Thursday, February 02, 2012

MERCY - a dark tale of loss by João Paulo Simões

M E R CY is an independent film written and directed by João Paulo Simões.
It explores the notions of family and identity through the brief encounter between two women.
This unforgiving tale retains its ambiguity until the very last frame of the film.

Let's get this straight; barring a bit of messing around with a camera, I have never acted before, and to be honest, I always had grave doubts as to how I'd come across if anyone actually did point a video camera in my direction. Added to that, I'll be fifty this year, which bears some weight, despite nice people constantly expressing surprise, real or feigned, at that fact.

So imagine my surprise when a young, independent, Portuguese film director messages me through Facebook, to say he'd like to cast my wife, the author Jude Calvert-Toulmin, as one of the leads in his new project, a short film called Mercy. The surprise wasn't down to that, but rather to the further news that he would like me to play her husband. Well, ex-husband. Me! Mister get-that-fucking-camera-out-of-my-face!

I agreed, of course. Well, you do, don't you? I'll try anything once. Nothing to lose, is there?

João, the Director, felt that Jude and me would work well onscreen, as a real life couple, hence his approaching me. He already knew Jude could handle herself in front of a camera; she was in the Peter Care short film 'Johnny YesNo', soundtracked by Sheffield band Cabaret Voltaire, in 1979. But I was an unknown quantity.

A date was set for filming - a weekend, so I wouldn't need time off work for it - and we read the screenplay and script, a new experience for me, although my character had only a limited role, late in the film. João decided to use our real names, Jude and Brian, as the character's names, as they fitted and were as good as any others.

On the day of filming, we arrived at the set, a large house belonging to our friend John Allen, and met two of the other actors, musician Joseph Armstrong and Art student Ruth Herbert. We all knew each other already, and it had been me who'd suggested Ruth for the lead role of Mercy, the girl around whom the film revolves. Ruth too, had never acted, but turned out to be a real find, veering effortlessly from cute to creepy within a single scene. I can't take all the casting credit though, as Jude suggested Joseph for the role of The Young Man in which, despite the brevity of his appearance, he burned like a black flame.

After some initial awkwardness, I soon realised that João knew exactly what he wanted, and his directions were precise and considered, putting me at ease in the unfamiliar situation. I just let my instincts tell me how best to meet his requirements, and he seemed pleased with what I did. having no internal benchmark by which to judge what I was doing, I just had to go with that as an indicator of good or bad.

The screenplay contained a final scene where Brian and Jude make love, and I wasn't sure how I'd be in that context. Jude was nervous about how she'd look on screen too. In the event, we needn't have worried. I was almost unaware of the camera, and the pretence of sex could very easily (on my part at least, no pun intended) have jumped track into reality. Maybe that wouldn't have been the case had the actress been anyone but my own wife, but the familiar contours of her body brought forth the appropriate response from me and ensured that the scene works and seems real onscreen.

It was some weeks before the film was through the editing process, and had soundtrack music added, courtesy of  Sebastian Lasombra.and The Mighty Sieben (Matt Howden) who allowed João to use a track from his new, unreleased album 'No Less Than All'.

The finished film is 30 minutes long, and is a dark, almost baroque tale of a missing daughter, a familiar stranger's arrival in the life of the grieving mother, and echoes of betrayal and violence, which resonate from the past, right into the present lives of the main character. No spoilers here though. If you want to see the movie, it is available directly from  Frontiermedia for only £5.99, using Paypal or regular payment methods. Extras include an interview with Jude and also the pilot episode of another of  João's works, the drama series 'Where Her Dreams End'.

So what of me? Well, as I'm in the film, it would be slightly crass of me to review it as such; I feel that should be left for others, and likewise my appearance in the movie. I was taken slightly aback though, when  João contacted me to tell me I had a fantastic screen presence, and (his words) "stole the show". I look at the man onscreen and it's me. To me, it's just me, not even acting, although I am. But to others...well,  João was so pleased with it, he cast me in the short film/music video for 'He Can Delve In Hearts', a track from Sieben's album, and if you think 'Mercy' is dark, wait'll you see that!

I'll let Jude have the last word on me, from a Facebook exchange she had with João after seeing the rushes of the film:

Many fabulous actors and actresses don't have it. A few do. Jack Nicholson has it, Marilyn had it, Brando had it, Heath Ledger had it. 

