Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


March 10, 2010

10-3-10 Back on the Block

Tuesday, my second day back at school and I stop in at a nearby convenience store for a bottle of water to refill the wiper-tank, a redundant break in my home run as it turns out. Must’ve been the morning frost that stopped the nozzles.

As I clap the bonnet shut and climb back into the car seat a young man emerges from the betting-shop: capped and bristle-headed, hands in his track-suit pants pockets, a sizable spliff bent over one ear as if by its own weight, staring up at the police helicopter I’d barely noticed curving in over the estate. I can hear the buzz overhead; he stares. His mate comes out to join him and they both stare. It’s a hybrid of blank-face and routine hostility.

There’s nothing new or uniquely contemporary about this snapshot. Mayhew or Rook would’ve recognised hooligans when they saw them. For gin read skunk, that’s about it.

In school The Usual Suspects call each other ‘dickhead’; ‘crackhead’ or ‘gay’, play at shanking (knifing) each other and discuss vendettas and feuds for which batterings are deserved or have been administered.

This is the local scene for our kids. No wonder some of them don’t ‘get’ school. They’re perfectly adapted for a feral life on the precinct and wasteground-parks where gang-life is Darwinist and full of predatory excitements.

We get that ‘come on then, teach me something’ stare in class. Our conduct is bounded by policies designed to defer sanctions such as exclusion from school (= time on the street) and allow time for reflection. That’s a laugh, and they do.

It’s a game of Prisoners and Warders. The Warders have to enforce the rules; The Prisoners simply have to ignore them or derail the routine in any petty way and they win. Self-sabotaging their education is a game they can win day after day, ‘outsmarting’ the staged procedures that we’re obliged to enact.

We’re supposed to tell the younger ones that bad behaviour makes us ‘very sad’. The result is that ‘That makes me very SAD!!’ redefines the word as a synonym for ‘angry’. Any gesture of physical restraint is high-risk, even if another kid has to endure casual slaps while we do the verbals.

All these policies designed to embody respect and irreproachable non-violent resolutions serve mostly to highlight the laughably ineffectual ‘consequences’. Nothing a blank stare can’t match.

What would happen if by some fluke we managed to convey a liking for Bach or The Pre-Raph collection in town? Who would they share it with?

There’s no shortage of decent kids and decent parents holding the line, and extra credit to them in the circumstances. The enemies of ambition don’t hover in helicopters, they live down the street.

LOVE, left on your knuckles and HATE your right

No room for indifference

Which is in your bones.

A keen of air drawn through the stained teeth of high-rise silos

Kicks about under concrete porticos, what you looking at?

Echoes in your marrow

And in those hollows, footsteps

Following closer in the dim shark-scented underpass

Through the submarine body-boom of traffic on its gumflecked rainbowslicked tarmac skin.

The ghosts of dead ambition

As seen on grainy grey-screen CCTV

Haunt every other jumpcut second, unwitnessed.

A neutral view of cake-shop pink and yellow slabs

In forced perspectives, narrow vanishing points.

No incidents are noted

Between statistics recorded in the Plaza.

Every other second

Is more time killed, laid out on waxy sofas

Dissolved on blackened spoons

In burnt-out tinfoil troughs,

Time not put aside for rainy days.

Slack-bellied binbags by the door

Heavy with empty bottles filled with vacant hours,

Spiked with punctured cans you can’t refill.

When you’ve time you’ll hoy them down the chute –

Off the balcony if you’re out of it.

Your frowning brow and tattooed tears

Tell me two stories I don’t want to hear.

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