I love ‘now and then’ photos where you see a scene from years ago and then see the same scene as it is now. I’ve done a few of my own around my home town, posted on this blog. But this one is incredible. I don’t know who took the photos unfortunately so I can’t credit them, it certainly wasn’t me as I’ve never been anywhere near the location of these shots. They were taken in Afghanistan, the first picture was taken around 1967 and the second was taken around forty years later in exactly the same spot. I don’t know enough to judge whether the obvious deterioration between the two photos is indicative of the state of the country as a whole but I ‘d guess that it probably is. If so, how tragic.
Years ago there were communities. There was a shop on the corner of every other street, a post office down the road, a pharmacy five minutes walk away, a cafe in the next street… There was no way for people to travel quickly to larger towns or cities so everything had to be located in the neighbourhood. Then came the car.
From the moment that cars came within the reach of the average family, communities have faded away. It was possible now to get to places so much quicker. Global companies could build vast supermarkets on the edges of cities and everyone could reach them in less than ten minutes. There was no need for the corner shop anymore, no need for the local post office or pharmacy, and so they gradually disappeared. At the gigantic superstores you could get everything under the same roof and there was easy, free parking.
So why is that such a bad trend? If supermarkets are cheap and convenient, why is that a negative thing? Maybe because, along with the cheapness and the convenience comes de-humanisation. When the shops, cafes, butchers and pharmacies were located in our local communities, we knew the people who worked and shopped there because they were our neighbours. When we’re shopping at the superstore we rarely see anyone we know because they’ve travelled from a much wider region to shop there. We’re no longer amongst our neighbours. So we don’t say hello, we don’t pause for a chat, most often we don’t speak at all. We even start to get irritated if someone does try to have a conversation especially if they are in front of us in the queue at the checkout. Tutting and sighing is the nearest we get to an interaction. The superstores get bigger as the local communities shrivel out of existence. It’s not really the fault of the supermarkets; they’re just responding to our demands. The really dangerous factor is the availability of the car.
So there’s no hope? We’re doomed to see the destruction of local communities because we can all jump in the car and nip to the supermarket? Not necessarily. The car has become so popular that it’s becoming a victim of its own success. We’re starting to find that we can’t nip to Asda quite so quickly because there’s a traffic jam on the ring road, we can’t pop down to Tesco because there’s tailbacks all the way back to the motorway. So maybe the car is starting to fail to provide the wonderful freedom and mobility that it used to. When it becomes the norm to sit in a queue for half and hour to get to Sainsbury’s, perhaps we’ll start to think that walking to a corner shop would be a better option. Maybe the corner shops will start to reappear along with all the other local amenities. A feeling of community could start to return. The car will have driven us round in a great big circle.
This week, while driving, I got yelled at three times. The first time, an old bloke was behind me in the queue for the traffic lights and because they were taking a long time to change to green he actually jumped out of the car, knocked on my window and shouted “Come on, they’re f***ing broke, you ar**hole!” Pensioners shouldn’t use words like that. You don’t get words like that in Soduko. The Countdown Conundrum is never ‘ar**hole’. He was, however, wearing a neatly appropriate traffic-themed pullover. Chevrons..
The second time a woman actually stopped her car to shout across the lap of her mortified female passenger into the window of my stationary car to tell me that I’d parked dangerously and requesting that I relocate my vehicle (I’m paraphrasing there, she used her own specially selected vocabulary. Loudly.). I was not parked dangerously but I would have been more than happy to move if she had not come at me with such aggression. “I’ll call the police!!” she bawled. “Do it!” I heard myself shouting back. “DO IT!!!”
The third time, I was waiting to join the flow of traffic by turning right (coming out of the Co-op at rush hour! Not advisable) and a man behind me who was desperate to turn left, actually mounted the pavement in order to squeeze past and simultaneously shriek at me (who says men can’t multi-task?). He seemed not to be able to decide which particular term of abuse to throw at me because he ended up spluttering “You, you, you, ffff… you…. ming!”
