Circle/Line Filmmaker’s Diary #4

Beg Steal Borrow News, Circle/Line, New projects

Day 11: Sunday 14 June (Victoria)

It is quite surprising how most people whom we interview are very cagey about revealing not only where they work, but also what they do for a job as a whole. I am not sure if people are always worried about what judgements they think that others will make once the nature of their work is revealed, but few people seem willing to say the area of their work.

With regard to naming the company for which they work, the reluctance to name a company speaks surely, meanwhile, of a lack of job security in the current climate: if X interviewee says Y thing about Z company, then Z company might have good cause to sack X interviewee. Indeed, anyone who is in work clothes (from Transport for London employees to Big Issue vendors, both of whom we have interviewed) has in fact been trained not to talk to people in front of a camera. In this instance, the company is also afraid of a lawsuit, since if X interviewee says Y thing about Z company, then W viewer of the film in which the interview takes place might sue Z company because they take offence at X interviewee’s comment/Y thing.

For me, this has two effects. Firstly, it makes me sad that we live in such litigious times, in which people are running scared the whole time, and in which we fundamentally live in a condition of bad faith because no one trusts anyone else.

And secondly, it reveals as in some respects untrue people’s claims to be happy, especially when they relate their happiness to their work situation (which is the first thing that people mention in the majority of cases). For, if they were happy at work, they why not sing from the rooftops what work it is that they do, such that others might be inspired by these claims and thus want to work in the same, happy-making industry themselves?

Nonetheless, at Victoria we meet a TfL employee who does mention his place of work. I am not sure whether I shall include any such mentions in the film – for fear of getting our interviewee the sack! But they seem happy both with work, and to talk to us for a few minutes into their shift. He also speaks about his family, which seems spread all over the world, as a source of happiness as he works on his music.

Across the road from Victoria, in Grosvenor Gardens, we also meet two young chaps who are up in town after their exams. They are studying at a private school outside of London, and are about to break up for the summer – heading back to their respective homes in the north of England and Hong Kong. And we also speak to two young Bulgarian women, one of whom has been in London for a few months now, and one who has arrived today, and who is in transit towards Edinburgh.

In particular, these women speak of how the perception of Bulgarians in London is that they are here to nick jobs from ‘proper’ British citizens. However, from their own perspective, they are just young people looking for a bit of a change of scene. Both hope to make it to New York at some point.

At the end of the interview, the one woman who has lived in London for a while suggests that there are too many black people in the area of London where she lives (Stratford). I am sure that the comment speaks more about an unthinking cultural prejudice, rather than a considered, conscious evaluation of a race of people. Nonetheless, after a pleasant and informative conversation about being young and Bulgarian in London, this seems disturbing, if out of character.

Furthermore, the comment is unjustified given the wonderful conversation that we then have with Egbert, a Dominican Rastafarian who has been living in London for many years now. He speaks of living in the moment and embracing a loving attitude towards others that is inspirational and cheery-making.

Finally, we end in Victoria with a conversation with Lini, a Malaysian cleaner who must be about 60, and whose English is very limited. She smiles broadly, though, exudes a warmth and pleasantness that, while making for a not particularly successful interview, means that she has a memorable face and persona.

Day 12: Monday 15 June (Tower Hill)

Since Grosvenor Gardens proved a successful hunting ground for interviewees (surely the fact that people are sitting down and not rushing is key), Tom and I decide to start out in Trinity Square Gardens, just opposite the entrance to Tower Hill, which otherwise is undergoing works.

We speak to Alex, who is studying history at Queen Mary, University of London. He says that art and other wishy washy things along those lines do nothing for him with regard to happiness, but that he instead is made happy by things logical. We then speak to George, a West Ham fan who is in the area to see a concert at the Tower of London. George is in particular good to speak to, because he is of about retirement age (I would not like to speculate on a precise age) and thus represents a demographic – over 55s, let’s say – that we have had trouble convincing to speak to us up until now.

And then, like the proverbial London buses, along come Mark and Dennis, both of a similar age to George, and who also talk to us. Mark is down from Lancashire on business. Having been involved in the London 2012 Olympics, he still does some work in London, but it seems as though his passion is (beyond his family) playing and training others to play rugby.

Meanwhile Dennis, an Irish-American New Yorker who has been travelling the world of late (he has just touched down from Malaysia), is one of the most enlightened interviewees whom we have met: the oldest of 12 children, he was the senior male in his family after the death of his father in his early teens. He tells us that struggling to raise the family was great shakes compared to the struggles that the average young person faces today, but he does not lord this over anyone. Instead, he is humble and suggests that seeking happiness is today is the only worthwhile philosophy in life – even if it is a philosophy that took him many years to cultivate.

Day 13: Wednesday 17 June (Great Portland Street)

I am always worried when I turn up at a station that I am facing another Moorgate: a station where no one will stop to speak to us because they are too busy. After a couple of false starts, however, we do manage at Great Portland Street to speak to a woman, Sarah, who has worked in housing for many years, and who tells us about the problems with housing in London at the moment.

There are, she says, not enough houses for the growing population, and with too many people snapping up houses that remain unoccupied – a fact also reported in our media. Space, Sarah is convinced, is key to happiness – and without space, it is harder for people to be happy.

