Friday, 30 December 2016

Corfe Castle...

It’s the last working day of the year, so fingers crossed for a bumper crop of last-minute picture licenses. Spent last night in a campsite: not a bad place to be when the temperature plummets. I’m up-to-date with pix: all edited, uploaded and keyworded… including this shot of Corfe Castle. I read it was going to be flood-lit, so made a detour to take some pix. Not sure the effort was worthwhile…


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Doubling up...

I had been hoping to double my 2015 pic sales before the end of the year, and it happened in timely fashion on Christmas Eve. After the revamping of Alamy’s search engine, I was convinced that my images had gone down in the ‘pecking order’, yet sales have increased… and that’s really all that matters. With sales over the last three months having been particularly buoyant, I’m hoping that 2017 will be even better… 


Monday, 26 December 2016

Holiday time...

Had a very enjoyable long weekend in a country cottage (actually a barn conversion) near Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, with Martin and Maria and their chums, Peter and Fiona. It’s quite a while since I spent three consecutive nights in the same place, and a good deal longer since I had three consecutive nights in a proper bed.

The cottage was warm and cosy, with a big log fire. We ate lots, drank too much, talked bollocks, played games and watched films. Withnail & I went down particularly well, Spinal Tap less well, and I managed not to blub while watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time.

I left this morning, but it wasn’t plain sailing. The track from the cottage to the road was unmade and steep. Even though I took a run at it, I came to a wheel-spinning halt, scattering gravel, about ten yards from tarmac. Everyone had a push - their handprints are still on the back of the van - but the van was going nowhere, and no-one else could get out while it was blocking the track. It was a relief when the cottage owner wandered down to see what was happening. I couldn’t find the screw-in towing bar (I can’t recall ever seeing one), but the guy returned with one, and, five minutes later, I was on my way.  He gave me the towing bar, and wouldn’t take any money for it.

I got stuck in traffic gridlock near Tintwhistle, so turned round. Then I encountered strong side-winds on the road from Woodhead up to Holme Moss, so I turned round again. After the morning’s adventures, I wasn’t in the mood for taking chances…

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Chesterfield...

In Chesterfield this evening, parked beneath the famous crooked spire. I got caught up in a bit of Christmas traffic, but at least the shortest day has come and gone. I’m looking forward to spending a day or two in a country cottage, with old friends, starting tomorrow…

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Cheers...

Had a couple of restful days in Hartley Wintney with sister Kari, and enjoyed a viewing of old home movies that had been converted from cine to DVD. I ended up in Kettering last night, and popped into a basement bar. It looked, from the outside at least, like the basement bar in Cheers… so it was called ‘Cheers’ too. A few guys were playing pool; they looked a bit out of my league, but I put my money on the table anyway.

Dispensing with my safety game, I tried to pot every ball I could see… and just about every pot I attempted went in. I beat everyone in the bar at least twice. Every opponent wanted to play me for money, but, assuming my lucky streak would end at any moment, I declined. It’s fun, as the years advance, to find a skill - even one as inconsequential as playing pool - that hasn’t waned…


Sunday, 18 December 2016

Phonebox...

Red phoneboxes may be iconic in the British landscape, but, since a lot of them aren’t used from one month to the next, they’re gradually being decommissioned. I’ve seen them being used as urinals, and as village libraries; this one seems to have been taken over by a portly vagrant with a beard and a sack…



Saturday, 17 December 2016

Pub in Powerstock...

I got it wrong. I saw this guy on his own in the pub, and immediately wanted to take his picture. Then his wife joined him, so it seemed rude not to include her too, though the pic would have been stronger with just him… and his far-away gaze. Never mind.

I mentioned I was travelling around in a Romahome, and they immediately shared a glance. They’d had a Romahome thirty years ago, which must have been one of the first models the company made. The cabin could be taken off the chassis, though, they said, the problem was getting it back on again!…




Thursday, 15 December 2016

Lollipop...

Though it may not be ice cream weather, this minor artwork caught my eye…


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Muslims like us...

