Between the lines

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I’ve got a short poet-in-residence gig at the railway station in Stratford-upon-Avon, writing new work for the town’s poetry festival as a guest of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

I used to live here – not at the station, you understand, but nearby in a village so typically English that I sometimes wondered if I was a character in the Archers. Then I realised that I was far too interesting to be a character in the Archers.

Stratford has its own human seasons. In the winter, this is a small market town with an unusually rich cultural life. From Easter until October, it becomes one of the UK’s biggest tourist destinations. The streets are impassable, with crowds of tourists waving selfie sticks. Half of the population is only passing through – for a day, for a season working on the river Avon’s hire boats, for a few weeks on the stage. For a gig at the poetry festival, come to that.

The days have their pattern too. Here at the station, each morning sees a rush of commuters headed for Birmingham, or arriving from outlying villages to staff the coffee shops, the honeypots and hostels. The tourists pile in from London to visit the must-see Shakespeare sites. In the evening, the Birmingham workers return and with them comes a perfumed wave of theatre-goers and hotel guests. Here at the railway station I’ll be paying close attention to them for three days in September. Mind the gap.

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