Beneath the motorway, hedgerows flery with rosehips, streams in concrete culverts.
You climb a narrow staircase, tracing graffiti with your fingertips, 1977, 1981, 1995. You feel those times, you lost yourself there and now little shreds are filtering back, coaslescing, fleshing out the spectre of yourself.
Muddy tracks, red campion, an expanse of space where a pattern making factory once stood. You creep through holes in fences and drift through blackened fossils of castings and machines.
Stand with your back to bleak suburban housing , cliff face of maisonettes looming over the ruins.
You recognise this place, grasp it in diaphanous threads; you are anxious with loss, restless for the future. This is the thin, diluted present,, a lull before the next flash of fire.
You remember those balmy nights walking,
the boys masked up,
the boys masked up,
willing them to take their time.
The market precinct , the tension,
the sight of them circling, ,
feeling the charge ,waking you up, piercing that sluggish gloam.
And the others gathering in pub doorways, the self appointed guardians;
sports wear, shaved heads,
malice seeping like black ectoplasm.
You deflect the stares. Flourescent caverns, Sky TV flashing over burgundy walls .
Monitoring the streets, shouting but you don’t hear it.
Burrowed into a forgotten seam, a hardened artery.
In these moments of rupture you sense a way out.
Flattened grasses, charred patches of gorse.,
Black circles by the towpath and the abandoned factory.
Narrow path between The Delves and the M6. 70s masionettes, childlike graffiti,,
‘Xfactor’,, LUV LUV and pink hearts.
You remember being trapped, marking out time. Those ghostly tracings, in exercise books, on walls. Staring at the traffic on the motorway from your bedroom window, dreaming impossible destinations.
In the brittle kernel of winter, in those thin short days, you drew the life you wanted, on rolls of old wallpaper, dream tableax of underground cities.
1997. Election campaign. IRA threatened to blow up this stretch of M6. Four small charges attached to concrete pillars .M6 section going to M54.
Isolated underpass left with warning vehicle—
Coded warnings from telephone boxes in Birmingham city centre. Manzoni Gardens.
Proof of concept, shift from spectacular to economic damage.
Dreams of pylons crashing down on motorway .
It was the time of the election, 1997, you remember the hysteria, the enforced joviality, accused of being a killjoy for not joining in .
Beneath those concrete arcs and columns, a splinter of discontent.
You watched the men moving briskly between vehicles, caravans and double decker portakabins.
not construction workers,
coppers off gym duty going soft.
A mobile city, special branch monitoring the unmapped territories beneath Spaghetti Junction.
You nearly lived here once in a black terrace lodged deep under a flyover. You remember the upstairs, the threadbare carpets, scatchy dark brown.. the house had been empty for years , woodchip wallpaper yellow with age and a sullen breath of damp beneath the pall of carbon monoxide .
The Sikh landlord wanted £15 a week for it, that must have been 1992. You looked upstairs, the front bedroom had orange curtains flltering an eerie half light through a glade of stanchions.
Now the row was condemned, boarded up. You sensed there were people in there, you saw shreds of those orange curtains through the corrugated iron, you could smell cigarette smoke, tomato soup heating up on a stove.
There were handpainted signs outside warning of security guards and dogs . You saw vehicles parked up round the side, a couple of transit vans and an old Plaxtons coach. There was a strip of land at the back, a thin plot of contaminated ground.
You say you’re going to the shops, he doesn’t know where you go.
With your skin, yellowing on the forearm, violet on the thigh.
Forgotten bungalow, overgrown garden, buddleia, sycamore,
nettles spiking through broken greenhouse.
Yellow dreylon chairs, glass vases smashed on the ground, little heaps of amber rubble.
Gas fire, still working.
Wallpaper coral and grey, iridescent with a sheen of damp.
Carpet, mint green and pale pink, swirls radiating from the hearth.
At once recognisable, but somewhere so distant now.
Will Alsop is coming to town! Urban Splash is working alongside Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council and Advantage West Midlands
to spearhead the comprehensive redevelopment of this 17 acre site
in Walsall town centre.
You remember sitting there, looking out on to Dudley Road, the rows of 70s semis, the hoardings and pylons.
And the allotments,with the little paths beneath towering fir trees leading out across the industrial estates.
He had a couple in the George first before he came to meet you. You remember feeling so flattered that he liked you. It was only the second time you had met him and you felt nervous.
You sat outside, in that triangular yard with the metal seats;
He came out to you, walking across the yard, blonde and stocky in a wax jacket and polo shirt. He brought you a lemonade and pushed a little wrap of speed in your hand,, he said he’d get you some pills if you wanted them.
Everyone at school knew who he was, him and his brothers . You got the little bottle out of your bag and poured some vodka in the glass. They were having a disco inside and you wanted to go but he said to stay out here. You remember him bringing you a pack of Regal from the machine inside, his hand on your knee , saying we’ll go round Mark’s soon, he’s bringing some pills, we can put your tunes on there.
Bombay blues, derelict,
Cobra Lounge, derelict,
Trophy shop, New Look, factory building in Albert Street. Derelict.
