An England of two halves along the Thames

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.

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2 comments

  1. Have you ever read Daniel Kalder CW? Very odd travel writer who styles himself an anti-tourist. I’m readin Lost Cosmonaut at the moment, a trip around the dullest of Russia’s ethnic republics.

  2. I’d never heard of the guy before you mentioned him, Chekov, but did a quick internet search and he seems to be quite a colourful character. There’s certainly something to be said about visiting places where no-one wants to go and a certain appeal about roughing it in dodgy accomodation. I’ve stayed in some fairly run-down places, including a Soviet-style student hall of residence in Vilnius, a place in Riga where the toilet was coming loose from the floor and a hostel in Zagreb with interior decor like a prison and private residences in Bosnia and Croatia which weren’t quite the Ritz, but a lot more interesting and better value for money! There’s a few distinctly unglamorous towns on the main road between Vilinius and Riga which I’ve passed through, but not stopped in which could be worthy contenders for Kalder – come to think of it there’s a few places in Northern Ireland, which I won’t name that are not undeserving of this accolade!

    I may get round to reading some Kalder eventually, but at the moment I’ve got a backlog of books to get through. I’ve just started Jonathan Powell’s “Great Hated Little Room” which looks promising, even if a little self-congratulatory and not entirely honest. Also hope to read Khanna’s
    “The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order”, having seen an extract in The Guardian – once I’ve ordered it from Amazon that is.

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