North to Wolverhampton


There are swimmers in the sea!


The Brighton beach backwash rakes the pebbles down into the seabed with that sound like rattling teeth. French air caresses the coast with the faint scent of baguette or bag-lady. A long gloomy front hangs along the coast down to the west where Land’s End points its bony toe at South America. We guide the Merc north through beautiful oak studded estates, headed for the Black Country, its wide accents, ex-factories and gap-toothed high streets. I was a Midlands boy in the seventies. I had a Leicestershire accent, played for the school team, said “lickoll bockoll” for “little bottle”, drank Dandelion and Burdock. I was a hayseed, temporarily English. I loved Leicestershire. I loved our village. Cows sometimes wandered onto the school football pitch, badgers rooted around the garden at night. We had two apple trees, cherry and almond trees, a lean-to, an enormous ash that had to be cut back with a chainsaw, house spiders like umbrella skeletons galloping out from behind the TV. We decanted in ’75 and I was repatriated. Second time Scot. The burr got ditched for the brogue. I took a few kickings, got called a “poof” for a bit. Eventually I adjusted; the grass was gone and my high-waister turn-ups brushed and frayed on the playground concrete like a flag tattered by an offshore easterly. But my nine-year-old heart is not in the highlands; it is in the Midlands where they taught me to play cricket, eat rissoles and hug the right-hand touchline when the sweeper came out of the box with the ball at his feet.

Wolverhampton is noticeably poorer than Brighton. The people crowded around the bus-stops are pinch-faced and wary. The kids in the prams look leery and seem horribly aware that the future holds, what…gut wrenching tedium and no money? This isn’t a good time in a town where it hasn’t been a good time for four decades. Even the weather comes across as pissed off, a cold sarcastic wind winding into your soul.

The Slade Rooms is a great venue, it’s my third time and it has never disappointed. People throw out stuff from the start so I’m helped in my mission. You need assistance when you’re up there solo. Otherwise you can find yourself in a black void of paranoia. The voices from the darkness are like lights guiding you into harbour. Docking is successful and I’m out of there.

The hotel has no hot water – how dare they? People in cheap housing huddle on their couches and gaze into the dreamworld of lurid fantasy pulsating from their TVs. There’s nothing in the fridge, or not much of any use and nothing to do but keep the kids alive and keep claiming for what you can; to try to find a purpose in this system which allocates all the capital to three guys in a tank, tinkering with the controls with the lights of a thousand cities blinking on their wristwatches.