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Archive for April, 2009

Sometimes everything just comes together. Today’s walking was as perfect as I can imagine – great weather, interesting discoveries, fantastic views and the green of spring flooding in. Blossom scattered on the path. A day bursting with life – even though I was headed for a battleground. Today’s walk aimed for the small hamlet of Edge Hill, where the first skirmish of the English Civil War occurred in 1648.

(Update: I discovered afterwards that I had walked close to ‘The largest ammunition dump in western Europe‘, part of the gorgeous vista seen at the end of the day.)

I had a new toy along for this journey – a GPS logger, which has plotted my route and added location data to my photos. If you navigate to my Picasa (by clicking on a picture), you will notice map positions for each photo, and a kind of map-route for the whole album, with an option to ‘view in Google Earth’ if that’s your bag

In the instruction manual it points out that GPS ‘was originally developed in the 1970s as a navigation aid for submarine-based Trident missiles’. Using a weapon-aiming system for creative entertainment seems slightly anomalous – like taking wedding photos with a sniperscope. But maybe it isn’t so odd – I already use Ordnance Survey maps, presumably designed to help get ‘ordnance’ into the right place. However I’m not pulling a gun carriage with me today – just trying to ‘look at the pictures’ in the ‘Book of Life’ and maybe fix some moments of meaning in the crosshairs.

TYME FLYETH
WHAT DOETH THOU?

says a sign on the church at Harbury. Today I’m walking and writing – not magic realism, but maybe magic autobiography, placing cutout fairies in the hedgerows to hoax myself…

Most of the day was spent on the Centenary Way, a path though Warwickshire designed to celebrate the Council’s centenary.

After Harbury, there were miles of lanes and fields walked under fresh skies, the weather getting warmer as I went. Broken fences made the runic shapes I love so much for miles.

I brushed the M40, often-driven road to the South, beginning to get views of Edge Hill in the distance.

At Northend, a sign indicated a ‘Chapel of Ease’ which seemed unmissable. The small chapel, made of the deep yellow stone used for many buildings around here, was cool and peaceful. A black binder contained information about an aircrash that happened yards away during World War Two. Earlier I mused idly on navigation by weapons system. Fortunately Trident has not been used in anger, but decades ago death and destruction were being delivered by aeroplane. A B-17 bomber came to earth here, its crew of 10 killed. It was carrying 42 oil-and-rubber filled incendiary bombs which would have gone to Bremen, in a plane decorated with a bomb-throwing Alley Oop flying a purple pterodactyl.

Outside, a lamp-post had a pleasing Unmitigated England look, of Tipton manufacture, a little reminder of the West Midlands.

Walkinghometo50 has made me a connoisseur of canals, disused railways and shopping centres – all of which involve walking on the flat. The cluster of hills above Northend (Bonfire, Windmill, Magpie) were the steepest ascent I’ve made for a long time. I heaved, panting, to the top, thinking I need to do more walking between walks.

Descending, I found Burton Dassett All Saints church, and the adjacent holy well in its Victorian shell.

All Saints is in Simon Jenkins’ 1000 Best Churches book, in which he gives a rousing description of a church in ‘a wild spot at the watershed of three Englands.’

On though more fields to Avon Dassett, where I had lunch in the pub, looking at the village built from more of the yellow stone. Sitting still meant the breeze was chilly so I moved inside, where Sinatra was singing The Tender Trap. Vague musings of the eros-power of the season as mating insects flew by.

