High Rise

7993637950_a7218e4030_zImage copyright Phil Loach

High-Rise
J G Ballard

I was slightly disappointed with this book. Ballard is a wonderful writer: it is full of pithy sentences and has an interesting premise, but I felt that it lacked suspense and an emotional hook. Its emotional detachment meant that I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters. However, I understood why it was written that way, as it underlines the social engineering aspect of the high rise experiment. In fact, I read that J G Ballard’s first draft of the novel was written in the style of a social services report.

The novel is set in a huge high rise building, which is populated by affluent, professional people, such as doctors and orthodontists. However, their middle class manners soon break down as the building descends into promiscuity, hedonism, tribalism and violence. There is no catalyst for this entropy, nor is it as a result of any ideological force; it is almost as though disintegration is written into the fabric of the building. The high rise is an entity with a self-destruct mechanism built-in: like a ticking time bomb.

As a student, I lived in a ten floor tower block near Hulme in Manchester.  At the time, I ascribed the residents’ degenerate behaviour to our youth and access to cheap alcohol.  However, while reading High-Rise, I began to wonder if the building was also in some way to blame. As in J G Ballard’s novel, there was a tribalism and antagonism between floors, which manifested in raiding parties, theft and wanton vandalism. Strangely, the most disruptive floor was the one at the top of the building, which we put down to the predominance of male students; they would engage in senseless chaotic acts, such as wedging the lift doors open, or stealing clothes and throwing them out of the windows.  However, this is as far as things went – the atmosphere in the halls of residence was one of stupidity and high jinks, as opposed to the brutality of High-Rise.

High-Rise is the antithesis of Le Corbusier’s ‘machine for living in’, where the architect envisaged that his pristine tower blocks would produce social order, rather than moral decay.  The tower block in High-Rise becomes more like the infamous Pruitt-Igoe, a housing development in St Louis, Missouri, which became a  hotbed of gang violence.  Although, in the case of Pruitt-Igoe, it was the neglect by its owners, which precipitated the buildings’ descent into hell.  At first, the residents protested about the lack of building maintenance, and the disintegration of the forsaken development’s physical structure, led to a rupture of its social fabric, culminating in a downwards spiral into chaos.

The same is true in High-Rise.  Only here, the residents are not the poorest members of society, but supposedly the British class system’s more ‘civilised’ subjects; arbiters of sophistication and good manners.  The enthusiasm with which they embrace the psychopathic elements of their characters, makes this a fascinating novel, although I felt no emotional investment in their survival.

 

You can have too many books…

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or what homelessness has taught me.

I’m between homes at the moment.  In that I’m in the process of being evicted and have nowhere else to go. So I guess that makes me technically homeless.

I just wanted to share my thoughts on this with regards to possessions.

Possessions are a burden.
I had seen this meme on the internet and always thought that it sounded a bit new age hippyish. However, in light of my current circumstances, I can see a great deal of truth in the statement. The rest of the quote reads, that the reason they are a burden, is that you have to take care of them. To which I would add – yes, but you also can’t take them with you.  I mean this spiritually, but also practically.  I have accumulated many hundreds of books over the past ten years in my home and I now find that I will have to pay someone to move them, or get rid of them.

Yesterday, a lovely Oxfam volunteer drove away with her car loaded with my surplus books.  I probably have the same amount left to take with me to my next home (think positive).  Deciding which ones to give up wasn’t altogether simple; some I hadn’t even had chance to read yet; others were classics that I’d read, but reckoned I could pick them up again very cheaply if I desperately needed to, or else borrow from the library.  Some were ones I’d kept because I liked the cover, or were anthologies I’d held onto because they had just one short story or poem in them that I really loved.  However, I had to be ruthless.

I still have numerous boxes of my favourites, but I realise that even these need to be held onto lightly.  To cling to objects is just going to cause you pain.  Better perhaps, to see them as things over which you have temporary stewardship.

