‘And then I came back to Wrexham. And the streets were clean! And the buildings weren’t falling down. And there were no lepers on the street corners, taken out by organised criminals and left there all day without water.’ – Sandra, Chirk.
Fear makes us feel alive. Think about that little daily dose of terror provided by newspaper headlines. The terrorists, global epidemics, sex criminals and looming military invasions that each day are reported as immediate dangers to our comfortable lives. There’s a surge of adrenaline, a threatening figure on the horizon with malevolent intentions. Teeth start to bare, the mind races with tenuous analogies to ‘jungle warfare’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. Turns out social mobility, welfare or the right to a fair trial were luxuries that this nameless, faceless horror might steal from us: let’s remove them ourselves. It’s as if we’re supposed to enjoy this ‘pure’ or ‘natural’ state. Nature’s had such different meanings in different eras, and its status now makes me uncomfortable. I myself prefer the soppy and gushing lyrics of the Romantics. The Ancient Mariner, Ozymandias or Endymion didn’t harangue us with shrill terrors about benefits cheats, travellers or irresponsible single mothers.
‘I remember, we came down to the docks, and it’d been given over to pigeons.’ – Dermot, Liverpool.
It takes a while to get up this morning in Liverpool. Mind and body are aching from too many drinks taken at a local lock-in the night before. Over the course of talking with Dermot, a friend from the North End of Liverpool, I’ve learned three things:
- There’s a very important divide between the ‘North End’ and the ‘South End’ in Liverpool. People speak different, look different, and probably have lesser or greater incomes depending on which part you’re in.
- Don’t confuse Liverpudlians with either people from the Wirral (these are in fact ‘plastic Scousers’) or from St. Helens (they are ‘woolly-backs’).
- There’s been a decades-long practice of blacklisting workers and activists in the UK, the scale of which is only starting to come out. It is probably continuing.
‘Appearances can be deceiving’ – Sandra, Wavertree.
I’m up and about on the top floor of a rather grand house in Longridge, a place that sits between town and village in the heart of Lancashire. There’s not much that particularly characterises the place except a kind of low-level, ambient normality – it feels like the suburb to a larger city, and yet it’s self-contained. This could be entertaining territory for a playful study of the dark sides of human boredom, conducted by J.G. Ballard or Sigmund Freud: what goes on behind those privet hedges or Laura Ashley curtains? Our interest in maintaining our own privacy is at times coupled to a gossipy fascination in the lives of others. It’s no surprise that England gave birth to the peeping Tom.
There’s a kind of suburban war taking place here. Upon entry to Longridge one is greeted with a barrage of high-quality banners exclaiming ‘Save Longridge from mass development’, producing in the colours of a nuclear radiation warning sign and with a similar sense of urgency. The short-line of the campaign’s address is ‘save Longridge’. But save the place from what?