Thursday, 15 November 2018

Blake's House in the Realm of Blue Posts and Burning Sheep.

I found myself in Old Bond Street, and decided to drift back to the station via Soho/Fitzrovia.

Looking up nearby was a giant decorative structure. Some sort of giant alien Christmas decoration resembling a chandelier made of peacock feathers. Things were alien in a sense around here, on the fringes of Mayfair. Several of the shops, jewelers or art galleries particularly, had men that looked like slightly better dressed and more civilised nightclub doormen guarding their entrances. All pristine charcoal overcoats and dark suits. It was difficult to fathom what some of the shops were selling or what some of the buildings were for. A concentrated epicentre of wealth within London, itself a concentrated epicentre of wealth within the rest of the UK and the world.


In a side street I noticed two scultpted sheep heads above embedded in a stone framed doorway. Long stone faces, serious and baphomet-like with added braided locks, one each side. No charcoal grey coated suit was needed to guard these doors. The sinister and slightly hypnotic gaze of the sheep provided sufficient warning to the unwanted to stay away.


I left the vicinity and soon crossed the threshold of Regent Street into Soho, where the atmosphere immediately changed. Another epicentre of wealth but maybe a rung down from Mayfair.  More garish, chaotic and less sterile or obviously 'exclusive'.

At one end of Carnaby Street, almost opposite the Blue Posts pub another sheep stood on a plinth halfway up the wall, this time a black one. The premises it was attached to had another black sheep embossed into the glass above the it's entrance.



This particular black sheep is the logo of advertising agency, Battle Bogle Hegarty. The agency was responsible for an ad campaign for black jeans, featuring a crowd of white sheep going one way and one black one going the opposite. Black jeans were a new thing at the time, the inference being the wearer was daring to be different or a bit dangerous. The black sheep. The opposite. Although the sheep attached to the building looked quite jolly, there seemed to be occult connotations. The black sheep, the rebel, the criminal, Satan! Advertising itself is the dark art of our times, Magick being ' the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity and will'. The advertisers have been doing exactly that on a grand scale for years to get people to buy more 'stuff'. I have worn black jeans myself and I've never even seen the advert. The subliminal messages must have got to me by more subtle means...


The Blue Posts pub opposite the black sheep was the first of three I passed on my meander. There are five Blue Posts within the vicinity of Soho, Fitzrovia and St James's. A sixth has disappeared from Tottenham Court Road. One theory is that the name derived from blue posts used to demarcate the boundary of hunting ground. The name Soho is said to derive from a hunting call. The other theory is the name comes from the azure bollards where in a past age sedan chairs could be hired, a precursor to taxi ranks.

That there are now five Blue Posts could be interpreted by the more imaginitive to represent of the five points of a pentagram. But since their pattern on the map looks more of a shakey rhomboid this seems a bit of a stretch. It's more reminisent of a circular taxi ride taken by a bewildered tourist trying to find the right Blue Posts for a rendezvous with a long lost friend, stuck in a perpetual loop while the meter keeps ticking. I'm going with the taxi rank theory for this reason.


Round the corner was Willaim Blake House. A brutalist residential tower in brown with mirrored windows. In the one at the bottom the similarly brutalist building opposite was visible as if it was an image on a giant flat screen television.


William Blake was born in a building on the corner next door, demolished in the 60s and now a 'Patisserie Valerie' housed in a similar brutalist brown to the tower that rises above it. He lived most of his life in Soho and died not far away in The Strand, a trajectory barely escaping the rhomboid of the five still existing Blue Posts.  Blake is retrospectively labelled a psychogeographer by many and is of course a key figure of both London and the occult. The Blake's House tower felt like a centre of gravity within both Soho and The Blue Posts Rhomboid.  The only sheep connection though, appears to be his poem 'The Lamb' which  doesn't seem to connect much with the strange sheep of Mayfair and Soho I had encountered. Although I suppose Blake himself was a black sheep, regarded as a heritic by the establishment.


I passed a second Blue Posts, this one in Berwick Street. The obligatory gander in Sister Ray  and Reckless Records nearby resulted in the purchase of a CD copy of 'Holy Magick' by The Graham Bond Initiation. In the accompanying sleeve notes a journalist recalls meeting Bond in a boozer in Fleet Street for an interview. The musician, possibly under the influence of various potions, ranted of Crowley and Magick, just up the road from where Blake died. His own fate was further out in zone 2 at Finsbury Park station, where he tragically flung himself in front of a tube train not many years after said interview.

Crossing into Fitzrovia I availed myself of a third Blue Posts. The last one I would encounter and the first I would enter. And the only one I omitted to photograph. While I sat in the familiar cocoon of Sam Smith's dark wood and impressive glassworks, the world stopped for the length of time it took me to imbibe a pint of nourishing Oatmeal Stout, which I didn't hurry.

