This blog isn’t used much more, and soon it’ll be replaced by a new website with some new projects on it. I really enjoyed blogging here, and learned a lot about what did and didn’t interest people. But it’s old and tired and the formatting was always annoying, and I’ve changed a lot since I started it, so it’s time to put this old site in mothballs and make a new one.
I’ve been thinking a lot about regeneration recently, not just because it's spring but for all sorts of reasons. I’ve had quite a bit of change over the last year. In 2017 I was very stuck in a rut, doing work I disliked, getting nowhere with my writing or anything else for that matter, fed up with where I lived in Bristol, its general decay and grottiness. I saved up and buggered off travelling for a month in the hope that it would shake me out of where I was.
The very last place I went, the day I got the train home, was Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I’d been in lots of churches but even so Notre Dame was a stunner, with it’s circular stained glass windows, ancient doorways and huge Gothic frontage. There was something reassuring about it, its solidity, ancientness, and sense of itself.
I sat there for quite a long time, but even in the section marked ‘prayer only – no photography’ there were tourists preening, waving selfie sticks, and yattering. Not just young ones either: as I sat there, a woman, who must have been 50 at least, extensively fluffed and rearranged her hair, shouting instructions at her grown-up son as to how she wanted to be photographed. I pointed out the ‘no photography’ sign to another woman who was wandering around taking photos, and she looked at me as if I was a moron. I decided it was a good job that I was going home; after a month of ducking other people’s selfie sticks I was itching to smash one over someone’s head.
Back home, I got a new job. But it was only temporary, and it was obvious that things couldn’t hold. The job was in the town centre, and to get to the office I’d pass the homeless, out of their skulls on spice, flat out on the dirty pavements. Pedalling uphill, back home, I felt the weight of pollution furring my lungs, and when I got a cold I coughed up dark grime that hadn’t been generated by my body. The weather, lurching between freezing and sweltering, adorned the sky with odd and unfamiliar patterns. My neighbour with whom I’d been friends was in an old people’s home, dying, and her empty house yawned at me, across the yard. The house was serially invaded by mice. Builders turned up to take the render off the walls, and after a hellish week of dust and banging, they left, and one thing became apparent: the house I lived in was falling apart around me, like an unreasonably literal metaphor for everything.
I decided to move back to the town I grew up in, a decision which weirdly I’d somehow taken halfway up a hill in Bavaria, a year previously.
As I packed my bags and got rid of endless boxes of things, they were rioting in Paris. I wasn’t even slightly surprised. I didn’t know or even care exactly what they were angry or unhappy about, or what they wanted: I was pleased that someone was registering a word, a footnote, a comment, on the general wrongness of things.
I really was surprised, just before Easter, to see Notre Dame in flames. It looked horrific, and I was devastated. All that ancientness, that sense of an old bole like the heart of a tree, all that history and devotion, gone up in flames. I thought of those women and their selfies, and I wondered if we deserved it, that we’d become so selfish and complacent and self-centred that we didn’t deserve to live in world where good things existed. But in the morning my moment of doom was displaced: it had survived. And I hoped we might think a bit more, after all, about what was worth saving. And I thought about the necessity of reinventing and renewing things, and of making them whole again.
That week I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while. We were talking about me moving out of town and other things going on in my life, and she kept making suggestions to how my life could go back to how it used to be, like she didn’t want the mental effort of rearranging how I was, in her head. And I realised I had really changed all sorts of things, over the course of a year or so, and she hadn’t, and didn’t like it when I asked her if she might or should or could. And I wanted to say to her, you do realise that we’re all in the shit, don’t you, and we have to radically, really radically reimagine how we do all sorts of things? Because we can’t go on like this, it’s making us ill. And I’m no longer coughing up gunk from pollution because I’m away from the motorway and the roads and can see birds and sky instead. But that’s me. Not us. We all need to reinvent ourselves, for something better and more generous. And I thought about Greta Thunberg saying that we need to make like the cathedral builders, and start the foundations before we even know how to make the roof. Because that's what they did with Notre Dame, and the end result turned out really surprisingly good.
Anyway, if you’ve read this, thank you. If you’ve read anything else I wrote here, and replied, commented or retweeted it, thank you. If you gave me a review ticket for something I reviewed here, also thank you. This site will stay up but there won’t be anything new added to it. A new one will emerge in a few weeks/months time, or however long it takes for me to get myself together on that particular task. But it will emerge, in time. Just like the rest of it.