Tag Archive | west yorkshire

Strange Ask…

I’ve lost an important (to me) drawing I was working on whilst was documenting the growth of a tree I planted almost 10 year ago, on the South/West Yorks border, as part of an art project. Sometimes it seems impossible to grasp at genuine optimism in the world we have molded (and sometimes it seems to off the mark to discuss such small things then such big things have happened just up the road!), but all the same the tree does as least serve as an totem for optimism in my life, whether empty, half empty, half full.

P1050125

But my scatterbrain approach to task management meant that whilst I was taking this photo I almost certainly placed a creamed-coloured carrier bag on the ground with an A3 drawing in it that was very important to me. A drawing, which although dark, was darkly optimistic about how, as a species, we are ready for another stage, another type of society now – but ATM it’s blocked from us. It’s taken up much of my days already.

It may only seem minor in light of things, but I’d be unbelievably thankful to anyone who could end up finding it for me. Cheers

A Lifetime’s Worth of Staring at Train Announcement Boards

A semi-fictional broth of occurrences over the past few days.

2015-12-30 18.19.03

A morning

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.

P1040652 (1280x957)

A night

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.

A Day

20160101_134111

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.

2016-01-08 08.45.10

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. 

20160108_185852

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.

OneNat

OneNationTory (2015)

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…

20160108_191758

 

Lost Summers: Stories From Forgotten Space

P1030979

It doesn’t feel like we’ve had a summer for years now. Climate Change may or may not be making July/August wetter, but this plays only a small factor in the loss of summer, if any at all.  Even when the sun beams down the colour looks faded. The taste is gone.

All the more recognisable for watching the landscape from the tinted windows of a bus as it left Wakefield bus station heading through the summer fields of the hills that form the West/South Yorks boundary. A small, unreliable bus company who purchase old coaches; the tinted windows drain the summer colours outside to look like faded photographs, from a vehicle that provokes faded memories of holidays fooling some unlocatable part of me into thinking we are going somewhere coastal, and not just to our workaday drop-off points.  Moving on Up, The M-People, was resonating off the tin and tiles of the bus station, as sounds always do. I make a joke to my work colleagues that now this mildly-annoying song is in my head, I’ll end up spreading it throughout the workplace. But I’m secretly trying to deal with this unending sense of an inner void that I don’t know how to fill;  I was hardly M-People-fond, but at least it felt located somewhere in time; if it wasn’t for the faces (intermittently including my own) all staring at their phone screens, and the evident social pressure to look CGI-perfect, it could’ve been 1993, and, of course, it still is in someway, but without the taste and smell, no matter what that taste/smell was. Reality may as well exist on a computer screen if it lacks any tangibility, and we still roam around in a weird CGI-ied version of the last decade of the 20th century. Unwilling to share this truth, unwilling to share the pain of it.

P1030977

Is it possible to rewind in an ‘always on’ inertia? If so let’s go back to the week following Friday 8 May. I shared a drawing I made in the wake of the Tories getting a majority in the general election. It got the most stirring response I’ve ever experienced in the 7/8 years of posting things online; people weren’t just saying “looks mint man” or “well done John”, they were sharing how they felt in the wake of the realisation of what another 5 years of the Tories’ sheer jubilance in carrying out the brutalities of neoliberalist economic realism would entail (as opposed to New Labour who seem to carry out the same measures through a sheer disbelief in themselves). I felt stirred, because I felt that others were stirred. You cannot be stirred for long if it’s a solitary experience. A sense of collectivity in enraged disbelief at what had just happened erupted. The summer looked daunting, looked like it could ignite – but at least it looked like it could be alive. I thought something new was afoot. But the same shit happened. The fire was dampened very quickly. It fell prey to the now-well-known amnesia and exhaustion of our ‘always on’ lives; psychologically overworked by the never-ending overtime of cyberspacial capitalism, we don’t recall the immediate because the here and now is fracked to death. Just like everything else that once felt like it required urgency, it suddenly feels far away. Was I fool for thinking that this was different to the other times? Maybe.

Life itself feels far away. Again.

P1030982Back into deep deep summer and an environing sense of depression takes hold again, like every fucking year to memory now. The possible exception being 2011, which I will return to. Whilst families still go on their holidays, the chain pubs promote ‘summer fun’, and Facebook piles up with photos in the sun, the mood is as heavy as to induce the mental equivalent of the Bends-effect once you try to out-do the environing depression and prise yourself into an proactive state. Mounting frustration; peak-time self-destruction.

