I found myself walking through Darlington town centre today. Out of curiosity, instead of going through the main shopping streets, I took to the side roads to see what I could see.
I found myself walking past a now-drab Victorian building, the word MUSEUM spelled out in bas relief over the front door. The museum in question seemed to be long gone, the building divided up into business units. It was as if the sign itself had become the only exhibit.
A few yards further on, I passed a pub. A young man was stood outside and, despite being rather unsteady on his feet, was demonstrating his prowess at karate to a friend, aiming high kicks at an imaginary victim. He looked my way and called out. At first I thought he was calling to me but then I realised there was another man, who he obviously knew, walking just behind me.
I rounded a corner. Paint was peeling off the stonework over a shop that advertised cheap loans. I walked past another pub. A thin man about my own age was stood outside, lighting a thin roll-up.
I crossed the market square and walked through a concrete covered walkway. To my right, the concrete was decorated with abstract bas reliefs. To my left, a series of arches, like you would find in a cloister, opened onto a line of coach-stops. Drifts of cigarette ends had accumulated behind each pillar. I imagined crowds of smokers, waiting for coaches to London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, desperately dragging on that final fag before embarking on two hundred miles of cold turkey. The whole place stank of stale tobacco. Across the road, a new building was being thrown up in the modern, red-brick supermarket style, as bland as the cloister was brutal.