The Opposite of Nostalgia

Endland BY Tim Etchells. Sheffield: And Other Stories. 352 pages. $17.

What’s the opposite of nostalgia? I ask that question because the stories in this book take me back to a time & place I thought I’d forgotten—but I really wouldn’t want to go back there.

I used to sleep a lot. I’m still fond of a good kip & will grab a snooze at the drop of a hat if the opportunity ever presents itself but back in the early 80s I really used to sleep a hell of a lot. Back then sleeping was my favoured method of escaping Thatcher’s Britain.

I left school in 1982 & went straight on the dole. I left home & moved into a flat above an old factory. My friend was the caretaker. The building had been divided into units that housed band rehearsal rooms, offices, a model railway enthusiasts society & two table tennis clubs (who used to take it in turns to shit outside each other’s doors). Abandoned takeaways left outside the rehearsal rooms attracted rats. Sleeping was a much better option than facing the day-to-day reality of living on Sheldon Row.

One morning (or maybe it was early afternoon?) I was rudely awakened from my slumber by the sound of shouting coming from the room downstairs. It sounded like a domestic argument—but that was impossible because we were the only people actually living on the premises. Plus, it was a little too repetitive & rhythmic. I was irritated, also a little intrigued . . .

That was my first encounter with the work of Tim Etchells. The noise I had mistaken for a ‘domestic’ was actually the sound of a Forced Entertainment rehearsal & Tim is a founding member of the theatre group that bears that name. The more I found out about Forced Entertainment the more my curiosity grew: I was intrigued by why they rehearsed during the day, I was intrigued as to how they had got rid of the food co-op that used to be downstairs (rat droppings were found in the muesli, apparently, leading to them being evicted), but most of all I was intrigued as to why a group of talented, creative people would move to Sheffield voluntarily at a time when the whole city was so obviously going down the pan. In other words: ‘Why the fuck would anyone move to a shit-hole that everyone else is trying to escape from?’

Only Tim himself could answer that question—or perhaps you’ll find the reason why secreted somewhere within the pages of this collection. I myself got some kind of glimpse the first time I saw Forced Entertainment perform live. They were doing a piece called The Set-up early in the evening at a local venue called The Leadmill. The Leadmill was (& still is) housed in an old bus garage—just about all the places I frequented in those days were based in places where things ‘used to happen’. I needed to find out what all this shouting was about. I had a right to know why my sleep was being disturbed. I’d seen some ‘street theatre’ at various local festivals & that was pretty dire so my expectations were extremely low. But as soon as the piece began I was transfixed. This was not Theatre As I Knew It. Minimal set, choreographed moves, most of the dialogue coming over the PA from a pre-recorded soundtrack that also featured some very interesting music. I was inspired—I wasn’t sure exactly what it was saying but it set off some feelings inside me. For some reason I am unable to explain I ran back home to the factory & got dressed in an acrylic star jumper that was two sizes too small for me & went back to The Leadmill. The play had made me feel like that Fall lyric from the song ‘Winter’—‘I’ll take both of you on, I’ll take both of you on’. Proper got me going. Theatre had never done that to me before.

I had no idea that these stories of Tim’s existed. Some of them even date back to times I have been describing. When I read them I was instantly transported to the Sheffield of the mid-80s & the lifestyles of those who haunted Sheldon Row: a factory ‘just off The Wicker’. It fucking terrified me.

These stories are the opposite of nostalgia—& this feels like the perfect time for them to appear. At the time of my writing this introduction we are once more ruled by a Conservative Party leader who has no problem with declaring war on at least 50% of the country that they are supposed to govern. & these stories tell you what it’s like to live in that kind of atmosphere for years on end. They are frightening—but they’re also necessary. Good things happen when you face stuff head on.

‘Endland’ is right—‘Endland’ is where we are right now. But the fact that these stories exist at all shows that times like this can be survived—transcended even.

This book is dangerous. This book is a bitter medicine. This book tells it like it was & is.

I respect this book—but I never want to read it again.

Jarvis Cocker, hard shoulder of the M1, August 2019

Excerpted from Endland by Tim Etchells with introduction from Jarvis Cocker, published May 12, 2020 by And Other Stories. Copyright © 2020 by And Other Stories.