Having lived in Milton Keynes for nearly 30 years, finally got round to visiting the Milton Keynes Museum on Sunday. The inducement of free entry (National Heritage Weekend) worked; we shall return. Was good, a surprising variety of artefacts and materials from the days before the New City displayed in period rooms. A fine old jumble of stuff scattered throughout (and ouside), with the nicely presented Hall of Transport, complete with the restored Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tram, the highlight. A tasty cheese toastie too, which unfortunately made me forget all about the neighbouring letterpress print room. Displayed at the entrance is one of the survivors of the unlikely Hayes Boat Yard – a boat yard 70 miles from the sea, with an international clientele, operating in the late 19th and early 20th century in Stony Stratford – on the site where I bought my Citroen Saxo a while ago, which is now new housing. It’s a fascinating story.
Obviously there’s a lot about the railway works in Wolverton in the museum, and we’d got to the Museum by walking along the canal from Wolverton and back a bit. On the way back popped into The Secret Garden. And the stroll – or vaguely psychogeographical derive, some might say, I mean there was a point to our trip, but it was a bit of a wander – whatever it was, it took on a bit of a theme.
First off, I revisited the Bloomer locomotive perched on the sculpture by the pedestrian bridge over the canal at Wolverton Park, a location featured a couple of times at Lillabullero before (here and here) but I’ve a better camera now so here’s the actual loco model in fuller glory. So, onto the canal bank and under the road bridge and there’s the work of the legendary people’s art guru of early Milton Keynes, Bill Billings‘ wonderful (and now restored) mural, stretching along the opposite bank; there’s a weird streamliner at the other end of the train, which carries the load of a whole history of transport on land and air, in war and peace, on its wagons. (The photo here is one taken on another walk, much earlier).
And so, returning, into the Secret Garden, laid on the floor plan of a couple of houses where a couple of railway big wigs’ from the Works had lived in the late 19th century. And among mosaics announcing the rooms’ original function, we have another Bloomer:
Thus endeth the stroll; we got on a bus after that. Psychogeography – from which the French word derive as used earlier is derived – is one of those terms, subjects even, that the more you go into them the vaguer they become. But it’s got a nice ring to it, and, dammit, it does mean something to those who ‘do’ it whether they know it or not. The world, and for sure our towns and cities, would be lesser places without it. I see psychogeography as being three-dimensional local history, by which I mean three-dimensional not in the sense of museums, rather in the sense of three-dimensional chess (like Sheldon and Lawrence play in Big Bang Theory but with the streets and their accoutrements and history as pieces) with issues and attitude. I’ve just read Psychogeography, the book by Merlin Coverley (Pocket Essentials, 2010). It’s a decent short introduction to the topic, tracing its genesis in the London of Defoe, Blake and de Quincey through the flaneurs of Paris, surrealism and the literary avant-garde into the formal theories and radical politics of the Situationist International, ending with Iain Sinclair and compatriots back in London. He says it all briefly in his introduction and in a bit more detail in the book’s 157 pages (including bibliographical apparatus) without really coming to any conclusions save doubting the practicality of the Situationists’ programme and psychogeography’s vague validity. It’s a good enough starting point with plenty of places to take off from – I’ve always meant to read Thomas de Quincey – but it’s a bit tame if you’ve already been swimming in the deep end with Iain Sinclair (try Lights out for the territory or London Orbital). It makes a walk more than a walk. That boat yard at the end of our street!
Or this, from under a bridge, somewhere in Derbyshire, one of those walks somewhere on a disused railway line. Who says it can’t be rural?