ENGLISH JOURNEY: or The Road to Milton Keynes by Beryl Bainbridge

ENGLISH JOURNEY: or The Road to Milton Keynes

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Fifty years after J. B. Priestley's classic English Journey, novelist Bainbridge was part of a BBC documentary team that followed his route through about 20 British towns and villages. Here, then, she offers her notes from that dispiriting trip--with the emphasis on the decline of English communities at home and work. Southampton offers crowds of boats, a topless fire-eater, ripped-up land, white-domed containers of BP petroleum, cooking oil, and nuclear fuel. (""One can only hope they're labeled correctly."") Salisbury's cathedral fails to inspire--""too big, too separate""; Bristol, though its postwar rebuilding shimmers with civic pride, brings depressing glimpses of automation at a cigarette factory, of angry blacks. Next--on to the horrid noise and concrete of Birmingham: ""In spite of the mess, the dug-up drains, the overhead cables, the petrol stations and the demolition sites they were building three-storey desirable homes at the side of the fume-ridden road."" Then, after more factories with glum workers and imminent robots, Bainbridge does find momentary pleasure in busy, cheerful Manchester, glowing with grand civic architecture. . . but hits bottom in her home-town: ""Someone's murdered Liverpool and got away with it""--the terrible schools and the ""vandalism"" of city planners blot out some childhood/theatrical reminiscences. (Though, ""to be fair, if the little houses and the communities have gone, so have the children with shaven heads and ragged clothes."") And so it goes--winding up at the unspeakable Milton Keynes development: ""a series of motorways circled by endless roundabouts, with the houses hidden behind clumps of earth."" Sour? Indeed. Even pretty, prosperous York fails to please. (""I hated the scotch wool shops, the tarted up butchers, the cute little school children. . . ."") But, as a quick grimace at England's architectural/lifestyle lows, this small book, with relief from a few charming vignettes, is plain and bracing.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1984
Publisher: Braziller