We are all paying more attention to the familiar than ever before. The lockdown is making psychogeographers of us all, walking familiar paths with new levels of intensity, experimenting with new routes and unfamiliar trails, all in the name of fulfilling our daily government sanctioned exercise. Escaping the shackles of our homes for those fortunate enough not to have to shield or quarantine completely has become for many of us an essential daytime ritual. Our modes of movement and engagements with others have changed too. Crossing the road to avoid someone has become an act of polite kindness. The pavements have become enlivened with chalk, colourful expressions of home-schooling, support for key workers. Hopscotch is back in fashion. Windows and doors have become adorned by rainbows, thank you notes, messages for those who venture outside on our behalf. The pavements have become assemblages of discarded coronavirus protection, blue rubber gloves discarded here and there, officially approved single-use plastics. The urban landscape around us is slowly changing, and we are documenting this on foot, through smart phones, navigating this new world with a mixture of curiosity, fear, and nostalgia.
Covid-19 is making us walk differently.
It was on just such a recent walk that I encountered, literally six minutes’ walk from where I live in Airdrie, a rather special modern standing stone, set within a stone circle of smaller blocks, all bisected by a footpath.
This sturdy megalith is adorned with a palimpsest of graffiti in multiple colours and hands. These obscure phrases, such as the prominent Jobby Josh MS hint at invective sprayed onto rock, letters shaking with anger (or laughter). Rushed sentiments, two word autobiographies, befitting a crime scene on a public path with many possible witnesses.
The stone circle is almost lost amidst vegetation, its legibility compromised by the pathway. Beside the standing stone focal point, these smaller stones seem almost after-thoughts, and yet they form a clear circle of boulders, none of which appear to be adhering by social distancing principles.
The whole arrangement is part of the Millennium Park on the north edge of Airdrie. I can’t find anything out about this park, but it consists of playing parks with poor post-industrial land quality grass. The stone circle and standing stone sit to the south of the playing fields, beside a confusing jumble of paths and paved settings.
Beside the standing stones is that folk horror trope, a rusting and seemingly abandoned children’s play park, with various rides that look to me like they would require the user to self-administer a tetanus injection upon dismounting the various rusty rides with their twisted paint-flecked poles and corroding springs.
This weird bit of urban leisure planning is more of a place to pass through than tarry, although even here were discarded rubber gloves, lying around like five-fingered condoms.
It was here I decided to film a short recruitment video for our taught postgraduate MSc Landscape Archaeology course. I wonder what the corporate machine of my employers will make of that?
Why have I never spotted this standing stone before? Why did is take a global pandemic of ruinous proportion for me to properly perambulate around the place I have lived for 14 years? My lack of interest in the place that I live, my dependence on the car to get to and from the railway station in town, embarrasses me.
But every time I now walk past this stone, I can’t get this stupid grin off my face. Walking, and looking, will help us emerge from lockdown. When that does happen, let’s not forget what we have learned on our coronambulations.
Acknowledgements: the photos and video were taken by Jan Brophy.