"Close your eyes and hold out your hand" the Youngest Boy said. Usually I recoil at the thought, knowing that I could so easily be the recipient of a slug dragged out from under the shed. But as he was still in his pyjamas I allowed myself the treat of having this tin presented to me. "It was going to be part of a new space rocket, but as you like old-fashioned things I thought you'd better have it". "Thankyou very much", I said, and really meant it. The thing is, of course, is that it's not a 1950's grocery item, or particularly nostalgic for the good old days of cocoa drinking in slippers by open fires. No, this is the result of Waitrose's designers knowing a thing or two about, well, good design. And you just know that it won't be replaced in a couple of weeks' time by yet another tweeking presented at the Monday morning strategy focus outreach meeting, a fate that regularly befalls it's better known competitors on the adjoining shelves. Good design like this is timeless. The right colours, the right type and a classic wood engraving that tells us what cocoa actually is. (Is this one is by Christopher Wormell?) So yes, it will be up there on the kitchen high shelf with Ovaltine and Milo and the Quaker Oats tin from a Greek holiday many years ago. Just because I really, really like it.
I felt I had to quickly redeem myself after the last erratic posting. And as I fell into the local post office this morning for my Telegraph, the opportunity stared me in the face from the window. I have received warning glances inside the shop when I've lingered a little too long looking at a display of similar items above the cigarettes, bottles of Wincarnis and stamps (bringing new meaning to the phrase 'top shelf'), so today I whipped out the camera and ran for it. But what survivors. Mainly medicinal, (that blue glass laxative bottle worries me) it's good to see an unused Bronco toilet roll with its optimistic tag '500 Sheets'. The hero for me though is that little Nescafe tin, a reminder of when this seemed such a ubiquitous item in the post war pantry. However, just looking at the description on the classic label of what they've done to it does make you wonder how far the contents had come from anything resembling a coffee bean.
What is it when we keep seeing faces in in the mundane? The Virgin Mary on toast, Hitler on a bath plug? Pareidolia, that's it. So is it just me that sees a dog's head here, made out of a scrap of paper, a stray twig and two bits of dirt. Spotted on the pavement in the next village, I now expect good fortune to follow in its wake. Which in my case will mean the seat being taken out of my trousers by a slavering rottweiler. No, I must be positive. It means that my erstwhile publisher will come back from his lunch of tripe and onions at St. John's in Clerkenwell and say "Ooh, I must ring Peter immediately and commission him to do eight more bestsellers for me".
Having run out of Find The Fault pictures for a while, I thought it would be interesting to look at period photographs of citys, towns, villages and landscape. So where's this then? All I can tell you is that the street scene was photographed by Karl Gullers for one of those ubiquitous Odhams books of the 1950s, and up until this trip to England Mr.Gullers was famous for photographing the Swedish Royal Family. I hope this helps.
I couldn't quite get my head round BBC's Autumnwatch. What started out being a very worthy attempt to let us see dormice putting their pyjamas on before going to sleep live on camera, has somehow degenerated into lively presenters sitting on a sofa joshing and ruffling each others' hair. The one bloke who appears to do any work just sits smiling in the dark outside some Highland croft and then shows us film he shot yesterday in broad daylight. But at least we now don't have to put up with that little chap from The Goodies grumpily anthromorphising everything in sight. So I wearily switched off and reached for What To Look For In Autumn, a Ladybird Book written by E.L.Grant Watson and illustrated superbly by Charles Tunnicliffe. I then took to wandering about the lanes in my patch of country, marvelling at just how much is still as he pictured it in 1960. A shepherd in a sheep fold (well, a bloke in a four-wheel-drive), a pale moon lighting the church tower, traveller's joy smoking the hedgerows, a bonfire lit at a field edge and pheasants strutting their stuff over rotting fungi-covered logs on the margins of the woods. And not a ratings-safe presenter with a stack of prompt cards to be seen anywhere.
Well, we've come to last Transport Series card this morning. And a good one to end on, I think. Next week we'll have something different to get us going over our morning teas and coffees. Still, I think there's enough going on here to keep us going for a while. Younger readers may struggle a bit with the concept of a trolley bus- basically a tram that didn't have to rely on travelling between rails. And yes, they did have wheels that big, very intimidating to cyclists and pedestrians alike. And can you still get Tit-Bits magazine? I do hope so.
