When I was a kid growing up on the streets of Carlisle I loved to play on building sites. Well, in the well-to-do neighbourhood where I grew up, they weren’t so much building sites as small clusters of bungalows-to-be, on Millcroft, where posh people had two cars, small yapping dogs and very smart front gardens. I’d go there on hot summer evenings in those precious free hours after tea, with Caroline my best friend.
We’d get there, fling our bikes to the ground and clamber over mounds of rubble and bricks in our Clarks T-bars to reach the half-built houses. Sheets of polythene would be flapping in the wind, one edge held down by red sandstone bricks. Cement mixers would stand silent and still, their work done for the day, blobs of grey lava dotting their hot metal surface. We’d scrabble past them to walls that had openings for windows, but no glass in them yet. Empty doorframes took us to rooms where who knew what dramas would unfold in decades to come. ‘Children might be told stories in this corner, or a mother might make tomato soup over there. And would scenes of sadness, poetry or death play out here, right on this spot where I’m standing now, in ten or twenty years time?’ These were thoughts that thrilled me, some 40 years ago.
Luckily, I still have access to that magic. When I cycle with my son to school every morning, we cross an industrial terrain housing derelict warehouses, offices, some of them re-occupied, and new architecture. On a wall next to an empty warehouse is a sign that reads ‘Receipt of Go ds’; someone has removed a crucial ‘o’, triggering a variety of fanciful scenarios in my head each time we pass. An illuminated plastic penguin perches on an elongated cube that hangs above a prefab, announcing the location of Natwerk, a group of industrial designers that sit huddled over their MacBooks in their hoodies. Then there’s the small businesses called Night of Comedy and Moonshake. Until I Googled them, lewd and fairytale pictures (respectively) played out in my head every morning.
‘Notes from the Underground’ by the way is a graffiti posting scrawled high and proud next to two unused tower cranes