Often, if I’ve got something on my mind, if I’m feeling stressed or unhappy, I’ll take myself out for a long walk. Sometimes my feet will take me to places where I’m surrounded by trees or water but at other times I find myself drawn to the empty places of the city. There are plenty of these since the crash in 2008. Areas of Leeds that were once home to ambitious young companies are now filled with the empty shells of buildings, half demolished or turned into parking lots. They have a slightly eerie feel if you’ve seen enough zombie films but also a contemplative, even meditative atmosphere . They’re as much a reminder of the frailty of human dreams as the skulls that rich noblemen once kept as memento mori.
But what sounds a depressing experience is also an exciting one. These are spaces waiting to be reclaimed, either by nature or by man. Wildflowers make the place their own and the open expanses seem made for all kinds of games. It’s no wonder to me that this kind of half ruined landscape features in so much SF fantasy. With everything torn down, there is the inevitability of something new rising. It’s possible to be both sad and hopeful here.
There is humour to be found as well, like the sign below that seems oblivious to the inherent ridiculousness of its official message.
There are reminders of danger too. Barbed wire and broken glass, hinting at violent acts that have been or might be to come. It’s difficult not to be aware of your own fragility, which is both thrilling and unsettling. Perhaps these things are a reminder not to stay here too long in case it proves impossible to leave.
Suburbia also has its charms for a walk, especially when I’m feeling lonely. Suburbia occupies a special place in British culture, seen both as something familiar and something to escape from. There is a sense here that the real party is always happening elsewhere. Suburbia can feel stripped of purpose and drama. And yet its very ambience makes it the perfect place to think, especially on a Sunday morning when no-one is about.
Of course though, there are stories going on in suburbia as elsewhere. Because even if the party isn’t happening here, the most interesting things don’t happen at parties anyway. Sometimes I feel like I catch traces of the lives unfolding behind the closed doors and sometimes I see reflections of my own story.
And there are moments of beauty, when the light falls in a particular way at a particular time and somewhere mundane is suddenly transformed.
I have always felt like something of an outsider in the world. Perhaps this is an inevitable part of being an explorer – the feeling of not being truly connected to any one place, always wondering what might be hidden behind the next corner. These long walks through the empty spaces of the city allow me to connect with that part of myself.
And naturally to daydream as well. These concrete landscapes hold the possibilities of so many strange visions.