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CORNERS WHERE THINGS COLLECT

Getting to where you want to go is one thing; getting out of it again is an altogether different story, and the sheer quantity of time wasted on such efforts is enough to make you think twice about even bothering in the first place. Perhaps if you could just sit still for a while, do nothing for a bit, time might slow down enough to allow you to imagine you can keep up with the pace. So I sit down. I sit on West Cromwell Road, on the bridge over the railway tracks from which you can see the abandoned train depot which is overrun with grass, vines and creepers. I shall allow the city to come to me rather than pursue this futile effort to get anywhere.

I watch the cars passing by – fewer than is healthy for a Wednesday afternoon when the schools ought to be finishing – and gaze endlessly into the pavement. Grass is shooting between the slabs. Some cigarette ends lie between my legs. Dried chewing gum. Etcetera. Am I any different? A patch of moss is developing under my right armpit and my hands are covered in grey powder from the accumulated car-exhaust particles. I ought not to stop here any longer; if I do, if I get stuck here indefinitely, before long I won’t be able to distinguish myself from any other piece of rubbish lying on the pavement.

The effort of trying to get somewhere, to have a purpose, is just too great; the pressure seems to be distending the streets into infinitely regressing corridors, each of which lead nowhere. Somehow I must find a golden mean through which I can steer between the Scylla of ‘forever going nowhere’ and the Charybdis of ‘going nowhere forever’. Remedial measures must be taken to correct the distortions brought on by this sudden wave of apathy.

I decide that only by aligning myself with a geometrical figure will I be able to correct this perceptual misrepresentation, so I go to the nearest square I can find; Nevern Square SW5. Curious, but somebody has scratched out the ‘n’ at the end of ‘Nevern’.

An exhaustive study of rubbish
(Nevern Square SW5)

I begin with the most methodical of tasks to straighten out my head; I catalogue and organise every piece of rubbish on this ‘Nevern Square’. The square itself is a manicured, grassy patch lined with plane trees, hedged-in and gated for private residential usage only. This central locus is furthermore guarded by four blocks of identical red brick mansions built along its perimeter. Beginning at the south-easterly corner I sweep the inner path around the square, noting each remnant of garbage as I go. I sort these according to type into the following table:

Remnant:

Quantity:

Fag-ends

63,734

Plastic carton

2

Printed material

1

Corpses

0

Building waste

179

Household appliances

12

Old people

0

Children

0

N.B. Note that here, old people are kept indoors by their owners and not piled-up in the street as they are in Cadogan Square SW1X. Barricading materials are present as they are virtually everywhere else, but no corpses were visible. The fag-ends were located in clusters where the adjoining roads were clearly visible. I put many hours into counting them as accurately as possible because it seemed like the right thing to do.
The single item of printed matter is worthy of mention. Stuck to the padlocked gates to the private lawn area is the following notice:

The high volume of fag-ends on the square can only mean that the “Kensington Control Room” – an organisation that is not listed in the council register, and which quite frankly sounds like a fraud – are clearly trying to “deal” with a smoking, (or time-wasting,) epidemic. It’s safe to assume that the excessive noise problem and the fag-end problem are linked. Given that nobody is out here smoking right now except me, and the fact it’s deadly quiet must mean a huge amount of time is being spent out on the square during the night time. If it takes approximately 10 minutes to smoke a cigarette, then 637,340 hours have been spent by people chugging away out here after dark in the not-so recent past. I know this is a recent phenomenon, because I drifted through here and saw nothing out of the ordinary only a month or so ago. That must mean that around 72 years’ worth of smoking has happened here just recently. If the residents are out here every night, they must be in a hell of a panic over something. Either that, or they smoke compulsively together, waiting for something to happen, collectively wasting time en-masse, smoke screening. But something tells me that it is not the residents who cluster and scab out here every evening. More likely some nomadic group of wastrels sweeps through after dark, temporarily occupies the square and smokes very noisily. Perhaps the “Kensington Control Room” was established to deal with the swarms of wastrels drifting through here, littering everything up in their wake?

No causality

I move on towards Knightsbridge along Hogarth Road. The rubbish accumulating on these streets is simply astounding – the houses in this once highly exclusive area seem literally to have been turned inside-out. Number 81 Hogarth Road is a case in point; begrimed and decaying, wheelie bins overflowing with all kinds of foul-smelling detritus, barricaded-in by wood flooring and the remains of a luxury fitted kitchen ripped out and left to soak in the rain where it rots. A sign indicates that the house is guarded and that raiders should keep away. Perhaps by working in the spirit of healthy competition, the residents here have tried to make their houses look as uninviting as possible, turn them into wrecks and ruins to deter looters? Either way, each of these houses certainly looks more interesting than before, where decay is allowed to set in and the passing of time can be observed.