So. The manufacturer of Velveeta ('bedder than cheddar') wants to take over one of our most 'treasured institutions'. Kraft's unwelcome bid for Cadbury's certainly seems to have spread the Primula amongst the Flakes, and the rumours have started. Dairy Milk is to be made in Gdansk, fingers of fudge in Poznan, that sort of thing. And England threw its hands up in horror, conjuring up visions of the violation of white-hatted lines of girls singing on production lines in blossom-filled Bournville, milk arriving by canal barge from Gloucestershire meadows, dancing under the trees in the lunch break. On hearing that Cadbury's Somersham outpost near Bristol may be closed, it suddenly became Fry's old factory, still turning out Five Boys I expect. No, as much as I bemoan the loss of our brands to corporate greed (HP Sauce made in Holland) , this is how it is. Cadbury's (I still use the apostrophe 's' they dropped years ago) is a multi-conglomerate itself, employing as it does Bertie Bassett and Jelly Babies, and will flog it immediately if the price is right. Any chance that Kraft will continue to make Fruit 'n' Nut under the apple boughs is as remote as Tomaszo Mazowieki. Of course I hope it won't happen, but sadly I think the days of awarding each other little tin CDM medals for worthy efforts are well and truly over.
I must apologise for the poor quality of this image. I snapped it last night, and it looks like I did it by candlelight. So you'll have to puzzle over it very carefully. I note that the number plate says the car was apparently registered in the North Riding of Yorkshire, but I wouldn't mind betting the letters are the artist's initials. When I worked in what was then called 'commercial art' we were always doing things like that. Hiding questionable details in silhouettes of trees or clouds, putting spurious headlines on newsvendor's placards and our girlfriend's or wives' names above shop fronts. Sometimes both.
I can't remember another year when the wearing of a poppy has been so intensively debated. All last week the papers had letters from Tunbridge Wells wondering whether the BBC had bought in a job lot from the British Legion, such was the proliferation. We expect newsreaders to start wearing them in September, but when I saw every member of every band on Jools Holland with one, I waited for the Blue Peter dog to run on with a poppy in its collar. It seemed as though everyone was trying to outdo each other in the remembrance stakes. Last night in the Royal Albert Hall Her Majesty appeared to be wearing six and a stray Duke standing behind her had such an enormous papaver somniferum on his coat I waited to see if it would squirt water like a clown's buttonhole. So it came with great relief yesterday to discover this little understated enamel badge on a lapel. And if Wartime Housewife will forgive me for nicking her Sunday Poem idea, here's a little understatement from Edward Thomas, who really knew about these things:
This ploughman dead in battle slept out of doors
Many a frozen night, and merrily
Answered staid drinkers, good bedmen, and all bores:
A German military ambulance in Unmitigated England? Mein Gott! But it was at this year's English Heritage Festival of History. And I liked the photograph of it against a very English summer sky. OK, that's enough excuses. I leave it to my engineering-inclined commentators to discuss the various merits of the Opel Blitz as opposed to the Opel Blitzkreig, but I think what appeals is that it's over here at all. In a parade ground full of Roman legionaries, American troop carriers and ATS girls, this beautifully restored vehicle really stood out. It's driver was fully kitted-out in a feldgrau ambulance driver's uniform and The Boys used the back as a high vantage point to watch fighter planes helping out at a Normandy beach head. Who knows what terrible scenes this vehicle attended, but it's very presence in an English field says so much about how far we've come in our acceptance of the background details of history. The mists of over sixty years perhaps hide some of the horrors of war, but let us never forget the sacrifices that were made on both sides by air raid wardens, nurses, field cooks and, of course,ambulance drivers.
I wonder what it would be like to live in Find The Fault Land? Permanently committing gross errors and never having to worry about having any rearlights. Still, here we are, out for yet another run in the pastel-coloured countryside. Perhaps it's Buckinghamshire with that pale yellow road surface. I always remember the colour changing quite dramatically when entering from surrounding counties in the 1950s and early 60s, as evidenced by numerous films shot on the roads during this period. James Robertson Justice hooting along in a Rolls-Royce, Stanley Baxter falling off his bike under Chiltern beech ridges. Carry on.
Concerned about some American cultural imports, the trick 'n' treating aspect of Halloween has never really appealed. All those old ladies keeling over at the sight of the undead beckoning to them with bony fingers, and those rubber masks- not too keen on masks either. So it was with dismay that I saw The Boys arrive yesterday in black velvet cloaks. "Take those masks off boys" I said, "You know I don't like them." "We haven't got them on yet Dad". Ghoulish laughter all round. Youngest Son had his cloak on all day, staring out of the kitchen window waiting for dark. Older Boy started on a Convincing Argument, and said if anyone wanted a trick he'd do one with his playing cards. He practised well, and Mr.Curmudgeon let them go round the village after he'd nearly ended-up in casualty making the pumpkin heads. I said why don't they go and hide in the churchyard and then I'd not come and find them. But what a good time they had. The village must be used to it, they came back with a big bag full of goodies and had been made very welcome in houses, along with other children who continually knocked on my door until I ran out of the pennies I'd heated up on the stove. No sign of any conversion to Satanism, we sat down by candlelight to a fabulous pumpkin soup. I said "What was the best bit?", and they replied that one house was in complete darkness and a loud voice had shouted out gutterally "What do you want?" and then the door had been flung open by a neighbour dressed as the Grim Reaper. I like that, it's given me an idea for next year...
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