Here are photographs of my exhibition ‘Under Digital Rain’, curated by John Wright. Held at the Bowery Gallery, Headingley, Leeds, it runs until 29th July.
Gallery opening times
Monday – Saturday 10:00 – 18:00
Sunday 10:00 – 17:00
54 Otley Road
The World-Wide Oneupmanship (2016, 8X4ft, mixed media on paper)
Title of work below: £$[We]€$[Can’t]$£[Take]£€[Any]$€[More!!]$£ (2016)
Titles of works in image below (from left to right): Gimme Shelter [Closure No1] (2015); The Self[ie] Under Siege (2015); “Sad, LONELY, Frightened” (2015); Drainage System (2016); Tired of Life/I Want to Leave Myself [Closure No2] (2016); NoteToSelf2016; The Capacity to Care (Closure No5) (2016); A Cognitive Austerity (2015); A Deep Paralysis (2016); Hunger Games Darwinism (2016); Bound up in Binary (2016); “Can We Stop now, Please?”; I am Becoming Nothing (Closure No3) (2015).
The World-Wide Oneupmanship (2016, 8X4ft, mixed media on paper)
My part of the exhibition will feature a number of new works, including a large mural installation called The World Wide OneUpmanship.
Under Digital Rain is part of an ongoing project (dialogue?) between myself and John Wright called The Retro Bar at the End of Universe, and on the opening night this coming Friday we will be performing our piece Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record, inspired by an Ivor Southwood book of the same name.
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…
This is the 5th blogpost in part of a series that has thus far have largely centred around times/spaces where gatherings/events have felt like ample territory for my thoughts on the past (my past), present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present. This post is centred around the demonstrations taking place outside the Tory Party Conference 2015 in Manchester. There is an urgent aim to map out the here and now, as I don’t otherwise seem to be able to sense it – constantly looking back over ten years to when it felt that memories and experience stuck, rather than blew away with every given day. These half-truths of stories based around cognitive mapping processes are an attempt to counter this sensation.
4 October 2015
“Michael picks me up early on and we head over to Ossett, a small town sandwiched between Wakefield and Dewsbury; a ligament in the West Yorks conurbation of towns. On the car radio a program speaks of French Electronica, such as the likes of Air – of whom a sample is played. A warm, lush sound. “Why don’t I listen to this more often?” I think to myself, knowing full well I won’t, as something of my reality cancels it out; the warm sunny glow it evokes is squeezed out between the fear and disbelief of these hyper-connected and hyper-competitive times. We pick up Tony and Michael’s partner (both of whom I cannot remember if I’ve met before), and I have a moment of open embarrassment and inner concern over the utter absence of any memory of meeting Michael’s partner at an event almost exactly 2 years ago, as we drop down the hill that brings you to Dewsbury (an attractive town that always surprises you for being so, due its unjustified negative press in the shadow of the Leeds/Harrogate/Ilkley perception of what is good/nice), . I haven’t felt there to be any duration to time or continuity to its passing during the past few years, to the extent that nothing seems to stick anymore – not like it used to. Further more, if this is a common complaint from the elderly who suffer memory loss, could this suggest that something of contemporary life could be bringing about an epidemic of ‘premature’ Alzheimers? – cold stabs of terror that aren’t appropriate to bring into the conversation right now. But any life so uneventful that nothing sticks, and nothing registers until death, isn’t a life worth living, and this is actually one of the reasons contributing to the utmost emphasis I began to place on partaking in political demonstrations in the wake of the May 8 election results. The sun shines on the now-sandblasted yellow sandstone that Dewsbury is built from. It doesn’t look so dissimilar from my home town, Barnsley, which stands alone in Yorks for being a former mining town that looks more like a former mill town.”“As we wait for our delayed connection in Dewsbury station, two Manchester Airport-bound trains race past at a pace that can’t help impress in a way that an ever-quicker broadband connection can never. Trains used by TransPennine Express franchise trains aren’t the world’s fastest, but in relation to the still-slightly-slower pace of Sunday life, they are like horizontal space rockets, that force our primitive responses to watch them off into the distance towards the Pennines. As our train approaches we see the Sardine Can-scenario usually reserved for the weekday peak-time commutes. It’s heaving, and the member of staff on the train’s tannoy apologises for this in a tone that may as well have openly spoke of the inadequacy of privatised rail services for not putting on extra carriages. He could probably judge the spirit on board this train, as the majority of the passengers were clearly on course for the anti-Tory demo over in Manchester, and a general good air quelled any of our felt-grievances about being crammed into the wobbly section between the two carriages. With people from the Newcastle, Middlesborough, Leeds Metro areas all piled upon this train, there’s a feeling that The North can show London that not all big demos have to gravitate to the capital. My lack of window views means I’m missing out on my felt-need to see the Pennines as they rise up to separate Yorkshire from the blueprint for modernity – the sprawl of Manchester. However, I find great encouragement in that a man is walking around handing out free copies of the left-wing paper The Morning Star; such a refreshing gesture in comparison to the UK’s usual commuter misery-staple The Metro, which somehow still manages to present itself as not being a right wing rag.”
“As we approach Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), towards the gathering of people, via the carpark next to the Aquatics Centre (a onetime novelty addition to this built-up environment, constructed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games held here), I look up at the surrounding fir trees and into the clear blue sky – it looks computer-generated. I am moving in and out of a melancholia over an unfinished course (at MMU) that is a cipher for an unfulfilled adult life – I lapse into melancholia whenever self doubt and estrangement kicks in when I’m in large social situations. All the more appropriate that I am telling the other two about always feeling like a spectator of my own life, like I’m always in 3rd person to myself, as we’re discussing a potential lack of political engagement within my age group (late 20’s to late 30’s?) compared to those either side of us. Perhaps what my age group shares is the experience of growing up amidst mass political indifference as the so-called ‘end of history’ 90’s passed into the 00’s via the smoke and mirrors of Blair. An ambivalence to anything happening around us that was only compounded by the illusion-of-democracy-erasing military invasion of Iraq, which sent the “nothing you can do but get pissed [find your own privatised happiness]” mentality into a full-throttle common conclusion. My MTV-ED age group share an inability to act, to risk getting our noses broken in the midst of political fracas – maybe because there was an assumption around that millennial moment that everything had already been said and done, and was on constant replay for us now? Whereas today, the only thing that seems to have meaning is to overthrow this ‘nihilizing’ empire, and those ten years younger than I are politically active not because they haven’t been jet-washed with the isolating media technologies and forms like us (as they’ve had it ten times worse since the birth of Broadband), but because they have been left with no illusions about this political-economy offering them any future worth enduring.”
