Road Walker – A Story

Road Walker

 

 

 

The windows on the bus were misted and foggy.

Small gemmed droplets of rain-water had collected on the outside and were very slowly dripping down to the seal. But when the bus was still, humming and gently rocking at traffic lights, the drops shone with the weak Autumn morning sun.

The clouded view from inside showed nothing of the world around the bus. The man sitting on the seat only knew that the bus was stopped at a traffic light because the window mist was glowing bright red. The passenger looked as the glow changed from deep red, to rich orange and then to a green brighter than grass in sunlight.

The man anxiously watched the change as he sat in his seat. It seemed to take a long time to cycle through the colours. So long that he became mesmerised by the glow that covered the seat in front of him.

He sat and watched as a middle-aged man read a newspaper and plucked his nose hairs. The man thought no-one was watching, but on a bus, everybody is watching, especially when the windows are so misted that you can’t look out of them. The man would turn a page and then would insert his paper-print-smeared fingers in to the opening of his nose, grab a few, like chopsticks trap tumbling grains of rice, and yank them out quickly. The man would take his eyes from his paper and examine the hairs, while twitching his nose delicately and then rub the remnants on the page he was reading.

The man sitting across the way watching him hoped that he would be off the bus before the man had finished and decided to move on to something else.

The man’s legs were too long to fit into the small gap between seats and so he sat on the very edge and stretched his legs out into the passage as much as he could. His knee was pressed against the metal bar at the top and it rubbed every time the bus moved. He kept moving his legs to stop the pain in his knee-cap but the movement of the bus kept putting it back in the same place.

The man hated having to sit like this; there was never enough room for his legs, he always seemed to get sore knees. Trains, buses, even planes were restrictive of his knees.

 

The man was relieved to get off the bus; so relieved that he got up from his seat a couple of minutes before the bus stop. The bus was stopped at a traffic light again. The man watched the light on the misted windows as he stood by the driver’s cab.

He got off the bus and walked down a road.

As always, he walked in the centre of the road when he could. No-one really knew why he did this, not even him.

If any cars drove along the road, the man walked along the gutter; not on the pavement or even the curb. The man walked along the quieter suburban roads and streets like this and, when he met a busier road, he would find any chance he could to cross the road to the other side and back again.

On rainy days like this, the roads were rivers. The sloped sides of the roads collected the water in the gutters and fed it down into the waiting gaping mouths. The man felt like he was paddling in streams when he had to walk in the gutters.

His shoes got soaked, but he didn’t mind. He had gone through many pairs of shoes; all cheap, as there was no point in buying expensive ones when he treated them like this.

These ones he had on now were starting to break. He walked back out into the centre of the road after a car had gone past, he could hear the familiar squeak of trapped air pushing out past water and sole. There was a hole in this shoe, not long till there was one in the other.

Wet socks aren’t the nicest of things, but at least he had others at home.

On sunny days, even, the hole in his shoe still squeaked as the air squished through it. His socks rubbed against the plastic insoles and squeaked too, but at least they didn’t get wet.

 

I say that nobody knew why the man walked in the middle of the road but I do know, really. He preferred to walk in the middle of the road. But why did he prefer to walk in the road?

People asked him; lots of them. They saw him doing it and wondered why.

They might not have seen him firstly, but as a car tooted irritably as it drove past him, they turned to look and saw him placidly ambling along just the same. Or they sat in the park near one of the suburban roads and slowly watched him.

What reason could you give when asked about something like that?

Why do you eat your vegetables first and the meat afterwards, or vice versa? Why do you like vinegar on your chips but not salt?

Why wear a jumper when it’s hot and only a shirt when it’s cold?

On some days people would ask him why.

Why do you walk in the road?

 

The man was walking one day and the wind was blowing tightly across fences and through hedges. The trees in the park next to the road were leaning fearfully away from the wind; the noise of the wind threatening to tear the leaves off of the trees was ripping through the usual traffic sound.

A long way ahead, the man saw a dog walking alone along the road. It had perhaps escaped from its owner in the park or had bolted through a gate that the wind had slammed open. The dog sniffed the ground and walked up and down the pavement ahead of the man. As the man saw the dog he stopped and watched it. The dog was still sniffing by a hedge and then stopped and slowly looked up at the man. In this weather the man didn’t trust the dog and stood completely still, in the gutter, watching the dog. The man’s lower legs were flooded with leaves as they gushed past and down the street; the dog had now taken up sniffing again and ignored the man.

A shout called out, and the dog’s head twisted before it ran off back into the park.

The man stood still and watched as the wind blew his hair and his coat collar flapped against his neck. After a few seconds the dog came back out again shortly followed by a woman with a lead. The dog was looking up into the woman’s face. The man had an image of a lost-and-found child devoutly clutching at the parent’s hand.

As the woman attached the dog’s collar to the lead again, the man started to walk along the road. The woman was just about to set off, but startled slightly by the unexpected movement across the road, she stopped and watched.

The man was walking briskly, slightly weaving along the road. Not weaving in a drunk meandering but controlled weaving, like a swerving slalom. As the man came directly opposite the woman and the dog, he slowed down and looked at the woman sideways. She looked right back and before he could carry on, before she had time to think what she was saying, before the dog could even try and sniff the man, the woman said: “Why do you walk like that?”

The man, for a second, stood still as the wind blew on, around and at him. Without any space, it seemed he answered: “Because the pavement always has cracks and holes in it. The road is better looked after. Cars cost more than legs.”

The woman opened her mouth, but finding nothing to fill it, closed it again.

The man saw this and heard the faint noise that the wind made as it circled in her mouth and back out again, and then walked on.

After a moment, the dog pulled the woman to lead her on, and she followed.

 

Another day, clear as water and sunny too, the man was again walking back and forward across the road; stepping into the gutters to avoid cars, only dust trickled over his shoes when the wind blew hot. A car was driving slowly in the road behind the man, the man had heard a long time before the car was anywhere near him and moved over to the side of the road.

Coming the other way, a man on a bike was also drifting along in the gutter, faster than the man.

The trees were sheltering the road from the sun, in fact, moss grew on parts of the pavement where the trees kept it cold and the hedges kept it damp.

The car, leaving room to pass the walking man pulled out further than normal and almost clipped the man on the bike. The car driver yelled loudly at the cyclist as he passed by him and banged on his horn loudly. The walking man heard the slaps of the man’s hand louder than the actual horn and stopped, watching the whole thing from the dry gutter.

The cyclist stopped and put one foot on the mossy pavement, eyeing the car violently as it drove to the end of the road. As the car drove around the corner and onto the main road, the cyclist changed his focus to the walker.

“It was your fault as much as his. If you weren’t walking in the road; he wouldn’t have come over this side so much”

The walker had been watching the cyclist’s eyes and met them as they turned to him. His face was calm and he replied: “It’s all about the right and the wrong.”

“What?” the cyclist shouted.

“The right can shout as much as they like; they believe in what they’re saying. The wrong have to fight against themselves first.”

The man watched the cyclist again for a couple of seconds and then walked on through the dust and small stones washed in to the gutter weeks ago.

The cyclist watched him go and then watched the space that the man had left for a few seconds. Only when a car on the main road tooted, did he see the space for what it was and carried on cycling slowly.

 

Sometimes the road walker would walk and his mouth would move at the same time. When you were close, you could hear a sound; not talking but something like humming, tuneless and endless coming from his mouth. If you were more than half a metre away, you couldn’t hear anything coming out of it, all you could see was the slow chewing, slightly sucking movement of the mouth.

In fact, not many people saw the movement of the walker’s mouth because he only moved it when he wasn’t paying attention to anything else. As soon as he was disturbed in his walking by anything, he would stop his mouth working and focus that energy on something else.

Once, the road walker was walking along the road again, this time in slightly frosty morning weather (the leaves were stuck to the road in the gutter and crunching quietly under his feet), and a young girl was watching him as he walked.

Her dad was on the phone and they had stood still so that the dad could speak without the earpiece rubbing against his ear. The girl had been watching another child being pulled along by their parent but then saw the road walker coming in her direction.

She watched the controlled weaving, heard the slight squeak in is shoe, saw the mouth chewing on itself, working itself into a grin grimace, opening slightly to let sound out and breath in. She watched him till he was almost opposite her and her dad and then tugged on her dad’s coat: “Dad. Why is that man walking in the road?”

The dad, still engaged with the person on the phone, made the bad mistake of saying something as a joke to a child when the child is serious: “I don’t know, darling, why don’t you ask him?”

The girl looked up at her dad, moved her own mouth in confusion, and then in a clear and clean voice: “Excuse me? Why are you walking in the middle of the road?”

The road walker stopped opposite the girl and her dad and looked at her. The dad quickly eyed the man and then his daughter; ‘she had said it, she had actually said it’. The dad had a very quick feeling. Like when walking on icy pavements and having an instant taste of blood in your mouth when thinking about slipping over.

The man had a feeling of dread, of acute embarrassment that tasted like, like he didn’t know. And then it was gone again.

The little girl stayed looking persistent at the road walker and he looked back. The dad eyed the two of them tens of times in a couple of seconds and then settled on the road walker.

The road walker’s mouth had been chewing, speaking in hums to himself and had stopped a few seconds ago. It now opened slowly again and spoke as clearly as the little girl:

“Do you ever see anything but people use the pavement? Cats run across roads, dogs would too if their owner didn’t stop them. Squirrels, hedgehogs, foxes; they all use the road. People don’t; only cross it to get to the other side. So why can’t people use the road too?”

The little girl looked strangely at the man and he looked back with a question in his face. The man then stood up completely straight and walked off down the road.

The little girl’s eyes and her dad’s followed him until he reached the end of the road and disappeared out of sight. The little girl then went back to watching the wind play gently around the stark bare branches and toeing frozen leaves stuck to the path as her dad carried on talking on his phone.

 

A drunken man was sitting at a bus stop waiting for his bus. It was a Thursday and he always got drunk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He sat on the metal bench; it was warm and sticky because it was early honeyed autumn and someone had spilt a drink on the seat a few hours before.

The day was starting to end and he had the bus stop to himself. Not because it wasn’t busy on the road, it was, but the other people who would’ve used the bus stop had decided not to use it this time.

The reason was because the man was drunk. That would be ok usually, but this man wasn’t a pleasant drunk; he was loud and abusive. Sitting on his bench at the bus stop, the man was furiously shouting at someone in front of him. There wasn’t anyone there but as people walked past or near the man, they felt that he was shouting at them. His eyes didn’t even see them; they focussed on something else entirely. He sat there in visionary fury; the drunk’s eyes blurted and his mouth stared.

People made up reasons for his shouting but, like the road walker, the reason was known only to him.

The road walker was walking along the street on this Thursday with the drunken man laughing and shouting ahead of him. Other people crossed the road to avoid the drunk but the road walker crossed the road because he felt like it.

The drunken man filled the road with inexplicable words and sounds and somehow, whether something of the exterior world sliced into his vision or whether it was a coincidence, the road walker heard: “Why the hell are you walking in the middle of the road you fool!”

The road walker had been moving his mouth, following his feet on the ground, only focussing on the present things happening as each sole squeaked meeting the floor. To hear this shout, cutting into his thoughts; it took a moment for him to raise his head and stop the shoes squeaking. The shout could’ve been anything; “Why are you wearing a hat, you idiot?” or “Stop carrying a bag! You look like a donkey!” but amazingly the shout was thrown and caught at exactly the right time.

