Sunday, 20 July 2014

Fixing The Windows

We haven't had any window-pictures lately. So for anyone suffering from withdrawal symptoms (probably only me!) here is your latest fix.

Bright colours in Downham

Elegant reflections in Cambridge

Echoes of times past 

Cottage pelargoniums

A ghostly presence of a former
resident of Hatfield House

Fading shades of red

A Cambridge college

Patriotism and tradition

Bunnies ahoy!

Remembering the wisteria
of spring

Back to that first window for
a colourful semi-abstract.

Take care.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Two Imaginations

"Cambridge Open Studios is a flourishing community of artists, craftspeople and designer-makers working throughout Cambridgeshire. Our aim is to help bring artists and local people together, providing opportunities for the public to visit workshops and studios of people working in a wide range of crafts and media...." said the leaflet which also gave dates and locations for around two-hundred studios in the area which will open their doors to the public at weekends throughout the month of July.

On Saturday I made my way to two studios in what-used-to-be-my-home-village of Grantchester. In this case, as it happens, the artists in question are local people too.

tess recordon

Step in out of the sunlight and into Tess's terraced house which has been transformed into a gallery for the occasion. The walls are lined with her landscape paintings which seem to hover on the cusp between abstraction and reality. These are British landscapes but certainly not the twee, picture-postcard scenes that turn up in so many places. The weather, atmosphere and feel of the land take precedence over any detailed rendition of reality. 

Tess pointed out a print of one of her favourite works, a mountain scene in shimmering, misty greys, "It's a bit of a cheat, really," she said, "I was on the Island of Mull but the weather was rubbish and it didn't really look much like that - but that was how it felt to be there!"

I went out through the back door, down the garden and into her studio. Just inside was a table strewn with painting materials, ("It's not usually as tidy as this!"), which included a selection of brushes. These are only used for mixing the paint, the preferred method of applying it to the canvas being to pour it on and let it run down, or else flick or dribble the paint on to the surface.

The walls bore vivid evidence of the technique! She then builds up layer upon layer of paint to give the final effect. When thin layers are applied the previous ones show through, though even when they are completely hidden they still have an effect on the finished result. OK, I'm not sure I really understood that, but I can't argue with the fact that these pictures have a depth and resonance which is otherwise hard to explain.

Despite the limitations of my photography I hope the detail above gives you some idea of how the overlapping layers build on one another. Or maybe we should really move back a few paces...

The view's an interpretation of Loch Torridon in Scotland, one of those magical moments that etches itself deep on the memory but then is gone forever - unless you are blessed with the ability to preserve it with oil paint. 

elspeth owen

A little further down the road one is invited to slip through a hole in the hedge and into the surprising world of potter Elspeth Owen. Elspeth inhabits an old wooden building which in a former lifetime was Grantchester cricket pavilion.

You pass the bicycle leaned against the logpile and go around to the front of the building which nowadays lurks amongst trees and vegetation.

I climbed the wooden steps for the first time in over forty years - and what were the ceramicist and her visitor discussing - cricket! Inside there were displays of Elspeth's pots nestling among found items and natural objects collected on walks, pictures, faded newspaper cuttings and a splendid collection of cobwebs! Everything seemed to have arisen organically and naturally, then settled comfortably down together.

Something clattered unexpectedly. Elspeth looked briefly alarmed but, once satisfied that it wasn't one of her pots which had crashed to the ground, she concluded that it must have only been a mouse. "Would you like to see some mouse-sculptures?" she asked and produced some walnut shells which had been artistically fashioned by a rodent intent on devouring the nourishment within.

Her pots have an ancient, rough-hewn appearance and seem to have been created by some long-lost civilisation. And maybe they have; everything about this place seems to hark back to a former time when time passed more slowly but to more purpose.

These "moon dishes" not only look as old as civilisation but also as fragile as eggshell. They also link to one of Elspeth's "projects": buy one and you can have it delivered by hand to any address in Britain or Ireland. She will spend the next year "unhitched from all push-button and on-off devices" delivering these and returning each full moon to celebrate beside the River Cam.

Nostalgia forced me to take a peek into the Home team changing room where the above installation was waiting for me.

Then it was outside again where artist and her public were engaged in a discussion about the correct name of a flower which had decided to self-seed and flourish in this secluded corner of England.

Take care.

I hope I'm not too far off target with what I've written above. If either of the artists should stumble upon this page and disagree with me they are welcome to comment and put me right!
For the rest of you here are the artists' own websites so you can check out their own words:

To see more of Tess Recordon's British Landscapes

And Elspeth Owen's pots:

Sunday, 13 July 2014


What kind of people might own these vehicles seen parked in and around Cambridgeshire? 

I know that my father and at least one of my cousins would have made up, surmised, invented or dreamed a story about each of these situations within a few minutes of passing by. How about you?

Take care.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Ones That Got Away

A few small fry that slipped through the holes in the net.

