Isn’t this baby spadefoot unbelievably beautiful? Jumping away from me in the gravel alley behind Molina’s. Maybe spadefeet like salsa, the smell of tortillas.
But wait, I looked it up. It’s spadefoots! Listen to this (from the Desert Museum, they love exclamation points as much as I do!):
During summer monsoons, the spadefoot is well-known for emerging from its subterranean estivation to breed in the temporary ponds created by the heavy runoff. Interestingly, the cue for adult emergence during these summer thunderstorms is not moisture, but rather low frequency sound or vibration, most likely caused by rainfall or thunder.
Using the spade on the hind foot, spadefoots can quickly bury themselves in loose, sandy soil. During this time young spadefoots need to eat enough food to survive the unfavorable living conditions above the surface of the ground. After eating as much as possible, they too burrow beneath the surface. Breeding may not occur in years with insufficient rainfall. Preying primarily upon beetles, grasshoppers, katydids, ants, spiders, and termites, a spadefoot can consume enough food in one meal to last an entire year!
So adults stay underground in the day — for 8 to 10 months waiting for the monsoons, and also through their active period. But these little metamorphs can be caught at all hours. I scooped him up and let him go down in more safety by the little arroyo, flooded now like I’ve never seen it. He’s got more challenges than a little frog needs, growing up in a parking lot.
At last my conscious mind registered that funny little bridge,the reason for its existence.
Today, finally it was cool enough to walk, and mom really needs to be walking. We went down to the store, but had to come this way, the long way, because Belvedere was a little too flooded to cross.
I don’t remember when I saw or heard Tucson getting this much rain. Maybe way back in eighty-four. The great flood. We lost power at home, we were trapped for several days…living in the city isn’t nearly so much fun. We are so removed from everything, the desert flattened and sealed from us beneath asphalt and concrete. But with the flowing of water you can imagine the contours of what used to be here, the arroyos carving through the flats.
It feels so different from the everyday. Even this sprawling landscape of box buildings, unique owner-built homes and empty lots felt beautiful, though I still mourn the desert.
The sunsets have been wonderful
Me, I’ve been trying to face down my anxieties about writing, I now am confident in 6 of the 8 pieces of Qi Gong brocade, and going through more of the stuff we crammed into storage during the foreclosure. Look at these…part of the soundtrack of my old life as part of the Gibbons family. And a vacation guide from the days when driving gloves were still cool.
We were hell of cool singing along the Clancy Brothers and Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins.
Also, I sold a story today! Stars Falling. It’s the Perseid shower this week too. I don’t know if those two things are connected except that I started this long ago in LA during a meteor shower, but it’s nice.
Now, some gratuitous pictures of Meli-pops.
It rained and I was tired, but still went for a walk. A beautiful, very wet walk. This walk featured lambs, horses, incredible views, a neolithic and anglo-saxon burial mound, lead mines and pits, a Norman church with incredible carved entry, a Saxon cross also beautifully carved if well worn, the grave of actor Alan Bates, beautiful stone villages, incredibly seductive stiles, a pub called the miners’ arms, spring flowers, ruins, a cat in the rain and slugs where slugs really shouldn’t be. I wanted to write more, I may yet, but I am very tired.
I am so very excited about sleeping in tomorrow.
I quite love this city, and spent one of my Devon weekends here. We walked through the Barbican a bit — and some lovely little side streets, old and stone-filled, narrow and full of faded colour:
So much of this country is haunted by what was.
We walked down along the sound as well
Not least by J.G. Ballard.
We managed a few of the ordinary everyday streets of Plymouth as well, apologies for sharing the most picturesque.
As we wandered back from a visit to Saltram House. I really wanted to see gardens — they were nice here, but not too special. The wildflowers were wonderful though.
Full of old beautiful trees
The house was all right, though I never do care too much for these massive displays of wealth really:
But I always love the kitchens. An early patented ‘portable refrigerator’ and more…
Also good for deeper insight into the class system:
The library was lovely — along with early adjustable shelves and Blount’s Jocular Tenures!
