Friday, 29 March 2013


'Why is there always an abandoned TV in the rubble? They are so ubiquitous in life that their bodies in death litter our wastelands and edgelands. And why does a TV's blank face resonate so much with us? Is this our image of oblivion? Now a TV should never be blank. There is no excuse. Gone are the days when - if you sat up beyond midnight - the credits would roll, anthems were played, and the stations were replaced by shash. No-one sees shash now, but it was naked television. Shash was the term for those black-and-burst patterns that danced across the screen when there was nothing being broadcast. You could turn the lights off, and watch this electric snow dance across the room.'

Edgelands - Journeys into England's True Wilderness
Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts


It's forty minutes since the alarm went off.

I pull up by the gates and climb out the van. An anonymous business estate on the edge of a struggling market town on the edge of the Wolds.

I open the heavy padlock, spotlighted by headlamps, an extra on a shabby stage that's seen better days.

I pull back the gates, get back in the van and drive to the shutter doors.

I open the doors, turn on the factory's lights, turn on the industrial gas heaters and head for the office.

I dump my bag by the photocopier and press the light switch by the front door.

I grab a chair, position it under the flickering flourescent tube, stand on it and fiddle with the tube's starter until the flickering stops and the small room becomes white.

I turn on the monitor, boot up the computer and start a scan.

I listen for left messages on the telephone's answering machine whilst flicking through any faxes sent since last night's clocking off.

I do these things each and every workday.

And then I run...

It's a cold, dull morning, no longer dark enough for a head-torch. The sky is dirty and silver. There's drizzle in the air.

I jog away from the shutter doors into a monochrome dawn - a fuzzy black and white picture from a 70's television set.

The printing lads are coughing over a last cigarette before their shift starts at six. They sit beside each other in a beat-up Subaru, engine running, keeping warm, not quite ready to face the day.

I raise my hand as I pass, heading out onto the estate road and towards the footpath by the electrical contractors. A sleeping halogen eye opens as I pass the main building, marking me out as a potential intruder, up to no good, someone who should be anywhere except there.

A sagging green-mesh fence separates the muddy puddles of this track and the building equipment,  racks of supplies and the treasures hidden in shipping containers on the other side.

Eventually, edgeland's business gives way to the end of days. The Spilsby cemetary sits, sombre, dignified and out of place in the midst of start-up enterprise, failed ventures,  piles of pallets, Sid Dennis skips and Veolia wheelie-bins.

The brick wall that collapsed before Christmas has been replaced with a hawthorn hedgerow, tiny saplings, white plastic tubes.

As I pass I think of loss, of second chances and of one of the young lads I work with who I've seen ocassionally, later in the day, standing by his father's grave.

His mum likes to pop into the factory now and again.

'How's he doing, Chris?' she'll say.

'He's doing great,' I'll tell her. 'He works really hard. He's a smashing lad.'

'I tell him to keep buggering in,' she'll say.

'Well, he does that,' I'll tell her.

'He likes it here,' she'll say. 'And he's not got far to go and see his dad.'

I never know what to say then.

In five minutes, I'm out of town. The morning picture's gained extra definition. The sun's still to rise and colour the screen. I move through the landscape of charcoal shades, listening to the birdsong, my footfall and the silence.

Helena knocks at the window as I run up the lane by Shelley's house. I smile and wave back. I pass the couple I see most mornings, whatever the time of year, whatever the weather, and we exchange simple greetings.

After fifty minutes, I arrive - a runner - back at the yard. And it's there that things will change.

Back in the office, nursing a mug of coffee, I spend ten minutes on the computer. A Facebook friend I've never met has posted a photograph with a message of cloyingly sentimental positivity. Underneath it says, 'Share if you've lost someone to cancer.'

I finish my drink and take a shower. The water's hot. I stand under it for a while as it tries to wash my run away.

Changing into work clothes, I prepare and eat my breakfast whilst scrolling through news headlines.

Then it's almost 8. I stand and feel a part of me slip away.

The runner leaves, through a dream, through the yard and to the fields beyond. Someone different is left behind. Someone indifferent, more downbeat, not quite whole.

