On a wing and a prayer
The fly-through on my travel app will take me to the stars, beyond skies cross-hatched with flight paths and pigeon fanciers’ dreams. In the world outside, the sun jousts with gathering clouds on a late winter’s afternoon, my vista constantly in flux. I’m on a train to Metrocentre, a shopping megalopolis between the railway and A1 bypass in Gateshead. Previously a power station surrounded by waterlogged ash heaps, it is now Europe’s biggest retail park, occupying a newly translated landscape on the edge of town. The Church Commissioners were its former custodians, laying claim to a latter day faith in masterplans and stock keeping units. No vaulted spires here, these buildings hug the ground.
The train passes through Dunston where ramshackle terraces of pigeon coops beside the track contrast with the perfectly fabricated emporium ahead. Eight minutes out from Newcastle Central illuminated signs announce our arrival at intu Metrocentre, upper and lower case characters on a collision course. There’s scant passenger comfort apart from CCTV and a lost property counter. The glazed footbridge leads to the malls designed to cater for our worldly needs. Along the way sculptured figures celebrate a history of shopping, and I imagine Northumbrian saints gesturing in obeisance. I walk among strangers, breaking step to disrupt foot flow and fall.
The past is at our heels, inescapably shadowing the present. Tell me Nick, did you know back then you were just getting through? No Starsailor in a world too difficult to negotiate? In a place like this where thousands of individual journeys converge at any given moment, how can we know one another in the light of what we are no longer, or through the legacy of a song? We continue on our quest in case a chance encounter or fragments of a recollected melody can change our outlook or our lives.
It’s Friday evening, and the air is heavy with anticipation of the weekend. I decide to leave, taking the train back over the river to Newcastle. A full moon ascends clear-cut over the horizon, its luminescence competing with the gaudy neon. My train leaves as night falls, the shantytowns of pigeon lofts still visible in the fading light. Their builders are a throwback to the days of collieries, pits and ash tips, their enthusiasm for birds in flight bringing a consolation of sorts. In the darkening distance railway lines, roads and river merge into a landscape where no soul can be seen. I think of those birds free to fly where they will and their innate sense of home.