It’s worth pointing out up front that the man in the picture is not looking at me like that because I made the pun in the title of this post out loud in his presence. And nor, I suspect, is he sad because Shakespeare is dead (though that’s the grave right there). That’s actually just what he looks like.
I decided to go for a walk this morning to shake the cobwebs loose and get the writing juices flowing (not that I had actual cobwebs or secrete actual juices – some metaphors should not be thought about at length).
I strolled off in a familiar direction and found myself once again down at Trittiford Mill Pond, which I like because it’s a good distance away, is reasonably pretty and contains a heron that I’ve seen each time I’ve visited but have as yet been unable to take a halfway decent picture of. And still no joy on that front.
As I was on a bit of a roll, instead of circling the pond and heading back, I crossed the road and made my way into The Dingles for a further hike. And for the record, English parkland needs cooler names. There’s nothing intrepid and adventuresome about ‘The Dingles’, no matter how rugged the terrain (not very, actually).
But before I get too far along that path, I think to myself ‘Just over there is the Yardley Wood rail station. That line goes straight to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It’s been ages since I’ve been to Stratford.’
And since I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, ten minutes later I was on a train to the home of Shakespeare.
I had my laptop in my backpack and coffee in my flask, and with those two important ingredients, managed to get a bit of writing done on the way down. Wait – is coffee ‘writing juice’?
The trip was worthwhile for the journey alone. Spring is really starting to kick in here in the Midlands. Not only was there a good amount of green to be seen, but the countryside was also full of baby animals: lambs, foals, kids (baby goats, I mean), and I even saw a baby deer standing in a meadow, close to the railway tracks. The train driver slowed right down especially, I think so as not to frighten it. Really.
Even so, I was not quick enough to take a picture. Wildlife cameraphone photography apparently not my strong suit.
I had no particular agenda upon arrival, so I simply strolled along the historic streets, beside the famous river and around in a lazy circle about the small town. Took a couple of photos of buildings because they stand still for you. This one’s the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Along the way, I encountered swarms of young French tourists (a school trip, I guessed) and elderly American ones. I was queried by local high school students out doing a survey of tourists for a class project about how I rated the various aspects of the city’s features on a scale of one to five, though as the pair seemed incredibly uncertain whether 5 was excellent or terrible, I stayed with a safe 3 for everything.
And I visited the grave of Shakespeare, which I had not done before. It was both impressive and disappointing, for reasons I can’t quite put into words. There was altogether too much religious pomp and symbolism associated with the site (though, yes, it was a church) which made it seem that he had perhaps been sainted – a part of his biography I was not familiar with. And his grave was adjacent a bunch of other people’s associated by marriage and profession, which seemed to downplay his accomplishments somewhat.
It seemed altogether fitting that he should be lain beside his wife. Less so that other members of his extended family should get the same stately treatment. And the fact that there were a couple of other writers right next door seemed – I don’t know – disrespectful.
Still, the guy’s dead. He’s not fussed. And he’s still providing reasons for elderly gentlemen to have employment explaining things to visitors, keeps the local florists in a roaring trade and provides local schools with a tenuous basis for activities to send their students out into the streets with clipboards and give the teachers a bit of a break.
I didn’t stay long in Stratford. Long enough for a bite to eat and a couple of circuits of the high street – and enough time to change my mind about buying a lovely but overpriced volume of sonnets from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
But I probably ended up writing more of my journal article than I would have had I just headed back home from the mill pond. I don’t know if I was inspired by the bard, energised by the extra hiking or whether there’s just something about going places on trains, but I typed more useful words than I usually manage in a morning, so that was helpful.
I kept an eye out for that deer on the way back, iPhone at the ready, just in case – but it had moved on. This picture of the silhouette of a duck was about as good as it got.