Monday, November 22, 2010

Zoo Station by Ian Walker (Abacus 1987)

P. 27-28

Walking to the party. Tommy was describing a gig he had recently attended at the Church of Our Saviour in Rummelsburg, a few miles away. Gigs in churches were always unofficial, advertised by word-of-mouth only. Although the security police never arrested anyone inside the church grounds, there were always plenty of Staasis at such events, mingling with the audience and maybe taking photographs.

'In the front row of pews there were about twenty Staasis,' said Tommy, 'You know how they always stick out a mile in their tight white T-shirts and moustaches? Well there was this group playing a mixture of R & B and soul and one of the Staasis got really into it, jumping up and down and singing along. The other cops kept trying to restrain him, but eventually they had to escort him from the church.'

P. 319-320

I thought about the nightshift, the international community of nightshifts, all the metropolitan people toiling at nights to earn enough money for the basics plus one annual family holiday and maybe a car and some new furniture now and again if they were lucky. The driver had asked what freedom was. What was freedom for the nightshift? What was freedom for the women nightcleaners vacuuming office blocks in cities all across the west? The freedom to work all night and wait for the bus home at dawn? The freedom to fix breakfast and get the children off to school? The freedom to clean up the house and maybe catch a few hours' sleep before the children came home for their tea? The freedom to wait again for the bus that will return them to the deserted empires of the company headquarters that must be spick-and-span by morning for all the secretaries, clerks, accountants, PR people, designers, marketing and personnel managers, salesmen, lawyers and company directors, especially the place must be spick-and-span for the company directors, for all these armies of people busy making and selling useless things for fun and profit, the freedom to be part of this grand design? The freedom to enter polling booths, to inscribe twelve crosses during the course of a voting lifetime? I was thinking that people like the driver of this Trabant, people anywhere working on the nightshift, had neither the energy nor the inclination for silent bicycle protests of the kind described by the graphic designer of Köpenick. East and west, the same kind of people did these things. Dissent was also a kind of luxury. The driver of the Schwarzetaxi didn't give a fuck about freedom.

He would have felt out of place at the party in Köpenick. I had felt at home there. There was an international community of big-shots, of dissenters, of nightshift workers, all these little western worlds and eastern worlds holding up clean mirrors to each other. Big-shots in West Berlin lived in Dahlem. Big-shots in East Berlin lived in the suburb nicknamed Volvograd. Big-shots in West Berlin were capitalists. Big-shots in East Berlin were communists. Big-shots said we and spoke for all their nation. I felt drained and drunk. I wanted to shout things from the rooftops, but the things got so complicated and the words just blew around like dust in the wind.

What can I say; a writer I love so much that I had to inscribe two passages rather than the usual one for a book just (re)read to give you a flavour of his humour, humanity and sense of anger at the injustice of the world. For the millionth time on the blog, I'll recommend the following articles by Walker that originally appeared in the pages of the New Society magazine:

  • Anarchy in the UK
  • Skinheads: the cult of trouble
  • Also check out the comments on this old blog post which gives more background on Walker.

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