Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cry, my beloved country

You may know that I am simultaneously sentimental about, and cruel to, Stoke-on-Trent, that poor abused carbuncle, a classic post-industrial city used and abused by government, developers, businesses and politicians, yet still - just - alive and distinctive. 

Dylan Thomas called Swansea and 'ugly, lovely town' (in Reminiscences of Childhood). Going for a walk in the 'un-defiled' country a few miles from that benighted cosmopolis, I was reminded of The Road to Wigan Pier. Here's what George Orwell had to say about Stoke in 1936. The only difference now is the absence of potbanks, more's the pity. 

It is only when you get a little further north, to the pottery towns and beyond, that you begin to encounter the real ugliness of industrialism-- an ugliness so frightful and so arresting that you are obliged, as it were, to come to terms with it… It would probably be quite easy to extract a sort of beauty, as Arnold Bennett did, from the blackness of the industrial towns; one can easily imagine Baudelaire, for instance, writing a poem about a slag-heap.
The best thing one can say for the pottery towns is that they are fairly small and stop abruptly. Less than ten miles away you can stand in un-defiled country, on the almost naked hills, and the pottery towns are only a smudge in the distance.

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