I've enjoyed the variety of weather this year as much as any I can remember.I'm not one for excessive heat, retiring as I tend to do under awnings and standing about with a Panama pulled down over my ears. So a hot day that ends in a spectacular thunderstorm watched from a local pub window holds a particular appeal. And then to traverse my stretch of countryside as the clouds clear and the last of the sun spotlights the fields brings me dancing about on the wet grass verges. The only sound the odd bleat from the fields and my village church sounding the hour. It doesn't get much better than this.
We've just spent a little time on the Suffolk coast. Southwold to be more precise, or Adnams-on-Sea as I shall now call it. It doesn't matter how far away from the classic town brewery I drink their ales, I'm always left with a self-satisfied beam on my face. But to drink a Southwold Bitter or, my current preference, a few Broadsides, within a handful of miles of the town is a very distinct pleasure. Anyway, Friday evening found us on Southwold Pier, running about like children as we enjoyed Tim Hunkin's joyful slot machine arcade called The Under The Pier Show. Gloriously old fashioned, utterly eccentric and delightfully bonkers. The one in the top photo is his Quantum Tunnelling Telescope, but sadly, like many seaside telescopes when the money runs out, the view from it was strangely absent. But it did make lots of noise.
More sedate was the Dovecote Studio at Snape Maltings. (Get your cow-shaped butter dishes here.) Snugly positioned in the stabilised ruins of the original 'cote', this is a Cor-ten steel monocoque shell that was prefabricated and then dropped in by crane. The architects were Haworth Tompkins. I pondered its use for so long, but had I bothered to walk round it, instead of complaining when anybody walked in front of it as the sun came out, I'd have seen that it had windows. It's used by musicians and artists in-residence and, I expect, as a useful hideaway for the Snape Maltings staff as they discuss the latest balsamic vinegars. I love this kind of thing, practical innovative thinking for a building that not only looks good, but also fits in (literally) with its surroundings. A good place to quietly put a few Broadsides away, staring out across the lonely marshes towards the sea, Britten's Sea Interludes in your ear and... (that's enough arty-crafty Suffolk references: Ed.)
I have been much exercised recently by thoughts concerning Ben Wheatley's new film A Field in England. On the first viewing I got to the end with my mouth open wide, and at the end of my second viewing I got to the end with my mouth open even wider. By turns it is: infuriating, brilliant, masterful, disorientating and beautifully atmospheric. Shot with great care in monochrome by Laurie Rose, many will, and indeed do, hate it. I loved it. So much so that I said to The Boys "Why don't we do an homage to it?" They readily agreed, rummaged around for big coats and hats that held an extremely vague approximation to a mid-seventeenth century look and got down to writing the script over a hastily disposed of supper. The restrictions were manifold. It had to be one shot, two lines of dialogue at the most and the location within a mile of Ashley Towers. I knew we'd have a problem with the wind buffeting the tiny mike on the camera, but we had great fun, and for what it's worth here it is. Have a look at the real thing, and if you experience it on DVD you can make up for any misgivings by watching all the 'making of' extras, which are amongst the most informative and entertaining I've seen. Particularly the uncensored views of performer Michael Smiley and the practicalities of blowing somebody's face off.
So there we were, motoring between tall hedges with the twin towers above their lonely beach playing peek-a-boo with us as we edged nearer to Reculver on the North Kent coast. "James Bond came down here in his Aston Martin DBIII in Moonraker" I said. "Really?" she replied, somewhat suspiciously. Quite rightly. Bond's visit was in Ian Fleming's Goldfinger (1959): He came up with a crossroads. To the left the signpost said RECULVER. Underneath was the ancient monument sign for Reculver church. Bond slowed, but didn't stop. We did, and spent a happy hour wandering about the gaunt ruins and beach, trying to avoid being in that other photographer's viewfinder. "Don't worry" he said, "I'll Photoshop you out". On the pub verandah later I mused: That's what people will say about me. "What happened to Peter Ashley?" "Oh, he got photoshopped out". Read more about the church here, read the original James Bond books to see just how much they contrast with the gadget laden later films. I really like them, and think I'll read Moonraker again, this time following Fleming's narrative in the right order, instead of backwards trying to find the word 'Reculver'.
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