Monthly Archives: January 2017

On the line – No man’s land # 2

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

img_0039For 25 years, I’ve lived in a kind of no man’s land, on the boundary between Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Home is Royston, which also happens to sit on the Meridian Line alongside a wealth of other intriguing geographical and historical features including, some say, ley lines.

Royston hasn’t always been wholly in Hertfordshire. The county moved north in 1890s.  The northern boundary is now the A505 – a major east-west artery linking the M11 and M1 – which was upgraded north of Royston by, among others, a civil engineer friend from my school days in York.

When we moved to Royston from Hackney (the second highest home insurance bracket in the country) the estate agent told us we were moving to the second lowest insurance bracket. He unhelpfully said we’d have paid even less house insurance had it not been for our SG8 postcode connection with Stevenage 15 miles to the south.

The estate agent’s local knowledge might not be 100% trustworthy; he failed to mention a town asset that I regard as one of its greatest – the jewel in the crown – which is not as clichéd as it may sound given Royston’s royal connections.

We had bought our house by the time we discovered Therfield Heath – 143 hectares of open grassland, woodland, and managed landscape which entertains golfers, teams of young and not-so-young sport enthusiasts, walkers, revellers, and runners of all ages and abilities. The area was designated as ‘common land’ in 1888 – which some regard as a historical first in environmental legislation.

On reflection, my love of off-road running and the places it’s taken me physically and emotionally probably explains my affection for Therfield Heath.

If the 353 acres of Therfield Heath isn’t enough, it’s also an area of Special Scientific Interest, a Local Nature Reserve, and it boasts a scattering of barrows (ancient burial mounds) burrows (the rabbits breed like… rabbits) and rare purple Pasqueflowers. In olden days, the Heath was the hunting ground for King James 1 – whose former palace is an understated building in the town centre (with the Royal Buttery a listed fish and chip shop alongside).  The Royal connection extends to the local community cinema – the Royston Picture Palace – the winning name in a competition three years ago.img_0029

Travelling the 43 miles south to London non-stop by train is just 35 minutes, making Royston a predominantly commuter town. When the line out of Kings Cross was first electrified in 1850, Royston was the furthest commuters could escape from London without needing to change trains (this was extended to Cambridge in 1866) so the transient element of the town’s population is easily explained. I was one of those commuters for six years, spending much of that time in yet another kind of no man’s land – suspended between home and work.

Some literary trivia for trainspotters – Royston Station is mentioned in the novel ‘About a Boy’ by Nick Hornby, and another bestselling author, Bill Bryson, writes about “a [rail] depot at Royston or some place equally desperate and unwelcome”. I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt – that he was referring to the depot, not the town – because I love his books.

In fact, we don’t have a rail depot in Royston, but we do have Johnson Matthey (JM) one of only two significant employers in the town. I was once told there was more gold in Royston than the Bank of England thanks to JM – a company that deals in precious metals. This was not quite true, but Royston did have the world’s second biggest gold refinery until a decade ago when it closed after 200 years.

If Royston’s very own yellow brick road has attracted commuters to start and end journeys there for decades, then its location has made it a place for stopping, resting, refreshing and moving on for traders and travellers for centuries. Being at the crossing of two ancient thoroughfares – Icknield Way east-west (now the A505) and Ermine Street south-north (A10 from London and A1198 to Huntingdon) – gives the market town its reason for being. It also explains the 48 inns and pubs that flourished until as recently as 1900. Sadly, there are now 40 fewer pubs in the town.

img_0042The ancient crossroad location may also explain Royston’s bell-shaped underground cave, in the centre of the town – adorned with mysterious carvings and possibly used as a secret meeting place for Knights Templars (members of a medieval Catholic military order).

Officially, the real origins of the Royston Cave are a mystery which, of course, makes a good story to entice visitors. This is handy as Royston residents seem to know very little about it; many have walked over the cave for decades on their way to the shops without ever venturing underground. The exception is the local cave expert who lived at the bottom of our garden (in a house, not a cave) for many years.  I suspect she knows the real origins of the Royston Cave but, despite my considering her a friend, she’s not letting on like she’s signed the Official Secrets Act.

Another theory is that the Cave is located at the intersection of two ley lines. I was at a meeting recently when someone suggested the lines could explain the loss of radio signals at that point in town. I countered that it was probably the broadcasts from race courses around the country feeding results into the two betting shops also at the crossroads. Not so romantic an explanation perhaps, but nobody knows – it remains a mystery.

To be continued….

For other blogs in the ‘No man’s land’ series click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/no-mans-land

Green and Grey Repurpose – Soap Sock

My mum used to complain “nothing gets better, it only gets worse”. That may make her sound like a pessimist but she wasn’t; she was a lifelong Liberal (and reluctantly a Lib Dem) so she knew all about living hopefully.

I was thinking that paid-for car-washing was going the same way – paying more for an automated and inferior job. Then Eastern European migrant workers came over to wash and polish our cars within an inch of their lives – reviving the fashion for hand-washes.

To encourage this trend for hand-car-washing, I’m kicking off this new series of blogs on re-purposing and hacking, with a new use for an unwanted item of clothing.

img_0012What do you do with a single holey sock that’s beyond darning but too good to throw out? You can turn it into a Soap Sock for cleaning and polishing – cars, cutlery, candlesticks, and other things beginning with ‘c’.

The woolier the sock the better – old bed socks and slipper socks are ideal, woollen walking socks come close, but any holey, wooly sock will do. Ankle socks work better img_0014than stockings but the longer sock can be doubled over if necessary making your soap sock even more absorbent.

Try the sock for size – it should  fit over your hand … like a glove. If it’s a bit loose around your wrist you can keep it in place with one of the rubber bands that posties drop around your front door.                                                                                       img_0020Using your soap sock is easy. For a car wash, you slip the sock over your hand, plunge both into a bucket of hot ‘wash and wax’ water, then caress the body (of the car) as if exfoliating your own contours. Be sure not to miss those awkward little nooks and crannies – particularly around the wheel hubs.

img_0022If washing other surfaces, you can tuck some of those annoying left over slivers of hand soap inside your sock ,so it lathers from within when you dip your hand into the clean water. For polishing jobs, slipper socks work well inside out.

A final tip, if you’re cleaning a tiled/vinyl floor, you can wear two soap socks and shuffle around the room without needing to bend down – my kind of housework.

An afterthought – washing your car is a good opportunity to say ‘hello’ to passers-by and for getting to know your neighbours – even better if you offer to wash their car as well…

Further reading:  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/whats-the-purpose