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.


3 thoughts on “Drifting

  1. Last time I was in Darlington, (we were on bikes) we were approached by a ragged but very likeable and fascinating man in the street who had cycled huge distances through Europe on almost no money. A most wonderful person to talk with and listen to – he was fairly young – a true adventurer. In the end he was kicked out of somewhere an awfully long way away for not having a visa, – modern bureaucracy had caught up with him. So he cycled all the way back again and was full of happiness at the idea of the places he was going to explore next. He invited us to stay if we didn’t have anywhere, which was much appreciated, but in fact we already had somewhere to stay.

    I agree that much modern development it is intensely depressing and never does justice to the interesting inhabitants of almost every English town, not to mention the history and inherent physical interest of what was built in the past. .

  2. Dominic, I hope your Christmas is bright and smoke-free, filled with music, family wamth and whatever makes you happy. May 2016 be the best year for you and yours.

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