Before leaving, I want to get a little bit of this town beneath my feet.
I’m not sure where the idea comes from. Probably from somewhere on the meniscus between Ian Sinclair’s London Orbital and William Gull’s trip around London in From Hell. Perhaps just that I felt I owed this town something, and two and a half hours of slogging a slow circle around it is the least I could offer. Or maybe it was an act of magic. Or maybe it was romanticism. You decide.
The concept is as such: I head out and walk in a vague circle around Bath, with the places I’ve lived as the waypoints. I originally planned to go in order but with the way I skipped between town it’d have doubled the route, and this is sufficient. Besides – I’d sliced my foot open earlier in the week, and wasn’t sure whether I’d be too uncomfortable to make the several mile trip.
I’d lobbed together a playlist of MP3s on my player – stuff that moves me from now and then, basically, arranged with no real thought – and stepped out of the back door, in to the centre of bath, and turned left.
And immediately it starts hitting me. It’s the reason why I’m leaving Bath – that the memories bury me at every corner. My entire (very) late teens and early twenties were spent fucking around in Bath, and so every street corner bears my mental scars. And, with a prepared sound-track and an attitude that borders somewhere between that of a nostalgia addict and a blank historian, it feels like I’m drowning in the past.
First thing, as the Bluetones’ spit out the venomous Bah-bah-bah’s of Are You Blue or Blind’s, is a Newsagents. And it’s the Newsagents where I wandered daily to abuse my teeth by purchasing the most artificial foodstuffs I could imagine as an offering to the Great Gods of Games Journalism during my stay on Gamer. Especially when I really believed, secretly, in the Great Gods on Games Journalism. I don’t know how many years Irn Bru and Flamin’ Hot Monster Munch has taken off my life, but it’s got to be worth it.
Bear a right as Betty Boo’s “Where Are You Baby” cuts in, passing the Garricks, which is one of the places where the memories are so thick and so loud that it’s like white noise passing over you. I can’t choose one. All I know that it’s a place who’s artificial lighting inside, making it appear as if it were late afternoon constantly, ruined my bodyclock for months at a time. It’s one of the drinking venues which looms large on the horizon of my imagination.
I leave it behind, turn a right past the remains of the Theatre, past Future Publishing’s head office where – as a 19 year old – I once distended a balloon through the letter box with assorted Team 4.5 friends as… oh, I don’t know. Pilgrimage. Tribute. Whatever.
I head up the Upper Bristol road out of town, immediately hanging a left onto the backstreets, walking parallel to the main traffic. These stink of lust and failure, as I wander past a couple of Exs place. The first was only a kinda-Ex – the sort who everyone knows is a real Ex, but no-one would be as undignified to admit it. She enters my story as the first time I met a girl and realised… no. Too broken to save. I can’t put myself through it. This is called, in some circles, growing up, but still doesn’t rest on the palette well.
100m down the road, past the place where Kid With Knife tore a signpost from the ground and lobbed it in a tributary of the river Avon, we pass another. And it’s one which raises up in my consciousness like… well, the white noise and dimming of the senses that you get at death. No-one hurt me as much as this girl, and the whole dirty tragedy of our multiple failed affairs warped my entire personality. In my circle, my sullen aggression was described as the “Evil Kieron” period. And I was absolutely monstrous then, breathing vodka, snarling and spending three months drunk.
So I step past there, and onto an earlier memory. St George’s Buildings, where I spent my final year of university with the group of friends I whittled down to from the masses I had in my gregarious first year. I preferred it that way: these were the only people who counted. “Born To Run” kicks in as I pass, and I grin. I was the only person from the house to stay in the area, the rest scattering to the extremes of the Earth. I’m glad they got out when they were young. It’s what they were made to do.
A couple of hundred metres past there, I hit the perfectly pun-worthy 1, Comfortable Place where I lived with the last friend from that house to leave the area, when her boyfriend pulled out of moving in together at the last minute and we dug around trying to find a place. I look at it, and think of its damp, our drunken solidarity during my early Future years and our desperate attempts to cover our bad paint jobs during the house inspection for our money back, where myself and KwK leant against the dirty parts of the room when the landlady was nosing around.
I turn back, turn south and head across the ramshackle bridge whose graffiti I photographed to use in the first HIT, my first comic… comics. Telling as I turn south that my first memory kicked is my relation to that, as the next house on my journey is tied into that whole immersion into the subculture. I look left, at the centre of the circle I’m cutting, and browse over assorted memories from there, places I’m just missing – specifically, standing in Sainsbury’s car park and screaming poetry at the glistening capitalist temple.
