Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A circumnavigation

There is something grand and philosophical about a circumnavigation. It suggests that, via a certain trajectory to a farthest point, a wanderer can return through different ways to a place that is by definition where she started from.

There are heroic orbits around the earth, the solar system, the British Isles and modest ones around the park or the boot fair or, though not usually classified as species of circumnavigation, a passage through a selected tangle of streets on a local perambulation. I once took a circuitous route along lanes encompassing numerous Gloucestershire farms in the Forest of Dean by walking from Coleford through Millend and Clearwell and Newland and Lower Cross back to Coleford.

The conquest of a supermarket car park may be classified as a collection of one of the rarer taxa in the circumnavigation genus since, perhaps, it is not perceived as terribly interesting. Nevertheless it was my project for the day and one that could make a modest but valuable contribution to psychogeography. And one never knows what any circumambulation might reveal.

Today my field of study was Morrison’s car park adjacent to Queens Road in Hastings. I set off from the main entrance heading north and immediately my eye was caught by a baby’s dummy in colourless plastic lying on the ground. It evoked an image of an obstreperous infant propelling the article over the side of the pram like a trainee hammer thrower.

Around the corner I could see the embankment where the trains ran, their engines sending an echoing Whee–e-e in crescendo or decrescendo as they left or approached the station. Underneath the trains a red banner on the wall proclaimed “We buy direct from 5,000 British livestock farmers.” Takes a lot of farms to feed Hastings.

Semi-mature trees were growing from gravelly, brick-edged rectangles of the car park leafing in reddish or green ochre while in the corners of this area there were dense billows of clipped, evergreen laurustinus with some groundsel and annual meadow grass flowering hopefully underneath. On the other side of the main entrance road was an ancient, low sandstone wall adjacent to a small lawn with a whitebeam tree. The wall must be a survivor from a time when this area was completely different. Part of a house perhaps along the Old Roar stream now safely culverted below the modern town. Elder was growing by the wall and on the opposite side of the lawn questing trails of goosegrass pushed through dense cotoneaster bushes.

There was a large buddleia by the recycling point: huge metal boxes for glass, shoes, plastic bottles, newspapers, electrical items. Behind a curious, almost secret, concrete path led in a curve to a closed brown door. There was ivy on the ground, under the bushes, climbing the walls. The plant evidently likes it here and tries to escape the ivy police who are forever pulling it down.

In the north east corner by Queens Road a lonely birch spreads its elegant figure above a chewed up mat of shredded bark and wood, perhaps the start of a shrubbery reconstruction. There was more cotoneaster by the parking bays: undulating cushions of dark green foliage spattered with pinkish white flowers aiming to greet a spring that hadn’t really arrived.

At the garage the ground changed. Red brick paviors for the pedestrian areas, brown with white speckles in the area intended for refuelling cars. By the entry sign to this refuelling area a large gorse bush was in flower. Difficult to believe this was planted, especially as it seemed to be a one off, so it must have found its way in as a seed on a car or a bird and now tries to hide among the alien ornamentals. On the south garage corner a hybrid whitebeam, a few shoots of travellers joy and two herring gulls with a wary look that said “is he a threat or a food provider.” Beyond this were extensive low-growing beds of grey-leaved brachyglottis shrubs extending like urban chaparral through a gap between buildings to Brook Street and the Prince Albert pub, though one would have had to walk round through the car park pedestrian entrance to reach either of these two places.

By the far wall Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ was already in flower below a brick wall and a fine complex of moss-covered roofs sloping at different angles. Above these windblown muddled clouds in infinite shades of grey sweeping eastwards. May is the season of white petals: their falling can be mistaken for snow when the weather is cold.

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