Thursday, August 09, 2007
Here Be Dragons
Do you ever think that the future has echoes in the past? It seems to me that there have been a few times in my life when this has happened.
Some time in the September of 1966 I first registered an awareness of the country that has been my home for the greater part of my life. Even then, at the tender age of seven, I sensed somehow that it would be important to me.
Earlier that year Upton Cheyney school had raised the grand sum of £12 10s 6d at the summer fair to acquire the latest in cutting edge technology. The schools first ever television. A 405 line VHF special. Music movement and mime on the radio was never going to be quite as good.
In the early September the whole school was gathered round the box and we watched the Queen and Prince Phillip cross the Severn bridge. Cutting the journey time from Bristol to Wales from hours to minutes. Of course at the time the motorway stopped dead at the far side of the bridge, but by the time another 15 years had passed that was sorted out. The Severn bridge was one of the wonders of our world.
A bold student teacher, who to my shame has lost his name in the swamp of my memory, built half a terms work around that bridge.
Soon, on a grey and windy morning, the dozen students in my class took a trip. Mr Cooper, the head teachers husband, had an old ambulance that served as a school minibus. We all piled in to the back, four each side on a bench and four down the middle on an old physical education plank. Niceties like seatbelts and health and safety were a thing of the distant future.
Crossing Bristol from east to west without incident we arrived at the car park and viewing platform at Aust service station. A service station! There was another exotic beast. I am not sure we actually went in but can you imagine, a huge restaurant dedicated to the needs of the hungry thirsty road user. This was so far removed from our simple village experience that it was like another planet. There were still houses in Upton Cheyney using a communal pump for water back then. I don’t know if we felt like African villagers dumped in New York but it was definitely in that area of experience.
From the viewing area, we walked down to the footbridge over the toll booths, marvelling at the half a crown (what an anarchic sum!) that cars were paying to cross the river. On to the path beside the main bridge deck itself and we formed a straggle tailed crocodile that waddled and huffed against the wind until we had passed the first huge tower, and were at last were standing 90m or so above the river Severn in the middle.
From here among the other wonders of geology, geography and engineering a line of distant shapes could be seen.
The rain swept mountains of Wales emerged from the obscurity of a childs imagination, and started to become real.