I decided at the beginning of this week to break bad habits, to make a concerted effort to not do the same thing every day. So far it has worked, in as much as I’m not staying home, but I’m not doing anything worthwhile. Two days running I’ve contrived to take a trip out of London, got so far, then realised I’ve left it too late, so returned home via Sainsburys. Mornings are increasingly meandering and unstructured. Today was grey and damp. I felt inclined to go to the fens, the flatness appeals. I’ll have to organise myself better.
I did it today, I’m on a fast train to the east. It’s non-stop, less than an hour. Passing through places I recognise. Copenhagen Tunnel where the house in The Ladykillers was built. It wasn’t a real house, it was a studio mock up, at the back was scrubland on top of the tunnel portal, with another single railway track curving somewhere. Property boundaries were undefined. The streets above have been demolished and replaced by light industrial steel sheds now. A minute or two further on through the inner suburbs is the old North London Polytechnic, now London Metropolitan University. I only went there for serious university things, the artists were in Aldgate, and viewed with suspicion. There’s a bowling alley and snooker clubbeside Finsbury Park station with a huge corrugated roof, I’ve referred to it previously as the largest corrugated iron roof in the UK, with a tone of authoritative conviction, but I’ve never checked. It used to be a tram garage. I imagine in the 1950s it was full of film noir style scenes with Sid James type characters in homberg hats. Further on and out of London but still within the urban spread, lots of Barratt Housing type towns, a sudden flock of sheep in a field of earth with no grass, which seems a little miserable for them. Can sheep be sudden? At a station for a garden city there’s an iron girder footbridge that spans an expanse of former trackbed. Most major town stations once had goods sidings, yards, outbuildings, coal merchants. The space gradually gets re-purposed. The sun is out today, we’re reaching flatter lands now, and diverting over a shiny new flyover, with gracious reverse curves. There are huge miss-shaped pockets of land carved up by railway lines, inaccessible, left to nature. Some near Windmill Junction in the south used to have cottages and allotments for railway workers and their families to live, surrounded by railway movements at all times of day and night.
I’m thinking about living somewhere more rural and commuting to work. Frinton, I think Ed lives there and gazes at the estuary. I wonder if he requires a lover. That would fit in if I do the Wild Writing MA at Essex university. Or I could buy a cottage on Corfu, let it out to friends, and live there for a few months every year. This all may be dreaming but I have to have a future to imagine. A different life in my head.
Every time I look out the window there’s another new housing estate being built, rows of identical bright orange brick houses, two or three storeys, paved drives, mean allocations of grass at the front, a fenced in exercise yard at the back, nowhere for rainwater to run off to, inadequate drainage. Gradually the south east is getting covered by these “exclusive” developments. They’re all designed primarily for people with cars, which then have to be parked everywhere. They go out to work, fill their cars with supermarket shopping, sit at home each evening watching Netflix. They might as well be in an American suburb. Several fields are full of solar panels too, presumably that’s easier for farmers than growing food or keeping livestock, so we make money from energy, and buy in food from elsewhere in the world. It seems like we’ve lost something without noticing it. What agricultural activity is left looks quite industrial and mechanised, upscaled. Very few people involved. All controlled from offices, monitored by drones, like Adam Macy in The Archers.
Was One Foot In The Grave meant to be set in these parts? They seemed content, or at least resigned to their lives being contained in their unidentified suburb. It’s a very depressing programme to watch. How strange that some sitcoms are set in nameless ubiquitous English towns, but are assumed to be in reasonably comfortable civilised south eastern home counties. Analysing British sitcoms closely soon reveals obvious lack of background research. In As Time Goes By they all travel everywhere by taxi. They can’t have that much money from writing and typing.
My thoughts have meandered a little. I’m on the train back now, this one stops at more places. The outskirts of the city are bleak, the UK’s alleged silicon valley, centre of scientific and electronic research, then a field with parallel trenches about a foot deep, with neat little heaps of earth alongside. Something unidentified, but with purpose. Fields are waterlogged, there’s been a lot of rain, the grass is very green, the sun is low in the sky. A train journey home like this after work would be nice perhaps, to begin with, but life at home would be empty.
I just accurately interpreted a dream I had last night. It was about getting through small spaces to somewhere unknown, uncharted, being a metaphor for fear of change in life, and the uncertainty of letting go of the present, the comfort, the familiarity. I don’t generally try to interpret dreams, no good comes of it. On reading this again though it made me think that I do need to make changes, take a leap into the unknown, pursue aspirations. I do have a fear of confined spaces, too. I’d better stick to doing practical things today.
It’s snowing, and settling. This is the first time I’ve seen snow here. Whenever it falls I always wonder if this is the last time we will see it in this country. Winter and summer climate patterns are something important to consider if I ever decide to relocate to another country. I’m thinking about that again. Are there still any of those one euro houses, I wonder. I think about age, and “settling” more and more, perhaps because of my father’s decline. He’s not quite the person I know any longer, more like someone playing the role of my father in a well intentioned amdram production. I don’t know how I should feel about his situation, or how it affects me. If it affects me? The hard part is accepting that this is the final chapter, just waiting time now. There’s a new tv series on at the moment, groundbreaking and award winning, etc. Some nice actors are in it. It’s set in the 1980s HIV/AIDS era. A young man in a beige coat is ill, and at an advanced stage he hallucinates, and has similar symptoms to dementia. It seems all the more depressing in someone young. Others who have watched the programme claim it to be an emotional masterpiece. I’m yet to be convinced. It’s okay, engaging enough to want to watch the next episode, riddled with odd period errors and plot implausibilities, but I find myself liking some of the characters, whilst others are repugnant. I’m emotionally immune to plenty of things though, and avoid getting caught up in the hyperbole of the new. Perhaps I’ll watch it more objectively in a year or so.
I went to the river earlier today, I didn’t go too far. I have enough footage from there now, I’m not inspired to collect more. I felt unmotivated, thoughts weren’t flowing. Perhaps this year, the river, the ritualistic trips have all served their purpose. The sky was pale, visibility faint. There was no one around, I think the first time I’ve seen it so deserted. I might have enjoyed the emptiness a while ago, maybe I would have lingered for hours. Not today though, I had to get home. Not the old agoraphobia, only the cold a bit. I think my emotions are numb.
Monday, mid morning.
Snow is still on the ground, and there are little flurries falling. Existing snow is getting blown around to form drifts, smooth shapes sculpted by dry wind. It is cold outside, colder than yesterday, but I will go out, maybe not far. Trains are perilous, there are multiple landslides closing lines for weeks at a time, some routes not running today for fear of trains and people getting stranded. It’s Kent and Sussex, commuter home counties territory, ravaged by nature. That’s good, I think. We have to respect nature. The air seems still, the sky is a light opaque colour. I’d like to find some open space with a fresh covering of snow, to photograph on PAN F film.
I’d still like to live somewhere remote on days like this, although I’d never see anyone.
I’ve just checked my work email, something I try not to do too often. Apparently the storage cluster on the Canary Wharf Hyperflex device has gone offline. I’ve no idea what these words mean, but it sounds like something that could happen in a fairly unremarkable TV disaster movie. I’m imagining Nigel Havers doing something heroic like plugging in a USB as red lights flash, whilst Penelope Keith urges everyone to keep calm.
Life is still going on out there, the postmen are still delivering in their shorts. I used to wish for days when everything could stop.
I went out aimlessly. The ground is frozen in places. It’s 4pm and still light. Neutral, unchanging, diffused light. I spend a lot of time looking out of the window, even though there is nothing new to see.