Text: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Themes: Role of ingestion, taking something into one's interior, a flesh synthesis beyond empathy, metamorphosis and longing.
My first flight alone was cancelled. Blank flight status for Belfast. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I sob, opening a congratulations email for the CalArts exchange programme. The Stansted Express, a long Waterloo-bound bus, returning me to friends to drown anxieties in Los Iguanas by the Thames. Somehow, my rescheduled outbound flight days later is before my return flight. Oh luck, some time to organise my visa.
This wetsuit, taken from an unlocked trailer, gathered around the crotch. I picked at it anxiously, tightening my life jacket and helmet to nauseating security.
It turns out coasteering means jumping off cliffs into the sea, strategically drifting across the rip tide, colliding into new rocks to be scaled and thrown off again. I managed the first two on a surge of hungover adrenaline, but the third felt high and I swayed at the edge of the drop, the water below bulging vertiginously. A run up resulted in halting at the last moment, swaying as a woman behind me took my hand and we made the jump together. I was grateful for their patience and her initiative.
At the final jump, my ears rang with his new advice, “you’ve got to jump off and out!”
I scaled the cliff with the others, securing myself a place on the rocks, watching as they leapt like lemmings into the churning water. They cycled round, climbing up as quickly as they jumped, when he called out,
“Are ye going to do it?”
… off and out… I peered over at the rocks below… off and out…
“I’ve pushed myself, I’m proud of what I’ve done and I feel happy with that.”
My short lived resolve.
Instead, I was faced with scaling the cliff back to land, unable to submit myself to the water again. I’d missed my chance.
Flashback to a situation some years ago in Cornwall. Breaking from the group to climb out to a rock in the sea, having again not eaten. Clamouring back on insecure trembling legs, with a deep awareness of my own isolation, the sheerness of the slope, and the ocean ready to sweep me away below.
She couldn’t hear my need to get back into the water, to prove to myself I could do it. Everyone was leaving, my words dried in my mouth. Vertigo took over. I started crying. She said, laughing at me, “Jesus Christ! You come out to Donegal and I send you into shock!” Her confidence in my capabilities could not overcome their peculiar desertion.
Two. The watery anthropocene.
Texts: Ordinary Futures: Interspecies Worldings in the Anthropocene by Elizabeth DeLoughrey &
The Drowned World by JG Ballard
Themes: Catalysing new oceanic imaginaries, mundane futurity. Embodied practices of submersion, we are that which we take in, air, food, water. Being trained for the introduction of chemicals such as radio-fluorine, living on and suffering malnutrition and radiation sickness. Psychological metamorphosis, preparing for the new environment.
The fountains were always dry.
Preparations for the new environment were already being made.
Los Angeles, a metropolis of many apocalypses. Only a UCLA lecturer could understand the anthropocene as mundane. Normalising this acceleration depoliticises it, removing it from its driving forces of capitalist speculation, accumulation and exploitative disregard. Why must we adapt and bend to these killing forces?
The Santa Ana winds flow downhill, bringing radioactive waste dumped in the indigenous grounds of the Great Basin. “How do you like the air today?” he asks wryly. Footage of test blasts in the ocean and in the desert. Nuclear tourists peeping from their balconies. Generations of downwinders, trained for chemical introductions. Towards a new physiology.
Children with severe lead poisoning from tap water in the town of Flint. Daily consumption of plastic and preservatives that will stop the body rotting in death. Eels ingesting cocaine through the water supply. The promises of the Sackler family for a non-addictive opioid. Walking past an overdosing body in the middle of the street. The stench of uncontrolled shit, baking in the public heat of Los Angeles.
The blood, the shit, the piss, the spit, the vomit. The bodily liquids of people poured and smeared across the streets, no water to wash it away. On Wiltshire Boulevard, riotous chican@ blood ran down the stairs of the chapel. Drought can’t wash it away.
