Albert Park

After spending some time in Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum, we stroll through Albert Park, bracing ourselves against the chilly winds, hopping in between the sunny patches on the concrete ground.

Marble plaques stand surrounded by poppies, posies and other colourful flowers in pristine gardens along one side of the path by the main entrance to the park. Dates, names and quotes have been carefully etched into the marble to commemorate wars, regiments and soldiers.

We reach a fork in the path and carry on straight ahead towards the bright white fountain, spurting water from its gilded spouts. Two toddlers wobble by on their trikes, following the curve of the fountain’s base precariously, managing to teeter away from the water.

Down at the bottom end of the park, families mill around with ice creams despite the cold air. Workers clean off swan-shaped pedalos ready for the summer – if the summer ever comes – and fishermen huddle in tents erected on wooden jetties, trying not to disturb nesting swans. Ducks and empty cans of Foster’s bob along the water.

As we come almost full circle and begin walking back towards the entrance, three people come into view, walking towards us tugging a large black and white dog. Hound at heel, oblivious to the trickle of families walking past them, they hurl abuse at a cyclist on the other side of the fence, slowly tottering along the pavement outside the park, carefully balancing on the saddle so that he is in full view to the other three individuals, returning their effing and jeffing in full force. Fuck off yer daft cunts.

After we pass them, B. turns to me and expresses his surprise that one had a southern accent. ‘Parks are great; you’ll find all walks of life in them’ he beams.

 

Beirut | Manchester

Nights of broken sleep meant I wasn’t prepared for the original plan: Beirut in concert, sandwiched between two half days of exploring the city. Arriving into Manchester on a grey afternoon did nothing to lift my fatigue. An unbroken chain of coffee made me jittery.

Beirut are a band who, to me, have only ever existed between the grooves of vinyl, in YouTube videos and in the words of online interviews. It never occurred to me I’d ever have the chance to see them live, their touring schedule restricted to festival slots, or intimate UK shows whenever I was out of the country.

I needed sleep – though part of me was tempted to hide in the cinema until the gig – but against my better judgement I dropped my bag off in my Airbnb and begrudgingly trudged around the city centre. In my irritated state I only saw bricks and mortar; obstacles I had to navigate as I wandered the streets, killing time before the concert. I had to concede. Giving up on the city, I focused on the evening ahead.

I arrived at the Albert Hall for the doors opening at 7pm. Two hours to wait.

Two hours dragged.

And then, they appeared out from backstage. No longer confined to records, YouTube videos and the words of online interviews; they had developed from familiar sounds and stepped out into a fully formed physical presence.

Zach Condon, the band’s main man paced the stage, round faced, thick brown locks, shadowed stubble. The crowd erupted.

***

Another night of cracked sleep, another few hours of Manchester to force myself through. Again, the thought of giving up and heading to the cinema crossed my mind. I criss-crossed between cafes, fumbling with my camera only once to snap the city’s colourful Chinese gate, before finally giving up and heading to the station. Defeated.

Sunday afternoon: Manchester Piccadilly is a constant stream of bodies, running for trains, missing connections. Forging through the crowd, something made me look up as I brushed past a still figure.

Round face, thick brown locks, shadowed stubble.

Without thinking, I stopped for a double take, surprised by the likeness to last night’s singer. As the Doppelgänger turned to chat to a friend wearing a purple beanie hat – a purple beanie hat I recognised from the previous evening. Condon and a bandmate. A third of Beirut in Manchester Piccadilly’s mass of bodies.

Between the grooves of vinyl, in YouTube videos and in the words of online interviews. That’s all he had ever been. And yet now here he was, less than a metre away.

The previous night Condon had commanded the attention of a packed Albert Hall, centre stage accompanied by flurries of trumpets, trombones and accordion. A gentle orange burned through stained glass windows, bathing him in a soft orange glow. Now, less than 24 hours later, in the sharp light of day, travellers ignored his hunched figure. He sat down on a metal seat, pulled out a magazine.

The serendipity passed. This could have been the making of a meet-cute fit for Hollywood, but it was real life. I went with the flow of the crowd. Another body running for trains. Another missed connection.


8.45am St. Mary's Churchyard

“Remembering now all those farewells (fake farewells, worked-up farewells), Irena thinks: a person who messes up her goodbyes shouldn’t expect much from her re-unions.”  Milan Kundera, Ignorance

8.45am in St. Mary’s churchyard. A jogger runs laps around the graves as I try not to lose Polaroid exposures to the wind. There are probably more bodies under my feet than are awake in the town right now on this cold December morning. A rare tranquil moment for the churchyard which, during the height of summer, is bombarded with crowds of tourists and goths. I forgot Whitby takes its time to wake up in the winter. As I ran from the train station through town and up the 199 steps to the clifftop abbey – trying to beat the sunrise – the only people stirring were a handful of delivery men on Baxtergate, the closest thing to a high street in the town. The few low-season tourists tucked up in their guest house four-posters wouldn’t be out for another couple of hours.

Whitby’s streets are riddled with ghosts, none of whom I wanted to bump into. Exes, former friends and old work colleagues. These old ties require more effort to fall back into the previous nuances each relationship had, and any conversations between us now inhabit a strange space between strained small-talk and stale in-jokes. The longer I’m away from the town, the more these ties fade, and the streets of Whitby are increasingly haunted with passing faces that stimulate only a haze in my memory. I felt more at ease facing the graveyard and its ghosts.

The film I’d used in my polaroid camera was out of date by a couple of years, and so the results were washed out and over-exposed. A grainy abbey silhouette; a white Royal Hotel behind the unmistakable arch of the whalebone arch; blotchy patterns on grey speckled sand. Barely-there images to match my barely-there ties to town. A strong wind whipped up over the lip of the cliff, I flipped up my collar and descended back down into town, head down, quick step, running from the ghosts.

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Harbour

Whitby Harbour

The Whale Bones

The Whale Bones