Lost Bus Routes and Pre-Election Reflections

Lost bus routes.

Crofton

119 (2)

P1030483“We drive down from Wakefield centre towards Crofton on a pleasant Thursday teatime, the time of the optimist if ever there is such a time. The road into Crofton provokes many memories for Michael. A perfectly sized-rape seed-covered hill that became terrain for (old skool)Doctor Who-provoked nightmare-scenarios; catching a bus all the way to Leeds; a ten pence bus ride to Wakefield centre. Memories of growing up here. We pass by a series of ‘Vote Labour’  placards, in contrast to the more countrified nearby village of West Bretton that is drenched in big, and no-doubt costly, ‘Vote Conservative’ placards. I am worried that size sometimes makes a difference.”

“1960’s (70’s?) small shopping/flats complex [a similar complex in nearby Outwood]. It is now part-derelict, and facing fenced off wasteland where a pub used to stand. Such complex’s intrigue me, evoking an urbanity of a Lost British City, introduced into these proletarian outcrops sticking out of farmland – known as former mining communities.”

“Cutting through large playing fields around the back of a council estate, a familiar experience to people born into the 2nd half of the 20th century all around the UK. Massive Gardens. One of the gardens is fenceless, merging with the field, something once quite common but now almost unthinkable. The smell of freshly cut grass, young people hanging out on a warmish Spring evening. It brings back memories of another life; a mixture of my own memories and no doubt those of my parents’ generation. This memory of council estates is far from an unpleasant one, and is far from being in line with the contemporary narrative of them. Fond memories, of world that seems to have only half-vanished do much to counter the negative, and (of course) ‘undesirable’ ‘un-aspirational’ press that council estates get. Which makes me realise that this story isn’t time immemorial. We walk towards some newer, yet never-finished, private, aspirational hovels –  no doubt casualties of 2008. They remind Michael that he hasn’t stepped foot down here for gone 30 years.”

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“As I catch my breath walking up an unusually steep suburban street [Wakefield is by and large ‘flatter’ than other West Riding towns], a long-lost vitality seems to be knocking loudly at the inner walls of the half dead person I have become. I know why this is. Yeah, this election doesn’t really offer much; but the unusually-high level of uncertainty regarding the outcome has conjured an emotional fidelity to the chance of a different kind of society, one where I can look to the future again. This feeling of vitality, like a plant that only flowers once a generation, is checking the atmosphere to see if it could become suitable. In this moment I recognise just how closely tied my chances of a better life are linked to the chances of there being a better world. It was certainly not planned, but emotional stakes place on the election result seem to have grown higher over the course of this day.”P1030500“After about an hour, we get back into the car and travel towards similar villages on the South and West Yorkshire border. Between the villages of Ryhill and Cold Hiendley, on these windy old lanes that link up all these former mining communities. Why, after 20+ years since all the spoil heaps and slurry pits greened over, hiding the near past, do many of us still feel the urge to say “this landscape’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Maybe it constantly feels like it needs to be restated due to the nature of mining communities; they are unique amongst other former working class strongholds, because they are a proletarianised workforce cut off in the middle of fields, whilst the politics and ownership of the ‘green and pleasant’ ocean they are lumbered in hasn’t really changed since feudal times. This became all the more absurd once the pits went, making the mining communities look like somebody had literally taken a knife and sliced a few rows of houses out of the city of Manchester and chucked it into a field. The opposing interests in close proximity around here has become all the more apparent again since the political placards appeared.”

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Lost Bus Routes. Mapplewell, Darton, Kexbrough. 7 May

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“This Thursday evening still feels young as we arrive in Staincross, still under daylight. Memories of May 2000, on the day we left school. Walking through this pathway of gnarled Oak trees, towards an old quarry nicknamed ‘the plantings’, which mimics a mountain top’s rocky outcrop vantage point over the surrounding landscape. All of these things, alongside painted graffiti-covering of the rocks, some of which date back at least to the early 1970’s , well, all of these things are that which the social conditioning of high school, which we were all secretly desperate to escape by then, had blinkered-me-through-fear from even contemplating, never mind discussing, on these obligatory school ending piss-ups that took place up here. Caught between schooled uniformity and anxieties that were too much in their infancy to realise their causation, I vividly remember throwing a full crate of Fosters lager, can by can, into the bushes when my friends were not looking, whilst walking down this very path. Today it would have been the opposite. Maybe I knew my psychological limits better back then…”

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“We walk back down the hill towards New Road, still in Staincross. Recollections of the long-gone 235 and 391 Yorkshire Traction buses taking me back from college in the infant years of a new millennium too young figure what it was yet. Fond memories of getting time on this somewhat longer journey homewards to let new music saturate a still-maintained-happy-ending-outlook. As I waded through cassettes, zoned out from the social world, in the days before we were all lost to our Ipods. A calm point before the storms. I’m speaking of late 2001 here, and if the world momentarily stopped in the wake of 9/11, so too did my anxieties in a brief moment of art college-enabled reflection.”

