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.

Psychogeography, Eddington, Cambridge, Cambridge University

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..

Saturday, 17 March 2018

No respite along the river..

16th March, 2018

I was suffering the tail end of a migraine. Half sharp and somewhat cheerless.  I thought a walk along the river would provide a calm and welcome respite, with added fresh air.

Opposite the Fletton Quays development, there were several swans on the shallow concrete steps that decend the riverbank. A park stretched alongside as far as Frank Perkins Parkway, which crossed the Ouse over a large concrete bridge. Things looked promising from this vantage.

A bit further along, a dislapidated barge, possibly occupied, faced the Fletton Quays. Not far away, a tent was pitched, the first of three I spotted on the park. A sort of tale of two cities separated by the river. Would the occupants of the tent or boat benefit from the new flats being built? It seemed unlikely. Despite the slightly spring like weather and near sunshine, the park felt bleak.

Further along, a disused looking public lavatory sat by itself, opposite a disused warehouse the other side of the river. The combination of the landscape, which usually I would find interesting if grim, and the migraine, brought a feeling of increasing gloom and disengagement.

I carried on up the path which sloped upwards onto Frank Perkins Parkway. I had assumed it would allow a left turn which would take me in the right direction back to work. But it only turned right. I decided to carry on, cross the river and double back.

The foot/cycle path across the river was separated from the dual carriageway by a waist high metal fence. Not that reassuring when enormous lorrys roared past. The path turned out to be a long one, with no choice but to either keep going or turn back, apart from an unofficial desire path down a steep slope through some trees, leading to a building site. I wasn't tempted by it.

The path eventually came out near an allotment, where a left turn alongside a cemetery offered a way back in the direction of town. Leaving behind the grim path, the heavy gloom it had brought, in combination with the left overs of the migraine, dissipated a bit.

A suburb of brown 1930s houses further along was overlooked by Peterborough United football ground, but despite this the atmosphere was not oppressive. The combination of 1930s housing and the football ground, not unlike the area around Wembley and no doubt countless other football grounds, conjured up images of Saturday afternoons in an indeterminate time. Football matches, grandstand on telly, tea round your nanna's with the football results on.  An atmosphere dregded up from somewhere in my memory..and I don't even like football.

Emerging onto the main drag of London Road was a return to a more oppressive atmosphere, coinciding with the sky turning greyer as the sun went in. The stretch back to the river consisted of a closed pub, a large hand car wash operation and a series of unpromising looking takeaways.

Back in the town centre minutes later I saw two young people dressed in the Goth style. An unusual site in Peterborough. It's as if they had been conjured up to mark the end of an unusually oppressive walk, ambassadors of a gloomy Friday lunchtime.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Orbit the Gas Holder

15th March, 2018

The sky an ominous grey, I headed out in the direction of Star Road. My aim was to get to an underpass I had spotted on my way back from Fengate the other day.

I followed Wellington Street, towards Star Road.  In between the police-station-like building of the YMCA and the fairly unremarkable Grace Tabernacle Church, was a gate. The access point to the gas holder that rises up magnificently above these buildings. The gate was locked of course.  The gas holder dominates the immediate vicinity, part of it nearly always visible from the surrounding streets. A giant liminal imposition, which cannot be ignored.

Peterborough Has Holder Psychogeography Edgelands

On Star Road I took a right turn at Mr Tyre. This business occupied the old church(?) building featuring the stones with cryptic phrases carved into them (A.C. Ashpool for Stangroud etc).  The street I turned into was non-descript, mostly residential, save a school/mosque building with an impressive green dome, and opposite it the Peterborough indoor bowls club. The street was a dead end to cars, the two side roads at the end being cul-de-sacs. I had emerged from one of these on my walk last week, but couldn't recall which. The first one I tried was the wrong one. The other looked more promising when I saw someone heading down it onto what looked like a footpath. I was about to follow when I noticed another man, talking to himself. He was carrying several plastic bags and looked like a dilapidated train spotter. He shouted something intelligible at the other man, who ignored him, before heading down the footpath himself. Not wanting to engage in any sort of situation with the possibly deranged man I headed back on myself and back onto Star Road. Here I found what looked like a connecting path heading in the direction of the underpass. I started following it. I was quickly repelled back when I saw Trainspotter Man heading my way. I don't know why I was so keen to avoid an encounter with him. Chances are he would have ignored me and walked on. But I didn't want to take the risk. The path was isolated from view and felt a bit dangerous. But it was lunchtime, broad daylight and Trainspotter Man didn't really look threatening. I was disturbed that I had fleetingly felt mild 'Daily Mail panic' about continuing down the footpath, when there was really very little to fear.

