Tuesday, 27 June 2017

More Beer...

The beach at Beer was an animated scene. Guys were rigging up heavy, wooden sailing boats, known as luggers; they race every Monday evening, I was told. With the shingle beach shelving precipitously into the water, launching the boats was no easy matter. The method was to lay lengths of blackened wood on the shingle, to cut down on the friction, and manhandle the boats into the water. Though it looked laborious and labour-intensive, people have launched boats in this way for thousands of years.

Half a dozen boats were rigged, with masts raised and sails unfurled… and then the call came. “It’s off”, said the guy who took the call; there wasn’t enough wind. Down came the sails and masts, and the boats were dragged back up the beach. The guys laid down the wooden staves again, as for launching, but now they had help from motorised winches at the top of the beach, with chains attached to the boats.

It all looked like a lot of work for nothing, but the guys didn’t look too fussed (apart from one character who, having driven a long way to get here, threw down his life-jacket in disgust). As another guy sad to me, “It’s either too little wind or two much. We’ve only raced twice this summer”.

The preparations were more interesting to photograph than the races; within five minutes of launching, the boats would have been out of range of my camera…

I’m in a campsite today, to edit and upload the backlog of pix. If all campsites were so reasonable - just £15 - I’d use them more…



Monday, 26 June 2017

Beer...

Making my way along the south coast, east to west, I crossed into Devon and arrived at Seaton. I’ve taken some pix, written a thousand words, eaten an ice cream and had a three-way conversation with a couple of small motorhome owners (or maybe owners of small motorhomes). The sea is calm, with waves shush-shushing against the pebble shore, and the temperature is on the rise.

I’m parked up in Beer for the night. What a great spot!


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Stonehill Down...

I just renewed the insurance on my Romahome, which means I’ve now been ‘on the road’ for three years. In the summer of 2014 I imagined living the nomadic life for maybe five years, but that was never a firm commitment or an immovable date in my diary. I can see me and the Romahome growing old together. There may come a time when my general health - or eyesight - may decline to the point where I won’t be able to drive… though I hope that’s still a few years down the line.

The weather is overcast and cool today: not very photogenic, but a welcome relief from the recent heatwave. I’m parked up on Stonehill Down, a local nature reserve, where walkers, cyclists and horse-riders are tackling a broad track along a ridge of the Purbeck Hills. It looks like the sort of path that people have walked for millennia. I’ve written 1,500 words of my book, which might be enough for today. It seems to be going well. I’ll be happy to get to the point where I have the first, full-length draft… when the book is a ‘thing’, not just a collection of unrelated ideas. That’s the beginning of phase two: checking my facts, knocking the chapters into shape, substituting finely-honed prose for the ‘placeholder’ material, etc…

The Old Customs House in Poole, Dorset...


Friday, 23 June 2017

Glastonbury...

Glastonbury starts today. I’m not far away, but I have neither a ticket… nor the inclination. I really enjoyed my three Glastonbury weekends, but they were a long time ago; I’m not sure I’d want to pay good money to be strip-searched by unsmiling security men. And I doubt if I could cope with the crowds.

My Glasto memories are all small-scale. I never much cared who was performing on the pyramid stage. I’d seek out, instead, more esoteric delights. I’d go into some little tent, where a shy poet would be reading his doggerel from a school exercise book to an audience of three people and a dog. I saw unpopular musical acts and baffling street theatre. I saw Jerry Sadowitz deal with a heckler in the comedy tent by going into the audience and punching him in the face. I remember being smitten by John Prine, then Jonathan Richman, in the acoustic tent; I’ve been a fan of both ever since. 

The ‘act’ I enjoyed the most was Jonathan Kay - the Fool - who was marshalling a large audience in yet another tent. He got people to do things they didn’t know they wanted to do… until he gave them permission. I was mesmerised. I wanted to know some of what this man knew… and I’ve done workshops with him since (all fun… even though I show no aptitude for ‘fooling’).

