I’ve always been rather fond of the psychogeographical device known as ‘the possible appointment’, and so I’m generally willing to make that extra bit of effort in order to fail to meet someone. Yesterday I went to Dundee where I narrowly missed hooking up with Ae Phor. To explain what happened I need to backtrack a bit.
In April 1984 I met Dundee based artist Pete Horobin in London, and started to collaborate with him on various projects. As a result, from 1984 onwards I’ve visited Dundee on a fairly regular basis. I liked the city and in the eighties I’d go there to pick up used books and vinyl for a fraction of the price they’d cost me in London. I’d often stay in Horobin’s flat, The Data Attic on Union Street, right in the centre of town. When in Dundee I’d make durational videos, sound pieces and other stuff, both with Horobin and on my own – and when I got fed up doing that I’d wander all over the town.
Horobin spent the eighties building up a vast archive of bizarre and banal material which he classified as ‘data’. He hoarded everything that crossed his path, since to him it was all ‘data’. More recently this material has been dispersed across Europe. What couldn’t be placed with archives such as Art Pool (Budapest) has been returned to those who’d made it. In recent years, various materials I’d either left in or send to the Data Attic were given back to me by a shadowy figure calling himself Haining. Six days ago I received an email message from an individual who identified himself Ae Phor stating that the Data Attic was being emptied in preparation for its sale, and that he wanted to make arrangements to pass back to me “a VHS video cassette + photos” . By way of reply, I proposed a final visit to 37 Union Street so that I could collect these goodies in person.
My initial suggestion was that I should travel to Dundee between Friday 7 October and Monday 10 October, and that I would drop in on the Data Attic for an hour or two. By the time Ae Phor got back to me suggesting I come on Monday (because on Friday he was planning to cycle across Fife, and would be away all weekend) my schedule had changed and I was only free to hang out in Dundee on 7 October. I emailed suggesting I arrive early on the Friday. I heard nothing back (and when I phoned and sent texts there was still no reply) but in the true spirit of psychogeographical exploration, I decided to make the journey anyway. I considered it a ‘possible appointment’ .
According to the original 1950s psychogeorgraphers of the Lettrist International, the possible appointment was when a subject was asked to find themselves alone, at a precise time, in a preordained place. No one was there to meet them. Other variations include arranging to meet an unknown person, which it was claimed led to interesting interactions with strangers. I arrived at the downstairs street door of the Data Attic before nine in the morning. There was no reply when I rang the bell. Since I was keen to climb the steps to the top floor one final time, I decided to walk around and come back later.
I had a heavy cold and so I rejected the notion of walking up to the top of the Law Hill, or across the Tay Road Bridge into Fife, both things I’d done many times in the past. Instead I headed up to the Wellgate Centre. It was a curious experience since the recession had taken a heavy toll on Dundee. One of the pound shops at the entrance to this particular shopping mall had closed (it hadn’t been open very long, the unit was previously an outlet for Head and before that the bankrupt Virgin Records) and many other units were empty too – including one on the third level that until recently had been occupied by another bankrupt bargain bin chain called T. J. Hughes.
There is a Poundland on level two of The Wellgate, and there I also found a big new branch of the charity shop (thrift store) The British Heart Foundation, and another cut-price operation I’d not come across before – Home Bargains. This outfit was occupying about half of the space previously used by the defunct chain Woolworths, the rest of it was still empty and boarded up. On their website Home Bargains say they have more than 250 stores in the UK and they run the slogan Top Brands – Bottom Prices immediately beneath their name. Having looked at their Dundee store, I’d say this company was talking out of its arsehole with the claim about ‘top brands’.
That said, I did become mildly excited when I noticed Home Bargains were selling unicycles for £29.99. Since I’ve recently been doing readings from my books while standing on my head, I wondered if I could move on to riding a unicycle onstage while reciting my fiction. It took me a few seconds to realise that the continual movement necessary to avoid falling off the unicycle would prove distracting, and so it just wouldn’t work as an additional prop to my readings. I then moved on to wondering how a bargain store selling £29.99 unicycles in Dundee could possibly be a viable business…. It was a surreal proposition and left me wondering how long the chain would survive.
Two months earlier, filling in time while waiting to get a bus to Kaunas airport in Lithuania, I’d spent an hour or so in the Akropolis Shopping Centre, and it quickly became clear that Kaunas was another town that had been visibly devastated by the economic downturn. The Akropolis appeared even less financially viable than The Wellgate Centre in Dundee, since it was virtually empty; in every unit I entered there’d be no shoppers but several assistants, who’d descent like vultures asking if I needed help the moment I stepped through their door. In the end I fled and hung out at the bus station to avoid being harassed.
Returning to my trip to Dundee, I next checked out The Forum Shopping Centre and that was in even more of a sorry state than the Wellgate, with loads of empty units and no one looking like they were doing any business. I decided to skip the Overgate mall and head straight to Grouchos, my favourite used record store in the world! It has been interesting watching them shift back to selling more vinyl and reducing their stock of CDs and DVDs in recent years. Despite this, I didn’t have much luck finding any sounds I wanted. Grouchos did have a copy of Chuck Brown Live 87, the double album on Rhythm King, but they wanted £8.99 for it – and I knew I’d be able to find it online for under a fiver, so I gave it a miss. I’ve had some amazing vinyl bargains out of Grouchos over the past 27 years, but yesterday I left the store bereft of vinyl.
By this time I had a slight fever and was starting to hallucinate – what I though at first glance were rare 45s, turned out on examination to be worthless dreck- so I thought it might be a good idea to sit down and eat. I went to The Capitol – a Wetherspoons pub handily close to the bus station – and ordered a regular vegetarian breakfast for £3.10. When the platter arrived, it was a £4.20 large breakfast. There was way to much food, more than I’d paid for, but me being me I ate everything on my plate anyway. This is the story of my life, I’m always being given extra food; one time when I was staying in a hotel in Paris a waitress gave me two breakfasts every morning, one after the other, but nobody else was given double portions… I was very skinny and in my late-teens, I must have looked like I needed feeding up.
Eating too much and getting to sit down made me feel better. There was also free wi fi in The Capitol, unlike some of the local cafes. When I checked my email I found a message from Ae Phor that had been sent while I was ordering my breakfast. It said: “this morning I left The Attic at 08.45 to cycle to Cupar via Leuchars. All of which indicates that we are fated not to see each other…” I’d missed Ae Phor by about 5 minutes, and then coming out of The Capitol I saw the bus I’d intended to catch whizzing down the street. Before I finally got out of Dundee, a distraught woman asked me if I could call her mobile because she’d lost it. I dialled the number from my phone and her mobile turned out to be in the front pocket of her handbag, which she’d not looked inside. I met another flustered woman standing outside a supermarket a bit later on. She stopped me and asked if I’d carry a chair she’d just bought – she said she thought she’d be able to lug it home but it was too heavy for her. I suggested she call a cab….
Later, checking my email again, I found a message from Laura Simpson of The Cooper Gallery in Dundee. She’d sent me a link to the Retro Dundee blog and specifically a post about The Data Attic. Now that’s what I call psychogeography!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!