Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Exterminator of the Year 3000

On the way home from work, near the station waiting to cross the road I witnessed a bizarre figure go by on a motorbike. It wore a vest made out of what looked like armour over a leather jacket, metal gloves and boots and a horned helmet. The latter made the head resemble a junior version of the 'Scafolk Beast'. A devil-biker. Psychomania. Music was emanating from  the motorbike which was decorated with horns and other pariphenalia.

A being sent through a gap in the fabric of space and time, from an age of early 80s Italian Mad Max rip-off films. An Exterminator of the Year 3000 from a place where water is so scare people kill for it, while fuel, guns and ammo are plentiful. Today the first hospipe ban in Britain was announced. We haven't had rain for about 2 months. Could the appearance of this post-apocalypic figure really be a coincidence?


I later discovered this was in fact the 'Viker Biker', a local 'character' who assumes a part Viking/part knight persona and is probably the nearest thing Peterborough has to a superhero. He says if he happens to be near someone in trouble he trys to help, and he seems to want to cheer people up. If I'd have been watching About Anglia closely enough in 2005 I would have already knew all this.

More certain that apocalypse by drought was unlikely having seen some clouds and the About Anglia clip, or that gangs dressed in spikey leather driving spikey cars were not about to start maurading in the remains of a desolate East Anglia, my mind was diverted to 'characters' that inhabit every town and city. Cambridge has had its fair share over the years, Disco Kenny, The Man-With-The-Loaf of bread on his head, IRA Shouty Man and many others. The nearest Cambridge has to the Viker Biker is Heavy Metal Biker Man, a bloke on a racing bike with a ghetto blaster in a plastic bag that blasts out tinny heavy rock. These people are essential parts of the city they inhabit. Like human pieces of 'folk art' they are creations of themselves alone, often by accident. They are the antithesis of the 'clone town'. Long may they continue.




Friday, 13 July 2018

Millfield Meander

The recent prolonged hot spell finally over. I'd been lethargic, mush brained and irritable. Not inspired to walk, blog or do anything very much else. But today I felt newly energised, lighter, in need of a wander.

Lunchtime I headed out, no destination in mind. I passed an avant garde road works sign, depicting what looked like a black sun and a torch, which by a trick of light had it's beam provided by the real sun. A sign that pointed the way, encouraged me to take my time, do a longer walk than usual if I felt like it (I did).




I turned onto Lincoln Road, deciding to head in the rough direction of the Hand and Heart pub, my only point of reference for the area. This part of Lincoln Road is a somewhat ramshackle and dilapidated affair. The buildings are a crumbly. The street brought to mind how I imagined somewhere like Hackney to have looked in the 70s or 80s, or maybe Bradford as dipicted in the film East is East. The latter maybe due to the obvious multi-cultural character of the area. There is a large Muslim population as well as a Portuguese and Eastern European presence. A mural on the back of a large food shop celebrated the community of the area, known as Millfield. The feeling was different to that of Mill Road in Cambridge where a mural on the bridge has similar sentiments.  Or the hipster streetart of Hackney and Shoreditch. This felt more of an honest attempt at creating cohesion and part of an effort to heal tensions that had existed in the past, created by the people involved rather than the remote concerned. There were no signs of the middle class 'do gooder' to be seen.


Not far from here on a back street is the Hand on Heart. The 1930s flat roofed Square building is both utilitarian and spectacular. It's renowned for keeping the best beer in Peterborough. The sort of back street pub that is rare as hen's teeth these days, but once would have been a ubiquitous feature of most towns and cities.  The pub sign, a surreal giant hand either giving a friendly wave or possibly a command to stop, take some time out, slack off and have a pint. I hadn't intended to stop for a drink on this occasion, which was just as well. The curtains were still drawn. They don't open till 3 on weekdays. To my shame I've only visited the establishment once before and I resolved to return at the earliest opportunity.


I wandered through the backstreets in the general direction of back-to- work. Further along I passed an unassuming end of terrace building, housing on the ground  floor PG Reeves Pneumatic and Compressed Air Specialists,  possibly a relic from from the 50s.  Above this was the 'Kurdish Association In Britain Kurdish Centre'. A combination that appeared to represent a genuine and most likely wholly accidental mix of cultures. I suppose it might have been the Kurds dispensing the compressed air but in my imagination the shop was run by a man who resembled Roy Cropper from Coronation Street.


The coming together of cultures was further represented by artwork on an electricity/telecoms box I encountered soon after. Hands shaking amist a swirl of either ribbons or tentacles of a colourful beast. This was part of a series of three 'arted up' boxes in a row, the doing of someone or something called 'Ink Spot'.  One of the others depicting trees. The third an old beared man patting donkey and featuring the RSPCA logo.

I headed back to work strangely optimistic and refreshed. This despite England getting knocked out of the world cup the night before, the imminent arrival of Donald Trump to these shores and news of the closure of The Golden Curry on Mill Road and it's replacement by a wine bar. It wasn't all gloom.





Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The Watchers of the Cathedral

I had my lunch in the Cathedral cloisters..when uninhabited an unusually serene place given it's proximity to the main shopping drag. Once nourished, I had a short wander, circling the Cathedral.

The building felt imposing and monolithic, parts of the walls black with grime. I looked for gargoyles but there were none. A smattering of graves along one edge, a sparse cemetery.

Coming back along the other side I looked up. No gargoyles here either but some stranger apparitions, at least to my eyes. Four figures adorned the building. Their faces appeared weathered away, one to the point of having the front half of the head missing. From where I was standing they looked small but radiated an aura beyond their size, sort of God like, alien. They reminded me of the statue-like figures in a vaguely recalled series of episodes of Dr Who (Sylvester McCoy and Ace vintage) titled 'Ragnarok', which had something to do with Norse Gods and sinister clowns. The cathedral figures seemed as much akin to Norse figures as Christian ones, but appeared to be neither. Despite their facelessness, they looked like ominous  watchers from another time.