One guy, hoping to make his fortune, had brought about a thousand Pot Noodles and a kettle. By Sunday afternoon about 975 of them remained unsold; no one wanted to buy a plastic container full of brick-dust and e-numbers, topped up with boiling water, when there was so much good food on offer. I recall the street-cries of Old Glastonbury: “Dope acid, speed”, “Get your psychedelic acid”. But most of my memories of the festival have gone to a fine white ash…

Faith...

I’ve been reading - consuming - books by religious apologists. The literature is broad… but not very deep (writing more and more about less and less). At some point in every book there comes a moment where the author throws up his hands and says “You just have to believe!” Mark Twain was blessed with the ability to get to the heart of the matter, and express it with insight, brevity and wit. “Faith”, he wrote, “is believing what you know ain’t so”.

So I’ve picked up a book (Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, by Michael McCarthy) about the birds that arrive in spring and leave at the end of summer. I’m enjoying his writing style… “It is not simply the fact of their arrival… that so affects us; it is the recurring nature of it. In coming back year after year after year, against all the odds that they face, the spring migrants are testaments to the earth’s great cycle. They remind us that, although death is certain, renewal is eternal, that although all life ends, new life comes as well”…

17th century almshouses in the village of East Coker...


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Dorset...

Back in Dorset, as the weather relaxes into something more typically English. A temperature in the mid-twenties is fine by me, while I have stuff to write and pix to take…

Manor house, dated 1625, in the village of Norton, near Malmesbury...


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

East Coker...

In Sherborne this evening, as the temperature begins to drop from what it was in the heat of the day… a blistering 34 degrees. Another ‘first’ today, having learned how to make scrambled egg last week. I was in the village of East Coker, where the main road through the village is closed for repairs. A woman  in a car stopped me to ask how she could deliver a Chinese meal to an address at the other end of the village. I said I was walking there and could deliver it for her. I could have scoffed it myself, though a Chinese meal was not what I wanted on such a hot day.

Meal delivered - and with grateful thanks ringing in my ears - I had a look round the church. T S Eliot is buried here - he is commemorated with a plaque - and East Coker is one of his Four Quartets.

Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised.


The lanes around the village really are ‘deep’ - steep-sided hollow ways - and ‘dark’ (shadowed on the sunniest of days). They ‘insist on the direction’ because once you start to walk to walk through one of these lanes, you have to keep following it until you reach the village. The heat today was certainly ‘electric’, though there’s no mention in any of of the Four Quartets about Sweet and Sour Pork Cantonese Style with Egg Fried Rice…

Hollow way to East Coker...

Heatwave...

Here we are: the longest day of the year… and maybe the hottest. Left sister Kari yesterday, looking more robust by the the day, less than two weeks after her operation. Back taking pix, and trying to keep cool, hoping to see a game or two in Taunton, as it’s the women’s turn to hold their cricket world cup. Cheap tickets, sit where you want, no queues at the bar: what’s not to like?…

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Authority...

I get a quote from Jiddhu Krishnamurti in my email inbox every day. This is today's offering, from a talk in 1955.

"Self-knowledge, then, is the beginning of the freedom of the mind. There cannot be understanding of oneself, fundamentally, deeply, if there is any form of assumption, any authority, either of the past or of the present. But the mind is frightened to let go of all authority and investigate because it is afraid of not arriving at a particular result. So the mind is concerned with achieving a result, but not with the investigation to find out, to understand. That is why we cling to authority - religious, psychological, or philosophical. Being afraid, we demand guides, authorities, scriptures, saviors, inspiration in various forms, and so the mind is made incapable of standing alone and trying to find out. But one must stand alone, completely, totally alone, to find out what is true"...

Lower Slaughter...




Friday, 16 June 2017

Hartley Wintney...

Stayed in Woodstock a couple of nights ago, another prosperous little Cotswolds town. Took an early morning stroll around the place before the gates to Blenheim Palace were opened to the riff-raff. Like the advertising slogan which used to promote Stella Artois beer, Woodstock is “reassuringly expensive” (though a sign outside the King’s Head suggests that even the good people of Woodstock are not immune to a bargain: “50% off champagne and Prosecco every Wednesday”).

