I moved in to a small room in Southampton opposite a congregation of parks. I've been here two weeks now, and whenever I've been given the opportunity, I've patted out the limits. In cities, everywhere is so immediately close, and when you're fresh in town you're surrounded by an intricate network of things.
Some of them are bad things. Students like to focus on bad things; it gives a good sense of mythology and folklore. After dark, everything looks at least 20% scarier. Behind us is an estate block, looming up in the dark, and a row of shops that probably have some very good deals but look incredibly shady once the sun has gone down. Even the parks turn evil. During the day they're pretty - for a while there were tastefully decorated rhino statues, people playing football, greenery, hobo fights. At night, a park just on my doorstep becomes known as 'Rape Park'.
I didn't take stock in this - what better place to set a horror story than in a place just outside where we live, in the dark of the trees? And during Freshers Fortnight - a two-week period where clubs will try with all their advertising might to get you to spend your money on Jagerbombs and vodka-mixers - it seems feasible that there are going to be a lot of drunk young potential victims walking home at night.
Saturday is my favourite day. Everyone is out in the town and there are markets and buskers and I get to do my shopping and sometimes ride my bike. I was making idle chat with someone on the way out of my room, and they told me the park had been cordoned off by police, so I couldn't ride through - it's the easiest way to get anywhere. I thanked them and went out. They were right.
Hoards of police were combing the grass, looking for something; I assumed it was a knife. People started saying there had been a rape. If they were looking for a knife, we thought, it was either going to be a stabbing or a rape involving a weapon. I told my friend how where I come from, there aren't police, and how different this was. A day later, police started asking around halls. The police spoke in their usual riddles, but it was clear: it had been a rape. Right outside my door.
The park seemed shaded with different crayons. I felt confused about things, and my head hurt a bit. It rained when I was on my way back from shopping. It's been a confusing week since. So many people saying so many different things and I've been trying to make sense of it all, trying to figure out the good and the bad and the nice and the nasty and if there's any chance I can write a blog post about any of it.
I went out to do my shopping this morning and town was busy again. On my way past the park I suddenly heard bagpipes playing. There was a whole band of bagpipes and marching drums. Just playing for us - not collecting money, not preaching, or promoting. Just playing. I stopped and watched for a while. Some people drove past and shouted to ask if they were wearing anything under their kilts.
It made me happy. Things started to make sense. The park, like the world, was random. Like flicking through television channels - you'll see different things, some good, some bad, and some depending on the time of day. It's random, it the most literal way. But if you stick around, something good might happen.