Ends (Writings From HMS Brexit)

ENDS (Stories From Time-locked Space)

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(March evenings , 2017)

For nearly 2 years one of the gateways into the centre has been shadowed by a broken bridge. But although it may not hang waiting on Brutalist Death Row for much longer, what it accidentally embodies seems destined to remain.

Like many boom towns of the early stages of capitalism, that now find themselves forgotten by all-important mainline routes to a parasitic capital, Barnsley is a town that they forgot to finish. Like a child stunted by an unanticipated ration, it’s too small for its own feet. This once-potential capital of the Yorkshire Coalfield is still a bus service hub for all the ex-coal-conurbs it promised to cater for, and we still flock here like stuck automatons of a stolen time, expecting destination but finding terminus – as the town, like the bridge, ends just as it begins.

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But ‘the broken bridge’ isn’t just about this infrastructural abandonment. It’s about a pervasive sense of paralysis. The frustrated and aimless nature of so many young people here, whose anxiety-inducing shoutings rain down on the town’s transport interchange – desperate for destination (like their upwardly mobile contemporaries appear to have). There is an invisible block in the way of hopes and desires, and we fold back into depressive and destructive pleasure-seeking. I have no game to win, no gain awaiting me, no hallucination of some fantastical bohemian haven from ‘the narrow minded’ –  just a critical need to speak of all that is under a sick sun. But I am paralysised too. Unable to build bridges, I collapse into quick fixes.

The attempts to resurrect a long-gone past in the face of a foreclosed future have had a strange side-effect on a town which has since suffered post-traumatic deindustrialisation disorder. The reintroduction of the much-missed markets that filled the high streets of yesterday has created a claustrophobic setting, constructing a crucible of the social pain around here. A fight breaks out between the feeble and frail as bonds rest on the fine line of the crucial next fix. The drug-taking would be in full view of the public, if there was a public, rather than pod-people, relying on battery power between places of consoling confinement. My battery has run out today.

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The Given is Giving way. Friends speak of the joy of searching the chaotic middle aisles of the European low budget supermarkets for budget surprises. But within such places I see the direction we are headed, and without a captivating argument against global capitalism’s distribution of things, the direction is downwards. Indeed, within these places you can see how the ‘Western way of life’ is slowly resembling the ‘Eastern way of life’. This unsaid truth is incubating a xenophobia against the European migrants, who are arriving in synchronicity with the arrival of a quality of life we thought was the fault of their failed Soviet dreams. Our souls are stained with the Social Democratic promises of continual improvement. It’s clear to see how The Migrant has become the unfortunate locus for the pain caused by this broken promise.

The staff and shopper look alike; stunned. Caught in limbo between a stain of a sense of civic responsibility and the disembodied disturbances that now greet them. The cause is a group of teenagers, whose bored baiting turns its attention to the shop windows, as they bang on them as loud as possible without the threat of breakage, before leaving Town End for the transport terminal. Nobody is sure of the limits to their search for entertainment. The anguish of the Liberal; their tongue littered with words that sound conservative and reactionary before they’ve even been released from the mouth.

Down at the railway station the word ‘contaminated’ has been written by maintenance engineers under platform 1. But it ends up make-shifting for so much more, replacing the inefficient language I struggled with back up at Town End. ‘Contaminated’ is testament to all I’ve been seeing on these midweek winter evenings. The landscape, and people alike – we’re contaminated with something awful, something corrosive. Wave after wave has swept through these exposed precincts, over the past decades, decimating us more and more. The social body smashed into little pieces, that then feed on each other as if we’re acting zombies for the social bonds that once lived. The new wave, the deterritorialised, who were born within Broadband, retteritorialised with frustrations and misgivings they do not even detect. They are the new enraged, rightfully furious as they stare at the closed horizons their elders refuse to clear. But will they ever know this?

The thing is, the contamination is dying – it has nothing new to feed upon. But we aren’t small mammals waiting in the dark as the sun set on the dinosaurs. There is currently no new sun which we can speak of.

But it is no consolation to think that this fallout is happening for the beautiful people-places as much as it is for us, because as I walk to the station my gait is still filled with the haste of someone trying to outpace the weight of living under the spotlight of under-performance and failure. Its aura bullies these places, cruelly never allowed to forget the trendy urban hubs, that seem populated by models who show no sign of the stress marks from the affects of the fallout.

The cold waiting area is swamped by the stench of the 20 pence toilets, and the breathing noise coming from the faulty fan system is hardly a comforting noise like the ‘breathing sea’ we listened to in last year’s Journey to the Forgotten Fun of Filey. In fact it just makes you hyperaware of your own anxious breathing. You can see the pain on the faces; my face, in the reflection from the glass, retarded by a self-consciousness that can’t escape its knowing. “What am I doing wasting more limited money on overpriced pints in nostalgic bunkers in Sheffield?!” I leave the station and walk out of town.

I look back down the road at the town hall which has relative prominence to any grand structure for a bigger place. This is a centre like any other. They all command a certain wider zone, eclipsing similar sized centres beyond, and only themselves confronted by the pull of the much wider centres further afield. You expect something from them, and ultimately develop a love/hate fixation, unless you live in the command of another centre for long enough to be pulled in elsewhere.

I turn around again, and go back towards town. It’s been a strange few weeks anyway. The city-world of the mind is a maddening rabble of things to the extent that the head feels like an overcrowded collider.  The drink is a problem in as much as an anguish unfolds once the day is done. I want light but relapse into the dimming – I cannot be convinced that the morning will arrive.