The massive support for Jeremy Corbyn, as much as it shouldn’t be dismissed as mania, or as something that will fade into insignificance, is too little to late in regards to this year’s deep summer to provide any sense of a break from this shitty reality. At which point let me point out that I have never been averse to either socialist, anarchist, insurrectionist or reformist measures; any ways of making cracks/leakages in the global glacier of ‘capitalist realism’ with the aim of something better (what could be worse than the [no]future of diminishing returns it has in store for us?) has my backing. I am not aligned to any oppositional force, nor am I averse to any.

But more is needed. The only true summer moment of the past ten years I can think of was the English Riots of 2011. I’m not saying they were constructive (and what made them stand out more was that they were situated amidst a year of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and plentiful large-scale protests), and me, as scared of confrontation as I am, was as anxious as anyone about what could occur at the peak of their escalation. But they at least gave a sense of life to a country that has otherwise been in a coma under neoliberalism, to which no amount of ‘fun in the sun’ simulcra can make me feel otherwise.

P1040004The last few years have barely tasted or smelled of anything. I have been preoccupied with ghostly traces of a past that won’t go away. As deep summer rolls on I realise I’m just as stuck as I was the year before, staring at the appearance of the movement of people ‘getting on’, all the more impounded in this deep and depressed illusion of summer.

It’s all about being stuck

1Maybe (in fact, probably) there are small and still-barely-connected energies at play, setting in motion the forces to build a continuity capable of shifting this neo-ice age of the neoliberalist political economy that coats the recognisable world (like rare creatures frozen in ice that could speculatively be brought back to life by science, the shared convictions of the 60’s and 70’s that the world could be shaped for the better still stare back at us as they float underneath this icy coating). But in spite of this probability, the sensation we still have to battle day in day out, on a Alone Together (a brilliant book which brilliantly manages to miss the elephant in the room) basis, is one of being stuck.

We rush around at a faster and faster pace, cyberspacial info swirls in and out of our heads, faster and faster. But it’s a trap; the more we try to evade the hell of being stuck the more we impound a very specific technological framework that serves to make the possibility of alternatives to the current state of play seem impossible. The more we rive and tear the more we become trapped. Or so it increasingly seems.

How have we managed to reach a point where we are both manic and deeply bored creatures at the same time? A Hyper-Malaise prevails. Disbelief, an inability to be excited by life alongside a Feverish chasing up on errands  “surely it will all make sense once I finish the next task in hand….?” Anxiety and boredom are the ruling coalition, and realisation of this is so depressing on an solitary basis. Relief comes when somebody shares the same conviction, but it is thus far a rare occasion amidst the sea of commands to find the current state of play a deep forest of yet-to-be-discovered enjoyments, rather than what it really is: a wasteland of intoxicants to momentarily soften the blow.

Yet the depressed are potentially the ‘drowned and saved’ (to use the title of J.D Taylor’s blog – an inspirational writer of my generation if ever there was one), waiting to be joined together. They are thus the true optimists in-waiting, because the intolerable state of realistion they find themselves in makes for a deep deep desire and longing for a way out, amidst these deep deep depressive excuses of a summer.

Recent Mapmaking (2014 so far) part 4

This is the 4th post in a series that I still call psychogeographical maps (or cognitive mapping). Quoting certain sections and using a selection of photographs to widen the project, which at its core still has the intention to be a Cognitive Mapping of Now – aiming to be useful for locating the current socio-political mood, and the psychological impacts of it.

The 1st post can be found here.

The 2nd here

The 3rd here

A collection of the 2014 maps can be found here.

.

.

17 September 2014

“[The] train now grinds to an halt of the middle of nowhere [between Sheffield and Meadowhall]. Just sits. Cramped, and overpriced. Old, rickety, late trains – and the ticket conductor has the cheek to ask to inspect everyone’s tickets. Cheated is the feeling; for living outside London; for living in the UK; for living in a privatised world. One thing I do hope is that Scotland vote for independence, and show us how a rail system should be run.”

83. 17.09.2014.

20 September 2014

Wakefield to Leeds to Bradford to Halifax to Huddersfield to Leeds to Wakefield

Too tired to make notes…..

85

.

86

P1010627.

