It's raining here in Leicestershire, and also a handful of miles away across the fields in Rutland. And then, staring out of the window at the rain I had my first tangible thought of the day. It's twenty years since I produced my first book. Rutland was going to be given its county status back, and my friend Anthony Unsworth and I decided to celebrate it with the smallest book on the smallest county. We were either sitting in our office overlooking Kensington High Street or sitting round the corner in the Scarsdale Arms in Edwardes Square (probably the latter) and we agreed that I should disappear up the A1 and take photographs. It was a dry summer, and the Rutland soil was parched, but I persevered and after days in the heat and nights in the pub I finally finished. At this time I'd only written advertising copy and excruciating love letters, so we decided to give Faber & Faber some money and use W.G.Hoskins' inimitable introduction from the Shell Guide to Rutland and, from the same rare volume, a piece called 'Time Off In Rutland' which said that Tixover churchyard was a good place for an afternoon doze. It was.
When it was printed we loaded up our cars and went around all the local bookshops flogging them in boxes of 10 that doubled-up as counter displays. This is where we both learnt the vicissitudes of the sharp end of bookselling, but, as far as I know we did sell all the copies one way or another. These were halcyon days, and I'll always be grateful for the break it gave me in being asked to do more books. It makes such a difference when pitching an idea to have something tangible to wave about in meetings. So enormous thanks to Val Horsler at English Heritage and David Campbell at Everyman, both of whom also believed I could write as well as take pictures. The latter and I are currently ensconced in producing another book together, more of which later. And it looks like it's going to stop raining soon.
We knew it was going to be a hard act to follow, but we didn't think the plot would be altered to be about people fleeing London to avoid the attentions of a particularly raucous corvidae corvus. But settled in our extraordinarily expensive seats in the local Odeon (shows how often I go) we soon realised that yes, it was another adaption of Thomas Hardy's classic novel set in 1870s Dorset. And of course John Schlesinger's 1967 film is indeed a very hard act to follow. So how did Thomas Vinterberg do? Well, very creditably considering he only had I hour 59 minutes in which to tell this sprawling majestic tale and Schlesinger had the luxury and money to reach 2 hours 50 minutes. Which meant that much of importance had to be left at the side of a bleak Dorset trackway. Poor Fanny Robin hardly had the time to become a Hardy victim of circumstance, but we still booed her beau Sergeant Troy, a first class Victorian villain played up to the sword hilt by Tom Sturridge. Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts abandoned trying to do a convincing Wessex accent (it didn't matter), and Michael Sheen's Boldwood had suitable if wingeing gravitas. But you'll have guessed it's Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene that now has a starring role in my Unmitigated Fantasy of sheep shearing, singing, harvesting and heartbreaking in Victorian Dorset. And I have another heroine in the line-up for Unmitigated Honours, and that's cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christiansen. This film is ravishing to look at, a very worthy companion to Nick Roeg's photography back in 1967.
So, apart from the obvious yawning gaps in the narrative, Boldwood's completely over-the-top 'farmhouse' (Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, oddly) and a farmyard well that looks like it's just been dusted-off from the prop store, this is a superbly watchable film. And as Deborah Ross quite rightly said in her Spectator review 'Crowd Pleaser' (2 May): "...can someone not have another go, even after nearly half a century? And why do they have to be in competition? Can't they co-exist?".
I was 19 when I first saw the original (the second actually, the first being a silent film of 1915), and afterwards I made a point of reading everything I could lay my hands on by Hardy, without any real disappointment except in what happened to Jude's children and Tess. So if any 19 year olds can unglue their smart phones from their faces for just under 2 hours and decide as a result that they'd like to read the book and its companions, then it would all be even more worthwhile. Bring me my heavy woollen coat and gaitered boots....
This chap spoke to me this morning at breakfast.He said "I'm one of those objects the obsession of which you can never remember the name of." He was found on Cley beach. I shall have to do a treatise on them, probably call it Face Book.