And the future?  Well, the booksellers in my town are going to be seeing less of me.  I have some new rules:

Not to buy books on impulse.

Only buy books that are beautiful – otherwise you may as well get them on Kindle.

Go to the library first.  Public libraries will order books for you, if they don’t have them.  Better to see if it’s a book that you will enjoy and re-read, than waste money on something that will end up going to the charity shop next time you move house.

All the money I’ve spent on books this year, I could have been putting by for a ‘rainy day’.  Lesson learned.

However, if you’re rich – buy as many books as you like! Create a huge fuck off library.

I know I would.

A Confederacy of Dunces

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So dry your tears. Fortune has not yet turned her hatred against all your blessings. The storm has not yet broken upon you with too much violence. Your anchors are holding firm and they permit you both comfort in the present, and hope in the future.
― Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

“Oh, Fortuna, blind, heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel,” Ignatius belched. “Do not crush me beneath your spokes. Raise me on high, divinity.”

Fortuna’s wheel has recently taken an unpleasant turn in my life, which has resulted in a frantic burst of activity to keep myself afloat.  The past week has been a flurry of job applications, form filling and other brushes with bureaucracy.

More mundanely, I also had an hour to kill at the supermarket, waiting for a taxi, and I happened to spy John Kennedy Toole’s, A Confederacy of Dunces on their charity bookshelf.  I pounced on it, even though I already have a beautiful cloth bound edition at home, because I knew that at least with Ignatius J Reilly for company, the hour would pass quickly.

I read this book last year and absolutely loved it. Ignatius J Reilly is one of my favourite characters in literature.  Why? Well, I hate to say it, but because I can see a lot of myself in him!

Ignatius has a master’s degree and is obsessed with the late Roman philosopher, Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy; and writing one paragraph a month on this great work, is the nearest the indolent slob gets to any form of industry.  Yes, Ignatius is very lazy, but he is also pretty much unemployable, due to his unique mindset and eccentric behaviour.  Later in the novel, we see him attempt to hold down jobs as an invoice clerk and a hotdog salesman, with hilarious results.

Now, I’m far from feckless and unemployable – in fact, my jobs are so numerous that I have to leave many of them off my CV.  However, I do find it very difficult to get corporate jobs, as I’m a bit too, what shall we say? Individual?  A case in point, I failed to even make it through the psychometric test for a supermarket cashier job this week (for the second time in my life, in fact).  The rejection email helpfully suggested that I read the questions more carefully next time, but I know this wouldn’t do any good.  In true Ignatius J Reilly style, I maintain that my mode of thinking was correct and that Sainsburys are a bunch of idiots.

Unfortunately, like Ignatius J Reilly, I’m so out of step, that I think this quite a lot of the time.  Although, unlike my literary hero, I don’t think that the collapse of civilisation was ushered in by the Age of Reason:

“With the breakdown of the Medieval system, the gods of Chaos, Lunacy and Bad Taste gained ascendancy.” Ignatius was writing in one of his Big Chief tablets.[…] “Merchants and charlatans gained control of Europe, calling their insidious gospel “The Enlightenment.”

Though it may well have been. My own personal bugbear is the rise of bureaucracy; which removes the individual from all state and corporate processes.  In fact, I had a flash of enlightenment while walking round the Holocaust galleries at the Imperial War Museum one day – that the slaughter of millions was made possible by the efficiency and refinement of the Deutsches Reich’s bureaucratic machine.

Anyway, I digress.  Plus, I’m in no way suggesting that Sainsburys are akin to the Nazis. I’m just not their type.

Oh, Fortuna, please smile on me soon.

What I’ve read this week

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I’ve been brushing up on my postmodernist theory this week.  I’m not sure why exactly.  I still have a few university text books in my possession, from twenty years ago, and I spotted John Docker’s Postmodernism and Popular Culture on my bookshelf and started leafing through it.  No doubt there are more up-to-date overviews of Postmodern theory available, but as academic books go, it’s quite accessible.

