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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

Driftway 3

Instead of going Out, we could go In. Turning deeper into the city. The city’s all about signs, some obvious, some less so. Look closely and try to see where it all fitted together. Look up; I’m not being deliberately obtuse, I’m being literal. I remember looking up and suddenly noticing that the terraces around my home were caught up in a spider web of heavy duty cable, twisted and grimy with years of Yorkshire winters, or Yorkshire summers for that matter.

The cables could be a thing to follow. They are relics, the last fragments of the lost TV station experiment, about forty years back, that linked TV set to TV set, all woodgrain, static, and tuning dials.  In my head I feel like I know that those channels are still there, if only I could find the right number on the dial, reconnect the wires, stare into the tube.  

It’s something that needs to exist, that strives to exist; community digital TV stations and YouTube express the same need for connection. And as much as I adore the – well, intimacy I suppose – of being directly wired into the TV studio itself, the same need to express and speak, to quite literally broadcast – we still feel it. Shouting out our ideas, but also listening, talking. Cable webs joining lives together, from the top of the high hills, down into the city, and the studio, down by the secret rivers and tunnels.

In my head, the screen flares alive, phosphor and cathode monochrome, that orange glow and dust smell, the static click when you touch the screen; the station ident is in old English, the logo is a snarling stop motion animation of the Black Shuck that used to haunt the city centre backstreets, where there’s now a Cex and Sainsbury’s – oh, we might assume that the old ghosts are gone, but the staff in Boots didn’t dare used to go into the cellar alone – the screen comes to life.

 It’s twelve minutes past three in the afternoon.  There is sun and silence, dust in the streets, ice cream chimes and the voice of the crow in victory from where they don’t plant scarecrows anymore. It’s the Driftway, it’s the afternoon space, it’s not nostalgia; it’s what we are made of.  Land, and the big sky above, clouds and the winds from the valley that still speak quite clearly.  

I stop and look out of the front windows. This street was once a farm yard.  The stones are warming in the sun, I can see a spider run from the wall, into long grass.  These are dreams.

Categories
Times and Places

Driftway 2

If you take a literal step back from the fields and study the patterns of the streets, you can see patterns appear. Here, as the edge of the city becomes visible, the road names feature the word Gate over and over again. Sometimes, they’re named for the far away cities that they point to.   A boundary and a suggestion of destination. That’s one of the things that the Driftway does.

Romans built a road here; if you follow pieces of it down into the valley, you reach the river. At least three generations of children have shared the ghost story about grey and faded centurions marching through the trees, past the speed camera and the ice cream van. Imagine the clink of armour and short sword, outside the snack bar and the paddling pool. There are more stories about this place, things not from forward or back in time, but perhaps from sideways; small green figures, swirling misty shapes, and silent lights overhead late at night.

 Follow this road far enough and you reach the drowned villages, the concrete and steel authority of the Water Board, as they once called it. It’s the place where they have legends about the silent planes that fly suddenly out of nowhere over the waves. I know that I’ve seen one, except that I also know full well that I haven’t. The memory of a Lancaster almost skimming the waves on a sunny afternoon, with the water almost golden; I saw that. I didn’t. I think it’s a dream, or words that I heard that became pictures when I was very young.

  There’s a story about a wildman, an actual woodwose crossing the road here. Not five hundred years ago, but in the 1990s, in front of family day trip cars waiting at the lights. If you were lucky enough to have day trips as a child, remember that feeling at the end, too tired, baked air in the car, dreaming, almost feverish, sun starting to get lower, Sunday afternoon getting later. Imagine that, and the shadowy primeval shape striding from the hills towards the water.

I once read about a journalist who saw a great shining thing hovering over the water, as if reaching down. To me, both stories are about something coming in from the outside to drink. We share our drinking water with the unknowable. Who knows what might come of that?

Everyone knows about the villages they drowned to build these reservoirs, the broken steeples that you used to be able to see in high summer, the high streets that we could imagine, swept up in silt and peat floods. This Atlantis had a pub and a corner shop. That feels very Driftway to me, Atlantis with a petrol station and a tea room. Just like the concrete and steel bridges, the 70s warning notices, the Derbyshire sasquatch crossing the road with the lights – turn right and you can be in suburban streets in ten minutes, following a road made for an empire long gone into ghost stories, battle veterans smoothing out elegantly into rumour.

The Lost Patrol following the river into the land of factory units. Both are powerful. Both are full of stories and secrets. Never make the mistake that one is lacking in someway, because Drifting links it all together.