Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Night Sweat

I found myself in a bad dream last night and woke up sweating just after two. In these cases does the sleeping self decide to opt out of running a particular film, much as one switches off the telly when there's e.g. one too many grisly shot of the pathologist at work in a shock-horror movie? And how exactly do such dreaming experiences integrate the self, as psychologists intimate they do, if they're so scary? Both malign, pursuing protagonists in this instance were old friends, neither known to the other in real life. Both would undoubtedly be horrified to know the roles in which my mind had cast them during my personal psycho-drama. Of course it's an unsettling thought that one might feature similarly in the dreams of others: until this moment, that had genuinely never occurred to me!

In any event, it settled my procrastinating determination to walk today and make the most of the sunshine. I leave Raunds travelling east with, unusually, only one objective in mind. Hargrave is a small village on the edge of Huntingdonshire, just off the road to St. Neots. Like Raunds and Stanwick, it's a parish in the 'Four Spires Benefice', but it's stuck out on something of a limb.

                                                                       Spire no. 3

These days Huntingdonshire is a non-metropolitan district of Cambridgeshire, not a county, but maybe in the meaning of 'Raunds' there's a folk memory; the very name of the town means 'boundaries'. I suppose it's possible the markers to which it refers may go back even further. Where exactly was the border between the Catuvellauni and the Iceni in pre-Roman times? Or nearly a millennium later, between Mercia and East Anglia? I daresay there was hinterland and dispute. Strangely this lack of certainty extends to Northampton even today. It's always struck us as anomalous that we're stuck with Anglia TV: Man falls off bicycle in Beccles. Arguably Northampton looks more to the west and the north than the east for all that the Diocese of Peterborough extends its reach right down to Cotswold-facing Aynho. For whatever reason, to the east of Raunds the villages are more widely spread, the roads a little more like those of the fens, resembling a grid. It's a different kind of land. Just a mile from Hargrave Huntingdonshire reaches its highest point at the Three Shires Stone - a measly 263 feet. Apart from the Isle of Ely and the Holland district of Lincolnshire, Huntingdonshire's maximum height is the lowest of any county. And that includes Norfolk and Cambridgeshire!

Oh, the pure and atavistic joy of the first mile's walking in May! Birds are carolling from every tree and bush, with blackbirds the loudest and most expansively tuneful against the fluting ostinato alto voices of the wood pigeons. A distant cockerel is parading himself and the wind's a gentle zephyr. The far away scrapings of an industrial digger add a Charles Ives element to the symphony. Up the gently rising gradient to Mere Farm, I'm unreasonably pleased with myself as I spot the moment the path dodges from one side of a hedge to the other. My internal soundtrack is selected highlights from yesterday's concert in Abington church. It's always interesting to see which things stick and loop around the head when you've been working on them. We sang Parry's 'I was glad' so of course that's in there, as annoyingly are bits of the Cantique de Jean Racine: a piece of which I heartily disapprove because of its cloying sentimentality, quite unlike the uncompromising, steely darkness of the same composer's Requiem. But the novelty of yesterday's gig was Bizet's Te Deum, hitherto unknown not only to me I suspect, but probably all the other singers too. It's an enthusiasm of Tim Dolan, Abington's Director of Music, and I can see why. It's a slightly crazed mash-up of martial tunes and gothic diminished chords written when Bizet was still in his teens. The work was given a firm thumbs-down by the musical establishment of the time. It's as if young Georges had to get down in a single piece every musical idea he'd had that year. Some of the individual parts are good, which is why they still function as 'ear-worms' but taken as a whole, my provisional judgement is that the piece is a car crash, though weirdly huge fun. It could of course have been the reason for my subsequent nightmare...

