Friday, August 19, 2011

Offa’s Dyke 8: Shrewsbury Shropshire

Clive of India in the market square

We still had most of the day free before getting to our ultimate destination of Welshpool, which was almost within walking distance anyway, as long as it wasn’t me walking. So we strayed a little further east into England to visit Shrewsbury, the largest town in these parts with any significant history. Telford to its east is a “New Town” more than twice the size, but is no older than me.

When I drove into the centre, following parking station signs, I found myself stuff in an inescapable traffic jam because of road works on the other side of the town centre. [ At this point in writing the post I found myself in a long rant about the idiocy of Shrewsbury’s town management, and now that I’ve got it off my chest I’m just going to shrink it down so you can skip over it:

The centre as I belatedly discovered is inside a loop of the River Severn, thus creating a large choke point. The combination of one way streets, bridges and INCOMPETENT CITY MANAGEMENT WHO DON’T MANAGE created a traffic nightmare. After forty-five minutes, I finally escaped into a parking lot but when my time was up two hours later, the situation had not abated – new traffic was coming into the centre without any signage or traffic wardens to warn people away. An ambulance trying to get to or from an emergency was seen trying to weave its way through many lanes of vehicles converging like glaciers on the other side of the peninsula made by the river loop. I went into the Information Centre and made the friendly suggestion that they contact the city traffic department, but I just got a beam of “I’m sure it’ll all sort itself out”. I couldn’t renew the car parking in the same lot so I spent another twenty-five minutes getting past the blockage and re-parked on the other side of a bridge and walked back in to get a haircut and finish my shopping. After I was finally done, the streets were still choked with exasperated motorists.

I just found
this article from January, which says “The strategy proposes the introduction of a new, advanced traffic light system that would "respond intelligently to traffic conditions". Another article suggests this problem has been around since the 1980s. Until then it seems that the city can’t be bothered to put up a static sign warning of severe delays. I suggest that people simply avoid Shrewsbury until it gives a toss about visitors. ]

Quantum Leap, Shrewsbury's Darwin Memorial

The last time we were beside the river Severn was at the start of the Offa’s Dyke trail at Sedbury Cliffs. Avoiding the noise and congestion of the central zone, we came down to a sliver of parkland by the river and found the above giant memorial to Shrewsbury’s most famous son, Charles Darwin. Quantum Leap was erected in 2009 during his bicentennial year. Fun fact: Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln.

The vaulting sculpture evokes so many ideas pertaining to Darwin’s work: a shell, the DNA helix, a dinosaur spine … even  a fruit fly larva arching before a leap. I’ve got memories of watching this in a science project on drosophila melanogaster that I did in early high school. Munson is shown sitting on a sabre-toothed tiger etched into a sequence of stones showing the changes in the animal kingdom over geological time.

The image of an iguanadon (top right) also caught my eye. When I was eight and reporting very good results at the end of my school year,  my father uncharacteristically greeted me at the school gate with a surprise gift. It was one of those huge lavishly illustrated volumes that Reader’s Digest does rather well, covering geology and palaeontology. It was a book I returned to many times during my school years. There was a line-drawing of an iguanodon which inspired me to write a poem about if for school when I was 9 or 10. Those few years, fed by a my personal little library and some other volumes from the town library, were probably some of the happiest years of my life. I remember lying on my bedroom floor surrounded by maybe a half-dozen open books and losing myself in all of history, science and literature for hours at a time.

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