In the heart of each human being there is a hidden room, a camera obscura, to which only the mind and dreams can find the door. A magic circle in which the world and the self are reconciled where every childish wish comes true. The passions flower there, brilliant, poisonous blossoms clinging to and thriving on air, thin air. I create a universe for myself and, like some fantastic tyrannical God, people it with beings who will never live for anyone else.
– Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life.
I wake at 5.20am for the long walk to work. It is bitterly, bitterly cold. In the hazy mist of waking, I’m almost sure I hear a single gunshot echo out there in the gloom of the shooting range but I decide I must be dreaming.
It’s only 5.20am.
I stumble to my feet and I rub at my eyes, I stifle a yawn, I scratch at my balls. I’ve decided that I’m already having a bad day and it’s only fifty-two seconds old. My phone alarm is flashing and vibrating on the other side of the room, making a real show of it; treating the entire house to its strange, disjointed screech. Jolene begins to stir as I lurch through the darkness, follow the light, and switch it off.
It’s 5.23am. Somehow, somewhere, I have lost three minutes.
I slowly pull on my uniform, put on my watch, gather up my inhaler, my keys, my phone and my wallet, remembering to take my pills, and open the bedroom door where I am confronted with the darkness, a darkness so deep and impossible it threatens to swallow me whole, a darkness like that beneath the world, and I fumble at my phone to create a makeshift torch.
All is as it should be.
I take a left into the bathroom and I relieve myself, turning my head just so in an attempt to catch a glimpse at my reflection before remembering I haven’t got around to putting up that damned mirror yet. I brush the distaste of it all from my teeth, throwing some water over my face, and I take the stairs down into the living room where I find Tigger licking at his asshole.
He seems entirely nonplussed at my presence.
I’m in the kitchen. As I’m switching on the kettle and packing up my lunch I take a moment to dream of a lie-in before I realising that Tigger has followed me in. He halfheartedly scratches at the backdoor and mews but when I move to open it he slowly turns away and strolls back into the living room with a bored yawn, having now reminded me who is actually in charge around here.
I drink a coffee, smoke a cigarette and I listen to the birds as they begin to wake. They sing a song for me as the sun begins its slow crawl over the horizon.
It is 6.03am.
I kiss Jolene on the forehead and I tell her I love her before locking up and leaving the house, a sharp wind greeting me as I step from the front-door. The street is deserted. I walk along huddled from the cold for a minute or two before turning at Parry Road on to Draycott Road, where I take the hill; crowded with parked cars, wheelie bins, FOR LET signs and overgrown bushes.
I pass by the barber and the chemist and the chip shop before moving on between The King’s Head and Lyng Hall School; watching as a milk float creaks passed, shuddering beneath a dull orange street light on a road of brilliant yellows.
There has been a thick frost overnight and I almost slip as I walk down a Blackberry Lane that seems to have lost itself among the shadows, a hazy memory of a street. The houses seem to leer in the growing light, as if annoyed by my presence before Cofa’s Tree has had a chance to properly wake.
I quicken the pace a little before eventually I’m on the playing field looking out on to Wyken Croft, enjoying the sound of frozen grass crunching beneath my feet. The entire field is surrounded by freshly dug ditches akin to medieval moats; the local councils answer to keeping out travellers from setting up camp.
I smile as I look across at St. Mary Magdalene Church, half-hidden by the trees. I see Skull & Crossbones and shattered glass, haunted jewels and hidden tunnels, and I can see my Grandmother laughing, and another dozen stories for another day.
I enter Wyken Nature Park.
It is 6.19am.
The sun is not yet present here, the only light coming over from across the Sowe, where the zebra crossing continues its lonely sojourn beside the boarded-up flats on Hermes Crescent, flashing secret messages I have no hope of reading.
THE GREAT GOD IS DEAD! it says. LONG LIVE OUR BLESSED KING!