24 September 2014

“Sat outside the flimsy, skeletal, Mary Celeste [as in, never-completed] structure. Talking about the gangsterism prevalent in a lot of small (and large) businesses, [makes] this entire area, much of it urban wasteland, take on an incredibly sinister feel. Bleak, dark, ominous – often a reflection on how the world feels on a whole right now. Men parked in flash cars, [dressed] in suits, suddenly [feel] threatening; like wraiths – guards of this injustice-drenched landscape.”

88. 24.09.2014

89

90. P1010677

91.

.

29 September 2014“ [In London] Approaching the Brutalist success story ‘The Barbican’. New development (aiming at being incorporated under the Barbican success logo) has hoardings covered in grass imagery. As I look at the Brutalist skyscrapers, perhaps due to this age of incoming third world [level] poverty they conjure that that ‘deep Asian dystopia’ of dark towers hitting a smog-filled sky. The hoarding writing says [“creating Britain’s future”]. Yet this (the Barbican) was another era’s future! It feels stolen now – a future only for a very few.”

“Navigating the ‘tributary roads’, hoping they’ll take me to the torrent, over-capacitated, coastal river …The Old Kent Road (the new River Thames, making its way to Dover’s Europort).”

92. 29.09.2014

93 93a 94 95

.

29 September 2014

“[In New Cross] Feel like if I sat in this once-temporary old haunt for much longer I wouldn’t be able to go up again [as if it was some sort of final resting place – the very strange sensation I got when I temporarily moved down here in the first place]. Trapped in a time bubble like the final episode of Sapphire and Steel.”

[Central London] “Everybody is exercising! [Everybody jogging!] Super Professionals – wired-up to capital. In these places capital has achieved its utopia. Bike shops (designer of course). [Even] exercise shops; toned bodies parading [like window mannequins].”

96. 29.09.201497

98

99

Unity Arts Launch Exhibition (upcoming exhibition)

I will be showing 3 of my works The Index of Child Well-being, The Place of Dead Ends, and Whilst We Were all In The Eternal Now… as part of Unity Arts’ Grand Opening Event, which will take place on Saturday 6th Sept 2014 at Unity Works, Wakefield. Please visit if you can.

The exhibition will run for 3 weeks and close on Sunday 28th September.

final 1(compressed)the place of dead ends

Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now... (2014)

At Home with Utopia

“I’ve seen what people are capable of when they’re in desperate situations. Are we really so far from that point already?” – Philip Carvel, Utopia, episode 6

bus station

I won’t dispute that the recent second series of Channel 4’s Utopia ( Dennis Kelly) was gripping. Nor will I dispute the fact that what made it more gripping was its use of overly homely locations around Barnsley and Wakefield in the final episode – fusing two of my obsessive pre-occupations: place, and our collective future in this century (the crucial issue within the drama). After all, I have a clear memory of reading Slavoj Žižek’s Living in The End Times in the very of bus aisle used for the beginning scene of the final episode.

Yet, Žižek’s approach to ‘the end times’ is in itself a critique of a cultural infliction that I argue is critically played out in Utopia’s ‘end times’. Žižek’s book deals with the civilisational dead end we have found ourselves at. That although a capitalist reality can only deepen the problems we face in the 21st century, we are incapable thus far of imagining an alternative reality. He, like many other take heed, and deepen the assertion from the famous quote made by theorist Fredric Jameson that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism”. A cultural infliction that theorist Mark Fisher calls ‘capitalist realism‘ prevents a civilisation from imagining a way out of the mess it has found itself in.

s2e6-terrence

Utopia’s artful web of conspiracy ideas, all set up within the drama to enable a secret sterilizing-causing-vaccine called Janus to greatly reduce the human population, is greatly imaginative within the narrow realms of what is currently imaginable, but it goes no further. Whereas a film such as The Children of Men (set in the aftermath of mass sterilisation) dealt with the fallout of the inability to overcome a dead end, Utopia provides only capitalist realist solutions to it. Nowhere within the drama’s message is there room for contemplation that a more equal distribution of resources, and a more democratically planned growing and using of foods and fuels could perhaps be a solution, because this is far harder to imagine ever happening than the end of the world. Thus, the only option in such a reality is to greatly reduce the population.

