2021 10 19
from Centre of the Web
-Episode 4, by D.
Day 12: Barcelona
Somewhere around 2 in the morning I drag myself out to a rest stop and buy a bottle of water. My baccy must have fallen out again here but I’m really not in a state to realise, or care. Back on the bus, across the aisle from me two young women are sleeping on each other’s shoulders, a blanket over both, and from my angle they look like a modernist painting, a mish mash of lips and cheeks and hair, strangely more beautiful than each on their own. Picasso would have liked it; a sexist bastard bar none, from what I’ve heard. I want that freaking blanket – it’s cold and I’m in shorts.
Wake up to the sight of Catalonia passing by the window, ancient and new, industrial buildings, an evil empire, sand yellow towns appearing and disappearing around them, churches lit by yellow lights in the gathering dawn. It’s the first time I’ve really wished I was travelling slower. It’s starting to rain again.
At the Barcelona bus stop the water tips down around the coach stand and the travellers stand and smoke and look out at the rain. A little old man asks me for change and I say no, for no reason except I’ve just woken up and I’m taking a picture when he asks.
I go to a local place and buy two coffees one after the other and something to eat and try to book a hostel around the corner. I’m getting bad vibes from the waitresses because I ordered takeaway accidentally and ate inside. Something screws up on the internet and I don’t manage to pay – it’s going to be one of those sorts of mornings. My mum offered to pay for a hotel room but I just don’t fancy the only one nearby, and besides it seems wasteful. I stagger round the nearby hostels and only the one with bad reviews has any rooms left. At least I can check my bag.
As the big guy (literally – you could fit two of me in him) behind the counter tells me I can’t check in until 2 I find myself unaccountably irritated. It’s his attitude, which is kind of shirty, and the screenful of surveillance camera feeds on his right and I just don’t like bodybuilders. I find myself wondering if I could beat him in a fight and decide I would throw my bag at him, which feels like it weighs about a tonne right now. Improbable violent situation planning is a pretty reliable sign I’m tired.
Once I’m done with the bag I decide to walk to the anarchist space I was told about, even though this is like two hours away. This sort of bad decision making is another sign I’m tired. Unfortunately, recognising signs I’m tired is not something I’m good at when I’m over caffeinated and exhausted.
I get about half way there, through the most boring and cloned part of the city centre, give up when my phone dies and catch the metro back. On the way to the hostel, the same man asks me for change as before. I give it to him this time and hope it brings me luck. They let me check in early and I sleep.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the power of language and symbols. Language here is very important – in Bilbao it was whether you spoke Basque that decided if you were part of the tribe, in Barcelona, possibly Catalan, in Madrid, Spanish. I felt excluded, especially in Madrid, by not speaking the language – and everywhere I go it marks me as a tourist. Maybe that’s a good thing. But whenever I go into a shop or get on a bus I hear English pop music and I’m reminded of the power we’ve wielded. I think of Esperanto and wonder what this trip would’ve been like if that experiment had succeeded.
In symbols we see the same divisions; though they are truly international, their meanings are not – and what does it feel like to be Hindu and see the swastika routinely derided? What about the stone cross for Celts? It’s the nature of fascism to imbue these patterns with terrible, divisive meaning and to some extent they exceed in separating us. What does this mean for language? Would we be happier if we had one language, would we be one people? Or would we have lost a million subtleties of thought?
I woke up at 18.30, made dinner and talked to a German tourist at the hostel who knew even less Spanish than me. Ego mildly boosted, I made for the local punk bar strip by metro, jumping the barrier all sneaky-like. When I get out, there’s the sound of explosions and crowds fill the street. It’s a fireworks festival, with masked folks carrying huge sparklers and smoke everywhere. I wander round in the haze for a bit, a little drunk on it, and buy a beer from someone selling them in the street, but like so much tourist stuff it kinda bores me. I slip back out and walk to the nearest punk bar, nevermind. Outside I sit on the phone for a bit catching up with my dad. When I’m finished I’m about to go in when I see the bouncer giving me an interested look. ‘Anarchista?’ I ask. Yup. Individualist, insurrectionist – we agree heavy on dislike for communists – the history of Barcelona doesn’t make anarchists take kindly. He warns me about thieves on the street and says they carry knives, just walk away. Roger. After chatting for a bit I wander inside to check out the scene.
