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B2homas
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A12 PhD Research
« on: Jul 18th, 2020, 2:26pm »
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Hi all,  
 
My name is Ben and I’m a PhD student in Creative Writing at Brunel University London. I’m currently in the process of walking the complete length of the A12 – from Blackwall to Lowestoft – as part of my research and studies. This might sound unusual and you’re probably thinking “why?”. Well it follows in the footsteps of earlier studies of routes, such as author Iain Sinclair’s M25 book – “London Orbital” and is entangled with the idea of psychogeography.  
 
Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by French Situationist Guy Debord as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals." For me, it is about accessing what turns a space into a place. And for the A12 it is about understanding its history and importance throughout a non-fictional piece. My work also has a focus on people who have moved out of London into East Anglia and why they have chosen to do this. It has also newly, somewhat “forced-hand” focus on how walking has been changed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  
 
The result of the walk will be a 100-thousand-word creative non-fiction thesis on the road and my discoveries along it – with a view to this hopefully being published as a book afterwards. I’m looking for people’s opinions and anecdotes on the road – whether you’ve lived near to it, commuted along it for years or have a business situated on it. Negative or positive I would love to hear any stories – they may influence where I walk, what I write or what I research.
 
My email for any correspondence is benjaminjames.thomas@brunel.ac.uk. Feel free to send over any questions if you wish to know more about my research and walk.
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ScribblesAgain
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #1 on: Jul 18th, 2020, 7:09pm »
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Is that walk even possible? There are long stretches of the road where there are no pedestrian pavements and you'll be either run over or arrested for your own safety.  Even in the out-of-town sections where there is a grass verge, it's very narrow and I can't imagine you'd feel or be safe, Take a look at Google Earth; for example, the sections between Old Ford and Wanstead or Romford and the M25 and you'll see what I mean.
 
I'm trying to work out your chances of still being alive after attempting to cross some of the on- and off-slips, too.  
 
Maybe you're using the term 'A12' loosely and your intention is to make the journey along minor roads and footpaths which approximately parallel the A12?  
 
I lived in Essex for well over 40 years but have no particular observations about the road except it's a pain in the posterior on summer weekends north of Wickham Market where the dual carriageway ends.
 
Not sure I really 'get' the business of psychogeography, anyway. Surely, what turns a space into a place is people? If there's a nameless tract of empty land and I build a house on it, then that land becomes Scribblesplace. If other settlers join me and build more houses, it's no longer simply my place and folk need another way to describe it so they use a landscape feature or something else notable. Thus the location becomes known as New Port or Oak Field or some such thing and a place is born. Or is that too simplistic?
 
I think the psychogeography of places such as Ilford and Romford are probably more interesting in some ways.  Both were Essex towns until 1963 when, for reasons I never understood, they were lumped together with several other small places and re-labelled as part of new London boroughs with new names.
 
When I arrived in Ilford in 1972, (I'm an east Midlander) I had no idea that, politically, it was no longer Ilford, Essex (as my address appeared on the envelope containing the LB of Redbridge's rates demand!). All these years later, seeing news reports which refer to Ilford, east London, still grate on my nerves although I know it's illogical. During the course of several decades, I realised that it's mostly a generational thing: anyone born after the early 60s has always known it's the London Borough of Redbridge and, if asked where they're from, will probably say "north east London". Those slightly older will probably still say "Ilford, Essex" or, through gritted teeth, "metropolitan Essex".
 
To my mind, smallish towns like Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford lost much of their unique identity when they were forcibly lumped together and obliged to assume a new, amorphous shape as a borough. They'd managed perfectly well as neighbouring towns but they were very different and, forced together, whose identity should they adopt?  
 
Sorry, I've rambled on a bit but Ilford and Romford are beside the A12 so it's fairly relevant.  Smiley
 
PS. Not my business really but I am intrigued by the notion of a doctorate in creative writing.  As a person who earned a living as a creative writer for many years with nowt more than O-level English, I'm wondering .. well, why?
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B2homas
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #2 on: Jul 19th, 2020, 10:02am »
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Hi Scribbles,
 
Firstly, thank you for a really detailed, interesting, inquisitive reply. You are right in thinking that the A12 has been used as a rough guide for the route. I’ve tried to stick along the road where safe and possible. For instance, between Newbury Park to Romford there was pavement. But for other sections I have diverted off the road to walk parallel – mostly along older original roads to London, or footpaths or even canals originally in London. Not only for safety, but for interests sake – sticking along the dual carriageway the entire length doesn’t offer much variation, so diverting off has offered me the chance to have the A12 as a constant spectre haunting me with its churning noise always not far away.
 