I was reading about Frederic Jameson’s, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, in which he discusses the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles as postmodern space (although other cultural theorists say it’s actually Late Modernist architecture due to the lack of pastiche, blah, blah, blah…) and I started wondering if I’d ever stayed there.  I’ve definitely been to a hotel in the states with glass elevators and a revolving restaurant, but really don’t remember much about it.  Perhaps there are lots of similar hotels in California?

Anyway, this memory loss is quite postmodern in itself, as my amnesia puts me in mind of Blade Runner’s Nexus 6 replicants, who can pass as humans, partly because they have implanted memories.  Perhaps I’m a robot?

I also stumbled across Donna Haraway’s, A Cyborg Manifesto, written in 1984, which is incredibly prescient and actually highlights much of what I dislike about destructive postmodern Feminist ideology, in that it sees all established taxonomies as problematic and envisages the “utopian dream” of a “world without gender”.  In Haraway’s view the hybridisation of people and technology (I guess what we, nowadays, would call transhumanism) provides a challenge to dualities such as human/machine, natural/artificial, self/other and so on.  I’d say it was all pretty wacky, if it wasn’t actually happening at this moment.

My brain is currently a jumble of all the things I’ve seen and read this week and I find that the only way to make sense of them is to write – but not fiction, because it’s like when you have too many windows open on your computer and your screen freezes.

I could try writing a dystopian story, in which the hero goes to a hotel in a desert and can’t find the entrance and then gets lost in its city-like interior space, which is a jumble of stylistic parodies and has a confusing layout and perhaps this experience would induce in the hero, “a state of terror proper to the schizophrenic, of too great a proximity of everything which touches, invests and penetrates without resistance”, as described by Baudrillard.  Perhaps the hero will never be able to find his way out and will be doomed to wander the corridors forever?

I have been that person.  As a child, I would be sent out with an empty ice bucket and some unfamiliar money and somehow end up getting lost and wandering round the hotel for hours, because for some reason, even if I could remember our room number, it seemed to bear no relation to what I was experiencing.  If you watch the video below, you will discover that the Hotel Bonaventure has the effect on visitors of making their internal GPS systems malfunction.

I’m not sure if Will Self ever gets lost*, but he managed to walk from London to New York without getting run over; which, considering the unfriendliness of urban planners towards pedestrians, is quite an achievement.   I also read his Psychogeography this week and found it entertaining.  My brain being what it is at the moment, I can’t think of anything else to say.

I should probably read something less stimulating next.

*If Will Self does ever get lost, then he probably says he was being a Situationist, to save face.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick

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I’m not a Dickhead.  This is the first Philip K Dick novel I’ve ever read (and quite possibly the last).  I thought I would give it a go, as it’s the book on which Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is based, and I was interested to see how they would compare.

I have a strange relationship with the film Blade Runner, as I was first introduced to it in a darkened lecture theatre, rather than seeing it at the cinema.  There was a brief introduction by the lecturer, in which he told us that the movie was an example of postmodern cinema, and he kept pausing throughout, to discuss elements of Film Noir pastiche and so on.  So you see, I have never been able to relate to it as an ordinary, passive viewer, only as a student frantically scribbling notes on an A4 pad.

