Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Day 1 : Leeds

Leaving the gallery I turn left and left again, leading me down the back of the tower block that houses the gallery. I am struck immediately by the green stretch of grass in front of me, grass that serves no real purpose in terms of leisure or commerce and characterises this area of the city where the hospital and university campuses dominate. The grass infiltrated my mind and the idea of such spaces being out of bounds, restricted ‘keep off’. The pattern for my drift was set. I would walk towards areas that I felt I shouldn’t go, places that made me feel uncomfortable and areas of green.

I am trying to walk without a particular set of rules. I usually configure a rule base to my walking but this time I am trying to work spontaneously to the surroundings, leaping from some kind of environmental inspiration. Initially I had intended to follow my feet as it has been raining all day and beneath my umbrella I can’t see that much. In fact the sun came out and I wished I had brought my sunglasses for the occasion, so I took the grass and the feelings and off I go.

The first loop of my walk took me in to the University grounds. This is the campus of the main University as opposed to the Metropolitan Uni. It is a mix of Victorian architecture and 1960’s concrete aspirations towards Utopia. I was in the grounds for a long time, this area is full of places you shouldn’t or don’t think you should go. Hidden paths, underground roads,car parks and exterior stairwells. Despite the complexity of the architecture, the winding passageways and so on it was quite uneventful. It rained a lot and I became fascinated by the excessive leakage of waterin all directions. I stopped off to buy some coke from the student union shop and on departing the building went left and left again.

Eventually, after about 30-40 minutes of walking I left the University grounds and my drift took me out in to a new area of town, one that I don’t know too well and I began to feel like I was at last able to drift without any preconception as to where my route was taking me.

I passed a man lingering on the side of the road and plunged on down the street. Things started to become a little shady and despite the sun coming out again, my remit of walking where I felt uncomfortable became increasingly fulfilled. There were endless possibilities in the estates as to where I could walk. I was still favouring green and using grass areas to make short cuts or break up my walking patterns. But here my walking changed because I felt distinctly out of place. I cut down in to the valley and began to question the line between uncomfortable and unsafe. Here I think I was unsafe. A horse grazed in the middle of the field chained to a small child size football goal post. Two men were working on the other side of the field, dressed in overalls, one red and one blue. They seemed to be raking the ground, looking for something? My path, once across the field only allowed me to disappear down a muddy track in to a wood. All around me there was debris, this seemed to be a place frequented by somebody or some people and I felt like it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I made a decision to cut away from that direction and clambered through the overgrown grass back to the road. There was stuff littered all the way through the grass. A travellers land, somebody’s home at some time, left ruined now and ugly.

Across the main road I was back in the council estate. The heavy rain had made everything smell really intense. It brings out the smell of headrows and the trees, the birds are singing really loud. In the estate I can smell rice cooking, I keep smelling it as I move from one courtyard to the next. The combinations on the paths are endless. I can go anywhere, yet nowhere. I turn in to one area and there is a house with a pile of wood as high as the first floor outside it. I realise this isn’t a pile of wood but a shrine of some sort with a praise to God resting on the top of it. I want to take a photo but I am becoming increasingly wary of taking the camera or my phone out. I try to take a picture with my phone but I don’t think it will come out too well. All around the small square the windows are covered with net curtains, no one or everyone could be watching me right now.

Further in to the estate and I am starting to notice the inconsistency in the state of the houses. One house is really nice, with a well-kept garden and neat paintwork. The next is half boarded up and overgrown with weeds and foxgloves. I almost jump in to one of the gardens as a huge Rottweiller dog leaps at me. I only notice it is on a chain when it flies back again as it reaches the end of its tether. I can’t help but yelp and a small dark skinned woman appears at the door, saucepan in hand to chastise the dog and apologise to me.

My heart is pounding so hard by now that I think it is time to leave the estate. As I weave my way through the alleys and courtyards (there are no streets here), approaching the heart of the estate, the floor is increasingly littered with unidentified household debris and bin bags. The houses are deteriorating and a small pale girl stares at me. There may be more than the 200 inhabitants of Kellerberrin in this one estate but the residents know instantly I shouldn’t be here.

It takes me a while to leave. I am still carrying the coke can I bought from the Uni and I fill it with some wild daisies I find down another alley. I had to take this route because the one I chose was a dead end. But it brings me back to the main road that I need to be on. The man I passed earlier is still there, in exactly the same place.


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