The church of All Hallows, Hargrave sits in the middle of a small village whose population numbers no more than 250. There's a Top Farm and a Bottom Farm, and a sad failed pub in a boarded up, Grade 2 listed building, the Nags Head, whose fate at the time of writing is yet to be decided, but which surely has no future as a hostelry, unless on a remote off-chance the community were to decide to run it as a project. I sit in the sun-dappled churchyard and think about the future of the inn as compared to the church. Hargrave is in one sense quite isolated, which is part of its charm. The limited support All Hallows can garner, the relatively small income it can generate for the wider Church means that as things are it can only merit inclusion in a benefice like Four Spires rather than standing on its own feet. And yet, the Church (capital C) is very aware of the challenges posed by the likely housing expansion - not on Hargrave's doorstep to be sure, but not so very far away by road. What's the logic here? Can we envisage a church like All Hallows finding something special, distinctive and different liturgically, and offering it to the public so that there'd be the possibility or likelihood of new walk-up to its ancient doors. Surely we don't want this beautiful little place of worship, with parish history stretching back to the Domesday Book, to go to the knacker's yard along with the Nags Head? Churches exclusively for the young. Churches exclusively for the old. Churches designed and stripped for social action. Churches devoted to contemplation. Churches representing the best of every liturgical tradition and none. How could benefices plan to strategically diversify their product? Here I am, Lord. it is I Lord...

It would mean the sacrifice of personal preference in many instances. But what's the alternative? Niche  and genre are important modern words, even if neither is very English.

I walk the long, roundabout way back to Raunds under a hot sun through alternate fields of rising grassy wheat and rapeseed - which is now turning olive green and just beginning to hint at its cabbag-ey finale. There are paths flanked by luxurious bridal trains of creamy-white cow parsley, and I skirt a lovely resonant wood. The views are long and shimmering. At one point I push through an overgrown field entrance, certain of the route's direction, although on the diagonal across the green wheat the walker's line is discernible only to the faintest degree. I enjoy the pleasure of wading through the crop on the sandy soil, much as one would find delight in crossing virgin snow, and then stop in the middle of the field to look behind me. I'm surprised to see that the wheat has closed over my track again. You wouldn't know I'd been there, and in the moment I find a metaphor for my existence. For all that in my human arrogance I think I'm so significant, I have to accept and understand that I'll leave very little mark on the ground.

Stats man:  14 km. Just a shade under five hours (I went very slowly today). 24 degrees C. Two stiles. Seven gates. Six bridges. But when is a bridge a bridge? A rather subjective matter this, but I tend to include the smaller ones which prevent me getting my feet wet, and sometimes ignore/fail to notice the bigger ones. And when is a gate a gate? Also a matter of opinion. I count gates I actually have to open, but on this walk the farmers have often very thoughtfully left a clear person-shaped space beside the closed five-bar. Stiles? Getting fewer, I reckon. Perhaps because they're more expensive to maintain than gates?  One church: shut. Walkers: not a single one - from the leaving of Raunds unto the returning of the same.

Help me to lift my eyes to You
From the turmoil of everyday life
The deluge of communication
Social media
Gossip and trivia
Argument and counter argument
Alternative facts and temporary truth.
Let me be astounded again
By the thrill of Your creation
And Your care for us
And to remember (thank you Sarah)
That we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
By Your grace
Sanctify all our lives.

And then came the news from the Manchester Arena. A waking-life, shared nightmare.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Whatsoever things are lovely...

Ian Brady, who with Myra Hindley tortured and killed those poor children so many years ago died yesterday in prison, probably mad and unrepentant, and the radio and other news media are all over it this morning. It's hard to ignore the story, or not be shocked by it all over again, but what more is there really to be said? Is it true, as John Donne wrote, that every person's death diminishes me? I don't feel diminished by Brady's passing, but don't even know if that's what Donne meant. I only know what the Greeks knew, which is that evil usually spawns new evil, and dismounting the carousel is hard.

Whatever, the news casts a pall over the beginning of the day. The weather is strange too. A plume of warm air has been sucked up from the continent, and outside the car it's sticky and humid under cloudy skies and a strong breeze. Tomorrow the wind will die, and we shall have rain all day, probably starting at five this afternoon, so there's an incentive to throw off the media-induced glooms and get walking.

