Archive for the ‘sidetrips’ Category

I haven’t done much walking recently, but I did manage to get a few stationary miles in today at Southport Hospital, taking what is known as a ‘treadmill test’. This is a bit like going on a stepping machine at the gym, but with wires stuck on one’s chest, and lie-detector lines being drawn on screens and paper. I was advised not to look down, but instead to focus on the noticeboard filled with holiday postcards at eye-level in front of me – cheerful things, slightly faded, with a blue cast given the relative endurance of cyan pigment. There was a girl in a thong on a Greek island, and a star-shaped promontory in St Petersburg… While I rested from the unaccustomed exertion, Dr Mohammed gave me the result: ‘you have angina’. Not really a surprise, after two months of painful one-mile walks to work in the cold air, with syncope at the edges of my vision and a floundering collapse at the end. But still, I would rather have discovered that I was being a hypochondriac, or that these symptoms were a random after-effect of some virus.


I had to take another test, so I stepped outside the hospital during the enforced break. It was a beautiful sunny day. If this was Dante’s ‘dark wood’, it was gleaming… but I felt lost nevertheless. Angina may not be very serious (I really don’t know; I don’t even know which brand of angina this is yet) but the diagnosis felt like being told which bullet has my name on it. It felt like… an end to having an everlasting body? In a way my inner being had always felt solid, ongoing, but now suddenly not so. Until today, like Norman Maccaig I might have said ‘Self under self, a pile of selves I stand/Threaded on time’ but (stumbling into the hospital’s Applejack cafe, with its surprisingly-unhealthy sausage-themed menu) I felt like just one, scared little self. A small meat object with temporary self-consciousness and a long to-do list.


An ultrasound completed the day’s entertainment. All I can say about this curiously intimate experience is that my insides seem to have a soundtrack created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.


I finally left the hospital for the day. Feeling like a bracing bout of psychogeography, I headed for Southport’s ‘Sussex Road’, vaguely intrigued by the association between the beginning of my walk (Southport) and its end point (Sussex is where Brighton is). I walked this long street in the chilly bright sunshine. I have no idea what this angina gig will mean for the ‘walking home’ project – 20 mile hikes and Falstaffian drinking bouts may well be a thing of the past; worst of all I might even run out of words like the unspeaking couples in the hospital, simply losing life’s momentum. But I daresay I’ll power my way to the end point, buoyed by the chemical diet prescribed by Dr Mohammed (five daily pills and an optional spray), chemically-assisted arteries pumping away like fearsome cyborg engines and no worries.


One thing I do know is that moderate alcohol consumption of the ‘two unit’ variety is supposed to be good for chaps in my condition. Heck, it’s probably compulsory. Frankly, I was ready for a couple of units – if ever the dictum that ‘a pint of plain is your only man’ had been valid it was now. So I went into the Guest House, a Southport pub that is sublime beyond measure. There, over a glass of Copper Dragon, I staved off self-pity with a conversation with a man who said he was travelling the country writing a book about the ‘death of Britain’. This conversation was more fun than it probably sounds. Afternoon light moved across the wood panelling and the strange abundance of life continued to flow.



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This journey has taken nearly thirty years – from the time I met James Pyman at art school, to his wedding to fellow artist Penny McCarthy last weekend. Back in 1980, James lived in Eastbourne and we met up there a few times, exploring his vast collection of comics, little imagining that decades later we’d be masked up ourselves, drinking toasts on an island near a sinking city…

Anticipating the trip to Venice filled me with low-level dread. The idea of a place without roads, with no obvious ways to move about other than unlikely-sounding boat-like affairs, was unsettling. The helpful notes sent out in advance of the wedding said it would be hot, may smell, and that we would almost certainly get lost. My stay-at-home self thought ‘Great, a foetid maze!’… In my mind’s eye Venice loomed a sinister, dubious place, like the city portrayed in Clark Ashton Smith’s story A Night in Malnéant. As in that tale I imagined that I would ‘lose myself more and more in the grey labyrinth’, drawn inexorably towards a strange fate while the buildings ‘grew vaguer and vaguer amid the ever-mounting darkness and fog, as if they were about to dissolve into oblivion’…