While staying in a campsite I watched Muslims like us on iPlayer. The idea was familiar enough - recruit a mismatched bunch of people and put them together in a house for a few days - except they were all Muslims. The results were predictable. The hardline guy didn't even want to be in the same room as the women, and, when another of the guys announced he was gay, he wandered off into the garden, to be alone with his (rather extremist) thoughts.

Islam came across as divisive - pushing people apart more than bringing them together. Problem 1 is belief without evidence; problem 2 is unquestioning obedience; problem 3 is the total submission to Allah. This kind of belief looks like a prison - a prison of certainty - though it's a prison of a rather unusual design: the locks are on the inside of the cells. Even though people are free to leave whenever they want, they choose to stay...

As a counterpoint I was sent the link to a very short video about Krishnamurti.

Fishing from the beach at West Bay, Bridport...

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Radipole Lake...

I’d parked up last night next to Radipole Lake, on the outskirts of Weymouth: an RSPB bird reserve. I took a stroll around the lake this morning: a pleasant way to start the day, though there weren’t many birds about. One surprise was hearing the explosive song of a Cetti’s Warbler: another warbler which doesn’t migrate to warmer climes for the winter. I’ve seen them - or, more usually, heard them - at quite a few places in the southern counties, where populations are increasing, since my first sighting at Minsmere in spring…

Strange to go to the trouble of making a street sign, without also thinking up a street name...




Saturday, 10 December 2016

Weymouth...

In Weymouth this evening. I'd planned to photograph the illuminations at Corfe Castle, but the rain is torrential. Had something to eat - it was "finger lickin' good", apparently - and an early night beckons...

Teignmouth...


Friday, 9 December 2016

Teignmouth...

In a campsite near Weymouth, processing a load of recent pix: very boring...

Teignmouth...


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Beer & skittles...

On my way to Sidmouth I saw a sign, to Colyton, the ‘Rebel Town’, which piqued my interest. When I arrived in the town - just a sizeable village really - they were setting up stalls for a Christmare Fair (Fayre?), so I parked up, took some pix, then put the camera away. The village pub has not one but two skittle alleys: one downstairs and one, bizarrely, in the back bar. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen drinkers sharing a room with a full-sized skittle alley!

The landlord told me they had matches every night of the week, and that eleven teams - eleven! - operate from the pub, which, in essence, is little more than a skittle alley with a drinks license. They take the game seriously round here!

There are nine, not ten, pins to aim at with a ball the size of a small melon, made from lignum vitae, a wood chosen for its weight and density. Behind the pins was a barrier, made from thick carpet, to stop the balls doing too much damage. Half of the bar was uncarpeted bare boards, and players fired the balls down its full length: about 30 feet.

At the business end was a young lad whose job it was to set up the skittles and send the balls back (by putting them onto a sloping ‘ball-run’ which delivered them to the other end of the room and which, incidentally, kept drinkers and skittlers apart). The players - six on each side - were able to sit down, chat and drink beer as they watched others take their turn. But for the boy - he looked about 12 - there was no rest. I was told he got £18 per session: good pocket money, but he earned every penny. By the time the game ended - with the locals winning, hooray! - he looked knackered.

What a fun way to spend an evening! The combined racket from both skittle alleys was like distant thunder… or people shifting heavy furniture next door…

‘Rebel town’? I had to google it…

Not my pic, but the skittle alley was a bit like this...


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Labrador Bay...

It’s a while since I’ve seen a new bird, so I visited Labrador Bay this morning, an RSPB reserve just south of Teignmouth. There was no visitor centre or other amenities, just steep fields descending to the seashore, defined by thick hedgerows. The star attractions of the site are cirl buntings: a finch a bit like a yellowhammer, but with the head striped black and yellow… I saw one within a few minutes, posing on top of a hedge, then a flock of a dozen busily feeding on the ground.

Reading the RSPB website I understand that cirl buntings were almost extinct in England, but numbers are now on the rise again… at least in these coastal fringes of Devon. Having seen my buntings, I headed east along the coast, to Sidmouth…

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Killer...