And someone in Mercy has it. Absolutely GUTTED that it's not me. 

It's my husband Brian. 

The minute he appeared on screen it was as if a thunderbolt had come from heaven, hit him, gone through the screen and set fire to the room. I just went "Whoa!" And make no mistake, I would have liked it to be me that had that effect, but it isn't, it's Brian. 

He's never acted before, and every single frame with him in it is riveting. Naturally I'm not saying this just because he's my husband, otherwise I'd look like an idiot when the film comes out. I'm saying it because it just *is*. Whatever that elusive screen magic is that every actor would love to possess, somehow by some weird trick of nature, Brian has it. 


 Thank you darling. MWAH! x

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fried Egg - a true story (some names changed to protect the guilty)

Bruce Robinson must have met Egg, because Danny (Withnail & I) IS Egg.
When I was at Newcastle Uni in 1981, my allotted room-mate was an avowedly thatcherite, Daily Mail reading, public school educated son of a Surrey doctor, called Keith. He was everything my nascent, Northern working-class, left-leaning principles dictated that I should hate.
But Keith was a nice bloke. And he had a car, the only car amongst all my uni friends, a blue and grey Mk1 Ford Cortina. So I forgave him all his many faults and, to his great credit, considering his politics and my lifestyle, he forgave me mine. Keith later achieved brief fame as one of Saddam Hussain’s human shields in the first (and best) Gulf War, much to my delighted amusement.
Keith was more than just a comedy Tory Boy with a useful car though. His parents had, some years previously, paid a visit to the Northern Pennines and, on a whim, bought a vacant farm cottage high on a moorland road above Nenthead, in Upper Teesdale. And, as Newcastle was considerably nearer to Nenthead than Surrey, Keith had the keys, under loose instruction that he should pay the occasional visit “to keep an eye on the place”.
In the interests of “keeping an eye on the place”, myself and several of our friends would cajole Keith to drive us in his labouring 1972 Cortina the 40-odd miles to the cottage, as often as we could. Our group of friends included a young Bruce Robinson, who went on to write and direct ‘Withnail and I’ and Keith’s place was, in every respect, the double of ‘Crow Cottage’ in that film.
Some weekends, it would be just Keith and me, as we both liked hill-walking and the fells around there are bleak and wild, more so than any other part of England.
On one particular weekend, we’d set out on just such a hike, on one of those cold November days when the sky is so coldly blue it hurts, and the sunlight is that warm, slanted gold which lends everything, the trees and the dead bracken and the blasted heath, a burnished magnificence.
As we crossed a field, heading for the stony track climbing onto the fellside, a jouncing whine and rumble away to our right heralded the progress of an ancient green land-rover from a gate at the top of the field, which bounced on broken suspension over the molehills, to head us off before we reached the stile in the wall.
A vestige of childhood fear, drawn from a well of narrow escapes from farmers, angry at their precious hay bales being built into golden forts by urban vermin, produced a brief prickle of adrenaline.
“STOP RIGHT THERE!” shouted a red-faced voice, as the driver’s door creaked open on the looped baler wire which connected it to the rest of the vehicle. There was moss growing along the botom of the windscreen.
An artist’s impression of a Northern hill-farmer stormed towards us, exuding righteous fury from every steaming pore.
“D’yer knor this is private land?!”
“Er, yeah but there’s a footpath across it.”
“Norracross MY bloody land there in’t! There’s NO bloody footpath ‘ere!”
“Yeah there is, look.”
I showed him the red dotted line on the Ordnance Survey map.
“See? The red dotted line means it’s a public right of way.”
“And anyway” I added, expecting reason to prevail, “there’s a stile in the wall there, and another in the wall back there, so there must be a path between ‘em!”
“There’s NO BLOODY PATH ‘ere, ah don’t care WHAT the bloody map sez! The bloody map’s WRONG! Ah’ve all sorts o’ trouble wi’ fowk like you! Ye c’n clear off an’ walk on t’ road!”
He indicated the lane, up beyond the gate at the top of the field.
“Er, what do you mean ‘people like us?’” interjected Keith in his well-bred Surrey tones. I half expected him to come out with “See here my good fellow, do you realise who you’re talking to?”
The farmer jabbed a thick finger, deeply ingrained with lines of darkness, and waggled it between us, then conducted it over the surrounding land:
“Bloody hippies!”
I sensed Keith bristling at being labelled so, but he played the diplomat:
“Well, we’ll walk on the road if you insist, but you’re wrong you know. I shall write to the local rights of way officer and tell him about this, and I don’t like being labelled a hippy!”
“We’re students.” I added, helpfully.
“Ah don’t care what you are, you’re not walkin’ across ‘ere!” the farmer replied, sullen now rather than angry.
I suspect he realised we weren't hippies, based largely on Keith’s accent and visible indignation at such an appellation, but he wasn’t about to lose face, so he escorted us up the field, herding us along with his creaking green wreck of a land-rover which lurched madly behind us until we exited onto the road and the farmer could slam shut the gate. Or rather, drag shut the rotting assemblage of grey timbers which had once been a gate, and pull a loop of orange nylon string over the gatepost to secure it.
“Off you go lads” lads now!
“There’s another path a bit down t’ road.” Another path? I bite my tongue.
“It’ll tek ye to t’ same place, to t’ footbridge ovver t’beck.”
Climbing back into his cab he creaked and rattled away down the road, with a grinding of worn gears and an exhaustless roar. A smell of diesel soot hung in the cold air, as we turned and plodded along the road.

