As I’ve mentioned before on the old Dreaming Arm, this blog’s predecessor, I’m an avid reader of travel literature. And not just the stuff about exotic, far-flung locations. Certain writers can make the most unglamorous places seem interesting. Being a keen rambler I was interested to read a piece in last Sunday’s Observer about a walk along the Thames pathway. The author Rufus Purdy emphasises the contrast between the different places along the route:
“I walk through woods and meadows into chocolate-box villages where honey-coloured country churches stand over velvet-textured village greens. The river gurgles over its stony bed like children blowing into milk shakes. It’s as English as vicars on bicycles.”
All very quaint and civilised. The words conjure up a long forgotten, almost stereotypical image of England, a world immortalised by Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse, of cricket on the village green, bobbies on bikes, afternoon tea et al, but the style takes a dramatic turn in the next sentence:
“Less than an hour later, all this changes. Signposts direct me away from the river and on the main road towards Reading. This is the other England, roads lined by boarded-up off licences, greasy spoons and tattoo parlours, where flags of St. George – red crosses bleached orange by the sun – hang raggedly from windows. It‘s as though I‘ve taken a wrong turn in a gallery and walked straight from a Millais exhibition into a Martin Parr one”.
From one extreme to another.