I set off from Ormskirk, seeing the newly-opened station building for the first time, its acid-corporate-yellow ticket hall like a miniature pod of international travel. Liverpool South Parkway, not new but new to me, was equally forceful in its modernity – I was struck by the picture of Liverpool vinyled onto a window, its watery viewpoint foreshadowng my destination.

The airport was pleasant enough, the presence of Wetherspoons outlets complete with real ale on either side of the security gate beginning to reassure me that this trip might be OK after all. A few hours later I was walking through a surprisingly empty Venice at midnight, wondering how safe the ancient alleys were, getting lost and overshooting the hotel having radically misunderstood the scale, then realising I had arrived after all.

In the morning, woken by the heat at 4.30am, I walked about for a bit. Saw many beautiful things, found St Mark’s Square empty except for men hosing it down, looked for the famous runes on the Piraeus Lion but (story of my life) found different runes on a different beast, did find the almost-suppressed golden arches on a McDonalds near St Mark’s Square but as it was shut was forced to stumblingly order a coffee from a real place – which damn near blew my head off, in a sublime way.

At 10 I met up with the wedding people and we were into the delightful process of the day. The average period of time I hadn’t seen people was about 12 years, so there was a sense of time-displacement – as if the guests at a 90s party had been hit by an ageing ray, or extrapolated into a sitcom dream-sequence future with the addition of grey hairs, laugh-lines, partners and children (not pictured).

Walking around again the next day, finding the whole place effortlessly enjoyable now I that I realised that you’re meant to get lost and it doesn’t really matter, I thought that Venice is replete with time and it’s hard not to feel sense of ‘long ruin’ amongst the collapsing masonry.

But I also got a sense of a place that is over-viewed, burdened by the net of criss-crossed camera-angles (sign on bridge carefully planted with flowers: ‘NO PHOTOS’). Space seems to be carefully protected
too, contested with the vast numbers of tourists, with notices official and amateur asking people not to sit, stand, or PIC-NIC

and (the previous night) a waiter asking me and Andy to move our chairs a few inches to optimise his route back and forth to serve drinkers in Campo S Margherita by a microscopic degree. Frequent graffiti may be a way of reclaiming the space.

The strange city of Smith’s Night in Malnéant is the site of an uncanny, neverending funeral. By contrast, Venice – a place I am unlikely to ever visit again – has been encoded for me as the scene of an eternal, joyous wedding, redeeming time in the very midst of all its beautiful debris.

There are people I’ve always known waiting to be met in the next street and writing on a wall by St Mark’s Square says: YES! YES! YES!

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The last two days of walking have been triangulated against some kind of literature. The next will be no exception, as I am heading for Leighton Buzzard where, back in about 1974, I bought a book that has retained great meaning for me over the years – Conan of Cimmeria. This paperback, which I have in my bag, was the first collection of Conan stories I read. Robert E. Howard’s sword-and-sorcery hero captivated my teenage imagination – stories about a marvellous world combining every kind of adventure story, full of scary monsters a bit like those of H.P. Lovecraft, but with a hero who prevailed over them rather than passively subsiding into insanity as HPL’s protagonists tended to do. For me, the Hyborian Age started in the WHSmith in Leighton Buzzard, LU7 7DN – accessing a rich seam of pulp literature, and a sense that one should (as the Quakers say) ‘live adventurously’. So revisiting the place is an essential milestone on this walk.

