Coventry. Not a place I know so much about, and after a few weeks of being there, I still don't. There are the damp grey pavements, paced so heavily like the sidewalks of every city. The accents you hear, in the mornings, Caribbean, Indian, really local. Puddles displaced by buses and taxis. Police sirens through the night, breeze and phone calls through the day. It's not enough for photos, not enough for more thoughts. In the spare days I had, the stolen time, I left Coventry behind. My car’s rear view mirror traded interchanges and traffic for lolling valleys and forested hill roads. A green and rich countryside, the ups and downs the product of time, and the rain that falls here so frequently. Things are old here, in the heart of this island. Iron railings and crumbling brick, fading summer flowers, villages tucked into the winding roads. Poetry. This is the birth place of Shakespeare, perhaps the timbered buildings that line sloping, narrow streets where wildflowers bloom in sidewalk cracks became his muse. Here the River Avon takes a languid path, gurgling under Roman bridges that interrupt the cobbles and countryside. A certain kind of romance, in the fog and feathery sunshine of October mornings, the old timers strolling to village newsagents with deerstalker caps and ageing Pointers.
There are the villages that have grown in the valley dips, criss crossed by railways that were all glory and diesel fumes in the industrial revolution. It is coal country, and the towns north of Coventry wear their dusty pasts on their sleeves. It’s all embers and ashes now. The rail lines are deserted and overgrown with brambles, the mines are mossy hills. It's as if at some point residents just abandoned upkeep and turned roads and rails over to nature's grip. There's a story here, just not one that I know. But it’s easy enough to write your own, here in dreamer’s country, where whispers from the past tumble through the hills with each biting gust of autumn wind.
I find myself lost and wandering through a mysterious air of general dilapidation, watery spiders' webs dripping with mist on windowpanes; the original window glass never replaced. It's so thin that I can hear straight into the living rooms of those rows of cottages fronting the rail tracks. A dog barks, a baby cries, a kettle rattles, tinny and distant. I feel like I have stumbled into a still-life of heartland England, struggling valiantly to keep with the speed the world seems to move forward. The wind eats into the collar of my coat as it echoes and swirls around, trapped in the valley lowlands. Trapping secrets and stories. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a group of semi-wild horses gallop out onto the marshland, their heavy hoof-falls resonating over fragile ground; manes pressed to their necks from morning drizzle. So much I’ll never really know, in the damp winding roads and rivers and fading towns. But I go back to Coventry, to sirens and traffic and hustle, leaving so much untold.
Romeo: I dream'd a dream to-night
Mercutio: And so did I.
Romeo: Well, what was yours?
Mercutio: That dreamers often lie.
Act I, Scene IV, Romeo & Juliet / Shakespeare
Places of interest
Stratford Upon Avon (Shakespeare’s home)