I also enjoyed the step stool into bed
and this early bathroom
And just because I never did blog this earlier trip, and more pictures of things like the barbican and the point the Mayflower left from and all that sort of thing
A little prettier perhaps than the pics from this last trip…
For now at least. Because it doesn’t seem at all real. Perhaps because I have not moved into somewhere else. There is no other home. Most of my things now sit boxed and bagged beneath the eves of my wonderful friend Heather’s loft, she and Geoffrey, Mark and I having completed one of the labours of Hercules to get them up there. They are safe.
I have a strange ache along my right side, but it’s fast disappearing.
I have no home.
I do have Mark, which is where my heart is. And a corner here, and some of the books I hope to use for research and writing over the summer.
London is an impossible city to say goodbye to.
Above all I will miss people. I know I should have had some kind of evening, some kind of open goodbye kind of a party, but I didn’t have the heart for it. Too much to plan on top of everything else. Moving house, massive academic job applications, a blog for the British Library, articles to finish. The anniversary of my dad’s death, which always knocks me a bit endways. My birthday thrown in there, and me hitting a decade mark. My birthday was the last time I talked to my dad when he was really with it, before fever had sent him delirious. He was already in hospital then. I miss him terribly. He’d quite enjoy my farming plans, as my mum does.
Starting this evening, I will be farming. So this blog will change a bit from cities to countryside, from academic literature to orchards and lambs. It will probably be much more exciting for a while.
But this last one… Goodbyes. Endings. I suppose always most important is people. I said goodbye to a few of the people I love most that I love London for having brought me, but not all. Not close. True friends never have to say forever goodbyes though. Goodbye to LSE, which I won’t miss really, but Holborn and Lincolns Inn Fields I really will.
Easier was to make a list of places I had not yet seen and see a last few of them — that also made me feel that I had done well to see so much because it wasn’t actually that long a list. Freud’s house and a last visit to Kew Gardens and the self-built council flats in Lewisham and the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace are the things I regret not managing to squeeze in. I blame the marathon, because the plan was always to leave on Sunday not Saturday. But plans change I guess.
Because it was my birthday weekend last weekend, we hit the town a little bit. I have never really done the cocktail thing here, so we did it. Friday we went to the cocktail bar in St Pancras Hotel — the ridiculous gaudy Victorian creation of Gilbert C. Scott who bequeathed his name to the bar. I loved it. The cocktails were marvelous as well, and a touch of absinthe always brings bubbly happiness — which is the opposite of what I always think it’s supposed to do, but I fist learned otherwise with the marvelous Switchblade cocktail created for our noir imprint. My phone was out of juice, I got no pictures.
Goodbye to my beloved Brixton and Brixton Village, the latin brunch place with Olive Morris on the wall and delicious food and intense hot sauce:
A last show at the National Theatre — Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry.
Chancery Lane to my favourite pub (apart from the Effra), the Seven Stars
More cocktails starting at Simpsons in the Strand — first learned of it the old film Sabotage (1936) as THE place to go for a steak. We went for martinis instead, but never do the floral gin martini thing.
As a place Simpsons as a whole does have a lovely old-elegance atmosphere, and chess is everywhere as this was once the place for that. The cocktail bar not quite as exciting.
At this point I was brave enough to walk boldly into the Savoy and ask where the cocktails were at. There are two bars there, the woman suggested we try both, and that sounded like a really good idea. We started in this black and gold room full of beautiful young things and with some guy playing the piano in that sickly sweet sort of way that college boys think will get them laid. There were pop-up books with an around-the-world in cocktails theme, making you remember once again that Empire hasn’t really gone away. There was a £12,000 pound cocktail using up a barrel of rather ancient rum, a number of others around the £650 and £750 mark, and then a few for under £20. Ours were nice enough.
The American Bar in the Savoy was much better. Of course it was, because this is where Lauren Bacall and Bogey used to hang out, and why we came here at all.
Cocktails were better here too — or maybe we just made better selections.
We called it an (expensive) night.
