I was recently in Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, but I didn’t find the place quite as you might imagine. It wasn’t all picture postcard beautiful with a poet reciting on each corner or with cafes packed with wannabe bards.
But it did get me thinking.
What I did find in Stratford was the following:
1. A lot of Mercedes Benz cars. Not the small ones, the really big ones and more AMGs than you could sake a stick at. I’m not against these well crafted German automotive chariots but they seemed a little bit out of keeping with the area. Stratford is near Coventry and Birmingham once the heartland of the British car industry. Shouldn’t the latter day Shakespeare at least be driving a Jag and showing some loyalty? Maybe but they’re built on Merseyside now.
2. It wasn’t all half timbered. On the fringes, where my budget hotel was, the ubiquitous sprawl of modern industrial and retail units could have made the place anywhere. Still they’d made an effort with the new housing estate, “Minstrel Park”. Well, at least with the names. The red brick and render buildings were out of the standard pattern book. It’s as if they didn’t want to make an effort but surely that could be forgiven with the street names – Hamlet Way and Cordelia Close? A bit tragic really.
3. Walking along the canal where the moorhens had to paddle past the discarded coffee cups the architecture was little better. I stopped to inspect something glistening – not gold but some discarded cider tins bobbing in the murky waters.
4. What did redeem the place was the RSC Theatre. This thirties red brick modernist piece would not be everyone’s favourite. What struck me was it’s singularity of purpose and the way that it has been recently extended. The remodelling blends with the original as well as honestly pointing out the process of change. You can see where an old staircase had been for example. The past isn’t buried.
This last bit is what got me thinking. We can view ourselves in the same way. We can destroy our own past and be untrue to our values. We can become anonymous and bland going with the flow or we can be bold and continue to adapt recognising where we have come from, what is central to out identity and keeping this intact against the temptation to be swamped by the easy life.
The question is therefore what do we need to do respect ourselves and keep intact and what do we need to ward off?
In case you were wondering the Bard himself would have driven a Benz. A quick reread of the Merchant of Venice and Portia’s famous speech tells us all we need: “The quality of Mercedes is not strained…”