Every morning I ask myself “why did I feel like that?”. But I did. Each morning brings the prospect of a new horizon, yet every sunset sinks me into a nihilized state under a dead horizon. The world we currently have is going through terminal decomposition and, possible, re-composition into a new one. It is deeply traumatic for all, experienced as it is in little prisons of loneliness. Internally working overtime at the end of all work  causes a sort of mute panic, as the sun goes down. And ‘dimming’ sources are sought, once again. Just maybe tomorrow will bring the new horizon…

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Stories From Time-Locked Space 5.

Giving up The Ghost

January 2017

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“I nearly didn’t make this train, becoming 33 was so lonely it became messy, and I’m so lacklustre I fail to leave the slow train at Wakefield that connects all the nodes along this longing line that can’t be cleansed of their unflattenable mining identities –  from the dales of the Dearne to Castleford. Nevertheless, I arrive in time to meet John W in Leeds and we catch the Transpennine route to Manchester.”

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“I feel better. All journeys are pregnant with our hopes, even if made in January, even if we know we are here to drink in retro bars that act as mere shelters from the present, on a wage rate that cannot sustain this plaster much longer in a Trump-storm.”

“2016 was the collective nervous breakdown, the primal scream. But 2017 is the morning after, the reality of where that necessary SOS goes next. Does history repeat? My life certainly cannot, in life, and art – in the space of a few months the formula of 3 years gone is borderline defunct.”

“I’ve yet to meet a single person on this island who is in favour of the new president across the seas, but similarily there seems to be an slowly-found agreement that this is not a time where normal judgements stands tall. Life isn’t a game per se, but capitalism for employer and and employee is just that; a rigged game, a game you signed an agreement to participate in before you were even born, but nonetheless still a game. Most people, whether they know it or not, are sick to death of this game, because it seems pointless, and some of us are starting to think there may be much better participatory sports we could all engage in. With this in mind, I speculate to John that the Trump/Brexit votes from within the cheerleader nations for the neoliberal project may have acted in a way as one acts on a computer game, where they are tired of wading through low level fights, and just want to fight MR X. Brexit and Trump could be the final boss.”

“I suppose that’s the bizarre light in Brexit, Trump: could they be seismic shocks to the foundations of capitalism? Even if they are hardened variants of capitalism (aka fascism) – in this current stage of its life they could be lethal to its longevity? Big time boat rockers. It’s a speculation borne from desperation, as to how to move away from a collision course with horror. But this could mean the only way to avoid a collision course with horror is to take that very course.”

“But hands up who isn’t feeling frightened in the first month of 2017?”

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“After we leave Piccadilly station we head southwards, with the intention of meeting Oxford Road, the so-called busiest bus lane in Europe, and stop-off in a personal pilgrimage, in a life dominated by the ghosts of my own failed futures. But where are we? This certainly isn’t the 1990s, it’s not even the early 2000s, but, despite warnings of parallels with the 1930s,  it doesn’t seem to belong anywhere.”

Are we in New York yet”?

“I stumble upon a memory as we approach the road, something I spoke about with a friend who’d had a recent bitter return to Manchester, commenting on the homelessness in this once-future city. Through the portal of thoughts of how our info-tech dependency is causing the flattening of experience (this arches everything) we arrived at a worrying proposition that the proliferating homelessness here is actually good for tourism, in a city where the dominant late Victorian urbanity shares more in common with New York’s preliminary skyscrapers than with London’s continentalism. Not only did New York overtake London as the world’s largest city in the early 20th century, but it also became the default for the excitement, romance and tragedy we expect from all big cities now. It’s part of the package.”

“Oxford Road once endorsed my future years before I even attempted to study here. This is when my sister was here, and when all was ‘chill’ in the tie-dye decadence of the late 1990’s; when the coming millennium was still a world of friction-free middle class lounging (soundtracked by the likes of Air and Morcheeba), when it seemed more like a rite before it became an aggressive imposition due to its impossibility.”

“But today it is absent – liberated as we are from its unlikely return in the new tides of 2017.”

“And anyway the exercise of old ghosts, as if they could speak more than I of the present, is cut short on the sodden streets of the city as it seeps through my shoes, making it hard to spend much time in the interzone of the Castlefield brewery and Princess Road on a miserable winter’s day.”

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“The bus we catch, happens to coincide with school turnout, and I reflect on how I grew up in a town that was near-total white working class. I remember coming here aged 19, and despite growing up in a house intolerant of racism, under a New Labour government, which if anything at all, lauded multiculturalism, I’ve since felt that there is something wrong, inadequate, embarrassing about my formative experiences, because they lacked the diversity of the Island on a whole. Could my initial instant reaction of surprise to multi-ethinicity reveal a racism in my bones I didn’t know was there?  Could this be cleansed only by leaving my home town, and then looking back at it with a heap of condescending smugness, because better people ‘choose’ to live in more cosmopolitan areas, whilst the bad apples, the weak, the inadequate are left on the pile to chew over their inherent racism…?” It couldn’t have anything to do with how the nation’s inequality has merely ghettoised us all, could it? This is when this sense of inadequacy is suddenly exposed to the lions on the vast playing field of competitive individualism,  and I haven’t met the grade, always a step behind. Coming in second. The sense of inadequacy results in the poker face of the everyday millennial coming of age. “Yesterday, I woke up sucking a lemon” sang Thom Yorke. But yesterday was 17 years ago.”

“Giving up the ghost”

“The tensions ease in my face over the first pint in a pub that touches on the Manchester, rather than Shoreditch simulacra. We idealise over an vision of a world where communication is liberated from the scarcity principle of capitalist life; where name-shaming, blame games, workplace-bitching, and tabloid life-wrecking is a thing of the past.The tiled green and white interior of the pub seems to rebound, or echo this longing. It’s fed by an optimism that I believe accompanies all afternoon-to evening hinterlands on a Thursday working day. An emotional anticipation of a Friday to end all Fridays; to end the working week for good, and allow all of us relaxation in the comfort of what we have been making for 200 years. Come on, now’s the time to give up the ghost!”