I could only get three of them into the picture, and even then from a distance. It was only later when I looked at it and zoomed in that I noticed two of them had heads that appeared to be covered by nets, or possibly hoods. No doubt an illusion of weathering but still adding to the sinister strangeness of the figures. What were they waiting for?

Around the other side of the building I spotted a small engraving or what appeared to be a reverse sunrise. With the solstice approaching, this furthered my  feelings of unease.






Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Fleur-De-Lys and The Blocked Door

After a week off I'd like to say I returned to work with a feeling of renewed vigour and enthusiasm. But being a normal(ish) person of course I didn't. I felt half sharp and somewhat begrudging. A slightly extended lunchtime walk might help, I thought. Additional motivation was provided by the office 'walking challenge' currently happening, based around increasing one's step count over about a month. Anything that gets people walking ought to be suported, I thought, particularly if it facilitates additional perambulatory activity during the working week. I had my pedometer on and went out into the murky greyness.

Still feeling a bit off kilter following the transition from week off to back on the work treadmill, I wasn't really in tune and didn't really notice anything for most of the walk. My route ended up being a sort of loop, round some residential streets that eventually lead me to Central Park. Nothing stood out.

I had lunch in the park. I had thought of getting a coffee in the cafe, but it was closed. Fully caged up. This seemed particularly odd given that it is half term.

I ended up walking back to work along Eastfield Road and it was only towards it's end that I became more 're-tuned'. This happened when I noticed a door. Or rather an ex-door, on the corner of Monument Street. More precisely, first I noticed the Fleur-De-Lys motif above. Then underneath, the door featuring blue tiling around the edge and a sort of porch above it. It was a few seconds before I noticed the door was bricked up, but only about three quarters of the way up. The remaining section being what looked like the remains of the door with it's window boarded up. Sort of reminiscent of the way many new buildings have the top section made out of or clad in wood. And equally inexplicable as to why this should be the case.


At first glance the door resembled that of a police station, then made me think it might have been the entrance to some sort of club.  A British Legion or Conservative club, that sort of thing. Or possibly a dead pub, The Fleur De Lys is a widespread pub moniker after all. I wondered if it could have been the headquarters of some sort of defunct fraternal society. The Fleur De Lys, although mostly associated with France, is, in it's silver on blue incarnation, the central feature of the coat of arms of the Baron of Digby. Whatever the explanation for the building and it's symbolism, it remains hidden behind the bricked up door and the plethora of Google hits for estate agents that come up on a search for 'Fleur Dear Lys, Monument Street, Peterborough'. I could only be bothered to go three pages in before I gave up. The other mystery, apart from  the partial bricking up, being the identity and motives of SG and rBs.




Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Danger of Death 1925.

Last Thursday I managed a brief lunchtime wander in Peterborough. I had my lunch in Central Park, in the seclusion of the Sensory Garden. I had considered sitting outside the cafe, where I'd purchased coffee. But the tables had all been taken by a large group of octogenarian looking people clad in what I presumed were army uniforms. They looked like elderly members of the Boys Brigade.

On leaving the park, I passed three more elderly people. A man and a women both wore what looked like mayoral chains of office. A third man wearing a suit, bowler hat and carrying an umbrella appeared to be their assistant. I assumed they were about to convene with the ''boys brigade" for some sort of ceremony or ritual.

Across the street from the park I headed along a fairly pleasant residential street. Among the houses was a bizarre building housing (I assume) electricity. The top half looked like it may have been residential at some point, while the bottom was basicallyb large windowless cupboard with a yellow 'danger of death' sign warning against any attempt at entry. The building, date stamped 1925, and resembled a giant mock-Tudor tardis. A brief (but admittedly less than thorough) internet search revealed nothing about it. The buildings mysterious quality remains intact.


A few minutes later I was on Eastfield Road. A sun-shrivelled man, probably in his 50s, spoke to me as I passed in an indeterminate accent. I couldn't understand what he said but he was seemingly offering me the chance to purchase the items in the plastic bag he carried. I didn't break my stride so didn't properly see what the bag contained. It appeared to be blue cartons, possibly cheap unlabelled cigarettes, or maybe knock off prescription pills or Viagra.

5 minutes later I was back at work.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Telegraphs, Gas and Anarchist Hobby Horses in Norwich

Changing trains at Norwich, the plan had been to stop off and have something to eat at the Coach and Horses, and get a later train back. I walked down Thorpe Road but before I reached the pub noticed a footpath signposted as leading to Rosary Road. Beside being one of those paths that draws you in, Rosary Road rang vague bells. I took the diversion.

The path led behind some houses, on.hiher ground. Soon it forked. I took the left turn, shortly to emerge onto Rosary Road. The place was familiar and a few seconds later I saw the pub, The Rosary Tavern. I had been here before, some years ago following an afternoon at Norwich Beer Festival. I had stubled across the pub on a convulted walk back to the station by happy accident. It was mentioned in the beer festival programme as being 5 minutes from the station (I hadn't seen the ad until I was actually in the pub). It was only 5 minutes using the path I had just taken. But at the time went a different way, only having a vague notion of the direction of the station. It had taken 30 minutes.


The building was still there but on closer inspection it was no longer a pub.  A plaque on the wall showed it had closed in 2009, having been a pub for over a century.  The pub sign simply reads '95'. Above the windows, where the name of the pub had one been it now says, in wording just about visible, 'Rosary Appartments'. Serviced apartments I think. In the old days the pub had been part of a planned estate housing employees of the gas works. I was sorry to see the pub gone.

