'I voted Labour,' said the woman at the bus stop. I was riding past and despite the weeping rain encouraging me to hurry home, I squeezed the brakes a touch so I might catch what she said next. 'I always vote Labour. We all vote Labour but we rarely get Labour.'
'Locally we do,' piped up another.
'Oh, yes, locally... But we never voted for Tories and look what they do.'
Momentum was my enemy. Even with my brakes slowing me down, I was soon beyond earshot. Yet I didn't need to know the rest. I know what 'they do'. Everybody knows what they do. They take away hope.
Hope used to exist in the form of the town's further education college. Nearly all of the locals had passed through its doors at one time or another. It was a much loved building and reassuringly solid, crafted from red brick and the local sandstone artfully arranged in a style of the late nineteenth century. Buildings of the same kind dot the North West, the last reminder of the patronage of industrialists who lived among their workers rather than across the globe. The buildings usually have impressively old dates and reassuringly down-to-earth names inscribed on various slabs. Ours was the kind of old municipal building that was built when people took pride in their town. I'd never studied there but I'd used its library often. It was full of the kind of technical books missing from the local library next door. It also had the only quiet study room in miles.
The college had been there over a century before cuts turned it into a smashed derelict. Developers then arrived and offered to turn it into flats and they assured locals that they'd respect the much loved facade. Protests were started but the council allowed the sale to go through. Then there was an announcement that the much loved facade was providing difficult to respect. It wouldn't fit into designs. There was a request to demolish it but then the protests turned more serious. People amassed outside our much loved college. It was something they cared about.
I can't emphasise that enough. The town has never had that many buildings to help distinguish from any other. We had a beautiful art deco cinema which (handily) succumbed to fire after developers couldn't get permission to demolish it. We have a town hall that stands empty and I have no doubt will eventually go the same way, despite it being the town's chief landmark and one of the venues where the Beatles played before they became famous.
Yet no building felt quite as important as the college. It was the place where many relationships and marriages began, careers were formed, and opportunities taken. It was the place where new mothers went to learn the skills of motherhood. My own mother went there to learn dressmaking, which accounted for all the home made trousers I wore as a child back when 'austerity' wasn't a political catchphrase but a grim reality. Fathers went there to learn skills such as plumbing or plastering. It even had a small sense of academic credibility. You could study for 'O' levels at night in subjects such as French and Maths. After it closed, it was replaced by a local community centre where you can study subjects ranging from 'crystal reading' to 'Zumba' or whatever weird new fitness craze is currently popular. If I weren't so depressed, I'd have written that line better. It would have been funny.
The old college was part of what made this sad little working class town different to all the other sad little working class towns. Then, one morning, not so long ago, the town woke up to discover that the old college had been completely flattened overnight. It's now a bloody big hole in the ground. There were protests but nobody really fights too much about a pile of rubble. I don't know why I care or I choose to write about it on this wet pleading Friday at the barrel end of another five year Tory government. Around here, very few people voted for the government and the government will know it. I guess things will get worse before they get better. And complaining about it does so very little.
Like everything I write on this blog, this post enters the void of internet banalities which all ultimately mean so little. Read this or look at a cat meme. It all means nothing. Is there even any meaning behind a load of red bricks piled up a certain sensible way a hundred or so years ago? The Tories would probably say there isn't. The bricks of the old college have now been sold on to provide the authentic Northern working class look to some town houses in one of the more fashionable middle class zones in Manchester, Liverpool or beyond where the bankers and footballers live.
Those of us who used to cherish having a local college now just have a hole in the ground and, coming soon, some bland jumble of the modish and the mod con.
And I don't really know what I'm trying to say other than it was very grey in town this morning and I got very wet.