On a cheerier note - unless you suffer from coulruphobia - the circus has arrived on the Higham Ferrers rec. I search out the path which takes me over the A6 by-pass to the east of town, and though my direction finding is out of sorts today, I eventually find the track which climbs gently beside the rapeseed fields to the Water Lane end of Chelveston. Over the fields the farmer has suspended a couple of animal/crow scarers which resemble Red Kites (the ornithological sort!) bouncing airily on the end of pieces of wire. High overhead a real buzzard is hoping they're fooling no one. There's no water in the ford at Water Lane: although it's rained a little over the last five days, the Daily Express, ever the voice of meteorological doom, has been trumpeting the likelihood of impending drought, and there've been the first suggestions from water companies (all hoping that Mr. Corbyn doesn't win the election and nationalise them) that we should be careful with our hosepipes unless we want them banned.

Either Chelveston originally came in two parts or St. John the Baptist church is hedging its bets. Actually its assignation is to 'Chelveston cum Caldecott' so maybe the latter. A few posts ago I remarked on the number of Hardwicks there are. If anything there are more Caldecotts: Smith to Hardwick's Jones. No surprise: there's a plethora of cold places in Britain to fit the name. But then, the caldarium in Roman baths was the place for a hot plunge so there's a mild lexicographical puzzle here. I think the link from 'Cald' to 'Cold' is the more probable. People like a good moan.

The church is down a leafy path backing onto fields and on it there's a memorial to the American airmen who were based at the local RAF station during the last war. They undertook some of the riskiest bombing missions in WW2 but their success exacted a terrible price in casualties. There's another memorial right in the centre of Chelveston too, by the Star and Garter pub where I have an early lunchtime drink, hanging outside the door waiting for it to open, the image my dad hoped never to see cultivated in his son. If I'd walked in the opposite direction today, clockwise rather than the other thing, I might have arrived at St. John's in time for Tuesday afternoon tea and cake. Bad planning.

The airfield came back to life with a vengeance in the fifties when the Americans constructed an 11,000 foot runway to take their B-47 Stratojets, part of the bomber-led nuclear deterrence fleet. But when De Gaulle founded France's independent 'Force de Frappe', he ordered the American parent airfields off French soil, and with the coming of ICBMs, the politics and strategy changed, so there's now little to betray the existence of such a large facility. Back then, was the Star and Garter full of Carolinian and Californian voices, and the yard stuffed up with Chevys and Pontiacs to pull the local girls? I guess so.

Out of the village I walk through fields to Stanwick (don't pronounce the 'w' unless you want to be immediately identified as an incomer). I obviously look like I'm a local, because just inside the village a woman winds down the passenger window of a grey Golf.

Her: (peremptorily): Where's the High Street?

Me: (amiably, as I think...)  I haven't a clue...

Her: Well, that's not very helpful.

Me: Sorry, I'm a walker (stating the bleedin' obvious - I'm wearing shorts, have a rucksack, a stick and am carrying a map. My hat is 80's vintage cricketing fashion.) I'm a foreigner. But let's look at the map. The church is...back there...so if you hang a right at the corner, it should take you round in a circle...

Her: (huffy, now) Don't bother. I expect we'll find it.

Me: ...and back to the middle of the village. High Streets are usually next to the church, aren't they...

But by now they've already moved off without a thank you or goodbye.  'How do I find...?' dialogues are a staple of English Language Teaching materials for children. I must have recorded at least fifty tokens of the type, and they generally don't run like the above. Is there money in 'How to speak rude: a new approach to learning English'?  Later on, having walked up the churchyard on Stanwick's little hill, I see Mr and Mrs Golf trying to find their way into the village bistro (Stanwick has a bistro?) They're dressed as one might for a nice lunch if one were seventy-five, so probably they're late and had a row about it, you know, she spent a crucial five minutes too long on her face, and he insisted they went the country route. But honestly, I ask you! Along the way I meet all sorts, and most of them, like the cheery lady with her dogs near Chelveston, are lovely so the clever/dumb balance has to be maintained. 'Whatsoever things are...' Forget it, Vince, it doesn't matter. Move on.

