Since becoming an artist, I’ve found myself observing the world through different eyes, eyes that are now wide open, seeing shade and shadow and colour contrast where I never had before. Every season, every building, tree or field takes on a new meaning, none more so than when I am driving. Take the humble roundabout, for instance. How many of us, when in a vehicle, whether driving or not, actually takes notice of what is there? Most of us see it as just a means of keeping traffic flowing, without ever taking in what’s in the middle. It took several trips abroad before I began to look at roundabouts in greater detail.
For example, coming out of Mahon airport on Menorca, is a well-kept one with several large boulders and gravel well placed, accentuated by planting. A sight that now says welcome home to me whenever I visit the island. Over in Barbados, there’s Freedom Roundabout, with a large bronze statue of a man lifting up broken chains around his wrists, celebrating the end of slavery.
In Benalmadena, Spain, a town I regularly visit, each roundabout has a different piece of street art, each one forming a landmark people use to find their way around. One has a lovely sculpture of lots of windmills that whirl around in the breeze, another a bronze hulk of a boat, another a gigantic copper ball… the list goes on.
But one there in particular piqued my interest, taking me several days to work out what it represented.
Near to my apartment, I had only seen it at night. Always lit up in changing colour colours, from red to green, to blue to white, it was a white structure I couldn’t make sense of. Located on the main road through the resort, the large roundabout is odd-shaped, with one road leading to marina, the other to the upper part of town. Occasionally, I saw cars drive up to it and then disappear, never coming around it. It had me perplexed. Several days later I had cause to walk by it, and finally it became obvious: it was a sailing ship! Of course, because the road off it led straight down to the marina. At night, the sails would light up. And the cars disappearing? It was also the entrance to an underground car park. It was the car-park domes to the left of the sails that changed colour. Ingenious.
Seeing all the wonderful street art and creations abroad prompted me to take a closer look at roundabouts in England. Here, it is often just a patch of long grass and weeds, perhaps some wild flowers. A few trees maybe. Shrubbery – often overgrown and obscuring views of what is coming around it. Admittedly, that isn’t true for all of them. Some are well manicured, neatly trimmed, pretty flowerbeds.
Near where I live, is a large, modern business park called Aztec, meaning A to Z Technology, the entrance to which is a roundabout. When first created, the roundabout was grassed and planted up with saplings and thousands of daffodils bulbs which when in flower spelt out A to Z – something which could only be seen from the air. The trees have since grown large and the bulbs multiplied so the meaning is lost.
Close by too is a large shopping mall and leisure complex with busy roads and several roundabouts. Each has a different “sculpture”, all meant to mean something. The first simply has a large upright standing stone, known locally as “Patchway Tombstone,” as the building of the mall meant death to our small local shops and loss of peace in the area for residents. Apparently, the stone is meant to represent Avebury and/or Stonehenge – neither of which is nearby, let alone in the county. Another is a large round grassy hillock chopped in half, a gorge going through it. Some say it represents Cheddar Gorge – again, nowhere near here or in the same county. Others say it’s meant to represent Brunel and the GWR railway network here. At a push it could be Avon Gorge. The next roundabout has a tall grass mound with a metal cap on the top, said to represent Silbury Hill – again not even in the county. Whoever designed these obviously didn’t know their geography or history!
It would have been far more in keeping and more meaningful to have a model of Concorde on one, considering the Rolls Royce factory where the plane was built and now houses the Concorde museum is right on the doorstep. Why didn’t they choose some other landmark relevant and local to the county rather than obscure or obtuse edifices? But still, I suppose grassy hillocks with bits cut out and an upright stone that is possibly man-made, is better than nothing. And they are a talking point. But it would be so much better if the designers took a look at how roundabouts are designed and built abroad, and used a little bit more imagination to make more of a feature of out of these necessary traffic management measures.
However, there is one small roundabout locally on a road I often travel which always makes me smile. The roundabout is small, in the middle of a housing development and consists of nothing more than grass, which is always well trimmed, in the middle of which is planted with lavender bushes. At its centre is a white beehive (I don’t think it’s a real one!) and, before they were stolen, had large ornamental bees on wires that twirled around. A simple concept yet pleasing to the eye. Well done to whoever thought of it!
Would love to hear about any good or bad ones near you!