I’m no Party person, no loyal group member; as much as wish I could be sometimes, I am a lone rider, and probably always will be. But even if I wasn’t working for a low wage, fortunately aided by my family, I’d still see that I have an investment in a common cause. And if I see something that looks like it could work to give the common cause a much needed helping hand, I’ll support it. Thus I’ve shown support for Jeremy Corbyn, and will continually show support for Labour if they do genuinely now stick to a commitment to social change. I’m not averse to any methods for socio-political change in aim of a greater good, but right now in the UK I think this is something all shades of the left should back (even if they dispute the term ‘left’).
That is, as long as it doesn’t get trampled on, and replaced by Blairites….
Primal Scream’s Exterminator – released 2000
Coming to voting age under New Labour was powerfully disillusioning; flashbacks of taxi rank fights, accidental conversation-killers (“is that not a topic we discuss?!”), the emergence of rolling news, Bush and Blair, Osama Bin Laden; their faces always present in the background.
[Please excuse my local dialect] “…Nowt tha can do, pal. May as well just get pissed-up” was probably the rallying call of the disenfranchised decade, and was the response you’d most likely get when talking politics.
But for me the album that best epitomises becoming an adult during the years of Blair was Primal Scream’s Exterminator; the unintended-flipside reality of their ‘end of history’, peace ‘n’ love, rave-age, work of art, Screamadelica, released ten years prior. Exterminator embodied the undoing of all the fresh-eyed, naively optimistic horizons at the dawn of the 90’s, and the end of the Eastern Block. The depressive-pleasure-seeking residue left of it for the disenfranchised masses, whilst the political elite-corporate alliance just did what the hell it wanted.
Now I would no way insinuate that what came after Blair/Brown was any better!! But the very idea of returning to that place, after all we’ve been through, makes me feel genuinely nauseous.
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.”
“They keep calling me”
Amidst the pretty stark turbulence I experienced as 2015 began I became obsessed with trying to write something about Joy Division’s eternal-presence in my life. But I never got anywhere, convincing myself it needed to be a project of a sizable, I-know-everything-about-Joy-Division, quality due to the task of writing about one of those bands guarded with pitchforked-opinions by musos. But it felt crucial for me to write something both for myself, and for the reason brilliantly articulated in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: “If Joy Division matter now more than ever, it’s because they capture the depressed spirit of our times. Listen to Joy Division now and you have the inescapable impression that the group were catatonically channeling our present, their future. From the start their work was overshadowed by a deep foreboding , a sense of a future foreclosed, all certainties dissolved , only growing gloom ahead.” (Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 2014).
Ben Hewitt’s article Joy Division: 10 of The Best, in the guardian this week, gave me an motivational template: I’d use a selection their songs to expand on all this stuff about the band that I have been driven to tell people in pubs for the past 3 years. But I don’t have any desire to write about a fave song list per se: the album tracks I reference gain a great deal of their significance when listened to within the context of the entire album (this should seem obvious, but in the Ipod age, the ‘shuffle’ features heavily in the way we listen to music). I also wanted to use individual tracks to explain how the din of their resonance seems to get louder and louder the further we (in UK terms) descend further into the Thatcherite experiment that may finally be coming to end… “this dream it takes too long”. And although I found only managed to write about 7 songs, they were more than sufficient. Thus I have proceeded in writing the blog I’ve been wishing to write all these years.
