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...

Monday, 10 October 2016

Autumn...

It felt autumnal this morning - chilly with low-lying mist - but warmer later on. Got some pix on my travels, and now I’m in Bradford-on-Avon…

Malmesbury Abbey...

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Faringdon...

I find myself in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, a handsome little town, with a collection of old coaching inns clustered around a market square. Outside All Saints Church is a sign: ‘Theories keep changing, God does not. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever’. After my reading of the Koran, I’m unimpressed by anything that’s claimed never to change. Despite the blithe assurances, ‘for ever’ is a mighty long time. Change is good!

At least half a dozen people asked me what I was doing - surely a redundant question when I’m looking through the viewfinder of a camera. One of them told me there’s a bit of a cannon-ball inside the church, fired at the building by Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War. “Better be quick if you want to see it”, he said, “because the service starts in a few minutes”. Well, I did something I’ve never done - by choice - in my entire life: I sat through a church service (though I picked a pew near the door in case I needed to escape).

One hymn I already knew. Technology helped with the others, in the form of a screen which displayed each verse in turn. There were prayers, some ‘call and response’ routines and a couple of Bible readings. The vicar took the second reading - about Jesus healing lepers - as the theme for his blessedly short sermon. I guess the days are gone when the vicar could terrify his congregation with a few home truths - leaving women weeping, men ashen-faced, children traumatised and damp.

The vicar sounded (a bit) like the Rev Lovejoy in the Simpsons (and that’s not a favourable comparison). He put in a bit of a performance, hand gestures and all; it just didn’t sound totally sincere. I wondered if he really believed everything he was saying. Those ten lepers went from ‘unclean’ to ‘cured’ with a few words from Jesus, though only one of them came back to thank Jesus for what he’d done. He was a leper and a Samaritan and, therefore, in the eyes of his Jewish neighbours, an outcast twice over. Cue some timely thoughts from the vicar about our need to give thanks for God’s bounty.

The sermon provided the only original ideas (though, who knows, there may be some online service which, for a fee, provides busy churchmen with sermons ‘by the yard’). Everything else was either chanted by heart - the Lord’s prayer, for example - or printed in the order of service. I wondered about the fate of all the other lepers living at the time of Jesus who were unable to hail him as he walked along the road to Jerusalem. If he could heal one, or ten, then why not all lepers? In fact, why have leprosy at all? The answer, when these questions get difficult, is to say “Well, God has a plan. We just don’t know what it is”, which is just a religious version of the ‘Get out of jail free’ card in a game of Monopoly.

A few people shook my hand (but not just mine) at the end of the service, and suggested I might like to stay for a cup of coffee. I didn’t want to push my luck, and say something I might regret, so I shook a few more hands… and left.

As someone who usually see churches only when they’re empty, I was impressed by the size of the congregation. There must have been more than 130 people in the church, plus organists, a choir and a small group: piano, guitar, cello and voices. Everyone was ‘miked up’, and the service went like clockwork. If the object of the exercise is to get ‘bums on seats’ I can only applaud the team who puts on the show every Sunday. If the object is to discover what’s true - and it is - then the service represented 75 minutes of well-choreographed self-delusion… 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Trump...

I haven’t been following the American hustings very closely. The process to find a new president goes on much too long (especially since both candidates are older than me: Clinton 68, Trump 70. I admire their stamina, if not much else).

Despite the stupid things that Trump keeps on saying, his approval rating hasn’t plummeted to zero. I hope his latest indiscretion (a tape of him, as a newly married, “famous” man, describing how he felt entitled to grope women) proves to be the point of no return for this obnoxious bully. Even some of his fellow Republicans, who, until now, have held their noses, are saying “That’s enough…

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Cotswolds...

Said goodbye to son Chas this morning, and headed off towards the Cotswolds. The house is ‘coming along’; next time I see him, in November, the renovations should be complete. I look forward to watching Chas cook one of his ‘signature dishes’ in his new kitchen and enjoying a leisurely meal - with a decent bottle of wine - at his dining table, while some inoffensive, easy listening music plays in the background.

I now have two weeks to take pix, so I’m hoping the spell of good weather continues. It’s certainly warm for October…

Monday, 3 October 2016

Milk and honey...

Chas and I have finished painting the kitchen extension: ‘fluffy robe’ for the ceiling and ‘milk and honey’ (most people would call it ‘magnolia’) for the walls. It requires a lot of imagination to name all the new paint colours, rather than just giving each one a number. Some names bear some slight relationship to the colours they represent: liquid jade, rich cantaloupe and caramel suede, for example. Others are baffling and oblique: kernel of truth, over the moon, basket of bobbins, float like a butterfly and dance of the godesses. Anyway, the room looks good…

Melton Mowbray...