Back in Hartley Wintney now with sister Kari, who is recuperating after surgery. I learned two new things yesterday: how to scramble an egg, and the fact that jetlag only happens if you fly east/west or west/east (rather than north/south or south/north)…

The village of Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds...

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Woodstock...

I’m parked up in Woodstock. It’s a balmy evening, and Woodstock is the kind of place for a leisurely stroll around town: the swifts are screaming, the sun lights up the honey-coloured buildings and a girl is practising her ballet moves in front of the town hall…

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Bourton-on-the-Water.

Stayed in ‘picture postcard’ Bourton-on-the-Water last night. I looked in vain for a cash machine, then learned that some guys had ripped the ATM out of the facade of Lloyds Bank with a stolen JCB…

A tranquil corner of Stow-on-the-Wold...


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Coventry...

Had a fun weekend in Coventry with (L-R) Chas, Gurkem and Nancy…




Saturday, 10 June 2017

Barbecue...

The clouds are clearing in Coventry today, with some late-afternoon sunshine. Having marinaded the chicken in his own-recipe sticky orange sauce, son Chas is getting the barbecue started…

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Election night...

Drove from Hampshire to north Norfolk, to socialise with old friends. And now I’m putting some more miles on the clock by heading to Coventry, to spend the weekend with son Chas. I’m parked up in Oundle, where I went to school. Not for any nostalgic reason… just that it’s on the route and I know where the car park is. I’m charging up my little digital radio, in the expectation of a night of election updates…

Brancaster Staithe...


Monday, 5 June 2017

The New Forest...


Horses...

The horse on the right is laughing at its own joke. The horse on the left has heard it before... and didn't find it funny the first time...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Ariana Grande

I’m gobsmacked by the refusal, by the political elite and others, to criticise Islam in the wake of recent attacks. Teresa May condemns the “evil ideology of Islamist extremism”, and even that - to judge by an article in today’s Guardian - is too much. In a statement (July 2016) Islamic State was unequivocal: “The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam”…

I don’t know Ariana Grande, or her songs, but kudos to her for coming back to Manchester for a benefit concert… when it would have been so much easier to stay away…

Bucklers Hard...




Saturday, 3 June 2017

Biscuits...

Felt rough yesterday - prickly eyes, cough, etc - so I parked up and had a lazy day: reading, writing and listening to the cricket on the radio. Felt a bit more sprightly today, got a fair few pix of the New Forest and, while editing them, listened to a bit more cricket.

‘Sledging’ is what bowlers do in an attempt to unsettle batsmen. It’s generally just a volley of abuse - until the umpires step in - and not worth repeating. But one story makes me laugh every time I think about it. Australian bowler, Glen McGrath, was being frustrated by a tubby Zimbabwean batsman called Eddo Brandes. McGrath: “Why are you so fat?” Brandes: “Because every time I shag your wife, she gives me a biscuit”...

Horse and foal in the New Forest...


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

End of the month...

A frustrating day. I paid £7.50 to park all day in the National Trust car park at Lulworth Cove (I’ve bought cars for less than that). The cove was very busy, and the light was bland: landscape ‘value’ nil. Paid £2 for some chips. To borrow an old Woody Allen joke, they were awful… and such a small portion. I thought I’d book into a campsite, to process a backlog of pix, but they wanted £37.50 for the privilege. OK, it’s half term… but that’s extortionate. I’m parked up in Wareham instead, busy uploading pix at my favourite unpopular pub. And my ‘last day of the month surge’ of Alamy licences amounted to just two sales…

Corner shop in Poundbury...


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Overpriced lager...

Back in Poundbury; can’t stay away. It’s a great place for wandering around with a camera, to see what will happen next. The answer, basically, is not much. But that can make it easier to get pix of all the architectural curiosities, without too many people getting in the way. Enjoying another vastly overpriced pint of lager at the Duchess of Cornwall pub. An early night beckons…

Weymouth Harbour...


Monday, 29 May 2017

Lulworth Cove...

Up at dawn, to photograph Lulworth Cove. The sun had barely touched the remarkable ‘folded’ rocks before it disappeared behind a long bank of cloud, and didn’t appear again. But at least I’d done my best; that’s better than sleeping through some golden dawn…

More pix of Poundbury...



