Sunday 31 August 2008

Poundsworth of Ektachrome

Wandering about Market Harborough's 'antiques' market this morning, I espied this little booklet displayed very prominently in order to catch my eye. "Two pounds dear", the lady said. I didn't say anything so she said "Alright then, a pound". Thankyou I said and slipped it into the bag that already contained a Batsford book and a 1970's empty packet of Player's. The cover did it for me of course, I've always had a thing about girls in white-spotted red dresses, but then I gulped in pleasure when I saw the photograph of The Village Sweet Shop. I suppose I expected the sample pictures to be the usual shots of Mevagissey, people ski-ing or girls in one-piece swimsuits climbing-up out of outdoor lidos. But just look at what we have here, apart from the Cadbury's thin white metal letters on the window, glass jars of sweets and a Lyon's Maid litter bin. The girl is holding a teddy bear by its ear, the boy is wearing a proper school blazer and has sandals exactly like the ones I hated wearing about this time- 1961. I imagine that the photograph was taken in the early morning, because if you look through the door (with a 'Mind Your Head' notice above it) you can see that the ices and lollies display board has not been put out on the pavement yet. If anybody knows where this is I'll buy them a Strawberry Mivvi.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Atheists & Dolphins

If you like fonts, babies, and have one that needs Christening, then I should think it's worth getting in with the High Anglicans in Wellingborough. At first sight this Northamptonshire town doesn't appear to have an awful lot going for it, until you scratch beneath the surface a bit. And scratching around in the streets high above the railway station (a real Gothic bargeboarded treat) reveals a rather plain Perpendicular church in gingerbread Finedon ironstone with Weldon stone dressings. But to walk inside is to realise what John Betjeman meant when he said that the interior of St.Mary's is enough 'to force even an atheist to his knees'. This is Sir Ninian Comper's masterpiece of 1908-30, marooned amongst the terraced back streets of this boot and shoe town. Built with money given by three spinster sisters, you'll need to track down the key to get inside, but if you love this kind of thing then you will be overwhelmed. Golden angels trumpet over sumptuous screens, fan vaulting soars up to great heights to where Christ in Majesty presides over the nave. There's simply too much to talk about here, but the font is worthy of particular mention. We saw it on a flower and music festival afternoon, a brilliant blue and gold canopied structure completed by Comper's son Sebastian in the 1960s as a memorial to his father. And around the base is an octagonal screen swimming with gilded dolphins. So, all you atheists, get hold of the key and strap on your rubber knee pads.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Unexpected Alphabets No 5

There I was, enjoying a spectacularly good party on Sunday night in a Leicestershire village, and, just as I'm getting stuck into another green bottle, my very attractive host crooks her finger at me and says "Come on, there's something I think you'll find interesting up here". Never one to shirk my responsibilities I eagerly steered through the throng towards a dark alleyway that runs through between the house and next door.

The current thinking is that this was the old village police station, and the alleyway is certainly wide enough to park a Black Maria or a chrome-belled Wolseley. So the walls were the obvious place to stick up notices, wanted posters and the like. Being enclosed and out of the rain the continuous bill-sticking, layer upon layer, has survived in tantalising fragments. One date proclaims the tenth of February in a disappointingly missing year, but the Act of Parliament quoted on the poster ordering the restriction of livestock movement during an outbreak of swine fever is dated 1908. So these posters have gone up on this wall, one after the other, at least since then and the late 40s I should think. Old brick, lovely wooden type, and a glass of cold flinty Chablis in the hand. And of course a pretty girl in the dark. Good day all round really.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Low Light, High Hopes

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun..." Keats knew what to say, and although we're not supposed to even think that autumn is approaching, the tell-tale signs are there and I for one welcome them. "Oh don't say that" people say "We haven't even had a summer yet". Well I have, and not being one to lie about on a beach with seven million others I can't wait now to get the stove going with my new coffee maker perched on it, and the button sewn on to my blue serge pea jacket. It's not that I haven't enjoyed myself these last few weeks- the same rain that has thwarted my farming friends from safely gathering everything in has also meant that the countryside has kept greener and fresher than usual. And there have been some spectacularly cloudy skies, very good for photographs. So the farmers could all be grateful for that. I look out over my neighbours' manicured park (they're out there now under one of those big green umbrellas drinking Pimms) and up across the rougher pastures to the ironstone manor half-hidden in trees and shadowed by the gradually lowering sunlight. But the best thing, apart from the boys fishing snails out from under the shed in order to enlist them as Lego spaceship captains, are the restless swallows lining-up like music notes down the telephone wires. A tuneful ode to a coming autumn. Oh, and thankyou to Tess of the d'Urbervilles for letting me get near her tempting apple.

