Yesterday I found myself walking along the beach at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. I'd only been here once before, an impulsive turn off the M5 some years ago, just to see what it was like. It was winter, raining, and I got back on the motorway very quickly. On that first visit I didn't notice that you can see Cardiff very clearly on the horizon, with the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm imbetween. Or the little miniature railway in Clarence Park or the streets that are like a tiny Victorian Bath nestling under the Iron Age fort on Worlebury Hill. Yesterday I saw it all, and ate a huge piece of cod washed down with a pint of Guinness in celebration on the seafront. Of course a fresh breeze and sunlit breakers far out to sea helped, as did the donkeys on the beach and the little Land Train tooting along the promenade. And then to cap it all I spotted a swirl of smoke over a hedge. Not the pier going up again, but Carters Steam Fair, here for the summer. Blog followers may remember them in Chiswick, and it was raining back then also. So I ran about here like a demented idiot, snapping away. Fairs don't get better than this, everything very traditional and superbly painted and not a hint of David Essex standing combing his hair on the back of a dodgem. But steam rides or not, Weston-super-Mare is certainly worth a detour off the motorway for. But don't just drive quickly down the seafront in the rain.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
Friday, 28 August 2009
My father first waved a copy of H.V.Morton's In Search of England at me in the sixties. With virtually no knowledge of the things Morton talked about I suppose I found it quaint; somewhat dated without knowing what it was outdated from. I re-read it a couple of times, but hadn't picked it up again until very recently. What a difference forty years makes. I now find it stands up with the very best of English topographical literature, mainly because Morton is such a good travelling companion. In those early editions the sepia photograph of the Peddars Way in Norfolk always struck a lost chord, and so these pictures are my homage to him and his work. The Peddars Way runs down from Holme next the Sea to, well, nobody really knows. The Romans utilised it as a route to Colchester, pilgrims sang along it to get nearer to Walsingham. These days the trackway (and very occasionally metalled road) appears to run out at a place called Gasthorpe, but I walked a section of it recently up in North Norfolk near Great Massingham. Morton wrote: "I am conscious that this is a ghostly spot. Every time a leaf falls, every time there is a sudden rustle in the undergrowth I look up, half-expecting to see a figure not of this age coming towards me along the dead road". Believe me, I now know what he means.
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
I am increasingly drawn, if you'll pardon the appalling pun, to the work of Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, (1907-85, 1910-98). I don't think we know who did what on their work; perhaps they were so much of one mind they started in opposite corners, worked until they joined up in the middle and then had a cup of tea. This illustration is one of four posters they did for the London Underground, and is probably my all time favourite. The other three are entitled Wood, River, Heath- this one is Down- and were for promoting the great outdoors to hard-pressed city dwellers in 1933. The Ellis's most prolific output was for nearly 100 gouache dust jackets for the remarkable Collins New Naturalist Series, and so have assured their place not only on nature lovers bookshelves but also in the collections of those who appreciate the stunning artwork. I haven't got one copy, so was relieved to find out recently that there's a set of the first 70 going for £6,000. Which is a bargain, strange though it may seem. Clifford and Rosemary also designed lorry posters for Shell (see one here) and were instrumental in setting up the Bath Academy of Art. What brought all this on? Well, on looking up stuff in the Betjeman edited Collins Guide to English Parish Churches last night, I found they'd done the cover for that too.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
This one could run and run. The car is definitely from the Unmitigated Garage, looking as it does like an Austin Somerset on steroids. How good was that, Austin naming their cars after English counties. The Devon, the Hereford, the Hampshire. Imagine doing that now, having a Susuki Shropshire, a Nissan Norfolk, a Lexus Leicestershire...(that's enough made-up car names. Ed.).
Anyway, good luck, I'm off to get the washing out.
Sunday, 23 August 2009
A two-and-a-half mile route march before last night's supper (spaghetti and meatballs) with The Boys, down into the Eye Brook valley near Stockerston on the Leicestershire / Rutland border. The footpath goes in front of the orange brick, cedar shadowed Stockerston Hall, standing behind trees and next to the church where we once again sought out the impromptu signatures on the glass. The second leg of the triangular walk took us past these stacked up straw bales, and the thought occurred to me that we don't see this very often now. I don't mind the big round variety, sitting like giant Shredded Wheat in the fields, unless of course they're shrink-wrapped in that shiny black or pale blue plastic. This is how I like 'em, the Unmitigated Bale Out. Straw towers are to be seen, fleetingly, all over the surrounding acres here, and they brought to mind Philip Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings: 'I thought of London spread out in the sun, / Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat...'. We perhaps won't see straw stacks being sheeted down against autumn storms by Gabriel Oak anymore, but here at least is an almost architectural, if only temporary, exhibition to enjoy. (Title: Agri-Cultural.)
Friday, 21 August 2009
A day at Walberswick on the Suffolk coast. Reached down winding lanes across the sandy heaths or by a rowing boat ferry from the Southwold shore, this is rapidly becoming a Daily Telegraph reading version of The Hamptons, that playground of the wealthy middle class in north east America. So reminiscent of Edward Hopper paintings with stark bright light, hard shadows and black weatherboarded orange pantiled buildings next to the River Blyth outfall. Everything crying out to be recorded in paint or pixels. Out on The Flats, children (including mine) let string down from a wooden bridge parapet over a tidal creek to catch little crabs with bacon bait. We used washing tablet net bags weighted with pebbles. Caught many, landed few. If I was a crab I'd lay up in a bed of samphire until the evening. Girls walk by on the beach discussing gap years on tiny mobiles, fathers start to relax in big navy blue shorts and mothers fret about the unsuitable boys their sons have brought down for the summer. Bright pinpoints of light sparkle on the water, shouts of pleasure are carried off like seagull cries on the breeze. I sit in the marram grass of the dunes keeping an eye on Youngest Boy as he crests the smaller waves and shouts something unspeakable to his brother. My boot catches something buried deep in the warm sand- a torn piece of rusted metal like a shapeless sea monster that goes straight into my bag. I like it here.
