Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mapping the Wasteland

I've been back in Bournemouth nearly two-and-a-half weeks. The most distressing thing about coming back is that absolutely nothing has changed. One might consider this to be a fine attribute in a place one calls home - to find that things are how you left them. With Bournemouth, what it really means is that everything that made me leave in the first place remains: the same hierarchies and prejudices, the uneasy mix of small-town narrowmindedness and aspirational art-think (certain parts of town - The Winchester, 60 Million Postcards, the AIB campus, Dusk Till Dawn - are in fact mini-colonies of Shoreditch), the constant presence of so many no-hopers, and, above all, the topography.

Urban environments are often conceived of topologically, but we experience them - the places we grow up with, grow into - no other way than spatially. And as the years multiply, geography is saturated with memory - with familiarity. Every single bearable route through town I've walked - all its parks, its leafier suburbs, its beachfront paths and clifftops - countless times. Just as it grows increasingly memorialised - with the pleasure, of course, of revisiting those traces each time you come back - it grows increasingly boring. Bournemouth, I considered the other day, never had anything to give me, and still doesn't: the only thing it had to offer was total mental desertification, and nice public gardens (well, a few). Although, leafing through some old files tonight, I found some papers from when I was still in Sixth Form - almost two years ago, now. They were from the Creative Writing group I participated in with a couple of other people; I was the only person to turn up regularly. It was a couple of sheets of poems by John Hughes, the English teacher who convened the group. I remember now how strange it seemed that a teacher should write poetry; and, for that matter, the tone of the poems, the kind of toughened, humane, exploratory feel that I wouldn't find until I read Staying Alive two years later - and began writing poetry again. The habit of riding to and from the school each day, the route, the space around the school (how claustrophobic, positively resonant with the old-boy network, Oxbridge-training air - it should be noted that I got in only because I read Kafka and Nietzsche) is completely engrained in my mind, and bound up with that time. You know what they say about the myth of origins, etc. etc.


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