While contemplating the prospect of picture sales slowing down - just when things had been going so well - I found a cheerful little pub in Teignmouth. I played a few games of pool, without much success, before the locals suggested a game of killer, so everyone could join in. The rules are simple: everyone puts £1 into the kitty and, when it’s their turn, tries to pot any ball on the table. Missing a pot means losing a life; losing three lives means you’re out of the game.

But there was one extra rule I’d never heard of before: the pound coins were stacked in a neat pile right in the middle of the table (where the blue ball would go, on a snooker table). Anyone who knocked the tower over would lose a life and have to add another pound coin to the pile. The kitty built up until there was about £20 to win. There were just two of us left in the game when I tried to pot a ball. I missed, assumed I’d lost… then watched another ball roll slowly across the table, just missing the stack of coins, and, by some fluke, drop into the opposite pocket. So I trousered the money and walked, via a curry take-away, back to the van…

Monday, 5 December 2016

Cirl Buntings...

Feeling rather confused today. On the one hand my pic sales via Alamy have never been better, with November my best month ever. On the other hand my ranking seems to have plummeted today in the quarterly reshuffle. If my pix aren’t showing up in relevant searches - and reasonably near the top - my earnings will take a tumble… and it’s bouyant pic sales which underpin the validity of my nomadic life. I’m not on holiday!

I’ve emailed Alamy to see if there’s been some kind of mistake. It’s a demotivating start to the week, and the gloomy weather doesn’t help.

Anyway, I’ve been reading about cirl buntings, which, according to the RSPB, have regained ground in the south-west, having become almost extinct. There are a couple of nature reserves near Teignmouth where cirl buntings might be seen, so, after a night in Teignmouth, I’ll head off tomorrow with my monocular… and see what I can find…

Public transport in Dunster...


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Lad, broke...

A pawnbroker conveniently sited next to a bookies in Bridgwater: a 'one-stop shop' for the financially inept...


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Another campsite...

Spent two days at a campsite near South Molton in Devon, to process a backlog of pix…

The harbour at Watchet…


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Porlock Weir...

Phew… I’ve landed up in a little town called South Molton, just to the south of the Exmoor National Park, but getting here was a bit hairy. I was taking pix this morning around the little harbour at Porlock Weir, then drove west along the coast road. The temperature had hardly risen above freezing, so I was concerned about the state of the roads. When I saw a sign recommending that caravans should take a scenic ‘toll road’, instead of tackling a 1-in-4 hill, I took the scenic route.

The good news: I hardly saw another car. The bad news: the road was frosty and hadn’t been gritted. The road twisted and turned uphill; the views were no doubt scenic, but I was more aware of the vertiginous drop on the seaward side. I kept to second gear, hoping I wouldn’t have to stop. A hill-start on a steep and frosty road was an unappealing prospect, and I didn’t fancy turning round either.

It worked out OK, but it’s not something I’d care to repeat. The temperature is dropping again, and I’m going nowhere this evening. There’s a campsite near here, with electric hook-up and wifi, so I may head there tomorrow. I have a lot of pix to edit and upload. Quite a few pic sales dropped in this week, as they tend to do at the end of the month. November was my best month yet, for both pic sales and revenue, and, if I pass 27 sales in December, then I’ll have twice as many sales in 2016 as I did in 2015…

The florid interior of the Anchor Hotel, Porlock Weir...



Quay Cottages, Porlock Weir...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The ancient mariner...

Had a chilly night, parked up by the harbour, in a small town called Watchet, just north of Minehead. The harbour was the inspiration for Samuel Coleridge to write The Ancient Mariner, while he was living in a nearby village, and a sculpture of said mariner, with the albatross round his neck, stands on the quay. ‘Ancient’? Hell, he looks younger than me…

I had a beer in a little pub last night, also on the quay. When I opened the door to leave, I walked into a broom cupboard. That gave the locals a laugh, though the landlady tried to save my blushes. “You’re not the first to do that”, she lied…

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Taunton...

