I was driving the other day. Driving is bad. But I do it anyway because we live in a world where no one will pay me any money to do anything that combines things I like doing with getting paid in a place where I could feasibly walk, cycle or catch the train to. I'd quite like to burn my car in a ritual ceremony, along with the other vestments of my complicity with the notion of 'career' and 'a stable life' and then head for an island without any mobile signal and rebuild a long abandoned cottage and think about the stars at night and sing to the ocean.
Essentially, I think life is utterly pointless (later in this piece I'll retract this statement) aside from the meaning we construct from the myths we choose to believe and I'd like to go somewhere free from the pollutants of sardonic irony, liberal braying, insane body image, frothing outrage and uber-cool futurism. I just would like to survive and think for myself for a bit.
I'm aware this is a not uncommon fantasy and I'm also slightly suspicious of myself for thinking this way, aware as I am of the fascist 'back to the land' imagery and the dangers of retreating from the world when the going is rough. Something I read that Bjork said always sticks with me though, something along the lines of (and it helps if you read it in a Bjork voice) 'I'd like to live on a rock in sea, with just the waves and world's best speakers') and I think Bjork is just about the polar opposite of Hitler so I'll continue to indulge myself in this fantasy.
Where is this leading? Well, it's leading to the question of the value of things. Clearly, if I'm honest, my statement above about life being pointless is hyperbolic (see!). I've not killed myself and I've not really come close to thinking that way, so obviously I must attach some value to things. This was in my head as I was driving, the idea of value. The things I value, the things other people value. The gap between what I think is valuable and what some other people appear to value.
Because as I was driving I was reminded, for the second time in a week about something I can't fathom. Something I can't understand on any remotely logical or moral level, or any other level you'd care to throw at me that one could use to measure human reasoning.
The first time I was drawn to this question, I was stood by in a public space with a gaggle of people gathered near me, their attention on what I can only describe as strikingly featureless girl, who appeared to be wearing the clothes from an American sitcom and wearing a subtly strange mask of make up. Despite the lengths she'd gone to to plaster her face, she'd failed to express anything with the make up. Perhaps it wasn't a failure, but a success. I don't know, I'm not especially qualified to judge. It was if she'd applied the faintest sense of a death mask, or covered her face with a thin gauze. I felt like had she not applied the make up, she'd have looked almost identical, just slightly paler. It's not for me to judge the make up habits of others, but it didn't seem she'd made the most creative use of the tools available. Probably I'm a little jealous of the gender norms that deny me access to the urban decay palette and all its glittery mystique. You might think I'm indulging in some questionable reportage here, but trust me, I'll justify this later. It's not a critique of her appearance, it's merely going to be a set up for a point about how her self constructed lack of personal flair aesthetics wise is ironic, given her own excitement over the concept that I've enigmatically described above as confusing me, but not yet revealed. So trust me here and don't dismiss me as a weirdo set out at destroying the body confidence of a teenager for cheap literary thrills.
She was holding court about her new car, her new new car. As in, a car that has that new car smell and isn't full of crisp packets and bottles that might dangerously roll under the brake that you really should remove but it always seems as if you have your arms full already when you get home, so you tell yourself you'll do it next time you get in, but everyday you are on the last possible minute, so tell yourself you'll do it when you get out, but your arms are full and so on on until inevitably once day you die in a head on collision with a teenager in a new new car who has misjudged the need to wait before turning into oncoming traffic and your last thought is 'I really, really should have removed that bottle'
"Yeah, I don't know, but like, I'm getting plates too!"
"yeah, I've always wanted plates"
Here I had to do a bit of mental working out. I doubted she meant a set of travel picnic accessories for the boot and presumed she meant private number plates. There are numerous ways in which, as I age, I feel I lose touch with the desires, passions and fashions of youth, but usually I can understand some sense of what they are doing. Grime = a pleasingly lo-fi way of expressing thoughts and feelings about stuff that you can join in with too! Got that, did that, but with a different sound. Dressing like your gran = rejecting your parent's love of rock and roll cool. Yep. Fuck you the 60s! Looking at your phone all the time to see an inane group chat thing = a bit like sitting in a bustop all night cos only your friends understand you and even though it's minus 2, you want to be there cos you might miss something.
But being 17 and 'always' wanting private number plates?
What the frigging fuck is that about. I could think of literally 5000 more exciting things than a string of digits that vaguely resemble your name and basically say 'I have too much money/I want to give the impression of having too much money/please key my car/I'm a dick/definitely key my fucking car'
What seemed so odd, was despite the way she'd clearly cultivated a personal appearance of striking anonymity, (a generic look of mid 2010s western youth, inoffensive, tasteful brands, ironed hair, aforementioned make up, like an architects sketch of the person who might inhabit a building yet to be built) yet she seemingly was so desperate to assert her identity as unique and special human via the vehicle registration system of the DVLA. (see?)
