Thursday, October 9, 2008

walking to work

Today is National Poetry Day and this years theme is 'work'. I'm no poet, so instead I offer this (a prose poem?) about a walk to work...

For five years I walked that way, head down probably, ploughing a furrow from Waverley Station to my theatre of work. The costume went over my head as I entered the inmost cave. I tugged my face into the right shape, my hand on the door triggered the bell and I was clanged into role, arrived at my desk in Old Playhouse Close.

I wonder now, what traces I left, fossilised residues on the repeated route? Do the stones hold the memory-trail of my breaths? Did I scatter pale pebbles; breadcrumbs; sounds that I can still follow echoing underfoot? Or perhaps I trailed a scent – the coconut cream from my hands, fading morning toothpaste. Or maybe each time I walked it, I laid a thread like Ariadne’s clew, a different colour for each new mood. When the routine came to an end, perhaps they wove themselves into a colourful web I can use now as a rope to guide me.

I watch now for what people trail, what markers they leave as their clews as they move through the unscratchable, unprintable city. Shadows sometimes. Coffee-scent flowing in curls of vapour behind a Starbucks trophy. A child by the length of two arms – one long, one short. Tinkling splinters and half beats escaped from headphones in a discordant wake. The invisible electronic tracks of mobile phones. And the girl in stiletto-heeled boots, thigh-high, draws after her the long, absent glances of distracted men.

It was a journey of verticals as well as horizons. From Hades-shade to light, through the stacks of the old town cliff, its stairways and closes climbing to the High Street and then down into another darkness in the Canongait. In this part of town there are pavements for a pacing rhythm, or other ways, gaits, that invite us to saunter, shamble, stride, strut; twisting ways for us to stalk or goose-step, turn back on ourselves. A silly-walk towards the Canons of Holyrood, even a plowter in Stevenson’s time. But my train came in at 8.48. Hurrying to be seated for nine, I chose the ‘stride’ and the most direct route.

A watery light splashed through thirteen acres of cantilevered glass. It shocked up the fluorescent orange working jackets, hands stretched from them for tickets, a baton passed without a pause. Fan-tailing from ticket barriers, we danced a criss-cross quickstep on the white esplanade, dodging each others’ eyes, made our bee-line for paths up, and out. Drowning in sound, we were chased out by warped voices announcing trains, the mish-mash of whistles, coffee machines, taxi rattle, words not properly swallowed by mobile phones, heels, the rumble of suitcase-carrying wheels. Did we even notice the lapping of the ghost-loch at our ankles, sewer-strong?

Up steps, past platform eleven towards the Market Street exit. Up steps to the once-a-week Socialist Worker sellers, replaced by Big Issue sing-song when that came along. We headed now into the labyrinth, the un-mappable wilderness to the south along Market Street, the mountains and valleys of Waverley’s glass roof stretching away below us. Snatching our heads back over our shoulders, snatching for the traffic gap, the legs must keep up their clip-clop, scissor-swing till they’d stopped us at our desks. Togethering brave we jaywalked between buses, taxis, the silent swipe past of cycles, crossing for the curve of Geoffrey Street somewhere under North Bridge.

Here the grand hotels turn their dark backs onto Market Street, reserving doorways in low clean elevations for their guests on the street above. We traversed their underworld. They abandoned broken glass and empty tomato boxes in piles for collection, disgorging them amongst the pigeon shit at our feet. This is where white vans line up at lunchtime. Flasks on dashboards. A slash of red letters against the glass: The Daily Record. Men, arms folded, sleeping.

So many possible routes I could have taken, between The Mound and The World’s End. The Scotsman steps, a spiralling porthole telescoping between two layers of life, screwing you around and up past hiding smokers, dark corners with last night’s vomit piles, a door opening onto a breeze block wall. They dizzy you, steal your breath, then push you out high onto North Bridge, polished gold letters on a wall, air all around, a long view to the sea and the buses’ upper decks fabricated more of light than substance.

So many chances here for enchantment, distraction from the destination. Diversion. Play. To glimpse a volcano or watch a seagull soar from the centre of a city. Let the Playfair Steps lead you to Art. Duck into the open door of the ‘Escape Club’ and do as it says. Sneak into Chalmers Close through Jury’s Inn with its windowfulls of postcard writers, a siren wobbling into the distant streets below, leaving you with peace amongst the brass rubbings. To pedestrians who risk the narrow corridors through the precipice, the closes flourish, in different proportions, history and piss. ‘No fly posting’. Pant up one of them - Fleshmarket or Carrubers – onto the High Street. Here the walkers clutching guide books, strolling pilgrims pursuing experience, will show you your blinkered errand. Another experiment in enchantment: speak to each person you meet. Try it. They might speak back.

But why have I started to tell you how to walk to work? I ignored it all, strode on, glancing across at the World’s End, a busy cobble-purred crossroads, and down towards the bell, work, my non-play in the Playhouse. And the five years’ worth of steps I laid so loyally along my chosen way? Vanished, evaporated, rubbed quite away. The streets don’t remember.

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