Ming?! What is a ming exactly? I was equally angry at this point so I wound down my passenger window especially to have a lovely interaction with this Neanderthal (why didn’t I just ignore him?) but all I could think of to shout in the heat of the moment was “I beg your pardon?!” like some pathetic, wet, Victorian gentleman played by Colin Firth. The most surprising thing of all though was the bloke actually honoured my weak request and repeated his insult “Ming!” even though he had half-realised that the word he’d shot at me wasn’t even a real word. He had emotionally committed himself to it now though so had to repeat it. Loudly.
Three horrible confrontations in one week. I normally avoid confrontation like the plague but, on the roads, this is getting more tricky. There’s more and more cars, of course, and the roads are getting more and more broken down and neglected because councils have slashed their maintenance budgets due to the recession. It feels like the country has been in crisis mode for a long time now. The cracks are beginning to show and not just in the roads. It’s become a lot harder for lots of people to just get by.
Everyone is trying to get somewhere, everyone is late, everyone is over-stretched and over-stressed. In other spheres of life we try to maintain a degree of decorum but when we’re concealed and isolated inside our sweaty, little, tin cans on wheels, all bets are off. Just getting by has become a big ask.
Do cars turn us into aggressive monsters or do they just remove the social masks behind which we usually hide? I admit that I often get a red mist descending in front of my eyes when someone is holding me up by driving at 20 mph in a 60 mph zone. Then the next minute I feel a stab of guilt when I realise that the offender was a little old lady just like my Nan. When some idiot shouts abuse at me from their driver window I do feel a cold rage grip my heart and murderous thoughts explode in my brain. I hate the morons who eff and blind at me at junctions. But I also hate the person I sometimes become in response to them. There are lots of morons out there who drive us to fury but I suppose I should try to remember that, to them, I’m the moron. The Neanderthal behind me at the Co-op today… Like me, he was just trying to get by.
On first glance this may look like an ordinary street stretching out before you but is actually a large photograph of an ordinary street stretching out before you. I was visiting the set of legendary UK TV soap Coronation Street which is why nothing seems real. The thing is, I don’t even think it looks real on TV. Even in the show it looks exactly what it is; fake. And, these days the whole programme is pretty fake.
Coronation Street has been on TV since 1960 and, in its day, was brilliant, ground-breaking drama but has, in recent years, followed the rest of the soaps into the realm of increasingly ridiculous storylines, melodramatic plotting and sensationalism in the desperate effort to stop its dwindling ratings disappearing completely. And the exterior set symbolises the whole sad process.
It is obviously a set when you visit it and obviously a set on screen. For a start… cobbles. No real streets have cobbles any more apart the Shambles. Also, there is never a single car parked on this street in spite of the fact that there are no double yellow lines. Every real street in Britain is crammed with cars parked bumper to bumper. Furthermore, there’s a pub, a cafe, a shop, a medical centre, a butchers shop, a cash converter shop thing, a chip shop, a hairdressers, a kebab shop, a garage, a Bistro (I mean I ask you! Seriously! A Bistro!!) and (get this!) a knicker factory… all crammed into one tiny street. This is so that every inhabitant of the street can work in the street and thereby have no use for a car (this is the only street in Britain where no-one owns a car). All of these places have been introduced in desperation in order to try to breathe fresh life into the long dead format. It was a long time ago that the lives of these characters last had any resemblance to the lives of real people.
They’ve got it so badly wrong. Viewers are turning, more and more, to so-called reality TV because the dramas have all turned into laughable pantomimes that bear no relation to reality. Some of the most popular programmes on British TV recently have been shows which are far more rooted in reality. The Royle Family is a show where nothing ever happens except a family sits around watching TV; hugely popular with viewers because it is honest and real. Gogglebox has been a hit for Channel Four; again no murders, no jilting at the alter, no affairs, no punch-ups, just honest conversations between recognisable archetypes. That is what soap operas used to do; hold a mirror up to the audience. They used to reflect real life. Now they are just pathetic melodramas.
Anyway, it was still interesting to take a look at the set as it’s pretty iconic after all these years. Production moved to a new Salford Quays site in December so the whole place is deserted in terms of cast and crew. Of course it’s far from deserted in terms of tourists in fact it’s crawling with them… but only until October this year when the tours end. After that, the future of the site is uncertain.