I made my way downhill back towards Thorpe Road, past the 60s low rise flats next to the pub and a semi-brutalist car park/office block opposite. Eventually I came to a left turn and headed to The Fat Cat and Canary for a swift half and a pork pie. It was sunny and the front yard was occupied by builders who had knocked off for the day and their vans.

Suitably refreshed, I carried on along the road for a bit before turning left, having decided to try and do a circular walk back to the station. I found myself on 'Telegraph Lane East'. The road quickly became a steep (for East Anglia) incline and a tree lined road with some largish houses. A bit reminiscent of Hampstead, but not quite as posh.  Late I discovered the area is known as 'Thorpe Hamlet'. Parts of it had a feel of a village within a town, a sort of separate state resisting the encroachment of its surroundings. Keeping the riff raff out.


I noticed a number of blue signs that I first thought pointed to cycleways. Coming from Cambridge, why would I think they were anything else? But they were signs for pedestrian routes, which is something you don't see everyday and was heartening. And useful for someone not really knowing where he was going. Up to a point anyway as most of the nomenclature was meaningless to me.

I passed a primary school, and notice one lone parent with a pushchair up ahead. No one else around. I crossed the road and saw up ahead what looked like a water tower. Closer inspection confirmed this. A water tower with an added bonus of a TV/radio or maybe mobile mast on top of it. It seemed unusual to encounter a water tower within a city. Victorian proto-brutalism at its best!


Further along the road seemed narrower and more like a lane. The woman with the child in a pushchair I'd seen earlier had paused ahead. When I passed she stopped me and asked if I lived round there. There was a starling apparently in distress, and she didn't know what to do. I apologized and said I wasnt local and didn't know the drill for injured birds except to advise her call the RSPCA. She thanked me but looked uncertain. I thought the encounter a bit odd. The woman was middle class and confident sounding but had no idea about what to do about her concern for the bird. I left the scene, feeling a bit guilty for not offering to call the RSPB, as well as puzzled as to why the woman hadn't thought of doing this herself. I was wearing a suit so maybe I was projecting some sort of air of importance or authority that I really don't possess. The encounter showed how deceptive appearances and first impressions can be. Anyone can buy a suit from M&S for less than a ton, and anyone can cultivate a middle class accent should they so wish (I never bothered). Both part of 'spectacle' and facade.


Shortly after this the road became 'Telegraph Lane West'. The lane narrowed and started its decline downhill. I passed a splendidly decrepit sign for a pub, The William IV'. I couldn't actually make out where the entrance was but seeing the sign for sports screens I  didn' investigate further.

Telegraph Lane West continued, tree lined and narrow.


I passed a metal gate, festooned with indicipherable graffiti tags. Frustratingly I couldn't make out what lay beyond it.


A little way further, near the end of the road I encountered a magnificent gas holder. A water tower and a gas holder on the same stretch of road, in a city, not in the 'edgelands'. I felt almost blessed.


When I got to the end of the road it was apparent that at some point it had changed from Telegraph Lane West to Gas Road. Stands to reason I suppose.

At the bottom on the corner was the Lollards Pit pub. Coincidentally I had seen the pub on TV a few weeks ago in a programme presented by Dr Alice Roberts about Tudor Norwich.  The pub is so named since the Lollards, seen as heritics, were killed and buried on the site which at the time was outside the city walls. The site was shunned for a period but these days the pub features most of the hallmarks of a thriving decent boozer with a heritage angle. Apparently there is a well in the garden (I didn't have time to look) and it had a fairly convincing old world feel, despite Jimmy Somerville pleading not to be left this way from the TV on the wall.


A bizarre flyer, featuring a ghostly looking hobby horse caught my eye. Robeet Kett led a rebellion in Norwich following the enclosures and resulting hardship caused the to people of Norfolk in the 1500s. He was hung soon after. Ketts horse, and the morris/molly troup accompanying it, appear to be harnessing the rebellious spirit of this part of Norwich which goes back through the layers of it's history. I hadn't detected much of a spirit of rebellion in Thorpe Hamlet but it was only Wednesday afternoon.

'No one man is the horse. We are the Kett's Horse Society. We are the Guild of the Glad Man Ribnoners. We are the resurrected skeleton army of Stump Cross. We are the stump cross Ex-Residents Club. We are the Now or Never! drinking club'.

Over the road, I found myself on the officially sanctioned Riverside Walk. A sudden shift away from the arcane memories contained in the Lollards Pit, and the odd combination of edgelands and Hampstead that was Thorpe Hamlet. Soon after the path forced me through the beer garden of The Compleat Angler pub and across the road to the Station and home.




Friday, 11 May 2018

Rural wandering in South Cambs X 2

Peterborough walks have been on a hiatus lately due to business at work  and working away. Then the bank holiday, when I spent a couple of afternoons walking with my partner around some of the villages just south of Cambridge.

My partner is much more rurally orientated than me, which means I occasionally venture out to a place I previously wouldn't have bothered with much before: the countryside . Left to my own devices I'd have been unlikely to go out into the sticks very much. In the past I considered the countryside a bit boring, conservative, remote, difficult to get to (and more importantly from) and lacking in amenities. More recently, I've learned to drive so going to these places is more possible and forces me to practice. Going anywhere by car is still my least preferred  mode of travel, but does have its uses on these occasions. Before my attitude had been if somewhere couldn't easily be reached by foot, bicycle or public transport (preferably train, not bus) then it probably wasn't worth going to. My view has shifted in recent years, and i'm nearly as happy going for a rural wander as an urban one. I don't know if this is because of gentle coersion by my partner, learning to drive, or just getting older and appreciating different things.

Walk 1: Eversden Woods and environs.

