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1992: Two Worlds Collide

Manchester’s panel beaten sky pressed down as I stomped,

swarms of doubt buzzing in my head, afraid and lonely like a

cloud, but not pristine, white and fluffy – dense, electric, yet

empty. The city’s Victorian grandeur and tattered facades

meant nothing to me; relics of a bygone age. I was only

vaguely aware of the emptiness of these streets, allowing their

gravity to deflect and guide me south.

Then I was on a bleak road with great cold buildings beside

and over it, traffic lights hanging from girders, like I imagined

America. It felt like I imagined America, too: hot, humid and

impersonal. As the train had drawn into Manchester, I’d

looked out over my father’s city for the first time in over a

decade. Odd, how the houses were separated from the roads

by great green shoulders, like buffers to protect drivers from


Dirty orange Fingerland buses crawled along Oxford Road

like metal Clementines. I passed the Royal College of Music

with its northern shoe-horn, beneath Mancunian Way, the

university, where no-one I knew had ever been, would ever

go, past the park where my mother had vanished one winter


There were people with rosettes and clipboards outside the

schools, and I realised that again I hadn’t been able to vote;

there always seemed some obstacle to prevent my

participation. Spotting some waste ground I crossed it,

towards some vaguely familiar flats. Some were the shape of

colossal horseshoes; others just boxes, linked by concrete and

graffiti. They weren’t derelict; people, not artists’

impressions, still lived here.

The emergence of the sun from behind a cloud seemed

almost ironic. Not remembering much of the estate I was

stunned by its scale; it was almost grand. I even felt a

moment’s regret at its coming demise. Soon it would be

reduced to the status of modern myth, a bad memory in the

minds of former residents. The people who designed this

place had the arrogance of murderers. This was the opposite

of architecture: Le Corbusier’s nightmare made concrete.

As I walked through this devastated place I felt watched,

and threatened, especially when I shot a few seconds on the

camcorder. Then I remembered my walkman and my spirits

were lifted by the sounds of Bizarre Inc, Moby, and SL2.

Eventually I reached what appeared to be some kind of

shopping centre, except you couldn’t see what was sold

within any of the shops as all the windows were covered by

steel. I went into an off-licence, and there was just a small

metal hatch through which I asked the suspicious-looking

Asian man for a can of Tennant’s Super.

In the middle of the precinct I joined a few tramps slumped

on a cluster of aerosol-decorated benches with their badges of

blue. Furiously I raised my can to the setting sun, purples and

reds melting into the blood behind my eyes. Sucking hard on

the bitter treacle I waited for the numbness I sought and sat

with my head down so as to avoid what was all around me; if

I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me.

Dad was born in one of the flats overlooking the precinct,

but I had no idea which one so I looked down at the dirty

ground through blurred eyes. This wasn’t the place for tears,

to reminisce; I had to get out of there, had to walk, before I

became a victim of my own past in the fading light. From my

pocket I took the piece of paper Tony had slipped me: Dad’s

address in Millmoor. Why should he get the last word?

Draining the can I stuck it on a low wall, then went back

into the offie for a bottle of champagne, which took a while

to appear: confusion all-round. Swigging on the bottle (a

months’ worth of the good nappies) I drifted back out through

the flats. I took a bus back into town, looking for Herm but

not seeing her, not even knowing if I’d recognise her any

longer, so different from my fantasies she had become, to a

dark gothic cathedral where the trains headed east into the

rising dusk.

Without thinking, as if pre-programmed to fuck up, I

boarded a train and headed out through Manchester’s streets

and blocks and mills, blazing lights scattered among bracken fields

in the night rain, out into the satanic hills of my youth,

cowering beneath as they towered above, awesome and cold

and immovable.


*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here

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