Florence sweet exile

 

After a decade of cramped quarters in London, I have travelled over to Italy for one month to ‘work on my novel’. Well not exactly, aside from a few letters and postcards, but you get the idea. On moving to Oltrarno, an artisan district in Florence, I am now adjusting to the concept of space.

I have become so accustomed to living in a box that I feel lost just walking down the corridor. Like I actually have to walk to retrieve my phone if I leave it on the kitchen table. Is this how normal, moderately successful people live? If so, I’m staying in Europe for as long as it remains feasible to do so.

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, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out why. This place I prefer to keep to myself. 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 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 council estates in England.

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 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 richer neighbourhoods. What is 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.

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 here. 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.

The trouble is, you think you have time

Global Warming

What would you do if you were told you only had fourteen years to live? It’s not cancer. It’s far worse than that. Floods haven’t been on the news recently but they aren’t going away and according to scientist James Lovelock climate change is going to unleash environmental devastation, and by 2040 southern Europe will be a desert.

With global populations continuing to rise and third world countries developing a taste for red meat, the average British millenial is in a race to the bottom. And if James Lovelock is correct you should party like its £19.99 because you don’t have long left.

“Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

– James Lovelock, March 2008

James Lovelock is convinced climate change is inevitable and ethical living a scam. Recycling, wind turbines, planting nice trees – it’s a complete waste of time, the damage is already done and paying 10p for a shopping bag at Sainsbury’s won’t make a difference.

Ethical living is akin to a smoker quitting on his deathbed, it might make you feel better, but that’s all it will do. If recycling pizza leaflets and beer bottles won’t save the planet, then what exactly can we do? Start paying 35p for the plastic bags we stuff underneath the sink? Grow carrots and potatoes in our back gardens and eat less meat?

Wait, statistically you live in an urbanised sprawl and don’t have a garden or any sustainable land. Your everyday survival is entirely reliant on the mass importation of food into corporate supermarkets.

Burgerthons

As a species, we are tribal carnivores genetically programmed to eat everything we can. A risky gambit if you live on a small island that imports 40% of its consumed food. If Lovelock is correct and global catastrophe is only 16 years away then enjoy your burgerthon festivals and 2-for-1 pizzas while you still can. You can’t feed yourself on Twitter.

In that respect Generation Y doesn’t have much to live for and we’re the lucky ones. It’s your kids and unborn progeny, who are really going to suffer. Generation Z is fittingly apt because according to Lovelock “about 80%” of the world’s population will be wiped out by 2100.

The Trouble Is, You Think You Have Time

If Lovelock is correct then you don’t have long left before pale blue dot metamorphoses into a dead planet. If you fancy a career break backpacking around South America, then enjoy the precious time you have left, or hope he’s an elderly scientist with nothing to lose.

If you stay at home and do nothing else, then savour every gourmet burger you eat and pay virtually nothing for the privilege. Generation Z are going to pay that dividend for you.

Boys

Boys is a brilliant angry piece of writing that captures the indignation and apathy of the modern era. Europe is facing the cold bloom of austerity (the history books are already been written) and in a five-man student kitchen in Edinburgh, four young boys are facing a future that has no place for them. On approaching the fag end of their final term, the party is almost over for the boys, and in the kitchen lies a Barclays sign – ‘We’ll loan you the best years of your life’ – just like Greece.

An unexplained death hovers over the student debris of spilt cereal, tea cups and celebrity posters as Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam face uncertain futures. Is being young really as good as it gets? Throughout Europe new graduates will come to realise this summer that aspiration has its melancholy consequences. Living in a neo-Thatcherite world, I think it’s probably a good thing we don’t know what the future holds. Many people quickly realise, through no fault of their own, that the age of potential is the briefest of windows.

Although it goes without saying that the vast majority of people in the UK will survive comfortably enough in the decades to come. First world problems have to be put into a global context. However, I think the sadness and anger descends from a brooding sense of unfulfillment and the searching emptiness of never being able to achieve anything.

The politics of identity have long since surpassed ideological principle and success is wearily defined by ‘timing, image and nepotism – so always try and be in the right place at the right time, suck as much cock as you can and find a way to be better looking than God intended you’. Timing, image and nepotism – it rings uncomfortably true doesn’t it?

Something wholly dependent on luck and self-confidence inherited from wealthy families and postcode approved schools. There are now almost three million people aged 20-34 still living at home and that number is only like to rise as slow economic growth, an ageing population and exploitative rents stunt any hope of renewal.

Like a revisionist version of Peter Pan there is a sadness in boys final days and the agnostic helplessness of a generation that no longer has anything to believe in. Ella Hickson captures this angst beautifully and provides a universal message  for our times, where one’s youth appears to be only commodity but as many people soon find out these years are loaned to you too.

Boys runs at the Soho Theatre until June 16th 2012

Dreams of a Life

In 2003, the skeleton of 38-year-old Joyce Carol Vincent was discovered in a North London bedsit with the television still on. She had been dead for three years. Her remains were found alongside half-wrapped Christmas presents and the haunting flicker of BBC One. Joyce’s body was so badly decomposed she could only be identified by comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling. How she died doesn’t actually matter.

What is truly shocking is how someone could remain dead for three years without anybody noticing. In a ghoulish tale of neglect and social dislocation, Dreams of a Life is a story about youth, friendship and missed opportunities. With no family and her four sisters refusing to take part, the docudrama pieces together Joyce Vincent’s anonymous life.

Directed by Carol Morley, the film interviews a handful of former-work colleagues, who reminisce about the water cooler moments and office parties they shared with Joyce in the 1980s. Now in their forties, there was unnerving sense of how our loves and opportunities narrow with each passing year. How meaningful their friendship with Joyce stretched beyond the superficialities of office small talk is questionable. Likewise her ex-flatmates appeared genuine but again unaware of her true character. Nobody it seemed knew Joyce Vincent.

A vivacious and charismatic girl in her prime, the former City girl had never been shy of male attention. However, like so many troubled women, men were a shady reference in her life. With her emotional rock coming in the shape of a bird-faced colleague, she drifted in and out of a series of broken relationships and spent her final years in a women’s refuge.

With the gaps in the narrative proving frustratingly esoteric towards the end, the story of Joyce Vincent’s life remains incomplete. Set in the early 2000s and in the absence of the social networking websites that dominate our lives today, Joyce left this world without even a missed call. It is bad enough turning forty let alone living on your own.

As the years slowly become decades, friends will inevitably come and go and a once beautiful, popular woman ended up spending her final moments utterly alone. Like a modern tale from Edgar Allen Poe the bank continued to pay her bills but nobody wrote or called. Invisible transactions kept on flowing all the while a scrambled television poured life into Joyce Vincent’s unvisited tomb.