Following the collapse of the union and England’s dissolution from Europe, unrest had broken out between the Southern and Northern regions of this infant and increasingly infantile country. The vast fracking fields that stretched northwards from Nottingham to Newcastle and across from Liverpool to Hull had become an increasingly political issue following the breakup of the Union. A Wild West style land grab had taken place with energy companies wading in to tap the gaseous gold that lay below the already pockmarked mantle of these former pit towns. Little concern was given to the environmental and geological destruction been wrought in the aim of gaining quick and unsustainable wealth. Fleeting fortunes had been made, yet the misfortunes that followed far outweighed any gain in gold. The environmental time bomb created by the Great Fracking Experiment undertaken in the early 21st Century had been triggered.
Cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool revelled in this new-found wealth and embarked on ambitious civic projects: skyscrapers, ground scrapers, every type of scraper imaginable. Putting aside regional differences, they joined forces, bolstering links between them through trade and improvements to infrastructure. The Blairite vision of the Northern Megacity had become a reality. For the first time in 300 y ears, London had an equal within it’s own borders; a fact it acknowledged with an uneasy smile.
As in ancient Pompeii, most failed to notice or adhere to the geologists’ concern over the small tremors that seemed at most a minor hindrance. Money was to be made, so any consequences would have to wait.
By 2030, increasingly independent from Westminster, the northern city states had begun work on a new capital for the region. Dubbed the ‘Brasilia of the North’ by the rapturous media, this planned city would take the strain off the others, which by now were flailing under the weight of cancerous unplanned growth. Centred around the Warrington area, this city would become the ideal. A model of uniformity and pride, an ideal for others to follow and a standard for future growth and uniformity.
The task of engineering this colossal development was handed over to the Peel Holdings, a company with a proven track record of turning former brownfield sites into prime real estate, with a little help from central government when times were not as prosperous. Yet who could argue; they had so quietly gone about acquiring huge swathes of land over the 20 years since the semi-completion of the previous projects, Liverpool Waters and Salford Quays, that by now they held the monopoly, sway and say in any development that took place. Not through choice, but through engineered housing bubbles and lack of any other option, the monotonous cladding of the neo-brutal apartment blocks that defined turn of the century urban living had remained en vogue, their small, quirkily placed windows providing a uniform view of a world blindly sailing toward collapse.
September 6th 2032: Blackpool, North West
The strip took on an almost sublime demeanour as the sun rolled out along the Irish Sea, spreading its confident talons across the casinos, hotels and theme parks that jostled for attention along the finite space of the promenade. The Victorian splendour of the tower, unrivalled, in part due to the restrictions imposed by sight lines, stood erect in the morning light. A confident thumbs up to the rest of the world, casting its self assured shadow across the stirring metropolis that spread out in its wake.
Fun seekers staggered home alongside the migrant workers heading out. The clean up process had begun, thus preparing the city for another day and night of excess. This cyclical binging and purging had become the lifeblood of city; Blackpool had finally settled into a groove. It felt good. The previous centuries’ mixed fortunes of booms followed by prolonged busts were fading beyond memory. Fist Me Quick hats, phallic lollies and denture-dissolving rock had given way to theme hotels, chain restaurants and an anything goes mentality unrivalled anywhere this side of the equator. The city and its inhabitants were literally glowing – perpetual illuminations – cheap energy and relaxed gambling laws equalled good times. All that moaning about fracking now seemed…well, kind of stupid.
Accompanying the cleaners and street sweepers was the sight of a group of engineers heading toward the base of the tower. Trending local news reported that the night had seen an unusually large amount of minor tremors in the Lancashire area. A regular occurrence, the tremors had become so regular that many failed to notice. Reports suggested that urgent surveying work was to be carried out…cool.
Supposedly strict planning regulations, implemented from Westminster, required all new and renovated buildings to take into consideration tremor proofing but most turned a blind eye. The increasing polarity between central government and its increasingly outward looking northern counterpart meant that many simply paid little regard to policy enforced from below. These laws were seen as little more than interference from jealous neighbours in the south who were still recovering from the second financial collapse in a decade, something the northern regions had remained immune to due to lack of financial investment at the start of century. Though the seed still swelled bitter in the hearts of the ageing generation that could remember the first global crash, desolation had left them exempt from any fallout, a clean slate for the ultimate fracking state. Besides, these tremors measured near insignificance on the Richter scale; any self-respecting northerner just put up with them. To acknowledge was a sign of weakness.
October 25th, 2035: Somewhere over north Wales
DUG-A-DUG-A-DUG-A-DUG-A-DUG…rotors overlapping overhead. Bastardised Old Skool/Gabba/2 step/Dub: the song of the swarm had amassed into a pulsating sonic throb that blanketed the landscape, reverberating through the lightless valleys below.