Sunday, 28 May 2017

Wareham...

Sunday morning, still in Wareham. The heat has gone, as have the thunder and lightning. It’s back to something more seasonal: just pleasantly warm. I wrote 1,500 words of my book before breakfast, then went, on a whim, to a service at St Mary’s Church. Very traditional, apart from a female vicar (and maybe that’s almost traditional now). Towards the end of the service everyone wandered around, shaking hands with each other. I’m sure there are social benefits in going to church every Sunday, especially for those who are old, unwell or feeling lonely.

The members of the congregation sang the hymns, gave the appropriate responses, said the Lord’s prayer, etc. The sound of the words are comforting, as is the repetition; I wonder how many of those present really wonder what the words actually mean

Poundbury... the building on the right is the Duchess of Cornwall pub, modelled on the Ritz Hotel. On the left is Strathmore House, seemingly taking its inspiration from Buck House...





























Funeral parlour, Poundbury...


Saturday, 27 May 2017

Thunderstorm...

The heatwave broke in the night, with a violent thunder storm. For half an hour the lightning seemed constant, lighting up the sky, and, as the storm got nearer, the thunder made the van rattle.

A pleasantly idle day today, parked up on heathland near Wareham. I read, wrote and listened to the commentary from Southampton, where England are playing South Africa in a one-day game. I had a brief thought, this morning, about heading to Southampton for a day’s live cricket. But I’m perfectly happy to listen to the radio, and follow the game in my imagination. I’m back in Wareham, to watch Arsenal beat Chelsea in the cup final…

Poundbury...





Friday, 26 May 2017

Arne...

Had a day in a campsite near Swanage, to process a backlog of pix. I’d hoped to edit and upload 50 pix; in the end I managed 75. When I emerged from the van, about noon, it was blisteringly hot, and I had to shade my eyes from the harsh light from a cloudless sky. I heard on the radio that today was a record for solar power in the UK, supplying a quarter of the day’s requirements for electricity. Facts like this always cheer me up.

I had a chat with the guy in a big family tent on the next pitch. He looked like he’d been there some while; his tent was surrounded by potted plants which he was watering with a hose. Hot and bothered, I asked him to put his thumb over the end of the hose and give me a spray. He obliged; it was just what I needed. The weather forecast suggests this heatwave will last one more day, then break.

Took a stroll this evening in the RSPB reserve at Arne, on the edge of Poole Harbour. Not many birds about, but it was good to walk in the cool of the day. Tonight I’m parked up, a couple of miles away, in Wareham, where I have found a pleasantly unpopular pub…

Poundbury...

Poundbury pictures...

Busy editing pix of Poundbury. I took a lot; I wonder if they'll sell. It's a great 'walk around' place for a photographer, with broad streets and vistas...





Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The myth of moderation...

Having edited and uploaded 100 pix, while staying in a campsite, I’ve listened to a lot of the coverage of the Manchester bombing and its aftermath. Lots of love for Manchester, lots of candles, lots of ‘coming together as a community’ to blame ‘extremism’. But not one suggestion, in all those hours of radio broadcasting, that such acts of violence are mandated in the Koran. Some typical quotes…

“When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.” (47:4)

“Fight against those who do not obey Allah and do not believe in Allah or the Last Day and do not forbid what has been forbidden by Allah and His messenger even if they are of the People of the Book until they pay the Jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” (9:29)

“When the sacred months have passed, then kill the Mushrikin (ie those who do not worship Allah) wherever you find them. Capture them. Besiege them. Lie in wait for them in each and every ambush but if they repent, and perform the prayers, and give zacat then leave their way free.” (9:5)

“When your Lord revealed to the angels, ‘Truly I am with you. So, keep firm those who have believed. I will strike terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved. So, strike them at the necks and cut off their fingers.’” (8:12)


‘Moderate’ muslims believe that the Koran is the inerrant word of God, just as ‘extremists’ do. Moderate Islam is a myth. And the taboo against criticising Islam remains firmly in place…

Had a pint this afternoon at the Square & Compass Inn, near Swanage...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Manchester bombing...