Children on board

Real life got in the way of my seeing the Tour de France leave from Cambridge on Monday - though I caught some of it on TV. But my last post showing the cyclists and bikes of the city gave rise to a comment from "stardust" enquiring about mothers transporting their little ones to and from school. Oh, yes, there are plenty of them to be seen. As you can see we have bright kids around here who soon learn to lift their feet from the pedals and let mum do all the work.

Is it a spire? Is it a tower?

This is the beautifully situated church in Guilden Morden. The small-scale spire sitting within the parapets of the tower is known as a "Hertfordshire spike" as it's a common arrangement in that county. Just to confuse the issue this church is actually in Cambridgeshire, but architectural styles, like regional accents, have no respect for county boundaries. 

There are two explanations for the origin of the "spike". One is that Hertfordshire lacks the right kind of building stone to build spires so compromised by constructing these lead-clad spirelets.

The other story goes thus:
In the early days of Christianity would-be church builders were dismayed to find that the Devil already owned all the best sites. After lengthy negotiations the Devil agreed to hand over some of his lands provided that the churches built thereon had no steeples. Apparently the Devil can only enter via the tower and a steeple prevents him from doing so. The crafty church builders stayed within the letter of the agreement by constructing the spikes instead on which the Devil would become impaled should he attempt to enter. 

Le Strange's Folly

Back in 1840 Henry L'Estrange Styleman Le Strange inherited some 10,000 acres of North West Norfolk. Far from being "strange" Henry was a remarkably talented and progressive Victorian gentleman. He made many improvements to his estate, was responsible for many church restorations as well as designing and painting the beautiful ceiling of Ely Cathedral. He also designed and had built the Golden Lion Hotel, high on a cliff between Old Hunstanton and Heacham, in 1846.

For 16 years it stood alone and little used and became known as the Folly by those with less foresight than Le Strange. This was the time when seaside holidays were becoming fashionable amongst the elite and Le Strange campaigned to bring the railway here in order to open up the area to the masses. He also drew up elaborate plans for a new resort town, New Hunstanton, on this greenfield site.

Although all these plans came to fruition Henry himself did not live to see it as he died of a heart attack, aged just 47, in the same week that his station opened. 

What goes around comes around...

When the fens were drained to provide agricultural land some method was needed to pump the water into the drains and rivers. Just like in Holland hundreds of windmills provided the power to drain the land. Wind power was replaced by steam engines. They in turn were replaced with diesel-powered pumps which more recently have given way to electric pumps like this one at Ten Mile Bank...

....which, as you can see, has a wind-turbine to supplement its electrical supply.

Here comes the sun...

In Queens' College there is possibly the world's most complicated and comprehensive sundial. With it you can work out not only the time of day but also the sign of the zodiac, the month of the year, the time of sunrise, the length of daylight hours, the elevation of the sun above the horizon, and the compass bearing of the sun. In addition you can, theoretically at least, tell the time by the moon. However at the time of making the sundial they didn't have sufficient understanding to compute some of the information with any great degree of accuracy. Also the dial has been repainted several times, not always very precisely. Better to stick with the digital watch.

Early Health and Safety

A sign from the railways which, when you analyse it, doesn't say much more than.....

.....Take care!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Le Tour - An Insider's Guide

The world's greatest bicycle race, the Tour de France, is coming to Cambridge next week, having this year started in Yorkshire. While these riders have tackled the Alps and the Pyrenees before they've probably never cycled in Cambridge. So here is a guide to all the delights and difficulties of riding through Cycle City.

This is where they'll be starting, near the Catholic Church, and here are Cambridge's own experts showing how to get away at the traffic lights before the cars and buses.

Inexperienced riders may find themselves left at the start. You will notice that riding on the path, though not strictly within the law, is quite acceptable in Cambridge; as is going the wrong way down one way streets and ignoring traffic lights.

The "peloton" soon sorts itself out and forms only a minor hazard to other road users.

The landscape is mostly quite flat and there are no slopes which are not surmountable to the bicycle. You may need to practise your hill-parking however.

By this time the front-runners will be setting a cracking pace....

....while more experienced campaigners will await their opportunity.

The Copper Kettle cafe offers a full English breakfast, served all day, or fish and chips if anyone's feeling peckish at this early stage.

The City Council provide useful maps should riders lose their way in the maze of streets.

There are also many unmistakable landmarks to guide you on your way.

Now here's drama as one of the competitors has to stop for repairs!

And is that the yellow jersey of the overall race-leader? He seems to have had enough of Cambridge's traffic and potholes and has stopped for a coffee!

Any rider glancing up in Trinity Street might think he's already in France with the bunting and shuttered windows. But, no, I can see a Union flag up there....

....or maybe we are in France after all!

Meanwhile the Regent Hotel gets into the spirit of the day!

And the leading riders speed off into the distance. Having successfully negotiated the streets of Cambridge it's only another 94 miles (150 Km) to London. And they call that a "short stage"!

Take care.