‘Money is still a big problem for us’ – Slavo, Margate.
My word, last night was probably the strangest experience of my life. As I awake, there’s nothing around me in the distance that would suggest red flashing signs or strange floating jackets or gently gliding samurai-like figures hovering over the shingle. Looking back, it’s actually a little terrifying, or certainly weird, the froth of a highly disordered brain. Like listening to Brian Eno’s ‘Lantern Marsh’ on repeat until one’s cerebral arteries collapsed. The sleep of reason… There’s something so eerie and empty about Dungeness. Wild-camping here sober would’ve been odd enough, but the added intoxicants seem to have momentarily torn through the veil of perception and hinted at a far more strange and inexplicable one.
The sound of feet padding through the shingle sends shivers down my spine. That night seemed to last forever, like a limbo without people or the possibilities of ever experiencing emotions again. It tapped into a taste for solitude and pointed out the isolating chaos at its core. In a bizarre way it reflects the myopia of seeking something that never actually existed except as a concept one already possessed. My eyesight impaired and my imagination running riot, I was compelled to wander all around this dark and empty beach in search of something that was already nearby me, that I should’ve seen because I’d placed it there. Does ‘Albion’ exist anywhere outside of a couple of poetry books and English literature surveys? My mind felt possessed in a way I imagine ants and other small insects are when the parasite cordyceps lodges itself inside their brains, forcing them to climb higher and higher so that its powerful urge can find a place to blossom and, in doing so, kill the ant. Some ideas can drive you mad.
‘We’re protected from their malice by their incompetence’ – Laurie, Brighton.
Strange times, these. Everyone seems to believe so much is wrong, but no-one’s offering a way forward. We’ve become uneasy about right answers, and fixated with locating wrongs. Hope has become a debased currency, one feels embarrassed at the exchanges about even taking it out one’s pocket. Clunky, greasy, funny spelling, weird symbols. Better traded for cynicism or snide complaining. Wandering around the marketplace of ideas, all one hears is the hullaballoo of people demanding refunds.
I’ve been travelling across a land-mass and nearby islands where not even the English language is a universal definer. There’s a vague sense of common-ness among the peoples I’ve met, but the regions, cultures and histories of these islands are so diverse that I can no longer imagine them as one country, say ‘the United Kingdom’, on a map. You can call it ‘UK’ if you like. But there is no king here, and little united about it. UnKnown might be more apt.
‘I’ve never done this before’, says a female pensioner, ‘but I’m sitting out here watching the world go by. And there’s a lot of young people here…’
‘And they’ve all got mobile phones glued to their ears!’
– street talk outside the Swan Walk shopping centre, Horsham.
I awake at my old teacher Ariel’s house in Horsham, surrounded by collections of William Blake’s prophetic writings and intricate pen-drawn maps of mysterious scenes produced by his son. ‘If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character, the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ration of all things & stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again’, I read in Blake. ‘Warning, this is a teenager’s room’, announces a sign next to that. I hope he doesn’t mind.
The wound on my knee is now definitely infected and has become painful to move. As I pack my belongings away, the lettering from my replacement pannier peels off in my hands, the Altura brand logo reduced to ‘RA’, whilst a sizeable hole has appeared in the other bag as its stitching unravels. Even the saddle is torn, spilling out foam. I’m wondering who’ll collapse first, me or this faithful bicycle.
‘If something went wrong we’d say “10% off crabs and lobster!” Then I’d call the boss up and say stick an extra fiver on the shellfish.’
– a guide to good business management, aboard the ferry to Sark.
My sister and I awake in a cramped one-person tent, that through parsimony and a preference for adventure, we’ve elected to sleep in as we explore the Channel Islands. We’re camped on the north-western edge of Jersey, a pleasant yet surprisingly small island off the coast of France. For some centuries it is has been the possession of the British Crown, and much of its French or Jerriais identity has disappeared over the last fifty years, as English and Scottish migrants have arrived to work in its burgeoning finance sector. The country is a tax haven, though do not expect to see gated mansions or humongous yachts, and those who benefit most from Jersey’s arrangements are also offshore.