Sunday, 31 January 2010

Blackwall, Red Stone

At last I've been able to photograph one of my favourite London buildings. Countless times I have passed through this red sandstone portal, countless times I have said to myself "I really must get a shot of this". Last week I managed the task, albeit not the definitive photograph I'm looking for. But this is the southern entrance to the white glazed brick Blackwall Tunnel, the first of what became two tunnels taking vehicular traffic under the Thames. And now under The Dome, with a hugh hole in its roof that's one of the ventilation shafts. This is the 1897 Southern Tunnel House, designed by London County Council architect Thomas Blashill and perched on the north western tip of what is now euphemistically called the Greenwich Peninsular. I just love it, the pavilion roofs, the fanciful turrets. And the reminder it gives of the towers of Tower Bridge, completed just three years before. To stand here waiting for the sun (that never really came), is to feel like the proverbial fish out of water. It's only just possible to photograph it without the attendant huge control gantries, and to avoid being run over or splashed with pink mud by a continual succession of giant trucks sliding about ferrying material from supply depots, under the river to the Olympic site at Stratford.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Parachutes & Corsets

Unmitigated England is full of buildings and bits of buildings that start life in one place and then wake up one morning in another, sometimes quite incongruous, location. Such is the fate of this bell tower that once looked out over the centre of Market Harborough from the top of the red brick six storey high Symington corset factory. Put up there in 1876, it housed a bell cast by the famous Taylor's in Loughborough. I'm not exactly sure when it was taken down and placed at the centre of flower beds in the town's Welland Park, but a plaque was put on it in 1977 to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee. Symington's were famous in the town for both corsets and soups, and examples of both trades can be found in the excellent museum that now resides in the cupola-less factory. But perhaps even more amazing is the fact that the Symington's of blush-inducing underwear went on to make over one million parachutes for the RAF in the Second World War. When I read this I have to confess that the thought did cross my mind as to whether they were shell pink with elasticated suspension. Only fleetingly of course.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Where's That Then? No 9

A bit of rugged coastline this morning. I love chalk cliffs. Something to do with the vertiginous nature of them, and the fact that they have a propensity to suddenly collapse on to the beach below. These are particularly spectacular, but I don't think I'll be tempted to try and get into those yawning caves without a guide and a very hard hat. Anyway, I expect there's a story behind that bloke on the edge.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Chocolate Epilogue

So, farewell then Cadbury's as we knew it. Or as we like to remember it, as I went on about here last November. It's a great shame, to see something so decidedly English become just another name in Kraft's brand fortfolio. (They come over here, chat up our girls and eat our chocolate.) But the writing was very clearly marked on the wrapper. You've only got to look at what happened to good old Rowntrees, snaffled up by Nestles. Smarties were sent off to Germany, with the loss of 646 jobs, but they did build a new factory in York, saying the old Haxby Road factory was difficult to make chocolate in because of keeping the temperature consistent. Funny how Rowntrees managed to do it for over a 100 years without it melting. Of course that's not the point. It's only about the consistency of making money, not chocolate. But I still eat an Aero every other day; they're still made in York and I couldn't tell you it tastes any different. Although I heard a rumour that the current Terry's Chocolate Orange, another Krafty deal that moved production out of York to Slovenia or somewhere, now tastes more like Bert's Chocolate Mothball. It might still be alright down at blossom-filled Bournville, but I doubt it. Whatever their bleating protestations last November, Cadbury's were always going to sell to the highest bidder whatever, even if it was to a producer of tasteless processed cheese.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Where's That Then? No 8

A fairly easy one this week, I should think. Another classic English view, but I'll give a slight hint. That building on the right with the big blank gable end is a pub. And in many Britain In Colour-style photographs it sports the name and slogan of a particularly good local brewer. So a fried egg on your bacon sandwich this morning if you can get that too. And black pepper on it all if you can give the nickname of the church tower.

Friday, 15 January 2010

That London

I haven't been down in that London for oh, nearly a year. How I've missed it. I'm a country boy at heart I suppose, but the Big City always draws me in and I have fond memories of my three year sojourn in Bedford Park. The early doors sessions around District Line pubs, the playing football in my flat at two in the morning to Led Zeppelin (the neighbours waved me goodbye with alacrity) and yelling hello to Richard Briers and his dog every morning as I ran to the Underground. Yesterday, as I sat in traffic, red stop lights reflecting on the rainy streets, it all came back. The art nouveau Blackfriars pub, The Seven Stars in Carey Street, the Inner Temple, black cabs, girls scurrying with umbrellas and the wondering if I had time for a quick Sercial in Gordon's or a slow Harvey's in The Ship & Shovel. I didn't, but as I moved up below the pigeon haunted turrets of the Holloway Road I realised I hadn't photographed anything. As the traffic came to a halt I snapped this without getting out of the car. I know, I could be anywhere, but I wasn't. I love stuff spilling out of shops onto the pavement, and this was very North London. Except for the Gourock Ferry sign in the window, which brought back the memory of sharing the journey over the Clyde to Dunoon in the 1960s with my family and an occupied coffin, put down on the deck in front of my brother's Ford Anglia. I rang the shop up about the sign. It's £85, but this is that London.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Where's That Then? No 7