In the past few years it seems overwhelmingly the case that we are looking back to a certain time for answers to a present day inertia. Yet we don’t seem to realise that this is what we’re doing, and so just continue doing it blindly. Cultural artifacts from the 70’s into the early eighties seem to be constantly at hand for reference on all media platforms. For example, Ben Hewitt’s article: although I think it’s brilliantly written in its own right (far more imaginative use of language than I could ever achieve), and it creatively touches upon material that relates to their ‘channeling of the present’, it also seems oblivious to it. When he writes of Dead Souls that “…Curtis sounds like he’s being pulled by ghostly apparitions, trapped in a place “where figures from the past stand tall / And mocking voices ring the halls”…” isn’t the most ghostly aspect of all in how this perfectly describes our relationship to Joy Division in the 21st century? Such articles and documentaries don’t seem to understand the motive behind their accumulative coming-into-being 35 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. Of the 7 Joy Division songs I have picked, I have tried, when possible to introduce them in relation to personal experiences, 1. Disorder
“Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
It must have been 2010; in that murky moment between something bad (New Labour) and something worse (all-out-Tory Class War-disguised as ‘the coalition’). Up until now Joy Division had been off my succession of cheap mp3 players for a few years – having told myself that the obsession I had with them in my early 20’s, some five years back into the thick of Blair’s Britain, had been a sign of immaturity, and that they’re subsequent increasing popularity was no more than a Topshop accessory. As the fall of 2010 arrived with the threat of immobilising snow storms entrenching a deeper existential inertia, it all reversed, and I found myself hurtling back towards some kind of early 20’s point.
We were drinking at a friend’s flat in the back-end of Barnsley- one of those new-build apartment complexes, squeezed in amidst unhappy-looking Victorian terraces still stained by the soot of a vanquished industry. A few cans downed and then it was time to head into town, myself regrettably still hooked the mirages of fulfilled hopes and dreams that coated the shell of the so-called Blair-year Party-times. But this was now descending into its zombie stage.
We came to an agreement that we needed a ‘going out song’, and we chose Disorder. The throbbing beat of the bass drum kicked in, and the trance-like state took over for the first time in years. This wasn’t a flashback, as I was back there again. The way my slightly inebriated friends were moving around the room, getting seduced into the whirlpool-like nature of Disorder when played at volume, made me realise that this wasn’t some “Lets all dance to Joy Division” indie-cool trend: this was real. My early twenties-daily dependency on Unknown Pleasures didn’t seem so weird any more. My friends may or may not have been depressed, but they existed, like me, in secretly-depressed times. At that point, despite differences in opinion of the severity the global and social issues outside the window, Joy Division felt like understanding of life that we all shared.
The insightful left-wing group Plan C convincingly argue, in their essay We are all Very Anxious that anxiety is the dominant ‘public secret’ of this current stage of capitalism (which doesn’t mean to say that other negative emotions have disappeared, just that this is the definitive one of our age). By ‘public secret‘ it is meant that it is “…something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. …[W]hen discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation”.
I would add that there are two public secrets; the anxiety we endure being the first, and the second being that we exist in ‘depressed times’, and many of us spend much of our lives rocking painfully back and forth from anxiety to depression. But what is incredibly important here is that Joy Division share the public secret with us, ‘catatonically channeling our present’ as Mark Fisher says. What makes Disorder so [Unknown]pleasurable is that it shares that publicly hidden anxiety with us. It speaks about something we normally have to hide. The guitar riff between verses is so riddled with panic it is intoxicating, it recognises the pain that is otherwise barred an outlet.
From 2010 onwards I remembered what this music did for me. How it’s darkness was often a life-saver. Perhaps a necessity as I stared down the barrel of a nastier, more Tory reality. As the drums continue to smash out in a death-drive whilst the rest of song exhausts itself into finitude, Disorder becomes an introduction to a record that makes no emotional compromises; doesn’t pretend things are OK; makes no effort to pretend it sees a bright side to life. And this is why from this point onwards it resumed it’s place as a make-shift prescription tablet ‘day in day out’, from 2010 onwards.
“I’ve lost the will to want more, but I remember when were young”
The mid years of New Labour were a weird time for those of us in our late teens and early twenties. So many people I thought were sorted were actually in a real mess, trapped between small-town college courses they had no interest in and bleak job prospects, propped up by bi-weekly drug or drink intake. I never put 2 and 2 together at the time. One friend from back then spoke of his recent depressive spell: “It’s like somebody flicks a switch, and I’m gone for days on end.” The minute-long opening to the track Insight has something of the uncanny about it. The soundscape of lift-shafts moving and doors locking is so close to epitomising the nausea-like continual-return of depression it’s almost an unreal sensation as the shivers go down your back and you think “fuck me, that’s exactly how it is!”.
