In this instalment of In Her Place Stephanie Cottle teams up with sound artist Liam Baugh. Together they spent a day in Blackpool collecting snippets of sound, images and thoughts.
Following the announcement of government plans to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Liam and I headed towards the seafront hoping to capture a sense of Blackpool as it tries to adopt the ‘new normal’ that is so often referred to in the media. Unsure of what to expect, our aim was to simply gather fragments from our town, historically a place dependent on tourism – an industry that had almost been completely extinguished by the pandemic. Although a nervous anxiety still lingered in the atmosphere, on the day we found a town brimming with life, so far removed from the subdued scenes we had seen just a few weeks earlier.
On that day we heard gleeful laughter and grumbled complaints. We heard instructions issued from electronic speakers, mothers, fathers, and members of staff. We saw traces of work that happened quietly throughout the time in lockdown; street furniture that had long been bedecked with bird faeces sparkling white and new, buildings we didn’t recognise, signs for shops with no blown bulbs. Around us there were signs enticing us to come closer (but not too close), step inside (but book online), wear a face mask (but jump in the wave pool). Here are some of our findings.
The soundscape created for this column contains field recordings of the promenade & town centre. It includes a recording of famous Fylde-coast busker Andy J and is complimented by classic TV advertisements promoting Blackpool.
“Are we staying all day?” a young boy says squinting through sunshine up at his mother. He hops from one foot to another and his trainers light up, twinkling like the coloured bulbs that adorn the arcade entrances over the road. She nods and smiles, or at least I think she smiles, it is difficult to tell from under her mask. The child beams and bounces off in front of her down the promenade. Yes. Here all day!
SORRY THIS TRAM IS NOT IN SERVICE
“Watch where you’re going David!”
“Yeah well, that’s the thing isn’t it. We just don’t know until we’ve had a go. Yeah, it’s busy down here. No probably until about 4pm. Hang on, hang on, some girl is trying to get a picture of the donkeys. ‘Ere love! I’ll turn them round for you”
“No get a different colour one from Sarah”
The people out in droves. The seagulls are out in droves. They honk and screech and waddle and flap and swoop. They scour the ground with their glassy blue eyes. They are the sentinels of dropped donuts. They are the pastry crumb seekers. They are the watchmen of discarded chips. During the ‘deserted spring’ the seagulls searched for mussels on the beach. They carried their gritty, barnacle encrusted treasure in their sharp yellow beaks. They flew to where the concrete meets the sand and dropped the shells from great heights. They listened, eager to hear a crack, hoping to reveal the hidden fresh sea meat within. Now there is no need to spend the day combing the sand. Not now the pavement offers easy riches again.
“Imagine how many people have touched those two pence pieces…”
“It’s one way! Obviously some people can’t read”
Towering over the promenade, a man in a hi-vis jacket works from a cherry picker. He leans over the handrail to reach an enormous corrugated shutter. At the moment a few rows are clear – he has a long way to go. It seems like such an impossible task. Lifting, scratching, scraping years worth of brittle red rust from the metal. He pauses, breathes, switches hands and starts again. It must be disheartening, to see how much still needs to be done. The man continues to scrub, applying intense pressure to expose the unweathered material underneath. I make a mental note to find this shutter again the next time I pass. I want to see the results of his labour and then I want to see how long it takes before the sea air takes the iron again.
Photos by Stephanie Cottle.
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