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Posts Tagged ‘final crisis’

Pic: Merry Hill Zen garden

I wandered about the Merry Hill Centre for a bit, feeling incongruous in my hiking gear – despite the cold day, some customers were wearing shorts. It is an impressive place, one of the largest shopping malls in Europe. It was a late 80s example of privately-funded regeneration – ‘an attractive modern retail space built on the site of an old steelworks’ was its myth, with the fact that it was also built on farmland kept more quiet. In recent times however it has acquired environmental credentials rare for this type of operation – an amiable monster trying to redeem itself. There used to be a monorail here, which due to various legal, technical and economic issues rarely operated. Bizarrely, the monorail is now in Australia.

As Jennie and I did our courting here, this is a place of friendly ghosts – even on a raw cold day when the marble edges of the mall’s perimeter shell seem brutally carved into a bright grey sky.

I found it difficult to navigate my way away from Merry Hill. The endless looping roads and multiple McDonalds, Pizza Huts and KFCs confused me. I figured that Netherton was in the east and, as it was still morning, headed towards the bright spot in the sky. Luckily I started seeing road signs before needing to check which side the moss was growing on the corporate saplings. A few minutes later I was I the quiet green depths of Saltwells Nature Reserve.

Passing through woods and wetlands, I hiked up a gorse-covered scrubby hill towards Netherton church, observed by white cattle.

Getting towards Netherton and still in the nature reserve, I was excited to actually be in a wild area I had often glimpsed from the car, from where it looked inaccessible and somewhat magical, the sort of place where time might pass at a different pace, or a feral child be raised to become a great hero.

Head full of Tarzan, Lord Tyger and Stig of the Dump, I regained the road and headed down towards the town. I had a drink in the Old Swan, aka Ma Pardoes, a venerable real ale pub that has had some bad periods over the decades. It was good to see it doing well, an ideal pub in my view – quiet, multi-roomed, with nice beer and some simple food choices. I would have stayed for another, but a conversation between a man and his elderly mother, who could hear little and disliked what she could hear, and was baffled and annoyed at the struggle to understand, was depressing me somewhat. I carried on down the high street, past halloween displays and blossoming brushes.

From Netherton I headed into Old Hill, erstwhile home of Jennie’s parents and somewhere I once lived for six weeks. That house has been demolished for a while, and I expected to see a weed-grown fenced off tract. However new homes are being built on the site and look nearly finished. I had not seen these before and it was poignant – thinking of lives lived in spaces that no longer exist, and new spaces waiting to be occupied.

Moving on, past this last of the Places I Have Lived stopping off points (until Brighton anyway), I joined the Monarch’s Way, a (sporadically) waymarked path which could take me all the way to Shoreham if I stuck with it. Some canal, some hillside, some densely wooded paths – always with a warehouse or manufactory in sight.

Eventually I got beyond the navigable parts of the canal, reflecting that the whole walk, or most of it, could probably be done on waterways if defunct canals were included as well as live ones, and perhaps planned-but-never-built ones too. For instance, I know there is a dead canal near Chichester, relic of a scheme that could have made a major south coast port, connected directly to London. I’m sure I could make them all join up…

At one point I found myself, having slavishly followed the map, hacking through an overgrown embankment while looking enviously at a perfectly good path on the other side of the canal. Eventually I gave up and crossed – the canal at this point so ensilted that a desire path crossed the canal itself, my boots sinking just an inch or so into matted reeds. Soon I was crossing the A458 by the Sandvic works (or Sandtic as my mobile phone would have it) and heading out into countryside, passing the remains of a monastery – St Mary’s, Premonstratensian Order – presumably once owners of much surrounding land, under an economic system now dissolved. Light beginning to fade, I trudged on across fields, some stubbled, some newly planted.