I was pleased Ben Hewitt included it in his list of songs, although it’s with tracks like Insight that I come to realise that listing album songs merely for their individual qualities is somewhat lacking. Insight’s intro is the seminal moment in Unknown Pleasures. Even after the self-destruction of Disorder, and building terror in The Day of Lords, there is still potentially room for another world, another way. But Unknown Pleasures is the world of the depressive; once that door locks the depression sufferer knows all-too-wll what world we’re in; he/she knows that feeling of that ‘locked door’, once you’re inside “gone for days on end”. Insight plays the pivotal role in signifying that this is no ordinary record; you’re entering a specific world, at which point sufferers of repetitive bouts of depression have a moment of strength due to being able to invite others into it. It has much the same relationship as Heart and Soul does on their second album ‘Closer’ – the position of the sorcerer’s hand, dictating the overall direction of the record. Their producer Martin Hannett was clearly quite unique, his ability to conjure the soundscape around Joy Division’s tracks is so fitting the only word you could use in hindsight of what Joy Division became is ‘perfection’. It now almost seems like he was electronically connected to Ian Curtis’s emotional state, forcing him to be the cypher for our present day cyberspacially-fucked subjectivities.
Insight makes sense of what has been and what is to come from the viewpoint of clinical depression. But if we are to conclude that we live in a secretly-depressed time, then that sense seems far more wide-spread than merely being down to personal shortcomings. Insight really does channel something. The world they and their post-punk contemporaries saw/foresaw, one where social democracy was crumbling under a return of more powerful and relentless capitalism, where industry no longer needed them, no longer of value to society, well all that never went away. All that happened was that it was buried under the incessant command to be positive and proactive in the market fundamentalist economy that requires us to be market individuals, where opting out of the game is all but impossible without dying as it seeps into all potential waking (sleeping) moments due to computer technologies. This sense of having “no future” actually intensified, but was barred an expressive outlet amidst an intensifying downpour of aspirational dogma. I think this is why these days we so often find ourselves praising certain artists from the Post-Punk-New Wave crossover of the late 70’s to early 80’s, because that period seemed to be a ‘breathing space’ for raw emotional response to the early days of the Thatcherite transformation, before it became so entrenched that raw expression became so much harder to articulate; a ‘reflexive impotence’ (Fisher) that not only affects our ability for political engagement but also our emotional expression – “smile or die”.
I have previously written about this uncanny-like-relationship music from this period has with our contemporary situation. It’s like what happened from then onwards was some sort of icing over, and that we now stare at these voices as if they have been frozen in time, floating underneath the ice. I wrote previously of Kate Bush and Joy Division in particular. I think of the music video to Kate Bush’s Breathing (based on nuclear war – another issue that, although as relevant today, seems frozen into a 70’s/80’s time-pocket), and the images of her trapped behind the see-through skin of the bubble she is encased in seems to pretty-much visualise what I mean here. Perhaps the drive towards retrospection in this current moment is due to a slow-awaking to the horrifying future-less reality we actually exist in, finding ourselves with no choice but to push away all the hyperbole that disguised this truth to us from its onset there-on-after? 3. Novelty
“You’re on your own now, don’t you think that is a shame, but you’re the only one responsible to take the blame…so what you gonner do when the novelty is gone, ?”
A sense of loss. Novelty was actually one of the first Joy Division songs I ever listened to. Aged 18 (2002), it was a cassette featuring a Joy Division compilation on the one side, and Television’s Marquee Moon on the other. It signaled the end of teenage life. I was experiencing my first ‘They Live’ moment (where he puts on the sunglasses and sees the Real), when the comforts and sugary surface of the social construction fell away, leaving me shit-scared of a world my nervous system has no way of coming to terms with. It resurfaced into 2012 when my messy inability to adjust to a Masters course in 21st century London made me face the truth that I my youth had now come to an end, with no progression to another stage of life on the horizon.
