Six-thirty am Sunday 25th September. It was a late night last night but despite this I was awake in a Reading hotel room, feeling tired yet ready to start a new day. As it was likely that I’d be the only person up and about for a while I dressed and left the hotel for a wander. No plan as such although I wasn’t going to stray too far from our hotel not least in case the wife woke and wanted an early breakfast!
I wandered out of the front door and took my first lung full of the chilly Sunday morning air. Left, right or straight on? Left was previously unexplored but would take me away from the centre towards mainly residential streets. Straight on had already been “done” over the previous two days so I crossed the road and turned right along the dual carriageway.
The moment I cross the road I am aware that the sun is just peeping above the buildings behind me to my right. It is dark under the flyover although the sun filters in through gaps in the infrastructure creating slashes of light against the industrial detritus to my left. These are the backs of the flashy restaurants that line the River Kennet hereabouts and are a place of shadows, dark recesses, industrial-sized fans and concrete. In the morning light though they are irresistible. Well, irresistible to an urban photographer at least.
These too are for me the Edges. The places where man’s interactions with the land are most obvious. Here the glittering glass and chrome of the restaurants that border the land is replaced by concrete, tarmac and steel and the colour palette moves towards dull black and battleship greys. These are places where most folk hurry past unless they have business there. There is nothing for them here. Suddenly, a flash of light catches my eye as an anonymous grey door opens and someone, presumably a cleaner, momentarily appears in the light before it is extinguished as abruptly as it appeared.
Moving slowly on up the dual carriageway I turn left and find myself at another intersection. This is where the periphery of the City centre shops and the flashy newer Oracle Centre almost touch hands. Its another edge seemingly. The Grosvenor Casino on the corner, dated yet neon-bright, stands sentinel. To its right the old bridge over the River Kennet. From here it is heading steadily to its appointment with the mighty River Thames above Sonning Lock here in the heart of Reading.
Here the rising sun is poking a wary finger through, lighting up the pedestrian crossing. Sun flare and haze greets the eye before the tree branches part slightly and the rising sun briefly assaults the eyes. I check my watch. It’s the first major decision. Do I cross the old bridge and wander down into the city centre shops? It would make for a longer walk hence checking my watch. On balance I decided to turn left and wander down into the newer Oracle Centre that straddles the River Kennet at this point.
It’s Sunday morning, nowhere is open and it is a lot quieter than it had been last night as we had gone in search of some supper. Here too the sun is filtering through gaps in the buildings creating patches of light. It is also reflecting back from the chrome and glass to create similar splashes of light on the opposite side of the river.
As I stroll through the riverside cafes my footsteps slow. I suddenly realise that my decision to turn left was made not by my checking of the watch but by a subconscious desire for a hit of caffeine. I realise that I am actually looking for a coffee shop that might be open at 8am on a Sunday. Starbucks, Costa and Caffè Nero are all resolutely shut as are the independents in the main concourse. Nothing is open it seems and it’s looking as if I will have to wait until I get back to the hotel. Then as I walk past the automatic doors of a seemingly dark and closed McDonalds they slide invitingly open and my sub-conscious quest for coffee is over.
I’m definitely sub-optimal this morning. The beer, red wine, casino and a late-night chicken supper weigh heavily on this sexagenarian so the coffee is welcome. I pay my 99p, take the proffered paper cup and retreat to a window seat. My first instinct is to have a look at the images I’d just made but instead I opt for pen and paper and jot down the notes from which I am now writing twenty four hours later; images still unseen.
Sat there with a weak sun starting to warm the autumnal air, behind a large plate glass window, sipping hot coffee and putting down my thoughts on paper is a great way to start a day. I’ve a six-hour drive ahead of me later but for now all is good with the world.
As I’m sat there my eyes wander again to the patches of light on the opposite bank. I’ve crossed the river so what I am seeing isn’t direct sunlight but the reflections from this monument to retail commerce and consumption. I’m inexorably drawn to these patches of light. These too represent the margins, the Edges as I dubbed them in paragraph four. The places at which man’s interaction with the landscape is most visibly displayed. Not in terms of big landscapes though, but more intimate scenes where the man-made meets the natural. Where, in this case, the river has been channelled and tamed by man to enable him to create the centre that I have been happily wandering through this morning.
It may not be on a grand scale but these little vignettes, for me at least, are where man’s impact on the natural world is most apparent. In these intimate, seemingly insignificant interactions I can see most clearly man’s hand at work.