Durham Cathedral


THE MAN:        Walk with us

Through this city

That stretches the river, languid and pleased, whilst dog-walking rowers and strolling athletes are ignored by those waters that meander indifferent to the running and kissing that fills the air with longed-for wishes.

That Sunday walks beneath cathedral and castle, holding hands with ideas that spill from wine glasses, in colleges and common rooms where even the canapes comment with clarity on this and that and sometimes the other.

THE WOMAN:      That rumbles with blokes full of beer and kebab, full of hell at that history that mugged them too often and left
them bleeding for brass bands to step over as they march banners of sentiment that flutter with myth before playing “Gresford” the coal-black anthem for that shit life they led and the shit life they live.

Now it strides across bridges

And cobbles up hills

Where coffee shops, tea rooms, crowd the pavements,

Homes for lost gossip of

“How is your mother” and “well I never”


“He didn’t,

She shouldn’t

He couldn’t

She would”

THE MAN:        Where tears struggle to understand the question and stare at the lap-top that has no magic answers and stare at the textbook that cost a small fortune and stare at the notes not understood and stare at infinity that peers through the window and stares straight at you mouthing words you’re desperate to hear and when you do you wish you hadn’t.

THE WOMAN:      On this summer morning in this everyday city walk with me up Saddler Street to Palace Green where Tommy Taproom, his morning constitution now nicely breathless, sits on a bench outside the library, the castle to his left the cathedral to his right, and thinks of his city

That once dressed in smoke from a thousand coal fires,

That bustled through shops now gone and forgotten,

Buying bits and bobs, some nice ham for tea,

THE MAN:        When the gown was discrete and the town knew its place.

THE WOMAN:      When a Councillor was a man with a waistcoat belly

Whispering deals

Over dark beer and tabs

In the smoke room, the back room, the bar and the snug

Servant of the people, Friend of the party, Builder’s mate,

Any builder.

THE MAN:        Who grew to sharp suits and went to the gym,

Whispering deals

Over merlot and sushi,

In the latest homage to Canary Wharf living

Servant of the people, Friend of the party, Builder’s mate,

Any builder; if they cross your palm with a silver-tongued promise.

THE WOMAN:      And all this happened watched by Cathedral and Castle who, thanks to their betters, were stripped of their history and costumed in heritage, finery for photos, framed for the tourist. They urge to tumble and chase down the bank through the trees to splash in the water, but now wait on the hill like a ten year old boy, ear-washed and sullen, for

MAM:            Aunty Joyce is coming to tea, our Kevin, so you can’t play out or hide in your chat-room.

KEVIN:          Aw, mam!

THE MAN:        As the hymn to the morning sings to the homeless Tommy Taproom takes his stick

TOMMY:          And I walk downhill to buy my paper and sit in my café with a bacon sandwich smothered in sauce with a coffee that’s proper not this latte mocha expresso flavoured shot of posh.

THE MAN:        From his seat by the window he can see

THE WOMAN:      A gaggle of voices huddle out the bus station,

To hither and thither to that place and this, where e-mails and memos will breed like rabbits, where minutes are taken and hours are wasted, crowding corridors with things to be done that have to be done when all’s said and done.

THE MAN:        Voices that mumble and chatter, mobile-phone natter across Framwellgate Bridge, ignoring the river that does nothing of note but floats round the city, heading for Roker and a day by the sea.

THE WOMAN:      For Our Carol it’s a train to Newcastle, so it’s up to the station with a walk to do her good though her skirt is too tight, too short, too long. She wasn’t going to wear it but her Better-Self insisted and now whispers beside her

BETTER SELF:    Look your best, look your best

THE WOMAN:      To the clip-clop rhythm of her heels that are killing as she climbs to the station her Better-Self chiding, well you know what she’s like.

THE MAN:        Her mam does. Her mam who waits at the ticket machine, quilted housecoat tugged tight over bosom, to make sure her youngest, she’s always been a worry, buys the right ticket. Our Carol stands in the queue, dead mam to one side, Better-Self to the other, guardian angels voicing advice as she shuffles forward

BETTER SELF:    Day return. Standard class. That’s the ticket”

OUR CAROL:      I know what I’m doing

QUILTED MAM:    I wouldn’t pay by card, well you just never know

OUR CAROL:      I know what I’m doing

QUILTED MAM:    You’ll be there far too early we know these things

OUR CAROL:      I know what I’m doing

THE MAN:        And she picks up her ticket and walks to the north side, Better-Self and mam leaving her to it.

OUR CAROL:      I’m 42, a mother of two, alright I’m divorced, but I can look after meself.

QUILTED MAM:    That’s what you think

THE WOMAN:      But no one is listening to Quilted Mam; they’ve not done for years. Except for Our Carol who has no bloody choice

THE MAN:        Our Carol looks across to the other platform where

THE WOMAN:      Paul stares back but she does not see him.