I had wanted for some time to arrive at a motorway service station as a pedestrian. The idea of sneaking on foot into a place so obviously designed for cars and drivers had a transgressive feel to it, almost like some abstract form of deviance. In practice it proved difficult. Roads that I had imagined would be walkable had no margin where a pedestrian could avoid cars speeding around corners. Instead, I followed muddy footpaths which eventually took me underneath the M5. From there, rather than brave further debatable minor roads, I hacked through the pathless margin of a ploughed field, climbed a fence and, like the Prince seeking to awake Beauty, forced my way through brambles – finally tumbling to earth behind the garage at Frankley Services on the M5 (Southbound). Disheveled, scratched and dirty I checked in to a Travelodge, which seems Soviet-austere after the Copthorne. Jennie stopped here for coffee two days ago: it is as if our paths entwine even when we are distant.

I settled down as well as I could in a place made only for transit. The cheap room smelled of seawater, as if some guest had brought a self-contained high tide with them here into the ‘heart of England’. I had a picnic of M&S food, eaten with a spoon as I forgot to pick up complementary plastic cutlery. After a while I read the literature I had lugged for miles: The Rings of Saturn by W.G.Sebald, and a stack of Final Crisis comics by Grant Morrison et al. Sebald (or his narrator) walks East Anglia and sees ‘the remains of our own civilisation after its extinction in some future catastrophe’, his book illustrated with black and white photos of bleak and pallid landscapes. Final Crisis takes a colourful pop culture world, shared intensely by its creators and readers since our collective chidhood, into gloomy catastrophe: ‘Humankinds’s descent into the Forever Pit has begin!’ ‘…entire multiverse—avalanching into oblivion…’

Houses, monasteries and economic systems are demolished. Hearing and cognition fade in the back room of a pub. Canals choke. But, I did find a way through the darkening fields to get here; for a while I walked in the secret forest; the Fortress of Solitude has yet to be breached, and tomorrow Jennie will drive home along this very motorway, while I wander further on and head for home by a different route.

All photos from this leg

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Today’s walk was another spur line added to my main walk from Southport to Brighton – so that I can connect Edge Hills: University, Liverpool district and battlefield. I walked from Liverpool Central (included on the main route) out to Edge Hill (the place), having previously walked to Edge Hill Uni – so it all joins up, if you follow me.

I wanted to get to Edge Hill before the bulldozers – as the area has been ‘targeted by the NewHeartlands regeneration team’, several streets are due for demolition, including houses on Durning Road, the original home of Edge Hill College.

Liverpool terraces aren’t the only buildings targeted for demolition. On my way into work at the uni, I took some snaps of buildings that will probably be knocked down soon, and the site of new developments. Edge Hill has come a long way, from a college in Liverpool, with tens of students to a university near Ormskirk with 20,000. The campus keeps developing, and soon these yellow lines may become halls where people will live, love and generally mess about.

An odd thing, seeing the skeletons of things to come.

After work I got the train to Liverpool Central, crossing territory I walked back in January.

I popped in to Worlds Apart, a comic shop on Lime Street, and bought a comic in the Final Crisis series – wherein the fictional universe I’ve been reading about since I was ten will once again be transformed and rebooted. Worlds and characters will be reborn, rewritten or edited out altogether – a sort of cosmic fictional housekeeping – ‘explaining’ why heroes whose stories started in 1938 aren’t doddering centenarians, and why, say, Batman can be a grim avenger these days, rather than the cheery fellow he was in the 1960s. As it happens the very first comic I read was one of these ‘crisis’ events, involving two versions of earth being crashed together (to create the energy to form a better world, the ultimate regeneration project) – I will never forget the spectacle of the ghost of a dead policeman stretching his ectoplasm around the two earths, cats-cradle style, to keep them apart…)

As another delaying tactic, I went to a secondhand bookshop, one of the worlds in which I feel most comfortable. I was in the mood for westerns (another world I inhabit, that of western pulp readers) but, apart from the complete works of Zane Grey, they didn’t have any. But I did get Landscape with Canals, the second volume of L. T. C. Rolt’s autobiography, including journeys on the canals I have been walking along. He makes the point that ‘The inland waterways of England are a little world of their own…’ Worlds within worlds.

Finally I launched myself towards Edge Hill itself. Being a coward, I was a bit nervous. The news feeds for “edge hill” I get every day (when they’re not talking about the University, some club in LA or a Napa Valley vineyard) occasionally mention various kinds of mayhem in Edge Hill – such that a middle-class boy from the suburbs might imagine bullets flying and blades flashing as soon as the border is crossed. (Stupid, I know, but recounted here in the cause of honesty.)

