Monday, July 25, 2005

Stupidly long posts have indices:
1. In the beginning
2. A visit to Alton
2a.i Alton Library
2b. St Lawrence, Alton
2a.ii Continuing observations on the library
2c.i Meeting the police
3. A minor digression
2c.ii Continuing with the police
2c.iii After the police
4. A visit to Winchester

How to make a birthday memorable #25:

Be detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Detained is perhaps stretching it a bit (a fairly large bit).

The prelude
As it was my birthday and I had somehow contrived not do anything vague responsible today, I decided I'd go off and take photographs (it comes of staying on a farm in the middle of heathland a fortnight ago, and not using my camera once). Not being a very original person I thought I'd seek out twee lumps of architecture in Winchester (when in doubt turn to the church). Because Alton is also vaguely round there, I thought I'd stop there first, and seek out the library I saw mentioned on City Comforts (as yer do). And also because I've never been to Alton; driven past it umpteen times, but never left the bypass.

So I take camera, water and a packed lunch, and street atlas. It might have helped if I'd noticed that Alton isn't in the South Hampshire book. So I drive in that direction (having first turned into a cul-de-sac after forgetting that they'd changed the roads, ooh, only about 15 years ago. You'd think the sign saying Old Wherever Lane followed by one of those handy red, white and blue T symbols might having given me a hint, but as any of my friends know; I don't take hints [only Visa with a four percent surcharge]).

I follow the signs into Alton. I drive through Alton. I see a sign to the library, but I wasn't planning on parking in the very centre (it's a small town; why pay £3 to save 5-minutes' walk?). I drive on, wondering where I am. Suddenly the traffic gets shunted round a selection of supermarket car parks. I could risk it, but I'd look a but stupid if I suddenly find they have a barrier and I can't reverse back out of the queue. I drive on a bit.

Disabled. Double yellow. Bus stop. Um, I appear to be leaving the town. I frantically scan side roads for easy spaces. Should have gone there. No, no, n- oh there's- too late. I think the Con Club might notice the only non-silver car on their forecourt. I need to get off the main road, I'll take the next right and go from there. Or maybe the next one that doesn't look like a council estate. Ah, big green, click-click-click, and right again off the cut-through. Nice empty space, not quite enough for two cars, drives either end. I think I'll take this.

Cut to a short time later, once I've finally parked straight (it's the lack of curving or slanted curbs, bizarre cambers, undulating slopes, trees, hedges, ditches, errant street furniture, and four feet deep drains that stymies me. Ask me to park between a skip and a pile of bags of cement and I can do it. Ask me to park halfway up a quarry and I can do it. Ask me to park without running over a mast or hitting a canoe and I can do it. Ask me to park where the stump of a tree has just been removed and I can do it. Ask me to park where the tarmac has slid down the hill to form a mountain range and I can do it. Ask me to park on a straight flat road, in broad daylight, in the nearest end space with no obstructions and I fluff it) and discovered that I haven't got the right map. I grab my bag, get out, smile to the man standing in his garden, while wondering if he's just seen me nearly complete a three-point turn while trying to get parallel with the kerb.

I walk off into town as I realise I've no idea where I saw the sign to the library. I know from checking the map beforehand that it's to the left of the road I'm on, and in Vicarage Road/Lane/Street. Well there's a church by the Con Club, but it seems a bit far out. But the job centre is over the road, so it might be around here. I'll see if I can find the sign.

Somerfield; the supermarkets were just before the town petered out, so it must be further on. Does Woolworth's have a brand architect? Or do all Woollies happen to inhabit remarkably similar mistakes of the 70s? This place could do with some money. Cross and Pillory Lane. Good name. Quite a lot of the town reminds me of other places. I haven't seen the sign yet. A couple of odd buildings. I realise I know nothing of the town; who was Curtis and why does he have a museum in some red brick gothicky courtyard?

It's getting back into villas around cottages. A terrace of four have an odd bit of cornicing. The denticulated brick swoops down twice, between the two pairs. It's regular to be subsidence, and the rest of the facade doesn't follow the same pattern. I ought to have taken a picture, but haven't, because it's four houses on a busy corner, with cars parked over the front gardens. On a bit more and pass the Alton House Hotel offering unlimited tennis and a 60s health centre. There's a milestone showing the distance to London and "Winton". I think I've missed it.

