My domestic computer has decided not to allow me to download pictures on to my blog. Which is not helpful, considering having a photograph is fairly essential to the whole idea. So I will download it from my other piano in the morning. Sorry for delay. I mean why?
I do hope regular readers aren't getting too tired of Unmitigated England being an Unmitigated Quiz at present. But just think about it as leaving the central heating on low so that the house doesn't freeze up. The New Year (I've just decided) will be the start of all the usual things you've come to expect and been deprived of: corrugated iron, fag packets, Vimto bottles etc. With a Christmas Special of course. In the meantime, how about this?
Complete change of locale this week, and away from the Deep South for once. This crane dominates the skyline of what I think is a very fascinating and absorbing place, once one gets beyond the sneers and music hall jokes that once surrounded it.
This has got to be one of my favourite churchyards. Mainly for the view from it- the half-timbering, orange brick, white painted dormers and the whole thing looking like a backdrop to a Powell & Pressburger film like A Canterbury Tale. Which gives a kind of a clue as to which quarter of the country we're in.
What can I possibly say? All has not been as it should be in Unmitigated England, but my dear readers should never have been left high and dry with just a clock tower to look at. So, once again, sincere apologies. And also to those who tried to e-mail me on the address attached to the blog. Another major failure with the intranet that has only just been sorted. Normal service is now resumed, and I hope (if anyone's still out there) that the next few weeks will see things getting better and better. Thankyou for your patience. So, where's this then?
Last Friday night saw us in Cirencester, at a private view for another exhibition of the work of Tony Meeuwissen. I've gone on about Tony's work before, but at the Corinium Museum was another chance to see it again. I can only say you must try and see it. It's only on until the end of October, but there may be other opportunities. I can't remember the last time my jaw literally dropped open at the sight of such incredible design and illustration, unless it was when I saw his exhibition in Stroud last year. The two playing cards above will give you a hint as to what's in store; they're from his deck of cards The Key To The Kingdom. There are beautiful signed prints available too, and whilst I'm in recommending mood, if you need a good hotel in the town then give The Fleece a go. What a lot of links, but it's worth it.
Abject apologies for my non-arrival yesterday. Unavoidable, so perhaps I should start a new series called Where Was I Yesterday?, which applies to the uncompromising scene above. A tricky one I know, but the big clue I can give is that just off to the left of this scene is one of my very favourite dock structures in England. As seen in a recent book.
You know how it is. You have an hour to kill between Nottingham and Derby so you start wandering aimlessly about hoping that something will grab your attention. That's what happened to me this morning and I found this, first as an enormous silhouette against the sun across the fields, and then on arriving in Derby Road Draycott I discovered this deeply impressive frontage to Jardine's Victoria Mill. Built between 1888 and 1907 it was started by E. Terah Hooley, a wealthy local industrialist, but finished by Ernest Jardine who stuck his name up below the clock face. It's all here- cream coloured rock-faced stone at the base and then red brick, blue brick, stone dressings and then that fishscale roof topping it out. And the clock still works and does Westminster chimes. They reckon this was the largest lace factory in the world and I'm not surprised, it appears to endlessly march down Elvaston Street at the side. I must come back when the sun lights the western elevation where there are four huge bow-fronted staircase turrets. What do you think? I ran about snapping away like a madman.
To Leicester, and on a beautiful autumn Saturday afternoon we find ourselves in the incredible enclave of Belgrave. Once a small village by the River Soar, it is now surrounded by the teeming life of the big city. But taking a turn off the Loughborough Road brings you into a cul-de-sac where time has stood still. At least on the outside. At the end is the granite-walled St.Peter's church, to the left (top picture) is the early eighteenth century Belgrave Hall (it says 1715 on a rainwater head), opposite gardens that reach down to the river next door to Belgrave House (bottom pic), built later in the same century. The Hall belongs to Leicester Museums, and we would turn up here on winter mornings in the early 1960's just to get a warm from the coal fire that sputtered in the entrance hall grate. It's still much as I remembered, except more museum-ised and all that that means in 2010. Posters stuck to the reverse of the door, computer on a table, exhibits brought in from other houses etc. and what looks like the start of a Christmas (sorry, Celebratory Season) Bazaar. My boys of course were very impressed with the stories of ghosts that have appeared here, particularly the internationally famous one that posed for the CCTV camera a few years ago. They of course saw ghoulish spirits at every turn. Oh, wet leaves, orange brick, the sound of oars dipping in water and then home to fish 'n' chips from the van that chuffs along at 30mph with hot oil slopping about in the back and smoke pouring out across the fields from a tin chimney.A perfect Saturday all round.
