Northside - Andrew Martin is sent to Coventry

Coventry is like a person who's been assaulted, then badly stitched

Two train companies operate between London and Coventry: Virgin and Silverlink. If you use Virgin, as I did last week on my first ever visit to the city, the journey takes an hour and ten minutes. Now is that a long journey or a short journey? You certainly need some reading matter, but you wouldn't think it worth ordering half a bottle of railway wine, and here is the problem with the Midlands, as far as I'm concerned. They're not really far enough from anywhere.

Emerging from the modern railway station, I drifted through some leafy Edwardian streets, but the next minute I was bang in the middle of town. Coventry is like a person who's been assaulted, and whose face has then been badly stitched, so that the eye droops too close to the mouth. The proportions have gone. The original assault was the bombing of 14 November 1940, when most of the city centre was destroyed, and the ugliness of that night was set in stone, or rather concrete, by the developers of the 1960s and 1970s, who were inspired by a vision of Coventry as one great car park, and against whose work the entire city, being full of human beings, wages a poignant battle. There are signs everywhere to help you navigate the maze of echoing underpasses, and heart-rending notices are dotted around the centre, reading: "Thank you for visiting the heart of our city".

After concluding the business that had brought me to Coventry, I got a bit lost and came across an Ibis hotel occupying a Victorian building marked "Cycle Works". Most of the endless succession of second-hand bikes I had as a kid seemed to feature the word "Coventry". I then asked a local the way to the cathedral. "You've got to cross that first," he said, pointing to a concrete canyon full of speeding cars.

The cathedral, built in 1962 against the skeleton of its bombed-out predecessor, is superb, with a strange underwater feeling inside caused by the green stained glass. I then bought a very good pint in a friendly pub, recently created within a 17th-century building that had survived the bombing, only to be allowed to fall into near dereliction. It was very odd to be in Coventry yet sitting in one of the most rickety and almost worryingly old pubs that I've ever entered.

Here I bought a packet of Hamlet Miniatures for £1.55, which I had noticed the week before priced at £2.75 in a newsagents in London's West End. I was by now warming to Coventry quite rapidly, and I mentioned this to a taxi driver on the way back to the station. "It's a beautiful day," he drawled. "Come back when it's raining." I might do that, and next time I will go by Silverlink, which can take one hour, 50 minutes.

Now that's a train journey.

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