The first walk involved parking up in the village of Great Eversden. My memories of the village itself are already a bit vague. Nothing remarkable, bigish houses and big gardens indicating fairly well off residents, no pub (apart from one now operating as an Indian Restaurant), no shops or cafes. There was a church (more of this later). We parked near it and headed off down a footpath. The objective of the walk was to go to Eversden Wood where we could catch the last bloom of bluebells. We thought it would be less busy than the other bluebell woods in the area which were more well known being managed and advertised by people like the Wildlife Trust. The irony of going out to the countryside to get some peace and tranquility away from town, only to be thrust among a mob of families and their dogs was something we wanted to avoid.

Before reaching the woods we stopped for a rest on a ridge, overlooking a farm, the village and towards Cambridge. The behemoth of Addenbrokes Hospital could easily be seen in the distance, as could Eddington and the wind farm near Fleam Dyke near the village of Fulbourn. There was nobody about on the ridge. It was peacful yet strangely surreal. It's not often you get up high in Cambridge (I'm talking very relative, it wasn't Ben Nevis). It was a bright and sunny day and lhe light was reminiscent of that on 70s TV programmes I remembered seeing about the Countryside as a child. At that time it seemed another world, one I wasn't particularly interested in. One where a patronising man told you to follow the country code and notices told you to keep out of fields. The light had a strange quality in these programmes which seemed to be slightly off kilter with real life. Maybe it's the type of film they used. But it seemed to mainfest itself on the ridge.

We got to the wood. Suddenly in the shade, out of the sun which was getting a bit much for me being a pasty faced individual with little tolerance for it. The bluebells were competing with a profusion of other plants and brambles. We saw nobody else as we progressed into the wood along a path that became increasingly quagmire like the further we went. A prolonged wet spell had left it's mark.

My choice of footwear was a bit ill advised for this sort of thing. Roamers 'Jason' suede slip on desert boots are ideal for walking in an urban environment (or anywhere dry and not too lumpy really). But they are neither water or slip proof. Just as things were starting to get awkward I found a large stick which I could use as a steadier and to gage the depth of puddles. I felt like a character in one of those terrible dungeons and dragons games, who finds a significant object that will assist in the quest. In this case to get to the other side of the wood without slipping into water, nettles or brambles. The staff of stability! I briefly fancied myself as a sort of Merlin, as he was portrayed in the film Excalibur. But a subsequent near slip brought me back down to earth. A panama hat wearing middle aged buffoon would be closer to reality.


The path widened into one where vehicles had obviously been used, adding to the quagmire. At this point the walk became a bit like a rural version of the Crystal Maze, circumnavigating edges of puddles trying not to fall into nettles and brambles while avoiding the mud and pools of water. A mysterious dustbin like object ahead appeared like a poor quality dalek. It turned out to be a device to feed pheasants. I'm not sure I really agree with breeding pheasants to shoot and eat. Apart from being cruel, it seems a lot of effort to go to given the tiny amount of meat they have on them. Like other 'country pursuits', foxhunting, hare coursing, horseracing etc I don't really understand the appeal or approve. But then, I'm not from round these parts. I'm sure the Barber Jacket and welly wearing contingent would remind me of that and tell me I wouldn't understand their country ways. And I'd agree with them.


Out of the woods and into the brightness of a field. We followed the quagmire path above, rather than the dryer path that appeared to have been the result of spraying some sort of dangerous weedkiller. A reminder that farms and much of the rural environment they govern are industrial in nature..literally.  I recalled, vaguely, the Sunday lunchtime TV programme 'Farming Diary'. I can remember a panel of two or three men presenting it, looking like Bob Fleming from the fast show. The commercial break was reserved for adverts relating to farming. Enormous radioactive looking orange sacks of fertiliser, combine harvesters and sprays to kill weeds and insects. I also remembered the smell eminating from the Fisons factory in nearby Hauxton when my friends Dad, who worked there, took us fishing at the mill pond in the grounds and to the social club, where the crisps tasted of the same smell.


Some time after crossing the partially poisoned field, and resting in an apparently unpoisoned one inhabited by a number of crows (or maybe rooks) and pigeons, we came across the concrete circles of a reservoir. At the same time, in the distance, I could see the white disk of a radio telescope. We had moved from depressing Sunday afternoon  advertisments for poisonous agricultural chemicals to an environment reminiscent of the Quatermass mini TV series from the 70s. Both dystopian, but the later at least offering some hope.


Within the compound of the reservoir was a trig point, reminding us we were still at relatively lofty heights (for Cambridge).

An orangy stone had been left on the fence. I wondered if I should have collected this to complement my staff, but decided against it. It resembled a russett apple. I thought it looked good where it was. With the trig point, this added to the sort of stone circle like atmosphere of the compound.


A notice nearby warned of the laying of a 'relevant pipe'. This didn't look like it was going to be much of an impediment. Work had started, but had only progressed a few feet. I'm not sure exactly what a relevant pipe is. Can you have an irrelevant pipe?

It's relevance to us was that it was pointing in the same direction we wanted to go, back into the village (I suppose a pipe taking water away from a village might be the irrelevant sort).

The path lead eventually back to the church. We had a look round the churchyard before we left. The whitewashed building was unusual and impressive. Somewhat marred by the sign next to some gravestones showing sponsorship by lottery funding. They say lottery ticket money is dead money...


Walk 2: The Shepreth Barrington Meldreth triangle.

This walk may have been rougly triangular, or possibly more of a rhombus,  but didn't really feel like it. The main road from Shepreth to Barrington was closed. We enquired at the café (the tea and cake sort, not a grease caff) and the man helpfully found out for us that pedestrian access remained, only traffic couldn't get through.

