Day One

According to Martin Amis one of the prerequisites for being a novelist is to think that the world doesn’t have to be this way. To think: why roads? why cars? why discomfort and noise? why striplighting? The novelist, says Amis, thinks that nothing is inevitable, everything is contingent.Perhaps this is why science is conservative: always confirming how we got to this point.

Now, I am no novelist and nor do I have much time for Martin Amis these days, but as a tourist on his way to Bilbao for a much needed holiday, I ask myself: does it have to be like this? So uncomfortable, so harried and inhospitable. We left the flat at 10, dragging 19.5kg of luggageWhat, dear reader, is the origin of the the suffix “-gage”? I noticed that “hand luggage” (which has been restricted to a briefcase sized bag) has been renamed “hand baggage”. Is this because you don’t lug it around? I need to know. and didn’t arrive in Bilbao until 2000 (Spanish time). My experience of those nine hours was of encroaching desolation, freezing my spirit as the air conditioning froze my feet. Marc Auge has described the lineaments of the non-spaces surround us as we make our way from A to B: the airports, supermarkets, car parks, and shopping centres. Sanitized places for passing through, devoid of individuality. Efficient spaces for getting thousands of people conveyor belted to their destinations. Worse still, we were doing it twice, and a few days after a “severe” terrorist threat caused massive disruption.

Some people said that the amount of continued disruption meant that the terrorists had “won”, but surely the real victory was for all those health and safety and risk assessment wonks who managed to induce BAA into believing that even carrying a book could be hazardous. Fortunately, a relaxation in the regulations (ignored by many who carried only their essentials in a clear plastic bag) meant that this inhuman measure was lifted. I shudder at the idea travelling by plane without a book.

And thus, I spent my time wearing ear plugs, shivering and reading all 400 pages of David Peace’s Nineteen Eighty Three, the final part of his fantastic Red Riding Quartet. Nineteen Eighty, which I had read a few days before, had dunked me into a profound depression. His universe is so caustic, bitter and noirish. Geeks have a phrase “Garbage in, Garbage out” to describe how bad code makes bad software. I wonder whether reading such dark material makes one’s reality darker and more pessimistic by colouring your perspective. Certainly I’ve noticed that all the people who come into the library stinking of alcohol always seem to read crime books. Or maybe not. This morning I awoke refreshed and optimistic, ready to explore the city.