Had a fun weekend with old friends, Gordon and Trish, in Taunton, before they headed off to the Canary Islands. I even got shot of my copy of the Koran, by persuading Gordon that it was ideal holiday reading…

Friday, 25 November 2016

Black Friday...

I hear on the radio that we will be spending two billion pounds today, Black Friday, on things we probably don’t need, with money we probably haven’t got. Most of it will be bought online. I’m in Yeovil today, with no plans to buy anything, hoping to reverse the process by giving some books - now read - back to a charity shop…

Traffic congestion at Corfe Castle...

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Campsite...

With a forecast of rain I holed up today in a campsite near Studland, on the so-called Jurassic Coast. Having processed a weeks-worth of pix, I’m having a pint in the campsite bar and watching TV: an unaccustomed pleasure. I’d forgotten that Coca Cola invented Christmas…

Wareham...


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Phil...

I was looking around the church in Wareham, when a lady came up to me and said “How’s your leg?”. I said it was alright, the last time I looked, but I wondered who she thought I was. “You’re Phil”, she said, confidently. We had a chat, about Phil and the church and Wareham. As I was leaving she asked me to sign the visitors’ book. I signed it as ‘Phil’… what else?

I’m beginning to appreciate that, to a lot of people, old guys with a bit of a beard all look the same. We’re generic, interchangeable; one old guy is as good as another…

Another good place to stay...


Monday, 21 November 2016

Twilight...

The weather’s rather gloomy on the south coast… and still a month to go before the shortest day. But even on the gloomiest day there’s a brief photo opportunity in the late afternoon… when the lights go on - in shops, on streets - and the ambient light diminishes. The opportunity may only last half an hour, but it’s always worthwhile to make sure I’m somewhere photogenic at dusk.

Quay Street, Lymington, Hampshire…



Sunday, 20 November 2016

Buckler's Hard...

Spent an overcast day at Buckler’s Hard, an 18th century village on the River Beaulieu, where warships for Nelson’s navy were built. I walked along the riverside path to Beaulieu and back, before looking round the Maritime Museum. One exhibit was a Puckle Gun, an early version of the machine gun, invented by James Puckle, and supposedly capable of firing nine rounds per minute.

I read that Puckle demonstrated two versions of the basic design. One, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second variant, designed to be used against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets which were considered to be more damaging and would, according to its patent, convince the Turks of the "benefits of Christian civilization”. The Puckle Gun never achieved mass production. One leaflet of the period sarcastically observed, following the failure of the business venture, that the gun has "only wounded those who hold shares therein”…

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Kindle...

In an attempt to make the Romahome a bit less like a mobile library, I bought myself a Kindle from Amazon. Not their top-of-the range tablet, but a basic Paperwhite model. I just wanted to read books on it, without being distracted by surfing the web (or having the device beep at me with intrusive reminders and notifications). The backlit ‘paperwhite’ screen makes for comfortable reading, even at night, and it’s very handy to be able to change the font and - more importantly - the font size. So no eye strain. I can get a dictionary definition of any word by pressing on it with a finger for about a second. The books I need to refer to for my own writing I can now keep with me, on a device smaller than a DVD case. I like the way the Kindle does just one job… and does it well…

New Forest 'petrol station'...


Friday, 18 November 2016

Death Raffle...

The Death Raffle is an idiosyncratic pub game at the Wilkes Head, in Leek. Locals pick ageing celebrities, and put 50p into a kitty every week. When ‘their’ celeb kicks the bucket, they claim the jackpot. The pub landlord was complaining that Wetherspoons was taking away his business, though I’m not sure that a Death Raffle is really the way to attract new customers…


Monday, 14 November 2016

Norfolk...

Had an enjoyable weekend in North Norfolk with old friends from my Peterborough days. We agreed that it’s maybe 25 years since we were all in the same place at the same time… even though it felt like yesterday! After a birthday get-together in the village pub in Syderstone, we took a walk on Holkham Beach (and had a bit of a wander down Memory Lane as well). Some people were gazing through telescopes at a flock of small birds on a patch of shingle. They were shorelarks: another new bird for me…

Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen...