The road walker started to walk towards the drunken man; he was still shouting, again at nothing, but people around the bus stop were looking at the scene thinking it might be an argument. Something about the road walker’s quick and precise steps towards the drunk suggested that he might be about to shout back, but the road walker stopped a metre or two from the man, still in the road.

The drunken man now realised that there was really someone there, in front of him and finally stopped shouting, his face slowly losing the redness that the drunk anger had boiled in him. The road walker, calmly and without haste spoke: but whatever he said, it wasn’t heard because a bus drove huge, rumbling, chugging by and the sound drowned everything.

The drunk, though, sat still and listened to whatever he heard and the road walker spoke calm and quiet words and then turned and carried on walking along the side of the road.

The drunk sat and watched him leave for a few seconds and then was distracted by something in front of him that wasn’t there. The thing in front of him annoyed him and he started up his shouting again. The people who had moved closer to hear the argument, moved away again in case they’d get shouted at but the drunk was shouting directly in front of him, to no-one.

 

Lots of people have asked the road walker why he walks in the road, and every time the answer has been different.

Either he can’t make up his mind or there is no reason.

Advertisements

The Urban Forager – A Philosophy of Use

Foraging is a pursuit usually associated with the countryside. When we think of foragers, we think of adults and children standing under huge apple trees in the corner of deserted fields or next to hedges at the side of country roads, with plastic bags in one hand and the other hand sticky, fruit-stained grasping handfuls of ripeness. This is an alluring image of foraging, one which seems to link back to some countryside past and gone but still lingering in the veins of the people. As the afternoons and evenings ripen and the sun tints the leaves and trunks gold, the urge to collect food rises within us and leads us into the fields and down the country lanes.

Sometimes it can be hard for an urban-dweller to reconnect to this seemingly ancient sensation as the country lanes have been replaced with roads and the hedges with fences. Nature, as urbanity’s constant enemy, appears everywhere in the gaps that humans leave and continually creates new ones for next years’ relations to exploit. Foraging is not just for people with access to the countryside, then, as the countryside is persistently finding its way in to the towns.

When foraging in the countryside, certain ‘foraging rules’ apply. The first, and perhaps the most important, is to make sure that you only take a third of the thing that you are foraging from one area; the other two thirds are for nature, allowing animals to eat the rest and therefore allowing the plants to grow and spread next year. Make sure you know what it is that you are picking, is another extremely important rule. Buy a plant and tree spotting guide; I found one the other day for 50p in a charity shop or borrow one from a friend and teach yourself. It is essential that you know what it is that you have found before you pick it as it could be something poisonous. The other rule, a classic among all countryside users, is: don’t leave anything but your footprints. This may sound twee but I think the sentiment of the phrase is appropriate, especially considering the fact that towns and cities are already choked with litter.       

If these rules are followed then the enjoyment of forgaing can be ensured for future foragers and nature can be allowed to continue without humans getting in the way.

The employment of the word ‘use’ in connection with nature has come to have bad connotations; people often link it to the use of the word ‘exploitation’. Although the full exploitation of nature, in the sense of draining nature dry and leaving nothing behind, can never be excused, a thoughtful ‘use’ of nature links us with our past. Humans, before agriculture was discovered and developed, were hunter-gatherers. As agriculture became the main source of food for humans, we got more and more reliant on the products of agriculture, forgetting many of the skills that we had developed over years of hunter-gathering. As a result, the majority of modern people in Western society are willing to accept agriculture, the production and products, as the only source of food available to us. This makes a lot of people in Western society helpless and reliant on others for the source of their food. The concept of foraging, then, is more than just a way to fill a pleasant Sunday afternoon; it is a way to reconnect with ancient traditions and a way to reclaim the sourcing of our food from the agri-giants. Couple this with the knowledge passed from forager to forager and the familiarity of cooking with the foraged food, and you have a whole lifestyle that unites the modern person with the origins of their food. The concept of Urban Foraging is even more important to the modern person as, in the cities and towns, the source of our foods seem further away than ever.

As with all hunter-gathering and foraging, the person doing these activities must look out for ‘opportunities’. The finding of food is, to start off with, a mostly random business. Nature tends to be full of chance; the spread of seeds and the changeable ideals of town planners and residents means that plants, bushes and trees can be found all over cities and towns. The Urban Forager must therefore be always open to opportunities as they could be available at any time.

A concept that is similar to the idea of the Urban Forager is the flaneur. As a recognisable character, the flaneur would be found strolling around the late 19th century and early 20th century streets of cities and was popularised by writers such as Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin. The flaneur would walk around the urban space in a state of open consciousness, accepting and weighing outside influence. The flaneur watches the streets, buildings and people and assesses them in his/her mind. The flaneur is not always critical of the society he/she sees but is constantly measuring it and commenting on it either on paper or in the mind. The flaneur makes no impression on their surroundings and takes nothing from it as they watch. This is the main difference between the flaneur and the Urban Forager. The Urban Forager must stay alert and consciously aware of their surroundings; always looking for opportunities but the Urban Forager is looking for something to ‘use’ rather than to just watch. The word ‘use’ is used as earlier; a thoughtful ‘use’ as opposed to the greed-driven and thoughtless ‘exploitation’. As the Urban Forager is walking, the main opportunities that they are looking for is the location of bushes, trees and plants that they can use. The great thing about finding a useable plant is that the next year, when the edible parts have grown back, the plant will still hopefully be there. Other opportunities that the Urban Forager can use are only available to the Urban Forager and not to the traditional country forager. These are opportunities that come from local businesses and the residents of towns and cities. The idea of people taking food from supermarket and shop waste bins has been created by the societies calling themselves ‘freegans’. This is certainly one type of urban foraging but a lot of supermarket and shop food is prepared and packed with all the usual additives and preservatives. This type of foraging, while profitable, still relies on agriculture and, as it uses pre-packaged and prepared food, is still helpless consumption. Far better is the finding of raw food from locally-owned shops. Supermarkets will never give food away when they think that they will make a profit from it, therefore unused food will be put in waste bins. Smaller, person (rather than company) owned shops are far more likely to give things to people who ask nicely. The free raw food gained from shops can then be prepared in the way that the forager wishes without the additives that the supermarkets feel necessary to put in. Another great form of Urban Foraging is when the forager sees something that is on someone else’s obviously private property. There has been many times when I have been walking along the street and have noticed berries or fruits on the floor, squashed by passers-by. Looking up, I see that the fruit has come from a tree that is growing in someone else’s front garden. If the tree or plant is still full with fruit and the owners of the plant are letting the fruit fall unused onto the street, it is fairly safe to assume that they are not too bothered about harvesting the fruits. A simple knock on the door is all it takes to be able to forage some great free fruit, although it would be wise and friendly to offer the owner of the plant some of the products of either the plant (some of the fruit you’ve picked) or some of the products of your cooking (a pie, a cake, a bottle of alcohol made with the fruit, etc). This ‘giving something back’ is also commendable for shopkeepers; if they let you have a load of apples, give them back a jar of the apple chutney  you made with them to say thanks.

Now that the forager has discovered the source of his/her food, they can share their knowledge of these areas with other foragers. This means that the empowerment of urban foraging can be spread to others. It also means that you can tell others that you have picked a certain area, informing them tacitly that they shouldn’t pick too much as they might not leave enough for nature. The sharing of knowledge and advice also means that you can create a foraging community, and there is nothing more satisfying than picking your own food, cooking it and then sharing it with others.

With a lot of food, particularly food from agriculture but also from foraging, there is the seasonal problem of gluts. Gluts of food are partly natural, as seasonal foods come to fruition there are a lot of them according to the season, but the issue of gluts are exacerbated by Western agriculture’s over-production. For the forager, the problem of gluts is easily solved; don’t pick as much of the food if you can’t use it. Using gluts in cooking is, however, a good way of storing up food in Autumn ready for the mostly foodless Winter. The use of food from shops also requires the forager to know about ways of cooking bulk quantities of one food; most shops tend to have one or two particular foods that are left over and need to be used up. It is very useful for foragers to have a good selection of recipes stored up for these sorts of occasions and the creation of a foraging community is very useful for this; the more people you share with, the more advice and recipes you can gather.

Jams, marmalades, pickles and chutneys are great traditional and fairly easy ways of using these glut fruits and vegetables but there are other ways which are just as easy and are delicious as well.

Here are some that may help if you have a large glut of certain fruits:

Soft Fruits

Soft fruits such as damsons, berries, plums, peaches, sloes, apricots tend to grow on a large scale and so a lot of them will grow and ripen at the same time, leaving the forager with an exciting challenge. The standard with soft fruits is crumbles or pies which are delicious are extremely easy to make. Soft fruits also make great flavoured liquors such as Sloe Gin, Damson Vodka, Blackberry Brandy or any combination of soft fruit and spirit. It couldn’t be easier: take a large sealable jar, put in 500g of soft fruit for every litre of spirit, shake the fruit around to break the skins, add around 400-500g of sugar (more or less depending on how sweet you like the finished product) and then pour on the spirit. Give the mixture a good shake and then shake every day afterwards. After three months, the drink should be ready, strain the fruit out and transfer the drink into bottles.

Another great way to use the gluts of soft fruit is to make sorbet. The sorbet is easy to make and can be kept in the freezer, prolonging its longevity. Place the soft fruit in a pan; cover the fruit with water so that there is about an inch of water over the fruit. Boil for ten minutes, until the flavour and colour of the fruit seeps in to the water. Strain the fruit out of the liquid and put the liquid back in the pan. The cooked fruit can be added to pies or crumbles. Add sugar and taste until the liquid is sweet enough. Boil the mixture again for a minute and take off the boil, adding the juice of half a lemon. Allow the mixture to cool and place in a sealable container. When cool, put in the freezer and allow it to set. Stir the mixture every two hours as it is setting to disturb the ice crystals. After about eight hours, the sorbet should be set and ready for eating. Try it with apple pie or chocolate desserts.

Apples and Pears

Apples and pears also tend to grow and ripen in gluts and so it is good to have some recipes that use larger quantities to make the most of them. Again, the traditional methods are baking them, making them into pies, crumbles and cakes but there are other more unusual ways of using up large quantities of these fruits. One great way is making cider, or perry with pears. I once made a drink with a mixture of both pear and apple juice which was strong and hearty but also smooth and delicious. Large quantities of apples and pears can be foraged from apple and pear trees but they can also be found at local shops. If a local shopkeeper has a lot of bruised or damaged apples and pears he/she may be willing to give them to you for free rather than trying to sell them, especially if you tell him/her that there will be a bottle of cider or an apple pie at the end of it for them. With cider and perry, it doesn’t matter if the fruit is bruised or damaged as the fruit will ferment more quickly. When you have the fruit back at your house, you need to get the juice from the fruit. In traditional cider making, you would use a cider press to squash the juice out of the fruit, but not many people have a press in their home. I used a cheese grater to grate the apples and pears and then squashed the juice out using my hands into a separate bowl; not very sophisticated but it worked. The grated apple or pear flesh can be used as the filling for pies, cakes or crumbles. Next I transferred the juice to a clean plastic bucket and added a couple of tablespoons of dried yeast and about five tablespoons of sugar. I stirred the juice, put a clean tea-towel over the top and left it for four days. I put the bucket in the bath, when the bath wasn’t being used, as the juice tends to froth over when it first gets going. The cloth protects the juice from flies and stops the froth from going back into the fermenting mixture. After the four days, I put the mixture in clean jars. The jars should be sealable but still allow gas to escape; Kilner jars are perfect. I wrapped the jars in a tea towel and then put them in the airing cupboard, but anywhere slightly warmer than room temperature will do nicely. Keep checking on the juice every couple of days and when the mixture stops fizzing, it is finished. Transfer the cider or perry in to screw top bottles and leave for a week or so to allow the cider to settle down. Most of my cider doesn’t last a fortnight but any that does mellows considerably and tastes like sharp apple juice. Be warned though; homebrew cider and perry is usually much stronger than shop-bought.