Sunday we went to the exhibit at the V&A Museum of Childhood — I’d never been, and was quite amazed to see all of the toys I’d wanted growing up and never been able to afford. In that sense we agreed it was a little bit of a museum of the commodification of childhood, but it was still pretty awesome to see these guys, my favourite action figures apart from stormtroopers:
Some of the old motion picture/camera toys were amazing too.
And this was a special moment:
Really though, we were there to see first the exhibition on child migration, which was small but powerful and I think I shall write more about it later — I never knew that thousands of children were sent to the colonies until reading about Dr Barnardo, but it is such a chilling chapter in our history.
Second, and most wonderful was the special section on Peter Firmin and his marvelous creations with Oliver Postgate. Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, Nog, the Clangers.
From there we headed north, to see 2 Willow Rd, the home built by Erno Goldfinger — the home that pissed Ian Flemming off so much he created a villain in the architect’s honour. Of course, I cared more about the modernist archietct of the Balfour tower and etc.
On the way we passed the rather palatial residence of the Fabian Webbs:
A bit of contrast, as you can see.
This was brilliant (I couldn’t take pictures of the wonderful art, it is full of wonderful art).
More contrast again with Keats’ home
Or this classic
We wandered to the Spaniards Inn, old and lovely and part of the whole Dick Turpin highwayman mythology and also well known to Keats, Dickens and others — sadly now overflowing with people we didn’t care for. Though I don’t know I would have cared much for Keats either. We wandered back through lovely woods, passed Evelyn Waugh’s house.
Finished up with birthday dinner at Rules — again my phone dead. Oldest restaurant in London. Mostly tourists in there, and hunting trophies on the walls and leather and wood.
Then just a long week of goodbyes, packing, goodbyes. A last poetry reading at St Katharine’s yurt lates. A mad concert to see Shostakovitch played by the Borodin Quartet at Wigmore Hall the night before I moved. Frantic packing, moving, hauling, loading, cleaning. Trains and hauling. Sore muscles and sore heart.
Goodbye London. I might even be back, but I think you are far too expensive for me.
And now let the interim farming adventure begin.
I have seen so much while I’ve lived here, though I have certainly slowed down the last couple years. Now staring my own leaving in the face, I sat and made a list of all the places I’ve been meaning to see for ages but just haven’t yet. I found a few new places to see while doing this as well, and of course, there are some amazing exhibitions on at the moment at places I know and love well.
Today, in a way, was quintessential London — as London was. As it won’t be for much longer. I started at Old St Pancras Church, just behind the station. People have called it the oldest site of Christian worship in England. There is some proof. The current church is lovely, Catholic, a modern reconstruction, but incorporates the many hundreds of years of its history within its walls as Roman tiles, Saxon altar stone, Norman pillars.
The graveyard…a big, beautiful, flowered open space. It was once even bigger, but being so close to the railway station, much of the graveyard was claimed for progress. Thus came into being the ‘Hardy tree’. Thomas Hardy, the novelist extraordinaire himself, was hired to deal with the exhumations, and he chose to arrange the tombstones around this tree like rays about the sun. It is curious, and strangely beautiful.
Here too is the tomb of Sir John Sloane, architect, whose home is another fabulous museum in Lincoln Inn Fields. It is a listed monument, most curious in design (as you would expect), and supposedly inspired the design for London’s iconic phone booths.
Best of all is the tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin), amazing feminist, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women — something that knocked me over with its awesomeness when I was young, one of the things that made me want to write.
Her daughter’s book Frankenstein also made me want to write — this is where Mary planned her elopement with Percy Bysshe Shelley.
It also features in Dickens Tale of Two Cities, but that can hardly compare.
This is the kind of place that inspires love for London — except for all those cranes in the background building the modern monstrosities around the station — more unaffordable housing.
Old St Pancras Church
From there I walked to the Grant Museum of Zoology, which represents an early Victorian teaching collection — the goal was to have one of everything back in 1828 when it was founded. It is an extraordinary place, custom-made cabinets of glass and polished wood holding skeletons in various poses, preserved animals in varying degrees of dissection or preservation. Lots of jars.
Lots of moles.