Before the train back I took lunch in one of the famous Indian eateries in Drummond Street, under the spectre of the ongoing HS2 development of Euston Station. The restaurant was busy. Mixed into the snippets of other people's conversations I overheard above the hubbub a man talking of having observed a 'sacrificial ritual' involving a 'burning sheep'. As soon as I tried to tune in to the rest of his conversation it merged back into the hubbub, becoming as incomprehensible as the teachers voice in Charlie Brown cartoons. One or two snippets gave me hope that he may have been talking of a theatrical production, rather than something connected to the sheep of Soho or the Blue Posts. The People's Theatre is just round the corner after all. But it felt like an unnerving 'coincidence' nontheless.

I drew a line under proceedings at this point and headed back to East Anglia.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Ipswich Town Map: (Beyond) 1979


I picked up the 1979 Ordinance Survey Town Map of Ipswich in a charity shop, a 50p bargain.The manipulated image of a tower block on the cover with it's added psychedelic hue emanated a scarfolkian atmosphere. This drew me in to make the purchase. 'Ordinance Survey' by Ipswich Town Map, I thought, is a title easily imagined as belonging to the Ghost Box records catalogue. The information inside the map reveals that the image is of the Civic Centre building, which dates from the early 70s. The image has been manipulated by a process called 'posterisation' causing it to become 'solarised'. Immediately on acquisition, I saw the The Map as a hauntological portal. It brought forth distorted memories of late 70s streetscapes, television test cards and the countdown clock from 'schools and colleges' programmes. At the same time it recalled past visions of futures never realised. The Civic Centre was demolished in the 1990s, which was probably not part of the original plan.


The town is not one I know well. I have visited rarely and only briefly for work purposes in recent years. As mentioned before, I used to visit the town to watch football for a brief period c1981. My memories of the town from this time are vague and mainly of the short distance between the rail station and the football ground at Portman Road. I have a memory of being taken to a grease cafe for lunch with my friend and his dad somewhere in the town before a match. We went through the catacombs of a graffittied underpass where teenagers were rollerskating. This was in my young mind, reminiscent of the New York shown in 'The Warriors', but without the flick knives and baseball bats.

A few years later, when I was a teenager myself, I used to listen to a rock/metal radio show on Radio Orwell from my bedroom in Cambridge. The requests and dedications on the show seemed to come from the same group of mates every week. I imagined a bunch of headbangers hanging around outside a chip shop with a transistor radio. Probably near a blackened railway bridge next to a small row of slightly dilapidated shops along a main road: a newsagent, a TV rental shop and an MOT garage perhaps. Images of  fragments of an imagined Ipswich were conjured up in my head along these lines. Their origins were almost certainly a mixture of my earlier football visits mixed with television snippets from About Anglia and Friday Night Speedway.

My vague imagined version of the town persisted a few years later when John Peel spoke of gigs at Ipswich Caribbean Centre featuring such luminaries of the burgeoning hardcore/grindcore scene as Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror and Bolt Thrower. Another hardcore band, the Stupids, were from Ipswich. I recall monochrome images of them hanging about and skateboarding in the semi-industrial areas and car parks of the town. The settings were very similar to the 'Ipswich' that flickered in my mind whenever the town was mentioned. Like clips from a German Expressionist style film, broadcast from the East Anglian Film archive over a telepathic equivalent of shortwave radio.

In about 1990, as the UK Hardcore scene in Ipswich had passed it's peak, About Anglia was abolished. For independent regional television purposes, Anglia was divided into East and West, each getting a separate but simultaneously broadcast  replacement programme. Just after the Berlin Wall came down, the Region was getting it's own virtual Iron Curtain and Ipswich was on the other side of it from me. This meant the version of Anglia News I got to see 'from my part of the region' would no longer feature Ipswich. The flow of Ipswichian images that I might have subconsciously absorbed via the medium of regional television and mixed into my already vague imaginings of the town were suddenly cut off. My 'Ipswich' was frozen in a period between about 1981 and 1990.


Looking at The Map had reanimated  'Ipswich' in my head. It seemed to radiate the same atmosphere. I became slightly obsessed with The Map and the idea of walking through parts of the town using it as a guide. I wondered how much contemporary Ipswich and my perceptions of what I found there would diverge from both my 'Ipswich' and the 1979 version depicted on The Map.


As with all maps, some of the place names were intriguingly odd and planted imagined locations in my mind. Halfway House was one such place, shown to the South East on the edge of the airfield and at the end (or beginning) of a row of pylons. I imagined an old crumbling house, either a pub or a mental institution (or a combination of the two), located in a scrubby edgeland grass car park. I decided this should be the first port of call on the walk.  From this point I would then arc across the top of the town centre through the suburbs, back round to the other side of town to pick up the River Gipping somewhere then follow it back to the the town centre. With luck I would chance across the site of the former Civic Centre. The building, the distorted image of which had promted the walk, would no longer exist. But maybe it would still be detectable at some spectral level. That was as solid a 'plan' as I felt necessary to provide a suitable framework to get a bit lost in and explore.