You can see him, can’t you?

THE MAN:        I can. I can see Paul. That’s Potbelly Paul waiting for a train as the wind whips a shower through the gathering of voices that now huddle for shelter on this Durham summer morning. Suitcases packed with goings away, briefcases full of self-importance, Paul waits for his day in York with his friend from Newcastle to do nothing in particular which they’ll both enjoy

THE WOMAN:      Can you see the lights of the train approaching?

THE MAN:        I can. I can see the lights of the train approaching

THE WOMAN:      Paul can. He sips his caramel latte and thinks of stepping back to let the luggage drag their owners into the best position to crush through the door for that satisfying seat.

Did you feel that?

Paul did.

It was a prickle, a tingle, a feeling.

Then a whisper that’s just out of reach.

THE WHISPER:    You should jump under this train.

POTBELLY PAUL:  No, I don’t think so. That’s not a good idea

THE MAN:        See Paul move away.

THE WOMAN:      See the whisper follow

THE WHISPER:    Jump, jump, jump

THE MAN:        Eventually

THE WOMAN:      He snaps with a hiss

POTBELLY PAUL:  Leave me alone

THE MAN:        And there is silence.

The train arrives.

The Whisper boards.

Paul doesn’t.

His friend looks towards him

THE WOMAN:      And wonders why

THE MAN:        Paul looks back

THE WOMAN:      He knows why

As the train draws away Paul steps back through the barrier while his friend from Newcastle looks out of the window resigned once again to being Paul’s friend, unaware when The Whisper takes the seat next to him.

THE WHISPER:    I’ll be your friend. We can go to York Minster and the Railway Museum, stroll through the shambles and take tea at Betty’s.

THE WOMAN:      But Newcastle Friend takes out his iphone

Messages Paul to see how he is

Closes his eyes

Dozes through Darlo

Where the whisper gets off because it’s never liked York

THE MAN:        In the comings and goings of a summer’s day Potbelly Paul walks down to the town, while Our Carol, jostled by elbows of texting and bodies still sleeping, converses with her inner voice that she doesn’t hear often what with her Quilted Mam and her Better-Self, dripping advice with the best of intentions. And her inner voice; what does it say? It asks her the questions that the interviewer will ask

INTERVIEWER:    So what qualities will you bring to the post?

THE MAN:        And she answers in silence with her lips always moving.

THE WOMAN:      Tommy in his café, finishing his crossword, wonders should he bus-pass to the Arnison Centre for a little look out, where Danny Goodman is now parking his car just outside Sainsbury’s before work. A little bit of shopping; it won’t take long.

ACQUAINTANCE:   Dan? How you doing?

THE WOMAN:      He used to live two doors down from Danny until his kids flew the nest and he downsized to contentment. They exchange the pleasantries of neighbours-no-more who were never great friends but rubbed along over kids and dogs.

ACQUAINTANCE:   How’s Jessica? It is Jessica? She still with you?

THE WOMAN:      Danny affirms that she is.

 ACQUAINTANCE:   And is she still?

THE WOMAN:      Danny affirms that she is.

ACQUAINTANCE:   I take my hat off to you

THE WOMAN:      Danny waits for him to take his hat off but as he’s not wearing one he can’t but if he was wearing a hat he would because he’s that sort of man.

 ACQUAINTANCE:   I couldn’t do it, Dan. I couldn’t do what you do. I was saying to the wife I couldn’t. We couldn’t. Me and the wife. We were saying. Hard enough if it’s your own but when it’s, you know. How old is she now? 14?

THE WOMAN:      Danny affirms that Jessica is 14.

 ACQUAINTANCE:   Time flies

THE WOMAN:      And in the safety of platitudes they pass the minutes of politeness until that relieved goodbye with an empty promise to have a pint so give us a ring you’ve got my number.

Danny watches him go and still can’t remember his name but he knows that when whoever he is gets home he’s bound to tell his wife that he bumped into Dan, remember him, with the foster Daughter Jessica, remember her, who is still

Jessica is never still.

She never shuts up, never stops talking, the spate of words to drown the voices that huddle her head and jostle each other like Black Friday shoppers elbowing for stuff they don’t really need.

Her every day is a Black Friday stream of scratched shouting and acid asides that corrode until sleep stumbles her to a peace at last and Danny sits quiet, him and his missus, a single malt at the kitchen table.

Where do the voices go when Jessica sleeps?

They recycle nightmares from scraps of fear (for the bastards want to save the planet) and dismantle tomorrow, brick by brick, ready for the riot the alarm clock brings when Danny drinks coffee as Jessica’s voices surge through her body to squat like gargoyles behind her eyes with their balaclava laughing and malice in their hands.