Late 20th Century was late and just said yes or no / And was mistaken for sarcasm…” The Fall

“Manchester’s peculiar resistance to The Flattening process is due to it’s prominence in a prior stage of capitalism. The cramming of so much into a small space in that first industrial rush is still evident in the claustrophobia of a place, that, perhaps due to it being held captive by the steep inclines of the pennines, results in a cocky, if not aggressive northern-ness that has usually vacated places of such size in recent times. But if anything it reminds you that this isn’t New York, even whilst the venues that rely upon these sardined streets, populated with only the most conventionally beautiful and smart of people, could convince you otherwise.”

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“Nihilistic graffiti. The type you find in areas where the weary intelligentsia-corrodes-into-cynical-career-seeking within the crumbling culture industries; an existential epitome for the retro bar refuge, that is the liberal’s retreat from duty as his world unravels outside. The scene here is a former Victorian Toilet, now the site of rock ‘n’ roll decadence and beverages that taste of a failed utopia of Continentalism here in Cottonopolis, now silently lamented. They’re a place of comfort from the feeling of endless ebb; they once were few, now they are many. Further back we saw an old old Retro Bar, beyond refashion redemption, and John spoke of how memory fails us when we try to remember when there were none. But there certainly was never this amount, surely…?”

“…surely it is high time to give up the fucking ghost!? The nihilistic comments are a sign of fatigue (come on, we’ve all written them on something before – so don’t shoot this messenger). The toilet door writers know too much to be as carefree as the words suggest we should be, but lack tools to deal with the coming situation in any other way but despair. Capitalism set down some of its first suckers here in Cottonopolis, but it now dies all around us and within us. We left our maps of the future in the previous century, but the future doesn’t have to be Trump, as we still can’t be sure if Trump could be the system’s red giant, it’s last power surge before fading away. Right now we aren’t giving up the ghost because, we can’t quite give up the shrinking sugary awards we’re granted, depressed by conviction that the alternatives would be worse. But the future doesn’t have to be starvation, nuclear war, and the Ministry of Truth.”

“Amidst the first ruptures of this conscious turbulence back in the days of 2010/11, a friend, in an utterance of the anguish over the scale of the challenge, said “alien intervention, John, that’s what many people are considering will occur”. But I’m beginning to wonder if an alien intervention won’t arrive in the form of some enlightened extraterrestrials, but from an untapped entity in this most social of earthlings. The pain and anguish of our current inertia, smashing against the confines of our craniums,  could (just maybe) be a sign of such a process underway.”

“Before conversation goes the way of all beer, it’s back to the scourge of nihilism. John speaks of the impossibility and recklessness of embracing nihilism. In rejection of the abyss that humanity currently appears to staring into, he says “yes, the centre may not be there, but” with Jacques Derrida in mind  “surely with our language, what we say, our thoughts, we create the centre? The Big Other exists because we make sure it does! Basically we’re just trying to be to good our fellow man!”.”

(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.”

Stories From Time-Locked Space 3.

(Originally posted in November 2016)

Free-fall in Stasis

(Barnsley, The First Week of Winter, 2016)

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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.

“I’m on a good mixture, I don’t want to waste it”

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? 

“Look forward to a future in the past”

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.

And rest…

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.

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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…

1999….

No Holiday Until Postcapitalism…

2016…

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.

 

Stories From Time-Locked Space. 2

Illusions of ‘otherness’ – Over The Pennine Horizon

Darton-to-Wakefield-to-Mirfield-to-Huddersfield-Manchester-to-Leeds-to-Darton (Northern Rail-to-Grand Central-to-Northern  Rail-to-Transpennine Express-to Northern Rail).

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September 2016.

“Today’s Manchester is dominated by the sounds of the trams. They beep, clunk and even scream as they turn on the tracks, in spaces so close to pavements you wonder how they all function. How do they all function? How does everything keep carrying on? The embarrassing urban anxiety kicks in. The pursuit of something which leads me to the same point I departed at. What to do in this world…today – this city? “Don’t know which way to turn. The best possible use”.  Thought paralysis – it makes me unable to show my human face to an homeless man, despite managing to chuck him a quid. But I’m stunned into shy teenage mumbling when he speaks of his plans of getting through the night ahead of him. I turn down towards Victoria station, stalling as the minutes pass along, knowing full-well I’m aiming for one of the few pubs I know in this city. “What to do in this world…today – this city?”

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“An empty seating area in a pub on Friday teatime, a familiar jukebox soundtrack, and I’m regaining mild rays of confidence. “What spurs me on to travel to other towns and cities?” I thought to myself earlier today, whilst the rain mocked any escape plans I had. Maybe my anxiety to “get on the bus and get out” isn’t so much a desire to travel through space, but a desire to travel purely through time. I have a deep longing to leave these times, and traveling allows for a temporary confusion of time and space that throws fools gold in my direction. I find out that the place I have arrived in is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the one I’d just left.”

“The default Manchester-of-my-mind is a first-industrial-city-Manchester, mixed with a Joy-Division-Manchester, mixed with a Blair-years-failed-attempt-at-studying-here-Manchester. But I return to realise it’s more like a 2016 Leeds, but with less of a Canary-Wharf-steroid-injection and more of Shoreditch-smug-injection. The old mills and engraved testaments to the hard-fought gains of the working man easily fall from mind amidst the banal bazaar of retro bars, hip cafes, veggie restaurants, all named anything and everything under the sun. Where is the Manchester that is buried in our heads like old folklore? I’d had liked to have witnessed it before it became an overly decadent city with an ambivalence that pulls LGBT gains to the same level as homelessness epidemics. Maybe I can now see why the drama Life on Mars‘ recreation of 1970’s Manchester was such an appealing fantasy. We don’t crave homophobia,  the real IRA, or for the gates to reopen to those dark mills, but we crave an authenticity. And whether or not authenticity ever existed, our postmodern addiction to the idea of it seems to distance us further from anything that could be called it. Places become parodies of themselves, as if a city could be constantly taking selfies, just to reassure itself it still exists. A once-industrial titan, obsessively staring into a mirror, whilst the land shifts worryingly underneath it’s feet, as fracking and nuclear contracts give a green light to those less decadent players on global capitalism’s stage.”

