Episode 5 – Cliff Andrade – Bristoler Chronik
December 2020 [45.43 min]
The Bricks Podcast follow Bristol’s contemporary artists, on journeys within the city walls and beyond, along the ley lines of the South West, up the A roads north, and through their unique observations on the world.
In this episode, inspired by Proust’s idea that true recollection can only occur after a period of forgetting, Cliff Andrade returns to his former Bristol home after 20 years, and uses a walk from there to his current home as the foundation for a rumination on class, identity, collective and personal memory and subjective consciousness.
Transcript: Please see at the end of the page.
People often ask me what my work is about, and when I say ‘everything’, the look in their eyes makes me feel like I have let them down; like they think I am being lazy (or pretentious) (or both). But I am being earnest; when your work is an investigation into all the things that have combined to make you perceive the world the way you do – the subjective consciousness, to use the big adult words – then, yeah, everything in the world becomes your potential subject. It’s about everything.
Within that ‘everything’, for a myriad of reasons, I am particularly interested in class, childhood and place. And inescapably entwined with all this is memory. As time, unfortunately, moves in only one direction, we have no choice but to view our experiences through our memories: memories of places; memories of childhood; memories of that life-changing holiday; of that relationship whose scars you’ve carried into every subsequent one.
Of course, by definition, I can only talk from my own experience, so I try and pick out from my brain and turn over in my hands all the different parts that make me me – where I am from, where I grew up, who my parents were, where I live now, who my friends are etc, etc, and, crucially, not just think about THEM, but think about what influences me to view and interpret them the way I do.
But memory is not just personal. It is also collective and social, and I am equally interested in how that social consciousness affects our personal consciousness; in the memories we are asked as a society to remember and those we are asked to forget; and who says so.
There is Derrida lurking in the background here. A criticism often thrown at ‘Derrideans’ is that if you deconstruct everything, then eventually it dissolves into nothing. And I agree with that. But knowing, for example, that the notions of ‘English’ and ‘Portuguese’ are constructs doesn’t stop me emotionally identifying with both. And it is in that emotional arena that my interests lie.
What do we base our identities on? Why do we feel drawn to some places and uncomfortable in others? Why do we feel like some people are ‘our kind of person’ and others aren’t? What and where is home, and why is it important that we know this? Are all these things set in stone, or do they change, or can they BE changed, over time? Maybe they can be overcome altogether? These are key questions for me.
This is a lot to think about, and when I am sitting in my studio holding a pencil and staring at a blank piece of paper (I draw a lot, I hardly paint) I can feel overwhelmed. So instead, I often go for long walks, and I find the physical act of walking occupies the part of my brain which would otherwise censure me, allowing ideas and thoughts to move freely. This podcast is an attempt to use the medium of podcast to try and recreate this mental free flow of non-always-sequiturs. The walking is not incidental; it is key to the whole process. In fact, this podcast might be more about walking than anything else.
One reason for saying this is because when I set out for my walk I had no predetermined idea of what I was going to talk about. Everything in the podcast comes from things that came to mind as I strolled, a potion concocted from what I felt and what I saw and what I heard on that walk that day.
Of course, I think of certain things because I am interested in them, but more importantly I think of certain things in certain ways because of who I am and where I come from. That is inescapable. What is not inescapable is to ensure we realise this. That is why it is important to ensure our voices are accompanied by others. A lot of my work is about that – about raising the voices of the usually overlooked or unheard, adding them to the conversation; looking at it from the other side, that is to say that a lot of my work is about challenging the authority of the single, dominant narrative. The single voice. But really it’s deeper than that. It’s about challenging every voice.
There are no conclusions in the podcast. That is deliberate. Instead I want to give us things to think about – the voices of others might make us go back and reassess our own ideas. Like Dr Suse says, talking is always the first step. Making this podcast has given me new things to think about and has pushed my thinking forward in some areas.
In particular… I have long avoided, really, reflecting on the class dynamics I encountered at university. I think this was due to a fear that a lot of the discussions back then by those who did not deem themselves privileged were based on little more than sour grapes. But this process has challenged that. The question it has raised instead is one of an unreciprocated adjustment – whilst some groups worked hard to adapt to the realisation that the world was more than what they knew, others possessed the financial and social capital to not only find it unnecessary to do so, but to force everyone else to adjust to them. Given everything that is going on in our communities and in the world at the moment with regards to equal access to opportunities and minority voices and experiences, this is particularly pertinent.
This work has been highly influenced by the work of several others which are referenced and alluded to throughout the podcast. The first is Walter Benjamin’s essay on his childhood in Berlin, Berlin Chronicle. The title of the podcast is a direct reference to the original German title of Benjamin’s essay: Berliner Chronik. The second is Virginia Woolf, whose work to try and capture the experience of subjective consciousness through the medium of the novel is an ever increasing influence. Of particular influence for this podcast was her autobiographical essay A Sketch of the Past. Speaking of the the past, the ghost of Marcel Proust is all over this podcast, if never referenced directly. And lastly there is the late W. G. Sebald. His novel Austerlitz is a key influence when it comes to thinking about the nature of memory and how questions about the past can colour our present. His novel Rings of Saturn is a bewitching chronicle of the use of walking as the basis for a rumination on place, history, memory and thought itself.
