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Built Things Uncategorized

Rain

This city has a sky like no other.

People keep telling me this (I knew already, but I am very biased). They often tell me when they visit for the first time. “Big sky”, people say. They are quite right, and it is the sky that I remember most clearly from childhood. Two very particular visual memories in particular seem to dominate. A plain whitewash sky, a cloud layer so smooth that it seems like paper. Bright, and lacking any colour at all. Saturday sky, teatime sky.

And the other one, the dirty orange one. The same smooth surface but now lit up by cheap sodium streetlamps, each one with light that managed to be simultaneously warm and cold. Welcoming, and yet utterly comfortless. Perhaps I am old enough to remember the light of steel furnaces adding to the burnt tone of the clouds. I’m honestly not sure, but it would fit.

Out here, where this is, the moors and peaks form a jagged circle enclosing the lights. Thin ridges of colour stretch out desperately grabbing other towns across the night. That fact, always within reach; you can freeze, die of exposure out there on the hills, within sight of the town hall lights. Driving back at night, the orange glare was very, very reassuring, reflecting off the cooling towers and bridges. Brutalism as a fortress against everything that winter and politics aimed at us.

Always the clouds though, in memory! Why don’t I remember sunny blue skies? There must have been some, but the happiest pictures are of white skies and shining dark stonework running with water, glazed and mossy. This town is built around rain, and sometimes we get that balance wrong and the rivers come out to claim it back. I remember the last great flood, seeing the road tear open in front of me with the pressure of water below.

Listed as (c) David Dixon, labelled for reuse on Google. Not taken by me!

We used to build tunnels here. It’s in our instincts to do so. And it is the structure of the city that generates that, because there’s no great ancient mystical genetic bloodline here, just lots of people coming for work or art or because the climbing is good, or their old home is destroyed and burning. So they come into the rain, but generation on generation built tunnels and went underground. Mineshafts and secret escape routes in folklore, and sometimes folklore escapes into reality when they turn up a archway in the foundations of a new building.

The tunnels are always there, except they officially aren’t, which is a bit of a laugh because you can see them if you know where to look. Gargantuan Victorian drainage systems run in chambers underneath the city, and the entrances are right there, if you know what fence to look over, which culvert to follow, though if you do, you might well die. The air down there can be foul, and don’t forget about those irritable rivers that can change in an instant and sweep everything away again.

And that’s an official one, but there are legends too. Linking cellars and running to the old castle, for ridiculous distances. Everyone seems to know a story, though they are wearily explained as old sewers or bits of mining left over. But if you ask, people will tell you about the dark chamber with the archway that ran on under the city streets, and the ghost stories attached to it. You can ask me if you like, I was shown a hidden tunnel entrance deep below the city about twenty five years ago, and I’m sad to say I never explored further (I needed the job that I would have lost by doing so).

We built a huge network of tunnels in the late 60s and early 70s. They linked the shops; you could enter and leave through basements. The only one I’ve seen like it was in Kyoto, part of the station complex there in fact, but this was very different to the bright and regulated centre there. This one was all about hiding from the rain.

That’s where you went, avoiding the traffic and the damp. Concrete running wet and smeared with millions of dark wet footprints. In the centre, a huge dome open to the sky, to let everyone hurry under back into the tunnels, kiosks built into the walls, bright lights against dark patterns. Ask anyone of a certain age and listen to them talk about it like a long lost home, even though it smelled a bit and you could get murdered at night. Humans are strange like that.

When they built it, they cut through old tunnel routes. The people in the travel agents said that something walked through at night sometimes, following the path.

They filled the tunnels in. They blocked them up and if you wanted to stay out of the rain, you had to go to the mall out of town. Anyone you talk to about this will tell you that nothing was ever the same again. I hate useless nostalgia and the championing of the past just because it’s the past, but for once, this is true. The underground time was full of dreams and phantoms; there was a drive to make everything clean and understandable, to rationalise. It didn’t work, but the ghost stories died down. Perhaps that was the point.

Except people still tell you about things glimpsed underground. A forum post about looking over a security fence and seeing a thing like an underground station exposed by building work. Mentjon of rail lines running underneath a demolition site. A mysterious vault deep beneath the library building, itself covered in arcane symbols. Rumours of deep shelters and unknown systems.

We’re still tunnelling, into myth and stories. Loving the sound of the rain, and keeping dry.

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Uncategorized

Planet Sunday

So, to start with; I’m writing in the heart of the biggest global crisis since the last one. I really didn’t want to start by referencing the State Of The World Right Now, but it’s especially relevant.

Nostalgia, poisonous and delicious low hanging fruit that it is, has suddenly shifted a gear from cosy distraction to “what our current reality is actually made of.” Two minutes from my home there’s a main street, one that follows a track that’s at least two thousand years old; the locked and silent shops, trapped in a permanent Sunday afternoon still have their Mother’s Day displays up. Last year they wouldn’t have registered; now they’re poignant and surrounded by an aura of pathos and loss. That Mother’s Day never happened, not as intended. The Easter displays never followed, and we are suddenly walking a path in a world that seems dreamlike and likely to take unexpected turns at any time. Everything left after this all-too-known-event is just the fragments of “do you remember…” though now it isn’t NES games and flip-phones that we’re reminiscing over, it’s traffic, or going out for coffee.

The silence is incredible. This is Planet Sunday (I’m fully aware that this is not the case for key workers who are living out any number of nightmares at present) and it’s already forming its patterns and rituals. Its magics, if you like. You might not like. I tend to see the world in magical patterns, though I should clarify that for me, magic can mean painting, dreaming, music, ritual, or talking to cats and crows, all of which I try to do to some extent, with varying degrees of effect.

I see the magics of the world shifting. Perhaps not; perhaps what I’m seeing is the exposure of the underlying structures. A better image might be to compare the process to a tide going out, leaving driftwood. We are in a kind of beachcomber reality right now.

A thought that keeps coming back to me: what happens after? Do things go back to normal, or did the world just change right in front of us? And it seems like as good a place as any to start to consider my haunted futures. If – and it’s a colossal if – the World We Knew isn’t quite coming back to us again, what might we hope for? If I’m collaging and curating a new world, what ghosts do I want included?

And that’s partly what Crow Violets is all about. Yes, I know, right now the URL is singular, the site is plural. Whatever. I didn’t think it through. Violets plural, because I want multiple realities and viewpoints. And I like the imagery of violets growing, each one a potential world…

Also, Mollie Sugden. Don’t ask yet. You aren’t ready. I’ll tell you when you are.


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