(Originally posted in November 2016)
Free-fall in Stasis
(Barnsley, The First Week of Winter, 2016)
Walking back to the suburbs through an M1 junction-hinterland in the dark of a new winter. But nothing feels new. It’s late 2016.
To Ride The Fine Line of Purpose on Placebos…
…that’s what I achieved ten years ago this winter month. And I’ve even tried listening to that very same sequence of albums that narrated late 2006, attempting to rekindle such momentum.
But these days I can feel the cogs in my head wanting to stop, like workers in a factory who’ve come to realise absurdity lies in the heart of the notion that what they produce is building towards ‘the good life’. I know it’s much more than lifestyle changes, personal attitudes. But to play the game of attaining placebos, one has to pathelogise their pain. A one-off bluff to be prescribed a painkiller. But can the placebos of the past even work for the present?
1996. 2006. 2016. It’s funny how straightforward the shit-neoliberal Britain of 2006 felt, compared to now. Words, art, they seem inadequate, thrown into a free-flowing torrent in stasis – this chaos in a world which yet still appears to be frozen.
For the best part of 5 years I have felt that the life I unwillingly act in is at a dead-end, and that the only way forward is to destroy and rebuild. Illogical as this sounds, it enables me to sympathise with the logic towards the sheer illogic of Brexit and Trump, because I fear that for many they are votes borne of existential desperation.
Thus I can only conclude that two are interlinked. A willing for the ultimate of reset buttons; a fantastical reset button that erases the hyperconnected age, leaving us the choice to pursue a route that fucks with the mind a little less.
Every night I fantasise about cutting all ties, walking out my job on my lunch break and walking west to the hills…as if the world was actually different over those hills, and not a mere barrier between two parts of an overcrowded, infrastructurally-unsound, unhappy, LONELY island.
But every day I play the part, a small part. Like the protagonist Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brasil’, I carry out a life I find deeply absurd, with smiles less convincing than Gordon Brown’s in a mad mad world. I found some sort of hope in the amount of reception Adam Curtis’s recent documentary Hypernormalisation received, because it’s exactly about this: being unable to believe or have faith in anything in the world you are condemned to live in, but not being able to act out this disbelief and thus carrying on like it’s all fine. This is because for a long time I have felt that the negativity I experience from drunks, drivers, shoppers alike, is because they feel exactly like me: utterly fucking sick of it, but unable to act on it. That illusion of otherness those pennine hills contain thus remains.
The traffic builds as I approach this supposedly small town. Over the past 6 years I’ve watched the connections between these ex-coal village-conurbations become inefficient arteries. Thick to burst with self-preservation anxieties, created by an artificially maintained level of scarcity, and contained in glorified tin cans. Claycliffe: a place-name that evokes stuckness. Yet a place that nobody calls home, nobody identifies as being in on an Instagram photo. Yet it’s a place where many end up stuck, morning and evening.
Infrastructure; what does it even mean anymore? That all plans are at a standstill is the only fucking certainty here. No one is really in charge, and managerial thought itself is trapped in a past tense; maybe autumn 2008, maybe 2010, or maybe 1999… But the process itself proliferates, mauls through a defenseless scene like a braindead alien predator.
There is so much movement, yet thought itself remains frozen…
The oft-unbearable middle class chlorophoric-quagmire of the work-a-day-job-existence seems bent of regenerating a shock in me every time I return to my home town on a midweek teatime. A reminder of what life is actually like for many beyond the blinkers of educated career-seeking. But I’m doubting whether it is a reminder: as what I believe I’m seeing is a new development. From Cheapside to Town End, I feel like I have stumbled upon scenes fit for rust-belt America right here in England. The centre is seemingly the hub for the borough’s social pain, whereas in the surrounding ‘more prosperous’ boroughs the pain is forced out of view by waves of gentrification.
Comewhatmay, such desperate sights are new to my eyes on such familiar territory. Post 2010 the lycra-clad joggers have proliferated around here, but so too have those locked in a day to day battle with a dead end, either through drink, drugs or survivalist-shoplifting.
I text a friend. She responds saying how “it’s bad how it looks [our shared hometown] looks better on a Saturday night than it does in ‘civilised’ daylight”. This is such a striking conclusion we arrived at, being, as we are, veterans of the town nightlife in its notorious early 2000’s stage.
