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.
The other day, I bought a chocolate-chip cookie from a little boy called Rocco who had set up a stall round the corner, stocked with all sorts of buns, muffins and other home-baked goodies, in order to raise money for SportsAid. “How sweet is that?” I thought, as I handed over my dosh – but when I passed by again a few hours later, I found that Rocco’s little stall had transmogrified into just one of the hundreds of branches of Rocco’s Patisserie, all of which were decorated like a pseudo-French café and were now serving ghastly, industrially produced sugary comestibles at inflated prices.
That we always kill the thing we love may be a tedious truism, but that can’t make us feel any better when the warm body that we once cuddled and cooed to is lying on the ground at our feet while our hands are bathed in its warm red blood. Last week, the head of the UN World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai, spoke out, saying that travel as “a celebration of life” is under threat. Rifai, of course, was referring to tourism, rather than a broad idea of travel.
The academic requirement for the psychogeography module that I teach at Brunel University London is in two parts. First, there’s a fairly straightforward essay question that gives students an opportunity to display their erudition when it comes to the antics of the surrealists and situationists, or the high-flown ramblings of the English Romantics. Then there’s a special project. The idea for this is that the students undertake their own version of a dérive – the aimless drift through the city that is the raison d’être of seriously flippant flâneurs – and document it in any way they please.
One of the more bizarre changes I’ve witnessed over the past 20 years or so has been the vast increase in the numbers of Indian rose-ringed parakeets on my manor. Commonly referred to as the ring-neck parakeet, Psittacula krameri manillensis is a bird of such raucousness that were I to get my hands on one, I would cheerfully wring its neck.
Will Self sets out along the Thames to rediscover the city chronicled by the famous diarist, in the Guardian here.
I do feel some commitment to public service and as one in four people reading this will be obese, while the other three are merely “overweight”, now seems the right time to do some. Service, I mean – because we’ve all been serving ourselves too much over what’s called the “festive” season and January is the time to take stock . . . not make it. In furtherance of your resolutions, I’m dedicating this week’s column to really disgusting meals. Yes, you heard me right: meals of a true revoltingness such as to turn the stomach of the most hardened gourmand – so sit back and . . . retch.
Read Will Self writing about the NHS in the Guardian here.
I well remember the 2011 riots. On my manor, in south London, things really kicked off at Clapham Junction where, summoned by BlackBerry direct messaging, the crowds assembled and laid waste to the Arding & Hobbs department store, then set fire to Party Superstores, which went up in a whoosh of synthetic-onesie-fuelled flames. Sitting in our house in Stockwell, we watched the evening news and saw the computer graphics depicting the rioting creeping like sepsis along the arterial routes. The crazed mob had reached Clapham High Street and was headed our way.
Like a million other baby-boomers I’ve been revisiting the soundtrack of my early adolescence this week – I confess, although no great rock fan nowadays, I cried when I heard David Bowie had died. Cried for all sorts of reasons – not least, because unlike so many famous people in this era when medical science is our religion and disease is diabolic, Bowie had refused to go public with news of his cancer, or offer us ringside seats while he “battled” with it. (A ridiculous metaphoric construction – and no doubt one Bowie himself, with his fine lyrical sensibility, would’ve eschewed.) One minute he was, if not present, at least immanent in the way of all great and influential artists ? the next he was gone.