On the way to Oxford
Back to the keyboard. When I left it yesterday, I was having breakfast with A&R on a disgustingly and infuriatingly posh ferry, considering the conditions migrants were living in. And all this because I was born in the right geographical region and they weren’t. I engaged A&R on the zine that E printed out for an anarchist bookfair. I’ve written a reply on the topic of the English anarchists that was addressed by it. R tells me Stott, Mr Pro-Borders, was holding a talk on anti-fascism at this very bookfair. What an irony! We chat some more about Oxford. I’m told of certain particularities of the town, like the way they pronounce Magdaleine, and of certain personalities in the fight for migrant rights.
It is then time to leave again. I get a sight of the UK border police, searching cars on the side. R calls them assholes, but I only see puppets there. The radio is on and as we are moving further away from Dover, R shows me a motorway he was once wrongly advised to take, while on a bike. Oh God. And with all the lorries driving, too. I was amazed he survived this, and felt deep anxiety just imagining it all.
The music A&R were playing was old, 1960-ish stuff. Not to my liking, but better than commercial stuff. Well, I’d gotten a lift for free and I wasn’t about to complain too much about that. At some point, I had to endure the British radio as well. And then I realized this was WWI rememberance day, November 11th. We had a lot of stuff about soldiers dying in Afghanistan, and an intervention by some military guy repeating the standard talking points about fighting there so as not to fight here. It was intolerable. I started to get a headache from this bullshit.
I didn’t understand that A&R were listening to this. Or maybe it was just to get some background noise? I was more surprised later on. We stopped somewhere temporarily, and I saw A get a copy of the day’s Guardian. I’d already read part of another copy they had, earlier on, while on the ferry. The article in question was some weird take on Afghanistan by some ex-military guy, whose basic message was to militarize England rather than waste our time in Afghanistan. “We provided them with a chance and they failed, fuck’em. Sorry, I was wrong to support the war.” Was the idea the guy tried to convey. And this crap was published by the Guardian.
So I had prejudices against this newspaper, and I asked A why she bought it. It’s bullshit, why do you read it ? Don’t we have anarchist newspapers? Isn’t that more interesting? “Well, she said, maybe it’s bullshit, but I feel confident enough in my own views that I can read bullshit and tell right from wrong. And in any case, it’s not all that bad, there’s some fine reporting in there.” On such words I gave up and said I forgave her, kiddingly.
That got me to think though. Even if we are able to read and find stupid shit when we see it, why exactly should we waste our time on this meaningless task? Sure I’m not going to get contaminated either, I could read your Guardian newspaper as well. And I don’t want to close myself to any point of view. But bullshit is not a point of view. A point of view makes me think about my own position. It makes me doubt. Bullshit makes me angry and bitter that people read it and believe in it. My dad is like that when he watches TV, and I’ve always hated how he would constantly snap about mainstream journalism. WHY DON’T YOU TURN IT OFF THEN? I still don’t read the Guardian. There might be good reporting here and there, so what? I guess I don’t really have an interest in news.
We went back to the vehicle and returned on the motorway. At that point, my headache was developing considerably. We arrived in a town called Swindon and R snarled about the unique roundabout inside a roundabout that we had to go through. I was happy to be sitting down and not the one having to drive. This was a traffic nightmare of cars going in weird directions at fairly high speed. We got out of it eventually and I made a mental decision not to learn driving ever, or at least, to avoid Swindon at all costs.
Swindon was where A&R were going to leave me and I would take the bus to Oxford. I’d texted S there that I would probably arrive sometime at the end of the afternoon. It turned out to be a correct guess. Me and R went on our own to the closest post office, which turned out to be situated inside some kind of supermarket. What a weird location. It would make my French co-activists scream in horror. R was taking it in a ‘Well this is capitalism in action’ way.
R gave me a 5£ billnote after changing my money into pounds did not yield the fortune I was looking forward to. I’d put in 70€ and got some 55£, even though this was the post office, and most of my UK friends had told me the rate was great, a little less than 1£ for 1€. That did not bode well for the rest of the trip.
R left me at Swindon’s bus/train station, where I got a 4£ ticket to Oxford. My reason for going there was the fact that S was there as well. We are both anarchists, and yet we are both interested by law. I was looking forward to interesting conversations with her. Unfortunately, those were rare, as she was mostly busy working, using her skills to help bring down corrupt oil companies, if my memories from this time are correct. Seems like ages ago.
