My addiction to following pieces of litter around as they are blown to and fro in the wind often overtakes my walks these days, to the point where I usually cannot tell if I really am the author of my own movements, or whether I follow some long caravan of garbage on its meaningless journey from one dusty corner to the next. Today is no different. I take up companionship with an empty packet of Orbit chewing gum snugly nestled in a moss-green corner. Why this piece of garbage? Perhaps it’s the colour of the packet, or the way in which it is at rest in its temporary shelter from the wind. Perhaps it’s the word ‘orbit’. Whatever the reason, (if there even is one,) from this point onwards we are connected in our movements around London.
Presumably its contents are stuck to pavements all over, or stuck to the soles of shoes where it hitches a ride. The packet itself, with its large cardboard flap, is able to catch the occasional gusts of wind like a sail as it is blown out of one dirty corner until becoming caught temporarily by another. Everything ends up in a corner, sooner or later; I am no different. Corners are where things collect; way-stations along a meaningless caravan trail. Occasionally an eddy whisks the packet up in a sudden flurry of excitement where it dances to and fro along with all the other particles of dust and rubbish; it is freed. It races along the pavement barely remembering the corner from which it came and the companions it kept there - the other bits of junk still caught in the corner that didn’t manage to escape – it barely gives a second thought to, eager as it is to alight on another corner somewhere else with its own peculiar arrangement of garbage.
I can’t help but follow this packet on its journey. Not that the wind is strong enough to blow my body around, but still my own movements closely mirror those of the packet - drifting along pavements, suddenly changing direction, being stepped on, but to my ultimate satisfaction, getting snared in a filthy alcove where one building joins to the next. It is this factor which creates the corners; the irascible building blocks of the city connecting into the pavement. The wind carves invisible channels between the buildings and corners such as these - corners where three surfaces meet. It doesn’t matter if you are in some high-class enclave of the rich over in Kensington, or some scummy filth pot in Bermondsey – every built sector rests upon these three surfaces, and into these alcoves blows all sorts of meaningless detritus – and for me, provides some brief respite from what London has become.
Occasionally I pick up the damp packet, still fouled from the stains on the pavement, and raise it carefully to my mouth. I disappear in such filthy bits of paper pulp at moments like these. Otherwise I try not to interfere with the natural course of things and allow the packet to go on its merry way. This way of getting about town – following bits of rubbish I mean – is more instructive than following my own desires and the directions they predicate. These streets, with their clearly defined purposes, routes, directions – anyone walking along a pavement knows where it is taking them to, don’t they? But not me. Any sense of purpose erodes into the immanent consciousness of the drifter. Nothing here has direction anymore other than that governed by the physics of chance. And these corners -these are non-places, so base and low that anyone is free to dwell there if the incident of wind happens to push you into one.
Occasionally the corners display evidence of other temporary residents; a place to drink two beers on your own, or share one with a companion. A place to argue, a place for sedentary reflections. Even a place for nothing to happen at all, where the world can continue without you as a participant – the pavement becoming an arena to your spectatorship, or even just a place to be forgot in.These geographic intensities open up all over Hammersmith, (never higher than six inches off the pavement,) where walls and floor meet. The three converging lines of a corner is an irresistible offer of rest from the dynamics of the street and its scheduled purposes – where specific movements meet a certain duty to act. As we drift together in and out of these eddies, hardly noticing the world around us, I feel a peculiar intimacy with the packet and the zones in which it occasionally rests. My own movements, governed second-hand by the wind, are beginning to affect me. How long have I been sitting here between the bins on the housing estate, just a few minutes remove from the din of the flyover? The intense roar of the cars reverberating through the concrete chamber of the flyover produces a curious drone inside this corner, as though the sound waves provide a background for me and my packet so as to get ready for settling down for the night. The strong smell of urines here signifies that this corner has yet another waste function, one lodged in the animal unconscious – for often men and girls piss into them on their inflated bladders, hoping not to be seen but craving nonetheless some intense release and pleasure, but one I hope will not occur when I am in it. I have no desire to be marked.
