So, farewell then Ronnie Biggs. The BBC must collectively be going "Well I never", considering the boost this news gives their drama on the 1963 Great Train Robbery that, amazingly, starts tonight. Back in those far off days I was returning home from the Chilterns in my dad's apple green Ford Popular, my mum in the front saying things like "Watch that cow Arthur" and me glowering and spotty-faced in the back. Suddenly, somewhere south of Leighton Buzzard, my mother says "Ooh, I know that bridge" pointing across a field to a railway embankment on the London-Euston mainline. "We were all in a charabanc going to Grandad's [a Chiltern strawberry farmer in Lee Common] and we went under that bridge and then it went off the road and tipped us all out into the ditch". My father looked at me in his driving mirror and we said nothing. "Were any of you hurt?" I eventually said. "No I don't think so. It went so gently down the bank we were just laughing in a big heap". And do you know, dear readers, that very night, at this very spot, the train robbers relieved the Glasgow to Euston mail train of what would be today around £40 million. Quite what the charabanc and the outing from Wellingborough's Strict Baptist Tabernacle were doing on this lonely lane I will probably never know. Anyway, that's two coincidences for today, three if you count my very recently taking the above picture at Quorn station, courtesy of the Great Central Railway.
So, it's Saturday and I'm on top of a hill in a disused radar station, remote on the North Downs above Bearsted in Kent. Nearby is a room humming with activity, an art exhibition featuring amongst other great things the stunning abstracts of Margaret Shepherd and exquisite jewellery by her daughter Nancy Rose. The space was kindly given by Nick Veasey, and close by another room hummed with even stranger activity. In here is a big X-Ray machine, and in the dark Nick produces simply amazing images, which you can see here. Well, I say in the dark, I think for much of the time he has to stand outside whilst the humming is going on. Anyway, being very nosey, I had to snoop about amongst the detritus in the immediate environs, and came across this extraordinary sight, a VW Beetle turning itself into its own X-Ray, wedged between two peeling MoD brick walls.Perhaps at night, after the big steel security gates are chained and all the humming has stopped, the Beetle carapace lifts up and puts itself back on the chassis. And like that scene in Woody Allen's film Sleeper it starts first time ('wouldn't you just know it?') and gently cruises around the skeletal radar masts on the dark hill top.
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