I lead us towards Valley Road [Mapplewell] for a very specific reason. My most lasting memory of the 1997 New Labour general election landslide plays itself out on this road. Aged 13, myself and my school friends took advantage of the general election-instigated inset day to go on a bike ride up to nearby area of Woolley on what I recall as a gloriously sunny Spring day. Having just purchased plentiful icepops from the now ‘all-propertied-up’ corner shop, we laughed at the seeming absurdity of somebody driving around in car shouting ‘vote Labour’ from a megaphone, when the election had been decided last night. Today, in hindsight, it doesn’t seem so absurd, looking back on what can now be seen as ‘the mood of the mid-nineties’, which New Labour rode. Utterly different to what was really happening back then, was this feverish spirit; a conviction that these were ‘good times’. After catching the back end of the Britpop virus, I was far too unclued-up and optimistic not to be swept a long. What, with Oasis, The Prodigy, Pulp, and later The Verve, it truly felt like the working class were back in charge, after what seemed like an awful 80’s. How bitterly wrong this sense of things proved to be. The mood on Valley Road is different now. A huge Union Jack moves in the very calm air, in the garden in a housing block of ‘good intentions’, built in the 1930’s to move people from the slums, betrayed by the past few decades. Will there be cause for celebration tomorrow? It’s funny how you never see any joy or celebration when the Tories win power.”

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“We park up in an area that used to be called ‘Darton West’, get out and walk up towards the recreation ground in Kexborough, which is across from the 1970’s-built cul-de-sac – the only place I still know as ‘home’. Yet on returning it doesn’t quite feel like home anymore. Yet I do feel quite emotional as we approach the first block of council houses to go up in Kexbrough for the miners in the 1930’s. It’s different now, as when I lived here I left and entered the place with ASAP-speed, with the notion of home then being too caught up with my fears of falling into dangerously depressive states. But now I see it as I remember it before all that shit; as it felt when I was a child. The rows of 1930’s/1940’s houses, they are still here; they exist. They exist in their own right just as much as any yuppie tower blocks are doing right now in some place elsewhere.”

“Michael picks up on the clear divide that constitutes the area I grew up in. One road literally slices the Kexbrough/Darton area into 2 separate places; one of council houses built for workers in the long-gone industries, the other a more aspirational, commuter estate, built up after the opening of the M1 motorway that slices through here. The two sides of the village have never really interacted. Yet there’s a divide even in the commuter-built area; between large detached houses with sandstone fronts (for managers, lawyers, doctors, headteachers?) and the oddly-named Roman Road area, where smaller brick-fronted detached houses cluster slightly more heavily. I can’t explain why it is called Roman Road, but it has changed much since I was young. Like everywhere really. There was the 391 Yorkshire Traction bus that came along here, an hair salon called Caesars, now just another house, and many children playing out on the street. Now there is nothing but passing cars, straggling dog walkers [the only acceptable walker in a car-dominated and paranoid estates], and us, looking weird now the sun is going down.”

P1030522“As we head back north towards West Yorkshire we drive past the large door making factory at the bottom of this hill, where a pit yard once was. Acknowledging it in my vision produces a knot in my stomach, and a poker-faced defiance against a slow sliding down toward even worse work and pay conditions, for those (like myself) caught in the headlights between 40hr-working-week dependency, and a sheer lack of job-hunting guile. “I hear […this factory] treats its staff like utter shit”. Michael responds by talking about stories of fist-fights on the factory floor borne out of misdirected misery and frustration. We don’t even need to confirm to each other our sheer disagreement with working conditions having to be this way.”

“The mood of earlier has certainly dissipated, and there is a shared silence confirming that this day is done for as we part company in Wakefield centre.  The updates about early signs of a Tory election victory begin to come through, there’s no hiding from it.”

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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