Creative challenge: “You’re a fugitive in your home city – you’ve got 20 mins to hide. Where do you go and why?”
I’m sure that among the collection of complicated minds that are my fellow Wondrous Place curators, I’m not alone when I confess that large chunks of my time are taken up by re-imagining my life as a story. My train of thought that was brought into the world with the sole purpose of deciding which crisps to buy eventually becomes a detective story – it takes only a minute or two for my thoughts to wind up here in my internal mystery, this imaginary film that my life becomes functions like a screensaver for my brain when its attention to the mundane has timed out.
Sometimes detective, other times fugitive, the scenario is still the same but what of the setting? Where in Manchester does my story pan out? Is it in the hidden rooms of an Oxford Road hotel where I chase my leads, or is it along the tow paths of the Rochdale Canal where it becomes lonely and its most ugly that I encounter my assailant?
Today I am a fugitive and I have twenty minutes to find a hide out, and I already know where to go. I start out on the canal, in those parts of it between the cafe culture of Canal Street and the yuppy culture of Castlefield; the parts where only three things decide to settle – crisp packets, used condoms and the burly blue heron that sits one-legged on the corner of Deansgate, the gatekeeper of the detritus. There’s nowhere to hide here.
Where I go is a limbo; a wasteland; an island. My island can be reached within minutes from here.
I leave the canal, cross a small car park and head for the hole in the iron fence. What surrounds me is a strip of railway arches. Some retain a sort of privacy with the remnants of old facades, and in the gloom of these particular arches I am cold to the bone, but the pathway linking each new geometric arc of brick and vanquished industry is lined with thick grass – greener than anywhere else in the city, a miniature meadowland. And finding the guts to walk further into the belly of the railway line, I find myself in brightly decorated caverns whose curved ceilings are pierced with angular reveals of sunlight.
There’s a unicorn down here, no, really. It’s bright pink, and if he’s gone unnoticed for so long then I’m sure that I will too. Beyond him, his graffitied form, there’s a curtain of blue and green – sky and grass, a gateway to the water and to an open stretch of land that is the island itself.
A pathway, broken up by weeds looking like the destroyed yellow brick road, leads along the water away from the city. I know where it leads to, but it’s more than my life’s worth to tell you…
All images by Hayley Flynn.