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1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A Walk

Note: This walk was last summer and these pictures have previously appeared on my other blog. The text is new.

Being newly unemployed, I was able last night to go to my writing group for the first time in ages.
We always do some writing during the meeting and last night the topic was "the countryside" and this is an adapted piece from that.

If you look at the photographs, examine them without the benefit of knowledge, scrutinise them without the words or the guidance of the photographer, then, no matter how carefully you do it, you will be fooled. The first, for example shows a gently sloping open field carpeted across the full frame with tens of thousands of sunshine yellow buttercups. At the top of the slope a row of low green trees tear jagged holes into the storybook blue sky. Indeed the second picture shows the branches of one of the trees in close up, a twisted tangle with sunlight piercing the gaps and oozing through the leaves to give them a magical translucence.
What they don't show is the main road that was six feet behind me as I crouched low to get the dramatic angle on the buttercups. They don't show the traffic racing by or the building site across the road. They don't show the houses to the right or the curve of the cemetery fence to the left.
The idyll is a construct of the composition; the tranquillity is faux; the beautiful sunny day may have been both beautiful and sunny but tells less than half the story.

I continued on with the walk that I had planned in my head, a walk around the decidedly urban environs of Bradley and Bilston but I was confident that my pictures would hide the fact that I was never more than a stones throw from a house or a road. I skirted the cemetery fence onto the unused ground that separated it from the backs of the houses. There's an old tree in a hollow there, leaning at an awkward angle towards the fence, towering over a dense bush. I managed to capture it perfectly while hiding both the pile of half burned lager cans and the red plastic bag fluttering in the branches.

Through the gate in the fence, I carried on towards the pub. It's a short grassy path through a narrow funnel of trees. Those on the right hide the supermarket, those on the left more houses but as I walked along, surrounded by clouds of midges, it was hard to believe that I wasn't entering some dark dense Middle Earth wood. The path angles sharply left at the end, effectively hiding the pub and the wooden shelter built for the smokers. I stepped out and crossed the road.

A few yards on a row of overgrown stone steps lead down to the right into the old railway cutting. Hardly anyone ever goes down there. You'd pass it by unnoticed nine times out of ten, but at the bottom the depth and the foliage effectively muffle all the sounds of urban life. If you look you can see parts of walls and fences behind the trees but strolling along the disused railway bed, the only time that you realise where you are is when you pass under the road bridges with their scrawled crude graffiti.

Ten minutes later I ran out of path and turned back to the road, but only for a short time, as far as the canal bridge where I descended to the towpath and turned to head in the direction of Bilston and ultimately circle back around to my starting point. The canal was calm and beautiful. The path runs along one side of it with trees on the opposite side crowding down the waters edge, fringed with a wide band of tall straight reeds. Ducks paddled lazily around in the water, halway between the sky and its deep reflection.

Although there is development just beyond the trees for most of the distance, here and there the land opened out with unexpected fields. Horses and ponies grazed in grass gown as high as their withers. They watched uncuriously as I paused to take pictures. Occasionally there were houses across the water, looking rural and village-like, with boats moored at long wooden jetties.

A brace of geese waddled noisily down from the bushes ahead of me. Another duck swam up to see what was happening. A crow screeched unexpectedly as I passed and took flight.

As I continued. moving more into the town, it became harder to get the pictures that hid the reality. The trees disappeared replaced by waste ground and factories. There was more and more ghastly flotsam in the water.
 I bent to photograph some flowers at the canal edge, framed by green patches of floating algae.

Further along I took a picture of a new housing development from underneath one of the bridges. It's been tastefully done and still managed a relatively rural look.

The path diverged from the canal and went, arrow straight for several hundred more yards between grassy banks and stands of trees. Across another main road I ducked into the last section of my walk, the waste ground, behind the square block of factories built in the 1970s.

Another half a mile and I was back on the main road, two minutes from my house. I put my camera back into the case and quickened my stride. It had been a lovely walk that proved that even in the middle of  the most urban of environments there is beauty to be seen. And then I was home, sitting in my living room, drinking a cup of tea and eating a digestive biscuit. The best way to end a great morning.

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