I retrace my steps noting the odd architecture, which appears to reflect sporadic affluence. I also notice the many yellow signs bolted to any blank first storey wall, like sections of Toblerone wrapper recycled for a school project model. There are so many For Sales and To Lets that no one's even bothered to add the inevitable I. Even the places which haven't got whitewashed windows are leaving the dust in sympathy.

What's gone wrong? The very fabric of Alton seems to endlessly repeat that the town has had money and then keeps finding it doesn't. There's a cafe spilling onto the street through windows which fold away. But there's no arm waving people on phones, or couples fellating grissini; instead it has Poppin in the name, an interior which suggests secondhand McDonalds and is rammed with fat people with badly cut and self-dyed hair nearly all with smoker's skin. Only a few seem to be able to afford the habitual Argos-full of jewellery.

I'm buffeted by another broadside of hot air churned out at head height onto the High Street. I decide to take the help offered and follow the sign pointing right to the Tourist Information office. I miss the sign telling me to turn left, and discover the old town hall and small square. Beyond it the pavement ends in a barrier, with a small pavement on the other side. But that's beyond a t-junction, where the only option which doesn't involve stepping blindly into the middle of a junction is walking back to cross both the other roads in turn. Obviously not that way then. Turning left and there's a car park visible through the corner of the square. Taking the lane from the final corner of the square, I see the street sign. I'm back to "Cross and Pillory Lane". Following it round, I find the tourist information centre. But being me, I squat reading the map outside it.

Alton Library
It turns out that the road coming into the square, which forms the impassable t-junction, is the one I want. I wander over, down and round. Alton really doesn't seem to know what it is. I've just past a row of bow walled cottages staggering down the hill; up the next hill is a selection of modern housing; to my left is a river going under the bridge; to my right a building and no sign of a river; straight ahead is a boarded-up, pebble-dashed, single-storey, council prefab. And next to that, across various dead bits of tarmac and confused street furniture, is the barn-like library.

Except it's not. It just doesn't carry it off. The view I see is a large wall with huge square window, all of which are covered by blinds or some material which achieves an even white wash effect. They appear to be the same size as the bits of plywood covering the openings on the neighbouring building. Between the two is a small corral in front of a brick shed which I assume contains a transformer. The corral is surrounded by black wooden fencing complete with latched 5-bar gate. It looks like the sort of place smokers gather. It's even got space age ashtrays; but closer inspection reveals these to bike racks with saddle covering disks. But they are to be mounted too close the fence, and I'm not convinced on the clearance of the gate, which I presume opens inwards, as the other way would swing out into the road. The bike racks are unused.

Finding this a little dispiriting, I head off up the hill in search of an awe-inspiring view. I find gated blocks of flats and offices instead. At the top a path splits off to the right, and I suddenly find myself in a half cleared churchyard - you know the type of thing; church yard used from time immemorial, finds itself full, active burials shifted elsewhere, churchyard empty except for visitors to graves, visitors dwindle, churchyard empty, overgrown by vegetation and crime, growing town wants public space, graves moved or sometimes just the gravestones shifted to the walls (except for the inevitable exceptions where the family lingers on, or it's just too big to shift), graveyard becomes park or pub terrace (and if the thought of students vomiting every Thursday on your bit of sacred ground isn't an argument for cremation, I don't know what is).

Except this one still has a church and a couple of internal walls of gravestones. I didn't find out if the carefully bell shaped groups of gravestones were the efforts of a council worker with a sense of symmetry, or the product of generations of local families bulking out the family plot.

I walk round the outside of the church trying to work out the ages of its parts, and waiting for the elderly woman in the door to leave; I'm not sure if she's a cleaner, devout, bored, or a tourist. She leaves, and before I get to the door to see if she locked it, another couple enter. But they're wearing macks, so they don't look like the type who stop mid-prayer to barrack strangers (and then continue with a mutter and a loud "Amen". God obviously has a good editor).

I thought I'd left it a respectful length of time to allow the couple to be safely the other side of the church by the time I enter, so each party can peruse their separate territories at leisure. But no, they were right behind the door. And they start talking to me.