Buffeted by Atlantic gales that had swept in from the west, the metallic throng made its way northward, over what had formerly been the nation of Wales. The once craggy yet imposing landscape now resembled nothing more than a quarry mined to utter desolation. A landscape collapsed in on itself, exposing the manmade shafts that snaked through its permeable surface like the collapsed veins on a junkies arms, We didn’t know when to stop—to be honest, we couldn’t—we were now injecting into the groin, the front line of the Great Fracking Experiment.
Made up mostly of Chinese helicopters, but with a handful of other South East Asian nations accompanying, the fleet was heading toward the Merseyside Metropolitan District; by far the largest, and now the last and only working port in the Autonomous Northern Zone (ANZ).
Drifting above the lifeless world below, the odd flare from a working well brought one back round to reality, . momentarily flooding the air with its warming presence, as if to jointly warn and entice.
The forest of cooling towers and chimneys that spread out across the once prosperous Cheshire plain no longer cry smoke. Faint tracks of stirred earth, left in the wake of the hovercrafts that navigate crumbling terra firma, sweep left toward the port, indicating the pilot should do the same. Swift turn into Mersey basin, the pilot catches the passengers off guard; a flurry of arms flailing, reaching for support. Wary fingers grip a little harder.
To the right, cranes punctuate the horizon, the stalled brutalism of the semi-erect new city a black, unlit mass, precariously perched upon the fragile crust.
For the rookie reporters, the haunting scenes laid out before them stirred memories of that fateful September morning three years ago,. its consequences still reverberating through the minds of its global audience. The HD phone footage of the once-proud steel of the tower collapsing toward its deathbed of glass, metal and masonry Final act: flaccid, pointing to four on a clock that stopped midday as if to accuse those in that direction of blame. The disappeared earth and sea—a day in the life of one giant hole, Blackpool, Lancashire.
October 25th, 2035. Dawn, Port Liverpool.
A spectacle of disintegration was unravelling before his eyes. Flares echoed above. Slow motion sheet lightning lighting up red, the faces of heaving masses gathered along the waterfront; John Martin’s Last Judgement no longer confined to canvas.
News helicopters circled above, no-fly zones not enforced. Who was actually in charge? Searchlights highlighting the tempestuous brown flow below, parodying those on land in its eagerness to escape as it made its choppy exit into the sea.
At the mouth of the river, the silhouette of a huge vessel made its way upstream towards the pier head accompanied by a procession of EU-affiliated Chinooks and hovercraft, the noise of the fleet deafening, adding to the suffering of the gathering crowds.
This sight was not uncommon, and images of these evacuations, like the famine porn that defined the 2020’s had become so engrained into the world psyche that they hardly registered as newsworthy. However, what made this one different was that this was to be the last.
The ANZ, not formally recognised by Westminster, but recognised by other nations was high on the agenda when the G4 met in the spring of 2033. Military intervention had been vetoed by Russia and China but it was agreed that an aid programme would be worked out: Operation Lazaretto. In the two years since the great quake and subsequent collapse of the fragile earth below the fracking fields of Northern England, a steady stream of aid, mostly from the Federal European Union states, had made its way towards the port, navigating the contested waters around the Irish Sea.
Now, in a move that further increased its isolation, Westminster had decide to enforce a blockade on all aid entering and leaving any port within the Autonomous Northern Zone. The conservative agenda seemed hell bent on the complete destruction of the ANZ, which it blamed for a spate of ‘terrorist attacks’ in the Greater London Area, somewhere around Birmingham. This escalation in tension between Westminster and the FEU had pushed the story up the ranks in terms of newsworthiness; it now lay just behind the exploits of those entombed within the Chinese Big Brother House.
A sound not dissimilar to the extinct sound of suicidal whales as the metal loading doors of the vessel made their drawn-out descent to the dockside; a long resigned yawn that seemed to reflect the passivity of it all, of everyone and everything. Dawn began to break. The chorus of metallic onlookers, humming above as the crowds, withdrawn and uncertain channeled their way into the giant container. Where were they going? Who would let them in?
Turning, he surveyed the cityscape, as if accepting the finality of it all. As the light rolled in from the east, the concrete shafts of the unfinished skyscrapers around Liverpool Waters became visible. Light, the only commuter along the pristine tarmac, travelled up, onto the pavement, rising along the glass and cladding. Embellished with repeated corporate logos—SERCO—PEEL—TATA—desolate avenues, pedestrian zones devoid of life; windswept plaza after windswept plaza. He imagined a time before—that job interview he didn’t get—when he walked along the dockside and wept. It was as if not that much had actually changed in the time between the Lazaretto leaving and 2014.
Born in 1985, Dan Szor lives and works in the hinterland between the North and the Midlands. Studied Art and Politics MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. Frequent lecturer in Image Making at The University of Salford. Dan is a regular abseiler and presides over the dark culinary art of ‘Lobby’ making.