“I move in and out of the crowd, to the toilet and to find [expensive bottled] water, and back onto Oxford Road – the crowd density distorts my perceptions to make me think I am walking far further away. I get Flashbacks to my time here after now standing on this section of road for over two hours, as if the duration of my presence is helping me absorb my old haunts. As I reflect on my inability to act, I realise that doubt is the main obstacle to invention and intervention, and I’m plagued by way too much of it. And all I usually find I can resort to is the sober resistance of a long-time depressive. I think of my life since I came to this place aged 19, and it conjures a soundtrack that is one constant noise….and it makes me nauseous. Leaving that course due to severe weight loss-provoked-anxiety/dysfunction meant I had to go back and face certain demons I’d been literally running, cycling [and swimming – at the Aquatics centre!] away from. This forced out the beginnings of my political awareness and the beginnings of being on the road I am still on. Even if that road now feels blocked.”
“I’m awash with an hard-to-explain fusion of personal and political memories and feelings as The Manic Street Preachers’ If You Tolerate This plays out to the large crowd packed into the quintessentially narrow streets of this sardine tin-city of mills and terraces. Somebody shared this song on the all-important Facebook newsfeed during the past few days. There is something appropriate about it in 2015, even though it was released 17 years ago(!) this autumn, with a Brit-pop after-the-party musical style, in the year between the ‘things-can-only-get-better’ New Labour victory and the millennial malaise that had Travis/Toploader as its let-down soundtrack. The Manics’ song almost shouts at us “hey, why the hell didn’t we pay attention to the meaning back in the late 90’s?”. They are playing this song, among others from the stage where speakers are soon to enter articulating opposing ideas to the Tories with the aim of giving this crowd hope. If You Tolerate This, in the face of what we’re fighting against, and what disturbing policies are being suggested at the conference up the road, sends shivers all down my arms and legs -“this is serious, deep stuff”. But shivers are nothing close to what hearing The Smiths’ ‘There is a light that never goes out’ is like, played out onto the streets of this city. This all-so-private song, that yet millions upon millions of us have a special place for in our lives, without shame. It’s like when the radio plays your favorite song, and you know that everyone else is hearing too, and how that makes your hairs stand up on your neck. But I bet nearly half the crowd are thinking and feeling exactly like me right now. Why does such a song seem to unite the longings for emotional companionship with the desire for a socio-political revolution? Yet, it does: emotional loneliness and the miseries of living under a ruthlessly-market driven system that requires our atomisation, are part of the same process. Such a song jerks those tears ever-harder in an age when we are all ‘lost-in-commute’ in cyberspace, trying to find our destination, and sick, ever so sick, of living under this system. There is a Light is like a minute’s silence within a national anthem for a de-territorialitised nation of ‘sensitive type’s’, unable to reify themselves for the market-individualism of these times; a silent moment in which they all silently contemplate how they’ve endured, to which the ‘light that never goes out’ becomes an optimistic beacon for our will to survive. As the crowd begins to move, I suppose the sight of wheelchair-bound protesters, draped in skeletons with placards saying ‘fit-for-work’ is a sobering and chilling reminder of the stakes on survival in these times. “Don’t get ill, whatever you do”. One placard sticks with me more than any other: “ConServitude and Social Darwinism” – but so many reminders, yet no sign yet of a closure on this compassion-less reality”
“We watch most of the demonstration pass us, and as we stay stood down by MMU we join it right at the back. After heading under the bridge, where Oxford Road passes under the inner ring road, we pass a large camp supporting the homeless (echoed by the large graffiti lettering saying ‘homes for the homeless’ written onto a derelict building just over the way). On a visual level only, it resembles the scenes of urban inequality when US cinema dares to show us that nation’s rotten insides. And this is frightening; Manchester is no longer the chilled millennial studenty-indie-music city it became sold to us as in the late 90’s; the politics of class war is once again visible on its streets – a stark reminder that we can’t return to that bubble, we have no choice but to fight back. As we head towards the town hall, we end up clustered among the Black Block – hoods up and mouths covered (“should I be doing that?”). They are frustrated because the crowd has stopped; “what we fucking stopped for?” says one of them with an accent that sounds neither north nor south. Their haste for more direct action against the conference opens up the wounds of my dilemma between who I am, what I think is right, and that inability to act on this makes me uncomfortable about being more cowardly than I wish I was. I begin to lose my temper for reasons I can’t figure out, as my emotional confusion creates my own haste. I leave the crowd and go walking by myself, angry, and mildly paranoid that my abnormal movements will attract attention from the airborne police who may think I’m up to something, rather than just being my aimless self. Constantly feel a need to prove myself, but just walk around chuntering to myself. ”
“I eventually return to a level of sociality, retreat from my desire to find a pub, and locate my friends near a pub at Deansgate – where I do have one pint. We head down from here towards Oxford Road, surrounded by an increasingly fragmented group of demonstrators. I assume ‘the demo’ has come to that ‘glass of cold water in the face’ moment of late capitalist ‘realism’ where everyone starts thinking about work tomorrow, and what’s in their fridge for when they get back home (a thought conveniently attended to by the Sainsbury’s store we are now approaching). But as we begin to walk back down Oxford Road this proves to be a massively wrong assumption: whilst stood around the The Thirsty Scholar pub under the railway bridge, the police jump out of a van, approach and arrest a couple of members of an anarchist-leaning group who are having pints outside the pub. Tensions flare up as members/or friends of the young men being taken jump up, brandishing the cards we got handed earlier which state that the police have to state a clear reason for why they are detaining somebody. One of the friends I traveled with tries to intervene to help the young men being incarcerated, only for a police reaction to result in a scuffle that looks like it could get very messed up. And although it doesn’t, the potential sends my cowardly heart right into my mouth, and I’m shaking like always. I watch for what feels like an age with my customary dumb-spectator-glare, only to get more and more annoyed at my inability to act. I end up manically meandering up and down the nearby alleys where the graffiti-mural of ‘dirty old town’ Manchester no longer has that tame-millennia-mush-reflectionist-culture feel to it, and now takes on a look of ‘why we fight back’, which is what could be said of Manchester-2015 in general. As my friends stand on the pavement of Oxford Road absorbing what has just happened, they are in hearing distance of a pub bouncer who is that deeply bored with existence that his initially “everybody hear me(!)” dislike for the protesters is cut short to start talking about the football scores. I’m still shaking, and give in to half a pint within this focal point of trouble, The Thirsty Scholar. I realise I’ve walked into a poetry event, as the woman on stage recites verse on her guilt on walking past an homeless person who is asking for spare change – a guilt I feel I have documented thoroughly during the past few years. The event turns out to be part of this weekend’s nationwide ‘We Shall Overcome’ events.”
