Thursday, 31 July 2008

Being Bould

One fine winter's afternoon in 1997 I came across Bould's garage in King's Cliffe in Northamptonshire. It had been closed for some time, and is now, of course, replaced by a bijou selection of stone-faced houses in this 'sought after village'. I'm so glad I recorded its final few months. It became the reference for a Christmas card I did where I stuck enamel signs all over that blank front wall, but I love the freeze-frame of the past it gives, just as it was when it closed. The National sign with the stylised Mercury head, together with the optimistic 'petrol 24 hours', a Smurf poster (oh no), the faded Castrol dispenser in the doorway and an equally non-confidence building M.O.T sign in the window. Commentator Diplomat has given me a sworn affidavit that he turned up for petrol here and bought a road atlas that had been in the window for about ten years. He was somewhat taken aback to be charged full price for an object whose cover details had faded to almost nothing. Next door was a collection of wrecked cars and vans that I also photographed, but you will all have to eat up your greens if I'm to show it off. Anyway, what exactly was the Smurf thing all about?

The Glooston Terror

It is late afternoon, the brassy sun starting to dip down towards the field edge. But against the lane something stirs under the bark of an ash tree already being strangled by ivy. Billowing out from the trunk it rapidly multiplies itself, silent dark orange bubbles manifesting themselves in the dying light.

The only trouble is, I haven't a clue as to what it's called. The girls have worked overtime in the library again, and we did think we'd hit the jackpot with Fistulina hepatica or Ganderma resinaceum, but were ultimately disappointed. But maybe the alien-like appearance is because it's still an infant. After all, don't these things usually pop-out in the autumn? So it's over to you dear readers. I expect that there will be a fair amount of cod latin suggestions of a doubtful nature, but I do hope that there will be some more scholarly work put in. Of course it may be that this is an entirely new species, brought here from another galaxy. There were rumours of bright lights emanating from near the Glooston pub the other night, but that may have been one of the clientele going home with his car headlights on for once.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Birthday Blog

This blog celebrates its first birthday today. What a time I've had. A Dorset Rhubarb Kiosk, a Gloucestershire Fire Extinguisher. An Essex Cinema, a Kent Moon Rocket. Bedford Vans, Riley Cars. Tattered Penguins and more Golden Syrup than I've got pudding bowls for. And the people. Scarecrows in a Suffolk pea field and a spooky allotment, and, where it all started, a Pink Panther worshipping in a medieval abbey. But probably best of all has been the happy band of commentators that give me as much pleasure as the posts themselves, and through their own blogs take me to worlds that I could never have dreamt existed. Thankyou everybody. (Takes out big onion and red spotted handkerchief.) As Toby Savage said very early on in this enterprise "We used to do this round a pub table". He's right, but it's now a very big table and all are welcome.

I've been saving the LNER book for today, the covers of which are a superb example of the art of Frank Newbould, who gave us some of the very best flat colour graphic posters of the 1930s. Designed for American tourists, the book simply gives a commentary of what can be seen from LNER trains or reached from their destinations. Including, oddly enough, much in Scotland.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Changing Down

Trawling through the Archive this afternoon, looking for a picture of an Ulster linen-weaving machine with a teapot balanced on it, I came across this. It will particularly appeal, I hope, to those who have ever ascended Wardley Hill in Rutland before it was obliterated by a three-lane blacktop that carved a new and utterly boring route up to Uppingham through the limestone escarpment. The road sign indicates the turn into a little lane that led into Wardley village itself. Why I was lurking in a ditch on a late summer afternoon has escaped me, but I think it was something to do with trying out a new telephoto lens on my Pentax. Always a slow gear-grinding haul for lorries, every year they would get stuck in the heavy falls of snow we once had, drivers having to sleep in their cabs with just a tartan-patterned Thermos for company. "Wardley Hill is still blocked", Radio Leicester told us, and we thought of all those Leyland Comets, Guy Warriors, Seddons and Albions disappearing under blankets of piled-up snow. In this photograph it's a much kinder day in 1978 as a Foden tanker (fleet number 147 for truck pedants) transports Heygates Flour eastwards. Or it might have been empty, we shall probably never know. All I do know is that I went "Yes!" when someone lit that bonfire at the bottom of the hill.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Trees & Mr.Badmin

It must seem slightly odd, posting a poster about March trees in July. Mind you, the weather round here recently has had me out gathering wood for the stove, I can tell you. No, this one's because I've been fortunate enough to land some Shell Posters. In the 1950s these were essential educative wall decorations, and a set of Nature Studies adorned my school hall. No.6 June was a favourite, with the same scene of a country house divided into day and night, but they could equally be illustrations of the salient features of counties or the twelve months of a year in trees. Artist S.R.Badmin (1906-88) produced this series, brilliant evocations of the natural history on our doorsteps with each illustration showing pertinent trees with their leaves and fruit in the foreground. Badmin will be remembered for the Ladybird Book of Trees (still one of the best) but his watercolour skills produced hundreds of atmospheric paintings and his fine eye many meticulous line drawings. I was very privileged to be invited to Mr.Badmin's West Sussex home in 1987, and my girlfriend commented that it must be wonderful for him to have the South Downs just outside his big picture window. He poured out some more tea and said "Too close for me my dear".