In contrast to work I have done before, I thought the podcast was the perfect medium to start bringing other voices into my work to contextualise, flesh out and challenge my own experiences and views. So this podcast would not have been possible without the following heroes.
Many thanks to Diana ‘freight train’ Burnaby for reminding me why we craved stairs.
Many thanks to Alice Rooney for helping me challenge the idea of the past as one monolithic, reference-able reality by revisiting the painful memory of when she flooded my house.
Many thanks to Economist and Comedian Dr. Susie Steed for lending her expertise to my musings over the housing crisis and my internal conflict over an ungraspable Britishness. A tireless campaigner for the demystification of Economics and for a wholesale reform of the way the subject is taught, her writing can be found in the Guardian and on Medium, and you can hear more from her on her new YouTube channel. Although on hold for the moment, she also conducts walking tours around the City of London on the history of the British Empire that we don’t learn at school and on where the wealth of the City really comes from. I highly recommend should they recommence.
Many thanks to Tom Smith for sharing his thoughts on the divine and for, as ever, not despairing at me for my lack of faith.
Many thanks to Nick Simon, James Greer and author Nicole Kennedy for taking the time to share their recollections of our university days. Nicole’s debut novel, Everything’s Perfect, will be released in June 2021, published by Head of Zeus. Nick set up and runs the website dprsd.co.uk, a valuable online resource to support those suffering from depression, including practical tips for self-care.
Special thanks to social historian John Boughton. His book, Municipal Dreams, published by Verso, is one of the most widely read and respected chronicles of council housing’s past and present. He runs a blog by the same name, a fabulous resource for information and analysis of social housing both in the UK and abroad. A good place to start in my opinion is by clicking on the photo and reading the entry about Vienna’s Alt-Erlaa, which provides food for thought on how social housing is done differently elsewhere and on how where we have ended up in the UK is by no means the inevitable destiny of all housing policy:
Goldsmith Street, to which he refers in podcast, can be seen on the RIBA website here.
For the acting bits and quote reading many thanks to the skills and dulcet tones of Felicia Cleveland-Stevens, Sara Cameron, Roland Lyle, Rowan Shaw, Liz Bishop as Virginia Woolf, my German speaking Leute Riccardo Weber, Matthias Müllner and Alex Bradbury, and improv comedian Lora Hristova. Lora is part of the improv troupe Dirty Picnic and runs the improv night Forest Improv. If you are not familiar with either, you really should be (when Covid allows) – big rofls.
The quote by author Elif Shafak comes from a talk she delivered at the Royal College of Art in February 2019.
Speaking of the RCA, none of this would have been possible without the Snowdon Trust, whose generosity and support allowed me the time and space to develop a lot of the ideas that then went on to feed into this podcast, and who continue to do great work to allow disabled students to access higher education.
Thanks to artists Jo Stockham, Finlay Taylor, Bob Matthews, Meg Rahaim, Harold Offeh, Helen Cammock and Mark Titchner, whose support at various points over the last two and a bit years has enabled me to get to, well, to here. And to Sara for looking after the little people with such selfless dedication over the same period.
And last but not least many thanks to Bricks, i.e Jack Gibbon and Jessica Akerman, for the opportunity to convert my ideas into sound waves, and for Rowan Bishop for his ‘editing wizbottery’ (©Adam Buxton) and expertise in all things aural.
Until next time,
Episode 5 – Cliff Andrade – Bristoler Chronik – Verbatim Podcast Transcription
[00:00:00] Atmospheric street noises recorded outside 27 Harcourt Road.
Cliff Andrade: [00:00:10] (Sighs) I’m feeling anxious. What am I actually anxious about? Now that I am standing here I am not sure this is going to work. Maybe I should have just said I couldn’t do this podcast anymore. You’re anxious so you’re defaulting to trying to visualise the finished product before you’ve even begun. Don’t. One step at a time. What’s that Rebecca Solnit quote I always think about… (beat) “I suspect the mind, like the feet, works at about 3 miles an hour.” So that’s the beauty of walking to make work instead of doing it sitting in an art studio. There’s only one way to start… To put one foot in front of the other. So let’s go for a walk.