St. Laurence Stanwick, and St. Peter's Raunds are part of the '4 Spires Benefice' which since last February is in an interregnum (i.e. they're between vicars). This group of churches is aptly named: the spires of both are awesomely high and beautiful, both benefiting (I'd have made a good estate agent) from their situation, raised above the communities they serve. Both prove to be shut, though as so often, if I'd had the gumption to plan ahead, or had wanted to spend the time now, I could have tracked down a key from one of the holders. But I just read a psalm, say a prayer, and think about the places, trying to be aware of my prejudices and presuppositions. Most of life seems to be about clearing up misunderstandings, usually one's own, sometimes other people's. Mrs Golf thought I was the one being rude, didn't she?

It's a short stroll up the road past Stanwick's Pocket Park and Raunds' rather bleak playing field into Raunds itself. The skyline behind the playing field is dominated by the Warth Park warehouse development. Well, that's what Northamptonshire does for the UK economy. Because of our centrality I suppose, it's convenient for all kinds of large-scale producers and logistics companies to have their own vast shop floors here. But in terms of the space they occupy compared to the number of people they employ, what's the net long term benefit?

                              'Er, Claire, does that include Tudor motets and Schubert lieder?'

There's something about Raunds. In the olden days i.e. the nineteen seventies, this was one of the pretty ways to Cambridge, as opposed to the more mundane route through Bedford. It's still a useful back double if there are problems on the A14. Then it always seemed to be tumbleweed o'clock in the middle of town with groups of young people standing on the corners jostling and prodding each other, and deciding who was going to go out with whom next week, if only to the chippie. There wasn't much else to do after the shoes went, but still the place has an air about it, a style that hints at the North Country. By the gate to the little park in the centre is a plaque commemorating the 1905 march to London protesting the low wages of shoe workers. They walked there, and some of them walked back too, and they won a concession from the government of the day.

I'm hoping 'Library Plus' will sell me a book on the history of Raunds but the nice, helpful woman in charge has nothing to offer, except a rather particular imprint about one of the excavations undertaken at the time the warehouse developments began. There's a lot of Saxon stuff under the ground here and on one occasion it drew in Tony Robinson's Time Team for a hectic weekend poke around. I follow the old Meadow Lane down towards the river and the site of the medieval village of Mallows Cotton (sounds like something from Midsummer Murders!). For company I have an unusually large number of dog walkers, and in a little while I see the logic. An upside of the warehouses is a trade-off in nicely manicured paths angling back towards the town centre. I plunge on, trusting the map that I can get under or over the A45 to join the Nene Way on the far side of the river and the wetlands. However what looks feasible on the OS turns out not to be so in practice. Maybe I've missed something. My next intended port of call should be Irthlingborough, but pitching up at the roundabout where the road from Stanwick meets the dual carriageway, I think I've been thwarted. Then I see a brown tourist sign on the other side of the road, and follow its pointing finger into 'Stanwick Lakes', which I suppose I always had down as a fishing facility, but which I now find is a large outdoor pursuitsy expanse under the care of the Rockingham Forest Trust with a Visitor Centre, and cycling, and walking, and rock climbing (walls presumably) and an adventure playground. I don't fork out for the lottery, but the money of those who do is going to some good places.

The weather's looking less promising so I deny myself a cup of coffee, and guess at a direction through the park. Eventually I find the path which brings me up over the weir and on into Irthlingborough past the remnants of the sadly deceased Rushden and Diamonds Football Club. Even the little that remained to them in the history books has this very week been taken away. Forest Green Rovers have been promoted to the Football League Two. Previously Rushden and Irthlingborough (the Diamonds bit!) were the smallest community to host a club in the main Football League but the mantle has passed on.

