Friday, 24 July 2020

Mill Road: Walking in the midst of pandemic


The strange times brought about by the pandemic, in particular the spatial limitations and impact on movement associated with social distancing , have produced a lot worth documenting from a walking and psycho-geographic perspective.  I’ve been walking quite a bit, walking differently and more locally than pre-pandemic and the way I’ve operated has shifted slightly along with the ever-confusing changes to the lockdown rules. Things have become less clear as things have progressed and time has become more elastic. Some days the time before the pandemic seems an age ago, other times like last week. Movements in space are now a bit less limited than they were are the start, but limited nevertheless. It feels like we are in a slowly evolving stasis, drifting towards whatever exactly ‘the new normal’ turns out to be.  

I’ve noticed local places differently and discovered some nearby corners I didn’t know existed during my restricted perambulations. But a parallel consequence of the changes imposed on everyday life during the Covid-era is an almost overwhelming sense of digital fatigue, much more acute than before.  Working from home all day, followed by trying to keep in touch with friends and elderly family members via the ever-growing plethora of digital communication channels, simultaneously being faced with a diet of increasingly wearing Covid news, comment and debate via every digital orifice, has made an escape to the sanctuary of analogue leisure activities more desirable than ever. A friend of mine’s 80-year-old mum commented to him that she ‘didn’t like these talking photographs’ when she was forced to participate in a Zoom meeting. He wondered if she’d never heard of television. But the digital world’s drain on time and energy seems a thousand times that of what television could ever manage. There are far more benefits too, which makes it that much harder to escape. It was always much easier to 'Turn of the Televsion and do something less boring instead'. Under these conditions, blogging has felt like another digital chore and despite a couple of false starts, since my last post near the start of lockdown I just haven’t been arsed.

But recent events on Mill Road have shook me out of my blogging lethargy. I’ve also had a week off which has massively reduced the digital burden. A couple of weeks ago, an experimental traffic scheme was implemented, limiting traffic over Mill Road Bridge to buses, bikes and pedestrians. Along the road each side of the Bridge, road widening measures have been put in place. These roadworks-like plastic barriers extend into the street at several points, but lack the traffic signals usually provided with roadworks. The stated purpose of the scheme is to allow social distancing and so help make it safer to get around on foot. The temporary widened pavements are intended to provide places where people walking can avoid others by passing at a safe two metere distance or even stopping to wait, a bit like how car passing places work in country lanes. The scheme is one of around 90 measures Cambridgeshire County Council have implemented to support ‘Cycling and Walking in the midst of pandemic’. These measures have been put in place using ‘emergency active travel fund’ money granted from Central Government and by the implementation of ‘experimental traffic orders’. Apparently, the funds had to be used within eight weeks and the schemes put in place without delay, so there was no time for public consultation.

On the day the Mill Road scheme was due to be implemented, I heard loud car horn noises through the open back door. I took a ‘screen break’ and walked down to the bridge where a protest was in full swing. The Mill Road Traders Association had organised the event with the honking being provided by taxi drivers filing across the bridge in support. The bridge was otherwise blocked by the traders and other protestors who had come out to register opposition to the scheme and annoyance at the lack of consultation . When the bridge closed last year, Mill Road Traders reported their takings suffering significantly despite (or probably in their view because of) the efforts of the ‘Mill Road Summer’ attempt to turn Mill Road into a car free utopia with parklets. The almost concurrent Gee's Fire didn't help either. This year, the three months of Covid lockdown has been another major blow and as restrictions begin to ease, traders were no doubt hoping for business to begin to return to some sort of normality.