I headed back across Star Road to where the footpath carried on along the other side of the gas holder, between it and Boongate, a main road heading into town. For some reason this path seemed less ominous, I suppose because it was more open. I passed a group of men in hi-vis picking up rubbish, community payback or council contractors, I couldn't tell. They were near an inexplicably fenced off triangle of scruffy grass adjacent to a house but evidently not part of it's garden. Behind the house another small fenced off area contained graffiti and a discarded mattress.

Then the path opened out onto a slightly hillocky expanse of green in front of the gas holder. I tried not to consider what might be buried under the small mounds as I crossed one to get a better view.

There was a strange white stain down one side of the gas holder, as if a gigantic pigeon had deposited it's wears. There was nobody evident in the compound. Nobody about at all apart from the cars heading along Boongate.

Gas Holder Peterborough Psychogeography

Likewise in the Wellington Street car park, where the liminal atmosphere continued. Partly due to the presence of the gas ring, partly due to faded notices for car boot sales, like faded circus adverisiments, and partly due to the non-presence of people, just a sea of static cars.

I wrenched myself out of the gas holder's liminal field of gravity and went back to work.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

'Iluminati is Real'

11th March, 2018

Passing under a railway  bridge along the river, near  'Railway World' I see the usual sort of graffiti. Standing out amongst it, it was hard to miss the silver eye in the triangle pronouncing 'Illuminati is Real'.

Only yesterday (Sunday) I was rummaging through the books in a charity shop and had come across a copy of 'The Illuminatus Papers' by Robert Anton Wilson. I vaguely remembered reading bits of this as well as 'The Illuminatus Trilogy' when I was a student. Along with 'The Book of The Subgenius', and 'Principia Discordia' these books were, I always thought, part of an elaborate Discordian hoax.

I wondered if the grafitti artist was aware of Wilson and the Discordians, and that The Illumiatus Trilogy was made into a stage play in Liverpool in the 70s starring Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy. Probably not.

Rather, the grafitti seemed symbolic of an increasing paranoia. In an age of fake news, increasing awareness of bias and spin in mainstream media and access to infinite information on the internet it's probably not surprising. The internet is full of conspiracy nutters creating even more fake news themselves, although I guess they would accuse me of conspiring against them for saying that. Television also, as well as the evangelical preachers disturbingly found towards the end of a fruitless scroll through the channels for anything worth watching, contains channels like 'Blaze' where people in all apparent seriousness discuss ancient astronaut theory.

At the weekend I came across a bizarre TV programme from the 70s broadcast by Anglia TV called 'Science Report' (aka 'Alternative 3'). It was a spoof documentary about a scientific brain drain and people going missing to Mars or the Moon while climate change threatens life on Earth. Originally to be broadcast on April 1st it was postponed due to industrial action (time to wheel out the stock photo of The Sandy Heath Transmitter and some music). In the comments under the YouTube video, one person is convinced it is all real, and comes up with some not very convincing reasoning as to why. An apparently more rational person (possibly someone who saw the programme at the time) offers a more far more reasonable explanation, i.e. it is a hoax. This is quickly dismissed with more irrational speculative arguments, presented in a manner more akin to the blindly religious than the enquiring mind.

Meanwhile this weekend, the mainstream media were still speculating and weaving a dubious narrative around the poisoning of exiled Russian spies.

It's perhaps little wonder that confusion reigns and people are looking in ever more outlandish places for 'the answers' amongst spin, 'fake news', political discussion and conspiracy theories. Whether this is an unintended consequence of the original Discordian disinformation 'hoax', as Wilson has alluded. to to who knows?