“Our friend James, who met up with us towards the end of our time in Manchester today, takes us home in his car, parked on a side-street halfway down Oxford Road. As we exit via the Gorton area of the city, through the mixture of the very-manchester-like red brick terraces, the nowhere place Tesco extras/ Subway sandwich establishments, and drunks stumbling home from Sunday drinking, that seem to constitute the entirety of East Manchester, it all leaves me under an ominous cloud of confusion as to where we go from this point onwards, in the future, and today – as personally speaking, what do you make of the remaining waking hours after such a bombardment of thought and feeling? How do you deal with it, so as to function the day after? As we link up to the motorway system, The conversation leads back to the actions of the police in the city, and focuses in on mild-terror-provoking potential future predicaments in a more extreme, less tolerant world, where state power goes to extreme lengths to stay control. All the more barren does such talk feel due to traveling amidst the overlooked and sinister-beauty of this landscape made up of motorway bridges as they twist and rise in front of the martian-like Pennine terrain, that feels like an unwelcoming ideal setting for the bleak future projections all-so-poorly hidden behind our conversation of tired banter. I decide I can’t go home just yet, and as we pass over into West Yorkshire I ask to be dropped at Dewsbury station, (I mean, we’re going past it, so I may as well) and as the day’s toll on my energy becomes apparent, I exit at Leeds station, almost crawling up to a large Wetherspoons that is scarcely populated in a city that looks deserted in comparison to the one I have just been in.
5 October 2015
“Trying to wake up this morning, after yesterday, was incredibly hard. Is it specific to my own make-up that I find ‘attending’ demonstrations to be an emotional rollercoaster to such an extent that I experience what a more far-flung version of myself would attribute to ‘jet-lag?’. But the emotional ‘wave-pool’ hasn’t died down yet, as now I’m up and about I’m borderline manic, which I make visibly evident in my haste of avoiding the subway on the way to Wakefield Kirkgate station, skipping over the dual carriageway, and jumping over the railings. I feel charged, you see, and I don’t want to go back to anxious sleep-walk of ‘everyday’ life, from where it’s ‘nihilizing’ affects beat me into daily-depressive-pleasure-seeking. This is why the sight of a stag-do on platform 1, gearing up for a night out (likely heading to York or Newcastle), already spilling beer everywhere, at 12pm on a dreary Monday, doesn’t initially stand out for being out of context. But then I realise that this isn’t down to that fact that I’m out of sync with any normal sequence of events: it’s because such a sight is utterly normal fullstop. It’s just one of many potential scenes from an already-anticipated slideshow; one of limited imagination and possibilities; a slideshow on endless-repeat. The return of the 80’s; not in class warfare, but in caricature, comic book and video-game fancy-dress-rehashing. A now-seemingly-obligatory ceremony for a Nowhere Time. And it’s literally standing in the way of my need to sustain the idea that there’s something beyond this Flat Earth Digi-box-Dystopia. I’m now on platform two as the train pulls in for Barnsley. I’m restless. I’m sat behind two men of baby boomer age – one with a Lancastrian accent, the other American. I can’t help it, but beneath the perpetual turmoil of my self-esteem, I’m quietly looking at the other passenfers and thinking “do you want social change? Are you sick of all of this too?”
“As I leave Barnsley train station I notice the headline on the piles of The Metro newspapers, ready to pounce on the easy-target of commuters made porous to such amnesiac-titillations by the drudgery of their 9-5’s. Today’s dish is a slur, focusing on a few minor occurrences to tarnish the entirety of yesterday’s demonstrations. It annoys me so much that I head into the interchange, down to the bus bays, looking for a copy I can take with me for documentation purposes only. I become engulfed by a sinking feeling, which captures me off guard as I battle with faltering energy levels. There is an era-long set-in sense of defeat around here. People may use the word ‘depressed’ to describe a place with a derogatory slant with the aim of shining a preferential light on themselves for not being from there (fuck knows what city of gold they come from...). Being from there, well, the word takes on a very different slant altogether. If the song ‘There Is a Light…’ compounded and united disparate longings I have whilst in Manchester yesterday, then it’s The Smiths’ lyrics “…for there are brighter sides to life and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often” that currently gives voice to an otherwise unjustified sense of let down, as I walk past the bus lanes. In the wake of being at/or doing anything that momentarily suspends this so-called ‘everyday’, I always get this sense articulated by these Smiths’ lyrics, as I come back to my extended-sleeping-quarters (for most my life) of the Barnsley Borough. I have seen slight glimmers of something that could take the place of this ‘everyday’, and I’m in no way referring to town centres such as this one being ‘Shorditched’ into an unending hipster’s paradise cyberparty. I’m talking of something that feels alive, and is beyond the black and whites of ‘fun/boring’ of this current reality.”
I have retroactively made this the 3rd blog in a series of map-making’s of meanderings and musings that coincided with decisive events for the wider society. My thoughts on the past (my past), present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present loosely congregating around these events. With my writings this year, there has been a consistent eagle eye for traces of social change; I am not aligned with any specific party/ideology that opposes the current state of play, yet most certainly not averse to any either, as I’m aware that any jostling for something beyond this sink-hole-for-sanity is essential for my well-being as much as anything else.
Here is the first post from 9 May: Lost Bus Routes and Pre-Election Reflections
The second from 22 June: London Walks, and Anti-Austerity Musings
10 September 2015
“I’ve been approaching Leeds by train for years now (for the best part of the lost-decade, starting 2008), and it is the wastelands (especially the unappropriatable bits) that are its saving grace. It says something that the boring central zone obliterates. I change trains towards Manchester, sitting backwards as the train leaves Leeds. Dead feelings still cling on, yet I know they’re just symptoms of something much larger than myself – something that throughout these years has only ever really become clear to me when staring out of the window of a moving train or bus. Yet I sense movement; movement out of this ‘stuckness’ that accumulates moments of feeling like being part of the living dead. I’m not sure what is happening, whether the world will spin whilst I stand still, but I’ll make any minor manoeuvre to help loosen from being stuck.”
“Sitting backwards means that I am facing the sharper, most hasty inclines that form Lancashire’s side of the Pennines that we leave behind as we near Manchester. I think what captivates me about landscapes, is that any given landscape is forced to become an illustrator for the most heavy of shit on my mind at any given moment. These glacial cuts between Yorkshire and Lancashire make me wonder if the water is starting to trickle under our socio-political ice age. But will the flow be guided, or will it burst out destructively? I need change anyway, coming to another town to drink has been a substandard substitute for a couple of years now, but it is beginning to wear thin.”