Rock stars used to die of drug overdoses, now they’re dying of old age… which gives them the time and opportunity for a valedictory album. David Bowie left the stage with Black Star, and now - with a tip of the hat and the release of You Want it Darker - Leonard Cohen is gone. I knew his music from the first album, Songs From a Room, and can’t say I ever found his songs depressing.

His lyrics look better on the page than Dylan's lyrics. Cohen might have been a more deserving recipient of the Nobel Prize, and, having been ripped off by his manager, he would have appreciated the money. My favourite album of his songs is Famous Blue Raincoat, by Jennifer Warnes, and my favourite song on the album is The Song of Bernadette, which she co-wrote with Cohen…


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Interesting times...

It’s a truism that politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. Donald Trump campaigned in what he called “locker room banter”, and, once the votes were in, attempted to adopt a more statesmanlike tone… which sounded equally repellent. He won’t do half of the things he promised to do - thank God - but just the thought of him as America’s figurehead is like waking up from a bad dream… only to realise that it wasn’t a dream at all.

I wonder how the American people will deal with a Trump presidency. They will start to unpick recent history, no doubt, and try to analyse just how the hell we got to this point. His candidature started as a joke, and should have stayed that way. Now we have an unfunny punchline and four year of Trumpery. I recall the old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”… 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Bad hair day...

My career as a political forecaster is over before it started, as Donald Trump becomes president-elect of the USA: an astonishing result considering how many minorities he has threatened or insulted. And not just minorities. How many women must have voted for this narcissistic bigot, who seems proud of his own ignorance? We'll soon find out what “taking our country back” actually means. With the senate, too, in Republican hands, there are few brakes on his ambitions, or whims…

Ingleborough...




Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Polling day...

I’m glad the US election is finally coming to a close. It’s seems to have been going on forever, painting the self-styled “greatest nation on earth” as petulant and parochial. No-one seems to have come out of it well. If Clinton wins - as I expect - it will only be because she is the least-worst candidate: hardly a ringing endorsement. If Trump wins, anything could happen… none of it good. That a man like him could contest arguably the most important job on the planet is an indictment of American politics. If he loses, I just hope he accepts the ‘will of the people’ with as much good grace as he can muster. If he carries on saying that the vote has been rigged, it would be like shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. There could be fighting in the streets…

The Ribblehead viaduct...


Monday, 7 November 2016

The patience of angels...

In Otley over the weekend. It’s a conveniently short distance - no more than a dozen steps - from the Junction pub, to the Balti House for a curry, to Kork’s Wine Bar, where Boo Hewerdine was appearing in the music room. He’s an engaging character… with the kind of self-depracatory comments and anecdotes that seem appropriate when you’ve written loads of wonderful songs over the years, but still can’t quite fill a room at the back of a pub in a small town in West Yorkshire. Songs like Muddy Water, Bell, Book and Candle and the Patience of Angels (“There's a door… in a wall… in a house… in a street… in a town… where no-one knows her name”) really hit the spot for me…

The village pond at Nun Monkton...


Thursday, 3 November 2016

Mockery...

A British athlete has been banned from competition for two months, for “appearing to mock Islam”. In a video that was posted online he was seen to shout “Allahu Akbar” and mimic a praying pose. According to a spokesman for British Gymnastics, this was “a breach of the standards of conduct”. What standards are these, exactly? And how does a religion like Islam - whose holy book is a catalogue of violent acts and reprisals, and calls for yet more violence - expect to be treated, as of right, with respect? Nevertheless, the athlete apologised for “the deep offense I have caused”. He joins the many other people who have begged forgiveness for ‘offending’ purveyors of one of the most violent religions on the planet… mostly, I suspect, because they fear for their lives. Islam deserves to be mocked, readily and often.

