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....
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