Arnold Circus

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. This place I prefer to keep to myself. 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.

There are no endings

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.

GIFs as metaphors

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 the multi-dimensional apps we broadcast from 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.

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 superbly funny and became an Internet obsession for about a week. It was almost like the cartoon participants of Selfies at Funerals 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 meaningful 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 as a digital immigrant 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.

Door to the River

After graduating from Glasgow University in July 2004, I had several ambitions in life and like many arts graduates none of them involved having a career. Well at least I had absolutely no intention of retraining as a history teacher, which at the time appeared to be the only option available to me.

Instead I embraced a hazy world of denial and escapism and this involved travelling around Europe on borrowed money and giving up a £65 a week bedsit on the Great Western Road. Such an undertaking came partly as a lust for knowledge and a desire to explore new cultures and languages. Scotland for all its charms is geographically isolated, monolingual and bordered only by England.

However, I must acknowledge that one of the most compelling reasons behind my desire to travel was the chance to ditch my joke finance job at the Abbey National. So before I abandoned Glasgow for the olive fields of Andalucia, I had one ambition left in life and that involved writing my own fanzine.

Such was my love of Kelvinside and its bohemian leafy character, I came up with a pun title derived from a mediocre John Fante novel and set about producing an irreverent guide to post-graduate life in the West End of Glasgow. An inky offbeat publication capturing small town blues, film reviews, Chinese takeaways and unwise polemics against high street chuggers. Ask The Kelvin seemed like a good idea at the time.

Unknown to me in the mid-Noughties, I had set about producing a dead tree publication long before the wonders of tagging, Tumblr and all the social interactive elements that assist writers today. Unable to share my thoughts on a global scale, there was no danger of Ask The Kelvin ever going viral. Living in a make-believe world I knew at the time I couldn’t make any money out of a fanzine but for some strange reason I felt compelled to make one anyway.

On embracing the self-funded model, I produced fifty copies at the local stationary store and distributed them at Fopp, Offshore and a ragtag collection of Byres Road charity shops. Back then Facebook didn’t even exist and the audience I secretly lusted and craved for during my sleepless nights in Otago Street never quite materialised. Indeed looking back it does seem really twee and provincial, especially when I compare it to some of the sexy projects on Kickstarter.

Based in New York and providing a self-funded platform to raise funds on a global scale, Kickstarter allows random individuals to become patrons of their favourite projects. Almost like a counter-culture version of the BBC Dragons’ Den, Kickstarter involves a video pitch alongside a synopsis explaining the reasons why you should support them. Not with a lazy like you can get away with elsewhere but with hard cash.

Kickstarter is an amazing place to support new talent and my personal favourite is theNewerYork, an experimental lit mag based in Brooklyn that celebrates radical poetry, love letters and seriously weird pieces of art. Like stumbling into your favourite record shop as a 17 year old and discovering heroin tainted rock zines for the first time, if you tire of the NewerYork, you are tired of life.

Surreally decorated with unfamous quotes and the occasionally haunting story, their magazine blows my wee Glasgow fanzine out of the water. Beautifully humbled by their efforts, I must confess that on reading their e-version, some 3500 miles away in an English metropolis, I never stood a chance back in leafy Kelvinside. Alas I am now older than the 23 year old locked inside a Glasgow bedsit but still similarly way inclined.

Unlike the NewerYork I don’t think I would get $8,119 in funding for the second edition of Ask The Kelvin, even allowing for the social media tools available to young writers and artists today. However, I do take some inspiration from one of their many slogans: everything has been done before, so do it better. 

New Kids on the Block

Rarely is anyone judged for who they really are. As anyone who has ever attended a party or social gathering will already know, new friends and acquaintances will invariably want to know ‘what you do’ for a living. It’s unsurprising really. Perhaps it is just human nature for us to compartmentalise our personalities and responsibilities in this way.

Graduates lose their progressive status within a year of leaving university. Thereafter some of the greatest young minds on this planet will be defined by their occupation – waitress, drug dealer and freelance blogger; or as they are more commonly known in the Eurozone – unemployed.

Our preoccupation with status has been further amplified by the sheer number of people who have a handle or profile promoting their job and lifestyle. Such a culture inevitably leads to people branding their identities and heightening status anxiety to extraordinary levels.

Alas in the words of the late Virginia Woolf ‘the eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages’. The lowly shelf-stacker at Tesco, who has read the works of Joyce, Mishima and Ezra Pound, is certainly not going to feel any better by spending too much time on LinkedIn.

Although there is a light blogging alternative to the online brand phenomenon, where nobody knows your name or what you do. Tumblr is an offbeat social media service with a pop-culture twist. Irreverent by nature and heavily meme based, the Tumblr generation post endless streams of fashion, photography and literacy quotes in splendid anonymity.

With no comments or trolls, there is something highly refreshing about Tumblr’s eccentricity and complete disregard for how we all have to make a living. Nobody cares what you do, it’s all about what you feel and know to be true.

Predominately US-based and with over 120 million users every month, Tumblr has given rise to some of the most entertaining and offbeat blogs around today. From the sexual intellectualism of Book Porn, soppy boredom of Dogs on Trains and the late great Kim Jong-Il looking at things, Tumblr is a wonderful place to waste time. A digital scrapbook for the creative moths of this world, there is something refreshing how people can express themselves so vividly online in such a weird and odd fashion.