I can see what my lecturer meant.  If I ever had to explain postmodernism to someone who has been in a coma for the past twenty years, then I’d make them watch Blade Runner first.  Though, postmodernism is so ubiquitous a term nowadays, I imagine that everyone else has a handle on it.  Do I like the film?  Not especially, but I am sort of obsessed with it.  I enjoy it as visual spectacle and think the cityscapes are particularly wonderful (can you believe they are just little cardboard models?).  In terms of plot, dialogue, and so forth, it is quite superficial, but to misquote Leon in the movie, it’s like an itch I can’t scratch.  It even crops up in a story I wrote, as a perpetual source of torment – an essay that the story’s heroine can never finish.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is very different in atmosphere to the movie Blade Runner, although the main plot elements are there.  The novel is a product of the late 1960s, first published in 1968 to be precise, and seems very influenced by the drug culture of the time and Philip K Dick’s own prodigious drug intake.  The ‘Mood Organ’ which allows Deckard to dial an emotion (like taking uppers and downers), the shifting sense of reality, the paranoia, the eastern mysticism of the Mercer cult and the novel’s shallow philosophical musings reek of pot smoke, dirty Afghan coats and patchouli oil.  In fact, they put me in mind of a bloke called ‘Simon the Hippy’ in my halls of residence, who used to get stoned and talk boring bollocks at me.

Perhaps the anti-Vietnam war protests and political assassinations of the era feed into it too.  Although Dick has said that he was preoccupied with Nazi Germany at the time of writing.  Rick Deckard struggles with his task of killing an android he feels empathy for, leading him to question the human/android distinction, and wonder if it doesn’t “violate his own identity” to do so.  Add to this, Deckard’s constant fears that the Voigt-Kampff test, used to identify an android, may not be accurate and might lead him to accidentally kill a human.

Like the movie Blade Runner, these philosophical themes, such as ‘what makes us human?’ are not dealt with in any meaningful way, they are mere conundrums for the brain, or frustratingly unscratchable itches.  But for me, reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was very much like being forced to discuss the meaning of life with Simon the Hippy.

 

 

The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey

intellectuals massesMy copy of this book, which I bought in the early 1990s, has managed to stay with me through twelve changes of address and a depressive episode in which I gave all of my books away on Freecycle.  It is very creased and battered – it has character, you could say – and is much loved.

I read it again this week, for the first time this decade, and found that I still really enjoyed it, but now have the discernment to pick apart some of its argument.

The premise of Carey’s book is that early twentieth century literature, I suppose what we would call Modernist literature, was a reaction to mass culture.  Though more than this: it was an attempt to make literature too difficult for the ordinary person to understand.

He takes the examples of D H Lawrence, H G Wells, Graham Greene, T S Eliot and Virginia Woolf, among others, and shows how they abhorred ‘the masses’, inventing dehumanising terms with which to describe them, such as swarm, herd, beetles and bacteria. The intelligensia, Carey says, objected to a whole host of modern developments, such as democracy, railways, radio, Universal Education, tinned food, newspapers, bicycles, cameras and the suburbs and invented ways to exclude and destroy these symbols of degeneracy in their writing.

However, where I think Carey’s argument becomes a little far fetched, is in seeing the novels and poetry of these writers as part of a genocidal impulse, which found ultimate expression in Hitler’s gas chambers.  Perhaps some of them did think this – I’ve read some of Virginia Woolf’s diaries and in one entry she describes seeing some ‘imbeciles’ at Kingston-on-Thames and wonders if they shouldn’t just be killed.  I suppose I think Carey’s greatest mistake is in grouping all of these writers together to fit his argument and taking his hypothesis to a wild extreme.  Carey even tries to shoehorn Sir John Betjeman into his thesis at one point, though having seen the wonderful Metro-Land many times, I can’t see how anyone could argue that Betjeman disliked the suburbs.

Clerks were particularly despised by twentieth century intellectuals, which being an invoice clerk myself, I found quite amusing.  However, Carey fails to mention that T S Eliot was himself a bank clerk.  Perhaps some writers did hate the suburbs and find them ugly, but destroying the suburbs in a piece of fiction, doesn’t mean that you would actually like to see millions of people wiped out in reality.

