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Desire Paths

And then I wrote a book.
9781911193043-med_orig

Some of the walks in this blog have been woven into it, together with vast swathes of new material. Here’s what some people have said about it:

“Roy Bayfield rises from the dead and re-discovers walking as a way of life. Desire Paths
is another fine mythogeographical grimoire.”
– Gareth E. Rees (Author: Marshland)

“Welcome to the world transformed as possibility. Where the smell of bread from a bakery
demolished decades earlier still lingers in the air. Where Princess Diana lives as a lipstick
smear on a Harrods wineglass. What is real (or seen) is ‘intercut’ with the unseen (but
not unreal) so as to create new realities of seeing. Ultimately, these Desire Paths converge
beautifully in a book that mythogeographically maps the moments of a life, searching
restlessly restlessly for what might appear at any given turn, on any given road.”
– James Byrne (Author: Everything Broken Up Dances)

“Roy Bayfield really walks in Desire Paths. But not only does he really walk, we accompany him on these ‘real walks to nonreal places’… we drift with him through the personal and three-dimensional landscape of his voyages in the physical, spiritual, virtual and human realms. This book is for both those already involved in urban walking and for the novice. For those who are new to it, its format is especially designed to open your eyes to the features of the landscape, and at the same time provide you with experimental walking exercises.”
– Dr Tina Richardson (Editor: Walking Inside Out)

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Brighton Pier

If you stumble across this blog and wonder what it was all about – the Frankenstein Ramble post pretty much sums it up; the final posts are below this one; and the ‘Accounts of the Walk’ link on the sidebar will take you to all of the accounts of the actual journey.)

Farewell.

(Title quoted from Van Morrison’s Friday’s Child. Even though I was born on a Thursday, it seems fitting… ‘Can’t stop now.’)

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I haven’t done much walking recently, but I did manage to get a few stationary miles in today at Southport Hospital, taking what is known as a ‘treadmill test’. This is a bit like going on a stepping machine at the gym, but with wires stuck on one’s chest, and lie-detector lines being drawn on screens and paper. I was advised not to look down, but instead to focus on the noticeboard filled with holiday postcards at eye-level in front of me – cheerful things, slightly faded, with a blue cast given the relative endurance of cyan pigment. There was a girl in a thong on a Greek island, and a star-shaped promontory in St Petersburg… While I rested from the unaccustomed exertion, Dr Mohammed gave me the result: ‘you have angina’. Not really a surprise, after two months of painful one-mile walks to work in the cold air, with syncope at the edges of my vision and a floundering collapse at the end. But still, I would rather have discovered that I was being a hypochondriac, or that these symptoms were a random after-effect of some virus.

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I had to take another test, so I stepped outside the hospital during the enforced break. It was a beautiful sunny day. If this was Dante’s ‘dark wood’, it was gleaming… but I felt lost nevertheless. Angina may not be very serious (I really don’t know; I don’t even know which brand of angina this is yet) but the diagnosis felt like being told which bullet has my name on it. It felt like… an end to having an everlasting body? In a way my inner being had always felt solid, ongoing, but now suddenly not so. Until today, like Norman Maccaig I might have said ‘Self under self, a pile of selves I stand/Threaded on time’ but (stumbling into the hospital’s Applejack cafe, with its surprisingly-unhealthy sausage-themed menu) I felt like just one, scared little self. A small meat object with temporary self-consciousness and a long to-do list.

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An ultrasound completed the day’s entertainment. All I can say about this curiously intimate experience is that my insides seem to have a soundtrack created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

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I finally left the hospital for the day. Feeling like a bracing bout of psychogeography, I headed for Southport’s ‘Sussex Road’, vaguely intrigued by the association between the beginning of my walk (Southport) and its end point (Sussex is where Brighton is). I walked this long street in the chilly bright sunshine. I have no idea what this angina gig will mean for the ‘walking home’ project – 20 mile hikes and Falstaffian drinking bouts may well be a thing of the past; worst of all I might even run out of words like the unspeaking couples in the hospital, simply losing life’s momentum. But I daresay I’ll power my way to the end point, buoyed by the chemical diet prescribed by Dr Mohammed (five daily pills and an optional spray), chemically-assisted arteries pumping away like fearsome cyborg engines and no worries.

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One thing I do know is that moderate alcohol consumption of the ‘two unit’ variety is supposed to be good for chaps in my condition. Heck, it’s probably compulsory. Frankly, I was ready for a couple of units – if ever the dictum that ‘a pint of plain is your only man’ had been valid it was now. So I went into the Guest House, a Southport pub that is sublime beyond measure. There, over a glass of Copper Dragon, I staved off self-pity with a conversation with a man who said he was travelling the country writing a book about the ‘death of Britain’. This conversation was more fun than it probably sounds. Afternoon light moved across the wood panelling and the strange abundance of life continued to flow.