Me: "No, no, I'm not local. I'm from Tweeton"
Me: "The week? No, only for the day. Part of the day really"
Me: "The battle? Er no. What Battle?"
The husband then goes on to explain that during the war - the wife adds "Parliamentarians" - there was a battle and they got caught up on the hill and retreat inside the church (I look to the wife for explanation of "they", but she doesn't notice). They took their horses in with them. Into the church so they could shoot them - the wife adds "for protection: barriers". They shoot over them and there are still marks in the door. I comment that I'd wondered why the doorway looked so battered (I don't mention that I had assumed it was just poor quality stone, this being a town lacking repute). The wife adds "Musketballs".
Him: "So you're not here for the battle then?"
Me: "No, no. I didn't know there was one."
Him: "But they have re-enactments; you must have heard of those?"
Me: (Trying not to add yet another "no").
Him: "Down in the Library..."
Her: "By the door,"
Him: "...they have a display. It tells you about it. You can get a leaflet there too."
I thank them and find something to read while they walk away. I think it was the flower-arranging rota, but it wasn't that clear.

I wander round the church. It's odd. Where I come from aisles come in odd numbers. This place has two, and isn't sure which is the main aisle. But then I start noticing. Pointy arch, round arch, one somewhere in between. I think it was originally a small hefty Norman church, which got lengthened, and then spawned a brand new nave to the south, which runs the length of the extended older church. Hence the duality. The old screams "over here, down here", and the new acts an independent body hoping to upstage the old, but never sure if it should. The pews, main aisle, organ and choir are all in the new part, with the older section left to two fonts and a selection of crumbling colours.

I play round with my camera, but as usual it is a church and therefore everything is at pitifully low shutter speeds which means I was probably just wasting film. But churches are my photographic crutch; my default setting. Clean symmetry, swooping lines and contrast ridden; the photographs will look good, but they don't add anything. And a church is a church.

The Return to Alton Library
So I leave, and follow the hill down, walking down the road parallel to the one I came up. And there is the library again. Still smooth brick walls one way, shaded windows the other, but now seen for the undesigned view. I think I know what the architect was trying, but it's not quite there. It's architectural monkey-see-monkey-do, an outsider's take like Thames Town in Shanghai.

I think it's just too clean, in both senses. One I needn't worry about as that's only age, and fake old is worse than new. But the other is the lines. It's a box, presumably steel girder bound, with a brick skin. I'm borrowing a term from Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn (and he in turn had borrowed it), but that's because it's apt.

When I read his book, and saw the diagram of layers, I wondered how structure and skin could be separate. Masonry does two things at the same time. Now I'm more aware of different techniques, and that structure and skin do diverge (such as panels of cladding, ostensibly to break up the monotony of a wall, but in practice usually because the developer can save X amount of square footage of brick).

In the case of Alton library, I think what unsettles me is this apparent divorce. The brick is too smooth, too sleek. It's a computer rendering, a flat plane of a tiled pattern. It's been praised for it's barn like qualities, but barns are either massive chunky buildings, with ramparts, beams and buttress, or they are steel frames hung with corrugated steel and plastic and gaps where the builder couldn't devise a join. And this is the latter hung in the clothing of the former.

Perhaps it is more architecturally honest than aping solidity, but if that was part of the design brief then why not leave it at steel frame and breeze block; the outside built like the inner face of a cavity wall.

It doesn't quite work. For me.

But I didn't intend to go there to critique the modern slant on the rural urban style. So moving on to David Sucher's 3 rules.
- Build to the sidewalk
Yes, but I think there was a degree of moving the pavement [sidewalk] to it. The road outside seem recently rejigged, and the library seems to have lost part of its site to ease the corner. The road has a hump which suggests a pedestrian crossing, but it seems as if someone forgot to paint on the lines and flank it with Belisha beacons. Some cars stop, some don't (and the motorbikes don't even look).
- Make the building front permeable:
The corner nearest the alley into town has the main entrance. Running west along the main axis are a series of large windows, which break into a blank wall guarded by a bench and tree. The bench has a girl looking sulkily at her phone. The rest of the site is taken up with the unused bike-corral. Counting the fenced off paved area in front of the services block as blank space, I'd say that on that axis the blank wall lasts for a third of the sight. Due to the lighting when I visited (overcast day in summer), all I saw when I walked past was a reflection of me, the traffic, and the car park over the road. As for the other street face, it was largely blank brick wall for the depth of the building.
- Prohibit parking lots in front of the building
I guess they managed on this score. Although parking was part of the site; part of the neighbouring abandoned site; a large area over the road, which flanked both sides of the temporarily emerging river; on the street round the corner (where the traffic warden was writing out tickets while discussing someone's recently widowed mother. I kept walking past in different parts of Alton and each time she was having conversations with different people about various dreadful things); and potentially in the car park round the back, which apparently was claimed by another organisation.

