Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Unbinding

My apologies for being off air for so long. Can't believe early March was the last time. However, my purpose here is to make another apology; to all those of you who so kindly subscribed to my Unmitigated Postcard Box. There wasn't the same kind of support from Unbound themselves, very sadly because I actually do believe in what they are doing. Well, maybe a little less now. At my request they promised to close down my page yesterday, but that hasn't happened either. But when they get round to it money will be refunded, or, if you want, transferred to another project.


Interest has been shown by two 'real' publishers in producing it, so there is hope it may find an appreciative home. Failing that I may do it myself and travel around the country like a medieval pedlar, a stack of yellow boxes on my back as I trudge from town to town, hoarsely crying out my wares. In the meantime here are five postcards to be going on with:








Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Rocks & Clockwork

This is Stoneywell Cottage in the Charnwood Forest, north west of Leicester. If you like arts 'n' crafts buildings and furniture (and I'm bonkers about them) then this seemingly organic house, rising out of the igneous rock and surrounded by woods, must be put very high on your 'must do' list. Designed by Ernest Gimson for his brother Sydney, it was built in Ulverscroft by that mercurial A&C craftsman Detmar Blow. Completed at the very end of the nineteenth century, for the most part it was used as a summer residence, with the family returning for Christmas. Deceptively economic in design, there are beautifully homely touches everywhere. A piece of granite jutting out near a fireplace was left for Sydney's tobacco jar and pipe, the stairs are like church tower steps with helpful ropes leading up to rooms where the floors are all on differing levels. The very nature of the site means that the main fat chimney grows up out the rock, an upstairs bedroom window gives access immediately into the garden.

The furniture is of course so at home. Gimson-designed ladder-backed chairs sit round a solid table in the dining room, almost Shaker-style coat hooks hang against a white painted wall. Contemporary or beautifully reproduced cots, beds and bookshelves; and everywhere a very comforting feel of homeliness. I could have dozed off in an armchair with an Arthur Ransome book on my lap, daffodils on a deeply-inset window sill, a log fire spitting in the grate with its Gimson fire irons in attendance.

As you can probably imagine I got very excited upstairs, with not only wonderful pictures on the walls, childrens' games on cupboards and chairs but also a heart-stopping Hornby O Gauge train on the floor of the Well Room, working its way past tinplate buildings in order to tunnel underneath a bed. And all so genuine. This is no art-directed interior, Stoneywell was left to the National Trust by Donald Gimson, grandson of Sydney, who advised the Trust on so much here. You have to book, which is good because it means you won't be trudging round with a hundred others before and after. But do try and make it soon as spring comes to Stoneywell.

Pledge for the Unmitigated Postcard Box here.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

A Pocket Full of Ferrets




Last night I went off-piste to ITV3 and watched a Miss Marple from 2008: A Pocket Full of Rye. Kenneth Cranham got the rye grains in his jacket pocket and blackbirds both in a pie and his desk drawer and Rupert Graves put a clothes peg onto the nose of a corpse, just to keep it more-or-less in the spirit of the nursery rhyme.

Then of course my mind started to wander, and knowing I was safe with Miss Marple solving everything by being incredibly nosey, I remembered a nursery rhyme book in the East Wing with plates in it by the superb Lawson Wood, and searched it out to see if this rhyme was in it. It was, it's above. But then I was brought back to the screen by a fabulously outrageous performance by the unique Ken Campbell playing a dodgy butler. One scene had him lying on his bed declaiming the rhyme with a bottle and cigarette on the go and his blue eyes bulging. This was to be his last performance, and The Guardian judged him to be "one of the most original and unclassifiable talents in the British theatre of the past half-century. A genius at producing shows on a shoestring and honing the improvisational capabilities of the actors who were brave enough to work with him." One of those actors was Sylveste McCoy, who competed against Ken for the role of Doctor Who and won. But they still did shows together where they stuffed ferrets down each others' trousers.