But we didn't go that way, we followed a footpath/lane that eventually lead to a large field of oil seed rape. A path carried on, a stream or ditch on the other side. The oil seed rape, a type of brassica, resembled a yellow inedible version of purple sprouting brocolli close up. From a distance a sea of monotonous yellow. We followed the field round and crossed a stream/river over a wooden bridge then down a grass path walked off by two high hedges, as green as the grass. Like a maze except straight. Further along was an open iron gate, leading to what appeared to be a graveyard. There were only four or five graves and we concluded it was probably someone's garden. A bit weird but we thought best not to investigate further.

Soon we were on the main road through Barrington, bifurcating Barrington Green. This consists of a very large grass verge each side of the road and a large village green with a cricket pavilion. We stopped on the village green for a rest. No one was playing cricket (no one was there apart from the odd passing car). I recalled the scene in the film 'The Shout' where Alan Bates' character is revealed to be a mental patient, helping keep the score in a cricket match between villagers and inmates, before he loses it and get carted off. The film was set in Devon and this was Cambridgeshire. But village greens all look pretty similar. Another, maybe tenuous, rural/folk horror connection was the pub The Royal Oak which can be seen up the road from the Green. A woman who dressed as a witch used to be the landlady. I was aware of this at the time but didn't know where Barrington was then and never saw her. Walking past, I noted it has not retained any trace of Addams Family/Witchy connections.

Just past the pub, over the road is stream including a sort of pond resulting from damming (not the large concrete sort obviously). We sat and observed the pondlife. Waterboatmen, snails, pomdskippers and fish (of the tiddler variety). Within the pond was another world containing these creatures, swaying aquatic plants and air bubbles gently drifting to the surface, which was easy to become emersed in. And we did for some time. I remembered David Bellamy's backyard safari, where the presenter was 'shrunk' in order to observe ants and snails from a different perspective. I don't remebere if he ever dived into a pond.


We headed down the road back toward Shepreth. This was the road closed to traffic, which as walkers was in our favour. At a small (and empty) car park we found the entrance to a meadowy environment around which the river could be followed. We took the path that sort of followed the river and at some point we stopped to looked at a willow tree with a large hollow.

In the hollow I noticed what I thought was a  discarded  packed lunch box. Closer inspection revealed this to be a Geocache box. It contained a lighter, a toy police badge and a cotton real. I've never done Geocaching and am unaware of its finer points. I didn't have anything to leave in the box and didn't take anything. I put a note in the log book including my blog web address. Maybe I'll be regarded as a 'muggle' in the Geocaching community for doing this. But I wondered if there was some crossover with Geocaching and psychogeography, and I'd not maybe there should be. Geocaching encourages walking and a certain amount of exploration, as does (did?) the more virtual Pokémon. But maybe there's too much purpose involved, too much of a point to it. There's enough of that sort of thing in day to day life. I considered my intervention by leaving my note in the book as a psychogeographical ''wave' to the Geocaching community, a friendly amd mischievious disruption of their possibly more serious pursuits. And a shameless plug for my blog.


Across the other side of the meadow, we entered another sanctioned path in a woody area. The boozy detritus left behind in this pool indicating a more upmarket outdoor drinking fraternity. No strong lager or Thunderbird here.


I can't recall much else of the wooded area. We emerged onto a road, which would take us to the edge of the village of Meldreth.
The road was one of those with no path, and no obvious speed limit making it potentially hazardous but traffic was luckily light.


We passed through the outer edge of Meldreth. The village sign was a sort of wrought iron affair, not the usual type. Slighty sinister. When I was younger I heard tales of a gang that often got on the train at Meldreth and were to be avoided if possible. The Meldreth Mafia may well have been the figment of someone's teenage
imagination. But if they did exist I imagine they could have been responsible for burning down an earlier village sign. This one looks more fireproof.

                     
Just outside of the village, we entered L-Moor, a scrubby sort of meadow now under the control of the Wildlife Trust. The explanatory sign at the entrance gave an explanation of the history, but I was distracted by the image of the Manx Longhorn Sheep, with its Baphomet like horns. The area a bit of a strange and archaic atmosphere, which I imagined being more intense on a misty winter day, when the sheep were grazing. They had been banished for the summer so disapointingly there were none to be seen.


The ground was lumpy with ant hills, having not been cultivated since the 1800s. It was divided by the railway line which was passed under via an old foot tunnel.



There were different coloured bits of plastic tied to a fence just the other side of the tunnel. I'm not sure what the significance of this was. Maybe they had been put there officially for some mundane reason. Or maybe they were the remnants of some sort of ritual, involving the Manx Sheep and dancing through the tunnel naked on the Sabbat.


Short after this we stopped for a rest. The electrified railway on one side, and an electricity pole on the other. In my line of sight to the pole was a flower, rare and known as a milkmaid according to my partner. On the railway line, two engineers wandered past talking in Brum accents, clad in radioactive Fisons orange. Like a couple of alien observers, keeping to the track just to be sure.


After leaving L-Moor we followed a path back to Shepreth. Just before coming out near the church, we passed a sort of agricultural machinery graveyard. A ramshackle array of tractors, lorrys and bits of plough, in various stages of ageing, rust and decay. Giving off a Texas chainsaw massacre/Dukes of Hazard sort of a feel. The gate was locked or I'd have been tempted to wander around it.


We arrived at the church. Less remarkable than the whitewashed one in Great Eversden, other than the roof. No spire, presumably there had been once, but a newer roof giving a more ominous feel, reminding me of 'The Black Tower'.



A lumpy and lichen infested gravestone was the other odd feature of the churchyard. Looking like it had become diseased or had been squeezed by a giant hand.


We emerged back into Shepreth, a village fairly indestinguishable from Great Eversden at first sight. It does have a pub, The Plough. We stopped for some water.  The pub looked like it had received the 'Farrow and Ball' treatment and we were expecting it to be poncey but quiet. But the garden was given over to a children's playground and Queen was being played at high volume indoors, where a handful of regulars dwelt. We decided to head home.



Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Harlequins and Dominatrixes in Fitzrovia and Soho

Working away from 'home', my route from Kings Cross took in Fitzrovia and Soho.

I've passed through Fitzrovia countless times over the years, but never by exactly the same route. I always know roughly where I'm going but never precisely, the Post Office Tower acting as a sort of surrogate compass when a reference point is needed.

In Fitzrovia I encountered dipictions of two figures. The first a Harlequin, painted on the exterior of a bizarre toy shop that appeared to belong to an earlier age. Pollock's Toy Museum does indeed date back to the 1960s but it felt like it had been there much longer. The strange Victorian toys in the window display made it more akin to a cabinet of curiosities than a Hamleys or Toys R Us. While in the immediate vicinity of the shop I briefly felt transported back to a different time, a slightly sinister foggy one, with a cane wielding top hatted Lon Chaney figure lurking on each corner instead of a Japanese sushi takeaway establishment. The moment passed as I left the shop's field of gravity and was thrust back into contemporary Fitzrovia. A safer, more sober and less interesting place than in my brief imaginings or it's much written about postwar heydey.



The Harlequin, a character dressed in a mulicoloured diamond costume and usually wearing a black mask, originates from the Italian comedia del'arrte. The character is associated with both foolishness (possibly contrived in order to confuse and cause chaos) and trickery. The Harlequin is also associated with dextrous physical acrobatic skills. A variation on the character arrived in England in the 1700s and a bit later was paired up with the contrasting clown figure, developed by Joseph Gramaldi (who is buried a couple of miles away in the park named after him near Angel, where you can dance on his grave and make it play a tune).  The Harlequin, along with the Jester, was used extensively in the symbolism of Marillion's record covers and song lyrics in the 80s. This association brought about a slightly unwelcome earworm. I needed something a bit more upbeat than Fish's pained wailings at this time of the morning.

The second figure I discovered in Fitzrovia was a grotesque Teresa May/Marilyn Monroe hybrid. An apparition as horrific as it was no doubt intended. The shop it was painted on had closed, the window newspapered up. A situation no doubt exacerbated by the malevolent presence of Marilyn-Teresa.


Parts of Fitzrovia are being disrupted by Cross Rail. A cynic might say a sneaky excuse for getting rid of the remaining interesting pubs, cafes and restaurants to replace them with the latest corporate number nine models.  I noticed, with alarm, that the Sam Smith's pub 'The Champion' was being refurbished. I wondered why, it was perfectly alright last time I went in. The wooden, William morris-ey darkness of Sam Smith's pubs are always welcome places of escape. I hope they don't spoil it. There is another up the road, The Blue Posts and I'm sure I've once been in a third in Fitzrovia but i've never been able to find it since.

The Harlequin, is often characterised as a trickster or devil, a bringer of chaos, the fun sort of chaos.  The Marylin-Teresa figure seemed to represent the exact opposite. An authoritarian order of brightly lit dull piped music temperate horror where you do what you are told to do or suffer the consequences. I'm siding with the Harlequin and will shout him a pint in the 'Posts.

Across the divide of Oxford Street into Soho, I found myself near the axis of Berwick Street/Great Marlborough Street. More depictions of May. In one she is in a band with the Queen and Angela Merkel called 'The Dominatrixes', all three dressed as such. A horrific and disturbing vision which I was still trying to wash from my mind some time later.

On Berwick Street market, things were no less disturbing. Since I'd last visited, the shops under Kemp House, a large tower block that rises above the market, have been hidden behind boarding pending development. On one of the boards were images of LP covers from the Reckless Records shop. Reckless was never located here and still operates down the road. It was a place I used to go to a lot 'back in the day' when Reckless Records own label released a string of LPs by The Bevis Frond, still a musical favourite and a figure intertwined with London as it exists in my head.


Under Kemp House had been Sister Ray, which moved up the road a while back, and Music and Video Exchange which has gone from not far away to where the sign above currently stands never to return. The words, next to the Reckless covers, seemed to convey a spirit of defeat and resignation to the development to come.

I left the market hoping it would still be here next time I visited. Soon after I passed The John Snow', another Sam Smith's Pub, one I've never been in. Named after a Dr who discovered cholera is caused by drinking water infected by sewage, rather than 'dirty air' as was thought at the time. Not the Channel 4 news presenter (Jon).

Soon after I'd crossed Regent Street and New Bond Street and was in the heart of Mayfair. An area I have rarely visited and one I associate with dull exclusivity. From this vantage, Fitzrovia and Soho still seemed like places that still belonged to the Harlequin.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Eyes don't lie at the Rec

A barmy morning, I took a slightly convoluted route to work. Only an extra 10 minutes added to the 'direct' route but enough time for a diversion from the norm.

This resulted in crossing the Stanley Recreation Ground. In the morning sun it looked enticing from a distance. Upon reaching its edges, I made my way across a desire path towards the main 'official' path. The rec felt quite pleasant in a rough grass slightly littery sort of way. No manicured straight line gardens or park keepers here.

I came across what looked like the base of a missing statue. I imagined a stone figure becoming animated and extracting itself from the base before wandering off across the grass in the manner of a Ray Harryhausen creation. The remaining base resembled an altar, with a few offerings of empty beer cans and fag butts placed on or around it. Not far away a group of people occupied a bench which had a far more impressive array of similar detritus strewn about it. People for whom 8 in the morning wasn't too early for a tin of brew. Disciples of the missing statue, perhaps.


Leaving the Rec I passed the 'official' notice board. Pretty much unused apart from by the City College who had stuck a few random notices behind the glass in 2016. Some unofficial additions included a black and white sticker bearing a mysterious symbol of a four pointed star or possibly a compass. Possibly navigational, but if so too cryptic to be desiphered.  


