Sometimes I feel like I just can’t British English anymore. I can write pretty well, but constructing proper sentences while speaking is just weird. I can’t end sentences with ‘re/mure/men/nu, or start with ‘aiyo’/’arrey’. Jumbling also just can’t happen for sentences.
As we began the new year of 2018, a certain president picked on a few Global South countries calling them ‘shitholes’. Most responses to this statement have been calling the president of the US a shithole himself, his residence lit up with ‘shit hole’, calling out the racism that lies behind such a statement, highlighting the role of the US in creating said shitholes, and stressing on the progress of identified “shithole” countries despite oppression of the global North.
We all know that the Global South isn’t the epitome of cleanliness and privilege. Historic oppression, coops, internal conflict, dictatorial rule, colonialism, problems with the global economic and social order, and various various explanations exist to explain away the situation in the Global South, of which potus has an imagined idea anyway. However, my thought immediately is that of a glass house. To what extent does the Global North reflect on their countries apparently not being shitholes, and what do they have to justify it? The belief of comparative ‘objective’ criteria (mind you these criteria are set by the Global North itself or bodies controlled by the elites in these geographies anyway) determining their comparative non-shitholeness is often unchecked. When thinking of it, I realised that there isn’t enough to describe the experiences of and in these Global Norths from outside. Within we see a very large chunk of the global norths plagued by rampant racism – just see the literature on racism available regarding these geographies. But as an outsider, I do not feel I have come across anything that expresses the feelings triggered by living in the Global North. As so I wish to commit myself to doing this from today.
In my experience, barring the courteous formal friendliness of people, and the relatively higher wages and the somewhat organised manner of some aspects of life, the UK feels like a hellhole. A shithole at least has some potential to be cleaned. There is a chance that said faeces can be cleaned away, infrastructure can be changed to support people, and so on. A hellhole however is a place in which the cons outweigh the pros. Going to hell implies that you have indulged in something evil, or have done something that is biblically wrong. The Bible has its problems, but nevermind, it serves my purpose of suggesting that the punishment is eternal damnation. This is an abstract concept. We can only imagine what hell and its associated holes are like. We can imagine the idea of hellfire – scorching and ever-lasting. We can imagine the torture associated – have a look at how the Sandman series presents Lucifer’s realm; it is beautiful while simultaneously being awful.
Like Lucifer’s hell, there are many levels of hellhole-ness of the UK.
Below I articulate a few. I start with Level 1: Weather and the surround
Although the UK has a beautiful diversity of cultures – a move around the country represents the variation in behaviours, histories, industry and so on – there is a strange subtly about how these surroundings are managed with awkward negotiations of space-use on closer observation. Furthermore, the weather is usually grim. All the time.
Level 2. The fear of touch and affection
In addition to the cold grim weather is the cold grim attitude to others. Generally, this implies that to complement the weather, there is no warmth by way of hugs or kisses as greetings. Even a handshake is an awkward ordeal, and they want to get it over with. Here is your next level of isolation.
Level 3. The undetected-from-inside ‘isms’
A next layer of hell here is the embeddedness of various negative isims, including racism, classism and sexism. These have been most glaring to me, though I suspect many others exist. On a personal level, I have found that the UK has racism and sexism woven into its very fabric. It is so in-built that one cannot identify where and how it manifests, and therefore most of the privileged, being white and/or male, do not see it. I have found that living in the UK has made it difficult for me to talk to male people, particularly heterosexual ones.
Level 4. Desert and deserving
In this hellhole, the materialities of life are abundant. There is no shortage of food. There is no real economic issue, jobs are only relatively hard to come by, most facilities work well including the internet and transport. Yet, in terms of access, not everyone has it. If you have bought yourself some privileges, you are relatively better off. Yet in this hellhole, in the bitter cold, one finds homeless people strewn across major cities. Most of these people are not refugees as could be the common perception. They are white poor people.
I often speak about the problems of living in the UK to my fellow non-UK friends. I do not have a problem doing so. Perhaps it is our shared trudging through these hellholes.