“In an age where companionship has been turned into a highly valued resource, made to feel in short supply, we are left to feel ashamed of our loneliness. The weekend is scarcity-central, with everything feeling in short supply, especially time itself. As Friday evening begins, it doesn’t matter where you are because if you are alone you’re alone every seat in every pub, usually for a rendezvous with stable solitude, is taken, and every space for daydreaming is swallowed up. I walk back and forward, like a stuck soundtrack, only noticeable to the homeless, the only static bodies in our hasty times. I bump into a friend in the Piccadilly rush. It’s awkward. He wouldn’t care, but I do. “Just what am I doing?” These whole endeavours seem so pathetic under the weekend’s spotlight. “The city can be a lonely place” – an old piece of wisdom digs itself up to the surface, more like woodworm than earworm.”

“By now the peak fare rail curfew is lifted and I grab a can of M&S cider and head for the train back to Yorks. My anxiety is curbed as a 6 carriage train pulls in. But no: it seems that any train attending to the needs of the millions who make up the discontinuous Northern Metropolis has to be a scarcity train.  The first 3 carriages stay put as the tired have to use their one last burst of energy to run up to the other 3. If you want a picture of a Northern English future, imagine continual disappointment under signs for ‘the Northern Powerhouse’ – forever.  “We should never have it so good” is what Macmillan meant to say. As we travel eastwards the early Autumn sunset penetrates the windows and makes silhouettes of Manchester’s millennial monoliths – they pray to the Gods that the sun will never set on the world that built them. But despite the illusions of clairvoyance the September sun gives as it penetrates the scene, their day of reckoning isn’t today.”


“Land-locked on an Island”

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“As I begin my cycle up to those hills, yesterday’s impulse is today’s: always trying to escape reality by fooling myself I am doing so by traveling across space, away from wherever the sense of stuck-ness is most claustrophobic.  I always end up where I was, and who I was, before. But during these cyclical doings I exercise the very best and worst in me – new depths of contempt and idealist manifestos crisscross in my thoughts. As the first of many hills give way, still on the foothills, I ask myself what it is I really want to happen – a question prised out of me from a pressure to DO SOMETHING. I answer myself with this: “What is to be Done? Lots of things have been done, and lots don’t seem worthwhile doing again. Right now the only thing that is to be Done, is to ditch capitalism – transcend it, upend it, or just end it”. That is the immovable objective of now.”

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“I’ve always wanted to reach the Metropolis on the other side, only to realise it’s no lost world, no place where things are done differently, after all. This is what happened yesterday, but yet the climb to the hilltop Horizon is where the allure still lives. After all these years I’m still climbing up here to see if there is something beyond this reality. From the road the other side of the valley, the Woodhead pass looks like a river made of Mercury. And I don’t care what more far-flung wanderers think of this, because this area, for me, sometimes contains an otherworldly essence, like a gateway to another celestial body.”

“The Stocksbridge Bypass valley almost broke me, and as the thirst and exhaustion kicked in, it took on an almost mythologised representation of itself as the ravines, pylons and conifer plantations began to look threatening – almost a concrete abstraction of the notoriously dangerous road I was climbing up. So, by the time I reached Sheffield I was massively relieved. But not before long I felt estranged amidst the weekender endeavours. The locus of this seemed to be the diversion I had to take, after realising a large concrete chunk of postwar Sheffield, centred around the Grosvenor hotel, was ring-fenced for demolition. The erasure of yet more of one specific era also made a physical embodiment out of what I was feeling today and yesterday in as the cities reached their weekend point: a sense of being forced either onto the narrow curbways or of being funneled into a design for late capitalist life. Neither appeal. Nor does hanging about this evening, and I call today off at an earlier than usual point.”


The Land That Noise Forgot.

September 2016

“There’s strangely a normality to Sunday evenings, that reassures, quells anxieties often found at other times. Which means that our post-working-hour walk up onto the very tops of hills between Yorks and Manchester is going to work out OK today. These barren stretches up here seem to speak something of the concealed melancholia of life down below. Perhaps they allow you to feel at ease with its truth, ridding yourself of social status anxiety like the weight of a poorly-designed work uniform, as you climb further from the road, to the point that even if you went to far into the early autumn sunset, and found yourself in mortal danger, such anxiety wouldn’t reappear – all you would have is clean fresh fear, a sensation that is somewhat different from dog-shit stink of anxiety that clings to us down below.”

“We look over to both Saddleworth Moor and Holme Moss. A beginning. Or the ending. Like reaching a land’s end, in-land. We are Landlocked on an island. Time-locked in space. But this area is like a frontier, even if there turns out to be nothing beyond it. What is it about the life down below that makes us want to seek such desolation? Steve speaks of the value he places on the silence up here.  A silence that separates it from everywhere else on this noisy land. As up here, like staring at the sea, or into space, you can see things move before you can hear them moving.  In a noise-filled age this is almost non-existent. From these hilltops we access the lack of real dialogue amidst the noise below. What is the use of thought down there, when it seems reduced to shards of information in perpetual battle for dominance with one another? These monochrome colours and featureless plains help bleach that noise, opening our eyes like portals to a frontier out of which sprung our industrialisation, and into which we see a space waiting, waiting, and waiting, to be filled by a future.”

