'New Towns for Old'

Both a sister piece to 'The Tyrant' and the outcome of my position as a Research Assistant with Dr Adi Kunstman in the Department of Politics, MMU. In contrast to 'The Tyrant', 'New Towns for Old' was written at a far faster rate, as I spent just a two days in Milton Keynes. I have never visited a city so different to every other model of urbanism I've encountered; so unique and remarkable it it's absolute mundanity and order.

This piece was first shown as part of MANUSCRIPT, at the Manchester Art Fair, and also in 'The words that precede my mouth'.

'New Towns for Old'

MG

The city spans out 

like a perfect grid and as I 

wander aimlessly (looking purposeful)

away from the close crowds

congregated within the mirror

of a perfectly symmetrical station

I am struck by the order,

the perfect organisation of this place.

Taxis queue, engines off,

in identical ranks flanking 

the broad pavement,

yet now, already, I can feel it emptying 

as they continue to wait,

as no one arrives.

What’s going on?

Is it always this quiet?

She says with a warm smile

Returning the key, looking away

Yes, it’s always this quiet

Move on, move away 

that smile says

And I move away 

to a windowless room, 

its initial coldness numbing

the growing claustrophobia 

rising in my chest to my throat.

It can’t hold and within minutes

clothes stick to hot skin as

I enter back into the rising pressure

of the sweltering day.

I imagine all the skin, flesh,

the pulp of matter before my bones

scalding, drying in a kiln,

cracking like bare earth under 

an infinite blazing white sun.

I wait in the shade

between the black windows

of two empty office blocks,

identical to the hotel, 

to every other facade on this street.

Through the low arch

leading to the uneven pavement

glistening bonnets flash,

brilliant in the bright sun.

Hundreds of cars in orderly rows

line every stretch of the road

and soon their surfaces swarm 

into one metallic sheet, 

singular in colour.

A rampart or great sea barricading 

the shade of the opposite pavement

from my reach.

(my eyes ache from yesterday).

Splitting the air, reverberating 

like static in the pressure,

the sharp crack of a car door

slammed in fury.

A brief silence before

a cry of voices rose, 

shielded from sight

by the crest of the soft hill 

off to my right.

With caution, though haste,

I follow it, drawn forward

to any noise is such a silent city.

The slope flattens then drops,

also without haste.

A few hundred yards

down the incline

a group gathers and splits.

Two halves, averse yet balanced.

One pair volatile, 

the source of the sound,

draw a circular path

whilst remaining eye to eye.

A spit, a glancing shove.

The second pair 

feels secluded, private,

despite their proximity.

Leant against a low wall,

I can see they are speaking 

but no sound reaches me.

A fifth figure appears

through the mirrored glass doors,

stooping low and murmuring,

consoling the crying pair.

I am intruding, 

this isn't for me to see.

I cross the expansive boulevard,

I find myself almost returned

into the dead air of this grid town.

Before I disappear 

through the underpass leading uphill

I glance backwards once more.

Above the mirrored doors

large lettering reads County Courts.

Have you seen the film Playtime?

 

There’s a scene within a restaurant 

where they are still constructing it

around the first customers, 

parts fall off, it shows itself as fake, though for a while it is perfectly ordered on the surface.

It feels like that. 

Of course the fight happens

right outside the county court.

 

Chance couldn’t create

a narrative so convenient.

 

I feel like it’s built around me.

No, why?

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Along the stifled boulevards

I move listlessly,

only occasionally roused

by the rush of a passing car

or the slap of sandals 

hurrying along, out of sight.

The lines of cars still border 

each path I walk along,

a stark reminder that

-despite the stillness-

I am surrounded by people.

The absence of streets,

something so mundane

it rarely is of note in itself,

is the most striking difference;

I pass no shops, no cafes,

throughout the afternoon.

Round a sharp corner in the pathway,

leaves, dried to a brittleness

that promised to be satisfying,

lay in heaps, troughs,

gathered, by wind or hand,

and left on this corner.

They block my sight 

until a few steps further

-halting abruptly-

I stand toe to toe with a rat.

Its mottled ash-grey fur

matching the paving stones precisely.

We stood frozen and then

in a gesture of control

the rat relaxed first, began chewing

at some scrap caught deep 

between the slabs.

I retreated and went the other way.

On the furthest side

of a broad crossroads; 

crowds at last. 

I weave around the roads-

 

Exactly; these roads 

that the city moves around,

they’re in control.

Only the slight hills 

suggest any natural contour,

apart from these arcs 

this modular city could be anywhere.

I read expansive papers

on their push to greener travel;

but how to unbalance convenience?

And if the cars went away, 

what then? do the miles of car parks

lining every road and building

It is undoubtably a city built for cars.

lie empty in waiting?

Soon the white lines,

skeletal ribs along the asphalt,

fade and break apart.

The streetlights guarding each edge

fail to come on one day

and never are lit again.

 

I have too, not far from here

 

At the edge of Milton Keynes?

On one side the network of roads,

so ordered at the centre, stops.

The pathways still lead across 

though they end against a fence,

sheets of metal and through the gaps

emptiness. All the way down a valley

till far away, on the furthest shore

I've seen somewhere like this

Perhaps it was the same place?

estates rotate in concentric circles

and parallel lines. Before then?

A vast car park, lost under grasses,

bows of long establish shrubs,

coarse trees, lichen, a yellow crud

encasing unused street lights.

For the rest of the evening,

within the crowds once more,

and through the blank glamour

of refurbished shopping centres

and chain restaurants,

I imagined the city like that.

 

 

 

 

Not yet.

Would you go back?