It’s the end of a long week of me thinking and talking about my new idea: a blog, where I relive moments of my adolescence* through music, self-consciously titled ‘Nostalgia Dorks’. I’m on the foreshore at Barangaroo looking for an ammo can geocache with a friend; we’re talking transience and transcendence, subjectivity and some other things… It’s all a bit fuzzy now.
A crowd of partygoers drift by on a boat and their joyous rendition of TLC’s 1999 hit single “No Scrubs” echoes in the darkness. But their exertions are lost in this empty, cavernous harbour; they barely compete with the steady lapping of water on rock.
“In exploring the ruins of a failed past… explorers don’t just experience the surreal collapse of time and space that exist within the ruin – they remind themselves that everything is transience, that anything we think we can hold on to is an illusion.” p64
As I scramble around on the foreshore listening to the revellers carry on, I can’t help but think my adolescent memories are reaching an important juncture. With each retelling, they become notably more distant and, in time, all I will remember are scraps – moments divorced of emotions. One day, I’ll probably belt out Frightened Rabbit, Yeasayer or Twin Shadow the same way these partygoers are “No Scrubs” right now. That is, desperately, passionately (and drunkenly) trying to reconnect with stories I can no longer touch and feel. I was bawling with joy when I saw Mew live for the first time this month. Will it feel nearly as raw next time?
“Explorers are aware that, every time they crack a new location, they become one of the ingredients of the mixture of the place, melding themselves into its fabric and capturing transitional moments within it. Explorers are prepared to care for historic sites but also to let them disappear.” p64
My motivation to memorialise my adolescence as I make headway into the adult world is tempered by a recognition that the concept of my past self exists only because I’ve moved forward as a person. As a result, any reflection on this perceived-to-be outdated self of mine will, in fact, only result in the creation of new narratives given the addition of a new ingredient: my present self and all of its fears and biases.
“Urban exploration… is a call to experience the world in a way that veers from what constitutes normative behaviour but also aligns more closely with childhood as a practice that enriches and redefines our existence, encouraging wonder and the willingness to place hope ahead of fear.
“The visual, aural and sensual representations created on explorations and temporary urban occupations, created in closed, secret places, bring about new emotional caches that can be tapped into for myth-making practices; practical applications, such as sabotage in the event of authoritarian lockdown; colonisation as temporary free space, including illicit party venues; or utilisation as secure shelter. Reterritorialising those spaces, filling them with imagination, was the real legacy of our work. As a result, the virtual and physical aspects of urban exploration become increasingly inseparable as one network depends on the other. Despite its weavings into the mythologies of the sublime, urban exploration is not an escape from or a transcendence of the physical, but a challenge to the very boundaries of deeply embodied substance dualisms.” p174-175
These quotes come from Bradley L. Garrett’s book on urban exploration Explore Everything: Place-Hacking The City From Tunnels To Skyscrapers. Garrett mines the amazing experiences he had scaling the skeletons of unfinished skyscrapers and running the Tubes for deeper meaning. While what you get from this are long sentences with big words, if you read his stories you can believe at least one thing: urban exploration gave Garrett his flow.
“It was only days after… that I started to feel the itch again. What once would have satisfied me for weeks now only made me crave more adventure. I was beginning to understand why many people in the community ‘aged out’ of urban exploration. It wasn’t about growing out of it or even about not physically being able to do what you once did – it was about not being able to find your edge anymore.
“Losing the edge is about the risk/reward ratio shifting. For instance, where going into the Tube at great risk was worth the effort while trying to complete the set, once the set was done the reward value lowered to the point where the risk wasn’t worth going in the Tube anymore. Thinking back to the explorers’ desire to be the first to find epics, it occurred to me that was less about claiming superiority over being ‘first’ and more about taking big risks for big rewards in the process of doing so. I imagine cavers or mountain climbers, for instance, might actually feel the same way. everybody wants to work their own edge, and when you can’t find it anymore, you move on. If you don’t, your once exhilarating interest becomes as mundane as an office job” p218
What I find incredibly appealing of Garrett’s work is his acute awareness and acceptance of change. First, he conceptualises urban exploration itself as a celebration of the transience of the urban landscape and, eventually, he recognises without regret the end of his involvement in the scene.
Change and growth have been common themes of my blog this year. Little by little, I’m becoming more accepting of the reality that alles ist vergänglich (everything is temporary) – even the things we cherish the most. Let’s not end this with a morbid and/or cliched statement, shall we?
“This Golden Age of London urban exploration will always be our legacy, and I feel privileged to have been chosen as the scribe for the tribe. What other legacies we may have left behind, what accomplishments and experiences are not contained within these pages, I will leave to your imagination. And what tales of urban exploration future generations will tell, I leave to them.” p245
*I use the term ‘adolescence’ loosely here, counting my early twenties as a (still insecure and unsure) university student as part of my ‘transitional period’ to ‘adulthood’ (though I also don’t believe in becoming a finished product). Click here if you want a dictionary definition.