Blackbirds, clothes pegs, pies. And on Tuesday a corner of my curious and utterly delightful extended family gained yet another ferret to add to two others who, I assume, are also frantically trying to find trousers to run up the inside of. The connections didn't stop ferreting around my mind when I also recalled that I had once attended a wedding reception in the old Diorama in Peto Place near Regent's Park and Ken was a fellow guest. When it came to dancing (and I doubtless did my usual pogo-ing to Van Halen's Jump!) he danced across the floor and half way up a wall. Again, and again, and again. I have never seen the like before or since. Right, off to Waitrose to see if they have any blackbirds. Three frozen packs with eight in each perhaps. 

Pledge for the Unmitigated Postcard Box here.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Spring Loaded




Spring hadn't sprung yesterday, but it certainly felt as if it was about to. Youngest Boy and I decided to go down the road to Kirby Hall, somewhere I've continually gone back to for, ooh, a very long time. Snowdrops gave a soft patterning of white as we went down the avenue, the Hall itself welcomed us with window bar shadows reaching out into the bare empty rooms. After the obligatory hiding from each other and then jumping out with blood-curdling shouts (annoying those with audio tours clamped to their ears) we ventured outside. The upturned willow had to be climbed, but I took great pleasure in seeing what had happened to it since it fell over six years ago or so. My first picture of it above was taken in 2010, and I was so gratified that it hadn't been attacked with a chain saw (probably because willow spits like hell in a woodburner) or replaced by a sapling in a rabbit-proof plastic tube. No, it had been left to itself, and now wands of new willow have shot up in profusion. Sometimes we manage too much.

It was all very invigorating, and when we got home ready to start preparing lunch (well, I did) we found that the daffodils had trumpeted out from the Adnam's jug. Spring really does seem to be around the corner. Let's hope.

Pledge for the Unmitigated Postcard Box here.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Unmitigated Postcards

Anybody who has been within five miles of me in the last year will have heard of the progress of this latest addition to the Unmitigated Stable. It’s taken a while to fine tune, which involved immense research and drinking in London, Leicestershire and Oxfordshire. (In fact it involved drinking just about everywhere really.) So at last, thanks to those marvellous people at Unbound, here is an opportunity to go even deeper into the hidden recesses of Unmitigated England.
 
The Unmitigated Postcards Box is my first go at a crowd-funded project. Which basically means that subscribers elect to support an author, usually for a book, at different levels from signed collectors’ editions right up to something really special at the top end. It’s all so exciting. You’ll see from the Unbound site that the yellow carton (a pastiche of a well-loved Kodak photo paper box) contains 100 ‘eccentrically eccentric’ postcards. A few you may have seen; most you won’t. All are my favourites, and it would be brilliant if you thought that you could support the cause. Thank you all very much.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Canvas & Aluminium



This morning the last Land Rover ran off the production line at the Solihull works. So we’re regaled by journos talking about the Land Rover Defender being born in 1948. No it wasn't. As you all know I was born in 1948 along with the Land Rover. (Are you really sure? Ed.)The Defender came much later after the Series 2. Anyway, farewell. And thanks again to Toby Savage who is amongst a very elite group that knows everything about the wonderful original, and indeed allowed me to photograph his 1948 model for the Shire book cover above. He is probably sitting at his kitchen table now, with head in his hands and fist closing round a starting handle.



Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Grape Nose


Researching nursery rhyme illustrations I came across this gem by Charles Folkard (1878-1963) and couldn’t wait to share it with you. I bought it as a single sheet, but have no idea as to the title of the book it’s from. Paramount amongst childrens’ book illustrators, Folkard started out as a conjuror, (no wonder his pictures are so magical), but turning to illustration he created the Teddy Tail character for the Daily Mail and is famous for The Arabian Nights, Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Pinocchio.
 
I first came across his work when many years ago I bought Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes, edited by L.Edna Walter. Apart from his four coloured pictures, this 1924 edition has Folkard drawings liberally spotting the text, including some exquisite silhouettes. I’ll always remember where and when I bought it, on a hot summer’s afternoon in Great Malvern in that bookshop that’s at the top of the steps leading up from the gardens in front of the Priory. I looked down on them from a hot stuffy little room and saw Edward Elgar slowly walking towards the Priory with his dogs. For only a second or two, but that’s another story.