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…
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.
Stories From Forgotten Space builds on 2014 Mapmaking with the aim of taking the most prominent features of the project a little further.
The previous section of Stories from Forgotten Space can be found here: https://johnledger.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/stories-from-forgotten-space-january/
6 March 2015
“Passing through the Thornes area of Wakefield. Leafy, inner-city suburbia, with sun shining on rooftops. Like many things from a surface level inspection, it should all feel right/OK. But it just doesn’t.”
“Sat in a cafe made almost entirely of windows, in the 4 year old, yet seemingly still brand new, Trinity Walk shopping Complex [Wakefield]. A shopping plaza that after all this time still prompts the gut-reaction-word ‘Americanized’ within a UK citizen. The windows help give perspective, pause for contemplation. Sat here I can see as clear as possible the contradictions of the current state of affairs (and my own immobility within it), yet I am as perplexed as ever as to how this state of affairs could be transcended. Two women from the Baby Boomer generation chatter away on the table behind me. For all us 35 years and younger, largely services workers, locked into communicative capitalism, we are probably the most articulate, linguistically-competent generation ever. Yet we were sold down the line, by the ‘Blairites’ more than anyone else. We now perpetually fight the feeling of being ‘surplus to requirements’.”
“With my guard down more than usual, within a fleeting hope within a sunny midday point, I create a fleeting fondness for the young woman shop attendant giving me assistance with the damaged phone I possess. But how can it be anything more than a fleeting dream? For an emotionally-detached person, who lacks the ability to find ‘tastes’, ‘preferences’ and ‘hobbies’ to fill those in-between points in life, I’m more up against it than ever in a lonelier, more cynical world, where Internet dating takes precedence.”
“A young woman, clearly a victim of Anorexia, is caught in a moment of indecision over what food products to buy in central Wakefield’s 2nd Sainsburys superstore. Personal memory prompts me to envisage the anorexic subject as a perpetual prisoner to these palaces of excess choice. “Trapped between life and death” by paraphrase a Manic Street Preachers song on the same subject.”
“The train stops in the hinterland of Holbeck/Wortley whilst waiting for room in Leeds train station. Sun light in the window creates a false wall on the landscape. I think about this thing I just don’t seem to be able to get around: an invisible wall that, in turn, makes all alternatives to the place I’m stuck in invisible. But they must be there; I’ve seen glimmers of them throughout my life.”
“Leaving the Waterstones bookstore, the eyes of Audrey Hepburn gleam back at me from a photograph calendar. ‘The Dead won’t go away’. At the other side of the room, the smiling faces of celebrity chefs rebound back from production-line lifestyle cookery books. To me, this all wishes to end itself now.”
“Staring up the river [Aire] at a now gentrified landscape, yet consisting of appealing redbrick buildings all the same. However, the Bridgewater tower, hangs over the buildings like a giant upturned N64 or Internet hub system. It is a monstrous imposition, mainly because of the Dubai-like world it suggests. Serving as a constant reminder of the criminally-unequal logic of neoliberal capitalism that potentially still lays in store for this country. I run out of words whilst staring at the reflections on the night-time river; trying to look for clues – a way out.”
7 March 2015
“Haigh. On one side of the road there remains a slightly derelict red brick wall, which must have been something to do with the mine that once stood here. On the other side of the road, two bungalows are being built on waste ground. Private property – the only thing that seems to be built these days.”
“The adrenalin from running, mixed with that fact that I’m now within my most consistently melancholic period I can recall, makes everything from here on this vantage point ridge-way over South and West Yorks somewhat tragically symbolic. This sense of loss, of dysfunction feels so environing that it cannot simply be specific to my own subjectivity. And even if it is, my current inability to get out if this predicament, necessitates my need to write about the external as if it is so. There is a great view of the dark grey figure of Emley Moor Mast from here. It specifically seems symbolic of something missing, as if their aura can only be felt in a melancholic sense.”