People who live in Irthlingborough. 1. Big Jim Griffiths. For many years in the eighties he was  a stalwart of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club. Allegedly a quick bowler, he was loyal, willing and tall, with a windmill action and a pronounced pause in his action at the bowling crease. He was one of the worst batsmen ever to play first class cricket, christened a 'wally with the willow', but every dog has his day. Look up the story.  2. Chris Storr. Nice man and excellent trumpet player for Jools Holland's band amongst many. He always came happily to play sessions for us when we could afford to make it almost worth his while. As did Trevor Barry, inhabitant of Rushden and ace of bass. If you watch Strictly he's the one with the hat sitting somewhere near Dave Arch. A lovely player, and amusing, genial company.

St. Peter's Irthlingborough has a lantern tower which was built to guide former generations over the marshy drifts alongside the river. The church looks intriguing, there are lights on, and stuff is happening beyond a door at the side. I want to go in, but if I'm to avoid getting wet I have to press on. Like Raunds and Rushden, Irthlingborough is an untidy place, although the size of the church and some of the surrounding buildings shout 'high status'. Again, its history is about ironstone. There's a tunnel between here and Finedon, now safely shut up, but who doesn't love a closed tunnel? I blame Enid Blyton's Famous Five.

And here I get briefly annoyed, as my personal radar goes awry again, and the signage to the Nene Way abandons me in favour of the 'Greenway' which runs across the new nature reserve/SSSI below the town but which turns out to be the Nene Way in disguise. I have a spat with an unfeasibly large man, his grinning wife and his husky dog which is not on a lead despite the proximity of sheep, and on which he seems to think I should lavish praise as it invades my personal space to importune whatever it is that huskies think they fancy. I do the barking, and tell the owner that I don't appreciate the attention, and then reflect as I burn leather into the distance just how big the bloke was, and whether it was altogether wise to antagonise this particular One Man and his Dog. Whatsoever things are lovely...

And finally, Esther...

22.5 km. 6 hrs. 20 degC. Five stiles. Seven gates. Five bridges. One heron interrupted from his daily work by my incautious approach. One bunny: deaf apparently, judging by his reluctance to take flight.

Last week I mentioned Chester Farm, and the work going on there, which prevented me easily accessing the Nene Way from Irchester. Well, Sue and I went back to have a look later in the week. By 2018 there's going to be a Visitor Centre there too, so right along the valley there'll be a chain of interesting places to visit covering nature, archaeology/history and outdoors stuff. This is very good news from the point of view of education and healthy entertainment. It will be a challenge to maintain it all to the high standards that will be initially set, but could we perhaps see a developing movement equivalent to the great era of park construction undertaken by the Victorians? I'd love to think so.

We blunder around
Stumbling over the furniture
Falling down stairs
Kicking the cat.
Shine your light upon us
So that we may see well enough
To deal graciously with those we love
And those we don't.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Rust Belt

It's only a couple of weeks since a regular phone nuisance, selling double glazing I expect, stopped bothering us with an unseasonal recorded message beginning: 'Now that winter's here...' But it's February-chilly again today despite the bright sunshine. The easterly wind whipping in over the exposed fields near Irchester is shading out of brisk into brrr!

I think the writer Peter Ackroyd's very good on what could be called the idea of 'persistence' - the notion that a trade or attitude hangs on in the same place right across the centuries, despite more widespread changes in culture, politics or religion. Sometimes this can be because of the presence of natural resources, and sometimes just because of tradition or human reluctance to move on - if it ain't broke, don't fix it!  In the central belt of Northamptonshire, it's the ironstone which determined the pattern of life, and years after the resource has been largely worked out, the light industry and untidiness which accompanied its exploitation makes for a semi-urban landscape that isn't always beautiful - which isn't to say it lacks interest. But walking here reminds me of the way things often are on the long distance paths around Greater London.

