Articles - 6th January 2020

Ditching New Year’s Resolutions For Cultural Intentions

Words by Elinor Potts
Illustration by Oscar Price

I am here, happier, heavier and back at my desk wearing clean socks and elasticated trousers, with pockets full of empty Lindor wrappers. Betwixtmas in the Potts household was a convivial carousel of charades, experimental dancing and unusual Devonian Christmas parties. I reached the first of these parties plodding my soft-padded city feet over a live railway track for a food-filled evening in a former railway house overlooking Britain’s 9th least used station. After extended periods away from home, Simon (the Father of my host) dons a conductor’s cap and slips her a ticket for limited off-peak access through the hallway hatch. Commuting up to Exeter as a Sixth Form student, I’d occasionally spot him in the garden, primly shovelling compost in the allotment and chancing a friendly wave. 

The second gathering of my festive break was hosted by a cardiganed Philosophy professor, in a model middle-class home of open ‘hygge’ hearths and neat stacks of LRBs beside fluffy towels and toilet rolls with the ends folded. I arrived armed with company-appropriate small talk ammunition, having discovered that morning I’d been featured in a Waterstones’ podcast rehearsedly sales-pitching Derek Jarman in a high pitch. I wriggled into a sequined dress, fiddled with the clasp of my custom-made Samuel Beckett locket (a niche, ridiculously thoughtful gift from my sister) and toasted the New Year sipping Lidl’s best port and lemonade around a chiminea. 

Defying my 2019 claim that culture is a combination of “Iceland pizza” “shaving your legs at 1 PM on a Thursday” and “velveteen Shiba Inus”, Natalie Olah suggests in Steal as much as you can that the culture of the past decade has been at best “lacking clear coherence or sense of identity,” and at worst, frankly “no longer exists”. The bane of contemporary culture, Olah asserts, are the “public school media figures,” and “the inescapable succession of Cumberbatch pretenders, the steady march of floppy-haired comedians with Home Counties accents.” It’s difficult, she points out, to facilitate a thriving culture of creativity against a climate of “increasing marketisation [with] each of us working five different jobs, or being reduced to financial struggle, while fighting to write, or create music and art.”

Anyone who’s struggled with the balance of multiple freelance commitments, managed around part-time work or studying, will appreciate Olah’s point here. The difficulty of producing valuable creative work whilst feeling like you’ve had the life sucked out of you from paying the rent is deeply frustrating, and even more so when the reality of your racial or class-based experiences are ignored within the mainstream; “bearing no resemblance to the struggles that many of us faced.” If you’re interested in what Olah has to say, she’s speaking with investigative journalist Vicky Spratt at Housmans radical bookshop in King’s Cross on the 15th January

Last January, in my first cultural column for UnderPinned I wrote that ‘January resolutions are over, now it’s time to treat yourself!‘. My perspective has changed a little since then, though we must urgently stop assessing our years with their ‘achievements’ (I’m looking at you, ten year glow-up posts). I have decided to enter this new decade with a fresh set of cultural intentions, ditching the black-and-white failure/success binary of conventional New Years Resolutions. Intention Number One – to watch more foreign films – kickstarted during a group family visitation to Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema. It’s an impressive building of art-deco proportions in the midst of the city’s cultural district and the locus of the UK’s premier documentary festival Doc/Fest.

Having won the Cannes Film Festival’s ‘Un Certain Regard’ award in its year of release, the 2018 contemporary Scandi-Folk Noir, Border / Gräns (dir. Ali Abbasi) was co-written and based on the short story of Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist. It’s a freshwater deep dive into the murky waters of Swedish nationalism, policing Otherness and spooky spruces with all the trimmings of Nordic illustrators John Bauer’s weeping waifs and Elsa Beskow’s mushroom-hatted troublemakers. Tina, the quiet and disfigured border patrol officer possesses an uncanny ability to sniff out passengers carrying contraband cargo, encountering everyone from larvae collectors to child pornographers, before making a momentous personal discovery. There is an uncanny voyeurism to the shaky, handheld bankside shots of Tina’s naked wild swimming, exploring the deeply rooted bond of humans and landscapes with an abrasively loud foley artist. If the thought of walking over pinecones and dank moss with bare feet gives you shivers, you may want to give this one a miss. 

Intention Number Two was to better manage my time. As an absent-minded easily distracted cultural columnist, this means minimising the number of events I book tickets for and forget to attend, having missed Sara Pascoe’s set at the Amersham Arms for the comedy venue’s Happy Mondays stand-up series. Intention Number Three? To be kind to myself. Which I’ll be using to excuse myself when I slip up on Intention Number Two. Because it’s better to intend to be a well-behaved cultural columnist than to kick yourself when you slip up. Because we can’t have it all. And whilst it’s tempting to challenge Olah’s issues with teenies culture, or lack thereof, that doesn’t mean that the twenties have to be culturally null. Don’t resign to being shouted over by the media monopoly. Shout louder and make your voice heard in the new cultural age. Because the best laid cultural plans of cultural women always go awry.

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