I didn't notice at first the quote from Al Pacino in Scarface graffittied across one side: 'The eyes Chica, they never lie'. Out of context, on  rec in Peterborough, this sounded more like a warning than advice on picking up women for Cuban gangsters. Similarly cryptic to the star/compass. Pondering this and the similarly baffling statue-altar I left for work. 

Saturday, 7 April 2018

The Underpass from Stanground

Friday. Last day before a week off. I decided a longer lunchtime walk was in order. I headed to Stanground. I'd seen it from the train with its bungalows resting on the waters edge. And a church spire which I decided I would try and reach.

At the end of Fletton Avenue I followed the road under a flyover. One of a confluence of several roads passing through the behemoth of concrete led me into Stanground Village. I turned left onto what I think was the Highstreet, opposite a light-industrial yard containing a tattoo parlour. The area featured a couple of MOT garages and used car places. I spotted a pub, The Golden Lion. Boarded up, permanently closed, a drink out of the question. Opposite a chip shop which was almost tempting.

Although I was only just outside of Peterborough the village could have been miles away, in the middle of nowhere. It retained some of the atmosphere of other places in the city but felt cut off, temporally and spactially. For a few minutes I forgot where I was. I could have been in one of the more crumbly and run down villages of Cornwall as easily as the bit of England which is half East Midlands, half East Anglia.

After I passed the Baptist Church, house in a brown 1930s type building that could have passed as an old workshop, the houses began to look more salubrious. Smarter terraces and old cottages.

Soon I was at the church who's spire I had seen from the train. I followed the path past it. I took an old man walking ahead of me as a barometer of safety. I wasn't sure where it would lead.

I crossed a brook, running along some bungalows similar to the ones seen from the train. A path ran alongside, I noted for a possible future wander. The houses looked pleasant. Although one was sporting a St George's flag on a large pole in the garden. Possibly too soon for the world cup..

The path continued through an underpass, splendidly tiled. As I passed through, a cyclist was appeared from the blinding light at the other end. Instead of emerging into some sort of heavenly nirvana, when I came out the other side I recognised the path back across the dual carriageway that I had walked over on a previous excursion. My route back to work.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Development Opportunies

The first day that felt like Spring. Sunny, warmer but not too warm. Perfect day for a walk. I decided to head up Eastfield Road and keep going to see where it led.

Past the area containing the dilapidated looking pub 'The Sportsman', various shops and takeaways and the entrance to the graveyard, the houses start getting a bit bigger, first 1930s bay windowed semis, then bigger victoriana. One large house hosted a use car business and others old people's homes, a common use of larger houses in Peterborough. A petrol station with a Costcutter attached on on side and unusually a Chinese restaurant, including mock pagodas on the other. 

By this time I think I had entered the area known as ''Newark". The sign I'd seen yesterday had referred to this place, rather than the Newark near Nottingham. Now it made sense.

I passed a large house, currently in disuse but apparently acquired as a 'development opportunity'. I'd thought care homes were even bigger money-spinner a than residential developments. It seems even these establishments are not immune. The building had a slightly spooky air, somehow exacerbated by the abandoned cardboard box in the foreground. Maybe it had contained the belongings of a former resident, dropped in the struggle to leave by the eviction deadline. An absurd scene came into my mind. A struggle between the carers and elderly residents with bailiffs and representatives of the developers. Short-lived and one sided. 


I carried on. After passing the extensive low rise Regional College, I was drawn off Eastfield Road down a path alongside the college's playing fields. I could see a green space the other side and thought I could stop for lunch. It turned out to be a grass verge alongside a fairly recent housing development. The path eventually came to a sudden and unexpected dead end. I was diverted through the housing estate, and eventually onto a main road heading west (possibly).

The road was residential to begin with, possibly 1930s vintage. Further up a few shops and an MOT garage, including a large Fish and Chip shop. Noted for future reference. The road bent round into the direction of the City Centre (I hoped..I'd already extended my lunchtime and must have been a good 20 minutes from work).

I passed a pub, The Elm Tree. It seemed unsure as to whether it was open. A large function room had an advert for the Circus on the door. I couldn't tell if it was contemporary. 

Further along a flat roofed brown 30s(?) building, of the simple type used for community halls and scout headquarters. A building with potential as an excellent community facility. But currrently housing the Christadelphians, one of the many small, obsure and a bit sinister Christian sects that seem to find homes in these sorts of places. I hurried past, not wanting to risk being accosted by someone trying to talk to me about god, and headed back to work.



Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Blank Signpost

After a bit of a hiatus of late on the lunchtime walking front, I got back out today for a brief and slightly wet wander.

I headed down the path where I previously encountered Trainspotter Man, and had turned back. No sign of him today and I continued beyond the back of the indoor bowls club, a brown utilitarian building reminiscent of something from Prisoner Cell Block H. Being separated by a fence very similar to the sort you get near railway tracks enhanced the feeling.

Just past here I past the only person I'd seen since leaving Star Road. A young woman glued to her smartphone, causing her to wander like someone half pissed. Small child in tow. She didn't look up when I passed.

I reached the underpass I had been trying to find before.


I went through, not sure what I would encounter on the other side.

I passed a young couple looking a bit shifty as I went under. They might have thought the same about me I suppose.

Beyond was a path/cycle way following the route of the Parkway. Just beyond that houses. A signpost showed the way to Fletton and Stanground in one direction, Newark in another, and nothing in the direction I was going in to head back in the direction of work. A blank. I thought of London being erased by 'No' in the film The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz. I carried on through a street of brown flats and houses towards the non-event of the afternoon ahead at work.






Thursday, 29 March 2018

Eddington: Cambridge's new Utopia?

I thought it was about time I took a wander round Eddington, a new development on the North Western edge of Cambridge. The University is the mastermind behind it, driven by the need to attract/retain 'key workers' who (like most other people) are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the City in anything resembling decent accommodation.