Apart from fruits, wild herbs and weeds can also be made into delicious things. Dandelions can be found in many places in cities and they are not only tasty in salads, they make a lovely homemade beer.

Herbs such as rosemary, mint and parsley can be found in wasteland; mostly spread from people’s gardens by the wind or birds. These herbs can, of course, be used in cooking but other, non- edible uses are just as satisfying. Finding lavender in cities is mostly not too difficult as it has been a favourite of town-planners on the edges of parks and recreation grounds for years. As well as being a great flavouring for beers, it makes great herbal oil and a great natural fragrance that is both cleansing and relaxing.  All herbs can be used in these same ways; rosemary is cleansing, mint is refreshing and parsley invigorating.

We can see that the Urban Forager has many fruits, berries, leaves, herbs and weeds to pick, many recipes to follow and many varied opportunities. All can be shared with other members of the foraging community. In fact, the sharing of food and information about food is essential to foragers as it suits the hunter-gather elements that are missing from modern agri-fed life.

There is nothing lonelier than a person who has to eat alone and supermarkets and the modern Western agricultural apparatus thrive on this. Someone who is lonely, and unhappy because of it, will eat more. A person eating alone day after day is forced by supermarkets to buy food superfluous to their needs. The foods have short shelf-lives and solitary consumers find it hard to use all of a product before it goes out of date, leading to unnecessary waste. Larger companies will put things like potatoes into plastic bags, ostensibly to allow the customer to see the potatoes, but also allowing sunlight and fluorescent lighting to turn the potatoes green. Modern market-led agriculture is pushing more and more people into a wasteful lifestyle, mainly because it forces a divided and separated people to accept their option as the only possible food source. There are many reasons, theories and ideas linked to this debate, but it is fairly obvious that food shared is not food wasted.

We are a long way from our origins as hunter-gatherers, but some feeling of purpose, some feeling of empowerment and freedom can be gained from linking with these roots, no matter how small. Foraging may seem like a trivial step to make, especially in built-up cities, but foraging is the most basic of food sourcing methods and when we forage, and cook with the results  of all the hard work, we can feel what it is to be in charge of our own lives again.

The Sale of Transcendence

If we look around us, it is possible to see that life is a compartmentalised into different spheres. There is a ‘work sphere’; especially geared towards efficient work, with a uniform to distinguish it from the other spheres and a group of ‘others’ included, called colleagues, to wear the uniform with. There is the ‘domestic sphere’; with theories as to how to have the perfect domestic life; appliances to help make it easier and whole ‘lifestyle choices’ to make us feel better about buying into certain brands. There is also a ‘leisure sphere’; which is the one that I will be talking about in this piece of writing.

The leisure sphere has been the most recent of the spheres to be developed (the other two having been developed during the Industrial Revolution) and has only really been completely revolutionised in the last two or three decades.

People find that the work and domestic spheres tend to take up the majority of their time; an hour or so of domestic in the morning, eight or so hours of their time spent in the work sphere and then another hour or two spent in the domestic sphere. With the average 8 hours of sleeping per 24 hours taken off, that leaves an average of 3 to 4 hours left for the leisure sphere. It is no wonder, then, that the leisure sphere has become the most important, and the most profitable, for the modern world. The possibilities of what a person can do in this small designated time frame have been increasing slowly over time. Leisure was quite different when the concept was first introduced; many of the activities were free or were extensions to the domestic sphere.

Now, the person looking for things to fill up their leisure time have a variety of options. Almost all of these options, however, cost money. It is because of this that the leisure industry has appeared and has flourished. It is at this point that I would like to look at why the leisure time of the average person has become something so important; something that we are willing to spend money on. Firstly, there are the time restraints; anything that has a limit placed on it instantly becomes something that is valued highly. Another reason is the possibility of transcendence. Transcendence is also valued highly in Western society, particularly as it is becoming increasingly secular. The possibility of transcendence offered by leisure has a very important element to it. A person engaged in a leisure activity can forget their daily woes and stresses as they drink, laugh, play sports, shoot, watch and dance. Transcendence levels out stress and worry, it makes life seem less complicated and can reduce the difficulties of the world down to very simple choices. A person experiencing a sense of transcendence feels that they are looking down at the world from a great height and can see everything a lot more simply; without all the extra problems that make life stressful and complex.

Traditionally, the concept of transcendence is linked to religion and ritual. The person in church or a religious place can feel part of a greater entity, as part of a congregation, a flock, a spirit higher and greater than them. It was this feeling that separated ritual from the everyday and made it (and the person engaging in it) special. With increasing numbers of people in the modern, Western world not engaging in ritual of any form, it becomes important for us to replace the locus of transcendence. The sphere of ritual has, in part, been replaced by the sphere of leisure.

The modern person seeking transcendence, I feel, can now find some separation from the work and domestic spheres by engaging fully in the leisure sphere.

Another important aspect of transcendence that is important to leisure is the concept that in certain situations, the normal laws and morals of society do not apply; a ‘suspended time’. These moments spent in suspended time allow people to gain a stronger feeling of transcendence from everyday life. If a person does something in this suspended time that would otherwise be frowned upon in everyday life and does not get punished for it, because of the situation, this heightens the feeling of separation from everyday life and heightens transcendence. Ritual has always had an element of this suspended time to it, the feasts of the Bacchanalians and the Roman religious orgies, for instance, but traditional religion has tried to suppress it due to a perceived lack of morality. The transcendence of religion was not to be tainted with the immorality of human weaknesses; religion sought to transcend not only the everyday but also the dirtiness of base society. Modern examples of suspended time transcendence are things such as the secular Christmas (where people can start drinking as soon as they wake and eat as much as they can without feeling guilty; at least not until the next day) and music festivals (where some people feel able to drink and take drugs liberally, dance and have sex without much fear of being caught or punished). The mindset during the transcendence of this suspended time is: “this is a special time, a time when I can do as I please. Everybody else is doing the same thing and they have just as much likelihood of being punished as me”. It is this feeling of separation from the everyday that can also fuel the mindset of rioting and looting; transcendence can also act like an exploded safety valve on society. The religious and ritualised form of transcendence costs only time and, if one believes in it, your soul; but modern forms of ‘leisure transcendence’ cost both time and money. The modern person has reached the point where leisure time has become almost a burden: “what can I do to fill this time?” This feeling of ‘not wasting a second’ is fuelled by aggressive advertising and lifestyle ‘experts’. People are now made to believe that, by parting with money in order to engage in leisure activities, they are literally ‘spending’ their time wisely. People are led to believe that this separation from the everyday life can therefore be bought.

Let’s look at some examples. When I was walking past an advertising billboard the other day I saw a picture of a bucket of ice with beer bottles in it. In the background of the picture was a glorious sunset with just the feet of dancing people visible in the honeyed light. The slogan of this picture was more-or-less: ‘Friends. Ice-cold beer. Music for dancing. (Sunset optional)’

This picture suggests that in order to gain the transcendence of this lifestyle image, you will have to buy the beer advertised. There is no room to negotiate with an image like this. In a penniless society, the chance to run away and escape to a sunset dance-party like the one featured in the picture is great. The image is alluring; it offers an opportunity to separate oneself from the monotony of life, to transcend the everyday. All you have to do to gain this transcendence is to buy the beer. The advert doesn’t tell you anything about the fact that you have to have the other factors in order to complete the picture; the friends, the music and dancing (the sunset is optional, of course, but it still suggests that you can have it if you buy the beer). The advert also doesn’t mention that the major factors of this daydream are actually free and available without buying the beer. Friends (at least, true friends) are free. Music is free if you can play an instrument or know someone who can (and if you have friends it is quite possible that you do know someone who can play an instrument). Dancing is certainly free (unless you allow lifestyle experts to tell you that you need to have dancing lessons to improve your daily life). And sunsets, the optional part, are perhaps the freest thing featured in the advert. Sunsets happen every day and you really don’t have to spend anything to see them.

We can see, then, that this advert tries to sell us an idea, a daydream, which will follow after we have bought some of the product which they are advertising. This shows the concept of the sale of transcendence.

Another example is the leisure activity of watching a film, watching a television programme or playing on a computer game. I group these three separate leisure activities together as, for me they offer a glimpse of the same type of transcendence. The major form of transcendence offered by watching a film or television programme or playing on a computer game is one of escapism. When we watch something or engage in a computer game, the story and action usually takes place somewhere completely different from the actual world and, even if it doesn’t take place somewhere different, the storylines are usually along the lines of something ‘out-of-the-ordinary’; something that transcends everyday life. This transcendence of everyday that the person watching or playing engages in is what draws most people to watch television or films or play computer games.

There is another element that draws us to this leisure activity and that is the stimulation of feeling and emotion that would not be stimulated by activities in the work and domestic sphere. Emotions such as exhilaration, mild fear, romance, sexual excitement, adoration and elation are not commonly felt in the work and domestic spheres and when they are, they are usually associated with negative occasions (violence, death, etc) or with positive occasions (births, marriages, family celebrations). These occasions are, unfortunately, not as common as we would hope, meaning that the average person doesn’t get to feel these emotions on a regular basis.

Ritual would often be a communal activity, engaged in by the greater part of the local community or congregation, and the transcendence would therefore not be just an individual separation from the work and domestic spheres. The watching of television and film and the playing of games can be a solitary experience, but mostly people share films and games with other people; making the transcendence one that is shared, much like the rituals of the past.

Films and computer games connect with emotions that we feel we are missing in other spheres of life, but these emotions are just the trace of their real counterparts. The actual emotions are hidden deep within the mind of a person and can only be really felt in a situation that actually touches these feelings. When we feel a sense of transcendence from watching a film or playing a computer game, we are feeling a trace of the actual transcendence that we crave, much like the trace of the emotions that we feel. This partly explains the slight feeling of disappointment that we feel after watching a film or completing a game; all we have experienced is the incomplete catharsis of emotion that is waiting for satisfaction within us. This feeling is particularly acute with badly-made films and games; there is no doubt that well-made films and games can touch some levels of emotion. It is also the actual physical separation of the audience from the film or game that stops us fully engaging in the transcendence. The audience feels that they should be able to fully feel the emotions that have been stroked by the film and feel only frustration when they realise the transcendence has been only a half-separation. Badly-made films and games only make this frustration more apparent and deeper.

Of course, we have to pay to indulge in this leisure activity as well. The licence fee for the television, cinema tickets, computer consoles and games; we pay a lot of money to only half-separate ourselves from the work and domestic spheres.