Could you tell me more on Wickham Market? The village has been mentioned in conversation a few times now!
 
You are along the right lines with psychogeography – people, architecture, the history of a space turns it into a place. Personal tales of an empty field from one person can turn a rather mundane space into a place bursting with history and tales to tell. However, it is also concerned with how a place can have a mental, behavioural, or emotional effect on a human – for instance, why might someone find the city’s massive population and traffic terrifying, whilst another may find it relaxing. You touch on this with your discussion on a identity crisis for those living in Ilford for example.  
 
I love your thoughts on Ilford and Romford, your “ramblings” – as you’ve put it – are exactly what I posted here for. I may be of a younger generation, but I remember being brought up believing those two towns were still a part of Essex. And much like yourself, I didn’t realise they were now considered “London” until researching into them. There’s a clash of culture and generations within these places. As I walked through from Stratford to Ilford, it barely felt as though there was any break between the settlements – it really does dawn on you how much London has eaten them up.
 
And good question on the creative writing PhD! Basically, my psychogeographic doctoral proposal caused a bit of a discussion at the university as to where I would fit in department wise. Originally, I was going to be put under the “English Literature” banner, but as my thesis was to be mostly a creative writing piece, it was decided I’d be put there. It’s mostly a title to me, I consider my PhD to be in psychogeography and situationism, rather than creative writing so say.  
discussion at the university as to where I would fit in department wise. Originally I was going to be put under the “English Literature” banner, but as my thesis was to be mostly a creative writing piece, it was decided I’d be put there. It’s mostly a title to me, I consider my PhD to be in psychogeography and situationism, rather than creative writing so say.  
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ScribblesAgain
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #3 on: Jul 19th, 2020, 1:52pm »
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Hi again, B2homas and thanks for clarifying the nature of your PhD.  
 
Alas, I can't tell you anything about Wickham Market as I can't recall ever having visited the place.  I mentioned it only because it's the nearest settlement to the traffic bottle-neck where the A12 narrows down from dual carriageway to single carriageway.  In summer, with the road full of holidaymakers and second home owners heading to and from the Suffolk coast and the Broads in addition to the ordinary local traffic and the odd tractor, it becomes one dreary, crawling tailback. Between there and Lowestoft, there are only, I think, three very short stretches of dual carriageway where there is any hope of passing the combine harvester, lumbering pantechnicon or Grandpa in his Austin 7 that is holding everything up. There is, simp!y, too much traffic for the road's capacity which means that otherwise pleasant villages such as Little Glemham and Farnham become a hell of traffic noise and fumes on sunny Sundays.  Oh, and then there's the annual Latitude festival at Henham Park when, unless you have life-or-death reasons for being in that part of Suffolk, you're better advised to stay away unless you enjoy watching other people's brake lights going on and off.
 
During the first few years of this century, while we were living in Ilford, my late OH often had to drive to work in both Lowestoft and Yarmouth. The A12 in summer was so dire that he generally preferred to take the much longer but ultimately faster route via the M11/A11/A47, even with the (then) bottleneck at Elvedon.
 
The reason I was once told for the A12 not being dualled along its whole length is, as you might have guessed, money.Throughout the early years of the 20th century, the entirety of A12 was classified as a Trunk road, a primary route, and the Ministry of Transport was responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, the MoT spent gazillions on the busier, southern, part of the road, building by-passes, creating dual carriageway and so on.  At this time, it was not considered vital to upgrade much of the Suffolk section because traffic was not perceived as so dense there and, also, there was a certain amount of local resistance to the idea of the countryside being swallowed up by a road.  
 
I think it was in the 1980s that someone in the Dept of Transport hit on the simple notion of saving the national taxpayer a lot of money and themselves a headache.  
 
