Thursday, 7 November 2019

Footpaths closed: A transition

A change of jobs has brought an end to more commuting. I undertook a final lunchtime walk in Peterborough on Halloween/Samhain, the point in the year said to mark a thinning between the material/human and spirit worlds and also a transition in the seasons towards darker months. Coincidentally I was undergoing my own transition, back to being (mostly) based in Cambridge rather than existing in and between dual locations, a state necessitated by commuting. A state that is taken for granted as 'normal' by a significant proportion, probably the majority, of the working population. I had attempted to make the most of it by trying to make the walks to and from work minor psychogeographical excursions, rather than feats of efficient transportation.  I had also, wherever possible, taken a 'walkers lunchtime' to explore the environs within the restricted radius imposed by limited time. I was also fortunate that my journey was by train, which meant time for reading, writing, watching films and looking out of the window vacantly at the strange Fen landscape.  Had I been forced to drive along the A14 everyday, with its jams, crashes, roadworks and ability to deposit me too near the office to get more than two minutes walk in unless I wandered off the wrong way, I would have suffered much more.

I wandered down Long Causeway which was imbued with strange autumnal light, almost twilight like despite it being midday. The red wig and clothes of the sad looking clown, a regular here, stood out brightly against the sepia background. I noticed strange buff coloured straw-like conical decorations on the lamp posts, adding to the strangely subdued atmosphere. I quickly realised these were meant to be Christmas Trees, which no doubt would be lit up later. But for now they resembled straw figures, static offcuts of the Straw Bear, resident of nearby Whittlesea.

Having drifted to the vicinity of the bridge that crosses the Ouse, I thought about taking the Henry Penn Walk along the river. But the pathway was closed, as all pathways in Peterborough were about to be for me, at least on a regular basis. Although I had managed quite a few lunchtime excursions over the last year and a half, I felt like I had barely scratched the surface of the possibilities available, even within the time limits of lunchtimes and the walk to and from the Station. But my time was up, sooner that I had expected. As symbolised by the sign in front of me.

Psychogeography, Peterborough, Closed Path, Commuting

I lingered a while at 'The Voice of The City' sculpture which commemorates Henry Penn and represents the various stages of his founding of one of the Cathedral bells. One of Penn's bells is still housed in the cathedral tower and apparently rings to mark the hour. It struck me that I had never heard (or noticed) any bells ringing during my tenure here. And despite the still sepia atmosphere being perfect for their tolling today, the voices of the city remained silent.

I crossed the bridge, having been shunned by the closed path and the determined silence of the bells. My status in the town was of a transient outsider. I realised how little interaction I'd had with the people of the city other than the people I worked with (most of whom lived outside it anyway), or people serving in shops, cafes and pubs. I had enjoyed being an observer on the periphery, blending into the background apparently unnoticed. But I was aware of my lack of integration with the everyday life of the city which made things feel a bit unfinished and unsatisfactory. An inevitable outcome of the limited nature of the time available around work and train, as well as my ability to procrastinate and put things off. I was about to leave for the final time, the closure of the path seemed symbolic of the city sending me message that it was time to sod off.

I continued on past the Apex, under the railway bridge and across the park that sits opposite the abandoned Cherry Tree pub on Oundle Road. The park was fenced off from some flats, or they fenced off from it. A gate offered a way through and I followed the route of the car park that sat between  the two blocks of low rise flats, both clad in some sort of off-white plastic looking panelling. The same day I'd heard about the Fire Brigade being scapegoated for the deaths in the Grenfell fire. Not only did these buildings look like a static version of spaceships from the TV show 'Space 1999' due the the unpleasant looking cladding, there was the possibility they were highly flammable as a result.

I was glad to emerge the other side, near a pleasant looking pub hidden off the main drag. Just beyond this was a car park attached to a small supermarket and an establishment selling 'Pisa'. I soon found myself back on Oundle road. I had never got beyond the old factory-like building now occupied by Anglia Ruskin University that stood opposite me. Time had always been against such an endeavour. Far beyond (relative to the distance walkable in a lunch hour) are The Orton's, collectively one of the four designated townships of Peterborough New Town and built around one or two existing villages. I imagined a collection of through- the-ages housing estates from crumbly old village, 60s and 70s cheap modernism, 80s/90s Barrett and millennial contemporary shoe box beige, dry-lining and glass. But I had failed to ever get there to find out.

It was time to start heading back. Before I did I was drawn into a charity shop. I found a book of photographs of clouds, which  had recently been recommended to me by the Internet. I procured the book for a very reasonable 50p. This stroke of luck/coincidence was akin to a parting gift, something to take with me on my way out of the City as a memento. That the sky had maintained its strange sepia tone, with orangey monochrome cloud formations visible in the distance, seemed fitting.

I drifted back, retracing my steps and thinking of places never visited on the periphery of the City. Places with strange names shown on the front of buses like Paston, Castor and Dogsthorpe, as well as the townships Breton, Orton and Hampton, would remain imagined and uncharted territory. At least for now.