Another area that deals with only half-transcendence is the fitness section of the leisure industry. No-one can logically argue against the benefits of staying fit and healthy; it is important for a long and happy life. What it is possible to argue against, however, is how we stay fit and healthy. One way that many people engage in keeping fit is by joining a gym.

Much like in the discussion of films and games and how they only lightly touch at the emotions they arise, the use of the gym as a way to keep fit is another example of how people are willing to use a specially manufactured thing instead of a real thing. The machines used in a gym are specially made replications of real experiences or sports. The convenience of a gym is that a person can indulge in a number of different sports and activities without the inconvenience of having to go to lots of different places. What the gym user doesn’t always realise is that a lot of the equipment replicates activities that can be done outside of the gym for nothing. Running is a very good example of this. Gym users pay a fair amount of money for using a running machine among others when the streets and parks are absolutely free to use and probably allow the runner a much better view. Yes, machines do some things better, such as weight-lifting machines and cardio-vascular monitors but as long as we keep ourselves healthy and engage in some kind of healthy activity on a regular basis, then there is no need to worry about building up certain parts of the body or regulating blood flow in certain parts, etc. What the gym user feels that they gain from paying their monthly fee is a separation from the work and domestic spheres. By exercising their bodies they gain a feeling of wholesomeness, a feeling that they are doing something to make them a better person. When the adrenalin flows through their bodies and the endorphins give them a feeling of elation, they feel greater than they ever have before. They feel above everything else that life is clearer, simpler.

This is a good feeling, it should not be overlooked, but the methods of getting there are, again, only a half-transcendence.  By paying money, the gym-user already has a feeling that they are doing themselves good without actually having done anything. The actual transcendence is only gained through exertion and to expect transcendence simply by paying is fallacy. The gym-user is certainly exercising when they are at the gym but they are in actual fact not doing anything. Using the familiar feeling of satisfaction at the end of a workout, the gym-user can cover the feeling of disappointment of not actually having achieved anything. Take walking for example. It is a low energy sport that gets people from one place to another. Add in a beautiful location and some difficult stretches of countryside such as hills and valleys, and you are getting close to that transcendent feeling of elation when you have completed it. Running and cycling are the same; add in a beautiful place, a running-time to beat, etc and you again have a feeling of elation when you have completed the task. What gym users fail to gain is the elation of actually completing something. By paying for the service and doing their hour’s exercise they have made their bodies healthier, yes, but they have failed to do something which leads to the disappointment of half-realised transcendence.

Transcendence is an essential element of human mental health; we don’t want to think that the work and domestic spheres are all that there is in life. Transcendence offers the opportunity to rise above the everyday and engage in something which is life-affirming and humbling. It acts as a tension-release on human behaviour as it allows us to see that work and home life are not the only factors that determine what we are. And so we look for the things that separate mind and body from the everyday; understandably, as we are told that ‘every second counts’ when it comes to ‘living life’. What we must be cautious of, however, is being sold transcendence. We begin with seeking transcendence. We are able to find a way to reach what seems to be transcendence but only if we pay money to access it. Over time, the exchange of money and this half-transcendence become the same thing and soon only the handing over of money is enough to arose the feeling of ‘transcendence’: “If I pay for, and watch this film, it’ll make me feel better”; “If I buy and play this computer game, it’ll help me forget about the stressful day I’ve had”; “If I buy a drink and get drunk, I’ll forget about my worries”; “If I go to the gym, it’ll allow me to work off the pressure”.  It is easier to pay for transcendence and seems to be worth more if we pay for it, partly because we are taught that paid for items are worth more than items that are free. If we actually look at the free items, however, we can find that these offer the greatest level of transcendence as they offer us actual transcendence as opposed to false or half transcendence. As already discussed, a group of good friends, music and dancing is a fine form of transcendence rather than having to buy things. Films, television programmes and computer games offer a hint of the emotional transcendence that can be achieved by actual transcendence. As mentioned before, positive occasions can create this separation from the work and domestic sphere; birthdays, Christmas, celebrations, romantic meetings, sex, marriages, family and friend meetings. We should embrace these events fully and on a regular basis as they offer the emotional power needed for a meaningful life. The creation of a full family and friend network is important as it can offer support, love and emotional transcendence.  Finally, gym membership offers a chance to tone up your body but it does not offer the transcendence that is craved by the sportsperson. Only actual and meaningful physical activities can develop transcendence: team sports, running, walking, cycling, boating and less energetic activities such as foraging and picnicking are the moneyless and freer options.

Transcendence can’t be purchased; only meaningful interactions with our bodies, others’ bodies, nature, the world, art and other people can help us gain transcendence.

If we want to spend our leisure time wisely we should seriously consider not spending anything at all.

 

Kneejerks – Media and Instant Opinion

The media is a powerful force in everything that we do today.

Newspapers are read on buses and trains as we travel from one place to another. The radio or television is turned on at breakfast and again in the evening. The internet is accessed and searched at work and in lunch breaks.

The world is in a constant merging of media and real opinion; where the people make the news and the news informs the people. This is good for information sources and factual details about the state of affairs, but what about when the opinions of the media become the opinions of the people?

Opinion is one of the irritations of the media; how can a media outlet claim to have ‘objective reporting’ when their reporters are human and therefore have opinions? Most media faces this quandary, admits that this is the case and produces what are called ‘opinion pieces’.

Some media outlets don’t tacitly inform their readers or listeners of this, and present their opinions in the form of ‘objective reporting’.

The majority of people who engage in media tend to realise that newspapers have a political bias depending on the managerial influences on employees and because of the employees’ own political biases. It is difficult, however, to stay alert and inquisitive to these factors when media is such a powerful and ever-present element. 

As well as this, there is an ever-increasing modern need for instantaneous information that stems from, and is supported by, the media’s exclusivity to information. We find ourselves in a situation in which the media has all of the information that we are convinced we need. This information is only accessible through the official media outlets and is only available filtered through political biases. The media constantly provides new information, and political biases, to us without allowing us to process the last glut of information. We, as forced media consumers, have a wealth of information but this information is constantly being reinterpreted and redistributed. This means that our own interpretations of facts are changing as constantly as the media’s.

If it’s this hard for the consumers of the media to make sense of this constant stream of information, then how can the media outlets have opinions of these continuous and changing stories?

The answer is that they can’t.

This puts the media outlets into another difficult position; how can they present news stories and information within their political and managerial viewpoints almost as soon as they come out so that there is hardly a delay between information received, information processed and information redistributed? Most media outlets have a collection of ‘experts’ who are either part of the outlet, or contactable by the outlet, who they can speak to when they need to interpret information. The experts process the stories and redistribute them so that the outlet can send them back out to the public. This seems correct: experts in a certain field know about their subject and are the best people to ask. Just like the media, and the media consumers, experts also have to deal with a constant stream of information which can be extremely difficult to process instantaneously. Experts, then, are just as likely to make mistakes or misjudgements when they are put on the spot by media outlets; as any human being can be.

By forcing people to make and accept ‘instant opinions’ the modern media outlets are creating and reinforcing a culture which is full of inaccuracies and misjudgements which could certainly be avoided, or at least lessened, by allowing experts and the public to process information and news in a more measured way.

There have been many examples of misjudged opinions in media presentation, most of them, understandably, issued during chaotic times when constant new information is coming to light. Two major examples within the last ten years are the September 11th Attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Oslo and Utøya Island Attacks in July 2011.

In the September 11th attacks, the American media was praised for its ‘around-the-clock’ broadcasting, the apparent success of getting rid of rumours before airing and the composure of the news anchors as they were presenting. Despite these assertions of the American media’s professionalism, there have been many counter arguments by both American and Worldwide media critics that state that the media in America acted in an increasingly propagandist way. Many critics have said that although Osama bin Laden was almost immediately indicated as the person behind the attacks, there were many other inaccuracies which marred the reporting. Many of the presenters on the main news channels were using ‘loaded’ language within hours of the attacks. This language was extremely aggressive and pugilistic, using terms such as ‘war’, ‘vengeance’, ‘bloodbath’, ‘anti-Americanism’. This terminology was mirrored by many of the smaller media outlets and by media outlets in other countries.

This effect that larger media conglomerates have on smaller independent media outlets is worth looking at. The pushing-power of the larger companies tends to force the smaller companies to adopt the practices that the former do in order to stay on the same level. This promotes a culture of uncertainty and competition among all levels of media, pushing all media outlets to conform to the practices of big-media companies. Big media companies are businesses firstly and accurate information providers secondly, if at all. They therefore see information and news as a product to push and to sell to people. This has certainly led to the current climate of ‘instant news’; the people who get the news to the people the quickest and by all means necessary will be the ones to reap the financial rewards and the highest market share. Because of this many people have become receptacles for information obtained from media outlets, waiting constantly to be filled with more media, rather than conscientiously obtaining and thinking about information and news. This allows some people to pass off media opinions as their own without taking the time to think and process the information accordingly. Ordinary people have started to compete with others in order to be the first to know about a news story or glut of information, becoming much like journalists. The fact that smaller, more independently–minded media outlets have had to adhere to these sorts of competitive practices in order to survive means that it is very difficult for media to get a measured view of events. They are too busy running after the next story to analyse events properly. Modern media consumers, then, find it difficult to present clear untainted details; stories are painted with the political colours of the media outlet’s executives as a quick way to give a story a feeling of thoughtfulness. This façade is in lieu of real measured thought about stories and issues. To see how corrosive these issues are to media, just look at how the 2000 Presidential Elections were presented by mass-media outlets. George Bush had lost to Al Gore undoubtedly, but because Bush and family had high connections in the Fox News network, they, and Fox News managed to persuade everybody that Bush had won. All the other media outlets, large and small, despite what they believed to be true, went along with the Fox News-endorsed story that Bush had won: if Fox News said it, it must be right. As Goebbels once famously said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.   

The use of loaded terms and aggressive reporting by the anchors of the main news channels in America seems to mostly stem from the fact that the channels were allowed to keep on broadcasting constantly. This meant that the researchers and anchors had to react to information and news as it was being received. If there had been some amount of time between information and images being received and then being redistributed again, then researchers and presenters would have had time to analyse things appropriately and in a measured fashion. As it was, the presenters fell back on the political biases of the particular media outlet and used loaded, connotative language because of this.

Another time that the space between information received and redistributed has not allowed for a full examination of facts and situations was in the UK media’s initial response to the Oslo bombings and shootings on the island of Utøya in July 2011. The first responses, embarrassingly for many of the media outlets that aired this view, were that the attacks were “almost certainly” the work of Islamic Fundamentalists, probably Al Qaeda. This view was even put in print by one tabloid newspaper; an error that was too late to put right. One issue that came up during the reporting of these attacks was the use of scrolling news reports on media outlet internet sites. Many of the media outlets were constantly updating the status of the news story but forgetting to delete earlier reports that were made in error or using data that wasn’t properly analysed. This meant that people were scrolling down through the statuses and getting incorrect information when, further down the page, newer information was proving this information wrong.

 

News has to be up-to-date, there is no doubt about this, but when news is presented with a veneer of expertise when there is nothing but conjecture and political language underneath stories, then there needs to be a change.

