Friday 31 October 2014

Vindauga Or Fenester

A window, when you look into it, is more complicated than you might first imagine.

"Window" is derived from the Old Norse vindauga, which itself is derived from vindr, meaning wind, and auga, meaning an eye. So it's an eye or opening that lets the wind in. The word window has been around since about 1200 AD, before that we spoke of the eagduru.

We are apparently at odds with most other Germanic languages which have adopted variations of the Latin fenestra for window, such as the French fenetre or the German Fenster.

Up until the middle of the sixteenth century we had one of those words too; "fenester" and "window" were used interchangeably. Some scholars believe that "fenester" was used to denote a glazed window while a "window" was merely a hole in the wall. If so, then surely fenester would have been the word to survive as more and more windows contained glass panes.

The word "fenestration", meaning the style and arrangement of windows in a building, is still used by architects. And "de-fenestration" means to throw someone out of a window! I'm very interested in the former, but have never done the latter - though I did manage to defenestrate myself, by falling out of a window, on one memorably painful occasion.

But what interests me even more are the little glimpses we sometimes get of other people's lives.

Going upstairs to play ancient melodies on the harp while, outside, roses sway in time, has a certain appeal; though I suppose I'm condemned, for the rest of my days, to rattle out jigs and hornpipes on my old squeezebox.

Then, at other times, windows catch and distort unexpected reflections, like this surreal modern architecture at Murray Edwards College.

And sometimes the reflections just serve to soften the image. Reflections always pose a problem for the photographer who doesn't want his or her own reflection to complicate the image. No, I'm not going to tell you how I do it!

The reflection can become more important and even seem more real than what's contained within. This is the tower of St John's College Chapel reflected in the window of a shop, or was it restaurant, opposite.

So I hope that's shed a little light on the subject of the old vindauga (plural vindaugu) for you.

Take care.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Independents' Day

A few years ago there was a report which said Cambridge was the ultimate 'clone town', characterised by having all the national and international chain stores and not much else. I don't know where they were looking!

Or rather I know exactly where they were looking! They were looking at the main street and new shopping arcade and ignoring all the specialist and independent shops which lie just off the beaten track.

As a guide to the area says "most of Cambridge is off the beaten track".

But not all of it. The photo above shows the entrance to the wonderful "Nomad", which sells craft items from all over the world. It stands right opposite King's College. 

And "When I was a kid" is right opposite Trinity College. Here are a few more shops and cafes I've pointed my camera at or into recently....

...a bunch of flowers?....

...a good book?...

...fancy a coffee?...

...or something stronger?...

...say cheeeeeese!

And when you've had enough of searching out the shops and coffee houses you can always visit the market square - fruit and veg, second hand books, clothes, bike repairs, CDs and vinyl, arts and seven days a week.

And then there are always some buskers around and they are definitely independent and certainly not clones!

Or is that a clone creeping up behind? Only in Cambridge could someone wearing a top hat just wander, right on cue, into the background of a photo.

Take care.

Apologies, by the way, to those of you who 'tuned in' yesterday to "By Stargoose And Hanglands" only to find a post which was first published a few months ago. Gremlins in the system!

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Cambridge Folk Museum

The Cambridge Folk Museum, (now known as the Museum of Cambridge) housed in what was once The White Horse pub, sets out to present the life of Cambridge through the centuries. I ducked inside on an afternoon of torrential rain (which is why there's no scene-setting shot of the exterior) and was so enthralled that when I emerged I was surprised to see that it was quite dark!

The lady on the door told me that nothing had been done to the building since the pub closed, then added hastily that it was structurally sound, a fact which pleased me since the rooms extend over three floors. Actually it has been changed over the years as fascinating exhibits have piled up and space has had to be made for them. Lets take a quick tour:

Behind the bar

In the bar

Everyday items

The kitchen

Upstairs - the big chair used to belong to the mayor.

Farming and fenland life

Child's perambulator

And on the top floor - the playroom
full of wonderful toys 
like this...

Take care.

Sunday 26 October 2014


Back in the post "Pedalling Through October" I whisked you rather breathlessly through the Hertfordshire countryside, skipping recklessly past a number of interesting and beautiful places. Let us now rewind to take a more leisurely look at some of these.

Setting out from Baldock the sky looked ominous indeed, but that stormy weather had just passed over and the weather-man promised a fine day. Baldock has a ridiculously wide high street - even wider than it looks at first glance at the photo above; behind those parked cars there is another parallel road. How did this come about? After all England, particularly old England, is famous for its narrow streets.

The explanation is that this is the site of the old market and originally the market stalls would have occupied the whole of the central area, with traffic able to pass on either side. In this way the market was able to benefit from passing trade, of which there was much since this is part of the Old North Road, which passed straight through the town.

Further along the Old North Road at Graveley there still stand a couple of the coaching inns which served the route. In the past these would have supplied food, ale and lodgings for the traveller as well as stabling for the horses. The name of this inn, The Waggon And Horses, reflects that history.