That evening, we decided to forego the local delights of the Miners arms in Nenthead, nothing to do with the possibility of The Farmer being in there of course.
Instead, Keith drove us to the fleshpots of nearby Alston, which trumpeted itself as ‘Englands highest market town’, though little did I realise how many truths resided in that simple sentence.
We chose a pub called The Blue Bell, which served a decent pint of Marston’s Pedigree, a rare ale in those days. Being a Saturday night, it was busy, and the tables soon filled up, mostly with locals, plus the odd cagoule-wearing hiker.
Around 10, a young bloke entered the pub. He had sandy, shoulder-length frizzy hair, wore an old army camouflage jacket and tattered jeans and was about our age. I only noticed him because he stood out from the conservatively dressed locals. He looked more like me, really, but he didn’t have the air of the student about him.
He bought a pint of lager and peered around the pub. His eyes fell on us and suddenly, he was making his way over. I sensed Keith’s tensing and his inward groan, as the bloke paused “Hiya, is it OK if I sit here?” indicating the single empty stool.
“Nah go on.” I replied, before Keith had chance to invent a temporarily absent sitter.
He sat down and sipped his pint. We got chatting and he said he lived in the village with a few others in a rented house. He seemed affable enough, and I was soon talking to him about music. My tastes in those days were towards 70s heavy rock and cartoon metal bands like Iron Maiden, and he seemed to share much of my enthusiasm. Keith rolled his eyes and pulled out a newspaper.
At 10.20, the landlord called last orders. I examined my meagre reserves and was debating a last pint, when Simon, the young bloke, said “Why don’t you come back to our place? I’m sure you can have a beer or something.”
Keith started to say something about having to get back but I cut in “Yeah OK, why not?” ignoring Keith’s brief glare of incredulity that I was actually going to go along with this…this...hippy, who was in all likelihood personally responsible for The Farmer's prejudice and paranoid hostility to us that very morning.
I pretended I hadn't read Keith's body language and we drank up and wandered out into a glacially cold night, stars glittering in a black sky, and a huge darkness encircling the tiny light pool of the village.
“Just up here” said Simon, indicating a short cul-de-sac, a few minutes from the pub. Obviously a newish addition to the ancient village, the houses of the cul-de-sac were the type of pebble-dashed semis which wouldn’t look out of place on some sprawling urban council estate, but which definitely looked out of place here.
We followed Simon up a short path alongside an overgrown patch of weeds which may once have been a lawn, and paused by a side door as he wrestled with the doorknob and his key.
As the door swung open, a hot wave of air washed over us, tainted with an oniony cooking smell, a hint of BO, something of the wet dog, a definite dash of patchouli oil and overriding it all, the rank smell of dope smoke.
The door opened into a small, dark hallway with lino on the floor and piles of shoes against the wall. This led through into a living room, where a black dog, with much labrador in it, wagged and slobbered over to us, giving Keith, a dog-lover, something to take his senses away from the personal nightmare of where he was.
Simon motioned us onto an old settee, its springs so worn we may as well have sat on the floor for all the resistance they offered to our weight.
As Keith fussed over the drooling dog, not taking his eyes from it, I looked around the other people present, none of whom seemed particularly concerned, or even aware, that we were there.
“This is Steph” said Simon, indicating a blonde-haired woman in jeans and with bare feet, wearing a black vest, who sat smoking a cigarette, arms around her knees, on the floor with her back to another old sofa opposite us. She was older then Simon and reminded me of Angie Dickinson. She smiled at us and waggled her fingers hello.
“And that through there is Denise…”
Denny! Hiya!” waved a sandy haired woman, maybe in her 40s, from a doorway through which I could see bits of a kitchen. “Who are you then?”
“I’m Brian. Hi.”
“Oh, er...Keith!” said Keith.
