In search of the authentic
for the real Tunbridge Wells.
suffer from an uncommon condition that has yet to be officially recognised
and treated; a complete abhorrence and reaction to consumerism and commerciality'.
in search of the banal, is the title I was considering by mid way
into the day trip taken to the unknown regions of the country, whereby
I mean anywhere outside London. The weather should have been deterrent
enough, as the rain lashed down buffeted into horizontal motions
by huge gusts of wind. The tension of being cooped up for two days,
waiting for a let up in the aforementioned weather was now unbearable.
London felt claustrophobic and monotone; the air heavy with stench
that constricted the lungs and no horizon to broaden the mind; come
what may, stepping outside was now a must.
My travelling companion and I had decided, in the absence of a better
idea, to simply pick a random place on the map as the goal for our journey.
The only criteria being a) somewhere we both had not been to before and
b) not so far as to encompass a long arduous journey remembering we had
to leave, and at some point, get back into London. This last factor has
in the past proven to be more of a quest than a simple journey, one that
makes Dantes tour of purgatory, seems like a pleasant alternative.
After much reluctance in the face of this prospect, we left the flat after
lunch and started out.
The wind and rain produced appalling visibility and all cars were reduced
to a slow trundling in the left hand lane, making occasional violent readjustments
to the cars direction as huge winds tried to blow our pathetic metal boxes
in to the nearby ditch. Everyone that is apart from those devil worshipers
who have their foot to the floor in all conditions, and hammer past you
in the fast and soon to be taking off lane, oblivious to exterior factors
such as hurricanes and other drivers. I can only assume they have some
advanced head up display in their four wheeled jet fighter
cockpit that enables them to travel at similar speeds to their airborne
cousins. As the next one passes in a blur of spray, I know I should have
spent the extra on the Ghia model and not my Virgin Mary figurine that
watches over me from the dashboard.
Ah ha, the turning for Tunbridge Wells went the relieved cry,
as we neared our destination. I was imagining old narrow streets and quaint
oak beamed houses and shops. Hopefully a Ye Olde pub or two in which to
take refuge, a roaring heath to sit next to with a pint of local real
ale, and the murmur of quite conversation and the crackle of the fires
flame as a backdrop. We past through Southborough first and from our road
Atlas we could see our goal was very soon after.
Southborough looked like a very ordinary town, with the old and new buildings
appearing equally undistinguished and the centre of the town apparently
being the main road we were on. I was happy to be passing through and
nothing else, the scenery didnt change much, with sometimes more
and sometimes less on the roadside. So how much further till we
are there? I asked my co-driver, were in Tunbridge Wells
didnt you see the sign? came the reply. My heart sank but
the optimist in me held on to a notion that you couldnt tell a towns
true nature from its outskirts, and once past the outer settlements some
surprises may still be in store.
The further we ventured in, the more my optimism waned and upon following
the signs for parking, we discovered a multi-storey facility, which was
not a good sign in itself. I parked the car in ambivalence, and left it
in hope. I left to wander the streets but instead found myself in a pristine
and glowing white arena. My stomach turned and my heartbeat quickened,
and a sweaty palmed panic quickly consumed me. I suffer from an uncommon
condition that has yet to be officially recognised and treated; a complete
abhorrence and reaction to consumerism and commerciality. Unwittingly
I had stumbled into one of its most concentrated and deadly forms; the
Due to its vast size escape was not immediate in coming and it took a
few precious minutes to find an exit, which seem to be erroneously located
in an attempt to keep us trapped for longer, until we succumb to our new
god. We fled outside into the welcome rain, taking any direction, happy
to be free once again.
I had foolishly come out with out a hat and still infused with the spirit
of Old England, despite everything, I decided to try and find one that
would befit and English man in the worst English weather. Upon receiving
directions to a suitable establishment, we quickly made our way to Robertson
What a traditional mans paradise it proved to be; an oasis of wax jackets
tweeds and hunting paraphernalia. I wandered through the shop, suffused
with the musty smell of natural fabrics, wax and leather, over to the
hat section. I tried on a few examples with brims of varying sizes and
some with feathers and bands of leather around their circumference. Nothing
suited, Id have to wait at least twenty years and inherit a manor
to wear such things.
I felt out of place and my sense of self started returning.
About to leave I spotted a large rack of guns, and wandered over mesmerised
by such an unusual and potentially dangerous sight. It opened up into
an alley of armoury, containing rifles and shotguns of all denominations.
Can I help you said a friendly looking man at the end of the
alley behind a desk. Oh no just looking thanks I replied and
he returned to conversation with his colleague. I felt astounded and uneasy
looking at such things, their physical reality being so unfamiliar, their
hand crafted form at times beautiful I wanted to touch them, but like
a snake that might turn and bite I dared not. As I looked back to the
assistants they were flicking through related magazines, should
have used a rocket launcher, ha ha one pointed out to the other.
I imagined him looking up at us with shotgun in hand, a knowing smirk
across his face, uttering the fateful words You folks aint from
around these parts are yer? and I quickly decided to leave.
Cold, wet and unsatisfied, we decided that some refreshment was in order,
and there wasnt anything else to do. Nobody knew of any of the public
houses of the type I had in mind, and in fact looked at me strangely when
I asked about such possibilities, suggesting instead a Wetherspoons pub.
Clearly I was in the wrong place with the wrong people. Coffee it was
then and we soon happened upon two large franchised chains of coffee shop
on opposite sides of the road, vying head to head for punters. I opted
for the one that allowed smoking to retain some sense of personal choice
and freedom. While we sat in prefabricated and prescribed refreshment
heaven, we were soon joined by scores of older school children, eager
to be out of school and partaking in the cool adult world: smoking and
drinking coffee. I smiled at first but then cringed at their mock behaviour,
which added one more facade to the ever-growing mosaic, that of our societies
socially didactic and unoriginal environment. My sudorific surroundings
breached my defences once again, and we quickly left to start the journey
to a London that once again seemed welcome. The coffee may not taste any
better there but I can drink it in a café owned by someone who
serves me, who painted it themselves to their own taste, who created and
sourced their own menu, both of us happy in our delusion that there is
nowhere else just like here.
© Robert Cooper 2002
Previously by Robert Cooper -
The Turner Prize
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