A fossil compsongnathus (my dad used to tell us stories about them) and lungfish, a huge incredible skeleton of a boa constrictor, a tiny octopus (a few of those actually), an amazing ‘museum of tiny things’ (the micrarium). I loved it, despite the hordes of children. Also amazing, but a little more complicated by the connections between exploration, science, and colonialism. Here you can find the quagga and the tasmanian tiger, both hunted to extinction since this museum was founded.
Grant Museum Of Zoology
the last stop was unplanned, but I’ve always wondered about the crypt of the New St Pancras Church. It was open, with an artist in residence — ‘Being Silence’ and the artist Evgenia Emets. It was cool seeing her large calligraphy canvases, experimenting with the space. I just took pictures of the space, it is quite amazing.
Also, rather full of figures from the East India Company. Also complicated. But cool to get down here.
New St Pancras Church
And then I got to drive the 68 bus all the way home. Happiness.
The Triangle T ranch looks pretty good in the daylight, and it’s cool to walk in the footsteps of Glenn Ford — here’s part of the set from 3:10 to Yuma:
We drove down Dragoon Rd to the mountains, had to pull over between the stalked rubble of harvested corn fields filled with hundreds of Sandhill cranes. I have never seen anything like them, beautiful and all massed together in mid-migration, their backdrop the waste produced by human need for energy. I wanted my canon SLR more than anything, but didn’t have it, so this is as good as the pictures get.
Despite the sunshine, a handful of low clouds gathered along the Chiricahua mountains, and we drove up into them. Land of the standing-up rocks and of the Apache once, before white soldiers spilled their blood into the ground, stole this land. Stole these rocks, Rhyolite carved by ice and water into beauty.
These are taken from the Echo Canyon trail, which was unforgettable and I cannot believe we have never done it before…
A climb through the grotto…
…then down through a land of wonder.
Down a passageway that almost looks like cut stone and out again…
leaving the cloud for the sun (rather than the cloud leaving us, as Mark first thought — I’m usually the one to say things like that).
Down into the valley and looking back out where we had come from and where we would return…
Then around to look deeper into the Chiricahuas, and loop back around to the car.
From sun to cloud and ice.
The day didn’t quite end there, but this post is.
It was a fine autumn evening, and a faint sunlight shone on the yellow walls of the old deserted house, and showed the patches of gangrenous decay, and all the stains, the black drift of rain from the broken pipes, the scabrous blots where the bare bricks were exposed, the green weeping of a gaunt laburnum that stood beside the porch, and ragged marks near the ground where the reeking clay was gaining on the worn foundations. It was a queer rambling old place, the centre perhaps two hundred years old, with dormer windows sloping from the tiled roof, and on each side there were Georgian wings; bow windows had been carried up to the first floor, and two dome-like cupolas that had once been painted a bright green were now gray and neutral. Broken urns lay upon the path, and a heavy mist seemed to rise from the unctuous clay; the neglected shrubberies, grown all tangled and unshapen, smelt dank and evil, and there was an atmosphere all about the deserted mansion that proposed thoughts of an opened grave.
What is not to love about such gothic prose? Arthus Machen’s The Imposters is quite splendid all round, not least because Machen does not lack a sharp edge to him. On Dyson and Phillips he writes:
By the mistaken benevolence of deceased relatives both young men were placed out of reach of hunger, and so, meditating high achievements, idled their time pleasantly away, and revelled in the careless joys of a Bohemianism devoid of the sharp seasoning of adversity.
