Between 1985 and 1989 I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to study and research for a PhD in Urban Design at the Joint Centre for Urban Design under Brian Goodey. The subject dealt with the complexity and security in the design of public suburban housing estates.
I focused on the Blackbird Leys estate on the outer edges of Oxford, cycling there every second day to study the attitudes and behaviours of those living there. I stopped in the library and popped of the Royal Town Planning Institute on other days to pore through volumes in their archives.
I enjoyr urban design, but with the government's dismantling of the public sector housing schemes in the late 1980s I knew I was never going to make a career out of it. But as a student? Time for some academically hedonistic field trips...
From the roads of Headington to the canals of Amsterdam accompanying the town planning undergraduates.
Not forgetting a sortie out to the crazy public housing estates of Torcy and Paris
Into Lowry's greater Manchester
To chocolate box lid / biscuit tin Bruges...
and up into some barmy Einsteinian Brussels overlooking the Heysel Stadium.
Ah yes. The glories of more travels courtesy of Messrs Academia. The wonders of Urban Design post graduate and Town Planning undergraduate field courses. Amsterdam and Brussels and Bruges. Paris city centre squares and Paris suburban housing estates. Exercises in the principles of responsive environments. And a fair amount of drinking and shenanigans in the evening.
It was all good clean fun.
I reckon university lecturers sit around every autumn at their first faculty meeting after they've been away. They recall where they went on their summer vacations. Then they start suggesting where they fancy tripping off to for a paid for by the institution / works holiday cum Easter jolly.
In go their thoughts of cafes are relaxing and weather better than the south Midlands (not hard). Where do they fancy nipping off to that they could leave the students studying for a day or two unsupervised. Given the smaller class of the post grad courses the destinations for the mature student can be a little more expensive. More mainstream and low budget for the undergrads.
Therefore. Beware world! Always around Easter there are student trips departing from the UK to hit the continent.
Tut tut, fancy that. Inspiring the planning and urban design students to plan and design through inspiration gathered during the Easter holiday!
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Thoughts on Bruges
I don't think I'll be going back to Bruges. Or rather, I won't be making a special effort by going out of my way to go back to Bruges.
Bruges is a fine exercise in picturesque twee, historical preservation and chocolate box lid urban design. But a few hours does it, thanks. I can only scoff so many coffee creams, strawberry caramels and peanut brittles before I make myself queezy.
I can understand why many tourists rave and rant and hoohah about the place. I can twig why some people don't get any of the vibe. Which, I think, is one of the reasons I screamed with laughter at the (recent, when I wrote this) movie "In Bruges."
"In Bruges" stars your two extreme types of visiting bloke. One that gets it, and one that doesn't.
Now. Then. I'm not going to knock those who visit towns and countries after they see 'the movie' and get all revved up and excited to do it for real. Because it's what I do. I like the pics, and if the pics are moving and framed and lit professionally then my squid's in.
"Doing the pictures" is what my sister and I used to enjoy with Pontins and Thomson brochures on wet February evenings; before mum and dad ditched the principle of one person one vote and autonomously decided to go for the cheap caravaning park option in Newquay.
Movies, brochures, yer pals... We've got to get our travelling ideas from somewhere. Take for example this lot.
The Sound of Music. Salzburg.... (Looks healthy and outdoors wholesome.)
Out of Africa. Kenya .... (Definitely, if we can go ballooning.)
James Bond Doctor No, among others. Thailand .... (We're already here.)
Bladerunner. Hong Kong .... (It says L.A. on the packet, but if you've lived in Hongkers you know where it really is.)
Gandhi. India ..... (Amritsar, Delhi, oh yes please, more of that Mahatma.)
Quiet American. Ho Chi Minh City ..... (Done it. Stayed in a hotel by the Opera House. As seen. And rented a penthouse overlooking the Independence Palace)
Lord of the Rings. New Zealand .... (South Canterbury is it? Stick it on the list.)
Life of Brian. Egypt / Tunisia .... (Cairo or Sfax? Who cares? We'll have some medina and desert any day.)
State of Mind. DPRK .... (Oh good lord yes, yes, yes!)
Game of Their Lives More DPRK .... (That does it, get the visa applications.)
Watching movies is smashing for whetting the holiday appetite. And it's fabulous seeing up to date movies that show blasts from my traveling past, like "In Bruges".
When it happens I can leap off the chair and run up to the telly, point at the appropriate spot on the screen and shout
"I've been there. And I've been there. I've stood there. There ! Pause it, pause it, please ! Rewind it a bit. There ! There ! That's it ! Hang on, I'll get the photo album...."