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Built Things Times and Places

In our mansion there are many rooms

That point when you’re fever dream struck down on something, viral, vodka, whatever your poison is, caught under daylight when you need it to be night and almost spinning in the street, seeing it all from the angle of outside-

To try to learn a city – and it will only ever be the act of learning, as this place is a language far too complex to fully process – you have to walk. That’s a thing we Know, but don’t; I knew it for years, yet rarely acted upon it. Perhaps it would be better to say that I was Aware, but didn’t Know, or didn’t Act. Three stages, but without each other, they don’t Work.

Walk. I once walked Manchester roads, half out of my mind on grief and starvation, trying to glimpse goddess in the details, but I just found my once-places empty, and bars at the windows of my old home. It was an hour’s train journey and about eleven years to get to my new home. I wasn’t looking properly.

Can you see it? Get out. Look at it. Turn the corner. There! Behind that high hedge, tucked behind the children’s hospital. That house. Three stories, Victorian. A dedication stone: it was the Spiritualist Church. Dead voices talking in every room and now someone lives there and listens out just a bit too attentively every night. Imagine fifty years ago, a single landline, every call a throw of the dice – living or dead callers?

There – great concrete slab of many angled building, locked down and invisible in its vastness for decades, looming over the circular underpass, the empty silent green tiled space. Once I kissed someone there against a sharp grey wall, and felt that cracking ice feeling of the world changing forever. And that stab, oh, it’s dangerous, but it’s so very addictive. Transformation is my vice, but it’s one I share with this town, the town that stole me like a changeling, as soon as I was old enough to dream of its tower mazes and to listen to the deal they offered.

There – the barely visible entrance to the caverns of bats and pale life. There – oh, it’s a tower block, brutalist heaven, but you don’t know about the people that snuck up there to carry on dancing one dawn, years ago, a shining dancefloor with no walls or bouncers, but one hell of an exit charge.

There, right now, the woman on the till thirty minutes ago, making a wonderful confusion of trying not to really fancy the security guard, and you can see that, but if you look, you can see where this used to be the laundry too and how many other stories like that did we miss?

And there’s that dreadful pub, but once it was a supermarket too, and there was a ghost and this story was never written down or shared, but no-one would go into the stockroom alone, apart from one woman who talked to the dead and taught her family something of that skill. And no-one knows how the ghost followed her home and shared her house for years, as a bit of company – the woman next door had budgies instead.

And in each moment, the stab of transformation. The leap when you know you’re going to fall, but it’s alright because falling can be good. There’s always some fear, because that’s part of it, but just once in a while, you can stand in front of the haunted house and knock on the door, let it swing open by itself, walk in, let it slam behind you, like that dream you had. And there’s a black rotary phone that keeps ringing, and dust and incense and kisses from shadows. And all the walls are painted with all the stars, and it’s everything all at once, and it’s ours, ours forever.

Categories
Times and Places

“Once there were mountains”

There was this room or two, or a few more, long ago. Stank. You walked in under the red neon sign, and down stairs that were so slippery with rain and age and fag ends, so slippery, but you probably had heels on that you shouldn’t and who cared anyway? And it’s airless and damp at the same time and frightening, not in a safe scary way, but rather because someone might well try to split your head open. Scary, but in the only way that actually matters, when fear that is an exchange between ourselves and that which is not ourselves.

And we hand over our shaking nerves and self image and we get something new and hard to name in return. It looks at us from that godawful mirror, above the overflowing filth, and it smirks, eyes a bit too wide.

How can it be airless and damp in here at the same time? Everyone’s smoking, smoking for life. God, I miss smoking so so much!

Other rooms. They’re all the same really, I think? All the same night spaces. I can’t remember which was which. It’s always stairs, isn’t it? Usually down, into the oldest spaces, the cellars that were once the workshop basements or the stockrooms. Sometimes, it was up stairs, needle thin wooden creaking passages, so you arrived breathless and stayed that way, if it was a good night.

You know what I’m choking on now? Nostalgia. I need to open a window.

Dreadful thing, nostalgia. I created this space to be all about stealing haunted futures and here, all I’m doing is rolling about in the gutter past. If I’m stealing a future, it needs to have its roots here, maybe, in the colours, in the iridescent black. But the red neon, I made that up, so it’s something that is yet to come. Something I’m stealing back from the world that isn’t yet.

I want a future for this city, and I think I can see the shape of it, but it isn’t clear yet, it’s all shades of probability. I can see neon and Saturday night and glittering black, but the rivers of Saturday morning light too, and the sun on rainy Tuesday pavements when the clocks go forward. And that’s why I see the death that’s inherent in nostalgia, the voice that says that life is over and only the broken biscuits of memories matter, as if all that we are worth is a few moments around midnight once.