It’s a wide mix of tourists and local punks, but a bit exclusive. Everyone’s in a convo and the vibe isn’t super welcoming. Oh well, I buy a beer, chat with the barman, go bother A, the bouncer some more. I like him a lot – he has that independence and mildly psychotic aspect so many young masculine folks bring to the struggle. The street scene outside is chaotic – you could write a song about it – one with four lines and a repetitive chorus. Tourists and thieves and beggars and punks and the neighbours above are apparently right touchy about the noise. One of A’s jobs is to keep it down. I don’t envy him.
Back inside, I’m joined by an older German guy on holiday. He gets talking on politics (what else?) and tells me how proud he is that he started with nothing, as a chef, and now he earns 179k a year before tax. As we talk it becomes clear why he’s in a punk bar; he misses being part of the crowd, one of the rest of us, misses the simplicity of poverty. You couldn’t wean him from riches though. It’s just not in the thought processes of those able to succeed under capitalism. They can’t help but think they deserve it, that it says something good about them, that they should be proud – that they’re part of an elite. I hold my tongue and try to find points of agreement, similarities, ways to get a little donation for the party. Gotta play the long game innit – if I verbally knock him down and pull out his toenails at this stage he’s just gonna go back to his bank account, wife and house. Would I have sex with someone for 100k? Why are you even asking?! Obviously, every penny to the Anarchist Party…
Jokes aside, my ideology may say power corrupts but I also believe in individual free will and I always try to convince these sympathisers that they’d be happier back among us and that anarchism is a positive, social ideology they need not be afraid of.
He buys me alcohol – probably in an attempt to weaken the strength of my arguments – and I gotta admit by this point I’m getting a little shaky. By the time he leaves – complete with promise, albeit vague, to donate – I’m in a great mood, everyone is my comrade, can I put a song on the jukebox? Where do you go to dance around here?
Place called Sidecar apparently and I’m just about to make a move when a young woman from London asks if I’m English – yeah! – that’s nice, everyone around here is Spanish… well no shit lady, you just flew 350 miles and you expected them to be English? You followed the history of the British Empire lately? Also, most people here are Catalan… I don’t get a chance to say any of this because she’s already wandered off with the supreme disinterest of Londoners everywhere. I feel mildly rejected but it’s ok, my drink addled attention span is already caught up in something new, a young local guy kicking a can down the street. I whistle a sort of ‘geddon bai’ sound and he runs over, offering to do a dance with arms locked.
I was drunk, ok?
We do the dance thing and as we de-interlock I see 20 euros appear in a doorway across from me. Jump for it and grab it and think ‘shit, that be mine’ check my pockets as I start to walk away.
Wallet’s gone. Oh fuck.
I spin around but he’s gone. I chase down the street in the same direction. Two guys in a doorway say ‘he went that way’ pointing to my left. Turn the corner. Empty road. Approximately at this moment, the comment about knives and the memory that my card has contactless appear in my head like whack-a-moles at the arcade.
I slow to zero, call the bank and walk to the nearest atm in hopes I might run into him. Suddenly I’m pretty sober. Card cancelled, I re-explore my pockets. Beautiful life! My broken wallet has dumped all my cash and my passport photocopy into my pocket. Getting back to Nevermind I see the bouncer head inside with my hostel door key. I run after and get it back. The night has turned out ok after all.
I walk home (the metro’s closed), picking up a broken skateboard on the way with some vague notion of fixing it or using it to bash anyone that fucks with me. Nobody does. It takes me about an hour and a half to get back to the hostel and when I arrive in the dorm the sleepers twist and turn, brains half aware of movement, unsafe, but having chosen that – perhaps for reasons of economy, perhaps from a desire to be closer to life, to the world, to other people. In a flash of tipsy intuition, I realise the answer to a question I’ve been asking myself since before I arrived. ‘Why do I feel attracted to vulnerable people?’
