Friday, 6 June 2008

Fifty Not Out


In the fifties and early sixties, books like these slim volumes published by Country Life, (this one in 1958), were the souvenir purchase for upmarket holiday makers. A hefty fifteen shillings worth of carefully-framed monochrome pictures of famous landmark villages, landscapes and oh-so-familiar time-worn buildings. All taken with infinite care on grown-up equipment that was more furniture than camera, the sports coated photographer doffing his trilby to passers-by as they moved out of (or nearly) the carefully-framed shot. The decades roll on, and the books start to gather dust in the topography section of secondhand bookshops, maybe even ending up on the 'Everything £1' table outside, covered in polythene against the rain. But I feel a renaissance coming on. These straightforward, non-tricksy portraits are of a country before the storm. The telling details of Unmitigated England start to rise up into the consciousness. Where Dedham in Essex now has cars mounting pavements and each other in profusion, 1958 saw just one Fordson van in the street, probably delivering scrag end to the vicar's wife. And Kersey's watersplash is great fun for the flash driver of a cream Austin Somerset. I wonder how much a rotting door sill was to replace?

33 comments:

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

I bet that's the driver's wife watching from the bridge. Or his mistress.

Peter Ashley said...

Yes, I wondered about her. At least I think it's a 'her', but perhaps the thick tweed skirt and impossibly stout brogues are a giveaway. Still, you never know in the darkest corners of Suffolk.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Terrific. And the pics are marvellous if you click on them to blow them up. The tweedy lady is actually looking towards the photographer (maybe he has a Jag parked up somewhere out of shot). And the Somerset has two badges on the radiator grille – one looking like an AA badge, the other, squarer one a mystery to me.

Fred Fibonacci said...

The 'East Anglia' book cover is so evocative. Both pics are, of course, but I read Arthur Ransome's 'Coot Club' last year, having picked up a copy for 50p at a book sale in Highgate Village. It's well worth a read. They all end up having a great adventure on a boat much like the one in the photograph.

As for the racy Somerset, I can see him moments later drying off the distributor cap with a yellow duster (the one he'd kept for polishing) taken from the bottom-hinged boot. She saunters over, noticing the enamel cigarette sign sitting upright behind the driver's seat and the boxes of old luggage labels, railway tickets and assorted old-fashioned pots of jam and mustard almost spilling out of the boot, along with what looks, to her untrained eye, like the sort of tools one might use to tile, say, a bathroom or kitchenette. What an extraordinary collection, she thinks to herself as she walks to the front of the car. The man is grunting and cursing softly as he grapples with the clips on the distributor. A barely-audible belch emerges too; he hasn't noticed her until now. Startled, and clearly embarrassed, the man jumps back, banging his head on the bonnet-release, prompting a giggle.

'I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean to give you a start!' she says, offering her confident, pretty, hand. 'My name's Lily. What's yours?'

'Keith, Keith Ash-.......'

.....to be continued

Peter Ashley said...

I knew Fred'd like it. I love all these different conceptions I've had, but I have to say on the back seat of an Austin Somerset somehow has a certain Unmitigated Resonance about it.

Diplomat said...

Mr & Mrs Somerset were of course the nom-de-travel coined by M for Bond and his new Ruskie squeeze for their train journey back across europe from Budapest. The remnants of a pack of Diplomates in his breast pocket...

Peter Ashley said...

That 'Ruskie squeeze'was, I think, my favourite Bond girl from the books, and in particular the films. The black velvet neckband so erotically displayed by Daniela Bianchi, the....

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stop it, stop it...

Diplomat said...

I think, from the books it'd have to be Vespa Lynd - "...with a square-cut bodice, lasciviously tight across her fine breasts."

Peter Ashley said...

I always get her mixed up with a motorscooter.

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