I had developed shin splints, and running was off the agenda. Never mind: walking was still available, so I wandered the city, and around the corner from home discovered a small, abandoned car park.
Imagine that! A place where people could have been parking cars, but weren’t.
The tarmac had become suffused by moss, which made the ground feel underfoot like carpet. I fantasised about returning at night, to bed down in a sleeping bag by the wall. People would pass in the dark without knowing I was there. I hoped it might gently rain.
A Grassy Panopticon
My wandering led me to the wood above Bevendean, a district I’d never explored. Littering the wood were beer cans, crisp packets and used condoms – one of them tied and dangling from a twig, a disturbing shade of blue. I realised later it was the colour of band-aids traditionally used in hospitals and food preparation establishments. Pantone 2935. Personally, I wouldn’t willingly sheath myself in the hue of an occupational injury.
In the central space of Bevendean, houses on either side eye each other across an expanse of green. A pocket park on your doorstep might once have been delightful. But, despite the mild weekend weather, today it was deserted, for when there’s so much more electrical head space indoors, and a trip to the park entails merely driving the car onto grass, to play the sound system with the doors open, then who will be bothered to go to the effort of stepping outside, just for a bit of lawn?
Once a friendly, communal space, now the abandonment of the green conveyed an edginess and quiet paranoia.
A trail led onto the Downs, where a glare – unbearably bright – assailed me from the city below. It was hard to ascertain, but seemed a reflection from an array of solar panels on a terraced house.
I paused to inspect an installation on the apex of the hill. It might have been a nuclear bunker, a biological weapons research centre, or maybe just the entrance to an extraterrestrial base.
If anyone reads this who is connected with the place, a simple sign on the fence would be nice – unless you’re intentionally pitching for ‘sinister’.
The Persistence of Liminality
In my home town, Irthlingborough, I set out to explore the new housing estates which, over the years, have destroyed the place I remember from childhood: a small town, where everyone knew everyone else.
The last time I wandered onto one of these estates, erected on a former patch of wasteland that had offered a fantastic playground when I was a kid, I was lost a blind mesh of streets. This time, I couldn’t understand how that had happened. I had walked it all in minutes! A woman jogging thanked me, as I stepped aside to let her pass. It felt cosy and homely.
Finding a route back to the old town, I noticed a track leading into waste ground, well-worn enough to indicate that it certainly led somewhere. I followed, and discovered an ad hoc footbridge, leading onto one of the newer estates.
It was Saturday afternoon. There was not a soul in sight, apart from a couple of guys delivering leaflets for an Indian takeaway. As I wandered the maze, the only life-sign was a weedy dog, peering from a window. Although the pod people had taken this part of town, I was cheered by the indications that human beings were still forging walks through the wasteland, creating new liminal tracks between the authorised spaces.
Another recently forged trail led from this estate to the town’s bypass, which I followed back again, to explore the latest estate of all, this one so new it wasn’t even nearly finished. Passing a brand new house I’d assumed was empty, a small child burst from the door, dressed in a karate suit, and threw himself into a nearby 4×4.
As long as those vast dependencies are in place, upon which children’s karate classes and 4x4s rely, it seems the pod people will happily inhabit a building site.
Just before arriving home, I was caught in a vicious hailstorm and took shelter under a hedge.
A Realm of High Verdure
Another day, and the final drift began as I descended Crow Hill into Irthlingborough, and wondered at the field near the bottom, on my right.
Other than grass, I’d never seen anything growing there. I’d never seen animals grazing. I didn’t know where it led, nor what lay over that teasing slope formed by its lush and spongy turf.
I leapt from the roadside and went to explore.
Over the hill was yet more grass, and more fields. In a muddy corner, hoof marks betrayed the none-too-recent presence of cattle. I was returning to my point of entry, disappointed, when something scarlet caught my gaze at the hill’s nadir, and I noticed, too, a tunnel, under the road, beneath where I’d jumped the fence.
The red thing was an empty and discarded school bag. The tunnel was a rank and dismal place, haunted by sinister, cavernous dripping sounds. I’d earmarked it already as an entrance to hell, until I saw light shining from the other side through leafs and twigs.
I climbed up onto the road, crossed, then squeezed over an old stone wall, through brambles down to the other side. And here I found it: a high fantastical world, wildly overgrown. Trees, bushes and plants were tangled in a crowded orgy. Birds tweeted madly, like tweeters on Twitter, and a wood pigeon, distressed by my gatecrashing, chittered in high dudgeon and hurtled off through the leafs.
There were precious few signs of intrusion – apart from the inevitable jetsam of bottles, cans and packets, fallen just inside, tossed by pod people from their cars. A branch lodged against the wall, easing the descent, suggested a weak incursion – by children, perhaps. Unfortunately, I was wearing my lovely faux leather jacket I’d bought the day before, in the pod person Mecca of Milton Keynes, and I was reluctant to test it against the thorns.
The land seemed boggy and uneven. No doubt, someday someone will work out how to build a housing estate there. Until then, it’s mine to explore, and if it’s a chaotic riot of growth in April, imagine how it’ll be when I return, wearing my old denims, in July or September…
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
– From Andrew Marvell, ‘The Garden’ (1681).