Carey has a couple of chapters on H G Wells, who in The War of the Worlds has a martian spaceship land in Weybridge and then unleash destruction on Shepperton, Woking and Richmond.  As Carey says:

Towards the end, the narrator walks through suburban London – Mortlake, Putney, Roehampton, Fulham, Ealing, Kilburn, South Kensington – and finds it quite empty of people.  Vegetation is returning.  A red weed, introduced from Mars, spreads everywhere, burying the remnants of houses in its rampant growth.

On Putney Hill, the narrator meets an artilleryman, who rejoices in the devastation and exclaims that, “all those damn little clerks” ought to die!

Does this mean that H G Well thought the same?  I don’t think so, but Carey seems to suspect him of playing out destructive urges in his stories, because he was upset about urban encroachment into Bromley, the rural hamlet where he grew up:

In fantasy he took – again and again, and with mounting savagery – a terrible revenge on the suburban sprawl that had blighted Bromley.

In his conclusion, Carey also has a pop at post-structuralism (because it’s too difficult) and people who don’t like television (because they’re obviously intellectual snobs).  He also says that he admires some late-Twentieth Century poets, such as Ted Hughes, because even a schoolchild could understand them.  Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think that the job of literature or poetry is to be easy to understand, or that accessibility should be used as some sort of benchmark of literary or moral worth.  There is still a place for ‘difficult’ fiction and God help us if authors feel they have to cater to the average Sun reader in order to avoid accusations of elitism.

I’m off to open a tin of spam and read The Wasteland.

Money, Martin Amis

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This isn’t a review.  I wouldn’t be so cheeky.  I just wanted to get down some thoughts on Money, before my memory of reading it evaporates (for my own benefit and for the edification of the two or three people who read this blog).

This was my first Martin Amis novel (yes, I know, I’m rather late to the party) and it seemed to me to be a masterclass of ‘voice’.  I’ve said before that I’m a dabbler in fiction writing and find voice difficult to get to grips with.  (To be honest, as my characters are based on me, they all have my voice!).  However, John Self, the main protagonist of Money, is clearly nothing like Martin Amis.  I’ve seen Amis on TV and he is erudite and intellectual, where John Self is not.  In fact, in a metafictional flourish, Martin Amis actually appears in this novel as himself.

So that’s interesting.  What is also interesting in Money, especially if you happen to spend a great deal of time thinking about cities, are the locations: London and New York.  I’ve never been to New York, and in any case, John Self hangs out in the seedier parts of the city that I’d probably avoid, with their ‘singles bars’, brothels and porn emporiums.  I once read a piece, written by Christopher Hitchens, about visiting a brothel with Amis, which was probably research for this novel.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter that I’ve never been there, as this novel is set in 1981, which no longer exists.

London in the novel is grey, like ‘washing up water’, and we experience it filtered through the eyes of a money and pornography obsessed slob, which is funnier than it sounds.  It is a satire on the greedy 1980s, so all of the excesses that you might associate with that decade, are given a comic twist by Amis, and end up in the arena of Rabelaisian grotesque.

Los Angeles also makes a brief appearance in Money, in the memory of John Self, and from a psychogeographical point of view it’s a highlight of the novel.  I have been to LA and couldn’t wait to leave.  As someone who can’t drive, and has to walk everywhere, it’s tantamount to purgatory.  John Self sums it up beautifully:

In LA, you can’t do anything unless you drive. Now I can’t do anything unless I drink. And the drink-drive combination, it really isn’t possible out there. If you so much as loosen your seatbelt or drop your ash or pick your nose, then it’s an Alcatraz autopsy with the questions asked later. Any indiscipline, you feel, any variation, and there’s a bullhorn, a set of scope sights, and a coptered pig drawing a bead on your rug.

So what can a poor boy do? You come out of the hotel, the Vraimont. Over boiling Watts the downtown skyline carries a smear of God’s green snot. You walk left, you walk right, you are a bank rat on a busy river. This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals. You can get your chimp shampooed, you can get your dick tattooed, twenty-four hour, but can you get lunch? And should you see a sign on the far side of the street flashing BEEF-BOOZE – NO STRINGS, then you can forget it. The only way to get across the road is to be born there. All the ped-xing signs say DON’T WALK, all of them, all the time. That is the message, the content of Los Angeles: don’t walk. Stay inside. Don’t walk. Drive. Don’t walk. Run!