“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet” wrote Howard, describing what we might now call a ‘portfolio career’ – rather than specialising in, say, ‘reaving’ as a job-for-life, Conan use his transferable skills through many roles – buccaneer, mercenary, king etc. Similarly, I have multiple roles (albeit less colourful – ‘Hither came Mister Roy, a marketeer, a science fiction fan…’ doesn’t set the pulse racing). Whereas Conan tends to progress from one thing to another, my various aspects all seem to coexist, which can make me feel like the leader of a small unruly squadron, always threatening to deploy the wrong technique at the right time: doing a business presentation as a piece of performance art, turning a poem into a marketing matrix.

Life is complex like that and I guess we’re all mashups of diverse elements. As well as multiple identities, there are multiple realities to negotiate. In a great piece about London, Michael Moorcock suggest that creation of virtual identities and virtual living environments is a survival strategy, effective ‘as long as we’re fully conscious’, and talks about psychogeography as the recovery of lost London. Personally, I’m not from London, so I don’t have those particular ancient paths to rediscover. My quest is to stitch together the places and times where I’ve ended up, virtual or otherwise; an assemblage of cities, towns and villages and the unknown tracts of lands in between. Which is why I’m walking, trying to explore my own real/virtual worlds by physically slogging through them. Rather than psychogeography I’m calling what I’m doing autobiogeography – a conflation of ‘autobiography’ and ‘geography’, but also the ‘biogeography of myself’ – my own physical (blood sweat blisters and local real ale) interaction with places. As well as walking I’m creating this meandering document, like Conan in his throne-room, drawing a map of the semi-legendary places he had wandered through, because the official ones were ‘vague and faulty’ concerning his ‘northern countries’.

All of which brings me to be walking up Midsummer Boulevard in Milton Keynes, on a hot midsummer night. I haven’t discovered any evidence of Conan’s prehistoric Hyborian Age, but in a Wetherspoons I find unexpected evidence of an even more ancient world – a flyer for an art show called All Hail Atlantis, vortex of illumination.

Milton Keynes isn’t actually on the walk, but will be my base for two nights while I try a haul from Buckingham to Leighton Buzzard. This is the longest time I’ve spent in MK and the experience of visiting the centre is very enjoyable – I love the spacious walkways and unbroken modern-ness. Perhaps I’m appreciating what J.G. Ballard described as ‘the ambiguous but heady charms of alienation and anonymity’. The Encore hotel, a new sub-brand of simple-cheap-efficient sleeping machines launched by the Ramada chain, seems intent on counterbalancing any alienation with words: they are ‘exciting, passionate, fresh, stylish, vibrant, upbeat and refreshing’. By Crom, that’s a lot of adjectives – qualities I hope will infuse me during a long walk.

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On Monday night I found myself staying in a Holiday Inn in the middle of Leicester, in St Nicholas Circle to be precise. This was part of a work trip, ‘work not walk’ as I explained to Suraj, who suggested I visit the city’s Jain centre. Nevertheless, awake early I decided to walk the territory in which I was temporarily located.

The night before, a colleague from Leicester University (University ‘of the year‘; it’s their year, we just live in it) had remarked that the Holiday Inn was built on a traffic island. Having arrived at it by taxi I had no real sense of where it was, but was mildly interested in the idea of a road-locked building. With memories of Ballard’s Concrete Island surfacing, I decided to circumnavigate the hotel as a pedestrian.

Immediately outside the hotel, I photographed various corporate Edward Scissorhands/Zen Garden features with my phone.

Walking away from the building, a lack of pavement did seem to indicate that this place was designed to be accessed mainly by car.

A sign offering WAY TO HIGH ST/SHOPS pointed along an unpromising path which did lead to some actual pavement – I was on my way.

Walking around the hotel in the gray dawn light involved several pedestrian crossings, art-like installations, spoor of absent V for Vendetta enthusiasts and another Zen garden.

I found a bridge that seems to span the whole island.

A side road looked interesting: a few yards walking took me to St Mary de Castro church. A sudden bank of flowers had me inwardly quoting a joyous line from Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May: ‘Look at all them bleeding bluebells!’