“Exit Piccadilly station platforms, and head up the escalators – not really sure why. There’s a banner for a TGI Friday’s eatery, based on a pastiche of mid 20th century American diners. The banner has those thin metal anti-climbing spikes all over the top of it. I can’t quite figure out why this would be necessary at all. But if I was in doubt, there’s also a CCTV camera keeping it company. It’s a coincidence, but it isn’t ironic: control is at the heart of every aspect of contemporary life, from controlled pastiche experiences of mid-20 the century diners, to maximum transport terminal security. No doubt the menu choice will tell you the calorie intake, so we can control that too. If not, I’m sure it will soon. I have to take a photograph, but I’m wary of the presence of an ‘officer’ nearby – as an artist was arrested last year photo-documenting London’s ‘ring’ of CCTV cameras. I exit the station and cut south avoiding the shopping area of Manchester, taking in the Victorian what-might-have-beens prelimery-skyscrapers, much more impressive than the reality given to us with the likes of the Beetham Tower.”
“Because my default memory of 2003/Blair-years Manchester is the one my brain reverts to every time I leave the city, I find all successive skyline additions surprising. Just past Oxford Road station on the way to Deansgate a huge blue-tinted glass phallus, complimenting the nearby Beetham Tower, has emerged from seemingly nowhere, with the name ‘StudentCastle’ hanging vertically down the side of the building. Talking of default positions, it will forever remain absurd to me that such a place could now be for student accommodation. It looks fit only for penthouses, Porsche owners, or for scenes from a Dallas-cum-Dubia-deal-doing-drama; not for those who I still (clearly erroneously) see as based at safe-havens from the dynamics of a system that they would be better momentarily safe-guarded from, in order to at least interpret it, through art, English Lit, Philosophy or whatever…..yeah, I’m definitely out of touch here, I guess.
“As I reach the view of Beetham Tower, further down Deansgate – hanging above what now merely resembles the atypical regeneration background imagery of red-bricked former industrial buildings – I come to the conclusion that Beetham Tower just looks like a virtual impressionist’s wet dream. And it may as well be, judging on how out of reach it feels. And I’m not talking about it’s relative height. The glass, the purported transparency of such structures is exactly what makes them seem so inaccessible. Across the road a block of private apartments has been named after the Hacienda night club. A city of so much promise – one I still look to (perhaps due to being an unreconstructed northerner) for promise, is now a city of signs that lead nowhere.”
Friday 11 September: Recovery, walking around my home town, assembled like dream-like collage of memories. … I cannot explain why this seems to be repeatedly occurring.
I miss things dearly. Especially those things that never got a chance….
….that in hindsight never stood a chance
Saturday 12 September: The Big Smoke (and Mirrors)
“Central Wakefield at 5am. The pouring rain doesn’t seem to impound any felt-miseries at such an hour, maybe due to the rarity of being awake at this time it is making me feel like I’m in a different climate/land. It must be said that I’m finding that there’s a way of looking at the world that seems specific to this time between night and day, possibly epitomised by the ghost train crawling through Westgate station back up to Leeds in preparation for today’s carting of people to and from London. It’s as if the empty train visualises a sense that I can see the inner workings of the ‘man machine matrix’ [Will Self] at this nowhere hour; like seeing the working arteries and veins of a living creature. It makes no difference that I know the train has to have staff on board, because their lack of visibility visualises this Metanomic servitude everything and everyone has to a system that tells us we are our own bosses. As our train pulls in, the man stood in front of me on the platform is so prematurely weak and frail (accident, degeneration recoverer?) that I feel a bubbling haste at the prospect of missing the train altogether, and can sense anger in me towards him, which almost immediately results in self-detesting; parts of myself I wish didn’t exist, but parts that are part-and-parcel of living in this age where an ideology of ‘rule of the jungle’ has engendered a growing fascistic attitude to our most vulnerable. Social change. It’s the necessity of a movement we can all taste in our mouths, to prise us out of such a miserable way to exist. To extinguish unnecessary ‘survivalist’ impulses riving and tearing through our bloodstream.”
“BBC Radio 4. Listening to the Shipping Forecast. Turbulent seas, maritime nation; so easily forgotten on the mainland; resonates so peacefully with the train’s humming electrical noises. Why does it somehow seem to be a component of a lost world (a better one in my opinion)? I’ve heard it said (somewhere) that the Shipping Forecast would be the last lone voice across the land at the dawn of a nuclear wipe-out. But this voice of the long night, for me, seems more a spectral trace of a parallel/or hidden-from-view world; evoking elements of a Britain that never took the tunnel of Thatcherism. I suppose it evokes the longing for the presence of a socialistic paternal force that is there in times of vulnerabilities we nearly all face at some point. These arable lands we are passing through in this point between light and dark resemble more hinterlands between two different types of world. The following news story suggests it is a forgone conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership contest later this morning – maybe we are indeed in an hinterland between two different times?”
“With it still only being 8am (although 8am equates to 10am in this cinematic equivalent of all you know elsewhere in the UK) I wait sometime in a cafe staring out onto Euston Road. And I always expect to see somebody I know, as a place for me is a place, whether there are 1,000 or 13,000,000 people under its place name umbrella. I see a woman who looks like an older version of somebody my not-much-younger-self would day-dream about spending his days with, all-too-aware that I’ve been dumbly goldfish-like forgetful about how age hits us all, now I’m in a spell of my life where meeting new people gets harder and harder. Wake up, Boo! (The Boo Radleys) comes on the cafe radio. Couldn’t care less for it back in the summer of 1995, but I miss the vibe of the 90’s more by the year, and such songs evoke a freshness/sunshine that I cannot imagine now (and I’m more than convinced that our ‘always on’ times have hastened this colour-drainage). It’s certainly not just me who feels this way, when even people who can’t remember the decade are more-than-active in rejoicing in the unsheddable traces of it coating of the present. Good times are environing, not personal/private – even if such a time did prove to be all smoke and mirrors. But this era-based optimism cannot return under the current social reality which was still fresh and believable in the 1990’s. Now it’s just a dead idea-ruling. Perhaps a new age is dawning now; it certainly needs to be too, as the decade we’ve just gone through feels so lost, like a world under general anesthetic. ”
“After leaving the cafe, and with hours to go before a demo I’m supposed to be attending (I have to attend after spending limited funds on always-expensive train tickets), I turn right from ST Pancras into the Camden area. I manage to lose the macho swagger I use as a self-defense mechanism against the Euro-trotter-scape of St Pancras station, focused on the high-end shop Fortnum and Mason’s. The parks of London give the impression of opening up the seemingly endless chances at play in metropolitan life. Despite the ever-present tragedies of morning drinkers, these parks give out a certain romance, of something Unrealised – enhanced by the social housing surrounding them, but totally obliterated by the exercise machines, that have the presence of colonisers in such parks, disallowing anything but the Utopia/Dystopia of ‘mission: Self-Betterment’.”