So on all three rules it comes out as a yes(ish).

I went inside to find the display about the Battle of Alton. I found a display. It discusses the civil war, but I managed to miss any mention of Alton, and instead find that everything was referring to The Sealed Knot (LARPing in the name of history). A quick scan round revealed that it was a library, with standard library fare. Bookcases, displays, a couple of trolleys of ex-library items for sale. I passed up the opportunity to get "The Best of Gary Glitter Live" for 50p. The interior itself was even more non-descript than the outside. Flat white everywhere. Down the far end was a hole through to an even flatter whiteness, presumably where the stairs and lift is. An island in front of the door holds the forlorn looking librarians. To the right of the door is an inviting walled-in wooden staircase, with a computer printed sign stating that it was "Staff Only". Beyond that a cubby hole with wall mounted CD player and industrial headphones juxtaposed with exposed brick. It's occupied solely by a bored boy flicking through a magazine. It's not quite small enough to be for one person, but it's not big enough for adults to ignore each other. It might supposed to be for children (but why do they get the CD player?) but the bright, low furniture could just mean they went to IKEA.

I just reread the Guardian piece. It speaks of innovative use of oak beams, and yet I saw only plaster; presumably they nestle in the private offices at the top. The only wood I saw was on the forbidden staircase.

Feeling foolish and bemused (was that it?) I leave, and take the alleyway back into the High Street. The alley is about as nice as anything the neighbours try to block out. Blank brick canyons are obviously the answer. Then back out into the High Street with a face full of industrial frying fumes. I'm opposite a shop which has gone bust, and yet confusing shares the same colourscheme with its neighbour, Curry's.

The anecdote proper
I decide I've had enough of this place, and walk back towards the car. One my way I see a police 4x4 followed by a police Volvo. Shortly after that comes a policeman on a bike. Right, so I know which way it is to the Police Station then, and when they finish lunch.

A fair way further on, out by the other church, I see the same police 4x4 again. Going in the same direction. A bit odd, but then it is a small town; maybe it doesn't take that long to do a lap.

I walk up, turn off back to my car, stick my stuff in, get in, key in, check the mirror for errant dustbins before I start and see a big radiator grill dip slightly as it stops behind me. It suddenly has lights in it, and they flash blue. Er...

I start to get out, then remember that both other times I was told to stay in the car, and the time when the police blocked the main road they got very arsey with anyone who got out...

[Skip this digression]
I'm not sure if I mentioned it. A couple of months ago I was driving [being driven] along the main road into town at about half past midnight. One the long straight stretch we see flashing blue lights ahead. Slowing down we suddenly realise that one set of lights and a white light are suddenly combing towards us fast, as a police car reverses into the traffic at speed. We stop, not having anywhere to go.

We can see ahead that there is another police car, and a car convertible. There are a couple standing with the policemen by the other car. Eventually the couple get in the police car, as a policeman gets in the convertible. He tries starting it. He obviously has never used a choke and drives an automatic. A series of horrendous noises ensue. I imagine I can see the drunken owner wincing with every extra rev, every whinny, every gnash. The police kangaroo jumps it out into the road. It stalls. It won't restart.

Being policeman, they can't ask the drunken owner for advice, or help starting it. Instead they decide to perform a manual 3-point turn. The first part goes well once it starts moving. Unfortunately someone didn't think of the camber as the car gains speed as it crashes into the gutter, grinding the front on the pavement [you might have wanted to try braking]. The thin policeman tries pushing the marooned car back up the slope, while the fat one acts as anchoring ballast and waits to steer.

We wonder about helping, as we do someone from one of the cars behind runs past, closely followed by another man. The second man asks if they need any help and only gets a very loud blast from the loudspeaker on the nearest police car ordering everyone to return to their cars [in a less than civil manner]. One of the men tries pleading with the nearest police car; another round of deafening variants on "cease and desist". He returns cowed.