A tapestry hangs above the figurative fountain of the baptismal font in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He describes it as Jesus knelt before a smoggy vision of Los Angeles, slipping into the sea and in ruins, whilst celebrities woven as saints look on.
Tapestries by John Nava in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Downtown Los Angeles
Text: The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh
Themes: Ecological refugees, management of bodies, rationalisation of modern life, instead of being told about what happened we learn about what was observed, relocation of materials on the surface of the Earth, improbability leads to underestimation of risk and thus delays emergency measures. Artists seeing themselves as a separate class, humans have become geological agents but corporations are people now.
Upon moving to Los Angeles I was homeless. As the flyaway bus pulled away from LAX, I felt palpable disappointment at my first vision. It was mid-morning and this grey scene perturbed the blue sky sunshine paradise of my filmic expectations.
My ex found Kate through Twitter. She offered me an air mattress behind the sofa in her one bed apartment. I stayed there for two weeks. She worked in LA city’s department of Disaster Management. She explained that the marine layer smothered Los Angeles each morning, cooling the area, and it would get brighter and hotter as the layer of cloud burnt away.
Her job meant she had a keen interest in the weather. I would arrive home to her watching rolling news coverage of Hurricane Florence, later switching over to the Dodgers game. I picked up a conversational level of baseball knowledge thanks to her. She explained the rules and current scorings over footage of a newscaster being battered by the tropical winds and rains. Apparently most insurance won’t cover water damage. Mine covered repatriation of my remains.
In many places emergency housing for the homeless is provided when the temperature reaches freezing or it snows. However, these conditions are improbable in Los Angeles (though I did see on Instagram that it hailed in February). She explained that people sleeping outside could contract hypothermia following rainfall.
Evergreen Cemetery lies in Boyle Heights, east of Los Angeles. This historically Latinx neighbourhood faces gentrification threats from the nearby arts district. Each day, the Universal Studios tour bus brings a gaggle of tourists to see the location of a Freddy Krueger film.
We were told to always carry some form of ID. There are two crematoriums in this graveyard. One for those afforded a ceremony around their disposal. The second for the cremation of the unclaimed dead; the bodies that had fallen in the street with no identification. These cremated bodies are placed on a shelf, and, if they remain unclaimed, are poured annually into a mass grave.
1,457 unclaimed dead who had died in 2015 were buried in 2018.
“Unfortunately this is my fate. Too be buried among hundreds of strangers. One of many that did not obtain health, wealth or status in the so called city of angels.”
(Comment by YouTube user 'LaToya C')
Installation overview of Ash by Justin Serulneck (2019) featuring footage of the LA County Annual Burial for the Unclaimed Dead, as well as the California wild fires. See: https://www.justinserulneck.com/ash
Text: The Repeating Island by Antonio Benitez Rojo
Themes: Vectors of difference and rupture.
In the very geography of island life there is discontinuity.
Leave and Remain are public laments for a shared country failing to uphold the assumed status quo of exceptionalism and prosperity. Crossing the British border in Ireland was signalled only by a stylistic change of road sign, and different colour road markings. A border in the sea was considered, in the attempt to appease the Good Friday Agreement with a “soft” border. The frantic empty gestures of those in charge demonstrates the powerlessness people feel in the face of change. An inability to respond effectively to the present.
Someone supposed that seaside towns had to promote “Britishness” as a sort of national defence. Many of these declining resorts now have high levels of poverty. This perhaps a better summation of contemporary Britain than the twee nostalgia of an assumed shared culture. None of this has ever been for the common good.
Corbyn visits Morecambe during the recent Remain march, speaking to the need of workers’ rights and to end the exploitation of migrants. He mentions the Chinese winklepickers, of whom all but one drowned in Morecambe bay. Nearby councils have moved the homeless, poor, and unemployed into less affluent areas like Morecambe. Populations living in B&Bs, a form of social cleansing.