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“We look down to where the first few cluster-settlements begin the outer edges of a Greater Manchester sprawl that changes from cobbled-stone to concrete within our hazy horizon. Dave talks of how, by seeing where the green farming land gives up to the ‘desertified’ hilltops, such stark end/beginning points allow you to visualise how it all began, and continues, everywhere else. Like the streams that flow down to form the necessary rivers of this ‘first’ industrial city, I think of the flows of people coming down from these hills, the upheavals, the Peterloo Massacre, the endless rows of workers crammed together, the hopes, aspirations for something better, which informed a pop music that in turn informed the world. All for what? A noisy competition in consumption? An Instagram App on an Iphone? An overpriced hovel overlooking other, lesser, hovels? Surely this can’t be how it all ends?

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“Walking back down the hills, anticipating the mental noise awaiting us, Dave remembers how his noise cancelling headphones kept in his terrace house in a busy suburb of Huddersfield gives him access to a silence provided by capitalism to endure capitalism, rather than a silence from capitalism. But the break out of it’s frenetic inertia hasn’t ended for us just yet, as we decide to seek refreshment in a place that you couldn’t even designate as an Inn. It in it’s location on the border of Yorks and Lancs, this is more of a non-place from a time that is gone. As the night falls around it, who could have ever been a ‘local’ up here on this horse-drawn-carriage-cum-commuter highway? Lights on and open, it still feels forgotten, trapped in a time-vacuum.  There’s a jukebox in a dark corner of the room, the music on it dates no later than 1999. But this isn’t the re-hashed CGI Steroid-90’s you find in the towns below, this is the late nineties as we left it. It’s like the millennium never occurred. Maybe the sentence at the end of our narrative had ended already by then, and the emptiness up here is like a pause at the end of a sentence that’s only exhaustively prolonged down below because it’s amidst an feverish command for economic growth? But where’s the next sentence? Maybe it isn’t Manchester that has ‘so much to answer for’ after-all, but the moors themselves?.

Stories From Time-Locked Space. 4

In Another Country… … …

December 2016

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“7:10am. That very point where you sense an internal fist-fight with dread. It occurs about 5 minutes after you wake, when  ‘The Everyday’ slaps you in the face with a post-nuclear protestant work ethic gone zombie. The initial morning opening turns out to be just a lonesome sachet of fresh air before an engagement from which you can’t escape without the sort of hallucinations/inebriations you’ll have to wait 12 hours for. Phillip Hammond is today’s mug of the moment – beaming back at me with bad news. If such a future moment arrives from which to remember such mugs, his mug will fit a zeitgeist of disbelief that has been entrenched by the retreat-from-the-world events of 2016. Yet I have to lift that lid on the laptop screen, it’s in my Westernised veins to bow down my little head to allow today’s dose of scarcity logic to penetrate me and propel me into my daily races. Another fucking day….and I’m not even  ‘working‘ today.”

“2016 has seen me in a quagmire of a malaise-fueled torpor. Fueled by a lifelong obsessive persona, my late arrival into the age of smart technologies, ‘liquid tech’, has deeply effected my ability to organise my life. I find myself chasing time, literally, as I run to meet Michael at the lay by in Darton – parked up and waiting for our planned trip to the Humber estuary. I fear total dysfunction. Time no longer makes sense, at all. Yet I’m still chained to Greenwich Meantime. I’m a tiny connection point in a matrix heading full speed towards dysfunction, but yet whose life’s responsibilities are his own.”

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“As we reach the M1,the overly familiar tones of BBC Radio 4 are like a reassurance as if the past 15 years never even happened. The ‘concerned’ middle class voices, crowing over potential errors appearing in their family-unit blueprints-for-the-future, come over the waves like hallucinations of Blair Year ‘we’re all middle-class now’ plans gone right. This detached discourse is tell-tale of the freezing of thought in a free-fall time. The M1 has grown into a super-motorway as it gets ready to welcome the M62, upon which we will be traveling next – greedily taking over a land that would rather hallucinate itself as fields and flatcaps.”

“Our window view is of an unnamed M62 corridor in the dying days of 2016. It’s a cold word; a blue landscape that puts any mini-ice age Decembers of yesteryear to shame. Michael is a man who embodies action, activity – yet he like me he ain’t a fucking clue how to talk in any way but dismay about a world leaving 2016. It’s a spot-the-Dystopian sort of journey to the Humber, cherry-topped by the strangest of half-finished service stations, where we seek much-needed caffeine – to no avail.”

“This half-finished place reeks of robots rather than workers. Within our choice of words resides hidden traces of the equally hidden traces of Utopianism within this near-total Dystopian horizon. But it’s a dreaming that fades fast in the sight of a building that appears to us like a cardboard-Colosseum in a construction site that looks as much to be made of Lego as it does a mini-Ceaușescu palace for another world than thought it could never fall apart.”

“The gateway to a forgotten country.”

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“What do we mean when we look out into the Humber along two different points on this trip and talk of this ‘other country’? Because initially we talk of how in a land long-aggrieved at the city on the Thames estuary (a river that drains political power from far wider than its own drainage basin), an estuary 200 miles further north drains as much, or if not more of that land that calls itself united. I’ve never actually been here before, maybe I saw the Humber bridge at some unmarked childhood moment, but I’ve never before stared into this drainage basin for all I’ve known from the land-locked life I lead. The pursuits, the cold sweats, resent, failed hedonia, the piss-ups, regrets, the poetry… – it all bleeds into the sea from here.”

“If things had been different…. and power hadn’t seen its natural home as lying along that southern estuary….who knows…?”

