Wednesday, 17 October 2012

On Cogs & Ratchets

In my third year at secondary school, we were tasked with a term-long project that involved making a mechanism out of wood and plastic. Something ingenious that would move when you turned a dial, pulled a lever, or something. In a vain attempt to inspire us to produce something wonderful, we were taken on a field trip to the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in Covent Garden, a place full of magical wooden gadgets that came to life through intricate systems of cogs, gears and ratchets. My attempt, of course, fell far short of the works of art we'd been taken to see, and to be honest the entire project, trip included, has nestled, undisturbed, in a remote corner of my brain for the last fifteen years.

Until this evening. I was walking through Liverpool Street station at six o'clock. Liverpool Street is a complete nightmare at rush hour. It's actually a beautiful building, but the angry hoards of commuters make it hard to stop and look around. Traversing it without incurring somebody's wrath or losing your scarf takes far too much concentration to allow any time for appreciation of Victorian facades, cast-iron pillars or the number of places you could run away to if you only had the guts. INTERESTING FACT: it was built on the site once occupied by Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital, popularly known as Bedlam, which is quite an apt description of the chaos that descends, like clockwork, between 5 and 7 on weekday evenings.

So, I'm walking through Liverpool Street, fighting my way up a staircase which everybody else IN THE WORLD has decided to descend. My third year project bounced to the forefront of my mind; I was a spanner in the works, a cog with a broken tooth, an obstacle in the way of an elaborate piece of choreography.

Bear with me, for I am about to embark on a wild flight of fancy that is unlikely to make any sense.

This new way of looking at things has inspired me. If I could do my DT project again it would be so much more impressive. An army of puppets on conveyor belts, swerving round corners, up escalators, down stairs. It would have lights flashing from red to green, and tiny cars slowing down and speeding up. Little wooden people being shoved on to little wooden trains, and shoved back out five minutes down the line, to rejoin the intricate ballet that is London's rush hour, where somehow nobody ever touches anyone else and everyone gets to where they are going. The clicking of the gears could be replaced by a soundtrack of tutting, newspapers rustling and horns hooting. It would take place amid matchbox houses, shoebox skyscrapers and a tin foil river that reflects the twinkly lights I'd use for stars. Oh, I'd get top marks for that. I'd be the apple of my DT teacher's eye, rather than the oddball afraid to use the big scary sandpaper machine.

And come to think of it, my commute actually could run on cogs and ratchets. That's how little thought I put into it. I am like a little wooden puppet, pushed and pulled from point A to point B, at set times of the day like I'm part of a giant cuckoo clock. Not that I mind. Now that I'm imagining everyone else as part of the same huge mechanism, I'm quite looking forward to tomorrow.

Monday, 24 October 2011

On the Steps of St Paul's

The last time I sat here, I laughed as my aunt did an awful impression of the homeless woman from Mary Poppins, singing Feed the Birds in a croaky Cockney accent.

Years later and I'm back, sitting on those same steps, the same incredible building. I wish I was sitting here listening to my aunt sing songs from Mary Poppins. Instead it's a man with a guitar singing about soldiers dying, the people suffering in silence and a ruling elite that doesn't listen. The same place, but a different world. For those of you not from London or the UK, the pavement around St Paul's has been taken over by tents, the site of Ocuppy LSX's first camp in the city. And here I am, surrounded by Guy Fawkes masks, signs lamenting the state of the economy, a man playing a penny whistle and several people, like me, who have just come for a look.

Yes, just a look. But this is the second time I've come here in as many days. I feel like I can relate to the people sleeping here day in, day out. Do I understand the ins and outs of global economics? No. Can I suggest an alternative? No. But I do feel angry. I am confused, exasperated and generally fucking miserable with today's society, where little seems to make sense. At least to me. And it's these feelings, I think, that I share with those who have taken up residence in the shadows of the cathedral.

I wish I had a voice. I wish I had somebody to represent me. A government that cared for something other than credit ratings and bankers. A government which tries to protect the nation as a group of people, rather than an economy.

I know it's all interlinked. I know that a booming economy would remove the necessity for many of the austerity measures taken in the name of removing the evil deficit. I understand that. I'm just fucking fed up of it.

And that, my friends, is my deep and meaningful take on Britain in a time of austerity. The best, most perfect words I can find to describe what I feel when I read the news. Fucking. Fed. Up.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

On A Budget

I've been out for cocktails. It's mid-month, so this is a risk as payday is still a long way away. But I've been trying for so long to live within a strict austerity budget in a seemingly endless attempt to reduce the debt I'm in. Initially I viewed it as a challenge: anything the ConDem government (was there ever a more apt abbreviation?) can do, I could do better. I was determined to be financially solvent by the end of 2011. I had purpose.

The summer, therefore, has been something of a damp squib - and not just because of the weather. No holidays, few big nights out, minimal expenditure and old, faded clothes.

Yet now the novelty has worn off. I'm close to breaking point. Close to embarking on a FTW spending spree on credit cards and money that's not mine but that the bank seems more than happy to provide. The end is in sight, but the monotony of my existence has become painful.

So cocktails it was. And despite the ample amount of gin, rum and whisky, I can't shake this feeling of irresponsibility. Unemployment figures are up, but I have a job. I may feel frustrated at being 26 and still living at home, but I have a roof over my head. I have a family, friends and at least some money each month to piss right up the wall.

This feeling is compounded when a homeless person stops and asks me for change. I start my usual "sorry, I haven't any change" response, but it sticks in my throat. I give her a pound, but that seems woefully insignificant compared to the amount I've just spent on alcohol. It doesn't seem right. Maybe this is a symptom of what's wrong with society? My inability to go without, I mean. My feeling so hard done by when really, I am among the better off.

Yes, I am broke, most of the time. But I'm still part of society. I'm not excluded, ignored or kept on the edge. I think back to my time working in local government. I hated the job, it wasn't something I wanted to pursue, but it was hard not to empathise with some of the people I met; many of whom had suffered and still do suffer the exclusion and fear I've thus far managed to escape.

It's partly this experience, I think, that causes the boiling rage inside when I read comments under right-wing newspaper articles, or when I hear the government demonising the 'benefit scroungers' that are supposedly bleeding our country dry. All this, from a group of people who have, I imagine, never known hardship, nor even approached it unless it offers a PR-friendly photo opportunity.

This city - perhaps even this country - is a cruel mistress. London is, in my opinion, an incredible place. Much like an outdated office block giving way to a gleaming skyscraper, she changes her look, her mood. At times the streets seem paved with broken dreams rather than gold. At others she glistens like a huge Christmas tree, beckoning to you, offering her cultural delights, her unrivalled social scene, a feast for someone with the money and inclination to gorge themselves on.

And so I find it impossible. I can't imagine my life without London, but at the same time I can't imagine being of the few with the means to really enjoy everything on offer.

I will settle for the middle ground, which I can, I hope, realistically aspire to. I will try and resist the seduction of happy hours, 2 for 1 offers and everything else that's distracting me from my route to financial solvency. At times, it will be boring. At others, it will be difficult. But the end result will be worth it, I think. There's enough to worry about (double dip recessions, illness, the volcano under Yellowstone National Park) without adding money to the huge pile of woe. So back to the budget, Read, and stop whinging. You could be a whole lot worse off.

Fuck...all that from a mojito...maybe drink is my problem, rather than my budget.