However, success comes at a price and while the light blogging service remains the domain of hyper-intelligent college kids. Old media organisations such as The Guardian and New Yorker now want a piece of the digital action. With traditional newspapers spreading their ‘content’ online, there is a danger Tumblr will succumb to the wishes of large media groups wanting to promote their corporate image. Indeed it has probably happened already such is the power of big business.

But while people remain weird and strange there will always be a place for the marginalised and ignored on Tumblr. It remains somewhere pure and anonymous and relatively untainted by the status obsession culture found on other networks.

And while the pressure to be someone will never cease and every fresh handshake and sideways air kiss will inevitably be followed by an enquiry into your occupation. There is now a small place where outside thoughts no longer have to be our cages, and where labyrinth minds can express themselves freely on laptops in unkempt bedrooms and solitary library chambers.

Don’t feed the troll

With internet trolls fuelling a misogyny scandal after British female bloggers complained about rape threats online. Questions have to be asked why the internet allows horrible, vindictive little men (and it’s always men) to threaten radical female writers with gang rape and murder.

Trolls are traditionally perceived as sexually inadequate men living in their mother’s basements. Deeply unhappy they unleash their frustrations out on the anonymous playing fields of the internet, revelling in the attention that otherwise eludes them in real life.

Everyone needs feedback after all, especially lonely young men with right-wing prejudices. Feeling that one has an impact on this world is enough to make a troll feel happy when he retires to his Thomas the Tank Engine duvet covers.

However, it is far too easy to blame the rampant levels of misogyny and abuse on marginalised sections of society. As the majority of abusive comments are composed by seemingly upstanding citizens with families, friends and surprisingly well-paid jobs.

Almost all newspapers are full of deranged comments by readers posting under alpha-numeric pseudonyms. Usually they are one-eyed political nerds parroting their respective party’s views. Unrepresentative of the population at large, they get their voices heard by shouting the loudest.

But like those who enjoy hard drugs and unprotected sex, there is something viscerally thrilling about participating in such terrible behaviour. For people have always derived pleasure from eliciting reactions in others. Getting a rise out of someone is exciting. Classrooms, pubs and workplaces are full of characters that like to goad, provoke and cajole their friends into a reaction.

Socially rewarding and always entertaining, the darker side of provocation can be found on the internet. In this anonymous fantasy land, the risk of being held to account is virtually eliminated. Stripped of all social responsibility the trolls are able to throw muck at their respective targets without fear of reproach.

Female bloggers are subject to disproportionate levels of abuse for commenting on serious issues like economics and world affairs. Writing in the New Statesman several female writers, of all political persuasions, have highlighted examples of the gender-based hatred they are subjected to on a daily basis. Sex is frequently used by trolls as a means of teaching feminists a lesson.

Belittled for being ‘ugly’ and ‘disgusting’, male trolls have threatened to bayonet, torture and rape female writers at bus stops. Exorcising their base lusts and repressed sexual fantasies, anonymous men with laptops and smartphones, instead of engaging fairly with the substance of the argument, subject female bloggers to sordid levels of abuse.

All journalists receive aggressive criticism but radical women in particular are torn to shreds by the lowest-common denominator. What is perhaps most shocking is the mistaken assumption that society has progressed beyond this type of behaviour.

As social media becomes increasingly mainstream and not just the domain of the urban middle-classes, there is a horrifying realisation that beneath the surface of civility, anonymous trolls are shedding a new light on the darker side of human nature. It’s a sad state of affairs that in the twenty-first century, a feminist writer won’t really have ‘made it’ until she is abused by men who probably tortured worms in their childhood.

Something Unspoken

Despite feeling under pressure to earn a serious living, my desire to write has never fully gone away. It doesn’t matter how much I try to disregard my former love affair as a whimsical self-indulgence, I continually struggle to cope with a desire to be creative. What remains is a simmering frustration at how I have let my writing habits slip.

Gone are the days of when I would scribble thoughts, proverbs and sensations into a notebook or spend hours sitting in front of a blank screen hoping I could conjure up a sentence or two. Writing for me is partly fuelled by my desire to see my own stream of consciousness appear on screen. The physical sensation of articulating private thoughts to create an aesthetic spectacle is something I have always loved to do.

This creative process is not static and can be magically conjured up in a letter, email, blog, tweet or even an online conversation with a like minded friend. The danger with the transient nature of modern communications is that any prose will be lost at the time of delivery and there will never be an effective method of preserving the CCTV of the mind. In truth I don’t think I’ll ever have a recognised calling because my writing style, flaws and personality have never truly aligned themselves to a commercial medium.

In the past I had kept various online journals and last year I closed them because I felt they could be potentially damaging to my future relationships and career. Burying my desire to write and subsequently not being able to find a suitable medium to express myself creatively, I found myself frustrated and increasingly agitated at not doing anything other than working and indulging in leisure activities such as going to the cinema or watching football.

Perhaps I’ve grown out of the routine of documenting my thoughts but I do regret the loss of a daily creative stimulus. The naive joy of confession is something I find strangely comforting and in moments of silent anguish, I continue to pine for that late night tapping sensation.