“Then there’s the fact that Hull often looks to have more in common with cities across the sea as it does cities 60 miles back up the M62. If it wasn’t for the faces stained by our peculiar class system, that you can see from way across the old inlets, you could half-imagine you were in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. EU flags hang proudly defiant around the old docks, accompanied by a monument to the Union that looks like it can’t be over 5 years old. Around here the wish to celebrate such a bond is so explicit you have to remind yourself that the decision the UK made to the leave the EU did actually happen. A sense of sadness creeps over me, even though my reluctant Remain-voting self was neither saddened or shocked when this Island did choose to pretend that it had no bond with a land mass it split off from just 8,000 years ago.”

“But it’s a multifaceted sadness, which was already well incubated years before the referendum. It is somewhat put into words by the monument we now find right next to the river. It’s to the 2+ million people who used Hull’s port on their migration from the old world of Northern Europe to a United States that still shone as a beacon for a better world. “America was pregnant with promises and anticipation…” So was postwar Europe… Intoxicated by the bombardment of illogic, Brexit was still nonetheless a protest, a primal scream at a ‘modern’ world that has gone back on nearly all of its promises…”

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“The ensuing pause caused by the long wait to cross the furious traffic on this ‘river road’ gives Michael time to think of his own personal dismay of a world that went back on its promises of a better future. Michael was in his early adult years when the rave movement emerged out of the bad vibes of Thatcherite Britain, emitting vibes of peace and love that spread into mainstream culture and joined hands with the relief of the seeming end of the cold war/the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was a shared-feeling that the ‘millennium people’ would keep the horrors of the 20th century well and truly confined to the history books.”

The rest is (non)history…

“We walk back into the centre, through a city park full of all the now overly-familiar signs of the forgotten post war dreams. Every city had such dreams, every city seems embarrassed by them. But maybe not Hull. It seems somewhat different to other UK cities, less like a place swapping identical props with other places to come up with the same thing;  Rubix Cube cities, all identical but showing a slightly different array of colours at a given time.”

“The city is one big building site, in preparation for it being the UK City of Culture 2017, which may give a more practical explanation for all its defiantly pro-EU iconography. But as much as cities cannot survive on celebrations of their cultural pasts and presents alone, and in-spite the dangers of gentrification, there are kernels of optimism in seeing cities that have suffered much decline being revamped and given the national respect they rarely get. But I guess I wish I could just believe that these things go somewhere! The sense of inertia ventriloqises everything; ‘article 50’ feels like a huge weight being held in artificial suspense, perhaps indefinitely; a sadness in shopping centres as we head back to the car-park makes us think of how the hidden spirit of consumerism is the assurance of more and more each time – a deeply troubled spirit for today’s reality of diminishing returns, indefinitely. Seismical game changers seem eager to inflict ‘their’ reality for good, bad and uglier, yet everything and every soul seems to be just hanging and waiting.”

“From the top of the multi-storey car-park we assess the Humber estuary one more time, with a sense of some gain on perspective, if anything. We now head back towards the West Riding Sprawl. We pass Drax power station, which more or less sits in middle of all the old ridings, and then past the infamous landmark the Prince of Wales Colliery’s old spoil heap (now a huge green hill), and back towards Wakefield.”


Trapped in a Time-Locked Torpor. This is The Everyday

December 2016

Bella Vista…

Where I stand is the interzone between two points of total immersion torpor. One, Leeds, has become an L.A hallucination, retroactively glamming up its postwar buildings, giving them an almost dating website-style makeover. Whilst Seattle is sleepless in Sheffield, restlessly rearranging everything into Retrobars, comforting hideaways from the cold world gauntlet between pubs. For what? Is this what civilisational dementia looks like, before the muscle wastage kicks In?

The Bella Vista, once a panoramic point in a pleasure ground for the privileged, now a 30 minute breather from the exhaustion caused by the existential inertia of the production of inproductive work. From here you can see into the borough’s of Barnsley,  Wakefield and Huddersfield, who’s total population reaches to just under 1 million. Yet the one alteration in generations upon the tip of the horizon is the wind turbines, that almost seem to jester in frustrated anticipation of a coming of a world they were supposed to bring energy to.

Yet this ‘inbetween’ area is also a hotspot for dead-end pleasure-seeking, a disease for what there is so far no cure. Slaves to sexual stimulation wait around here, in car parks and woods, in the dead of Winter. This creates an air of suspicion to me standing around using the undulating landscape as an attempt to draw out a cure. I just look like another addict at the end of history, who will do anything to get his next fix.”

“But the standing, and looking, sorts things. I feel like I can now ‘reconnect’. The primordial term ‘information super highway’ still seems to make sense, as I anticipate the easy completion of ‘to do’s’ with the false confidence of midday feeling.”

Leeds as L.A hallucination

“False confidence dries up in the concourses of railway stations, which will remain as points for internal discussion over direction in life, indefinitely. “Prioritise!” – an anxious assertion that I’ve definitely internalised but yet not been able to do anything with as it jostles itself to the top of an otherwise empty itinerary. A timid voice that only just just dare speak itself, retorts; “how do you prioritise in a world that has lost all meaning, without reconfiguring yourself to a form of meaning you already feel to have been debunked of meaning?” Who can honestly say they’ve successfully reconfigured? If my body’s rhythm is plugged into the machine, my soul gave up any idea of a future within it a long time back. It’s been alleviated by 12 years worth of biweekly piss-ups: crumb trails of fools gold, that suggested a quick fixing for the future. But all the time I knew it wasn’t really me that needed fixing in the first place. Now that the industry has become the individual my lonely voice of resistance has become my lone selling point, leaving the prospect of a seismic conjuction the lone hope.”