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A Sticky End

The search is over. No more will I be seen on my hands and knees rummaging at the back of shelves in Sainsburys. No more will supermarket assistants quicken their steps to the rest room when they see me approaching with my notebook in my hand. It's all Tate & Lyle's fault, deciding to taunt me with seven different designs of a gold can to celebrate their anniversary. Why couldn't I just be content with one or two? Why did I have to collect big tins as well as small? Oh no, I was seen everywhere from Tesco's in Devizes to Asda in Wisbech, reaching into dim recesses to turn cans round to see if there was a small tin with 'Fantastic in Flapjacks' on it, or a big tin with 'Happy Birthday Lyle's'. But one tin avoided my obsessive searches. Nowhere (and I do mean nowhere) could I find 'Pour it on Porridge' in the big 907g can. It became the Holy Grail, the tin that I became convinced would be found in a shaft of sunlight on a pedestal of rock at the back of a cave in Borneo. In desperation I started a dialogue with bewildered customer care girls at Tate & Lyle's, more used to dealing with housewives whose treacle tarts hadn't turned-out treacly enough. Eventually my badgering resulted in a very kind note from 'technical'. Apparently they could only fit six separate designs for the big can on one printing sheet. So a large 'Pour it on Porridge' doesn't exist. (I bet they made just one though. I would have.) I pass all this on in case it helps some other poor deluded soul who is still out there getting his hands sticky in Somerfields in Salford or Waitrose in Warminster. Right. Anyone got a recipe for an acre of flapjack?

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Any Excuse

Last night I watched John Schlesinger's 1995 film of Cold Comfort Farm. A thoroughly enjoyable experience, and even if you're a big fan of Stella Gibbons' book I don't think you'll be disappointed in Malcolm Bradbury's adaptation. One of the more obscure high points for me is when Flora Poste persuades Amos Starkadder to buy a Ford van and leave the farm in order to preach his gospel according to The Quivering Brethren. So taken with the idea, he is seen waving the latest Ford van brochure about, a pristine prop if ever I saw one. I got very excited, wincing when Amos appeared to fold it in two to shove it in his pocket, but started to think 'I've got that in the Archive somewhere'. As you will have guessed by now, I haven't. It's for 1938 Bedford Light Vans and I thought I'd just post it anyway. But if any film prop managers need one for an excitable pre-war proto tradesman to flourish on camera, you know where to find it. (No creasing.) For commercial vehicle cognescenti the van pictured is the 5/6 cwt 10hp 4 cylinder version, costing £140 plus £15 tax (in primer). For a 'fine quality cellulose' finish you added another fiver.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Unexpected Alphabets No 3

Mr.Wilkinson was recently very gracious in acknowledging, in his absorbing English Buildings blog, the introduction I gave him to the Welland Valley Viaduct and its attendant church kneelers. So I return the compliment by finally photographing this sign he spotted on the same day behind a straggling hawthorn hedge in Rutland. Goodness knows how long it is since the Leicester Water Department commandeered a field just outside Uppingham, some nineteen miles from the city; it's been either Anglian Water or Severn Trent around here ever since I've had to cough-up to pay their exorbitant bills. But I love the cast iron 'pleasing decay' and the fact that for all its neglect it still manages to shout a stentorian command like an old sergeant major leaning into the wind on a parade ground. A straight forward well-lettered sign that wouldn't have dreamt of displaying a logo or a catch-phrase like 'On Tap For U'.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Sweetie Time

When I had a proper job in an agency, it was the custom on Friday afternoons to get shed loads of sweets in, usually a precursor to one of the juniors being sent out to the local off licence, itself a limbering-up period before hitting the pub in St.John's Wood. So I thought I'd revive the sweets end of things by sharing these jars of goodies with you, shot through the glass of Britcher & Rivers' Rye sweetshop. They remind me that Fox's Glacier Mints were made in Leicester and had a neon polar bear on the gable end of their factory (or did I imagine it?); that one of my favourite Liquorice Allsorts is available on its own as a Pascal Spog; and that I never did see the point of trying to eat a plastic space ship with a tiny spot of sherbet in it. Have the Anglican brethren amongst us noted how much communion wafers have the same pointless flavour? Minus a holy shot of sherbet, of course. However much we're reduced to picking up Revels and Maltesers when we're queuing-up to mortgage ourselves for a gallon of petrol, or slinging catering-size bags of Jelly Babies into supermarket trollies, isn't it encouraging that there are still shops like Britcher & Rivers that unscrew jars of sweets and dish the contents into metal weighing scoops? I'd say more, but it is Friday and at least one local round here opens at five. Have a good weekend.