PS: Off to Unmitigated Wales tomorrow, so Where's That Then? will be next week
I'm going to do a much longer blog about this place, but the fountain is the quite jaw-dropping centre (and master) piece. Until the end of October you can see it burst into watery life almost every hour between 11 and 4; the 'firing-up' being described as being like 'the noise of an express train'. I discovered it on Saturday, couldn't keep my eyes off it and want to go again as soon as I can. Oh yes, the house is worth a look too. Any ideas?
Inundated with Battle of Britain celebrations (celebs flying Spitfires, everyone making Woolton Pie) I turned to Flying Officer X. He was a kind of uniformed Writer In Hangar for the wartime RAF, and produced two books of short stories: The Greatest People In The World (1942) and How Sleep The Brave (1943). They actually concern Bomber Command, but the ethos is the same- young men flying by the seat of their khaki overalls on operations. The pilots, navigators, observers and rear-gunners of those leviathans of the sky, their bravery, their courage, their bar bills. Flying Officer X was of course the masterful story writer H.E.Bates, and these two little books should help put paid to the lie, recycled by James Delingpole recently when he repeated in the Spectator what friends had told him, namely that Bates books were just 1930's romantic slush. There may be romance (usually bitter sweet) in his work, but none of it is slush. Quite the opposite. And he wrote superb novels, novellas and collections of short stories right up to the 1970s. The two RAF books were combined as The Stories of Flying Officer X and you can get a cheap copy on Abe Books .
Hopefully a less tricky one this week. What can I say other than I'm often going round the ring road here and swerving into the local Waitrose for one of their Hoysin Duck wraps and a bottle of Oasis Summer Fruits. There you are you see, a Waitrose. What a clue.
I felt I had to show another Raymond Hawkey design. The first edition of this book has a tipped-in miniature dossier at the front with perfect facsimiles of British and American government letters and plans of aircraft and maps of China. All in a manilla file with 'Top Secret' stamped on it. I nearly wept in the bookshop. The photographer was Adrian Flowers.
I was very sad to hear a few days ago of the passing of Raymond Hawkey. Without doubt he was the first major influence on my life as a graphic designer. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say his work was revolutionary on its first appearance, and still stands up admirably today. Hawkey once went to a party, and was deputed to eject a gatecrasher who turned out to be Len Deighton. They became lifelong friends, and Hawkey produced the dust jackets for a long series of Deighton's novels. Just take a detailed look at that cover for Funeral in Berlin. And if you want to see one of the best film title sequences ever, watch Oh! What a Lovely War, written and produced by Deighton. (Although for reasons still not entirely clear Deighton took his name off Richard Attenborough's directorial debut.) Hawkey was also the designer who put a bullet hole through the Pan paperback cover of Ian Fleming's Thunderball. Along with John Gorham, he will never be forgotten.
I only discovered this sublime place a couple of weeks ago. Yet another thing I love about England- you never know what's around the next corner. A bit like Northern Ireland, when I drove round a bend and found an old man worse for drink lying in the middle of the road in the pouring rain. Passing motorists negotiated me trying to pick him up so that I could lay him over a fence like an old carpet waiting to be beaten, both of us clutching each other in a ghastly dance. Anyway, how about this? Impossibly English, it must have been used as a period film location.
Right then. Sorry for all this mucking about. All will become clear, because I'm bringing a book to its conclusion and my brain is therefore degenerating. More of that later, but in the meantime I give you a London corner turret. Quite spectacular, there are variants all around it. Not the usual quiz monochrome, but I stared and stared at this yesterday, an ample reward for the UE Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Always Look Up.
Having been away I have returned to my computer to find someone's messed about with my photo settings and it's going to take me all day (well, when I'm back from Darkest Essex) to find out what's happened. So. Very sorry. Normal service will probably be in the morning now. Curses.
I used to pass through here fairly regularly, which is no use at all. I went through it three weeks ago or so and it hasn't changed that much from the picture, just more traffic. What more useful clue can I give? I know. Think Mary and Eliza.
This is my very recent shot of the Cley-next-the-Sea windmill featured in last Tuesday's quiz. I managed to get down into someone's tiny boat moored on the water, almost exactly where the boat is in the original picture. You can immediately see how much silting and general narrowing has gone on in the last 60-odd years. My trouble was that I had great difficulty in getting out of the boat, and ended up going in the River Glaven. In obvious distress that naturally involved a lot of very loud cursing, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, who shall be nameless, couldn't do anything for laughing, and when I finally got back up onto dry land by squelching up a wooden ladder, I found people patting her on the back because she was crying and choking at the same time.