I arrived via Madingley Road near the Park and Ride which leads into into Eddington Avenue. I followed the cycle path that hugs the road around the edge of the development. This part, some of which was still under construction, was all but deserted. The odd hi-vis workman the only sign of life. The buildings consisted mostly of large apartment blocks, albiet of a better looking quality than a lot of developments. Some obviously already occupied. I felt like I was walking through an updated version of Vera Chytilova's ''Panel Story".


A sign pointed the way to the facilities. I was intrigued by there being a Market Square and imagined there might be a space hosting a decent food market where I could get some lunch, offering an alternative to the ''Superstore" on the sign. Eddington is billed as a sustainable community, discouraging of cars, encouraging of cycling and with BREAM building technologies. So a more sustainable food outlet seemed within the realms of reason.

I left the road, which encircles the existing settlement like a moat. Heading inwards, I passed some buildings which had a large University symbol embossed on the doors. I felt like I was in the future and the past at the same time, the surroundings reminiscent of the sort of University Campuses built in the 60s and 70s, or some of the Cambridge Colleges from that era. Except this was brand new. I saw first signs of non-workman life here, a young man wandering back from somewhere with a cup of coffee.


I continued deeper into the development. Still encountering little sign of life. It was only the newness of the buildings that reminded me I was at the beginning of something rather than the end, it was that desolate.

Oddly, the manhole covers were rusty and appeared aged, add odds with everything else. Maybe they'd got them secondhand in a bid to be sustainable. Maybe they were fashionably 'distressed'. But they did feature British Standard Approved kite mark, which was reassuring.



Soon I found myself in the Market Square. No actual market to be seen. Subsequent internet research suggests there are no plans for any in the immediate future.


The current facilities consist of a largeish Sainsbury's and an Argos. As I entered the Market Square there was suddendly life. People were sitting on the benches outside Sainsbury's eating Pizza and picnicking on stuff they had bought from the shop. This seemed like it might be the only option for sustenance so I bought a sandwich and a drink and joined them.

Sitting on the bench, I noticed everybody seemed very young and middle class. Not surprising in Cambridge I suppose, but I hadn't realised the settlement was mainly populated by post-doc researchers. I'd assumed the University's key workers would be clerical and maintenance staff. The more 'town' end of staff seemed very unrepresented during my brief stay on the bench. No sign of the University's infamous painter Disco Kenny, but I don't think he would thrive in the publess environment in any case.

I saw a Sainsbury's worker come out and smoke a fag. I was half expecting a tannoy announcement reminding people that smoking was not permitted. Thankfully there wasn't one.

Just across the road from Sainsbury's is the Storeys Field Centre, a community centre.


An unusual building, I had trouble finding the entrance. I thought about going in for a coffee, as an excuse to have a look round, but it was a bit busy. Unsurprising, I suppose, it being the only option for a beverage of any sort apart from the Sainsbury's. The centre hosts various clubs and events from Woodcraft Folk and art clubs to gigs. The Wedding Present are due to play later in the year. So are The Wave Pictures, who I saw a couple of years ago after reading that Billy Childish had collaborated with them. Rather than rawkous garage rock, the gig was a quiet and particularly ernest affair, the audience more than the band. Not the rock n roll night out I was expecting. I should have done my research. But hopefully the centre will become another outlet for live music, even if it is of the more sedate variety still a welcome development in a time where the prevailing trend is to close places hosting live music. Not the same as a sweaty back room in a crumbling pub with black walls, but in (post) modern Britain we have to take what we can get.

I didn't manage to locate the 'Swing Sanctuary', which sounded fun but I'm not much of a lindyhopper.


Next to the Field Centre, the University Primary School features a world map on the gates, presumable representative of the international population of Eddington.


Opposite this some seating..


I headed away from this cultural hub, following Eddington Avenue, the only road is had seen. The settlement is aiming to discourage cars and encourage cycling and walking. Separate cycle paths are incorporated into the infrastructute. I didn't see many cars and the distance from Cambridge would make them largely redundant for anyone willing and able to cycle the 2 miles to Cambridge. It seems likely the population of Eddington will remain enterally young and fit enough to make this work. Post-docs move on and the flats (at least the affordable ones) are rented according to salary, which is reviewed regularly. This points to a very transient population. People with children will probably move on on before their kids get to secondary school age, and it seems unlikely many will stay living here into old age.

There are some market rate homes being built for sale. '21st century period homes', no less. I wondered if in 2 or 3 hundred years time a Dan Cruickshank type character would be presenting a BBC4 documentary, praising Eddington's period homes' and trying to defend them from demolition and redevelopment into ghastly 24th century mixed use development.

Maybe these homes would be lived in by a less transient element of the population. Or maybe they will be sold to Chinese investors and Russian oligarchs. Hopefully the University will have done something to prevent this. Ironically, this is the only recent development I can think of that doesn't feature student accomodation, so there is hope.


I headed out of Eddington, passing areas still in development.


I left via 'The Ridgeway', a cycle route leading to Huntington Road and beyond to Girton. I passed this fledgling tree, trussed up and emerging from a builders dumping ground. This seemed both an optimistic and depressing site. Which was sort of how if felt about Eddington. It was Utopian in many ways. Better quality and sustainability credentials than other local developments. A new arts venue. But it had many distopian elements too. All the dwellings appeared to be flats allowing continuing leasehold landlordism,  the few shops are the usual chain stores (so far) and the  area is aimed exclusively at a certain section of the population and essentially a University enclave for transients. A sort of Bar Hill for posher people. But with a more transient and international population being the zeitgeist, at least among the young middle class 'millenial' generation, this could well be the future. Where the rest of us will live I dread to think..