Tuesday 31 July 2012

Enquiring Feet

It is good to have an enquiring mind,or so I have been told, but it's far, far better to have enquiring feet. I have been blessed and cursed with a set of the most enquiring feet for most of my life. And that's how it was that today, when my mind was made up to do my grocery shopping in double quick time, that my feet took me on an excursion to the dawn of history and to the remotest parts of the globe. Instead of the soulless aisles of Sainsbury's supermarket I found myself in the Cambridge University Museum Of Archaeology And Anthropology.

My mind, along with the minds of most of the population of Cambridge and many of its visitors, has known for many years that no one goes in there. There's a sign outside that says "Open to the public. Free Admission" but we all suspect it's a trick and know that it's really out of bounds for normal people.

But my feet are blissfully ignorant of all such preconceptions and prejudice and blundered in regardless, only to be met by......

.....an 'orrible visage staring out through the plate-glass of its display case. A sign informed me that it was a dance mask from the Torres Strait and was collected in the 1880s. But the collection started much nearer to home with the finds of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society who went out digging and delving in the local area.

Now some of you may remember this post called "Local Landmark" which revealed a Bronze Age burial mound not too far from my back door. In a follow-up post I wrote about the excavation of such mounds - well, this is where the finds ended up. Above are some grave-goods (items which were buried along with the dead) and below is a cremation urn.

But some of the earliest finds on display were these flint tools...

....all of which were found within a few miles of Cambridge. During the nineteenth century though historians turned their attention to societies further afield and encouraged collecting of artefacts from distant lands or, to look at it another way, stealing stuff from unwary societies. This kind of attitude has landed the University in hot water on many occasions but...

....these casts made of Mayan carvings are studied more than the originals which have been allowed to deteriorate terribly. And there is also a huge totem pole from Canada....

.....seen from below. And from gallery level where its immense size can really be appreciated....

And from the gallery you can see down into the main exhibition area...

....since it is the school summer holidays there were a few children present....

But perhaps my favourite exhibit was this lovely Buddha from Burma...

....or maybe this Indian snakes-and-ladders board...

Now, did you know that this child's game has existed for at least 800 years in India?

Despite the vast age-range of the exhibits and their origins in different parts of the world it is striking that we can still enjoy their beauty and craftsmanship, a point that was made equally forcefully by the contemporary art exhibition which the Museum houses at present.

These paintings were made by Rachel Gadsden and the Bambanani artist-activist Group in South Africa.

So if you've got enquiring feet let them take you to the building above, you'll be transported!

Take care.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Two Explanations: Three Odd Shots

I was playing around with a hide-clamp, a device to attatch your telescope to a convenient shelf in a bird hide. You can also use it as a camera clamp. For some reason I fixed it to the crossbar of my bicycle, then fitted the camera on top. I adjusted it so that the picture would include the handlebars and my hands. Set the self-timer to ten seconds and start pedalling down the road.
It's the kind of experiment where you hope that nobody you know comes around the corner and starts asking questions!

I was trying to find my way down to the river and chanced upon some sheds used to house rowing boats and oars. Glancing into the window I saw this dazzling white frame. I took a quick shot but didn't really understand what I was photographing. It's actually the window on the other, sunnier, side of the shed. If you look carefully you can see there's a roller-blind on that window and the sun is streaming in all around it, making the white frame. Everything in the shed is so dark that it's producing a wonderful reflection of the trees and bushes behind me. The reason I didn't explore further was that I was pretty certain that I was on private property. I could get to the river OK but there was no riverside path anyway. All I achieved was the enigmatic shot on the right.

Don't ask what this is though because I don't know! Found it in a builder's skip, it'd been taken out from a house which was having a lot of work done. It was actually shiny and is picking up reflected colours which I've strengthened on the computer.

I know this one though! It's a moorhen on the river near Bait's Bite Lock. Should've got included in the "Downriver" post. The composition's all "awry" of course but kind of makes you look at it. I hope!

Another queer composition this time just some rubbish in a fence. Rendered with that strange "not-quite-sepia" treatment that comes with Windows Live Photo Gallery which actually has some very nice B/W effects.

Take care.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Windows - Buy One Get One Free!

