Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Resolution Way

Deptford High Street.
 Lewis is skulking outside the White Horse watching the TASTEE£ sign get fitted up by where the White Horse sign used to be, two paint spattered guys on a ladder, the rooms above it being converted into flats. They can't boast spectacular river views but they are at least moments from Deptford’s vibrant High Street with it’s host of amenities. She knows her mum was involved in a group opposed to the sale, but that it went ahead anyway, as has the clearing out of the estate, the redevelopment of the docks, local people priced out, all that sorry litany of complaints.

Dan arrives a little late. He has been in Deptford library, helping out a friend of his older brother, Min, who took out some bizarre mortgage ten years ago and is suddenly getting hit with massively increased payments just as his job’s on the line and can't understand why, panicking, not really sure what he signed up for back when he was eighteen and his mum and dad were urging him to get on the ladder, sinking their own savings into the place too, so that now he feels that he will be letting everyone down, ruining everyone’s life if he can’t keep up the payments.

 Dan, for all that he has a degree in International Economics can’t quite figure out the fine print and has advised him to get more sound, legit legal advice, but Min can’t afford that and so he is thinking that well, he could sell now, get enough to pay off his debt, probably, but they have got another kid on the way, need more space and where will they live? They could get somewhere with three bedrooms outside London but then, where will he work? Dan has no answers for him, there aren’t any, no smart strategy, no moves that haven’t been countered in advance, everything has already been priced in and beside he is tired anyway from his morning stint at Heart of Chicken, called in at 6:00 again.

He sleeps now, Dan, with his phone in his hand so he will be the first one to answer, he knows they have systems that send out work requests to up to a hundred phones simultaneously. He has even found himself, perhaps precisely because he is asleep, if he is ever really allows himself to fully sleep these days, and his consciousness isn’t there, veiling or compromising his pure autonomic response, answering the phone slightly before the call comes through, almost as though he senses the intention to dispatch the message the same way they say dogs know when their owners decide to set off and come home, rouse themselves to go and wait patiently, mysteriously by the window, gazing out at the road, panting softly.

Phone buzz, his thumb automatically increasing the pressure on the accept button that has appeared beneath it, eyes opening, squinting at the illuminated screen in the dark hoping he hasn’t agreed to something too far away or that starts too soon. What time is it now? Forty minutes to get up and dressed, bike it to Heart of Chicken up in Woolwich, no breakfast, it’s raining outside, thirty minutes there and back for two hours work but he knows that Heart Of Chicken’s parent company share information with USG anyway and that if he refuses three offers in a row it will impact on his Viability Rating a full spectrum assessment protocol; run by USG’s Human Capital Division, and even though he is violently ideologically against the system he still can’t bear the idea that his treasured AAA triple plus rating would be lost especially as it will impact on all other kinds of ratings, his credit rating especially, and then slowly they will start to put the squeeze on him for repayments.

 His student debt is one of a tranche that the government has agreed can be retroactively Abondized and his ability to roll over his repayments on his loans depend on that rating staying high. He has seen people a year or two younger than him, the guinea pigs for the new system, fuck up, misstep, take a negative hit somewhere on their Viability Index often in areas they had no idea were open to assessment and see other areas start to recalibrate in response, find their performance related interest rate going up and up from week to week, then day to day, hour to hour in a vortex of accelerating, uncontrollable, mutually reinforcing algorithmic panic. A few weeks ago he sat in the square next to Wavelengths with Will, looking at his phone and in the end laughing at the insane, exponential increase in Will's P.I.R. and the conversion into an equivalent number of Giveback hours, several lifetimes’ worth and still rising. Your work life just went parabolic across about five generations.