PAYDAY LOANS! INSTANT DECISION! 15 MINUTE PAYOUT!
Shannons mill. George street., little nests in the sprawling dereliction for smoking weed and sitting round with cider.
A place to pause, to hide out,
there were plenty more like you pacing to escape something.
Most of them were in hostels.
Hisses and envelopes passed. The men were clear in their instructions.. half now, half after.
Half when the sprawling mill lies scorched, when soft grey dust blows over blistered beams and arches.
They still talk about the arcade of shops, lament the loss of it.
The cafe in the Asda on George street, polystyrene ceiling tiles and windowless gloom, fabric of everyday life impoverished. When they sit there, with their foam beakers and plastic trays, they conjure that red brick parade of shops curving round, the sparkling window displays of antiques, jewellery and leather goods. They think of the tea rooms and the fine bone china and the silver cake stands
all gone .
St Modwen, Goold estates, Lend lease.
Dubliminal Wharf bar
Luminous drinks, purple lights, faux leather high back chairs.
He sits opposite you, glassy blue eyes, the last dusting of blonde hair clinging to his scalp like iron filings on a magnet.
You hope you’re nodding, saying yeah in right place.
Yeah, I know ‘em all---Seb fontaine, Carl Cox, Jon Carter…
I never had a chance, no one doin me no bloody favours, had to get there on me own. Andy Weatherall, yeah know im an’ all, none of them guys are as good as what they think they are….
Cream , Basics, Hard Times, Ministry---
He says it all the time, who else would be stupid enough to put up with you? You’re a mess, you don’t even look good anymore. I’m taking care of you because I’m a good bloke, I feel sorry for you.
He tells you you wear too much make up, you need to lose weight.
You struggle to push him away.
The walls feel close. He says you're nothing special.
Had better in Goa. In Thailand.
Had a lot better than you.
Smoky air, trees tinged with Autumn. .
Skipping meals. You think you look fat. You study yourself, you feel the weight of yourself, clutching handfuls of flesh, squeezing, dimpling. You think how could anyone fancy you and always feel shocked when they do.
Purple leather settee, magnolia walls.
Paint walls but black dots come through. He is paying a lot for this place. New build overlooking the wharf.
Paul Smith t shirt, looks fucked.
Blonde stubble and bald head, heavy jowls now. You remember him when he was 27, you thought he was alright then, he seemed older, mature, offered you a way out.
You listening to what I’m saying? Off out to get some fags, yeh?
Purple accent wall, black dots.
Bloated face, beady dial.
Kitchen spilling out, , stuff all over.
Glossy cupboard doors yanked open, bottles, tins , smashing down on wooden surfaces. His hands, ransacking, sweeping arcs , chrome containers, spaghetti jars crashing onto the floor.
That big mirror.
You stand in front.
You carry on along the canal to Pleck. You will walk until you collapse with exhaustion.
You meet some old bloke near a disused working mens club. Irish stock with Black country accent . You think if you talk to him it will distract you, break the pattern of chatter, the internal monologue.
You drift through the streets , past Balti houses and an abandoned pub with glazed green tiles.
These walks, these drifts might have gone on forever,, you walking, until you wore yourself out to nothing.
But there was always going to be another episode, a phantom haunting the stairwells.
He’d been watching you for a while.
You’d returned his gaze,
seized by a sequence of glorious images..
the dark skin, the russets and mauves ,
black hair, dark eyes , obsidian with flecks of amber.--
There was a repressed fascination.
You couldn't dare think that you might ever do anything, that was stupid.
You were stupid, delusional.
You let his face appear to you in dreams, in those hazy afternoon moments, tramadol, white wine,, you could let the image of him come to you then, weave around you.
And the dreams went on. Weeks and months. And he would pass you in the street, in that leather jacket, with those shoulders, the dark eyes flashing promises of other vistas, a different kimd of life.
People said to you, why don't you just leave, why can't you just walk out?
Thoughts kept returning to 1992. That momentous time---these eclipses were like the ones then.
Shards of your new life lacerated the old, prismatic gems of light dazzled the clumsy, prosaic and mean.
You became someone else .
Maybe this was supposed to be a time of endings—
, rum and cokes, altercations with the police, a bruising mob marching through the market square, the pubs all shut and you looking for that cataclysmic moment.
When everything might change.
An old railway line ,you follow the blackened sleepers, the tangles of briars and ragwort.
K Cider..Mad Dog 20/20.
You dream of fragrant cherry blossom, of hawthorn and wild roses.
And the thoughts become more insistent, more intense.. you know you are conjuring him, the intensity of your thoughts bringing him to you.
He’s waiting for you.
You think this is your chance.
It could be, if you let yourself believe it.
Smiths Flour Mill converted into flats .Factory ruin demolished.
You cross the footbridge that links the pub to Sainsburys, past the derelict swimming pool.
Reedswood Way, big retail park, Lidl, Macdonalds. Dunelm.
The phosphoresecent ghosts of cooling towers haunting the flat expanse.
Coal fields, open cast mining. Lorries. Noise. Scars.
The party is in a big site under the motorway. You sense that he is there.
