I made a note: I was entering a highly consumer-orientated zone. It was getting late and all the shops were closed. There were still all the fast-food outlets however – all lit up and inviting, sending out multitudinous signals both on a visual and an olfactory level. I felt hungry. I realized that I could not remember the last time I had eaten. I had been too preoccupied with my work. From where I stood I could see Krunchy Fried Chicken, the Sharwarma King. Wimpy’s; the Ming Dynasty Chinese takeaway; El Hak’s Kebab Emporium; the Pizza Express; the Ocean Wave Fish and Chip Shop; Ned’s Noodle Bar; the Bombay Palace Indian Restaurant.
I stopped outside the chip shop for a moment to take stock of the items sold there: southern fried chicken, cod, haddock, rock salmon, skate wings, fish cakes, savaloys in batter, pancake rolls, Cornish pasties, Jamaican pasties, steak and kidney pies, steak and onion pies, onion rings, pickled gherkins, pickled eggs…
Further down the street I noticed for the first time the two story plastic façade of a McDonalds, relatively clean and well maintained in the usual bland way. This, if I was gauging the situation correctly, was acting as a sort of a focus for a number of young people, mainly males, who did not seem to be interested in entering but merely stood around in small groups outside the entrance. There was a subtle sense of menace in their body language, the way they leaned against the doorway. I was also getting something from the semiotics of their clothing, which seemed to be primarily from a well-known high-street sports chain.
My instincts were telling me that I was onto something interesting here: what I was seeing in this instance wasn’t anything to do with a rejection of society or any kind of rebellion against conventional values. On the contrary, what I was witnessing here was more in the nature of a ‘cult of consumerism’, which was being unconsciously celebrated by its participants. The participants’ acceptance of commercially constructed norms was made evident by the recently purchased highly fashionable ‘street-ware’ articles that they were all wearing. They, by their choice of venue, seemed to be saying “This is the cutting edge of society – this is where it counts, this is where it all happens…”
They were also seeking, if my analysis was correct, to partake in the quintessential ‘passion’ of consumerism through some sort of unconscious symbolic self-identification with the motifs and images created by the advertising industry. It was as if they had elevated the high street shopping centre, the arena of conspicuous consumption, to the level of…
I broke off in my narrative. A number of these young men had walked up to me and were confronting me, making comments. They appeared to be trying to taunt me. Before I knew what was happening one of them struck me hard in the face. The blow connected with unexpected force and my legs went weak. I felt myself going down. Then they were all on top of me, raining blows from all directions, laughing as they did so.
I was face-down on the pavement trying to raise myself up with my arms as I was being punched and kicked from above by a number of assailants. Everything was happening very fast – it felt almost surreal; it was just as if it wasn’t really happening at all. I felt paralysed by the onslaught, powerless, stupid, as if I had no ability to react. I realized after a while that the reason I couldn’t get up was because someone was holding my head down by standing on my hair. My jacket was slit open with a sharp blade and I felt hands going through my pockets. There was a final vicious kick to my head, and I momentarily lost consciousness.
After what seemed like only a few moments later my attackers were gone and the street was empty. I found myself able to walk despite the shakiness of my legs and the best thing to do seemed to just keep on walking down the street. I had some sort of a vague idea that I had been interrupted doing something important. My predominant feeling was of one of numbness, with a vague perplexity building up somewhere in the background. My limbs felt as weak as over-cooked spaghetti and a huge shapeless tiredness loomed larger and larger in my awareness until I could barely focus on anything else. I knew it would shortly overwhelm me.
I had the idea in my head that if I could just find somewhere out of the way to sit down my strength would return and I’d be able to work out what to do next. Or rather work out what I had been doing before I got jumped. I realized that moments before being attacked by the street gang I had been onto something very important. Something that had been eluding me for a long time. But the trouble was, I hadn’t the slightest clue what it was…