I close the door and enter a new work day.


...a ringing telephone...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the hydraulic kiss of a hot wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...orders picked and packed...a breakdown and an impromptu repair...the static...Tammy arrives...'You alright Chris? You look stressed.'

...customers with unreasonable demands...'The cheque's in the post'...'I sent a cheque. It must have got lost'...'I never received an invoice'...lies...lies...big whie lies.

...a ringing telephone...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the hydraulic kiss of a hot wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...cartons sealed and stashed...the static...a breaking coffee cup...a call from a haulier over-apologising that the promised delivery won't now arrive until tomorrow.

...'You having a break Chris? What's up with you?'

...ten minutes on the internet over a lunchtime snack...headlines...the static...the world we live in...the shit we take from people who should know better but choose not to...politicians talking systems falling apart...the static...wild dogs killing dead-end kids...Facebook friends I've never met posting the same old phoney pictures with the same old words of inspirational motivational utter crap.

...a ringing telephone...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the hydraulic kiss of a hot wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...the static...unannounced visits from market chancers...'Can you lose the VAT?'...'Discount for cash?'...'Bloody hell, I can get them cheaper down the road!'

...unloading articulated trucks...the static...overheating empty bottle of gas...cold callers cold-calling with opportunities 'too good to miss'...the static...a man in a white van with a half-price mattress he's got left over from a non-existent show...'It's yours for only...'

...a ringing phone...the static...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the static...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the static...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the static...the hydraulic kiss of a hot-wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...the static

...the static

...the static...


At 5.30, I leave the factory, lock the gates to the yard and drive round to the carpark adjoining the Boston road. Pulling up, I sit in darkness.

The windscreen carries an image I'm familiar with. Chaotic white dots, black background. Interference. Static. Shash. A visual reflection of the way I feel most workdays at this time. A manifestation of a state of mind that's too busy, too blurred, too hectic to produce anything except a futile question - 'Why am I doing this?'

Naked television. Black-and-burst patterns explode across the screen. Nothing being broadcast. With the lights off, I watch this electric snow-dance.

I wait for stillness to arrive. But it doesn't. I stare at the screen with a beat detachment. I need a run to make things right.

A silver sports car turns into the carpark and I raise my hand in acknowledgement. It pulls up next to me and Shelley gets out. Whilst the majority of my running is done alone - I like it that way - this is Wednesday, and on Wednesday I run with my mate.

We chat a little. Shelley does a few half-hearted stretches and we jog off towards the rolling hills that surround Spilsby. Already I'm feeling better.

We've only run a few hundred yards when I know the runner's approaching. I don't see him, but I know he's there. Since he left me this morning, I've gone through the same workday routine while he's explored new paths, forgotten churches, country lanes. His pace increases. He joins me. He becomes me. I'm him. I'm alive again.

The shash disappears. I leave the day behind and, once more, I'm in the heartbeat of a run. Words come as naturally as each footfall. We share stories as red blood cells absorb oxygen and laughter.

An hour later, we're back at the carpark. We talk of impossibly fast times we ran in local races 20 years ago, of how mediocre England's football team is, of how next year will be Liverpool's year.

After a while, Shelley gets off. I close the van door, look through the windscreen, and only then do I appreciate the colour of the world around me.

Under the strip-lights of the Spar across the road, two primary school girls spark up cigarettes under hoods that hide their faces.

A middle-aged woman in a Barbour coat, pyjama bottoms and Ugg boots leaves the shop, pushing the door open with her shoulder, her hands clutching a bottle of wine and a cheap carrier bag full of beers.

A metallic purple Corsa cruises past, bass thumping, blue LED's illuminating the tarmac beneath.

I start the van, drive towards the entrance and stop for a moment where the pavement crosses. I wait while a skinny man in a fake-leather jacket and a baseball cap passes in front of me. He's pushing a wheelbarrow. In the wheel barrow is a large old-fashioned television. I watch as he heads towards the wasteland and a free final resting place. An electrical cable drags on the floor behind him. A broken plug taps out a tune I can't hear.

I watch till he's round the corner. Out of sight. Then I turn up the music on the radio and start the drive home.

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