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.

April 4th – I broke free after lunch and had time to kill in Walsall. It wasn’t a particularly bright afternoon, but I headed up to the church and memorial gardens as I hadn’t been up there in a long while. The Memorial Gardens were as I remembered them; quiet, peaceful, solitary and beautiful. Slightly down-at-heel, but no less beautiful for it, the flowers there are just kicking off. I have great memories of this little-known spot, but while I was here, it occurred to me that somewhere in the intervening years between my discovery of this wonderful place and the present here and now, that either Walsall had lost me, or I had lost Walsall.

These places, these streets, used to feel like mine. I used to haunt them. I knew them well, the shops, pubs, cafes. Today, although I pass through regularly, I don’t know any of it anymore. I still get the geography. But I’ve lost the sense of belonging. 

The horizon I could see from here today over the dull, overcast town was the same horizon, but changed, I saw three decades ago. But somewhere, inbetween that place and this, I exchanged that whole wide world for other horizons.

I wept a bit. But you can’t go back; I can no longer class this place as mine. But there are other places, and this will always, always be a part of me.

For better, or for worse.