Feeling wasted after the massive journey incurred between the West Cromwell Road where this all began up to this spot in Hammersmith, (which the map shows to be less than ½ mile from here, curiously,) I decide to rest for a while. I have no idea how long it will take me to get out of this accursed borough, my movement having been slowed to a crawl by some unseen aspect of the territory, and I don’t care to think about this epic travail any further today. My mind is filled with routes, incursions, endless corners, avenues sprawling toward nowhere, and the mental intensity of this thought exhausts me utterly. Whilst I perceived no physical impediments to my progress it seemed to me that time slowed down as I synchronised with my packet. I have become little more than a satellite. An eggshell. There is nothing like the deep joy of finding a reliable companion, even if that companion is rubbish, but the cost of this rubbish extends into a universe bereft of end points. I drift off in no time at all, the heady mix of pheromones, droning vibrations and physical tiredness lulling me into unconsciousness.
Interlude: CADE’s dream
A great heap of rubbish, all piled up at random. A great Heraclitean mess. Polyphemus peers from over the top of plastic bottles, television sets, children’s corpses, wrecked house parts, Tesco carrier bags, bottles, car batteries. A great eye rolls down the pile and lodges at the bottom, even though there is no bottom, where the Houses of Parleyament jut-out from behind black bin bags just like Monument Valley – spires carved by meaningless thermodynamics. Walking the desert, even though it is the middle of town. But a town with no middle, no top, and no bottom. I stop for rest, but it is just entropy. Not here. Polyphemus agrees, and hurls cigarette packets at me from his cave. I sit and count grains of sand, particles of garbage, which are cigarette ends and bits of plastic wrapper mounted on a bed of all sorts of other blocks and slivers. Polyphemus calls out to Nobody, and nobody answers. If he is shouting at me or not is impossible to tell, for I am just another piece of garbage, another nobody. He is made up of rotting fruits and moss. Flies cover everything; my face and hands lurch with insectoid creatures insensibly searching for nourishment to live and procreate. Now would be a good time to give up thinking. Polyphemus agrees, and vomits London all over the heap. A million digested corpses; bits of arms and fingers, organs, mouths, hair matted with blood and spunk – all expelled in a gush of wine and digestive juices. Buildings he regurgitates, little more than pulped granite and concrete, steel beams, tiles, chimneys, furnishings of all sorts. Whole streets are spewed over the garbage. Blocks fall around, placed by chance into new configurations, new architectural perversions. At last I see a corner where I can curl up -
Then I wake up.
After what seems like forever, I find my packet once again – lurking in a doorway only 500 yards from where it left me all those hours ago. My deep joy is somewhat tainted by resentment and remorse at having been left to wander alone for so long and I attempt to ingratiate myself back into its favour. I can only wonder at what company the packet has been keeping in my absence, but the crushed paracetamol tablets – stretching like a comet’s tail on the pavement – might give some kind of intimation of what I was missing as I wandered off course, drifting towards (x). The wind has now dropped to almost nothing and we sit here in stasis, not knowing whether this doorstep is the end of the line for us or whether we might set off once again, dancing in the wind. For the next few hours I avoid the idea that all my time has been wasted in this pursuit. I don’t see it that way at all. I scratch out an improvised map on a discarded council tax envelope so as to make a memory of this odyssey. But as I do so, as I record this physical, tangible route that, for the past 24 hours or so has retained me in this borough, I feel foolish for my obsession – that this small map should encompass my time, time wasted, rubbish time, time slipped between my fingers at the pursuit of nothing worthwhile. But what is worthwhile here? Time is wasted no matter how it is spent, even if it is feared to be spent and, but for the illusion of a purpose, for a figment of the imagination –one that has built, levelled and rebuilt again – would we not all find ourselves in some corner or other, swallowed in the morass of waste, finding ourselves and our purposes drifting from one corner to another?
My dream seemed to indicate that I ought to stop thinking about this, otherwise I too will end up on the rubbish heap of existence, stuck permanently in one its filthy corners. But I reckon that is what I ultimately desire, and I wonder if this intimation is not more widespread than it seems. At least for now I can leave this borough by drawing an escape-line on my map and following it to its end. Actually, this is something I have never tried before, and though it seems childishly simple, sometimes drawing a line will suffice to get you out of a corner.