Don’t ask me how, but I’d got stuck in Nottingham one day, nothing in particular to do, but not able to leave. In a lazy, directionless mood, I fiddled with an old bus ticket, only noticing after a while a picture of a chap in naval costume on the back. He seemed to be in the act of falling over from too much rum, or perhaps dancing a jig. I was just dismissing it as an insidious example of viral marketing, when I heard a sea shanty playing. I was a bit fazed by the coincidence, half worried that I had stumbled into a hallucinatory Village where lost sailors rubbed shoulders with ex-government agents. As I got closer I found two Captains reading salty tales to each other; in a world of their own where it was normal to be dressed for the sea in the middle of England and talking of the deep and not the shallow.
Trying to get to the bottom of this, I took a second look at the ticket. There was a website, but more intriguingly a tiny drawing of a crow, a fragment suggesting more. There must be some kind of secret treasure trail around the city. I got on a random bus, muttering “Two stops, please?” which seemed to work. Looking hard at my clue, I enjoyed the clever mimicry of a transportation infomercial, calling into question the nature of the journeys we are all on, it was so authentic it was… it was… it was just a normal ticket, wasn’t it.
Still, I wasn’t going to be put off, this might be an important part of the initiation process: the secret would only be revealed to someone who persisted. I tried again, a different line, another two stops. Painfully nervous, I turned the ticket over, but instead of gold I just got more of the archaic dot matrix style text that appeared on the front. This must just be some gibberish spewed out by a malfunctioning machine. I glared at it, furious that I was being ridiculed like this. My watery eyes seemed to be desperately trying to make sense of the image, as if I could make it resolve by an act of will into something, anything, like … an old computer game screen, Space Invaders, or Galaxian perhaps. Although… it must be meant to look like that: there was the Captain’s hand jutting into the edge and that same website! I was back on track.
Waiting for the next bus I scribbled down odd details and then more joy: an oddly familiar dove became a free-floating symbol of many things at once: capital, transcendence, peace. Surely a sign that I was reaching some kind of understanding, accepted by the forces behind this peculiar game. There were a few duds of course, but I resisted the urge to check with the drivers whether they had the funny ones with pictures on, and made notes on everything, now that I realised it was all part of a much larger picture.
The next trip showed me a piece of another ticket from another time, a real or imaginary cloakroom had been guarded with half a paper stag, tangled up in string. All I saw just led me right back to myself, I started to feel I was feverishly travelling the folds in my skull, colour and number coded for your convenience: lilac 23; red 45; orange 36. With too bright eyes and shaking hands I took my next slip. Two things slammed simultaneously into my forebrain: 1) A slogan: “We are all living/We are all dying” like the logo of some post-Benetton corporation mindfucking us with an Eros/Thanatos double bind; and 2) a tiny drawing of a crow. I’d reached the loop.
Dazed and illuminated, I realised that I didn’t need to find a copy of the last frame with the two birds together: the fissure was more perfect, suggesting thousands waiting in potential. I’d thought this adventure would show me the sights, but instead I had been putting together pieces of a puzzle where I was a part of the solution. Daily waste had become a gift, but one that attached itself to me symbiotically, giving me as much as I was prepared to offer it back. Think of a whole city of commuters spending their journey meditating on these little poems. Thousands waiting in potential.
© 2006 for Sideshow
Sideshow artist-led initiative featuring exhibitions, performances and talks took place from 21 April – 25 June 2006 in Nottingham and the surrounding region
Captain Ed in Nottingham on Saturday 22nd and Saturday 29th April
[insertspace] talk: 5pm, Sat 13th May. The Old Moot Hall Inn, Carlton Rd, Sneinton, Nottingham, NG3 2DG