Woke up with news of the bombing in Manchester. These are the first paragraphs of The End of Faith, a book by Sam Harris...

The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal. He wears an overcoat. Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb. His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison. The bus is crowded and headed for the heart of the city.
 
The young man takes his seat beside a middle-aged couple. He will wait for the bus to reach its next stop. The couple at his side appears to be shopping for a new refrigerator. The woman has decided on a model, but her husband worries that it will be too expensive. He indicates another one in a brochure that lies open on her lap. The next stop comes into view. The bus doors swing. The woman observes that the model her husband has selected will not fit in the space underneath their cabinets. New passengers have taken the last remaining seats and begun gathering in the aisle. The bus is now full. The young man smiles.With the press of a button he destroys himself, the couple at his side, and twenty others on the bus. The nails, ball bearings, and rat poison ensure further casualties on the street and in the surrounding cars. All has gone according to plan. 

The young man’s parents soon learn of his fate. Although saddened to have lost a son, they feel tremendous pride at his accomplishment. They know that he has gone to heaven and prepared the way for them to follow. He has also sent his victims to hell for eternity. It is a double victory. The neighbors find the event a great cause for celebration and honor the young man’s parents by giving them gifts of food and money.

These are the facts. This is all we know for certain about the young man. Is there anything else that we can infer about him on the basis of his behavior? Was he popular in school? Was he rich or was he poor? Was he of low or high intelligence? His actions leave no clue at all. Did he have a college education? Did he have a bright future as a mechanical engineer? His behavior is simply mute on questions of this sort, and hundreds like them.  Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy—you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it easy—to guess the young man’s religion?...

The religious mind...

I get a quote from Jiddhu Krishnamurti in my email inbox each morning; this one hit the spot for me...

The religious mind is something entirely different from the mind that believes in religion. You cannot be religious and yet be a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist. A religious mind does not seek at all, it cannot experiment with truth. Truth is not something dictated by your pleasure or pain, or by your conditioning as a Hindu or whatever religion you belong to. The religious mind is a state of mind in which there is no fear and therefore no belief whatsoever but only what is...

The ramparts of Maiden Castle, the iron-age hill fort near Dorchester...




Sunday, 21 May 2017

Weymouth...

The place names of Dorset sound like the morning register of boys at one of England’s minor public schools: Langton Herring. Minterne Magna, Hazelbury Bryan, Winterborne Stickland, Fifehead St Quintin, Tarrant Rushton, Sturminster Marshall, Compton Valence, Winterbourne Abbas, Melbury Osmond, Burton Bradstock… and Puddletown.

I spent yesterday afternoon shooting pix in Weymouth; the town is rather handsome, especially around the harbour. A middle-aged woman on a mobility scooter caught my eye. At some point in her life she’d given up all thoughts of ‘keeping up appearances’, and decided instead to transform herself into a gargoyle, a curiosity. Her face was bright red, and she had a pair of metal ‘fangs’ inserted into her top lip for the ever-popular ‘vampire’ look. She had a beard too, but at least it was neatly trimmed. In a world where women are judged by their looks, she’d really gone ‘out on a limb’.

HQ of the Poundbury Wealth Management company...

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Maiden Castle... again...

Up early to photograph Maiden Castle. The pix are… OK. It’s one of those places that makes more ‘visual sense’ when viewed from the air than from the ground. But I did my best, with the early morning light. I saw another corn bunting, plus goldfinches, a yellowhammer singing and - a rarity these days - a whole choir of skylarks…

Dobbin admires the view from Hambledon Hill...


Friday, 19 May 2017

Maiden Castle...

Spent the morning taking pix at Maiden Castle, “England’s finest iron-age hill-fort”, according to an information panel. Aerial photographs tell the whole story, with ditches and ramparts creating an impressive fortification. Shooting from ground level is more difficult; I’ll have another go this evening when the sun is lower in the sky.

On my circuit of the earthworks I saw linnets, goldcrests and a pair of stonechats. Then I heard birdsong that I haven’t heard for maybe 40 years. It sounded like a bunch of keys being rattled: unmistakably a corn bunting. These tubby finches have declined in number over recent years, due to loss of habitat, so it was good to see one singing from the top of a fence post.

