Well, what a day. Everything from the High Victorian visions in Westminster Abbey- red uniforms and internal green trees like it must have been inside the Great Exhibition of 1851- to our village hall with a party for the children- miniature sausage rolls and My Boys (and others, it has to be said) taking it in turns to wear my giant tea cosy that's shaped like a muti-coloured crown. And this sponge cake emblazoned with stencilled castor sugar (I think). It was a little thing, and I expect there were a few thousand like it up and down the bunting-ed and beflagged streets of the nation, but this was one of ours. I loved it all, the care and precision of everything from a military epaulette to a flag stuck in a cake. "I was glad", as Hubert Parry had it for everyone in the Abbey, but particularly for that stunning processing bride. God bless 'em.
In accordance with my New Year resolution to try and stop driving by interesting things without photographing them, I give you the remains of an old cottage in Blaston, Leicestershire. For years it has been covered in ivy, and the ground surrounding it a heaven of tangled undergrowth from which sprouted a few beehives. "I really must hop over the gate and photograph that" I muttered to myself every time I drove by. The thing is it's very near my home, and I see it virtually every day. So there was always another time. Until last week, when I saw that the ground had been cleared and levelled, and an ominous planning application poster was tied to a metal five bar gate. Last chance then, so I saw the other side of the cottage for the first time. It was like seeing an old friend suddenly stripped of their clothing, if you'll forgive my doubtful analogy. Just the bare bones really, but nevertheless an interesting object lesson on various building materials. I'm so glad I stopped and recorded it. For certain it will never be seen like this again.
Last weekend the roads around here were filled with remarkable motor cars- 'Drive It Day' or something. I don't know where they came from or where they ended up, but they must have been let out of the meeting paddock in staggered groups. A stately Austin Devon estate followed by a bulbous Somerset and then a few minutes later by a muted growl of MGBs. I ran about trying to photograph them, tripping up kerb stones and poking the lens through cherry blossom for effect. Nothing really worked, but then this Rover 2000TC purred into shot and I managed to catch the rear end. I remember this shape of Rover coming out, and it took a bit of getting used to after its predeccessors. But then one day in 1975 I drove one around Bradford for some reason and thought 'This is rather nice'. There was something really revolutionary about the design, like seeing a Citroen DS for the first time. It was the first winner of European Car of The Year in 1964 and was built in Solihull between 1963-1977. One for village doctors, police inspectors and regional heads of sales, usually with pipefulls of Erinmore on the go.
Sorry to have been off piste for a while, but at least I've been to Oxford on a bright warm April day, the streets awash with cycling professors and neo-punk girls. Unsuccessfully avoiding one of my favourite bookshops- Blackwell Art & Architecture, I then started to loiter with intent along unfamiliar streets, particularly in North Oxford with its detached houses of red brick and tiles forming the backdrops to billowing pink and white blossomings. Perhaps many are now divided up into flats, but it's still perfectly possible to imagine dons bent over Heroditus in their studies, dutiful wives out on the terraces with Bombay Sapphires, and the ghost of John Betjeman in the evening- "Oh! Fuller's angel-cake, Robertson's marmalade / Liberty lampshade, come shine on us all". And then St.Aldates and a wonderful timber survivor that embellishes the pavement outside the post office. Don't you just love that 'Newspapers and packets"? Only one sight caused me a little grief, as I ranged up my camera in The Broad to snap this row of gabled cottages with their warm stone roof tiles and coloured renders. Visitors to Unmitigated England know of my distaste for the current fad of over decorating buses, but how can the city live with this playschool crayoning? So come on Oxford, this isn't Blackpool; rise up from your sofas and re-runs of Morse and Lewis and demand something that better reflects and complements the beautiful and absorbing sights to be seen from the top deck.
I don't know how big, or little, this series might be,or indeed how soon the next one will appear. But this is the first, a remarkable find pointed out to me on the 30mph sign painted last year on an approach road into Hallaton in Leicestershire. A stray leaf from a nearby ash tree had obviously landed on the road, and the sign maker just covered it over with his thick white paint. Rain, salt and tyre scuffing did the rest, until the leaf finally disappeared, leaving its ghost made from the tarred surface. So of course I'm now out there seeing if it's happened elsewhere, dodging the traffic and not for the first time on my hands and knees in the middle of the road.
I am a 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) and Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012)