Monday, 28 November 2011

The ´there and then´ or the ´here and now´...

Although I tried to keep an open mind when I went to my first Kundalini Yoga session at the Brixton Rec last Saturday, I was instantly dubious when the teacher pitched up wearing a hemp shirt, a cotton flat cap and an armful of wooden bangles. I was tempted to make a quick getaway before the class started, but before I could roll up the mat and slip out he had carelessly flicked on a CD of Enya, assumed a meditative position and begun preaching about Ying and Yang. When, after near on an hour of spiritual babble, uncomfortable ´fire breathing´ and several inexplicable references to the ´love nerves´ we still hadn’t done one basic yoga sequence, I decided to abandon ship: hood up and head down I snuck out the back door mid-chant.

  The early exit turned out to be a blessing: stepping out of the sports centre, I stumbled straight into the foot-tapping rhythms of Rock Around The Clock Tonight and the buzz of an impromptu dance floor. A twirl of swirly skirts, tapping of patterned winkle-pickers and rolling of padded shoulder pads, four couples were spinning and smiling arm-in-arm in a lively jive. A toothy-grinned scruff with a can of Red Stripe bounced enthusiastically on the balls of his feet in their midst and a teacher stood by the music decks directing the steps with a cheesy smile and an American twang. Stockwell Swing Patrol had commandeered a corner of the street as part of Brixton’s Vintage Market and Atlantic Road had been transformed into a colourful jumble of low-hung bunting and stands of antique furniture; the street bubbling with head-bobbing spectators, oversized cardigans and tweed suit jackets, loud retro patterns, random knick-knacks and antique trinkets.

I felt as if I had morphed straight into the 1950s: my yoga-fuelled huff lifted instantly. A fan of rummaging around the clutter of second hand shops, I find that there is something instantly appealing about things from the past and am instantly drawn to anything with a story behind it. In fact, I spend a disproportionate amount of time imagining life as it was generations ago, dreaming of discovering a time-travelling DeLorean to zoom me through the ages Marty McFly style… I recently went to see Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a slightly off-the-wall tale about a man who discovers he can teleport through time to the 1920s. No question about it, I would leap at the chance for a night of 1920s revelry. As much as I love the 80s (headbands and comfy fashion), just imagine swooning about in a Europe where everyone is an artist: the roaring twenties, the golden age, the crazy years…

However, as a wide-eyed and innocent Owen Wilson shows us in Woody´s latest romp, is it simply a case of ´the grass is always greener´? In every era Wilson visits the contemporaries he encounters are pining for a generation-past: the previous Golden Age. Is it that, no matter where – or when - you are, the past is always perceived to have been better than the present? Looking back wistfully on school days or university years as the best time of your life certainly seems to be a habit inherent in society. I often smile back on my schooldays and reminisce about fumbling together coloured maps for geography posters or messing about with Bunsen Burners… Warm and fuzzy reflections. That however is certainly a case of selective forgetfulness. I don´t have to strain my mind much for memories of missing the train every morning and doing battle with balanced equations to sharpen up those rose-tinted lenses.

Perhaps perspectives of ages-past are similarly forgetful. Put the 1920s in context as a decade sandwiched between two world wars and it’s instantly clear that it can’t have been all cultural dynamism and hedonism; economic collapse and the rise of fascism must have featured somewhere. But who wants to read about unemployment and social misery when you can get lost in the glitz and glamour of the artist (even if it is superficial)? It certainly makes it easy to be sentimental about an era you never lived through - simply because you´ve not experienced the cold, hard reality of it. Similarly, when bogged down by pessimistic press and mundane day-to-day monotonies, it’s easy to overlook the present.

Last Saturday, moving on from the 1950s time warp of Atlantic Road, I walked home through Brixton Village. Spread through the maze of arched tunnels under Brixton Station, it’s just as good as the nostalgia of vintage markets. A rabbit warren of restaurants and shops, it’s squashed full of everything and anything: from boutique fashions to deluxe sweets, cheap home ware to specialist Indian spices. On one corner you might pass a display of exquisite cupcakes, at the next a counter-top of iced pigs heads placed. You can dine on the greasy slap-up Chinese served from a mobile counter or share a tapas platter of pinchos from the Spanish taverna, sample freshly prepared noodles or experience the best pizza in London. I doubt they had that sort of a selection in the 1920s.

Even so, as much as I can appreciate the perks and quirks of the hear and now, I’m still dreaming about the DeLorean…

Friday, 18 November 2011

Brain Blank

I have now been back in the UK for a couple of months. Returning home in September after a four-week-walk, I had high hopes of being on the cusp of a creative burst. I expected that, following a few weeks of home comforts, I would be writing reams and reams of inspired, pilgrim-themed prose...

Sadly, the pending novel is still non-existent and even short-stories or artistic articles are proving elusive. It seems that any imaginative impulses have been bludgeoned by the unwelcoming reality of working full-time: spending eight hours a day writing web-optimised content is certainly an effective way to numb the brain into blankness. However, before the memories recede too far into the distant past, I have cobbled together some words about the pilgrimage for Spanish company Letango Tours.

Though a fairly disappointing yield considering that when walking I scribbled my way through two journals, at least it is a start - if a little tentative... You can read it here: El Camino