Cliff Andrade:[00:00:53] [Worst Comes to Worst by Dilated Peoples plays as soundtrack full and then volume lowers sharply as if headphones have been taken out but you still hear a tinny sound of music in the background]
Cliff Andrade:[00:10:00] This was the kind of thing that was my soundtrack to university. Maybe we could ask questions about what it means, if anything, that people so far removed from, and largely ignorant of, the context within which this music was originally created were listening to it and drawing so heavily from elements of its cultural context and style…but that’s not the thought that dominates as I stare at this, the first house I ever lived in at university…
Cliff Andrade:[00:01:34] Oh hold up I like this bit…[music back to loud as if headphones in and I sing along] “I got a world wide family all over the earth and I worry about them all for whatever it’s worth…”
Cliff Andrade:[00:01:46] [music lowers as if headphones out] Anyway…what was I chatting about? The first house I lived in…? Oh yeah ok. What I notice is that I have become totally naturalised to this Victorian, double-bay windowed, terrace landscape. But if I really think back 20 years I remember thinking that this was nothing like anything I had ever lived in before. It was completely foreign. What does this say about how I have changed? Should I feel like…I have betrayed my origins? Or should I be proud at how far I’ve transcended my origins? Perhaps both can exist at the same time. Before you moved in here d’you remember how excited you were by the simple fact that you would have stairs? But the elapsed time won’t allow me to connect with the exact feeling of why stairs excited me so. Diana grew up in my flats and I remember she once talked about the same feeling. Ah…hang on. Maybe I should just ask her.
Hey Di, why were we so excited ‘bout stairs?
Diana: [00:02:14] ‘Cos we’d never had them! Like, that was like, you know, the next step up isn’t it? I think It’s maybe like all the TV programmes that maybe you watched as you were growing up they all had big houses and they all had… nobody lived in flats, not whatever you saw on TV, nobody lived in flats, you think about Home Alone and things they all had like massive houses didn’t they…with stairs… and so you know you always lived on one floor but now you’ve got two floors to go to [laughs]…it’s really sad isn’t it?
Cliff Andrade: [00:03:24] The truth is that you don’t feel you share a history with most people you surround yourself by these days innit. To most I might sound like I kinda belong…hang on a sec…
[to off screen]
Cliff Andrade: [00:03:54:10] Hey Rowan, could we get some house party ambience please… (beat)…yeah nice. Maybe a faint tune in the background… (beat)… Cool, cool… no no no that’s great, that’s great.
Cliff Andrade: [00:4:10] Aaahhh here I am chillin’ back at uni. This is all and yet none of the house parties I went to. Remember, that’s the thing with nostalgia. It is not located in one place, but in many fragments of places held together by imagination to form a collection which exceeds its individual moments. Ungraspable. That’s paraphrasing Edward Casey. Hang on, better make a note to reread him and check I got that right…anyway, excuse me but this girl’s chatting to me and I’m being a bit rude so just a second.
‘Posh Girl’: [00:04:23] Oh my god I thought I assumed you went to a private school because you just sound so normal.
Cliff Andrade: [00:04:28] Oh yeah, huh, yeah that’s funny, yeah no just a state school. Well… it was a Catholic state school because my parents are Portuguese and my mum is like uber Catholic… but yeah…you know…
‘Posh’ Girl: [00:04:40] Oh yeah because I was going to ask where are you from?
Cliff Andrade: [00:04:45]Oh yeah…London.
‘Posh’ girl: [00:04:50] Yeah, of course. [laughs awkwardly] No, I mean where you are REALLY from. [fade out]
Quote reader: [00:04:55] [Elif Shafak Quote] At a young age I had to become contemplative about what having a ‘collective identity’ means. The insider/outsider feeling has never left me; and the insider/outsider is the best thing an artist can be. Because you can relate to either side intimately but you also have a cognitive distance from both. Split identities are not weakness—they are richness.
Cliff Andrade: [00:05:28]I constantly mull over Elif Shafak’s words. I was always quite proud that I had experience of another culture. Wore bilingual as a badge of honour. but I guess in my recent adult years I’ve been wondering: what exactly lies behind the ‘where are you really from?’ question, if anything.
Cliff Andrade:[00:05:41] [car horn] You’ve been daydreaming and walking too slowly. If you don’t hurry up you’re never gonna connect the twenty years between my university house and my current house. Mmm…ocado van… That woman looks like Sam from halls. I wonder whatever happened to her. And weird James? Key figures in your first term at uni, they’ve become wrapped up with the mythical status of that time. If I really wanted to I could track them down, but I think they are best left untouched by time. Never meet your heroes, I guess. Or the mythical people from your past.
Cliff Andrade: [00:06:20] This is a day of soft light and long shadows. A day perfect for contemplation. In whose peaceful, still air it is easy to sink softly into a rose-tinted nostalgia. But you think overall you felt quite lonely in that house. After the excitement of first year and it’s open, free association friendship groups…after that things started to settle into established patterns and perhaps I struggled to find my place in a middle class environment that played by different rules than the ones I had grown up with. You found your housemates’ friendship group cliquey and you never felt comfortable with them. And then do you remember your housemates were reluctant to mix with your various friendship groups, maybe… maybe due to their own insecurities which you didn’t really appreciate at the time. Whatever the reasons, it forced you out on your own and may have fixed in me a view of the world through a solitary lens which your only child, single parent upbringing had predisposed me to. Maybe it also made you a connector, to borrow Gladwell’s term, which is a good thing. Why ‘other’ yourself though by bringing class into it? Maybe everyone was struggling in their own way. Hmm..The past is as alive as the present, remember. And you have to be open to the fact that I might be reworking it to fit my current thinking. You need to step outside yourself, stop being so self-absorbed. I wonder what some of the others I met back in my first year would remember and say about those early university days.
