Via the magic of the Internet, comes the knowledge that at least one person, and probably only one person, reads what I write in the town of Stoke-on-Trent, England. I cannot imagine what this reader did to deserve international literary torment, but I appreciate the support.
The mystery of why anyone would Stoke would care about anything I say caused me to follow Stoke and wonder about life there. My English friends will mock, but Stoke seems like the kind of place Englishmen take for granted and may even look down at, but it is oddly delightful. If you like gardens and pottery, and you should, then this is a great place to visit.
Stoke, or at least the area around it, makes me happy when I visit. There is something bread-and-butter about it that fits me better than Disney-Stratford or more magical Oxford. Stoke is the sort of place a Reynolds could afford a house and still hope to see beauty.
Arnold Bennett got rid of a town in the region, but wrote an excellent book on the five cities that really number six. The area is not really literary by English standards, but nothing in England is far away, by Los Angeles standards, from Shakespeare.
Stoke somehow plays top-flight football or tries to do so. Having played badly in high school, I have never gotten over following soccer . . . I could not dignify what I did with the name “football.” Stoke has a long football tradition, but upset me from afar when they had the temerity to abandon their old field for a more “modern” stadium. Imagine the Packers tearing down Lambeau in order to move to the aesthetic equivalent of the County Stadium.
Which makes me wonder if the folk of Stoke know how precious their heritage is. After all Victorian factories are usually more appealing than modern improvements. Sadly, unemployment has taken a toll, though I am told things are getting better, but then officially things are always getting better.
God help the people if giant stores and strip malls overrun what is best in the countryside. Must every corner of England look like a London suburb without the money?
Still Stoke-on-Trent endures as a homely place with a certain grace.
Since finding out that I had some connection, however tenuous, to Stoke-on-Trent, it has been my ideal “where I am not” place. Today may be about consuming Dollar-Store knick-knacks in Los Angeles, but there is a whole world of pottery making happening in Stoke. Today may be another warm day in Southern California, but it is cool and green in Stoke. Today may window may look out on a parking lot, but somebody is touring a garden in the Six Cities.
Or so I imagine.
God gives many gifts, but in this age one of the best is the ability to travel, to stay in contact virtually, and to imagine more easily another way of living.
It makes me happy to pray just now:
God bless Stoke-on-Trent.