Criminality has long been linked to lower socioeconomic status, in attempts to negotiate community, survival and the inflexible bureaucratic state. For the racialised and classed, their survival has become a gamble those in charge are prepared to play. Processes of exploitation, expropriation and extraction brought to bear on the working poor through slave wage work schemes and systematic abuse of the disabled.
It's hard to keep your head above water.
As we drove down the freeway in Los Angeles, the radio (a K-something channel) spluttered on about the state of Britain, “there appears to be… a fascination by metropolitan elites… with the counties of the north… working class communities… a sort of self-orientalist… anthropologist almost… a looking inwards…”
Text: Chapters 12-14, Seascapes: Maritime Histories, Littoral Cultures and Transoceanic Changes
Themes: Normative nature of landed society, terracentric biases, agricentric discourses. Operating in the name of a different social order. The gathering of goods to sell at market, the necessary hustle of the poor. The class war and terror involved in piracy. The use of racialised discourse to detract from a socio-economic relation.
The “vacancies” signs of the pirate landladies mutinously appeared, against the keepers of the state. Fugitive relations built in small, residential dining rooms. The establishment strives to criminalise her affairs, however return visitors keep her underground yet afloat.
Shipwrecked goods gathered from beaches stock the markets. To engage in these unusual sea harvests defied the watch of the patrols. Such goods are valued in the hands of the people, in petty trade, survival and adaptive life making. Although the sea itself could be an unwelcome terror, as at high tide the basement of the Starr Inn floods and the taps produce sea water.
One wreckage carrying concrete, sunk, setting the bags. At low tide, eels can be seen swimming in and out of the strange forms. A much eerier display than the distress of crews caught in a storm, awaiting charitable rescue by the lifeboats, with the spectating crowds obstructing proceedings.
“Have a Nice Day, Matey!” This jolly roger bears the acid house smiley with a bandanna, waving in the wind above a day-care centre. The collective abandon of rave pirated and mixed tracks, stealing with glee in the name of a different social order. Acid communism. The shimmering vision of an mdma high, the rainfall of sweat from the condensation on the ceiling, and the disappearances into the sea in the early hours of the morning.
Text: Fantasy in the Hold in The Undercommons by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten & The Geopolitics of Maritime Transportation in the Middle East by Laleh Khalili
Themes: Refused sentiment, citizen of everywhere and nowhere, epidermalised empathy vs. hapticality.
Splitting from the group, I walked along the mudflats singing.
Oh where are you now when we need you
What burns where the flame used to be
Are you gone like the snows of last winter
And will only our rivers run free
There are a number of care homes scattered along the Fylde coast. Names like Mariners Court suggests their elderly residents were seafarers themselves. Sadly, the increasingly abstract administration of care homes is logistically organised. Despondent to daily life and needs. Resident bodies must endure the limited schedules of under-resourced care.
How sweet is life but we’re crying
How mellow the wine but it’s dry
How fragrant the rose but it’s dying
How gentle the breeze but it sighs
After his passing, she became increasingly sentimental. Plummeting into the depths of her memory. Pausing at a certain stile. Bringing her to the point of tears. They spread his ashes on Ross Sands, Northumberland.
What good is in youth when you’re ageing
What joy is in eyes that can see
That there’s sorrow in sunshine and flowers
When only our rivers run free
My foot plunged into quicksand. My shoes dampening as I escape. Sprint across the sands. Jump and stamp on the freely incoming tide in an effort to find joy. Hollering an Irish protest song, borrowing its evocation of loss as a way to express my grief.
Down the road: a bench inscribed with “lest we forget”, the local Sea Cadets centre “T.S. Conqueror” and a large graveyard. This triangulation resonates with nationalist indoctrination and mourning. Later, Olivier tells me that his own mum had taken him to the Royal Navy offices at age eighteen, not knowing what to do with a boy who had been described on this trip as having “rhythm in his soul”.
Indulging in sentimentality can deepen a pre-conceived sense of the world, to which this history is to be protected more fiercely than the present, never mind the future. Our protest must look forward.