Later, I write an approximation of the answer:
With freedom comes insecurity. The closer to life you live, the more chance it ups and fucks you. It’s not a complete trade off – this society normalises the victimisation of the free, ours wouldn’t – but here and now, those of us with the security of a few resources, the constraints of knowing what we’re fighting for (and that we have to) and the maturity to be ready to give, are naturally attracted to those still unanchored, still drifting, hoping, sleeping. Sexual attraction isn’t always appropriate – the lizard doesn’t always understand morality. But to care for these people, to love them – platonically or otherwise – isn’t something we need to be ashamed of. They are the beautiful and free.
Day 13: Barcelona
Wake up and my UK plug converter has disappeared. Priority no. 1 is to get my phone charged. No. 2 is to get the hostel re-booked. I have about 30 euros left, 5% charge and without a phone, no way of getting more – and the hostel costs more than 30 a night. I walk to the train station to look for another plug converter but it’s 12.95. I walk back outside, thinking and trying to organise for the hostel to be re-booked by someone else. I walk back inside. No-one’s looking and the guy has already taken the block off the rack to show me the thing, so I pocket it and walk. Outside, I break it open on the side of a bin. Someone else chucks a paper bag into it without showing the slightest interest. Priority no. 1 sorted and priority no. 2 follows quite shortly once I get back to the hostel.
Last night I had an inkling of catching a plane back to England, to be back in time for a demo in a few days and save the nightmare of trying to manage without a card out here, especially while hitching. Fortunately, now my phone is reliable again, I have privilege to fall back on. Sure does make life easy.
My mother is happy to help, wiring some cash and booking a flight for two days’ time. Yes I feel guilty and more to the point, yes I feel like I’ve taken the easy way out, sold out part of the experience; the painful, annoying bit of trying to survive in a foreign country with no money. But, on the other hand – I fucking work for change, I struggle in hopes that one day everyone will have a life around the same standard as mine. I ain’t about to beat myself up for a little self care.
Also, I have a reasonably intense pain in my chest, which I’m associating with smoking. Feeling like shit is not motivating me to keep getting out there and hitting the street.
Once I’ve sorted food and booking and plane and stuff I go chill in the dorm. Fuck work, I don’t feel like it. I listen to music and zone out for a bit.
When I get up to go make dinner it’s not too long until an event at 1830 at the bank Expropriat in Gràcia, a leftie district a few stops away on the metro. I think it’s a manifestation (demo), but when I re-translate the blurb I realise it’s a talk. A friend from the hostel is going to the beach and I envy her but fuck it, it ain’t what I came here to do (1) and what would I feel like if I left Barcelona without checking out the scene? I eat, roll a cigarette and drag my unwilling ass to the metro.
Glad I did. When I get there it seems dominated by the elderly – something I find worrying from experience in England. But as time goes by more young’uns arrive and it seems a good crew. I use google translate to ask for someone to summarise in English for me and it kinda works. I get about 30%, enough to feel a part of things. It’s good to see a meeting with older, relatively normal people involved, speaking well and determined to do something; they’re discussing Fridays for Future and how in Spain, many of the labour syndicates won’t support people who go on strike for them. It makes me realise how important it is for us to take part and support anyone who’s catching that kind of trouble.
Afterwards I’m hanging around hoping someone speaks English when a young German woman comes over. She’s more than up to chat anarchist politics and we go get beer and wander round in circles for a while. She reminded me a bit of my best friend from when I was younger and I’m not gonna lie, I was starting to get hopeful she wanted to be more than friends.
But I also had gotten used to this feeling around people I knew barely at all by this point and now – writing a few days later, back among the scene at home and with some emotional distance – I can recognise that as someone who’s spent most of my life with reasonably intense family relationships, part of me was searching for a community, or a person to anchor myself to. There was a creeping insecurity around me from being alone that wanted to hook onto someone.
