Our house, in the middle of our street.
A street means different things in different places; the name changes in character with the place. 42nd Street is so very different from Fleet Street. And these monumental streets are different again to the little municipal streets where so many of us live our lives.
And then, there is the old English sense: simply, a paved road.
Which is what Watling Street was. A long route which cut the old England in half, separating the Danelaw – governed by Viking Law- from the rest of England. An ancient British trackway paved by the Romans.
Of course: wherever Watling Street wound, there people built things. And left things.
And one of those things glares imperiously across a gallery at the British Museum. Its expression has that municipal arrogance and maddening self-assurance which usually accompanies a local bureaucrat.
The statue’s gaze is so arresting that tourists milling around the newly reopened Sutton Hoo exhibition just have to tear themselves away to find out who this is, and what is its business there.
They dug this statue up just outside the Roman settlement of Towcester, in Northamptonshire; on the side of Watling Street. Archaeologists believe its must have been part of some lavish funerary monument.
It is startling because it looks un-Roman. It has none of the perfect proportion of classical Roman sculpture. Scholars point out it is like one of the Roman theatre masks. Perhaps this is a likeness which actually shows British artists losing the skills the Romans brought with them.
Or perhaps this is just a figure with attitude.
The archaeologists have concluded it is a woman, and with no more than a head to go by, we shall never know for sure.
But despite the coiffure, the delicate tendrils teased across the cheek, I’d bet anything that we are looking at a man.
They say this head is Roman and British fusion. A melding of cultures, that pompous Roman elegant perfection and the rough earthy perception of a people who lived on a rainy island just off Europe.
Perhaps this is why I adore this face from Watling Street.
Or perhaps it’s just her – or possibly his – magnetic personality.