It’s not a ridiculous belief that I particularly want to mock (thought I do look on in wonderment at the way that people will swallow the most unlikely stories if they emanate from an ancient book). What I find offensive is the idea that Mohammed is the last prophet and that the Koran represents God’s final revelations, which privileges a run-of-the-mill religion with a special status that it simply does not merit. The inevitable corollary - that the rest of the world must offer this religion respect - is what really sticks in my craw. And, let's not forget, the punishment for blasphemy - mocking Islam - is death.

Atheists can be offended too. But, crucially, you won’t find them threatening anyone with violent reprisals, or assassination. Free speech is something worth fighting for, and tolerating intolerance is giving in to tyranny. Respect is something that should be freely earned and freely given; when demanded, on pain of death, it is just a simulacrum of respect… a craven appeasement to a bully…


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Knaresborough...

A proper autumn day today: clear and bright after a chilly night in the Romahome (I was thankful for the sleeping bag and duvet). In Knaresborough today. My plan to see an old chum last night fell through, so plan B was to watch Manchester City v Barcelona. The last meeting, in Barcelona, was a resounding 4-0 win for Messi, Neymar, Suarez and co. I was expecting more of the same, especially when Messi scored a great goal in the first half. “It’s men against boys”, someone said (it might have been me). Not many teams come back from that, but City did… with three good goals in the second half. I was sitting with a City fan, so, since I really don’t care who wins, I was able to enjoy the game through his eyes…

Market day in Selby...


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Epworth...

In Epworth, Lincolnshire, today, the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley. As the grandson of a Methodist minister, the Rev John Morrison, I blush to admit that I’ve never been here before. The Wesley’s house, The Old Rectory, is closed for the winter, but I had a wander round the village. On a Sunday morning in October there was no-one to be seen, just leaves quietly falling and smoke curling out of chimney pots…

William Wilberforce's house, in Hull...


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Lyddington...

The Bede House, Lyddington. Originally the medieval wing of a palace belonging to the Bishops of Lincoln, by 1600 it had passed to Sir Thomas Cecil, son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister, who converted it into an almshouse for 12 poor ‘bedesmen’ over 30 years old and two women, over 45, who would have to be free of "lunacy, leprosy or the French pox”…


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Martin Stephenson...

Saw Martin Stephenson last night, with Howard, in the back room of Korks Wine Bar in Otley, an intimate performance space with its own bar. The only previous time I’ve seen him was in the Argyll Hotel in Ullapool, the night before I took the ferry to Stornoway. I didn’t even know who I’d been watching until I Googled the Argyll Hotel the following day; he lives nearby, apparently, and gigs at the hotel once a month. More than the self-penned songs I recall him as an affable performer who didn’t seem to take himself too seriously.

He’s been around for a long while, playing his music, without troubling the charts. He did a bit of name-dropping, though mainly of fellow musicians who have also been largely untouched by fame. He was as affable as I remember, though he hinted at hard times, and let us know he was drinking alcohol-free beer; maybe the ever-ready smile is to keep the blues at bay. It was an enjoyable evening, especially as we had a table at the front. When I saw Neil Young he was a distant figure on a stage. Martin Stephenson, by contrast, was just a few feet away. He gurned, he sang, he took the audience into his confidence… and played some mean guitar…

The Mildmay memorial in Apethorpe Church...




Thursday, 20 October 2016

Messi...

In Belper yesterday evening, I popped into a pub to watch the second half of Barcelona v Manchester City. Most matches disappoint, especially those that get top billing. Not this match, though: Lionel Messi was mesmerising. He’s not showy; he just seems to have more time on the ball than other players, and finds gaps that only he can see. He scored a hat-trick.

Pele called football “the beautiful game”, and, when Messi’s on the pitch, at least, it really is. Neymar waltzed around a couple of defenders, towards the end of the game, and, having waited a fraction of a second for the goalkeeper to commit himself, slotted the ball into the net. Everyone in the pub broke into immediate and spontaneous applause; that’s how good Barcelona were…

Oundle...


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Oakham...