I now found myself on an official Trail, finding bits of castle and other heritage elements of the city. Apparently Chaucer was married in the church – it all seemed distant from the Holiday Inn, still looming behind me (ironically reminding me that I was at work not on holiday.) I began to feel in tourist mode, feeling a pang that I couldn’t spend the day exploring such sites.

I walked through a 1926 park, ‘a haven of peace and tranquillity’ according to an information board, and found the River Soar, overlooked by stern head-men.

From there it took just one death-defying dash across a four-lane road to get back to the precincts of the Holiday Inn. (The ‘Holiday Inn Can-do promise’, predicated on the fact that they ‘want you to stay with us again and again’, suggests some kind of timeloop or eternal moment: comforting in a way. Anything you don’t like, you can ‘call toll-free’ (an expansive, breezy, American-seeming way of calling) to a location on Brierley Hill – doubly comforting as it was a stop on my walk home.)

Back in my room, breakfast eaten, assembling my work identity from ties and PDAs, I looked down at the road I had just crossed. Over the course of a few minutes several people wandered across the traffic lanes, suggesting that this island is part of an invisible desire path, an unofficial route formed by people’s natural ways of travelling. Coincidentally, this phenomenon was referred to at the conference I attended later that day, as a metaphor for the ways people in organisations form alliances outside the official hierarchies. (Thinking now about my assemblage of cyberbuddies…)

Walk done I headed to the conference venue in a taxi. Glimpses a sign for a Nelson Mandela Park, saying THERE IS NO EASY WALK TO FREEDOM ANYWHERE in huge sans-serif lettering, which made it seem like a municipal announcement or warning. The conference, HEliX (which could mean many things, including for instance ‘lithium hex sigil’ but which actually denotes ‘The Higher Education Leading Internal Communications project’) was in Oadby – home and parish of Simon Harvey of Walking Home fame. In his post Circular blogging on the homeward theme, John Davies imagines us meeting up ‘in some Everards pub or other’, which sadly didn’t happen as our schedules didn’t coincide: our journeys intertwining helix strands rather than parts of a circle, at least for now.

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We spent a long weekend at Othona in West Dorset, participating in a ‘reading retreat’ with the title Journeys of Discovery, led by Mandy Addenbrooke. I’ll let Othona tell its own story, provide a few establishing slots from the first morning to show the kind of place it is, and say it is as familiar and dear to me as any ‘home’.

The first evening was spend meeting people, sharing a meal and some ‘reflective time’ in the Chapel. Tony Jacques read a short passage from a book called The Path by Chet Raymo, an account of the author’s repeatedly-walked one-mile journey to work, where ‘Every pebble and wildflower has a story to tell.’ Raymo’s comment that ‘Any path can become the Path if attended to with care, without preconceptions, informed by knowledge, and open to surprise’ was a good lead-in to the weekend.

In the sitting room we introduced ourselves with accounts of significant journeys, a process which sketched out a huge variety of experiences among the 14 or so participants. Along with many kinds of life-changing or -illuminating travel, the journey along the birth canal was cited, which I decided to re-enact the following morning

in the slide on the new treehouse

(DO go towards the light.)

Time for a bit of reading – something I find little time for these days. I decided to re-read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust in the light of my recent peregrinations, finding it (like walking itself) a book full of awkward wonders which I will no doubt return to frequently.

Before lunch we gathered in the Library for some discussion, in different ways answering the question ‘What is it about travelling from A to B that makes us tell stories?’ One thing that emerged was different ideas about the value of the concept of a spiritual journey – perhaps there are other metaphors, such as a jigsaw or garden, that could be liberating or useful in different ways.

In the afternoon I decided to do some actual walking. The SW Coast path is readily accessible from Othona, but I decided to head inland. This involved walking seldom-trod, hummocky field-paths through sinister empty farms. Crows cawed overhead in a gloomy afternoon. The hills around here look archetypal, like the backgrounds of Tarot cards; here they also seemed abandoned under the piled grey clouds.

