FROM SCRATCHWOOD TO WYCHWOOD

Signs of the Times

bright-eyed and bleary-eyed disperse, present-day reality shimmers back into place. The transport caff on the A34 junction swears it's OPEN, but it isn't. The new Service Area further down the road insists that it's NOW FULLY OPEN, and it isn't. The traffic jams are building, for this particular Midsummer Day was celebrated with a rail, tube and bus strike.

Chipping Norton doesn't have a railway station. It certainly doesn't have an Underground, and those few country buses which survive in this part of the country are private and non-union. It still has the odd traffic jam, but hardly in the gridlock category. Traffic follows the signposts to Stratford, to Evesham, to Oxford, to Burford. And, of course, to Banbury, where we've just been.

What's interesting about Chipping Norton? Well, it's the highest town in Oxfordshire, (nearly 700 feet, on tiptoe), it has a history of medieval wealth from the wool trade (Chipping is Old English for market), Parker Knoll have a small factory there, making those sleek, black executive chairs. It calls itself the Gateway to the Cotswolds, but I suppose that depends on where you start from. The estate agency on the corner displays the usual photos of properties, but without any prices. If you have to ask......

It's a pleasant, unhurried town, neither swamped by the twentieth century, nor artificially frozen in some other. It's worth a stop. It's a good touring base for the Cotswolds. But you could say that about a dozen places in these parts. But there's something else in this town which plays an important part in our lives.

Look out your window. The chances are that you will see a sign; a traffic sign, a direction sign, a street nameplate, a commemorative plaque, a fire hydrant sign. I doubt if you could have been sure without looking. They've been there for years and you've followed their commands and absorbed their warnings, without ever really noticing they were there, without considering where they came from; that someone had to make them.

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