Colin Blumenau talks ambition

08:52 02 March 2014

Royston Town centre

Royston Town centre


I was just thinking …

… about ambition.

In literature it’s always a slightly dubious human attribute. Macbeth is troubled with “vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself”. And frankly, it doesn’t end very well for him.

Webster’s Antonio in The Duchess of Malfi refers to it as “a great man’s madness”. He too dies a grisly death. But then again everyone in that play dies. The body count is impressive even by Jacobean standards.

Yes, my friends, in the 17th century ambition took its place in the pantheon of deadly sins alongside wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

But I digress already.

Really I was pondering about the ambition of Royston and Roystonians. This was occasioned by a trip to Hertford to meet up with the impressive director of the town’s theatre. Its prosperity is occasioned by some really rather enlightened thinking by East Herts District Council. That august body of civic responsibility decided, in the face of austerity cuts and straightened financial circumstances, that a venue for the live arts was a vital component of the town’s infrastructure. They spent millions on it.

The decision was vindicated and the place is now a central focus in a town that feels, to the outsider at least, to be looking forwards with an eager and laudable ambition.

One very tangible thing about Hertford is how few shops seem to be unoccupied and how many of its good burghers were up and about at six o’clock on a rainy Tuesday morning in February.

Now I realise I’m putting my head firmly in the jaws of the carnivore when I wonder out loud whether Royston couldn’t do with a bit of that same enlightened thinking.

Where, I ask with humility, is that civic ambition that has served Hertford so well? Every week I trawl through the media for things about our beautiful corner of the three counties upon which to pontificate. Every week I read moan after whinge after complaint about Royston’s current predicament.

The breadth of subjects is not massive. The number of empty shops; the current state of negotiations about the hospital; the on-off saga of the continuing viability of the market; the this and the that of small town pre-occupation. I have even read that the town is in its death throes.

Where is the ambition that will silence the critics and the carpers? Where is the spring from which such ambition might pour? Politics? Business? There has been little sign of that kind of leadership in the things I read. There are, no doubt, little oases of ambition hidden in nooks and crevices but nothing has caught the imagination of the place and people go on complaining about the slow strangulation of the town.

Casting around for inspiration I turn to a venue not so dissimilar to the Hertford Theatre.

Royston Picture Palace has been hailed as great and successful new addition to the town’s infrastructure. Those involved in its creation have been roundly congratulated on its quality. The films they show are a strong mix of the commercial and the interesting. Not that I would ever suggest that the two are mutually exclusive. So, plaudits and bouquets all round.

But, worryingly, for the first time I am reading whispers about a lack of patronage. Immediately refuted by the cinema itself, it is perhaps simply another example of problems being created where they don’t exist. Nothing like a bit of gossip about institutions being in trouble to get the juices flowing. But it’s that very attitude that engenders the feeling of failure that seems to pervade the correspondence about the town.

I wonder how much of the doom-mongering is justified. Generally, people like to moan. There is great Schadenfreude in watching the failure of the endeavour of others.

But is there not a danger that such negativity becomes self-fulfilling? The more we moan about things, the more we find there is to moan about perhaps? No doubt there will be some who disagree with the peddlars of pessimism, the beacons of ambitions in our midst. If this rambling provokes them to shout a bit louder about the good things in the town, then I will have done my job well.


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