...in the bottom drawer
I knew I'd lose it so I put it in a safe place, and now I can't remember where it is.

currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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June 06, 2005 || 1:47 am

Church slogans of the day:
GOD GRADES BY THE CROSS NOT THE CURVES
TAKE EXERCISE, WALK WITH JESUS

It's been another busy week, so apologies for lack of posts! We had solid rain for the first half of the week, meaning the usual tour guide service that I would have done to all the RS projects was somewhat curtailed and Alabama's poverty, that can look somewhat picturesque in the sun, looked fully as miserable as it really is. Then the sun came out and off we went to New Orleans for a night, whereby I finally got to see the city without hordes of people, minus the beer goggles and beads of Mardi Gras, and thus appreciate just how amazing the architecture of the city is. It is quite extraordinary to find that quantity of old and beautiful buildings - not just a few blocks, but street after street of wrought iron balconies, white columns, and elegant porticoes. One could walk for literally hours from the French Quarter to uptown without seeing anything to break this continuum.

Then another (wait for it) bluegrass festival! Up to Foggy Hollow for yet more late-night picking - a totally different atmosphere from last weekend but good fun, traditional bluegrass and a late-night Waffle House visit in between the pickin' which always adds to the occasion. Now it's back to my empty warehouse where I've got to get down to work again, having taken pretty much all the week off...

The other half of my brain (the bit that's still English) is meanwhile obsessed with the latest ins and outs of the Ashley Cole saga - the debate being is he an ungrateful little sod or has he been betrayed by our club? Answers on an email please, as my only contact with what may or may not be the mood among the fan base is currently Arseblog.

And meanwhile, the Observer runs an article on the 'hidden poor' of England, living on £3 a day, or so they say though a close reading of the article reveals the lowest income level quoted as being £209 per week - £29 a day, out of which must presumably be paid rent, bills and every other expense. I assume from the article that the £3 a day is 'profit' left over after paying for the bare necessities - the profit from which you are supposed to pay for haircuts, furniture and clothes. This is indeed a pitiful state of affairs. But just for a comparison (and not to try and play the competitive pity-seeking game), the average benefit payment here amounts to £14 a day. And in this county, a third of households live on this. Talk of 'personal degredation' of the level the Observer described is nothing compared to what we see here. Households with no running water or sewage systems. No kitchen. No roof. Floorboards rotting underfoot. No public housing. Glass-less windows patched with boards and cloth. This should be a national disgrace and instead there is silence. The New York Times doesn't visit West Alabama to write a feature article and we don't have Polly Toynbee going undercover to live life as a worker in the catfish plant earning £3 an hour, or living in a leaking trailer home where your shit streams out next to the well from which you pump your water.

I still don't know really what we are meant to do about this place. I veer from optimistic to pessimistic, from outraged to accepting of a grinding poverty that gets slowly less grinding with each generation, but yet stands in appalling contrast to the wealth of this nation, its paradigm of the land of plenty and opportunity, of self-satisfied suburban families in SUVs and widescreen TVs. After all, as anyone who has spent time in a third world country knows, somehow life still goes on in all its mundanity. People still live and laugh and yet this doesn't excuse the lack of help they are given. It's easy to see people going about their daily lives surrounded by all this shit and to think that somehow we don't need to do anything, because they are not screaming at us, not revolting, not waving their crutches at us with reproachful stares like the beggars on the streets of India. They live their lives ignoring what most of us would find intolerable - the roach-infested bedrooms, the broken windows, the raw sewage and some might say that they don't even care, otherwise they would get off their arses and do something about it.

But as a middle-class kid who now lives in an uninsulated, leaking warehouse that would best be described as a decrepit if romantic squat, I know how quickly once gets used to these things. I don't notice the fact that my bathroom faucet doesn't work, I just get by because I feel like I've got more important things to do than fix it. I have, of course, chosen this over a cosy little cottage for double the rent and a tenth of the space. But to criticise those who haven't chosen their decrepit rented trailers for laziness - why don't they just get some scrap wood and fix the damn thing up? they are unemployed, they've got time - is perhaps to misunderstand something about how one does live day to day, how sharing a story with your neighbour or going to church seems more life-enhancing and important than acknowledging the squalor of your existence by tackling your leaking water pipe - how the escapism of TV allows some sort of dreams to happen, how I'd rather pay for wireless internet (my equivalent of cable TV) than for a new bathroom faucet that costs a tenth as much because it lets me access another world and imagine things.

The trouble is, fixing the roof of your trailer isn't going to solve your problems. After that you've got to fix the windows, the plumbing, the floorboards, the broken car, get yourself a job, lose 50 pounds, get the hell out of West Alabama and go to Detroit or Florida. The enormity of the task leads to apathy and childlike, confused calls for help. What we need to do here is give such an enormous push that it gets some momentum going. A new, solid house can do that, to some extent, but can just be another band-aid on the sore.

Excuse my ramblings. As I said, I don't know what the answer is...

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