Out Here in the FieldsBy James Irwin
March 05, 2009
A small rabbit, a small bullet of pepper brown fur, fires across my line of vision.
The ground underfoot, a soft springy marshmallow of mud, moist with a recent smattering of light rain, clings in clumps to my boot heel. I unzip my pale green corduroy jacket; it’s warm, early evening. The sun is setting, casting strange and interesting patterns of light in the dimming sky.
The sky is smothered by thin, wispy pink candy floss clouds; closer to the horizon the clouds are thicker, darker, smoggier— like smoke. The sky is red; a deep, menacing red, molten sunlight oozing across the skyline.
The billowing eye of a volcano— spread 180 degrees across the periphery of my vision.
About two hours earlier I was sitting in a darkened room; curtains drawn, lights off. The volume is right down low on the stereo— emitting the dreamy, nasal tones of Mr Robert Zimmerman.
Mr Tambourine man himself… soothing… fears? I don’t know; fifteen minutes previously I’d had my papers stamped and was officially out of formal education. The last time I was not in formal education: the summer of 1995. I was five years old.
There was no fear; only excitement.
The times they are a-changing.
I was fidgeting— boredom and frustration I’d never experienced before… I wanted to escape, to explore somewhere… A pure, natural urge came over me. I pulled on my boots almost without thinking; pulled on my corduroy jacket, locked the door and starting walking.
The campus on which I live is small— but it is built on acres of parkland; this is where I was walking to. I intended to explore it, as well as find solace and calm and try and breathe new life into a jammed, cobwebbed mind.
The fresh air will do you good.
About 200 yards into my woodland adventure I found a path, a path curiosity and social convention led me to follow. After an additional 300 yards I turned around.
Never look back.
I looked back. From 500 yards away the entire campus was visible— from the North Car Park to the South. It clicked.
No wonder I feel trapped.
The smallness of the university hit me; the compactness. Frightening to think I’d lived most of the last 5 months in such a confined space— a zoo animal jumping through hoops for those in charge.
Leaves are falling all around
It’s time I was on my way
Thanks to you, I’m much obliged
For such a pleasant stay
And I ramble on.
Through the banality of English countryside— my head (and lungs) polluted by the motorway that cuts through the landscape; a dappled grey tarmac scar across the face of this green and pleasant land.
The day is warm; surprising given the recent snowfall— and excited rumours of more to come. The sky, though bright and baby blue, is heavy with crisp white cloud.
I jump a moss embossed fence, the grounds takes a steady and slow slant down towards a small stream. We usually call them rivers, although they are small and shallow; slow running water too. So slow any salmon would have great difficulty in deciding which way was upstream; but they are freshwater fish, this is almost certainly not freshwater.
I see a house, a house that seems to be built on the river. This truly gave my mind something to focus on; a taste of adventure.
My mind grew increasingly inquisitive and curious over the walk; like a kitten.
Curiosity killed the cat.
I don’t shit in trays, I’ll be ok.
There was a very clearly defined boundary— a fence stating that this was PRIVATE property; nonetheless I got close enough to have a good gawk.
The house was built on a bridge over the stream. Up on stilts like an unimpressive clown, long, white and rectangular— a cuboid, with a small patch of garden on either side. The side I was on had several rabbit hutches.
This I found weird. The University of Essex is famed for it’s rabbit riddled grounds— they do, after all, breed like lapin. And here, in this magical house/bridge were several of the species incarcerated and domesticated; imprisoned for the thrill of cleaning water bottles, cutting lettuce and scrapping nuggets of shit off cheap plywood cages.
I wondered if the free rabbits ever see their caged brethrin; or vice versa. A Rabbit in the Striped Pyjamas kind of thing.
I thought probably not.
I headed back towards my path, the clouds spitting rain— playfully, not spitefully.
The path led me to the top of a bridge/dam; the water ran right through, but through a pipe in the brick structure— an elaborate and beautifully quaint construction.
I sat on the edge for some time; staring downstream, facing the house on stilts and the Sun which shone just behind the strange dwelling, dappling the still stream with specks of light and flecks of sunshine. The surface glimmered; metallic and shiny. It looked like liquid mercury.
The water was bombing out of the brick pipe onto a concrete platform and then slowing and slinking into the body of the stream.
It occurred to me it would be fairly easy to climb down the embankment on the far side and get onto the concrete platform; take a closer look— see what’s at the end of the intriguing pipe.
Hardly Huckleberry Finn.
It beats waiting for a notification.
I got down without falling over— or in, and made the small leap onto the concrete platform, less than quarter of an inch deep; the water was projected forwards, the short platform, if it had any use, was to slow the speed of flow.
I got right up close to the pipe— darting round I could see the fading light filtered through and around the house-bridge. I was almost at water level; standing like one of the structures clownish stilts.
The intoxicating beauty of the scene could only distract for a moment; the curiosity of the pipe was too much. I bent down to take a peek; the pipe was too long, fading into pitch black nothing.
No light at the end of the tunnel.
I walked through the flow to see if a different angle would proffer a different view; but alas no, the same pitch black nothingness.
