Notebook (south London diary)
May 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
He had to learn how to be lonely, & now he has to unlearn it, knowing, too, he’ll have to learn it again someday. For most it’s not a question of learning.
On the 188, at the Strand:
A: “It was at the Princes Trust, so Charles & Camilla were there, & so were Will & Kate.”
B: “How exciting. Does she look like -“
A: “She’s very pretty, in real life. Very thin, very graceful. They were just getting into their cars outside; we were about 3 metres away from them, so we got a good look. Very exciting.”
B: “Oh, that’s good.” [pause]
C: “Kate? Is she from X Factor?”
“I’d never been able to convince myself that there was no harm to it, but I couldn’t stop nostalgia. Just then, looking down streets with angles not as we’d have built them, which terminated or twisted in ways that still seemed almost playfully alien, toying with our teleologies, there was no way I couldn’t remember when I’d… systematically populated them that out-of-sight city with every kind of child’s impossibility & story. From there followed a quick run-through of everything. Learning, sex, friends, work. I’d never understood the injunction not to regret anything, couldn’t see how that wasn’t cowardice, but not only did I not regret the out, but nor, suddenly, did I the return. … When I unhitched my attention & let it wander down out-of-reach streets – which have been clocked before as yantras for reminiscence – it wasn’t that I thought well of her; it was that in those moments I remembered what of her I’d loved.”
He surprises himself by discovering he shares some of Jack Gladney’s feelings about supermarkets. Specifically – & really, it’s the only one he feels this about – the huge Sainsbury’s on the Greenwich peninsula. Living in Coventry, effectively alone, he shopped every Sunday at the huge one on the northern edge of Canley, where he would indulge his unfortunate penchant for fresh harvest grain bread, onion bagels & other starchy foods. Whenever he needs to clear his head & fill his stomach, he can walk into a certain late-night calm, under bright, unfading striplights, into the knowledge that there might be something that he hasn’t thought of (notably in the range of imported beers, which he can’t afford anyway): the infinite variety of a universe of identical products, in which he might find “something to fill a hole”, as his grandmother always put it. Surprising because trawling round the shops was by far the most dismal thing he could & did do in his hometown – window-shopping without the windows. The shopping park near his grammar school, which the council have struggled to keep open despite its structural near-collapse, whose carpark discloses in subterranean form the desolation that the shops hide. To do something other than look at commodities, which “tenderly return the gaze of every potential customer while frostily withholding it from the destitute”: that’s why he got away.
Adorno: “This law is however not one of thinking, but real. Whoever submits to dialectical discipline, must unquestionably pay with the bitter sacrifice of the qualitative polyvalence of experience. The impoverishment of experience through dialectics, which infuriates mainstream opinion, proves itself however to be entirely appropriate to the abstract monotony of the administered world. What is painful about it is the pain of such, raised to a concept.” He wonders why he brings out in people the need to have certain sorts of conversation – his soft-spokenness, his inability to tell jokes, his air of glumness, his reading habits. To be light, flippant, suave! That, he realises, was his secret ambition. E. told him recently, “I get the feeling you’re always likely to have a… degree of melancholy.” South London, itself geographically indistinct & foggy, a monstrous spillage of suburb & industry overrunning & running-together the boundaries of old villages, seems to attract such humourally-unbalanced creatures: melancholy was believed to derive from the clouds that arose from the stomach, abdomen & lower parts in general.
If only he didn’t seem to want to appear tragic, etc.