Twenty-eight years ago I chiselled ‘1986‘ into my bedroom door just next to the light switch. You can see it on the photo above. I’d moved into that house the year before with my family. I moved out a few years later but my parents have lived there for nearly 30 years. The house itself is almost 150 years old. A few weeks ago, it was sold and now someone else lives there. A few days before this happened, I took these photographs.
Before I lived here, the longest I’d lived anywhere was four years. This place was the most important place in my life for a long time. When I heard that my mum and dad were going to downsize and move to a smaller place I had very mixed feelings. I knew that it was just a house, just bricks and mortar. I knew that the house had belonged to lots of people before it belonged to us; the deeds show the names of many different owners over the decades. I knew that lots of people would own the house after us and that we couldn’t own it forever. At the same time, I didn’t want to let this chunk of my past go.
We try to hang on to the past. Ridiculous because we know that everything must change. Even if we could hang on to the past, we will only live for so many years and then we have to let go, finally. I don’t know why we feel the need to do this. Maybe it’s to comfort ourselves in the face of an unpredictable future. I was dreading the day when my family moved out and someone else moved in. I took these pictures to try to take a piece of the place with me I suppose.
It was weird taking pictures when the place was half-empty and everything was packed up ready to leave. You try and imprint things on your mind so that you won’t forget them. Photographs help but they’re one-dimensional. You know that you’ll never actually walk into the place again. You see a lot of things, flashes of events that have happened in various rooms over the years. It all seems a bit sad.
Once it was all done, though, I was surprised how little I actually missed the place. I had thought that it would hurt to see other people living in ‘my‘ house. It did hurt a bit. Nowhere near as much as I thought it would, though. In my entire life, I’ve lived in a total of nine different houses. This was just one of them. Places don’t matter really. People matter.
I know it’s the capital city of my country but, until now, I’d only ever been there once (on a school trip). On Saturday I went back. And this time I had a camera. I took 13 million photos and I will force you to look at every one. I’m not a sadist, though, so I’ll space them out a bit. To start with, here’s a few shots of Tower Bridge.
I had the usual problem that I have when faced with photographing attractive things; how do you take a picture which doesn’t beg to be put on a jigsaw puzzle or a box of chocolates? I tried to get some unusual angles but Tower Bridge is one of the most photographed buildings in the world so every inch of it has been photographed from every conceivable angle. I’m learning that the only way to do anything original is to bring in aspects of your own life. That’s why I’m most pleased with the first photo shown here. Tower Bridge is relegated to the background unlike on the rest of the shots, but it’s still the best picture of the bunch, I reckon.
In my photos I’m not trying to document Tower Bridge for people who haven’t seen it. What would be the point? A million guide books and history books can tell you that. I’m trying to show how the bridge looked to me on that particular day, when I was in that particular mood, and was with those particular people. If you want to know the facts about Tower Bridge, you can look it up on the web.
Anyway, it’s a beautiful building, of course. Like so many other buildings in London, it feels like you’re crawling across a film set because it’s featured in so many movies and TV programmes, most recently the Sherlock Holmes one with Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law where the climax was located on a half-built Tower Bridge.
There will be more of my photos of London featuring here. Many, many more…. In London… no-one can hear you scream!!!!!!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha……………
How enormous is that castle on the left of the picture? I took the photo on Rhyl beach. I used to go to Rhyl all the time when I was a kid and I remember it being really nice. I used to make sand castles back then in the good old days. When I go there now I see a faded, shabby, broken-down town. It’s heart-breaking really. A lot of these coastal seaside towns have struggled since the growth of affordable air travel in the seventies. Why go to crap town in Britain for your holiday and get rained on when you can go to a crap town in Spain and get sunburnt? I was also distraught to see that Rhyl Sun Centre had closed down. This was a big, beach themed swimming pool that I went to so many times as a boy. There’s something really poignant about abandoned leisure attractions. Maybe I’m just looking at the place through a haze of nostalgia because back then I was a nipper with no worries or responsibilities as opposed to now when I have a job, a house, a car, and plenty of bills. I’m a bit of a sucker for nostalgia even nostalgia isn’t as good as it used to be. Still had a nice day on the beach though and it didn’t rain once. Thanks to Alice, I even got to make sand castles like a I did in the good old days.