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This article is taken from PN Review 118, Volume 24 Number 2, November - December 1997.

Theorising Barnsley John Needham

Sunday morning; my New Zealand eye watches the English heartland drifting past to the steady rhythm of the train wheels, thick hedgerows, stately trees, and rolling pasture, stone farmbuildings and churches. It's well into October, but with barely a trace of autumn, except for the slant rays of the sun and a suggestion of haze - even the glint of the railway lines seems mellowed. 'Season of mists...' - or is it just pollution? In any case, after a day and a half of planes and air-ports, plastic furnishings and fluorescent light, flickering screens and electronic voices, the whole scene looks timeless. But then, in a way, so did the piles of Observers and Sunday Times at the Heathrow newsagents, the dawn emptiness of the Underground, the echoing roofs of King's Cross station, and the soul-wearying straggle of tenements, warehouses, and factories on the way out of London. It brought back all my youthful journeys from south to north, home to Barnsley from the chimerical glamour of London or Oxford. How long it haunted me - haunts me still perhaps. When I went back to Oxford just a few years ago, the dreaming spires and college fronts seemed like cardboard cut-outs, without depth or resonance, but the fluting complacency of a College Fellow holding forth in a senior common room could still call up the ghost of old feelings of exclusion, inferiority and resentment, and the gowned students in the High Street brought back the old seductive sense of ...

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