Londres is grey and overcast today, but underground many things happen. Last night I found myself with Dr Guerrilla in a basement in a strangely central location. Most of the audience to an entertaining gig were harmonica players at a summer harmonica school. Later they all played themselves, one harmonica after another.
As I cycled away down one of the most famous streets in Londres I was hit by a smell of food, and woodsmoke, strangely out of place. It carried me off to another land, another world almost, far from here. I tried to look around me as though I were arriving here for the first time, but instead I seemed to see that other land overlaid on everything, as I sometimes see the future overlaid on the present.
What would a world where we felt in control look like? Wouldn’t the very streets and buildings look different? Wouldn’t cities be made in as-yet-unknown ways? But it is very hard to break from the present. I went to the launch party of a community group the other night, and was unsurprised, not to say a little depressed, that it was led by attractive, well-spoken, probably privately educated people. They are good people, I’m sure, and they raised money – for money attracts money, and they are doing a good thing. Yet it feels to me as though we will be stuck in the present for as long as this continues.
It is true that a dog pisses in any streetscape, but there’s no need to seek perfection, only something better.
Yesterday I found myself in a co-working space eating chocolate-covered corn thins and discussing stories and their value in creating change. It didn’t feel a natural environment for me, but it did feel that the variety Londres can offer was a good thing. I think about stories a lot of course, but it’s good to discuss them with others. They can offer a way out of a situation, an exit from a tight spot.
They can also, however, be a distraction. Some stories people tell themselves are escapist, or end up being a trap. A common trap today is the individual’s story. I spoke to someone after the group discussion about the powerlessness he felt over housing. He had a story about what had happened to him, and it ended in helplessness. In theory he knew that collective action could be a path out of this dead end, but he didn’t know the story, or couldn’t bring himself to believe in it.
Escapist stories are also a double edged sword. I’ve enjoyed plenty of them, and while they can produce resistance to the banality and horrors of the real world, they can also foster a kind of disappointment that leads nowhere. Perhaps the worst stories are those about heroes, which infect our culture like a virus. The world is not made by heroes, it is made by everyday action. It can be difficult to feel excitement about that. It is easy for people to overcompensate for their perceived inadequacies by posing as heroes in their own minds. Our culture encourages it. This leads nowhere, or rather, it leads to the Londres of today.
Many residents of Londres are demoralised. It does not feel like their city. They need a story to believe, a story in which the city it theirs. Owning Londres ourselves seems a lot to hope for right now, but the exit from here is merely difficult, not impossible, and it will be a good story.
Once again I haven’t been sleeping well, which makes it hard to see signs of a positive future emerging. Yesterday I was on the South Coast seeing the Texan part of my family. It was great to play with the nieces and nephew again. It made me feel better after a conversation with a friend that had left me feeling somewhat erased. But I felt slightly sad too that I barely ever see the nieces now. I gave them a present of memory sticks with audiobooks, which I hope will not meet with Disapproval and confiscation from their Very Moral parents.
Back in Londres I discovered my velocipede had been damaged by a person or persons attempting to steal it. I will need to buy a new one, the fourth time it has happened. It’s a shame to think you can never get too attached to a velocipede here.
Today I went to a picnic in an office block for the renters project. It wasn’t initially planned to be a picnic in an office block. We had rather conventionally planned it to be in a park, but the weather was against us and the office block provided shelter. I met a few more people involved, though some of the key organisers weren’t there. Still, it confirmed my feeling that those who are involved are good people.
We looked out on a dystopian view of Londres, all tall buildings, few trees, a graceless train track, in the distance a redundant cable car, and we enjoyed ourselves together.
Today I took a trip to the country, expecting sunshine and horses galloping through meadows. Instead it was grey and close, and the drivers passed only inches from my velocipede. I bought my trees and left that place with no regrets. The utopia of William Morris brought the countryside into the city. Instead Londres has invaded the countryside. But not the best bits of Londres. The best bits of Londres are still here.
The Red Flash, meanwhile, has gone on an exploratory mission to the Mediterranean, where she is exploring good food and possibly other aspects of different cultures. Soon I and several other friends shall follow in her wake. There at least we shall have good weather, and also good company.
I have been trying to write about the importance of ownership, in particular collective ownership. I’m finding that I’ve thought about it for so long that it is difficult to trace back all the reasons I have decided it is important. There are many reasons, and they add up to a compelling argument I think, but it is good for me to have to clarify it in my own mind. I might even get a good article out of it.
Today I woke groggy, ate breakfast, and went to water my tomatoes to wake myself up. I spent much of the day researching where in Londres I might study. The point is to find not just an interesting person to work with, but an interesting community to be with. My studies would provide this anyway with my comrades, since it is a practical project, but I’d like another community within the academy.
I felt uninspired the whole day, even while working towards this project I do find inspiring, then went out to the Field, which is slowly cranking back up again. I took bread with me, the softest sweetest bread imaginable, brought to us at Cold Blow Farm by an anonymous benefactor. It was good to see people working at the Field again, and even do a little work myself. It was good to see a small slice of utopia emerging in Londres after it received such a battering from people and circumstance. The Red Flash had got her friends around helping and the atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. The bread was well received.
Now to prepare myself mentally for the working week. In fact what I must prepare for is how to use my working week to further my own nefarious ends. I am plotting to continue my research into research, and how to further the housing project, and drafting an article. This will be done, of course, while carrying out my real job in a thoroughly professional and efficient manner.
Some people say I’m superhuman, but the truth is I couldn’t do it without the support of my friends and the rage inspired in me by my enemies. The world all fits together, in a certain way.
I have just come from meeting an old university friend in the far south west of Londres. He is settling into his home in the outer realms of Londres after only five years, and is wondering whether to educate his kids privately because his area is so mixed. He had recently been in contact with another friend from the same time. He has established a similar life, very separate from other people.
A suspicion has been playing around the edges of my mind for the last two weeks, a suspicion which, if true, may have serious implications for the world and for this journal. I have been writing under the apprehension that the apocalypse is due to happen any day now. I have been reading the signs in nature and the faces of the residents of Londres. Something terrible is soon to happen, they seemed to say. But if that was what they said, I think they may have been mistaken. The suspicion that has been growing in my mind recently is this: I think the apocalypse might already have happened. Something terrible occurred, but it crept up on us. We were frogs in a swimming pool of gradually boiling water.
If this is true, it means that we should not be preparing for the apocalypse, for it has already happened. Instead we should be seeking to recover from it. I wonder if the fear of the apocalypse was stopping us dreaming of what the future could be like. I suspect that as a society we fear to dream of beautiful worlds in which we might live. We’d rather dream of darkness. Disappointment, it is true, is frightening, for it never stops stinging. We travel to a place we have romanticised, and find it very ordinary, very everyday, and we realise that people still have conflicts and feel miserable, or even that what might seem harmonious to an outsider is experienced by those who live it as a trap. We feel something noble and good is lost from the world, though it is only lost from our own worlds.
There is some truth visible in this process: that romanticisation rarely survives reality. Yet we can create beautiful worlds that are everyday, where nothing is perfect, but many things are better than here, utopias without illusions, if I can put it like that. Perhaps it is not even the future we should be concerned about, perhaps we should be concerned about today. Perhaps our utopias should start here. I have sometimes thought that utopias would only be possible after the apocalypse.
Here we are.