“Half 9 and it’s not unbearably busy at the Oxford Circus/Oxford Road junction right now. On rare occasions I do feel so utterly detached from the world/culture I am attached to that I’m like an alien spectator of The Spectacle. If this could last, well then I’d probably be able to spout such “you-don’t-have-to-buy-into-it” cop-out-philosophy to all those ‘negatives”. Speaking of ‘negative types’ how do you tell if there is or isn’t breathing coming from these disheveled shapes coated in old blankets in these closed doorways (the army of homeless, of course)? How do you know if they haven’t died silently on these sleepless streets? The survivalist fever that funnels us into individualist obedience makes certain the we treat such uncertainties as ‘none of my business’. Next to one of the blanket-coated bodies is a virtual-reality advert-board offering the proposition of having your ‘selfie’ taken with hippy/venture capitalist, Richard Branson.”
“Down near Embankment now. The amount of bodies lying down in doorsteps/parks/under bridges, looks like the results of warfare. Which, of course, it is.”
“After confusingly walking back and forwards, over the river, I eventually find myself in Waterloo station. In a city of plenty, why does the panicky grip of scarcity take hold? A mentality that physically sticks you to the ground in a seizure of confusion. Reminds me too much of the humiliation of anorexia, so I end up just sitting and eating on a bench in the busiest station in the country. Waterloo leads to all that rests at the other side of uncircumventable gateway of London to where I’m hail from. I imagine what my life might have been if I’d have hailed from the other side of the gateway, in a land that cannot help but seem like a dreamy, green and pleasant mid-century England, due to all the children I’ve overheard talking to parents in the station sounding like they belong in Enid Blyton novels.”
“I get up and walk. Slowly get going again. Crossing back north over the river, a friend texts me saying Corbyn has won the majority to become next leader of Labour party. “You shouldn’t rest your hopes around things” – yes, but I can’t keep down a small smile that emerges on my face.”
“Always rewind to a default position of surprise when I pass Downing Street, surprised that it’s not really a street at all; more a half-way between Granada Studio’s Coronation Street set and an aggressively guarded compound. Whenever you see a photo/story featuring No 10, it only focus’s on the house, not the street, which is mainly constituted of massive Portland stone ministerial buildings that that sandwich no 10 in.”
“After over an hour of confused meanderings, useless, utterly negative, exhausted text-book scribings; unsure if this demo is actually occurring (I got the time/place muddled up) I finally encounter it flowing down past Trafalgar Square. I follow it down to Parliament Square, back down past no 10. The larger the crowd, the less alienated I actually feel. I eventually find some people I know. The demo has most certainly been strengthened by Corbyn’s election victory this morning, and that he is attending this demo shortly. When we get to Parliament Square he gets to the stage. You can’t hear a word he is saying, yet the uproar from the crowd gets rid of any uncertainty towards what is happening. “Always be wary of the crowd” – maybe so, but, trust me, as somebody who’s spent a lifetime feeling alienated from groups in the usual course of life, I feel there is much to be gathered from a large group of people sharing a disparate yet unified energy. It suggests, or even ascertains a potential for an alternative to the current state of play that seemed unimaginable in this country a couple of years back. ”
“It’s a quest to retain an optimism from which alternatives can be nurtured within. But too tired to deal with the growing atmosphere of lairyness that seems to be taking over the area close to King’s Cross/ST Pancras. Football fans heading home meet half-drunk pleasure-fix-seekers to make for an environment I never expect in London. But London is England; the shit, perpetual con-trick of our corporate culture, and the ensuing frustrations are all out to play here on a Saturday just like any other town or city up and down the country. Large swaves of London are still just the England-kept-provincial under Thatcherite occupation, but on steroids. After leaving an Internet cafe I need somewhere to sit with a pint for some time but can’t find a cash machine. I walk up and down, in what seems like miles judging on how tired I am now. I finally find one, only for it say it will charge me £1.50 for using it. Have to walk all way back again. Pass more homeless that I have to shut my head off to this time, drained of social compassion. A group of men mock a trans-gendered person in that abuse-disguised-as-laddish-banter style we all know well; “it’s water off a duck’s back, no doubt”, yet I doubt that very much – more like collateral damage. 13 million people and still they find time to pick on one of them. Eventually find a cash machine and a pub that is only just off the main road. So it feels so odd that it’s completely absent of the UKWEEKEND aura. Sit outside, nobody hassles me. I write and relax and find a potential in the city, and in the country again, for something different than this lost-decade I share with most. Things might be changing, but this is a long-long game, and I carry on in a punch-drunk manner.”
“On the train back I close my eyes. Intoxicated by the sensory overload of a London, that, these days can often resemble the hallucination of walking inside the World-Wide-Web, and, inevitably, alcohol. I am exhausted. I see pictures of things traveling so fast I can’t make them out – traveling faster than the speed of the train. The drink’s kicking in, and again I’m feeling I need companionship, and not just meaningless, nihilist bullshit; something that at least feels real. Tired of consuming the boring medication to endure the ‘Boring Dystopia’. How do I return to a point where things are fresh and can surprise again?”
“As I leave Westgate at 11pm, I misjudge my timing crossing the road. Yet I am certain the motorist speeds up. For sometime now I’ve been thinking how private vehicles encourage primal power trips, a driving force in us, unnecessarily so, due to the dog eat dog atmosphere we are forced to inhale. The driver, in a white t-shirt, may as well have been flexing his muscles at my slightly disheveled self as I scurry across the road. There’s so much work to do: the Tories more than anyone are masters at making us hate one another. But I’m so fucking tired of this game.”
Non-Stop Inertia @Space&Place Left Bank by The (Un) realised Project.
Wednesday 15th/Thursday 16th July, 6PM @Left Bank, Cardigan Rd, Burley Park, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS6 1LJ
The (Un) realised Project is an umbrella for discussion, events and exhibitions that has come about through an ongoing dialogue between Leeds-based artist-curator John Wright (1989), South/West Yorkshire-based artist John Ledger (1984) and more recently Huddersfield-based artist D S Jarvis (1976).
Non-Stop Inertia is a performative piece that serves as an investigation into the profound state of precarity and ‘stuckness’ which we experience within contemporary life. Named after a book by Ivor Southwood. Southwood takes a comprehensive look into the situation of the “deep paralysis of thought and action” caused by the “ideologically constructed” landscape of precarity. This affects mainly the younger generation of workers, but it is increasingly dragging even more people into a role, which economist Guy Standing suggests is the ‘Precariat’, replacing the older term for the working class, the proletariat.
