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…

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?”