1st December, 2005
Churches turned into pubs. Brooding Victorian warehouses replaced with sparkly identikit apartments. Family shops and independent cafes bankrupted by Starbucks, Tesco’s et al. When will we wake up to this grim, placeless reality?
Today was the first true winter day of the year. It was cold and crisp, the sky was ice blue, and yellow leaves were skimming in gusts around the pavement. I felt an urgent need to procrastinate before I began writing this article, so I decided to go for a walk along the canal.
I’ve always loved the Oxford Canal. In the 10 years I’ve known it, it’s had a glamorously down-at-heel character. It’s a place of ramshackle factories and teetering, palatial Victorian houses – all dark red brick and long thin gardens. Old arched bridges and dozens of scruffy residential narrowboats are lined up bow to stern along the banks, their mooring ropes tangled together, their chimneys belching the sweet smell of coal smoke into the cold air. The canal runs right through my neighbourhood, and it makes the neighbourhood what it is. It has a nature, a character, a personality of its own.
Or it did have. That character is rapidly being erased in the name of those two trusty old soldiers, progress and economic rationalism. Up and down the towpath, their marks can be seen. Where once there was a long strip of ‘waste’ ground, there is now a building site, on which tall new flats have...
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