BudrXjJCYAEyGsM.jpg large(Wakefield’s Hepworth gallery, one nearby location used in Utopia)

The remark I expect to get of “can’t you just see it as a form of entertainment?” isn’t satisfactory when the subject of a drama deals with very real and imminent threats to our survival as a species. You come away thinking that there’s no alternative to a mass sterilising or culling of our species. This ‘no alternative’ can’t be of said apocalyptic dramas from the past. For example, Threads: with the terrifyingly real depiction of a nuclear holocaust set in nearby (to me) Sheffield, it was never a foregone conclusion – there was always an underlying message of “we don’t have to let this happen”.

Utopia graphically shows to us what we already know is unfolding around the world due to the fucked-up-ness unravelling from being psychologically-trapped in a reality of exploitation at all costs: psychotic violence, by state and by individual to reach the only ends given. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi said  “If capitalism is to go on in the history of mankind, then the history of mankind must become the place of total violence, because only the violence of competition can decide the value of time”  and aren’t we seeing such measures being exerted in both non-physical and physical ways to reach these ends/means? When another gruesome act occurs in Utopia, although it shocks us and gets the blood racing, isn’t it what we kind of expected to happen anyway though? That in our narrow Real that’s the only extreme-result we can imagine?

Utopia was a great series, but due to its ‘capitalist realism’ it gives us a deadly solution to the threat to survival we all try to forget about (hoping it will go away). But the problem with picking and choosing in an already vastly unequal and selfish reality could result in the most ghastly ethnic/class-cleansing imaginable. But nobody watches Utopia thinking they’d be the unlucky ‘chosen ones’ in such a scenario. The infliction of ‘capitalist realism’, in pitting all against one another, intensifies our subconscious belief that we are more equal than others, an instinct that less reckless societies throughout time have realised needs to be tamed for our good. Utopia does a great job of showing what human beings are capable of doing to each other, but I find it severely problematic that it just leaves it at that – a foregone conclusion.

Full marks for entertainment value, acting, and the plot, for sure. Just no marks for feeding our imaginations with a reality that often was indistinguishable from the brutal world we see unfolding when we switch channels to see blood almost dripping from the TV set on Russia Today and Al Jazeera.

Thinking along the Hallam Line (Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley, Meadowhall and Sheffield)

Untitled

Leeds

Along with the Engineering of Leeds (my 4th town) into a (relative) economic powerhouse, there seems to have followed an almost identi-kit pasting of all the traits usually found in the big financial centres like the City of London, yet in a much smaller area circling the railway station (after which it begins again to look more like a typical post-heavy industry northern city, and a Yorkshire town).

IMG_2556

The swankiness; a desert to all retailers except the most upmarket of independent and chain stores. The speed of life in this colony-island of the global finance empire is much much faster than ten minutes walk either way. There is an expectation to be met with tuts if you take your time; you have to run across the street after actually casually stepping out, because a car, that in normal circumstances is a safe distance away, advances towards you with the speed of a motorway slip-road acceleration. Maintenance; you get on the train in your local town feeling pretty well dressed and tidy only to feel like a medieval peasant in contrast to those rushing back and forth from the train station. Homelessness; the homelessness in Leeds, in comparison with its size (irrespective of the wider urban area now dependent on it), is apallingly bad. You do wonder where they could have all possibly come from, as it looks too extreme – without forgetting the suffering such a existence must create, it does often look like a stage-set of a typical city scene, almost hyperreal, which could explain why people find it so easy to be indifferent to others’ suffering in such areas.

IMG_4055

Leeds is often seen as the capital of Yorkshire, and this is very true – certainly regarding the West Yorkshire Urban sprawl, as Leeds has increasingly become the only hub of this 2 million-plus area, as other large towns (especially Bradford) have seen gradual decline since their demise as industrial bases.

Wakefield

This may not include Wakefield (my 2nd town, living 8 miles from the centre), which does often seem to have something going for it now, quite possibly down to the needless construction of the outdoor shopping centre Trinity Walk and two international sculpture galleries (The Hepworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park),which surely do deserve their place here with two of the most accredited sculptors of the 20th century originating from the borough.

But Wakefield, or the half of Wakefield mentioned so far, is if anything a suburb of Leeds, that seems to owe its ascendancy to what Leeds has become. This seems to be in an almost identical manner to the relationship towns such as St Albans, Reading, Stevenage have to London. This could well be because Wakefield is the only stop the mainline train line from London (which is so important in the ‘commuter-age’- which shrieks at the sight of snow on the tracks) makes in West Yorkshire on its way to Leeds.