In the meantime I’m back at Poundbury for a leisurely stroll with my camera. I popped into the Duchess of Cornwall pub for a pint of Peroni. “That’ll be £5.05”, said the barmaid. Would I like a receipt? Of course... as a souvenir of the most expensive pint of beer I’ve ever bought…

Poundbury...

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Hambledon Hill...

After a day of torrential rain, I was up at dawn this morning to photograph the iron-age hill-fort on Hambledon Hill. The low sun helped to emphasise the ramparts, ditches and terraces, and by 10am I had all the pix I needed. Back in Poundbury now, hoping to get more pix this afternoon of Prince Charles’s carbuncle-free architectural folly. Maiden Castle, another location for the book, is nearby…

Hambledon Hill...

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Bridport...

A few hours spent in the vanity project that is Poundbury made me yearn for cheap lager and Southern Fried Chicken, so I’ve ended up in Bridport, a few miles west. A damp and foggy day has not been wasted. I’ve started a new chapter of my book and written nearly 4,000 words: good going even though much of it was simply cut and pasted.

My first photo location is the iron-age hill fort at Hambledon Hill. The weather tomorrow looks very wet - another writing day, I reckon - with better weather on Thursday...

Poundbury...

On a breezy, overcast day I’m exploring Poundbury, the suburb of Dorchester in Dorset, built on the architectural principles of Prince Charles. It’s a strange place, taking its design inspirations from a variety of sources, it seems: collonades from the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, balconies from New Orleans, the layout from the American ‘model town’ of Seaside, which was used as a film set for the film, The Truman Show, and the general ambience from our future king’s puffed-up self-regard.

Cottages sit side-by-side with smart town houses, their blocked-up windows recalling - for no good reason - the way people blocked up windows in the 18th century to avoid paying ‘window tax’. Strathmore House, a development of luxury apartments in Palladian style, recalls a pared-down Buckingham Palace. The building’s neo-classical flourishes - pillars, columns, archways, etc - are repeated around Poundbury.  I’m having a cup of tea in the pub, the Duchess of Cornwall. It’s hardly a pub at all, being modelled on the Ritz Hotel, a favourite haunt of the Queen Mother (whose statue overlooks the building). Another block of twenty exclusive flats - and a spa - is being built on the other side of the square; it will be called the Royal Pavilion, apparently, named after one of the Queen Mother's racehorses. 

Poundbury might as well be called Poundland. It’s fake, bogus, ersatz, counterfeit, a vanity project, a mere pastiche of town planning. It exhibits a sublime irrelevance… a bit like Prince Charles himself…

Not the Duchess of Cornwall pub in Poundbury, but the bar of the Seymour Arms in Witham Friary...

Monday, 15 May 2017

Cricket at Taunton...


The Camino...

Had a very enjoyable weekend in Somerset, which began with a lightning visit to Greylake, an RSPB reserve. Though there weren’t many birds about - gargany, heron, bitterns booming, a distant marsh harrier - I chatted to a guy in one of the observation hides. I mentioned the great white egret as a bird I’d like to see, and he said that one had been seen the previous day. At that very moment a dazzling white bird the size of the heron flew up briefly and landed in the reeds: unmistakably a great white egret!

I socialised with friends Gordon and Trish in Taunton, which included a full day at the cricket: a 50-over game between Somerset and Essex. The visitors scored 334 - Alistair Cook hit an elegant 65 - and Somerset started their reply at a canter, with opener Myburgh hitting fours and sixties to every corner of the ground. Somerset were scoring at a good rate, but kept losing wickets, and eventually fell 72 runs short. It was a great day’s cricket, and Taunton’s county ground, under billowing cumulus clouds, looked a picture.

Gordon is starting the Camino pilgrimage walk later this week, from the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain: a distance of about 500 miles. He seems blissfully unaware of the effort that will be required, especially for a man with dodgy knees. I hope to be kept informed of his progress across northern Spain. Walking 500 miles is a life-changing adventure (just ask the Pretenders…) and, with some slight trepidation, I wish him all the best…


Friday, 12 May 2017

Eurovision...

