Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Jtrail of Northampton

I've always believed the space I inhabit has a direct impact on my sense of well being, my emotional state and my outlook.

Surround me with piles of paper, furry unicorns, plastic junk, and why the devil are my sofa cushions up that tree? and nothing is possible. I am out of control, overwhelmed, exhausted.

Twist my arm to make me clear the work surface, and I can make things happen. I can create, make something possible, do, achieve and influence.

Mess must be contained by tidiness. But the tidiness must be contained by the mess. A state of creative tension, with one not subsuming the other.

Oh, forget it.

This philosophical ramble is just a thin attempt to make you think I'm an intellectual with some thinking station up there to justify what I really want to say. Forget it. You should see my desk.

I really want to say, I fucking hate Northampton.

I mean. It was once a glorious ancient place with city walls, a huge market and a fountain! A real, proper, decent-sized fountain that the people of Northampton loved! OK, so the people of Northampton showed their love for their fountain by persistently vandalising it, but hey ho, that's the price of democracy.

Well, it's not really the people of Northampton I'm taking issue with. Lovely, mad, delightful, bad, friendly, eccentric and delirious, they are probably the same as anyone, anywhere else in the UK or the world.

What I really hate is the restructuring, the reappraising, redevelopment, reoverhauling, regeneration, renewing vision that has gone on here, in this once-fine town of Northampton. I could blame the Chairman Mao type of thinking, that saw architects and planners force us to enter a sort of Great Leap Forward. They knocked down any building older than fifty years and worshipped bleak concrete and cheap cladding. Leaving Northampton as the sort of town which in architectural terms crows that once it had the largest bus station in Europe.

What has prompted the normally laid back Grit to this rant is that today, in pursuit of that maverick character called home education, today I take the children to a Jtrail in Northampton.

It is excellent. The leader is glancingly patronising to Shark. I forgive that, because I do not believe Shark is quite normal for a nine-year old. Shark, my pint sized bluestocking who would ratchet up a few degrees if only she could write coherent sentences, has stuck by the leader's elbow in a 70+ strong crowd and hung on his every word. This is not because we must be bribing her with ice cream but because she is interested in what he has to say about Anglo Jewish history in the UK, just because, well, just because it is interesting, OK?

Over two hours the leader walks us through places with evocative names, providing fascinating information about former dwellings, shops and histories. There were once medieval cellars of the town which remain buried to us, whose tunnels link and connect. I can dream the lives above. Communities, crafts, traders, moments of beauty, gentleness, passions, intimate lives, personal histories.

Of course a visitor to Northampton cannot see or feel much that was once ancient because the developers have blasted holes in pretty much everything above ground.

And then the Jtrail leader takes us here. I would say this is characteristic of how Northampton has respected its history and heritage buildings.

Yes, this is the spot. This is roughly how Northampton respects its heritage, Jewish or otherwise.

Under this tarmac is the site of a twelfth century Jewish burial ground. It's located just outside the city walls (all gone). Now, it's round the corner from the sex shop, near the dual carriageway that gives most of this town the feeling of a motorway bypass which you'd sooner get out of; it's by the boarded up boot factories, over the road from the bus station which looks like someone had to think of a good use for 5 million bricks, close to the advertising hoardings, adjacent to the long row of graceful townhouses written off as mostly for student rent, and about a quarter of a mile from the gas works.

And if final proof is needed. The market square is medieval. I defy you to sense that. The fountain, donated by a Jewish businessman, gone.

This is the sort of undistinguished, cold grey concrete block shoved at us to represent this complex heritage. One that looks like it's designed to withstand running street battles, tank fires, missiles and low grade artillery.

I'm affected by those spaces. And like I said. Jtrail, wonderful. Northampton, crap.


The Green Stone Woman said...

That sounds like an awfully sad trail to be guided along of what had been once there and is now all gone forever and can't be recovered. It sounds like a very strange sort of nostalgia, to reminisce about what your own generation (the guide's) has torn asunder and replaced it with. For shame! The same thing was done in my home town and t is now a spread of plastic looking store fronts and all the authenticity is gone.

Theresa said...

What a shame. A real shame.

Maire said...

What a travesty and tragedy, some local authority minds should definitely have access to nothing.

Grit said...

hi folks, Oxford has a Jtrail. we might try and do that.