I reference these two points because I think it is arguably most tragic of their songs, because it seems to document the point of loss – that point where a little something of you dies inside, from which ‘New Life’ proves impossible for many. Mark Fisher in his 2005 Kpunk blog The Nihil Rebound (published in Ghosts of My Life, and probably the strongest piece on Joy Division I know of) writes that “what separated Joy Division from any of their predecessors” was that their “bleakness was without any specific cause… …crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow…Curtis sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ but there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place”.
Yet I don’t think Novelty does this: it is even more tragic in that it evokes the act of loss. For me Novelty shares the same emotional space as The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes (“and I will never sleep again”), the result of which Morissey sang he neither “happy or sad”, just numb. The songs evokes a point of departure. The Smiths, hailing from the same city, would (in my opinion) not make a song that came as close to the point of bleakness as this, whilst for Joy Division it signals the point of departure to “a bleakness without any cause”. 4. Digital
“Feel it closing in. Day in Day out”
As 2005 got messier and messier, I briefly entered a wider social group including of a group of lads from the incredibly-deprived former pit villages of the Dearne Valley (Thurnscoe to be exact), and a group from former mining communities straggling between Wakefield, Barnsley and Hemsworth. All of the places somewhat left abandoned after the pit closures, and which saw our area of South/West Yorks (Darton) as posh – a consequence of us getting the M1, and it becoming a split community of tepidly-affluent commuter houses at one side and council houses built for coal miners at the other.
Sections of this wider group would end up fighting and momentarily-despising each other (mainly over women), and each constituting a more-or-less ‘with it’ group leader and many emotional or physical wrecks. The Dearne Valley lot had no time for Joy Division’s near-death finale Closer, but were obsessed with Unknown Pleasures (and the album tracks most akin the Unknown Pleasures sound), even wearing the album-sleeve t-shirt. I would’ve thought it a fashion accessory back then, until I realised how much of a ‘fucked up’ generation I belonged to, and why such music may just appeal to these people.
“Let’s All Dance to Joy Division” was a track by a then in-vogue indie-cool outfit The Wombats (to which you WON’T find a link on here). It seemed to treat their surging popularity as something with a comical tint to it, as if we were all easy-come easy-go hipsters unaffected by REAL shit. But I saw no joke in what these tracks meant to me, at a very turbulent point, and even 25 years after they ceased to be. Before the death of small town student nights, the customary dingy indie night club would play non-album-track Digital for us every Wednesday, demanded as necessity and eventually granted.
If it weren’t so minimal the message would be lost. The song is like a drill piece, which, like the outro solo to Shadowplay, is violently unwilling to divert from it’s acceleration towards a dead end. It is 3 minutes of medicinal joy, an energy-release from the general continuity of mild-distress. “I feel it closing in”. If one sensation is necessarily put to the back of the minds of those who hit their twenties in the post 9/11/post Iraq invasion world of increasing cyberspace-interpenetration, it is one of being on borrowed time; where the future has imploded and is hurtling back towards us. ‘Stay young – what else is there anyway?’. With our hands perpetually hovering over our panic buttons, and our feet walking a tightrope above depressive dysfunction, Joy Division’s chaotic hell begins to arrange the look of the world in a way we can deal with. A way we could deal with, back then, when I for one most certainly relied on their music for survival at the most unstable of points. And yes, we did dance to Joy Division. 5. Decades
“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders”
Decades, the final song on their second (and last album) begins with a soundscape the feels like entering some sort of bone-yard-remnant of unquantifiable suffering- but a suffering being undertaken with total indifference. Again, Hannet’s soundscaping seems, in hindsight, so close to a putting the seal of inevitability over Curtis’s then-imminent suicide, that you often wonder if he truly was a man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: a tortured pop artist, radical to the cause, caught in the crusher of one huge transformation paving the way for the a much worse world: one lacking a future. The chilling intro conjures to mind a scenario similar to the raising of the skeletal dead from a parched graveyard on one of the most unnerving of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-frame-motion scenes in the 1962 film production of Jason and the Argonauts.