Now I actually crossed the M40. I love the contrast between the tracks and byroads that cross the motorways on the dozens of bridges glimpsed by drivers – ancient droveways lined with weeds and covered in the droppings of cattle – and the motorways themselves – newer, faster, busier, seeming to cut through the landscape rather than be part of it. I’m not anti-motorway, I just notice how different they are, and the proximity of very different types of road, seen from the less-usual angle, reveals a complex palimpsest-like quality in the landscape. (I’m looking forward to Joe Moran‘s book On Roads: A Hidden History, as I’m beginning to see dimly the interest that roads offer – vast horizontal sculptures…)

I began my ascent of the Edge Hill escarpment. This will be the third Edge Hill I have connected with this route – the others being the University, and the Liverpool district. When I say where I work, people sometimes ask ‘Where is that?’ often followed by ‘Oh, I thought it was in [insert name of place somewhere other than Ormskirk]‘. I can now say (in a Johnny Cash impersonation) ‘I’ve been to Liverpool, Birmingham, Oxfordshire, West Lancashire… and it’s definitely nowhere other than Ormskirk.’ Despite its lack of university, this Edge has the most actual Hill of the ones I’ve visited, making a superb walk with views back towards Warwick.

If the military lead the way in technological development, then the sex industry is never far behind – consider the internet for instance; there are only about ten non-sexual sites and this is one of them. I toyed with the idea that military applications create technologies which are then used to shill striptease shows, and only after that put to other uses. First comes the army, then the camp followers; farmers move back in once they’ve all gone away. A discarded Fiesta magazine in a ditch below the ridge where the Royalists gathered in 1648 offers a hint that this may be an accurate assessment.

More enjoyable walking brought me to my destination. Who needs porn (specially waterlogged fading pages) when celandines are blooming? The satellites may have been built to aim missiles but we can make art with them now and generally mess about. Pikemen are still clashing and muskets being aimed, not too far from here but thankfully not in this place.

At the Castle Inn, a castle/folly-like tower on the ridge, I got a pint of Hook Norton bitter. Normally I spurn outside drinking as the preserve of lightweights and families, but the view of the battleground was too good to miss. I think outside air causes a chemical change in real beer, as it tastes different – one of those evocative tastes. (Presumably I have enjoyed drinking outside in the warm months of past years, even though it has been by accident.) I looked out across the fields, points soon to be plotted on a map, old stories of crash sites and troop deployments, my own meandering, wondering if this moment will be evoked in future years as I sit in yet-to-be-imagined gardens looking out at stuff.

At the next table, a couple of Sealed Knot men were planning a campaign of some sort.
There was an Easter Egg on my table – I’m a week late for the Easter Egg hunt, but I get an undeserved prize anyway.

Map of this leg

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“Again, like the Surrealists, anything you run across is actually beautiful; within a single city block, you find miraculous things. It’s a good planet — and good things can happen.”

- Lux Interior

I like this quote, not because it is a well-crafted aphorism, but because of its babbling exuberance – it conveys a rare kind of enthusiasm. For me it conjures an image of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach, prime movers of ‘psychobilly’ band the Cramps, wandering the city like harmlessly monstrous goth-burlesque flâneurs, stumbling upon the strange artefacts of trash culture that fuelled the lurching monster of their music.

Revisiting the Cramps’ twisted world has been sad, as Lux Interior died earlier this year. It seems like a blink of an eye since I was reading a review of ‘Gravest Hits’ in the NME (now changed beyond recognition), getting a 26 bus (route now largely that of the 1/1a) into Brighton, buying the record from the Attrix shop (long since closed) managed by Rick from the Parrots (sadly no longer with us).

Everything persists – at least in electric ghost form – I could probably download the Cramps’ entire catalogue in less time than it took to walk to the bus stop. Curiosities such as their performance at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa (lovingly recreated as the movie File Under Sacred Music) are there on YouTube, to be turned on like a tap.

And at the same time nothing remains – my memories of seeing the band live will fade as I do, feedback fading into the background hum of amps on an empty stage.

For a long time, I haven’t had their music as a soundtrack. Perhaps my existence as an amiable suburbanite and vaguely serious professional dude hasn’t needed such a maniacal undertow.

