Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lines and Buried Lines September in Bath UK

Lines and buried lines recounts a visit to Bath. After so many years I see the city afresh as an Australian rather than as a young air force officer just married on his day off from RAF Lyneham, civilian civilization after a week of immersion in the front line of service life.

I make my way across the city stretching out my legs still cramped after flying across the world and now moving my body across space and time.  Initially I am chilled but soon warm in the hazy early morning light of Bath. I feel the pull and push of the body climbing and descending, negotiating roads and narrow pathways bracketed by lush summer vegetation.

I let my eyes run across lines and angles. I notice the symmetry of rectangular classical windows broken at the centre of each tall house, a window with a classical arch. Stopping to look I notice sameness and variety and how another street carries the theme yet changes the design. Those on the wide straight road are more richly ornamented. The classical columns arise from the flat vertical and often margins have playful displays. Here is a city that in its 18 c clothing displays a love for the rational with the irrational places on the boundary. Light and straight lines the emblem of an enlightenment.

I note the square paving stones now eroded by feet and weather into irregular shapes. Against the houses there are undulating lines and colours of cars the symmetry suddenly broken by a car facing the other way.  Cast iron railings in deep black against the light colour of the stonework.

The predominant stonework provides a canvas for a still life of shapes and forms, flowers and stationary cars yet suddenly interrupted by the long curving sweep of a bright dress as a young woman cuts diagonally across the road, a comet like movement of red cutting across the orbits of cars and lorries their path determined and expected.

Hidden away are flats beneath the houses, some dark others alive with red geraniums and other flowers, steps garnished with lichen winding down to their doorways.

Along the way my eyes are being drawn to road names and other names written in black script on stonework. The typeface is above all else a reminder of another age that lives in writing since its so unfamiliar when compared to the way that we make words today for display on signs and shops. Some incised into the stonework others painted denoting a commitment to preserving this plain upright script.

Paths lead downwards to the river, to a riverside sports field, and church spires thrust upward towards irregular clouds as I stretch my neck to look. Everywhere is the fine vertical wire to deter pigeons and gulls. Then almost by accident to the old Green Square station of the Somerset and Dorset railway, a beautifully proportioned face to the square and then through walkways to see the curve of the canopy that once enclosed trains that traveling onwards would have to reverse. I imagine them resting here like steaming war horses, sleeked with sweat replenishing their energy after an arduous battle.

This is the line my great grandfather, probably with too much loyalty to his community living in Glastonbury bought shares in. I doubt if there was ever a dividend. Yet it's satisfying to walk along the tracks of the old trains across the bridge and to imagine the excited echoes of children and adults crossing the land for summer holiday specials. The curve of the train canopy now enclosing a market is most satisfying. It's a kind of birthing chamber and not just a place to protect travelers. Here is an enclosure, yet one that is glass a cathedral from which trains arrive and depart an inside outside place so very unlike aircraft terminals.

Along the path I cross in front of the old Holy Trinity Queen square and try and remember the name of the priest I met at St Stephens House who went to serve his title there. Now the church is closed down but still retains that sense of mystery within and the old Anglo Catholic perfume of hassocks, incense and romanticism lingers in my memory as from a previous life, an incarnation and identity I once inhabited. 

Blocks of stone hold up railway sweeping diesel snakelike across the city intertwining with river. Arches of bridges and straight lines of the old railway bridge. Then the uneven path along the river beside narrow boats some humming with life to power the generator others paint peeling and up for sale. Old bicycles, black plastic bags filled with who knows what, a shrine with flowers by the bank to someone who perhaps drowned there or worse. It's not a bank of the river I would like to frequent at night.

The bright tourist heritage city is moored alongside a poorer community. I step into the road to navigate past a group of people waiting for the Baptist community centre to open and steady steams of people part to make space for the Big Issue seller and his dog.

Lines, some high like the railway and it's horizon, others low like the river and others enclosed by the old Kennet and Avon navigation with locks like doorways inviting another kind of travel a path of water. Other horizons are high houses, church steeples and the St George's flag flying above Bath Abbey as church and state are woven together.

At night as we return home from a restaurant a huge electrical storm and slanting sheets of rain and under street lamps the regular shape of paving stones is highlighted.

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