Talcum powder: I have been on two journeys in recents weeks—the first down the canal system from Warwick Parkway to Oxford. It takes about 68 miles via canal, because the canal twists and turns—whereas the crow flies in about 56 miles. What struck me above all is how far the canal network collapses, so far as walking goes, when you move a few miles away from spots where people walk their dogs.
As soon as you get deep into the network, you find the path literally crumbles into the water in places—so you have to skip over it. The brambles have grown over the paths, so it’s like a thicket in a fairy tale (hack it away to discover Sleeping Beauty). On the ground were many small apples—so the smell of decay was strong. There was an impression all was falling apart, sinking.
You are soon in “the country proper” and everything is so very still and quiet—true eeriness. At one place my journey was interrupted by a huge building site replete with vast dump trucks decked out in lights that flashed like those on a police car. This was an HS2 works, in the middle of nowhere, and it worked 24 hours a day—I was struck by its absurd ugliness and how it seemed like a pointless disruption.
In a pub I stopped for dinner in on the first night two local men discussed business—one mentioned how everyone he worked with round the farms called him “Pedro”, talked about the quasi-criminal people an associate had introduced to him. He talked about his daughter, a primary school teacher, and how she already had one “non-binary girl” in her class (whatever that is!) and about how they had to do “all the traditions of the world”. “What I’d say is we’re just doing our bloody traditions, you can have yours in your country!” <<Too bloody right, mate>>. That is the word from the ground, but I don’t think these people grasp the scale of what is going on.
I walked through the night on the canal to find a place to sleep, I knew from the start this would not be an occult expedition—so I found some place by a gate one night and in a field the next night. I was struck by the magical names of the barges, though—Lock Stock, Shield Maiden…but also by the way people were gripped by fashions, so that there were several called Reflections and Pangolin.
The canal cuts two ways, being liminal—ultra-expensive barges done out like flats where couples watch TV and drink champagne, and neo-hippy barges with dream catchers and a pot of tea bubbling on a real stove. To be frank, I find both to be affected—one is too ludicrous, the other is only inverted snobbery (only the children of lecturers pretending to be gypsies).
As I approached Oxford, I noticed that every boat was converted to electricity—like cars (Oxford, impeccable environmental city). I passed a barge called Argos in the night where a couple had a blazing row—I have just had a fucking enough today! said the man, as he slammed his hand on the stove; the woman shouted, Oh, you’ve had a hard day! Well, I’ve had a fucking hard day too, actually! Argonauts.
I stepped into a pub for dinner, it looked convivial and cosy but inside it was starkly lit and decorated and the customers, all barge owners, were silent. The boys behind the bar were two gay teenagers and my skin crawled as they hugged each other, caressed each other with their arms as they checked Grindr. The landlord came in, clocked my knapsack and sleeping mat, and said “who’s camping?” to the boys—a double entendre.
I recognised the change from the fields of the West Midlands to the fields of Oxfordshire immediately, since those are the fields I grew up with—which are much softer than the harsh West Midlands countryside, the Oxfordshire countryside is more yellow. I passed Duke’s Wharf and then Vision2000 Wharf—the latter a recent invention, the name so bureaucratic and risible. I passed boats moored directly under a motorway flyover—an act that seemed somehow passive aggressive, schizoid; the insistence on mooring beneath constant noise.
I threaded my way into Oxford in the morning, surrounded by myriad bicycles piloted by university employees. Two points struck me: 1. it’s so white—everyone here is white; 2. the people who cycled to university were somehow deformed, too straggly and weirdly shaped (probably called “Tobias” or something like that). Perhaps high intelligence deforms the body too. Of course, Oxford is my home city and I found it largely unchanged, because it’s difficult to build there—though I would say I find it to be almost too pleasant, Birmingham is too abrasive and Oxford too pleasant (too pleasant as to be unreal).
London, however, I found to be very soft; and this is new—everyone looked very soft, the women are shaped like avocados. There were practically no English there, but many Chinese—more than I have seen before (of course, all the primary school classes on trips out were solidly Pakistani). I was struck by the presence of the Jews too—surveying their possession, I presume. And, indeed, a man tried to push me a leaflet about Jesus into my hand—his t-shirt had Jesus growing out of a menorah (it confirms my view Jesus is for the Jews, he is poison to Gentiles), he looked deranged. The Ukrainian flag flew over all the government buildings (another country owned by the Jews).
Yet everything was strangely placid, the harshness had gone—I had an impression that it was a city abandoned by the people who built it, just a ripe avocado ready to rot. Oh, as for talcum powder—it’s very useful if you walk a lot, and I always forget to buy some (so make sure you do).