I hit the lower Bristol Road, and cross, past the terrible Chinese which I subsisted from for a year and my friends bought food from every new years as it was the only place that was open. What other choice did we have? Onwards, through the traffic, to Lorne Road and my penultimate home in Bath. A terraced house, rented, with Real Humans instead of Future Facsimiles. Got on well enough with one, but despised the other so much that I’d rather spend my time in my soot-smeared room rather than venture in the living room. I stand outside, considering it, and most of my memories are tied either to being Alone or being with the Girl, who I first met during my stay there. This is the one we destroyed the bed in. The landlord suspected the mattress was some kind of dirty protest.
I smile, as that’s always worth remembering, and turn back, heading deeper into Oldfield Park.
I walk past a Girl’s School as the theme tune from NGJ Evangelion hits for no discernable reason, and I laugh. Despite getting so many jokes, the two years I lived in the neighbourhood I never even saw a schoolgirl. I feel robbed. I look right down the road where brother Z lived, and can’t help but get a little bit of a premonition for the memories that lie deeper in Oldfield Park. I try to dwell on sitting in his suburban basement, him smoking, me ranting, and planning something resembling a better future with Agents AD. I still laugh that he’s managing bands now.
Across the bridge – eyes scanning right to the rail-track which recalls drunken collapses onto carriages due to brief sorties into that western metropolis – and I’m in the heart of it, and every step makes me think more of… well, what I was doing when I was living this far into Oldfield Park. It was the time when I just left university and before I got a job, and when my housemate and best friend went mad and had to be sectioned. “Boys of Summer” kicks in, which makes me smile – a song that exists between fear and love of the past. While there’s girls connected with the house, none stick – bar, ironically, Emma Forrest’s book “Namedropper”, which uses Healey’s song as a central motif, and which I read first in the place, and tangentially links to my other friends – and it’s the breakdown and sadness that stays. And the drunkenness. But when passing, it’s the despair for my friend that overwhelms me. What was destroying me is saved for later on the journey.
Through the back of Oldfield Park, I’m walking the boundaries of knowledge. I don’t know how the backstreets connect, and want to find out. The Coral’s “Dreaming Of You” kicks in, lifting the mood away from introspection – and the fact that song’s permanently tied to one particularly funny moment in a shitty Bath club helps. I find that my theories are correct, and find myself in a tiny mini-highstreet buried high on the hills above Bath. I turn north again, downhill, towards Magdalen Avenue.
On the way, I’m thinking of the girl connected to the house. There’s several – this is the period when I got drunk every Thursday night and, more often or not, pulled a random girl whose name I could never remember - The eye-rolling from Kate Little on Friday morning in the office became almost traditional, when I came in stinking of Vodka, Redbull and girl. And it connects particularly to one girl, who I dumped with because I feared she was actually insane. Not in a usual Oh My Girlfriend Is Mad way, but rather that she seemed to be hallucinating. So close to the Oldfield House friend’s breakdown, I couldn’t handle it. Especially when I suspected her love for me was a symptom of her madness.
But when I get closer, that gets wiped away, and I just think of me, falling to the floor, clutching my gut and screaming harder than I ever did before. Pain’s the strangest sensation. It never sticks, no matter how intense. Love, fear… these things you can recall, but you can’t summon pain. I’ve never felt anything vaguely like what I did that day, and I’m sure that the week I spent in hospital until they sliced me open and realised it was an appendix problem… but my appendix was in the wrong place, so they didn’t notice, was the closest I ever came to death. I don’t think my health’s ever been the same since – though probably not helped by the Evil Kieron period that directly followed.
But it’s lightened as I approach as Spandeau Ballet’s Gold kicks in. And I recall that the first thing I wrote when I left hospital, a gaunt ghoul of a man, was a piece about being indestructible. The optimism of the song reminds me of the overarch of my time in Bath. I came to the town as a Games Journalist fanboy. I leave it as a Games Journalist who’s begat more fanboys than anyone since… oh, probably Cambell. I’m at least on par with Curran, I think.
I came to Bath, and became Good at what I do. That’s a rare opportunity, and I love it.