Deceptively simple. Probably. All I'll say is that although this view today still has the mill, a river and boats (and very little else), it looks very different. Think silting up, as you do on a Tuesday morning.
This view is a very unexpected sight, considering what's at the top of the hill behind the photographer. I often bring people from a railway station not too far away, and without exception they all gasp with astonishment. Extra Wilkins Orange & Tangerine Marmalade for the nearby town.
A photograph by John Piper. Obviously best known for his paintings, prints, ceramics, set design and all stations to Fawley Bottom, his photography always repays study. I think, along with Edwin Smith et al, he was one of our finest topographical photographers, shooting on a Hasselblad for the most part and printing up his pictures in the stables at Stonor Park near his home. But where was he on this day?
Once again we found ourselves in a Northamptonshire field staring at red coats, green tents, yellow knights and, for a time, blue skies and white clouds. Yes, this weekend it was the English Heritage Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall. It has to be one of the most photogenic gatherings it's possible to see, and all over a couple of days. Belgian refugees camping out on their way to the coast in what looked like my brother's old Standard Eight, demurely-stockinged ambulance drivers, Roman centurions going 'sinister dexter' like in Carry On Cleo, muskets and markets, jousting and jesters. And as if to say "You've seen nothing yet" a Hurricane does a low noisy pass over the wheatfields from Market Harborough, and then on a whim spirals upwards into those white clouds. I suddenly felt the need of a cold Charles Wells' Bombardier in a hot tent. (Bombardier is a beer, before anybody says anything.)
I've been deeply immersed in the Romney Marsh this week (and once or twice quite literally), but obviously couldn't resist another flying visit to Dungeness. On leaving I spotted this curious building, looking like a 1930's public lavatory for the vertically-challenged. But I know that the Southern Railway ran trains down here until 1937, so wondered if this was something to do with it. It's so out of character, that is: not being made of driftwood and not looking like it might take off in the next Channel storm. So, can anybody out there help?
It really hasn't changed that much. The photograph was taken before the war, on a hot summer's day. But there's a cooling stream running along in the dip, and Tony Richardson used it for the opening scenes of his Tom Jones follow-up, the rarely seen Joseph Andrews, (1977), another Fielding classic.
Haven't had a rant for a long time. So here's one. We have a pub in our vicinity that changes landlord about as often as the barrels. It's owned by one of those wretched 'tavern' groups- you know the sort. They put put up an awful plastic banner outside of a bollocksed 'tavern' that says "You could run this pub" which means that any tosspot riding by on a bike goes "Ooh, I've always wanted to do that". So you end up with someone running it who likes the idea of being a pub landlord but is completely unaware of how much work it means (all day, everyday), and how much word-of-mouth recommendation means, particularly in backswood villages like ours. So, yet again, we've got a new landlord in this one. Of course I beamed and welcomed him, and he regarded me with great suspicion. Which is normal. Then I asked "Are you going to stock Mini Cheddars?". He looked at me as though I'd just asked him if I could have sex with his wife, and said "Don't know". A week later I asked again. "Any Mini Cheddars on the way?". "No", and goes back to his paper. You see, I like a packet of something to help the beer go down. It doesn't have to be Mini Cheddars of course, but it was becoming a bit of an obsession with me. And you know what that means. Last week I walked into an empty pub (here we go) and asked "Those Mini Cheddars in yet?". Blokey puts his crossword pen down and says "Look. The wholesaler only does Walkers. Ok?". I'm going to try my level best not to go in there again, which severely restricts my options to two locals, but in both I'm always made to feel that my custom is valued. I mean, how difficult would it have been for Mr. Genial Landlord to go and buy a months worth of Mini Cheddars from bloody Sainsbury's? After all, that's probably longer than he's going to be here. So he could then say "Here you are Pete, got these in for you". I'd tell everybody how good he is and I'd still be sitting at the bar now. But I'm not.
To make up for my dilatory ways, I give you two landscapes. The top one is of a range of low hills to the west of the road between Ashley (no relation) and Medbourne in Leicestershire, just after crossing over the River Welland by the old single storey limestone station that stands by a row of tall poplars. The sunlight on Sunday evening was perfect, lighting up the clouds above the fields and woods as the sun started to sink down over the western horizon. There was an immense sense of calm, the still scene only interrupted by the odd crow flying home to roost. By contrast, the following morning was very bright and breezy with a classic blue sky and cumulus clouds just starting to tower over the Northamptonshire countryside. This is a lane that runs westwards from the hamlet of Wigsthorpe to the A605 Northampton to Peterborough road just to the south east of Oundle.
