Friday 29 November 2019

Mono Rules

In a week when the weather in England has been uncompromisingly grey, and the political situation with an election in the offing is far from black and white, I've been wandering back through some pictures from the last year and wondering if any would look better in monochrome.

In the same way that people say they prefer listening to the radio because "the pictures are better" so sometimes the colours are better on mono shots where you have the freedom to imagine the colours.

So imagine away on this fine example of farmyard architecture!

This was Seth Lakeman and his band at the Folk By The Oak festival last summer playing their distinctive brand of folk-rock.

Frank Turner sings some gritty songs so I thought this treatment was appropriate.

The spooky ruined church at Wiggenhall St Peter out in the Fens.

The path home one day last week.

Old stuff for sale at an agricultural show.

A quiet scene at Lakenheath RSPB bird reserve in Suffolk.

And the receding rear-light of just one of Cambridge's thousands of cyclists.

For this week's Music on a Friday we're going back to a guitarist who made his name back in the days when music was mostly in mono too. The Yardbirds had three great guitarists in their line-up in the 1960s. But we're not talking about Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page here but the other one, Jeff Beck.

Beck had a rather haphazard approach to his musical career and a degree of perfectionism that drove those around him crazy. Much against the odds he continues making music, releasing his latest CD when he was just 72 years young. On this video, from Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, he's playing a Stevie Wonder composition and demonstrating his mastery of the electric guitar, shaping each note with the "whammy bar" and the volume control. He's accompanied here by another guitar great the 21-year-old Tal Wilkenfeld on bass. The facial expressions of the musicians during and just after her solo are priceless....

(Thanks to Robin Andrea at The New Dharma Bums for suggesting having a bit of music each Friday)

Take care.

Friday 22 November 2019

Two Harps (Some Music For Friday)

You may have seen the man on the left on this blog a few months ago. His name is Seckou Keita and he was part of the group of musicians presenting the song-cycle "The Lost Words" at Folk By The Oak at Hatfield House. That instrument he's playing is the West African kora, a kind of harp with a cowhide stretched over a gourd to act as a soundbox. Seckou's instrument has been modified by having a neck with western-style tuning pegs.

Since then I've seen him again, collaborating with the Irish accordion player, Sharon Shannon. And that's fairly typical of this tall, smiling man. After studying traditional kora-playing with his uncle, Solo Cissoko, Seckou has made a speciality of getting together with musicians from all over the world.

It's a mark of his undoubted musical skill and charm that all these cross-cultural fusions have produced excellent and worthwhile music. But how about if he got together with someone from a very different harping background?

(a screenshot from YouTube video)
You may have heard of Catrin Finch before too. In the year 2000 she became the Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales and was in all the English (and presumably Welsh) newspapers. There was also a TV documentary about her entitled Charlie's Angel ! Even before that she had become the youngest person ever to appear at the Proms, playing the harp as a member of the National Youth Orchestra, aged just 10.

She plays both the traditional harp music of Wales and the classical repertoire. And of course she collaborates wonderfully with Seckou Keita, with whom she's released two CDs. At a time when the world is obsessed with controlling the movement of people, it seems more important than ever that we celebrate the beauty that arises when differing cultures collide.

I'm hoping to catch a live performance by the duo when they tour next year, but until then I'll have to make do with their recorded music and some sublime performances on YouTube. Do yourself a favour and set aside ten minutes of your life to listen to the two harps that beat as one.

(With thanks to Robin Andrea and Roger over at The New Dharma Bums for the inspiration to share some music every Friday).

Take care,

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Mementos Of Autumn

A few pictures which I've accumulated on recent excursions but haven't shown you before:

Cattle on Topcliffe Meadow
on one of my regular walks.

Autumn on the streets of Cambridge.

Mr Chaffinch
a common bird in these parts
though not usually as tame as this one that was hanging about the cafe at Wimpole.

The lake at Wimpole Hall
with the folly reflected in the still waters.

Swans on another part of the lake.

Wimpole's Shire Horses
enjoying their winter break.

Water on the glass.
The glasshouses at the Botanic Gardens.

Scene near Shepreth Church.

And Meldreth Church.