The northern part of the road seriously needs upgrading? There's local opposition which would involve us in a decade or more of public enquiries and, probably, demos and general unpleasantness? OK, we have lots of new motorways and things elsewhere to keep us busy so let's hand management of the A12, north of Wickham Market, to Suffolk County Council. They can consult their residents and, if an upgrade is required and popular, they can build it. If its not, then they needn't bother...
 
Inevitably, even if 99% percent of Suffolk electors voted for it, the County Council will never, ever have the cash for such an upgrade and so 21st century traffic is still crawling along a road not much changed since the days of Blind Jack of Knaresborough.
 
As regards the changing nature of places, you might want to take a look at some of the Suffolk coastal towns such as Aldeburgh, Southwold and Walberswick. None of them are on the A12 but all are connected to it via roads which are not currently fit for present day traffic and all of them have been irrevocably changed thanks to the second home owners who make their way up and down the A12.  I have close friends just outside Southwold and they and their neighbours are ambivalent about the benefits and disbenefits these weekenders bring. (Ironically, my friends were second home owners, hurtling up and down the A12 every Friday to Sunday, but liked the Southwold area so much that they moved there permanently.)
 
I hope you derive pleasure as well as useful knowledge from your long walk (and am delighted that it's not, in the main, going to be along the A12 itself). Good luck with the thesis and I'll look out for the spin-off book.
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Jamlamont
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #4 on: Jul 22nd, 2020, 3:24pm »
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What an interesting post! Although I've nothing to offer information-wise, it's a great subject and, hailing from the area, I'd certainly be interested in seeing your book when it is published.
 
Safe journey - don't forget your multiple face masks and gloves and/or hand sanitiser!
 
 Grin
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B2homas
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #5 on: Jul 23rd, 2020, 8:37pm »
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Fascinating to hear that a commuter of almost the full length of the A12 has indeed existed. This was a discussion I was having with my module supervisor – we did wonder if it were common for a London to Lowestoft or opposite commute.  
 
I enjoyed your in-depth thoughts on the political nature of the road’s state. I have done some reading recently on how political and social aspects can alter architecture, and from what you are saying I can clearly see that it can also alter the highway system. You are correct in the northern parts of the A12, I have just reached the area on my walk and it is significantly less looked after than areas around Colchester, Ipswich etc.  
 
Thank you again for your replies, they have been enjoyable, fascinating reading and exactly the responses I wished to hear. It is always a worry that research such as mine could be ignored or joked about, but seeing such thoughtful, detailed replies from yourself have eradicated any worries. I’ll be sure to keep you updated! Only two more legs to go and then the writing begins!
 
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B2homas
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #6 on: Jul 23rd, 2020, 8:38pm »
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on Jul 22nd, 2020, 3:24pm, Jamlamont wrote:
What an interesting post! Although I've nothing to offer information-wise, it's a great subject and, hailing from the area, I'd certainly be interested in seeing your book when it is published.
 
Safe journey - don't forget your multiple face masks and gloves and/or hand sanitiser!
 
 Grin

 
Thank you for your reply, it is great to hear that the topic has caught people's attention! I'll be sure to keep you updated on how the writing is going.
 
Alas I have been walking with a bag full of them! Strange times we live in right now, although they have added a whole new layer to the narrative.
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ScribblesAgain
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #7 on: Jul 24th, 2020, 12:22am »
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on Jul 23rd, 2020, 8:37pm, B2homas wrote:
Fascinating to hear that a commuter of almost the full length of the A12 has indeed existed. This was a discussion I was having with my module supervisor – we did wonder if it were common for a London to Lowestoft or opposite commute.  

 
It wasn't an everyday commute.  Mr Scribbles was a commissioning engineer with a cable tv/broadband company and his working week took him to anywhere there was a major project going on so he might be in Lowestoft for a couple of days, then Portsmouth or Leicester, then back to Lowestoft. Fortunately, in the main, he enjoyed driving!
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B2homas
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Re: A12 PhD Research
« Reply #8 on: Aug 6th, 2020, 2:44pm »
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Glad to hear it wasn't an everyday commute! That would have been maddening!
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