Forgotten Futures: Blakeley’s Highwalk

Any visitor to the Barbican will know its highwalks. The criss-cross of raised footpaths provide a confusing but just-about functional means of traversing the much loved residential and cultural centre. But follow them to the estate’s edges, attempt to use them to exit to the City at large, and whatever strange logic they possess starts to break down.

A bridge you half-remember led to the tube station you want ends abruptly in mid-air, its access point fenced off. A pot-planted path entices you around a corner into an enclosed, paved backwater, where the sounds of an unseen city roar in the air around you.

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Should you explore these dislocated spaces, or better still find yourself on one of the dwindling number of similar stretches that are adrift about the City, you might see – moving through them with detached, ritualised ease – a smartly-dressed woman in her seventies.

This is Gillian Clarke, and for three decades she has been searching for an old friend of hers, or at least for what she believes to be the means of his disappearance: The highwalk where there is – or was once – a gateway to other worlds.

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The truncated limbs and architectural non-sequiturs Gillian treads are the decayed afterimages of a once shining vision: a post-war dream to replace the crater-pocked landscape the Luftwaffe made with an airborne City of the future, in which motor cars stream along unbroken highways, while pedestrians glide above happily on a City-wide network of ‘pedways’.

Driven by the London County Council (later the Greater London Council) and embraced by the Corporation of London, the scheme was made law in the 1960s – any new office block was compelled to accommodate the plan.

But – as is well known by those who study the restless borders of the capital’s dimensional territories – London resists a unifying vision. Londoners, along with their shops and their pubs, remained stubbornly ground-level, and the pedestrian paradise never materialised.

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Gillian and her colleague John Blakeley worked in the London County Council’s planning department in the 1960s, when John had been bursting with optimism. He was, says Gillian, as we walk the remnants of the network-that-never-was, “one of the bright young things at the LCC, pushing hard to implement the whole thing from the start”.

But progress was slow, and as the 1970s wore on, Gillian witnessed a change in John. “The barriers – funding, the conservation lobby, public apathy – wore him down”, says Gillian. He withdrew into himself. Gillian remained a good friend but he began to alienate other members of staff.

He became a figure of derision, not least because of a magpie-like habit of cluttering his desk with an array of unusual items.

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“The ‘Trinkets’, the others called them. He was vague about them, even to me. Said he found them in markets, junk shops. I mean, this was the ’70s. There was a lot of odd stuff you could pick up in the hippy shops off Carnaby Street. But some of these things were beyond odd.”

There were unidentified fragments of bone, obscure dried plants, bizarre sculptures. Pieces that might have been Roman coins, except their strange symbols weren’t Roman. But strangest of all, she says, were the “little gadgets” arranged among the hoard.

“Every now and then one of these things would appear around his desk. It seems unreal now, but they clicked and whirred away in his corner of the office for years”. The mechanisms were made of stone, or strange metal, impossibly intricate, and engaged in seemingly perpetual motion, their purpose mysterious. “They’d be hard to explain even now – we never could find the batteries –  but back then they seemed like witchcraft. Only they were around so long they just became background noise”.

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One thing in particular Gillian remembers well. “There was a pair of them – two smooth, jet-black stones, shaped like flattened, elongated eggs”. One evening, when most of the office had gone home, John had showed Gillian a trick.

“He placed one in my hand, and lightly touched the one he was holding, tracing his finger across it in – well, in a pattern which I have tried to recall many times since”.

As he did so, Gillian’s stone lit up – briefly, warmly – with a swirl of colours, and spun ever so slowly in her palm.

This was the 1980s, Gillian recalls. Things were changing in the City. Thatcher’s government was working hard to dissolve what was now the Greater London Council. The pedway scheme seemed suddenly like the whimsy of a previous era – some pieces of the network were already disappearing.

And Gillian had begun to worry about John’s health.

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“He seemed unwell to me. Tired, thinner. It wasn’t just middle-age. I looked at him one day and he seemed suddenly much, much older. And something was gone. Some spark, some desire for life in the city.”

Then, at an office Christmas party, things came to a head. John had had a bit too much wine. He lashed out at his colleagues, at their ‘tiny lives’, their ‘lack of ambition’… ‘so much is achievable. You haven’t got a clue’.