To return to the train/bus station, I had to find the correct lane for the bus I was looking for. I entered what probably was the information room, and asked when the next bus to Oxford was leaving, its name, etc. I was told some time and name which I’ve forgotten, and I proceeded to get outside to spot the right lane. There were some 12 of them, but none had Oxford in the list of destinations. I went back inside, and as I was about to ask a question, some attendant repeated the previous information, as if I was a dumb idiot. Well no, I still remember it. See, I’m actually awake. Just give me the number of the lane! So anyway, I was told, and surely enough Oxford was there, right at the end of the list. I’d just missed it, like a dumb idiot who can’t read properly.
The trip on the bus was comfortable enough. Contrary to R’s prediction, I did get the change back, £1. The one exception to the general comfort was two persons constantly talking right behind me. The headache resurfaced and I put my head against the window, hoping the vibrations of the bus, while it was still, would somehow make it all go away. Which it does for a very little while. I was also constantly afraid of being part of a bus accident. Seeing as the bus was driving on the left, I kept feeling like we were about to crash into a car, but weirdly, the guys going in the opposite direction kept missing us. I was still under the right side spell and it was kinda weird.
Time passed and people came and left. I saw a man get on the bus with a uniform indicating he was working somewhere, and I thought that was weird. I also wondered, how much do uniforms bring conformity really? Is it that easy to destroy the individual? I was thinking back to this un-read essay about the level of liberty even inside the capitalist hierarchical workplace (not to mean that this was a good point for capitalism, but rather, that the workers are masters in spite of the bosses’ efforts). This was part of an anarchist symposium somewhere in America. I’m guessing that on its own it cannot really make you a servant, but as part of a general trend it is certainly powerful. And I had further thoughts that even without uniforms you can get uniformity, and our workers in France are probably just as sheeply as those in England, even though they don’t get back from work with their uniforms. After all, they were selected for, they needed to look good, and to say the right things, the right way, using the right turns of phrase. That whole process of learning the norms certainly makes you a sheep more effectively than wearing a symbolic piece of cloth.
At some point I got a text message from S with a lengthy and detailed explanation of what path to take to get to her house. Only problem was, she supposed I’d come from London on some national express coach. The explanation in any case was extremely complex, considering that I had no idea what the names of the buildings were refering to, much less where I could get what bus and when I should stop. For the most part, I had to judge from the maps available after I left the bus, somewhere in Oxford. It seemed I had to take the bus number 5, somewhere in some street.
Needing to sleep
I didn’t know it at that point, but there are several bus companies in competition in Oxford. It’s a shame I didn’t know. Cause I asked one attendant from one of those, where to take the bus number 5. “What? Bus number 5? Um, it’s on the other side of that market there.” Was it accurate information, was I lied to, I don’t know. I do know that I spent a fair amount of time trying to find that number 5 bus stop, and it was dark and cold. I thought S’s text was cruelly unhelpful, and yet she couldn’t have known. I was mentally preparing to mock her over the complexity of it. “Come on, I couldn’t possibly have found my way with this, even if I’d come from London!” would have been my attack; I could have refined it with a few quotations of the weird names she gave me.
I did find the bus stop, and I did receive a text by S saying she’d be late. Contrary to what you’d think, I like receiving news like this. Even though they’re not so good, you know that someone is on your case and that’s what matters. So I waited around the bus stop. And S certainly appeared after a very short while. I spotted her from a certain distance. She has this way of walking that’s a little weird. And also lots of hair. Unmistakable I’d say. I tried doing my attack but it didn’t work really well.
She had to go to the food coop, and we had a chat about what my plans were. I’d stay until the wwoofing was sorted out. She informed me that staying was only possible for a short amount of time. This was a decision arrived at collectively, the house being occupied by several people. I said it was okay, I only needed a few days. But I did feel a little more anxious, because that wasn’t what I imagined. Well, I thought, if everything fails, I have enough to turn back and return. This comforting thought I later found to be erroneous on two levels. First, the decision to return is extremely difficult to take. And second, there is always an alternative that might possibly work. There is never a point at which you can say: everything has failed. It is painful to have to draw a line on all this, when you’re unsure it could not be. More about this in the future.
I was led by S to her place. Several friends were already there. A chocolate cake was in the works. I was offered a tea. The place was quite nice and big. There was a bed for me in the attic. And there was internet. I checked my email and found that my wwoofing account was accepted. Excellent. I sent an email to the appropriate farm, the one I’d spotted with S’s help, expecting a few days before obtaining a response. I was quite hungry, but the cake filled me up with a few spoons, which I couldn’t believe. It was fairly sticky and I needed a glass of water after each intake. But I did love it. This was a vegan house, no meat, and the food there was always excellent. I’m getting hungry just writing this.
