Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Neither tarnished nor afraid…


Being an habitual insomniac, I can occasionally be found treading the “mean streets” of wherever I happen to be, at what most people would consider utterly unsocial hours. Chicago, at dawn, is an entrancing place; and, even for this “country boy”, a magnificent metropolis to maunder in. No longer is the city’s peerless architecture cluttered with huddled masses; the air filled with big car and cigarette smoke; the skyscrapers echoing with cacophony… – and Union Station (which was my ultimate destination that morning), although obviously designed to accommodate huge throngs of travellers, emerges as a spacious, sometimes solitary playground. Some concrete jungles can easily overwhelm; but, early in the morning, they can lose their terror, no longer crowd in on you.

In many ways, this can also be said of Paris. Possibly my least favourite of the cities I know – for many reasons… – just before the sun rises, in summer, it becomes alive (for me): an entrancing ambience luring me towards the Seine, and across to the forest of towers at La Défense; before pulling me back to an early breakfast (I was the first to appear) at my hotel, after exploring social housing of learned and unfeigned architecture – in no way condescending to its occupants: with large green spaces, and obviously popular communal areas.

Some cities have areas that never sleep: parts of Vancouver have very useful independent 24-hour coffee shops and eateries; and Golders Green’s all-night bagel bakery, Carmelli’s, often enticed me in with its tempting aromas, friendly banter, leisured customer service, parents kvelling about their children… – contrasting with the tummel in the bakery at the back – and where I learned my first Yiddish: “Don’t make a tsimmes out of it!”


Often, I walk to clear my head – or gather my thoughts… – but, recently, I have also begun to take my camera, as well as a walking stick, as companion (and, if not, the convenience and quality of my iPhone will sometimes suffice…). Stratford is surprisingly busy before first light: a veritable conquering army of friendly street-cleaners and workmen ensuring that our local town-as-theme-park is ready for another day of sightseeing onslaught. As another dawn treader said to me: “It’s so much better without all the tourists!”


The three villages of Tysoe, though, appear completely deserted; and the few signs of human activity are confined to backlit curtains; and silence – apart from the occasional yelping fox; hooting and ‘kewicking’ tawny owl; screeching barn owl; and a shuffling, snuffling hedgehog (I presume), not yet ready for hibernation; as well as the church clock reminding you how long you’ve been out for… – reigns supreme.


Man-made light is, thankfully, as rare as sound (although, sadly, Windmill Way must contain as many lamp-posts as the full length of Main Street…) – however, on a morning when the moon rises with less than one tenth of it on display, as a thin waning crescent, sometimes oddly welcome: especially for creating atmospheric photographs!


The pools of darkness, inbetween, highlight what a beautiful place we live in – although you certainly gain a new perspective… – the random conglomeration of different building styles bringing variety and harmony, rather than discord – as they can do in bright sunshine. The overall effect is one of friendliness and welcome, comfort, even, despite the abandonment.


I found myself, therefore, lingering longer than I normally would: seeing my home with new eyes. In fact, the place may never be the same again….

Why not have a go… – but don’t all do it at once, please: I think you need to be on your own…. (And you wouldn’t want to bump into a strange man with a camera and a stick, would you…?)


4 comments:

  1. WONDERFUL! I too love and relish the friendly darkness that wraps our streets and lanes, the amber glow of the few street lamps (no doubt not as efficient as the cold white rays of newer models, but so much warmer and welcoming), the sound of one's footsteps echoing on the soundless roads and the thrill of that time when the wilder ways of the nearby fields and woods seep back down the hill and nuzzle house and bungalow like the returning tide.
    ... oh and it is great to find someone who appreciates the sound of the church clock!! ;-)

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    1. I have always listened out for church clocks chiming: ever since I was very little, and I could hear the local parish church bells drifting across the town, over the all-night freight trains (driven by steam in those days). Twenty-odd years of singing in a cathedral choir only cemented such a love. Sadly, I am no longer physically able to pull a rope any more; but, like Betjeman, they will always summon me….

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    2. One of my joys is climbing those tower steps twice a week and to join with those who have gone before me (their names scratched in pencil on the woodwork) and take down the winding handle from its nail and wind the clock.

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    3. Your efforts are much appreciated. A silent church clock is a sad thing indeed….

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