Monday, 30 November 2015

Gull...

Having ‘done’ Kent, I’m heading back west along the coast. The weather is grim, and the forecast no better…




Sunday, 29 November 2015

Red Lion...

Had a decision to make yesterday, as I drove out of Sandwich: Deal or no Deal? I decided to give Deal, Dover and Folkestone a miss, so I could have a couple more days taking pix on Romney Marsh. After editing a load of pix I drove to a tiny roadside pub, the Red Lion, near a village called Snargate, which features in my book of heritage pubs (“one of the great rural classics”, the author rhapsodised) 

I pushed open the door to find a little bar, entirely lit by candles (though it was still too dark for me to count the coins in my hand). It was like walking into some family’s front room a hundred years ago: unfortunately a rather dull and slow-witted family. There were no tables, just chairs. I had a pint of pale ale (not dispensed from the beer pumps on the marble bar-top, but from barrels on the floor) and asked if I could kip in the car-park: no problem.

Including the landlord and me, there were just six people in the pub. Two elderly women sat in one corner; one of them was asleep, the other dozed fitfully. Two old guys sat either side of the fire, discussing the pressing issues of the day: the damp conditions of the fields, the pleasures of dog ownership and what they’ll be having for Christmas dinner (turkey was the unanimous choice, unsurprisingly). One mentioned his grandchildren; the other guy trumped him with tales of his great-grandchidren. I felt I’d dropped in on a rehearsal of some Pinteresque play. For my next pint I moved on to the stronger beer, hoping it would make the conversation sound more interesting. It didn’t; I settled for an early night.

I’m intrigued by the place, though, and may call in again. The bar itself was warm and welcoming, full of nicknacks and what my book calls ‘World War II memorabilia’. ‘Memorabilia’ suggests that someone has put the cuttings on display recently, to recall wartime events, whereas the faded, yellow cuttings look like they’d been put up during the war, and they’re still there because no-one had bothered to take them down in the intervening years. The candles seemed to create more shadows than light: the chiaroscuro you find in Rembrandt portraits. I’d love to photograph the scene… though I’d settle for a pint or two, drawn straight from the barrel, and some stimulating conversation…

Whitstable...


Friday, 27 November 2015

Fairytale of New York...

It’s Black Friday today… celebrating the fact that people can be persuaded to buy things they palpably don’t need, with money they probably don't have. I’ll be staying well away from the shops for the rest of the day… thought I doubt if the charity shops of Kent will be adopting the Black Friday tactic.

I popped into a little pub last night, on the seafront in Herme Bay. I made the mistake of asking if they’d be showing the Liverpool game later; the landlady and locals let me know exactly where the fortunes of Liverpool FC stand in their list of sporting priorities. So I shut up, drank my beer and uploaded my latest batch of pix. Then a young lad walked up to the piano, sat down, lifted the lid and began to play Fairytale of New York.

The landlady said “It’s not Christmas yet”, but it doesn’t have to be Christmas to play this wonderfully bittersweet song. It’s the only ‘Christmas’ song worth listening to, I reckon, and it’s only a Christmas song because it takes place at Christmas; the lyrics are a long way from the saccharine sentiments of, say, Roy Wood’s certifiable request, I wish it could be Christmas every day. The song was a long time in the making. Full story here...

Fishing boat arriving back in Whitstable harbour...



Thursday, 26 November 2015

Retail therapy...

Darn 'ere in Kent everyone talks like ‘Arry Redknapp, as though they’re auditioning for a part in East Enders. In a charity shop a film about the Kray twins was filed under ‘documentaries’.

I called into another little shop packed to the rafters with CDs, DVDs and vinyl. Just my kind of place. Usually. “You’ve picked a bad day to call. These are all going to Thailand”, the wild-eyed shop guy said enigmatically, waving his hand over piles of dusty LPs. I think any day would be a bad day to call. There was too much stock, stacked in disorderly chaos. I couldn’t take out one DVD without topping a pile. There was so little room to move that a fellow customer had to back out of the door just so I could extricate myself and leave the shop. I was getting mild claustrophobia. Since the shop seemed to reflect the owner’s state of mind, I wouldn’t like to be inside his head on a wet Monday morning…


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Faversham...

A productive day: finishing my writing, taking pix, editing pix and uploading pix. I’m now sitting in this pub - The Sun in Faversham - next to a roaring fire, with a pint of Shepherd Neame Golden Ale. No complaints…


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Isle of Sheppey...

