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.
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.