Disarm you with a smile
And cut you like you want me to– Smashing Pumpkins: Disarm (1993)
I never walked in the Malvern Hills. That Sunday night I just dug up my little baggie of cash from under that root and then asked some peeps more or less at random if they’d give me a ride, like, wherever. Wherever turned out to be Manchester.
Justin and Zelda, the couple who’d given me a lift, let me stay that night on their couch. The next morning they both went to work and I went for a stroll through Manchester. At a Tesco’s I got underwear and T-shirts, and at an army surplus shop some cargo trousers, and a satchel, and treated myself to a black M65 jacket. I changed in the loo of a McD and gave Louie’s clothes to OXFAM.
Manchester was nice to walk around in. I checked out the Canal Street area, where I had lunch in an empty pub: a ploughman’s, a bag of crisps, a coke, and a chat with an old queen. The queen was wrinkly like a prune, wore a flowing sequined gown, and smoked non-stop. While I ate he told me all about how the scene has changed in recent years, with the Queer as Folk fame, all tourists now and no regulars. I can’t understand how a poofter of his generation can be talking about the good old times. Maybe it’s like veterans talking about the war. I don’t know. Anyway, I liked the old coot, and the sandwich was really good. (I really dig British pickles. And have you ever noticed how cheddar in the UK comes in about a zillion different colours and a dozen textures, and they all taste exactly the same?) When I asked for a place for the night he recommended a hostel in Oldham.
You have to be 16 or older to stay in a hostel on your own, and you need to be able to prove it with a picture ID. I substituted that with a sob story about having had my wallet stolen and planning to report that first thing in the morning. The next morning of course I didn’t report anything, although for appearances sake I did let the staff give me directions to the nearest police station. Instead I walked through long stretches of Victorian terraced red brick houses alternating with muddy summer meadows, from Lees to Lydgate to Grasscroft to Greenfield.
I saw Greenfield first from atop Colt Hill that demarks the reach of the Greater Manchester area from the moors of the Peak District National Park. Like many 19th century industrial villages Greenfield clings to a small stream whose lazy bend is echoed by a railway line that has long lost its former importance. Back in the day Greenfield must have been part of Manchester’s clothes manufacture industry. Nowadays, I suppose, it was part sleeper town, and part gateway to the Pennies.
The hills on the far side were Alderman’s Hill and the Alphin, treeless and scabbed with disused quarries. The gap between them opened on a series of reservoirs, quiet, artificial bodies of water that blinked blindly at the sky. And behind them the land rose to the moors, or so a guidebook I had gotten in Manchester had promised me. I had a quick lunch at a Fish’n’Chips, which I wolfed down hungrily, eager to get there.
I followed Chew Brook uphill and soon the moors stretched out towards the horizon before me, an undulating landscape of gray-green grass, a weathered, bearded face scarred deeply here and there by brooks. This was a land that looked truly wild and cursed, a broken, jumbled wasteland, too desolate to be claimed by anyone but toads and snakes, mice and birds.
The day before, in the same little, musty bookshop where I had found the guide, I had picked up a book about the Moors murders. Some 40 years ago, right here, in this beautiful, haunted, haughty land two crazy lovers had tortured and murdered five children. Out of boredom and madness, lack of belonging, lack of meaning, Ian Brady and Myra Hinley kidnapped and killed three boys and two girls aged 10 to 17. For the heck of it. To feel being a part of, well, anything, I suppose. The world.
I walked through the windswept moor, across the very spots where – at least according to the book – some of the murders had taken place, and where four of the five bodies had been buried; one of which remained unfound to this day, still hidden by that sodden, dark, mute earth.
Hinley had died six years before, but Brady was still alive, locked up in a loony bin in Sefton, Merseyside, the same Borough where Jamie Bulger had found his death and immortality as the child victim of child murderers, just 10 days before I uttered my first cry in this life.
While I was in the moors, I very much wished to speak to Brady. I couldn’t have really told you what it was I wanted to know; something about irreversibility, and about stepping away from humanity I guess. Apparently many had tried to get an explanation from him, in vain. If he had any answers he probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place.
In the afternoon I reached Marsden, a small village lost in the expanse of the moors. Marsden is a maze of old bridges, roads, railway tracks, canals, locks, and tunnels. The day had been gloomy, the incessant wind had torn at my soul, and a bleak mood had seeped in as peaty bog water had seeped into my trainers and soaked my socks. So, as the rain picked up, I held out my thumb at the northbound A62, again accepting the first car that would take me, to wherever they would take me.
And that was how I came to Leeds.