We also speak at Great Portland Street to a nurse, Michael, who was born in the UK, grew up in New Zealand, but who returned to the UK as an adult (he still has a New Zealand accent). In what seems like another serendipitous coincidence (three more senior men at Great Portland Street, two people who work in issues relating to social welfare), we discuss the National Health Service in the UK and the role that it, too, plays in ensuring the happiness of as many people as possible.

Finally, Tom and I speak – in our longest interview yet (40 minutes; most are between 12 and 20 minutes, though some are of course shorter) – to two artists, Lyndon and Toby, who have just been putting up stands at London’s Taste Festival.

Lyndon is about to start teaching at a school in Suffolk and is worried about leaving London – although he recognises that the capital is also a hard place in which to eke out happiness as a result of the swelling of its population and the seeming lack of job opportunities.

Toby, meanwhile, is staying in London, where he runs an illegal psychedelic ice cream van that sounds like a sort of installation/performance art piece that he drives around London (getting told regularly to move on because he does not have a license to sell the generic ice creams that he stocks).

The pair also work on party-event-installations, the last of which sounds stupendous if crazy: everyone came in costumes designed by other people attending the party, which had as its theme something in equal measure amusing and bizarre (although my poor memory – I write eight days later – does not recall).

After some early noes, then, Great Portland Street works out well.

Day 14: Monday 22 June (Sloane Square)

Sloane Square itself seemed likely to prove a good place to talk to people – and yet most refused to speak to us. I hate the tone of voice that people adopt when, after I have spent a few minutes explaining what we are doing, a lack of trust remains, a thin smile crosses the would-be interviewee’s lips, and they explain that they do not want to take part. It’s not so much that it is a no, but more what I perceive to be insincere friendliness.

I am sure that in this I am wrong, because there is of course a camera present, but I cannot help but feel that to say no to someone who wants a conversation is unfriendly, and so to try to be friendly in saying no is insincere. The presence of the camera: why does this affect people’s decision not to talk? Because they are wary of their appearance, perhaps. But this speaks of how we are all supposed always to look not like ourselves but ready for a camera, or cinematic. Or perhaps they say no because they are worried about what they are going to say and how it will be portrayed. Again, understandable, but to experience someone’s general lack of faith (they do not trust others) is hard not to take personally (they do not trust me). Clearly I am not good enough (cannot be good enough) at explaining/demonstrating to people that I am, or hope that I am, trustworthy.

And yet, Sloane Square is also the venue of the most annoying interview yet – an interview in which someone does agree to speak to us, and then proceeds to spend 20 minutes being as vague as possible in their responses, resisting right up until the end the invitation to say anything interesting about themselves. Furthermore, the man in the end refuses to sign our Letter of Release, insisting that he gets a cut of the film before we do anything with it because, in his own words, I might put him in a porn film.

While to get rejected is frustrating and a cause of self-doubt, to get accepted – he agreed to do the interview – only then to film 20 minutes of ongoing rejection, which ultimately I am unlikely even to be able to use – just seems to be obstructive and destructive, as if the man took pleasure in wasting my and Tom’s time (in his defence, the man did start by saying that he had nothing to do, so why not do the interview – i.e. he had some time to waste).

The man runs a watch company and has lived in Sloane Square all of his life, except for two years in Westminster, which apparently were awful, although there was a fantastic flat on offer there, so he had to take it. I ask him whether working with watches has changed the way he thinks about time. No. How did he think about time before he started working in watches? He didn’t. How did he get into working with watches? You can do this several ways. Which ways are those? There are several of them. Which one did he do? With some seeming regret he says that he got trained – as if it were an embarrassment to admit that anyone else might have helped him in making his fortune… The interview is painful and, ultimately, unpleasant.

Thank heavens, then, to meet Luke and his friend Ivan. Luke is a writer who writes stories for people for money. He is a traveller and has an uncontrollable laugh and smile – full of the joys of the universe. He cheers us up no end before going off to a Beethoven concert in Cadogan Hall.

Finally, outside the Royal Court we talk briefly to Paul, an actor who, despite wearing shades**, speaks candidly about how most people who tell you that they are happy are liars, and that he is not. I like Paul. I like Luke. I like Ivan. I guess you cannot like everyone.

** I have a theory about sunglasses. Basically it runs this way: curious people look, but curious people also want to show that they are curious by also showing that they are looking. This is a means then to start dialogue, which can engender learning, which satisfies curiosity. Sunglasses are what one wears in order to look, but not to be seen looking (as well as being associated with ‘cool’ – with cool in most of its forms being associated with detachment from, rather than engagement with, the world). I’d much rather be and demonstrate the fact that I am enworlded, and that we are all entangled with the world and with each other than putting on some masquerade that somehow I am detached from the world and that I have nothing to do with it. People who tend to believe that they are simply the authors of their own destiny tend to be the sort of people who have lived lives of privilege, and whose greatest privilege is to believe that they were owed or won their privilege, and to forget the fact that they are enworlded, rather than remembering that all that they have necessarily depends on the contributions of other people.

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