Pavements and Lids

by James Hamilton


I n these odd times one notices odd things:

when I walked towards the village today the wide variety in the tarmacs caught my eye.

Pavements on Church Street have arcs made by a swinging spreading-brush, something perhaps like detectorists’ equipment, but with a dollop of tarmac juice on the end. These arcs were laid about ten years ago to make a non-slip surface after the council had torn up the last length of mediaeval stone causeway near the crossroads. They were very, very black at first, but have mellowed to a modulated grey.

On the High Street the pavements are another shade of pale grey, like the hide of elephant herd in dappled sunlight. The road surface is rougher and darker, with yet darker scars cutting across where broadband cables have gone in. The yellow lines at the edges are egg custard colour, paler, the colour of the custard when Granny used too much milk and not enough eggs.

The utility lids on the pavement are of a compelling variety. There are new ones in plastic with ‘Water’ or ‘Cable’ on them, older ones with ‘Post Office Telephones’ cast into their edges, surrounded by a double-dotted line. These are large and rectangular and have concrete smoothed within their borders. Sometimes the lids congregate like a family group: there are three together offering water opposite the Baptists. The larger cast iron cover at the School Road junction has a charming smooth patination created by cars making the corner turn for decades, and by buses hauling themselves up the hill. Its ancient runes are barely legible: ‘Broad & Co Ltd’. It has three ear-lugs, like Mickey Mouse sticking his tongue out. Nearby is ‘A. C. Woodrow & Co London’, then ‘Stanton plc Ductile’, ‘DAV Oxford Water’ and ‘Peter Savage SlideOut’, neat, fragmentary messaging, curt, like text-speak.

In the mid-1970s the artist Tom Phillips RA closely observed the standpipe lids in the pavement along his daily walk from home to studio in London. He photographed each one and made a screenprint of the sixty-four laid together. You can see Tom's screenprint here.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

SEE ALSO by James Hamilton:
In Praise of Cow Parsley
An Extraordinary Journey
Nocturne
Blossom Fortnight
Pavements and Lids
There's Much Yet to Celebrate

James Hamilton is a resident of the village of Kidlington, Oxfordshire. He is a curator, writer and lecturer, who entered the University of Manchester 1966 to read Mechanical Engineering, and emerged in 1971 with a degree in History of Art.

James is also a biographer and has written on Turner, Faraday, and Gainsborough.

Visit James' website here.

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