Rather than press on inland, necessitating a return trip though this Land of Grimness, I walked along a lane to Burton Bradstock where I found friendlier-seeming paths and stiles.

smelled sap from recently shorn hedgerows

and returned along the coast, grateful to get back to an Othona beneath a lowering sky.

After tea and cake we had a session sharing from a favourite book. I only found out about this aspect of the weekend about five minutes before we left, which meant I hadn’t had time to find something impressively literary, spiritual or intellectual. Instead, I had grabbed a battered copy of Tarzan Alive by Philip Jose Farmer, moved by PJFs death earlier in the week, and my memories of discovering this amazing celebration of subliterary heroic fiction as a teenager. When my turn came I referred briefly to John Clayton/Lord Greystoke/Tarzan but moved swiftly on to stuff from the Solnit book. This was a bit of a lost opportunity, as I could have spoken about the hero’s journey embodied in E.R. Burroughs’ tales of an orphan changeling, or quoted the elegaic final passage from Farmer’s book where Tarzan contemplates inevitable ecological destruction and its posthuman aftermath:

The trees would green the earth again. The earth would be, if not as wealthy and as beautiful in life as it had been, still wealthy and beautiful enough. And he would, if he were lucky, be here to enjoy it, to loaf, to invite his soul, to have adventures, to talk with the beasts and those men worth talking to. Pass the time of day and of eternity with them.
If not, so be it.
The tall, bronzed, black-haired and grey-eyed man, more Apollo than Hercules, disappeared into the green chambers.
The forest god’s skin gleamed as he crossed an open space, and the moonlight seemed to bless him.

Loafing – inviting one’s soul – having adventures; probably as good a recipe for spiritual journeying as the quote from Thomas Merton which I actually shared.

In the morning, it was slightly brighter. I took some more pictures, exploring the textures of the woodpile and the endlessly changing views of the sea and the grounds.

Then another discussion session. The zig zag passage of sailing craft, always correcting course, never going straight. Gleaning subtle information from travel and bringing it home, in the manner of bees. A gap in the fabric, through which we see ‘more’. Seeking the inexpressible. Encountering people, the unexpected, the differences and, perhaps, an underlying soul-sameness. The weirdness and inexplicable nature of the past and, indeed, the present. A mass grave of Barbie Dolls discovered by future archaeologists. Finding ‘something that isn’t us’ when we travel attentively.

Othona offers a temporary experience of community, held together by a small core who live there and run the place. Daily chores are an important part of the community experience and a great way of getting to know people. Today I was on table laying, in some ways not a good job to get as it needs doing three times. But I love the tables here, centre of the house, the place where much of the life happens. Sometimes home to leaves from the polytunnel.

After lunch I read a book that I found in the Othona library, The English Path by Kim Taplin, which ‘explores the history of footpaths through the writings of poets and novelists from Hardy and Jane Austen to Jeremy Hooker and Iain Sinclair’ in fine style. Here I discovered the ‘old Latin tag’ solvitur ambulando which ‘means something like “You can sort it out by walking”’. I decided to put this into practice with another excursion, in an afternoon that was now sunny and warm: a last day of winter offering a foretaste of summer. I played with manual exposures, self timing and worm’s eye views:

made many attempts to photograph a vapour trail and a shining oxbow pond

got mildly lost in a grotto-like stretch of woodland

and returned to Othona, beneath sunnier skies today, where there was some Dorset Apple Cake on offer.

