Black Jack Summer
It seemed like a good day to travel to the traditional centre of England. It was the Saturday after the opening ceremony of the ‘London 2012’ Olympics, a vast and emotive spectacle that had come as a another chapter in what seemed like an unending sequence of state-sanctioned celebrations. Earlier this year the Jubilee had seemed vulgar and intrusive – though having lived half a century as a ‘New Elizabethan’ I felt entitled to some kind of celebration, and had bought a spiffy pair of black Union flag cufflinks to wear to a function which, disappointingly, featured a monarch impersonator whose act had to be curtailed due to rising levels of audience conversation.
As for the Olympics, I shared the alarm felt by many at the tinpot-dictatorhood surrounding the event; the ‘short-term annoyance and long-term devastation‘; the expense incurred at a time when public spending was being cut and daily life seemed to be deteriorating, fear blooming in the corners. Although I hadn’t seen the opening ceremony, opting instead to watch episodes of Canadian drama Being Erica on DVD, I had experienced it at a distance online and, even through the filter of other people’s descriptions, had been moved by it. Fervour and despair mingled in my veins like strong wines.
I caught my first train in the late morning. The weather was cycling through various modes, by turns hot, cool, wet and dry. It was good to be cutting loose, making some kind of pilgrimage again. And yet I felt cumbered with stuff, two bags hanging on me like panniers on a donkey. Whereas Ishmael would stuff ‘a shirt or two’ in carpet-bag and go to sea, for my three-day trip I had about my person
- Digital map centred on Meriden, the ‘traditional centre of England’ (print-on-demand from Ordnance Survey)
- Walking shoes (North Face ‘Hedgehog’)
- Box of pills (x6 varieties: made by Sandoz x2, Consilient, Teva x2, Actavis; box Muji)
- Camera (Panasonic Lumix)
- iPhone (Apple)
- Charger and lead (charger no-brand, lead Apple)
- Watch (Casio-416, beloved of hipsters and millions wanting a cheap watch; the ‘Guantanamo watch‘)
- Ballpoint pen (Bic)
- Pencil (Paper ♥ Mate)
- Pencil (Staedtler)
- Notebook (Moleskine)
- Book: Transcending Madness: The Experience of the Six Bardos by Chogyam Trungpa
- Book: Wake Up to Your Life, by Ken McLeod
- Comic: Commando 4518, ‘Stay on target!’ by Allan Chalmers, Keith Shone, Ian Kennedy
- Jacket (Baracuta Harrington G9 ‘natural’ colour)
- Polo shirts (Fred Perry and Baracuta)
- Jeans (M&S)
- Underwear (M&S)
- Socks (Hi-Tec)
- Showerproof coat
- Spectacles (Specsavers ‘Osiris’ brand)
- Toothpaste (Colgate)
- Toothbrush (Boots)
- Messenger Bag (Eastpak)
- Man-bag (Eagle Creek)
- Wallet (Jack Wolfskin)
- Cards entitling me to travel, giving access to money or debt
- Cash from the Edge Hill all-fivers cashpoint
- Train tickets (Virgin)
as well as things it would be hard to dispense with
- Tattoo ink suspended in my arm
- Chest-bone wires
So I was a mobile congeries of stuff – stuff created by various entities, bearing many names, that had been assembled in many places – China, Vietnam, India, USA, UK – from materials that probably came from many other places. A temporary focal point, perspiring with the weight of it all. It would be nice to travel around like thriller character Jack Reacher, carrying only a toothbrush and throwing clothes away as required. But most of my stuff felt essential, even the mobile library.
The train passed the remains of the Paradox, once a nightclub in a Vernons Pools building – now a square ruined tower with stopped clocks facing the four quarters. (Paradox is well-explored on this Derelict Places site.)
I changed train at Sandhills. There was a guy with a bike, drinking a can of Special Brew, its sweetly pungent odour spreading along the platform. His face was striated with scabs, punctuated with stitches. He made several phone calls, describing an accident, how his eyebrows ‘had to be superglued into place’, how they would ‘see the road lines’ in his face.
The next train came and the journey continued, through a series of Liverpool stations. It was hot and bright, like an imaginary summer. Buddleia was in bloom, filling neglected junctures in masonry and at the edges of waste ground. Flashback to one of Jane Joseph’s illustrations for Primo Levi’s If This is a Man, a sequence drawn from life, landscapes and objects in modern England used as surrogates for a long-ago remembering.
I carried on looking out, through my Osiris-lenses.
On a plant high on a bridge, a red balloon, half-deflated.