So I have never actually been to Walsall despite my 33 years as a Midlander. The New Art Gallery has always come recommended; I was very interested to learn that Laura Oldfield Ford had curated her own exhibition there in April, around the time that I was putting my finishing touches to my MA, and it would have been a rather fantastic research opportunity. I was going to make a special excursion to Walsall another time, as a friend told me that the Greggs there were doing a run of limited edition chip-shop chip pasties. The train I used to get to Perry Barr terminated at Walsall as well, so getting there wouldn’t have been a problem. But unfortunately my old foe procrastination and that bastard laziness got in the way, and I didn’t go to the exhibition or to the Walsall branch of Greggs.
Walsall remained still very much a mystery town, of intrigue, and excitement. There is always time though – indeed, it was only this year that I discovered the delights and intrigue behind Smethwick and Oldbury, so further adventures may await.
I’d said to myself earlier on last week I was slowly realising that Facebook was a waste of time, and after reading several articles on Facebook addiction, I have dramatically reduced my time spent on there. My Twitter account is still live, and I have been receiving many updates on the Olympics and the Pussy Riot trial over in Russia. Having a glance over my feed as somebody would the morning papers on a Friday morning, I noticed that Lichfield Lore had retweeted a rather fantastic photo gallery on Panoramio by Nevillina_3, showing pictures of this town that I had never been to, allowing me to a) gain an idea of what I’d be faced with when I’d finally get to the promised land and b) allow me to see and imagine what lies behind the cracked window panes, the scaffolding, the juxtaposition between shop names, and everything else. Nevillina_3’s photo gallery really is a fine showcase of what I call suburban psychedelia. A narrative could effectively be constructed out of this gallery alone – because this isn’t my journey I won’t do it here, but I will have an attempt with some of the photos that particularly spoke to me. And I will now definitely go to Walsall one of these days and blow my mind. NB – place names used here aren’t going to be 100% accurate as I’m going off the Google Maps function that sits alongside the photo-gallery.
A later thought – any photo gallery, to those who haven’t visited the place may seem to be an accurate tour of the landscape, in the exact order that the route took the walker.Mapping in this way is one of the ways in which early psychogeographers would work – a game played with location and disorientation.
Many thanks to Nevillina_3 (or is that Emma?) for letting me use her photos and allowing me to provide a link to her ace gallery.
I could see the object of my interest in front of me. On the corner of Caldmore Road, going up into Hope Street. A dirty white brick building, its bottom windows boarded up, on the right hand side on the first floor, a broken window which had been either made by stones thrown from the outside, or smashed in a haze by those inhabiting, or who had lived in the space before the bailiffs got to them. I could see closer on approach. The window above the front door had no glass or pane in at all, the same for the one on the left. No one was around. The people carrier parked in front of the front door would be a likely ledge to climb onto. With stealth I could hoist myself onto the ledge above the door and pulley myself into this space. I guessed that this space was the first floor landing, as there was a door frame, with no door, leading into what could have been a small bedroom or storeroom. Whatever, I’d be in the building. My feet on the landing. The staircase leading to obscure darkness because of the boarded up windows on the ground floor. And I’d find my feet gingerly walking down the creaking stairs, heart racing to what may be found. The smell of dust and damp would make my brain dizzy and release endorphins of courage and stupidity. Hieroglyphics on the whitewashed walls, either made by contractors scoping out the place for demolition, bored kids on their school holidays or maybe more sinister forces. Looking and fumbling eagerly for a cellar, where more secrets would be uncovered. Fingers burnt by my lighter, getting hotter by the second. Soon the steel would be too hot to touch and I’d have to get my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. And I went over, sizing up the people carrier. But a look up to the right hand window on the first floor stopped me. There were two windows in that room, on facing the street, the other, what I presumed to be the yard. Perspective and the light made the top of the yard window appear in the bottom of the street window, and it looked to grin at me grimly, under the Cyclops eye of the broken glass. I stood stock still, hypnotised, but my reverie was broken by the loud beep of a Vauxhall Vectra, it’s boy-racer drivers leering at me for being weird. Shaken, I looked up again, and the window now seemed to be mocking me. Come in little boy. I fled in the direction of Hope Street, and dum-dummed the Levellers song of the same name repeatedly to get the grin out of my memory.