You are kind of wasted, a bit hyped up on the rum, coloured tracers from the half pill,,,treading across embers, beneath the stanchions… his black hair,.his dark eyes.. the mesmerising way he looks at you.
Standing by a bonfire.. suddenly there, arms gathering you in, hands around your waist…
the smell of leather,
the smell of pine smoke ,
, the kisses, muffled then cutting, slicing through the fog , vistas beneath slip roads illuminated suddenly, pillars and ramps edged with luminous ambers and greens..
The muffled black, the muffled thuds of the soundsystem.
Soil and fallen leaves.
Walking beneath the motorway, abrasive, tender, everything sublimated, crystallised in those kisses.
12 floors up.. a room of magenta, indigo shadows .
Wallpaper, ripped carmine, black writing, codes , pixacayo, unknowable runic calligraphy
That music, haunting, mesmerising, otherworldly.
You lie in bed by candlelight talking about places when you were young, haunted places where you’d seen the other side.
Freezing, shivering, too cold to get out of bed. Legs entwined, hands gripping your arms, not sure where you stop and he begins. His sinewy warmth, the muscular arms, black tattoos.
The delerious feeling of his skin, your kisses scattered across it.
He tells you not to go back , says you can just take off together, now in the van, , drive out to the motorway and go wherever you want to go.
You get in the lift, looking at your face in the scratched aluminiun.
You can barely see yourself; pale , distorted, almost gone missing.
You say you will go back and collect some things in your handbag, your passport, and those little brown bottles form the bedside table.
When you leave like that you never know if you will see him again .
Electrics gone, room goes dark.
Walking through town you feel particles of warmth piercing the grey of your body. People smile at you. You feel surprised by it, undeserving of it .The town centre is a stage set,, quarter to seven. 60s shopping arcade, bleached coloured panels, boarded up shop fronts.
Places existing outside of time, charity shops, freezer vans, bric a brac.
You think you have to summon all the energy you can, steal it from every corner of the universe to overcome this blight that freezes you, keeps you gripped in this era that was never marked for you.
They wonder what keeps you there, your friends gone one by one, frustrated, angry with you for staying ,
in that flat by the wharf, walls resounding with bloated sneering
that voice, the slurring stagnant voice,
telling you how he would kill you
telling you all the ways he would do it
Club playing abrasive techno.
Wharf 10, gallery bar
Watching the news channels late, RT, Sky, News24 on permanent rotation.
City centres inverted, contents of shop windows spilling out, flying through hands of the crowd.
a multitude of selves slipping all over..interweaving, drifting—
drunk shrieking girls ,
‘Essence’, ‘uplifting’ trance anthems— plunging you into the black heart of bad e’s, soul blackening come downs.
It’s always there, the music takes you closer to the edge of it, the anguish.
Getting a glimpse of euphoria, only to be shown what you can't have.
Crown Wharf shopping park.
HMV, H & M, TK-Maxx;
Red Campion, pylons scratched nimbly into a yellow sky. You are thinking of him, the one you always swear to yourself you will never see again.
You daren't even dream that you can be with him. You think of those black tattoos, the dark collarbones as he looms over you pressing you down with kisses. You are scared, but hyper, kind of wired with the thought of him, the warmth under the blankets, the electric fire in the corner. You keep walking, thinking about him, your skin still tingling with the pleasure .
.Stilletos, snake skin, nipping now. Lower Rushall street…
Katz/ The Victoria… mirrored alcoves, ceramic cats and coloured glass ornaments.
You sit at the bar there,, waiting.., planning your move. You have tuned into a suspended ,moment,, a pause between eras..
You can see his flat from here, the yellow light in the 12th floor window. He is texting you to come , all these kisses, flurries of them. You feel paralysed, nursing half a lager,a rum and coke..
One of those moments.
Do or die.
He is in the van waiting and you can go. You can just go.
You’re done up in gold ear rings, coral lipstick, hair backcombed in a bun. You're walking fast pulling the fur jacket deep around you, arms folded in front, walking fast on the black roads. This is your last chance, your only chance and you can't risk being seen. The flats are high up, the embankments wide, six lanes and no traffic., motorway signs hanging overhead, Brownhills, Wednesbury, Birmingham. Walking fast
to the other side,, that cluster of caravans,,
Tv glowing through net curtains,, an orange lamp , the smoke and the oil. You walk on, see the junction, can get that far, faster pace, keep going on and on, to the bottom of that slope,, the shiny darkness.
His dark skin, russets and mauves , the eyes dark, flecks of amber,,
He is near.
You whisper his name, an incantation, a willing into being.
The van , a spectral trace, isn’t here yet… keep walking . keep walking, pulling the fur jacket, closer and closer in,, feeling the pavement slippy underfoot,,the black ice, the black, freezing night,
the paving slabs,, sloping down, shiny with ice,, and your feet, scrabbling to keep you upright.
9th January 1972.
Seven dark weeks. Gormley Miners strike.. You remember the boxes of candles under the sink, how you liked it when the lights went out. You remember that front room with shadows flickering on orange walls, and the strangeness you felt when there was a bright judder and it all creaked back on.