“On Wilthorpe Road a middle aged man is clearly struggling with the weight of his rucksack. Regardless of his actual circumstances, thoughts on the forced-acceptance of low pay work, and general country-wide hardship abounds. Low pay enslaves us to work, making us more obedient, and leaving the top down conservative attitude towards work ringing in our ears all day.”
“In the sunlight of a midday that promises springtime, the town [Barnsley] suddenly feels rich with promise. Expansive. It is as perplexing as it is dispiriting how this changes into its opposite as the day drags on and the streets are slowly engulfed under a desperate search for some kind of stimulus/titillation before the new day.”
“As I stare at a poster advertising for male models, for an establishment specialising in styling male facial hair, in a ‘retro/vintage’ fashion. I realise that whatever it is I’m looking for, I won’t find it within this ‘cultural centre’ situated around Division Street. I’m generalising when I begin to wonder of in today’s world there is only space for two subjects: the hipster and the melancholic.”
“Especially in cities like Sheffield, I seem to be in an endless quest for something. But it never materialises. Or it is forever displaced. I walk over the hill, from West Street down to Solly Street.”
“5 years-worth of fading anti-austerity posters cling to boards covering up disused land next to Sheffield bus station.”
“As the train heads into the tunnel at Chapletown, the text on my laptop screen doubles up, reflected into the dark outside. I am reading George Monbiot’s 2014 article on our Age of Loneliness, which seems to me one of the most relevant pieces of writing around at the moment.”
12 March 2015
“From the bus window I can see into a living room in a mid 20th century, endless-suburbia-style, semi-detached house. There is a large abstract painting hung in the space, the kind you’d expect in a ‘homely’ environment that is used to build a future for your family. Expansion rather than contraction.”
“I almost choke on the smell of Ammonia emanating from the floor next to what was once the Royal Hotel [ central Barnsley]. I initially mistake it for the smell of vomit, but nothing so strong and un-shifting could emanate from a single person. I wonder, wildly, whether it is actually an ‘anti-social-behaviour’ deterrent tactic. The town centre has an incredibly high concentration of youths in a perpetually aimless state, which the authorities are always trying to disperse. The ammonia smell is still in my nostrils as I enter into the turquoise-coloured transport interchange; they go awfully together.”
“On the express train to Sheffield. My attempts to hide the drawing I’m working on from the gaze of other passengers fails as a man who I’m sat across from, who looks to be in his 60’s, brings it up in an unending-paragraphs way of speaking, that quickly moves over to his admiration for the “one off” talent of street artist Banksy. My initial thoughts about pretending to exit the train a stop prematurely (at Meadowhall) and then sneaking to the other carriage fills me with guilt, as I’d just be spreading this ruthless (anti)social virus of loneliness, that each generation suffers from, but some just can’t adjust to. If I’d have been reared in a less individualistic atmosphere, I probably now wouldn’t feel physically seized with the urge to try to escape what feels like incarceration (communication). Perhaps it’s also the realisation that in 30 years I could be this man, socially-stranded, and desperate to speak to other human beings in an age that secretly wishes that old faces would just disappear and stopping getting in the way of the ‘bright young things’. In truth he has a decent well-verse life story which isn’t too hard on my work-tired brain.”
“The woman I notice sat talking as I walk past the window of a bar seems to possess an essence of the city [Sheffield] that now seems forever displaced on the actual streets; something about the way she carries off her leather jacket look, conjures a working class confidence, and an inventive popular culture that followed its lead. The city of The Human League an Pulp that now seems no longer present. At least not in the centre.”
‘He’s not setting out to hurt people. He’s got a lot of love in him …He actually, I think, wants to do the right thing. So its more a question of, will power and self discipline and circumstances.’ The sample from the track Etched Headplate by Burial (a song that literally haunted my dreaming in 2014) is so timely as it comes on my Ipod, in how it encapsulates my endless-evening struggle with keeping my frustration with these circumstances at bay. I want to do good. I want to be civil. But there’s a destructive element that sets in many a eve.”
“Semi-Surbuban streets of ex-mining settlements at night – walked them so many times. I feel so faded and old, as if the perfume of youth has finally worn off. Always thought I’d had found my own ground (so to speak) before this inevitable point found me.”
