Thursday, 20 September 2007

Ballardian Dystopia

Life in my village is definitely a little less genteel than I thought it might be. The two pubs nearest my home still look a little too threatening for me to want to enter, and on saturday morning I was greeted by the sight of a burnt out car as I left the flat. My flatmate reckons that the car might have had an electrical problem (common in Renaults, apparently) but I think he's in denial because he doesn't want to think of himself as living in an area that has burnt out cars. After all, it's his mortgage, not mine. I'm quite enamoured with the idea that the car was burnt deliberately as it lends a frisson of excitement to life in the area. Village life is dull.

My block of flats is three storeys high and almost cube-shaped. It sits between two other identical blocks, and all three of these spread out in front of you as you approach from the road. There is litter and a bit of grass and plenty of concrete around and it looks like Poland does in my head. Now, I've no idea what Poland really looks like but I reckon it's probably a bit like where I live. And before anyone thinks that I'm being terribly stereotypical and unfair (which I am) because Poland, like most other countries, features a varied landscape of mountains and lakes and open spaces as well as urban areas, just ask yourself whether you understand what I mean. You know you do. This doesn't, of course, apply to any of my Polish friends or anyone who has actually been to Poland because they are far more knowledgeable and therefore less bigoted about Poland than I am.

My point is that where I live isn't very interesting and that burnt cars are. Living near a burnt out car also lends me an air of urban authenticity. I am Street! I may wear bookish (but very geek-chic) glasses and read The Guardian among many other things but I live in Urban Hell! I don't, however, destroy rock and roll (for any Manic Street Preachers fans out there). I even have a tattoo! I am Man, hear me roar!

The other thing I've noticed about my village in the eighteen days that I've lived there is that there aren't many teenagers. I've seen less than ten and even some of those may be repeat sightings because they all look the same when you get to my age. There is a corresponding lack of graffiti and intimidating groups on street corners that is quite welcome. But it feels a little wrong. The population here seems to be spread over two main groups: under-ten year olds and twenty-five to forty year olds. There don't appear to be many exceptions to this. Where is everyone? I've concluded that the old people don't want to live out their days under a flightpath and that the lack of teenagers is down to the fact that there isn't a school for them.

All of this demographic information is quite boring but I think about it quite a lot and for this I blame JG Ballard. I've read a few of his books lately and am looking at the world quite differently as a result. It helps that he generally writes about real towns and areas that I'm very familiar with and am able to picture accurately (unlike Poland). So, the very specific village demographic takes on a sinister air (I found out recently that the word sinister is derived from the Latin for left-handed. The world's against us...). Maybe there are older people but they retain a younger look by somehow assimilating the teenager's youth. Maybe they kill them or suck their blood or something. Also, in Ballardian society the burnt out car takes on a greater significance. His books often feature characters and communities that turn to violence and crime in general to escape or enervate their boring lives and it's probably this that I'm considering when I have a little smile to myself when walking past that ex-Renault Scenic.

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