I negotiate the pile of wood blocking up the entrance and peer in through the letterbox. Nobody here has opened the mail in some time, and it has been left to accumulate inside the doorway until presumably the postman is unable or unwilling to bother trying to deliver it. It is unfortunately too dark inside for a photograph, and I am unwilling to use the flash in fear of disturbing any transient residents – squatters – who may be sleeping inside. It is my conjecture that all these empty buildings around here may be squatted by the nomadic tribes that sweep through Nevern Square at night.

An adjacent house with a large window shows a similar pile of unopened mail behind the front door. The squatters clearly aren’t ones for reading.

The melancholy of Moorditch

Sometimes in the early afternoon, as a digestive lethargy begins to settle over the office cubicles of the city, when workers stacked vertically in prefabricated units are slumped over desks, instruments, spreadsheets - only vaguely aware what their function is – then is there no time like the present. It would seem to you, should you care to glance out of the adjacent window out onto the street, that nobody has passed your window in ages, no woman out looking for food whilst hastily sucking a cigarette, arms folded against the cold wind as buildings, made heavy with her hunger, loom large over her. Neither has a man hurrying to a meeting stumbled on the loose paving slab at the corner of the street, looked around him in embarrassment, assessing his status before moving on, secretly cursing the council for its negligence of the footpath. None of the above has happened or is likely to happen now. Everything grows still – not even the wind is stirring – and it begins to get dark, streetlamps flicker into colour, waiting to guide the army that will navigate by their light come the seventeenth hour. But the seventeenth hour has not yet arrived. You make a conscious effort to work hard so as to forget about the slowness of time, spending it as quickly as it arrives, teasing it to go faster by being ignored. But a stasis has encrusted all about you. Mould is enveloping your armpits, behind your ears, between fingers and thumbs. Mushrooms sprout in the damp, dark confines under the desk where the cold encircles your extremities and begs you lie down in the snow where everything will take care of itself, like that Russian soldier in the old tale. The tendrils of some creeping plant have seized the hands of the clock, holding back the final hour you have waited for since you first sat down, and now your boss is frozen in her chair, her countenance reminding you of some dreadful image from antiquity as she gazes statue-like at the budget printout hanging limply from her hand. But all of this is wretchedly unmeaningful and you suddenly remember yourself in your daydream; you look over at the clock which, more symbolic than functional, keeps you planted in your seat, and decide the daydream is preferable in all instances to the torment of waiting.

Nothing doing

Since the sun didn’t appear much in the last four days or so, it feels like London could be reaching a point of thermal equilibrium. Of course, it does tend to be overcast quite a lot here, and four days worth of blanket cloud and a bit of wind chill is nothing to suddenly get all panicky about, is it? But still, the temperature has dropped noticeably over this period – a bit like one of them nuclear winters or something. Not that I would know about those, of course. But still, on Tuesday the sun didn’t come up at all. Furthermore, it decide to come up again until Wednesday afternoon, and that is not normal at these latitudes.

People just continued doing what people do during the night time as though the morning would never arrive, and to many people it was not entirely objectionable. The morning often brings with it an undesirable mixture of feelings; that the evening has finished and can no longer be stretched-out without recriminations; that work will soon begin and that this cylce of life is continuous and pointless for its continuity. However, the pubs remained open and closing-time never arrived. By the time that longest evening had finished, they were all drunk dry.

When the sun did finally bother to put in appearance after its unscheduled days off, (sick days perhaps?) even then it seemed as though the clouds had ceased to move and generally things all over seemed cold and static. Looking at people you would imagine that nothing whatsoever out of the ordinary had occurred - people simply went home when the sun began to rise, or began to get out of their beds, or whatever it is that people do at daybreak. I wondered if perhaps it was this aspect of civilian psychology that I find most endearing - the ability to just....continue? But still, what to make of the longest night? Such occurrences, though common in the middle-ages, (but never seen nowadays for some reason,) no longer seem to have the function of portending ills and bad luck for us. There are no gods left to offend. In fact, I would suggest that the opposite is correct; this sudden and uncharacteristic night means nothing whatsoever.

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