Last night I was supposed to go to a party, but in the end I didn’t; I went for a walk instead.
Lone city walking is something I’ve done ever since I was a student in Norwich 24 years ago. Every now and then, the urge would hit me and I’d head out for a meander through the suburban streets. Dusk was my favourite time, the houses aglow like lanterns, the lights on but the curtains not yet closed. I loved how each identical terraced house was unique inside – some richly coloured and jewel-like, others artlessly homely, as comfortable as old shoes.
Swansea has its own flavour – a little harder around the edges, less quaint and somehow more expansive, the sighing sea an open, beckoning border. From my house in Uplands I head west to Sketty, the pavements glossed with rain. Streetlamps are haloed by the static fuzz of water droplets, and the occasional taxi swooshes wetly by. Sketty’s big houses are hard to see into; most are set back from the road, up flights of steps. An occasional Christmas tree is the only reward for my trespassing eyes, so I loop back, tracing the streets like a loving finger, right down into the crevices of Uplands and Brynmill.
Here, terraced houses flash neon pink and blue. Christmas trees shimmer in windows, and occasional figures pass me by: jostling testosterone lads; girls in their best black dresses, hair ironed, wafting perfume. A louche student smokes on a doorstep; I think he says something but I have my headphones in, listening to Siri Nilsen’s ethereal yet muscular Norwegian songs; they are a strange, otherworldly soundtrack for this walk, and as I don’t understand the words they leave my mind spacious, open, free.
My walks are not about thinking, at least, not in a linear way. Thoughts and feelings pass as fleetingly as cars, and I make no effort to hold onto them. I know, though, that something happens en route; a kind of sifting and sorting, a system reboot. Over the years my city wanderings have helped me filter through my passions and wants, my friendships and loves, my jobs and my pastimes, separating the vigorous from the vapid, the true from the false, the nourishing from the barren. It’s the special magic of the city streets; the glimpses of other lives, other possibilities; the soft beat of my footsteps; the knowledge that I am moving on, moving forward, and the route is not prescribed.
Wandering down into Brynmill I pass a chef on his way home from work, his whites gleaming in the darkness. The smell of drying laundry wafts on the breeze and I score a special success by seeing into a house I have long been curious about because of the hippie ornaments in the garden. Inside, a man sits on the sofa looking out at me, ‘Love and Peace’ emblazoned on the wall behind him.
Down on Bryn y Mor Road I see men nursing lonely pints by a pub window. Two lads run at breakneck speed down the middle of the road, while I turn into the backstreets, emerging on Walter Road near my favourite Chinese restaurant, where a fat man and a thin man stoop hungrily over their bowls.
Back in the Uplands, people mill on the street in their New Year finery. It’s an hour or so to countdown, by which time I will be home and in bed. I hope they enjoy it, and maybe next year I’ll join them, but this year’s transition is a quiet one.