What I loved most about the book though, was how it moved between city streets and country villages in ways such books rarely do, but people do all the time. It moves from haunted ruins in deep countryside to London carrying the same atmosphere but now describing streets I know. Though of course, this is not as I know them, the gibbet-like contrivances and pantechnicon warehouses are all gone …
I went out and wandered rather aimlessly about the streets; my head was full of my tale, and I didn’t much notice where I was going. I got into those quiet places to the north of Oxford Street as you go west, the genteel residential neighborhood of stucco and prosperity. I turned east again without knowing it, and it was quite dark when I passed along a sombre little by-street, ill lighted and empty. I did not know at the time in the least where I was, but I found out afterwards that it was not very far from Tottenham Court Road. I strolled idly along, enjoying the stillness; on one side there seemed to be the back premises of some great shop; tier after tier of dusty windows lifted up into the night, with gibbet-like contrivances for raising heavy goods, and below large doors, fast closed and bolted, all dark and desolate. Then there came a huge pantechnicon warehouse; and over the way a grim blank wall, as forbidding as the wall of a jail, and then the headquarters of some volunteer regiment, and afterwards a passage leading to a court where wagons were standing to be hired. It was, one might almost say, a street devoid of inhabitants, and scarce a window showed the glimmer of a light. I was wondering at the strange peace and dimness there, where it must be close to some roaring main artery of London life, when suddenly I heard the noise of dashing feet tearing along the pavement at full speed, and from a narrow passage, a mews or something of that kind, a man was discharged as from a catapult under my very nose
And this…this is what all of long for sometimes is it not? For the strange, the weird, to irrupt into the daily humdrum:
“It is all more strange than I fancied,” he said at last. “It was queer enough what I saw; a man is sauntering along a quiet, sober, every-day London street, a street of gray houses and blank walls, and there, for a moment, a veil seems drawn aside, and the very fume of the pit steams up through the flagstones, the ground glows, red hot, beneath his feet, and he seems to hear the hiss of the infernal caldron. A man flying in mad terror for his life…
It seems ever harder now for this to happen, London of Machen’s time seems to lend itself to such possibilities much easier. Perhaps though, as Raymond Williams writes, each generation turns from the ugliness and meanness of the present towards a nostalgia of the past. But some things don’t seem to change, it is still true that almost everyone comes to London at some point — and if not London, then the big city near their town or village. Youth from all over the country come to be part of the action, to remake themselves, become something they can’t become within the confines of small tight communities.
I felt that there was nothing for me to do in the country, and as usually happens in such eases, London drew me like a magnet. One day in August, in the early morning, while the dew still glittered on the turf, and on the high green banks of the lane, a neighbor drove me to the railway station, and I bade good-bye to the land of the broad moors and unearthly battlements of the wild tors. It was six o’clock as we neared London; the faint sickly fume of the brickfields about Acton came in puffs through the open window, and a mist was rising from the ground. Presently the brief view of successive streets, prim and uniform, struck me with a sense of monotony; the hot air seemed to grow hotter; and when we had rolled beneath the dismal and squalid houses, whose dirty and neglected back yards border the line near Paddington, I felt as if I should be stifled in this fainting breath of London. I got a hansom and drove off, and every street increased my gloom; gray houses with blinds drawn down, whole thoroughfares almost desolate, and the foot-passengers who seemed to stagger wearily along rather than walk, all made me feel a sinking at heart. I put up for the night at a small hotel in a street leading from the Strand, where my father had stayed on his few brief visits to town; and when I went out after dinner, the real gayety and bustle of the Strand and Fleet Street could cheer me but little, for in all this great city there was no single human being whom I could claim even as an acquaintance.
For all its lure, there is something lost. There are desires unfulfilled, hopes destroyed, lives that never reached their promise.
It takes a long time to know it, much less achieve anything there.
“You were wrong to give in so completely,” he said, when I was silent. “A month is too short a time in which to feel one’s way in London. London, let me tell you, Miss Lally, does not lie open and undefended; it is a fortified place, fossed and double-moated with curious intricacies. As must always happen in large towns, the conditions of life have become hugely artificial; no mere simple palisade is run up to oppose the man or woman who would take the place by storm, but serried lines of subtle contrivances, mines, and pitfalls which it needs a strange skill to overcome. You, in your simplicity, fancied you had only to shout for these walls to sink into nothingness, but the time is gone for such startling victories as these. Take courage; you will learn the secret of success before very long.”
Machen does not just sharpen his wit on Dyson and Phillips, but on London’s monotony and mean streets as well, never losing sight of this veil of gothic prose and imaginings that he is pulling over it.
