My friend Richard Willis recently posted the complete text of his essay Swindon Orbital on his blog. I proofread one of the earlier versions and over the weekend read the latest, which includes some great photographs. I've never visited Swindon, and possibly never will, but the essay was still fascinating, showing how much significance there is in even the most mundane and unpromising of locations.
The essay mixes an account of a tour of Swindon with history, myth and "anti-wisdom", as well as references including the Prisoner, the Usual Suspects, Theseus, the Aztecs and James Bond, the Marie Celeste and Stonehenge. There's also a weird sense of threat as the figure of the pentangle and the circle keep reappearing through time and space.
"swindon, you see, has long been acknowledged by the necessarily objective market research industry
to be, more than any other place, a microcosm of the united kingdom. it is statistically 'average',
meaning that when organisations want to know how well new schemes, promotions and products
will work across the country as a whole, they bring them to swindon to petri-dish them first. the
uncomfortable fact is: swindon is the cracked mirror that the rest of the uk looks into."
Swindon Orbital stunned me with the implication that you could write something similar about any town in England. I imagine, given the time, even the wastelands of Harlow (where I lived for a few years) might deliver something wonderful.