Friday 22 August 2008

Bristol Fashion

Driving out of Market Harborough this week I chanced upon a stunning shiny black motor car climbing quickly up Gallow Hill. I can't tell you how much I lust after this car (and its stable mates- Inspector Lynley drives one), and I'm only surprised that a) I didn't drive into the ditch in some kind of respectful homage, or b) that I haven't gone on about them on the blog before. This is a Bristol 403, pictured here some years ago in deep cherry red at a location I've forgotten. Charles Oxley in his Bristol: The Quiet Survivor calls it the 'definitive' Bristol, and you can see it on the Bristol Owners Club website. Here you can find out all about Bristols old and new, and on Bristol's own web pages (yes, they still make them, but not like this one). The 403 was made between 1953-5, possibly only 275 models costing £2,976.2s.6d. each. I expect the 2s.6d. was for one of the aeroplane-style push-button door openers. Bristol still have a showroom on Kensington High Street, and when I worked on the same street a few years ago I continually stared through the plate glass windows like a 12 year-old. I did go in once, and was told by the septuagenarian salesman that every secondhand Bristol sold by them had to be brought back to ex-works standard. Dear God, I know I haven't been very good lately, but please, if you can find your way to letting me have just one, any model, I'd be eternally grateful. Thanks.

Monday 18 August 2008

A New Leicestershire Landmark

Not far from here is a road junction at the top of a hill that some of us call 'Whistle Top' Just behind the hedge on the north corner of the crossroads is one of the now sadly defunct triangulation pillars, marking the height above sea level here as 518 feet. Well, last week they had to close the road to Uppingham at this spot, and when I went to the town on Saturday to get the papers I found that the road was open again, but the road men had left a stack of traffic cones on the grass verge. I drove by them a couple of times, but then had to succumb to temptation.

Friday 15 August 2008

Fizzzz Pop!

Out on the Fen again yesterday. Ended up photographing stuff I'd done before but with more clouds. However, a stop-off for a melting Kit Kat in a post office near Wisbech revealed two of these signs on the walls. Actually the Kit Kat was just so that I could go in and explain why I was lying on the pavement outside. I said "I remember Corona being delivered on a lorry to my house" and the bloke behind the bandit screen just rubber-stamped something loudly and sighed "So do I", without looking up. And indeed it did come on a lorry. Four or five bottles a week, each with that funny white ceramic and red rubber stopper that we now associate with Grolsch. Well, some do. But ooh the flavours. Ginger Beer, naturellement, but other favourites were Dandelion & Burdock and Clarade, a cherry-coloured liquid of indeterminate flavour. The drinks appeared to be restricted in our household to Sunday lunchtimes when my father stood with his back to the fire with a ginger wine and went on either about the sermon we'd all just suffered or the local butcher, who always incurred his wrath over the size and quality of the joint of beef appearing on the table. Since he probably only gave my mother sixpence to buy it he shouldn't have been surprised. Oh. Sorry. All that from just one rusty old sign. I do apologise.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Cricket & All That Gas

Funny where you end up sometimes. I've just been writing about gasholders for Classic Constructs, and talked about the famous ones that pop up in our peripheral visions. The mighty Victorian iron frames that have always greeted trains slowing up into St. Pancras station, now also enjoyed by those arriving from La Continent. And then probably the most high profile one of all, caught in the slips at the Oval cricket ground in Kennington. So I took the tube down there and had a word with security at the gate, to see if I could get a shot of them across the grass. I might as well have said "Can I tip a bucket of creosote over the wicket?" and was unceremoniously tipped-out into the street. I'd forgotten that a test match was going to kick-off at the end of the week. So I wandered round Kennington Oval and came across this boarded-up pub with its batsman mural which did everything I wanted. Click. Click. But the really curious thing was seeing the Foster's sign lying on its back on the chimney. I designed these illuminated signs in the late eighties as part of a huge project to stop Ozzie brewer Elders painting every Courage pub blue and gold. I hated the thought of putting 'lager' on the bottom part of the roundel, so merely did 'Foster's' again. Just doing my bit.

Sunday 10 August 2008

Unexpected Alphabets No 4

Not far from Melton Mowbray is a tiny hamlet, just off the undulating road that winds through the Leicestershire wolds up to Colsterworth. Just a handful of houses, and a railway crossing keeper's cottage next to a gate that still has to be opened manually. I tipped up there earlier this year, roaming about looking for a decent photographic viewpoint of the church. Outside of the main churchyard was a little enclosed area, probably ear-marked for new resting places. In one corner was a wooden hut, a sexton's lock-up for spades and grave templates perhaps, and behind it was a stack of broken pottery. This piece caught my eye, made by Italian makers La Primula. Don't ask me why I pocketed it, don't ask why it's been sitting on my kitchen window sill next to the geranium pots for six months. Of course there's a story here, but for want of it I've had to make something up. The blue typographic plates were in pride of place on the vicar's wife's kitchen dresser, a souvenir from either Lake Como or a Lakeland cookshop. Their daughter has an Italian girlfriend to stay and the vicar commits an indiscretion with her. The vicar's wife finds out and hurls the innocent crockery after him as he races for sanctuary in the church vestry. Later that night he gathers the pieces up and hides them away. Presumably at the back of the shed because the dustbin's full. Oh I don't know, more likely they're left-overs from a fete where wooden balls were chucked at crockery. Perhaps you have a more convincing solution. Or have I just completely lost it.

