I don’t really know what I’m doing.
But one day I’ll get myself home.
I’ll rise up into the clouds and head east into the night sky, then cross the sea that divides us, to find my future. Even if it’s only a future that’s five hours ahead.
But one day I’ll see my family again. I’ll see you again, Dad, before you forget me.
I never thought it was possible to dream of Smethwick, or Dudley, for that matter.
Never did I ever imagine it possible to miss the walk through Victoria Park on the way to Asda. Before I get there, walking by the electrical shop on the High Street, where the previous owner was kidnapped and found murdered in the boot of his girlfriend's car.
Yup, she killed him.
Walking past the Red Cow pub, on the opposite side of the road, as my journey on into the park continues.
Then, ambling past the spot where my wife, on her daily run, interrupted two fine upstanding members of the community fornicating, before passing the other spot, further into the park, where the ‘bad lads’ once sat.
By the way, one of those ‘bad lads’, who sat in their ‘bad lads' enclosure? Well, he was a 13-year-old boy at the time, and returned there one night bragging to his mates about what he’d just done. Bragging to them after stamping on a woman’s head. Jumping up into the air with both feet raised and crashing down upon her with all of his might, cracking her skull open instantly and killing her on the spot.
Walking away, with bloodied feet, and leaving her body on the pavement. Laughing, as if, to him, she were nothing more than discarded chip paper.
Oh, Smethwick I miss you so.
I miss the fact the street signs aren’t in French and the fact that I don’t need Google translate to read a letter about my taxes.
I miss the dickhead shopkeepers who ask me far too many questions for their own good.
“Where you been?”
What the...what do you mean where have I been, mate? What is it to you? Are you the police, mate? If so, show me your bloody warrant card. Just take my damn money you fool! I always think this to myself, but never say it out loud. I just mutter inaudibly “around mate, just around.”
As said shopkeeper looks at me, giving me that knowing look, smiling as his brain begins to process the thought that I must have been banged up inside, doing bird for the last couple of months, instead of being out of the country.
I even miss the depressed, dirty looking guys in the *the writer has removed the name of this fast-food establishment in order to protect the identity of the depressed dirty souls he’s describing*, who I glance at hurriedly when in the queue.
Watching them yawn and scratch themselves, while leaning against the once white-tiled wall behind the counter. In between us, rows of battered ‘things’ rest wearily under heat lamps, visible through the glass-fronted stainless steel enclosure, waiting to be emancipated by those of us in the queue. I look around the dirty old place and then at the food down the front of the one guy who is about to serve me.
I become self-conscious and turn slightly to look at the assorted, racially-diverse ‘Road Men’ in the queue with me. Hoods up, guns down fellas, I think, let’s not make the papers tonight. At the same moment I wonder to myself, why the hell am I even here?
Before, of course, I order my usual - a large fish and chips, with extra salt and vinegar - for £2.50.
£2.50 - bargain!
Then, I remember, ahh, that’s why I’m here.
The first time I was in said anonymous fast food emporium and they gave me £2.50 change back out of a fiver, I thought they’d made a mistake. And you know the kind of way you’d react: you begin to stifle the smile growing on your face upon realisation of getting back too much change, as you begin to creep out of the shop backwards, hoping to make it out before they realise. *The writer seeks to point out that he always (if there’s a risk of getting caught) points out he’s been given too much change in shops*
One day, I’ll take a sample of this fish to a lab to find out what I’ve actually been eating all of these years - because I know it can’t be fish - I know that this bargain is too good to be true.
Oh, cool, it’s battered bio-degradable polyethylene terephthalate, love it! White plastic fish, only the best for Andrew.
Such was the penance for being cheap, lazy and ‘on the lash’. That’s really why I often ended up in this joint.
Insert here: “Friday night, Saturday morning” by the Specials
I’ve lived a strange life, a good adventurous one, and I owe it all to photography. I don’t want to say this in that hackneyed way that photography saved me, like they used to say about boxing saving ‘street’ kids from working-class backgrounds. But photography introduced me to a bigger world, it broadened my horizons in ways that some of my mates, back in Dudley, never got to see.
Granted, it was an image of the world made through the optics of whiteness, but yes, photography saved me from thinking that Dudley and life in a factory, or whatever else got my mates’ custodial sentences - yes, systemic racism, lack of opportunity and the ingrained messages that this is your lot, pal - was all there was. Photography told me that there was more than a declining industrial town. More than living and dying within a ten mile radius of where you were born.