I left the station and followed the Orwell River, staying on the south side. I soon emerged into an area of road junctions lined with old brown brick buildings, near the docks. On the corner of one junction is the Old Bell Inn. The pub is thought to date from the 15th century and was the oldest continuously licenced premises in Ipswich until it was closed in 2007. It was unsuccessfully (possibly not that enthusiastically) marketed by the pub company following closure. The pub never re-opened and in 2017 the building was regenerated in the guise of a funeral directors. Something not immediately apparent until almost close enough to try and enter for a pint.


Not far from this I encountered a phone box converted into a facility housing a defibrillator. The proximity to the funeral parlour may have been a coincidence but I had my suspicions. On top of the phone the teapot weathervane looked, thankfully, more immediately useful for me. It pointed towards the waterfront and I assumed in the direction of somewhere to get a good cup of tea.


The crumbling building labelled R & W Paul Ltd reminded me of a battered cardboard box. This building was the type of thing I imagined Ipswich would have and I was impressed with the dilapidated former grain silo. Less so with the more modern building next door which at least in part housed a dance school. It was a building typical of more recent large  bland developments along river fronts.

I'd happened to turn up on the day of the Maritime Festival. This accounted for the giant psychedelic octopus emerging from the entrance of the Old Customs House. A day-glow 'It Came From Beneath the Sea' beast beadily eyeing the craft beer waggon and it's staff.


There was an exhibition devoted to 1980s citizens band radio (CB) enthusiasts, which seemed to have a particular focus on the those from nearby Leiston and their 'handles' (names used while on the CB which provided an alternative identity and anonymity). Included were contemporary photos of the individuals, mostly men now retired from (presumably) the trucking game.  But more interesting were the small posters which would have been stuck to the side of their trucks and used to confirm an 'eyeball', parlance for encountering another CB user in real life.

Truckers were seen as particularly important in the CB community, particularly by themselves. They were designated their own channel and any non-trucker daring to speak on it would be sternly rebuked, even when using the Dukes of Hazard-esque vernacular that was mandatory in the world of CB. At least that's what used to happen to me anyway, when as a 10 year old would  haunt the airwaves from my bedroom in Cherry Hinton at night, broadcasting as remotely as Trumpington, 2 or 3 miles away to speak to people I would never meet. The CB craze provided a primitive form of social media but without the adverts, spamming and paranoia. It was at it's peak during the period of my trips to Ipswich to watch football, and nearly as short lived.  So the exhibition was pertinent, it's contents contemporary and parallel to the time of 'Ipswich'.


More in line with current trends and attitudes was the coffee establishment below. This was the only place I saw that could really be said to have the sort of  pretentions that you get in trendy waterfront developments in places like London. There was an element that harked back to the terrible yuppie era of London Docklands in the 1980s married with the irksome contemporary politics of austerity as spun into a diatribe on the nobility of hard work. The glass/chrome image projected by this establishment was as far away from the idea of 'Ipswich' as I'd get all day. It beckoned forth a possible future of sterility with accompanying bland hi-definition vision and sound. The antithesis of the blackened railway bridges and crackling analogue sounds and visions of the more scruffy and human 'Ipswich' of my imagination.


A little further along, an image of the old god of the sea, Neptune, seemed to be contemplating the state of things, looking grimly out across the docks.


Something resembling a cross between a road sign and a rectangular dart board contained a notice of a recent temporary closure of Helena Road. Another classical reference, this time to a daughter of Zeus, enclosed in an oblong wooden warning.


The same notice appeared a little further along, accompanied by the remnant of it's own hanging basket. Possibly an austere offering to the old gods.


I'd emerged out of the other end of  the waterfront and the maritime festival. The CB radio memories, tricorn hat sellers (a reference to Nelson and the involvement of the docks in the Napoleonic War at £25 a pop) and charity stalls had given way to fairground rides, 'streetfood' and a stage where later music of some kind would be performed along the stretch leading up to the oblong warning sign.

Beyond this was what was left of the industrial docks area.  It was unclear whether access was restricted. But I took the wooden board and hanging basket as signs to turn off left before reaching it, along a short road bordering the industrial area and the new high rise(ish) flats at the end of the waterfront development.


I turned right at the junction meeting a main road. I resolved not to look at the map until I felt lost. Although I didn't know my exact location, in my head I had an image of the map and  where I was on it but with no guarantee of much accuracy.  I didn't think that counted as properly lost.

The road inclined upwards, the River Orwell and it's industrial area to my right. To my left there wasn't much. I passed the flat roofed Phoenix Nights-esque looking 'Rivers Social Club' which was fenced off from the road, located in what looked like a light industrial area.

The main industrial/docks area next to the  river contained the enormous old haunted house looking building below. Still in use, at least as host to some sort of transmitter. It stuck me as odd that an industrial building, even an old one, would have anything other than a flat roof. It looked as much stately home (in an Addams Family sort of way) than factory or warehouse. The building was originally the Cliff Brewery, the operation of Cobbolds Brewery, in the 1800s. Tolly Cobbold, as it became in the 1950s when Cobbold merged with Tollemache Brewery, was synonymous with it's home town of Ipswich. But as one of the regional brewers of East Anglia it's beer and pub's could be found dotted elsewhere across the Region. Tolly seemed to disappear in the early 1990s but up until then I can recall the name and signage being ubiquitous, if less so than that of Greene King, the brewery that eventually acquired Tolly. 'Ipswich' was a place festooned with fading and ancient Tolly logos. I wondered if I would find any remnants of them today.



