urban vertical 1991

by uzwi

Orange overalls daubed with sealants hang from a loose cable at the back of the power-tool room. From there you go up in a lift like a ribbed steel coffin smelling faintly of disinfectant. Roof access: pull-down steel ladder, counterweighted trap door. The drop is set up from ring bolts placed at regular intervals along the flat roof, the load spread over two or three bolts with clove-hitches. These bolts were part of a suspension-system for window cleaning cradles, unused because it didn’t get the approval of the insurance companies. Lightning conductors: a flat copper strip runs all the way round the parapet; more conventional rods are placed at the corners. When a storm is approaching, these begin to vibrate palpably. Because the ropes run across the copper strip, this is a good time to get off the drop for a bit. An unimpeachable tranquillity overtakes you once you’re over the parapet of the building. Nothing can harm you now. The wind hits you like a wall, then dies away & there you are, hanging above the trees, cars, old men walking between the blocks, a bull terrier fighting with a broom, women pushing babies in prams, cars like toys–the whole estate laid out below you like the architect’s model it once was. The ropes trail away. Freedom. Freedom from everything. A man unloading something from a van glances up briefly in surprise. Trees which look like coral in the sun. You hang there relaxing after the tension of getting over the parapet. Balconies: kitchen chairs, mops, rubbish in black bags, crates of empty bottles. One of the balconies flooded with two inches of rainwater. As you go down, the wind picks up 90 feet of trail rope, blows it round the corner of the block, where it tangles round a satellite dish. The same gust knocks you ten feet to one side & off balance so that you have to hook one foot under a balcony rail at about the level of your chest to anchor & reorient yourself. You sit patiently twitching a loop of rope until it’s disentangled & you can drop again. Underwear dances suddenly above you over the balcony. A window opens. A hand appears, to throw out dust or crumbs. You can’t see who is attached to it.  You look out over the man-made lake, a kind of Brutalist reservoir now terminally polluted by a sewer-burst. It used to support all sorts of activities, even windsurfing. Now  four or five men set out across it very slowly in a small boat–huddled, cold-looking, perhaps collecting samples of the polluted water. The wind takes all the vigour out of them.