13 March 2015
“The train stops in the usual hinterland just outside Leeds railways station. The majority of the buildings still derelict, sort of waiting in line for the infrastructural developments (especially the southern entrance into Leeds station); for the channels that allow the flow of ‘sparkling financial dust’ to spread virally, and turn it into the late capitalist blend of unending work-consumption, that greets you just north of the river Aire. As I stare at the dirty old railways bridges I realise we have left behind the first hour of the afternoon. From 2pm onwards the looming anticipation of the evening’s depressive lassitude hangs over ever thought/action. The 1pm hour is usually the one I find easiest out of all 24, upon the pivot of the see-saw that each day is.”
“Walking up a pretty tiring steep incline into Burley Park. The hard faces, heavy brows, weight-on-shoulders-look of the poor, which is so so hard to disguise from a world that offers no leg up to those who cannot hide these scars.”
“Overly familiar style of suburbia, and redbrick terraces further down, that possible only remain used due to our characterless, placeless present holding on to character and place from times that have gone. For all that quintessential Leeds-feel, the row upon row of warren-like terraces are certainly not an environment I feel has many positive impacts on your state of mind. A labyrinth-like nature which I’m probably more sensitive to at present due to being drained-tired and stressed from taking the wrong turn from Headingley train station. I mistook the size of these parts of the city, they go and on – a Victorian metropolis.”
“Drained-tired, I decide to stop walking when seeing a young woman at a bus stop makes me trust in frequent buses back to the centre. As I wait, 2 men who have the appearance of one made hard by life, look drunk, punch-drunk and passively-frustrated as they attempt the road. I mistake one of the mens’ decision to return back to the pavement I’m on as him coming up to confront me due to him seeing me looking at him. Despite this not being the case, this gets me feeling aggressively self-defensive. My accent hardens due to this, making the young woman find me undecipherable when I ask her about the next bus.”
“Sitting over a coffee now, I can almost feel the violence, fear, schizophrenia of the city drain out of me and fall from my shoulders, helped by the soft white noise of machinery within the otherwise quiet cafe. My discontent has, for all my post-grad years, largely centred on having an un-fading desire to have the social freedoms of the city at my beckoning, and my repeated failure in being unable to cope in such an environment.”
“Find myself in a brief cocoon of comfort within the ‘retromaniac’, pop-cultural bar, Jam in Wakefield. Refuge feels like the right word – against the anxious and desperate landscape that envelopes you outside if you find yourself looking at it for too long. This artifice of yesteryear is comforting. Champagne Supernova is playing on the jukebox; a now-20 year old song by Oasis, who seem more spectrally present in ‘indie bars’ the further we move from 1995. Yet again, it is one of those moments that you can imagine being on repeat forever.”
“Far too drunk, forget all else…”
15 March 2015
“With the Starbucks drive-thru (next to junction 29 of the M1) opening into the evening on a Sunday, it really does stick out within a UK landscape where such a sight should actually be far normal to us than it is. Despite any ethical reservations towards chain cafe drive-thru’s, the sight of it feeds off the conversation I’m having in the car about the immiserating unacknowledged social constraints with, specifically, evening-time UK pleasure-pursuings. In contrast to Europe, where pubs (which always contain the potential for frustration to be acted out) aren’t the only places dominating the town centres in the evening.”
“Something close to a physical confrontation appears to be brewing outside this Premier Inn-incorporated pub/eatery [in Barnsley] on this dry Sunday evening. Due to its location (within a ‘commuterist’ inn) it is both a non-place and of non-place-people – which makes the territorial behaviour that comes with drunken confrontations all the more banal.”
“The feeling of being stuck. That – despite what I know, think, see – I feel embedded in a rut that surely encompasses more than myself (yet is left to be dealt with individually). It envelopes all conversation to the extent that I become fixed on the surrounding environment, which when I think about it makes sense; due to looking for ways out. I am currently staring out the windows of the Glasshouse chain pub/eatery, over the terraces the cluster around the south of Barnsley centre. From here. they look like a tightly-packed labyrinth, forcing your eyes to look for exits. the conversation follows suit, and sometimes the landscape helps me think about, and explain the wider predicament so clearly – but it never alters the [my] general scheme of things.”