My intention had been to believe the OS map, and follow the road from Irchester to the A45, cross it with trepidation, and track the marked Nene Way down past Chester Farm, the history of which dates back to Roman times (you'll have guessed from the name, and may remember from my late summer 2016 posts about the Irchester area). However, on the far side of the trunk road, the stile's overgrown and there's a 2015 notice telling me the Nene footbridge beyond the Farm is closed. There's nothing for it but to lug myself reluctantly up beside the dual carriageway as far as the Ditchford turn half a mile away. Thereafter there's another bout of precarious road walking down to and over the river to pick up the Nene Way on its re-route eastwards from Wellingborough.  From their enthusiastic website I can see that the archaeological work at Chester is ongoing, so that's the likely reason for the path changes. If so, my annoyance is assuaged. Let's hope the archaeologists' funding is being maintained in these straitened times.

Even after the detour (and hey, this is a pilgrimage, so whoever said I deserved it easy - and I'm not exactly scaling endless flights of stairs on my knees!) the path is scrappy. Smelly too. Sewage plants are often built to the east of major conurbations to use the prevailing wind to good effect, which is fine until a meteorological 'block' like the one we're currently experiencing comes along. The Billing facility is currently delivering some pungent pongs in our direction at home, which would more usually be dissipating in the fields towards Earls Barton. Down by the river just here, there's a history of traveller encampments. In the early eighties there was a notorious murder at Ditchford amongst the traveller community in which we were briefly and accidentally caught up. We were short-term fostering at the time, and were contacted for assistance because in the absence of reliable witness information the cops had brought in whole families for questioning, thus dumping on Social Services a very sudden, very tricky problem in terms of accommodating the children. We turned them down. The brief was too difficult, and there was a lack of immediate candour which spoke poorly of the various agencies involved. I'm not sure a culprit was ever convicted. The community closed ranks.

I simply endure this stretch of the Nene Way. In addition to the overpowering smell of poo processing, the path is manky and rarely walked these days: the lakes which remain after the gravel extraction are threatening rather than an amenity (although they're probably very good for bird life). The area's clearly attracting trials' bikers on a regular basis. The access to the south is closed because of the vast new shopping complex being constructed where you could once break an ankle at the Skew Bridge dry ski slope. Just about every Council in Northamptonshire opposed the plan, but in the name of regenerating the area, the government expedited matters with unknown consequences for the surrounding towns' economic development. Overhead scream USAF F-35s visiting Suffolk for testing, training and evaluation. They temporarily drown out the birdsong. I am disgruntled.

Things improve at the bridge which spans the A45, carrying the walker towards the tall spire of St. Mary's in Higham Ferrers. I stop and fidget for a while, taking some pictures, searching through my many pockets because I think perhaps I've dropped my map, and so fall into brief conversation with Graham Bell and a companion, who are exercising dogs, and judging by their field glasses, doing  a little gentle twitching. I'm wearing my North Face sweatshirt, and Graham thinks I might be a superior breed of walker to the one I actually am. I explain myself, and it turns out Graham is a retired vicar, who still ministers in a variety of situations, and even knows our own parish a little.

Up in refined Higham Ferrers, everything's peachy. I visit the garden of Chichele College. This was a chantry, not a school, built by a Plantagenet Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry of that ilk, so that a team of clergy could pray for him, his family and the monarch. Sensible precaution, that last bit, I reckon. Henry managed to remain Archbishop for thirty two years which strikes me as impressive longevity for any period. Shaded from the wind, the cloister garden is peaceful and warm, but the lure of the Coffee Barne is hard to resist. They attempt to palm me off with a £5 note which will cease to be legal tender this Saturday, but I don't hold it against them: the coffee and the choccy croissant are good.

There was once a castle in Higham Ferrers too, though the bit on the recreation ground you think might be its site, is just the rabbit warren which the inhabitants encouraged outside the main walls (rabbits being good to eat, natch). The site of the real inner keep is barely detectable by the suggestion of a mound on the edge of later housing just to the south. Simon Jenkins rates St. Mary's church as a three-star, and apparently the stained glass is beautiful. He wonders how it escaped the predations of the Civil War. I have to admire from outside the spaciousness of the buildings, their stately situation, the elegant flying buttresses. Given the tourist potential of the town, this is a church which really should be open, but it isn't, not today anyhow.

