Smeaton and Ferrier

An extract: From Under A Cloud on Heartbreak Hill: Surviving Universal Credit: Confessions of a Benefits Claimant: a new free digital book by Gary Knapton. Some names have been changed to protect the residents.

Smeaton is on the move.

Down in the concrete subways golden leaves, trampled underfoot from the churchyard by passers-by long since away, fan out and float in shallow pools, bloated. Mostly supine but some prone like the newly risen bodies of drowned people. A branded soda drink plastic wrapper curling into itself like a sleepy child fresh separated from its liquid cylinder mother, rocks lightly in the downdraft of the wind tunnel. Close by, a four-drink coffee house disposable holder sinks in the mulch, the corrugations of its egg-box fabric comb-drenched straight where it submerges. A short blue betting shop pen. A string of unidentifiable scraps of take away food and drink. Probably. 

Manchester United. Sharon Warner Fat Slut. A tudor rose. Dates of birth. Initials. A hip-hop music reference. More football badges and boasts.

The graffiti is, to me, homely and familiar warm. A placeholder against which I consciously index the bookends of each day. Like a garden gate or a lapping dog or a good wife thrusting a packed lunch into my hands whilst wrapping my neck in wool and at the same time kissing it. The letters of each word and symbol emblazoned in crude acrylics and primary colours and a pointed block font with inconsistent Gothic serif. Branded righteous by time and authenticity and the luminous reflected energies of a low flying Autumn sun. To walk here daily is to receive each object sensationally and as modalities without yet relationally within. Quantities and qualities ring-fenced yet threaded in a daisy chain or weaved into a tune. The echo of a brazen catcall. The transcendental aesthetic.

Nobody knows Smeaton’s first name. He is six foot three and walks gingerly to a limp beat rhythm, aided by a stick clutched squarely in his left hand where a brown leather strap wrapped tight around his white knuckles from which the blood flow had scarpered, thus binding him to the prop. Yet I could swear I had seen him running at a pace after dark. In amongst the urban shadows. 

Nobody knows whether he lives on the twelfth, thirteenth or fourteenth floor of the Hill. Whether or not he is sofa-surfing or paying rent. For he is accounted for arriving and departing at the lift doors to all of these floors on most days and nights and seemingly not to a discernible pattern. 

He definitely lives on the block though. Of that there is no doubt. A smart attorney might attest, if push came to shove and willed by a baying jury, that his comings and goings prove nothing more than visitor behaviour. Yet Smeaton lives here. He has that look that we all have after a year or two. Not his attire. The one behind the eyes that betrays a knowledge of the Hill that, were she a lady, would be termed “carnal”. 

So into the labyrinthine structures he goes. His comely bulk diminishing. Eaten by distance. Behind him the pebble dash concrete and sun flecked filthy panes stack up and mesmerise in a gorgeous vertical mindful to me of airport runways. 

Low sun. High-rise. The tower and the saucer. 

This is Heartbreak Hill. 

Ferrier is at least ninety. He is a chain-smoking socialist with an impressive host of ex-wives. He knows absolutely everything. One can only imagine the burgeoning archetype sophistry of the university from which he graduated. How he adorned its reading rooms and courtyards in a world gone by. The cycle racks. The turreted red-brick constellations. The buffeted shiny wax parquet floors.

Mike used to live in Germany and pawns his watch on most Wednesdays to finance the leisurely drinking of cheap port from Iceland at home with his girlfriend Mandy. He’s on the twentieth. He’s a kind and gentle soul. Approaching retirement age and wheezing like the Arctic tundra yet smoking with defiance to the very end. A good soldier. His registered COPD status does not win him a blue badge for his car nor a free bus pass. So confined, he shuffles, most days, around the precinct malls beneath the block with his mate Geoff who thinks he is shortsighted but is in fact blind. As you will attest when he walks into you. Which is always. Geoff, like Mike, is gentlemanly and upbeat. 

Ferrier is a weather-worn sailor safe in his bubble of parted gems and the promise of those kept back. 

Now these three, I see from here, exit the precinct at its western gate and make for the FeedMyCity food van parked outside Mrs Wyatt’s. The wind howls down the Broadway into the deep distance. 

Smeaton, having emerged from Dante’s pass, has already melted into the shimmering blur of the inner city.

An extract: From Under A Cloud on Heartbreak Hill: Surviving Universal Credit: Confessions of a Benefits Claimant: a new free digital book by Gary Knapton. Some names have been changed to protect the residents.

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