The melancholy gap between Christmas and New Year is helped along by the Market Harborough Book Fair. Shelves bending under the marshalled ranks of volumes, (why can't I stop myself tidying them up as I go round?), with baize covered tables displaying choice items opened at the best bits, and the church hall window sills put to good use for what are obviously considered the also rans. Where I found this lovely 1950's guide to the town of Malvern, set in one of my favourite parts of England, Elgar's Malvern Hills. "Come to Malvern", says the back cover, "for scenic beauty, pure air and a warm welcome". The advertisements at the back use stock blocks of cows and sheep for local butchers and big briars for tobacconists, and a garage tempting you with the new Standard Vanguard has the telephone number 147. But just look at this front cover. This is what they call 'artistic licence' and whoever did this took a great big one out. The Malvern Hills are dramatic enough, but try as you might you'll be hard pushed to get this perspective of the town. To be honest, I think all he (or she) had to go on was a blurred photograph of the Priory and the thought that there was a hill somewhere near. But it works and is beautiful in its own way, and I expect brought them in their thousands to sample the delights of butchers, tobacconists, garagistes, drapers and outfitters, all clinging to the side of these wonderful Worcestershire hump-backed hills.
A minor road from Leicestershire into Rutland crosses the Eye Brook and climbs in a series of twists and turns to the top of Kings Hill. On the last but one bend a stand of beeches crowns a bluff of land that gives panoramic views of the Beaumont Chase below. I always slow down here, and often just get out of the car by a gate and stand listening to the sighing of the wind in the branches. There is something very special about this place, and one of my New Year resolutions is to find out more. Early yesterday morning a heavy ice laden mist was covering the hilltop, and once again the boles of these trees drew me in. It was eerily quiet, and brought to mind Robert Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on A Snowy Evening, the last verse of which is:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
If you're travelling too, please take care. And a very merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.
Your Unmitigated Traveller struggled through blizzards of snow and ice to bring you this morning's puzzle location. I wanted to show you Clackett's Lane Services on the M25 yesterday afternoon, because for all the world it looked like a frontierman's cabin. All it needed was a grizzly bear leaning-up against a litter bin, but the necessity to load up with pork pies and giant sausage rolls and get going again was overwhelming. I honestly thought I was the going to be the last one out of Kent. So instead here's a warmer holiday photograph from Mr.Gullers.
A trickier one, maybe, and no buses to help everyone along. Perhap's the clue to narrowing it down a bit may lie in the brewery initials up on the pub. I like that bloke with his hands in his pockets. I've got a jacket like that, and I wonder if he brought all that stuff to Quiztown in the back of the car. Talk about an Antiques Roadshow, what with the Staffordshire dog (not a clue) and the copper kettle on the roof. OK, off you go.
Sometimes the most mundane things take on a curiously beautiful life of their own. Son the Youngest thrust my coloured pencils at me recently, and demanded they all be sharpened. I keep a tin of them (an old Illy coffee receptacle for those who care) on the kitchen table, and I reckon there's about 80 in all. They're difficult to keep track of because I keep finding them tucked under pillows and in use as props in Dr.Who games. So I got out the sharpener and set to work. Normally I would stand over the waste bin or next door's garden, but there were so many I thought I'd just let the shavings fall on to the table. Which was very satisfying, because not only was it a job done that was long overdue, it was also fascinating to see how big the pile was at the end. Well, I thought so anyway.
Sorry there hasn't been more Unmitigating over the last week. I couldn't believe that Tuesday had come round again and I'd done nothing to keep the ball rolling. However, as the old adage goes, you wait so long for a bus to appear and then three come along together. Or at least in every post I've done in this new series. The gate pictured was very nearly destroyed in the early twentieth century to enable a travelling circus to make a triumphant entry into the city. They say the proposal was defeated by only one vote at the council meeting, proving that philistine agendas in local government is nothing new.
Another of Mr.Gullers' fabulous photographs. One assumes bus queues were a rarity in his native Sweden. But what a host of fascinating detail, not the least of which is the bus side advertising Timothy Whites & Taylors- never mentioned in our household because my father worked loyally for Boots the Chemists. And the cars. I can only recognise about half of them, but very glad to see an Armstrong Siddeley in there and a Standard Eight that could be the one my brother drove and was the first car in our family. Which is all very well, but where are they all parked?
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), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph