Tag Archives: despair

A Terrible Walk

This miserable town. Boredom, hopelessness, despair drip as condensation down its every surface to deaden the skin and the eyes, light up a thousand cigarettes. Defeat’s miasma curls wood, strips paint, shatters windows, repairs them again with superglue and uneven squares of  plexiglass. Or leaves them jagged stars. Watches beautiful buildings sag and fall in a slow moaning plea for new use, truncates facades gawping at the sky, metals up entrances as it sends roofs slowly collapsing into the mildewed black holes beneath. Closes up all but the cheapest pubs, strip clubs. Ensures anger and violence always simmer just beneath the surface, marks couples by angry words, makes bodies spread wide or condense into hardened addict knots of wasted flesh. Faces too old.

Here and there a brave effort tries to rise above it. One holds knock-off china of a poorly-executed traditional pattern and cakes no one will ever eat embalmed in its windows. There are no bookstores. There are many people who do not embody poverty and despair here as foil to the rest, but they will not be found walking here after five. They disappear in cars to pockets of relative prosperity after picking up groceries at the giant Asda, carefully avoiding its predecessing poverty-stricken brutalist arcade next door. The two buildings together must have claimed a large section of the city center.

It is as miserable in the heat as it was in the rain and December’s freezing chill.

I hoped to escape, to find a mountain I walked up a broad paved path through a park, garbage winking at me everywhere beneath a welcome cover of riotous summer growth. It was isolated, trees and high banks to either side, beautiful old trees. Defeat running through their sap, their leaves keening. This is no safe place, there is nowhere to run but a preordained forward or back. A shuffling figure ahead of me, zombied with spice, dragging something from the bushes. Forward or back. Forward. No fear. It is some kind of jacket left here some time ago, he has dragged it into the middle of the path. Forward, he tries to see me but his eyes can’t focus, his lips can’t move to shut the gaping mouth over rotting teeth. His skin is mottled, I would not recognise him again because there is little of him here. It must feel like hours between thought and jerking steps. My heart breaks. Three others up ahead. Two young and one old, none of them have many teeth. All way too fucking thin, sinews standing out, anger simmering, arguing. Still walking with purpose, intent. Homemade tattoos stand out against white flesh.  Only the old (prematurely old) one sees me, at my nod he makes way. ‘Sorry, love’ he says. I like his smile.

And then I am on an estate. A wide sprawling one, semi-detached houses that have all seen better days. Nothing else here. A sense of barrenness. Isolation. No plants, gardens. A place strangers never come, I can tell by the way cars slow with their music blaring, by the curious gazes of the children. I feel myself curling up inside because there is nothing about me that belongs to this place. This is somewhere so long cast out from belonging they belong only to each other. I am familiar with these places, knowing one makes you no more welcome in another. The mountain is getting closer. I swing my way through stares like wet concrete.

I approach what I suddenly realise is a motorway. No way over to escape to the mountains, you must go under. A fucking underpass, here. No way to walk alongside the road. No way to safely cross it. I can already smell the underpass. There is only forward and back. The air is horribly sickly sweet but underneath is human waste. Two fires have been lit here, I would guess to burn the sum of someone’s meagre possessions. Charred shapes rise from the ground, they feel alive, malignant. The underpass is actually a series of bridges. I stared, you cannot see from this place of safety what lies beyond. The tunnel that must be there.

Forward or back.

It was back. Had to be.

Past the same eyes, wading through the same concrete for the worst of it. I did manage to bypass the ‘park’ and instead curved down another road that opened up views across the valley — I had no idea how high I had already climbed. It should have been beautiful, but wasn’t. Down I went.

 

 

Kvelling in Liverpool

Kvell is a new word for me, a yiddish word I learned last night in Liverpool which means to overflow with pride and happiness for a loved one. Because Mark won the Science Fiction Research Association Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement.

He still has so much lifetime left as well, and he gets to continue along now on the rosy acknowledgment of his awesomeness by his peers. After a few days spent at the conference, I have to say this is made even lovelier by the awesomeness of those same peers whose papers I found quite inspiring and that have me thinking about all kinds of new things. I almost (but not really) feel myself being seduced away from Geography, especially as I continue to fail spectacularly in my attempts to find work. But this is mirrored in the despair I am meeting among everyone at this stage in every field.

We all feel so fucked, so worried. Even those well-established on the ladder and producing work of outstanding quality remain unable to feel secure.

This award (unattached as it is to a funding stream) may (but probably will not) result in some change in his standing with the university, highlighting the oppressive uncaringness and ever more neoliberal nature of our institutions. Survival so clearly depends creating a community within our fields (and amongst and amidst and between our fields) that can nurture and support work that matters while fighting to change things. The need for community and resistance was the point of much of Mark’s acceptance speech, which will appear in print at some point to be shared as it is far more eloquent than I am at the moment. It had much of the room on the verge of tears, and felt like a solid blow on the side of right.

I’m not often quite so personal, so I’m going to take it back to my comfort zone of ‘pictures of cities’ now. Back to Liverpool, a city I quite love. An independent comic book store, feminist book store (called News From Nowhere! Where you will want to buy or already own every book in the window display), quality used book stores, lots of unlikely small businesses sprung up in unlikely places, numerous good pubs and clubs (we didn’t get home last night until after 3 am), good food, diversity, the Tate… and etc. We didn’t get to see much of Liverpool this trip actually (though we did get to check out the very cool Afro Supa Hero exhibition at the International Slavery Museum), but I never posted about the last trip when we did. So a few particularly spectacular things:

The Williamson Tunnels — a warren of tunnels and caves that go on for miles under the city. A wealthy merchant named Williamson hired men to dig them out of the sandstone in the early 1800s, possibly as a way to provide employment to unemployed dockers and soldiers, possibly for a web of other religious or esoteric reasons (why choose one anyway?). No one knows their full extent, but volunteers have been working to map and explore them and they are awesome.

Williamson Tunnels

Williamson Tunnels

The wonderful Philharmonic Pub, also built with love and craft:

The Philharmonic

The city itself — monumental grandeur built on the proceeds of slavery and trade, struggling and faded and much of it rebuilt and replaced now, and rather full of the weird and the wonderful (and almost everything is sprouting plant life).

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The Western Approaches — key headquarters during WWII and full of cool stuff:

Liverpool War Museum, Western Approaches

Western Approaches

Western Approaches

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