Maybe these are the end times. Praise "Bob"! All hail Discordia!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Brown Tower and The Sensory Garden

9th March, 2018

I decided to head towards the large brown building I can see from my office window. Somewhat oddly situated among Victorian terraces, it towers above them ominously. It looked like the sort of building that would be occupied by a public utility, the water or electricity board.  It's always in view from my desk, out of the corner of my eye. But on a previous attempt to take a closer look I couldn't find it, despite walking in what seemed the correct direction. Momentarily I had wondered if it had been a figment of my imagination. I felt a bit like the protagonist in the short film 'The Black Tower'. At that moment the building became in my mind 'The Brown Tower'. Today I did locate the building but it was impossible to get a good view of it from the street. The surrounding buildings keeping it partially hidden. I tried to go into a sort of driveway heading towards it, but was put put off by an ominous clicking sound which I took to be a CCTV system. I felt repelled from the building and headed away from it, defeated in my efforts to discover what it was. The building remained elusive and I thought slightly malevolent.

I found myself in Central Park, and headed to the centre where there is a cluster of small buildings. In the cafe, regular Saturday morning philosophy talks take place. A notice in the window displayed the current programme. 'Consciousness: does it really exist?', 'What is reality?' and 'The Interconnectedness of everything' were some of the topics of discussion.

I was tempted to go into the Cafe but was slightly put off by the cages on the windows. A bit further along I came across a gate welcoming me to the Sensory Garden. I went through and found myself in a small enclave behind some park buildings.

Central Park, Peterborough, Psychogeography

There were a couple of odd sculptures, one in the centre of the garden made of cubes the focal point. I sat on a bench facing it. The garden, despite (or maybe due to) being slightly dilapidated, was welcoming. I enjoyed a solitary few minutes, letting the sounds wash over me:  traffic, tennis, birds and a radio in a nearby hut. I felt refreshed and had forgotten about The Brown Tower' by the time I left and headed back to work.

Friday, 9 March 2018


8th March, 2018

Separated from the main shopping area by a main road, on a small stretch heading to the river, I stumbled upon the Rivergate Arcade. Curiousity, as well as the possibility of finding lunch, drew me inside.

Central to the arcade is Rico's, a cafe/restaurant. The sort of down to earth place that used to be prevalent across the UK but is increasingly rare. Full English. Tea. Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick. I took lunch there, an easy decision.

Arcades Project Water Benjamin, Flaneur, Peterborough

The arcade exists in parallel to Queensgate, an alternative to the frenetic, serious, choice anxious shopping trip of the large mall. Few 'big brands', unless you count The British Heart Foundation, but instead curious smaller shops. I didn't feel I was obliged to consume and felt drawn to just potter about.

Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project saw the Paris Arcades, particularly as they declined, became dilapidated and occupied by 'fringe' businesses, as a natural environment for the Flaneur. Alternative places away from mainstream commerce and 'spectacle'. Whilst in Rivergate Arcade there were no dandies walking with diamond encrusted tortoises on leads, just a bloke with a cord jacket and a Fulton umbrella, I felt there was a certain connection.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Destination Cambridge North

7th March, 2018

No lunchtime walk today. On the way home I needed to be somewhere in North Cambridge, so got off the train one stop early at the new Cambridge North station. From there a walk along the busway would compensatory.

This was the first time I'd alighted at Cambridge North and crossed the bridge between platforms. This and the rest of the station, built in a  bizarre patterned white material, brought to mind places recalled from 70s Sci-fi TV. Blake's 7, Space 1999, Logan's Run, Dr Who and the like. From the outside even moreso.

Liminal, Cambridge, Psychogeography, Guided Busway

The station sits in a sort of liminal zone. The immediate vicinity is about to be developed by Brookgate, the same people responsible for the surroundings of the main Cambridge Station. A hotel, coffee shops, eateries are all promised. The advertising boards featuring the usual plethora of marketing slogans. As well as a representation of a  bearded but eyeless hipster character. Maybe personifying the blind acceptance and even enthusiasm for more  gentrification and questionable development. At least that's what the marketers are hoping, presumably.

Brookgate, Guided Busway, Cambridge, Psychogeography

The lack of any development yet means you can't get anything to drink or eat at Cambridge North. The dirth of facilities only added to the feeling of being somewhere transitory and slightly other (as well as being a bit inconvenient).