Debate started on social media as soon as the scheme was announced, which was only few days before it was due to be introduced. Those opposed included, as well as the Mill Road Traders, tradespeople living off Mill Road reliant on vehicles for gardening, window cleaning, plumbing etc, disabled people, the elderly and others who rely on taxis or cars for various reaasons. Many residents were annoyed not just at the the lack of consultation, but also what they saw as a ridiculous scheme that would produce a knock-on effect of increased traffic on parallel roads, particularly Coldhams Lane. Meanwhile, others supporting the scheme cited reduced fume and noise pollution, as experienced in early lockdown, along with the need for a low carbon future. Feeling safer cycling and walking with less traffic, and an increase in footfall and therefore spending in shops (despite most of the traders saying the opposite) were other reasons given in support. There was even some (often heated) discussion about the ability of the scheme to influence the ability and willingness of people to social distance better, which, after all,  was it's main stated purpose. Several people expressed the view that the scheme was the result of  significant influence from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and alliances it has with County and Local Councillors, with the facilitation of social distancing being a convienient cover to introduce something that had been cooked up some time back before the pandemic. The local Labour MP didn’t go that far, but told The Cambridge Independent that the scheme was 'ill thought through'.

I was sucked in to observing the debate on Facebook, Twitter and local forums, particularly 'Nextdoor' where most debate has raged. The discourse, while presenting valid arguments from both sides, soon began to show clear divisions in how people saw and felt about Mill Road and what it was for.  Some viewed the imposition of the scheme and the enthusiasm that several of its proponents had for the potential of it to bring about a 'continental cafe cuture' with skepticism. They were happy Mill Road as it is (was?), still slightly scruffy around the edges, a little noisy, a bit chaotic and refreshingly different from the blandness found in the City Centre, to which Mill Road has always been a major route, while at the same time serving the sizable residential zones of Romsey and Petersfield either side of the Bridge. The other extreme of the debate was personified by a tweet clearly in favour getting rid of all traffic on the road to facilitate a much more sanitised, if  'safer'; and less polluted, Mill Road; one which would change the role of the road as a major route and instead facilitate the 'continental cafe culture' and the street as a 'destination'. The tweet presented two short scenes filmed in Broadway Market in Hackney, before and after Hackney Council had imposed an emergency Covid through traffic ban. The second scene, after the ban, featured people milling around in the street, with the occasional entitled jogger barging their way through and some other people attempting to cycle amongst this pedestrian throng. The tweeter thought this was a marvellous development that Mill Road should seek to emulate. But I was sceptical.

Broadway Market is yet another part of East London that has been subject to rampant gentrification. This had already started to creep in by 2006 when the events depicted in the film ‘The Battle of Broadway Market’ took place. The eviction of traders by the Council, despite the gallant attempts of the local community to resist,  sparked a sudden accelaration of the process as developers got the upper hand and locals were marginalised. This led me to another more recent film, The Street, where a similar story is told about Hoxton Street. Both streets, like many others in East London, were once thriving East End Markets before declining in the 70s, with dilapidation accelerated by Thatcher’s right to buy as many of those council tenants that could, bought up, sold up and moved out. Now these areas have seen extreme gentrification, or as the Pie and Mash shop owner in Hoxton Street calls it, ‘Poncification’. Property prices are at the extreme end and the shops and cafes cater for a new demographic. Mill Road has been subject to creeping, if not such extreme, gentrification on a similar timeline to Hackney, as Local historian Alan Bringham’s account of various lives through the decades documents. I couldn’t help wonder if, as several residents comments suggested, that the imposition of the emergency traffic scheme on Mill Road would be a catalyst for an acceleration towards a much more ‘poncifified' version of Mill Road, whether this was the intention of various interested groups or not. A major shift of one sort or another seems an inescapable outcome of the Covid-era. I suppose inevitable that where they can people are going to try and influence and take advantage of whatever the 'new normal' turns out to be, on Mill Road and everywhere else.

A couple of days after the protest and watching these films I went for a walk to survey the scene.