Photography has given me a chance to be the person I am, it has given me a purpose in life, perceived or otherwise, because I once had none. I once had nothing, no reason to get up for, and that is hard to say, but it’s true.
Photography has given me a future, and, more importantly, it allowed me to travel out into the world and to meet Erin, my wife. No matter what I say about the corrupt and seemingly pernicious practices at times within it, photography has given me a life.
*Hallmark movie soft filtered focus and schmaltzy soundtrack ends*
Living and working in between two countries sounds great, and to be honest, it is. It’s literally the best of both worlds, except for the tax implications of that, of course, and the idea of trying to maintain friendships on both sides of the Atlantic.
It’s great until, you know, there’s a global pandemic that stops travelling and then it pretty much isn’t.
Then, life kind of gets hard. I know, poor Andrew.
A few weeks ago I thought that I was lapsing into a bout of depression. Apathy - check. Lethargy - check. Not caring about anything - check. Can’t sleep, but don’t want to get out of bed - check. Showering? What’s the point? Check.
But I now realise that I’m in fact just, and I think this is a medical term, bored shitless.
That’s right, I’m so damn freakin’ bored right now. Bored of zoom chats, with the same old faces staring back at me and the same old conversations. I’m bored of wondering why some people seem so chipper, and I’m so bored that I can’t even summon up the interest to even write a Tweet now.
I’m bored bruv.
But life is good. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, I still have work, and more importantly - I still have opportunities.
Yet, I’m bored.
Maybe in hindsight, I’m less bored and more depressed though?
I don’t know, but I think a lot of people are feeling, how do I say it, ‘out of sorts’ now.
The pandemic has pulled apart the curtains which many used to help delude themselves from the reality of their lives. The self-delusion of it all, gained from work, and the notions of purpose and identity that it gave to so many. That curtain shielding them from the blunt reality of life - the reality that they’re only one month’s missed wages away from destitution and the fact that we are all just literally killing time before the big dirt nap.
Now granted, I’m no psychologist, I’m more of a ‘street-prophet’ (joking). But I know that the curtains have been pulled away by the pandemic to reveal the mechanisms of our mortality. In fact, our brains are designed to do just that - stop us from thinking about our demise. In this light, the pandemic has, for so many, stopped the self-delusions and made it all so clear.
No matter how hard I work, and no matter how I struggle to pay the bills on time = dirt nap.
No matter how well I dress, the car I drive, yup = dirt nap.
No matter how good a person I am = dirt nap.
Even if you give the overpaid change back in the shop = dirt nap.
Without self-delusion, we can all see that the dirt nap awaits us and that the clock, my friends, is ticking.
*The writer flexes their fingers before returning them to the keyboard*
Erin, my wonderful wife, I know, I rarely ever mention her, who has got me through this all, has coined the phrase the ‘Jacksonian Curve’. It describes my unerring ability to always hear a happy or funny story and then to nose-dive it into the ground, like a burning Japanese Zero fighter crashing at terminal velocity into a US wooden-decked ‘flat-top’, some might say, always mentioning some sad element that comes from nowhere.
Them: I love Coca Cola
Me: I remember seeing a small child being hit with a coca-cola bottle by an adult in a township in Cape Town once.
‘Jacksonian Curves’ have been plentiful lately, my friends. It is as if there has been a rich bountiful crop of them just in time for a harvest festival.
Do you remember when you had to bring in tins for your school’s Harvest Festival? Maybe that was just in primary schools in Dudley? Where did all those tins go?
I can just see my old teachers pocketing it all themselves…all those Heinz tomato soups and Fray Bentos pies…the horror.
Anyway, I would like now to take the opportunity to thank Ross and Cheryl, my wonderful in-laws, who also happen to be my friends, for putting up with these Jacksonian Curves in our regular Facetime chats throughout the duration of the pandemic. And for reading each of these posts.
So, whether it is boredom, depression or mechanisms of mortality, whenever someone is asking me to make a trivial decision, right now, it’s hard for me to act as if it’s of any great real importance, because, well, it isn’t.
But it is, but it isn’t.
I don’t really know anymore.
So, yup, I’ll get that email reply right back to you, I think, while I continue my YouTube search for videos with graphic war-time content - just to feel something in the greyness.
