(Stories From Time-locked Space. 1)

Leeds Under Pre-Digital Rain (2016)

“Always a higher level of caution in your gait when arriving in Leeds on a Saturday – 52 times a year, not including Xmas and bank holidays – as if I’ve walked over a picket line for piss ups, which is far less unnerving if you have a designated piss up waiting for you. So I take the sleek, but silent south-way entrance. As if it grew out of an hallucination, it never seemed to arrive (although it opened this year) and its architecture enters your vision like the easy-come-easy-go liquidity of CGI. Yet it still remains impressive, as if it arrived from a time beyond the present, whilst otherwise Leeds remains so time-locked in a late 2008 gaze for me. Where did 2008 go? Those days when I rediscovered Orwell, Huxley, Fritz Lang and Roger Waters, mixing it with late 20th century synth pop as a means of gaging a Dystopia in Disguise I’d slowly come to feel within post-millennial Britain. I was looking back to find a truth about The Now unaware that The Now was turning to liquid CGI under the frozen picture of the crash I stared at; a seizure in CGI that I only recognise now because I’m swimming in it too – my fucking Android.”

“The city is pent-up because it’s raining. A rain-phobia-fever takes over the Saturday pleasure-seeking. Only the homeless seem acclimatized to a weather pattern that is supposed to be the essence of this island, unable to buy into an hallucination of Californian weather stuck on repeat. “Nice weather for ducks” says one homeless man I give 50 pence to outside a Currys/PC World store, as I try to smile, catching a reflection of my hesitance to exchange friendliness, as if at some point I’d come to see open generousity as something to be ashamed of. Double-sided-shame, out of which you become aware that merely tossing 50 pence at a problem is a get-of-clause solution.”

“Anyway, I catch up with John outside the Corn Exchange, and we walk under the railway bridge, following The Calls. This traffic artery is always faster flowing than those at the other side of the railway, but there’s an added tension that is no doubt due to this rain. John senses it and stresses “for fuck’s sake, it’s only a bit of rain!”. But we agree that a few things are at play here, making the contemporary sensibility of this island so incompatible with the age-old unpredictability of its weather patterns. Is the amnesia towards an uneven climate synonymous with our amnesia towards the larger problem of uneven geographies under the supposedly flat-earth 24/ 7 contemporary global capitalism? Is this incompatibility part of a flattening of perspectives to fit the needs of 24/7? Not only to be able to have a flat-earth playing field for unending work/leisure demands, but to be able to look/and perform at one’s best all the time? A sensibility that would be likely lost on an older stage of industrial Britain – whereas getting drenched every now and then was part of life, now it seems a locus of personal humiliation, most commonly associated with the poor – society’s ‘losers’ by current standards – who have less means to enter places to get out of the rain. “The poor never seem to carry umbrellas”, I say, unlike the canopy of umbrellas John describes seeing on his work trips to London, watching a largely business class, commuting to and fro. The contradictions in our expectations of a flat-earth playing field for our work-life are impounded as we approach the river Aire, spotting a sign notifying pedestrians of the ongoing “Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme”. This riverside suffered badly in winter floods at the tail end of 2015; and such seismic historical events such as climate disruption are repeatedly discredited by a culture that requires an eternal flat-earth playing field upon which to do business. We talk of an ‘Instagramisation‘ – because, if social media sites Twitter and Facebook are emblematic of the flattening of conversation, then Instagram is emblematic of that very flat-earth-look; that everyday-is-some-glorious-holiday-snapshot look. And we wonder if there is a lull in Instagram uploads when the weather’s shit.”

“John talks of how he likes the canal because it cuts right through a bustling centre whilst possessing a significantly lower level of energy than the rest of this compacted urban space. In agreement of how different the canal is ‘other’ to the rest of central zone, I talk of how the central zone seems to spring out of nowhere, as if it grows out of no urban rootage system. Leeds-city is a pumped-up investment-devouring area, looking to expand more south of the station, which makes me wonder if a large banner in favour of leaving the European Union, draped from an old docking building on the canal (specifically citing Cameron’s “Damned lies”), is somewhat embarrassing to this city at large. The rest is history; Cameron is history. Yet more than ever we seem to be floating in a deep fog, void of history, from where the rising political discontent seems to be more of a wish to break through the fog, rather than a Guiding Light in itself.”

“The alternative’s an easy place to stop. Reaching the new is something extraordinary” – JD TAYLOR, ‘Island Story’

“As we walk further down the canal we spot graffiti that says “Fuck you all”. I speculate that in Sheffield such graffiti would read “Be the love”. This brings us to talk of the difference between ‘The Alternative’ and ‘The New’, as we engage in the all-too-typical comparisons between England’s northern cities. The easy inclination is to ‘dis’  Leeds in favour of nearby Sheffield. But the current essence of central Leeds, of money/material gain, in full show, is somewhat easier to disarm, and thus makes me somewhat more comfortable with what I don’t like about this city. What makes me more uncomfortable is how I like Sheffield, but how I’ve grown to find an unwarranted self-satisfaction lurking it’s ‘alternative lifestyle’ essence, which I find equally troubling and hard to argue against, as the negative-minded ‘small-towner ‘ falls over me when I find myself unable to get on board with it. I refer to Bristol, and how Sheffield  (in a somewhat less economically-privileged sense) may be close to aping that city’s “We have found the answer, why can’t everyone live like us?” stance. But NOBODY CURRENTLY HAS THE ANSWER! As things stand, as a wider human community, we are deeply stuck in the deep mud of a civilisation at its tail-end. An alternative is just that: an haven from it all. There’s nothing wrong with havens, but they aren’t solutions. What is needed is something NEW.”

 “As we exit the canal and walk back to the city we talk of how this rain isn’t the tropical rain of a future depicted in the likes of Blade Runner or a Drowned-world-Britain, but rain as the persistence of the past. The intolerable mundanity that ’24/7 ‘ aggravates by pretending it is no longer. After nearly an hour we seek refuge and end up in a Starbucks cafe. Although it is probably teeming with employees from the city’s the financial sector in the week, on this UKweekend day it is utterly empty, and in this sense it’s perhaps the only bit of Leeds-city that has managed to totally successfully mimic a part of a non-place London – any outsider to the ‘Big Smoke (and Mirrors) will be surprised find that ‘The City’ (as in the financial heart) is like a ghost town on a Saturday.”

“I can’t remember if we carry on from our outdoor talk or start anew, but we discuss how the prevalence of scientific reductivism has reached into deep the state of play, from where social bonds are located, broken down, and then made to reintegrate through the market. This has become most evident in the mess that ‘mass communication’ has made of conversation. Perhaps we lead on to argue that we are beyond the point of philosophy, and can now only be theorists of now, due to wondering what will eventually lead the way beyond the current inertia. But the conversation is upbeat, it always is with John, no matter the gravity of the matter. We get up and walk back towards the station.”

“It must be over a year since I walked down Wellington Street in Leeds, a tunnel for wind and rain today. Since then it’s evidently become an avenue of tower-blocks; Café Neros and upmarket chain restaraunts clinging to their bases and waiting for the people to come. John speaks of how this city didn’t take as long to adjust to the financial crash (8 years back!) as much as other nearby places, and there’s a feeling that whatever London’s taking, Leeds is taking some of it too. But it’s somewhat built on nothing, fresh air, and it can’t surely last forever. But so far nothing seems to have changed, not even by the nervous breakdown of Brexit.  I say goodbye to John and end up back in the station. Although unsure of my plans, the yells and screams of weekend pleasure-seeking make me hasty to form a plan as soon as possible.”


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