I crossed the bridge from Romsey to Petersfield. I took heed of the yellow sign and used the pavement opposite. This seemed to me a fairly straigtforward to understand and observe social distancing measure for most people to follow. Much easier to understand than many of the more recent Government edicts. These yellow signs pre-dated any talk of the newly imposed traffice restrictions. But  having crossed the bridge most days since the yellow signs emerged, usually I've been faced with somebody coming towards me, transfixed by a mobile phone or just apparently bissfully ignorant. An informal addendum on one of the signs suggests  that crossing the road will 'put our lives in danger of traffic'. But people had seemed to struggle with the concept at an earlier stage of lockdown when danger from traffic was minimal. That any additional social distancing measures from the new scheme will help people tear themselves away from their screens, or shake them out of complacency to make them 'stay alert',seemed a bit optimistic to me. The new 'pavement widening' measures on the bridge were being mostly ignored and unused by people I encountered on the bridge and elsewhere. Similarly, many were ignoring one way signs in shops, refusing to be herded, even if for their own good. To be fair, even with the best intentions it's not always easy to stick to the rules, which bring various challenges for different people and have become harder to observe since the various 'easements' to lockdown have been announced.

Mill Road, Cambridge, Covid-19, psychogeography, pollution

Over the Bridge, I crossed over the boundary into Petersfield. Passing the roadworks that had sprung up on the corner of Gwydir Street, then soon after the roadworks-like pavement widening measure around the bus stop next to the former Durham Ox, I reached Ditchburn Place. The fence around Ditchburn Place these days is often subject to the same sort of flyposting that you get in the centre of town. Lamitanted notices are tied onto the fence with plastic tags. The old sort of fly-posters stuck onto walls with glue are a distant memory in Mill Road, killed off when the Mace shop, which had shutters festooned with glued on adverts for gigs and other events, was closed and re-emerged as a Sainsbury's local. Corporate chains have failed to take hold so far on Mill Road and this is one of very few, so far anyway. The laminated notices that have replaced the old school flyers, even when not advertising something and when apparently unofficial, seem somewhat sanitised. The one above, which appeared as the new scheme was announced, is annoyed about the prospect of more polution on Mill Road. It doesn't make it clear if more pollution is ok on other roads, and whether the pollution from Mill Road should be displaced elsewhere to less favoured streets or irradicated entirely for the benefit of all. I wondered if the 'more' bit of the notice refers to the Iron Works, a new residential development currently in progress on the old Council Depot site. 50% of the homes will apparently be council rented homes, by which I assume they mean council housing in the traditional sense but there could be a catch in the small print. Inevitably people have raised concerns about the potential of the new homes to increased traffic, as they always do. I would have thought homes in town might allow people to walk to work reducing traffic and pollution, rather than have to drive into town from one of the new satellite 'towns' like Northstowe. So  maybe instead people are worried about more polution from those who will have to drive into Mill Road to work in minimum wage jobs servicing the 'continental cafe culture' from 'affordable' housing estates located in peripheral areas several miles out of town with insufficient public transport and too far away to reasonably cycle from.

Another notice showed a Boris Johnson with a barnet even more alarming than normal, resembling  Thatcher Perm, while clapping at the prospect of yet another public sector pay freeze. The juxaposition of these two notices made me wonder about how many people in Petersfield were reliant on carers, not just those in Ditchburn Place, but in the wider community. Carers are normally reliant on cars to get to their clients, some of whom will live in Petersfield and Romsey. The chances of people employed in the caring profession being able to afford to reside in the vicinity of Mill Road (or most places in Cambridge) is minimal. The inevitablity of increased car pollution from people working in these type of jobs, whose services are in increasing demand but who have to drive to and during work, is a conundrum Cambridge continues to face. The answer, other than the odd development like the Ironworks, mainly appears to have been to upgrade the A14 and build dormitaries like Northstowe. The conundrum looks set to remain ever unsolved.


Ditchburn Place Gardens date from 1990, a time when these sorts of concerns were less accute. The function of the building is old peoples residential care. It was was originally the site of a workhouse, located deliberately far away from the University in an area which at the time was still fields. In the early 20th century it morphed into a hospital and later became a matertiny hospital. I, and many of my friends, entered the world here in the early 70s. In later life I suppose I could end up back there if it hasn't changed function again, but it could be serviced appartments by then.