"Hi Keith! Hi Brian!" shouted Denny, who seemed like maybe she was the only one here who spoke, Steph having not said a word at all, and who merely stared dreamily at us, or at the space we occupied, with a faint smile on her lips.
There was a third occupant of the space, also silent.
On the settee opposite ours, the one against which the saturnine Steph reclined, sat a man.
He was probably a similar age to Denny, 40-ish, with a big mane of dark hair like a collapsed afro. He looked like he’d be tall if he stood up, but was so immobile it was hard to see the join between him and the settee. He looked like he might have grown there.
He wore jeans, unfashionably flared ones I noticed, ragged at the bottom, and his feet were encased in  worn leather flip-flops. A faded black teeshirt draped itself over his skinny torso.
He was looking at us, only his dark eyes moving in his face, above a long nose. He reminded me of an unwashed and heavily tranquillised Bob Dylan. Dark stubble covered his chin and his mouth was neither smiling nor unsmiling as his eyes flicked from me to Keith and back again.
He was as silent as Steph, and even less active. Here, surely, was The Farmer’s true bête noir, and probably poor Keith's too.
Keith was focussed determinedly on the dog, known as ‘Dog’ according to Simon, who by now was flopped on the other settee behind Steph. He saw me looking at the older guy and, as if he’d just remembered something, blurted:
“Oh, and this is Egg, Egbert…”
Egg.” came a voice from the man, who barely moved his lips.
“Yeah, Egg. It’s his house, sort of. Egg? Brian and er..Keith.”
“Yeah. I know.” His accent was somewhere in North London.
He suddenly came to life, as if he’d been waiting for the formal introduction. His voice didn’t waste energy, barely rising above a monotone.
“So, Brian and Keef, wotcha doin’ round ‘ere then? You ain’t locals are ya?”
“Er no! We’re just passing through really!” said Keith, before I could let on he had the keys to a deserted cottage.
“Oh, I see.” Egg pondered on this, staring at something above our heads.
“What about you?” I ventured. “You don’t sound local either.”
“No.” murmured Egg.
Producing a plastic ice cream tub from the floor by his feet, he opened it, and extracted rizlas, tobacco and a thumb-sized lump of dope, reddish, Moroccan maybe, or Lebanese. He paused, and looked at us eyebrows rising a micron or two, like a waiter politely offering more claret:
“D’you turn on?”
“Er, ooh, er, no, no, thank you very much!” spluttered Keith, as I enthused “Yeah!” simultaneously.
Unperturbed by Keith’s evident discomfort and growing air of bug-eyed horror, Egg proceeded to cement rizlas together dexterously as he spoke, now concentrating his address largely in my direction.
“So you bin havin’ fun then, round ‘ere?”
I told him about our walk and the encounter with The Farmer. He smiled, and in the same half-tone murmur, said:
“That’s because you’re hippies. Some of the locals, they don’t like hippies.”
“Er well, I don’t know about that!” spluttered Keith, unable to contain himself at being called a hippy twice in one day.
“No man, look at your friend…Brian? Brian, yeah. Look at ‘im. Long ‘air. Patched up jeans, scruffy lookin’. You’re a hippy. Q.E.D.”
Point proven, he proceeded to heat the dope and load the enormous joint, without once looking down at what he was doing. His eyes flickered downwards from my face:
“Wot’s that on your teeshirt?”
I opened my jacket to reveal the Motorhead logo on my teeshirt. He smiled again, revealing yellowing teeth this time.
“Aw yeah, Lemmy’s band.”
He licked the spliff seam, rolling it tightly. He looked at it for the first time. It looked like a parsnip.
“You know ‘em?” I inquired. Egg laughed again.
“I know Lemmy.”
“Egg used to roadie for Hawkwind!” Denise exclaimed enthusiastically from the kitchen, where she was cooking something. I’d forgotten she was there.
“Wow, I like Hawkwind too!” I said.
“Yeah...they’re good lads...” Egg murmured, as he vanished in clouds of smoke. “...still see...Dave Brock sometimes…comes up 'ere…”
“So did you know the Pink Fairies as well?” I asked, naming Hawkwind’s Ladbroke Grove contemporaries whom I was now getting into, ten years too late.
Fack off! I roadied for them an’ all! Larry Wallis was like…” he tailed off as if he’d fogotten he was speaking, and passed the joint to silent Steph, who now spoke:
“Guests first Egg.” and offered the smouldering parsnip to Keith, who forced a laugh and declined:
