Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Road journey

On Roads is now out in paperback!

Found this in the Guardian, 7 December 1973: ‘The Kentucky Fried Chicken people have applied for planning permission to open a finger-licking branch in Forest Hill, South London. The reason they give for making the application: “To raise the tone of the area.”’

Very touched by Jonathan Bate’s account, in his biography of John Clare, of the poet’s famous journey along the Great North Road (now the A1) from his mental asylum in Epping Forest to his home county of Northamptonshire. Clare, penniless and destitute, walked the whole way and he must have been an odd sight to people passing by: no longer the famous poet of his twenties, just over five feet tall, in a daze of hunger and dehydration – occasionally eating the grass by the road side ‘which seemed to taste something like bread’, or chewing tobacco and swallowing it to ease his hunger.

Mundane quote for the day: ‘The best views are views of familiar things, like cities and farms and bottlenecked freeways. So set aside the beauty of sunsets, the majesty of mountains, the imprint of winds on golden prairies. The world beneath our wings has become a human artefact, our most spontaneous and complex creation … The aerial view is something entirely new. We need to admit that it flattens the world and mutes it in a rush of air and engines, and that it suppresses beauty. But it also strips the facades from our constructions, and by raising us above the constraints of the treeline and the highway it imposes a brutal honesty on our perceptions.’ – William Langewiesche, ‘The View from Above’.


  1. It's a wonderful book, which I discovered quite by chance on the 3-for-2 tables at Waterstone's last week. For once the quotes (I am thinking of the Sunday Times' on the front, and Craig Brown's on the back cover) do not overstate. And by way of coincidence, I read today's mundane quote myself a few weeks ago in the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Langewiesche's Aloft. Frankly I think On Roads is better.

  2. Thanks for these incredibly generous words.