Monday, April 06, 2009

Part 7: culture n that

News from America travelled via radio transmission and restored internet links. Culture in New London was greatly diminished, although it had a head start over the rest of the country.

The old city was a media and cultural centre. It was the home of all national television networks, the seat of each newspaper, printing and publishing empire. It was blessed with film, television and sound studios, theatres, museums and galleries, nightclubs and other music venues.

Though much wealth was of this was out of reach of the average Londoner, its effects seeped through the collective consciousness. London folk were media savvy, used to handling information, a tribal group eager to swap and discuss news, ideas, gossip, jokes and so on.

As the survivors went over from surviving to rebuilding, the tribal notion returned. The tendency toward a fast moving, collective culture was revived. This time it was an active culture, where consumers were also creators.

The first efforts at creativity were simple, connected with the politics of the city. The simplest form of communication was printing, paper and ink.

In the Old Times newspapers were a clumsy but hard-working institution. Newspapers had an usual relationship with the public. Britain was a small country with a (relatively) large population, concentrated in large towns and cities. Print culture was slow to die. It was relatively easy for someone or something to become part of mass culture and consciousness. All you had to do was make impress the right journalists, agents and commissioners.

Even so, the complicated and expensive print infrastructure was the first to break down during the catastrophe (only when the electric grid broke down were the spoken and electronic outlets silenced). Deadlines were missed, deliveries got lost, machines were destroyed and so on.

As the recovery got underway people, groups, communes had to find ways of communicating with each other. Hey, we’re still alive! Many Londoners were at least half-trained in computers and office work. Internet cafes and stationery supplies were reopened or recycled.

The centuries old tradition of the bulletin and newsletter was revived. A great recovery was going on. Ordinary people were thrown back onto their own resources, which then had to be pooled for the sake of collective survival.

News could be carried around the city by word of mouth. It went further, lasted longer and was trusted a whole lot more if it came from a recognised source. Many of the newsletters came from communal groups. These were usually merged as groups joined forces. As political groups emerged they also began publishing.

When various bits of industry and infrastructure were revived the news was usually announced by leaflet or bulletin. As bits of industry grew stronger the workers felt more powerful and autonomous, they began producing their own communications. This would sometimes lead to arguments with local, territorial communes.

To begin with the new print media was prolific in volume and variety but quite modest in practical size. Papers were rarely more than two sheets folded. Groups with access to binding sometimes produced four page documents. Publications were often just double sided sheets of A4 paper.
Various names sprang up, for example: obvious names such as the Lewisham News, the Harrow Informer or the Somers Town Times. Some titles were pointed, like Broadwater Radical and the Free Press (which covered parts of Camberwell and Peckham). Some publications had humorous or obscure names like the Victorious Opposition, the Crisp Box or the Shaking Neutrino.

Most productions were given away for free. Newsletters were often given out door to door or on street corners. As various publications gained in popularity they were tied to recycling schemes. People would pay for their news through donations of old paper and any supplies of ink they could make or find.

As the print media expanded access to paper, ink and printing became a hot political topic. If resources weren’t in short supply there was the constant danger of supply being cut off.

The new print media usually carried raw news, along with appeals for help, people and materials. If the news were busy publications would often come out more than once a day.

If there was space there would sometimes be included small tutorials, good stories with happy endings, occasional poems and pictures. As the print media recovered it started to merge with the new education.

Newspaper culture would also cross over into poster forms and other kinds of art. A new trend sprang up using buildings as props for art. Papers and posters were often pasted up on old billboards, railway arches, subways and street corners. People would stop to look every morning, until that is the fly posters got used to not having to sneak around at night. Why do that anymore?

More than that, there was a trend of painting buildings. Most basic examples would be reclaimed buildings and workplaces. If there were no flags to fly (or nothing to fly them from) people would paint the building with various insignia, tags, stripes, symbols, crests and so on.

Folk began extending this habit into murals. Paint was hard to come by, however. Solutions were found, such as refined vegetable oil mixed with homemade dyes. Great events were always commemorated with murals. There were many tributes to the great battle and fiery death of the government. Communes often marked their jurisdictions with murals, usually depictions of the area its inhabitants and their virtues.

As time passed the trend for outdoor art became very popular. From basic tagging, to graffiti all the way up to the giant landscape painstakingly daubed across Central St Martin’s College.

Most often people painted or pasted quick pictures or witty slogans. One inexplicably popular trend was puns on the word grout, which started with The Grout Escape painted under the railway bridge in Shoreditch. Before long there was the Groutsiders, The Grout Barrier Reef, Grout White Shark, Down and Grout in Paris and London, The Grout the Bad and Ugly, Grout Expectations, the Groutest Story Ever Told, the Grout Pretender, Grout Balls of Fire… and so on.

The old education system was large and complicated, and so broke down very quickly. The initial burst of violence made people very afraid. There is no one weaker and more vulnerable than a child. As the situation transformed and people came out to reclaim their shattered world there was a remaining problem. What was to be done with the children?

The survivors had to come together in order to survive. Every last person was needed to battle complete relapse and destruction. Londoners were afraid of a return to violence and carnage. Not so their children. Fearless and curious they were very hard to restrain. With all the time in the world they wanted to explore this new, alien city that was once London.

Communards had to find safe places for their children to spend their time. What better place than the old schools and libraries? There were many teachers, but not enough for a formal education system as in the old days. Commune members had to take it in turns to look after the kids. They had to make do with what they knew and what they had to hand. School, such as it was, became freewheeling and oddly democratic.

But, then, what of the grown ups? People found themselves thrust back onto their own resources. How was a former office worker supposed to fix an engine or a mechanic diagnose an illness or a doctor successfully grow turnips? There had to be a better way to exchange information, organise knowledge in the city.

Groups of people, lecturers, authors, researchers and similar types tried to put on evening classes around the city. Toward the end of the year this movement became the Recovered University of London, based in repaired buildings around Bloomsbury and Kingsway.

As with school education, classes were very different under the new regime. There were lessons in Literature, French, Philosophy and so on. There were also lessons in horticulture, hunting, carpentry, smelting (very important in a city littered with scrap metal), distillation, identifying edible mushrooms, how to maintain a rifle, how to build a well.

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