Further along I passed a construction labelled 'Vopak', the name of a Dutch oils and chemical storage company. The label reminded me of the sort of thing I'd see stuck on the side of stock-cars or around the side of speedway tracks on the telly as a kid. I imagined the riders of the Ipswich Witches sporting grit covered 'Vopak' labels on their backs during broadcasts across East Anglia sometime after News at Ten in the 1980s.

Speedway and stock car racing are probably confined to specialist  channels these days, but used to feature regularly on regional television. They seem to have their stronghold in the more rural counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, as depicted in the film 'The Goob' where the protagonist and his contemporaries have a social life centred around Swaffham stock car track.  The names of the speedway teams belong to East Anglian folk-horror heritage. The Ipswich Witches is presumably a reference to the Ipswich witch trails of the 1640s and the burning of Mother Lackland by associates of witchfynder general, Matthew Hopkins. The Fen Tigers (Mildenhall) share their name with the mysterious large black cat(s) believed by some to roam the flat fields of fenland. 'Sightings' are reported in the local press fairly regularly, but no creature has ever been captured.

The large silo, which had diverted my train of thought, was possibly an oil container.  I recalled that the map had shown oil storage facilities in roughly this area. It almost certainly existed when the map was produced. It was as if it had been projected from the time and place of the map as I imagined it, linking contemporary reality and the pseudo-historic 'memories' of 'Ipswich'.


I continued along the road until I got to the end of the industrial stretch. A right turn lead up a hill, past a non-descript office building on the corner. The road curved into a sort of liminal non-place (or ex-place) for a short distance. Scrubby nature had re-claimed an area now available for freehold, as advertised by the sign struggling to wrench itself free of the bracken, brambles and bindweed.


The road curved around a council estate dating from the 1950s or 60s. Good quality if slightly worn housing, with gardens big enough for sofas, sheds, knackered off road vehicles or numerous kids bikes. It reminded me of the sort of estate my nanna used to live in. Places from a time when space wasn't seen as a luxury or precious investment opportunity but a normal thing for ordinary people to inhabit as a matter of course. Having escaped the shiny ambitions of the waterfront, this felt like a real place and more 'Ipswich'. An established haven away from the shiny screens and inauthentic post-truth world. An illusion certainly, as the insides of many of the houses would be receptacles for broadcasts of terrible reality television, bad news programmes and vacuous celebrity nonsense via a variety of flat screen devices. But outside at least there was no sign of such things.

The council estate gave way to a road lined with 60s vintage light industrial buildings and scrubby vegetation, the downward incline leading to a chance to follow a passage into another post war council estate or to keep following the road which appeared to be heading image more rural direction. A third option was a gate at the end of a car park leading into some woods. I opted for this, based mainly on the need to pee.

I saw a couple of dog walkers exiting the woods but otherwise the path I followed once inside was deserted. The sign on the gate showed I was in to Orwell Country Park. At first I had only intended to pop in to find somewhere answer nature's call, but the path drew me in deeper into the woods. There were a few desire paths heading of to the sides but I kept to the wider track. I felt slightly unnerved by the deserted stillness  but compelled to go on.

Eventually I came to a sort of clearing dotted with random bushes and a couple of benches made from carved logs. The benches featured graffiti and abandoned energy drinks cans and fag packets. The detritus of bored youth. Here the vegetation  had opened out and I was confronted by a view of the enormous concrete Orwell Bridge crossing the river in front of me.

The Map predated the existence of  the bridge, but the former owner had drawn it on in pencil. In fact, construction of  the bridge began in 1979, the year of The Map's publication. It wasn't completed until 1982, around the time of the formative years of  'Ipswich', when I was still visiting to watch football. The concrete brutalism of the bridge seemed both of it's time and un-aged. The structure dominated the landscape as the distant swish of traffic crossing it was the only noise I could hear.



I carried on towards the bridge, down towards the river. This involved a steepish incline through some scrubby ground and into some trees, before the trail died. There was no way to carry on beyond another pile of youth detritus. I wondered who had left the pile. Did they frequent the area during the day? Was it safe here? I felt a bit vulnerable. If I was suddenly confronted by danger nobody would hear shouts for help. If I ended up in the river I doubted I could swim (something I haven't done for about 30 years). I retraced my steps quite quickly back up the slope and found an different more official looking path. It wasn't long before I saw a dog walker . The site was reassuring, wrenching me from the mild public information film paranoia I'd experienced near the river's edge.

Soon I passed under the bridge. I stood a while and observed the straight line of support posts, symmetrically stretching out into the distance and the visual illusion  of the shrinking space between them. The gap in the middle of the road was a bit ominous looking but presumably normal. I doubted anyone driving on the road above realised it was there.


Eventually the path emerged onto a sort of beach. Deserted and desolate. Then the path disappeared, merging into grass and boggy ground. I decided to head inland which I thought would take me roughly in the direction of  'Halfway House'.


