnacle’, and I look over to see if I can see the much-preferred brutalist architecture of the Barbican, which I can. The Barbican is almost of stage set of how socially-orientated architecture could have built a better world for us all; a stage set precisely because it’s a playground for far more affluent members of society.
The centre of London has never felt quite real to me anyway, even when I was living down the road for a few months. The Shard is only impressive if I actually remind myself how tall it is, because when it is merely registered in my brain as ‘the Shard’, as I see it for the first time in that day, it merely blends into all the countless photographic images I have seen of it through the past 2-3 years. Nothing supposedly ‘Iconic’ in London ever feels real; what is termed ‘iconic’ or ‘landmark’ has always been hyped up (directly and passively) through the inescapable-everything media, to the point where it becomes hyperreal – the Jean Baudrillard term for objects/places/feelings that become so heavily mediated to us that the original no longer precedes the replica and everything becomes simulcra; and if it is more real than the real, then it is hyperreal. I didn’t see ‘Big Ben’ today, but when I passed it on occasions during my 3 month stay here it always seemed like I was looking at one of the many toy models I had seen of it; it looked like something I would be able to pick up and put in a packet like all the tourist paraphernalia available in the shops across the road from it.
The walk I took from King’s Cross, down to the river, and following the Southbank, roughly corresponds with these two sensations felt above; the hyperreal and tourism. In fact I hate the tourist bits/the views. I can’t imagine anything more cringe-worthy than taking a ‘selfie’ on a bridge looking out onto the Thames,with a cabaret of ‘iconic’ buildings gathering together like best mates in the background. The city is experienced like a selection box of iconic buildings and views, and it is like a ‘very best of…’ album I’ve never wanted to own. I wonder if anything between 200 years ago up until 60 years ago, whether the city was populated with chattering-class voices saying “oh yes…that was once where that happened….and, oh yes, this is the most….”; somehow I can’t imagine it being so. I walk past the reconstruction of the Globe theatre, and, through my modernist leanings, I dare to ask myself (regarding its reconstruction) “why…?”. I desire to see an 8 million plus (12 million plus including the sprawling commuter belt surroundings) human settlement in life in the 21st century. Not as a theme park to all that has been (albeit a theme park that in some means or another must dispel the Dickensian reality for many from the tourist’s and ‘desirables” gaze, whether through measures that result in an economic apartheid, or just through people being so engrossed in taking photographs, and gazing into nice eateries/drinking establishments, as if they have already joined the musuemified dead surroundings in not really being here).
South London, after Southbank, walking southeast seems to give me the most real interpretation of this metropolis as anywhere else possibly could. After all, the south east is where I stayed , and it’s where part of me remained – as it died there. It has a realism that northern cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have once you’re outside their gentrified centres – albeit on a unsatisfactorily scale (likely down to net north to south migration), for one wishing to come into contact with an environment that makes physical resemblance of the ‘everything all the time’ bombardment we all now experience daily due to cyberspace technologies. Such a feeling is harder to grasp in more hyperreal spaces in the centre.
As I walk to Bermondsey, I begin to tire. I walk such distances in Yorkshire towns all the time, but the amount of information fired into your thought processes and the amount of little decisions you must make due to that, is just far far greater here. Still walking, I begin to make my eyes focus on nothing but a half-metre high wall, and the grass behind it, I need cut my losses in the war the mind has with the information, so as to be as little as possible an exhausted wreck before I meet my friend, and conversation begins. I realise, as I respond to things occurring around me often like others respond to being shocked by an electrode why as little time as possible in this city is possibly beneficial, despite an ingrained assertion that everything that is anything, and everyone who is anyone is in London, still making me feel that I “must” come here from time to time.