“Ooh er no, thankyou.” then looked worried as I took it instead.
Steph smiled at me and I saw she was actually quite lovely.
I didn’t smoke cigarettes, and my dope-smoking was mostly confined to occasional parties and two-skin roll-ups, not titanic constructions like the bonfire I now held between my fingers. But this was like being invited to the inner circle. This guy roadied for Hawkwind. He knew Lemmy! It would be rude not to.
I wiped my lips dry, and took a drag, sucking the smoke down. Was that the tobacco rush? Yeah. Must be. Cold skin clamminess and then I was letting it out and my hands and feet were both warm and numb at the same time, and I was hot and blushing and handing the spliff back to Egg and jesus how much had he put in that thing!
As I sank back into the sofa, Simon was sucking on the joint, Egg was back in silent mode, and Steph was looking even more beautiful. Keith was still there, but he’d sort of disappeared.
The cooking smells from the kitchen suddenly became overpowering.
I felt responsible for the silence.
“ you go out on the hills?” I asked, wondering why I was even asking it.
“For the mushrooms.” murmured Steph, almost inaudibly. Her voice sussurated in my ears like a breeze through long grass.
Simon grinned: “Ooh yeah, great mushroom country this!”
“Would you like some?” asked Egg, like someone’s mum asking if I wanted a piece of cake.
“Yeah, I love mushrooms.” I replied, in a voice which sounded like it came from someone else.
Denise, could you fetch some mushrooms in!” Egg’s voice rose to a normal conversational level.
Nonetheless, Denise reappeared, bearing a biscuit tin. Fox’s Chocolate Assortment. She handed it to Egg, winked at me and then vanished back into the kitchen.
Egg took off the lid and held out the open tin: “See?”
I saw. It was full, and I mean full, of dried mushrooms, packed tightly. Thousands of stringy brown stems and withered, pointy caps.
“Er, Brian, I think we’d better be going soon!” said Keith, alarmed at the prospect of me now taking magic mushrooms with these people. I'd forgotten Keith was even there.
“Naw, you can stay here if you like!” said Simon.
“Yeah, s’ok.” said Egg, nodding slightly. Steph looked up at me and smiled slightly.
“Well, you can stay, but I have to get back!”
Keith put his big sensible conservative foot down, right in the middle of my intentions to say yes.
Why did he have to put his bad vibe on it all?
I’d have to go. If I didn’t go with him, I might stay here forever. Or at least have a problem getting back to Newcastle.
“’Ere look, take some wiv yer.” said Egg, and peered around at the side of the settee until he produced a plastic bag, which had contained bread at some point. He shook it out, then took a handful of the mushrooms and dropped them in the bag. There must have been hundreds.
All of a sudden, the monster joint, now very much shortened, was in front of me again. I took it and had a last big draw on it. Then another for good measure, before handing it back.
I stood up, because Keith was now standing, obviously determined to escape.
I couldn’t feel my limbs. I could make them work, but I couldn’t feel them. My legs felt impossibly long and my knees seemed to hinge both ways.
Bye!” shouted Denise from the kitchen. I wanted some of whatever she was cooking, but Keith was having no more of this. We were leaving.
“See ya.” grinned Simon from the sofa.
“Bye. Come again.” said the lovely Steph, clasping my hand with both hers without getting up. I wondered if she’d had some of the mushrooms, or if she was always so dreamy. I didn't care. I loved her.
“Yeah, if you’re round ‘ere ever again, drop in, man.” murmured Egg. He didn’t get up either.
We left.
The cold air seemed like another world.
What time was it?
I rode along in my duck-walking body, following Keith along the path. I must have been going very slowly, but I just wanted to sit and look at the stars. I drifted to a halt.
Look, you wait here, for god’s sake, and I’ll go and fetch the car!” said Keith, now back in the real world and in control. I wasn’t going to argue. I sat on what was probably a wall.
It was only ten minutes but it seemed like eternity, as my brain floated amongst the stars and the blackness glittered with promise.
As I climbed into the musty Cortina, I realised I’d left the mushrooms behind.
Ah well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The rotting corpse of Psalter Lane

