Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Suburban Stroud Psychogeography

The walk into town from Coronation Road is seemingly nondescript,
It’s easy to ignore the street names’ indication of their dates of construction:
Coronation Road, King’s Road, Queen’s Road – The death of Edward, the accession of George;
It’s easy to miss the interplay of Stonehouse brick
 (Stamped with the company’s insignia),
And the walls of stone, fashioned from the rock excavated when digging foundations –
Edwardian modernity and Jurassic history side by side;
And in terms of memory and more recent history,
It’s not common knowledge that vegetables were once grown in the front gardens of Spillmans,
And how, Old Tom, the horse, munched his way through them all in the 1920s,
Savouring his favourite till last: a rich, ripe carrot,
While contentedly studying the other horses pulling the carts with their heavy loads

Over the cobblestones of Rodborough’s roads:
Coal and milk and spuds and beer and bread,
And, of course, the fishmonger, basket on head,
“What have you got for me today?” the housewives’ weekly question.
It’s also hard to know that there once was a cobbler who repaired boots at the end of Spillmans,
A man born in the mid 19th century and yet remembered by a resident in the 21st;
Just as others remember taking their beer jug down to Vesey’s Offie,

Half way down steep Spillmans Pitch,
Getting some choc drops for the children,
Or those long liquorice bootlaces.

It’s easy to miss the industrial archaeology on the Nailsworth branch line,
As you step across the bridge:
It's easy to miss Industry's footprint,
Lost in the elder, primrose, ash and willow.

But see the rusting mighty iron capstans,
One, now toppled, but one still firm and strong,
Once used for winching trucks down the gas works siding,
To a coal tippler (concrete remains there still),
Where a hydraulic ram tipped the trucks' coal

Down a chute to a narrow gauge hopper,
And thence over two bridges and the Frome,
To its destination at Stroud Gasworks –
Spillmans in the 1920s must have been more
LS Lowry
 than rus in urbe:
Steam whistle hooters,
Gas hissing in mantles,
Rain streaking the windowpanes,
Flat caps bobbing in unison,
Stout boots clattering on the cobbles,
Bread and marg in your pocket,
A small army on the march,
Wife at the washing,
Spillmans Pitch,
Another Monday morning;

I’m at the bottom of the hill now –
Snowdrops and crocuses and primroses
Covering the grass bank of the Clothier’s Arms,
Gazing up at the curved lines of Rodborough Hill
(Why so curved?
To aid the London stagecoach on its climb on the new turnpike?),
Pondering on the springs beneath the tarmac at the junction of Rodborough Avenue
(Spot the slight subsidence in the road),
Walking past the mills;
Anchor Terrace, Wharf House,
Under the subway along the old Bath Road to the lock gates,
Watching King George the Third at Wallbridge in 1788,
The year when he first started thinking about conversing with trees
(A consequence of his visit to Stroud, perhaps),
Then past the sunken, crumbling, barred windows of the old brewery,
Down there beneath the culverted Slad Brook,
Hard by the new bridge and roundabout,
Glancing back to see the Stroud Scarlet stretched out on tenterhooks in Rodborough Fields,
Where a man is arrested in front of the old Bell Inn
For selling The True British Weaver in the strikes of 1825;
Now it’s under the old broad gauge GWR bridge,
Past the statue of the Tory paternalist, George Holloway –
Inveterate opponent of cooperative societies and principles -:
‘Most of us who have lived long enough, have found that all is not gold that glitters, and if we put the co-operative principle to the test of examination we find that its ultimate result is destructive of the best interests of society and especially calamitous to the working classes. It is exactly on a par with trade unions, - whilst hurtful to society in general, it is especially injurious to those whom it is intended to benefit.’
And into the modern world of Stroud’s shops,
Where we never talk of the palpable ‘town and gown’ differences of social class,
So evident when comparing the DFL conspicuous consumption of the affluent
With my experience of buying mushrooms –
I absently mindedly picked up three Portobello mushrooms,
The shop assistant sensitively checked the price
And told me that he’d been unemployed for eight months and knew all about having to count the pennies
And did I know I would have to spend £6.50 on a few mushrooms?
The shop had a notice: ‘We now welcome sure start vouchers’,
That’s a world away from the sentiments of Mr. Holloway’s statue,
It’s a world away from people reveling in the fact that house prices are rising so rapidly in Stroud,
And it’s a world away from all that guff about schools and countryside and rail links and road links,
And yet it isn’t.
Is it?
It’s not Disraeli’s Two Nations: “Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.”
Is it?

Is it?

I think this walk reflects the ideas in Phil Smith’s On Walking … and Stalking Sebald Axminster: Triarchy Press (2014):
‘Many people complain that walking the suburbs is mind-destroying. Not if you internalize the details: the zen gravels, the emasculated lawns, the coughs of dogs across the night, and the traces of a long-gone rural terrain. All become metaphorical landscapes across which to plot yourself.’
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