“But John’s attitude at the end of the world is one that allows a new one to become possible, even as he says “I think we’re fucked, to be honest” whilst laughing in the Waterstones café. Conversation with him is always an avenue rather than a cul-de-sac. But until those “avenues (are) all lined with trees” the feeling fades fast within the readjustment to my own company. I, who is stuck on daily repeat between these two cities; I, who’s message is always of a ‘lack’, forgets how much he depends on the energy of others, and now has two full hours of dead time before my next friendship rendevous in a cold world offering only alcohol in end of history havens as places to hallucinate its warmer times.”

Seattle is Sleepless in Sheffield 

2016. After The Sugar Rush…

The Tablet. The Tablet entrenched the torpor. This year seems to have been spent racing from place to place rooting for Wifi in the cities I once never needed it in. Fullstops between hours, days and months seem done with; in fact 2016 is the first year that hasn’t felt like one at all, literally dissolved by my first encounter with swipe technology dependency. But I find a pub in Sheffield that requires a code to log in, and I’m too tired, too obsessed with how this once normal-looking room is now like a stage-set for a Seattle-based sitcom, to bother asking anybody for it. Social media has had concrete impacts on everything, not least in the Instagramisation of meeting places into a hyperyesterday (I’m sat in one now). But the current ‘sugar rush’ that gets us staring into these screens more than ever is swipe dating, the most famous being Tinder. Ten years since MySpace and Facebook could hook us to a laptop screen with the anticipation of the next sugary social gratification, only to be as naturalised as running tap water, this could be the endgame sugar-rush. But it’s the end point of a process I no longer feel I have the words to describe.”

“Its because I’m a 20th century robot trying to keep myself in tune with century-less cyborgs. I’m going through the motions of someone in anticipation of a future that never arrived; an error of judgment (probably?) that entails an incompatibility with the present whether I wanted it or not. Sometimes I wish I could slip my subjectivity and swim the sleek cyberspacial surface of Now, in an attempt to take the cumbersome ‘in’ out of my individual. Make no bones about it, I’ve tried to live within the mere appearance of the world, but I’m too stuck in a previous tense when the ‘in’ was supposed to matter. It’s neither me nor these ‘swimmers’ who have ‘got it wrong’. Maybe I’m just analogue in a digital world.”

Cybervidualism is 24 hour image-based. 24 hour gyms. 24 hour beauty. 24 hour lives. Everyone can be beautiful in the care of an Iphone. Cyber-sexy-cool. The whole of life turning towards sex in suspense. A still world of selfies that show no intimacy, as we addict ourselves to the slavery of swiping away, reducing the all of life, including ourselves, to “I  would” or “I wouldn’t”s. Sleekly it slides both males and females towards a slot machine of sexual psiren-hood. But what other option do we have? Deprived of intimacy in an age of loneliness, these Venus fly traps seem like a necessary evil, but once the seizure of swiping secedes a truly cold world solitude awaits.”

“Beautiful people, beautiful girls. I just feel like it’s the end of the world”.

“PJ Harvey, you keep singing in this my head, 16 years on. And the world maybe no longer exist as we retreat into post-traumatic-torpors; they sooth while they suck us in and suck us dry.”

“But my dark matter will not shift, won’t let me switch roles in an instant. So I’m back under another solitary half-piss up in the city, engaging in this hallucination of the past. And in a time where nihilism encroaches on the collective spirit like black death in hot summer,  the Retro Bar is what we are all reach for as an anchor. Let it shed a tear for eyes that have been exposed to way way too much. The 1990s hallucinations entrench and grow stronger. They evoke a time when we believed in this ‘new spirit’ of capitalism whether we knew it or not (after all it never spoke its name). And we crave the teenage kicks it gave us back then, the more a world made in its image falls apart. In a Sheffield pub, pop group SWV’s Early-90s Michael Jackson-rework ‘Right Here’ plays out as an apparation of 1990s dreams. A false opening (a fools opening) that left dead dreams. Left embarrased as to how small point in childhood has been eversince replaced by a colourless lack. After those first ever ‘proper’ holidays by ocean-blue sea, a sense of restlessness dug into my skin in the dying days of the 20th century, from where it still lives. It’s not an urge to travel, but a need to keep moving. No holiday until Postcapitalism, I get up and think of going to another bar.”

“Amber Warning”

“We are all actors trained for a ridiculous play that has no real partsfor us anymore. Sheffield’s growing army of homeless appear from every corner like long-out-of-work actors begging for a part, but even the better-placed can’t find one. It doesn’t work anymore! Time is out of joint because if capitalism was historically justified neither Trump or Brexit would’ve ever occurred.”

“But surely you don’t have to be deep-fried in Marx to come to an independent conviction that capitalism is (or was!) a process for getting somewhere else. Its very essence, of an ever-increasing speed of production, lays bare its journeyman identity.  But maybe we grew to like it’s roller coaster a little too much? The previous century was the cinematic century, and perhaps it just wouldn’t leave our skins as it reached its final 15 years. We wanted to go around again and again. Harder, faster, harsher. But we are now all addicts to an extremely toxic fix.”

“Evening walks home from town are rarely pleasant amidst the sensory bombardment of constant traffic, but they nearly always provide the fruits of vitriol. “Welcome to the dogshit of the real”, I text my fiend, as we wrangle over ways of unravelling the out of date social agreement of capitalist ideology. A way of undermining its hold on ‘the big other’, whilst feeding a collective utopian spirit.  But that’s just the daydream-revolutionary emerging due to a certain rhythm in the walking and texting. I proceed to sink into my solitary room, become stuck by the sadness as it catches me, and crave the Alleviations once more.”

