Daniel Agnew

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

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.

The Seagull

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The SeagullFriends come and go and great art stays with you forever. That’s my experience of my first ever Chekhov play in late 2012. A new version of The Seagull by Anya Reiss. Essentially there is no real narrative: a quixotic young writer loves an actress, who ends up falling for a careerist novelist and the writer is prematurely destroyed by his talent.

A seagull is shot down for no reason and adrift in a chaos of dreams, the symbolism of the dead bird has never left me. I found it incredibly moving how our desire for love, art and fame can be eliminated for no reason. There doesn’t have to be a reason for anything. The poignancy of the show was further heightened when I discovered Anya Reiss was only twenty one.

the seagull southwark playhouse

A sweet envy immediately overwhelmed me. That someone so young could write something so perceptive and insightful about life. How was this possible? On capturing the starry realities of self-sabotage, Reiss’s version was fresh, sexy and remarkably wise at the same time.

Sad, gorgeous and retaining the worldly elegance of Chekhov’s prose, I have an enormous affinity for Reiss’s adaptation and I still think about it to this day. As you don’t know what is going to happen to you or what will shoot you down. And the following year I fell out with the two friends who accompanied me and I have never spoken to them since.

A big argument took place one afternoon in Brick Lane about ethics and human behaviour. Beforehand I thought we were just going for dinner. Discussing work, dating and the weather. Nothing could have predicted how such a pathetic argument could turn irrevocably toxic within seconds. But I don’t regret falling out with either of them.

Personal grievances exist between friends but you rarely express them in person. Our fracture points usually remain concealed behind social pleasantries and diplomatic wisdom. Just emotional fracking over a point of principle is ill-advised at a restaurant table in my experience.

THREE SISTERS, Southwark Playhouse, London, UK.

However, if it weren’t for my ex-friends I would never have seen the play and for that alone I am grateful. The Seagull stayed with me forever and eighteen months later I watched Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Southwark Playhouse.

Written in the minor key with a beautiful cast, there is a romantic elegiac tone and a delicious slice of self-sabotage. My ex-friends have long since disappeared and I briefly thought of them when I took my seat. How things can change so quickly, when watching another Chekhov play about inexplicable forces by a playwright over a decade younger than me.

Three Sisters Anya Reiss

Three Sisters is running at the Southwark Playhouse until May 3rd 2014.

GIFs as metaphors

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Faulkner

Back in the noughties I used to maintain a Blogger diary and updated it twice a week. What struck me reading it back (now safely offline) is not so much the pretentiousness or negativity but the extraordinary length I went to describe ordinary things.

Like all early bloggers I had no visual content to illuminate my words. And unlike today Little Earthquakes was my exclusive space on the internet. During the beta years, there were no status updates, memes or tweets to keep you entertained throughout the working day.

On reading my old diaries, it’s probably a good thing Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist. As while I’ll love dreamy quotes and literary feels until I die, I was a dreadful twentysomething.

Most people’s diaries are excruciating but there is an unnerving sense I could have done anything and blew it through inertia and self-sabotage. I was a little God in my small way or something like that.

Blogger

Nobody uses Blogger anymore but on re-reading my noughties blog I am surprised at the length and indeed the frequency of my updates. The paragraphs were longer, denser and wonderfully inconsiderate of modern formats that prefer reactionary images and videos.

Essentially I was a frontier blogger repeating what had gone on in the analogue era. And by writing in traditional English (words, sentences and paragraphs) my diaries will probably seem incredibly dated to future generations.

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Visual means of communicating are already taking precedence with journalism reduced to using pre-existing and irrelevant Gifs as metaphors. Like why compose a 600 word blog when you can upload a 6 second Vine instead? The English language has always been in a state of constant flux and smartphone apps are revolutionising how kids communicate with one another.

Funeral Selfie

Last year’s Selfies at Funerals website was pretty funny and became a media obsession. Almost like the cartoon participants were an anthropological case study from another planet, but Generation Z are going to write the future and it doesn’t have to include words. As the seemingly trivial ‘selfie’ has an emotional resonance amongst teens that even people in their early thirties don’t understand.

Selfies are insanely silly for the most part – a warm, funny and entertaining way to share our feelings and communicate with one another. Witnessing the birth of a visual language is a fascinating experience. Smartphones have created something innately human and more importantly new. This has never happened before and our selfie obsessed culture is like a web born toddler taking its first steps.

IMG-20140315-WA0004

Visual storytelling is what moves people now and even Twitter’s famous 140 character limit is being invaded by images. Historically pictures have always been easier and quicker for people to understand. They get the message across more vividly.

With smartphones replacing words with photos I am already looking out of date. Indeed it is safe to say that anyone over thirty is now irrelevant. Even those who willingly embrace Snapchat and Vine while composing Emoji poetry are culturally obsolete  Emoji symbol

Emoji

Emoji is a visual alphabet from Japan that originated in 1999 because the Japanese language is not suited to short hand messaging. These “picture characters” are commonly misunderstood for emoticons, which is a portmanteau for emotions + icons we use to supplement our text messages and badly written emails (-:

A subtle difference but a profound one as Emoji symbols are replacing words altogether. That’s not to say the sentiments or ideas expressed in this way are any less profound than writing formally.

Digital problems require new solutions and visual short cuts are inevitable if we spend all our time on smartphones. It’s an economy of scale. Only I’m unlikely to compose my thoughts using Emoji when I’ve been brought up to use words, sentences and paragraphs.

Elephant in the Room

Although despite not taking any selfies or writing in symbols you have to adapt to survive. Language has always evolved and mutated over time. Fitzgerald did not write like Shakespeare and Snapchat teenagers are unlikely to publish their diaries with no pictures.

The speed of change is relentless and my noughties blog has dated like an rotary dial telephone in an Apple Store. And you know what? It isn’t even that old. But history is accelerating faster than ever before. Less than a decade can pass and your twenties read like something from a period drama.

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