My Dad once told me off for looking down as I walked. He thought it showed a lack of confidence, a shambling man of the future maybe, losing his way in life, pushing a tartan shopping trolley. Yet I was looking at sycamore keys as they gathered below the kerbs, some washing towards the drains, others interlocking, making knots, arboreal daisy-chains.
My gaze in cities is up; previous generations put detail into their upper storeys that today we shun as wasted effort, wasted cost. Elaborate Ruabon brick patterns in Manchester, mock terracotta facades in Birmingham, or iridescent tiles in Mortimer Street. Cupolas and pediments, often out of eye line; leading, curved and cut in flowing patterns, visible only to pigeons and skyscraper window cleaners.
Yet there is merit in the downward glance too; wrought iron manhole covers proudly pronouncing their manufacturer. Thick glass tiles too, like old NHS glass lenses, which remind me of ‘Dan Dann, a lavatory man’ in Carry on Screaming, for whom the tiles gave him his only natural light*. But most of all, I’m intrigued by the mason’s marks on kerbstones. Maltese crosses, diamonds, arrows, capital letters, even rune like symbols. Were these early advertising? Merely a symbol of pride? Or perhaps a record for payment purposes?
*That is, until Oddjob bopped him on the head and made his world go dark.