So there I was a few days later, driving. Which as we've established is bad, but existential stuff and personal number plates and there in front of me is a car. With a personalised number plate.
And I think... 'ok, I've given some thought to this already, but really, I'm struggling with this' - I could just about understand the desire to drive around with your name on the car if you were Bono or something and people might wave to you and shout 'Bono, I like your music, Bono, you are cool, Bono good work with the orphans and the tax dodging you cunt'. Just about understand that. Most people aren't Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton or the other one though and it still seems like a monumentally odd thing to do even if you are the aforementioned.
Do people who buy say D4N11 think people are going, 'oh, there goes Danii. Danii seems great, maybe I could get to know Danii and be a friend, or at least a nodding acquaintance or ideally a devout worshipper of Danii at some point in the future if our paths cross and we're not going in opposite directions at 70 miles per hour and I'm able to recognise Danii without the car and the registration plate to help me' - I don't know, maybe people do strike up conversation in car parks like 'Hey ST 3VE - my borther is called Steve too, great name, want to come to a barbecue?, there's only going to other winners like you there! We're having pulled pork, the wife makes a mean marinade, wait till you taste it' 'Hey, great! yeah, I'll be there'
And what makes it even more confusing is the registration on the car in front is something like X1 CUM. (it's definitely CUM, it's the X1 part I'm uncertain about)
Why pay money to have X1 CUM on your car when you could write BUM, TITS or FANNY or whatever on it for free? In a font of your own choosing. You literally could just tippex 'MY NAME IS DAVE' on the bumper and it would cost about £1.50.
And at this point, it strikes me that I probably think personalised number plates are the most pointless things I can think of and how they serve as a workable metaphor for the twisted values of a world I really don't feel like I understand. And later, when I'm writing this, I decide to work the metaphor a bit and it's more difficult than I imagined it might be, but I do it anyway.
They anger and confuse me on a number of levels. They take no skill to make, no more skill than the normal number plate would do and are valuable purely because of their rarity. There is no craftsmanship being rewarded, no love, no passion, no danger, no nothing. At least diamonds are difficult to get and cut and are shiny and speak to some sort of lost ancient tribal thing of valuing pretty glittery stuff. Like, magpies get that, but find me an animal that understands wanting to pay lots of money for what is essentially a vaguely different code for a thing that is already quite expensive anyway.
I wonder if they are perhaps slightly subversive. A two fingers to the DVLA computer or something, but strike this though down as ludicrous.
I try to think of something more pointless. I can't.
I wonder who makes the money from them. I imagine a bored man on an industrial estate in a breeze block built factory, with a green machine, printing an endless stream of number plates whilst money just flows through the letter box. He is about 55 and is dog tired of the number plate game, but he can't stop. Just has to keep printing one more because he can't bear to let anyone else take his life's work. He knows it's so easy, so well paid, he just can't let it fall to anyone else, even though it brings him nothing but weariness and soulless empty hollowness inside. His assistant put the plates in brown parcels and writes the addresses on them. He isn't remunerated especially well and is just a kid. A bored, slightly nervous kid who the guy on the machine can't warm too. I guess this isn't what it's like at all but the conceit seems quite pleasing in a sad way. I later (actually, just before I wrote this) go online and discover at a glance that number plates seem to regularly change hands for about £5000 and even ones which don't seem to make a discernible word or name sell for £300-£400.
I think about this a little more. In fact as I write this now, I'm thinking these thoughts. We cannot provide homes for elderly people and every time I walk into town there are more people in doorways and the air I breathe seems to simmer more noticeably with the simmering sense of brutal resentment. I haven't got the stomach for a rant listing the ways in which the money could be better used, but what I cannot ever understand is a world where E1110TT is worth £125000, which is about 6 new teachers or nurses or the funding of the community centre or somewhere for all the homeless people to sleep or a rape crisis centre or free school meals for thousands of kids or some new busses or whatever the fuck else you think of that we're constantly told that 'we' can't afford, despite the evidence to the contrary.
I think about how private number plates are a sort of weird metaphor for the kind of trading that goes on above our heads, where money is siphoned out of the actual economy of things and services and just sloshed back and forth between the rich on virtual trades and I feel like the light-hearted observational tone of what I was trying to write has suddenly gone.
And I still can't think of anything more pointless. All I can think is how they are a signifier of how bizarre and destructive our collective value system is.