We left Missoula exactly a month ago and are still living out of our suitcases. We have another week before we move into our house, thanks to some fairly strong bullying from the estate agents who told us we couldn’t impose an 11-month lease on our tenant. So the couch-surfing continues.
“Mum, where are my swimming goggles?”
“Joanna, where is that brown checked shirt? The one with the cigarette burn on the pocket?”
“Where is my bicycle lock key?” And so on….
I have become the keeper of the suitcases, as if by some kind of magic I can see everything inside them.
London continues to overwhelm. I went to Morning Lane in Hackney which used to be where illegal raves thrashed through the night in burnt out buildings when I first moved to East London. It is now the site of a Gieves and Hawkes, a Nike superstore, a Burberry outlet and one for Aquascutum. I lost all sense of where I was. This was my first feeling since leaving Montana of urban vertigo, of losing the London I know. It made me feel old. I can hear myself saying to E as we walk through Hackney, “Oh, this is where I went to a book launch where a guy dressed like an ape and almost jumped off the roof,” or “Your dad and I used to DJ at parties in this building,” etc… I have told myself I need to stop with this narration. But every bit of land, every bit of space is monetised, owned, profits are being turned over at an enormous rate. There is very little space just for the sake of space. It is dizzying. I hadn’t noticed it in my little patch because, well, it became twee and ‘gentrified’ a while ago. And there are blessedly few chain stores on my high street apart from a Tesco’s, a Boots, a MacDonald’s, and a very grim Nando’s. You can still buy cans of paint, toilet scrubbers, spools of thread, sewing needles, stationary, old lady slippers, bowls of fruit and veg from a cart, Tupperware, and stuff that you actually need. But delve further into Hackney and there are fewer and fewer of these shops selling the necessities of life — well, the necessities of my life.
I am not sure how to grapple with the changes around me. Apart from the fact they make me feel old, they also make me feel there is a huge gap between what I hold dear and what others hold dear, how I function and how a whole swathe of the population seem to function. I get the feeling that people now live in their tiny flats with everything digitised and at their fingertips. No more books or messy CDs. It’s all streamed. No more sewing up holes in your jumpers, you just throw them out and order a new one online. No more cooking because you can buy a takeaway in a styrofoam container for the same price. I sense that there are lives being lived that are one big stream. Every click on that online purchase sparks a whole trail of algorithms telling the shopper that if they bought that, they might like this. It is endless and infinite and alienates the shit out of me. And of course it isn’t endless or infinite. The resources are coming to an end. Living simply now means throwing out your junk and living online. The space you save! Living simply has been turned into a desirable lifestyle with books like Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”. Kondo famously used to rip the pages out of books in order to save only the words she liked while simultaneously saving space. We listen to someone who molested her books? According to Kondo, one should only own 30 books at a time, or fewer. If you have more than that, you simply throw away (she loves sending things to landfill) the ones you no longer need. The ones we are instructed to keep are the ones containing “necessary information”. So there we have it. It is all about data. Despite the fact that the hard, cold facts of “War and Peace” would be useless to most of us, I am still upset that my old copy which had long ago fallen apart to the point where I called it “War in Pieces” was lost during one of my moves.
The monetisation of land, the digitisation of art, the value of things being measured in their usefulness, the quantifying of our taste through algorithms: it all feels connected. The necessity factor has crept into how we assess art and the less useful objects around us like old books, bits of clay clumped together by our three-year-old, hats rarely worn but given to us by a dead relative we once adored. While simultaneously across London upscale cafés are replacing shops selling shoe laces and door handles. We seem to be devaluing the things with no monetary value (like art and the texture of our lives) while putting a huge value on the things that don’t give meaning to our life (like cups of bespoke coffee).
I am happy to be back. Whether London is really home or not is something for another day. But I am not happy about what I see going on around me. I remind myself that there are enough people writing books, making films, working in hospitals, singing in bars, designing costumes and generally making life vibrant and interesting in my sphere. But for how much longer. More studios are being knocked down and more ‘curated’ spaces are popping up. I tell myself to go with the flow. Life may feel like it is slipping away and becoming a performance I am not good enough to participate in. But I have always been a good spectator. I’ll stick to that for now.