“Large bungalow off Cockerham Lane [Barnsley] that has that far-off feel, in that it looks like the ever-dwindling American Dream realised. Albeit in the UK.”
“From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a middle aged man watching TV in the living room of a type of house that was initially deemed unfit to be anything more than emergency housing in the wake of WW11 and the consequential slum clearances. The TV has the sickly-coloured imagery for intro-credits to one of those X-Factor-style programs (The Voice…?). There is something almost porno-like about the colours and graphics of the presentation (one must be influencing the other, but not sure which way around). Regarding the whole picture I saw as I glanced over; the unsatisfactory quality of the dwellings and the unsatisfactory cultural products fuse to leave my feeling slightly disturbed.”
“Nearing central New Lodge/Athersley, just as the ‘peak-90’s’ club track Let Me be Your Fantasy [Baby D] comes onto my Ipod. This merges with the appearance of two lone males walking their dogs in front of me. Both look to be late 30’s-pushing 40’s. Both look disheveled from hardship, making the baseball caps they wear look like class scars rather than fashion items. Their drained look, prompts me to imagine their draining to have occurred somewhat in unison with the age of this club track, and its consequential genuine-feel-good alienness to the genuine-depression of our current period. That in the mid 90’s both these men and this track possessed a vitality that has since been slowly sucked out.”
“Kingsway, Mapplewell – largely a road consisting of post-war sheltered accommodation. I walk past a telephone box that now looks terribly stranded in an age of ubiquitous cell-phone communication. I remember in the mid 1990’s when an elderly man died of an heart attack in this phone box calling 999, due to being taunted by youths. I was half-shocked as a young teenager at the apparent joy in the malevolence shown to vulnerable adults in this particular conglomerate of villages. I have often wondered whether it was borne out of inescapable boredom, perhaps more acutely felt around this area due to nearly every space being swallowed up by property developers.”
“The bright light from a bus shelter I have probably frequented more than any other, which is probably personally a symbolic spot for all the failings, hopes. existential boredom and frustrations of my teenage-to-adult existence. Yet, in a couple of weeks I will likely rarely use it ever again.”
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/195082910″>The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
This video work takes my previous video-work The West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account and makes it more concise whilst taking certain aspects of the video further.
Using (overly) familiar places, components in an eclectic and discontinuous urban area spanning the old West Riding county.
Using this landscape to examine near pasts, lost futures and dead dreams to understand the wider contemporary social condition.
The work focus’s on two lost futures and the un-locatable present, the condition of the which is largely caused by the loss of the previous, and their haunting presence. The first lost future is that of popular modernism, which died in the latter quarter of the 20th century. The second lost future being the naively optimistic early to mid 1990’s, and its utopianist gaze at the (then) coming new millennium. The un-locatable present, here refers to a specific intensification of life under digital capitalism, looking at the severe disorientation of the passing of time since the 2008 financial crisis.
The video-work and wider, ongoing project has been inspired by the beautifully calm,yet highly politicised films of Patrick Keiller; Mark Fisher’s writings on Hauntology, and Fredric Jameson’s essay on Cognitive mapping. They have also be inspired by my own feelings of loss of narrative and of being out of time, amidst a feverishly neoliberal reality. Indeed the growing weight of this sense of being ‘out of time’ is what differs the original West Riding-based video-work with The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crime).
The title of this video refers to an iconic ‘blip’ on the skyline of Barnsley town centre: a building that was abandoned half-way through completion due to the 2008 financial crash, as if the constructors had simply been zapped out of existence, and now exists as a ghost ship upon the inner ring road – haunting us with faded the utopianism of the 1989-2008 exuberant new capitalism. But the title refers to the entire subject of the film; that of a sense of a future that has vanished, leaving an empty shell of itself.
