Monday, May 25, 2009

Keele Diary #18

If there is one thing for which this part of England is rightly famous, it is for its "potteries," which involve both the creation of just what the word indicates - pottery - but also china, crystal, and other fine glass and earthenware. The most famous of these potteries is Wedgwood, which was based right down the road from Keele. The Potteries were the source of much of the region's commerce, and while it created an artisan class in the region, it also served, as the Potteries became industrialized and geared toward mass production, to create a working class that too often was actually an underclass. Lung problems in particular have always been rife in the Potteries, which is a word that has come to describe working-class parts of the region, and to this day, life spans (and education levels, and a whole host of other social maladies) in the Potteries is markedly worse than elsewhere.

Yet whatever their mixed record for society (Josiah Wedgwood also was an ardent anti-slavery activist and was active in a host of what we might call progressive social causes) the products that came from Wedgwood are undeniably beautiful. I spent much of the afternoon -- the first absolutely beautiful day of my trip, warm and sunny and clear -- at Wedgwood yesterday with Axel Schafer, the director of the Bruce Centre and the closest thing I have to a host or sponsor here. We had lunch at Wedgwood, then went to the shop where I took care of the gifts that will allow me safe passage back in to to my home, and then spent a long time in the brand new museum facility, which houses thousands and thousands of examples of the craftsmanship that has defined Wedgwood products for 250 years.

From Wedgwood (after stopping in briefly to watch a local cricket match) we went on to a massive, lovely public garden. Flanked by a lake, as well as by an upscale shopping district that one must traverse in order to gain access to the gardens -- canny, that -- the area (Trentham, I believe) is a pretty good example of what was once upscale public amusement -- think of it as Disney for the Victorian set -- but that has increasingly become accessible to the masses. We did a great deal of walking, perambulating around the perimeter of the lake, as well as throughout the gardens along grassy footpaths and gravel paths, pausing to read the descriptions of the development of the park, going to an elevated stand to overlook the whole tableaux, checking out the merging of old architecture -- an ancient banquet hall exposed to the elements with the new craftsmanship of the garden layout.

From there it was off to the Sneyd Arms for a meal -- I had fish and chips -- and an ale, and then home, tired from the walking and happy for the sun's revitalization. Four days are left in my latest England adventure, and just three in Keele, with today my last full day to work before a friend rolls in for a couple of days, and then Thursday I tie off loose ends and drag myself and my bulky bags, which will be no lighter after a month here, to London and the multiple trains and tubes that will lead me to a hotel, to Heathrow, and eventually on to Texas.

Oh, and Happy Memorial Day. To any veterans who might be reading: Thank you for your sacrifice, your bravery, and the honor you do to our country.

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