The weather is still offering plenty of photo opportunities, as I make my way north. This is Oakham Castle - actually the great hall of a 12th century manor house…


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Rigged...

Donald Trump is now rejecting the election results before the votes have been counted: almost an admission of defeat. He’s already whipped up his followers into a fact-free frenzy; telling them that the election is “rigged” - without any evidence - will only make matters worse. If people stop believing in the democratic process, all hell could break loose. I hope the voters take a big deep breath before they enter the polling booth; this time their votes really matter. Trump seems to be guaranteeing civil unrest whether he wins or whether he loses. America has seldom looked so divided…

Piss-poor sculpture of the poet John Clare, in Helpston...


Monday, 17 October 2016

Unfinished business...

Another productive day’s photography; now I just need to find the time to edit, upload and keyword them. Bird life was similar to yesterday: kites aplenty and about a dozen swallows still flying around the tower of Woodnewton Church…

Lyveden New Build: not a ruin but a rather grand summerhouse. The building work stopped in 1605, on the death of the owner, and was never resumed…


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Oundle...

Had a day in Oundle, with my camera and my memories. I remember my first few weeks there, having been assigned to a mentor one year older, who would ‘show me the ropes’. That wasn’t a matter of choice. He had to teach me everything I needed to know about school life, so I could pass a test. If I failed the test I’d be punished… and - a Machiavellian touch - he would be punished too. So I learned the housemaster’s nickname (‘Tit’ Thomas), all the prefects, the location of a particularly hard-to-find classroom (Room 101, or something), and all the arcane rules and regulations that created pointless distinctions between the new boys and the sixth-formers.

Oundle, half a century on, was not much changed, though padlocks stopped me wandering round the quadrangle, where, once or twice a term, someone would have a go at the jam doughnote eating record. The doughnuts were on sale in the quad during mid-morning break, so contestants had just thirty minutes to scoff as many doughnuts as they were able. The only other rule was keeping the doughnuts down; no vomiting allowed. If they beat the record - it was about 14, I think - they enhanced their reputation (and classmates would stump up for the cost of the doughnuts). If they failed, they had to pay. Either way, the boy would be as sick as a dog for days. I never had a go, but I watched a few contests. They tended to end badly.

I saw a pair of red kites circling over the town. More startling was about a dozen swallows which, by this time, should have been enjoying warmer weather in sub-Saharan Africa…

The Cube, Corby...


Saturday, 15 October 2016

Back to school...

Busy editing and uploading pix, with five more days to take pix before I’m due back in Yorkshire. I’ve just checked out the weather forecast; the prognosis looks good for next week. In the East Midlands now, close to where I spent my schooldays…

The King Stone: one of the (rather unimpressive) Rollright Stones...


Friday, 14 October 2016

Reading a book...

Wound up in Daventry this evening, forgetting what a dump it is. I was sitting in a pub, reading a book, when a guy stopped and gawped. “What are you doing?”, he asked. I assured him I was reading a book. “What’s it about?” “It’s written by someone who escaped from Islam”. “What’s that, a prison?” “Yeah… kind of”. “Fair play to you”, he said, with a goofy grin, in West Midland wonderment, as though I was doing something truly extraordinary, like nailing my scrotum to the table, instead of just reading a book…

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Thin, wild, mercury music...

Blimey… Bob’s gone and won the Nobel Prize for Literature! Pundits will be queueing up to complain that he doesn’t deserve it… but not me. Sara Danils, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, was fulsome in her praise. “Start with Blonde on Blonde”, she said… which is exactly what I did. I remember cycling from school to Corby to buy Blonde on Blonde, probably in 1966: not only my first album, but the first ever double album and the first gatefold sleeve. I cycled back, with the album taped to the crossbar of my bike.

For weeks this was the only record I owned, so it got quite a bashing on my Dansette record player. There were four sides to play, which helped. The music was fascinating, surreal, ambiguous, ambitious; it sounded like a man in full control of his powers. Bob knew exactly what he was doing. Other albums followed Blonde on Blonde into my record collection: Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited (which included the magisterial Like a Rolling Stone… the first rifle-crack of a drum-beat telling me that rock music had changed for ever).