Nick Simon: [00:08:18] The background I suppose is that I went to boarding school from the age of 6 to 18, and so coming to university was the first time I had had I guess proper freedom I suppose. I think that you know it obviously wasn’t that different from what I’d been used to from the age of…you know from the age from quite a young age…but you know. So I guess, yes, I was familiar with that whole sort of concept of being in an institution. So yeah definitely wasn’t a shock to the system in that sense. Um, I guess the major adjustment was just how much more freedom I had relative to what had sort of gone on before and I suppose there was that feeling of pretty quickly I sort of felt like I’d found my group of people. So I didn’t really have, you know, I’ve spoken to people who had who’ve kinda had that experience of going up to uni where they feel quite lost I suppose and they just haven’t kinda found their tribe.
Susan Steed: [00:09:10] We were told that university, and this is what I was told, that fresher’s week would be the best week of your life. You’d go there and meet loads of new people. And Bristol University was going somewhere where everybody knew each other already and a lot of them didn’t actually really want to meet anyone else [laughs].
Jimmy Greer: [00:09:28] When you’re like 13 or younger and you go into like a kinda boarding school environment where there’s a lot of age hierarchies as well and it’s you know it’s kind of unpleasant. You basically, um… you very quickly figure out what you need to do to survive, to get friends, and to do those kinds of things. And they may not be positive things that you have to do but they are what you have to do and everyone does them and you just figure it out and so in that sense you know there’s a bit of that, yeah it does carry over. You know, I always was of the opinion that I didn’t quite have a rightful place in that space as well…which is probably, was probably a good thing when I think about it. It was a good thing, cos it meant I had to sort of do other things but I think I was also quite interested in having my own sense of identity.
But I did also find, you know the school I went to was a little bit different…but actually you’re living in an environment which is, if you look back at it now, I mean you know, there was quite a lot of racism and those kind of things which were very everyday, very casual. And I was, being literally being mediterranean looking—not even sounding or with a name, you know— I was definitely ‘Not English’ in that sense, and so, there was some kind of exclusion, anyway. But um, but again, that was probably a good thing.
Nicole Kennedy: [00:11:14] I mean my overriding impression was that it was just such a culture shock. I remember even in like the first week, being with people who’d be like ‘oh that’s thingy over there I went to school with them’ or ‘that’s thingy over there I met them when I was travelling’ and the people that had gone to private school, I think, had a huge social advantage in terms of more numbers from their schools went to Bristol and they’d all gone travelling before and met up in the same places [laughs].
I remember being in the bar on the first night and it was like it was exactly like that it was people catching up from their gap years and I just thought I’d, you know, gone straight from school and I just remember thinking this is a different world. I did a Sutton Trust like summer placement at Bristol the summer before and it was for kids who were from low socio-economic backgrounds and who’d be the first in their family to go to university. It grouped like 50 state schools kids together for a week and you had a great time and you got really drunk and it was really fun. And I just naively thought it would be more of a mix of people and more like that. But then I turned up in this like weird gap year reunion and didn’t…I mean until I met you, I wouldn’t have met anyone else from a similar background to me. I do remember actually, I don’t remember the exact meeting you but I do remember when I met you feeling like, relieved that there was someone else who would just get that that wasn’t normal.
Cliff Andrade: [00:12:59] Cool, that is a random section of an old stone wall to be in this park. I wonder what it’s story is. Maybe I’ll get out my phone and look it up. No. No. You always hunt for facts, and they prevent me from having to engage emotionally with the present. Remember Andrew Grieg and his words:
Quote reader: [00:12:59] Sometimes the more you know the less you see. What you encounter is your knowledge, not the thing itself.
Cliff Andrade: [00:12:59] So, just accept the wall and picture the field that it might have enclosed, the sheep scuttling away from you as you clamber over the style. The smell of manure. Looking at the clouds in the distance and wondering whether they are bringing rain. The white clouds racing across the sky as the wind blows in your face. The clear blue sky. The smell of sweaty hands. The sound of tinkling yak bells and the distant roar of gust over peak as you pant for air. It’s hard to breathe at this altitude and you’ve still got another 2000 metres to climb before you’re over Thorong La. Focus on the roaring river. The zip wire crossing it. Bags over first to test for weight. I got to South America on my first jumbo jet. Remember the feeling of excitement at being unleashed out into the world. I wonder if they’ll serve the meal soon. I really need the loo but I’m too British to wake up this guy next to me. In South America, you can overcome all those silly things and metamorphose into the person you have been feeding yourself to be. Don’t go to the loo. Stare out the window at the endless blue. I can just make out the waves from here. Madeira has one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Soon we’ll be climbing into the hills amongst the smell of pine and eucalyptus. If you look really hard maybe I can see my family waiting for us at the terminal balcony, or waving goodbye. Tears of farewell. See you in three years or never again. Summer over. Back home to a new school term. Falling leaves. Clocks go back. If I focus really hard on the warmth of the sun as it lights up the wall and the grass, maybe I can flip the seasons and deceive myself into the optimism of spring going into summer. I wonder if other people think that sometimes. The rest of the park is dotted with people in the telltale hunched smartphone position.
