Somewhere in the suburbs of Coventry
By Alan Russell
When you have been travelling and working with the same people away from home for a few days you begin to crave some space to yourself but not necessarily holed up in a lonely hotel room trying to watch TV or read. You just want to venture out and see something of the area you are staying in even if it is cold outside.
I think we had been based in Coventry for two days already and so after dinner I did venture out for a walk and an explore. As I came out of the hotel grounds and on to a main road I had the choice of turning left heading back towards the city centre or turning right and going towards what, I was not quite sure.
My walk took me past a small corner shop that doubled up as a post office. It was still open at eight in the evening. Next to it was a fish and chip shop that inside was as bright as an operating theatre under naked fluorescent lights. By the time the light had penetrated the steamed up windows it cast a moon like glow on the pavement in front of the shop. Shadowy silhouettes of people shuffled along a queue, collected their orders and stumbled out of the light into the darkness with their bags of vinegar saturated and salt encrusted dinner.
The main road was busy with buses and cars. There were pedestrians walking past me from behind and coming towards from the front. Those coming towards me all had their faces cast down to the pavement. No one coming towards me looked up to see if the path was clear. They had chosen their line and were going to stick to it from home to destination. Even the cyclist on the path had his head down as he rode along his chosen path. I had to take half a step to one side to avoid being run over and there was no acknowledgement that I had made way for him. Perhaps they all knew I was a stranger and that I had no right to be acknowledged until I had been in the area for at least a year.
I walked towards a cluster of bright lights thinking it might be a shopping centre but like a lost soul in the desert seeing a mirage of an oasis I was fooled. It was a group of car dealerships. I didn’t even bother walking closer to find out what brands they were selling so I headed back to the hotel. Now I knew why people had been walking towards me with their heads down. What had been a tail wind was now a head wind and it was bitingly cold. I put my head down and continued walking without looking up at people walking towards me and sticking to my chosen path.
Off to my left was a narrow residential road that was strewn with vehicles parked half on and half off of the pavements. No vehicle had been left fully committed to the road or the pavement. Between the vans and cars, wedged against fence posts, gates and hedges were the ubiquitous wheelie bins standing sentinel over limits of personal territory. The whole route down this particular road was an obstacle course past houses, blocks of maisonettes and flats.
Ground floor rooms were lit. Some with single bulb lights in the centre of the ceiling while a few others had floor standing lights. All of these rooms looked cluttered and crowded. Piles of laundry waiting by ironing boards, boxes and toys all of which were being entertained by televisions. Strangely enough, there was no one in any of these rooms watching them. Perhaps they were too crowded.
One room had no lights on and curtains were being sucked out of the window by the wind. As I walked past I could see the tell-tale red glow of a cigarette dragging a hand behind as it flicked ash off the end into the wind. A couple of steps further on I picked up a sweet aroma that was not Rothmans, JPS or Marlborough. That’s why you were smoking in a darkened room with an open window. I expect you were meant to be doing your homework or had told Mum and Dad ‘I’m a bit tired tonight, I’ll go to bed early’.
My route continued along this street and curved back towards the main road the hotel was located on. I eventually came across a couple of more shops side by side in a semidetached embrace. One of them was brightly lit and through the windows as I walked by all I could see were rows and shelves of drinks, not just alcohol but soft drinks as well. The other shop was glass fronted but the glass windows had been plastered with advertising posters stopping nearly all the light escaping outwards. At the corner of this shop were a couple of shadowy figures lingering in the murky dark just standing there doing nothing. One of them was a teenager the other a jack russell.
The hotel was only five more minutes away and I was glad to step through the baronial door into the warmth of the bar and reception area. My glasses steamed up so even if one of my colleagues was in the bar I never would have seen them through the myopic mist clouding my vision. By the time I got back to my room my glasses were clear. I flicked through the multiple TV channels and decided to watch a programme on BBC2 about space. There was section in this programme on swimming pigs whose relevance to space I could not quite grasp. Perhaps I had inhaled a bit too much as I went through the housing estate? I definitely fell asleep watching the swimming pigs and woke up well past midnight watching a U2 concert. It took me a couple of seconds to realise that U2 were not on the same programme about physics as the swimming pigs.
This was one of those nights I really loathed being away from home.