Psychogeography, Mill Road, Cambridge, Covid-19, Ditchburn Place, Gentrification

Mill Road, Cambridge, Psychogeography, Covid-19, Traffic, Pollution

This side of the bridge has retail units along one side with flats upstairs and is largely residential on the other. A sizable portion of the retail units are restaurants or takeaway food outlets of some kind, pretty much all independent. There are various small food shops and supermarkets of different varieties as well as a number of other businesses.  Some of these places have been established for many years such as Fagitos (excellent chicken kebabs) and Bachenalia (ne The Jug and Firkin). Others are newer, and while a churn of businesses is nothing new, the first signs of a significantly more upmarket 'offering' (or what the Pie and Mash man would call 'poncification') have started to show themselves. On the positive side, corporate chains on the other hand,  have so far failed to get much of a footing at all.

Fears of businesses closing due to Covid do not seem to have manifested on this bit of Mill Road so far. The several empty, or apparently empty, retail premises pre-date the epedemic. I'm not certain why some of these spaces hadn't been filled before. Maybe the landlords have been biding their time, waiting until they can take part in the next phase of Mill Road, hoping to maximise rents to incoming high-end cafe culture proprietors. I'd already passed the cafe that had replaced the much missed Golden Curry, and which seems to represent a shift towards this trend. To be fair, the cafe looks like an improvment on the failed wine bar that preceeded it and lasted only a matter of months, possibly indicating that Mill Road is not quite ready to accomodate what in the 1980s would be seen as a yuppie enclave. It's proximity to The White Swan, one of the areas most down to earth boozers, always seemed like an uneasy juxtaposition.

A building that has remained empty for a while now is the former Salavation Army charity shop. This used to be a Fine Fare supermarket frequented by my Nanna. Before that it was the Playhouse Cinema, which closed in 1956. This was one of two cinemas on Mill Road, the other was the Kinema which was next to the affore mentioned Durham Ox pub. The building itself is a rare example of concrete new town-esque architecture,  presumably dating from when the facade of the cinema was removed in the 1950s. I wondered if it will survive future developments in it's present form or if it might be demolished to make way for another block of serviced apartments with 'retail opportunities' on the gound floor. That would be a shame, but seems to be the way of things in the world of contemporary development. But for now at least, with it's apex bifurcated by a mysterious silver post, the grey conrete facade and slightly lighter grey band of mosaic tiling, it is a portal back to the street in the 1950s.

Mill Road, Cambridge,Psychogeography, Fine Fare, Playhouse, Salvation Army

A little further along the ghost sign of Barneys is visible. Barneys was a sort of cheapo clothes shop notable for selling school uniforms and 'seconds'. I recall the proprietor was a bizarre character sporting a large grey beard and wearing a three piece suit, he may have hat a top hat but that could be my memory playing tricks. I don't recall him ever speaking, just appearing suddenly and drifting around the shop. In my memory he resembled a cross between Mr Benn and Snowy Farr. Barneys closed some years ago and I think then became Mike's Bikes. After a spell being empty it is now a restaurant, which looks particularly high end but farily inconspicuous. Before lockdown it had just about opened up.  The juxtaposition with the neighbouring Penguin Dry Cleaners, one of Mill Road's oldest surviving  businesses and one that caters to the 'ordinary', struck me a representative of the interim period between the pre and (possible) post Covid Mill Road, and symbolic of a transition where a new shiny and exclusive version of the street is trying to force its way through the old familiar comfy skin.

Barneys, Mill Road, Cambridge, Ghostsign, Psychogeography, Covid-19, Gentrification

Student accomodation has always been a feature of Mill Road. Traditionally (well, for quite a while),  significant numbers of students from Anglia Ruskin University and some post-grad Cambridge University students, as well as many younger working people, have lived in  homes of multiple occupancy in the area. This is something that gets whinged about considerably as being at the expense of family homes and the cause of parking and noise problems. But it's also been a significant contributory factor to the vibrancy and uniqueness of Mill Road. These people have always been heavy users of the eateries on Mill Road and back street pubs in the area as well as the more 'daytime' businesses. This is my personal experience anyway, having not so long ago been a member of a shared house. Nobody had a car, we all walked or bused to work and were prolific users of the shops and eateries and even more prolific users of the pubs. The people we met in the pubs were many and varied but quite a few were in a similar situation. Students now seem to be increasingly decanted into purpose built student accomodation like 'The Foundary' at the other end of the road, post grads to Eddington and house shares are ever increasingly expensive. Maybe this will free up housing for families, but only ones with considerable purchasing power as no doubt landlords will be looking to cash in with the least impressive three bedroom terraces going at around the £500k mark.