A desire path headed towards a barn, which on closer inspection was abandoned and dilapidated. It was one of several ramshackle farm buildings apparently left to crumble into the encroaching vegetation. As I got nearer it became apparent there was no through path. I wasn't sure if the farm was completely abandoned or still occupied. The place certainly appeared deserted. There was no wind and no sound save the odd squeal of seagull and the distant swish of cars across the bridge. I had seen my last dog walker a good 30 minutes ago. Although I was probably no more than a couple of miles at most from the populated edge of Ipswich along the Nacton Road, it felt more like the middle of the Fens or remote rural America as depicted in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was glad the lack of path gave me a good excuse to turn back and go a different way. 



Back near the beach I found the path I'd missed earlier, which another rectangular red bordered notice sign informed me had been 'realigned'. This sounded more serious and permanent than simply being diverted, warranting a sterner and more official notice than would have otherwise been necessary.


After following the realigned path for a while, I found another turn back inland away from the river which I thought would lead roughly towards the 'Halfway House'. This path hugged the side of a field belonging to the apparently abandoned farm and the barbed wire fence marking it's boundary. Somebody had attached small pale green apples that looked partially diseased along a stretch of the fence. A sinister warning to keep out of the farm? A Suffolk folk-custom inherited from Mother Lackland? I didn't know but it felt ominous. I walked a bit faster.


The path eventually curved to the left, where I encountered a defaced Samaritans notice. At first it seemed out of place, considering the sinister atmosphere of the abandoned farm and it's environs. Then I saw the steps leading up to the Orwell Bridge and the A14 dual carriageway crossing it.


I felt compelled to climb the steps. As I did I, thanks to the Samaritan's sign, I felt horribly aware that, other than workmen, the majority of people who had preceded me were thinking of suicide. For some this would be a final and grim concrete ascension into oblivion.


At the top of the stairs was an emergency SOS phone, a final chance to call for help. An arrow underneath suggested turning left onto the narrow path that followed the road for an indeterminate distance, separated from it only by a low and not particularly robust looking rail. I didn't heed the sign, not fancying my chances on the path should a car decide to veer off into it, the driver having been distracted by an ever so important text message. I carefully retraced my way back down the steps, wondering why after over 40 people have killed themselves on the bridge, it was even possible for the public to be allowed to climb them. A rare example of somewhere restricted access for the pedestrian public would be a good idea.


This grim diversion had replaced the imagined Texas Chainsaw/Blood on Satan's Claw like horror of the abandoned farm and it's apply barbed wire fence with a contemporary very real horror. That of modern Britain in the age of austerity and the not coincidental rise of mental ill health and despair among ever increasing numbers of the population.

I carried on along the other side of the farm, having half-circled it in an anti-clockwise direction. Following my encounter with suicide bridge, the eerie atmosphere and horror potential of the farm had lessened into insignificance, having been replaced with intrigue as to what had happened here. It looked like any private property claims anyone might have had were now abandoned, having been literally ripped from the ground and turned upside down.


The gates to the farm were warped and rendered useless. They were reminiscent of one of the 'exhibitions' on the Colne Valley Sculpture Trail. Halfheartedly closed, almost inviting people to squeeze through the gap. I was tempted but was pulled in the opposite direction, drifting away from the farm.


I had one last look at the dilapidated barns before moving on. It reminded me of the sort of place the people in the television series 'Survivors' would chance upon and turn into a makeshift post-apocalyptic community. Maybe the farm is a place ahead of its time, waiting to welcome refugees of some future crisis, the possibility of which feels less remote than it might have done a few years back.


I passed under the bridge again before taking a path beyond a faded red post of no discernible purpose or significance.

The concrete path followed the route of the road. Along it was a stream of detritus. Lorry and car rubbish discarded from high above. The path and detritus stream both ended abruptly in a dead end. I found a crushed Dr Pepper can next to a consignment label of some kind. I imagined a CB-talking trucker carelessly tossing the discarded can from an open window as the wind ripped  the consignment note from the cargo on the back of the lorry. Both artifacts following the same downward trajectory, destined to become neighbours for an indeterminate period among the litter community below.

I didn't know Dr Pepper was still a thing. I kept my eye out for other discarded soft drinks cans of types I thought long obsolete as I retraced my steps, Tab, Quatro, Panda Cola. I didn't find any.



Eventually I found another path heading the same way. I followed it, emerging eventually into a clearing, still evidently part of the country park. There were more of the carved log benches and some dog walkers, the first people I'd seen for the best part of an hour. It felt like I was closer to the edges of Ipswich and the site of some mysterious posts on what looked like a man made hill seemed to signify this. As I approached the hillock I saw a man up ahead, almost at the top. The site resembled some sort of modern site of pagan worship. By the time I got to the top the man had vanished. The posts at the top, arranged in a circle, had something to do with birds. I never figured out quite what. From the top I could see a housing estate stretching out in front of me. I made my way down the other side carefully down a steeper, iffy, desire path.