Cutting down the Exorcist-style stone steps towards town, I head towards the streets of Widcome, shaking my head at the Bridge where I tried to talk J Nash into pissing off, turning to look back at the ditch where Curran lay, refusing to walk any further with me because I was annoying him beyond all human measure. And the events leading up to that would take an entry the size of this one alone, so use your imagination, pups.
Widcome is a small mini-high street beside Bath. The second hand shop where I bought my Bass Amp for my cheerfully shitty early-twenties bands streams past on my left, and I smile, and turn right towards my first real house in town away from Campus. Echobelly’s gloriously, horrifically Banal “Great Things” makes me check the chorus to see where I hit and where I missed. (Great things? Er… dunno. Don’t wanna compromise? No. Wanna know what love is? Yeah. Try everything? Oh, I gave it a shot).
The house itself stinks of the past. I looked at my diaries from the time when I was in Stafford a year or so back, and was surprised to find that the major emotional touchpoints in my life all happened within a couple of weeks or so while living her. And one girl particularly emerges, the creature who taught me what jealousy really was and how I should control it. Well – at least as much as I can. It’s good to tie her memories to a place, since most of my thoughts of her live either in clubs or in indeterminate houses which I couldn’t quite locate, not knowing Bath back then. She’s in a commune now, sleeping with some Comic Artists who used to draw Transformer comics or something, apparently. Thinking of her still makes me laugh.
As does remembering how Peter and Ruth’s fucking each other’s brains out in their room above the living room made the window-frame in the front room shake constantly. God knows that made it hard to watch Thunder in Paradise in peace.
Head back, then up Widcome hill, the steepest hill which I ever had to deal with. Memories either tie to the girl in the previous house of the long trudges up and down to university. The odd, spiritual breakthrough I had when I realised the universe is Analogue, not digital – which seems remedial, but that was me then. I needed England’s Dreaming permission to write about something other than I felt qualified to, remember – It’s worth remembering I was a professional games writer before I considered hammering some nonsense/scripture about pop music. Me? No, surely not.
One moment on the walk up the hill. That is, the moment. It’s the only reason I wander up this way now. My favourite view of the town is half-way up Widcome, where the trees disappear and a frame of green farm-fields gives you a clear view of Bath, nestled in its valley. It can be stunning. Today, as the early evening falls and the fog rolls in, it’s almost invisible, like a gothic horror or… something leaving.
The fog stays with me until I reach the University campus itself, peering over the ancient town of bath like a bastion of bad sixties architecture. Pulp’s “My Legendary Girlfriend” kicks in, reminding me of another long walk through the streets of Bath, wrapped in fog, on the way home from a one-night stand, a slip of bone and flesh in a skinny-fit at 4am with the obsessional, fearful “Feeling Called Love” playing so loud inside my head I could literally hear it. There’s a reason why I didn’t wear headphones for most of my stay in Bath. I didn’t need it.
Making my way around the university meshes. I wander up towards the band practice rooms, where Agents AD postured and Fixation screamed, and cut ourselves a little slice of the future, before – since the upstairs is closed – deciding to face the Parade bar.
Barely went in the Parade bar as a student, so the only memories are connected to those six months after graduating where I worked there, with no prospects and no future. I was a trained biologist with no desire to meddle with things Man Was Meant To Know. I wanted to be a writer. As did everyone else, but they had degrees in English and training and nepotism and… well, everything. All I had was what I’ve always had – what counts as my brain and what counts as my personality.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as down as I was when working here. While my year in the lab in the US was horrific, it was a defined period. I treated it as a prison sentence. I knew it would end, and I could go back to my life. My time there… well, it could have been that forever. I had no future, no prospects, no clue. My life alternated between furious fanzine writing and serving in that bar, dressing in a Hawaiian shirt and listening to M People’s third-album every day at three o’clock exactly because we weren’t allowed to change the CDs.
So I stop here, pull out the headphones, have a drink and look around. Just to stare down the old place, and ignore the feeling that they could capture me and drag me back there.
And I think of how and why I got out. And that’s luck tempered with… well, me.
I head out, headphones back on and head towards Quantock 5, my first year university block, with Johnny Boy’s “…Generation” welcoming me. As much as I love the song now, I wish it was written then. When I was dealing with a 11am Coffee rush, it would have been an absolute gospel. I’d have lived for that song.
Quantock 5 seems identical, bar letting them let girls live there now. I laugh a little, thinking of the horror stories involving there. I wasn’t happy, to begin with, and was disliked. And then I decided I didn’t care what anyone thought of me and started acting like – in the words of Alec Meer, ten year’s later – “More Kieron than you can possibly Imagine”, and I was a popular little foul mouthed snarling indie-kid. You might try to tie a “Be Yourself” style moral to that story, were you of the inclination.