Many apologies for the non-appearance of Where's That Then?. Much is going-on in Unmitigated England just at present, and I awoke with horror this morning realising that I had neglected to furnish you with a puzzle pic. I think a revision of my working practices is in order, and hope that on the 'regular features' front there will be a more constant and regular supply coming through soon.
Off it goes. The world's oldest brand hoiked out and flogged to the Americans. It seems that Tate & Lyle aren't interested in sugar refining anymore. Which is a bit like Cadbury's saying they're not interested in chocolate. Oh no, hang on a minute....
So, we've apparently got until Wednesday to use up all those £20 notes with Elgar on them we've been hoarding under the futon. I thought they'd got rid of 'im years ago, and thought it an utter disgrace then as now. But here's a tale they won't remember. When the Elgar note first came out, it coincided with the house you can see in front of Worcester Cathedral being put up for sale. The estate agent quickly capitilised on the fact and made a big thing about it in the press. That's it really.
This will all seem incredibly self-indulgent (so, what's new) but it's hot and I thought you'd all like to see where I went yesterday. Eagle-eyed UE followers will probably recognise this fishing boat, because it's just about the only one left on the beach at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. I've been coming here since 1968 when I got both Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears to write their names on a postcard of Aldeburgh, and at the same time managed to get Mr.Britten to bang his head so violently on the boot of his white Alvis drophead that a load of crotchets and quavers fell to the ground outside the White Lion Hotel. The great thing about this little coastal town is that it hasn't really changed all that much in the intervening forty two years. Quite apart from the excellent fish 'n' chips down at the Slaughden end, cool pints of Adnams in the Cross Keys and music snobs swatting flies with the Telegraph, you can still buy fish straight out of a tarred hut on the shingle. This boat, Silver Harvest, caught a hundred lobsters at the weekend, and I took one of them home with me, together with some delicious green samphire. And I want to go back for more NOW.
Whenever I say to anyone that my favourite film of all time (possibly) is Tom Jones, certain amongst them always start singing 'It's not unusual to be loved by anyone'. But of course those not given to this will remember perhaps that it's the film of the first great English comic novel, by Henry Fielding. I simply couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it in the Picture House in Leicester. Directed by Tony Richardson in 1963, it was blessed with a script by John Osborne and photography by Walter Lassaly, every frame of which was (and still is) a great joy. It also went on to sweep the board at the Oscars. Most importantly it unlocked the door for me that opened up to reveal the immense possibilities that the English countryside had to offer, and, well, the rest is history I suppose. So this was the house used for the home of Squire Western, played by the irrepressible (and drunk) Hugh Griffiths. One memorable scene, filmed on hand-held cameras, followed the raucousness of a hunt meeting here, positioned as it is facing the end of a cul-de-sac that runs down from a magnificent church. Don't worry about the name of the house, only the village.
Straying behind the lines here, but look at this, surely the ideal car for Wartime Housewife to go to rummage sales in. I passed over £1.50 for this December 27th 1944 copy of The Motor yesterday, and I think it's worth a tenner just for the front cover. By this time England was thinking that the end of the war must be in sight, as indeed it was, and the Riley ad. says: "Through the years, Riley enthusiasts have valued increasingly those excellences which so unmistakably individualize this Car of Quality. Their approbation will be further heightened, when, as expeditiously as may be, the post-war Riley comes into service." You don't get the word 'approbation' much these days, certainly not in car advertising. Note the hint of expectancy in these advertisements for so many products unavailable in the duration, marking time before everyone could run down to the shops on V.E.Day for gravy browning. And the likes of Horlicks, which was kept back for convalescing troops. I somehow doubt that Riley ever produced this car in such a 21st century colour, but when I get mine I'll be very tempted to get it resprayed just like this.
Monday morning, the Dorset coast on the Isle of Purbeck. We walk from Worth Matravers down a narrow dusty lane white with dust between two hills striped with lynchetts. Round a corner we disturb an adder, basking in the hot sun. It loops its way back into the bracken, the stones under its belly shaking like tiny maraccas. It could have been 130 years ago on Hardy's Egdon Heath, and any minute expected the reddleman to appear round a corner with his cart stacked-up with blocks of red sheep dye. The lane ran deeper until suddenly opening out into a disused quarry, the empty quay just feet from a heaving blue tide. This is Winspit, where stone was taken from under the cliffs and shipped directly out by boat. The empty caverns are simply awesome, and frightening when we thought about the sheer weight above us. One entrance had an iron grille over it and a forlorn notice about horseshoe bats, and then I spotted an equally sinister growth of fungus on an elder branch fallen across the opening. I haven't identified it yet, expecting it to be called 'silk purses' or even better 'pig's ears'.
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)