I think it’s time to keep moving.
Round this corner and now the houses are lush. I feel immediately ostracised. You went to uni here. You lived in one of these houses. It was like a tease. Sample for a little while what you will never be able to afford. There seems to be no way out. Housing is all anyone I know ever talks about.
Quote Reader: [00:15:50] In rich countries, and especially in the English-speaking world, housing is too expensive, damaging the economy and poisoning politics.
Cliff Andrade: [00:16:00] That’s what the Economist said in January. It hangs over everything and people at work talked endlessly about it. We were in the same boat. If everyone is in the same boat then surely we can find a solution. And then out of nowhere it’s a three bedroom house in Easton and you’re like ‘whaaaat?’ and it’s:
House Buying Colleague: [00:16:13] Yeah, I got left some money by my Gran and my parents are giving me some money to renovate the house.
Cliff Andrade: [00:16:21] And it’s like, I thought we were in this together bruv! But the truth is we never were. It hangs over everyone and everything but this is a middle class perspective isn’t it? This is only a tiny part of the population is it? I don’t know [hyperventilating] but if to succeed, if to be successful is to be a property owner, how can everyone do that? The other day, the Guardian pretty much said:
Quote Reader: [00:16:36] The Institute for Fiscal Studies said wealth passed down from one generation to the next was fast-becoming the most important determinant of how well-off people will become.
Cliff Andrade: [00:16:47] But, how can people without generational wealth stand a chance in this game, if houses make more money than people and we continue to support the structures that make house prices price houses: Peter Piper picked the policy that props up the market. How can anyone ever catch up through working hard? That’s what we were told, wasn’t it? Work hard. But I can see why some people shout bullshit…some of my peers may have socially mobilised across an education gap. It’s incredible what they’ve achieved, given where we came from but what does it matter cos the wealth gap is “sorry mate you’re not coming in” no matter how hard they work and
[breathing calms down]
What ARE people gonna do now house prices are so expensive? Suse, aka Dr Susie Steed, now has a PhD in Economics and is an expert in this kinda stuff. I wanna ask her.
Susan Steed: [00:17:39] I personally think that they have to fall and I think that politicians should be doing that. I think that is what their focus should be on: reducing house prices.
I’m quite interested in whether we can start talking about house prices falling and whether politicians could actually put that in a manifesto and people would vote for that. And of course, you might say, oh but anyone who owns a home won’t vote for that. But I own a flat and I would totally vote for a politician that had the guts to say they were gonna try and make house prices fall in a controlled way. Not tank the entire economy, which they will if they just crash, but um this is the strange paradox of democracy, is that everybody votes in their interests not what’s best for, not for what’s actually best.
All of our cultural identity well there is a few things we tie it up with but housing is one, and your job and what you do for a living is another. And at the moment young people aren’t able to get jobs or houses it is just not possible to continue the social contract that we have, if all the things that we ascribe power and value to are not available to young people right now. And also I just think that high rents are so damaging for people that are paying so much of their salary in rents. Yeah I think rents need to fall and we should just start renegotiating rent contracts and I think that would make house prices fall, if landlords weren’t getting as much in rents and I think it would be quite easy actually it would just need some political will to do it. I think the first stage is talking about it. That’s always the first stage.
[muffled football commentary]
[It cross fades into an evening scene from the lounge in a student house. A small group of people sitting around chatting, smoking]
Boy 1: [00:19:25] There any more beers in the fridge?
Boy 2: [00:19:28] Where are your own beers you tight arse [laughter].
Cliff Andrade: [00:19:31] Oh this is our lounge from when we were at uni. It’s alright innit. Fireplace. Period features. But that’s not important now. I’d forgotten how rank that sofa was though. Anyway, listen up. Here it comes…
Roland: [00:19:40] I mean yeah, you know. I’m not gonna get trapped in that job thing, no way. I’ll probably do a ski season, then just snowboard half the year and work the rest to earn enough money for the next year. I don’t need anything more than that; it’s too big a world out there man, too much to see, I’m not gonna be like my parents, man. No way. Not gonna get trapped living in the suburbs. Commuting and all of that. No. Not for me. I’m gonna find a new way.
[continues to fade out]
Cliff Andrade: [00:20:26] Whatever happened to that? I feel like the biggest fool, for not realising it was never true. [Bumps into person in street]
Street bumper: [00:20:30] Sorry. Sorry, my fault.
Cliff Andrade: [00:20:36] You need to look where you are going. This road leads to uni, so, don’t carry on. You know the place that exists in your memory is not the place that exists down that road. If you go down that hill will what you remember be your memory, or will it be today? Like photography, maybe reality is actually in the service of forgetting, not remembering.
Virginia Woolf: [00:21:07] I cannot see Kensington Gardens as I saw it as a child because I saw it only two days ago—on a chill afternoon, all the cherry trees lurid in the cold yellow light of a hail storm…
Walter Benjamin: [00:21:18] I would set foot in them with the same uneasiness that one feels when entering an attic unvisited for years.