Firstly, the ‘instant gratification’ service that media outlets provide at the moment needs to be modified. Instead of outlets priding themselves on getting the stories first and distributing their ‘knowledge’ of the stories to the people in the quickest time, outlets should be priding themselves on their research, on their measured and thoughtful approach to the news. The former, more competitive, method only leads to outlets using devious and illegal methods to get to the information first and this only brings down the whole of the media and causes outlets to become destructive.

Secondly, media seems to need to comment on news as soon as it is distributed, giving their own, mostly political, reasons as to why something is happening. This means that as soon as something is received by media outlets, it is moulded and shaped by researchers, editors and presenters/journalists. All media as we perceive it, then, is adulterated in order to fit with the political allegiances of the executives of the media outlets. Media as an unadulterated, flowing, comment-free creation can’t be far away from what we have now: we have a free-flow of information, but the information is changed to fit before it is allowed to flow through the outlet.

One of the media’s favourite chants is that media should be made freer. I think that, in some sense, it should be more controlled. Not by the media executives, the bosses, the shareholders, the government or even by the public, but by the people who are responsible for the media’s output; the journalists, researchers and editors. If these people were in control of the media then they could discover, and smash, the corrupting power of competition and could push media back in the direction of media for fact’s sake, not media for money’s sake.

 

 

 

The Time We Let Loose Our Hold

A friend of mine recently told me about something that had happened to someone she knew.

Apparently, her friend had a friend who worked for a company and this company had had an incident in another store that all the other stores were talking about.

They had allowed some teenagers to come into their store for a week for their work experience.

There were two of them in this shop.

One was a quiet but polite boy and there was a more talkative but still aloof girl.

The first couple of days had gone very well, the teenagers had picked up till work, customer service, all the important but repetitive tasks that are essential to shop work, with ease and were becoming more able in actioning the tasks.

The two were very good friends, it seemed, and so were almost always trying to stick together.

The staff at the store remembered that this was a feature of growing up and decided to allow them to be apart from the rest of the staff, when normally that secretiveness and huddled mentality would be seen as plotting, or worse, shoplifting.

Three days went by with the two teenagers slowly picking up skills like a wet cloth on mud.

The two now began to talk more openly with the staff: their confidence had grown and the rest of the staff, and particularly the manager, looked on them shiningly. They felt the gentle fist of adulthood creep open and spread its fingers, ready to grip something.

At lunch on the forth day, the two were sitting out in the staffroom with the manager and another member of staff.

The manager and staff member were reading and the two, as ever, were sitting talking good-humouredly, gusts of laughter breaking out occasionally.

The manager, normally a good natured person, was someone who needed almost complete silence to read.

At each outburst of noise, she blinked sharply and squeezed her lips together as if squishing the last drops of concentration from the attentiveness lemon.

After five minutes, and no juice left, the manager finally spoke up: “sorry you two, would you mind keeping the noise down? I’m just trying to have a little read”

Now, the inquiry was not harshly phrased, in fact, anyone would’ve shut up.

But the male of the two took great offence to this and his female partner saw his neck tighten and his jaw crushing together.

The manager put her eyes back to the page and the male of the two went out of the room.

The female sat there looking worried.

What could he be doing?

Where had he gone?

Finally, after two minutes, the male came back.

He had been looking in the store room for weapons.

The shop was a stationery store, but I’ve told you that already, and so all that he could find was stationery.

And so the male came back with two rulers and a pad of paper.

“What are those for?” the female’s eyes looked at him.

He answered by running over to the manager and holding the ruler over her forehead.

“This is an occupation. You will do as I say or I will slap you in the forehead with this ruler”

The manager looked up at the youth and said, “You won’t hit me with that. Give me that here and stop being such an idiot, I’ll call the school up!”

The youth took the affront with even more offence than he did the request to keep quiet and ripped the air with, “I will hit you. This is an occupation. You will do as I say. We run this place now”

The manager looked at him and then the other member of staff who had his finger in the page he was reading, expecting to go back to it in a couple of seconds.

The male looked at the female and tilted his head to the other member of staff.

She looked at him and then moved across to the staff member with a ruler to his head also.

The male looked at them both and then left the female to watch them.

He picked up the tannoy and spoke slowly and deeply into it: “Ladies and gentlemen. Please finalise your purchases, this store is about to close due to health and safety issues”

The mention of the words “health and safety” cleared the shop without effort.

The two other members of staff working that day closed the doors and locked them then made their way out to the office and staffroom where the male ambushed them with the pad of paper held to their temples.

They were seated on the floor with the other member of staff and the manager while the male typed up and printed a notice which he put in the window and the door:

THIS SHOP HAS BEEN OCCUPIED!

WORKERS GO HOME

SHOPPERS SHOP SOMEWHERE ELSE

THERE WILL BE NO STATIONERY AVAILABLE UNTIL OCCUPATION IS OVER

The male came back to the staffroom and sat in a chair next to the female and opposite the workers seated on the floor.

After ten minutes of silence, the manager finally spoke, “so what are you going to do then?”

“About what?” the male replied without interest

“With us, I mean?”

“Nothing”

“Nothing?”

“Yep”

“But what do you want?”

“Nothing”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing apart from not wanting to go back to school”

“Is that what all this is about?”

“No. The not going back to school bit is just an added advantage”

“So what is the main thrust of this occupation?”

“There isn’t one”

“So why the hell are you doing it then?” the manager was getting irritated

“There isn’t a reason, we just are”

“You must’ve got the idea from somewhere”

“Yes, well I read some books at school. We learned about theBay of Pigsand the Cold War”

“Ah! I always knew teaching kids about things like that was a bad idea”

“Did you?”

“Yes, I always thought that people give kids too much free rein these days. Kids are too arrogant, too cocky for their own good. Look what all that freedom has done to you two”

The male looked around at the other workers; they all looked to the ground.

They looked sorry for themselves.

“For that comment,” the male stood up and looked down at the manager, “you will be kept here over the occupation, the other workers will be allowed home”

The other workers were led to the front of the shop by the female while the male rang up other shops on the high street that had work experience people there and invited them to the occupied shop.

“Bring weapons,” he told them.

Ten minutes later, red-faced and heart-fast-beating from skirmishes, five other teenagers turned up from their work experience placements.

As they were let in, the staff of the stationery shop were let out.

“Tell the people about the occupied shop,” they were told.

From various placements came various weapons: the best they could find.

From a supermarket: a bag of rich red apples.

From a travel agent: a heavy glossy travel brochure.

From a theatre: a torch with no batteries in it.

From a music shop: an empty CD case.

And from a clothes shop: a scarf, already stretched and ripped slightly.

The male and female assessed the teenagers and their weaponry and nodded at each other.

They settled down for the night with food that one of the teenagers had stolen from the supermarket as she had left.

Over the next couple of days, the manager was amazed by the lack of talking among the teenagers.

They never spoke about why they were occupying the shop, what they planned to do or even how long they planned to do it for.

Gone was that secretive talk which the male and female had spoken, giggling to each other.

Now when speaking, if ever, the teenagers announced loudly what it was they were going to do, or what they thought about something.

It was this outspokenness that showed itself fully on the evening of the second night.

The manager had been sitting still in the same place almost constantly for two days and had started to get cold.

She snivelled occasionally and had started to cough.

The male was sitting in the staffroom in silence with the female and after a while the coughing began to get to him.

He kept looking at the manger and she looked away as if she hadn’t noticed.

After a couple of hours of the manager coughing more and more, trying to get a reaction out of the male teenager, the male finally spoke to her.

“Stop coughing”

“I can’t help it”

“Yes you can. You don’t have to cough. It’s not something that you can’t stop yourself doing”

“But I have a cough, I can’t help it”

“I want you to stop it”

“What do you have against coughing?”

“I don’t mind things that people do without thinking: things that they really can’t help, like sneezing. But coughing, well that’s on purpose”

“It’s not. It’s just a bodily reaction thing. I can’t help it”

“Why is it, then, that when people are asleep they don’t ever cough? It’s only when people are awake that they cough, isn’t it? That shows that people only cough when they think someone’s listening or when they are conscious of coughing. That means you can help it; so stop it,” the male said as he wiggled his leg and tapped the ruler against his hand automatically.

The manager and the male and female sat in silence.

The manager was about to cough and then cleared her throat instead.

She looked up at the male and female and said, “so when are you going to demand something?”

The male looked at the female and then back at the manager, “is it just me, or have we already told you that we don’t want anything?”

“But you must want something, or you wouldn’t be doing this”

“We don’t, ok? We don’t want anything”

Again, the room fell to the hum of silence and the frizz of the fluorescent light.

Altogether, the teenagers kept the store occupied for five days.

And everyday a new sign went up in the window and door.

The one put in on the morning of the final day was:

THIS STORE IS STILL BEING OCCUPIED BY THE ‘WORK EXPERIENCE AGAINST (?) COMMITTEE (W.E.A. C)

WE ARE NOT AGAINST ANYTHING

WE DO NOT WANT ANYTHING

WE HAVE NO DEMANDS

The manager had had no idea that the random collection of teenagers had suddenly become a committee.

There had seemingly been no discussion about it, not in front of her anyway.

The name had come from nowhere.

The manager assumed that the male had come up with the name, typed it on the notice for the day and then showed it to the others for their approval and had not met any resistance.

The group seemed to have no weakness, they had no demands and so there was nothing to lever under and between them.

They weren’t against anything so there was no over zealous passion that could be exploited.

They seemed cohesive: they were a tiled wall with no gap in-between the tiles.

At five thirty on the afternoon of the final day, the telephone rang.

The telephone had been ringing occasionally whilst the occupation had been in place and one of the WEAC would pick it up and then tell the customer about the occupation and answer any questions.

This time when the phone was picked up, it was a teacher from the school.

The teachers had been to the front of the shop before and knocked at the door demanding entrance.

The WEAC had always answered by posting a copy of the daily notice through the letterbox.

This time the teachers had decided to ring them up, hoping that the WEAC would not just play an audio recording of the daily notice to them over the phone.

Their hunch was correct.

“Hello,” the teacher said, “could I speak to the manager please”

“This store is occupied, there is no manager,” the WEAC member replied.

“Well, could I speak to whoever is in charge, please?”

The WEAC member put the teacher on hold and then called through to the office where the male was sitting.

“There is a teacher on line one for you”

“Hello?” the male switched over

“Hello, James. It is James, isn’t it?”

“I’m not James anymore. I’m a member of the Work Experience Against Committee”

“But you are still James. And Jennifer is still Jennifer”

“We are all members of the WEAC”

“I understand. But I want you to understand that you are all still who you were before you occupied the shop”

“We are not”
“You are. What’s bought all this on then?”

“Nothing. We want nothing. We demand nothing”

“But where did you get the ideas from?”

“From school. From books”

“Mmm. Well, what’s the reason? I can understand you not wanting to go back to school, but it must be more than that”

“It’s just that. And some other socio-political ideas”

“Like what?”

“That is none of your business”

The phone was silent for a couple of seconds. Then the teacher’s voice went quiet and deep.

“How about you all come out and I’ll get you a big bag of fizzy cola bottles each”

The male thought about it and then said, “I’ll have to get back to you about it”

He took the teacher’s number and then called the rest of the WEAC into the office.

The manager was sat on the floor as they discussed the terms and was disgusted (silently) by the fact that the teacher was offering sweets to the little bastards rather than a slap on the arse. But she kept quiet; she wasn’t stupid.