In fact what has become more evident, since the observant eyes of the Southerner Owen Hatherley pointed it out in his book The New Ruins of Great Britain, is that Wakefield feels “like a southern city” (for which he did instantly offer his apologies for saying). But if you look at all the towns served by the East Coast Railway from London to Leeds, they all have a similar feel to them; all commuter towns, and they reek of modern industry, which to inhabitants of the old industrial areas of the north looks like the south (If you were that way inclined you could certainly feel a little bit of treachery, when seeing the a large London Underground map at the visitor service desk in Wakefield Westgate station).

IMG_4520

But there again, this beating organ dependent on the beating heart that is Leeds is only really one half of Wakefield. Wakefield really does seem to be two towns stitched together. One half of the city is the aforementioned town, served by the suits-and-ties-populated Wakefield Westgate station; the other half  is the remnants of a former mining town (culturally closer to Barnsley and Castleford than the other half of the town), served by the incredibly neglected Wakefield Kirkgate station, in a side of town that is full of sad sights, especially once the night draws in.

IMG_8565

This is the problem with Leeds in general, it is the hub of a larger Yorkshire urban area (which Hatherley suggested is a Supercity which possibly doesn’t know that it is), yet much of the urban area is neglected/ignored for the sake of Leeds, which itself is now nothing but a colony of the financial world-city. But there again, could the same not be said for Canary Wharf and its surroundings?

At one point Bradford was probably as big as Leeds, and Leeds would not have the gravitational pull it has without being less than 10 miles away from another large urban settlement. If West Yorkshire was recognised as the metropolis it more-or-less is, one would maybe begin to see a more reciprocal relationship between these already conjoined towns. What you get instead is each town (and this applies for all of England expect London) maintaining a provincial small-town mindedness, which results in London absorbing the lion’s share of (what remains of) alternative culture.

12

(Emley Moor Mast, from the former Woolley Colliery pit site, between Wakefield and Barnsley)

I have always had a bit of a longing for West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire to be re-merged to reform the old West Riding of Yorkshire, which stretched from the Yorkshire Dales, down to Sheffield and Right across to York where it ended. It would mean an end to the ridiculous train fare hikes once you cross the South/West Yorkshire border to a town not 10 miles away. This has helped create a divide, with everything in West Yorkshire being Leeds-orientated and everything in South Yorkshire Sheffield-orientated. This is maybe a personal frustation due to being raised in an area right at the top of South Yorkshire, just a mile from West Yorkshire.

Because this area will always be what I call homeland I never really differientated between South and West Yorkshire. Yet there is certainly a gap in the continuity of human settlements around here, which does seperate the South Yorkshire mining-village-conurbation – which begins in Barnsley, heading down the Dearne Valley to join Rotherham, at which point becoming the Sheffield urban-area – from the West Yorkshire urban-area, which begins with Wakefield, Dewsbury and Huddersfield, just over a series of hills.

Barnsley

IMG_8494

There’s just enough of this gap in continuity to give the town of Barnsley (my nearest town) a more isolated location than the other (former) West Riding towns. Barnsley is a strange place. Defiant, proud, but confused about what it is actually defiant and proud about. It certainly has a sense of self (under of the banner of ‘tarn ‘n’ prard – meaning ‘town and proud’) big enough to match that of the much larger urban settlements around here. And I would argue that what has elavated this sense of self in recent years is that it is relatively more isolated and hasn’t become a suburb of the bigger cities, which is evidentially the case with towns such as Wakefield and Rotherham.

 IMG_3385

But I would also argue that it stems from its identification as being the centre of the South Yorkshire Coalfield, possibly with more right to claim the east side of Wakefield, the mining villages within its borough, and the Dearne Valley than the actual townships these mining areas resided in. Despite the pomposity of the size of the construction at the time of its erection, perhaps the reasons for the construction of Barnsley town hall, upon a hill looking across the landscape, were for it be a beacon to all of the mining villages under its far-reaching gaze, like a benevolent Mordor overlooking its coal-ming empire(the clock at the top even looks like an eye). However, since a neoliberal agenda replaced the damaged and scarred physical landscape with a more invisible damaged and scarred mental landscape, the idea of what Barnsley is, and how it is still important has been shaken to the core.