I considered catching a bus but decided to walk along the Busway for a bit, which itself has something of an edgeland quality about it, a continuation or extension of the atmosphere around Cambridge North. The first stretch passes by a fairly sterile looking business park. Part of this was the building below. Bright orangy-brown in the low sun, it's grey central tower seemed to oscillate. I didn't dare look for long for fear of developing a migraine.

The other side of the Busway on this stretch is so far less developed, and featured some bizarre looking (in this light at least) plant life in front of older looking ramshackle light industrial buildings. The habitat of discarded energy drink cans and chattering magpies. For the time being anyway.

Psychogepgraphy, Cambridge, Liminal, Guided Busway

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Ghost Town...

6 March, 2018

I took a stroll round the perimeter of a block of buildings near the market. A cluster of several nightclubs, a ten pin bowling place and a world food buffet, now nearly all closed and up for sale. In the not too distant past this would presumably have been ,in the modern parlance, Peterborough's Nightlife Quarter. The only place apparently still open, Angels, which is a 'gentleman's club', has somehow managed to outlive it's neighbours Halo, New York, New York and the prophetically named 'Ghost'.

As I walked past the 'ghost' of Ghost I could hear echoing voices coming from inside. Then a fire alarm going off. Presumably down to workmen of some sort. But initially I imagined this was a spectre of some sort of disaster, a fire maybe. Or maybe a warning for potential developers (the buildings seem to have been empty for some time). Thoughts prompted, no doubt, from what I had read earlier about reports of the 'haunting' of the Queensgate Shopping Centre, where the laughter of spectral children can apparently be heard after hours.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Beyond the Bridge

5 March, 2018

Heading East, I reached the concrete bridge going under Frank Perkins Parkway, one of a series of dual carriageways encircling the City. The road is named after a local early 20th Century industrialist who was big in diesel engines. The engravings on the bridge presumably some sort of reference to Perkins, are strangely reminiscent of Eastern Bloc brutalism. I was short on time, but the urge to pass 'through' made me abandon worry of such trivialities.

Beyond the bridge the environment changed immediately. Used car lots, MOT test centres, an industrial estate or two. Further up a dog track. A grease cafe, currently closed due to family illness. Hopefully a temporary phenomenon. A blacksmiths operating out of a bungalow. A mobile home park.  I felt I'd been teleported to a place far further out of town than I actually was by passing under the concrete bridge, both physically and metaphorically.

Eventually I managed to loop back via Boongate, negotiating a busy slip road where a footpath had abruptly and inconveniently ended, then through a residential area which turned out to lead me to Star Road. I knew where I was then and made it back, only 10 minutes late.

Friday, 2 March 2018

(Don't) Rush.

Friday. 2nd March 2018.

Despite still dubious walking conditions on footpaths, I went for a more satisfying walk. It was cold but in a refreshing way. For both safety and normal reasons the last thing I wanted to do was hurry. But as ever at lunch time I was time limited, as the green telecoms box seemed insistent on reminding me. I tried to ignore it but knew the clock was ticking.

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Thurs 1 March 2018

No walk yesterday. The office Wellbeing Group usually organise 'Walk it off Wednesday' for those wanting a bit of light exercise (about a mile). I had considered going along as a way of meeting people in my new workplace, while at the same time using the walk for my usual purposes. It was cancelled due to 'suspect weather conditions'. The 'Beast from the East' had brought snow, ice and iffy walking prospects to the pavements. I decided I was going to head out as usual, but a heavy snow shower at lunchtime made me change my mind at the last minute.

With conditions on the pavements still a bit dodgy and in apparently sub-zero temperatures , I managed only a short wander today. I took semi-shelter in the market. Some traders were already packing up. Some, like a stall selling air guns, hadn't opened in the first place. Some were stoically hanging on, including Jehovahs Witnesses manning a proper market stall waiting for someone to talk to. I admired their optimism, the near frozen market was almost deserted.

I left and headed to the Cathedral and  through the Norman Arch to double back to work. Just before getting back to the market I noticed wording on an old looking stone incorporated into the  wall of a building.   At first I didn't recognise it for what it was.  The cryptic message 'London 79 by Huntington Thorney 7' first brought to mind something they might say on the shipping forecast, or an archaic sporting result. On realising it was a milestone I remembered it was two weeks to the day I'd started commuting. It felt fitting to have stumbled across the stone to mark the occasion.

Milestone, Peterborough, Psychogeography
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