Decades doesn’t just seem to drag behind it the weight on the shoulders of the punk/post-punk generation, it seems to drag the ghosts of all previous proletarian generations, embodying the destruction of all that the working classes had worked for/fought for. Not only do Curtis’s vocals sound like the voices of the dead accidentally picked up on a tape recorder, but it is as if our forefathers are raised, bent and buckled by two centuries of exploitation, to see the future they believed they were building for their grandchildren crumbling into wasteland.
“I guessed they died some time ago” (Interzone, Unknown Pleasures)
Joy Division were beyond a cause, and weren’t political, even when Curtis sang of the worst excesses of unaccountable power. But without meaning to or not, they remain a cypher for the collapse of a humanist future, the swansong of a post-punk movement that woke up to the depressive reality of the no-such-thing-as society-nihilism that was Punk’s rallying call; the ‘spirit of ’45’ had been buried and a new nastier phase was on the cards. Curtis’s own political leanings and obsessions were more collateral damage than anything, conveying a sense of despondency with the course being taken by humanity, who seemed too far gone to be able to threat any longer over rights and wrongs. As I said before, this despondency articulated by post-punk never went away, but has been largely denied a contemporary articulation due to appropriation of any idea of individual expression into ‘market individualism’. Consequently their legacy grows larger and larger. Collateral damage indeed.
Ten years later The La’s, a Liverpudlian band, fronted by Lee Mavers, who was hell-bent in trying to make the best pop album in years, closed their only album with two tracks that seem to be living through Post-Punk’s anticipated breakdown in a city smashed by the Tories, Failure and Looking Glass. After the defeat of working class solidarity by Thatcherism in the 80’s, The La’s’ self-titled album now seems to make more sense in 2015 than it’s more lauded ‘Madchester’ contemporaries whose energies were far more easily subsumed into a more omnipotent capitalism’s demand that we enjoy our servitude. Although stylistically following the late ’80’s guitar-band tendency of looking back to the 60’s for solace, the lyrics to the La’s’ Failure “So you open the door with the look on your face. Your hands in your pocket and your family to face, and you go down stairs and you sit in your place” could easily have found a fitting place within Decades. But the incessant demand to ‘dance, dance, dance to our servitude‘ of neoliberal capitalism is wearing thinner and thinner by the day. I think the increasing popularity of Joy Division with young people is a sign of this, even if there little self awareness of the motive.
“there’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold/heaven knows it’s got to be this time …..avenues all lined with trees.”
It’s early 2002. I’m a anti-social 18 year old, plugged into his cassette tapes, still capable of day-dreaming in the learning centre of a now-demolished college. A tune comes back into my head from some early childhood point. This was a few years before the days where a tune could be found in just a matter of seconds after remembering it. If this could be classed as memory at all: as memories for me seem more akin to the pre-digital-tech cassette player, in how the original pitch of a track always seems to be lost in translation; a memory/cassette-tape error that allows for a unique relationship with a tune. This only really became apparent after I recently re-watched the film Donni Darko; Love Will Tear us Apart features on the film, and I am convinced that it plays at an higher pitch, which incidentally makes it sound like a cassette tape version.
The tune I remembered in 2002 was Love Will Tear us Apart. But it took me until the summer to actually manage to listen to it again. Thereon-after, as my teenage inertia was superseded by a young-adult inertia (based around what I would come to see as ‘Depressive Pleasure-seeking‘.), Love Will Tear Us Apart became an staple in The Retro Bar at The End of Universe; former bars would be replaced by future former bars, with their only continuity being the ‘stuck record’ of the ‘Indie Disco’. The hair-raising synth and drum outro feels like it could stretch out into eternity, due to perpetual dependency placed upon music that was new when capitalism’s ‘slow cancellation of the future’ was only just beginning. The ‘eternal present’ of our capitalist reality has to come to an end, in some form. But the end cannot be seen from within. But, my god, it is longed for.