I also love this dig at Paris, and it resonates entirely with what I felt while there, under that veil there really is something after all…
“I see you can find the picturesque in London,” he said. “To me this great town is as I see it is to you, the study and the love of life. Yet how few there are that can pierce the veils of apparent monotony and meanness! I have read in a paper which is said to have the largest circulation in the world, a comparison between the aspects of London and Paris, a comparison which should be positively laureat, as the great masterpiece of fatuous stupidity. Conceive if you can a human being of ordinary intelligence preferring the Boulevards to our London streets; imagine a man calling for the wholesale destruction of our most charming city, in order that the dull uniformity of that whited sepulchre called Paris should be reproduced here in London. Is it not positively incredible?” … They had lingered at the corner of a street on the north side of the Strand, enjoying the contrasts and the glamour of the scene. Dyson pointed the way with a gesture, and they strolled up the comparatively deserted streets, slanting a little to the right, and thus arriving at Dyson’s lodging on the verge of Bloomsbury. Mr. Burton took a comfortable armchair by the open window, while Dyson lit the candles and produced the whiskey and soda and cigarettes.
And this paean to a suburb? This evocation of phantasy and gothic horror in such surroundings left by everyone else to everyday staid graspings after economic prosperity and their meanness? The chance happening of adventure here? Happiness.
Nay, I will say that he who has stood in the ways of a suburb
and has seen them stretch before him all shining, void, and desolate at noonday, has not lived in vain. Such a sight is in reality more wonderful than any perspective of Bagdad or Grand Cairo. And, to set on one side the entertaining history of the gem which you told me, surely you must have had many singular adventures in your own career?”
Before me was the long suburban street, its dreary distance marked by rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by the faint sickly smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by any means, and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as those of Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take; so I set out wearily, looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective; and as I walked, street after street branched off to right and left,–some far reaching to distances that seemed endless, communicating with, other systems of thoroughfare; and some mere protoplasmic streets, beginning in orderly fashion with serried two-storied houses, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, and rubbish heaps, and fields whence the magic had departed. I have spoken of systems of thoroughfare, and I assure you that, walking alone through these silent places, I felt phantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite. There was here. I felt, an immensity as in the outer void, of the universe. I passed from unknown to unknown, my way marked by lamps like stars, and on either band was an unknown world where myriads of men dwelt and slept, street leading into street, as it seemed to world’s end. At first the road by which I was travelling was lined with houses of unutterable monotony,–a wall of gray brick pierced by two stories of windows, drawn close to the very pavement. But by degrees I noticed an improvement: there were gardens, and these grew larger. The suburban builder began to allow himself a wider scope; and for a certain distance each flight of steps was guarded by twin lions of plaster, and scents of flowers prevailed over the fume of heated bricks. The road began to climb a hill, and, looking up a side street, I saw the half moon rise over plane-trees, and there on the other side was as if a white cloud had fallen, and the air around it was sweetened as with incense; it was a may-tree in full bloom. I pressed on stubbornly, listening for the wheels and the clatter of some belated hansom; but into that land of men who go to the city in the morning and return in the evening, the hansom rarely enters, and I had resigned myself once more to the walk, when I suddenly became aware that some one was advancing to meet me along the sidewalk. The man was strolling rather aimlessly; and though the time and the place would have allowed an unconventional style of dress, he was vested in the ordinary frock coat, black tie, and silk hat of civilization.
