April 4th – I’ve been struggling with my relationship with Walsall, and my memories of it, for a very long time now. I think seeing some of the places I loved burnt down, and others displaced by progress started it. I felt it was time I acknowledged it for once and for all.
I still love this surprising green, but ugly town. I love it’s unexpected beauty, I love its corners, twists and turns. I love the people, the frankness. I love the mixed cultures and the frontier mentality of a place thats both within and outside the Black Country.
I hate what time and my memory have done to it. But change is what happens to everyone, and I what I suspect I mourn isn’t Walsall, but the times I spent here.
St. Matthews is a handsome church in a commanding location, atop a hill that I’m convinced was once probably a fortification. A very large, ambitiously designed church, it’s almost too good for the place yet completely appropriate. Resplendent in yellow sandstone, it watches over the town below. For two centuries or more, it was surrounded by a sprawling slum; it’s now sitting in proud isolation with greenery and open space around. Time has been kinder to St. Matthews than one might think.
I used to come up here to think, and dream and wrestle with things that troubled me. I found the benchmark on the side of the church before I knew what it was for, and its image was persistent and perplexing. In those days, someone had written above it in neat chalked script, ‘I can’t come here anymore.’ I never knew what they meant. I do now, but the writing has long since washed away.
As I wandered around, remembering good times and bad, trying to make sense of what I felt. I looked to the skyline, to the towerblocks of Paddock, and at the flowers growing so beautifully wild in the churchyard.
I remembered the words of the great, tortured and lost songwriter Doug Hopkins:
The last horizons I can see are filled with bars and factories
And in them all we fight to stay awake…
Drink enough of anything to make this world look new again
Drunk drunk drunk in the gardens and the graves
The last horizons I could see are now resigned to memories
I never thought I’d still be here today…
It dawned, gradually, that it’s about going away, and returning. Spiritually, I left this place a long, long time ago. I let Walsall go. It’s right, and natural, and what happens to us all. But I never thought I’d still be here.
And once you’ve left, although you can come back, you can’t go there anymore.
Relieved, but hurting, I got back on my bike, and rode home.