I reached the estate, somewhat disorientated. It was obvious it was built long after 1979. More 1990s. There should have been an airfield according to the map instead of houses but I saw no sign of such thing.

I followed a curved stretch of what appeared to be a terrace of flats or small houses, Wentworth Prison brown and looking not unlike part of that institution.


Beyond this I crossed a playing field before finding myself on a path through a series of symmetrical community gardens which appropriately stretched out in the manner of a runway. It reminded me of a pedestrian version of the roads in Milton Keynes, straight and interrupted by roundabouts at regular intervals. One such break featured a sculpture, reminiscent from a distance of something Antony Gormley might produce.

Closer up, it was clear the figure was made out of multiple 'hands', it's own right hand sunk into the plinth which resembled a giant concrete creme brulé. I can't recall what the plaque said or the name of the sculptor (it wasn't Gormley) but I enjoyed the unexpected encounter with the cartwheeling rust coloured hand-man.



At the end of the 'runway' was a large stone/concrete 'sculpture'. A circle with one large and two lesser solid beams radiating out from a circle. Possibly a memorial to the airport, with the strips representing runways, embodied in horizontal brutalist concrete. The circle representing the terminal buildings. It looked like something that predated the estate, maybe it was something salvaged from the time of the airfield and of  'Ipswich'.


The closure of Ipswich airport was met with significant resistance. Staff occupied the terminal building for four months keeping and then after it officially closed in 1996, light aircraft from all over the country descended on it in protest. People considered the airport something that helped make Ipswich a proper town and something not many East Anglian 'rivals'  had, thus a distinguishing feature. The council evidently didn't think it that important.

The airfield was turned into the Ravenswood housing estate, the place I was now somewhere deep within.  The building the other side of the clearing below is the old grade 2 listed terminal building which was partially demolished and rebuilt to be used as flats. I didn't know this while I was there and assumed it was a school or old people's home.


I attempted to walk beyond the building but the road curved to the left and there was no discernible pathway through. I was diverted into a labyrinthine part of the estate made up of several small bendy roads, many of which were, frustratingly, dead-ends. All featured small houses often placed at seemingly random angles. A typical 1990s housing estate. The street names were as random as the street pattern. I was temporarily disorientated by a network of wyverns, emperors and damselflies. The furthest away from 'Ipswich' as I'd get all day.

Emerging onto what appeared to be Ravenswood's main road into town, I came across the memorial plaque commemorating the beginning of the joint venture between Bellaway Homes and Ipswich Borough Council that was responsible for the development. 'A new neighbourhood for the people of Ipswich'. The only visible comment from a member of community was one expressing considerable dissatisfaction with Ipswich Academy school. The academy schools system dates from a later period than the private/public collaboration that built the estate and the Ipswich Academy is not located in Ravenswood. But I suppose the notice is the only permanent communication from officialdom in the vicinity and one that dated from an earlier phase of privatesectorisation. So a reasonable target for spleen venting about the inadequacies of the present education system.


I soon emerged from Ravenswood into an earlier residential zone. Bungalows stretched along the street I followed which soon brought me to Nacton Road, one of the main roads leading in/out of town. Nacton itself was, according to the map, just outside of Ipswich and just beyond 'The Halfway House', which I realised I'd gone off course from and resigned myself to not finding. It would mean purposefully doubling back on myself, something I never do unless forced.

At the junction with Nacton Raid was The Golden Hind, a large 'Tolly Folly', Tolly Cobbold  had a significant estate including a series of large suburban pubs built in the 1930s in a 'mock-baronial' style. Not dissimilar in many ways to the Cliff Brewey building passed earlier, as if they were it's offspring, spreading out across Ipswich and out into other parts of East Anglia. They shared it's characteristics of big brownness albeit in a miniature form by comparison. The 1930s risky Tolly pub estate expansion coupled with the style of the buildings led to the 'folly' label. Apparently several of these survive, mostly in Ipswich. There is also a Golden Hind 'folly' in Cambridge which it's Ipswich namesake reminded me of immediately before I realised it shared the same name. The resemblance was uncanny. In the car park, smoking white van men furthered the similarity between the two establishments, and their presence made me feel self conscious about hanging about to take pictures or stop for a drink so I didn't. But the looming brown 'follies' were definitely 'Ipswich' and passing the building was like drifting through that vaguely 'remembered' time and place for a moment.

I emerged out of this brief miasma of memory/imagination onto Nacton Road and quickly felt the urge to turn left to head North. The road I found myself on was largely residential but a small break in the houses was filled by a side street with a 'gateway' of two flat roofed brown shop corner buildings below. One housed a Chinese takeaway, the other a corner shop.


The twin buildings looked like they had been wrenched apart by a seismic event. They were of a similar brown to the Golden Hind and possibly of the same era, although modern in design for their time. Again I felt like I was drifting through an approximation of 'Ipswich'. The buildings radiated the late 1970s/early 1980s of my 'memory' and were like solid ghosts manifesting themselves from The Map.

