Please note: this extract may contain language that some might find offensive.
How do you see the north? Does it come to you redbrick-built, with satanic mills – vast edifices belching, roaring under hellish red-smoked skies? Regular churn and clatter of weaving looms – Spinning Jenny, Arkwright’s Water Frame – Arkwright! There’s a name! Where there’s moock there’s brass none of that southern braaarrss shit but brass, in yer face with a fucking short letter ‘a’! Never mind what did these things actually did they probably clattered no doubt there was weaving, pumping, steaming, from dawn to dusk and far, far beyond. Small urchins scrabble beneath hot bellies of the Behemoth looms – waifs, wasted, pot-tummied from malnutrition, wracked with rickets, no sunshine, no oranges, nothin’ but a pot of thin gruel before dawn then it’s get yerself t’floor, littl’un, yes scrabble about a bit sweeping up fluff or vast numbers of poisoned rat corpses or fingers lost in the weaving, whatever it is you do under there while the shiny boots of the fat boss stride by, the whip descends, lash for a boy here, a girl there. This what it’s like for you?
There’s nothing but coal. Stevenson’s Rocket chugs the line, more belching, hot ash and devilish black smoke; heavy-bellied barges (probably belching) on the Manchester Ship Canal – great hippos groaning, fucking wallowing they are as they bear vast loads of coke towards greedy goblin mills. All very black and smoky, it is. Lots of belching, positively satanic like I said.
Let’s have at it; we’re in the hardspun, grating, spit-in-yer-hand, gob-in-my-eye, shake-on-it and stap-me-vitals-while-tha’s-at-it-
Lawks, watch me dance in cacophony streets with me flat cap on! Such life here; it makes me want to cavort oh I’m jigging, I’m prancing – a sign here, look: Viponds Lane. So many lanes – such a maze of streets, it is. Look, look here! – at this corner stands a big-bellied man, jolly statue, his laughing might turn his gut to jelly look at that wide grin beneath his twirled moustache. Hands on hips, black hat, his black apron swings solid. CRAB BAIT £1 a pot, writ large across his great fat belly. The guy who owns the fish shop calls the statue Frank the Wank. He does!
I know these streets – I’m skipping in and out of their corners, their stones, their pasts – what stories this place can tell, of dark deeds and darker hearts!
There’s history in this town, of spearing whales – great timber ships, there were, once – I saw them, sailing out centuries past, heading north in vast, iced seas to spear the lumbering beast yes spear it chase it down to death then bring back the spoils, turn it to glue, and oil, and soap, and paint, with all the parts, the innards used – such labour, such industrious work but the smell! The oil stench that filled these streets yes boiler houses, boiling oil in this small harbour, stench to turn your mouth, clag your throat – wouldn’t think it in all this quaintness, would you? Oh there were riches, despite the smell! – from sea-hunting but darker deeds on ice-bound ships like the cabin boy, dear child frozed to death in rigging, or worse – caught with the crew, Arctic ice-trapped, whole ship, whole crew yes caught and starving nothing but the ship’s dogs to take the edge off the roaring hunger, then the ship’s rats, then the ship’s cabin boy – no wonder he haunts and cries ‘neath the whalebone arch! Take care if you see him, reach for him if you will, but he’ll slip from you, cry wailing to the sea, mist before your eyes, gone.
We’re in sweet-shoppes, warm sugar smell, jars of candy, mixed millions, aniseed balls, catherine wheels, liquorice wands, Dracula fangs! There’s jewels, there’s fish – shark’s jawbone, arranged in a wide grin! There’s trumpets, horns, shirts and suits, bow ties, dress shops, bag shops, stockings and hats – never seen shops like these before, have you?
Here’s a bright shop window, something straight out of Dickens this one, all those small panes of bottle-end glass behind which a red-mouthed crocodile, near life-size, snarls; get those teeth! The eyes shine. How lustrous this display is! Plush ruby button-backed velvet there is, behind, and all in front a cramming of more fabulous things: a red-dressed, black-faced doll; a galleon with crooked masts; shrill brass candle holders; distressed teddy bears; antlers. Animal figures: stag, cockatiel, cats, dogs. Carved mirror; statue of a woman, robes flowing, bare silver breasts, silver necklace draped across black velvet bust. It’s gorgeous. It’s sumptuous. It’s so agitating! It’s a tit-jiggling, cuntish, brothel’s doorway of a shop.
Explore some more: lift your eyes from the scandal of that shop – up on the headland, hilltop abbey rises gaunt, graveyard crouches. Ah, Dracula! Sailed into this very harbour, did he not? The black dog runs to shore; Lucy sleepwalks to first bloodkiss. Such lust, in this small northern town! Does it send a delighted shiver? Are you frit for fear this place will awaken something within you? Let something loose? Your own black dog running? We’ll see; we’ll see.
© Ali Cargill 2020