Can anyone out there help with this? We found it in the grounds of Bayfield Hall in Norfolk yesterday. It looks very much like it was specially forged and welded together for Unmitigated England, but when I enquired in the stables it was looked at in great mystification as if seen for the first time. Which may of course be the case; that opening could so easily have seen the recent evacuation of an alien crew.
And then we tipped-up at Cley-next-the-Sea down the road and lo! there was an exact copy perched up on the embanking between the salt marsh and beach. This is when the first inkling of their purpose came to me. Could they be fish smokeries? The Cley example was very conveniently placed by where the catches are landed, and this would be about as fresh as a smoked herring could possibly get. But this far from the comforts of the village? Maybe the pungent smoke was a problem, but I doubt it, particularly at the assumed time of its utility. Of course it would be now, the part time residents hastily switching on the Vent Axia's in Farrow & Balled kitchens.
So, any ideas? Before I reach for that bit about the space craft unscrewing itself on Horsell Common in War of the Worlds. And, do you know, just as I'm typing this Jeff Wayne's music for the same comes ominously out of my wireless set. Please help.
Aircraft have been taking off all morning from the Unmitigated England Airship (nicknamed The Duchess by my ground crew) in order to take lucky fee-paying customers above the clouds to witness the moon impertinently blocking out the sun. On each return to the mother ship the brass goggle wearing passengers were treated to a full UE breakfast that included kedgeree warmed in a silver spirit burner kept at a safe distance from the gas bags.
Alas, alas. The real reason for this posting is that I'm obsessed by anything to do with airships. My interest was first kindled by seeing tiny snapshots in the family album taken by my father of either the R100 or R101 airships at Cardington. Subsequently the gargantuan hangars were pointed out to me from the train after Bedford, something I tediously do for my children now. Every time. So now a green tinplate airship hangs from my living room light shade and no minutiae is safe from my researches. So imagine my excitement when one of the Library Girls ran down the corridor yesterday, clutching the above that had been unearthed whilst they were looking for a Weetabix Vistascreen 3D Viewer. (I've told them about running in corridors, particularly with trays of gin and tonics.) The Meccano Magazine for February 1926 was published when the future was all airships, very gung-ho copy that talked of a failed experiment with an aeroplane attempting to hook up under the craft when "the releasing gear failing to act at the critical moment, the daring pilots were thrown out of their machine when some 3,000 ft. up, and were dashed to their death." As we now know, there was much more trauma to come, the dreams of big silent airships criss-crossing our skies coming to an end in a muddy field in Beauvais and in flames at Lakehurst New Jersey.
But all was not in vain. Next year sees the launch of a new airship, once again darkening the skies above Cardington. I'd post a picture of it, but fear it may cause concern amongst more sensitive readers. So here's a link to it. Meanwhile I've got to go and help the ground crew moor our airship to a convenient pylon a couple of fields away.
So, farewell then the car tax disc. Farewell to sitting outside the post office trying to make a neat job of tearing around the perforations. Farewell to know-alls tapping your windscreen and saying "Your tax runs out tomorrow" as if you hadn't realised. Funny thing, I shall miss these curious bits of paper, glancing at them every few months as I have done since I started having to buy them. Missing the feeling of relief at the post office counter when all my paperwork seems miraculously to be in order, missing the relief when a passing copper didn't realise there wasn't even one there.
Removing the plastic holder from the inside of my windscreen the other day I found the previous owner had kept every single disc from the car's first registration. A little piece of history of various post offices and various prices, and slight changes of design from year to year. I've made a double page spread out of them in my scrapbook. But oh how long will it be before I stop feeling guilty about the absence of this little piece of paper, no longer confirming me to be a proper person. Probably until I go and put a 1942 one for an Austin in the once official position, bottom left hand corner. In fact, I've gone on about this before, here.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012) and Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012)