Gillian took him into a side room to calm down. That is when he told her that his Trinkets hadn’t come from junk shops.

“Whether he said ‘other worlds’ or ‘other times’, I can’t remember”, Gillian says. “But he told me that in some redundant recess of an unconnected section of highwalk somewhere, there was a doorway”. A doorway nobody knew but him.

He was drunk, he was rambling, she thought.

“I don’t think so now”

He left the party, but at some point that night he must have returned, because in the morning his desk was cleared out. John – along with most of his strange collection – was gone.

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Gillian walks me along dark, weed-taken paths that weave through a brutalist office complex; through the strange, double-backing corridors of a post-modern development somewhere behind Bishopsgate. We have passed fag-breaking office workers, a few sleeping bags – even the occasional hurried Londoner, using the walkways for their intended purpose.

Now, we stand at the windswept, south-eastern edge of what remains of London’s walkways in the sky. Across a grey, choppy river, The Shard makes its presence known.

Gillian tells me there was one item John didn’t take with him that night. He left it in her desk drawer, for her to find.

She reaches into a pocket, and holds out her palm to show me – a single, jet-black stone. ‘This’, she says, her fingers closing again around the flat, oval shape. ‘This is the reason I still look for John’.

She has no idea if John Blakeley’s highwalk even remains. Every time she returns, another piece of the network has gone, lost to Crossrail or the steady flow of skyscrapers.

Her search has become more of an annual habit, a mark of respect. Whatever hope Gillian retains is cold and resting like the stone in her pocket.


  • Candidate: Blakeley’s Highwalk
  • Type: Transgalactic [unconfirmed]
  • Status: [unknown]

 

 

Night static: The Nine Elms Entity Recordings

These are transcripts of three recordings made within the last month. They were leaked to us by someone working for a company that logs radio traffic within the security industry. The fate of the subjects (whose names have been changed) is unknown. PoL’s attempts to follow it up with the relevant bodies and corporations have met with resistance.

The events within, to our mind, constitute convincing evidence for some manner of cross-dimensional breach.

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RECORDING ONE: 7.1.18 0218 

Guard One: Found anything?

Guard Two: Give us a chance

G1: How’s it looking down there?

G2: Well creepy

G1: Diddums. I did say I’d go

G2: Next time you can

G1: Suits me…. Are these your Maltesers?

G2: Hands off. I know how many’s left. Four

G1: (munching) Two

G2: Wanker

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G1: What? You’ve got pockets, haven’t you? Anything left lying around the trailer is fair game

G2: Nob

G1: Is anything down there or what?

G2: Not much. Apart from the ingress

G1: They need to get that sorted

G2: Yep

G1: You’re not warming your soggy socks on the heater again, my nostrils can’t take it

G2: [inaudible]

G1: But is – can you hear anything?

G2: Not with you all over my frequency

G1: Oh fine, then. Tweetie bye

[30 seconds pass]

G2: There’s nothing down here

G1: You’re still alive! I’ll call off the search party

G2: Weird, though. Definitely heard something

G1: Have you been up the far end? Checked every dark inaccessible corner? You can’t just swish your torch around and call that a search, you’ve got to get down on your hands and knees and get in there

G2: Yeah, yeah. Oh!

G1: What?

G2: Nothing. Must have been a rat. Passed right by my foot

G1: Why I let you have all the fun jobs, I don’t know

G2: I’m heading back. It’s well creepy down here

G1: Wuss

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RECORDING TWO 9.1.18 0346

G2: What’s it going to be down here, anyway?

G1: Basement rooms for the service staff

G2: Spacious, at least

G1: Might look a bit different when they’ve put the dividing walls in

G2: Oh yeah. They’ll never know how creepy it was

G1: Don’t start that again. A grown man, afraid of the dark. Ever thought maybe night security isn’t the job for you?

G2: Wasn’t it meant to be your turn?