This interventional work consists of an attempt to install an artwork in the Space & Place exhibition. The performative intervention will be filmed in a documentary style, with the aim of capturing an often unobserved element of the exhibition process. In essence, there is a failure to ‘get the job done’ because the team faces constant interruptions. The interruptions are generated both mechanically (through the beep noise), physically (the geometry of the space) and psychologically (through conversation with the people in the space). Interruptions are welcome.
Stories From Forgotten Space builds on 2014 Mapmaking with the aim of taking the most prominent features of the project a little further. It is fact and fiction, clear analysis and emotional garbage, destructive and constructive thinking, but what it is is my truth, recollected through maps made of journeys I make. This section of Stories From Forgotten Space uses lost bus routes and thoughts prior to the UK general election to use spaces to look at what has half-vanished, and what I long for coming into being. Using mapmaking to discuss the fabric of contemporary life may not be ‘everybody’s cup of tea’ (as if that is what everything needs to boil down to?!), but I have always had a love for maps and their potential.
The previous section of Stories from Forgotten Space can be found here:
21 April 2015
“Home town-changing. Didn’t expect it to happen so soon; the demolition of the Metropolitan Buildings in Barnsley. The entire side of the centre that greets those entering by train is bordered up, including the Grogger’s Rest – a pub built into the concrete block facing the interchange, once named The Yorkshireman, and deemed ‘grotty’ for as long as I can remember. I didn’t realise it was being demolished too. The late 60’s/early 70’s-built Metropolitan Buildings have always been scorned by people and sources within the town whose opinions are deemed of worth. But I am still unsure whether I like them or not; whether they were inherently condemned to be a scourge on the urban fabric. In a more optimistic, naive stage of art-making, with graduation just around the corner, I made up a set of what-would-it-be-like-to-live-here-if computer edited photographs, where I coated the pre-existing townscape in images of trees and foliage – making it more Babylon than Barnsley. These simplistic edits of the landscape momentarily convinced me that the pre-existing townscape could improve vastly whilst remaining much as it is, if the little things around it all vastly improved.”
“Young man sits in cafe in Barnsley town at 6:30pm, facing the window looking out onto the now depopulated main shopping street. An aspiring young professional, if not a young professional already – you can just tell, sometimes appearances do tell the truth. On his laptop. Not reading, just checking emails. That’s all we do these days – keep on top of things, forever. His phone rings. His conversational tone is clear-cut, man-to-man; that passive/aggressive tone all too familiar in this time of communicative capitalism, where words shared become quasi-transactions. “If he has something to say tell him to come speak to me” (he doesn’t look much over 20). Definitely a work-related call. But everything is business these days, right?”
“Bump into drinking-companion from a more alive, pre-recession Barnsley night-life. He liked that specific vibe so much, he left a nearby town to move here. He tells me he is now thinking of leaving – nothing here for him anymore. You wouldn’t think that much had changed, but something’s very different from 10 years back. It isn’t a time I wish to relive, yet at least it didn’t quite feel like the permanent contraction of now. We stare all around Peel Square – expecting it to throw up a preferable answer. “Don’t drop litter, John” he suddenly adds as he butts his cigarette out on the bin, adding “I got fined £70 pound last week for dropping a cigarette butt as I was about to enter GT News [newsagent]. She [the enforcement officer] watched and waited until I’d come back out to accost me. I apologised, but she said it was too late and sprung the fine on me”. I’ve already heard these stories from cousins; “they sat in a car out of view, watching a waiting to see if I dropped the cigarette butt, and when I did they came and sprung the fine on me”. Already aware that this is a company, thus a profit-searcher, sub-contracted by the council authorities, I know full-well that the usage of ‘given’s’ such as “litter is bad”, “protecting environment”, “anti-social behaviour” is a icing-paper-thin veil over the profit-making-scheme-partnership between authority and company, which ends up punishing those who are already likely to be suffering most from the council-services-spending-cuts, which no doubt are the motive for these half-baked schemes in the first place.”
23 April 2015
“It still manages to surprise/confuse me when I can arrive, unaided by public transport into one of the designated urban hubs [central Leeds] of the UK with such ease [having cycled here]. I wonder whether it may feel amiss with my preconceived, due to urban centres still remaining as signifiers for all that I feel I want, and need, in life, no matter how much this sense gets displaced like particles scattering once I am in these spaces. This sense of displacement feels especially acute after a long day in London. Deep down I can’t admit that what I am looking for doesn’t exist; at least not in way I keep on imagining it, nor in constraints of our current social reality.”
“15X15 foot Advertisement board for the upcoming Victoria Gate upmarket shopping complex. An alien imposition. A silent yet strangely noticeable assault on one’s sense of self, that beams down from Nowhere, asking “Are you up to scratch? Are you one of the beautiful people around here, permitted to frequent here once it opens?'”
“On the train back to Wakefield, sat behind a middle aged man and woman passing comment on the current horror-show in the Mediterranean (the hundreds who have died trying to migrate from Africa into Europe). The conversational tone is one of mild anger and resent, but, incomprehensibly, it isn’t out of the injustice of these desperate human beings dying horribly, trying to escape desperate conditions; it is mild anger and resent at the idea of these people trying to get into this country, because “the NHS is already at bursting point” [as if migrants were the cause of this]. Who would have thought that such suffering would actually do more to eradicate empathy?”
“Erring (as per usual) trying to get from A to B within the commuter-houses-maze of Woolley Grange. But nobody is even there to see me take this pride-sapping uturn. In fact I’m unsure I’ve ever seen a single person whilst passing through this estate built on a former spoil heap. The odd parked car, but never a resident. It often fools you into imagining that it has never been more than a show/model village. An eerie feeling that would make sense if it was derelict, but it isn’t; it’s a new-build aspirational residential area.”
“Whilst waiting in line at a cash machine on the main thoroughfare near the [Huddersfield] station, at tall man (who could be anything from mid 20’s to early 40’s) starts talking loudly in an odd manner to a fed-up-looking off-duty postman, who stands in the queue behind me (very few postmen/women look how we’d imagine them to be when we contemplate how nice a job it would be). The tall man says something a long the lines of “ya go something to say now mate!? Eh? Hey?”. The off-duty postman, more or less bullied into responding, sayings “no mate” in a very submissive downtrodden manner. The man, now with an attitude of having won a conflict, says “good, coz there’ll be trouble next time”. My assumptions are that the postman lost his rag with somebody who made his working environment (the public environment) less pleasurable during the day (I know this from once fearing my job position, after telling a group of taunting teenagers to “piss off” whilst working as a postman 11 years back). But no matter what said in this probable heat of the moment situation, I hate to see signs of the vulnerability of all non-alpha males (such as myself) in a bully-boy culture.”
“A middle-aged woman gazes for some time at the homeless man sat in underneath a shop window one of the main shopping streets [Huddersfield], probably due to him not yet having the drained and disheveled look of somebody accustomed to such a life. He’s obviously new to this life, he still has the look of household domestication to him.”