Visiting the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent. I chatted with a guy who was interested in buying a very small motorhome (he got the guided tour). “I’ve heard only good things about the Isle of Sheppey”, I lied. “It’s a nice place to go somewhere from”, he said...

New Romney Church... looking like the archetypal English church... 


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Electricity...

My power supply is reduced at this time of the year, because the roof-mounted solar panel doesn’t contribute as much as it does during the summer months. I have to prioritise. While off-grid I can edit pictures for about three hours before the inverter gives me a warning ‘beep’… reminding me to save what I’m working on and shut down. Camera batteries need charging, as does my tiny digital radio and my rechargeable AA and AAA batteries (used in torch, voice recorder, keyboard and mouse). When I run short of power, I have to either drive the vehicle (which charges up the two leisure batteries) or plug in at a campsite or sit in the dark and hum to myself.

One thing’s for sure: I’m careful to use as little electric power as possible. I switch a light on when I need it, then switch it off. I don’t use the heater very often, because the vehicle is so well insulated, and always a few degrees warmer than the temperature outside. The last line of defense, on a really cold night, is a warm sleeping bag and a duvet. It’s ironic that winter - the time I need more heat and light - is when my options are fewest. Never mind, I’m used to it now, and, if I’m careful, I can do everything I need to do with the power that’s available.

I listened to Desert Island Discs this morning, while writing (it was an old episode on Radio 4 Extra). The guest - comedian, song-writer and atheist, Tim Minchin - didn’t have much need for either the complete works of Shakespeare or the Bible ("kindling", he reckoned) and couldn’t decide whether his luxury would be his piano or a robot sex doll. When Kirsty Young pressed him to choose one or the other, he plumped for the robot sex doll. I would love to be on Desert Island Discs. Not just to play snippets of my favourite songs, but mainly for the opportunity to discuss robot sex dolls with Kirsty Young…

Prospect House, Derek Jarman's home on the shingle of Dungeness...


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Fairfield Church...

After an unnaturally warm start to November, the temperature has dropped. I stayed the night in Lydd, on Romney Marsh; the air was so clear, as I walked back from the pub, that I felt I could reach out and touch the red ‘stop’ sign 100 yards away, at the end of the street. The clarity was almost painful.

I played the first few minutes of Fanny and Elvis, to see if it was as bad as I remembered. It was… with the characters gurning their way through the improbable script. The fight in the pub was over in seconds - one punch from Ray Winstone was all it took - and my ‘character’ was on screen for all of five seconds. So much for fame. If I watch the film the whole way through it will probably be with chums from Hebden Bridge, to see how many locals we can spot.

After that I listened to a scientist being interviewed on the radio. He was trying to explain the beginnings of the universe for a lay audience, and not doing a very convincing job of it. The trouble is - for me, at any rate - that the big bang theory sounds no more credible than Genesis. Something infinitesimally small being transformed into something infinitely large, in a nanosecond: really? “In the beginning was the word” doesn’t sound so very different, apart from suggesting, in the next few verses, that there was a hand on the tiller…

The church at Fairfield, Romney Marsh. The village disappeared, but the church is still here, marooned by watercourses..


Friday, 20 November 2015

Fanny & Elvis...

I’m down on Romney Marsh, pie ’n’ mash country. Having picked up a couple of OS maps from a charity shop, and some brochures from the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre, I’m ready to explore the area: isolated medieval churches, the Military Canal, Dungeness, a flat landscape that’s been won from the sea. I love out-of-the-way places: the middle of nowhere, the back of beyond. The sky is still an unrelieved grey, but I’m hoping to see some sunlight soon.

Another find in the charity shop was a DVD of Fanny and Elvis, a piss-poor film shot in and around Hebden Bridge, which represents the high point of my acting career. When the call went out for extras, I joined a line of hopefuls queuing up the stairs at the Trades Club. I had my photo taken, left my phone number and thought no more about it. A few days later I had a phone call: “Could I play a man who props up the bar in a pub”. I said that with a little tuition, I probably could.

My scene was being shot in the Mount Skip Inn, high on the bluff overlooking the Caderdale valley. Big lights were shining through the windows, to give a daylight feel even when night fell, and there were more morris dancers than you’d expect to find in a Hebden Bridge pub. I didn’t do much standing at the bar; the main protagonists meet in the pub, words are said, beer is spilled and blows are exchanged. It was my job (by the time of shooting I think I’d morphed into the pub landlord) to break up the fight between Ray Winstone and Ben Daniels by grabbing one of them by his jacket collar and dragging him out the door. Cut!