The convertible is still wedged in place. The thin policeman has got the fat one out and is obviously suggesting the lighter one drives. The fat policeman isn't having that and gets back in, the car visibly grounding. The thin policeman strains a lot and eventually shifts it. Again the car gains speed after the watershed, but this time I think the exhaust acts as a buffer. They complete the turn, and push it down the road, then turn and abandon it in a nearby hotel car park.

And the next time I saw a policeman I nearly killed one and took his car door off. He'd stopped someone in the middle of the night on the other side of the road, and had parked behind that car leaving his headlights on full beam. I was coming the other way, and couldn't see anything beyond the lights [it was also in the bit where the streetlights don't meet]. I had the period between getting beyond his lights and his driver's door to see the door and avoid it. It was probably just as well I did what driver instructors tell you not to do; get progressively slower as I loose visibility.

But both other times I had been driving. Once I was stopped for having a blown brakelight (the asked if I was about to buy a replacement. It was quarter to midnight on a Sunday night in a small seaside town). The other time I was stopped for driving too slowly approaching a junction. They got a bit thrown by my reasons which were: A. The traffic light was red. B. It doesn't react unless you drive slowly, so if you hare up and stop suddenly the lights never change. They were also a bit thrown by my answer to the question "where do you live?", which was "there" as I point. I did give them a more helpful answer, but I don't think they expected me to be within sight of home.

And why is it, that whenever the police stop a car, especially a slightly rusty, dirty C-reg, they are always so disappointed to find that it has a valid tax disc?

Anyway, back to Alton. I get out of the car (and unlike the first time don't get ordered to get back in so they can order me out 15 seconds later). The usual routine; one does me, one does the car.

So I'm greeted by a policeman, who could possibly be younger than me. His words: You're not going to believe this, and you'll probably laugh, but...

Someone had phoned the police having seen someone park this car a few minutes ago (? I'd been gone over an hour) and get out carrying a rucksack with wires coming out. He says I can't quite hear about "Arab". He continues: "I'm sure you understand that given the present situation that we..." He never completes that sentence.

He asks me my name, if it's my car, if I have any ID - I pass my driving licence over with the usual "Don't laugh" answered by "Nice hair" (coming from the man with the golden stubble. It might an anti-balding thing, but I can't tell as he's on the kerb and I'm not). He hands it back, asks me a few more questions. I get in a muddle trying to explain my presence in the town without getting into the whole concept of City Comforts.

He asks for my name, again (having just read it on my driving licence). Am I shortened version of my Christian name or the whole thing? (Which rather gives that my real name isn't Neil [cue Stuttgart-Python crossover]). Did my parents get me with any awful middle names? I reply with my middle names (yes, I have two extraneous initials) and leaving the judgement up to him (it doesn't fit on his form). Yes, surname spelt the usual way. Date of birth; I've just noticed that he took me literally when I said "Today". I corrected it later to 1980, but he obviously didn't realise he'd classed me as a newborn on the form.

Again we go over questions and answers, as this time he writes down the answers. Address, featuring the inevitable, slightly too late to be helpful "Two words".
Next comes the fun bit. My, as the form puts it, "Self Defined Ethnicity". Rather oddly there isn't a category for "Pretty much English". He mentions that they have a list of 30 different options, but he'd have to get it, so we settle on White British (which comes out W1 on the form). I'm not sure they have an option of Norwegian great-grandfathers anyway. On the opposite side of this form is what I assume to be the police's own take on my ethnicity: PNC ID Code (IC 0-6), which comes out as 1. So obviously they don't believe whoever rung about the Arab terrorist (who can't park).

The next bit is about the car, which is easy and other than being thrown slightly by talk of the "registration mark". I say what it is, as he leans round me to read the number plate. Have I had it long? A couple of years, and the conversation digresses.

("A couple of years" in that statement meaning "Sometime, but I'm not sure, I'll have to go and work it out; have you got a spare envelope I can scribble on?")

He hasn't bothered writing down any of the details of the car other than the registration. He's ticked that both the person and Veh. were searched, even though they only checked the car and my bag in the car (admittedly a t-shirt and light trousers doesn't leave much room for the blocks of cocaine). And the other one had fun doing that. Peer at tax disc, read number plate into radio, try to open locked door, go round the other side, lean across car, unlock door from inside, get back out, walk round, remove bag, ask if it's mine, part-unpack bag, flick through diary, be bemused by the emptiness of the diary (I don't use it enough, ok?).

