Friday, 13 December 2019

A Closer Look

As I wandered through Ely Cathedral (as described in the previous post) my attention kept wandering from the overall magnificence to the small details - some beautiful, some interesting, some poignant and some a little absurd.

When you gaze at such a big structure you can easily take in the general shape without noticing the elaborately decorated surfaces which make up the whole. Here you see part of the west tower, south-west transept and Galilee porch, all of which are a mass of intricate carving. Just how many man hours went into carving each of the stones that contribute to the little bit pictured here? And how much into the whole building?

The ceiling painting in the nave is more recent and was painted by two men we've come across on this blog before. Henry L'Estrange Styleman Le Strange was a gentleman land-owner in the nineteenth century and it was he who conceived and completed half of the painted ceiling. The other creation he's remembered for is the seaside town of Hunstanton which he had built on his land to create employment in the area. Unfortunately he died young before either was finished. The ceiling was completed by Thomas Gambier Parry who was also responsible for the frescoes in Hildersham church.

There's even more detailed carving inside the cathedral, with just a few coloured spots of light courtesy of the stained glass windows.

I love it when the sun streams through the coloured glass windows and lights up even the darkest nooks and crannies. These arches are in the south aisle of the nave.

In any other location the round arches of the south aisle would attract attention and admiration - they are nine hundred years old after all - but in this building they are largely ignored.

More sun on stained glass. Almost all of the windows are no earlier than Victorian but no less beautiful for that.

In the Lady Chapel you can still see quite a lot of the medieval painted decoration on some detailed carving, albeit much knocked about by Protestant iconoclasts. 

I'm very fond of fancy ironwork and especially the wonderful shadows it throws on the walls and floors.

These are the steps that ascend to the pulpit with the shadows of the iron bannister.

The cathedral contains a series of boards on which are recorded all the men of Cambridgeshire who lost their lives in the Great War. Those two Wilsons at the bottom were my grandmother's two brothers. 

This memorial is to a gentleman who was the treasurer for the Duke of Bedford's company engaged in the draining of the peat fens during the eighteenth century. I'm amused by his name: Gotobed East! You might think he must have been a particularly hyperactive child for his parents to have Christened him Go to bed (!) but it's probably just the old tradition around these parts of naming children with their grandmothers' maiden names. Gotobed is a well-known, if uncommon, name around here - they fit in just fine with the Hunneybuns and Puddifoots. If I were named after my two grannies my first names would be Skipp Wilson - not bad at all.

And we'll finish off with another peep at the Christmas tree in the Octagon.

Music On Friday

I suppose I should include some church music here but I feel like something a little more like the carving - lively and elaborate. This at least wouldn't sound out of place in church and its title recalls a cathedral. One of its names is "Paul's Steeple" - from the spire on St Paul's Cathedral in London. 

"Hang on a minute! St Paul's has a dome not a steeple!". Ah, but the old church that was destroyed in the Great Fire did have steeple and this is a very old piece of music.

To anyone who ever tottled on a recorder or bashed a tambourine as a six-year-old that must be quite a revelation.

(Thanks to Robin Andrea and Roger who first suggested having a little music on a Friday).

Take care.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

An Afternoon With Etheldreda

In Cambridgeshire there are several landmarks you always scan the horizon for on a clear day: Rivey Hill water tower, the chimneys of Addenbrookes Hospital, the radio telescopes at Lords Bridge, Barrington cement works and Ely Cathedral. The Cathedral has them all beat in terms of both age and beauty.

One of the best views of it is to be had as you pass by on the train - the boats on the Ouse, the riverside pubs, the rooftops of the shops and houses and above all the soaring Cathedral. As you walk from the station you can enjoy the view at the top of the page and then just a few more steps bring you right beneath the west tower.

There's been some sort of Christian foundation on the site since the Saxon Queen Etheldreda founded a double monastery (one for monks, one for nuns) here in 673 AD. I'd always understood that these early Christians were seeking a quiet refuge in a wild and inaccessible location. Archaeology has recently shown this is not quite true: the Fens had been a thriving and prosperous place since at least the Bronze Age. 

As soon as you've negotiated the ticket desk you find yourself in a nave which is very long, 
very high, very narrow and quite mesmerising. It's also very old, these stones having been shaped and laid one on top of the other around the year 1100 AD. A surprisingly large part of the building dates from that period.