Psalter Lane Art College is dead. Once a jewel in Sheffield's crown, a magnet for would be artists, designers, jewellery makers and film directors from all over Britain, it was swallowed up by Sheffield Poly, soon to become Sheffield Hallam University who took the decision, in 2008, to close it.

And close it they did. After years of rumours that its demise was imminent, it finally shut its doors in the summer. A skeleton of staff stayed on, moving stuff out for re-use down at the City Campus, tidying up admin loose ends until finally, in early September, the last handful of people walked out and the doors closed for the final and time. Contractors came and cut off the water and gas, though electricity remains for now.

With the removal of water and gas, the heating system, which for decades had kept the leaky buildings warm and dry, was dead. The interiors cooled down slowly, and the persistent, encroaching moisture, damp and drips from leaky rooves found itself unopposed.

So what is Psalter Lane like now? If you love the place, have fond memories of it, and decry the way it's been cast aside by the overlords of Hallam Uni, you may find some of these scenes distressing.

In late October, I had to pay a visit to the site, to inspect it and assess the risk of a fire being started there by arsonists (ie. kids who might break in). I visited all the buildings, alone, wandering through the deserted rooms and corridors. It was a weird and unsettling trip. Glad I wasn't on acid. Or am I?

I arrived just as it began to rain, on a chilly, damp afternoon, a truly leaden sky setting the tone. The two on-site security guards greeted me and let me in. They 'live' in the old caretaker's house at the back of the site. The main buildings are empty and silent.

To begin, I had a walk around the exterior, looking for obvious ways in. A few months ago, you were hard pressed to get a parking spot on the car park. Now, it lay empty, but for a few vans belonging to asbestos contractors working in the old substation on the edge of the car park

Click on the pics to see a full-sized image (they all look better full size)

Below: A Block, the orginal art college, empty for the first time in 150 years...
A Block in the rain

Below: B Block, home of the graphic designers and woodworking workshops...
B Block

Below: The car park is piled with rubbish and discarded furniture. A bonfire in the making...
A Block and rubbish

Wandering around out on the open car park is eerie enough, but go round the back of the buildings and the sense of abandonment is worse, palpable. Nature, always on hand to exploit a loophole, is already seeming to dance amongst the stone and concrete.

Below: Behind A Block, vegetation running riot...
Behind A Block, colours changed

Below: a fungus, feeding on the damp wood of the fire door at rear of A Block...
Fungus on A Block fire door

...weeds gain a foothold next to a Victorian drain cover...
A Block Victorian drain cover

Below: The path between E Block and A Block, strewn with rotting furniture...
Rubbish at back of A Block mono

Below: The industrial, functional things, machinery, ventilation systems, which were humming with power until recently, suddenly look rusty and dilapidated...
B Block LEV filter

C Block roof

Other industrial relics remain of a more remote past: old electrical insulators on the wall...
Old insulators, A Block

Below: rear of C Block, a fine piece of 1970s neo-brutalism...
C Block, rear view

Below: In places, even outside, you come across abandoned student artwork. The wooden frame is part of the 'Trebushed', a garden shed which converted into a working mediaeval siege engine
(trebuchet), which was a 2008 final year degree piece...
Behind H Block

It isn't just the old buildings which raise ghosts, real or imagined. Some of the external areas, particularly in that leaden Autumn weather, put me in mind of the sort of place you'd expect to stumble upon the speech-denyingly horrific scene of some child-murder, cold flesh and clothes scattered amidst the muddy leaves behind the concealing buildings.