One of the things I like about Karl Gullers' photographs are the viewpoints. There somehow appears to be a spot welded to the ground in various locations in England where photographers must stand with their cameras, obligatory points of view. You can always see why- Durham Cathedral looks far more spectacular across the River Wear than it does across a car park, Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds just has to have the white painted footbridge in the foreground and we never see Anne Hathaway's cottage from the back. I always feel obliged to take the standard shot myself, just one to add to the collective national album, as it were. Being from the Land of The Volvo, none of this seems to have permeated through into Mr.Gullers' consciousness, and as a result we've witnessed some great pictures in this series. He must be the only photographer who's resisted shooting Clovelly through the conveniently placed archway. Talking of Sweden, I have to say I'm thoroughly enjoying Wallander on a Sunday night. Kenneth Branagh's eponymous detective with his spooky mobile ringtone, the locations, the brilliant but understated photography, all comes together to make very watchable television, for once. All this and Sarah Smart. Sorry, I've been distracted. I don't suppose this week's picture will take too long, particularly in some corners of Unmitigated England.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Puzzle Corner

This is Uppingham churchyard. Or to be more precise the Victorian extension. Which made me wonder about this little gazebo tucked away in one corner. I've come across little shelters put up in the age of bodysnatchers for those protecting the newly-buried from the Resurrection Men, but this is from a calmer age and would appear to be for another purpose. There's no door on it, so that rules out a store for sexton's tools, and it's a little cramped and sepulchrally dark for more than one person to take cover from a shower. Or snowstorm. Perhaps it's more likely to be a shelter for the parson waiting for a funeral party, but whatever the reason I've just noticed that it's another one for the collection of buildings with faces. A yawning one at that- 'so tired, tired of waiting'.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Stopping By Woods 2

It's all black and white in Unmitigated England at the moment. Photographing out of doors usually means everything's reduced to tones of grey, but still very beautiful for all that. If the sun does come out, snow scenes can somehow look very chocolate boxy, but perhaps that's just me. I needed to take some shots of this tower the other day for a new book, and was quite pleased that not only was there no sunlight, but a fresh storm blowing in from the west to this high point in Leicestershire brought not only tons of atmosphere but also a remarkable lack of people. One can't usually move up here without a brightly-coloured fleece hoving into view. Old John is a landmark tower converted from a windmill in 1786 on a rocky outcrop in Bradgate Park (home to the Nine Days Queen Lady Jane Grey) as a memorial to an aged retainer who was felled by a flagpole falling on him. It had been thoughtfully placed at the heart of a celebratory coming-of-age bonfire. I've been coming up here since I was a very small child, but this week it was somehow unique. To be alone in these woods and snowy paths and looking out over hundreds of square miles of white-out landscape put everything into a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Where's That Then? No 6

I think I'll have to give you a clue for this one, as there's a distinct lack of identifying features. All I'll say is that this car ferry doesn't run anymore. Well, not to my knowledge. But those trawlers might help. Anyway, an interesting collection of cars (and hats) and something there for luggage afficianados. What I find interesting is that car manufacturers in the forties and fifties didn't exactly give you much boot space. Probably thought we wouldn't be going very far.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Gothic Sunday

I can't believe that I've waited all this time to go to Stowe in Buckinghamshire. But brilliant winter light and intense cold brought The Boys and I here yesterday to this simply magnificent landscaped park. At the heart is the late seventeenth, early eighteenth century house, now part of the public school whose cricket pitches and athletic tracks appear as additional vistas on the grand tour of parkland pavilions, grottoes and temples. It's actually almost too much, like a folly theme park, but there's enough walking along laurel-edged paths in and out of trees and beside lakes and ponds (frozen stiff on our visit) to lessen the overwhelming impact. I could show you so much that we discovered, but I'll restrict it at present to this Gothic Temple. Designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1748, this is amongst the most interesting of the estate's buildings. Built in Northamptonshire gingerbread ironstone, a crowd of turrets, cupolas and pinnacles reach up from the triangular ground plan that sits out in an ordinary non-landscaped field where sheep graze under spreading holm oaks. The Boys were thrashing about with big sticks on a frozen puddle, but I made them gaze out over the field to see it silhouetted against the sun. Although very taken with their Christmas Harry Potter DVD, they readily admitted that this was real magic on a January afternoon. Got 'em.