Text: Plastiglomerate by Kirsty Robertson & Below the Water: Black Lives Matter and Revolutionary Time by Nicholas Mirzoeff
South Shore’s pop landscapes glisten like gristle over impoverishment, yet the open vistas of the North are more to do with the golf course and the idea of the preservation of natural beauty than nature itself. The beaches are chained with *keep out* at a height that is easy to step over. Chirruping sanderlings congregate at night, running to-and-fro as the night tide ebbs. I shelter from the wind by the sea wall, spat on by the tempestuous Irish Sea. Dark forms and red lights in the distances suggest eerie existences elsewhere.
Were Blackpool and Dublin once connected many millennia ago, and that’s why they share the same derived name, black pool / dubh linn? The North-West benefitted from Irish migration, just as it benefitted from the once, twice, displacement of peoples from the Indian subcontinent. The songs of indentured labourers who crossed the kala pani (the black waters) of the Atlantic, capture a sense of time that is not progressive but cosmic. Vijay Mishra describes it as “we are locked into a dark degenerate fourth age (kaliyug) from which we can only nostalgically recall a distant golden age” through the fictional heroes of epics.
When googling “sea of poppies”, intending to find results on Amitav Ghosh’s narrative of indenture, the results are smattered with the “sea of poppies” used to mark remembrance day around the Tower of London. The cut ups that surfing gives us: the opium trade, indentured labour, the wars (opium and world), imperialism, the poppy. A final sea of poppies appears as the Californian “super bloom”, following the season’s wet winter rains that finally ended the seven year drought. Tourists kill the flowers through stepping on them, posing. The contemporary catch 22 of take a picture it will last longer.
Mate of mine grew up in Blackpool. This was years ago now. Said he hated being a local. - You know why? - Why? Because if it wasn't pissed-up Geordie week, it was pissed-up Glasgow week. And if it wasn't Mancs, it was the Scousers. And they all wanted to do one thing. Beat up the locals.
(BBC, Blackpool, S1E1)
Eight. Residues (2).
Text: Excelente Zona Sociale by Michael T Taussig & Cosmicomics by
Themes: Double displacement, hysterias of history, solidarity not identification.
Blackpool’s bars give quite an insight into life there. A couple snogging by the door, holding a pint of Guinness to obscure the view and their passions. An off-shift barmaid pulls a paper heart from the ceiling, and, after wishing us a happy valentine’s day, says if she loses her job it’s our fault. She came here for a weekend from Bradford seventeen years ago and never went back. Finally, the woman who asked where we’re staying, her mouth preloading the ooooo (fancy!) response. He answers, “We’re staying in Peek-A-Booze,” and she exhales, “ooooo … drag queens!” instead. Dickson Road, where all the gay bars are, is my favourite area to stay.
Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings made the UK Gay Bar Directory, a video archive work in 2015/16, giving visibility to queer spaces increasingly under threat of closure. However, they quickly returned to one town in particular, to make Something For The Boys (2018). The film features the elaborate routines of Miss Betty Legs Diamond in Blackpool’s drag cabaret venue Funny Girls, as well as a young go-go dancer in men-only sex club Growlr. Both celebrate scenes that erupted in the post-war moment; musical theatre and leather bars. Blackpool’s “vibrant gay scene” has survived such hostile conditions, but described as a meeting place for “white nationalist identity and queer nostalgia", intersecting as homonationalism.
Through replacing the original music with a contemporary atmospheric and haunting soundtrack, Quinlan and Hastings put the performances out of time, out of joint. The music shifts and pulsates, Kelly Charles’ vocals slipping in and out - you’re no good for me I don’t need nobody. The performances are cut with panning shots of the venues, archival photographs and the shimmering Irish Sea. The Funny Girls finale is a lip-sync of ‘I am what I am’. Each song echoing the search and the desire for self-determination, pride and liberation. Though the nostalgic grandeur of the musical performance is dashed with neoliberal individualism, these fugitive spaces allow for new intimacies and kinships to blossom.