Monday, 17 August 2009
Posting this week's puzzle picture a bit early, as Norfolk is beckoning for three days. Interesting one this, as the answer wasn't quite what I expected. Another nice drawing- I like that tug boat going by. We don't see them very often now, but I can just remember watching them fussing and nudging about in the Pool of London and beyond, and wishing I could hear them all sound their robust hooters on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. Tug boats. Once as ubiquitous in London life as black cabs and red buses.
Friday, 14 August 2009
This is a shameless plug for a new kid on the blog, the bloggee being not unknown to me. Wartime Housewife is a template for our age, and even though I knew at first hand many of the recommendations contained therein, it has made me re-think my manifold sins already. This is no hippie-style crapping on about dodgy diets where you eat nothing but walnuts and boiled eggs, and it won't tell you how to crochet a bicycle. It's not an austerity whinge, and it all fits perfectly into the idea of Unmitigated England. (After all, we need home comforts when we come in from staring at corrugated iron.) No, this is plain common sense, and it's fun. Wartime Housewife does a good turn, if she'll pardon the expression, and there's something here for us all.
Thursday, 13 August 2009
I photographed this chap on our nearby green lane last Saturday afternoon, and I'm a little unsure what it is apart from being fungaloid. Pouring through the books the nearest I get is that it might be a young Shaggy Ink Cap. If so, presumably it will grow into what my King Penguin Edible Fungi calls '...a murderous stake' for some reason. Of course it might also be unbelievably toxic and its poisonous spores may have been carried home in my camera bag where they will grow until they burst out in the middle of the night and start re-arranging the furniture. Or not. I'm looking forward to getting out into the local woods this autumn and finding other examples of these wonderfully photogenic subjects, although the combination of wet weather and humid conditions appear to have made them start appearing much earlier than usual. I hope to find the elusive Giant Puffball in order to eat it after the photo shoot.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Sorry, very late publishing the puzzle this morning. Late night, blah, blah. Anyway, here it is. I love this picture, and glad to be reminded of Liptons, whose tea we can still buy. Mr. Lipton helped run his parents' shop in the Gorbals and then expanded into just about every town in the country. He bought his own tea plantations so that he could supply his own shops and keep the price down. Fancy that. Which is nothing, once again, to do with the puzzle. Good luck.
Monday, 10 August 2009
I've just remembered I'd promised some pictures from English Heritage's Festival of History 2009. Once again on the pastures surrounding Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire, it was a heady mix of everything from Roman Legionaries tramping about in sandals (sinister dexter, sinister dexter) to a Hurricane appearing from over Market Harborough to help out with the Normandy Landings. Photo calls abounded, as you can see. Particular favourites were this off duty First World War couple, and gorgeous pouting ATS women serving cakes and biscuits to their khaki-clad menfolk. I was wandering about with a bag full of old cigarette packets looking for instant still life opportunities for the hopefully coming soon The Cigarette Papers, and the ATS girls were very willing for me to toss my Players onto their teatowel. But most memorable for us was the Tudor Executioner. A brilliant, informative lecture about amputations, hangings, beheadings and drawing and quartering. The adults went pale green and turned away (he even had a severed head in a basket), the children cheered and couldn't get enough of it. Apparently an English Heritage official had tried to get the hanging corpse taken down; quite rightly it was allowed to stay. We want more of this, not sealing history up into easily digestible sanitised parcels. Bring on the rack.
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
A week in Barrow-in-Furness. Which sounds like the punch line of a northern music hall joke, but in fact this industrial town has much of interest to the Unmitigated Tourist once you get over the fact that every view is blocked by a simply gargantuan submarine factory. It started off as a tiny village in Lancashire, grew into an mid-Victorian iron and steel port that in turn got into shipbuilding before going underwater as it were, leaving a town that even Cumbria (the county it's now in) appears to forget. To the north of the town are empty beautiful beaches with cloud-topped fells as a backdrop, to the south the joy of a salty ferry trip to Piel Castle, sharing its tiny island with a row of atmospheric coastguard cottages. To the north east and east is of course some of the most stunning scenery in the country. But it is possible to avoid the more obvious tourist traps of the Lake District, and my personal preferences are for quiet Eskdale, running up from the tiny lost port of Ravenglass to the Hardknott Roman Fort; the Cartmel Peninsular, and the country that opens up above the delightful little town of Broughton-in-Furness. It's all here. Rusting street signs, Unmitigated railway carriages and corrugated barns. Big sands, big seas, big skies. And not a stick of rock to be seen, unless it's a shard of home-grown slate.
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Don't worry if it looks like we've jumped ahead in the series. We finished the first lot (thank goodness) two weeks ago, and now we're on to the first of Only Daughter's Discovery of some transports of delight. So here we see two passing trains made up of 'blood and custard' carriages running through what looks like a cutting somewhere in Southern England. Er, that's it really. Holiday pics coming up later this week.