The limitations of wandering as a means of understanding were highlighted all too clearly yesterday as I tramped a new route into the city centre via St James’ hospital, the largest teaching hospital in Europe.
It was a typical melancholic ramble on a dispiriting damp day, past back-to-back terraced housing; a darkly mysterious unending cemetery; and the vast urban expanse of the hospital.
As I neared the final half mile of my journey, I passed by a green grassed area buffering the distant housing estate from the road. Or vice versa.
A massive orange-ochre rock was plonked in the middle of the grass. My first thought was that it was evidence of some geological absurdity from pre-history, an immovable relic from time immemorial. Then I walked around and found the plaque indicating it was indeed a memorial, but to the more recent memory of a local police officer. And it was serving double duty as a massive “Welcome to Burmantofts” sign.
As I stood back and searched the desolate horizon in every direction, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this contemporary marking of a local suburb. I could more easily picture the (presumably vibrant) local community a hundred years ago than I could today, with not a stroller or pedestrian in sight.
What, exactly, was the visitor to Burmantofts (who approached from the “correct” direction) likely to find? Or was this solid welcome intended to encourage a sense of community and belonging amongst the locals, who presumably were significantly outnumbered by the patients and staff of Jimmy’s, and the silent still inhabitants of Burmantofts cemetery?
But who was I to assess the sense of prevailing community spirit in this area? I was merely a passing stranger who hadn’t even entered a shop to buy a newspaper. Somewhere there’s a vibrant community centre (even if it’s not immediately visible at a casual glance) and a pulsating warm heart and soul (I hope) enough to inspire the setting up of a memorial to someone who served his local community, and an unmissable welcome.
Walking just doesn’t tell the whole story.