The penultimate shop before Mill Road reaches the junction with Parkers Piece and the Town Centre beyond, is currently empty. This was last occupied by an Oxfam, which I'm pretty sure was gone before lock down but maybe Covid is the cause of it not being quickly filled by something else. I'll watch this space. Next door, the Amnesty Bookshop is one of two bookshops on Mill Road. The other side of the bridge has the RSPCA bookshop. Both have provided some good finds at charity shop prices, with the RSPCA having the edge due it's 'Map Box', which seems to never dry of 'new' stock. New bookshops are on the decline thanks to the internet, and while central Cambridge still has several secondhand and antiquarian outlets, a decent stall on the market as well as Waterstones and Heffers, the offering is far reduced to what it once was. This side of Mill Road used to have Brown's Bookshop and on Gwydir Street, the radical Grapvine Bookshop which had relocated from the demolished Kite. Briefly the more esoteric 'Libra Aries Bookshop' existed on the Broadway. I'm quite suprised that Mill Road, having been subject to a certain amount of 'Hipsterfication' since the demise of these establishments and its boast of being a street of independent shop has never been blessed with a 'Burley Fisher' or 'Hausmans'. With any luck, maybe one will pop up in the not too distant but meanwhile, Toppings in Ely is probably the nearest independent seller of new books.


Across the road from the ex-Oxfam is Petersfield Mansions, a 1995 development on the site of the old Post Office Depot with art deco pretensions. In comparison to more recent developments, this is quite impressive if somewhat reminicent of a gated community. I don't think it actually is, but it looks like one.


Heading back down the road, a misleading sign back at Ditchburn Place indicated the road ahead was closed. It was (and is) very much open, even if you are a car until you get to the Bridge.


There is a small area of unused ground, located within Ditchburn Place behind the bustop. I'd never noticed this before and it's odd position, which made it pretty much useless for any significant activity. A good spot to grow something, but for some reason nobody had. The bus stop here is often frequented by a gaggle of street drinkers. Maybe they put off any potential gardener, but they were absent today. Around the time of the walk, an emergency order was put in place to banish street drinkers from an area including Mill Road, Petersfield and I think most of Romsey. I'm sure I read this was for 24 or maybe 48 hours. I'm not sure what was special about that particular period of time. As soon as it elapsed, street drinkers and the odd beggar have returned to various hangouts in Mill Road. While these people can be intimidating and a pain in the arse, their very exisitence is a reminder of the precariousness of life and no doubt this is something people drinking expensive coffee do not want to be reminded of. Shunning them to other areas and willfully exluding people seemed contary to the sentiments of the 'respect and diversity in our community' ethos as painted across the bridge. These people, arguably, are as much part of the the community as anyone else but are afforded no real respect. Instead, they are being pushed out by a creeping nimbyism, in the same way as to traffic and pollution, to be someoby elses problem.


Almost across from the bus stop the empty building, previously a branch of Lloyds Bank, still sits unnocupied. It closed prior to lockdown, removing one of the few cashpoints along the street. Maybe after Covid, the new normal will be one where use of cash is all but done away with and eventually we will have to pay for everyting using our mobile devices. But luckily the public sprited Al-Amin a few doors down, one of Mill Roads best shops and one that does a lot behind the scenes to help the community, put in it's own free to use cash machine, which at least for the time being is helping to prevent - or at least postpone- a cashless dystopia. What the next incarnation of the former bank will be remains to be seen.