I did love The London Adventure, but this to me stands hands above it, both in terms of page-turning story but also psychogeographic evocations of the city, and these — the places we find for ourselves in our cities where it is not quite so mean or uniform, where gardens and fragrances can cheer us though poverty:
Amongst the many friends who were favored with the occasional pleasure of Mr. Dyson’s society was Mr. Edgar Russell, realist and obscure struggler, who occupied a small back room on the second floor of a house in Abingdon Grove, Notting Hill. Turning off from the main street and walking a few paces onward, one was conscious of a certain calm, a drowsy peace, which made the feet inclined to loiter; and this was ever the atmosphere of Abingdon Grove. The houses stood a little back, with gardens where the lilac and laburnum and blood-red may blossomed gayly in their seasons, and there was a corner where an older house in another street had managed to keep a back garden of real extent; a walled-in garden whence there came a pleasant scent of greenness after the rains
of early summer, where old elms held memories of the open fields, where there was yet sweet grass to walk on. The houses in Abingdon Grove belonged chiefly to the nondescript stucco period of thirty-five years ago, tolerably built with passable accommodation for moderate incomes; they had largely passed into the state of lodgings, and cards bearing the inscription “Furnished Apartments” were not infrequent over the doors. Here, then, in a house of sufficiently good appearance, Mr. Russell had established himself; for he looked upon the traditional dirt and squalor of Grub Street as a false and obsolete convention, and preferred, as he said, to live within sight of green leaves. Indeed, from his room one had a magnificent view of a long line of gardens, and a screen of poplars shut out the melancholy back premises of Wilton Street during the summer months. Mr. Russell lived chiefly on bread and tea, for his means were of the smallest; but when Dyson came to see him, he would send out the slavey for six-ale, and Dyson was always at liberty to smoke as much of his own tobacco as he pleased.
What better way to grasp the feeling of a London still being built into the form we know today, the feeling of wandering through them in the night, the sights and sounds of the local pub, the mystery of moving from high to low, grace to squalor, darkness to light:
He had turned, without taking note, to the northward, and was passing through an ancient fallen street, where now notices of floors and offices to let hung out, but still about it there was the grace and the stiffness of the Age of Wigs; a broad roadway, a broad pavement, and on each side a grave line of houses with long and narrow windows flush with the walls, all of mellowed brick-work. Dyson walked with quick steps, as he resolved that short work must be made of a certain episode; but he was in that happy humor of invention, and another chapter rose in the inner chamber of his brain, and he dwelt on the circumstances he was to write down with curious pleasure. It was charming to have the quiet streets to walk in, and in his thought he made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he would come again. Heedless of his course, he struck off to the east again, and soon found himself involved in a squalid network of gray two-storied houses, and then in the waste
void and elements of brick-work, the passages and unmade roads behind great factory walls, encumbered with the refuse of the neighborhood, forlorn, ill-lighted, and desperate. A brief turn, and there rose before him the unexpected, a hill suddenly lifted from the level ground, its steep ascent marked by the lighted lamps, and eager as an explorer Dyson found his way to the place, wondering where his crooked paths had brought him. Here all was again decorous, but hideous in the extreme. The builder, some one lost in the deep gloom of the early ‘twenties, had conceived the idea of twin villas in gray brick, shaped in a manner to recall the outlines of the Parthenon, each with its classic form broadly marked with raised bands of stucco. The name of the street was all strange, and for a further surprise, the top of the hill was crowned with an irregular plot of grass and fading trees, called a square, and here again the Parthenon-motive had persisted. Beyond the streets were curious, wild in their irregularities, here a row of sordid, dingy dwellings, dirty and disreputable in appearance, and there, without warning, stood a house genteel and prim with wire blinds and brazen knocker, as clean and trim as if it had been the doctor’s house in some benighted little country town. These surprises and discoveries began to exhaust Dyson, and he hailed with delight the blazing windows of a public-house, and went in with the intention of testing the beverage provided for the dwellers in this region, as remote as Libya and Pamphylia and the parts about Mesopotamia. The babble of voices from within warned him that he was about to assist at the true parliament of the London workman, and he looked about him for that more retired entrance called private. When he had settled himself on an exiguous bench, and had ordered some beer, he began to listen to the jangling talk in the public bar beyond; it was a senseless argument, alternately furious and maudlin, with appeals to Bill and Tom, and mediæval survivals of speech, words that Chaucer wrote belched out with zeal and relish, and the din of pots jerked down and coppers rapped smartly on the zinc counter made a thorough bass for it all.
This sums up so many of my own walks in a way: ‘…he made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he would come again…’ I wish Arthur Machen had made more money, had not inhabited this shadowy place of Grub Street writers, had been able to write more of what he wanted to write. But perhaps then I would not have loved it quite so much. He tries to escape with us the dirt and dreary realities of the city, the hackwork. I think he succeeds here.
