The Joys of Motoring

This was us, in my imagination

I’ve decided that I could become rather fond of Lincolnshire. Sure, it’s flat and damp, but it has its charms: massive, dramatic skies; Saxon churches and delightful Victorian brick-built houses. Those houses reminded me that Tennyson grew up in Lincolnshire, and there’s something about the red-brick gothic and the jigsaw of Saxon walls, Restoration graves and Pre-Raphaelite stained glass in the churches that chimes with his poetry. I’m normally quite opposed to arguments from “feeling” – a hunch is pointless without evidence – but bits of Tennyson rattled round my head the whole time. Hearing Lincolnshire accents as well, with their slightly longer vowels and measured pace, lent a new tincture to “break, break, break”, “the woods decay, the woods decay and fall” and “’tis not too late to seek a newer world”.

The family gathering was charming. No photographs exist of McShandy digging a large hole in the beach and directing his niece and nephew in the proper construction of sand-holes, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it happened. We took part in the traditional Easter festival of resurrection and thanksgiving, and you can read my review of the new Doctor Who episode if you like.

On the way back, Mrs McShandy decided that instead of driving she fancied doing some motoring, so we left the motorway to wend through the countryside instead. According to Mrs McS the difference between driving and motoring is that when you’re driving you’re concentrating on the other cars, and when you’re motoring you’re concentrating on the road. According to me, the difference is that when we’re driving we end up in such outer circle of hell as the Wetherby Service Station (it had that characteristic smell of service stations: yesterday’s chip wrappers, petrol fumes and Right Guard) and when we’re motoring we discover new places. The world is always so much bigger than you realise, so much more detailed. Psychogeography alerted me to the fact there are streets next to my own that I’d never walked down: motoring is the equivalent on the scale of village.

Roman peace-keeping in Northumberland

We passed through some towns which, as Mrs McS memorably put it, “only apathy is stopping this place from being deserted”. We passed through hamlets with curious architecture and over moors that looked fictional. I have come to love name place signs, and their desperate, Canute-ish attempts to salvage some idiosyncrasy, some vestige of difference in the face of unrelenting corporate homogenisation. We went through, for example, West Auckland, which apparently won the first ever World Cup. I slightly wish our little card had an onboard permanent wifi-ed wiki; as this odd fact is true. West Auckland won the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy is 1909 and 1911, beating Juventus 6-1 in the latter. Lipton’s World Cup was not supported by the FA; hence his decision to invite a local amateur side, mostly made up of colliery workers and miners. Frankly, I’d really like to hear a Radio 4 documentary about this. We stopped off in Hexham, where we spent some time looking at the medieval Dance of Death in the Abbey and the tombstone to Flavinus, a standard bearer in the Petrian Cavalry Regiment who died at the age of 27 – there is an especially interesting depiction of a local being trampled under his horses’ hooves.  Jedburgh, up the road, boasted it was the winner of the 2009 UK Savoury Pie competition. It was getting late and we did not manage to get a pie.

Some housekeeping: I’ll be posting my interview with Dave Eggers, with some additional material, over the next few days, as well as a belated sermon.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Joys of Motoring

  1. Ah the good old A1 and I surmise from your crenallated route, the A68 & A69…. Wonderful to read this and especially liked Mrs McShandy’s view that ‘only apathy is stopping this place from being deserted’. She directed this pithiness toward West Auckland. Next time you are out motoring you might like to apply this apathy test to West Cumberland. especially Beckermet or Dearham.Scary.
    Looking forward to your interview with Dave Eggers. Have recently interviewed John Burnside myself… interesting! Have you interviewed this luminary? If so would like to share ‘views as am looking for a hook around which to hang the stuff he came out with…….

    • Lots of answers at once:
      Caroline: no, it wasn’t West Auckland actually; it was a place in Lincolnshire. I’ve never interviewed John Burnside, but I know him quite well; and admire his work very much indeed. I think his major concern is the point at which articulation ends – not, I hasten to add, an argument for the idea that thought can exist outside of language: in that respect he’s more akin to TS Eliot than any other poet writing at the moment. Here’s a review – http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/bookreviews/Evil-lurks-in-poisoned-playground.4047202.jp
      I also reviewed The Devil’s Footprints but the scotsman.com site appears to have gone and lost it. Will post anon.

      Rudi – Self is a great psychogeographer, but the British daddy is Iain Sinclair. Both are Londoners, and I can’t understand why there aren’t psychogeographic reports published by mainstream publishers about Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff or Lilliesleaf. I’m not the kind to fling around ghastly words like Londocentrism, but hey…

      Alan – automotive psychogeography is obviously not the same as foot and pavement work; but the ideas behind psychogeography are relevant to forced conduition behind driving. Cf. AA Route Finder passim. We stop the whole time when driving, and I’d rather stop in a haphazard way than a necessary way (Next M&S Chicken-Shack and Extortionist – 21 miles. Although service stations are a great way to watch concentrated capitalism: like the extra quid fifty on a packet of fags there.

  2. I find psychogeography a fascinating subject, and am particularly keen on the work that Will Self has contributed to the subject. In relation to your motoring observations, I place driving somewhere deep in Malebolge!

  3. The Great Alan De Poncho

    Is there such a thing as automotive psychogeography?

  4. Wellwynder

    I don’t know if Radio 4 ever did a documentary, but there was a TV drama in the 1980s, with Andrew Keir as Sir Thomas Lipton and Dennis Waterman as the West Auckland team captain, entitled The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale. Hmmm… should I be worried that while your other readers make intelligent observations about John Burnside or automotive psychgeography, I can only offer info about telly shows starring the bloke out of Minder?

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