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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, November 17, 2004
    The M6 Sights Guide
    What a good idea! The M6 Sights Guide is the second in a series of books (M5 first) which tell you stuff about "everything you can see from your vehicle on the motorway." And they mean everything - ie, they don't just go for the worthy, National Trust-y type sights: the writer Mike Jackson chose to "be democratic about what's out there; not confine ourselves to the grand and distinctive, but include the ordinary, the functional, and establish a way of presenting them relentlessly along every page with the route lying elastically along the middle."

    Jackson also throws in a few general observations on contemporary life, moans about supermarket culture and ironic nods towards car dependency. Which makes for a lively, sometimes banal and often amusing journey. In ninety pages you're taken from Dixon's Chimney, a 270-foot remnant of Carlisle's industrial past, now listed - meaning that the council have to spend a fortune maintaining it, to the sign for Tamworth, about which Jackson writes:

    "This place has a huge building full of skiers heading down slopes of snow. It's an enormous indoor skiing centre that must cost a fortune to run. As global warning continues it may eventually become a centre of pilgrimage for those who want to remember what snow looked like."

    That's it for Tamworth. Which is how the book goes. I suppose you could say it speeds through places giving first impressions. Liverpool gets written off in a one-liner bemoaning decent places to eat, but the Brummie writer virtually admits this is sour grapes, still sore at being also-rans in the Euro Capital of Culture contest. Of Manchester Airport he writes, "Apparently wealthy women from Dubai fly in each morning to go shopping at the John Lewis's at Cheadle Royal, then take the flight back home in the afternoons." Birmingham gets a whole half-page, well out of proportion to its actual significance, but that tells you where this wittily opinionated writer is coming from. Jackson's favourite thing en-route is the admittedly impressive Fiddlers Ferry power station at Runcorn, which he went to great lengths to capture on film for the book.

    Brilliant. Can't wait for their next project, a guide to the M62. By the way, the Guide is peppered with warnings to drivers about not reading it en-route. Ok, right. Best take a passenger to enjoy the observations together.