Indeed, the whole street was 'Ipswichian'. It appeared largely unchanged since at least the era of The Map. The houses were all of a similar style and vintage. But several dwellings and gardens had been customised in a manner that suggested a  level of eccentricity prevailed among the residents. One front garden featured a garish sunbeam motif covering it almost in it's entirety. It was as if it had managed to transpose itself from someone else's garden gates into an orangy-yellow concrete expanse across the ground. On another house, a small plaque displayed an image of Jesus with another immediately above bearing the legend 'The Rock'. But this was trumped by a house with a banner featuring a welcoming gate and the name  'Graceland'. At first I thought the house must be used as some sort of gospel church, but then I saw the 'ELVIS 1' number plate. The Internet reveals that the house belongs to a retired couple who, as they told the Ipswich Star, turned their kitchen into an American diner constructed around their jukebox and love of Elvis, using special materials from Colchester. 'Graceland' has it's own pin on Google maps. I wonder if this attracts many pilgrims?


After emerging from the end of the street,I passed St Augustine's Recreation Ground before crossing a railway bridge. The Rec was surrounded by 50s/60s council houses of a similar variety to the one my nanna lived in in Cambridge. The Rec looked like it hadn't changed significantly since that time. It exuded an atmosphere of 80s Sunday League football, children on dodgy witches-hat roundabouts and teenagers hanging around at dusk smoking fags, maybe listening to Radio Orwell. None of these things were physically there of course and the Rec was deserted when I passed by, but the images it conjured up were uncannily 'Ipswich'.

Likewise the railway bridge, which crossed the line heading to Felixstowe. Before it got that far the road met a junction which proved a bit difficult to navigate on foot. Across the other side was St Augustine's Church and nearby a row of shops. I considered going across to have a look and maybe stock up on food and water. But the minor fiasco involved in doing so put me off bothering.

Instead I headed straight over and onto a long road heading North. Welcoming me at the beginning was an apparently deserted brick hut. The notice on the gate from Anglian Water urging one to 'love every drop' and then providing a number  'in case of emergency' seemed a bit worrying. I wondered what sort of emergency I should be looking out for. Flooding? An outbreak of a gruesome new water-born infectious disease? I moved swiftly on.


At the end of the road, long and straight and lined with identical bungalows, was a junction with a short row of shops. One of these was the 'Fireworks Emporium'. I always seem to stumble across these places.


The road to the right at the junction lead to Foxhall Stadium, home of the Ipswich Witches. I was tempted to divert in its direction but time was marching on and I was starting to flag a bit. Instead I turned left heading vaguely towards town.

Soon a passage appeared and I felt obliged to follow it. It passed by a model railway and then a school. Not the Ipswich Academy, but a different one. The buildings, playgrounds and bike sheds were 'old school' but festooned with large garish notices and signs advertising the school's values. A sort of Americanised Grange Hill. Despite these signs the school building itself leaked a sort of 70s state-schoolness into the present. Ghosts of a time before the creeping  corporatisation of schools began still lurked among the motivational target driven messages that were being projected. The essence of 'Ipswich' was definitely present.


Emerging from the passage beyond the school I found myself in a residential area known as California. While looking a bit greyer than it's sunshine state namesake in the US, or even California Cliffs holiday resort in Norfolk, local government regard it as a 'character area'. It seemed a parallel of the Mill Road area in Cambridge during an earlier 'up and coming' stage before full on gentrification hit. The council's intention seems to be to encourage the 'upmarketing' of the area. But as I made my way through California I felt like I was passing through a place very similar to the 'Ipswich' of the Map and my mind. I passed the California Grill,  a site of  concentrated 'Ipswichian' atmosphere despite being flanked by a couple of Barret home-esque buildings.


While in California I stopped for a respite in the Fat Cat pub.  Then had a cake from a proper bakery, which could have existed in the 80s. Viennese fingers with chocolate on each end and a corned beef and pickle toasted sandwich, all for under a fiver were artifacts belonging to the time of The Map.

Having moved North a bit and beyond California, I ended up on another main road. On a corner was Hutland Road, named presumably after the 'Hut' and it's land, a scrubby square of paddock/allotment. The Hut appeared to be used as a dwelling. 'Hutland' was a place from another time and another place 'of' The Map. Or possibly 'off the map' in terms of managing to remain untouched by developers and somehow staying under the radar.


Some actual allotments appeared soon after. Opposite these an unusual utilities box, an artifact looking much older than the wall in was built into. Another point of concentrated 'Ipswichian' energy.


At the next junction was large Tolly Folly-esque pub which appeared to have been turned into a 'Harvester'-type outlet. A ring-road edge of town establishment of immense dark-brownness, it seemed to be conjuring the grey clouds that formed it's backdrop.


Further along was a baptist church of the modern variety. The building was not an inspiring one and not of 'Ipswich' or the Map. It more resembled something belonging to business parks of Slough at the turn of the millennium.


The cemetery (or more accurately cemeteries) beyond the main road felt more comforting, offering an oasis of calm as these places often do. I sat and ate my Viennese finger on a bench facing the crematorium chapel, a building that wouldn't have been out of place in Portmeirion. The green dome made the building reminiscent of some kind of archaic observatory or research institution.


