I love this city tonight
I love this city always
It bears its teeth like a light
And spits me out after days
Snow Patrol — October 2008
A Northern Irish band playing London — on the night before St Patrick’s Day. It really has been been quite a week.
In Snow Patrol’s home town of Belfast, as in Omagh all those years ago, an outbreak of mindless violence has lent passion to the public desire for peace. Shootings carried out by dissident republicans of the ‘Real IRA’ and designed to break the peace process have proved to have the opposite effect.
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come.
Macbeth, Act 1, Sc. 7.
Why then the world’s mine oyster.
– The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2, Sc 2.
The Roman road crossed the river at its widest and shallowest point, and gave this town its name: Strat-ford-upon-Avon.
The Clopton Bridge stands at the same spot today – five hundred years old, and still carrying all the traffic across the river. Beneath the bridge, the Avon flows both chill and slow. I know the feeling.
I run past the boathouse, the Tramway Bridge and the Rowing Club. The Avon is full of rowers out bright and early. A couple of fours, a sculler or two. There are no canal boats today, but the river is navigable all the way from the sea.
The navigation works were authorised by King Charles I in 1635, and by 1641 the river was open to within four miles of Warwick. But by 1874, the upper section had fallen into disuse.
It was the vision of David Hutchings and the Upper Avon Navigation Trust to re-open the river between the Severn and the Birmingham Canal. Stratford New Lock was the last link in that chain, finally completed in 1971.
The lock was built by volunteers from Gloucester Gaol, and Stratford’s Shawshank offered a tough kind of redemption. Continue reading
O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing
Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley — 1819
A new season in a new town. Autumn has come and gone here in Horsham, scattering her falling leaves behind new footsteps across the park.
September laid a blank canvas all around this pretty Sussex town, and running set me free to paint. It’s invigorating, exciting and refreshing to explore anew.
Horsham is over a thousand years old. Standing calm beside the River Arun, amid green fields atop the Wealden Clay, historically this town gave birth to bricks, and beer and Catherine Howard.
Two centuries ago, Percy Bysshe Shelley set forth upon his life from here — a journey cut short before his 30th birthday in a shipwreck off the Italian coast. One of the great lyric poets and an unconventional and uncompromising radical, Shelley was expelled from Oxford for his atheist and anti-monarchist views.
“It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”
— Barack Obama, Chicago, 4th November 2008.
It’s just three miles and a lifetime’s journey from the South Side of Chicago to Grant Park, and I can remember every step.
How marvellous it was that the US election race this year should find its long-awaited finish line at the same spot as the Chicago Marathon — one of many high points I’ve shared with this incredible country through a relationship that stretches right across my adult life.
I entered the United States late one August night in 1981. Seventeen hours out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, we drove across a bridge and into Maine. Next morning, six hours and a brief stop in Portland later, I stepped wearily off the bus in downtown Boston — completing my journey from England to New England, where the history of this great nation had started.
That visit took me down the east coast to New York and Washington, in an arc via Pittsburgh to Niagara, and then back into Canada for a return flight home.
My memories of America from that trip? Coin-fed TV sets in lonely Greyhound bus stations. The wind on Cape Cod. Looking across the Charles River on a long walk out to Cambridge.
The view from the Empire State Building. The sound of dusk on Broadway. The New Jersey Turnpike. The Smithsonian. The Capitol.
A quote carved into the Washington pavement —
‘One of these days this will be a very great city, if nothing happens to it’ (Henry Adams).
My love affair with America had begun.
Posted in 2008, A1 - the best of roads of stone, Chicago, divided by an ocean, environment, heroes, history, Houston, Iraq, Kenya, life and times, politics, united in a future
Accessibly tall and inspiring from the riverside earlier, the Gherkin hides shyly behind Liverpool Street’s offices now.
And it’s true – this building recedes as you draw ever closer.
Five minutes later, she lurks half-hidden down an alleyway off Bishopsgate, and by the time we reach St Mary Axe, the hem of her crystal skirt is all that remains.
Far above, Norman Foster has urged glass and steel triangles into unseen high perfection, but from here only memory and reflections conjure the peak of her profile.
Imagination in architecture – that is the Gherkin.
It was the greatest shot I have ever seen, in any major championship.
In telling you that Padraig Harrington’s second to the seventeeth hole in the final round of this year’s British Open at Royal Birkdale eclipsed even Tiger Woods’ remarkable chip-in on the sixteenth at Augusta in 2005, I’m setting the bar high, but there’s no doubt in my mind.
The rain is falling softly beneath a grey and weeping sky.
Dull, wet, oppressive sinks the afternoon, through a rising restlessness I can’t define. Puddles beneath my feet. Familiar streets chiding my every turn.
Northeastwards from here in Epsom, the city stretches wide. Twenty miles to London Bridge, and as many reaching out beyond. The megalopolis, looming heavy in the rain.