Chopin, I believe, said that nothing is more beautiful than a guitar - except perhaps two. I feel much the same about windows, so here are a few double-window images that have diverted my attention recently when I was supposed to be doing other things.

OK, so number five isn't really a double window apart from being a sash-window which is made in two pieces. Some of them might be reflections from big mirrors inside the rooms, but that's half the fun of these photos - trying to figure out what's real, what's a reflection and what's a distortion. I can assure you they are all "straight" pictures though I've tweaked them a little to bring out the reflections to best advantage. And that last picture - well, I couldn't figure out what was going on till I got the photo home and had a good look at it.

Take care.

Monday 23 July 2012

Blazing Saddles

While Bradley Wiggins was winning the Tour de France in Paris I was furiously pedalling across the mighty hills of Cambridgeshire, only getting off when I ran out of puff or felt the urge to take a photo. Don't scoff! I'll have you know that when I was in my prime I once ascended one of the steepest climbs in the Pyrenees - and the bus only just made it!

How did he do that?

But the bike is a wonderful way of getting about if you're not in too much hurry. It's an incredibly energy-efficient means of locomotion, the physics of which I find totally baffling. And it doesn't leave a filthy great carbon-footprint either. It also comes with a built-in breeze to cool you down as you go.

After the recent rains there were still a few puddles to negotiate though I was amazed at how quickly summer has resumed after last week's downpours. Only seven days ago I had to cycle home by a different route as there were floods closing the road between work and my house.

But today I encountered some rather belated hay-making. It's called "making-hay-while-the-sun-shines".

In a farmyard stood this magnificent relic from the past and, a little further along, what appeared to be a horse with dreadlocks!

It turned out to be a device to keep the flies away from the animal's eyes. Pity - I rather liked the idea of a Rastafarian horse. You just don't see these things, or have time for such idiotic musings, unless you're on a bike.

The barley was already looking golden and made me realise that it is July, even if we don't seem to have had any summer weather yet. Time to throw the bike down on the grass and get arty...

That's what you get if you set the self-timer, turn the flash on and lay the camera down among the crop. It'll be time for harvest before you know it. Now I really must get on with this bike ride.

You get time to notice the wildflowers and even the insects as you tootle along on a bicycle.

And you investigate places where there are signs saying "No Through Road" and "Road Unsuitable For Vehicular Traffic" - maybe, but not unsuitable for pedal power.

So I pedalled on through the evening sunshine and the golden glow of the ripening grain, taking in intimate details and distant horizons, feeling more fit and free with every rotation of my ageing legs. OK, I won't be in the Tour de France any time soon but this little tour is good enough for me.

Take care.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Sights Along The Road

Another high-value, several-for-the-price-of-one post about things encountered along the crooked roads of England.


In these days of economic hardship it's as well to hedge your bets and spread the risk. This butcher's shop in Newnham, Cambridge has countered the growing trend for vegetarianism by selling a wide range of fruit and veg. He still sells meat too.

Up On The Roof

Oh yes, more whimsical wildlife added by our local thatcher, an excellent rendition of duck and ducklings. But I was rather disappointed with his attempt at a squirrel which falls below the usual high standard....

...But it didn't stop this little chap coming to investigate...

Meanwhile on another rooftop an extra layer of insulation has been added in the form of doves. (83 to save you the bother of counting). The lady who lives there started feeding a few doves some years ago and word has spread....

Sign Of The Times

Some problems have been with us for longer than you might think!

In A Country Church

On the pew ends in Cottenham church are these wonderful carvings which represent fenland trees and plants.

In A City Church

In Great Saint Mary's Church in Cambridge is this lovely Madonna and Child. It's quite small and wouldn't attract the attention of most people who visit this large church. But it was carved by the woodwork teacher from my old school, Loughran Pendred, a man who had a delightful way of singing "Time-to-pack-up-now!" at the end of each lesson. He once advised me "Move your fingers away from the blade of the saw, laddie, you'll need 'em for next week's lesson!". One of the few pieces of teacherly advice which I'm glad I followed.


"What the devil is that?" I hear you say. Follow this link for the answer.

Take care.

Tuesday 17 July 2012


The train was crowded and I struggled to carry my big rucksack along carriage as I looked for a seat while the train pulled out from the station. I finally found an empty space directly behind some grey hair tied severely in a bun. I hoisted my luggage up into the overhead rack and settled down to read the paper I'd bought in Keswick; I'd been tromping about the mountains for a week so hadn't seen the news for a few days.