The magnificent presbytery was completed in the Thirteenth Century and houses the shrine to St Etheldreda. 

The builders probably thought their work was finished. However in 1322 disaster struck when the Norman crossing-tower collapsed. 

That seeming catastrophe was turned to advantage by the Sacrist of the monastery, Alan de Walsingham, who created the glorious Octagon instead of the tower. It's made, not of stone, but of good English timber - there's over two hundred tons oak up there! The main supports are 63 feet (19 metres) long and weigh in at 17 tons each.

The wonderful golden light that seems to permeate the Cathedral is partly the natural colour of the stone, but it's also enhanced by the low late-afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass.

The Lady Chapel, which is on the north side and therefore not receiving the same light, is always bright and cool. It was not always like this as it formerly had coloured glass and painted stonework. It's the biggest Lady Chapel in any of England's cathedrals.

Elsewhere there's plenty of stained glass, shown off to perfection by the bright sunlight. The cathedral also houses the only stained glass museum in the country - one day I'll plan my day well enough to visit the museum and climb the tower too!

I'd better not leave without showing you the massive Christmas tree - I wonder what the twelfth century monks would have made of that.

Once outside it soon began to get dark and the moon started to slowly climb into the sky while the tower assumed a pinkish tint from last glow in the western sky.

I made my way back to the railway station and bade a farewell to Etheldreda of Ely, though I still have a lot of photos that I took of little details which may well form a future post.

Take care.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Mill Road Movers And Shakers

The annual winter fair took place in Cambridge's Mill Road at the weekend and I went along as I do most years. All along the length of the road there were food stalls and craft stalls; brass bands, rock bands, folk bands and buskers; morris dancers; guided walks; artists and poets; churches handing out free mince pies; samba bands leading parades; Father Christmas and....well you name it. But how could I photograph it a little differently and capture some of the colour and movement?

The rapid hands of Arco Iris Samba Band

Slow shutter speeds blurring the movement was my tentative answer. As you'll see some worked better than others - and as you won't see many were miserable failures!

The local Fire Brigade were manually pulling one of their fire engines
through the street

The University's Lion Dance Troop

One problem I hadn't anticipated was that, though the performers could be blurred nicely, those watching were static, and this distracted from the action. A lot of tinkering of the computer solved the problem for the shot above.

Cambridge Morris Men

Morris dancers proved unexpectedly tricky to photograph in this way.

The dancers of Ely And Littleport Riot

The colourful dancers above required an enormous amount of work on the computer to give any sort of image: interesting but not what I'd envisaged.

Arco Iris 

The samba band, Arco Iris, gave their usual colourful and extrovert performance which I hope is conveyed by the pictures above and below.

I also got several useable shots of the parade....

I didn't catch who was responsible for the vibrant carnival parade and I can't find any mention of them on the Winter Fair website. You get used to these unexpected happenings on Mill Road!

Colonel Spanky's Love Ensemble

Bands with unlikely names were everywhere - Release The Chimps, The Galapagogos, Jason and the Skagonauts, Shake Your Tailfeather, Ember Rev, Fruity Clave and of course Colonel Spanky, all provided musical entertainment.

I tried to capture the chaos of the crowded streets and just snapped a few slow, blurry shots as I walked along. I rather like the impressionistic feel of this one, with just one face showing clearly through the patterns.

And finally......

These gentlemen are not for blurring!

(For a more literal interpretation of the Winter Fair see my earlier posts here, here and here).

Take care.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Non-Political Views

A selection of views which I've enjoyed recently, none of them the sort voiced at length by politicians campaigning for Thursday's General Election.

We've had a few frosty mornings lately, some of which have also had some accompanying mist or fog. This is that glorious time when the first rays of sun break through to light the last few golden leaves. Dawn transforming into day at the same time as Autumn slides into Winter.

Another view on the same day and along the same path, a path which used to lead to the hamlet of Moor End. The houses have long gone and it's just another ploughed field these days. The other evening however I was checking something on the Ordnance Survey maps on my computer and I flicked to the aerial photography mode. As if by magic you can still make out the shape of their gardens by darker marks in the soil, though nothing is discernible down here at ground level. 