After ten minutes of debate, the WEAC called back the teacher to tell him that the WEAC had accepted his terms and that the shop was no longer occupied.

“One more term,” the teacher almost whispered with drama

“Yes?”

“The WEAC also no longer exists”

The male turned to his committee members and talked to them as his hand cupped the receiver.

“Ok,” the male spoke hoarsely, “the WEAC no longer exists”

That was what my friend told me about the whole affair, but for what happened to the WEAC members after the occupation was over, you’ll have to look in the newspapers.

The Artist

The artist was a wanderer.

He didn’t stay in one place for long.

For him, the world was full of different opportunities and different experiences.

To stay in one place was to only see one thing and to only paint, write and talk about the same thing.

The world was full of lots of things; some which he liked, some which he didn’t.

But both were experienced and both were drawn upon.

He realised that he couldn’t portray anything without experiencing it all.

He realised that he couldn’t sit thinking and creating in the warm sun if he wasn’t rained on as well.

The artist drew pictures in the sand with his finger and dipped a stick in watery mud to paint.

He wet soil with river water and moulded it into shapes with his hands, then left them to dry in the sun.

All the time he was travelling.

He left some of his art in the places he stayed.

Maybe one day he would come back and find them again.

Maybe someone else would stay under the same tree, next to the same river and find the pieces and enjoy them.

Maybe the weather would destroy them and turn them back to what they were.

He kept a small pad of paper with him and would occasionally use a stick which he sharpened and dipped in ink to write in it.

He would only write after many days of thought.

Two words would form, ones that sounded good together.

Then more would emerge around it.

The artist would change the words around and see whether he liked it.

If he didn’t, then he would sit and think of some more and change them around again, letting the rain or sun drip from the leaves above him onto his head.

If he did like it, he’d take out the stick, sharpen it again and then dip it in the small pot of ink he carried with him.

The artist only wrote a few lines; all that was needed.

The time he had been sitting and thinking, he’d been refining, condensing his thoughts down.

Each line was the result of many hours work; it was all that was needed.

The artist didn’t expect anyone to read the lines, they were for him, and they were the product of his life and his reflection on it.

The artist lived and travelled alone, but if he did meet other artists, he would sit and discuss things with them.

If he felt that they were like him, then they would get together and make a piece to perform together to people in the nearest town.

The artist would take out his pad and use some of the words he’d so carefully constructed and combine them with words from the other artist and from other people he’d met along the way.

He listened to people who weren’t artists and noted down words that they had said in another pad.

The performance collected together singing, dancing, words, acting and art and was performed in a public place.

Mostly, there were no words used; the artists used everything else, their whole bodies.

The artists used the words as a strong light which they stood in front of.

The shadows they produced were the art that people passing watched.

The artists knew they’d never get into an artistic space and because of this; they didn’t want to go into an artistic space.

They knew they wouldn’t receive money or critical praise for their work, but they did it anyway.

Their performance made light of their ousting from ‘real’ art and they made the people laugh with their mockery of the society they so carefully avoided.

When the performances were over, the artists left each other and went back to the travelling they had done before.

They might meet again but they might not.

Each took with them their pad and their pen and their craving for the countryside outside of the towns.

Questioning Words

The Big Society is a phrase that we have all heard, a phrase that represents an ideal, a goal to push towards. But, like a lot of words used in politics, the phrase has no meaning. It is a nothingness that can only attain meaning when someone or something gives it meaning. Much of the constituents of this future Big Society have no idea what it means, or what it represents. Looking at the words individually; ‘big’ means large, great, fat, huge and bulky, and ‘society’ is a name for the collection of people that make up a civilisation, the totality of social relationships among humans or animals. So the literal meaning of the Big Society is a bulky, fat, large collection of the totality of human relationships. The word is a negation in itself; after all, isn’t society already large as it is? The notion of the Big Society is also a negation of Conservative politics; didn’t another Conservative say over twenty years ago that there was ‘no such thing as society’? We can see then, that the phrase ’Big Society’ in itself is nothing; that it means nothing without extra applied meaning.

What is the extra meaning? The Big Society is the name given to sweeping cuts on public services and the Conservative government’s idea of passing the work done by these public services on to the public. Although this is perhaps a cynical view to take of a set of measures that will purportedly increase the everyday person’s role in society, it’s difficult to see why exactly we should take on our tasks in the Big Society without being told the reasons why. In a society where a large proportion of the voting public have been left numb by the distancing effect of politics, it would perhaps be a good idea to reintroduce actual power and control to the communities that use the services. The only problem with this idea is that the public is extremely wary (and rightly so) of designs like this as they can’t believe that the government would want to relinquish control to the people. We have been told over the years that, without proper control, society would descend into chaos without some greater power overseeing everything. To now be given some power back after all this time strikes people as strange and they naturally start to look for a reason why. The fact that the term applied to this design ‘Big Society’ is from the same nomenclature as ‘blue skies’ and ‘thinking outside the box’ doesn’t help; it adds an extra layer of falsity to the whole thing.

When we think of political words and phrases in the modern world, people’s minds often turn to the works of George Orwell. It was in his book Nineteen Eighty Four that Orwell coined terms such as doublethink, big brother and the two minutes’ hate. In another of Orwell’s works, Politics and the English Language, he specifically focuses on the types of language used by politicians and advertisers, both of whom are trying to sell something to someone. Orwell writes that political prose or speech is formed to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”, showing that he believed political prose to be chiefly formed to hide the meaning of something and is therefore shaped using meaningless words and phrases. The ‘Big Society’ is certainly one of these phrases; in that it has no intrinsic meaning and can only have meaning applied to it by an outside source. The outside source’s meaning to the phrase is masked in yet more ambiguous language; Big Society Bank, the Big Society Network and the National Citizen Service.

The main thrust, I think of Orwell’s essay is not about the fact that politicians or advertisers use vague and meaningless language; it’s about the fact that people within the society take on these phrases and words and don’t question the meanings applied to them. Orwell says, “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks… English … becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

I think that this is true not just for language, but also for opinions. Looking at politicians to start with, it can be said fairly accurately that a large proportion of the voting public in the UK see politicians, as a whole, as people not to be trusted, as people who we have to be wary of. The questioning of authority is a good thing, but the questioning of politicians as a whole has gone beyond inquiry and into cynical questioning that believes it already knows the answer. Our experience of politicians tells us that we should not trust them; that they say one thing and do another. This method works well with much experience we gain over time as we grow older; we touch a hot pan, it hurts and we learn not to do it again, or at least not without protection. But these experiences of more simplistic feelings are not as easy to transfer to complex experiences such as assessing personalities or allegiances; perhaps this is the reason that, despite negative ideas about politicians and politics, people still vote. Collecting the different assessments and thoughts associated with people takes more of an extended and thoughtful approach. It’s the negation of this that causes people to have an opinion about a group of people as a whole.

The approach of seeing a whole group of people as the same, or at least as similar enough to make a generalisation, is a lazy way of having an opinion. Rather than extending their knowledge of a group by actively meeting and assessing each member as they meet them, the lazy opinion holder will simply base their judgements of a group on their experience of just one or two members of this group, thereby thinking that all pans are hot when extended experience would tell them differently.

This lazy thinking is applied to all areas of experience of people to politicians, races, religions, sexualities; even people from different cities. One major example that has become more prevalent over the years is the opinion of Americans. Americans have a reputation of being loud, self-righteous, bigger-is-better theorists, and while this may be true of some Americans, it is incorrect and lazy to think that all Americans are the same. This idea of America has come from, I feel, American advertising and the foreign policy of America. Since when have such abstract factors ever shown what a group of people as a whole are like? America, in fact, has contributed greatly to the modern world in all spheres of the arts, science, technology and education; to dismiss the American people as crass materialists is to forget that they have achieved many great things as well as some failings. An extended assessment of America’s people would show this but many people are happy to have lazy opinions about them and thus diminish the authenticity and honesty of the greater part of the American people.

Some people also try to cover their lazy thinking by saying things such as: “it’s only a joke; lighten-up a bit and stop being so serious all the time”. This is just another excuse for lazy thinking. It means that the person who is thinking lazily cannot stand up for their own thinking and so they feel that they have to blame others for their reactions to this lazy thinking.

To link it back to Orwell’s essay, the language used in lazy thinking is very similar to the language used to cloak truth and honest thought. Words used in lazy thinking tend to have meanings and connotations which are applied by the user. A negative comment about a group is then followed with a phrase such as: “but he/she’s a politician, so what do you expect?” or “Well, he/she’s American, that’s what they’re like”. The lazy thinking overrides any sense of questioning with a blanket statement and therefore diminishes the subject and reduces it to an ‘already thought about it and made up my mind’ state.

In order to combat this sort of lazy thinking, the thinkers themselves need to change their thoughts. Rather than reducing thought down to simplistic phrases and words which only rely on negative thinking and connotation, the person should only make judgements (if judgements need to be made at all) after they have a collected an extended set of experiences. If a person hasn’t had a lot of experience with a particular group, then they should say so and not rely on the opinions of others. The responsibility is also on us as viewers of lazy thinking to do something about it. Although it may be difficult to challenge lazy thinking with friends and family, it should still be done. Even if it is brought up in a light-hearted way, the fact that the lazy thinking has been challenged is the most important thing.

Whether words or phrases are used to deliberately cover misrepresentation or whether words and phrases are used by lazy thinkers as a way to bypass real thought, it is our job as human beings in a complex world to challenge them. The reduction and cloaking of debates and topics using pre-made words and phrases merely diminishes them in a time when we should be taking more notice.

August’s Fruits

August is a great time to pick a number of Nature’s greatest free foods, and jam and pickle aren’t the only ways of enjoying them.

Even in the city we can find a lot of natural food for free, you just have to know where to look and know what you’re looking for.

Luckily the first fruit available in August is one that is very easily recognisable to almost everybody.

The blackberry (rubus fructicosus) is the fruit from the blackberry, or bramble, bush; one of the most prolific plants in both countryside and city. In the countryside, hedges and wooded areas are the hiding place; in cities, along cycle paths, canals, in parks and waste land are the best spots. The blackberry bush is well known for its tasty juicy, fruits which are extremely delicious in pies, crumbles, ice creams or even just on their own. The thorny threat of the blackberry bush is well worth the risk for its fruit at the end of the summer.

The first recipe is perfect for this time of year as the summer nights and humidity still stretch on:

Blackberry Sorbet:

450g (1lb) raw blackberries

100g (4oz) sugar

¼ pint water

1 small egg white

Firstly, make the sorbet syrup by boiling the water and sugar for four mins. After this, let it cool down. Push the blackberries through a sieve to form a mush and add to the syrup. Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks and fold carefully into the blackberry syrup. Put the mixture into a dish, cover and freeze until it forms into a soft mush. Stir and freeze again for a further half hour. Stir again and freeze until set; about 2-3 hours altogether.