However, a cluster of dead leaves and twigs caught my eye; the vicious flow of the (ice cold) water barrelled down and bounced off to the side— deflecting, and slowing, the stream.
I pulled at the natural debris; a strong tug was enough to yank it loose and the flow quickened and thickened and glistened; riding straight on through at such ferocity my jeans soon became smattered and spattered with heavy flecks.
I leapt back over the now fierce flow and clambered back onto dry land.
The next thing I see: a cluster of buildings through the trees, some new, some clearly Victorian and some just grand. However, I decided as I was heading back this way I would explore that further then.
About 100 yards later, in a dark, brooding corner— far off the path, I find a strange white building. Exactly the same as one I’d seen when I first set off— I’d assumed it was the private counselling building. They have it slightly off campus so you don’t have to go through the humiliation of other people seeing you facing up to the mental or personal problems that we all need guidance with to some degree.
But this one was way off. I’d walked maybe an hour from campus— in roughly a straight trajectory.
It was an octagon. That was intriguing— as was the white paint, peeling like zombie flesh, from the wood panelling. Each wall had a church-like window— although dusty and murky.
The door was locked and there was no bell. No sign of life. I assumed it was abandoned— but through the sepia filter of the single pane magazines and chairs and other rooms became visible. It was spooky. Texas Chainsaw creepy.
Had a retard wearing a human face as a balaclava pounced with a rusty chainsaw I would not have been entirely surprised.
If anything my next discovery was ever more terrifying; more so due to pounding footsteps.
This is it.
This is the end.
This is ho-
A harmless jogger— a beautiful jogger; a fellow student, her hooded top indicated she was on the NETBALL team.
Her dusty blonde pigtails bobbed with each confident stride; her legs tanned and toned; almost succulent. She turned and smiled— the sun too bright to clearly make out anything but a million dollar smile and the sheer radiance only the combination of health, happiness and beauty can emit.
I may or may not have stared too long— she kept looking back; she upped her pace.
Who told you?
I fought through a hedge and stumbled across a synapse popping scene.
Looming over me, a huge rusty satellite dish; clearly ancient. It was like something from Return of the Jedi; for a moment I am on the forest moon of Endor.
Panels of wood lay scattered— what was clearly once a hut. Some panels stand limp, but erect. The floor is over grown with weeds and burnt bronze leaves, fallen from surrounding oaks.
A plug pokes out from the rusted foliage; clearing the leaves I follow the thick plastic lead to a dead end— a mess of pulled and broken copper wire.
A steel filing cabinet, gutted and empty, stands in a corner. In another stands a table and the remains of an almost prehistoric computer— a simplistic circuit board poking from a hard, brown, plastic shell.
There is technological debris all over the scene. The freaky nature of this place isn’t that it is a satellite station; nor that it is long abandoned, but the manner in which it seems to have been abandoned.
Shells of equipment remain, panels are cracked and battered; the height of innovation left to rot and die.
It feels very much like the place was raided or destroyed rather than decommissioned. It didn’t feel like a happy place.
I decided to make my way back; stopping first at the Victorian buildings.
Signs indicated this was all part of my university— except of course I was no longer part of the university and hadn’t been for some two hours. Technically I was trespassing.
I explored artificial alleys and Victorian courtyards.
One had a tall mesh gate, open. I walked through and found three options; walk back out, walk up that staircase into an empty conference room or walk up those steps that simply go up and out of sight.
Forty three seconds later I find myself at the pinnacle of the black iron staircase— a fire escape serving three large windows in the roof. I am level with the adjoining roof.
The staircase has railing all around to stop mischievous wanderers climbing onto the roof.
You are not Spiderman
I’m Peter Parkour.
I jumped the railing.
I was now on the roof of the Constable building.
Beneath me science students went about their courses; just like any other day of the week, except today I was standing on their roof.
Not just standing, walking.
I felt the impulse to climb— I assessed me chances. There was no route, no safe route, back to ground level.
I walked the length of the building looking. I could get so far down, but then I’d have to risk a jump; my withdrawal meant I was not insured for accidents on Essex University property. And I am not a natural risk taker. I still wasn’t quite sure why the fuck I was on the roof of the fucking Constable building— a building that I didn’t even know the existence of until approximately five minutes ago.
I got as close to the edge as I dared and surveyed the car park.
Did they see?
He defnitely saw.
Or did he?
I headed back over to the fire escape, barrelled down like a stream through brick pipe and decided I should be leaving now.
Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.
I got to the car park I had been surveying.
The Sun was setting now— shades of crimson leaking across the horizon.
The car park I had been surveyed from.
There he was; the balding, moustachioed man in a bright blue boiler suit, taking long drags of his cigarette and longer, menacing glares at me.
He started to move.
I darted behind one of the few cars; wedged between fence and fender.
The boiler suit was just far enough away for me to be out of sight.
In my sight?
A gap in the fence— and beyond the mercury flow of the stream, the bridge and the path back
The sky’s on fire now.
Swiftly, with all the gazelle like grace I can muster, I glide through the gap.
On the other side I dust myself down; I head down to the stream and run a thin coating of mud off my palms.
I walk into the sunset.