:: Article

Urban fabric: Spoon’s Carpets

By John P. Houghton.

Kit Caless, Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation, Square Peg (2016)

In a previous review here, I explored the importance of “digging where you stand”; of discovering and cherishing local culture and history through the lens of lived working class experience.

Kit Caless’ Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation also invites you to look down. This time, through the frothy dregs of your empty pint-glass, at the palette and patterns beneath your feet. Under Caless’ guidance, the weave is as deep as you need to dig.

The book catalogues and celebrates (in most cases…) the distinctive designs of 76 carpets in J D Wetherspoon outlets across the UK. Each one is pictured and accompanied by a brief appreciation and a sidebar of factoids that, in most cases, are entirely fictitious.

Caless invokes Jonathan Meades’ dictum that “The banal is a thing of joy, everything is fantastical if you stare at it long enough.” That there is beauty in something as underappreciated as a pub floor-covering.

Thus, we encounter designs influenced by the pub’s architecture, such as the radiant sun sitting directly beneath the domed ceiling in the Admiral Colingwood. Designs that reflect local history and culture, like the Windlesora’s absorption of regal insignia or the Celtic influence of the Eccles Cross in Manchester. And designs that are simply magnificent in and of themselves. Caless runs down his own top-ten at the end, though none of my favourites featured in that list.

The book is not entirely a celebration. Some of the carpets on display are testament to the designers responding to the brief in the most basic, predictable way. Presumably, Caless speculates, so they can knock off work early and go out on the tap.

Thus, we have The Regal in Cambridge, once a cinema, featuring swirls of old movie reel in various nausea-inducing colours. In a similarly uninspired vein, Colchester’s Playhouse foregrounds the comedy and tragedy masks of ancient Greek theatre; the faces of Melpomene and Thalia staring back accusingly at the designer who has pressed them so lazily into service.

What elevates Spoon’s Carpets into something more than a Tumblr page in published form is Caless’ interest in the design and production stages of the carpets, and his interactions with people who share his hobby.

I was surprised to learn that Wetherspoon’s carpets are made on mechanised looms by the same company that produces Axminster carpets. And I was amused, amongst other anecdotes, by the melancholy tale of married Andy’s infatuation with the pork-scratching lady.

Inevitably, the humour won’t always be to everyone’s taste. There is a joke about Kevin Keegan’s “love it” breakdown, a reference which is now older than most of the students you will find in a Wetherspoon’s on a Friday night. Whereas that felt dated, the glib reference to Alexander Litvinenko being “radio-activated to death” felt rather cruel and a little “too soon”. I would have preferred more of Caless’ riffing on the carpet, the circumstances in which he found himself standing on it, and the conversations he had around it.

Ultimately, Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation is a charming piece of fluff that reminds us to pay heed to the potential for beauty beneath our feet.

John P. Houghton is a freelance consultant, commentator and evaluator. He is the author of Jigsaw Cities and tweets @metlines. You can read all of John’s published work at here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 30th, 2017.