Tuesday, 29 September 2009

England. Enjoy.

Those nice people at the Guardian have asked me to blog about three things I do to enjoy England. Well, they came to the right place, obviously. But where on earth, or England, to start? The thing is I’m usually out there most of the time, enjoying it all. The sheer variety of landscape, buildings and infinite detail. Here’s a trio of tasters:

If I’m close to home then I’m invariably drawn to Kirby Hall, over the border in Northamptonshire from my home in neighbouring Leicestershire. Originally built in the 1570s-80s, this is a superb example of a ‘prodigy house’. Prodigious in scale, intimate in detail. The Hall sits alone in its park and gardens, found at the end of an avenue of chestnuts alive with the raucous calls of rooks. Part of the house is open to the skies, much more is a succession of echoing rooms- four with tall rounded bay windows that look like the sterns of a pair of galleons. My young boys simply love it, backdrop scenery to their rumbustious adventures.

Pubs figure largely in my wandering itineraries. In London this could mean the Windsor Castle in Notting Hill or the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell. But if I find myself near the Law Courts on the Strand (increasingly likely) then I can’t resist the Seven Stars in Carey Street. A pedigree going back to 1663, well- kept Adnams from the Suffolk coast, posters on the walls for films like Action for Slander, a cat on the bar called Tom Paine. And a redoubtable landlady, Roxy Beaujolais, who keeps it all how I like pubs to be. There’s the inevitable Dickens connection, precipitous stairs to the lavatory, and it survived the Great Fire of London. With the blighting of so many pubs by overt commercial concerns, this a true survivor in anyone’s book.

What else? Well, undeterred by jaded music hall gags- “It’s like a mortuary with the lights on”- we recently spent a week in Barrow-in-Furness. The town was curiously of great interest, but once we’d got beyond submarine buildings (prodigious, but not like Kirby Hall) and Victorian red-brick tenements, we discovered a long walk along the sands to the north. So lonely, so breathtakingly beautiful. The cloud-capped fells of the Lake District rose up over the Duddon estuary, a strange hinterland of alarming sand dunes spread out to the south. We didn’t really see anybody until a bloke in a tracksuit gave us unfathomable directions, but nevertheless we made it back to the car park and welcoming large 99 Flakes from a green-painted hut.
So enjoyable, so England.


Circe said...

Luscious choices, well selected. Thank you for sharing them! Perhaps someday I'll happen upon 1 or 3, if ever I make it over...

I (of course) had to look up what 99 Flakes were-- so glad they're ice creams and not cereal!


Peter Ashley said...

I hope you make it over Circe. England can be a very welcoming place, quite apart from the places and things you'll see.

Diplomate said...

Yes yes - all very well - but - what's happened to your blog, the pics don't link to full size versions - very disappointing as I want to take a proper look at the KH shot - almost certainly a scanned tranny and all the better for it. Many of my early visual memories of KH have strange coloured skies, looming wide-angled elevations with chronic vertical distortions, girls with no clothes on feature heavily and are blurred with images of angry policemen - i think it may have been '75/'76 ish. Dennis Hopper may have been the director. Does any of that help ?

Peter Ashley said...

Of course Diplo. Sorry the photographs don't blow up, it's when I mess about with positioning. Still, you get the idea about Kirby Hall, as you apparently did some years ago. Don't know about Dennis Hopper though. Didn't he invent a bicycle? Very useful, bikes, for meandering about Unmitigated England. Particularly with a squeaky cotter pin.

Circe said...

One would think that after all this experience, I'd know how without a doubt to recognize dry Britwit, tongue in cheek...

Peter surely you DO know Dennis Hopper? And Diplo, I'm not sure if your comment is pointing to/a veiled reference to a film I'm not familiar with or personal acid trip and lurid 60's-70's lifestyle...

And I thought it was spelled kotter pin, but then that's likely an amalgam of my 70's sindicated sitcom culture- Mrs. Beasely's cotter pin repair and stay in the doll hospital facilitated by Mr. French/Sebastian Cabot on Family Affair. And Welcome Back Kotter where John Travolta got his start.

I'm sure this is a fountain of useless information, but as it's quarter past 2 and I just got home from U2 (no not the submarine) I thought I could spare some.

Bono and The Edge say 'ello...

(and yes, I'd love love love to come over some day as has been my dream to... at this point I'd need to arrive in a house that lands on the witch and hope to meet you and diplo, mate, the Martins and EVEN Bucks along the golden path. Maybe one day, though.)

martin said...

I visited the Seven Stars a couple of months ago. Its wonderful,weird,and wonderful-in that order.

Circe said...

Peter, I apologize for blogging while exhausticated.


Peter Ashley said...

Don't you worry Circe, I know how you feel, after having indulged myself tonight in yet another great English pub.

Diplomate said...

Circe - the KH scenes of '75 might well have been brought on by reckless childhood experimentation with the chemistry set and an interest in exotic fungi. The reference to DH is in appreciation of his lurching direction of the cemetery scene in New Orleans (ER'69)(which he has confessed to not remembering much about) but which all rings far too many bells - strange that.

Diplomate said...

Apropos of nothing but possibly brought to mind by thoughts of Dennis Hopper - Terrence Stamp in The Limey, if you haven't done it, get a copy now. Compulsory viewing and sort of Unmitigated in a round about way - the clue is in the title.

Circe said...

Peter, thank you-- gracious as ever.

Diplo, no, not strange at all now that I understand! (Older sisters did all the experimenting in my house and thus they became the experiment, ipso facto, I was so relatively SQUARE, though I suppose as the youngest of 7, can claim to be the "hippest" now.) The odd thing is that as a brit, shouldn't ER stand for Elizabeth Regina, over Easy Rider? In a film referencey way I would have said earlier, "Plate O' Shrimp"* at the fact that precisely as we were speaking of DH, he appeared in the news, sadly with the flu.

* From the Cult Classic, Repo Man.

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