At one time during our teaching careers Sue and I knew Barbara Smith, the first headteacher of the Ferrers comprehensive, through a mutual interest in the Inter-Schools Christian Fellowship, and fancied working for her because we liked the cut of her jib. I think at least one of us applied cheekily for a post beyond our reasonable expectations, but were turned down. We were attracted by the idea of a new, frontier project in what then as now was the better end of this mid-county conurbation. But things happen in schools. Its high status didn't prevent the deputy head, Mike Cousins, from being wounded by a disturbed pupil wielding a shotgun a few years later. I walk along the length of the school playing field, still impressively substantial, and join the Greenway which follows the one-time trackbed of the branch line from Raunds down into Rushden..

And rather to my surprise, I find a heritage railway project on the outskirts of town with a nicely restored station building. Looking at their website later on, it seems to me that some headway has been lost amidst the rag-taggle collection of shunting engines, old carriages, a mail-coach, a diesel railcar (of the variety which used to work the Brackley to Banbury line in the sixties)), several vintage fire engines and countless other bits of heavy engineering bric-a-brac. What do you do with all that stuff, assembled over three decades of preservation work? It would take an army of workers just to get rid of it again, let alone turn it into anything useful. Nevertheless, there's a half mile stretch of track, and the website speaks of ambitions to extend to Higham Ferrers one way, and to a junction with the Midland Main Line at Wellingborough, although that idea may already have been kyboshed by the need to increase passenger capacity out of Wellingboro' to St. Pancras as the town grows.

The heritage railway makes total sense to me in the context of industrial Rushden's past. Maybe some of the enthusiasts are people who worked all their lives in engineering, and miss it. The shoe industry has largely gone, but still just opposite the station stands the Rushden Town Band Club, and a little way up the street, there's a traditional shoe-repairer's shop.

I pray my way around the town, visiting the three Anglican churches one by one, all with their differing traditions and styles. It's Polling Day for the local council elections, and St. Peter's hall up on the Midland Road is open for the casting of votes, although I see no one going in or coming out. At the opposite end of the town centre St. Mary's is hosting ninety primary school children who have come to find out ' a bit more about the church', as the contemporary syllabus challenges them to do. And out on the seventies-build Whitefriars estate a third more charismatically inclined congregation meets of a Sunday to praise God in the local school. For various reasons I do not effect entry to any of these places of worship, so remain something of a neutral observer. But as I look upwards along the charmingly undulating High Street at the faded grandeur of the buildings from Rushden's Victorian heyday, I begin to feel more warmly inclined to a place which in times past has caricatured itself as somewhere for the lame and insane. Just Northamptonshire wit and irony, of the sort you can still occasionally hear in the county's better sporting venues! The stand-out shop on the main drag? Without question it's House of Venom Reptiles where for just £85 you can buy yourself a Reticulated Python should you so wish. Every Goth should have one.

Stats man:  17 km. 5 hrs. 15 degrees. Cold wind.  Sun and then rather more in the way of cloud. Railways: two - the Midland Main Line & the Rushden, Higham and Wellingboro'. Dog walkers by river: also two, one nervous and female, the other male and dour.

People so involved
Playing bowls
Throwing axes
Model railways
I could go on
And on.
Do you find this weird kaleidoscope creation variety 
As endearing as I do?
Or like my dad
Do you discount it all as trivia?
Do you really want us
Down the church instead
Making our sacrifice of praise?
Could it be that we're worshipping you
By an inordinate interest in snakes
or Liberian postage stamps
If we will only acknowledge
That you are the Lord of
And Overprinted Fiscals?
Honestly, I'm not being obtuse.
Just once again yours puzzled