‘Appearances can be deceiving’ – Sandra, Wavertree.
I’m up and about on the top floor of a rather grand house in Longridge, a place that sits between town and village in the heart of Lancashire. There’s not much that particularly characterises the place except a kind of low-level, ambient normality – it feels like the suburb to a larger city, and yet it’s self-contained. This could be entertaining territory for a playful study of the dark sides of human boredom, conducted by J.G. Ballard or Sigmund Freud: what goes on behind those privet hedges or Laura Ashley curtains? Our interest in maintaining our own privacy is at times coupled to a gossipy fascination in the lives of others. It’s no surprise that England gave birth to the peeping Tom.
There’s a kind of suburban war taking place here. Upon entry to Longridge one is greeted with a barrage of high-quality banners exclaiming ‘Save Longridge from mass development’, producing in the colours of a nuclear radiation warning sign and with a similar sense of urgency. The short-line of the campaign’s address is ‘save Longridge’. But save the place from what?
‘Without them, this town would be shut down.’ – taxi driver, Blackpool.
Have you woken to the sound of pure electricity flowing above your head and this fragile polythene sheet that some would call a tent, and others a place of rest? If not, then strive for it, even if it means sleeping in the most exposed and strange of waste grounds in Heysham, near Morecambe. Where are either? Then you haven’t lived. These pylons sound like rain, their voltage dangerous and yet strangely tranquilising, even for all the shouting during the night nearby, as drunken kids raced up and down the road right by my tent. Thankfully I was not discovered, but it adds to the night’s strangeness.
‘You go home, put on the TV, put your feet up, make some dinner, go to bed, wake up, and then you die!’ – Jeff, Douglas.
I awake on Sonya’s sofa in the west end of Morecambe. The morning sun bursts between and beneath the sitting room curtains, distributing a calm and cheery aura about the place. With Sonya’s early-teenage son Zack, a sharp-witted and funny companion in our conversations, we head out into Morecambe for a spot of breakfast. As we pass along the sea-front, Sonya points to where fairs, swimming pools and other proud mainstays of the Morecambe resort once stood. Unlike Scarborough, there’s no conspicuous absence of these glories. The strange thing about Morecambe is that after spending time here, it seems unlikely that there ever was an overextended and wildly ambitious resort here, for good, or for ill.
Bye bye happiness, hello loneliness, I think I’m gonna cry…
‘Nothing is assured’ – Sonya, Morecambe.
Mid-morning, and the rain’s falling hard on my tent. Its light and rhythmic percussion wraps into my dozes like a thousand tiny mallets pattering against a vale of cotton wool. Droplets condense and form on the inside, and drip drop drip down onto my sleeping bag. In the course of the night, the lower half of the tent has flooded and most of my stuff is soaked through. My feet are freezing, but most of me’s unscathed. For around an hour I sit inside that tent, listening to the rain, wondering when it will take a pause.
At last, a break in the showers. I dash out into the nearby forest to find a discreet spot for my ablutions, then return to pack up. The rain’s still paused – great! I combine desperation with opportunity and attack my bike’s rear gears with a screwdriver. Eventually some combination of twists and fiddles has the vehicle moving as it should again. I celebrate with a few bowls of granola and just the most wonderful view of Lake Thirlmere. Mists hover above in thick tufts, their reflections on the water’s surface giving the impression of the imminent collapse of the heavens.