An accidental encounter with a children’s entertainer unsettled me in unexpected ways. [Insert metaphor here: distracted me from my journey; defoliated my garden; scattered my jigsaw pieces…] Why being near someone in a chicken suit should surface feelings of loneliness and confusion (untelling my stories quicker than I could retell them) is a mystery to me. There were some grim months in my childhood, in a place that was not my, or anybody’s, home; unlike Othona, an unsafe space: perhaps during that time some State-appointed mummer, clown or pierrot added to the misery. I’ll never know; it’s as inaccessible as the precise history of the scratches on a pebble. Some memory of those times has led me to love Tarzanic accounts of captivity and escape; to value walking with a kind of solitary, aloof dignity (like Sheeta the Leopard); to want to control my own Foolishness.

After a fitful sleep, grimly planning ways to have the most adult, non-children’s-entertainer experience possible (reading Schopenhauer whilst drinking Laphroiag, smoking a Latakia blend pipe tobacco and wearing evening dress with opera playing on the Third Programme was the best idea I could come up with at 3am – an experience that would be very tar-flavoured if nothing else) I woke up to another bright day.

A final session of discussion: touchstones and takeaways; unlikely twins; how voyages might differ from journeys; pilgrimages in which you ‘come out from the centre of your life’; human-made routes having a ‘claim on the landscape’; the pleasures and virtues of being grounded on mudflats and calmly waiting for the rising tide.

And then there was just time for a few more photos, before the six-hour drive home: the participants on a break, textures, plans, the blue-pipe rune of farewell.

And we’ll be back, running a weekend ourselves in early April: The Map is Not the Territory.

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Shadow Trolls of the M5

Going to Othona, on a six-hour motorway drive, I took some more random pictures. Every fifteen minutes (the same frequency with which Simon Templar (‘The Saint’) would light a cigarette in the earlier novels of Leslie Charteris) I snapped a picture from the passenger window.

Result? Lots of wood-fringed banks, seen in a rushed-past blur. A representation of monotony, but my looking-eyes hadn’t noticed this sameness – what I saw (but didn’t photograph) where the novelties, the less-frequent items: the shaded concrete underbridges, home to whatever the modern equivalent of trolls might be; the glimpsed field-and-wood scenes of absurd picturesequeness, like sepia Merrie England end credits of afternoon films; the low steel angles of retail and enterprise zones; the unimaginable motorway neighbours, doing normal household things a few metres from a neverending torrent of speeding vehicles; the M. R. James flapping ghost-bags bleached in black branches; the fields I had once slogged through to get to a service station bed; the swathes of corporate colours dimmed by oily dust on lorries passed and re-passed; the raptors, the radio-masts and the hi-vis man wiping the reflective collars of traffic cones clean.

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Google Maps show an imaginary place near to where I live: a town with the ugly name of Argleton. This has been commented on elsewhere, with theories that they have simply got the name Aughton wrong (though Aughton appears as well), or that it is a deliberate mistake, designed to catch out unauthorised users of the maps, like a ‘trap street’ inserted in an A-Z map. However, Argleton does more than just sit there as a hidden feature: it shoves its way into people’s attention in many ways. Various software packages use Google’s geographical information, and Argleton seems to have primary claim on the surrounding postcodes – one can rent property there, or read inspection reports for its nurseries, at least according to the internet.

The possibility of actually visiting an imaginary place seemed irresistible. In terms of my journey, not to go there would be a dereliction of duty, like saying ‘I could have made a detour to Rock Candy Mountain’ or ‘Tir-nan-Og’, ‘but I decided to press on directly to Maghull instead’. So today I decided to make the expedition – from the world we know to a fictitious and uncertain place.

Reaching non-existent lands can be accomplished in many ways, but I decided to use Google itself to navigate to this one. After all, they invented it. I summoned up a route, which turned out to be a straightforward hike along the A59, rather than, say, a trip through the back of a wardrobe. Mundane as this may seem, I kept my eyes peeled for signs and portents – not knowing what relevance a strange map created from a faded planning notice, a partial alphabet tool in a closed-down garage, some broken fencing in the shape of a rune or a burning web may have in later stages of the journey. It pays to be prepared.