She has a bloke in Germany – and fair play, though I think she’s into me too she’s gonna be monogamous as they agreed to be and I respect that. I half expect to feel that sense of soul death that I used to get when I was a kid. Don’t worry, I will. No journey would be complete without at least one moment of existential dread. But not this time. Instead, just a sense of blossoming friendship. Shit, I’ve grown.
We talk a lot. Revolution, anarchism, the finer points of currency or no currency? Autonomy from the state or acceptance of unethical consumption? And other hot topics among anarchists who agree about pretty much everything else and are looking for something to debate.
It’s fun. When it comes time to go home, we faff around on the metro a bit before saying goodbye, then I realise I have to go up one stop on the same line. I run down the stairs after her just in time to wave goodbye as the train disappears into the tunnel.
On the way down the street to the hostel, I catch the eye of a drunken lady standing in the entrance to a cafe. We strike up conversation. It turns out she’s a quantum physicist at the university. In my heart, she says, I am an anarchist. But you have to work within the system to achieve anything. Uh huh. The owner of the cafe has his own contribution; in France, he says, we have solved the problem. We have the guillotine. Every 150 years we kill the lot of them; they need to be reminded who they work for. The problem is, we missed the last 150 years. I don’t have the energy to argue with either of them, so I chat for a bit around the subject and wander home.
Day 14: Barcelona
I’m getting pretty skint so my task this morning, once the hostel is re-booked, is to get cash from a Western Union. It takes me a while, partly because I enjoy myself, taking time to get coffee and breakfast. I speak to my dad on the phone and boast that I can write a song every two days when I have the time. He asks me to write a country song for him. Well, ok then I guess…
The cigarettes are still killing me a little. The pain in my chest has faded but I can feel the thinness of my health. Tomorrow’s plane is waiting and I’m half glad, half disappointed.
Before my friend left last night we exchanged numbers and part of me thinks she won’t text. But she does. There’s an open air gig tonight down by the harbour, past where I got robbed and she invites me. It’s a Spanish feminist rap group.
I catch a metro to Sagrada Famillia, near a Western Union, using my last few coins. Near the monument there are thousands of tourists, swarming the streets, a pickpocket’s wet dream. I’m carrying my passport to get the money out and I keep my hands on my pockets as I walk the couple blocks.
Getting the cash is a non-event. A polite and well trained cashier runs through the process she does every day. No inch of humanity escapes her professional facade. I didn’t expect it anyway. Sorted, I go outside for a coffee.
I’m chatting to a Barcelona student on Tinder but there probably isn’t time for us to meet and I can feel him flaking. When he says he’s busy I’m kind of glad – it’s not beyond me to waste time and money getting to a meeting point he didn’t agree to, especially when I’m not sure how to fill the day.
Back at the hostel I slowly get myself into a zone to write. I cheat a bit and listen to a backing track to get the structure ok. It goes:
Day by Day
The streets aren’t the same
That I once knew
The sun outshines the rain
More than it used to
But the tears still fall
When I remember you
And how I took the road
To anywhere new
In all the bars
the drinkers sing
The praises of
But ever since
I lost your ring
There’s a weight in my hand
Where it used to be
I dream you’re sleeping
There in the dark
The one beside you
Doesn’t share your heart
In the beginning
Maybe you dreamed too
But now I’m nothing
But a broken fool
So I’ll catch a plane
To another life
As soon as I arrive
I can’t turn around
There is no way
So I just keep breathing
Day by day
Don’t boast if you can’t back it up. It ain’t the best thing I’ve ever done but I don’t mind it. While I’m working, the German guy from a bunk across from me comes in. It turns out he likes country music too, kinda, and we talk about True Detective and how great it was. I lie still for a bit and try and get into siesta mode but it ain’t happening, so I start getting ready to go out instead. The guy asks me what I’m up to – just gonna go make some dinner before I go out, I reply, you? I dunno, I’m kinda bored. You wanna come with?