Very long blog post, in which I visit a bookshop

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I had a plan.  I would visit the Howard Hodgkin exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and then walk up Charing Cross Road to Foyles bookshop.  I exited the train station quickly, as I no longer like to hang around obvious terror targets.  Although even that is an old fashioned outlook, as Jihadis can and do strike anywhere.

I lived in London many years ago, while the IRA were still active, and dodged the Ealing station bombing by a couple of hours.  The next day, I had to find an alternative route to work, but it never crossed my mind not to go.  I’m altogether more jittery nowadays.

Why?  Possibly, because I’m not ready to die yet, but more likely, I have lost all of my London survival skills.  I have become tamed and softened by years of provincial living.

The last time I visited London, I noted that the pavements outside some restaurants are studded with metal spikes, like those on a medieval mace. Their frontages have the look of a torture device; iron maiden, bed of nails.  Don’t even think of resting here, they scream, lest your arse becomes a colander.

This is a microcosmic expression of the city; designed to prevent the loiterer, the homeless, the rough sleeper, yet also constructed for the tourist’s discomfort.  No visitor to London is welcome to relax there.  Perhaps those who live here are privileged with knowledge of its arenas of recreation, designed for lounging, recuperation, or idleness.  Or maybe Londoners become accustomed to the physical privations of the city; building up stamina, developing deep reservoirs of endurance, nerves of steel and the ability to block out everything around them?

At the National Portrait Gallery, I noticed that bags were not being checked and the ‘security’ presence at the entrance was a young blonde girl, who was probably about five feet tall.  Yet I remember when I worked at a major London museum, a decade ago, that security was much tighter.  I could flash my staff pass and walk right through, but all visitors were made to queue for bag searches by two burly male Front of House staff.  Are such measures now deemed an unnecessary inconvenience or is it a consequence of budget cuts?

In any case, the exhibition was uneventful and pleasant.  Unlike my struggle to walk along Charing Cross Road without being knocked down like a skittle by a wheeled suitcase.  Everyone seems to be dragging one along in that part of the city; either that, or carrying a collection of dirty rucksacks and leading a pit bull on a string.  Has it always been this filthy?  Probably, but the stink of piss was especially pungent on Saturday.  I felt like I was being jostled along and yet I only came into physical contact with two other pedestrians: one a granite-bodied young man talking on his phone and the other a plump northern tourist on a hen-do, whose body was as taut and bouncy as an over-inflated beach ball.

I didn’t mind too much.  At least on this occasion, everyone seemed to be real.  I had a very strange experience earlier in the year, when I visited the National Gallery and then walked to Covent Garden, via Soho.  I sat in a sandwich bar on St Martin’s Lane and began to wonder if I was in some sort of holographic simulacrum of London, and if the people were acting on a pre-programmed loop, like avatars from The SIMs.  This form of derealization can be an indicator of mental problems, but in this case, I think I was just feeling alienated and let my imagination run wild.  It later inspired me to make a mini graphic novel about the day, in which Jean Baudrillard welcomes me to the desert of the real, like Morpheus in The Matrix.

The Foyles flagship store isn’t all that new, but it still seems fresh and gleaming.  I accidentally spent hours in there and could have spent a fortune.  In the end I bought some graphic guides to philosophy and John Berger’s Confabulations.  I would have bought more philosophy books, but I was driven away by the brain haemorrhage inducing jazz music coming from the adjacent department. Unfortunately, the same music was being playing the café on the top floor, but I managed to ignore it while I ate my lentil soup.

