In the early eighties, I used to live in the Crescents, a 1970s housing estate in Hulme, Manchester (UK) - this was a place so far underneath the social scale that our near neighbours in Moss Side would look down their noses at us with disdain.

Appearing from above like giant concrete nail clippings, scattered, nested and curled about each other, the Crescents comprised five separate curved buildings, each six stories high and up to seventy two flats - say 300m - along. Flats were accessed by means of graffittied urine-smelling stairwells and occasionally functional elevators, and then by exterior walkways, running the length of the Crescent, onto which all front doors on that floor opened.

I believe their concrete components were bulk-manufactured on some massive assembly line, shipped in, and slotted, lego-like, into place on the cantilevered steel skeletons that bore the structual load. In other words, mass produced housing for the masses, done dirty (let's not forget the asbestos boards meant to reduce fire risks) and done cheap.

Ironically, they were named after eminent architects and designers: John Nash Crescent, Robert Adam Crescent, William Kent Crescent, Charles Barry Crescent.

You could traverse the whole of the crescents due to connecting walkways at the third and fifth levels, giving you a potential social round of about 1500 flats without ever touching the ground (though since many residents kept dogs, and few had pooper scoopers, you still needed a fully operational dogshit radar; more so, because the inadequate lighting on the pitch-dark walkways often failed.)

The bedwarfed denizens of these giant grey people-grinders were students, dropouts, problem cases, and the insane and near insane - de-institutionalised brusquely under Thatcher's 'care in the community' policy - as well as a few relatively normal people and oldsters in need of cheap housing.

Walking back from the shops one day, and looking up to the third floor, I was surprised to see an enraged drunkard hopelessly attempting to sharpen a large kitchen knife on the concrete ballustrade, shouting and slurring his incoherent and murderous intentions down to his drunk and laughing wife, below. I hadn't been there long.

Negotiating the aerial concrete pathways to return to my flat after 12 hour sessions of Elite, I would observe the local environment, a repetitive rectilinear succession of walkway arches, windows, and doors, moving in a series of tiny jerks, mimicking the spectrum rendered vector graphics of the game.

I remember the day when a friend from along the way ran into our flat, having exited from his balcony as his door was axed open, requiring a 36 hour spell with four sleeping bags, two bars of the electric fire and much water, until he could stop shaking and tell me that he'd come down from a three month binge of living on amphetemine, coke and mars bars and was in some difficulties with his suppliers (last I heard, he was a graphics lecturer in a different city.)

One of my rare times in the local pub, I watched in hysterics as Isaac, a wandering busker of ancient grizzled appearance and unpredictable tendencies, finding it impossible to negotiate the thick crowd of drunkards, gangsters and tetchy wannabees, simply walked right over the pool table, mid-game, to the sudden and astonished silence of all. A couple of years later, someone walked into the same pub and casually emptied a shotgun into a gangster/wannabe head.

I remember laughing almost every time I passed the anti-traffic bollards, which someone kind had painted so that they all looked like penguins.

I remember the guy who used to do his rounds with a shopping trolley full of bottled home-made wine (Chateau Barry) for sale, and Mad Ken, the 'Flying Scot', a barely intelligible petty thief and ne'er-do-well, so named after his brief but legendary flight earthwards from a 6th floor balcony, after a stumbling be-pilled attempt to gain entrance to his own flat sans keys. After hitting the ground, he lay there, back broken, for six hours, either too polite or too zoned to request help.

I particularly remember the angry presence of the Foreign Legion guy, so-called because he spent days outside his flat, with a two-foot chisel and a large hammer, engraving the insignia of this military organisation inch-deep into the concrete walkway floor - marking his turf. In my daily peregrinations, I would invariably pass the engraved section, where often he was to be found, ruddy, cropped, powerful and mean-looking in his habitual stained oxfam slacks and string vest, exercising his pit bulls and bulldoggy mutt by throwing fresh-looking bones down the walkway for retrieval. I would wander casually past dogs and owner, nodding a greeting nonchalantly, without speaking, containing my fear.

If you've read Vurt, the Crescents are fictionalised therein as Bottletown.

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