I pass the No 66 Elsecar Stagecoach bus, promoting ‘relaxation’ with its new onboard Wifi – the warm glow of The Feed as the nights draw in. I initially think of how being connected in every space imaginable isn’t relaxing at all. But I think again: maybe the anxiety is more in the gaps between the points of connection? The urge have unending stimulation. Perhaps it’s turning buses into the quiet, solitary modes of transportation that cars have always been, rather than the overspill of frustration borne from class injuries and alienation that they always used to be. Less aggro, less social anxiety. But more loneliness.
A zeitgeist of disbelief...
I think about Hypernormalisation again…
2 years ago I made a work about how stuck things felt, how stuck I felt. I used this town as ground on which to gather evidence. It’s weird. It feels like we’re still stuck there, but yet something seems very different, unreal, and unable to be pinpointed. The Mary Celeste Project was about the frozen world. But what can you trust to be real when there is chaos in a frozen world?
I feel cold, anxious and lonely as I look at all the people in the station who feel as anxious and as lonely as I do. Its evidential; it’s on their faces. They wait for their 5pm commute back to the candle-lit-alehouse-utopia of Sheffield, where every other word heard on the street is a plea for spare change, to be spared from the returning freezing winter nights. Of course, decent working headphones will cancel out this growing noise. But for how much longer can one’s lonely little mind hold itself together?
No Holiday Until Postcapitalism (A Last Resort to Forgotten Fun)
We’re relieved to get out of bottleneck of the north (Leeds station) as we join the now mostly emptied train for our journey to the North Sea coastline on this cold November morning. This station is making us both uneasy. This cold, hollow sort of self-reflection is filled horribly by the noise of this metal-on-metal place. At one point, when a certain sort of examination of life didn’t seem so paralysed by painful introspection, I had a mutual agreement with this place: I’d have to feel stressed and drained – but it would supply me a fresh mine of morbid fascination of the ‘man-machine-matrix’ (Will Self) for artistic purposes. But now that things just feel so stuck it just aggravates a searching for silence amidst the madness.
Going Nowhere. The whole thing is going nowhere, but this giant hamster wheel is beyond the day-to-day experience of a mere melancholic mortal, and there’s sometimes nothing as crushing as feeling like you’re Going Nowhere. Expecting one to obtain a mindset content with staying within 100 metres of their introduction to life is idiocy as things stand.
“So hop on the train coz it kills the pain”
True, this trip to the forgotten fun of Filey is one of the furthest trips I’ve made for sometime, but open my wallet and you’ll find evidence of a person who, although stuck in the day-to-day, makes dozens of train trips to nearby towns.
No destinations until Postcapitalism, just movement…
Wallet being the crucial word: too busy making sure I have my camera, pens and notepad, that I leave it on the train as it leaves Filey. Sending a trip already teetering on the edge of the ridiculous, into potential absurd oblivion.
Liquid Fear in the frozen world…
Suddenly a place caught between the twee and bleak by the tectonic shifts of a seismic systemic change, is totally locked in the Now, as I’m forced to enter the endless corridors of Distrust-ocracy of the scarcity network. 0345… 0800… 0113… You can be trapped in it, or trapped outside it – locked outside the gates of so-called civilisation. But my next coffee, next pint, next train trips to nowhere, next 2nd pint, means right now I’d much rather be trapped within the matrix, and it makes you wonder if being thrown out of matrix next to th3 North Sea is more frightening than Big Brother’s microphones in bushes monitoring Winston Smith as he wandered through England’s green and pleasant fears from yesterday.
No connection to Liquid Boredom…
At this point it’s probably wise to head towards the brigg, jutting out into the North Sea. Yet another one of our attempts to break free of the noise. To find thought. To think beyond the day-to-day. To just think, in the moment. The day-to-day isn’t the moment – it consists of constantly trying to get somewhere but never arriving. Like an insect smashing against a window until it burns itself out. Just to get beyond this point, and begin anew.
The Conversation is open and honest as we sit at the cliff edge, as if the proximity to such dangerous forces prises out such honesty about our deep struggles. Three of us, in our 30s and early 40s, all at sea in a world that has lost all sense to us. We walk out onto the brigg, we listen to the sea through an old defence barrier. The sea appears to breathing. Perhaps it is a kind of breathing? But the breathing’s getting heavier. At this point it’s probably head back towards the noise…
A land that anxiety forgot…
We’re not far from being the only ones here. Yet everything remains open, like a fun land abandoned 30 years ago. But, unlike Chernobyl, nobody turned the lights off, nobody unplugged the coin machines. They push back and forth almost like reminders of the long gone machines worked by the Mill-town workers who’d’ve flocked here on mass for leisure. What is Leisure? Leisure existed before liquid boredom flattened out our lives.