He does. We slow walk across to the supermarket chatting shit. Turns out he’s an architecture student, here to draw the buildings. When he asks me what I’m here for I give my now standard response – 50/50 vacation and trabajo. What kind of work? Politics. And so the endless conversation begins again.
It’s a variation I haven’t played for a while; that of the person who’s brand new. What does anarchism mean, then? And all that. I give him the works as we get dinner sorted – vegan meat, one minute rice stir fry thing. I have to run out for onions but it’s all good. Over dinner, he tells me about how the German war machine – and by extension, the holocaust – was sustained by extreme drug addiction.
Makes a lot of sense to me if I’m honest.
As he tells me about his upcoming trip to New York and how architecture is quite expensive to study I realise who he is though – the classic privileged guy who’s fascinated by the struggle of those who aren’t, but wouldn’t ever let it affect his life. With the dishes washed up, I roll a cigarette, say goodbye and step out to head for a bookshop the quantum physicist told me about not far from here.
La Ciudad Invisible is a nice well lit little place, with t-shirts and kids’ books sharing space with the heavier shit. A bit expensive though, for my wallet – or my lack of a wallet, to be exact. I start a conversation with the guy behind the till. He tells me they had 6 people arrested for terrorism charges that day, but the movement is otherwise healthy. It seems he’s more interested in the community practices of the Anarchist movement around here, its food sharing programs, its self-managed workplaces. There’s a few of them and the local scene is big enough – well hell, this is Barcelona – to support them alongside a few squats I won’t have time to see and the usual catalogue of small groups and actions. Mine and his approaches are a little at odds, he’s very much the ‘work with anyone you can’ type and even tells me ‘maybe I’m just getting old and becoming a hippie.’ Maybe he is. I come away from it depressed. It’s the last night y’know and this doesn’t seem like my revolution.
What is my revolution? I have a few answers, crowding to the front as usual, but none of them are definitive. I guess part of it is just that I feel I’m moving too fast, I want to slow down but I can’t because the flight’s already booked and I don’t want to go home and this guy with his slow world has reminded me what I’m missing, the tranquility of age. But part of me also screams back an accumulation of swear words, that tranquilo never fought the revolution, that people are suffering here as much as anywhere, that the Communists shot the Anarchists here, in the ruin of the Social Revolution, the last time we had a chance.
Whatever my revolution is, it ain’t mine, it’s ours.
The first bar I go into is expensive, so I sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette and try and sort my head out. I’m just trying to kill time, too, before the gig at 10. Talking to my friend on the phone helps a little. My throat is hurting and I feel tired. I pull myself back up onto my feet and wander towards the tube. Getting out at Jaume I, back near the bar where I was robbed, I decide to wander past. Killing time, of course, not trying to prove anything. It doesn’t seem the same now, it’s quieter, and when I walk inside A, the bouncer isn’t there. I realise he was half the reason I liked the place. I buy a beer and sit there waiting for something to happen, someone to say hi or time to pass, but only the last one happens. It’s just another murky punk bar in a big and tourist filled city, already bored to death with people like me. It’s a long way from the bar in Santander where they sat me down and we played battleships.
Comes time and I head out. The alley is still dodgy, plenty of poor folks around, but with the tourist traffic reduced – it’s a Monday – it’s lost any real danger. It’s just the people now, no meat.
The gig is by the water. It’s huge, open air and there are guys everywhere with bags of beer and ice, selling them for €1.50. The crowd is gathering but quiet, the gig hasn’t started yet and there’s that anticipation. I feel lonely as I wait for my friend to arrive, and have all the usual fears of never finding her. What would I do at this gig, in this community, with no Spanish? Go home, probably. I try and relax. There isn’t much else to do and when the gig starts I try and get into it, but it’s beyond me. I never could fake my way to happiness. I feel excluded again, like I did all those years ago.
