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Posts Tagged ‘holiday inn’

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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I left the Holiday Inn with a slight pang of regret, as I had liked it more than I expected. A visit to a nearby pub had been nice – the experience of a 700-year old oak beamed, low-ceilinged inn (which according to CAMRA ‘rests on wooden piles, some of which date from the year 827’) contrasted nicely with the aggressively perfect comfort of the Holiday Inn. And they had Harveys beer, too.

But it was time to move on. Outside the Inn and at the airport signs of Christmas were in evidence, greenery bringing some kind of winter life into the steely-angled spaces.

The flight itself, over 4000 miles in 8 hours, passed in a sort of half-life of agreeable tedium. Three films of varying merit (The Fall, Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and The Incredible Hulk) all seemed to be about stories and identities, as did the novel I finished (Felix Gilman’s Thunderer, in which a vast city full of gods reconfigures itself accordng to divine actions, and cartography is considered blasphemy.)

In Orlando Airport I met up with most of the group I will be with for the week, on the conference and study tour I have come for. A bus took us to Sarasota, on the Gulf of Mexico – an affluent town with a strong focus on arts and culture, influenced in this regard by John Ringling, the circus entrepreneur. Arriving in darkness with palm trees savaged by a bitter wind, this didn’t feel much like running away to join the circus. However the morning brought sunshine, warmth and a hotel view with glimpses of sea…

We had a free morning to acclimatise so I decided to walk around a bit. The Sunday morning streets were virtually deserted, with the strangeness of like-but-unlike, vastly complex forces making these streets and districts (finance, arts, retail) feel slightly different from UK equivalents.

It was blissful to be in the sun after what seems like ages of wet greyness in England, where the bad weather comes with an undertow of guilt and alarm: the large puddle in the park that never quite goes away seems like a symptom of global warming, becomes a landscape feature, needs to be walked around; in the wintry gloom it sometimes seems as if we are splashing through the outwash of the many concurrent crises in the bio- geo- and economic spheres, various partial disasters merging in a muddy emulsion. But here in the sun those stories don’t seem as necessary. I feel light, like an illusion made of pointillist colours rather than a heavy separate being.

I walked across the Causeway towards Lido Key. A bareheaded stroll across this long bridge was somewhat foolhardy – I began to feel woozy and decided that buying a hat was preferable to sunstroke. In practice this pretty much had to be a baseball cap (there were straw hats but they looked like plastic replicas of Tom Sawyer’s discards) and, after much searching in a shopping place called St Armand’s Circle, I found one with a relatively inoffensive motif of a turtle. I thought this was preferable to a ‘humorous’ slogan of the ‘I like drinking’ variety, or the name of the place where the hat was bought, which would imply an unfeasible level of devotion on my part to somewhere I only wandered into five minutes earlier.

Refreshed by some time in the shade and protected by my new hat I pressed on to the beach. Perhaps the turtle motif bestowed shamanic powers, as I channeled some mystic insight about all beaches looking the same; the sea connecting us all; the same waves massaging the shores of Dorset (where Jennie is right now) and Brighton (where I hope to reach someday on this walk if I can stop making sidetrips.) The sand was white and talc-like, seeming to be made more of shell-stuff than stone: perhaps in some future age to be compacted into chalk to make new Downland: the American Sussex.

I returned to St Armand Square and window-shopped for a while. I don’t know who arranges the music that plays from tannoys here, but it’s great – mainly motown interspersed with light classical. At one point, in a moment of supreme oddity (unless the sun was actually making me hallucinate and it didn’t really happen) a brief reading from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was intoned over some violin noodling, the well-known passage about being prepared for a road trip:

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… Also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

…text which has inspired many a strange escapade but which seems an odd counterpoint to boutique shopping and informal dining experiences. Unless I was missing something.

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Normally my journeys to the start of walks involve getting the first train from Ormskirk, changing at Liverpool and heading south. This time, as I try to get back to Wythall to continue onwards, the route will be a bit lengthier. I intend to get there directly following a work-related to trip to the US, in just over a week’s time – so in a sense my approach to the next leg has started and my current journey is an equivalent to all those dawn departures from home. Which is odd – I feel as if I’ve lost control of the scale of my maps, suddenly projecting myself to unlikely places…

Last week we were in Edinburgh, for a long weekend celebrating our anniversary. In Transreal Fiction, an excellent shop that is one of the few independent SF bookshops in the UK and an always-enjoyable place to visit, I bought a travel guide called Discover Kymaerica. I am taking this to the US to read and have only dipped into it, but it appears to be a guide to an ‘alternative universe’ that shares the same geography as our ‘linear world’. Eames Demetrios is Kymaerica‘s ‘geographer-at large’, who gives talks about his explorations and has helpfully installed a number of plaques around the world, marking historical events from the alternate world which Eames was inspired to discover by trying to ‘sense the stories that were just outside the frame’ in ‘abandoned, falling-apart roads’. Amazingly, there is one of these plaques in Edinburgh not far from Transreal, which the ever-knowledgeable and helpful Mike directed us to.

So now I am heading both to the Florida of the linear world and the Phlorida of Kymaerica. Along the way, following a hectic week at work, I have traveled by train to a Holiday Inn near Gatwick Airport. The journey seemed to involve an endless falling short, not getting quite as far as usual destinations: Moorfields rather than Liverpool Central; Watford rather than London; Gatwick rather than Brighton. The last of the November light faded leaving the windows as black mirrors. My twitter friends all seemed to be on trains at the same time; I felt a brief moment of travel-fellowship with my electronic network. Meanwwhile fellow travellers who were physically in the train with me spoke on mobiles, work calls and family calls, making the train both an extension of the workplace and of hearth and home.

Something was wrong with the train’s PA, so only stray syllables were audible from the announcements – it was like hearing an unfamiliar language with occasional familiar sounds. Suddenly amidst the stray phonemes there was a single barked name – ‘Stafford’ – but without any context, with just miles of dark air outside, it could have meant anything. Though I have been to that place along with many others along the walkinghometo50 way; somewhere out in the unseen fields is my route, recorded in the brighter months.

A sign offered the reassurance of CCTV recording, ‘for your safety’. This reminded me of the unexpected sight of a camera in the trees in the Netherton Country Park, like spotting a bird out of season perched on a branch.

Somewhere on the train a camera was capturing images or rather the potential of images, code plotting pixels to picture this group of unconnected passengers, this particular journey: fragments of information falling endlessly into storage on a drive, disk or distant server, countless digits drifting gently like snowfall covering a composite city-region made of our various destinations. In the city’s extensive suburbs, perhaps, an unvisited library contains a book that writes within itself a story that resolves our disparate journeys.

In Gatwick, or rather nearby Horley, I checked in to the hotel. It is comfortable and super-efficient, almost brutally comfortable, but (existing as it does in an airport hinterland of car parks and slip roads) feels like a place made for transit. I’m actually staying two nights, as I had a meeting in Reading the day before the America trip and didn’t want to turn up with a suitcase as if I was moving in. Coming back seems like an odd thing to do here, where everyone else is heading off after a single overnight stay: I’m like a crab trapped in a tidal pool.

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