We’ll find out tomorrow what the rest of Europe thinks of us, when Ukraine hosts the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest. There is a long tradition of bloc voting, with the Nordic countries voting for each other, as do the Balkans. But now, with Brexit on the horizon, and Russia not entering this year, the competition will have a new whipping boy. The UK entry - Never Give up on You - will be garnering an awful lot of ‘nul points’…


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Lovin' death...

According to today’s Guardian, Ukip’s Brexit spokesman, Gerard Batten, has prompted outrage after he said non-Muslims should have a “perfectly rational fear” of a faith he characterised as a “death cult” steeped in violence. Hmmm… it sounds like a perfectly sensible comment to me.

Anyone who criticises Islam is immediately tarred as 'racist', ‘Islamophobic’ or ‘anti-Muslim’. But there are more than a hundred verses in the Koran which call for Muslims to wage war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. One after another, jihadis say “We love death more than you love life”…

Lovin' it...


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Avebury...

Spent the morning photographing the stones at Avebury. Got plenty of shots, though I didn’t find it easy to ‘tell the story’ in visual terms. One problem is that the stones have been ‘suburbanised’; another is the fact that the National Trust is in charge; another is the sheer volume of people who come to visit. I wouldn’t want to be here on a sunny bank holiday.

Avebury may be a World Heritage Site today, but the value of the stones hasn’t always been recognised. Our descendants were so careless of their heritage that they built a village within the circle of stones, and a road across the middle of it. The Red Lion boasts that it’s the only pub situated inside a stone circle!

Most of my pix reflect this rather downbeat impression of Avebury. They’ll sell as stock pix, even if they’re not very appropriate for a book about different landscapes…

Dog offering his opinion on the Avebury stones...



Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Marlborough...

In Marlborough today: a place I remember very well from my one previous visit two years ago (when I spent the whole day watching Ashes cricket on TV, with the cricket coach of Marlborough School… having seen Australia bowled out for 60). It’s cloudy today, so I’m getting some writing done. The weather forecast is better for tomorrow, and my plan is to spend a few hours photographing the stones at Avebury…

Friday, 5 May 2017

Phil the Greek...

Parliament has been dissolved, transforming MPs, at a stroke, into election candidates. And, at the age of 95, the Duke of Edinburgh has decided to retire from public life (and whatever it is he does for - gulp - 780 charities). He’ll be a hard act to follow. Those plaques won’t unveil themselves…

Abstraction in a shop window...


Thursday, 4 May 2017

A nye of pheasants...

There’s an estate agent in Hungerford called Nye and Co, whose logo is a pheasant. As a kid I read about the collective nouns for different birds (most of which nobody uses), and a nye of pheasants was one. I remember a few others: a murder of crows, a covy of partridges, a bevy of quails, a watch of nightingales, a parliament of owls, a murmuration of starlings and a spring of teal. A group of wrens is called a herd, apparently: little used because wrens don’t congregate in numbers… just singly or in pairs. About the only collective noun I could use without blushing is a charm of goldfinches…

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Hungerford...

In Hungerford this evening, where, in 1987, Michael Robert Ryan walked around the town with a handgun and two semi-automatic rifles. He killed 15 people, including his mother, before turning the gun on himself. Ryan’s last words, reported by the police, as they surrounded the local community college where he’d barricaded himself in: “Hungerford must be a bit of a mess. I wish I had stayed in bed.” That’s the only thing I knew about Hungerford, which joins other communities - such as Soham, Dunblane and Lockerbie - in being famous for all the wrong reasons. There’ll be a memorial somewhere in town, but I haven’t seen it…

Kingsclere...




Old and in the way...

I was going into a pub loo when a guy pushed the door from the other side and squashed me against the wall. “Sorry, old man”, he said, cheerily. Another guy, following me, was aghast. “I can’t stand it when people take the piss out of the elderly”, he said. Hmmm, guess which comment sounded most patronising…

What's left of the old brickworks at Stewartby, near Bedford...




Monday, 1 May 2017

Snooker...

