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Mea Culpa


It’s been one of those mea culpa days. They come over me on the way to a massively depressive funk and there’s no way to get out of it. Just one of those things I have to ride through. Too bad others are often along for the ride, which is usually a bumpy one.

I had a conversation with a student the other day about depression, and they were either acquainted with a fellow sufferer, depressive themselves, or simply nodding patronizingly until I got through my harangue and on with questions about grading.

Depression and I are on reasonably friendly terms: it announces its arrival, giving me plenty of time to batten down those psychological hatches, and then becomes my personal Sheridan Whiteside, the uninvited guest who overstays his welcome. I’ve played that role often enough and have little room for complaint. So as I steel myself for this impending bout, let me ruminate briefly on the one place in Agincourt I would most like to visit: Walden Retreat.

If you’ve never been in the vicinity of Bristol — and who would; it’s overshadowed by proximity to Bath and, so, rarely on tourist itineraries — try to remember Blaise Hamlet, a cluster of eight cottages built in 1811 as retirement homes for employees of a local Quaker banker — the epitome of the picturesque (the cottages, not the banker). John Nash provided the plans, made all the more remarkable by his simultaneous involvement with the Prince Regent and the development of Regent Street as one of the most significant urban renewal projects of its day. Blaise is at the opposite end of “urban design” and scarcely looks architect-designed at all. You might actually spot a large waistcoated rabbit on his way to tea.

Each time I sit down to imagine Walden Retreat, it comes out far too architekty: complex, contrived, anything but the effortless place it ought to be, given the reason for its guests being there. I could use a week at Blaise right now, if for no other reason than to absorb Nash’s most reticent work and learn how to avoid the pitfalls of overwrought design thinking. [I could name names but I won’t.] And my mental health is guaranteed to improve.

Ordnance Map showing Blaise Hamlet, near Bristol, UK / John Nash, architect (1811)

Blaise, by the way, is that peanut-shaped group of houses just left of center.

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