In the book ‘How to be a (bad) birdwatcher’ by Simon Barnes, the author talks about the simple pleasures that being interested in birds can bring to everyday life. You don’t need to be a ‘twitcher’ or even to know the names of the birds that you see, his contention being that if you’re paying attention, you can see birds at any time of the day, whatever else you might be doing and so sat in a dull meeting at work, the long-tailed tits on the bush outside will help pass the time; in the queue on the motorway, the cirling buzzard might bring thoughts of freedom and escape.
And it doesn’t need to be birds. It could be concrete!
Last week, I had to go to Swindon. It’s a town and an area of the country that I’m not really familiar with. Visits have usually been about passing through to get further south.
A road closure on my journey down meant that I had to take the M4 west from Newbury. Doing so meant that, just before Swindon, I passed under the glorious concrete craziness of the National Cycle Network bridge that links the town with the North Downs.
A couple of days later, I finished my duties at the Hilton DoubleTree and headed out in the clag, across a couple of fields and upto the bridge.
As usual, before visiting somewhere new, I’d consulted the ‘Carscapes‘ and ‘Space, Hope and Brutalism‘ and created a short list of stuff to see on my visit. The Curly-Wurly bridge wasn’t in either book for some reason…What was in the Carscapes book was the Spectrum Building, Norman Foster’s award-winning structure built for Renault at the start of the 80’s. It must have been magnificent when new, but now looks a little forlorn, as a kids indoor softplay and golf equipment emporium.Swindon’s #1 ‘Carscape’ (architecture or infrastructure that has changed the way the country looks, in service of the motor car) is the Magic Roundabout. This huge, barren open space comprising of a terrifying arrangement of six traffic islands is perhaps the ultimate example of how happy we are to give up public space to the car. It is completely off limits to anyone not using a vehicle, with pedestrian crossings a safe distance away from it along each of the approaching raods.
Even on a bleak Wednesday morning, the layout caused confusion and impatience. Quite what it’s like at rush hour or when there’s a home game (Swindon Town FC’s ground is next to the roundabout), I’m not sure I’d like to experience.Last stop, on the way out of town was the delightful old, concrete diving board at Coate Water.
Y’see? It’s everywhere…