Daniel Agnew

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

No filter

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Sitting in a Venetian office watching an elderly Italian couple attend their pot plants, I type into my laptop. Same tabs, same websites and streamed songs as before. No one understands why I am here. Sleep has become a luxury and I am staying in a bog ugly hotel until early November.

On boycotting the only affordable stable in Venice, I am witnessing my body metamorphosis into something leaner. Many evenings I have gone to bed hungry and longing for breakfast.

Although I must acknowledge that my diet in London was snack driven and quite frankly atrocious. Idly wandering down to Shoreditch High Street to buy a cheap Bánh Mì baguette for dinner, only to change your mind and have Jewish bagel instead is a big city luxury.

Come nightfall I go running along the quayside and this only accentuates my physical condition. Streaming past the tourist starlings at St Marks Square, I skip over ornate bridges and race passenger boats and cruise liners. It feels easier and necessary to run longer and harder over here.

Venice Night CanalVenice is like a spooky romantic ghost story after midnight, where you develop a heightened sensitivity to the elegant stroking of a Gondola’s oar. For sheer aesthetic beauty, I am simply not a gifted enough writer to handsomely describe what I see.

Forced to be more social than I am otherwise inclined, ambivalent friendships are sparked up with passing strangers and drinking orange Spritz cocktails in wine bars is cheaper than beer.

Venice is virtually crime free and rats appear after dark once the selfies have gone to bed. The plague of a medieval Disneyland that nobody has paid to see.

Between the kingdom of the living and the dead

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I don’t how know I get myself into these situations. A mid-summer calamity formed the genesis of this move, it pains me to think about it even now. How could I have fucked up so badly. It’s part of my character that incidents of virtually no significance throw me to the stars or plunge me into speechless depressions.

I wish I felt more nervous, it would be more fitting, or perhaps my sense of ease is a reflection of the times. English as an international language, internet on tap and a globalised workforce thriving in the city of London.

I left Scotland a long time ago.

Travelling to Venice at sunset, I arrive at dusk with a gorgeous milky sky sinking behind the Adriatic. Looking at the old maps in my guidebook, it’s remarkable how little the city has changed. How is electricity even possible? For now at least it’s dry and warm. Daily flooding is a hazard I could do without.

Lugging two suitcases and a rucksack on an aquatic waterway with a freshly cropped head, I sat next to Midwestern tourists talking about Becks and Peroni. Their broad Yankee accents were charming and gullible in the kindest possible way. Tourist chatter is something I’ll have to get used to and fast. Accents unlock untapped prejudices reinforced by literature and modern television. Cultural differences, cultural differences.

Already my proposed accommodation has been adversely affected because an old Venetian landlady refused my tenancy as ‘English are always drunk.’ I was amused to hear this story. Such overt racism is funny when it’s a white British guy at the receiving end. And let’s face it, protesting that I’m Scottish is highly unlikely to assuage her concerns about my sobriety.

Almost immediately I felt the language barrier in Venice for English is a professional tongue not a social one. Most people here speak it competently out of necessity. Stumbling into deli stores and restaurants, I immediately realised I have to urgently learn some Italian phrases and numbers. It’s tiresome nodding, smiling and handing over excessively large notes.

In my experience, buying petty junk food alone is ruinously expensive in Venice and I don’t want to eat pizzas every night because funghi is easy to pronounce. Meanwhile I have to forgive myself for being an island monoglot. I have been hired for English language skills after all.

That’s my forte.

Arnold Circus

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Arnold Circus Des BlenkinsoppAuthor’s Note

Life is not supposed to be confined to one place and living in an N1 council estate, I sometimes long to move on and write about something new. If that turns out to be case, then it certainly won’t be in Arnold Circus, Shoreditch but you’ll have to keep reading to find out why. The article below was originally published on my East London portfolio website that I occasionally share on job application letters, only if I feel the recipients will approve.

This place I prefer to keep to myself. 

Personal blogs have become desperately old-fashioned with their densely written paragraphs chiming against nanosecond Vines and YOs. By virtue of having no readers I feel I can write more openly than in the past.

I do hope this will mean something to someone one day though. Until then I hereby present a re-published story about a fairytale council estate in Shoreditch.

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For most Londoners I know, the term ‘ex-council’ is a pejorative expressed with a wry shrug. Cheek by jowl people move here and live in council estates under the loving supervision of private landlords. It’s a necessity rather than a choice and if you don’t like it, then move to Leeds.

Everyone dreams about their ideal home and as a self-declared dreamer and social climber, I’d love a two-bedroom flat in Arnold Circus. Designed by Victorian philanthropists for the respectful working-classes, Arnold Circus is one of the most beautiful and fascinating council estates in Britain.

Arnold Circus Lady Aga

With its red brick tenements individually named after villages on the River Thames and connected by leafy boulevards that extend from a central communal bandstand, Arnold Circus is like a real-time painting fashioned from the rubble of dismantled slums.

Arnold Circus Andrea Vail

This Victorian model village has a fairytale quality that surpasses anything you may find in London’s richer neighbourhoods. What is really inspiring is how street design and architecture can improve people’s lives. It’s like every footstep you make has been accounted for on a map. Indeed there aren’t many council estates registered by English Heritage for their special historic interest.

Still home to thousands of social tenants and a few private professionals, I will never rent, let alone, own a flat in Arnold Circus. But for while I still live in East London it will remain my favourite conduit – a gateway to better things.