Cliff Andrade: [00:21:34] Let’s turn this corner here instead.
This road is very leafy. I can hear the birds and the trees. I am filled with a feeling of calm. The houses are getting bigger and no doubt expensive. Why can’t all areas be like this? I’ve just finished reading John Broughton’s Municipal Dreams so my thoughts turn to council housing. Can it not feel as organic and as verdant as this? I am conflicted. By feeling a great deal of calm, in such an aesthetically pleasing area, I feel I am somehow betraying my belief that all types of housing should be available for all, irrespective of their means. I feel as if I am admitting that public housing will always be inferior to private, and being angry that that is the case. Is there any way back to the ideals of Bevan from the present stigmatisation that social housing finds itself tarred with today? I wanna talk to John.
John Boughton: [00:22:36] We’ve been in an era really certainly since the 1970s when a lot of public housing, council housing, was stigmatised, it was misrepresented and maligned in the media and that became the common sense of view, the common widespread perception of the reality of council housing, defined really by a few what are usually called problem estates, sink estates, failing estates, all the kind of negative language that were used in the time. My argument in the book is that these weren’t so much failing estates as failed estates i.e. that we as a society and a state failed them, in terms of the sort of quality of life, in economic and social terms, that we provided their residents.
I think it is really important to recognise that that era of mass public housing multi-storey council housing was really a very short lived phenomenon and it really emerged in the mid-50s and peaked, literally peaked, in terms of high-rise in a very brief period in the late 60s. If you look at the much longer picture of council housing up into the inter-war period, it was overwhelmingly what they call cottage suburbs, garden suburbs, at the time. And even if you take the post-war period, post 45 to 79, 64% of council housing was actually two storey homes in suburban estates. I think the image of council housing is actually mistaken just in terms of a quantitative understanding, let alone a qualitative understanding.
In terms of public perception what I’d say is that actually there is some very good council housing. Certainly there were mistakes made in the past, but I think currently there is some very good social housing being built and that, I’d prefer for example to Goldsmiths street in Norwich which won the RIBA Stirling prize for the best building project of 2019 and it’s a beautiful estate. 100% social housing. And it relates to new environmental standards: sustainability criteria, etc. So I think if you move away from the kind of hideous image of failing estates and look at the stuff that’s built now there’s actually some really high quality housing and in many ways it’s really at the cutting edge. Far more so than the rabbit hutches built by speculative builders for lower income groups.
Cliff Andrade: [00:25:26] Look at God’s house basking in the sun. You know if mum were still alive she would be disappointed by your lapsed Catholicism. Her stoicism still makes me angry. The way she believed that if she stayed humble, no matter how others treated her, she would be rewarded in the end—if not in this world, then the next, as she used to say. But what it meant was she ended up with no control over her own life. And Catholicism has left me with a constant guilt. That I am not living my life the right way. That anything I want must be bad cos, you know, to want is bad— it’s the devil’s work. But there was a genuine sense of community at Church and at Christmas a real depth to a genuine goodwill. It really works for Tom. He takes great strength from it.
Tom: [00:26:20] That reaction of your mum’s, um, I can also empathise with. I’ve had similar experiences of trusting much too much when actually a little bit of logic would have helped or being overly humble you know ‘cos that’s a trait perhaps that Jesus talks about when perhaps actually like your mum I should have put myself forward a bit more. I think Christians of that era were quite formalistic and quite ritualistic. I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve always had a relationship with God with something more than more than myself and more than what I can see. My strength has come from I guess knowing that it doesn’t all depend on me, and feeling that sense of… Not that God is in charge, because that’s too deterministic, but feeling that God’s guiding hand is there. So that’s given me a lot of strength. I feel like I’ve been able to ask God for guidance and for help on things and from what I’ve seen in my own life those prayers have been answered so that’s really the strength it has given me. Feeling like there is something larger than me, larger than human effort and ability which I can rely on. Because I’ve always looked at faith in relationship terms. I’ve always felt that, well, if you want something from somebody, you’re in a relationship with, whether it’s a friend, a partner or whatever, that you should feel free to ask them. So yeah I’ve never felt that. I guess for me as a Christian, the Bible says ‘ask and you shall receive, knock and the door shall be opened to you’ and there’s a number of different ways to interpret that but ultimately no, I’ve never felt that sense of guilt.
Cliff Andrade: [00:28:33] I love the fact that the level of the pavement here is so high above the level of the road. It’s funny how such a small shift can totally change the dynamics of the space. It’s like a snippet of another world. The secret garden. The wardrobe into Narnia. Water is absolutely cascading out of that first floor balcony over there onto the street below. Remember when your friend came to stay with us and on her first night left the tap on and flooded the downstairs. In one version of this past you remember being really stressed having to live in a damp bare house for months, dehumidifiers constantly whirring. But in other times, the whole thing didn’t seem to last that long. Which is the real past?