And that’s a lie: You, you reading this, I hope to god that you know that you are so, so much more than one long ago lost triumph, because I don’t always know that for myself, and it hurts to forget it.

And that lie can get fucked. It’s poison, and each generation gets it hard coded into them and I’m sick of it. The past needs to savage the present, it should be what drives us to our stolen dreamlands, not be reduced to the lullaby chant at bedtime. I want to walk till my feet bleed, and listen to every future getting born, and make this place be what it needs to be.

I have literal dreams of this city, of the future it will be made of. In those dreams, the sun rises and I’ve never seen more blood red light in my life; the buildings are jagged and black, and they belong to us all, above roads that have become canals and studded with hidden codes in streetlight patterns. And I wake up so happy, because if you can imagine something huge and terrifying and so, so good, then it’s already started to arrive.

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Times and Places Uncategorized

Sunday Tracking

It’s night nearly, dusk, the shadows are almost complete and I’m moving onwards, over and over.  I couldn’t begin to count how often I’ve been there.  So many times, following the pattern; you drive or get the train on Friday evening, you travel back in Sunday dusk.  

The train, then.  Getting the train just as the darkness starts, then two, three hours of Sunday darkness.  The movement, the sensation, swaying.  The Friday train is full, thinning out over time, but the Sunday train is often almost deserted, bright lights and the taste of instant coffee.  It’s a cellophane journey.  The morning’s paper rammed into the back of the seat in front.  Old news.  

Each town swings around into view.  The car parks and retail estates, all empty, all locked up.  Optimal Sunday train time, four pm, closing up time.  Some places locked since Friday, that turned the alarms on when I was shuffling for a ticket leading out into the wide world, when my bag was full of outfits and ideas, not just laundry.  Look out of the window and learn to see past your own reflection, stare into your eyes until you can see the streetlights of somewhere unknown.  Empty voids, closed up cafes, glimpse a wrecking yard, a bridge, the rush of water passing, only there in waves that steal the light, out into the country night, nothing now, fleeting village station lamps to break the self portrait.  We don’t stop there.

There, you can see the fields, Sunday afternoon fields, dog walkers and kids running free, but now utterly impassive.  Everyone’s gone home, the shoes are getting shined and the dread of an ironing smell fills the space.  Kitchen lights on, upstairs bedside lamp, rush past, what dreams?  What are you scared of, what are you dreaming of, whose eyes are they that you see as you look out of your own train, at your own track paling away into the unknown horizon?  Who is it you long for, rushing on towards a morning destination?

I hope they will be there to meet you from your train.  I hope you run into each others’ arms and I hope that the day you have arrived at is the one you needed.  I hope the eyes you see are only your own when you need them to be, and I hope that when they aren’t, they shine for you, bright lights of warmth, of contact, windows on a place that’s more than getting ready for another day.

Categories
Times and Places

Late Night Story 4

Last one left, even if you aren’t alone. Everyone’s gone. There’s only the lingering sense of emptiness, because this feels unmistakably like an act of transgression. Even if we never leave the houses, even if we never leave our seats, we have begun to explore, to trespass in the fields of night. The sense of dreamers has passed; they’ve gone too deep to listen to now.

Cold dark and a need to talk, to talk so much. If one is alone, insomniac, abandoned, this feels so sharp, so very sharp. Talking to ourselves at 3 am, “fitfully, inarticulately”, half afraid of hearing answers. Ghost houses, alone, exhausted mind screaming for dreams, weaves shapes and patterns right up the wall, spinning faces out of plaster and paint. Turn the lights on, sickly and bare. An analogue land line isn’t your friend right now, but everyone should try this at least once; lift the receiver, look around and listen to the dial tone for as long as you can bear it, convincing yourself that there are voices on the wire.

Or there are real people there, or more obviously real people at least. And you talk, talk, never stopping, all of you knowing that if you let the pace slacken, you’ll begin to lose it and sleep will take hold. Hours and hours. Less frightening, but with a sense of desperation; don’t let go of the night! It’s ours and right now, it feels like the last night ever, and we mustn’t waste a second of it. Talk and despair and fall in love that won’t even last until breakfast, born out of the need for sleep and dreams, a story improvised out of absences and the night. Cut by dawn.

The cruel cuts of first light. The sickened feeling of exhaustion and sour taste of too many words. Guilt, because we went where we shouldn’t and sunrise noticed.