Nine. Mediterranean migration.
Text: Beaches and graveyards: Europe’s haunted borders by Les Back &
Between mobility and control: The Mediterranean at the Borders of Europe by Lorenzo Pezzani
“There is no beach that is not also a graveyard” (p.340)
On North Pier, we looked at all the flowers and the memorials and the gifts that were left strapped to the railings. The locks were not the locks of lovers, but the locking of memories of loved ones left behind. She said that this is not a place for a romantic getaway, it is instead where you come to scatter the ashes.
Ten. Pacific island travel migration.
Text: Pacific Parables by RAQS Media Collective & Beyond Migration: Samoan Population Movement (Malaga) and the Geography of Social Space (Va) by Sa’iliemanu Lilomaiava-Doktor
Themes: Mobility, connectedness, kin.
Avoiding the predicament of mastery whilst mapping. Prospective, not retrospective insight. Many of us hug the shoreline of landmasses of cultures.
If there are more than five cars behind you, you have to pull over. He agreed to the scenic route, speeding along Highway 1 which hugs the Pacific Coast all the way to San Francisco. Only Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner runs closer to the shoreline. December weather meant a mist swaddled the road, obscuring the cliff-edge. It appeared endless, uncapturable. My phone lost signal, opportunely narrowing my music options to Arthur Russell’s World of Echo.
I spied a lighthouse in the distance, persuading him to pull over so we could go out to the sea. Needing a piss, he agreed, pulling abruptly into a lay-by too far from the lighthouse. In times like these I felt intensely limited by my inability to drive. I darted towards the ocean, exposed to the edge of my world. The waters licked at the black rocks as I clamoured down, well-practiced on British beaches for navigating rocks underfoot.
Suddenly unbalanced, toppling, losing myself, he grabs me. I turn to punch him because he had pushed me as a joke. I take off again, ducking from his affections, knowing he would want to continue the journey much sooner than I. My mind’s eye often revisits this scene, looking out across the Pacific from this rugged section of Highway 1 in sublime incomprehension, lost to it. Our return to the road felt more like disconnection than connection.
An ex told me that during the Sex Pistols only US tour, Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious sat with noses glued to the tour bus window, watching the boundless landscapes go unchanging for hours.
Text: The Marvellous Clouds by John Durham Peters
“But everyone shrugs, as if eradicating the class system were like abolishing bad weather, rather than a straightforward change in political and economic rules.”
(J.D. Taylor, Island Story, 170)
It was low season in February in Blackpool. The bars and clubs felt for locals more than tourists. Storm Erik resists all promenading with its head-on gales. Doors may slam shut during high winds. A sign warns not to continue along the sea wall.
But sharp bright sunlight cuts through everything, reflecting off the sea, the mist and the grey creating a beautiful watery winter in England scene. A mother is trying to make the passage through the rain an adventure. In that way all bleak things can be volunteered as a challenge instead.
The lives that play out in this realm of commitment to disappointment feel like an existential moment in British culture. A young boy repeatedly throws a plastic cup for two pennies at the two penny machine. The gallery receptionist says you just can’t compete with that as she gestures to the centre. The shifting faces, the same faces, the repetitions prominent in hotel names and signages. The encroaching singularly of corporate interests.
There’s a homogeneity to such places. Every week they’ll come here, Friday, Saturday, probably drink the same drink, be home by the same time, then kiss before sleeping turned away from each other. Routines amidst tourist turnovers.
Simon fucking Le Bon on the television jars with the drunken intimacy of the budget hotel bed. Wind whistles through the fittings. Want me, want this, I want you, the body pulsing with desires or hooking into a short circuit of money input and decreasing pay-outs. Diminishing returns.
To the commitments that were never really a choice such as being a carer, a sister, a brother and carving time for yourself out from that.