They laughed at the insanity of it, there seemed to be no other response, but here it is and just as with Min who, probably, can only keep his repayments down by signing up his kids to his mortgage, intergenerational, possibly endless, for the ex-council flat at the back of Deptford Broadway he thought he was buying Dan has a dark inkling of what the inevitable outcome is for friends like Will who have got caught in an upward spiral. The term of the debt extending until a default line is reached and then they are bankrupt, unable to ever pay it back and are bought out by USG and funneled into Permanent Giveback. Dan imagines that they will be obliged to have children in order to have someone to pay back the debt, the cost of raising them added to the multigenerational bill stretching on into infinity.
They have got you for life, not  just you, your kids too. Down all the days.
Dan wants a pint, a simple pint of beer, just one, or maybe two halves and a little bit free getting a taster of the different cask beers on rotation in the Jobcentre. That closed down a few years ago and was squatted for a while before it got converted into a bar. Now anyone local has to report to the Catford Centre. Lewis went up there once on a school trip, mandatory introduction to the kinds of programmes on offer from USG and the place looked like a prison, security guards on every floor, touch screen computer terminals covered in grease or not working at all, no chairs or desks, seemingly no staff. The corporate video in the big windowless room showed people picking fruit or hurrying through warehouses or pouring coffees accompanied by a semi coherent explanation from a dazed looking man in his twenties, reciting a script about the numerous ratings levels that would apply to them by the time they reached 18 as part of the the Government’s Universal Human Capital Assessment Index a one stop rating system that incorporated everything from levels of body fat and eyesight tests through to exam results, work experience, psychometric tests and character evaluations and would be phased in as a more comprehensive alternative to the only recently introduced Viabilty index

The pub is full of students from Goldsmiths and Greenwich Uni, she has always refused to go in as she knows there is an unofficial door policy about keeping the wrong people out, but in practice this never needs to be explicitly enforced, already there is a powerful hex of wealth and white privilege, a magic threshold that means that people stop and glance in through the window, hear the music, see the faces, the decor and understand. She heard Laura and her friends talking about this just the other week, gentrification, the way wealth and poverty coexists, one on top of the other, the same streets, the same spaces yet seem to be two radically separate realms, people negotiating in and around each other, screening things out, being buffeted and directed by sets of unconscious pressures. Lewis wants to smash it to pieces, break down the invisible barriers, really see, but she knows how hard it is, how hard it is. The Jobcentre, everyone’s white, at least down in the Wetherspoons in Greenwich, by the DLR, you get a mix of people, but this has become a separate space, yes she is struck by the fact that on Resolution Way the art space she has been going to for meetings is called The Enclave, yes, she sees how this place floats on the high street, connected in a line of power, a shared dimension of futurity, to the rest of the Antic collective’s pubs, in the way the flats above TASTEE£ do, the building bifurcated on a horizontal temporal plane, the way that Canary Wharf, just across the river, always visible, floats outside the space-time of Tower Hamlets, London is itself outside the rest of the country. These multitemporal spaces, worlds within worlds, she hovers in the doorway of the Jobcentre, you can no more cross those thresholds, breach those barriers, than step into the past or future.

She feels the moment of resistance, it must come from within her but it feels as tangible and real as some physical barrier itself. Then she is pulled in behind Dan as he surges in, settles for a pint of Gunner Smith, a 9% IPA, sips it, settles back on the tastefully shabby settee, a pint mid afternoon with nothing in his stomach but a bit of vale muesli will go straight to his head, good value for money. Have a siesta then tonight he can work on the paper he’s going to give in the Enclave on Saturday, part of Burst the Bubble’s ongoing series of workshops.

Will Lewis be there? Yeah she says, of course.

Laura coming too?

She nods.

How’s your mum doing? Lee?

We are getting ready to leave, I guess, she says. Lee’ s alright.

What about you. She has asked Dan if he will help her out with stuff she’s studying, things she is not sure she has understood, but he looks too tired, she doesn’t want to put pressure on him.

She worries about Dan. He has always been like a brother to her, close, was always the smart one, went to Uni, got his degree. He could be across in Canary Wharf now, making his fortune, except he said when it came to it he just couldn’t do it. He knew straight away more or less, going to Uni, the life this might get me isn’t for me. Of course he worked hard, he did well, but if he ends up in Heart Of Chicken through USG’s Just in Time Temps programme what hope is there for her? Still no, she mustn't think that way. Dan says it, her Mum says it , Laura says it, it can change, it’s a set of decisions, a way of arranging the world, we can change it. Yes, we can, if we are not too exhausted, demoralised, depressed, half starved, drunk, messed up, focus so scattered, lives so unpredictable that any cohesion has gone, that even the smallest obstacles seem insurmountable, the most trivial challenges impossible to meet. She read something or did someone tell her, that slave owners always faced this delicate balancing act. You need to feed the slaves enough for them to be able to perform the work, but not so much that they might start to have surplus strength that might be directed elsewhere.

How to maintain the optimum level of starvation, that’s the trick, that’s the art.