Saturday 9 August 2008

Bould Statement

Last week I showed you Bould's now extinct garage in Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, and promised that I might show you Bould's yard next door. I'd forgotten that there were two Austin 1300's in there. We don't see many of these about now, probably something to do with the apparently dodgy subframes. But we loved them when they first came out, perfect for those of us aspiring to a larger mini. They shared the same designer in Alec Issigonis, who also brought us the poached egg Morris Minor, and sported hydrolastic suspension on the front wheels that got everybody very excited. Usually known as the 1100, they were available with 1300 and 1500 engine sizes, and in typical BMC fashion were badge-engineered across all their marques, so you could have a Wolseley, an MG, a Riley Kestrel and, if you wanted to be thought posh, you could fork out for the Vanden Plas Princess. Plonked in amongst them in this picture is the Austin A30 van. One of my elder brothers went about in one of these, painted mid-blue with the legend 'Melton Farmers' on the side in yellow, driving up remote Leicestershire farm tracks to off-load artificial insemination plungers and sheep dip. I imagine.

Thursday 7 August 2008

Watch Out, There's a Hassock About!

We now know, thanks to Gordon and his chums, that we mustn't smoke in church. Damn, I always loved a Park Drive during the Nunc Dimittis. But the sight of this manual on the window sill of the tiny church in Stonton Wyville prompted me to think of all the other unpleasantnesses that could befall parishioners. Watch that chancel step dear, we don't want you flying headlong into the apse do we? Oh no, take those bell ropes down- don't you know that they could hang at least six people at once? How long's that communion wine been in the vestry cupboard? That hymn number board, bit dark in that corner, might cause eye strain- couldn't they be a digitised display? Oh dear oh dear, these hassocks. Flame retardant embroidery I hope, and the flower arrangements- big hay fever risk there, we'd suggest plastic ones, they can apparently look quite realistic these days. And we've had a complaint about fire and brimstone sermons, those extinguishers don't really look very effective do they, particularly if Revelations are involved. Striped hazard tape round the font please at Christenings. Actually, I think we'll just close the whole thing down, far too many risks here.There's a nice room you could use at the council offices when the Marching Band isn't using it. Don't know about Sundays though, might have to be a Tuesday.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

King Poison

The recent talk of suspicious things growing out of trees had me reaching for Poisonous Fungi by John Ramsbottom. Illustrated by Rose Ellenby, this is a King Penguin book, the first foray by the publisher into hardbacks. Designed specifically as a series of beautifully illustrated and collectable books, they first appeared in November 1939. Much care went into their production under the editorship of Niklaus Pevsner and the technical supervision of R.B.Fishenden. The latter's high standards never dropped, even in wartime. King Penguins continued for twenty years, and I include amongst my favourites Life in an English Village illustrated by Edward Bawden, Romney Marsh by John Piper and one of the very best The Isle of Wight by Barbara Jones. But the cover design for Poisonous Fungi is in a class of its own. The companion volume Edible Fungi is so mild by comparison, which is as it should be, a discreet repeat pattern of Boletus versipellis jumping up out of a frying pan. But if you saw anything that even remotely resembled one of Rose Ellenby's sickly-coloured specimens from Poisonous Fungi in a woodland clearing you would run away holding a handkerchief over your face. Even the cover, with its virulent acid colours, is shouting out "Danger! Don't Eat This Book!".

Sunday 3 August 2008

Blue Skies, Cream Teas

After a Saturday morning of rain lashing down, the village draws a collective sigh of relief as blue skies start to dominate the western horizons, and the perfect English summer afternoon smiles on our annual fete. The Pimms bar, the homemade cakes table, the straw-hatted ladies sorting out the yellow raffle tickets. I am always amazed at how much stuff is still managed to be cajoled from local households for the ritual displays on trestle tables: the still pristinely-boxed jigsaws, unloved teddy bears, the unplayed board games 'so kindly meant' as Betjeman had it. My Neighbour Who Knows What I Like (blogs passim) also Knows What My Son Likes, and I see him walking off with a box containing an unconstructed Lego Bionicle on his head. Later she comes up to me covertly and a deal is struck over three huge boxes of the stuff, she looking over her shoulder and me rummaging for cash like we were dealing outside a night club. The Mother of My Children eyes the boxes from a distance with suspicion, but I assure her that she simply hasn't got enough tiny pieces of plastic all over her cottage yet. Youngest Son buys yet another stuffed penguin, and gets chocolate all over his hands which he washes in the plastic paddling pool meant for a game with yellow plastic ducks. We loved it all so much we had to have two cream teas each in the village hall.