“A placard encouraging people to vote Tory in the upcoming general election hangs from a lamp post leading to busy boundary-forming roads that circulate Huddersfield centre. It will never cease to strike me as perplexing as to how the Conservative Party could appeal to anybody who dwells in the urban environment, rich or poor, unless they are (a) working in the town and and leaving to the commuterised outskirts on a daily basis, or (b) their conditions of living afford them a comforting cut off from all that is.”
“The board at the entrance to the Cedar Court complex [next to Junction 39, Wakefield South] promotes it’s ‘conference and function suites, for weddings, meetings, conferences, leisure’ etc, etc – all the preconceived notions of work/leisure under corporate-captivity. It’s a world already made for us; fun, taste, memories, opportunities already laid out. Nothing beyond the prescribed. Small, powerless in the face of big (“this is how it is!”) signs, I silently shout “surely there’s more than this?!”‘
“The roads cutting through the fields between Wakefield, Barnsley and Huddersfield are so saturated with ‘Vote Conservative’ placards for the upcoming election, that (A) I feel ashamed of my lowly posture to be walking amongst them, and (B) undeniably relieved to see that one of them has been pulled up and placed face-down. “Not all cap-doffers ’round here!” Whatever the outcome may be come May 8, the moral humiliation of a Tory victory could prove too much to bear.”
“Travelling through a wooded area that runs through the neither suburban-nor-rural mill-town-cum-commuter-village clusters, Clayton West, Scissett, Denby Dale and Kitchenroyd. As somebody who goes out running a few times a week I have to accept my complicity in this, but me and Dave can’t help but agree, as we observe every jogger, in this post-work period, that they are somewhat the new zombie subject of our times. They have replaced the older passive consumer-mall zombie of a previous stage of capitalism. Financial speed re-channeled as undead-anxiety running through our veins. Driven, yet simultaneously passive. Going through the mechanical motions as if the levers and cogs of the long lost factories merely spilled out onto the streets after their closure.”
“Looking over to the Beeston area [Leeds]. Always trying to find the core of place. But they’re just houses, or spaces in shops or pubs. Just space occupied like anywhere else. Get thinking about Paul Sykes, a Barnsley “self-made” millionaire, who is now apparently lonely and miserable in his North Yorkshire mansion. It’s never at anywhere if you’re empty. Behind me two ‘bright young thing’ males exchange information of their culturally-exciting, upwardly mobile ‘where it’s at’ lives, spent between London and Leeds. Do I feel on the defensive? I course I fucking do. 6.3ft BBC-cum-highended-student accented males, who look right through a 5.7ft, suddenly-indelibly-localized denizen (myself). Judgmental or not, I can’t help thinking ‘cyberpricks’.”
“Everybody just looks so successful-looking in Leeds station right now, as I wait for the connection train at 11:30am. Maybe their faces look different at 5:30pm, and their Lego haircuts wane a bit. But I doubt it. It doesn’t reek of Conservatism, but provokes an helpless feeling within of the Tories not only winning this upcoming election, but also the battle of ideas.”
“False tranquility within the Vale of York. I catch white specs up on the hills to my left: the giant golf-balls, listening devices for the US-military-occupied Menwith Hill surveillance base. Green and pleasant England, a silent, invisible collaborator in global warfare.”
“North Yorkshire. Viking places names. Norman-cum-Tory playground since 1066.”
“[Leaving on train at Newcastle] Can’t admit I’m very human. I am currently hemorrhaging the year 2005.”
“I feel happy, but it’s wavering (has the repeated sight of Edinburgh Waverley on notice boards put that word into my mouth?). 10 years since I was last in Newcastle. Listening to The The’s emotion-bomb Soul Mining, which first became part of me all those 10 years ago. What I’d give for the rawness, that part of my being that would consequently commit suicide within months of May 2005. Look into reflection in window of homebound train, with an aging face. Don’t want to die this way. Flashbacks to when this occurred, listening to this album, walking down disused rail-track to the west of Barnsley.”
1 May 2005
“[In Newcastle station] looking for toilets, I notice the words ‘help the homeless’ scrawled in either permanent marker or crayon on the sandstone walls of this station. It’s the mark of a heat of the moment act, potentially desperation borne out of hopelessness. Straight off, it makes me wonder if this city’s homeless problem is even worse than the other UK cities.”
“Walk into a large city-based shopping centre [Newcastle centre] in search of a toilet that I don’t have to pay to use. The big monument I passed earlier appears again, this time appropriated into a virtual-impression draped on cladding for some upcoming aspirational consumer/leisure complex. Always an incorporation of something deemed of place and character into a non-place development that seeks to attract a generic-yet-culturally-powerful aspirational quasi-intellectual clientele, who, themselves, have no real place or character to them, when I think about it.”
“An homeless half sits/half lays in his sleeping bag on steps just metres from the Baltic [Gateshead], a former flour mill now an internationally-recognised art gallery. All art gallery staff, who also look the same no matter where (including myself) walk straight past him. Can I blame them if it’s a daily experience? What can they do? I don’t have anything but 20 pence in loose change on me. Feel embarrassed, but I give him it anyway. In a strong North East accent he musters up cheer to say “Every little helps, bud”. I walk back down the river towards the bridges back over to Newcastle. The landscape either side of these two closely-knitted urban centres dips down in a way that resembles much less urbanised coastal settlements.”
7 May 2015
Lost bus routes. Crofton
“The road into Crofton provokes many memories for Michael. A perfectly sized-rape seed-covered hill that became terrain for (old skool)Doctor Who-provoked nightmare-scenarios; catching a bus all the way to Leeds; a ten pence bus ride to Wakefield centre; memories of growing up here. We pass by a series of ‘Vote Labour’ placards, in contrast to the more countrified nearby village of West Bretton that is drenched in big, no- doubt costly, ‘Vote Conservative’ placards. I am worried that size sometimes makes a difference.”
“1960’s (70’s?) small shopping/flats complex [a similar complex in nearby Outwood], now part-derelict, and facing fenced off wasteland where a pub used to stand. Such complex’s intrigue me, evoking an urbanity of a Lost British City, introduced into these proletarian outcrops sticking out of farmland – known as former mining communities.”
“Cutting through large playing fields around the back of a council estate, a familiar experience to people born into the 2nd half of the 20th century all around the UK. Massive Gardens. One of the gardens is fenceless, merging with the field, something once quite common but now almost unthinkable. The smell of freshly cut grass, young people hanging out on a warmish Spring evening. It brings back memories of another life; a mixture of my own memories and no doubt those of my parents’ generation. This memory of council estates is far from an unpleasant one, and is far from being in line with the contemporary narrative of them. Fond memories, of world that seems to have only half-vanished do much to counter the negative, and (of course) ‘undesirable’ ‘un-aspirational’ press that council estates get. Which makes me realise that this story isn’t time immemorial. We walk towards some newer, yet never-finished, private, aspirational hovels – no doubt casualties of 2008. They remind Michael that he hasn’t stepped foot down here for gone 30 years.”
