Recessional.

Jack Robinson: 

Mirror (c) Jack Robinson

This is my father driving in the 1940s, before I was born.

He left school at fourteen to work in an iron foundry his own father had helped establish; he eventually became joint managing director. We had a comfortable life without my mother having to work; single-income households were common then. He liked cars: I remember waiting at the front-room window one afternoon, when I was four or five years old, to see him arrive home in a brand-new olive-green Riley. Fifty years on from pressing my face against that window, I know that at no time has my own income been sufficient to raise a family in similar comfort, nor will I ever own a brand-new car; and my children will, if they go to college, be already mired in debt before they even begin to earn their own money.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ignorance of the experts concerning the financial  products they were using our money to buy is hardly new. James Buchan, in the late 1980s: ‘In London and New York I met people who invested fortunes in financial enterprises they simply could not describe or explain. No doubt quite soon, a bank would discover it had lost its capital in those obscure speculations; other banks would fail in sympathy . . .’ The politicians were even more ignorant. It’s as if for years we’ve been going with our tummy-aches to doctors who can’t tell the difference between a blister and a cancerous tumour. No wonder we’re ill.

The derivatives market conjured into existence in the 1990s was a virtual world, enabling speculation not in real assets but in the risk of speculation itself. It is addictive: the rush, the buzz, the winning streak. The opposite of which is the losing nose-dive – lose your job and you’re well on your way to losing your (real) house, marriage, health and dog.

An investment banker, quoted in the Standard: ‘In most cases they know their wives despise them for enslaving their lives to money, and they know that the moment they lose their job their wives will walk and take the kids, and their £3 million home, and divorce them.’ A lonely-hearts ad, placed on a literary website at the time the axe started to chop: ‘Ex-banker, 33 . . . Seeking woman not interested in money, fast cars, champagne, holidays, fleecing innocent hard-working gullible twats, whilst telling them you love them. Bitch.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The above house in Mayfair, London, was squatted in January 2009 by a group that offered free workshops on welding, yurt-building, bookbinding, song-writing and de-schooling society. Hundreds of buildings are squatted; what made the press interested in this one was the stark disparity between the poshness of the building (alleged to be worth £22.5 million) and the presumed poverty of the squatters.

Bookbinding and yurt-building won’t change the world for the better overnight, but nor will sending out 400,000 repossession orders (Centre for Policy Studies estimate, February 2009) to households that have lost jobs and can’t keep up the mortgage payments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had a dream in which I punched the keys to withdraw money from a cash machine and it paid out in cowrie shells, rattling down a metal chute into the canvas bag I’d thoughtfully brought with me. As I walked to the supermarket the shells clacked satisfyingly in the bag by my side – I felt rich, rich. And then I woke up and went to my real bank and there was nothing there for me at all, they’d completely run out of money. Not a bean.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ou sont les magasins d’antan? As well as the big ones, the small ones too. The place at the end of the road where I used to get my shoes re-heeled – where did that go? The café with over-priced food but a garden at the back where I could smoke? The minicab office in the next street? With the deadpan Somali driver who’d stop the car and get out and look up at the sky: he said he navigated by the stars, and I never knew whether he was taking the piss. Even with no office to return to, I hope that somewhere he’s still driving. There are very few recession-proof businesses; here is one of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The intensive factory farming of money makes it prone to many diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans. There are government regulations concerning the application of biotechnology to the breeding of money, and there are also ways around them.In the last fifty years that part of the human brain dedicated to devising ways of getting money away from others and into your own hands has increased in size by 4 per cent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He fell down the stairs. He slipped on the ice. He was coming home from work on Friday night when he got mugged – they took his money, his cards, his identity papers. They flung back his wallet, empty except for the photo of his kids – his kids to whom he’ll say, on Saturday morning, that he fell down the stairs, that he slipped on the ice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Behind this door – which is in a yard in the City of London – is the secret meeting place of a group of underground bankers. (There’s no external handle; you have to whisper the password through the grille on the right.) This group is deeply suspect: they buy books and music, not yachts and ski chalets, and their vocabulary extends beyond that of company reports. They are regarded by the rest of the banking world as heretics – because the whole point of being a banker is to speak in clichés, to have a single-track mind, to buy only the most predictable goods: that way they remain anonymous, almost invisible, and are left alone to get on with their thing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

God is dead (so can’t bail us out). Or couldn’t afford the heating bills for a place this big, or had had it up to here with the regular early-hours racket outside the lap-dancing club at the end of the street. Whatever the reason, he’s gone. But he left no forwarding address, so the mail just keeps piling up inside the door.