Another great recipe in anticipation for those long autumn and winter nights is the one below for apple and blackberry liquor. Lots of people have heard of, and drunk, sloe gin. This version hasn’t quite got the same tanginess as the sloe but it has got a wonderful fruity aroma and a beautiful deep red colour which reminds you of the bulging fruit of late summer on those dreary cold nights. The apples used can be any, but cooking apples have a slightly tangier edge which complements the juicy fruitiness of the blackberries. Either gin or vodka can be used as the alcohol base, depending on the taste of the drinker:

Apple and Blackberry Vodka/Gin:

225g blackberries

225g apples

225g sugar

600ml gin or vodka

Use a large sealable jar and put in the fruit and pour over the sugar followed by the gin or vodka. Give the mixture a good shake to mix up the contents and to allow the sugar to dissolve. Shake the mixture every day for 8-10 weeks. When the fruit has imparted its flavour and colour to the alcohol, pour the mixture through a sieve to separate the fruit and the liquid. Pour the vodka or gin into the original bottles and leave in a cool place to mellow for a couple of months (if you can!). This drink should be at it best in the lead up to Christmas; perfect for those frosty nights.

Another easily recognisable and abundant plant available all year round, but especially useful at this time of year, is the dandelion (taraxaum officinale). The dandelion is a bit of a scourge for lawn-keen gardeners as the seeds from the weed are extremely easily distributed and the roots are always deeply embedded, but for hunters of free food, this is a great opportunity for some delicious cuisine.

The name dandelion comes from the French phrase ‘dent-de-lion’, ‘teeth of the lion’, a reference to the jaggedly edges of the deep green leaves. These leaves are delicious as part of a leafy salad or can be steamed like spinach and have a slightly tangy, almost aniseed taste. Another great recipe using these profuse wonders is much more thirst quenching and gives a clue as to where best to find them. The recipe is a classic among iron foundry and pottery workers, as the plants were found in rich quantities in the wasteland around their workplaces. Dandelion beer is refreshing, jollifyingly alcoholic and has numerous health qualities, such as being a diuretic and as an aid to digestion:

Dandelion Beer:

225g (½ lb) dandelion plants (leaves and roots)

1 lemon

4 ½ litres (1 gallon) water

12g (½ oz) root ginger

25g (1 oz) yeast

450g (1 lb) sugar

25g (1 oz) cream of tartar

Wash the plants and put them into a large pan with the bruised ginger root, the rind of the lemon and the water. Boil the mixture for ten mins, then strain the solids and pour the liquid over the sugar and cream of tartar in a fermenting vessel (a very clean bucket or something similar). Stir the liquid until all the sugar is dissolved. When the liquid is lukewarm, add the yeast and the juice of the lemon and leave the vessel, covered with a folded cloth, in a warm room for five days.

After five days, strain out all of the sediment and bottle in screw-top bottles. The beer is ready to drink in a week and should be slightly fizzy and rustically cloudy.

Although foraging is usually seen as a countryside pursuit, it is certainly possible to participate in the city. The great thing about plants is that they don’t really move that much, and so if you find a plant in abundance in a certain place, it’s likely to be there again next time you go. Many plants should be picked with care; with fruits on a tree or bush, a person should only pick a third of the total fruit to ensure that the other two thirds are available for nature. With weeds like dandelions, however, there is no danger of over-picking.

Nature luckily finds its way through any crack or space in the concrete we build around it, and often, whether through imaginative (and rare) town planners or a stray seed, many unusual plants can be found in strange places in the city. We should firstly appreciate the fact that they are where they are, then pick carefully and enjoy the richness of the nature’s provision.

Art and Finger Pointing

When thinking about art and all the different things that can be done as art, one thing always sticks in my mind as being one of the most crucial elements, and that is the idea of continuity.

By continuity I mean how long the piece of art, in whatever form, will last for.

Some art can last for centuries and some can last only for seconds but the majority of art will only last a certain amount of time.

Everything in this world has a certain amount of time before it disappears and is forgotten forever and art is certainly included in this.

If someone was to write a story, how long would that story last before it was forgotten?

Most stories are heard or read and then thought about strongly for a small amount of time afterwards and then as the time passes the story becomes something that is only thought about in hazy, ambiguous thoughts, never in the same strong way that it was first thought about; that is, unless it is heard again.

This is the same with any type of art; film, drama, paintings, sculpture, photography, poetry, radio plays; all are heard or seen and then slowly pass off into the realm of forgotten things.

To any artist, the idea of one of their pieces of art, something they have worked long and hard over, becoming something that people have only a vague, and sometimes incorrect, recollection about; this would be something that many artists could sit and worry repeatedly about.

And so how would an artist make sure of a lasting connection of memory with their audience?

The answer is that they cannot insure this at all.

So what is an artist to do about this problem?

The only solution seems to be that the artist admits that this problem is a real one and learns that they can do nothing about it.

This, in the long run, mostly takes care of the worrying element of the problem.

But what if an artist, knowing full well that their art will perhaps not last the course of their lifetime and fine with the concept, still wishes to produce art?

They would be welcome to do so, after all, the problem is only a concept, not a censor.

After thinking about it for a while, my idea would be to make their life an art form.

By this, I don’t mean the concept of living your art; I mean the actual concept of being your art.

Most artists live their art.

They inform their art and their art informs them.

Their life, personality and ideas come through their art and their art shows it back to them and others.

This is just one step away from being their art.

For in being the art, the artist creates a book, a photo, a play, whatever, using just themselves.

The concept of art dying away either before or after their death becomes irrelevant as the art could only last until the day of their death anyway.

By being the art, I don’t mean body theatre where people body-pop naked and pull string from their nostrils, although this is an art form in itself.

What is a ‘business’ personality but lots of small parts to play which changes with each circumstance?

What is a joke or an anecdote but a story freshly created and replenished anew each time, hand smoothed and sculptured by each teller’s fingers and tongue?

What are a fancy top and a night out but a display of creativity and moving art?

The idea that an artist can keep their tools with them wherever they go and create there at the time of conception is an exciting one indeed.

What could be more stimulating and exciting than the warm rush of inspiration filling you as freshly crafted art flows from your mouth and hands into the eyes and ears of expectant enthusiasts?

And any mistakes wouldn’t matter as they would be a part of the art as well.

How many days, nights, months and years do artists spend rubbing out the mistakes and searching around for new ones?

The search for perfection is nothing compared to the passion of fervent art as it flows; mistakes not damming it up as it comes.

I suppose what I am wanting to explain is the idea that art should be just ‘there’.

There right in front of you, or around the corner.

And it is, but people don’t always see it.

Art is in galleries, in bookshops, theatres and cinemas, they think.

Art is never there in the street.

But it is.

Art as a concept needs someone to point a finger to it and say ‘This is art’.

To look for art and to see it around the corner or right there takes an artist.

Artists and critics point the finger and say ‘This is art’.

And so I guess what I’m trying to say is that art isn’t only what the artists point their finger at.

Or, that we should stop looking at someone else’s finger and use our own artist fingers to point.

With the being of art, we also lose the concept of art as a separate thing from the everyday; we lose the idea of good art as being only for certain people.

We then move closer to the original conditions from which art was created (storytelling, rough paintings, ritual and adornment) without losing any of the ‘specialness’ which makes art wonderful.

Art shouldn’t be something that someone has to make a special effort to go and see; it should be everywhere.

How many searches will artists go on in order to find ‘the next big thing’ that will outdo ‘the last big thing’?

They make art a pointless quest, one that you can only go on if you have the seriousness and the greed for beating the others to the new outrage.

This doesn’t mean that I am against the ‘progression’ of art; far from it.

It’s just that there is good and bad progress.

Art and people haven’t really changed that much over the years anyway; only the conception of them has.

Art is playful and irreverent and it should be allowed to be as such.

A lot of people will say that by reducing art to something seen every day, that this will negate art.

But I say that by seeking to immortalise and freeze art, we lose its basic instincts: that is to entertain, as a means of expression, to aid and create understanding and misunderstanding.

Only by allowing art and artists to see their mortality can we free them from the ideology and hope that they and their expression can live forever.

Only by allowing yourself to be and not live art can you express oneself truly and without bowing to the limits of ‘perfection’.

When a piece of art reaches what critics and other artists deem to be perfection, it is boxed up and called a ‘classic’.

The title classic is certainly suitable to a lot of great art, but the problem with classics is that they have now been closed off from the rest of the world.

They are no longer part of life, they are godly and representative.

And I am sure that a lot of the artists whose work has been called classic would sit and frown and think about all those flaws and duff words or strokes and wonder how anyone could ever decide that the piece is a classic.

I am not saying that all classic art should be chucked out and nothing put in its place.

Art should be constantly taken out, not matter how old, and remodelled, changed but still keeping the initial ‘specialness’ of the original.

Shakespeare’s plays are still performed today as they were back when he wrote them but only as a kind of nostalgia, not as fresh art.

This happens a lot with classics.

And an art form doesn’t have to be remodelled and pushed back into the same sort of shape.

Why couldn’t a painting be remodelled as a play?

Or a novel remodelled as a sculpture?

Or a dress as a story?

As long as the initial instincts of art remain and as long as the piece still keeps some of the feeling of the original.

We have come across the main problem of art and that is the staticness of much of it.

Once a novel or film or painting or whatever is completed, that is the artist act finished.

The creative part has been completed, all that is left is the finished product and the all the admiring that needs to be done.

I don’t mean that we should ignore classic works of art and treat them as inferior; the classic works of art are good to look back on.

But I imagine that a lot of artists never thought that their work would endure as long as it would.

So, the original works are certainly to be regarded but not regarded as classic because they have endured, but classic because of their feeling, emotion and depth.

Then, instead of admiring and leaving it at that, new work should be created.

Not with the same title or aims, but with a new title as a new piece of art almost in reaction to the original.

And so by being art in the present, new art is constantly being created in this present moment with no thought and worry as to the future of the art.

By being art we also remember the past art, but we do not revere it and hold up our hands to it; we use it in the present to create a piece of art that will last only the present and a very small piece of the future.

I love the idea of storytelling as an art.

Much like a visiting storyteller who visits schools or a storyteller around a fire or in a pub.

The only oral storytelling that seems to happen in modern Western society seems to be jokes, anecdotes or storytelling to children.

So maybe the area of children’s storytelling could be an area for the artist who wishes to be art to look at.

Jokes and anecdotes are always very good areas for the artist as well.

The street or room is bare of art.

Someone comes and performs a play, tells a story, shows us themselves as the art.

Improvisation: an act of the complete present and leading to an act of creation.

The act of creating flows through you, it enriches you and those who can see the complete feeling and skill required as you make something from nothing.

Then the person is gone, as is the act of artistic creation, leaving the place bare of art until the next act.

The artist act doesn’t remain in the place any longer; it remains only in the minds of the viewer.

The artist’s act has finished and they have no worry that their art will be forgotten or lost because they know that it is already lost and that memory always fades.

They can be their art and so it is never far away, locked up and only for certain people.

They can bring it out and show it whenever they wish and they have no need to worry that it will be dropped or misplaced or bought or sold.

Their art is always with them and it changes as they change.

Salty William – A Story

Out of the window on the left side he saw dusty and thick hills. Blue-green with mist and salty-smelling, they grew from the sea and slept down in to the land.

On the window from the right side he could see a dip with the cliffs of houses jutted up from brown soil and at night the lights bunched like collected yellow stars pulled to the ground and tied to the roofs, like balloons caught in trees.

 

William had been here for some days now and, as he woke up on this Sunday morning, he felt different from the way he had felt all the other mornings that he’d woken up here.

It’s not often in houses that you feel that can see the two views both opposite each other from your bed and this is one of the great things about a static caravan.

