Posts Tagged ‘argleton’

For a long time now I’ve been pondering the best route to take for the last part of the walk. I could veer off into the southwest, strike the south coast and approach Brighton from the west. Or I could skirt London anticlockwise and end up arriving from the north close to the route of the M23. Or head straight through London and come in via Kent. Each has its attractions, pros and cons and today was the day I would decide.

I left Great Missenden with some gladness. Despite its superficial normality, I had found this place to be sad and uncanny, rather like something from a story by Robert Aickman, or the phantom town of Argleton that has been all over the media recently. Hiking out through autumn paths, leaves cascading down through wild air, felt like escaping a strange impasse.

I spent an hour or so walking past large detached houses, my lower-middle-class bungalow-dweller envy-antennae twitching. Some of its citizens were out, performing their Saturday rituals in a mist that seemed to freeze them in place; jogging, football with kids, driving to get the bloated weekend papers. I stalked past, locked in my own hard-to-explain rite, moving from Great to Little Missenden via a dank A-road underpass, thoughts turning towards the vast sunken cities in the works of H. P. Lovecraft and away from the giant houses of these dormitory villages with their hard-to-maintain gutters and weed-threatened gravel paths.

Soon I was in more open fields, feeling space and silence and the simplicity of just walking for the first time in weeks. A ragged patch of sunlight moved across the red trees. It was All Hallows Eve, a day when some believe that divine beings and spirits can walk around unsummoned. I don’t know what I believe about such things, or indeed anything: a vagueness that contributes to my urge to wander to places that no-one has summoned me to visit. Myths cascade, ideas melt, movement is all that remains… This could be some postmodern condition I’ve inherited, or it could just be a function of geography. J. B. Priestley talks of the ‘mistiness’ of Britain being important, creating landscapes where ‘instead of everything standing out sharply, one thing melts into another, almost like the strange places we see in dreams.’

My unlimbered walking mind free-associated from this to reggae band Misty in Roots, stalwarts of late-70s RAR gigs and festivals, and their memorable declaration that “if you’re not conscious of your present, you’re like a cabbage in this society”. I used to grow cabbages, but these days it’s a rare thing for me to even cook one that hasn’t been pre-shredded and bagged by distant devices. I need to rediscover some slow, real things; I ‘need something to slow me down’ as Joey Ramone once sang. (All proof that, when walking, ‘as the body advances the mind flutters around it like a bird’.)

It may well have been that countless spirits, angels and demiurges manifested themselves around me in the Halloween fields but I didn’t have eyes to see them – except of course for a Home Counties green man, a corporate international mermaid, and Lucifer the light-bringer depicted in the porch of a church (on a poster for a recital of Milton.)

I could have headed southwards towards the hotel we were to stay in, but on a whim headed on eastwards towards Amersham. Here, in the Saturday market bookstall, I made my route decision, using the crude bibliomancy of book purchase. As guides to London and Kent were on offer, that is the way I would go – crossing the metropolis and reaching the east coast before bouncing back to Brighton.

Buoyed by this decision, I started marching westwards, though horse fields and woods to Chalfont St Giles where I finished. Time now in the last of Autumn to re-read Paradise Lost and start towards winter with a more definite aim.

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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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