Because I’m bored, don’t you know.
Maybe this is depression?
I saw the aftermath of a road traffic accident last Thursday night, down by Laurier Metro. Two cyclists, bloodied and bruised, sitting in the gutter, one being held by someone in a white tee shirt. I don’t know why I remembered that detail. The cop, standing over them, wrote in a notebook before he turned and waved to the driver, in a fancy black SUV, who it appeared had hit the cyclists, to go on his merry way.
“White privilege,” I said under my breath, but I don’t know what happened. I only saw the aftermath, as the white driver drove away into the night, with the permission of the white cop, and as the white cyclists sat broken in the gutter traumatised by it all. As the Black man (that would be me) went on his way, walking past it all and leaving this scene behind to go and drink beer in the park, in the last days of summer.
I’d hate to have an accident in public, to have everyone look at me as a victim, with that rubber-necking thrill burning in them, because we all love a little bit of schadenfreude. Anyway, as I was getting off rubber-necking, I looked at the bloodied brow and the shocked thousand-yard stare on the young woman’s face while she sat there in the gutter. As she just looked off into the distance, all alone, the world, and me, walked by in the fading light of a Montreal night.
Sitting there on the curb of the pavement, or sidewalk, or whatever you want to call it in your part of the world, as I wondered what she was thinking.
*Insert the sound of a ring pull, pulling*
Then I could care less about what she thought. But this was only because, with the first sip of beer, I forgot all about her.
Maybe I’ve been in shock too these past weeks?
Nope, I’m just bored. It’s got to be that.
Or maybe I’m angry?
Yeah, maybe I’m just angry at, I don’t know what, or whom, but yes, I’m just bloody angry. I mean, you might have heard a few people saying this lately, but it was going to be my year.
No, wait, it was, really.
2020 was going to be my year and it’s all gone now.
Hey, hold on, come back!
I was going to be working on a new project in Jamaica, working in the UK, travelling to Paris and taking a tour with my in-laws. Projects were working out, and after all these years of feeling that people were not seeing me, or having any interest in my work, it felt like it was all just coming together and…
….did someone say mechanisms of mortality or dirt nap?
Maybe there’s just no outlet for the anger or frustration which so many are feeling right now, other than to do what I do - blow up strangers on the internet in online combat (by the way, spawn killers are soulless bastards), but anyway, yeah, it’s just...
...I just feel…
...I just don’t know how I feel right now.
That’s the problem. I don’t know.
Hey, how about those *insert name of sports team here once again*?
Capture One informed me today that in my ‘RONA catalogue’ I’d taken over a thousand images over the last ten weeks, when I hadn’t really thought I’d taken any. Mostly crap I guess. Thin cracks in white walls, pastel coloured packaging of frozen food, empty wastelands, close up details of ‘mankind’ crashing up against nature, and the backs of people walking off into the distance.
There’s something in there though, I think, even if it’s only the start of something to come.
I still don’t know what I’m doing though.
But it’s OK.
I’m just trying to get through, I guess?
Get through to that mythical world on the other side of all of this. I seem so often to speak of this and say it to people I miss back at home.
Ten weeks is a lifetime. At least it feels as if it has been, since the first time I wrote that last paragraph in the very first post. On one hand, nothing has changed, and yet, everything has.
Nothing lives without hope, and if I’m honest a little bit of hope has left me; it just stopped living and faded away. But not all of it. Some of it has been bolstered by family and friends and by more photo compatriots on Twitter.
So to everyone who has sent me a DM to just ask me how it’s going, or to have a chat, to ask a question, to shoot the breeze, to whatever, all of that has helped me keep those links to the world beyond the screens I live on, alive and allowed me to keep my chin up and myself squared away.
We all still have a long and winding road to walk, and I say this sadly, but there will be steep cliffs yet to climb and battles yet to win. But we can all get through this, all of us get through to the other side - whatever that other side means to each and every one of us - we can all get through, all get across.
So, let’s all keep talking about how we feel; let’s not bottle it up inside *The writer directs this message specifically to any Canadian readers who might have access to military-grade automatic assault rifles* because it’s OK not to know how you feel, to be angry, or to not know where you are going right now.
It really is.
These are the words I want to leave you with on the last of my ten posts (contractual obligation - check).
I leave you with the words - “we got this.”
So be kind to yourself.
Stay safe, stay well and I’ll see you all on the other side.