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Life in the big smoke

On March 3 we have to leave

On March 3 the developers will lock the doors and we have to leave. We found out on Saturday. The rubbish is already taking over the hallways – old chairs, shelves, books, tins of paint, plastic bags and various wooden sticks and metal bits. The people next door left this weekend. The building is quiet. The bathroom and the corridors already have that cold, slightly metallic scent of abandonment.

Soon there will be no more artist studios on Cremer Street. The developer called us an “eyesore on Hackney Road”. And perhaps he was right. This is a crumbling sixties warehouse with graffitied walls, dirty windows and family of stray cats. It doesn’t fit with the new wine bars or the brand new apartment blocks with their straight walls, small windows and box-like flats selling for £600,000.

Soon this asbestos roof will be torn open and the walls chewed to pieces by bulldozers. I’ve seen it happen to the old council blocks up the road. I watched as the front of one of the buildings came down and a bedroom or living room with bright green walls gaped out over Hoxton like in some disaster movie. That was once someone’s home. In a winter the old buildings were gone and it’s been a year since people started leaving plant pots on the balconies and bicycles outside the new apartments.

This was always going to happen to the studio building on Cremer Street. The pub with the English flags in the windows was turned into a wine bar. The boarded up one that used to stand on the corner was demolished before I came here, but is still there on Google Street View like a digital ghost. Small shops selling wholesale bags and shoes are being turned into cafes. The gay club has been shut down. The derelict Georgian terraces have been renovated and decorated to smug perfection. The old hospital is being turned into expensive apartments. The boards around the building site show photographs of the people that might one day live there. Pretty, shiny haired people hanging out on Brick Lane. Aspirational people.

I sometimes wonder if these people are the new Londoners. The politicians talk a lot about “aspirational hard working families”, although no one seems to know who or where these people can be found. London itself is aspirational. The tallest buildings are reaching for new heights, the house prices climbing upward with them. Whoever you are there will always be someone with more money than you, a car more expensive than yours and an apartment more expensively furnished than yours. In this city we’re often reminded that the ladder stretches far above us.

But this aspirational London is not the town I want to live in. I’d like to call this place transitional, always changing, always in motion. London has been burned down, bombed and demolished several times over the last 2000 years. It’s always being rebuilt, the old torn down to make way for the new. But like a magic trick, the city never changes. In the midst of all of this turmoil some buildings have managed to escape the bombs and the bulldozers. Cremer Street and Hackney Road will still be there when the studio is gone. The map will look the same. Some of these roads were built by the Romans.

When this building is gone the stray cats in the studio car park will move on to another spot where people will feed them. The people who move into the new apartments will go to the same cafe we go to for their coffees. The trains will rumble along the tracks on the bridge over Cremer Street. The huge psychedelic graffiti eye on one of the tower blocks further into Hoxton will keep looking out over it all. We will move our studio south of the river and everything changes and nothing changes at the same time.

***

But just so I remember there is a sticker next to the door that says “Do you wear enough black to be an artist?” I don’t know who put it there. Next to it is a stack of framed prints and screens and then the table which used to be used for screen-printing, but we now mainly use for eating lunches and packing web orders, although not at the same time. On the wall opposite is the fridge and the microwave that should have been cleaned four months ago.

There is a shelf with tea and mugs and the plum vodka Gerry’s brother and his wife gave us and I swigged out of the bottle, whilst sitting on the printing table, one day after we’d had some upsetting news (it’s very tasty, thank you!). There is a shelf on the floor full of water-based paint and spray cans. Underneath the table are stacks of vinyls and screens. Next to the table there are two large and solid plan chests.

Underneath the barred windows there is the Ikea sofa I accidentally broke when I bounced up and down on it after I heard that my book had been accepted by the publisher. Then there is our desk where Gerry and I face each other, it’s covered in papers, printers, random hard-drives and cables. We’ve scribbled messages on it. There is a sleeping fish that Gerry drew on a sticker and placed next to my laptop.

Behind him is the year planner from 2015 and a huge Wall Street print that was damaged when it fell in front of the door and we had to bash the frame in order to get into the studio. Next to him is the Ikea shelving system with clothes rails stacked precariously on top of it and stock hanging below. Then there is the corner crammed full of stock boxes, hiding all the stuff that’s been forgotten about and kept out of sight. Behind that there are paintings, not ours, they were left here by the previous occupant who uses the studio for storage. This is it. The studio. Soon it will be empty and all we will have left are these memories.

Stuff I learned when I was thirty

Did I perhaps mentioned I was stressed in my earlier blog posts? Well I look at myself two weeks ago and laugh, no weep, no laugh. Stressed? I didn’t know what the word meant then. But I’m not going to go into that too much because then I’m just reinforcing unhealthy neural pathways, which is bad. Instead I’m going to breathe and ignore a third of the things I’m supposed to do today.

Why?

Because it’s my birthday. Today I turn 31 and mostly for my own pleasure and for future reference I’d like to sum up some of the things I learned this year. I apologise in advance for jumping between using first and second person in the following list. It’s my birthday and I don’t care.

Stuff I learned when I was thirty

Sometimes good things happen out of the blue. You won’t expect them. There is nothing you can do to force these things to happen, they just will and, when they do, it will be a nice surprise.

The only thing you can do is to keep trying and to do the best you can.