Literature? Hmmm… His songs don’t always read well off the page. But that’s not the point. The words, the music, that voice: somehow it all gelled together to create something special. I ‘discovered’ Bob when I was 14; since then he’s been a constant musical presence in my life. Like all relationships, it’s had its low moments: Under the Red Sky, Bob? But what luck to have opened my music-buying account with a classic album like Blonde on Blonde (rather than an LP by the Black & White Minstrels, which was the dubious choice of one of my school-mates). Keep it rolling, Bob…

Cirencester...

Cirencester...

Taking pix in Cirencester today, before starting to creep northwards… slowly…

The river - and waterside mill - at Bradford-on-Avon: a scene that could almost be the other Bradford...




Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The other Bradford...

Spent a day photographing in Bradford-on-Avon, another handsome little town, divided in two by the River Avon. The old arched bridge still spans the river, but it’s very narrow. Pedestrians have to watch their step, or risk being whacked by the wing mirror of a passing vehicle. The traffic through the town is horrendous, not currently helped by some serpentine diversions. Bradford-on-Avon would really benefit from a by-pass…

Old coaching inn, Faringdon...




Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Hitch...

I read very few biographies or autobiographies. There really aren’t many people in the public eye I want to know more about - certainly no-one in politics (with the possible exception of Tony Benn). I see books in charity shops by - and about - celebrities such as Russell Brand, Chris Moyles and Graham Norton… and they stay on the shelves. I don’t know much about these people, and I wish I knew even less. There’s a book by Jonathan Ross, with a rhetorical question for a title: Why do I say these things? Why? I don’t know, Jonathan, and I certainly don’t care.

On my travels, however, I’ve read a memoir by Joseph Heller about growing up in Coney Island. That’s got to be interesting, I thought, but I was wrong. It was really dull. Heller put everything into Catch 22, and I don’t think he really had anything left to say. I’ve read a book by Jo Brand, called Look back in hunger, which was so-so. A life of Krishnamurti, by Mary Lutyens, filled in a lot of detail about his early years (not that there’s any real need to know much about the man when his own words are what matters).

I recently finished Appetite for Wonder, by Richard Dawkins, which I enjoyed, and now I’m halfway through Hitch 22, by Christopher Hitchens. Knowing his way around the English language as well as he knew his way around the world’s trouble spots, he was incapable of writing a dull sentence. Zelig-like, he seems to have witnessed, at first hand, some of the most momentous events of the last half century, and he had a lot of famous friends (and enemies). As a writer he could turn his hand to any subject that required intelligence, intellectual rigour and an open mind.

He skewered the shortcomings of belief without evidence in his book, God is not Great (and is there a better, more ‘in your face’ book title than that?). Hitchens became, along with Dawkins, the ‘go-to guy’ for any debate that required a voice of reason whenever some dead-eyed cleric or self-appointed spokesman for Islam was being interviewed in the wake of a terrorist atrocity.

Hitchens put the boot into Judaism and Christianity too (savaging the more ludicrous aspects of the Catholic church, and giving the now-beatified Mother Teresa a good kicking). But it was Islam that really fired him up. The idea that the rest of the world should show respect to this barbarous faith filled Hitchens with rage. He unravelled the more tyrannical aspects of Islam, defining Muslims as “humourless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity and self-hatred”. He summed up his feelings about the religion, more consisely in a video, available to watch on YouTube. Exasperated by the way the debate was going, he concluded, “Don’t waste my time. It’s bullshit”. Christopher Hitchens died too young, aged 62, in 2011.

A brief exchange yesterday with a lady in a charity shop, as I was buying a book…
She (looking at the book jacket): “What is it… fiction or non-fiction?”
Me: “Well, it’s about God, so… I’d say it’s fiction”
She (unable to find the right button to press on the computer screen): “Ah, well, it doesn’t really matter”.
Me (affronted): “I think it does!

Misty morning by the Thames near Lechlade...