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Setting off on Recession Road

Phil Coomes | 06:14 UK time, Monday, 14 September 2009

This post is from our Recession Road series, part of our special report on the global downturn.


I am standing at the foot of the A1, the Great North Road, with my colleague Paula Dear. We are about to set off for Edinburgh - driving 409 miles (658km) in just over four days, during which time we'll be reporting about the effect the recession has had on the people we meet along the way.

Why am I telling you this? Well, as I mentioned in my post last week the inspiration for this trip comes from a journey taken by photographer Paul Graham back in the 80s.

At the time, his pictures were one of the first colour documentary projects shot in the UK, and they portrayed a country of people who seem isolated from their surroundings.

This was the early 80s: Thatcherism was starting to take hold, the country was about to undergo radical changes and Paul's pictures seemed to capture an expectation of this.

Today, the pictures are as strong as they ever were, but look as though from another time, another age - yet it was under 30 years ago.

Photo by Paul GrahamAt that time, I was finishing school and probably didn't see the work until a few years later, but it's one of a handful of bodies of work that have stayed at the back of my mind.

Today, we are also at a time of social and economic change and it seemed appropriate to mark the anniversary of the start of the recession with a road trip following in Paul's footsteps.

Paul's trip was very different to ours. He spent two years on the road, sleeping in the back of his Mini and shooting pictures on a large format camera, taking his time, waiting for light, the right moment.

Unfortunately, we don't have that time - just a few days, and lots of deadlines to meet. But I'll do my best to get some pictures that capture the feelings evoked along the route.

Paul now lives in the US, so I dropped him a line to let him know our plans; he wished us good luck and added:

"My favourite spots were places with local and historical nicknames like the Comet roundabout near Hatfield, where the Comet Airliner was designed, or Scotch Corner for its history from Roman times of course, though now it's probably all sales meetings and weddings.
"The hardest thing was deciding what to do about by-passes, which route one should follow - the original A1 which went right through many towns, or the new by-passes (many not so new anymore). It's a hard one to call.
"I would love to see what has happened to Ferrybridge Power Station too - that has gone, I'm told. [In fact, Ferrybridge C Power Station is still in operation - Phil]
"Back then, petrol was around 38p/litre and came in 4 star, 3 star and 2 star types, no unleaded."

A map showing the A1 and our planned route on day one of the tripTo make the trip work, there are two of us, my colleague Paula Dear, a journalist with whom I've worked many times on stories including the 25th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict, a series on Britain's jobless and another series on housing and ways of life in the UK.

Paula will be handling most of the words from now on and I'll be concentrating on the pictures, some of which will appear here and many others in my Flickr set - and of course, we'd like you to add your pictures of the A1 to our group pool on Flickr.

It's now 6am and we are at the unmarked beginning (or end?) of the A1 in London, near to the Museum of London (you can see the location on this map).

It's cold and we've just paid a fiver to park for a few minutes - an expensive start.

Shortly, we'll file an interview with a man who lives in the Barbican that we did the other day, as we felt it a little intrusive to wake him at this hour just to talk to us.

We are hoping to meet some of you on our travels, so if you are on the road or live/work near the A1, drop us an e-mail and maybe we can say "hi".

If you have any questions or suggestions of places for us to look out for, then please use the comment form below.


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