Wednesday 31 August 2011

Down and Up

A postponed walk along the South Downs is now in the offing, and the thought put into my mind this skilful London Underground poster. Executed by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis in 1933, for me it perfectly evokes the atmosphere of downland, even though its form is very graphic. Literally a bird's eye view, I continually return to it. The Ellis's produced companion posters for 'Heath' with an owl, 'River' with a heron and 'Wood' with, yes, a green woodpecker. Part of London Transport's brief to get passengers out into the countryside, this poster is not only brilliant in its execution, but a testament to the far-sightedness of publicity manager Frank Pick in choosing such celebrated artists to give the Underground the feel of a very accessible art gallery.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Crag Snag

Sunday evening found me shouting at the television. Again. I'm actually not going to go on about it, much, but Britain's Secret Heritage (not anymore it isn't) on BBC1 was a masterclass in how to show pretty pictures, prance about in and around them in inappropriate clothing and then dub on tracks from the My Hundred Best Tunes CD box. With a lowest possible common denominator script, Cragside in Northumberland (above), saw Paul Martin, off something called Flog It, flog every hyperbole he could find in the manual, every two minutes. He did it in the obligatory puffa jacket, ill-matched with bright strawberry pink trousers, and was book-ended at Jervaulx Abbey ('this magical hidden gem") by the ubiquitous Clare Balding in a big bright blue dressing gown. Cragside was this week's 'host' location, which meant that we also had Charlie Boorman grinning on a rubber dinghy and a bloke pretending he'd slept all night in a Lincoln prison. Now, before I rant further, I must say that picking through all the debris I did manage to scavenge some titbits of interesting information. But what I will never forgive the producers for is not telling Mr.Martin that the architect of Cragside, brought in by owner Lord Armstrong to develop his Northumbrian shooting box, was none other than the brilliantly talented Richard Norman Shaw. He wasn't even mentioned once. Shame on you BBC. Next week Britain's X Factor Heritage.

Monday 15 August 2011


As it's holiday time, I thought you might like a quick look at a little piece of Unmitigated France. Or La France Profonde? I've always been a bit of a fan of Vilac wooden toys, because Ashley Towers just isn't crowded-out enough with English juvenilia, and last Friday Youngest Boy and I found ourselves inexplicably in The Conran Shop. Of course we were only there to look at the racing car ceramic tiles surrounding the original Michelin building it's in, but half-an-hour later saw YB clutching a bright red Vilac racing car. Which he has subsequently not let out of his sight. All the way back home he kept suddenly bursting into song: "Vilac! Las Vegas!". I then remembered that I'd been given a Vilac garage for a birthday past, and we rummaged in the woodshed for it. It took us a while, but for what it's worth here it is. Ici. It really is La France Profonde, as the prices for fuel are in good old Gauloises stained francs. Still, perhaps it will come back to its own very soon. In the meantime, anyone for a quick depannage?

Monday 8 August 2011

Truffle Shuffle

A lovely girl in Market Drayton has just sent me this box of truffles. Before you all go 'Oh yes, what's all that about then?', I will explain. A few weeks ago I happened upon this small town in the eastern marches of Shropshire, and noticed that the sign said 'Market Drayton. Home of Gingerbread'. On getting my obligatory sausage rolls and custard tarts for lunch, I asked for the aforesaid confection. 'Tuesdays' came the reply. As it was Monday I said 'Oh, you mean I've got to come back tomorrow?' Tuesday's of course turned out to be a wonderful chocolaterie, and it was here that I not only bought packs of gingerbread but also fell into conversation with the delightful Nicola, and learnt that MD was not only the home of gingerbread, but also had an incredible concentration of damson trees. The fruit was used to make dye for the northern cotton industry. 'I make truffles with gingerbread, damsons and of course chocolate', Nicola tantalisingly told me, before admitting she hadn't got any. It all started when she was presented with damsons a customer had used in making gin, and used her skill to blend the fruit and gingerbread with a dark, spiced, cream ganache. Nicola keeps the recipe very close to her heart, but Market Drayton can't get enough of them. I do urge you to try a box if you get the chance. We tucked in last night, and I have to tell you that not only did I eat four in a row, but I kept leaving Inspector Lynley and his burgundy Bristol to shuffle into the kitchen for more. They are supremely delicious, and I have additionally invented a new combination in the style of port & Stilton. I bought half a dozen shot glasses on Saturday, so commissioned them with Absolut vodka and the truffles. Perfect. Thankyou Nicola, I will return for more.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Creature Feature No 10

This jumped off a coach at me at an Abbey Pumping Station event. Leyland made Cubs for over 30 years, and this particular model was coachbuilt by Yeates in 1958. Leyland liked jungle nomenclature for their vehicles, and growling around oil-slicked bus stations were also Tigers, Cheetahs and Leopards. And Gnus for some reason. Leyland. Is this the only vehicle manufacturer to take its name from the town they manufacture in? Oh yes, forgot Bristol.