Below: back of G Block...
Back of G Block

Below: The windows of C Block staircase from outside, looking up...
C Block staircase windows

In places, the drab greyness and air of silent emptiness is lightened, as here, by splashes of paint on a wooden door, a relic of a day when some art student leaned a board up against the door and splashed paint on it, Pollock-style, the paint now accompanied by the sucker roots of ivy tendrils...
B Block old door

Other colour comes from more industrial sources...
Discarded gas cylinders behind C Block

B Block LEV Filter

Below: the gnarled Victorian stonework looks old...
A Block wall

Scrollwork, A Block doorway (mono)

A Block memorial plaque

...but the 1970s concrete of C Block also now shows the scars and stains of its life...
C Block, front

C Block
windows, clouded and opaque like the eyes of dead fish...
C Block dirty windows

Below: E and D Blocks, and the 'quadrangle'...
E and D Blocks

...and a close-up of the rear entrance to E Block, once a smoker's haunt, now just haunted...
Back entrance, E Block #1

Rain on the roof...
Wet roof, C Block

Having wandered round the site, I was amazed at just how...dead it all seemed. I was used to it being such a vibrant place, a place I always looked forward to visiting. Now, it was like looking at the corpse of a dead family member. It resembled the place I knew so well, but was cold and silent.

I spent nearly an hour walking around outside, and time was moving on. I had to get inside and do my tour before darkness came. The main entrance was still decorated with the remnants of the big party which took place there back in summer, now like the xmas decorations in mid-January.

Below: Kid Acne's mural and farewell message, painted over the main entrance for the leaving party in June...

Kid Acne's farewell

I went in, chatted to the friendly security staff, who'd opened up for me, and then I began my walk-round, alone in the echoing winter gloom of the deserted rooms and corridors.

I began with A Block, the old Victorian building which, being Grade 2 listed, will not be demolished. It used to host the library, the film theatre and a series of offices. Unfortunately the camera malfunctioned in this section so I didn't get all the pictures I wanted. I got no pics of the huge expanse of the deserted library, or the attic, which is every inch the attic in the horror short 'Drip' (see my earlier blog entry). The splendour of the Victorian rooms still peeked through the more modern imposition of the office environment, and being able to see the rooms stripped of their 21st century accoutrements was edifying. One thing which struck me was how much stuff had been left behind. Office furniture, stationery, personal nick-nacks, the place was far from being truly empty. It was as if people had left in a hurry, grabbing what they could along the way.

Empty office safes, A Block

Computers in empty office, A Block

The other thing was the total silence. It was quiet outside, but no sound penetrated in here. I could hear every thump of my heart, and it was almost a relief when I entered a back room to be faced with a bank of still live telecoms routers, all flashing LEDs and humming relays. It was like finding life on Mars. Outside that room, there was a post-apocalyptic feel about the place, as if everyone had fled in the face of a zombie army or a plague of Black Death proportions.

A Block dark corridor

The empty offices were unnerving, but the library was worse. Ever played any of the 'Silent Hill' computer games? The library was like being in a real-life version. I expected to be menaced any moment by split-headed dogs or lumbering mutants. What made it all the more poignant were the messages which departed staff had scrawled on the walls, the day they left...

Below: Click on the images to enlarge and read the scrawled messages...
A Block goodbye message

A Block goodbye message

A Block goodbye message

A Block goodbye message

A Block goodbye message

A Block goodbye message

A Block goodbye message

My camera malfunctioned here, in the ground floor library, so I couldn't get any pics of the upstairs. I just continued my fire safety inspection. Eventually however, I fiddled with the camera and managed to get it working again, just in time to enter C Block, the former home of the fine artists. A lot of the bigger degree pieces from 2008 were still in situ, but the encroaching damp, leaky ceilings and bone-chilling, grave-like cold, were causing the hardwood parquet floors to swell and rise up in wooden billows, artificial waves breaking into pixellations of collapsed blocks.

Below: room 302, Heath Robinson guttering rigged to try and divert roof leaks out through the open window. Parquet floors destroyed by the wet...
C Block studio

Below: room 306 looking much as it did at the degree show in June, except for the erupting floor...
C Block studio, leftover art

Below: student artwork in room 304...
Love Chair, C Block

...and in 401A...
Paint on white wall, adjusted, C Block

In fact, C Block struck me, more than the other blocks, as almost a giant artwork in progress, commenting on decay, the disappearance of humanity, fear and isolation, loads of different themes, left behind by previous tenants or created by the new situation. It has to be experienced by walking around in there alone, but it speaks to you, in dozens of different voices all at once.