Do you feel like an angst-ridden teenager at 28? Which no confirmation of true age, when confronted with an ever-more aging face staring back at you from every reflection, can eradicate? With the ever-mounting pressure to remain young, to be hip, adventurous and to be eternally striving to advance oneself and be ‘living’ the high times, that is mediated to us by young-looking role models (whether they are actually young or incredibly well photo-shopped), the effects of alienation and discontent that traditionally by-and-large affect teenagers, now affect people further and further into their adult lives. The size 30 waistline is truly strangling us right into our 30’s. Yet there’s never any talk of this – alienating those caught in this existential no-man’s-land furthermore.
Doing my artwork from home, and having a job (when I have one at all) that gives me days off in the middle of the week (which no friends usually have free also), a much needed escape from my cul-de-sacked-residence is usually destined to be relatively solitary one, estranged from the friends who I don’t have the confidence to call until the time of day when English towns have become alcohol-gated communities. I’ve got into an early-afternoon habit, once my hands can’t take any more biro-gripping and key typing, of heading to towns/cities within the 20 mile affordable-to-travel-to radius. But once I get there I am suddenly confronted by an attack from conventional reasoning as to why I am in this place. Amidst the races of individuals trying to get places from the station terminus, I begin to stall, getting in peoples’ way. They seem to have purpose; a life which they are in such a rush to resume. I don’t. Just what am I doing here?
I start to feel a sense of not belonging, an estrangement, and an eagerness to find a place. An uneasiness I expected to be way beyond by now. My mind starts repeating “I’m 28 for god’s sake!”, desperately trying to make it feel true in the physical world. But no matter how I try to rush off’ trains when I’m meeting a friend, or arranging a van to pick my artworks up from an exhibition, my life seems to stay put. Nothing has really changed since I was the shy 16 year old school leaver who would avoid people he went to school with in the street, rather than have to walk past them, in fear of being ignored by them all together.
Many thougths and sights gather and congeal during the course of day that make me look back from these ‘post-Fordist’ times to the lives of my ‘Fordist’predecessors (the previous generations) in shame and embarrassment. Families, homes, ‘proper’ jobs in their 20’s. These societal changes don’t seem to register on the tips of most tongues, and whether possible to do so or not, there is boding expectation to make your way through the world, which hangs heavier around ones neck every time their age hits a higher twenty-something. But what’s there to be made, doesn’t make for this, and what lies in wait just perpetuates your past doings.
If we stick to the core meaning of alienation – to feel that you don’t belong; to feel not at home in your own surroundings – then this alienation may be behind why, after getting off the train, I then make my way to sit in the very chain cafes that I am often critical of for driving small businesses out of existence. In towns/cities which aren’t ‘my home town’, where I am at for no real reason, I feel out of context with the surroundings, with an imaginary person whispering “you don’t belong here” in my ear. And these coffee shops are out of context because they are everywhere and are thus nowhere; a place alienated from its surroundings for an individual who feels alienated (which in no way exempts me from the guilt of frequenting such places). And after that where? For, when I’ve done sitting in the cafe, I don’t really allow for anything much to ‘happen’, because I’m too eager for the feeling of at-least going somewhere, which the train back home-wards provides, and is this the underlying spur for the endeavour.
Regarding those who meander in solitude up and down streets, cultural discourse would have it that it’s a 15-19 age thing, circumventing the age of The Catcher In The Rye’s socially lost protagonist Holden Caulfield. And this holds true for musical tastes also; where bands dealing with discontent and alienation (a prime example being Nirvana, but I also the likes of Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, The The, Joy Division) are neatly categorised as “angry young man music/the sort of music I listened to in my teen angst days” (yes, I have actually heard these said), as a call to get rid of these feelings of not fitting into society, as if it’s an ‘age thing’, to find your seat within the big arena, something many seem depressingly able to do without any noticeable painful transition.
Well, the said bands are still some of my closest audio companions, and I first read the Catcher In The Rye when I was 25 years old, yet felt utterly in tune with this teenage protagonists aimless journeys to places in a city, that he realised he had no reason for being at once he’d arrived. Consequently I feel offended by the usual back-cover reviews describing the book as ‘the quintessential book about teenage-angst ‘, to paraphrase the many.