Actually it wasn't a very thorough search of the bag as he didn't find the phone, the computer disc, or the highly explosive ham sandwiches in the Tupperware lunchbox (obviously Tupperware's too good to waste on bombs). He gets out my camera, asks if it's digital when he can see the window filled with Kodak yellow. Looks round the rest of it. "Nikon; nice camera". I smile, deciding now is not the time to get into the merits or lack thereof of that combination of camera and lens.

He moves on to the rest of the car, again being perpetually thrown by the lack of central locking. Because I moved furniture around ahem months ago, the rear seats are still folded down. The policeman struggles to get to them up, and is confused by the presence of a solitary beech mast, which has probably been in the car since the late 80s. He tries the boot, but it's locked and keys are still in the ignition where I'd left them. I tell him and decides he doesn't need to look.

While this is happening, the data gathering continues. We're now up to section C, which he fills in without saying anything. It reads: Grounds/Authorisation/Stop and Account Prevention of Terrorism Seen by member of public leaving car with rucksack and wires appear to be hanging out.

Right, so misery guts over the road, who frowned and pulled away into his garden when I smiled at him, it is then. Anyone else reckon he looks on that space as his own (or his wife's)?

Next is Section D: Object of Search. Rather disappointingly it says "Tick one box only". Drat, I was so hoping I could have Disguises S.60 AA Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 and Poaching S.2 Poaching Prevention Act 1862* as well as Prevention of Terrorism S.44(1) (Vehicle and Occupants) Terrorism Act 2000.

*So who's going to do the "only scrambled" joke?

Hang on, PoT Act 2000? But I assumed it was a post-nine-eleven thing.

And that's about it, as the next section is outcome (No Further Action), and after that a few sections of acronyms, most of which are driving related.

The notes on the back explain various bits, i.e. without requiring reasonable suspicion, as I'm fairly sure some paranoid fool (who, incidentally, was wearing rather thick glasses) calling the police because he's seen a dark haired man with a big nose (and for the record, it is not an "ethnic" nose**; this, said he pointing, is what is know as a "Dorset nose"), whom obviously can't park (because they don't have cars in "terrorist countries"), and mistaken the webbing adjustment straps on a rucksack for wires, does not count as reasonable suspicion.

** And I hate people misusing that term (as I just did). Every single person is ethnic in one form or another.

The aftermath
When it happened I wasn't that fussed, as, although it made me later than I would have been, I didn't have to be anyway promptly. When a friend rang me later, she was shocked that I'd had my rights violated. That take on it hadn't really occurred to me. Minor nuisance perhaps, but a cause of outrage? Not really. More anger is directed towards the guy who rang the police (presumably Albert Road in Alton is a local road for local people) than the police, who at least looked a bit shamefaced about the whole thing, while carefully trying not to comment on the likelihood a suicide-bomber attacking what they called Hicksville.

But as risks go, Monday afternoon in a dull, rural town, a place which is literally the end of the line? Perhaps some parts inviting bombing, but that's in the same metaphorical way as Betjeman's friendly bombs of Slough.

So incensed with pretend rage, I speed off out of the town. Well, I pretend to read the street atlas until the police have gone (and then won't know I'm looking at South Hampshire when I'm in North Hampshire), then drive slowly round the block, turn right onto the main road, and head south and out onto the A31, being careful not draw the attention of any other police (speed limits are jolly slow aren't they?).

Anyhoo's adventures in Winchester
And so to Winchester, following the signs to the untried park and ride (they usually stick them on the exit of the roundabout, not before, so just keep going round until you see it). Then into the car park, and it's much more environmentally aware than Guildford's. By this I mean, it's a lot of small car parks dotted round bits of a wooden hill, which means one has no idea how big it is, where the bus stop is, or whether this bit is actually part of the park and ride car park.

I park, get out, read the sign, find I have to get a pay and display ticket which includes the bus ticket, rather than just buy a bus ticket. I feed the machine, cursing its inability to accept 5p pieces and wondering if Winchester is worth the extra 50% above what I normally pay. And then I realise I have to find the bus stop. There's one down the end of the car park, but it's just a shelter, and I'm sure this can't be it for the entire place. I walk up the entrance road, and then turn left down to the roundabout I'd earlier avoided. I think what confused me earlier was that each of the car parks has barriers so they can be closed afterhours, rather than the main access road. There's a bigger, robuster busstop, and a large toilet block.