Almost next door stands the George and Dragon Inn which served the same purpose in its day. The field behind the pub has an unexpected, though tragic, place in history as it is the site of the first fatal air crash in military history. A monoplane came down here as long ago as 1912, killing both the pilot and observer.

Oh yes, a little house with a car outside. How interesting.
Well, this little cottage formerly housed a "straw-plaiting school". Straw-plaiting was an important cottage-industry hereabouts, the straw-plaits being sent to Luton to be made into straw hats and bonnets. This was not, as you might suppose, a school where straw-plaiting was taught. The pupils did make the plaits, but this was to pay for the education which was provided.

At Walkern I encountered this fine brick-built dovecot. Doves were kept for meat rather than decorative purposes in the past. As they fed on the crops being grown in the village fields the ownership of doves was restricted to the lord of the manor.

This old and somewhat dilapidated building, standing in the corner of a meadow, might have been an old granary as it is built on brick piers as such buildings usually were. But it seems more likely that it was a hen-house built in this way to keep rats and foxes out.

At Weston I popped into the church and found it an interesting, though much restored, building. it is well-known as a location for the performance and recording of music as the acoustics are particularly fine. It was built on a cruciform plan with the tower at the crossing point. This was a popular but difficult plan; supporting the tower was always a problem, but it  was also an unsatisfactory lay-out as the congregation was split between three arms of the cross. As a result many have been modified over the centuries. However here the huge arches which support the tower can still be seen.

As well as the usual list of vicars going back into deep antiquity there are photographs of the incumbents since the mid-nineteenth century. A nice touch.

                                                                        But I can't help but wonder what him on the left (Benjamin Donne 1837-1864) would have thought about her on the right (Silke Telzlaff 2005-2011) How times have changed.

I also rather liked this window, which is neither particularly old or remarkable. I just liked its dedication which reads "To the Glory of God and as a memorial to the Farr Family who have farmed and lived in the Parish since 1650". What a fine memorial to a farming family.

Take care.


Tuesday 21 October 2014

Autumn Abstractions

There always seems to be an erratic madness to autumn. It's an irresponsible and defiant display of beauty in the face of oncoming winter. These leaves are dying after all. Why should there be this exuberant final fling? From indoors they may look like the flowers of spring, but once I get out there, the mud on my boots as I splash down the woodland rides and the wind tangling my hair, I'm soon aware that this is a much wilder, rougher place. And especially on a day like today when the wind sends leaves cartwheeling ahead of me and the branches sway in a dervish dance. So here is a kind of poem-without-words of my walks over the last few days...... 

Take care.

Monday 20 October 2014

A Special Place

As you may remember, if you're a regular visitor to this site, we've been enjoying a bicycle ride through the lovely Hertfordshire countryside. Although the county is criss-crossed by major roads and has a large population you can easily leave all that behind and find open spaces and special places if you venture along the minor roads. But you need to keep your eyes open......

....or you might miss a little track like this one which will take you to a little fragment of history. We are in the tiny village of Clothall, not far from Baldock, and you turn off the narrow, winding road onto this almost hidden lane which, like stepping through the looking glass, leads to another world.

At the bottom of the lane stands this ancient lamppost leaning tipsily among the autumn trees. And as you turn the corner you find yourself in a silent and timeless churchyard with a perfect little country church.

The church was mostly constructed in the fourteenth century (though parts are older) and is slightly unusual in that one enters through a door in the tower.

This must be rather inconvenient when a service is about to take place since there are bell-ropes hanging down in what would normally be the porch so, presumably, the congregation has to pass between the bell-ringers in order to enter the church.

The very rustic old door still bears the name of the man who made it several centuries ago - John Warren.

Inside, the church is plain and simple with an air of tranquillity which seems to have seeped into the stonework from generations of prayer and meditation. Even a disreputable old heathen like me feels some sense of reverence here. But it would still be quite easy take in the atmosphere then step outside again, closing the door gently behind you.

If you did that you'd have missed seeing something rare and rather wonderful. The east window is very old and of an unusual design. Stained glass generally exhibits the style of the particular time when it was made. There are subtle variations which experts can detect, allowing them to attribute certain windows to certain artists, but this is not always apparent to the casual observer.

But this window has a style all its own. There are two similar works to be seen elsewhere and these may well be the work of the same craftsman.

The window features "medallions" depicting Christ, the four Evangelists and Mary Magdalene.
The picture of Mary is interesting in that great prominence is given to her hair, probably in the belief that she was the same Mary who washed Christ's feet and dried them with her hair. It's also been suggested that this piece of glass was originally in the Mary Magdalene leper hospital which stood nearby.
There are also many small individual diamond-shaped panes which are decorated with birds, some of which are local to the area while others are exotic or perhaps fanciful. All in all a remarkable piece of work.

Time to step outside again and savour this little piece of England that time has forgotten. Most of the modern world seems to hurry by without stopping, though clearly some local people still come to clean the church and care for the graveyard. And just occasionally some weary cyclist leans his bike against a tree and comes in to nose about.

And I'm glad I did.

Take care.