Thursday, 13 October 2011

Spirit of Place in The Cushion Effect

   “All landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’” Lawrence Durrell knew the answer only too well. I wonder if it is possible in this current era, where idle travel is such a rare occurrence amidst the ADHD lives we live, to summon up the genius loci in place names. And is all our interest in the landscape encapsulated in the real estate agents' mantra: location, location, location?
   Of course we all have our prejudices, which colour our senses. For example if I mention Liverpool and London the majority of readers will conjure up two distinctly contrary cityscapes in their mind. The industry and commerce of Liverpool seem of an earlier age to the material aggrandisement we see in the capital. The former is marked by a current sense of deprivation in the contemporary mind’s eye, despite the efforts to renovate the city centre and the riverside frontage. The latter is seen as the burgeoning world city, despite the enormous differences between rich and poor and the sink estates that north, south, east and west scar many of the villages that make up the metropolis.
   So what, dear reader, will you make of the place names in The Cushion Effect? Perhaps it is better to not have heard of them, although this is far from likely.
   Does one start from a macro viewpoint and drill down as if in a Google map? Perhaps. So I focus on London, the Berkshire/Buckinghamshire border and Devon.
   In London we can drill down a level to neighbourhoods: the Barbican, Barnes, Belgravia, Chelsea, Clerkenwell, Fitzrovia, Maida Vale, Mayfair, North Finchley, Shepherd’s Bush, Smithfield, Soho and St James’s. Whereas in Berkshire it’s Cookham Dean, Lambourn and Maidenhead, and in Buckinghamshire it’s Bisham Abbey, Bourne End, Christmas Common, Marlow, Taplow and Stoke Poges. In Devon the scene is set almost exclusively in or close to the South Hams: Ashburton, Ashprington, Blackawton, Berry Pomeroy, Blackpool, Buckfastleigh, Cott, Compton, Cornworthy, Dartington, Dartmouth, Denbury, Dittisham, East Portlemouth, Kingsbridge, Kingswear, Salcombe, Torquay and Totnes.
   A further level down reveals the streetscape and the banks, clubs, churches, galleries, hotels, institutions, restaurants, pubs and shops. The London streets include: Beech Street, Bond Street, Brook Street, Chester Square, Culford Gardens, Edgeware Road, Fleet Street, Fulham Road, Great Sutton Street, Harley Street, Jermyn Street, King’s Road, Lots Road, Park Lane, Savile Row, Sloane Square and Sloane Street. Within them are the significant locations of the Chelsea School of Art and Design, the Royal Academy, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London School of Economics, St Paul’s School, Armani, The Blueprint Café, The Capital Hotel, Cerruti, Colefax and Fowler, The Connaught, Daphne’s, The Dorchester, Dover Street Wine Bar, El Vino, The Enterprise, Foyles, the Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery, The General Trading Company, Gucci, Hambros Bank, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, The Ivy, Joseph, Kensington Roof Gardens, Le Caprice, Lobb of St James’s, Marks & Spencer, Novelli's, Peter Jones, Prada, Le Pont de la Tour, The Savoy Grill, Searcy’s, Sloane Street, The Sutton Arms, Thomas Pink, The Ritz, Vivienne Westwood, Waitrose, Wasps RUFC and the 606 Club.
   In Devon as one might expect it’s the landscape and seascape as much as the institutions and edifices which take the attention. From the River Dart, Biddlehead Point, Bolt Head, Bolt Tail, Landcomb Cove, Mathew's Point, Mill Bay, Prawle Point, Start Bay, Start Point and Sunny Cove to Dartington College, Dartmouth Castle, Dartmouth Golf and Country Club, the Royal Dartmouth Yacht Club, the Royal Naval College, Salcombe RUFC, Totnes RUFC, the Arcturus Bookshop, AW Luscombe, the Fortescue Arms, the Royal Seven Stars Hotel, Sacks Wholefoods, The White Hart and the Willow restaurant.
   Further afield, more ephemerally in the context of this novel, are other UK settings in the Forest of Dean, in mid-Wales around Machynlleth and the Wirral. Overseas Canada, the original home of Leanne, the pivotal female character, features with locations in the hinterland of British Columbia centred on Penticton. In continental Europe Switzerland is the primary country considered focusing on Montreux and its environs in Valais and the Vaud.
   The Cushion Effect is rich not only in places but also in the characters who populate them. With the spirit of place one attempts to invoke an inviting imagery to be experienced. I hope you will come to enjoy it. 

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