My walk had taken a diversion away from the road scheme and it's effect. That was mainly because I hadn't really noticed a significant reduction in traffic to the preceeding days and the feel of the street wasn't that much different. What I had noticed was that 'social distancing' by pedestrians - and I'll charitably include joggers in that category- was something that not happening to any great extent. The occasional person made an effort and there was the odd awkward but polite pause when me and an on-coming person decided which way to go to avoid each other. But mostly I felt was playing a speeded up version of 'pack-man' in my efforts to avoid other people, which was much harder than the early lockdown version when far fewer of them were about. People were absorbed in their mobile devices, or in their attempts to beat a personal best at running along the busy pavements of Mill Road in a straight line, and were oblivious of, or determined never to move aside for, anyone coming towards them.  I made use of the road widening measures a couple of times to avoid these people which was relatively easy because few others took advantage of the 'false roadworks'. Walking in the road to avoid gormless phone zombies in areas where there was no other choice risked colliding with the cars, scooters or people cycling, often on electrically assisted bikes going at speeds not possible by peddle power alone even by the most atlhletic.


I passed the burnt out shell of Gees. The fire, as I was reminded by my friend who lived in a flat above at the time, is now a year ago. Gees was a timeless relic of Mill Road and its demise a symbol of Mill Road and the world at large never being quite the same again. A bit like the ravens leaving the tower. Since it's demise we have had Boris Johnson, Covid and are facing Brexit. All factors that have and will affect Mill Road as much as anywhere else and almost certainly not for the better. Also for the first time, to my shame, I have been forced to buy lightbubs from the internet, since its the only place with a selection to match the stockroom of Gees I know about. I doubt anywhere will appear in the empty shops to fill this gap in Mill Road's 'retail offering'.


Almost across the street are two other empty looking premises. Mickey Flynn's pool hall must have been closed now for at least three years. I only went in once, when my next door neighbour dragged me away from a pint in the Dev as his pool team were short of a person for a match. Their opponents were The Fox in Bar Hill, a pub I knew little about other than in being a sort of flat roofed affair where once somebody had been attacked with an axe in the car park. I got away with pretending to be Steve, who was the person missing from my neighbours team. This was mainly, I think, because I lost my game spectacularly, providing much mirth for the Fox in Bar Hill team. I think suspected my deception all along and would have been far less charitable if I'd have I had been any good. The pool hall had the atmosphere of a social club but with a band of video screens running around the centre of the wall, playing bland dance music videos. While it wasn't somewhere I was itching to come back to, the contrast it brought to the road was, in retrospect refreshing. But it's the sort of place that is increasingly unimaginable on Mill Road. There were rumours Sainsburys wanted to open a shop on the site around the time it closed. This never happended and they opened in the former Mace instead. I've read somewhere of other plans for a retaurant and flats but so far nothing has happened. I always thought it would make a pretty good music venue, community space or library (or maybe a combination of all three) but I doubt that would maximise gains for the developer.

Next door is another apparenty empty building. This used to be The Quality Fish Bar, which was a pretty good fish and chip shop with a sit down area. Later it became a kebab place. The sign from that incarnation, which is probably closed ten years ago, still hangs above the door. I'm pretty certain the building is now rented out for residential use, at least upstairs. What is behind the curtains on the ground floor remains a mystery. Maybe the tables and chairs of the restaurant and the metal fish counter in the take away area remain, defunct and untouched for years, covered in grease and dust.


A lamenated public notice attached to a lampost gave (short) notice of the Experimental Traffic Order. An email address for comments/objections is given that will apparenty feed into a consultation which will take place during the operation of the scheme. I imagine they won;t be short of responses. Meanwhile, debate on 'Nextdoor' in particular has increased in both number of contributors and heatedness , if not in variations in the arguments and 'evidence' presented.  What is most notable about these developments is the level of feeling people have about the place and their right to influence how it should change (or not). Division has never felt so close to the surface on a street that publicly prides itself on community and inclusion.
 


The Romsey Noticeboard, back over the bridge, was silent on the subject of the new traffic measures. Maybe it thought it better keep quiet incase it is replaced by a shiny new digital advertising space. The noticeboard is certainly inconspicous. I'd never really noticed it, along with other similar notice boards in nearby Coleridge until I'd done a few lockdown walks. The devices seemed to hark back to an earlier age and it was as if they had re-emerged during the deserted early phase of Covid in the same way as birdsong and other things that had been hidden, oppressed or overlooked in the hurly-burly of the time before lockdown. It felt like the object was quietly observing rather than broadcasting information.


