Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Southwold: The importance of scale and place.


In spite of inclement weather (a phrase especially evocative of the place itself), I had a delightful weekend in Southwold. It is a coastal resort about which the usual temptation is to say that it is 'beautifully preserved' and indeed it does have the feel, walking through it, of a film set. At any moment David Suchet will wander round the corner as Hercule Poirot in search of hidden villainy behind the aspidistras.

However that would be to do it a disservice: what it appears to be is a community that works as a community; and, one that has exploited its charm and period feel to allow something dynamic and meaningful to be maintained. It undoubtedly has its shadows, no community does not, but if you looked about you there were admirable signs of life well-lived. There was the enthusiastic Liverpudlian who showed us around the church - an 'outsider' yet so clearly and deeply in love with the place and embraced by it. There was the well attended WEA course on Venice that my mother and I almost mistook for a coffee morning so deep were the audience in social interaction during their break, spilling onto the street! There was the well-attended church hall sale of fairly traded goods with proceeds to Christian Aid. There were the touches of self-referenced humour in the signage at the pier: we know this is a bit 'precious' it seemed to say but that is, of course, because, at another level, it is precious.

It reminded me of my mother's own home town - a scale sufficient to maintain a thriving social life without either being too suffocatingly small as to be intrusive or too large to lose connectivity. You could both hide and be found in such a place and that it seems to me is a perfect scale.

Southwold is, of course, enhanced by its location against the sea - a harsh sea that gives the place an edge - though when we were there it was grey green and placid - and a sky: a horizon of soaring light against which the clouds play revealing and obscuring games. There is nothing like a body of water to confer life on a place: a sense of renewing abundance.

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