Suddenly a text, just as I’m starting to wonder What the Hell? A meet point not far from where I am and there she is, we say hi and hug and I follow her and her amigas through the crowd, like I’m being led through the same door I entered a moment before, only this time it leads somewhere else. My friend H translates some of the choruses but I can see it’s difficult and I say just to listen and enjoy the moment. She does. Watching her enjoy it, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer is enough for me to feel the beat in my legs. It looks like a good show. Time’s getting late quite fast and I have a plane to catch in the morning but I don’t want to leave and when the first band ends I go sit with H and we chat about politics. She’s a pessimist and I’m an optimist but just having met her feeds my positivity and I know I win her over a little. Or maybe pessimists just always like to be disagreed with.
She saves me from an awkward scene with a beer seller who wants me to give him my last cash in exchange for some kind of beer deal I don’t want. He’s super intense in fast Spanish and my shaking head and de nada’s are getting nowhere. In the end she gives him 50¢ to make a move, which he weirdly accepts.
Back to the revolution, we discuss the eviction of Exarcheia. She’s a little too focussed on the formal Anarchist movement and its expressions, I think. I believe that if the activists of Exarcheia are dispersed, with their experiences of liberation still in their hearts, after 6 months of recovery they may well do more for us all individually in the towns and villages and cities of Europe, than they do by keeping those spaces open now. (2)
On the other hand, for the refugees who’d been housed there and are now being moved into immigration camps by the Greek state, the suffering only increases. There is, ultimately, little justification for optimism except the need for hope. We get through another band and it’s coming on for 2 o’clock when I decide it’s time to go.
A large subsection of my brain would like to hold H, but the other part is still shouting quite loud and in the end I manage to just about keep my cool. We say goodbye and hope we’ll meet again. I touch the tip of her chin with one finger for just a moment before pulling away and waving. As I turn to walk away, my heart beating its shit out and my hands shaking, I stop to roll a cigarette saying ‘this is what we have cigarettes for, this is…’ and turn. She’s waving from the top of the bridge. I wave back and wait for her to disappear. Then I roll the cigarette and wait some more.
I wait for longer than I should, hoping she’ll come back, though I have no right or reason to expect it, hoping I could reach her from here – but for what? I can’t tell you.
I walked away smoking, reminding myself not to hurt myself, staring in a dangerous manner at a reachable cctv camera, telling myself to stay alive. I crossed the road and, to my surprise, realised the metro was open. I walked down the steps, counting this one thin blessing that would get me home in time for sleep.
“Fruity, fruity, fruity” they said. I didn’t even notice them at first, just two English tourists, kinda well dressed. “Fruity, fruity, froo-ty” “are you guys being fucking cunts?” (3) I asked.
“Look at your fucking sandals mate, who wears sandals like that?” “Frooty frooty frooty…”
I tell them to fuck off and give them the finger. Half curious if I can get a free metro ticket, I wander down to the gates, but the security are on tonight. Seems legit. I wander back to the machines, where the two guys are struggling to figure out how to get a ticket.
“Where you from mate? England? We’re from South London we are!” This last said like it gave you a fucking passport or something.
“Devon,” I said as I bought myself a ticket.
“Ahhh fucking Devon, you shouldn’t have said that, is that why you’re wearing those fucking sandals? Is that what they wear in Devon?”
I look them up and down. Turned out pretty nice for city boys, look a little sweaty though in black jeans and shirts and trainers…
“What are you two, in a fucking soul band or something?” His mate’s still struggling with the ticket machine. “You’ll work it out,” I add, “I’m sure they have them in south London too.” I turn and walk for the barriers.
“Frooty, frooty, frooty!” I reach the barriers and start to put the ticket in. The security guards are still there. Am I really gonna take this from these assholes? asks a voice in my head. No, comes the answer and I turn around blood pumping-
“You wanna go then you fucking cunts come on then! Let’s fucking go, you want some!” I get to within range of the mouthy guy and he lamps me from the left real fast, so quick I don’t see it coming and I’m on my ass. I’m getting up, come on then, might as well finish it now, but the security appears between us.
“He started on me!” Says the mouthy one.