I suppose their celebration of pharmaceuticals falls into the ‘do not try this at home’ category… though saying that, I take drugs very day – the kind that keep my middle-aged life in comfortable stasis. Perhaps I should invoke the Cramps as an accompaniment to my ingestion of chemicals: listen to Drug Train while I spray ‘metered actuations’ of mometasone furoate up my nose to pacify my sinuses (‘Whoo! Whoo!’); Bop Pills while I swallow the Lansoprazole capsules that keep stomach acid from overcoming my oesophagus (‘And man when they hit me, I landed in the middle of the floor’); ‘Strychnine’ while I glug cod liver oil to lubricate my perpetually-aching hip (‘You may think it’s funny, That I like this stuff, But once you’ve tried it, You can’t get enough’.)

I gather that the Cramps struggled with an (understandable) view of them as a comedy band. But they took their trash seriously, pursuing their vision with a relentless intent and utter conviction.

All of this reminds me of  Susan Sontag’s famous essay on Camp sensibility, where she talks of
“the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not…Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman.” To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater…The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful . . .”

Halloween display in Netherton bakers

I think [insert attempt to relate post to main theme of blog] my walk is this kind of camp. Not that I’m mincing my way to Brighton (despite the aforementioned hip problem); rather that I’m paying attention to the “off” stuff along the way (whilst remembering at all times the Cramps safety announcement ‘Don’t Eat Stuff Of the Sidewalk’).  Perhaps way back in the olden days I learned something deadly serious from them – marginal, neglected things can be beautiful: pointless creations can be pursued with single-minded dedication: and most importantly

“Life is short. And filled with stuff.”

- New Kind of Kick

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…sang Patti Smith, once upon a time. Only partially true in our case, though we talked about walks and other journeys during the arts weekend we facilitated at Othona (The Map is not the Territory). It was great to be able to lay out all the maps from my journey so far…

Our house is small, fitting round us like a brick exoskeleton, so unfurling them in a spirit of profligate abandon was a treat, as was the opportunity to pace up and down on them barefoot, remarking on items I had found along the way.

Jennie’s ‘songline’ was a spectacle I wish I had recorded, but it didn’t exist long enough for a shutter to click.

The weekend went well, and I’m looking forward to its second outing at Woodbrooke in August. As well as a really interesting, engaged group, fantastic weather in Dorset helped…

Afterwards, we had a day in Lyme Regis, spent some time in Brighton and then in Halesowen – places on the once and future route.


Entering the Lyme blue period


Leaving the George in Bridport


A Station of the Cross in Dave’s Comic Shop (the best of its kind bar none), part of a ‘Beyond Church’ project – would like to have seen more of this.


Chez Dimitrina ready to dom the world


Punky tree, Dufy blue bus station

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New readers start here

Greetings, anyone stopping by for the first time. The local paper has run a story mentioning my whimsical exploration of ‘Argleton, the non-existent town created by Google as an alternative to ‘Aughton’, so it’s possible that some new readers are checking me out. If you’re looking for what I wrote about visiting Argleton , here it is – enjoy!

I started this journey at the very beginning of 2008. The idea is to walk in sequential stages, to arrive at my birthplace, Brighton, some time around my 50th birthday in a couple of years’ time.

I have walked about once a month, blogging about each part of the journey, with sidetrips and digressions loosely related to the main theme, including a trip to Florida (a place much less real than non-existent Argleton), book reviews and a rediscovered story that I wrote at school.

The walk itself started in Southport. I made my way through Maghull and down into Liverpool, used the ferry (my one cheat so far) and walked round the Wirral and down to Chester. An account of a night in a Premier Inn and its associated pub gets a lot of hits: hopefully my speculation concerning the haunting of reclaimed brickwork is useful to people planning a stay there.

After an abortive journey into Shropshire (a county I now see as somewhat uncanny) I wandered through Staffordshire and into the Black Country. Revisiting places I have lived is part of the plan, hence stops in Wolves, Dudley and Stourbridge.

I have now reached a point south of Warwick. I hope to reach Edge Hill battleground soon, the third Edge Hill I will have visited, following trips to the University and the Liverpool district.

Why am I doing this? I suppose it’s a way of discovering my own country and my own history; travelling slowly through landacpes usually passed at speed on cars and trains; being part of an international community of walking blogging people; putting one foot in front of the other again and again.

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