I was extremely tired and I just fled to the attic. I’d used a radiator following her advice and I took one spare sleeping bag lying on the bed, for my own use. Despite what S and T said about how cold the attic was, I felt I slept warmly enough. I remember waking up after a 2 hour slumber and finding my whole headache magically gone. I love it when it does that. I used the toilets and went back to sleep again.
One day later
The morning after I left Calais, I woke up quite early, full of energy. I went downstairs and checked the internet, used the computer to listen to music while working on a translation S needed. I also asked a question to someone. The farm had already replied, and enquired if I could pop by around 10am. Wow, that was quick. Well, my situation was sorted out then, I could work very very soon, and get housing and food for that. Yet, 10 am was a little too early, and S insisted that I needed my own sleeping bag. Also, I wanted to have my own bike. I emailed the farm again to inform them that the day after was better as far as I was concerned.
I discussed most of the rest of the morning with one of S’s housemates, T (another T). She was very helpful in answering all the questions I had. She also lent me her A-Z map so I could get around town, and I left in the afternoon for a little errand at first. I was using one of the bikes belonging to the whole house. This was a good one, I’d already gotten used to cycling on the left, and all this meant that I cycled to a lot more places than I had initially planned, buying toothpaste, trying (and failing) to get a sim card, buying a sleeping bag, and looking up the prices of second-hand bikes somewhere.
By the time I was back, it was dark. That’s another ‘weird’ thing about the English time. It gets dark so early! 4h30pm or something like that. I went back through a park that seemed like it should have been closed, seeing the hours indicated on the back gate, and it was indeed in the process of getting closed. Something I realized when, reaching the front gate on the other side, I saw a man shout something at me and putting a lock on. I quickly cycled back so as not to have to sleep outside for the night, sleeping bag or not.
Back at the house, I gave the news that I hadn’t found any satisfying bike. They were all much too costly. Once again, T helped me find websites that sold second-hand bikes, and I almost thought I found a seller. I called him and didn’t figure out much of what was said, only something about a supermarket on a certain street, and a back alley, or something. I cycled to that street, expecting that I could spot someone on the lookout for another person. The whole thing failed, because I didn’t get the directions right. Back I went, again, to S’s place, and this time T insisted that I call the guy again. I asked her to do it cause I knew I wouldn’t make out what the guy said any more than I first did.
So she did and I saw that I’d missed the mark by a long shot. I cycled there, expecting deliverance from my worries that I’d lose all my money on bus rides. I rang the door twice. No response. A man came at the window upstairs, and asked what I wanted. I said my friend had called, and I was here for the bikes. He was talking with a heavy accent, and I couldn’t make out most of what he said. I did ask him if bikes were for sale here, and he did say no. That was weird as fuck. So I went back to my borrowed bike, and was on the way to send a text message to T, asking if this was really the right address. The guy opened the door and began talking to me. He could speak French, but the problem remained. He still didn’t sell any bike. He had some, but they were for women.
Alright, nevermind. I cycled back for the third time, getting seriously angry, not knowing what to do. I didn’t want to take the bus to get to the farm. No way. T (the first T) offered to let me borrow a spare bike of his for a week, and I accepted. The bike I’d been using until now was intended for someone else. That was such a shame. I tried T’s bike and it was weirdly slow. He’d told me to pump it up, but the tyres seemed fine. The problem seemed to be in the gears, or the chain. I would be pedalling very fast, and the bike would very slowly move. I left it on the side of the house, and returned.
The man who had told me to give up because he wasn’t selling any bike, called the house, and asked to speak to me. We exchanged some words as best we could, and he was asking me weird questions about the police (?) and my friend. He ended up saying I was stupid and hanging up on me. FINE. This is over and I can move on to something else.
Well, actually, this wasn’t over yet. The weird guy called back again to say that he was sorry and he proposed that I return once more. I said no. I give up for tonight, screw this. K was kind enough to handle the conversation for me the whole time, and that was really lovely of her.
As this was unfolding and making my life difficult, I was also despairing over getting to talk to S. It turned out that living in the same place didn’t mean I’d get to talk to her more. As I said earlier, she’d gotten a job over the internet that was very demanding, and she barely had time to eat, get out, sleep, etc. She noticed though, and proposed that I’d go skipping with a group of them, but that’s not really what I wanted, and I was tired. So I refused and I went to sleep early, knowing I’d need to get up early to prepare my journey to the farm.