G1: It’s you who keeps hearing things

G2: Well, there isn’t much down here

G1: You surprise me

[light static appears on Guard Two’s end]

G2: [inaudible] see it when its finished

G1: Finished? The block? They won’t finish them, mate. No-one’s buying the flats

G2: — said they’re all sold off-plan to foreign billionaires [inaudible] even built

G1: That was the first lot. The foreign billionaires have moved on now

G2: -‘ll be your Brexit

G1: Maybe. And so what?

G2: So, it’s a waste is what

G1: Well, they won’t get built, mate, cry about it all you like. Might be a few rich wankers knocking about down the road in their private gyms and floating pools, but this crop’ll stay like this for a while yet. Empty shells

[static]

G1: Of course, they’ll still want security at night, so suits me

[static]

G1: Loz?

[static]

G1: You still there, mate?

G2: -d on

G1: What?

G2: There is something

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G1: Something? What?

G2: – light [inaudible] – of hovering light

G1: A torchlight? Is someone down there?

[static]

G1: Loz? You there, mate?

G2: Not a torch. Wait, it’s gone now, behind a – no, there – HELLO?  —‘S THERE?

G1: Loz?

[static ceases]

G1: Loz? Listen, if there is someone down there then maybe you should –

G2: I don’t know

G1: What?

G2: I’m walking towards it, but – Maybe I imagined it

G1: Imagined it? Jeez. Is this a repeat of the time you thought we were under attack by terrorists and it was scrawny teenagers making a youtube video?

G2: Gagh

G1: What?

G2: Suddenly stinks down here, the water [inaudible]

G1: What?

[silence]

G1: Look, if you want to head back for a cuppa I won’t call you a wuss. You’re freaking me out, now

[static returns]

G2: – water’s moving

G1: You what?

G2: – flowing toward – ugh

G1: Now what?

G2: -ssive dead rat

G1: Seriously mate, the kettle’s boiling

[static ceases]

G1: Loz?

G2: That light up the other end, it seemed to – maybe I’ll take a look

G1: Loz, mate, leave it. You said yourself you imagined it

[silence]

G1: Loz?

G2: Yeah, OK

G1: You’re heading back in?

G2: Yes

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RECORDING THREE 12.1.18 0258

G2: There were elms, you know.

G1: You what?

G2: Elms. Elm trees. Around here, centuries ago. Nine of them, presumably

G1: Fascinating. What made you think of that?

G2: All that water I guess

G1: This ingress?

G2: See, it was all marsh round here, originally

G1: Loz. What are you gibbering on about?

G2: Maybe that’s where all the water keeps coming from

G1: From the past?

G2: From the – I don’t know, the ground water, the water table, what have you

G1: More likely to come from the sewers, given the smell

G2: Do you know there’s the timbers of a jetty up by MI6 which are six and a half thousand years old?

G1: Blimey, you’re a font of enlightenment this morning

G2: Just trying to keep you company. I know how spooky it is down there

G1: Doesn’t bother me

G2: Is the water moving?

G1: Hold on – no. Yes! It’s hard to say

[static appears on the line]

G1: woah

G2: Rat?

G1: -nake!

G2: A snake? Really? Could be an eel?

G1: -k, yeah. Maybe. [inaudible] glimpse in my torchlight

G2: Pretty weird, either way. How did that get in?

[static]

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G2: You seen enough yet?

G1: – check up the far end, I guess

G2: You did hear it too, this time?

G1:  -ot sure now. There was –teen floors of plastic wra-[inaudible] a gale above our head-

[static increases]

G1: -ait!

G2: What is it?

G1: [inaudible] hovering light

G2: What? The light? Is it – what is it doing?

G1: Hovering. Jee- [inaudible] the fuck is it?

G2: I don’t know what it is. I hoped I imagined it. Maybe get out now, Col

G1: – there but not there –

G2: I know. Get out now, Col

G1: [inaudible]

G2: What?

G1: – moving. It’s moving. It – [inaudible]

G2: Get out, Col!

[From here heavy static covers Guard One’s end of the line, his words hard to discern]

G1: [inaudible] – kiz —

G2: Col?

G1: – close [inaudible] me!

G2:  Col? What’s happening?

G1: [inaudible] yer [inaudible] ack! – agh!nah–

[end of audio]


  • Candidate: The Nine Elms Entity Breach
  • Type: Unknown
  • Status: Unknown