When I left home to go to university, I lived in a city for the first time. My favourite way to relax was to explore the streets of the city – wander wherever my interest took me, down alleys and into all sorts of nooks and crannies. I also went swimming from time to time but that was far less interesting and required a bus ride across town. It struck me that although the city was densely occupied with people and things, layer on layer from the bedrock up to the sky – most of the urban space didn’t seem to have much attention given to it. Conversely in rural areas, most space had very few people to give it any attention – and satellite imaging doesn’t pick up the details that are interesting – or under trees. My impression, therefore, was that most things proceeded unseen, unnoticed – and to me many of those things seemed more remarkable than the things that were celebrated. Also, being a stranger in a place, or at best having the transient identity of temporary resident, made me more detached observer than participant.
I also had access to a copyright library – where you could request any book that has every been published in the UK. Any obscure reference you came across, you could look it up.
The result of this intensity of experience was that I started a radio show – one where I discussed my observations from the streets, against a soundtrack of dispassionate and alienating electronic music compatible with my urban encounters. I called it Reality Radio – 10pm on a Wednesday night on 87.7FM. One evening I popped out of the studio to go to the loo and left my pass inside. The producer had gone home so I was locked out, the sound of a needle jumping the final groove of the record broadcast for about half an hour until someone came to let me back in.
These days, I am able to wander and observe more widely; in some places I am able to consider myself a participant, but I still have plenty of opportunity to be an observer, of all the strange and wonderful things in the world.
I’m John. Do drop me a line.