Listen to Will Self’s latest A Point of View, on predictive text, here.
The last time I addressed you from my bully-beef pulpit I was going to write about my all-consuming yen for a Fray Bentos individual steak and kidney pie, but as there wasn’t one to hand to mouth, I related the electronic cigarette incident at Pizza Express instead. This week, I can report that I have attempted to secure one of the meatylicious treats – and once again failed.
The writer Chris Hall, that redoubtable Ballardian observer of the craziness of the modern inscape, recently sent me a link to an Evening Standard item on the redecoration of the Brixton branch of McDonald’s. It may well be that others of these low-esteemed eateries have been similarly tricked out; but if it’s Brixton alone, either the higher-ups in the chain’s chain are complete and utter bastards, or they’re unbelievably shrewd.
I was going to write about the Fray Bentos individual steak and kidney pudding this week, which isn’t so much a meal as a world entire, but then there was this . . . incident. And so it is I return once more to Pizza Express, and gladly.
Yes, it’s official: standing on busy escalators is faster than walking up (or down) them. Research undertaken by my favourite local transport provider, Transport for London, has conclusively proved that if people stand on both sides of the escalator during peak travel times, the numbers carried can increase by as much as a third.
Well, for once that’s a piece of good crowd news in our febrile and fissiparous world, guiding us towards sensible mass behaviour of a type to appal Yevgeny Zamyatin: think We, people, not a Beckettian I. TfL’s aim is to introduce standing-only escalators at some of its busiest and deepest stations in order to cut down on congestion.
Of the film adaptations that had been made of his work during his lifetime, JG Ballard vouchsafed to me that he liked Jonathan Weiss’s version of The Atrocity Exhibition the best. It was hardly a surprising verdict; the movie, released in 2000, eschews any of the easy certainties of narrative for a furious collage of extreme images – urban wastelands, nuclear explosions, penises rhythmically pumping in and out of vaginas – all to the accompaniment of a voice-over comprising near-verbatim passages from the quasi-novel. And as the book is a furious collage of extreme images, the film is of the highest fidelity imaginable.
Some psychogeographer or other has stencilled a phone junction box on our road with this apposite slogan: “Have You Ever Walked Down This Road Before?” To which the answer always is: “Yes, thousands of times, because it’s the way to the Tube station.” In fact, the walk to this Tube station is almost exactly the same distance as the walk to East Finchley Tube station that I made from my natal home, twice daily, throughout my childhood; so, embarking on it, I feel myself to be a Start-rite kid yet again – and for ever. Then, when you round the junction box, you see on its other side this slogan: “Do You Know What’s Around the Corner?” To which my answer – both existentially and geographically – is all too often: I haven’t a clue.
Read Will Self’s piece on the garden bridge in the Guardian here.
A little under a year ago I wrote in this place about an encounter I’d had with Barry Sheerman MP and a Virgin Trains snack box on a train travelling from Manchester to London. At the time, what most bothered me about the snack box was its weird appearance: the cardboard printed with photo-real wickerwork so as to give the impression it was a sturdy hamper full of wholesome victuals ideal for a leisurely picnic lunch, rather than the flimsy packet of salty and sugary titbits Richard Branson was “giving” me for my real-life meal.
It’s difficult, simply sitting alone in a small room in south London, really to get a feel for how mass human behaviour is affecting the world. But it’s too cold in late February to go out much, and besides, by this point in winter, my sense of autonomy has been so savagely eroded that I fear for what little sense of individuality I have – if I stand next to as few as two others I can sense myself being sucked into a maelstrom of the masses. So, this week, I have decided to trust to algorithms rather than observation and I offer you the top “lucky seven” maddened crowds as compiled on our behalf by Google News. It took 0.53 seconds for the HMRC-compliant search engine to come up with a humongous crowd of 91,600,000 results – so I hope you’re grateful I’m not doing the entire countdown.