Wallowing in Walsall

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

L.P. Hartley

Walsall is not a glamorous town, but it’s the closest thing I have to a hometown. Whenever I return, I tend to drive aimlessly along the streets that formed the geography of my youth. Since my parents left the area three years ago, visits have become rarer, and so this place grows ever more alien. Retail park regeneration. High street desolation. New road layout ahead.

The former site of Oak Park Leisure Centre. I returned the following day to get some better photos.

This week I was back in Walsall to attend the funeral of my friend Kris. The chapel was packed, the music appropriately cheesy, Lewis and Jon’s eulogies both touching and amusing.

On Wednesday evenings, myself, Kris and others would often go swimming at Oak Park Leisure Centre in Walsall Wood. Seeing as the funeral fell on the same day, I decided to return for one final swim; an opportunity to reminisce in familiar surroundings, to soak in the memories.

Driving past a new ‘active living’ centre, I approached the old building only to find that it had been razed, with little evidence of it ever existing. I wasn’t looking for a metaphor, but with a small pile of rubble sat before me, here it was.

You can’t revisit the past. Attempts to recreate it are rarely helpful, but for a while it was possible. Now, with friends gone and buildings demolished, the present is no longer a continuation of the past. That time and that place is now fixed solid, locked away for safe keeping.