On the night itself I remember… I remember being woken up by the sound of what I thought was rain. And then I wondered downstairs and the lights were pulsing like in, like in Stranger Things. That’s when I noticed water was dripping from them. And then I suddenly realised what was happening and rushed back upstairs to wake my partner up. She woke up our daughter and our friend. This was all before my son was born. It was twilight already and it was my partner who called the fire brigade. And one truck came. We waited right outside the house in the little alley. And it was really cold because it was late November, I remember that. But then after the fire brigade arrived I don’t remember anything else.
Alice: [00:30:17] Basically the next thing I consciously remember was Sara running in and giving me Ezra and I’d never met him before so I was like ‘Hi baby I don’t know’. I remember Sara being really scared for the kids because the lights were on downstairs. I don’t know why I don’t think they were meant to be on and there was water coming through them and I just remember so much panic in Sara’s face and the kids were super chill. I remember really appreciating their reaction. So the fire truck came. I don’t remember how many fire trucks came, I think I feel like there were two but no, I don’t remember who called the police but I feel like it must have been you, though because I know you and Sara well enough that Sara would delegate that task to you, I think. I don’t remember it being super cold so I don’t think it was winter. I think we were just standing in the doorway or in the just outside the house rather than I don’t think we were any like major amounts of steps away. And I remember being like ‘oh Cliff you go to sleep and I’ll mop’ and I was just filled with bad feelings and tiredness. And I remember it’s like a really sad part of the memory… The kids’ drawings were like all wet on the wall.
Walter Benjamin: [00:32:00] Memory is not an instrument for exploring the past, but it’s theatre.
Cliff Andrade: [00:32:11] Ooo look. A footpath I have never been down before. Go down here. These flats remind me of my childhood visits to see my family in France. Their creamy colour. The way the light is hitting them. The proportion of space left around them. Strangers linked by blood. Spread out across the globe. That is the story of my family and the legacy of my parents’ Migration Generation. Do ultramar. Do estrangeiro. Dos filhos de emigrantes.
It’s a nice surprise. The path opens out into a large, leafy, affluent square. You feel calm and content in this leafy affluence. But at the same time, I feel guilty about it. That I am again, betraying my origins I guess. That I cannot afford to live here and so have to come in small bits like some sort of nibbling voyeur. Guilty that I know probably, this place must have been built to someone’s else disadvantage, perhaps someone’s suffering even. Guilty that I am a traitor to myself, allowing myself to be spellbound by, by… this mythologised Englishness, fetishising something I spend so much time trying to pick apart. Guilty that I am, deep down, little more than just a fraud. Suse set up those walking tours on undiscussed history of the City of London and the British Empire. I’m interested in what she would have to say.
Susan Seed: [00:34:03] For me I’ve had a huge crisis around this because of my complete ignorance about all of British history. It’s a question that I would like to properly be able to dissect: how much of ‘Britishness’ comes from this colonial, nostalgic, tea…’ isn’t everything a big jolly adventure’. Because I was, I also kind of fetishised it. I like the way you describe it ‘cos I feel that as well like even the fact that I wanted to go to Bristol, and like I actually wanted to go to Oxford, I was following this ideal of something that I don’t actually quite know what it was and then when you find out a bit more about the reality of it, um, it becomes difficult but then I don’t think… that’s why we have to get more specific. We have to understand as we go forward what bits of it need to be completely dissected and then ditched and what bits we need to leave the stuff that we can be proud of…
Walter Benjamin: [00:35:05] The longing we feel for a place determines it as much as does its outward image.
Cliff Andrade: [00:25:26] So what I am longing for? An Englishness that, as a child, I felt I could never achieve? I spent a New Year’s in that house there, and yet as I stare at it you don’t feel an aching nostalgia, a saudade as the Portuguese call it, for that past like you have on previous similar walks. Instead I feel like more of a calm acceptance and appreciation. I wonder why that is? Is it just my current state of mind, the fairly positive frame of mind I am in at the moment and, my work is going quite well. Or does this represent a more permanent shift? I’ve become like Virginia Woolf reflecting on having written To the Lighthouse.
Virginia Woolf: [00:36:02] I wrote the book very quickly and when it was written, I ceased to be obsessed by my mother. I no longer hear her voice; I do not see her. I suppose that I did for myself what psycho-analysts do for their patients. I expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotion. And, in expressing it, I explained it and laid it to rest.
Cliff Andrade: [00:36:26 ] Walking could be a way to lay my past to rest. I hope I have laid something to rest.
‘Friederich Nietzsche’: [00:36:57] Leute, I think I am going to wrap up this Zoom call. Too much screen time for me today.
‘W. G. Sebald’: [00:36:57] Ok, fair enough. Let’s close with a single sentence summary of our thoughts before we go, yes? Walter?
‘Walter Benjamin’: [00:37:00] Hmmm…‘he who has begun to open the fan of memory never comes to the end of its segments.’
‘Friederich Nietzsche’: [00:37:06] That’s what I like about you Walter, you are always so descriptive. (Beat) Max, you next.