According to the display, the next bus is an hour and twenty minutes away. There's a degree of worry until I realise I've lost an hour, largely due to the police (and having last looked at my watch before them, and before driving here). So buses supposedly every quarter of an hour and the next is over 20 minutes away? Right.

I go to the loo, or more precisely go into the automatic-doored loo block, wonder why the alarm above the disabled door is ringing and the light is on, open it to find it's unlocked with no one in it, try pulling the alarm cord to turn it back off, wonder if enough people try that every quarter of an hour that the 20 minute timeout never kicks in, leave it rapidly before I can get in trouble, go into the comparatively very small loos (with nowhere to put anything one might be carrying or wearing) which are about as wide in total as the entrance hall.

Once outside again I study the timetable and other bits of the bus shelter. And then just before quarter-to the bus appears. The next bus on the digital display is on the hour. I get on as the driver displays gross indifference to my ticket (which at least is common to all park and rides). As I'm wondering where to sit for my twenty-minute wait I stumble as the bus lurches off. It would appear that I can sit anywhere, as I'm the only person on it. The bus driver swings round a heck of a lot of bends, easing slightly as he passes empty bus stops. I'm completely disorientated as he drives out of the back of the site, down a road and into another park and ride car park. Out again, along a bit further, round bits I don't recognise, then he stops again next to a park on some broad modern road which I later find out is the Broadway. I debate getting off, but I've already decided I'll get off at the far point of the loop by the station.

The bus continues up the road, past the bus station, then up a one-way street crowded with people. The buildings suddenly jump forward, and the pavements crowd with people. I think I could be getting warmer. He stops again and I thank him and get off my large cheap taxi. The bus shelter says that this is Brookes, wherever that may be. I walk back into what I assume is the High Street, and wander up it scouting for photographic potential.

There's lots of varying degrees of old buildings, but like the church, they are just pretty buildings. There's a market cross, or something along those lines, tucked round the corner of one building, but its lower flanks are solid with bored teenagers. I continue up, veering off to the left to check my map. I'm north west of the Cathedral (but it makes more sense to think of the city running uphill from the river towards to railway, and so laid out as it would be from St Giles's Hill), so I continue along whichever Minster Street, and then drop down round the back of the Cathedral.

But while I was going that way, I ran up and down a few of the steps and alleys in search of photographic potential (I didn't quite find it. I found some nice houses, but no great scenes). I'm not too keen on some of the narrow one-way street-iness of round there, as some people empty roads as the perfect place to test acceleration and road holding.

Banging a left at the end of the road I found myself passing terraces on one side, and a flint wall on the other. Down the far end is a gate, and as I get closer I realise that off to the right is another gate. And it's other the top of which I find St Swithun.

The church of St Swithun on Kingsgate that is. The whole notion of a church over a gate hadn't really entered my imagination up until then. But I like it, as one doesn't normally see the guttering of neighbouring buildings through leaded window over the altar, and it does seem to be an underlooked place.

[But obviously I wasn't respectful enough, and that patron saint of yearly summer weather predictions has vented his ire in the solid rain of the past week. And can ires by vented?]

Anyway, I wandered down through Kingsgate, past another wall, past an aged school. and then I discover fields. I hadn't expected to run out of town. I take a left to look round Wolvesey Palace next to the Marlinspike-like current residence of the Bishop of Winchester, planning to leave by the other path marked on the map by the entrance.

The palace is ruined, but still shows the effects of successive waves of growth; architectural style switching on each successive floor, and arch bodged to make it fit the different portals at either end. I take some photographs, but I'm not expecting much as there's no sky (there is but it's just flat pale grey) and low contrast stone. As studies of structure and detail they'll be reasonable; as interesting works of art they won't be interesting.

The rear exit is padlocked, so I walk back out and round the site and a neighbouring school playing field. Rather than heading back into town I follow the signs to the St Giles' Hill viewpoint (the route consisting largely of "walk to the top of the hill").

Good views in three directions (including the M3 gully through the downs), but few too many inconsiderately placed trees (I mean, how dare they grow in a wood?). Then back down into the town, back up and under St Swithun, through the gate into the cathedral grounds.

Under gothic arches with covering four different ages of floor, boxes of books each with suggested minimum contributions, all in aid of the choir. I browse, but don't buy anything as the suggested donations are all a bit steep. And I wonder if the Edward Heath book on music is deliberately left in such a prominent position considering the day.

