Back to the Old House

What do Romulus, the fabled founder of the Eternal City and I have in common? Give up? We were both raised by Wolves. Oh yes, his might have been of the Lupine variety while mine was a knackered West Midlands industrial town, but they’re one and the same don’t you know?

When I was 19, I had the notion I was withering away to nothing, and made the rather spur of the moment decision to apply for a university course. I ended up enrolling at the University of Wolverhampton for two reasons; one was that my good friend Kris was already there, and I could therefore count on one face I knew, and secondly I was able to pick a mixed-module course. I’d been unable to decide whether I wanted to study English literature or Photography, and Wolves’ approach of “hey, fuck it! Do whatever you like man!” let me major in the latter and still keep my hand in at the latter.

As September 2000 approached, it became apparent I’d been billeted in the University’s Dudley campus (where the English base was) and not Wolverhampton itself (where photography was located). I’ve still never got to the bottom of why this should happen, but I know it happened to one person in the year above and the year below.

This meant I spent my first two years at University living in the even more knackered West Midlands industrial town of Dudley, which had its positives and its negatives. It was five or six miles away from the School of Art & Design, where most of my lectures were based, requiring an hour and a half round trip three times a week. I could never work out why it took so bloody long to make such a short trip, but I guess it’s just one of those things.

At the end of my second year, Dudley campus was shut down by the University, and we were all transferred to the main Wolverhampton campus. What followed was possibly the happiest nine months of my life. It was truly idyllic. It ended up going horrifically wrong, but it was wonderful while it lasted.

Here’s a photograph of me in May 2003, just before it did go all pear-shaped. I was genuinely happy then.

Anyway, shortly after this I passed my driving test and then a year further on I finally completed my degree. The rest is history.

And now the archaeology.

For the last few years I’ve been posting on a forum called Forever Delayed. I’ve made a few good friends there (Jeanette, Tim and Hamilton Kev), but I’d taken a break from posting over the last eight months or so, partly to concentrate on college work and partly because I’d grown a little tired of the place. I resumed posting around a month ago, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a somewhat last-minute invitation to her twentieth anniversary renewal of wedding vows by Finn, one of the board’s…well, the matriarch I suppose. I was delighted to accept, especially as the ceremony was to take place in Finn’s home town of…Wolverhampton. I was returning to my home-from-home.

Of course, nothing in my life goes smoothly. I got a room in the hotel where the renewals were taking place, but they charged me double (Finn sorted that for me). Virgin were playing equally dumb when I enquired about purchasing a train ticket from them. There’s something about the rail infrastructure in this country that is not unlike a Mason attempting to board the Hogwarts Express through hand gestures alone. I bought the tickets online. They were cheap, but the drawback was my train down left Glasgow at 4:30. In the morning.

By a happy coincidence, my mother happened to be starting work at 4am, so I cadged a lift. Trouble was, she dropped me off at 3:30am and the station didn’t open for another half hour, so I had to brave the dregs of Glasgow’s inebriated Friday night revellers as they ate chips, pissed in the gutter and argued with policemen. Fortunately, once aboard the train, everything went smoothly. I read my book: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and grabbed seven or so winks.

There’s not a great deal to do in Wolverhampton at that time in the morning. To be frank, there’s not a great deal to do in Wolverhampton at any time. I wandered around the Mander centre and read a little bit more of Cloud Atlas in the little garden in front of St. Peter’s cathedral. I walked down to West Park and strolled and watched the organic, haphazard games of football that break out before reading a little more of the book. Thankfully Tim texted to rescue me from this litany of mundanity, and the two of us repaired to the hotel.

Jump cut here.

Everything goes a little fuzzy. I have a headache. I can’t sleep in the two hours I have between checking into the room and the ceremony starting. I get a text from Kevin and meet him in West Park to give he and Rachael directions to the hotel. I pick up Ibuprofen and toothpaste from the corner shop on the way back.

Another cut. I shower, shave and dress, and before I know it, it’s four o’clock, and I’m getting messages asking if I’ve fallen asleep.