Some other diners were wearing earphones, while they nursed their coffees and read their books.  Perhaps they also hate jazz?  I enjoy eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, so I probably wouldn’t do this.  Not that very much was being said, as most people were alone and reading.  For anyone who has never been to Foyles café, it is always busy and it is very difficult to find a seat, which means squeezing onto long bench-like tables opposite a complete stranger.  I found this quite uncomfortable, as I felt that I was too close to the person opposite, invading their personal space.  Most people politely ask permission before they sit down, but this actually seems to increase the awkwardness, because they are then nervous that you might try to strike up a conversation.

I’ve been formulating a dystopian story based on Calhoun’s Mouse Utopia Experiments, so visiting London was part of my research – there simply aren’t enough people to spy on where I live.  Calhoun built high rise environments for rodents, that were intended to investigate the effects of over-population, and I have been particularly intrigued by the mice he described as ‘the beautiful ones’: well-groomed and healthy-looking subjects which seemed bright and alert, but were actually very stupid.  Anyway, I ended up writing more about my own discomfort, while observing that everyone else in Foyles looked quite relaxed.

No one else appears bothered by London’s transition from Imperial city to global Megalopolis, with its hideous new buildings, that look like chrome and glass sex toys.  They are taking the changing skyline, the constant erasure and rebuilding, the over-crowding and unfamiliarity, and even the ever present threat of extinction, in their stride.  The conclusion I reached, therefore, is that the problem may be mine alone and I need to get over it and move on.

[Note: I drafted this blog post on my way home from London on Saturday, a few hours before the horrific terrorist attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market.  My thoughts are with all those affected.]

Orwell’s England

orwell I was delighted to pick up this copy of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in an antiquarian bookseller’s today. I’ve never seen this particular edition before, which is published with some of Orwell’s diary entries, letters and journalism. It even has some contextualising black and white photographs, for those who’ve never seen working class people before.

I love The Road to Wigan Pier and read my previous copy until it fell to pieces.  I used to live ‘up north’ and so have a familiarity with many of the places mentioned, as well as a residual sense of what it was like to be working class in the 1930s, from my own working class upbringing in the industrial heartland of the West Midlands.  My grandmother even lived next door to an old fashioned chimney sweep, who looked like he’d stepped straight from the pages of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

As I now live ‘down south’, I get a sense that the world described by Orwell will be alien to many English people.  Few of the people I work with have ever been to Wigan, Manchester or Leeds.  Not that these places are now anything like the cities described in this book.  However, I would say that this is more of a reason to read it, not less.  I feel it is more important than ever to get a sense of what England used to be like, before it is altered beyond all recognition.

My fascination with the British class system is probably evident to anyone who has read this blog before.  Although, the class structure, as it was taught in my ‘O’ level Sociology lessons thirty years ago, now seems very different.  The Upper, Middle and Working Class system has divided and proliferated to include new terms: the elite, the established middle class, the technical middle class, new affluent workers, emergent service workers, traditional working class and precariat.

Not that I think it’s an exact science – according to this calculator on the BBC Website, I am now a Precariat, which would mean that I have dropped down a rung on the ladder from the Traditional Working Class family I was born into.  I would contest this categorisation – I now have a degree and I’m definitely posher than I used to be!  Although, I did yesterday buy a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, thinking it would be white, so I have a long way to go before I’m middle class.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is really.  Apart from to encourage everyone to read Orwell.  I think we need a modern George Orwell, actually.  Is there anyone to inherit his mantle?  Unfortunately, I read the Guardian (purely out of habit) and they seem to hate the working classes, while repeating a brainless mantra of ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ from their metropolitan bubble.

There is a sort of read-a-thon happening next Tuesday, 6th June, 9am until 10pm at Senate House, London WC1E 7HU.  Where those who wish to, can read Orwell’s 1984, from beginning to end.  Followed by a ‘two minutes hate’ (I made that bit up).  It sounds like a wonderful event.  See here for further details: 1984 LIVE.