The result of this has been an ever-more defiant sense of self with fewer and fewer decent sources with which to proclaim this sense of self; a culture obsessed with past because no real alternative identity has been found. ‘Professional Yorkshiremen’ such as Dickie Bird and Ian Macmillan have capitalised on this huge sense of self, magnified by the ridicule the rest of country deals the place, to the benefit of their careers, but unfortunately (I would argue – although not to completely slag them off, just that I observe this to be the case) it is to the detriment of the town – because by playing this parody back to the rest of the nation, they give it what it wants, which is beneficial to them no doubt, but unfortunately seems to have helped culturally stunt a borough that contains a quarter of a million people; a place where countless people have thrown energy into trying to help the place develop, but to no avail.

The culture of the area is difficult to build on however because of the lay-out of ex-coal mining areas. Barnsley, the town, probably only has 70,000 residents, but the wider borough (not even including the mining villages which are under town halls all-seeing-eye, but not in the town’s borough) has over 220,000 residents. But this village-after-village layout creates a village-culture that dominates the entire town. A village culture is very damaging to a town centre that still sees itself so central to these 220,00 plus residents. For this reason I did have some sympathy for architect Will Alsop’s idea for the town (not the one about having a giant Halo of light over the town, making it look like the class-clown of the north) to rehouse a greater number of the population within the town centre. True, the reality of this would be massively different, but I liked the idea on the grounds that I wish for something to generate life back here, even although the sell-by date for these Blair-year grand schemes has long passed.

The F.E. students, who populate the centre during term-time give some life to the place, and as much as Barnsley College has shrunken from what it was at the turn of the millennium (largely due to financial difficulties caused by corruption at management level) it still attracts many students from all over South Yorkshire, and parts of West Yorkshire. But they leave. Or merely give up on their dreams (not necessarily careerist ones, but also dreams of a different way of life) and return to their respective village quagmires, leaving an age gulf in the town’s culture; a gap that seems to begin at 18+ and end with 40 year olds. Most young people who don’t give up on their wish for something different, and have the (all important) means to do so, leave Barnsley, usually for Sheffield, but also Leeds, Manchester and London.

There is a new museum opening, and as much as museums are obviously about the past, that past doesn’t seem to have anything now to enhance the future of the place. Especially the romantacising of it. Of course there is plenty of unfinished business; the poverty left from the demise of the coal-mining industry and the police brutality dealt out in the strikes. But the centre of an empire of coal mining it isn’t now, unfortunately.

That centre was moved, perhaps with tactical intentions.

IMG_4145

Meadowhall

As much as Barnsley constructed its large Portland Stone town hall in the 1930’s seeing itself at the centre of the greater Yorkshire coal-mining area, this centre has been moved since the demise of the industry. The centre of South Yorkshire (specifically) is (and has been for 20 years) the Meadowhall Shopping complex.  Sheffield is a city with much to offer, and the only place that can really offer decent (again, what remains of) alternative lifestyles to the one just mentioned in Barnsley, but it is not the centre of South Yorkshire, it is more of an alternative within it; the centre is Meadowhall.

IMG_4147

This consumer paradise/hell on the north-east edge of the city is where all of what remains of the railways in South Yorkshire connect; it’s the hub that brings together all the scattered ex mining villages, and steel towns. It is the nearest connection the railway has with the M1 Motorway, and it is where all the coaches for Sheffield pull up. It certainly takes those villages away from towns like Barnsley, and one could certainly speculate that there were political means behind the locating of such a huge shopping centre here. South Yorkshire was once referred to as the Socialist Republic, as after the war it was the home of strong unions and home to a lot of very socialist-orientated housing schemes. It was surely a statement to the New Capitalism being drilled into us at the time to bury the epicentre of all of what South Yorkshire was under a palace devoted to consumerism/commodities (and just a few years after the defeat of the National Union of Miners in a battle at Orgreave just one motorway junction down from Meadowhall).

If you want to see the dominant culture of South Yorkshire, don’t go to Sheffield go to Meadowhall via the interchange. See the masses leaving the trains to walk the aisles (sometimes not even shopping, just going there because it’s where to meet people), people who have had all meaning ripped from under their feet, not future granted to them, save one of acquiring more and more consumer goods. The sight of all these people flocking here is far sadder than the sight of the characterlessness of such shopping complexes.