But we both of us know all that we are escaping is still there.
This couldn’t quite compare to our lovely Pensford ramble, but was a pretty good walk none the less. We started in the town of Clevedon — once an agriculture village, but Victorian times transformed it into a seaside resort. It’s now home to the awesome Curzon Theatre, but we didn’t catch a film. The pier was nice, its cake mediocre. Climbing up the hill from there was quite beautiful, however, with stone walls along one side, water on the other.
We came back down through a bit of the town, across rhines draining the levels reminding you that once these were all marshes, and fields where we saw deer leaping away through the grass. Under the motorway, which was actually quite enjoyable, and then up and up towards Cadbury Camp.
Occupied from the 6th century BCE through the 1st century AD, this was probably also contained a Roman settlement. From the National Trust site:
The Camp was built in the late Iron Age, probably by the Dobunni Tribe who lived in the Somerset Area. They dug out ditches and threw back the soil to make high banks for the fortress to protect them from any invading forces. They added a high timber fence on top of the bank and a complicated entrance to make it difficult for anyone to attack.
The name Cadbury meant Cada’s fort. Cada was an early Anglo Saxon personal name.
The site itself is lovely, with splendid views.
But sadly there was more building along this walk, closed pubs, signs of rather obscene and unfriendly wealth in the form of high walls and no trespassing signs and things like this:
Not quite made up for by these rather more enjoyable examples of weirdness:
This was perhaps my favourite place, though words like that cease to have so much meaning in an area as beautiful as this one. We came up through the woods
We knew we were close to where we wanted to be, but we weren’t on the path we were supposed to be on, so looking for the nine ladies stone circle we found this instead:
No one quite knows what these are apparently, this one sits along the ‘Duke’s Drive’, possibly part of an effort to transform the moor into somewhere to visit and enjoy following Parliament’s Act of Enclosure in 1819.
Enclosure breaks my heart, but stone circles are a joy. The nine ladies (and a tenth stone face down was found after a drought some years back) are lovely — but quite small. It makes for a very different effect from the standing stones I know, or a circle like Stanton Drew or Stonehenge.
Stanton Moor in its an entirety is a beautiful Bronze Age ceremonial landscape, covered both with monuments but also somewhere archaeologists now believe people to have lived and worked the land. From the conservation document detailing what is here to be preserved from the sandstone quarries that still encroach upon the moor:
The prehistoric monuments which survive on the moor include an unusually tight cluster of ceremonial sites comprising three embanked stone circles, a standing stone, and at least one (possibly two) ring cairns. A fourth circle, Doll Tor, lies to the west, just 250m outside the limit of the modern moorland. Close to these monuments lie more than 120 cairns, many of which appear to be primarily funerary (Figures C5 and C6). Again, the survival of a cairnfield with a very high proportion of funerary cairns is rare in the region, where only two or three other (much smaller) sites have been recognised (184.108.40.206). In addition, early 20th century excavation on the south-western fringe of the moor (220.127.116.11) revealed a large number of funerary urns and cremated remains in what may have been a fl at cemetery (Storrs Fox 1927).
It is an extraordinary place, made even more beautiful by August’s purple heather and the green hills beyond.
One of the beautiful and larger mounds, with evidence of the stone cist that used to sit in the centre, containing the mixed bones of ancestors
We followed the sandy path along the curve of the hillside
Sat for a while here, to rest and look out over the landscape
A standing stone — the Cork Stone — towers over us, behind it an old quarry. Going up one side are metal staples and footholds dug into the rock. We didn’t climb it.
Here it is looking back
The edge of the quarry, picturesque now covered in golden grass and heather
Coming up to Stanton Peak’s trig point
Then back down the far side of the moor, back down into trees past old walls and lined pits
To what must have been another burial cairn
A sheep with the hair of a greek statue
And into Alport, lovely but we thought there was a pub, badly needed a pub, and there was no pub. Not until we walked up another very big hill into Youlgreave.
But it did have scenery and chickens
Youlgreave was lovely, but we were too tired to explore it properly…