The arcades are a somewhat comforting bleak. Were they always this Bleak? No. Their mimicry once worked. It worked when the American adventure still worked – when it met with an Island still living out the ghosts of Victorianna. With a deco more in tune with old WMC’S, it’s a far cry from a world perpetually posing for instagram.
Suddenly a cheap quality recording of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ theme rings out from a Wild West ride for young children. A song that evokes a frontier is lost to the last century. That very frontier inverted itself and spread back over the world a long time back now. Like childhood memories of holidays, it all seems like a thousand years ago. Suddenly a coin machine blurts out the Star Trek theme tune. The Final Frontier. The horses of this machine face the exit – they look to be galloping into a void.
The temperature drops, and we find a pub to sit in whilst we wait for our train. We find ourselves listening to a soundtrack that could well have been playing to itself for years. 1960’s. 1970’s. 1980’s, and a scattering of 90’s, then back to the beginning, maybe forever. David Bowie’s All The Young Dudes makes me think who are today’s young dudes ‘carrying the news’? Like the arcades it’s a place that isn’t even trying to be a Retro Bar; abandoned on the highway between the past with a future and a future trapped in the past. And like the arcades it’s a comforting sort of bleak.
The anxiety over not being believed is over. The trust of the train conductors, an unexpected trust, allows me to breath a sigh of relief at the lack of confrontation. I hate confrontation; just can’t do it. It’s what’s kept me from being unable to act on my beliefs over what is wrong and what is right. This awareness is probably why it leads to guilt. Guilt over losing my grip on grasping the chaos of Brexit, and the US presidential race. The two shape-shift, become one and then two again, and reflect back from the anxious faces of the sober commuters, like an airborne disease. Guilt over no longer having the ‘right’ feelings about what is wrong and what is right in this upside down world.
Trump and Brexit? Rational descision making? I think of the mental health of our human race, the rock bottom mental health of the human race. Mental health being crushed between a rock and hard place. The way we are made to behave – how it’s making us sick of life. Why the fuck would anyone want to continue this? But perceived future confrontations forced me to take the vote of least resistance: I voted to remain. I’m just a coward, stuck in the middle, waiting…
The boarding of a gang of young lairy Manchester-bound squaddies at York, who annex the shared space of the train with masculine-insecurities they already seem condemmed to, forces Dave’s melancholia over the state of present-day life into spoke word: “Britain is a country that no longer likes anything, including life itself, because it has forgotten what life is. And the tragedy is that our generation don’t even have the luxury of forgetting what we could’ve had. We just hustle around for a crummy job and hope that’s enough to fill the hole…”
But if anything ,today was a humbling day, where failure has been acceptable.
Let Forever be…
No Holiday Until Postcapitalism…
A sadness finds its way in after an anxious day placed upon an easily anxious person. A comfort in let down, a solice in the acceptance of failure. The tenners Dave and Steve lent me feel like tenders for my last drinks. I get like this on these kind of days, these rare days of surrender. I don’t mean a contemplation of suicide, but days which almost reach over the years into the future and touch glasses with my final ever glass.
Maybe this is my only access to the future?
Let Forever be…
As I’m in the past at the same time.
The song Let Forever be, from the weary summer of 1999, seemingly spontaneously entered my head as I left the station and walked into the city. A summer that felt so chilly in the face of the coming millennium. So different from memories of the roaring heat of the mid-90s-euphoria summers. A first point of depression, a year when a switch felt like it had been flicked in my head, was also a year when the teenage kicks of the neoliberal project gave in to a pre-millennial malaise, which, as much of a comedown as it was, couldn’t quite anticipate the hyper-horror ahead.
No Holiday Until Postcapitalism…this is where it began. For me, at least. There’s been no rest in the soul since. What remains of that soul. There must be hope for the nihilised – I may be impatient in most parts of my life, but this is one thing I’ve waited so patiently for. As much as the future still seems inaccessible, there is harder times still to come. Who knows who is and isn’t made for them. But at this moment I’m OK. Thanks for asking.