Then on, back and forth under (they have a thing about building over arches these Winchesteronarians) the southern transept, gauging the age of windows and there subsequent amendments. It appears that the main body of the transepts is older than the nave and chancel, but the southern transept sprouts growth lower down, and which leads to a curious arrangement where the builders realised the new wall meets the middle of a window on the main axis. There answer is to build a narrow arch to the wall above leave the entire, now darkened window in place. Unfortunately I don't get to inspect the internal effects of the this join as when I go it is sealed off for evensong, and after a few photographs I get to the other transept just as they are closing for the day.

I may comment more on this when I get my photographs back, but I haven't taken them in yet.

After being ushered out I wander southwards east, then realise that my mental map doesn't mesh with the default position of churches, and head up one of the back streets. I re-emerge onto the High Street and start to wonder about where the bus stop might be when I see a bus turn off the road ahead of me. I realise it says park and ride, so I run to catch it. As I check it is the right bus the driver closes the doors but then opens them wearily when I stand beyond them looking hopeful. I check it goes to St Catherine's, and sit near a family who judging by the conversation have just asked him the same question.

I realise fairly soon on that if I got off at the same bus stop and the bus travels in a loop, then I've just joined the outward leg. Which means I get a guided tour of the nightmare I try to navigate when the roads go bad. I still don't know how it fits together. The family by me are getting a bit concerned as the bus didn't take this route into town. Eventually they realise that we've just turned into the bottom of the High Street, stop at one bus stop and then made a u-turn. They are dismayed to when it occurs to them that they could have just stayed at that bus stop but I'm not sure they realise that they'd still be on the same bus.

The bus trundles out of the city centre, and round the car parks. I get off a bus stop early as I'm disorientated enough to think it's near my car. I wander up the steps out of the corner, past the bus I just left, into the loos, use them, leave having tired once again to walk through a window (the building has doors and windows which are all floor to ceiling height and all of the same design. There are four middle panels of which the outermost pair are the doors. There are then two sections of brick of the same width, and beyond those a window each side, which are the ones I keep trying to walk through).

Then I locate my car and drive off rather circumspectly. It doesn't last long as it's the end of rush hour and some idiots can't drive, and this is a fast road, so no way am I sitting behind someone who does things without warning, or that Volvo who appears to be drunk, or that car who doesn't expect me, a C-reg car, to be able to accelerate.

I have to admit to be not best pleased at catching up a cyclist as we both leave a roundabout, and then hangfire briefly to ensure no one else is about to fly in off the roundabout in the outside lane. I start signalling to pull out as I'm running out of clearance when the Volvo behind me decides to overtake (with any signal). I slam my brakes on as I was expecting to be over there by now, but the old speed with the new course rather overlaps with the cyclist. I realise a car coming off the roundabout in the outside lane has also stopped dead having lost its lane to a drunken tank. To make it better the Volvo nearly takes out the cyclist it hadn't seen as it pulls in.

I was not a happy bunny. I suspect the Volvo didn't notice, or blamed everyone else.

And as for people who start overtaking me going up a hill when I'm doing seventy, get enough of an overlap to sit in front wheel to my rear wheel, and then fail to make any headway meaning they'll be screwed in a few yards when the overtaking lane switches over at the top of the hill. I was kind and eased slightly, but he really shouldn't rely on other people to do his driving for him. He roared off down the hill and on the next took on a lorry and did the same thing, only the lorry didn't yield.

But lots of people can't drive, said he noticing that he'd been taking his anger out on the accelerator and gosh that needle is far over, although the engine doesn't seem to mind and the other revs are only a bit higher than they were before.

But driving fast is quite fun, if only it wasn't so illegal (and it wasn't that fast, just rather beyond the 10%+4 [and the police doing a speed trap outside of a school many years ago really shouldn't have told a class of primary school children about their threshold formula. Firstly they have parents, and secondly they grow up to be drivers, who tend to regard speed limits as a bit like suggested donations. I'm not that bad, and I don't rely on that formula as they've probably tightened up by now, but some of those pupils...]).

Incidentally, how should one react to people who send text messages saying "Not to shabby thanx!", which answers none of the questions I asked, and doesn't even connect with any of them?

And that is way too long, but this is a draft, until the pictures come back, but it'll probably stay a draft with links after then.


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