Today is the final day of the snooker; this evening either Mark Selby or John Higgins will be world champion for 2017. Despite blanket coverage on TV, over 17 days, I haven’t seen any of the play. But back in 1985 I was on a ferry, returning from Ireland, and the TV room was full of people watching the final of the snooker. Half of the ferry passengers were cheering for Steve Davis, representing England, while the other half were cheering Dennis Taylor who, with his upside-down glasses, represented Ireland. We weren’t the only ones watching; the match attracted a record TV audience of 18.5 million.

It was a lively scene - and standing room only - in the TV room of the ferry, as the match went this way and that. The contest was still undecided when the ferry docked at Hollyhead, where we were told, over the tannoy, that we had to disembark. Except the viewers weren’t going anywhere. Eventually the captain came into the room and said we had to leave. We shouted him down and, wisely, he let us stay on board. He sat down with us to watch the last few frames.

The match stood at 17 frames apiece, with one last - deciding - frame to play. Amazingly the last frame turned out to be a black ball game. Steve Davis missed a black he would have got 99 times out of 100, leaving Dennis Taylor to pot it. He hoisted his cue, waggled his finger, did a little dance and kissed the trophy. The Irish viewers were ecstatic, and the rest of us could reflect on the fact that we’d just watched one of the great sporting contests. It was way after midnight when everyone drove off the ferry and into the night...

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Market cross...

The 17th century market cross in Wymondham, Norfolk. The stilted building was designed to protect valuable documents from both flood and vermin. According to T F Thistleton Dyer's English Folklore, live rats were nailed by their tails to the side of the building to deter other rats...


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Bird-watcher...

A bird-watcher on the raised river-bank at Lakenheath Fen (that's not a camera, it's a spotting scope). I bet he saw the great white egret too...


Friday, 28 April 2017

Lakenheath Fen...

Spent the morning at Lakenheath Fen, an RSPB reserve. I heard bitterns ‘booming’, and was lucky enough to see one in flight. I watched a pair of marsh harriers performing their mating flight: amazing. I was hoping to see hobbies hunting over the reedbeds, but I was told that they’re easier to spot later in the day, when there are more insects on the wing. Everybody but me spotted a great white egret. Never mind; it was a relaxing way to spend a few hours…




Thursday, 27 April 2017

Kindle...

There’s an article in the Guardian this morning about how sales of ebooks are slowing, while sales of proper ‘physical’ books are booming. The author of the article says her Kindle now languishes in a drawer. It’s gratifying that books - paper books - are continuing to sell, though I’m really happy with my Kindle too.

Compared to modern, all-singing, all-dancing tablets it’s clunky, slow and bereft of ‘features’. But it does one thing, and does it well. I’m not tempted to surf the web rather than read; I’m not distracted by pop-up adverts. The text on the ‘paperwhite’ screen - which is matt rather than glossy - is easy to read in direct sunlight, and, unlike with a book, I can choose the font, the font size and the brightness of the screen.

The Kindle suits my travelling life. It's small and light. I can read in the van at night, without turning a light on. I can hold the Kindle in one hand, and tap on the screen to turn the page. I have about 80 books on the Kindle at present; they represent the books I read and re-read while I’m writing a book about belief. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christopher Hitchens are well-represented. Most books I’ve had to pay for, though some works, now out of copyright (by Bertrand Russell, Mark Twain, Frazer’s The Golden Bough, etc) I have downloaded for free. Also free for the asking are the Bible, Koran and Hadith. I wanted to cut down the number of books I had in the van - it was turning into a mobile library - and the Kindle certainly helps with that.

The Kindle’s simplicity becomes a virtue when I have to recharge it. If I plug it in for half an hour, I can carry on reading for at least a fortnight. That’s a real bonus when I have other, more important things to recharge, such as the laptop and camera batteries.

There are many things I can’t do with an ebook. I can’t sell it, or lend it to a friend or give it to a charity shop. I miss the tactile experience of turning real pages. But, for me, the sheer convenience of the Kindle is what matters; it represents £100 well spent…

The tiered tower of the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Burgh St Peter, Norfolk...