Sheffield

sheffield (5)

The Majority of people in South Yorkshire don’t even get as far as Sheffield (my 3rd town), one finds the train completely empty for the final leg of the journey on the Hallam Line from Meadowhall to Sheffield.

Sheffield is certainly a far more attractive city centre than Leeds. Although apparently the opposite was true in the 1930’s when George Orwell visited it during the great depression. The centre is certainly my favourite urban area in the old West Riding, and is where I wish to relocate if I get the chance. The hillyness of it, and thus the areas of it unsuitable for development make it a relatively green and attractive city; the train station layout is incredibly attractive, being greeted with pleasant water features and walkways, the opposite of the grey,hustle and bustle outside Leeds station. The city has always seemed to be an important place for street art, and compulsive taggers; I like this, as for me, it almost seems to be an embodiment of the aforementioned unfinished business, and makes me imagine that an alternative to capitalism lies dormant in the rolling hills of South Yorkshire. The Supertram system, as it goes up and down the steep hills, has something really positive about it, just to see it, perhaps it feeds into the potentiality of the city to be something different from the others, looking more like a European city.

The city itself is as big as it’s more money-minded brother Leeds, but the wider urban area dependent on it is quite a bit smaller, and the Meadowhall shopping complex prevents it from having the level of consumerism seen on Leeds’ streets. Which, all in all, is definitely a good thing. Meadowhall largely takes the landscape of shopping bags and legs away from Sheffield, and as much as this has shrunk the city, it has opened up opportunities for the creation of many small independent art/music venues, something Leeds may have, but always seems pushed out of reach by the big money in the centre. Not to say that Sheffield hasn’t got all of these things mentioned here, and that Leeds hasn’t got alternatives to its finance, but they are both far less prominent features.

sheffield (8)

But one thing that can easily go unnoticed, unless a concerned local tells you, is that the poorer residents of Sheffield have been by and large turfed out of the centre of the city into estates on the outskirts. One of these estates is Gleadless, which is a peculiar looking low-rise estate. Obviously real thought was originally gone into the layout; the buildings weave in and out of the steep green hillsides, and the views are quite leafy, and apparently architects from all over Europe came to view it when it was completed. But now it is a sad place to be. With exhibiting my work quite often in places in the centre (the city’s receptiveness to artist is one of the reasons I’ve warmed to it more than Leeds, for example) I was picking up something from a house down there one day. I just felt sorry for the residents, and realised that many of them are as abandoned and isolated within this city as people in the deprived mining villages are further out in South Yorkshire.

I will always have some kind adoration for the 1960’s brutalist Park Hill housing development next to the train station (whether is a morbid and more positive fascination, depends on my attitude towards the past and present), and I actually would have liked it if they have kept the other similar ones (Kelvin, and Hyde Park) that were demolished in the 1990’s, because the steep rise of the hills around there makes the buildings look so much more profound. But Park Hill is now nothing but a shell, much like the way that New Labour were nothing but a shell of the old Labour party. The original inhabitants of the then-run down estate were relocated, and then the regeneration company Urban Splash turned them into luxury pads for city workers/Young professionals, going for £95,000 each.

But in many ways the reason I do have more positives to say about Sheffield, is because it always makes me think of what Barnsley could be, and is often in dreams (sleeping dreams not daydreams) what it is (as Sheffield’s proximity to the Peak District, Woodland, and then almost immediately high rise, and factories, has an almost collage-like nature to it, usually found in dreams). One just wishes there was something that connected all these towns up better, and didn’t leave them to be the provincial small-town fortresses they seem to end up wanting to be.

The day ‘the Torch’ came for us….