Arnold Circus Bandstand

With the rich green canopies sheltering bourgeois dog walkers and teen gangs, it feels like my footsteps become brush strokes whenever I walk through Arnold Circus. Like I’m subconsciously taking part in someone else’s painting. A snapshot of consciousness amidst the overgrown ferns and rising Plane trees.

Arnold Circus is a bona fide masterpiece in urban planning and all I am is a passing visitor, a solitary figure traversing on foot.

Food Shopping in Morrisons

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River Kelvin

Walking down Dumbarton Road in Glasgow, I used to love food shopping and would regularly come home with four bags full. Like a parallel universe my trips to Morrisons took place before the automatisation of checkout assistants and chip-and-pin machines. Burgers and chips had yet to be rebranded as a gourmet meal and hummus and olives were still considered ‘posh food’. Plastic bags were free like they are now.

And while culinary speaking I remain a unmitigated disaster, I used to take a hunter’s pride in having a full fridge. It gave me enormous satisfaction buying chicken fillets, orange juice and yoghurt pots. Family-sized tiger bread loafs were regularly purchased without a moment’s thought. Hot spicy condiments were sampled for the first time and the gas oven was like a golden age scientific discovery. Before I moved down to Glasgow I had never cooked before and for a good reason too.

Crossing over a rain peppered bridge to Partick, I used to walk through a moody, poetic landscape of ruddy tenements and old white men. A sodden world of VHS rental stores, tanning salons and a vibrating flour mill overlooking the River Kelvin. It rained all the time, but that rarely bothered me. I lived in Glasgow for about six years and never once owned an umbrella. Looking back it was remarkable how everyone just accepted you would get soaked every time you left home.

dumbarton road

I remember vividly how I used to tower over my fellow pedestrians on Dumbarton Road. My height marked me out from the beginning. Soon enough I would arrive at Morrison’s and depart their sliding doors with an aching shoulder from carrying an over-subscribed basket.

I bought garbage mostly and I can only cringe at what I used to put in my fridge. But I felt grown up and independent and I loved providing for my ex-girlfriends and northern friends when they came over to visit. It’s a far cry from the pod-based science fiction world I live in now. I miss having a clean and social kitchen. We had fun times together.

Kelvinhaugh Street

Stockpiling items I don’t want or necessarily need, I detest food shopping now. Living from moment to moment, I snack intermittently and dine cheaply in cafés and food market stalls. Perhaps I lack patience and culinary flair but I’ve grown tired of traipsing up and down supermarkets, piling up treasures that rot, from which the spirit has already fled.

Anywhere I lay my head

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I woke up in Cambridge yesterday, striding through a beautiful royal palace with an elegant green lawn and empty gravel paths. Ten years lay between us. I stumbled alone through this beautiful novel of a town, meandering past mooing cows, fishermen and antique bicycles. Everything felt remarkably still and privileged. Despite coming from a semi-rural background, I often forget how tranquil life can be outside of the big urban centres.

I will remember this morning for the rest of my life.

And looking back you I was more malleable at university, more naive, passionate and it’s better to fall in love before you turn 25. Experience forges barriers and excuses. You forget who you really are. Refreshing websites and checking my phone all the time, I wish things could be different. I wish I could be more optimistic and less embarrassing.

But here I am back in London staring out of my bedroom window, pining for the years and chances I will never get back.

Redchurch Street

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Redchurch Street

Redchurch Street is my favourite Shoreditch thoroughfare, a piss stained alley reclaimed by French cafes selling kale cupcakes and artisan toast. Unmarked galleries are everywhere and the street art is commissioned behind closed doors. Graffiti is a hand made billboard these days – it just depends on who’s paying. With peeling DJ stickers on lamp posts and derelict buildings covered by scaffolding, Redchurch Street is my foremost memory of East London. Ruinenlust layered with flyers and rat droppings. The paradox that rusts continues to this day.

There are no endings

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Flat

I’ve been going over my Tumblr back catalogue and I used to write far more openly in the past. For some reason I failed to keep it up-to-date. I probably stopped writing because nobody was reading and loving my posts. My Tumblr page is offbeat, random and completely anonymous. I have 34 followers and I have no idea who they are.

I don’t use my brand name.

I find it sad how we require metrics to feel like something is worthwhile – readers, hits, likes and stats. Does everything have to be passively read and shared by millions? Tumblr is one of the few places where I am completely honest. It’s completely transcendent. Everything else I post on the internet is just for show – including here. A school playground where I conform and pretend to be like everyone else with varying contrarian pretensions.

In the end none of this hustling for attention really matters. I write simply to keep a record of my thoughts, views (which I endlessly revise) and places I have visited. Sometimes I get weary of the cold light of content beaming from multiple screens. And then occasionally I read something that resonates. Something heart warming with a poetic sensibility.

Writing is about finding empathy with strangers when you least expect it.

I had just dropped out of college.  I had moved back to Los Angeles.  I had moved into my first apartment.  I had bought an amazing couch.  I had taken a picture of myself  holding up Finally Truffaut  to send to my ex-boyfriend.  I realized I was hardly ever photographed.  I wanted to change that.  I was becoming an actress.  I was still a poet. Slowly, I began to post pictures of myself in the morning on Facebook.  It was supposed to be a joke.  Who was really going to care about how I felt when I got up that morning? Then a number of people began to care.  Truthfully, I just wanted to have a record of my changing.  I am still changing.

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