A Cycling Proficiency badge sits propped up by a piece of blu-tack on a desk in the attic, facing me as I work. It symbolises a compartmentalised achievement. I also have the certificate, issued in 1971. When my daughter was doing her own Cycling Proficiency test about eight years ago, I rummaged around trying to find my own badge, but could not. Only the certificate could be located. We had no filing system for badges. It’s probably lodged somewhere between a skirting board and a floorboard, a way marker for spiders. So, I eBayed Cycling Proficiency badges of the type issued in 1971, got one for a pound, and fixed it in a prominent position as a reminder of something I’d done right. I did it on a drop handle-bar bike that was too big for me, on a series of Saturday afternoons in the playground of Broad Oak County Primary School, East Didsbury, Manchester. Last time I looked at that school it was little changed apart from the addition of a couple of new buildings. On the website I can see that the exterior of the main building has not changed at all.
Structures are not just bricks and mortar. They carry the energies of those who have shaped them to their domestic, public and corporate needs, and those energies seep into internal space long after their generators are dead: a laptop jacking invisibly into a hive consciousness a couple of yards away from where the kitchen stove would have been most intense, when fuel was available, contaminating the laptop keyboard with soot most likely; a plastic vent covering the boarded off kitchen chimney, the soot cold for many decades, hiding a hole created recently so that birds who fall down the chimney can be released; fifty yards round the corner a faded painted sign advertising a clog repair shop; a few miles out on the way back from the M62 that bridge with the Schweppes Table Waters advert painted on it, the movie you’d just seen off junction 27 still playing itself out in your head. A few thousand times I have passed the old Illingworth jail on my way to and from work. Each time there have been no prisoners in it and the stocks have been empty, but the bars on the glassless windows, and the inscription above them, remain. Somewhere between the joists below the floorboards there may be loose change unconsciously discarded by the last resident to sleep off his audacity in the care of the local constable.
Buildings need repair and modification. Each change re-channels the energies of the original creator. Impromptu patching will never do for more than a couple of days though. In the end it will burst again. The pressure will find a way out. Sometimes it’s necessary to strip it all back to its fundamental structures and live in a bare empty space until you get back in touch with what you need and what you are capable of sustaining. The energies will find new routes. The blue screen that in the end you were beginning to find actually quite peaceful will be replaced by a programme schedule, and connections made by first tentative touch will become relationships.