I had an appointment today in Denton, about 8 miles from home. As I was making my way there and back, I reflected on how different my life is here as a pedestrian versus in the US as a driver. There are pros and cons to both, actually; there are things I will miss when I finally do get my UK license and car. I will, however, enjoy having more free time.
For my 10:35 am appointment, I set off from home at 9:00 am, and made it exactly on time. I walked the mile from home to the Glossop train station, then took the train to Guide Bridge, and then walked the mile and a half to my appointment. I did get to see the beautiful sunrise this morning (while I was getting ready), and I got to be outside properly and enjoy the sunshine that hung around all day (being in a car just isn’t the same). On the way home, I was able to slow down and see what shops there were, and I discovered a fantastic one that I would’ve driven right past and never known about or visited – it has no parking, like most shops here. I was able to feel the atmosphere of Denton, Audenshaw, and Guide Bridge (parts of Tameside, the next borough to the west), instead of passing it by in the blink of an eye, never experienced.
Indeed, I’ve ridden in cars and buses through Tameside quite a few times, but never experienced it like I did today. I walked one way to my appointment and a different way back from it, but both ways found me surrounded by masses of red brick buildings. I get bored sometimes of all the stone in Glossop, but I have to say, the red brick was very mildly depressing. After I got home, Chris helped me put my finger on it: it’s institutional-feeling. It’s evocative of base housing, housing estates, and the like.
On the way home, I realized what else was missing once the train got to Broadbottom: green. We Glossopians talk about how we can see the hills around us from almost everywhere in town so much that I forgot what it was like to not have it. I realized that part of the feeling besieging me today was from the lack of nature: it was all flat; just buildings, buildings, and more buildings – very nearly all red brick. To rub salt in the wound, there were quite a few little signs of neglect creeping in – paint needed here, a mending of the footpath needed there – that sap the residents’ pride in where they live. I imagined what it must be like to live there …
Much ado is made in the local press, at least, about Tameside’s lower than national average longevity, worse health issues, etc. My immediate reaction to hearing something is lower than average is always dismissal: by definition, half the data points are lower than average. Duh. Tell me instead what the spread is, where this data point lies (how many standard deviations from x̄?), and whether it’s large enough to be concerned about on this particular occassion. They never do. I also want to know how much of this problem is caused by people not wanting to get things checked out because they might end up at Tameside Hospital, with all its myriad problems (absolutely no sense of respect for patients or patient dignity whatsoever, from my personal and secondhand experience, plus the higher than expected mortality rates – though after so much number-jiggling it’d take Charlie Eppes to find the truth).
Today, however, I began to wonder if the cumulative effect of living in that environment bears some responsibility for the poorer health of our neighbors.
My family and friends back in the US have often asked why I don’t move closer to Manchester, if that’s where the paid work is, and if any commute I might have is likely to be on the order of 1-1.5 hours each way. Anywhere closer to Manchester is Greater Manchester, which Tameside is part of – and Tameside’s largely no different from the rest of Greater Manchester. It’s flat, it’s faraway from nature, it’s crowded, it’s generally showing signs of neglect, it’s generally higher crime, and so on. That’s a large part of why I live where I live.
Life’s too short to be miserable in your surroundings. Having hit upon a place that, quite the opposite of making me miserable, sits right in my soul – such a rarity – I’m keeping hold of it as hard as I can, as long as I can. The community, the people, the land – it all just clicks for me.
All that said, however, I do sure miss driving sometimes. A car could’ve halved the trip time on this occassion (but only because it wasn’t during rush hour).