Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Stoke-on-Trent

Today we were cycling right through George Osborne's northern powerhouse and the predominant sense was of industrial decline. Our (no main roads) route took us primarily along canal towpaths and abandoned railways, with one section round the side of a vast slagheap. These were often serene and beautiful (if occasionally muddy and unkempt) places but I couldn't help remembering that they would once have been alive with freight transport of various kinds.

Alongside our route much of the landscape was post industrial. We saw a few old potteries, with buddleia growing out of the bottle chimneys and a couple of unidentified factories that looked shut up and abandoned. Incongruously though this is also the region of the multi million Cheshire mansion and some rural stretches made their way past what could only be described as stately homes for the twenty first century, with thoroughbreds grazing in beautifully kept rolling pastures.

Being largely on footpath / cycleways we met lots of people, a large proportion of whom greeted us with a cheery "how do" and pulled in to the side of the path to let us through. There were dog walkers, men with fold up chairs fishing in the canal, kids making the most of the start of their summer holidays and mums with pushchairs and a gaggle of kids.

At one point we stopped for some bike fettling near an old lady who was chatting at length with an old gent as her dog waited patiently down the path. Eventually she set off again, and about 50 metres on met another old gent and stopped again. I could almost see her dog sighing and wondered how long her morning constitutional took.

The other sort of person I kept seeing was  men in their late forties or fifties walking alone without dog or fishing gear. They wore saggy workmen's trousers and faded baseball caps and though many were tall and had once clearly been well built they all stooped slightly, their shoulders slumped.

It is easy to read too much into a pair of faded trousers that have become loose and shabby but these men became symbols of industrial decline too, for me. They looked like the kind of man who should be working in some sort of heavy industry, operating a lathe or a sheet steel press, rather than walking down a canal towpath to some crappy zero hours contract job.

I have on occasion felt sorry for myself because my career as a head came to an end with no send off. But as I cycled past these men on my carbon fibre framed road bike I certainly found myself counting my blessings.

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