You weren't expecting that, were you? That, lit by the first rays of morning sun, is Johnson Matthey's factory, a major employer in the Royston area. It looks a bit out of place here, in the fields on the border of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. You might think I'm making some kind of environmental point here, but read on. The firm specialise in precious metals and started out ensuring the quality of gold and silver for the Bank Of England. Today they make catalytic converters which lower the pollution from cars and they also make similar devices to reduce the emissions from factories and power stations. So part of the solution rather than part of the problem then.

Even when the sun rouses itself to climb above the horizon in December it doesn't get very high in the sky. The British Isles are surprisingly far north - nearer the North Pole than either Newfoundland or Vladivostok! It's the ocean currents that give us our mild climate.

This may look as though it's somewhere up near the Arctic Circle, but it's actually in the Brecklands of Norfolk. The sandy, relatively unfertile soil has long been used for timber production. In recent decades the Forestry Commission has begun leaving clearings like this for the benefit of wildlife; woodlarks and nightjars are among the birds you might see here in summer.

And this is the ornamental lake that was constructed for Lynford Hall, which is surrounded by the commercial forestry operation. It's a magnet for bird life with many species present, but not the Hawfinches which are what I'd hoped to see.

And this has suddenly sprung up on Wicken Fen recently. It looks like a traditional hayrick that you might have seen in the countryside a hundred years ago (though probably not just here), but in fact it's a work of art called "Mother". Here's what it says online:

"MOTHER... is new artwork by Studio Morison, inspired by the restorative qualities of the beautiful fen landscape as described in Richard Mabey's book 'Nature Cure', and childhood memories of visiting the Fens and the Wash".

If you look closely on the right-hand side you'll see a narrow aperture that you can just squeeze through.....

Once inside you can gaze up at this ornate wooden roof. I'm not sure what to think about this piece of artwork but everybody else I speak to thinks it's marvellous.

Sunset is ridiculously early in winter, starting in mid-afternoon. This was taken long after the sun had sunk out of sight, looking across Burwell Fen, part of a re-wilding project NE of Cambridge. You can just about make out the Konik ponies which graze the land. The evening mist is just beginning to swirl around their feet.

Believe it or not I had to tone down the lurid orange sky to make it believable on these last two shots! A few last-minute geese cross Burwell Lode as they fly to roost. We'd been watching a Barn Owl hunting in the dusk as darkness crept over the land.

Take care.

Friday, 6 December 2019

The Joy Of Music

For this week's Music On Friday we're off to explore another musical style and a musical genius who has given me more joy and astonishment than anyone else I've discovered in recent years. I have no idea how well-known he is, though I suspect not as well as I think he should be. Let me introduce you.

He began, like many other important musicians at an early age, first trying to play at the age of two and within a couple of years had taught himself a huge repertoire of pieces. His parents recognised his extraordinary talent and arranged for him to have lessons to refine his technique. By the age of nine he was playing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at The Barbican. He's gone on to play concerts worldwide and make recordings.

His talents baffle even other professional musicians. For a start he has the gift of perfect pitch and can name any note he hears, including sounds from things like trains and vacuum cleaners. Lots of musicians have some of that ability and a few can even recognise two or three notes played simultaneously, but the musician we're discussing here can recognise more than a dozen notes played at the same time. He also has the ability to recall and play almost any song he's ever heard. Not only that but he can play them immediately in any key you like to name and in any number of styles. I'd better tell you his name...

Now if you've heard of him before you're going to think I've missed out something about him. If you've not heard the name you may be surprised by what comes next. Away from the piano his life has not been without challenges, but he's first and foremost a musician - and a very good musician at that. His name is Derek Paravicini and he also happens to be blind, autistic and have severe learning difficulties.

A few years ago I was working with a young boy who'd also been diagnosed as autistic. He was no musical genius though he did love music and possessed a fine sense of rhythm. I quite often brought CDs from home for him to listen to, some he liked and some he didn't care for. But he was immediately captivated by Derek's piano playing and listened intently to the whole recording...then wanted it played again...and again.

Derek puts lots of short videos on YouTube which you can find here: where you'll also find links to many documentaries and talks about Derek's music.

But the one I enjoy most is this one with keynote speaker, Amy Brann, and his piano teacher and friend, Adam Ockleford
which gives, for me at least, the most respectful insight into his talents.

Take care.