Below: series of pics of level 2 corridor, C Block...
C Block corridor

C Block corridor

The Level 2 corridor, with the familiar painted corner visible at the end...
C Block corridor

Below: Level 2 corridor; dark and totally silent...
C Block, deserted corridor

Below: a piece of artwork in a room on Level 1...
2008 degree work, left behind, C Block

Below: the 'painted corner' on the C Block stairs...
C Block stairs

From inside the building, the grimy windows offer new perspectives on parts of the outside...
Duct, C Block, through window, mono

From C Block, so familiar to me, I wandered through the basement studios and into D Block, former home of Metalwork and Jewellery, a single storey, one corridor building running between C Block and E Block, which used to be Printing and Photography. This section was particularly spooky. One of the security staff, a big bloke we'll call 'Bill' (because that's his name), swore he saw "something" moving across the landing of E Block stairs, as he came round the corner of the darkened D Block corridor at the stair foot. A pale mist or vague shape, it was enough (he said) to make him run back down the corridor to C Block and the main entrance. This was in my mind as I ventured into the rooms of D Block. I don't believe in ghosts, but isolation and silence, in an environment of empty rooms and silent corridors, can exert a malign influence on your imagination. I felt watched, though whether it was ghosts or just the place itself, I can't say.

Below: out back of C Block
Outside rear entrance to C Block

Below: abandoned casting furnace, C Block
C Block basement casting furnace

Below: the courtyard between C and E Blocks
Back entrance, E Block #1

Below: a thing in a cupboard, C Block basement.
Thing in cupboard, C Block

Below: Mr Wilson
Abandoned art, C Block basement

Wall art, C Block basement

Below: left behind paintings display to spiders and silence
Abandoned art, C Block basement

Below: The abandoned woodworking machine shops, C Block
Deserted workshop, C Block basement

Below: oh! Graffiti in C Block basement
Abandoned art, C Block

Below: This huge composite portrait dominates the wall of one of the C Block studios, even now, nearly 2 years later
2008 degree work, C Block studios

Below: clay head, suitably outraged at the closure
Clay head, C Block basement

Below:Staircase windows in C Block
Window art, C Block

Below: C Block studio art
C Block studios

Leftover art, C Block studio

Below: C Block studios
2008 Degree show mural, C Block

2008 degree work, abandoned, C Block

C Block studio

Broken wood

Mural art detail, C Block

Gold mural, C Block studio

Below: Where are they now?
2008 degree work, C Block


Below: abandoned workbenches, with Record vices still attached
C Block basement workshop

Below:Great Cthulhu waits, and dreams, in sunken C Block
C Block, deserted workshop

D Block, the old Metalwork and Jewellery Department, ws utterly silent. The drip of a tap would have been a hammer blow there. You held your breath walking through, because the sound that came back from the cold walls was unpleasant.

Below: abandoned office, stripped of all but a chair
C Block, deserted workshop

Moving into E Block, past the spooky, darkrooms, the print area seemed light and warm and full of sunbeams. Screen printing equipment lay untouched, destined for the skip, including the beautiful Victorian press (below).
E Block printing presses

B Block was creepy. Upstairs, the gloom of the dusk was seeping in like water and horror lurked around every corner until, suddenly, a beam of gold sunlight broke through the slaty sky and the dirty windows (below)
Shaft of sunlight in gloomy office, B Block

Below: deserted workshops in B Block
Abandoned workbenches, B Block

B Block workshops

Abandoned benches, B Block

B Block woodworking

B Block workshops

equipment left behind in B Block

Below: The Sentinel
The lonely sentinel

Update: It is now January 2010. Psalter Lane has been dead for 18 months. Over the past few weeks, a company have been employed by the university to remove all non-fixed items from the buildings. So that means that everything you see in these photos; all the benches, furniture, artwork, tools, everything that isn't bolted down, has been taken, most of it skipped, broken and nor lost forever. Most of it I guess isn't important, but what of the old victorian press in E Block? Sledgehammered to manageable chunks of cast iron and weighed in as scrap? Probably. [May 2010 update: yes it was]

Over the Yuletide holidays, a gang of people who knew exactly what they were doing broke into the buildings and methodically stripped it of lead and copper and anything else of use or value. The on-site security presumably slept through it. Is it any different to the methodical stripping-out already described? Other than sanction, I don't see much, and at least those removing the scrap metals were making some use of their spoils, not just breaking, burning or burying them.

In March, demolition contractors move in. Everything will be gone, except A Block, the original college building. I might have a chance to get on site before that happens. If I do, I'll try and take some photos.