Other great things about caravans are that the walls are so thin you can hear almost word for word and sound for sound what is happening behind them. Their plastic disposable plate thinness lets out all sorts of sounds that a house wall would insulate from the outside world. The sounds of parents yelling at their children, the harsh sound of arguments, the dull moaning of the television programmes that people are watching, the wonderfully ambiguous sound of sex.

The whole caravan park is like a horizontal block of flats, each one is a room closed off from the others, but surrounding rooms can hear what is happening to their neighbours and everybody knows this. This gives the holidayers a strange feeling: since they could see and hear what others were doing and that others could see and hear what they were doing.  Some worried that they were available for viewing and judgement but others took the opportunity to release themselves from captivity. The caravan park was full of drunken, loud, sex-shouting, revellers and closed-door policing uptight holidayers. A very small handful took neither route but walked the gap and took their fun from both.

 

William woke up on this Sunday and the salt spray reached him all the way from the sea. It woke him up. The past few days had been full of a tiredness born of fresh air and city lethargy.

Now this Sunday salt had slapped his face and tickled his nostrils.

The strange feeling that had taken the others had taken him too but he didn’t police or get policed, he decided that since he knew hardly anybody there, that he should both respect them and take the piss. Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of, on that Sunday William didn’t care what people thought.

On that day he set out on an extended project with no particular theme or direction, apart from taking things as they appeared to him. Waking every morning at six (earlier than every other day before) he would assess the weather from his bed looking out of both windows and then he would eat and leave, opening the door and putting on his shoes, breathing in the crunchy air that was his energy, possibly the origin of his force and sustained him throughout the day.

 

At home William was a lazy bugger, working as little as he could and preparing food at the last possible moment and sitting on his backside all evening before lying on his back to sleep for the rest of the night. This sudden energy and verve had to have come from somewhere, because it certainly didn’t come from William himself. Until now William wouldn’t have got out of bed until the alarm clock went off three times at least. Now he was waking up and getting out of bed before the alarm was even starting off. Three days after that Sunday, William didn’t even bother setting the alarm.

This morning William walked out around the park. He saw people walking dogs, newspapers under arms and plastic bags sticking from pockets.

An older man was digging at the side of his caravan. He was probably an owner, William thought and he approached the man feeling that a little exercise would take away some of the dewy coolness that was in the air. He introduced himself to the man and asked the man if he needed any help with the digging. The man already had a dribble of sweat on his upper lip and down his sideburns and his body was evidently aching from the work. Maybe he’d been doing it for a few days now, but now that William was here, he wouldn’t have to; for a small amount of crispy cash. The man looked surprised at first but then smiled and nodded his head: “I suppose I should be taking it easy, my partner doesn’t like me to be out here doing this all the time, but who else would do it?”

William listened carefully and nodded. He smiled and took a spare shovel from next to the man and began to dig. The man watched for a minute and then went in to the caravan.

The glow in William’s limbs came from work and the feeling that he had let the old man have more of a holiday. The glow was fuelled by the idea that William would be finished soon and would then have the rest of the day off and that he had earned himself some money to drink away at the pub that evening.

Again, this was not like William at all. He would do as little work as he could in order to get by. Getting by was William’s way of life. If it involved physical work, he would avoid it as much as he could. Here, though, the prospect of work and the instant payment at the end, rather than an accumulated amount transferred in to his bank at the end of the month, made the whole thing seem much more interesting to William.

 

William met the old man outside of his caravan for two more mornings and took two more crispy notes off him.

The afternoons were spent lying in the sun on the grass outside the caravan or at the dusty pebble beach. Later on in the week, William would also use these afternoons for finding other sources of money, but these earlier days were spent in the same position as William would spent his afternoons at home.

 

The evenings were spent in the pub about ten minutes walk from the park.

There, fishermen would sit and talk about their daily expeditions out into the flat, endless plains of water and William would listen. William wondered about this pub because it seemed such a cliché; with the fishermen trading tales, it was like something from their own stories, an old story from a thick yellow book, covered with crusty tang and spoken with a mouth that’s breathed in roaring storm air and the thick clumps of sky from calm seas and stale land.

The drink made William want to tell stories himself but he didn’t have any to tell. And so he listened and made up his own stories in his head as the drink filled up his belly. He had enough money from his work to make up a lot of stories in his head and to absorb plenty more from the fishermen.

Why this pub seemed so pretend was unclear to William but it seemed to fit in with the whole babbling nonsense of the caravans and the whole loss of privacy and William’s own feeling that he was above it all. He was watching it all and finding what he could from it. Plucking what he needed from the situation.

William the seagull grabbed fish, or whatever he could find, and ate them. Everyone else just watched and laughed or watched and complained to their partner and/or the park authorities.

 

After helping the old man for the first three days, William had started to search for other means of employment and found other people on the park who needed help. One couple wanted a babysitter while they went for a coffee and a walk in peace for an hour or so. Another man needed help with cleaning his caravan; William cleaned it within an hour and took two notes off the man.

It was at this time that William decided to use his afternoons not for lazing about but for work as well. None of the jobs took longer than two hours at the most but William still took crunchy and clinky money from them all.

These days seem to me, and probably you, to be going on for a very long time; like his holiday was eternal, infinite amount of days seeming to fit into the smallness of a holiday of two weeks.

This is how it felt to William as well. It was a summer holiday of his youth coming back; the days were long, endless and full and yet too short to fit in all of his activities.

William despite being at the long end of being a teenager, felt young and free again; there was no end to his summer.

 

 William took the first journey out of the park that he had had since he arrived there and went to the beach. Sitting there and watching the children playing, William noticed that the adults would sit in their own self-contained groups away from other self-contained groups of adults, while the children would play in gaggles that would become smaller and larger; like the waves, running up the beach, destroying the sandcastles and then, later, pulling sticks, pebbles and sand back with it.

William had noticed this in the pub at the park, the children running in groups around the pub and the adults sitting alone at tables, and at the caravan park, adults alone watching television or reading in the caravans while the kids ran and shouted, the entire park theirs.

In the park, William had felt the lack of the usual restrictions in everyday life, but now with the wind in his ears and the taste of sun on his lips at the coast, he felt that there had never been any restrictions.

He carried on with his work as if he had never known any other way.

 

One day, when he had gone into a shop next to the beach to buy a newspaper to get change for the laundrette, his mind was changed again by his surroundings.

The man behind the counter at the shop was reading the paper distractedly; he looked up quickly when William came in and then flicked his eyes back to the newspaper, worried in case the words on the page would run away while he wasn’t looking.

William grabbed the cheapest paper and handed over a taught ten pound note with it to the man.

The man took a great amount of time and effort to move aside his paper and looked hard at the price on the newspaper, then the ten pound note and then at William’s face.

“Haven’t got anything smaller?” the man asked.

“No, sorry. I want the change for the laundrette next door”

“Oh bloody hell! How many times do I have to tell the park authorities? I’m separate from them and I don’t give change for their bloody facilities. I’m going to ring them now and tell them to put a bloody sign up in the laundrette”

The man picked up his phone and looked out of the window behind him. He found the number for the reception emblazoned across a tinted window and dialled it.

The man spoke to someone, shouted at someone and carried on his harangue over the phone with William still standing at the counter waiting for his change or at least to be told that he could leave.

But for ten minutes William had to wait. More people came in and waited behind him. They tutted and sighed and looked at William as if it was him who was keeping them waiting while the sun was waiting for them outside.

The man finally finished and then looked at William, surprised that he was still there.

“Can I have some change then?” William asked, slightly irritated.

“Did you not hear what I was just talking about on the phone? Of course you bloody can’t. Now bugger off and go and ask the park authorities.

William walked away from the counter leaving the paper there but taking the tenner with him.

The man shouted something after him, but William was out of the door before any of the shout could be heard.

Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of; on that day William decided to do something.

 

Walking past the shop on the way back to his caravan, his arms loaded with wet washing, William saw that by the door there were small fishing nets, buckets and spades and beach balls.

They were there to entice small children and their parents in to buy them but they encouraged a different feeling in William. Not a buying feeling, something else.

Ten minutes later, William was back outside the shop breathing in the air before walking in.

He stepped inside, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and then he was strolling past the man again. The man briefly looked up as before and then returned his eyes to the paper in front of him. This was what William was waiting for; no recognition and then no shouting. He walked once around the shop and then towards the door. The man wasn’t watching and so William quickly and quietly grabbed a small handful of fishing nets.

He walked out quickly and then returned to normal speed as he got around the corner from the shop. He’d got away with it.

He got back to his caravan and then counted the nets; four all together.

Five minutes later William did the same thing and got another four. He also looked at the price and saw that the man was charging three pounds for a net.

Later in the morning, William returned four more times and all together grabbed eight nets, four beach balls and five buckets and spades.

He noted the price of all of them in his head; three pounds for the nets, three for the beach balls and five pounds for the buckets and spades.

William decided that he would charge two pounds for the nets, two for the beach balls and then four pounds for the buckets and spades and that he would take them all down to the beach and sell them.

 

That afternoon William sold all of the stuff and had another handful of papery money in his pockets.

He spent the evening down at the pub listening to the stories of the fishermen and making his own up in his head. The angry man spent his evening at home, wondering why he hadn’t remembered selling any buckets and spades, beach balls or nets when he seemed to have sold loads.

 

The next day William repeated the exact same thing and again sold all his stock. That evening, however, he spent selling sweets that he had taken from the shop to all the children who were playing outside of the park clubhouse.

He went to bed that evening tired and woke up the next morning swearing that he would have the day off.

After a brief walk around the harbour, he realised that it was going to be a beautiful day and that he would be able to sell loads if he went out.

Without a sense of reluctance or hesitation, he went to the shop three times and stole as much as he could and sold it all that morning and afternoon.  He made even more money than he did the day before.

 

Before long it was going to happen, as things will always happen I suppose.

The man at the shop realised that somebody was stealing his stock. It was the constant lowness of his stock and the fact that he saw family after family with the nets, buckets and spades and beach balls even though he had sold hardly any.

The news that there was a thief around stealing beach toys reached William very quickly and he realised that it wouldn’t be long at all until somebody linked the stolen stock with his abundant money and beach toy collection.

Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of: William decided to run to the hills around the park and, in particular, the cliffs right at the sea front.

 

William had constantly seen small black figures silhouetted against the golden sky and dusty hills around the park and decided that he wanted to be one of them. He liked the solitary image of them up there, away from everybody and the parks. They were icons, symbols to William and so he ran up a hill until the people sitting on the beach saw him as he had been seeing the other figures.

 

After that, nobody ever saw William again. Not up close anyway.

It’s nice, perhaps, to imagine William, dusty face and sandy shoes, salty clothes and sun-tanned lips living up there.

Like a spirit, people claimed they saw him up on the hills or cliffs, but they could never fully prove that it was him or not.

In the two weeks since his disappearance and now (because that is all that it has been) people have been attributing everything that has gone missing or has gone wrong to William. Caravan owners with missing cutlery say “Must’ve been William”, plants belonging to locals that have been blown over by the wind say that William must have been along their street, parents with crying children blame William for their child’s grottiness.

Seagulls crying have a strange noise. Sometimes they sound like babies, or sometimes like voices calling. Now children in the park tell younger children that the noises are William coming back for more things.

William’s name is still everywhere. How people found out his name isn’t known, but ever since I have arrived in this place, it is all I have heard.