There is something magnificent about goodbyes. I don’t mean those goodbyes you say to friends as you’re leaving a party – jovial, shambolic, hammered hugs – or the goodbyes that friends say when they move abroad, when you know it will be months before you next say hello.
I mean the goodbye of trees as autumn turns to winter. And the goodbye of a building as it is demolished.
Everywhere I look I can see leaves, no longer lush fresh greens, but shining yellows, luminous reds, burning oranges. They’re unbelievably staggeringly beautiful, and they’re everywhere. No longer happy to be strung out along a branch, leaves fly through the air, press up against a windowpane, scatter along the ground. Grey pavement, black tarmac, brown muddy paths are all at once thickly carpeted in rich burnished ambers.
At this time of year, trees are begging to be noticed; bored of being overlooked in favour of summer’s flowers, they change colour and spread themselves to fill everyone’s vision. It is their goodbye, their swansong. They know that as winter comes on, and their leaves continue to swirl to the ground, soon they’ll be no more than bare greyish skeletons, nothing much to look at, too easy to forget.
Currently existing not quite as a skeleton, but rather an extraordinary shell, is an old school, in the midst of being pulled down. Its huge frame soars up above the rubble-filled old schoolyard, way up past the protective fence erected by the demolition team. Its insides are open to the world, scarred in blue, pink and yellow, marking the different coloured paints that used to coat each wall. Old chunks of floor and ceiling hang suspended, caught by twisted lengths of metal, momentarily saving them from dropping to the ground. The stairs are a rubble slide and doorways gape open, paths from dereliction to more dereliction.
It’s impossible not to stop and stare, while walking past, to gawp at this huge megalith as it is crumpled, crumbled up by the demolition machines gnawing steadily away at it. Soon it will be nothing but rubble and dust. And then something new will be built in its place, sealing its erasure from the cityscape.
I won’t remember the school as it used to be – a big, nondescript, vaguely ugly building that always had police at the gates. It’s this dramatic scar, this final, painful, ongoing goodbye that will imprint itself in my memory.
It’s every bit as beautiful as the leaves.