Writing as I do about possible dystopian futures, it’s a bit of a shock to the system when reality crowds in. Either my perception has shifted, or there is something very deeply wrong around my old home.
From when I was last here two years ago, Stratford upon Avon is definitely looking careworn. Which is kind of odd for a major UK tourist destination. Whilst Waterside by the Theatres is as tidy as ever, grass in the other public parks and places we visited last night is either uncut or a little frayed round the edges. Flower beds not as well-tended as I recall. The little triangle of park between Grove Road and Rother Street was a case in point. Almost everywhere there’s an air of neglect and cutbacks. Five stores in Wood Street alone empty and up for rent. Quite a number of changes in tenancies. I counted at least four Estate Agents Offices closed down and moved on in Sheep and Ely Street. And everywhere the pale ubiquitous dysfunctionality of CCTV and Wind Turbines. Cameras, cameras everywhere, yet not a one to see. I was half expecting some tattered old man to lurch up to me and recount a dire tale about shooting Albatrosses, or at least a pigeon, and being cast into the outer reaches of society. To languish undying in a living purgatory for the great sin of hubris.
In some ways I’m reminded of the decline I observed in the 1970’s. The party is over, and someone has to start collecting the glasses, recycling the bottles, cleaning the toilets, and giving the old place a damn good airing.
Angie and I dropped by the Kingfisher fish and chip shop in Ely Street, bought two portions of fish and chips, one of which was too much for us, so we donated the untouched other to a guy begging on the Tramway Bridge. It should have been hot enough, and either he was a pretty good actor or that boy looked cold. Having backpacked the Cornish coast path during the late 1980’s I’m no stranger to a cold, damp English June. Yet there’s a sensation of a chill in the air, perhaps even the soul, that won’t quite go away.
My brother is always telling me that despite the difficulties we face making a new life away from home, we made the right choice to get out of the UK when we did, and from what I’ve seen to date, certainly the old place looks in need of a good tidy and scrub. Nanaimo may be part North American strip mall, but City Hall does spend taxpayer dollar on infrastructure, and there aren’t half the potholes in the roads that I’ve had my teeth jarred with today. Quite frankly I find myself more than a little shocked at the condition of the motorways and major A roads. There must be a booming trade in fixing car and truck suspensions.
On the other hand, the people seem more resilient, and one gets the impression of a desperately cheerful ‘Keep calm and carry on’ zeitgeist in places like Truro, St Austell, Bath and Stratford. What I’m certain of is this; times are hard, and getting harder. The part living nightmare of Paul Calvin’s mid 21st century England is closer at hand than I’m really happy with. It’s one thing to write about decline and decay, but to see it happening right in front of you is another matter.