I look out over the land surrounding me; at the small, scruffy hills with those odd grey pipes protruding from their summits, something I can remember telling my friends way back in primary school were actually there to release the volcanic gasses that toiled beneath Wyken, or perhaps these hills were home to some ancient Lovecraftian monster, deep in slumber, the pipes its tendrils slowly breaking through; and I look over at the naked trees beyond them, huddled together for warmth, surrounded by piles of red bricks and half-empty beer bottles and a decomposing sofa.
I truly love it here, the absolute feeling of solitude from the outside world.
Manor Farm can barely be seen now on my left, the Oak and Birch stand guard over the river with a fierce determination, their branches thrusting out across my path with an almost malicious intent.
I can see the houses over to my right, beyond the trees and the hills, winding their way up the Croft toward Ansty Road, past the St. Magdalene and The Risen Christ, past the school fields and Pinley Rugby Club, all far enough away in this darkness as to be in another world entirely.
I almost miss the silhouette of a man perhaps, as He slowly dances amongst the long grass on the top of the nearest hill. I glance around, looking for a dog, but I cannot see anything so I pull my hood up tight over my head, walking on a little faster now, passing by the small shrine of flowers and flags and fairy lights that sits alone amongst the dirt at the foot of the bridge.
I begin to hear the trees whisper amongst themselves and I tell myself it is just the wind, Andrew.
It is the just wind.
It is just the wind.
I have to take the slope slowly now as my feet are unsteady on the icy path beneath but my heart is pounding, nature itself seems to have reared its head, malignant and savage and ancient beyond compare, and I have to remind myself it is just the wind, just the wind, before I am suddenly greeted by a dog walker on the other side. The company of another human being comforts me and I let slip a relieved smile, struggling to decide who between the two looks more depressed with the prospect of this morning walk, the dog walker himself or his Irish Setter, but the wind picks me up and takes me on my way.
It is 6.33am.
I’m now on the tail end of Ansty Road and the city is slowly coming to life. The University Hospital looms in the distance, built on ancient marshland and the ghost of its predecessor, where I, and most of the people I know and ever have known, were born or had died. The ghosts of a thousand memories reside in that place too.
And I pass The Red Lion with its own ghosts, that of triple whiskeys and vomit soaked tables, and I pass by St. Mary’s Church, the war memorial and faded poppies, and I am now on the Hinckley Road where I pass the beautiful thatched cottages and the rundown council houses and the new estate high above it all, and I pass by the cars and the occasional passerby as they flash in and out of existence, particles dancing in a quantum ballet, and I pass by the Walsgrave Baptist Church and the deserted post office and the spot where I had vanished from this world to the one beneath it all, the spot where I had met the Cofa’s Tree.
And I carry on; on past the Golden Arches, on past Toys “R” Us and UPS, on past yet another Tesco blighting our landscape, on past the last bowling alley in town (such a sad state of affairs), on past the now empty restaurant of a popular pizza chain, still echoing with the screams of the hungry children, on past the lorries that line Gielgud Way with their drivers now waking for their fist roll-up, for their breakfast and for the long road ahead, and I reach the remains of that poor rabbit, that dire message from the Universe, and the start of my day.
It is 6.57am.
I take this same path across Coventry almost every single day. It is one of many paths that society will urge you to take day after day after day. Home, work, sleep, repeat because it’s money that makes the world go round.
But if I, or anybody, can find just a little joy in a long walk, if anybody can find a little joy in their morning commute, be it by foot or by car or by train or by bus, and even if that journey may be lead to boredom or misery, then you’ll be winning. You’ll have had your time to think about the big things in life, you’ll have had yourself the time to dream your dreams, you will have been able to absorb an experience, perhaps even found a reason write about it, and I hope that through a ‘long walk’ you might learn that while you may not have ownership on all of your time, nobody can take ownership of your imagination.
There is so much more to Coventry then just a long walk, of course.
Coventry is a city of secrets, a city of dreams and nightmares, of ghosts and gods and martyrs and kings.
Coventry is a city with a many a tale to tell.
LISTENING: Black Mill Tapes Vol.1, by Pye Corner Audio.