I just wanted to get on with my day. All I could do was to try to ignore the anticipation for the Olympic Torch being carried down roads in my local area. ‘A waste of money when savage welfare cuts are being made’ is the most easy to grab sentence attached to a web of reasons why the London Olympics should be a cause for concern. But it (in the form of the Olympic torch) came for us all; up  down the country it danced in the hand of a willing participant; the tune it played may have sounded like one for the people, for the joy of global participation, but it was playing the tune of nationalist pride so as we didn’t forget it so soon after the Jubilee. And, as soon it came close to your home, it was now an event one must not miss. ‘But don’t protest or anything, because that would send the wrong image to the rest of the world’.Like with the sudden interest in ‘Kate Middleton’s dress’ by those previously disinterested, those who weren’t at all interested in the Olympics are now eager to see ‘the torch’ as the spectacle passes nearby. Why? What feeling does one get that concludes that it is something they MUST witness?
The old feudal identity of such nations as Britain clings on! Now, I am obviously not suggesting that the Olympics has anything Empirically to do with this feudal order, which openly continues in an opaque form, and secretly exists in a solid form, but all the events in such a country as ours exploit this feudalistic nature of this culture to demand interest form the population when push comes to shove regardless of their objective interests previously; old Europe, despite its superficial advancements is still pretty much the beast it was in medieval times. Of course, the best one can do is to ignore the entire spectacle; ignore the shouts for us to open our doors and run out onto our streets waving flags; don’t give it the power it gains from hype, be it positive or negative. But the media doesn’t allow this: it makes the hype so omnipresent that we cannot but help robotically repeat the latest gossip.I would argue that 2012 as been a year of great counterrevolutionary endeavours by the power structure of this nation especially: all attempt has been made by the state to pacify growing conscious/and pure reactionary dissent (such as the riots) that to an untrained gaze seemed to spring from nowhere in 2011 to oppose the entirety of the insanity of capitalism under the easy to grasp banner of opposition to the cuts . I think anybody who wants a better future for us all had good reason to be optimistic at the end of 2011 that awareness and distrust in the system was growing. But this growing and justly felt threat the nation state feels, as it tries to protect capitalist interests from the people it claims to protect, had a great chance to be eased this year with so many ‘events’ which it could exploit to both distract people and give them a false sense of belonging and happiness, in the hyperbole that precedes the climax of such events – from which the ensuing emptiness one should expect to feel has hopefully (for the state) lost track of any of the likely causations. So far this year, it looks like they have done a very good job at distracting us.

But there again, once all this dies down and we all wake up to a society even worse than before the hype set in, things could actually really kick off.  But with weather patterns more dodgy by the year applying a background crescendo to the unavoidably obvious uncertainty about a century still in its infancy, what so scares me about all of this is also the source of what gives me most reason to get out of the bed in the morning and convince myself that I (with what little I actually do) may be part of a new human force to change things for the better.

I had to trawl through all the old household photo collection to find what I wanted; you know, photos from a time when they actually meant something, before images of everybody from every place at every time where splattered upon the social networking sites; you know, the times when it took a couple of weeks before you’d see the photos – not just the next morning when you check your online accounts to finds photos of your drunken self from only 6 hours previous.

These are images of Woolley Colliery in the 1990’s – before it was demolished and whilst it was being demolished. (apologies for their poor quality).

img053

(Woolley Colliery – in the background – in the middle of being demolished by explosives, in 1993)

img054

(Woolley colliery – the left of the picture – before it was demolished and before the factories were built in the foreground)

Within the valley (upper Dearne valley) I grew up in, these were the last traces of a landscape and meaning of the place I was born into disappearing and making way for something else. I’ve been interested in my family tree a little more of late also. It seems sensible enough to assume that I do this at times when I do not see much of a future, and if one takes into consideration the full scale of the ancestry websites, making money out of people also looking up their family roots, then one can see that as a society we don’t seem to be able to see much of a future at present.

For me, personally the expectation of already irreversible (to some degree) environmental problems is what drags a landslip over a doorway to a future which I once expected to walk into. But for many it may be a realisation that the liberal-democratic order has failed us, after it wiped out any suggestion that there may be another way to build a better life for us all. Whatever may be the case, there is most certainly a lot less optimism than there was even 8 or 9 years previous. Something has to change.

The landscape in which these photographs are situated is an interesting one to point to especially: as the old coal mining towns/villages themselves suffered incredibly from the destruction of the sole meaning for their existence in the first place, the landscape improved and greened over massively during that same period, and although much is being leveled off for housing developments, it is still a much greener place than it used to be. Now, I do not for one moment intend to suggest that this is compensation for the heartless economic decisions made which destroyed so many peoples’ way of life, but it is a good in its own right – if it stays that way, that is, and developers do not run amok (which seems likely under the ultra neoliberal capitalism the current government are bringing through).

However, more than anything, I am making NO real point here at all – I’d be lying to pretend that I have any over-positive thoughts up my sleeve to finish this blog off with, so I will just idly try to relive the past like everybody else seems to be doing.