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

    Sunday, May 20, 2007
    A1 contemplations
    Jon Nicholson is a photographer. Which is why his book is called A1: Portrait of a Road. I liked it. Because it's a book about a road. Though I think it lacks what other road books (like James Attlee's Cowley Road odyssey Isolarion) have - ie, poetry, it nevertheless has some excellent pics of what once was, and by some still is, called The Great North Road (now that name is poetry).

    This picture here is one of my favourites. What a fertile source for contemplation on the nature and nurture of a sense of place. If you were stood beneath this sign just where would you be? Clearly at a pivotal point in the country. If it's on an approach road it's already clearly southbound - the traveller realising their mistake in heading that direction has to veer left to circle back northwards. Spatial politics: whilst keen to avoid accusations of northern paranoia I do feel moved to ask, why is The South at the top of the sign?

    Leaving Holloway a fortnight ago I opted to walk back to Euston, along one of the 'first' sections of the modern-day A1 (first, that is, if your worldview is Londoncentric). I had just learned from my friend and local man Jonathan that The Hollow Way road was so called because of the way it got eroded by the tread of thousands of hooves in the days when it was the cattle drovers' main route into Smithfield Market. I walked past the old Caledonian Road Cattle Market, marked still by its clock tower, astonishing in scale. Where now joggers jog peaceably, a prodigious amount of cattle and sheep used to be assembled for sale, having been driven there from all over the country.

    Now this sort of detail Jon Richardson misses, because he rather enjoys staying in the car. His book seems to have been sponsored by Toyota. One day perhaps someone will do a slow walk down - or up - the A1 and write about it. That's a ridiculous concept of course, but it could nevertheless complement his work.