‘W. G. Sebald’: [00:37:12] ‘It seems to me that one could well end one’s life simply through thinking and retreating into one’s mind.’
‘Walter Benjamin’: [00:37:21] (Solemnly) Hmmm, yes, very true.
‘W. G. Sebald’: [00:37:23] And you Friederich? What does the big serious philosopher have to say on the matter?
‘Friederich Nietzsche’: [00:37:28] (Beat) ‘Beyond a certain point, the past has to be forgotten if it is not to become the gravedigger of the present.’
Cliff Andrade: [00:37:38] At the same time two of my friends lived in that house there. But they did languages and must have been abroad that year, so that can’t be. I must be time slicing and yet, I can completely visualise walking from one house to the other. I was aware back then, that no one in the world I came from could serve as a role model for the world I was moving into. And I remember when visiting my friends looking to them and wondering if they represented the kind of person I should be aiming for: privately educated, confident, seemingly negotiating social dynamics with ease. But this was, of course, my view from the outside and, as I sit here on this bench in the autumn sun, I wanna know what was going on in their heads back then.
Jimmy Greer: [00:38:44] I’ve always felt… I’ve always tried to back myself and be quite confident in my approach to things, just to trust my own instinct always and not always second guess myself and I think I used to do that then I used to do that the whole time but so I never by then I was very into doing that. But I probably wasn’t actually achieving very much, not achieving but going very far in certain things so it was quite easy.
Nick Simon: [00:39:10] You know uni, I could sort of reinvent myself as this, I dunno, whatever sort of character. So, I guess I was probably playing a bit of a ‘part’ at university, you know, big personality, and you know I really enjoyed playing that character. It was really fun.
What’s been interesting for me is like looking back at that time and you know, having subsequently, had a lot of therapy about loads of different kinds of issues. Realising that person I was at university is just a bit of er, was only one very small facet of the kind of, without wanting to sound too grandiose, what the other bits of me that I have discovered since that are much, probably much less, sort of, much less kind of, exuberant. I’ve basically found I’m filled with much more kind anxiety and depression and maybe much more negative emotions than I realised were possible at university. So I sort of look back at that, you know, person I was at uni and think… God that was you know, really blissfully unaware and naive and life was pretty straightforward then. And I guess since leaving uni, I’ve been in a bit more of a journey to kind of, you know, understand more about myself and understand where my depression comes from and yeah see myself as probably a more complicated, more damaged, more kind of, you know, less straightforward person than I was when you know, when you were sort of seeing me in that house at university.
Cliff Andrade: [00:40:49] If I could live anywhere in this city it would be here on this steep hill neighbourhood, I want to live here. but I think if I want it it must be bad. The easy option. Is the devil tempting me again. You see, you just can’t shake that Catholic guilt. ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis’. The houses and the streets, respecting the geography of the landscape instead of eschewing it. Housing on different tiers. It reminds me of my parent’s island homeland and I wonder if everything I like is based on how closely it reminds me of and emotionally resonates with the memories I have from childhood visits to that volcanic outpost: of the silence; of the smell of the pine trees; the noise of a motorbike engine gently reverberating off the mountainsides; visits which I have long suspected have determined how I view every place I have ever visited since. Can these dispositions set in childhood be fully transcended? ‘In nomine Patris et filii et spiritus sancti. Amen.’
Cliff Andrade: [00:42:33] The docks. One of Britain’s post-industrial battlegrounds. In a way they are a handy metaphor; a Victorian past the nation is either trying to accept or transcend via cafes, those apartments shaped like cruise ships and paddle-boarding. A milk dispensing machine is being installed in a corner behind a wall and I ask myself: is that really what the world needs right now?
Cliff Andrade: [00:43:00] Okaaaaay… So yeah a lot of people to thank for this one.
For their thoughts, opinions and recollections thanks to Diana Burnaby, Nick Simon, Economist and Comedian Susan Steed, James Greer, Author Nicole Kennedy, Author and Social Historian John Boughton, Tom Smith and Alice Rooney.
For their acting skills and dulcet mouth noises thank you to Felicia Cleveland-Stevens, Sara Cameron, improviser extraordinaire Lora Hristova, Roland Lyle, Rowan Shaw, to Liz Bishop for embodying with such dedication the voice of Virginia Woolf, and to Alex Bradbury, Riccardo Weber and Matthias Mullner for their teutonic tones.
To Rowan Bishop, Jack Gibbon and Jess Ackerman at Bricks Bristol, and by extension Arts Council England.
And a special shout out to the Snowdon Trust, whose generosity allowed me the time and space to develop a lot of the ideas that then went on to feed into this podcast, and who continue to do great work to allow disabled students to access higher education.
And finally to artists Jo Stockham, Finlay Taylor, Bob Matthews, Meg Rahaim, Harold Offeh, Helen Cammock and Mark Titchner, whose support at various points over the last two and a bit years has enabled me to get to, well, to here.
If you’ve got a few minutes please read the blog that accompanies this podcast for a bit more discussion on the themes within it and a bit more background about those involved.
Thanks very much for listening. END OF TRANSCRIPT.