Sunday evenings are probably one of my favourite times of the week. It would be my favourite few hours of the whole week, if it wasn't looking for work on the Monday morning. However, this weekend is different as I am on leave for the next two weeks - yippeee!! So this does feel rather special. The knowledge that while everyone else will be struggling to get up tomorrow morning to pack themselves off for another day at the office or wherever, I can get up when I please, have a leisurely breakfast and enjoy the whole day to myself. Ah, the bliss :-)
Currently I am reading John Banville's The Sea, which was the Booker Prize Winner last year. It is a curious novel, told from the narrators - Max - point of view. More than anything The Sea is a melancholy remembrance of a childhood holiday and infatuation with Mrs Grace and her daughter Chloe. There is this sense that something terrible will befall these characters before the final pages and along with these faraway fantasy remembrances, Max is coping with the death of his wife, Anna. The prose is often turgid and if I stopped to look up every word I don't know or couldn't understand, I would be reaching for the dictionary every couple of minutes. It moves at a funeral pace and with deliberateness, as if every sentence has been carefully checked and tasted on the tongue first before being put into words. This is the first novel by Banville that I've read so I have no idea whether the style is typical of his work. It is interesting, with its sparse dialogue and deep diversions into meanings of life and death.
Later in the week, if the weather holds, I am going to take myself off for a day into the Marston Vale, which lies midway between Bletchley and Bedford. Fortunately for me it lies on the branch railway line that links the two towns and I've been reading that there are some rather pleasant walks from some of the stations on the route. It reminds me how little I know of this area where I live now. Whenever I go back to Pompey, I know places instinctively, I remember the geography of the surrounding area and feel at home, I guess. However, much of what lies around Milton Keynes and indeed in the rest of Buckinghamshire remains a mystery, which is a shame as what little I have discovered illustrates that there is some beautiful countryside nearby just begging to be explored.
Of course having a car would make it easier to get to these places. However, I happen to enjoy long and circuitous journeys by public transport mainly because it takes you to places that you just wouldn't bother going to if you had a car. Okay, so many of the places visited, you wouldn't want to go to again but often I enjoy it just for the journey. As an example, the bus that runs past the top of my road, will take me to the centre of Milton Keynes and the railway station. Beyond that, it takes a tortourous route through the housing estates of the north of the city, some interesting, others bland and unnoteworthy before ending rather curiously in a layby off a roundabout! However, once an hour the bus continues, for even more diversions through the 'new' city before creeping up on lovely Wolverton with its fine Victorian terraces and the imposing (what remains of it) railway works. From there, the bus takes a wild diversion out into the sticks, taking a lovely journey through the bucolic villages on the periphery of Milton Keynes before dropping down into the market town of Newport Pagnell.
Newport Pagnell itself is a fine example of what this part of North Buckinghamshire must have looked like before Milton Keynes arrived. It is right on the egde of the Borough and there is some inviting countryside beyond its fringes. The town itself has some fine and imposing buildings - The Swan Hotel and HSBC bank in the High Street come to mind, as well as the oldest iron bridge in daily use in the world on Tickford Street. There's a very nice looking church and some pleasant walks to be had through the town . All in all it has the air of a typical English town that seems to have become stuck in a timewarp somewhere around the 1960s.
Maybe I am just being overly optimistic and nostalgic here. Newport like everywhere else, still has the disease that seems to pervade every town or city now. Namely, drunkenness, youths hanging together causing mischief and the dreaded motor car that hurtles noisily and too fast up and down the High Street. No one seems to bother to take notice of how lovely the place is. Nobody pauses for breath to admire the fine buildings they hurry past. And this I think is the greatest shame. We don't realise just how nice the places are around us.