“No, no, you leave now,” they say. I get up and go through the barriers. Head feels like it’s been hit by a train, like they used to say. I wander down to the station and sit on the bench.
A few minutes later the security appear. “Are you ok?” They ask.
“You have your wallet, your phone?”
“Why did they want to fight you?”
“They were calling me a fruit and…”
“Muy Engles is no muy bien” with fingers held in the international ‘little bit’ symbol.
“Si. He called me a marricone… and I’m not homophobic but I am not a marricone…” they nod, look a little non-plussed and wander back out to the gates.
Dunno what I was on about. I spent half the day trying to meet a dude on Tinder. Since when am I not a marricone?
I spend the ride home dazedly considering the rights and wrongs of Muerta A La Policia (MALP!) when they’re so fucking handy sometimes. I don’t come to any interesting conclusions.
Back at the hostel, at 2.5 miles an hour I order a bag of mini chocolate croissants and a cup of hot milk. No good vegan me.
I get in the lift. Everything takes a hundred hours. When I get into the dorm, each task, charging the phone, getting the provisions onto the bed and following them, elongates with slowness and pain as I try to be quiet. In the bed, dressed, I eat the lot and drink the milk, cheap sugar passing like morphine into my veins I pass out into a drugged sleep.
Day 14: Barcelona / Aeroplane
Wake up at I don’t know when but it’s early. Feeling…. Nothing much, not even tired. Not had enough sleep to feel tired. Head hurts. Everyone else is getting ready to go and I let them leave first, one by one, each short acquaintance I’ve made since being in the dorm. I whisper goodbye to those I know, then go and shower. Glad I got my bag packed yesterday.
Made some breakfast and ate outside, with a coffee. Checked the time and I’m not too far behind. Roll a cigarette and make a move, say goodbye to the guy on the hostel desk.
Gonna miss the street and the sun and the skyline. I walk to the bus station and stub out my cigarette, then descend into the metro. I buy a ticket to the airport – it’s a special price, a special line that goes that way – like an escape route in a video game that skips all the other rooms. I sit on the train and wait, head hurting. I sit and sit and sit.
The airport is huge and modern, spaceport like with just a couple of cheeky stickers – non political – on its endless grey hallways. They are building more outside the window. I pause on the bridge from the metro to the terminal and wait for the energy to come back. My head hurts.
In the terminal I find parts A and B but not C, which is where I’m supposed to be. I still have some time and there’s no one at the counters. I buy a coffee at ridiculous expense and sit for a minute refuelling. On the Party group chat we are arguing with a socialist about our autonomy at an upcoming demonstration, the rights and wrongs of using the word ‘fascist’ liberally. Later it will turn out we should have been thinking more out of the box on this, but as usual it seems we’re just being told what to do by someone from another group and most of our back hairs are up. It’s a long way from the sense of solidarity between revolutionaries I’ve found here, but then maybe my ignorance hid the bad parts. Maybe if I’d known Spanish I would’ve heard the arguments.
Still no sign of my counter opening. Eventually I ask. ‘Terminal C’s in the next building over’ I’m told. I have a little panic and run, but it’s ok. Everything smooths along and the only bad thing that happens is I get past the smoking areas before I have a last fag.
On the group chat the argument trundles on…
Port, bus, steps, aeroplane. I get on the wrong end and have to walk all the way down the aisle. You can tell I’m not used to this. I’m anxious. Beside me is a dude in a suit who looks pretty gross, doing business on his phone. I try and zone out a little but that coffee must be hitting me because I find myself watching his screen. Imagine my surprise when I see an email from a constituent accusing him of complicity in the actions of government because of his role as a Conservative MP. Holy fuck.
He’s also on a Conservative MPs WhatsApp chat. I try and film it on my phone but I have to hold it at a ridiculous angle and the glare is too bright. Oh dear, I was hoping for a nice chilled out flight; what am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? What am I gonna…
He changes seats to the one across the aisle. ‘What’s wrong with this one?’ I say super normal like hoping he hasn’t clocked my weird ass behaviour. ‘Oh nothing, it’s just more room isn’t it.’ Cool, just what I want to hear. Next bad news – I know this guy’s an MP in government but I know literally nothing else about him. Also – plane just lifted off – can’t use the fucking internet. Is this an opportunity to give up? No! This does not happen every day!
