View from the roof

13 Dec

LATE at night, after the first edition has been sent to the presses and activity ebbs like a slack tide, I climb quiet stairs to the darkness of the top floor, open a tiny door at the end of a corridor, and step out onto the roof. I’ve been doing this for many, many years. It’s become a ritual. Originally, it was a search for peace away from the clamour of the editorial floor, somewhere quiet to eat my sandwiches and look down on the world. Now it’s a place of refuge where I reflect on the hollowness, emptiness and hopelessness of the neutered building beneath my feet.

On summer nights I stand on the parapet above boisterous streets and gaze across rooftops to the distant Pennine hills with their afterglow of sunset. In winter I huddle behind the air-conditioning filters and rake the sky for familiar constellations. Tonight there’s a cold December drizzle, so I just pull my coat about me and squint into the clouds.

The headquarters of the Nitherley Observer and Bugle is a fine and towering example of late Victorian audaciousness, dominating the main street of the town. Had it stood in Dublin, Pearse and Connolly would have occupied its vaults and the British would have shelled it; had it been in Barcelona, the anarchists would have barricaded its windows in 1936; had it been in Berlin, the Red Army would have sought its highest gable to unfurl the victory flag. But it’s in Nitherley. And nothing quite so exciting happens in Nitherley.

There was a time when this building shook from its roots to its gutters as the presses laboured into life. Now the press hall is a hollow cavern where unloved cats wander among boxes and mice scuttle under pallets. There was a time when every light burned bright late into the night and laughter greeted the dawn. Now entire floors stand empty, gutted; vast tracts of building are permanently locked like forbidden wings of gothic castles; downspouts leak and plaster drops from the walls of unheated stairwells.

We few who are left send newspaper pages for tomorrow’s edition down a wire to be printed in a distant town on an unfelt press by people we have never met. We gaze reflectively at the empty spaces where once colleagues spent their working lives before redundancy sliced through like a scythe on one of its murderous passes. And we know that soon, before too long, the scythe will slice again and the great empty space will spread a little further – like a stain seeping across a carpet.

So I stand on the parapet and gaze at the clouds until drizzle runs from my nose and chin, listening to pigeons cooing softly under the eaves and the gutters dripping onto the press hall roof. And I dwell on the golden past and the castrated future and I think: fuck it. Why should I be bothered? No one else is.


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