“But we can live in a retro hallucination, swim the seductive Cybersurface 24/7, leave the world in 2016, but changes are afoot that will cut through the amber that has encased us in a place that feels like a still from a famous TV show. We need to recognise this stuckness, but then realise that the amber colour means ‘warning’. The world may often appear frozen, but it is also unravelling at a fast pace.”

“This was what it felt like to be sat in The Retro Bar At The End of The Universe in a year that was dated 2016.”

“A false feeling of eternity…but will the last train always be to nowhere?”

Stories From HMS Brexit

(Originally posted at the future date 1.4.2017)

This is HMS Brexit

It’s not even JG Ballard’s ‘Glorified Lifeboat…’

…because it’s sinking.
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This voyage, perhaps even whole flat earth that it navigates, has reached an end point.

This is an epochal moment – yet we duck, dive, and talk about following our forefathers’ impossible footsteps into yesterdays’ jobs, homes and families, where hair goes grey and skin wrinkles with the pride of purpose.

These footsteps lurch over the void – momentarily held in suspense by a binge on artificial enhancers (or Zombie economics).

We are led over this cliff by the bloated reign of the Baby Boomers.

They don’t mean harm, but they are.

They are ghosts trapped in a machine. A shit machine, but one of full employment, affordable housing, and visions of a future that isn’t our present. Dictating all down below down a road that doesn’t even exist.

No wonder we are lost. Clambering for any clarity. Doing anything to cleanse our bodies of workaday anxieties.

On HMS Brexit ‘work’ doesn’t make sense, because we have lost all direction. Work was the only meaning we had, but as it dies it lives on like a zombie.

We can feel it sucking our blood when we are commanded to improve ourselves within this void.
The 2016 EU referendum was an accidental hand grenade given to those aggrieved by economic injustice for so long that they’d forgotten its source. Of course they were going to throw it, but it blew the limbs off all sides.
As limbless creatures, we we bite and bark at each other, unable to reach out and see our pain is one another’s.
The workplace is a microcosm/node in a explosion of rhizomes of exhaustion and despair. But the explosion implodes in us.  After hating everybody else, we end up hating ourselves.
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It was the same today.
The anguish of collapse is so violently played out because the Other is now merely a competitor (essentially an enemy).
My own mood is so compressed by workaday landscapes under clouds of Brexit and other breakdowns that I know my essence is soaked in a negative aura as I beat about the nearby towns in the early evenings in search of exits for my imprisoned emotions.
Like dogs that pick up on fear, others react badly. The very fact that I’m acutely aware of the expanding army of homeless means that my gaze makes a b-line to their desperate asks. As I walked down the main alleyway for frustrated begging and hipster-bar-bunkers in Sheffield, one begging man shouts “you fucking ignorant arsehole” at me – although I was totally oblivious to any earlier calls he made.
He caught me when I was already at a pressure point. I found myself yelling “fuck you” at him. Two drinks later the rage has gone. But my head was melting with an urge to inflict pain on somebody already in pain’s main firing line.
These days I feel anything can make me flare up.
Its because I want to be able to give up.
…tired of pretending it’s all OK.
But as sick as I feel, I can’t see a way out of this life of ventriloquised labour for a world I no longer believe in.
Knowing this is shared-despair sparks a lone candle flicker. But we’ve all caught the rabies after this 40 years-hate-your-neighbour, and speak through barks and bites.
Yet my despair is often disallowed such unity, such wider interpretation, by the passive-aggressive put-downs of a certain brand of hippy. They prey on my written-down honesty, and use it as a way of one-upmanship under the guise of peace.
Their smugness that implies I refuse ‘to evolve’ and that ‘they are the change we want to see’ sees people like myself as a disease that needs to be cleansed from this planet.
I don’t fit under their sunshine, and basically the underside of this sunshine is the assertion I should kill myself.
But isn’t the suicide of the ‘misfit’ what we all want on HMS Brexit?  The Troll to the Poster? The Xenophobe to the Migrant Boater? the Leftie to the Xenophobe? the Remainer to the Leaver? the Progressive to the Conservative? The Work-drained to the Work-less?
“Kill yourself and let me endure this hell all by myself!!”
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I’m scared about how nasty all this is going to get.
I’m scared for me.
I’m in battles I never knew could be fought; cages I never knew could exist.
I end up in Retrobars, where nobody speaks to anyone they haven’t already agreed to speak to, earlier on, via their smartphones.
No shit, I swear Brexit was an emotional demand for an exit to all of this.
Theresa May is no doubt the zombie of Thatcher, who, after swimming through the body of Blair, has been spat out of the mouth of Cameron. Waiting for Article 50 has become an intensifying locus for a larger sense of dread we feel above our heads.
So why didn’t we have the courage to examine this emotional demand? We should have broken down and wept collectively last June. But undead lurchings of Empire barged their way to the podium.
We now need help from another world.
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In Wakefield centre I’m approached by a woman who has reopened bloody wounds as a tool to justify her plea for legal tender. None of that which would shock me half a decade back shocks me anymore.
Is it normal to be asked for money on every town centre street?
The scenes have strayed into unfamiliar sights we seem blind to on overly familiar streets.
Hms Brexit is the blind sinking.
Brassband music blurts out into the sparse night from a surreal mock-up of picturesque Yorkshire in a pit of a subway in a station that is struggling to escape a bleak essence caused by its abandoned outpost-like nature, exposed on the eastern rim, where the centre meets the hinterland.
The music makes no sense in a land that’s lost all narrative.
The train arrives and so too do fleeting hopes of escaping loneliness by meeting a lover on this moving carriage.
A weary and knowing smile succeeds as the usual happens on The Lonely Lifeboat. And I just site facing the back of a plastic seat. The FEED feels like your friend in such points, but I’m back to looking at a pen and notepad.
I feel momentarily relieved.