We replayed the scene half a dozen times. I’ve seen fights in pubs, but they don’t usually repeat on a loop. Actors and extras were wiped down; glasses were topped up again, with fake beer; morris dancers were swapped for other morris dancers. The spare morris dancers were stored in the attic, along with the extras when they weren’t wanted. The roof beams creaked, so when shooting started we were told to stop whatever we were doing and stand as still as statues.

The argument played out again, and again, and again. This one scene took about 18 hours to film, which made the £30 paid to extras seem like small beer. But, hey, we were hobnobbing with the stars (maybe some of that celebrity stardust would rub off on us), and it was fun. A lot of Hebden Bridge folk appeared as extras; for a few weeks we basked in the faint acclaim. There was a special showing at the Hebden Bridge cinema when the film came out, giving locals the opportunity to point at the screen excitedly and say “Look… that’s me!”

I may watch the film this evening. Most of my little part was cut, I think; blink and you’d miss it. Fanny and Elvis may not have been the start of a glittering film career, but it’s a warm memory of a happy time...

Romney Marsh...

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Lewes...

I emailed my articles from a pub in Lewes: the kind of place where old geezers like me go to have a pint, read the papers and try, without any noticeable success, to chat up the barmaid. One guy was talking on the phone… except he wasn’t talking, he was bellowing. And when he’d finished with one conversation, he immediately rang somebody else. I was going to ask him to speak up a bit, because the bloke in the next room might not have caught every bit of his conversation… but he got up and left.

I hate talking on the phone in a public place, where my witless meanderings can be overheard. On the rare occasions that my phone rings, I rush to somewhere quiet where I won’t disturb anyone. And I make sure to get as few calls as possible by neglecting to charge my phone…

Friday, 13 November 2015

Odiham...

Odiham Castle, in Hampshire. "Worth seeing", as Samuel Johnson said of the Giant's Causeway, "but not worth going to see"...


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Hitchin...

Enjoyed a couple of nights out with old friends, in and around Hitchin, before travelling further south. A brief visit to the M25 was as close to London as I ventured...

Monday, 9 November 2015

Morrisons...

Getting my news this morning, as usual, from the Guardian website. I read an article about supermarkets rejecting vast amounts of vegetables which don’t meet their strict requirements for shape and size, thus adding to the pile of food we consign to landfill… either before the customer goes shopping, or after. And customers have been trained, over the years, to buy vegetables on appearance alone. Each branch of Morrisons has what they call ‘Market Street’: ersatz stalls for selling and displaying produce, having put most of the genuine food shops and stalls in the vicinity out of business. And the Guardian, in traditional fashion, spells Morrisons in three different ways - Morrisons, Morrissons, Morissons - and even manages to get the headline wrong…


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Daventry...

In Daventry this evening, feeling as rough as a badger’s arse. What do they say: “Feed a cold, half a sixpence”? I’m hoping, after a meal, that 7.30pm isn’t too early to retire to my bed…

Saturday, 7 November 2015

On the road...

Stayed in Hebden Bridge last night. Saw a few chums by accident, others by design, sitting by the fire in the Fox & Goose. I'm driving down to Coventry to see son, Chas. It’s wet and windy, which makes motorway driving miserable. I'm sitting in the motorway services, with a mug of tea; it's like the departure lounge of some tiny airport...

Friday, 6 November 2015

Autumn...

I’m back in my favourite campsite in the Yorkshire Dales… editing and uploading pix, while my clothes are whizzing around in the tumble drier. Exciting times…

The weather is damp, autumnal… but warm. It’s no great privation to walk around in shirt sleeves until my clothes are dry. The fleece will be toasty warm when I put it on..

The churchyard of St Andrew's Church in Guiseley, West Yorkshire...













Monday, 2 November 2015

Kendal...

Slept in Kendal last night, having watched half a dozen gooseanders trying to cope with the fast-flowing water. I have one more drive to do in the Lake District - and write up the notes - before heading back across the Pennines…

Arnside...









Sunday, 1 November 2015

Quakers...

Visited the Quaker Meeting house at Swarthmoor this morning - half a mile from Swarthmoor Hall and the only meeting house known to have been given to the movement by its founder, George Fox. Always good to share an hour of silence in such a historic little building.

About five years ago I wrote an essay about Quakers for a competition; though it didn't make the shortlist, it was still fun to write...