If Argleton were to feature in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, it would have good company in the A section, such as Amazonia, Averoigne and Atlantis. Specifically it would nestle between Argia (which ‘has earth instead of air’ and where ‘the streets are completely filled with dirt…over the roofs of houses hang layers of rocky terrain like skies with clouds’) and Argyanna (‘a strategically important town in southern Rerek’).

I think what’s offensive about ‘Argleton’ is that it sounds like a mockery of Aughton. Perhaps it is like the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, except rather than being a portal for evil beings, it acts as the doorway for forces of debasement, parody, travesty and corruption; forces of error that subtly undermine and distort…

So I approached cautiously, peering towards it across innocent seeming fields,

finding the ‘place’ to be protected by various walls, broken fences (perhaps magically stronger in their broken-ness), wards and charms.

I moved towards the epicentre. I paused before passing beyond the realm of true names to that of the unashamedly fictional.

You have to take care at these times. It is all about detail… I had come equipped, with apparatus to protect me from any strangeness that might occur. I didn’t want to come out the other side reduced to a parody of myself, shambling out transformed into, say, Ray Byfield, Marketing Director of Argleton University. So I had with these items with me:

1. A Wonder Woman comic. I thought the Lasso of Truth, wielded by a character created by one of the inventors of the lie-detector, would provide some symbolic defence against irreality.

2. A bad copy of something else: Kyrik: Warlock Warrior (Gardner F. Fox, 1975) is a pastiche of Conan the Barbarian – a piece of entertaining but unoriginal hackwork; Kyrik is to Conan as Argleton is to Aughton. I thought a bit of this would be a kind of inoculation, passages like ‘The outlaws stared at that darkness, saw it shot through with streaks of vivid lightnings, red as the fires of Haderon’ acting as antigens against any reality-dissolving effects that might be encountered.

3. A toy tapir, bought recently at Transreal Fiction. I figured this little guy must be steeped in alternate worlds, having lived in a science fiction shop for a while – s/he could help navigate back to the real world if some compromised reality became confusing.

The time had come to walk in to Argleton itself. A small copse of trees, with a stream and a tumbledown kissing gate, seemed appropriately fairylandish. I paused to photograph the sky, a dim gesture towards Google’s Brother Eye satellites – watching, distorting, from above the bright skies.

A few more metres took me beyond the ‘argleton’ zone to Aughton itself, described in Arthur Mee’s Lancashire as ‘A Patchwork of the Centuries’. This description could lead a fancifully-minded person to expect some collage of time, with biplanes and pterodactyls flying above people hovering to the post office on their anti-gravity discs. However Mee was really just talking about the church, which unfortunately was locked. But, like Kyrik (p.79) I had ‘Enough [coins] for a wineskin and a leathern jack or two of ale’, so I visited the Stanley Arms. I ordered a pint of Clark‘s Classic Blonde, reflecting as I drank the pleasant hoppy beer (3.9% ABV) that I could construct the whole remaining journey around beer with risque names, and how my feminist pals of the late 70s would have boycotted pubs and breweries for this kind of thing. Guess I’ll be visiting our old haunts when I get to Brighton…

Then I began to think, had I actually left ‘Argleton’? Or was I still in some kind of alternate universe? The differences could be minor. Perhaps, in one of the decorative books arranged in an alcove in the pub, one word would be different. Or maybe when I left and peered back towards Liverpool, I would see Lutyens vast, never-built cathedral dominating the skyline, instead of the familiar wigwam.

And I was right to be concerned. As I left, I found the evidence: a discarded, new Woodbine packet in a hedgerow. I’m convinced that Woodbines don’t exist anymore, or rather that they hadn’t when I left home. It’s been a long time since Van Morrison ‘Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner’…

A pack with the health/death notice on it would be anachronistic, like a horsedrawn carriage with a CD player. But in this world, people still buy and smoke them. So here we are, through the looking glass. Argleton, and all unexisting paces, have become a tiny bit more real.

Walking the territory redraws the map.

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