London is an excessively populated city. It is expensive and not worth it when you consider the congestion. Nevertheless, many an interesting academic talks take place at this not very exotic location. I travel to the city and stay with my cousin over the week. I get free lodging and free food. She has even packed me 2 lunchboxes with food for the next few days as I return to my Northern Powerhouse location – not too city-like, but only just a town. Today I venture to Kings Cross where my train is to depart from. I’ve taken a train. The difference is GBP 15.
I am a social researcher, or so I like to claim. Today on the tube to Kings X, I was reading one of the theoretical works suggested to me for my research. I want to study the multi-faceted nature of reality that influence decision-making processes. Conscious as well as sub-conscious. There are a number of approaches in the social sciences. One very popular theorists is Pierre Bourdieu. The work I am reading critiques (or rather criticises with big words/jargon) this theory. Margaret Archer calls into question the Sociologist and academic as the only people who can make reflexive decisions, or have reflexive thought processes. Or so I gathered from the words I understood. OF course I agreed. I agreed that the sociologist is privy to lenses of analysis that the commonperson is not. Yet, this does not mean that the commonperson does not themselves practice reflexive thought. The two need to meet.
I’m almost an hour early at the train station now. My cousin dropped me off to the tube station by car so that I would not be late. I was not late. Having been here before, I know that my train would not be announced until around 10-15 minutes prior to departure. I waited anyway, for 10 minutes – before I decided to loiter about the place. My mind had focused on a cooling beverage to beat the 28 degree heat. I am accustomed to hotter climates, but being ill prepared for this “heat wave”, I had forgotten to get my bottle of water.
I decided to amuse myself and look through the shops to buy my beverage. W H Smith tried to convince me that ‘Smart’ water costs only £1.99. Perhaps I’m smarter than smart water – or cheaper- as I didn’t fall for that. It was a bit out of my budget and just a bit ridiculous. I found myself thinking “ha! As if you can convince me, on top of having to purchase bottled water, to pay a ridiculous amount of money for it”. That wasn’t going to happen. With a ‘Nope’, and a laugh, I walked out of the shop. Across me was Waitrose. Waitrose is an overpriced supermarket. There wasn’t much else around, and I was mindful of the time. I walked straight in, telling myself that I would not be making a purchase if the prices were mirrored in this shop too. It wasn’t. It sold Evian – the posh water – at just £0.96. I strolled around the store in search of a flavoured alternative to water, or a cooling beverage of a fruity taste, yet not a juice or thick smoothie. I chanced upon a bottle of Lipton Ice Tea. Lemon. £1.16. The perfect balance of thrifty and middle classy. Of course I bought it. I am a smart shopper.
I made my way to the platforms to wait for the train platform to be announced. I found the trains of the company I was to travel and waited by with observant eyes for the platform to be announced on any one of the 3 services I saw. Got it. I enter the train successfully finding my reserved seat. Before I plant my bottom on the seat, I pull out my laptop, books, Staedtler colour pens, a note pad, post-its, a pen and my bottle of Ice Tea. I write this, in my middle class way. Watching in semi disgust as I behave in the way I want. In my second nature. Or rather my nature. I don’t know.
But then I wonder. What is wrong with this? Why am I uncomfortable, and in what situation would I be comfortable? Today I felt like writing. In fact, when I sat I decided not to have my laptop out as I wanted to read or enjoy the view. Today I want to write. Having a laptop and an internet connection while on board this train enables me to do this. I could have done it with a paper and pen but my typing speed outshines my writing speed. I can also stare outside the window as I type, having used this keyboard before for longer documents. I have privilege. I have some agency. I have constraints. I don’t accept determinism. I don’t want to live in poverty. I don’t want to fetishise it. I want to be aware of my actions and conscious of my capacity to not worsen problems in the world. I want to think. I want to write.
This month, last month, the next month. They have stressed me out with the amount of travelling I have done. More privilege. The thing I miss most of home is the ability to be in one place, to belong to it and feel comfort in knowing that I have power to negotiate the space and my time. It is entitlement to an extent, but I guess we all need that power. How we wield it is what is most important to consider. I’m good at making excuses. But I should never forget my discomfort.
I’ve got an hour left of my journey. I think I might read.
I wish grandmothers lived forever. But knowing you can always hold knitted products of their labour in your hand offers a sense of comfort.
I’m pretty sure that’s what Marx was trying to say….