The Ceremony.

I sit with Rachael, Kevin, Jeanette and Tim near the back. A wonderful choir sings ‘May It Be’, from the Lord of the Rings, and later, ‘Hallelujah’. It’s a touching, funny, and perhaps a little surprisingly religious affair. When the beaming couple do renew their vows, we can’t quite hear the words, but we hear the laughter. It’s as it should be, but so often isn’t.

The Food.

Oh, there was a lot of food. And I ate some of it. But then there was…

Everything after.

From eight o’clock through to one those of us that posted on FD socialised mainly among ourselves, and mostly in the car park, where the smokers could disease themselves further. I’m not sure what topics we all conversed about, but I know football didn’t come up at all between Rachael, Kevin and I. Somewhat ashamedly, I let my shyness best me once again, aided by my observing temperance at the moment (seven months on Sunday), and I stuck to the four people I knew and trusted best. It wasn’t until Rachael and Kevin departed that I came out of my shell a little. Those of us staying in the hotel eventually drifted away from the dance floor at 1am, when they turned the houselights up. Shortly afterwards, someone was knocked down on the street outside my room. I just pulled my duvet over me. This kind of thing happened all the time in Wolverhampton.

Day Two

Sunday morning arrived in a haze of drizzle. I showered and checked out at 9:45am, and made my way, via my two former residences in the city, to the Remus to Wolves’ Romulus, Dudley. I caught, as tradition dictates, a 558 bus, which trundled its way through Sedgley and Gornal and past the Beacon Home for the Blind, which always reminds me of ‘Last of the Gang to Die’ by Morrissey, before reaching the old university campus itself.

Former house 1: (2002-2003)

Former house 2: (2003-2004)

Half of it hasn’t changed much, other than grow even more dilapidated. The two small towers of rooms remain, as does the annexe of kitchens between them. However, the admin buildings, the refectory, the union/sports and the library have all been demolished, with housing built in their stead. I shot some photos before a security guard, employed presumably by the town’s college, who now own the premises, asked me in so many words if I wouldn’t mind fucking off. So I did. I walked into Dudley town centre, and the only difference I could see in five years was that the Litten Tree pub was now a post office.

(This is the tower block across the road from Dudley campus. I stared at this building over a two year period. I voted in a general election in its lobby. But it was only last year I found out that it’s featured in the gatefold sleeve of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. Astonishing.)

So I caught the bus back to Wolverhampton, and went to the cinema near New Cross hospital, where I watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was a fair enough film. Visually, I think it’s fantastic, but I just can’t get into the plot, perhaps because I’ve read the books.

Back into the city centre for some dinner. I’d rather daftly booked a ticket for the 7:30pm train back to Glasgow, thinking there might have been some hi-jinks on the Sunday. I’d backed a lame duck there. I ate in the Varsity and saw at least three faces I recognised, although they didn’t seem to have the faintest idea who I was. I read my book in the station’s waiting room as the rain intensified, smashed against the glazing and gained slow ingress through a faulty skylight.

Boarding my train, I found someone in my seat. Or at least the seat my e-ticket said was mine. I didn’t make a fuss though, mainly because I’m pathologically incapable of doing so. I went to stand in the little ante-room train carriages have at each end when the inspector/train manager passed me. “Don’t want to sit in your seat?” she asked. “There’s someone in it,” I told her. Indeed, my seat was the window seat, and both it and the aisle seat were occupied. She stuck her head round the door and had a look, before coming back and gesturing for me to sit in the next carriage. Which was first class.

Now that isn’t as great as it sounds. On British trains, first class is a bit quieter and there’s a bit more room, otherwise not much difference at all. But I was able to finish Cloud Atlas in peace. And I have to say I rather enjoyed it. The book that is.

The train rolled into Glasgow at 23:30, and I thought I’d arranged for my mother to meet me, reasoning that a tenner’s worth of petrol is better than twenty quid’s worth of taxi. She had other ideas and didn’t turn up. Taxi it was…