Small virtuous things like doing yoga regularly or meditating will start to add up and make you feel better. Exercising regularly will actually make you stronger, even though your subconscious tells you that unless you’re perfect from day one it isn’t worth the effort.

I really must remember not to eat pineapple.

Being around a lot of people is exhausting. Sometimes it’s important to sit in a quiet room with a cup of tea and just look out of the window.

I’m really very resistant when it comes to learning how to drive in London. I’ve spent a year making up excuses for why I can’t book that first driving lesson.

The winters are getting warmer.

The more I read, the better I’ll write. The more I write, the better I’ll write. There is a formula for every sort of writing. Learn the formula first, then focus on how to write well.

Worrying is a waste of energy.

No matter how much you’d like to protect someone and shield them from pain you can’t. You can only love them.

Nothing is more important than family and friends.

Not everyone can be your friend.

Being vulnerable in front of a group of strangers might feel good at the time, but quite embarrassing afterward.

Bread tastes pretty good after almost two years of gluten-freeness. So does pizza and a nice dark porter.

Eating well is one of life’s great pleasures. My most vivid memories are all food-related.

One of the best things about London is the river that runs through it. There’s no coast, but at least there’s the Thames.

Singing makes me happy. It shouldn’t matter how it sounds.

I’ve managed to create some of my best work when I’ve had tight deadlines and not been able over-think and over-analyse. Sometimes it’s best to not think and just do.

The best way to tackle fear and anxiety is to try to feel loving, either toward yourself or someone else. I read somewhere that this releases oxytocin, which lowers the amount of cortisol in your system. I have no idea if this is true, but at this point in time the semi-scientific explanation is enough for me.

I’m the happiest when I have a goal to work towards. Without a goal I start worrying about the meaning of life. That might have been OK when I was fifteen, now it’s better to just come up with the next goal.

Hate and fear will only create more hate and fear. And the world doesn’t need any more of that.

Image by Kris Atomic at Unsplash.

Conversation overheard on a London bus

A father and son on a London bus.

Father: So would you have to pay the whole rent if she left you?
Son: I don’t know. I don’t think so, but…
Father: Relationships end you know.
Son: I don’t think she would leave me.
Father: So you’re not just boyfriend and girlfriend anymore.
Son: I guess not.
Father: Does she have a proper job yet?
Son: No …
Father: Can she pay the rent?
Son: Yes (something muffled about the precarious nature of working in London)
Father: It’s a good arrangement for her then.
Son: …
Father: Have you paid off your card yet?
Son: No … but I haven’t been paid for three months.
Father: Do you need some money?
Son: No.
Father: You’re twenty-seven already it’s time you found a permanent job. You’ll be thirty soon.
Father: You want a job where they’ll pay when you’re on holiday.
Son: …
Father: Where is it you’re playing golf again?
Son: Dagenham.
Father: Do you take your clubs with you to work?
Son: Yes, I take them on the tube.
Father: What about bringing your car over from home?
Son: No, I don’t so, I don’t want to do that.
Son: This is Clissold park, I run here sometimes.
Father: What is it called. Clifford?
Son: No, Cliss-old.
Father: Clissold.
Father: You shouldn’t run, not with your knee.
Father: You can never really escape the city here can you. Don’t you miss the sea?
Son: I appreciate home more than before, but my friends they’re doing the same things, they’ve all settled down.
Father: That’s what you should be doing at your age.

Image by Matthew Wiebe.

Feeding the fire

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog over the last few weeks. I’ve gone through an introspective period, when it’s felt more important to look inside, to read and to feel, rather than to broadcast. Sometimes it’s important to feed the fire.

I find it easy to get wrapped up in doing and will only pat myself on the back if I’ve been active and producing work. I forget how important those quiet in-between periods of soaking up new knowledge can be.

Last weekend I took a bus to central London (a place I normally avoid) and walked to the National Gallery. I chose the rooms at random and walked up to pictures that spoke to me. After about an hour the noise of the people, tourists and families, started to get tiring so I went to the cafe and read for a bit.

Later in the day I walked to one of my favourite places in London, Foyles Bookstore on Charing Cross Road. I spent most of the afternoon browsing, stopping at the fiction section and moving on to philosophy and psychology, picking up books that seemed interesting.

Bookshops are magical places. The smell of paper soothes me. I wonder if being surrounded by so many words somehow acts as an insulation to everyday life. Instead of spending all that time in my head, I pick up a book, I read someone else’s thoughts and it stops my mind for a moment. It’s meditative. I move on to the next book and get a flavour of someone else’s thoughts and feelings.

In my more new age-y moments I wonder if the books and the paper also insulate me from the stress of London. They act as a dampener, shutting out the noise, pollution, the electromagnetic signals, the stress and the adrenaline pumped people on the streets. I escape into bookshops and libraries every now and then. And right now I hunger for the fuel they offer me. It will be autumn soon. Perhaps this is nothing more than a hang-over from my school days, it’s the time of the year when I need and crave new knowledge.

Image by Joshua Earle.

O hai new layout

Yeeee, this blog looks different.

Hello there. If you’re the sort of person who checks out my blog regularly you might have noticed a few changes. Some quite radical changes actually. Sometimes this will happen. I’ve been thinking about freshening this place up for a while. In the age of mobiles and tablets layouts need to change. I won’t say much more about it than that because my head has gone slightly soggy from looking at code/photos/text.

This is still a work in progress. I hope you like it!

Image by Morgan Sessions.