A selection from Recessional by Jack Robinson, published by CB Editions. © Jack Robinson 2009.


Days and Nights in W12. Photographs and Text: Jack Robinson (4/4)

Photo: © Jack Robinson 2007.

From Days and Nights in w12* by Jack Robinson:

VANISHING POINT

Kieran, the youngest son of a wealthy Irish family – the one who never got punished, whose shoulders were never expected to bear burdens – lived in this street in the 1970s in a house that belonged to his parents. He rented out rooms to foreign students, and there were frequent parties, and always people coming and going. He told exaggerated stories about his work and love affairs, and every few months he went back to Ireland for the peace and quiet he needed to work on his novel – which was set at the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s; or was based, with her blessing, on the life of an American film actress. The first six chapters were with an agent; the entire first draft had been lost on a train. In the early 1980s, a few weeks after IRA bombs had exploded in Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, killing eight soldiers and seven horses, Kieran’s novel was published. Crossing the Border was a political thriller set in contemporary Northern Ireland. Kieran went over to Ireland to publicise the book at a literary festival. He was seen leaving his hotel and getting into a waiting taxi, but he never arrived at the festival venue. In London his house was broken into and his diaries and files stolen. The students who had lived in his house and who were traced by the police remembered him fondly: there was something both promising and insubstantial about Kieran, as if he was always about to depart.

© Jack Robinson.2011.

* CB Editions 2010.


Days and Nights in W12. Photographs and text: Jack Robinson (3/4)

Batson Street, W12, 2007. Photo: © Jack Robinson.

From Days and Nights in w12* by Jack Robinson:

SKIP

The white roll in this skip is not posters for a film that’s no longer showing or rejected samples from an advertising agency but drawings of a Macedonian girl who speaks almost no English but has a body to die for. The drawings were made by the American artist W. K. Teevald; during his month-long stay in London, where he’d come to supervise the hanging of a retrospective exhibition of his work, he checked out of his hotel and moved in with this girl, and he considers the drawings to be the best work he’s done for years. On the day of his return flight to Los Angeles the taxi he’d ordered didn’t arrive, so he loaded his bags into the only car available from the nearest minicab office. The drawings were strapped onto the roofrack. ‘No problem, mister, the Lord is good, he will take best care,’ said the driver as he yanked on the rope and knotted it. He looked about twelve years old and was grinning; he could have been making a joke, except that the Virgin Mary was stickered all over the dashboard and a crucifix dangled from the rear-view mirror. When they arrived at the airport the roofrack was bare: not even a shred of rope was clinging to the metal frame. The driver demanded twice the fare that had been agreed before they’d set out and followed Teevald into the departures hall, pleading for justice and if not justice then charity, until he was turned away by security guards.

© Jack Robinson.2011.

* CB Editions 2010.


Days and Nights in W12. Photographs and text: Jack Robinson (2/4)

Pavement with chalk rectangle: Percy Road, W12, 2007. Photo © Jack Robinson.

From Days and Nights in w12* by Jack Robinson:

PAVEMENT WITH CHALK RECTANGLE

One morning a few months ago a packing crate was delivered to the house of the woman, Emma, who lives here. About five feet long by two feet wide by three feet high, it could have contained a library of pornographic videos, or two folded illegal immigrants, or everything she had ever lost. Apart from hers, the only address on the crate was that of a transport company in Tallinn, Estonia. The van driver and his mate unloaded the crate onto the pavement but said they were not obliged to carry it up the steps into the house. Emma waited for her boyfriend to come home. At lunchtime the crate was still there, but when she looked out of the window at five o’clock it had gone. She never told her boyfriend about the crate, and shortly afterwards they broke up.

© Jack Robinson.2011.

* CB Editions 2010.


Days and Nights in W12. Photographs and text: Jack Robinson (1/4)

Massage parlour: Askew Road, W12, 2010. Photo: © Jack Robinson.

From Days and Nights in W12* by Jack Robinson:

MASSAGE PARLOUR

Extras? You mean, as in ‘other services offered’? She runs through a menu of the day’s specials and when they say the prices seem a bit expensive she says so is philosophy, which is what she is studying, and it’s especially expensive for foreign students and why do they think she’s working here, for the fun of it? Some of them ask her what’s wrong with a bit of fun, missing the point completely. Some of them make a joke of it, asking how much for the meaning of life. (A lot, she says; more than you can afford, little man.) Some of them suggest she should be studying economics, or at least taking a joint degree, and point out that if she charged less she might get more takers. They have a point, she admits; but she is proud of her philosophy essays and her tutor says she has a natural gift and she knows what she’s worth.

© Jack Robinson 2011. 

*CB Editions, 2010