Grey-hair-in-a-bun was apparently not alone and she began to address the space next to her, "What's that you're doing? Why have you coloured the sky pink? Have you ever seen pink sky? What's the name of that friend of yours? Why don't you eat your sandwich? Don't you like cheese and pickle?...."

There was evidently a child sitting next to her as from time to time a small voice tried to fend off the barrage of questions with "I don't know, Gran," or "I can't remember". But the contest was unfairly one-sided and Gran continued to rain heavy blows down on the child in the form of relentless questions.

I had to do something if i was ever going to get any peace. "Excuse me," I said, "have you got the time?" 
"What you want to know that for?"
"I need to make a connection"
"Where you going?" "What's your name?" "Where you been?" "Where do you work?" "Are you married?" "Where...why...what....who?"
I parried the questions as best I could while trying to formulate a plan in my mind which centred around asking her how old she was and whether she'd always been such a nosey old.....when something rather marvellous happened.

From under the seat a small blond head was appearing...and two little hands clutching a colouring book and some pencils in a plastic case decorated with pink and yellow butterflies. The head turned up towards me and grinned a gap-toothed smile.

"Where you gone now, you little minx? Where are you? Why can't you sit quiet on the train like everyone else?"
"It's OK, she's here"
"What? Gone under the seat? What you do that for?"
"It's OK, she's fine", I said as I moved over to let the child sit by the window seat.
"Hmmph! Well, if you don't care, I'm sure I don't. You won't get no sense out of her though, I can tell you. They can't do nothing for her, she's got a condition."

Little hands opened the book. A pink pencil wrote slowly and carefully  A - m - a - n -.
A man?
A - m - a - n - d - a - J - a -
A small tongue curled out of the side of her mouth with concentration as she shaped each letter. Grandmother had gone back to her puzzle book leaving me to make of it what I could. The fields, green and yellow, sped past the train window.
Amanda-Jane Writtingstall  the name was finally complete. "Hi, Amanda-Jane, I'm John." I felt as though the reputation of the whole grown-up human race lay on my shoulders.
"Yes" said my new friend.
"You've done some nice colouring."
"Yes.......Oh dear! The pink's broken!"
"I can sharpen it if you like."
"It'll need a sharp knife"
Luckily the people who designed my camping knife had incorporated just such a blade, a special-for-sharpening-little-girls'-pink-pencils blade.

She sat and coloured. Red sky. Blue hair. Green rabbits. Brown balloons and purple dogs. The little tongue firmly in the corner of her mouth. I gazed out of the window at the passing fields and woodlands, the houses and factories flashed by inevitably and without questions. We passed through tunnels and crossed bridges as the evening sky turned slowly pink. 

Take care.

Sunday 15 July 2012

A Spot Of Fishing

As promised here are some photos that got entangled in my lines as I fished the River Cam for.....well, what do we hope to catch? I've heard it said that many spend their whole lives fishing without knowing that it's not fish that they're really after.

Maybe photographers are the same; maybe we hope to capture something more than mere pictures...

Might we one day get lucky and preserve forever that moment of recognition, that instant where we leave ourselves and become part of the bigger picture?

...or perhaps we'll learn to just accept things as they really are, in all their imperfection and weariness.

Or see whole worlds in the wildflowers and weeds of the riverbank, planted generously and wisely by chance breezes and currents.

Or maybe the hand of man can place things just so, without any real plan or intention. Do things the way they do, just because they're the kind of people they are.

But there be pirates, lad, swashbuckling and rough-handed. Best keep moving and steer well clear!

If you cut free and cast your fate to the seasons you may run aground and be forever becalmed among the willows and reeds. Pleasant enough in summer but what of autumn, what of winter?

A little dock and a shed for the harbourmaster, a toytown gate and a place to sit down.

Or could you build, outlandish and patchwork, with a rickety fence to keep the floodwaters at bay?

But in the end all will return to the rolling river. Floods will wash away the vain, impermanent and eccentric and return everything once more to green, rampant vegetation and the ever-flowing waters. A place for nature alone...

....and, of course, fishermen.

Take care.