What does this mean? Does it mean completely shelving everything I have just said just in order for it to be fitting to say “you need to move on (grow up)”? Well, if that is so, please fucking show me how to! Please show me how to move on from this junction-less ring road. If my brain was made of nuts and bolts rather than organic tissue I’d gladly let you tinker around with a screwdriver if there was any hope of lifting the veil of grey mist blocking sight of progression into an ‘acceptable’ place to be for an adult. But it wouldn’t work. Plans are being made now, but if you see me still looking vacantly at train departure electronic boards in 1 year’s time, don’t be surprised.
Weekends seem to actually induce mini-crisis points, from where I wish I’d never asked my boss for them off, because it seems so much easier to be working. At least on weekdays I can at least be functional in my usual doings, and not feel bowled-over by omnipresent ‘evidence’ to a uncertain self of people having purpose to their weekly working as they are meeting up during their shared time off with friends for a much earned rest.
At least on weekdays, I see others as being in the same boat as me, as equally struggling to deal with the cultural norms subjected onto them. And I see other reasons for the causation of alienation. Looking at every lone person on a bus, every lone person with time on their hands, I’m seeing others who are alienated and needing a place also. Everyone’s looking for contact via their mobile phones. Perhaps it isn’t just directly the propagation of youthful imagery that perpetuates the teen alienation into adulthood, but the rapidity of the amount of electrical communication?
When others contact you it makes you feel wanted, but not merely wanted in the ‘desired’ sense but wanted in existence. Someone of strong enough self certainty to avoid irrational anxieties, may not need to needed/wanted by others in order to make their existence seem of worth, but for others, lost in the blur of a fast-paced life, lack of contact with others, when all you see around you in the street is others texting/talking on phones, can make you feel anxious about your own worthiness of existence upon this planet. Thus you begin rapidly texting people, and the desire to get (back) onto social networking sites, such as Facebook, hangs like big tangled branches from every inhalation and exhalation. I tend to text with more ferocity the more I feel like the spectrum of life is passing be by, and also when I’m places where I feel like I don’t belong, and regardless of what they text says, the real message is ‘Hey, I’m here! Don’t forget me”. And of course it is for everybody else.
The link between why we are a society both equally hooked to high-tech forms of communication and the pummeling from youth-obsessed imagery, is what I’d argue is also the link between my inability to move past my alienation and the social system we live under. We never feel complete, thus we never feel like we belong.
I Want None of This, 2011, ballpoint pen and collage on paper, 180X110cm
In today’s world, people acknowledge that I’m no fool to the world, yet they simultaneously tell me that I see no sense. Likewise, I am often told that I am living in a dream world whilst they live in one big illusion – an illusion of the durability and the ability to deliver of this infrastructure in which we can all ‘specialise’ in a certain career path and allow all the other ‘specialists’ to do their bit so we don’t have to. This is my experience of coming into contact with a general logic that has gone insane in its elder years. We all have to capitulate to the insanity or sink into destitution. I find that I am eternally in deadlock, and it doesn’t end no matter how many times others tell me that I mustn’t be because ‘this is the way of the world and you’re not going to change it’. It is destroying the planet, eroding our harmony with it, but it is also blatantly no longer giving us the better quality of life, which it could previously have always claimed to be doing. But this is when we face its tyranny in giving us no option but proceed this way.
The child-like images of young people shouting out what they want to be when they grow older is an important signal for my own predicament, as nothing suits me, I have no career in mind, from when I was a day-dreaming child to a anxiety-ridden young adult, I never have done and never will. At a social level, this provokes ceaseless anxiety. I cannot move, but I feel that I am been pushed; the precarious, and (supposed to be) terrifyingly unaccommodating landscape is an attempt to picture this feeling. It’s not that I criticise others for having careers plans. I just can’t see a future for careers in this fragile world we are heading into. But I fear that I will sink sooner than the rest, as the social tide rises and am left baffled and stranded, before we all do in physical reality as the sea levels rises.