Sort of woozy and credulous and sad
I’ve been getting a bit obsessed by the North Sea flooding of 1953. It happened 31 years before I was born (to the day) and every new account of it that I read sends me into more of a headspin. I’m trying to write about it but I can’t get past the imagery, just repeating the imagery that’s recounted in books, in transcriptions on local history websites, in the reports that made a case for what is now the Thames Barrier. They say it was the most significant natural disaster to hit the UK in the twentieth century, but went largely forgotten because it inconveniently countered the narrative of post-war renewal.
It hit Canvey Island hardest of all. Pre-fab bungalows for a retirement community. A lack of phone lines. There was a silent wave that no-one knew was coming, a sea surge on a spring tide, the inky black water forcing its way up Benfleet Creek, the torches bobbing as men ran to reach the flood gates in time, the sudden rush as it beat the war-damaged dykes, kitchen lino bubbling with saltwater under bare feet, waterfalls through keyholes, grandmothers balancing on loft beams, children waking to find blankets floating. The cries for help, the roof falls, the debris injuries, the babies swaddled in wet sheets. One man surrendered his house to the surge, just opened front door and back and hoped the sea would rush through his home rather than flatten it completely.
Told you it was pretty full on.
I can’t write anything about it because I can’t really breathe properly when I think about it. It’s a tragedy, exacerbated by time and place and social factors, but one against which its victims were entirely powerless. Thinking about it makes me feel alive. Frightened and exhilarated, like I’m not the king of my castle at all. Like none of us are. Like we are fucking specks.
(Brace yourselves guys, here’s another performance about performance.)
Karaoke by Sleepwalk Collective is like being in a phone queue to talk to your electricity supplier because your neighbour told you he’d saved nine pounds a month by switching. You’re listening to an instrumental cover of C’est La Vie by B*witched while you wait, and it somehow reminds you of the time you got in trouble at school for writing on Alicia Massey’s jumper with felt tip pen that wouldn’t come off. You’d had to write her a letter of apology and get no pocket money until you’d covered the cost of a replacement. You think about that for a while, about the dread of having to tell your parents what you’d done, and then C’est La Vie starts over again. It’s like your life is in stasis, your body too. You’re frozen in your kitchen in the year 2014 and on your left there is everyone who ever died and on your right there is everyone who will ever be born. That’s Hegel. You did that at uni. This is all inevitable. C’est La Vie begins again.
I’m describing all these shows as “Adler & Gibbish” now. Little Revolution, These Are Your Lives, Ballyturk too, or so I’m told. Actors acting actors acting.
And now Karaoke. Deadpan, vacant, lusciously joyless service to the writer/director/evil karaoke machine. Follow the instructions. Do as you’re told. Pose like bad actors. Pose like Olivia Newton John and John Travolta. Pose like porn stars. Hold hands. Pull the rope. Lie face-down. Make your face smile. Make your face give a fuck.
I’m doing it again. I’m trying to write what I want to write but I’m too caught up in the imagery that already exists. FFS this is supposed to be a response to Karaoke, inspired by Karaoke, and instead I’m just listing all my favourite bits like I’m the one who’s trapped in the irreversible Hegelian nightmare, like I’m the one whose future is already written.
Don’t run from it Meg. This was always the blog post you were going to write. You’re just a Russian doll melove, screaming claustrophobic screams between the concrete past and the inescapable future. Relax. Give in to it. Pull the rope.
The reason I can’t write my flooding story is that it’s already written. Well, okay then, not written exactly. It’s been filmed, in my head, by my imagination. It’s too beautiful already, the camera angles are too perfect, the post-production, the grading, the saturation, it’s all there. It looks like a music video. Like a music video from the very apex of the music video, like peak music video. Those post-MTV, pre-YouTube days. The late 90s, when Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Hype Williams did their thing. Except this is no Missy Elliott, fish-eyed in an inflatable suit or that guy dressed in a dog-mask. Darling, your beloved Aphex Twin is just another geezer with two kids and a glitch aesthetic. Instead, this is a video from some shit student guitar band with one song and a crazy, gak-driven budget from the label. This… this… is a fucking JJ72 music video. They’re smashing their instruments up in slow motion, silhouetted on a crumbling dyke as the wave rolls past. A supermodel with panda eyes stands in her chalet, ballgown lifting as the waters rise.
I can’t even get a good fucking nineties promo director for my shitty writers’-blocked entrapment headspace fucking PRISON.
In Karaoke, Sleepwalk Collective do that thing to us that Forced Entertainment have done to us a hundred times before, that Chris Brett Bailey did with a fucking crossbow between our eyes, that all our favourite books have done again and again: make us imagine our way out of the stasis. You were listening to that instrumental version of C’est La Vie but, guess what, now I’m holding up these flash cards. Car wrecks, severed limbs, forest fires, dead children, a black hole, an erupting volcano, a mass grave, a collapsing pier. A recurring womb, daughter inside daughter inside daughter inside daughter. The concept of infinity. Your empty heart.
58 people dead, no warning, no defences. Just like a JJ72 video. “24 hour music television you control.” History is a totality. This was always going to happen. Bridge (4 bars). Smile. Freeze frame. Kiss. Next singer please.