It is only when we watch the waste of culture retaken by nature that we get an idea of what history might mean.
We huddled around the fire, wrapped in shitty old parkas. Having made our way through the HELLO!s and the Heats, we were dangerously low on kindling. We liked the gossip mags cause the copper in their glossy ink made them burn green, their accusatory exclamations curling up and collapsing in on themselves. But on Tuesday we had to improvise – piles upon piles of box-fresh trainers we’d found in the basement of an abandoned office. They were beautiful, graphite black with neon pink laces and a vivid mint outsole. We sank our damp, confused feet into a pair each and carried the rest back to camp.
Let me tell you something about Nike Frees: they don’t burn. Within seconds of match hitting petrol — and a glorious initial blaze — they died a quick death, a dripping and toxic monster of aspiration.
Cold and disappointed, but high from the rubber fumes, we stayed up until three telling stories of our hazy former lives as designers, writers and account managers. We reminisced about the time when we didn’t have to hunt and dismember our meals. When we shuffled contentedly from bed to computer screen to pub, happy as kids, our heads full of birthdays and creativity.
On Wednesday we’d had some trouble. Travelers on the move from the outskirts of the city had rocked up, wailing and cavorting. It was a favorite trick, used to confuse people into surrendering supplies.
There were four men and seven women. Thin enough you could count their ribs, their hair chunky and matted in places but patchy in others. Scraps of metal had been fashioned into body armor and when the jangling mob approached it was like some hellish catwalk. Apparently this grim beauty mesmerized Jim, because he waved them on through to access our food and water. Horrified, I leaped at the leader, making a clean swipe at her jugular with a weapon I’d fashioned from a tree branch and the shard of an old smartphone screen.
Thursday brought a new hunt and it was my turn to set the bait. I’d discovered that the rats and foxes were attracted to some beauty products we’d found — god bless that fancy basement — and would saunter up to any trap set with a pea-sized daub of night cream. A five-hour offensive gave us seven animals. We fried up and ate the fox meat while skinning the rats, which takes forever. Jim yelled at me for not saving the skins and I yelled back, fed up with our pathetic frugality.
Moods were bleak as the weekend rolled in, so we decided on some ironic celebrations. A 50-foot billboard east of camp pierced the derelict skyline. Some perfectly tanned skin, peeling in strips so that the shoulder touched the hipbone, was all that remained of a Dior ad. Jim dug out some perfume we’d rescued from a riverside warehouse, still wrapped in cellophane ready to ship. We wanted shots and a high and this was the closest we were going to get. I cracked open the bottle with a makeshift bayonet and poured everyone a generous measure. I made a toast: “May we one day return to the bliss of ignorance!”
Glasses clinked under the billboard’s ancient gaze as we downed our expensive yet free liquor, wincing through the burn as it coated our insides. When you drink perfume nothing on earth will rid you of the smell. Inhabiting every pore and surfacing when you sneeze, it’s the first thing you taste when you wake and the last godforsaken thing you think of before sleep.
Pleasantly out-of-it and cradling my drink, I recalled an old Žižek film where he talked about Walter Benjamin’s understanding of history: it is only when we experience history and watch the waste of culture be retaken by nature… it is at that point where we get an intuition of what history might mean.
There aren’t many of us left. Finally we’re VIPs.
— Sam Edwards is a London based freelance writer. She helps run a music festival in Wales and is learning to grow veg in preparation for uncertain times.