ritaxis: (Default)
ritaxis ([personal profile] ritaxis) wrote2017-05-11 11:29 am
Entry tags:

Little England

 Loughborough is in many ways the Most Typical Village in Little England (that is, England-as-England, as opposed to the whole of the UK). It has 57 thousand people, making it a bit smaller than Santa Cruz, a mixed economy including a University, some manufacturing, some farming, and some commuting, and apparently all the usual institutions. It has the usual history: it went through brickmaking, slate quarrying, textiles, etc., always losing out to some other production center in the course of time, which tragedy hit me pretty hard when I read it over and over again in the historical exhibition at the Charnwood Museum in Queen's Park. And yet...it doesn't look impoverished. Not wealthy, but not impoverished. I believe the University does a lot to make up for the lost industries of yore. It actually looks like a real estate ho/tbed, with signs for student rentals everywhere. That's different from Santa Cruz, where the student rental business is sort of hush-hush.

Another consequence of the University's prominence locally is that you see the word and color "purple" kind of a lot. There's a Purple Pig deli (never open that I see), a Purple Pumpkin...something shop? I thought craft supplies but maybe tschotchkes instead? But the "Purple Bricks" signs are a coincidental national UK real estate thing. Don't ask me to explain UK real estate. It's as byzantine as US real estate, but different.

Hana complains mightily about the sameness of British residential architecture, and at first glance she's right. All the houses are made of brick, usually the exact same red brick with the exceptions being a lighter orange brick, though a few have a veneer of stucco over the second floor, or decorative rustic-sawn planks over the top of the gable, and some of the ones from a hundred years ago are made with decorative bricks inset here and there--that would be during the era when there was a local brick factory, coincidentally or not. Most of the houses have narrowly similar floor plans, with a steep staircase right inside the front door, with a narrow hall and narrow lounge to the side of that, a small dining room and smaller "U-shaped" kitchen (so called because the cabinet fittings line three walls, leaving room for one person to work) behind. Upstairs: two small bedrooms, maybe a third one almost too small for a single bed and definitely not big enough for anything in addition--none with builtin closets--and a bathroom.  Larger houses are often the result of expansion to the side (if not in the middle of a row of terraced houses) or the back. In Frank and Hana's neighborhood the houses have garages but they are proportioned for Reliants or Minis and modern cars can't get into them so they're used for storage and work rooms. In the center of town there are terraces of tinier cottages, and also some larger modern apartment buildings for students. 

In Loughborough there is no road grid. Except for a small number of big roads that connect to highways, all the roads curve, really every which way. It's not radial, like Paris, more contoured, except the roads are not curving round the lay of the land as far as I can see, as the land is mostly flattish. Their street maybe follows Black Brook for a way, but then it veers off in a completely other direction. Also the roads do change names a lot (there are some long streets in Santa Cruz that change names s few times too, but I think they do it more here). And another thing. I've been complaining for years about the occasional misuse of street identifiers--"avenue," "boulevard," "lane," etc., back home--here I see "avenue" used to designate a one-block cul-de-sac. Though most of the cul-de-sacs are helpfully called "close." 

Demographics--I have no numbers, but considering it's a little village in the country, it looks pretty diverse to me. I've heard a number of different languages spoken--Turkish, Polish, Chinese (I don't know which kind) and more than one Indian language (I'm not familiar with any of them enough to identify them). Also, English accents! It seems like there are at least ten different ones in Loughborough. Of course this is reflected in the restaurants-I haven't seen a Polish one, but I've eaten at a Chinese one (it seemed Cantonese but had Szechuan things on the menu) and a Turkish one. It had a guy with a keyboard and recorded riffs, and a dancer whose name was Natasha and she was very English.

Queen's Park maybe deserves its own entry. It has the Charnwood Museum, requisite playgrounds, a little labyrinth mabe od bricks in the ground with a swan statue in the middle, a stream (is it a bit of Black Brook or another one?) with a prominent moorhen nest (Hana calls it the stupid chicken, which describes its looks, but I like it), an aviary full of psittacines, and the Carillon. The Carillon was built after World War One over the objections of the soldiers it memorializes, who wanted a health center instead (and why could they not have had both, I ask!). It is a tower with a patina-copper fancy roof, lens-shaped windows, and a full set of bells which are played from a keyboard. For a pound you can climb the endless steep windy stairs to almost the top, stopping along the way to small rooms that have exhibitions about the soldiers lost in various wars over time. I don't know why, but World War One seems to get much more monumental action in the UK than WOrld War Two.

About those bells--one of the historical industries in Loughborough is the Taylor Bell Foundry which has a museum which is no longer open except by special arrangement so I didn't see that. I'm unclear about whether the bell foundry still operates. I think it does, a little bit.

Loughborough has been a market town since the 13th century. What that means nowadays is that every Thursday and Saturday the town center fills up with stalls selling mostly small goods--fabric,notions, yarn: small tools: housewares:  dishware: clothing and more clothing: toys: accessories; and also food, including meat and fish, baked goods, and produce. Some of these are small operations, but for example, I bought some plaid ribbon (of course!) at a huge stall maintained by a big fabric store from Leicester. I wondered if the butcher shop resents having a big butcher stall set up in front of its doors two days a week, but I don't know, maybe they are related in some way. 

One thing that makes Loughborough very very different from Santa Cruz is that the shopping is mostly all in the town center.  I mean there are no huge outlying malls and little in the way of big box stores (we went to one attempting to get ericaceous fertilizer for Hana's rhododendrons). There is a small indoor-outdoor mall called, of course, "Carillon Mall," but it's right in the middle of everything else, so there's no need to drive ten or fifteen miles to get things. The buses run pretty well, though it's bewildering how many different private bus companies there are running public buses everywhere. And the town is small enough that walking from one end to another is quite conceivable. 

Post a comment in response:

Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.