What I actually found, having walked through the University district, was a place that seemed busy with cars but empty of people. A lot of empty spaces – wide hard-to-cross roads, DIY centre and supermarket carparks. A few old-fashioned shops among the chain outlets.
Pockets of life: trees, art, a family hunkered down out of the wind in a pub doorway, the adults smoking, the kids in pastel anoraks bouncing around.

I walked up Durning Road a bit – the boarded houses just seemed empty to me, dead sockets – I couldn’t imagine meals, arguments, laughter happening inside them. I can understand the affection for the now-cancelled community, but the new estates sound good, and who is to say that they won’t be communities also? The only thing that seemed odd to me were some imprisoned bits of greenspace, as if spaces could only be any good if they were rendered inaccessible .

I wandered down to Edge Hill, ‘the oldest passenger railway station in the world’, which I’ve been through on trains many times. There is a nascent art centre in the station, with an installation on the approach road – ‘a network of posts that grow in stature as they cascade downwards towards the station – recalling the moorings for ships which suggest the idea of travel from the past’ – and people with wine glasses spilling out from a private view. A good feeling that new things were happening and an atmospheric place getting acknowledged. (As a bonus they had Dudley and Dowell draincovers from Cradley Heath.)

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Ironically, the exhibitions just opening (that I was too late to see that day) both have a theme of exploration – Katriona Beales Into Far Lands, ‘Drawing inspiration from early map-makers attempts to depict new worlds and the history of Edge Hill station as the place where the first railway journeys began’, and Guided by the echo by Nelson Guzmán, ‘an outsider navigating a new city by the sites and stories that absolve reason and understanding; where the word ‘evil’ is the simplest answer’. Reckon I’ll have to ‘get off at Edge Hill‘ again soon.

A train was pulling in so I got on to it and was back at Lime Street in a few minutes. An hour had passed since I left Worlds Apart. A young guy in a pinstripe suit was reading the Financial Times – I felt younger than him, with my satchel full of comics and purposeless journey.

I decided to walk along to Liverpool One, a new shopping centre. I had heard it talked about, in the hushed, excited tones of pilgrims returned from an ineffable spiritual experience. All I knew on a practical level was that it did (or perhaps didn’t) have a branch of Primark, so I decided to find out more. Whether or not there is a Primark, there are many clothes shops, arranged in a pleasing way in an environment of light, curves and angles. I felt drawn through the flowing walkways, desire paths where there was no desire. Helpful men in branded leisure/work wear maintained a Singapore-like purity. If it’s shops you want, this seems like a nice enough way to encounter them. Liverpool might be a separate country, but if so, like many places in the globalised world, it has the same shops as everywhere else.

As befits the fruits of the Paradise Project, Liverpool One makes promises of an elevated nature: soon it will give me ‘everything I love’ – a rash promise to make, as I happen to love some pretty esoteric stuff. Bring it on.

The combination of Edge Hill (regenerating) and Liverpool One (regenerated) left me unexpectedly miserable, as I took stock later in a nearby Wetherspoons (beer: George Wright Blue Moon). I have always inhabited multiple worlds, or at least multiple social circles. Take my 18th birthday party, for instance – a mixture of middle-aged lefties (from my Anti-Nazi League involvement), teenagers I was at school with (a few miles away at Hove Grammar School) and teenagers from where I lived (Portslade). A strange mixture of people, baffled (or bayfield) by finding themselves together, worlds colliding over a Party Seven. In a way I’ve made a career out of veering between worlds – Another Girl, Another Planet is the national anthem of my biography (but without the girls, planets or heroin). My university job involves working with various different disciplines, without pursuing any of them. Flickering between worlds and not actually settling into any of them is a wearying affair. Somehow these Liverpool spaces left me feeling sapped, vampire-sucked, adrift – painfully conscious of my provisional identity, my drifting diffident and uninvolved in the many worlds I inhabit, my ectoplasm stretched out to breaking point.

An image of a shark floated inside a giant video screen.

I got the train home from Central.

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