Thursday, March 16, 2006

Jumbo, desolate pigeon, backs of houses

The word, jumbo, no longer applies strictly to elephants - it was apparently the name of a particular, very large zoo elephant sold in 1882, and from that has come to mean anything large. But for me, it has always had an almost exclusive elephant meaning. The word sounds like an elephant. Jumbo jets, I can just accept: if an elephant became an airliner, that is what it would look like. But I still find it odd and amusing to see food producers and manufacturers use the term for such products as eggs and sausages. Today, I see in the supermarket a package of chicken legs described as "jumbo legs".

The 1930s cinema in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, together with a tawdry row of shops is to be pulled down next month. There is to be no new cinema on the site, which, particularly seen from the side, is one of complete, urban desolation. A passage behind the shop is scattered with layers of plastic rubbish, bottles, slates, broken bricks, soggy newspaper and carboard boxes and all the other horrible detritus that discarded buildings seem to attract. The only vegetation consists of the skeletons of dead, buddleias , which have tried and failed to get a life. The only living thing that I can see as I walk past is a sad pigeon sitting in a window embrasure: no pheonix, though maybe a hopeless substitute.

The backs of terrace houses, which you usually see from the front, tell a contrasting story. They are encumbered by a jumble of lean-tos and conservatories, and other excrescences which do not connect with the polite and conventional front-doors, ambitious steps, porches and curtained, bay-windows, on the other side. Looking across from the lower part of Little Mount Sion to the back of Warwick Park, as I walk up the hill from the High Street, it occurs to me that the backs of houses are like the inside of people's minds, not meant to be, and possibly better not, looked at.

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