As I turn away, “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward” comes into play. Now here’s a song made for today. “… Generation” exists for anyone who tries and hasn’t succeeded, yet still believes. Bragg’s opus needs a certain perspective to truly love, to have had small successes mixed with grander failures and with a small hope for the future to grasp. A hope for the future? I wander down the exact route Jon Telfer and myself made every day on the way to our Evolution or Genetics or whatever old rubbish lectures and wonder about these people.
And only realise now that while I could have connected Quantock to any number of girls, none came to mind when I was there. Not even the one I was having a secret affair with, to avoid a mutual friend who was obsessed with her knowing. Which surprises me.
Heading out of the back of the university, down a newly lighted path past the medical centre – previously just a muddy strip across the playing fields – I head back down to Bath. The fog’s gone, and I start getting the panoramic views which were the main reason I stayed here for ten years.
And Blur’s Pop Scene kicks in.
And after that, Pulp’s Glory Days.
Which seems appropriate. In my own, personal, timeline the pre-Bath Popscene was the start of what can really be considered Britpop, a clarion call to action, now, fuckwit. And walking down the slope… well, there was only reason anyone walked down the slope. If you were going to a club in the town proper, you’ll catch a bus – it’s too far. There was only one club at the bottom of the hill: Fusion. So indie-kids, Goths and the assorted pop-leftist tribes congregated on Fridays and Saturdays beneath a Hotel which, I’m sure, could have done without a few hundred dirty children emerging at 2am and snogging each other outside it. And, essentially, PopScene sums up the anticipation of heading towards that place, whose echoes – see the post for Wednesday Night – I still resonate to occasionally.
Glory Days, conversely, is the official end of Britpop. Or rather, its requiem. It had been dead a while, and all that was required for a suitably perceptive mind to lay out the contradictions and joys. Cocker was really the only man who could manage it, the one sane, populist man in the province. I can’t just think of Fusion and get my famous carpet-bombing flirt-tactics of bringing glasses of water to every girl in the building, or dancing to Shampoo on an Empty dancefloor or whatever. I have to think of slashed wrists in the dancefloor and the people who I knew there who are now dead.
And Anubis weighs our hearts, and we ignore his verdict. Doesn’t matter. They were still our Glory Days.
I head on, heading back towards the light of Bath, hungry. I’m missing stuff now – I’d like to head down to the far side of the weir on the Avon, down by Ts, but an unhelpful Council have barricaded it. Instead, I glance back towards a perfect white building which I can’t look at without thinking of KwK pissing in the tiny perfect white decorative huts, and decide to get a Kebab in his honour.
With a handful of cow and chilli sauce, I skirt the edge of the weir, past the Abbey – which I still can’t look at without catching my breath – and down to the corpse of one of my favourite lovers. The Swamp Club was renovated in my year away from the town, transforming from a place which required a jet-engine style heater to be dragged into the centre of the room to be vaguely survivable through a winter’s night out to a downbeat pseudo-kitsch club for retards. I’ve been there since, and it’s like seeing an Ex who’s become a trophy wife and had a cosmetic surgeon slice her away to a smear of a person.
I turn right, on the final leg towards home. Past the Huntsman, the late night pub where I sat doused in glitter, eyeliner, attitude and uni-sex spin the bottle. Still can’t believe no-one decided to pulp me with fists, which says more about Bath than anything. On past Vermouths, my favourite restaurant in town (In terms of food. Otherwise; Eastern Eye followed by the Chianti and Pizza FuckinG Express), and who I once wrote a review of in the voice of Minister Drill-cock! For a local arts mag. Past the tree and the stones where I ended Negativeland with Gril, Rossignol and Walker’s help.
And then, cutting past the Abbey one more time, back to my flat overlooking the beautiful white-stone bitch.
Arcade Fire kicks in. “They say it fades, if you let it”.
I smile and open my front door, nibbling on the remains of the kebab.
There’s too many memories in Bath now. You’re getting a tiny fraction of the insides of my head as I made this circle. On some street corners it was like my mind’s eye was in a stroboscope, or directed by an overactive MTV director.
Too many memories. You can’t leave them behind.
Except – perhaps – by leaving.
Kieron Gillen's Workblog, foo'.