“As I catch my breath walking up an unusually steep suburban street [Wakefield is by and large ‘flatter’ than other West Riding towns], a long-lost vitality seems to be knocking loudly at the inner walls of the half dead person I have become. I know why this is. Yeah, this election doesn’t really offer much; but the unusually-high level of uncertainty regarding the outcome has conjured an emotional fidelity to the chance of a different kind of society, one where I can look to the future again. This feeling of vitality, like a plant that only flowers once a generation, is checking the atmosphere to see if it could become suitable. In this moment I recognise just how closely tied my chances of a better life are linked to the chances of there being a better world. It was certainly not planned, but emotional stakes place on the election result seem to have grown higher over the course of this day.”Between the villages of Ryhill and Cold Hiendley, on these windy old lanes that link up all these former mining communities. Why, after 20+ years since all the spoil heaps and slurry pits greened over, hiding the near past, do many of us still feel the urge to say “this landscape’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Maybe it constantly feels like it needs to be restated due to the nature of mining communities; they are unique amongst other former working class strongholds, because they are a proletarianised workforce cut off in the middle of fields, whilst the politics and ownership of the ‘green and pleasant’ ocean they are lumbered in hasn’t really changed since feudal times. This became all the more absurd once the pits went, making the mining communities look like somebody had literally taken a knife and sliced a few rows of houses out of the city of Manchester and chucked it into a field. The opposing interests in close proximity around here has become all the more apparent again since the political placards appeared.”
Lost Bus Routes. Mapplewell, Darton, Kexbrough. 7 May
“Memories of May 2000, on the day we left school. Walking through this pathway of gnarled Oak trees, towards an old quarry nicknamed ‘the plantings’, which mimics a mountain top’s rocky outcrop vantage point over the surrounding landscape. All of these things, alongside painted graffiti-covering of the rocks, some of which date back at least to the early 1970’s (full name tags, as if fallen from a raggy old school text book, and ‘Bay City Rollers’ testify to this), well, all of these things are that which the social conditioning of high school, which we were all secretly desperate to escape by then, had blinkered-me-through-fear from even contemplating, never mind discussing, on these obligatory school ending piss-ups that took place up here. Caught between schooled uniformity and anxieties that were too much in their infancy to realise their causation, I vividly remember throwing a full crate of Fosters lager, can by can, into the bushes when my friends were not looking, whilst walking down this very path. Today it would have been the opposite. Maybe I knew my psychological limits better back then…”
“New Road, Staincross. The long-gone 235 and 391 Yorkshire Traction buses taking me back from college in the infant years of a new millennium too young figure what it was yet. Fond memories of getting time on this slightly route homewards to let new music saturate a still-maintained-happy-ending-outlook as I waded through cassettes, zoned out from the social world, in the days before we were all lost to our Ipods. A calm point before the storms. I’m speaking of late 2001 here, and if the world momentarily stopped in the wake of 9/11, so too did my anxieties in a brief moment of art college-enabled reflection.”
I lead us towards Valley Road [Mapplewell] for a very specific reason. My most lasting memory of the 1997 New Labour general election landslide plays itself out on this road. Aged 13, myself and my school friends took advantage of the general election-instigated inset day to go on a bike ride up to nearby Woolley on what I recall as a gloriously sunny Spring day. Having just purchased plentiful icepops from the now ‘all-propertied-up’ corner shop, we laughed at the seeming absurdity of somebody driving around in car shouting ‘vote Labour’ from a megaphone, when the election had been decided last night. Today, in hindsight, it doesn’t seem so absurd, looking back on what can now be seen as ‘the mood of the mid-nineties’, which New Labour rode. Utterly different what was really happening back then, was the feverish spirit; a conviction that these were ‘good times’. After catching the back end of the Britpop virus, I was far too unclued-up and optimistic not to be swept a long. What, with Oasis, The Prodigy, Pulp, and later The Verve, it truly felt like the working class were back in charge, after what seemed like an awful 80’s. How bitterly wrong this sense of things proved to be. The mood on Valley Road is different now. A huge Union Jack moves in the very calm air, in the garden in a housing block of ‘good intentions’, built in the 1930’s to move people from the slums, betrayed by the past few decades. Will there be cause for celebration tomorrow? It’s funny how you never see any joy or celebration when the Tories win power.”
“In once-called ‘Darton West’ we get out the car and walk up towards the recreation ground, which is across from the 1970’s-built cul-de-sac, the only place I still know as ‘home’. Yet on returning it doesn’t quite feel like home anymore. Yet I do feel quite emotional as we approach the first block of council houses to go up in Kexbrough for the miners in the 1930’s. It’s different now, as when I lived here I left and entered the place with ASAP-speed, with the notion of home then being too caught up with my fears of falling into dangerously depressive states. But now I see it as I remember it before all that shit; as a child. The rows of 30’s/40’s houses, they are still here; they exist. They exist in their own right just as much as any yuppie tower block are doing right now in some place elsewhere.”
“Michael picks up on the clear divide that constitutes the area I grew up in. One road literally slices Kexbrough/Darton into 2 separate places; one of council houses built for workers in the long-gone industries, the other a more aspirational, commuter estate, built up after the opening of the M1 that slices through here. The two sides of the village have never really interacted. Yet there’s a divide even in the commuter-built area; between large detached houses with sandstone fronts (for managers, lawyers, doctors, headteachers?) with the oddly-named Roman Road area, where smaller brick-fronted detached houses cluster slightly more heavily. I can’t explain why it is called Roman Road, but it has changed much since I was young. Like everywhere really. There was a bus that came along here, an hair salon called Caesars, now just another house, and many children playing out on the street. Now there is nothing but passing cars, straggling dog walkers [the only acceptable walker in a car-dominated and paranoid estates], and us, looking weird now the sun is going down.”
“As we head back north we drive past the large door making factory at the bottom of the hill, where a pit yard once was. Acknowledging it in my vision produces a knot in my stomach, and a poker-faced defiance against a slow sliding down toward even worse work and pay conditions, for those (like myself) caught in the headlights between 40hr-working-week dependency, and a sheer lack of job-hunting guile. “I hear […this factory] treats its staff like utter shit”. Michael responds by talking about stories of fist-fights on the factory floor borne out of misdirected misery and frustration. We don’t even need to confirm to each other our sheer disagreement with working conditions having to be this way.”