I’ve often been more grateful than might be thought of as strictly necessary for a well placed bench at a moment when I have deep need of one. In my head in England there are loads of benches all over the place. But actually, I think it’s just that I’ve often walked in places with high footfall, like the Dorset coast or the Lake District or indeed not far from town on the moors above where I was brought up in Lancashire. This translates into me cussing the French and the Italians for not having enough of them! This was one of the ones that I still recall now as being just beyond perfect:

just what a view! on the Monte Gargano on my way across and then down towards San Giovanni Rotondo, a long day with a big climb.

The image at the top of my blog post is of a concrete bench installed in my town on a promenade between the Town Hall and the Railway Station. There are shady trees and a pétanque court. It’s alongside the road but there is something tranquil about the spot. In the heat of summer, it must be particularly nice to rest on the cool concrete.

Benches are a sign of how we look after the people who might need a sit down, the old, the weary, the sick. They’re a sign too of how we allow for people to have a quiet moment somewhere pretty or tranquil even if there is no underlying necessity. The way that seating is provided says something about how town planners or councillors or whoever it is that makes those sorts of decisions view their fellow citizens and their needs.

As I suspected, someone has already considered the history of the public bench. From my observations, it occurred to me that at first, sitting on a bench might have been a sign of being a pauper or beggar (benches carved in stone outside churches or at town gates or at the entrances to large communal building). Another of my observations about public seating is that Wolverhampton used to have single seats rather than long ones, all set at something of a distance as if noone at all in the town had any friends. It doesn’t seem to be the case any longer, but it really marked me back in the 90s when I was going to gigs there during my misspent youth.

And now, this song has just come into my head too:

The text is a bit tricky to parse for my tired brain right now, but the chorus talks about the lovers who kiss each other on public benches (not sure if Brassens thinks it’s cute or pathetic or a bit of both). It’s a catchy tune anyway, and points out that there are different uses for these communal seats.

My reflections lead me to think about the concept and design of my humble concrete bench, the time and care taken in that, and then in its manufacture before the time spent choosing it to be proudly installed on the leafy promenade heading towards my local railway station. So many people lending time and thought and effort to something which is so easily ignored, unless you are desperate to sit down for a moment, or unless you open your eyes to ways in which the world can demonstrate its consideration and care for fellow human beings.

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