About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Monday, 22 February 2016

Failed escape attempts: the flight south, parts one and two

I'll get up and fly away…well I did, or
so I thought. But few weeks later I was
back again. Notice southern England
under snow in the early hours of Sunday
17 January
They say you'll never appreciate where you live until you've spent some time living somewhere very different.

On Sunday I got back home to London after six weeks away: not long, by any standards, but still long enough to get out of routines, to forget the taste of the water and weight of the air.

Until very recently I loved living in London. Driving back from the east each weekend for years, there was always that moment where you reach a crest of a hill on the M11, just before the M25 junction, and there was the city in all is monstrous, smoggy, sparkling glory.

And then it changed. Throughout that long, dark, wet, bloody, dirty November and December, at least twice a day, I was feeling the urge to get the hell out of this terrible cauldron. London and its demented, semi-criminal property racketeering business, driven by infusions or transfusions of dirty money from the crooks and dictators and torturers of five continents, is the same old whore as ever. It opens its legs wide to these super-rich, the oligarchs and the war-lords, now so comfortably ensconced in their Canary Wharf towers or their Kensington multi-storey underground leisure centres and Ferrari parks.

London was always the world's biggest whore, we always knew that. No questions, no comeback, nothing to answer. Just pay up and enjoy, however stupid, cruel, gross, or perverted you happen to be. As long as you have the cash.

So, not having any of that cash myself, I was looking for other ways to escape. I took myself to Hastings for a weekend and found what seemed to be like a small sliver of London bohemia from about 30 years ago, getting on with their lives. There was a DIY classic cinema club in an old church hall, where they were showing a beautiful old Bergman film (Smiles of a Summer Night), with a ticket and a small bottle of local ale coming to a fiver or so.

Fishermen's huts in Hastings, Sussex
The old fishermen's huts at the set end of Hastings, Sussex.
Just to the right is a brand new Jerwood Art Gallery, and the
area around is already well known as Stoke Newington-by-Sea
But this was Hastings: an old Sussex fishing town colonised by people seeking refuge from London for many reasons…old age, money, fear, dislike of the modern world...

But it's as far as you can get from a Frinton or a Bognor or a Bournemouth. The built-in knee jerk suspicion of outsiders of say a Clacton-on-Sea does not seem to be present here.

It's an interesting place, full of lovely people who look you in the eye and see, yes, another potential fugitive...but like Brighton rock its essence is printed throughout in red sugar: saucy old english seaside town. Naughty, with a bit of a history of rebellion.

On the other hand, much of it is as drab and grotty as any south east London suburb and colder to boot. And it is not far enough from London; the south suburban mindset is already there.

At around the same time I applied for a teacher training placement in Spain, and after an intense group interview day in London, I was offered a place.

It all happened so quickly. Early in January I packed a big suitcase, put down plenty of buckets in my flat to collect water from the leaking roof, and took off for the first part of this experience….not Spain, but a week's pre-placement training at an encampment in Bucks which seemed like some sort of penal colony.

I did my month and it changed me a bit. But is also reinforced a deep-seated feeling which I wish I could overcome - that, however much I recognise the glories of the southern European lifestyle, the superiority of their way of living, how their priorities are so much more sensible and human….That, even experiencing, on an hourly basis, how very much more civilised life is there…that even so,  I want to get back to this scurrilous dishonest pretentious hypocritical country full of arrogance, violence, deceit, ugliness, bad food and expensive wine…why? Why?

Because I am as ugly, arrogant, immoral, dirty, stupid, violent, greedy, venal, corrupt, lazy….as the next person, Actually, much worse than all the rest.

And England - specifically, a scruffy south London suburb - is the only place that seems right,  where I fit in, sort of, by not fitting in. I become just another member of its sorry and cheerfully disgraceful populace. I can disappear  here and chuckle to myself in Asda without anyone thinking I'm any weirder than the next nutter.

SO here I am, no longer inflicting myself on the good people of Valencia. Like it or lump it, I am back.
Besides, if I stayed in Spain with good red wine available for under 2€ a bottle…I'd be dead in a year.

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