If I’m starting to get an idea that I want to verbally confront him, paranoia is also running on overdrive. I’ve just come from Spain where they do people for terrorism for practically nothing. Plus people are fucking freaky about aeroplanes. The sense that I have no choice about this, that I’m acting under pressure of circumstances, adds to my fear. Plus he keeps throwing glances my way. Either he thinks I’m sexy or he’s trying to look through the far side window.
I think it’s the latter.
What do I do? The things I know how to do. I write a condemnation of the government and him by extension. I delete all the apps and data on my phone that could give them information about my comrades. I memorise my speech (well, sorta) and make a plan to livestream a video of the action. None of the security stuff I do would stand up under intense scrutiny – my laptop is still logged in to all my shit for instance and it’s in the hold – but it’s the best I can do. I’m helped by the fact none of us talk too dodge online anyway.
It doesn’t help that we’re still an hour away from landing once I have made all these plans. An hour spent stewing in my own anxiety. I’m having some trouble breathing properly. Thinking of Peter Tatchell (4) and Elin Ersson (5) helps with the determination but doesn’t help with the feeling of not having a choice. Compared to them folks what I’m doing is nothing.
As we start to come into land though, I still hold my breath and close my eyes and tell myself I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to, I can walk away and come back tomorrow and keep fighting and yes I’ll know there was something I couldn’t do but that won’t stop me acting. I open my eyes with a decision to change the start of my speech to make it more clearly a peaceful protest, but otherwise to go ahead.
You can see the vid on YouTube or on the Anarchist Party page or here on Centre of the Web. I’m really quiet (a friend called it ‘sweet’) because I can’t actually fill my lungs to speak louder. It’s very short and a lot of the vid is his tie. Funny enough, it still works. When I found out afterward it was Boris Johnson’s Parliamentary Private Secretary I could’ve just about exploded with satisfaction; it’s pretty unknown at the moment so satisfaction is about the only thing I’m gonna get from it.
The Bristol terminal goes in a smooth process. I don’t get bothered, to my surprise, and I’m on the bus south to Exeter when the tiredness and the hunger hits me. The rain is falling against the windscreen and my phone has died. When I get to Exeter, my lift is late and I have to blag a phone call to check on it. It’s all fine. I eat dinner at home and have a drink with my friend, then let it go black.
Conclusion: This Is One Flawed Motherfucker
Over the next couple of days I crashed through a family argument, sleeping at a former partner’s partner’s place, and an aggy antifascist demonstration, purely by keeping my head up and my brain moving a little bit faster than my mouth. Caffeine and cigarettes were the engine behind it all and when it was over I collapsed for a while. I’m quitting the fags now.
This hasn’t been an attempt at fiction. It hasn’t been about showing you how good a person an anarchist can be – I expect that’s obvious. It’s just me doing the only thing I know how to do; putting myself out there as I am, ready to change, ready to fail but trying to tell the truth about it. Sometimes I spin it a little, but never by much.
If Anarchism is against oppression and exploitation, against the positioning of one above another, honesty is a part of that project. If you just saw the actions I did and not the words in my head, maybe you’d think there was something special here. I hope now you’ve seen the insecurity, the isolation and the dirt you’ll get a little of why I’m just a part of something, never the whole. Maybe there is something special too, but it’s individuality, not perfection. We all have it.
Glad to be here.
(1) Actually, it was, but I’d forgotten that by this point
(2) Quite possibly my position is the result of ignorance. I’m told gangs operated in Exarchia and that, combined with constant struggle and internal conflict, might make it far less of a liberating experience than those of us watching from afar might hope.
(3) Trying not say it – I know it’s pretty gender oppressive. Still kinda automatic in some situations though.