As with Atmosphere and These days (written at a similar point) Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony (although properly recorded as New Order, after Curtis had died) share the same sense of painful longing for something that never materialises – “this dream it takes too long” as Curtis sings in 24 Hours. Ian Curtis’s lyrics may have been most directly attributable to the specificities of his collapsing personal life, but it is clear that there’s a longing here for something that stretches far beyond these confines, towards a promised world, perhaps? the dreams of postwar optimism, now falling into tatters in front of the atomised, lonely type of Utopia offered by Thatcherism. It is inconsequential whether Curtis voted rightward or not, he was caught in the headlights of a pivotal moment in history and expressed an anguish an increasing proportion of us identify with.
I listen to Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony with that sense of longing that other Joy Division’s songs do not allow for: the social world I long for, not the one being blown into atomized, lonely pieces by the end-game of neoliberal (market fundamentalist) political economy. It’s an in-the-making conclusion that I never thought I’d come close to making when listening to Joy Division; that there is a longing in some of their final songs that looks for an escape route from certain-demise, a last gasp of life. Ceremony’s “Heaven knows it’s got to be this time”, is a plea: that ‘I want another chance to live!’. “Avenues all lined with trees”, a social world of vitality, for our families, that we once saw as a guarantee. For me, in this past year, these lyrics have served as a mute wish I carry around with me to supersede this awful stage in something I have no embarrassment in calling ‘the human project’. You see, with all these documentaries, and articles, we are looking back to Joy Division to trace our steps back towards a future that was stolen. We want it back.
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.”
I’ve finally found out who the narrator of this lost gem was. Ian Douglas Nairn “a British architectural critic and topographer.” Although I come from an art, and ‘that bloke who walks everywhere [in the age of cars]” background, I find a lot similarities with this video and the documentation I’ve been doing of this area 45 years later. Many of the problems are the same, just with different buildings; the urge to tell the people of the town to “wake up”, and demand better is still a common urge. If at times it sounds harsh, it becomes clear it is constructive criticism from something he really wants these places to be more than they are. As for me, being from this area, and still living here, constructive criticism is all one can afford to do – simply slagging a place off does nobody any good.
Within this video, although he has doubts that the plan for the new concrete metropolitan complex (market place, car park) would be satisfactory in reality (and most would probably argue time has proven him right), there is still a evidently massive modernist impulse within his desire for better urban spaces, because he “likes the people [of Barnsley]”, and feels they deserve(d) better. He is a man who believes in progress for the benefit of all, a rare sentiment in our current times where many are fooled into believing archaic ideas would benefit us. Ironically, it seems likely that Nairn’s accounts may actually have influenced New Labour’s regeneration of UK towns/cities, which took modernist ideas on a surface-deep level, largely using them to redevelop cities for the wealthier citizens, to the exclusion of the rest, something Owen Hatherley referred to as ‘pseudo-modernism’ in his highly recommended book ‘A Guide To The New Ruins of Great Britain’. This is certainly evident in Nairn’s account of the then wasteland canal-sides in central Leeds on a documentary he made traveling by canal – as anyone who knows contemporary central Leeds will know, this area has been regenerated into a area of highly expensive city living (posh restaurants, luxury flats, and finance). Regarding Nairn’s account of Barnsley, you can almost see Will Alsop’s overly colourful Blair-years virtual-impressions of an ‘haloed’ Barnsley rising up from the wreckage that he stands amidst (although this isn’t really a criticism of Alsop himself, I do think some of Alsop’s ideas, if separated from the Blair year misuse of modernism/urban regeneration, had much promise).
Also, in the light of the confusion and discontent surrounding our relationship with the rest of Europe, being exploited by parties such as UKIP with worrying results, I find Nairn’s belief that we should look at (the then 1960’s) Europe for possible answers, very refreshing in deed. Nairn concludes by saying “I’m a European person, it’s all one to me”.