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Operation: Kill the Buddha!

‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him’ is a saying attributed to a Zen master. I first encountered it years ago in Sheldon Kopp’s wise book of the same name. I’ve always taken it to be a warning against belief in gurus and bedazzlement with one’s own enlightenment. Sort of ‘kill the idols to “make straight the way of the Lord”‘ or ‘escape the false realities’.

But what if it isn’t only an abstract metaphor?

Just to be on the safe side, I dispatched a mixed force of British infantry, Commandos and German paratroopers to take care of business.

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The Enlightened One, however, appears unconcerned.

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Meanwhile, as things have turned out I have done my last walk for 2009. The second year of walking home to 50 has taken me from the south of Birmingham through Warwickshire, to the Edge Hill battleground, and along the M40 from soup to nuts. Most posts have been read about 50 times, mainly by a band of regulars; one post through a fluke of media exposure is approaching 20,000 views and had me on national radio, local telly and quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald. I walked around a film studio and wrote a poem about it, ruptured the waterproof lining of my boots and watched a fox lope across the an abandoned railway line between saplings dripping from a summer shower. So all in all a good year.

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More route marches along the via negativa in 2010!

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Zen furniture

Bold Street, ‘Zen Furniture’ shop – offer based on notional discount of reduced tax – Christmas tree shape stitched in death-white LED lights. There’s got to be a koan in here somewhere.

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Here’s a video of last night’s reading. Sorry it’s on its side, didn’t realise how difficult rotating an MP4 would be. Thanks to Jennie for filming it and to Elke for reading also – and everyone for the word-contributions.

And here’s the text, with the crowdsourced words highlighted

There’s a party in the scriptorium
bright lights in the cloister, bright lights on the night stair, outside
a murmuration of starlings around the
phone tower’s dark skeleton,

a party around the writing desks and everyone’s
invited: guests are instructed to bring
good words, but the words
keep leaking away slipping
from the devices with keys, the devices with screens:
tapped into
the grey networked air.

(I never thought I would work in
a typing pool but
here I am
texting in the rain

outside
Barberpapa gents hairdressers
near Boundary Road:
droplets plash on the status
bar.)

It’s a long commute from then to now, Southern
Cross to crossroad garage forecourts;
along the way I tried to appear
insouciant amongst the poets,
tried to say what wouldn’t sink and fail:
wanted to buy a sentence
like a harpoon hard
in its target, definite –
but by the time I got there
all that was for sale were:
badges on a walking stick
(the names all places nonexistent)
tankards personalised in a high-street cobbler’s
(identities altered so that no-one came to collect them)
an array of organ stops
(renamed with false sounds and forbidden intervals)
an Airfix kit adorned with a curse in broken transfer letters
(incomplete and inaccurate for its period)
sketchy penis-shape graffiti on a substation
(paternity impossible to establish)
the word sorry
spelled out in used-gold
letters on an ankle chain
(at least I think
that’s what it said but
she was already
walking
away.)

A false book from an ill mansion pollutes
all those around it; some osmosis-effect serves
to transmogrify grand embracing statements
into exquisite piffle.

I laboured to release
tremulous phrases, thought I’d own the territory of
my own pages like some lexical baron, benignly manipulative
but it was more a leasehold
arrangement really; I was a peasant on someone else’s strip
lynchet and never
quite overcame the disappointment.

So I walked it off on a quarter-century hike,
200 miles to a viewpoint by the M1: MK postcode
Amazon warehouse, miraculously empty of all
text. Inside, just Rossetti’s celebrated pet
wombat roaming aisles
like those of impossibly large cathedrals.

I gathered up what I could, combing the delivery-slip-road ditches
for some last scattering:
clustered the broken phrases of the outwash into a party offering.

All too late and leastlike but along the way
I named some things I saw
and felt the last leaf quiver.

—-

If I thought this was a ‘keeper’ I would cut it down, probably use a lot of the 10-dollar words, but by no means all of the contributed ones. It was fun being bowled unexpected words and having to make something of them.

I didn’t actually walk to the Amazon warehouse, but Rossetti’s wombat was real.

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My Oz day

Readers may be interested to know that I will be spending a day at work dressed as a character from the Wizard of Oz. As well as generally humiliating myself and jeapordising my career, I’m trying to raise a bit of cash for a charity, the North West Cancer Research Fund. Follow this link to vote for which character I’ll be, and to donate.

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