Rested, I carried on down Cemetery Lane, which bisected two of the cemeteries and headed towards town. I'd failed to managed a circumnavigation of Ipswich's northern hemisphere but it didn't matter.  My feet were telling me the walk was in its final stage.

Approaching the edge of town and the park I moved through a street with a sort of Hampteadian atmosphere. The posh part of town (maybe there are others, I didn't see them). Large houses, one featuring a sort of turret. One red brick pile featured a green man motif above the front door. Fitting in some ways with the leafy area and the park, although the red brick backdrop emphasised the slightly angry and demented looking face of this example.


I cut through the park. The peace was shattered by what sounded at first like an approaching tidal wave. The noise of the fans at Portman Road as a goal was nearly scored. A large collective sigh, as if the wave had crashed and swished up the beach, indicated the target had been missed. A giant ghost noise from 1981 that  briefly dragged me back to my earlier visits to the town to go to the game. I suddenly realised I'd probably be sharing the train home with hords of football fans unless I rushed to catch it now. But it seemed to much effort to hurry, and I wanted to meander around the town for a bit for a chance encounter with whatever had replaced the Civic Centre.

On the edge of the town centre, near to where the Northgate once stood, I encountered a ghost sign. Egertons Limited were a prominent car and truck dealer. The sign here, sponsored by BP, was advertising once of their premises that had been 100 yards away, once. The ghost letter 'S' of an even earlier sign is visible at the end. The pub in front of the sign appeared to be closed and up for lease. Prior to becoming an Irish themed pub it had been called the Halberd Inn and thought to date from the 16th century, a time when Halberds, a cross between an axe and a pike,were possibly still in use.  The building and the ghost sign were things that resonated with my imaginings of 'Ipswich' and drew me into the town centre for the last stage of my meanderings.


The nearby Bethesda Baptist Church was a far grander affair than the Slough model I had passed further out of town. Bethesda is the name of a pool in biblical Jerusalem, said to have healing powers. It's also the name of a small town in North Wales. I've been to the second one. When I saw the church wondered if their could be any connection to the Welsh Bethesda and Ipswich, other than me. It seemed unlikely.


The hand carwash I encountered soon after exhibited a previous and grander life as a coach station. The building looked a candidate to have at some stage been a station on the the forgotten 'Ipswich Underground Railway' The underground railway was allegedly built by the then Communist Ipswich Borough Council during the pre-war 1930s with funding from Joesph Stalin, but abandoned with the coming of World War 2. This building does not feature on the website researching the forgotten project, but you never know...


I meandered around the edges of the town centre before passing through the main shopping streets and out the other side. In a haphazard way I made a circuit of the streets just outside the epicentre of the town. In this zone I felt close to the 'Ipswich' of my 'memories'. Many of the buildings, quite a few of which were dilapidated, empty or up for sale or a combination of all three appeared as physical manifestations of the 'time and place' buried in my mind. The images below are of this zone. I've made comment on each where any explanation might be needed but otherwise will let them speak for themselves.




I thought the building above, which I think is a car park, might be the site of the old Civic Centre. I've not verified this, or felt the need to do so.




''Eastgate'. Another lost underground railroad station, this time in a compact soviet brutalist style?



Age of aquarius did not appear to be dawning down the alleyway the tiny and decrepit sign pointed to.




The breadbasket is empty under the headlines. Two respectively describe the loss of the last bank in town (not necessarily this town) and tributes to a dock worker who presumably had suffered a tragedy of some kind.  The other side of the drainpipe the headline is superficially more positive, providing hollow hope of some 'double tokens' unlikely to provide great riches.



As I headed out of town, a road containing several brown ex-industrial buildings that still exuded a sort of 'Ipswichness', showed signs of hipsterfication. One contained a craft brewery tap, which unfortunately there was no time to visit. Another had signage for a bistro contained within it. I wondered if regeneration would take hold throughout the town adding another layer and eclipse the 'Ipswich' of The Map. But it seemed unlikely. The essence of my 'memories' seemed to be contained within the buildings, structures and street patterns of the town which would outlast whatever the next passing phase would be unless it involved wholesale demolition.


These thoughts drifted away as I crossed the bridge, the route back to the station I used to take after watching football. I had timed it all wrong and was engulfed in the throng of supporters heading home, as I used to. I'd sort of come full circle back to when I used to don my Ipswich Town scarf and cheer on Mick Mills and co. The town was different, but somehow strangely parallel to the version lodged in my mind from the time of football, Radio Orwell, Friday Night Speedway and pre-partition Regional Television: The time of the  Ipswich Town Map.


Footnote: Shortly after completing the walk, the first story I saw on Anglia News was about Ipswich Market on the 6 o'clock evening programme. It was the first time I can recall them running a story on the town since the 1990 partition of East Anglian regional television. I wondered if I had imagined the 20 plus years 'blackout' of Ipswich. Or if it could really just be by chance that it's reappeareance to viewers in the West of the region coincided with my walk...