Danny goes to work. There’s nothing else he can do.

Danny goes to work where customers and colleagues exchange the day in pennies and pounds with voices that tumble words to confirm we’re human and not alone.

Voices, eh? Who’d be without them?

THE MAN:        Well Karen would

As the thoughtless sun

Pokes through her curtains

With a constellation of weirdness

That thuds her heart

Turns over sensations

Bringing a distant sound

To fill the room with a muffled hum

That she can see.

And the music

A 12-bar woke up this morning

A Monteverdi with no warning

The lost chord suddenly found

Capital Radio now turned down

To let the voices in

BABBLE:         You’re a fucking stupid bitch.

You should kill yourself.

Who would miss you?

Nobody would.

THE MAN:        Who let the voices in?

THE SUN:        Me, me, I did, me

THE MAN:        Said the Thoughtless Sun

KAREN:          And what will you do?

THE SUN:        Oh Karen, Karen, I’ll tell you what I’ll do

I’ll cut you and slice you

I’ll burn you and bruise you

Unless you’ve got the guts to go and do it first.

KAREN:         Why? Why?

THE SUN:        Let me tell you why.

You’re worthless, ugly, you should be raped.

But you’re worthless and ugly so who would rape you?

Everyone hates you

You’re best friend hates you

All those who love you

They really, really, hate you

THE MAN:        A summer morning

The sun shines.

It’s good to be alive

Have a nice day


THE WOMAN:      At Newcastle Central station

Crowds crush commuters through barriers

Spewing Our Carol onto the concourse

Far too early, far too early.

With her Boa Constrictor skirt and killer heels now psychopathic

She wonders if a cup of tea

Would taunt her later with the urge to pee

When a crucial question’s asked

QUILTED MAM:    I said you’d be early

BETTER SELF:    It gives her time to prepare

THE WOMAN:      They sit down together in a bijou café close to the building where her future awaits. Our Carol orders tea and a teacake and let’s Quilted Mam hold her hand like she used to and let Better-Self tell her she’s good, so very, very good while Karen searches through her wardrobe looking for a dress that her Better-Self would approve of, if her Better-Self ever bothered to come back home.

Note – back to Paul and Tommy

THE MAN        Very hilly. People say that. Describe the city you say and it’s hilly they say and on Affluence Hill with layered houses of professional purpose and terraced gardens that chase out of back doors onto the “shall we dine alfresco?” patios, lives Dr Longsight. He is a good man of some fifty years, now walking into his study where books wallpaper walls, where he shuffles the sunlit papers on his desk, muttering

DR LONGSIGHT:   It’s somewhere. It must be. It’s somewhere

THE MAN:        In the kitchen Mrs Longsight, in her dressing gown of frustration, looks at fruit juice and bran flakes and dreams of her sailor who

SAILOR:         I shared a pipe with the southern wind and we swopped tales of the Roaring Forties

THE MAN:        He’s now becalmed in her Sargasso memory waiting for a wind that will blow him back. To love her like he did; just the once but a once that was often.

Dr Longsight, in his study, calls to Mrs Longsight

DR LONGSIGHT:   Where did I put it, dear?

MRS LONGSIGHT:  Where did you put what, darling?

DR LONGSIGHT:   You know



MRS LONGSIGHT:  Could it be at the clinic?

DR LONGSIGHT:   It could be

MRS LONGSIGHT:  Well let’s hope it is

THE MAN:        I couldn’t care less she whispers to her coffee as she stares out of the window at sunlight like sunlight in Tobermory when her sailor walked in to the crowded Mishnish bar long, long ago. So long ago it feels like yesterday.

Dr Longsight shouts from the hallway

DR LONGSIGHT:   I’m off now, dear

MRS LONGSIGHT:  Have a good day, darling


THE MAN:        Closing the front door behind him, he walks down the hill towards the station and thinks of Ewan, ten years old, who told him last time, with child eyes searching,

EWAN:           The voices belong to children. They’re scared. They scream “help” some of the time but most of the time they just boss me around.

DR LONGSIGHT:   When do you hear them, Ewan?

EWAN:           When they speak

DR LONGSIGHT:   When did they begin?

EWAN:           When they started

DR LONGSIGHT:   And how do you feel, Ewan?

EWAN:           Lonely.

DR LONGSIGHT:   And why do you feel lonely?

EWAN:           Cos I had an imaginary friend but the voices chased her away.

SHIP RADIO: Clyde Coastguard. This is Clyde Coastguard.

THE MAN:        Voice on the Airwaves, the fisherman’s friend

SHIP RADIO:     This is the forecast for inshore waters at 15.00 hours

THE MAN:        Mrs Longsight and her salt-scented Ahab hear no voices as they surge a Force Five swell, sea-dreamed and laughing in his bunk down below.

That was a time; that once that was often.


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