Age old question still relevant
As the name suggests, it involves a journey along the old Roman road that stretched between Canterbury and Wroxeter, and which was itself laid over a prehistoric trackway which may have gone all the way from Dover to Angelsea.
That, at least, is the journey that our author takes.
Written in the same year as the Brexit referendum, John uses the symbol of the road as a way of examining the conflicts of identity that lie at the heart of the British psyche.
Who are we, exactly?
Picts, Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans, Cavaliers and Roundheads, all fought for control of this road. More recently we’ve seen our country divided along ideological grounds, between Leavers and Remainers, between traditionalists and innovators, between those who “want our country back” and those who seek to give our land a new mythic identity.
The question is: what is the nature of the country we want back? And whose country is it anyway, given that most of it is privately owned and off-limits to the majority?
On the Canterbury leg of his journey John is accompanied by a certain well-known writer and postal worker of your acquaintance; which is how I managed to get a copy of the book before its publishing date.
Of course the most famous story about Canterbury is the one telling of the rivalry between Archbishop Thomas Becket and his former friend and mentor Henry II, which, as we all know, ended in bloodshed.
John and I use this story to illustrate the perennial conflict between politics and spirituality; between the ruthless politician willing to kill for his ambitions, and the spiritually engaged person willing to die.
In the process we draw parallels with a more recent conflict: that between Tony Blair, the politician responsible for the violence in Iraq, and Brian Haw, his most prominent critic.
Tony Blair, of course, is internationally renowned, while Brian Haw is in danger of being forgotten. It is this injustice that we seek to redress.
If you’d like to find our more about Watling Street, John Higgs will be appearing at Waterstones in Canterbury on Wednesday the 19th July at 6.30pm.
You may well spot a certain well-known postal worker in the audience.
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Podcast featuring John Higgs and CJ Stone talking about Brian Haw (plus oodles of other interesting stuff): https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/watling-street/id1257578517?mt=2
John Higgs writing about Watling Street for the BBC: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170710-the-road-that-led-to-1000-stories
John Higgs’ blog: http://jmrhiggs.blogspot.co.uk/
Oddfellow’s Casino – The Ghosts of Watling St (Official Video): song based upon Watling Street by John Higgs:
John will be appearing at Waterstone’s Rose Lane branch on Wednesday 19th July at 18.30. Details here: https://www.waterstones.com/events/watling-street-john-higgs/canterbury-rose-lane