Another survivor is the Mill Road laundrette. This is an invaluable facility for many living in nearby streets and probably beyond due to the lack of laundrettes elsewhere. There are only a couple of others left  in other parts of town.


Sevwral traders were making their views known via their window displays. Reflected in the window below is the red and white plastic of one of the road widening measures and beyond Tesco Express. Tesco was opposed on Mill Road and seen by many as a threat to the independent shops (and maybe the long standing Co-op a few doors down). Prior to  opening, was occupied and used as a sort of community space. Tesco persisted and opened the shop in the end, but were not granted an alcohol licence. The shop never looks that well used and isn't really mentioned anymore, but at the time it was  as hotly debated at the current road scheme.


The chinese acupuncture centre has most maladies covered. Covid-19 is not on the list yet, but maybe they will beat AstraZeneca in the race to find a curative treatment.





I'd nearly forgotten entirely about social distancing, the traffic scheme and the arguments it was causing by the time I reached The Cambridge bed Centre. The building sits in contrast with its mainly Victorian surroundings as a rare example of flat roofed post war utililitarianism. It felt like a visitor from Stevenage or Harlow had arrived on the 1960s and had never left, blending into the background quietly. I'd never really noticed it much before Covid, but now it seems a signifcant and novel building, coming to the fore along with various other previouly under-noticed sites that had come out of the shadows during lockdown walks. 



Across the street, near the junction with Coleridge road, widening measures were a bit less generous in width, maybe indicating the money had already started to run out by the time the contractors got this far down.


Just along was a sign warning of the Bridge closure, which presumably was to send through traffic down Coleridge Road and towards Cherry Hinton Road, a parallel main route into town not blessed with quite as many shops on Mill Road but with similar conditions for cycling. I'm not sure if the Cambridge Cycling Campaign are pushing for similar 'concessions' there but so far no adjustments to reduce traffic have been imposed.


Not far from the Bridge Closure sign, the side of the former Romsey Town Labour Club building is being slowly engulfed by edgelandic plantlife. The building has been allowed to fall into dilapidation to an extent that it now occupies its own liminal zone. The building, while physically there, is slowly fading out of memory like a flickering television image. How long this state of slow death will continue before it is finally demolished and replaced with the serviced accomodation due to take it's place is anyones guess. Like Gee's over the Bridge, the club building is a relic from a previous era. The building could have carried on being used for community events, gigs, public meetings, weddings etc but that's not where the money is. 


The money, at least at this end of the road, isn't in takeaway food either. The former Belgrave Fish and Chip shop, latterly another kebab and chicken joint, is Romsey's version of the Quality Fish Bar site. Now it too is residential accomodation, with an air of temporaryness about it, as if waiting for the right time to morph into something else. I'm pretty sure it shares the same owner as it's 'twin' across the bridge.


The whole road had this feeling, which although no doubt exaserbated by the stasis brought about by the Covid-era, had already existed at sites like The Belgrave, The Labour Club, The Quality Fish Bar  Mickey Flynns and more recently (well, a year ago!) Gees. Now lockdown is being eased, hidden things seem to be waiting in the wings to create a 'new normal'. On Mill Road, it's by no means certain how this will pan out. Will the good people of Romsey and Petersfield organise to put a halt to the 'nightmare' that some think the Cambridge Cycling Campaign are trying to impose on the street? Or is a car free 'cafe culture' a forgone conclusion and the 'new normal' that we have to look forward to. A new normal that was always almost certain to happen , even without the help of the catalyst of the Covid-era which is bound to free up shops faster as existing traders fail from the inevitable economic fallout. This will make room for the 'poncifiers', 'gentrifiers' and property people, unless the 'new normal' turns out to be something less expected, where the resulting economic situation effects the places and parts of society that recessions usually don't reach. A 'Carlsberg recession' , which will point 'the new normal' in another possiby much worse direction doesn't seem out of the question. But this is all speculation. Meanwhile, I'll carry on walking through the near-static midst of the pandemic, whether there are road widening features or not.