This old horse lives on one of my regular walks.

The sun is setting on Autumn,
Winter must be here very soon.

Take care.

Sunday 17 November 2019

Beside The Shep

The River Mel, which flows quietly through my home village, has a sister, the River Shep, who trickles equally daintily through Shepreth, a little to the north and east. 

As you can see, it's not a very big river. There are those who might scoff that it's not a river at all; but we are generous folk hereabouts and willingly extend the status of "riverhood" even to this glistening thread of moisture. 

We walked a small section of this river recently in the post "Pictures From An Expedition".

But just upstream from the village church and Manor Farm there's another grassy path that follows the river as far as the A10 road where stood a watermill, marked on old maps as Burnt Mill suggesting that it may have been victim of a fire at some time in the distant past. Perhaps this path was once the way the miller and his family made their way to church, or farmers from the village may have wandered along here to discuss some business with the miller.

Almost certainly these fields along the floodplain would have been meadows in those days, mainly used during the summer months, perhaps as grazing for the sheep that lend the River Shep their name.

And on the other bank there are still sheep to be seen, going about the unhurried routine of their lives. It looks as though a shallow, gravelly slope has been constructed to allow them access to drinking water. In times past there was a sheepwash on the river too, to wash their fleeces prior to shearing or perhaps selling them on.

A glance at the old maps, dating back 100 to 200 years, shows this whole area to have been dotted with watermills. Other historical evidence proves the existence of many additional mills. Surely such tiny streams could not have powered so many waterwheels and millstones?

These little rivers, the Shep and the Mel, along with other miniature watercourses like Guilden Brook, Hoffer's Brook and Wardington Bottom, have their sources at the foot of the chalk hills just a few miles to the south. The chalk holds water like a sponge and the springs trickle out from the base of the slope. Passing through the chalk has the effect of filtering and purifying the water, meaning that these chalk-streams are an important sites for wildlife.

But mankind has also seen the chalk as an important source of fresh water and has exploited it through wells and boreholes. Hard evidence is hard to come by, but there's much to suggest that this whole area was a much more watery place with faster-flowing streams, before we got busy extracting water from the hills and draining the lower country.

A map from 1808 marks a large area as "Wright's Moor", and "moor", in south Cambridgeshire, usually refers to low-lying, soggy grassland which served as grazing land in summer and was often flooded during winter. It's now all well-drained arable fields apart from one little corner which is the L-Moor nature reserve. 

A few years ago I was walking across that reserve and met some researchers who were sinking a bore to check whether the water-levels were falling. It seemed a little unnecessary: you can usually walk across it in ordinary walking boots these days, whereas when I first moved here you needed your wellies all winter!

The decreased flow in the streams could quickly lead to them clogging up with debris if it were not for the efforts of the villagers from both places who put in many hours to keep their little rivers clear.

All the scenes shown here, as well as the thoughts expressed, presented themselves during just a third-of-a-mile (500 metres) of yesterday's walk. Actually, as the path doesn't lead you anywhere these days, except to the main road and a motel, it was twice as far as that as I had to retrace my steps. But during that return leg of the walk I was mostly thinking about what I'd have for my lunch!

Take care.

(If you'd like to see old maps of your home area you might be interested in this website  It has maps from all over the world).

Friday 15 November 2019

November's Garden

A bit of a cheat this month as we're going indoors to view the flowers in the Glasshouse Range, specifically to see the delicate blooms in the Mountain Regions bay. As usual I started off carefully recording the Latin names for the various species, got myself thoroughly confused, and then just marvelled at the many ways in which plants have managed to survive in such hostile environments. Lets just absorb the beauty....


As it's Friday here's a song to join in with Robin Andrea's theme of Music On A Friday. The link to the rest of the post is that here's also beauty from the mountains. In this case Ola Belle Reed's song from the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.

"Tear Down The Fences" - now there's a message for these times...

Take care.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Night Falls On The City

A brief stroll as night descends upon the city of Cambridge.
Above are the chimneys, pinnacles and lanterns of King's College.

The last rays of wintry sun illuminate
the south wall of King's College Chapel
as they have done (English weather permitting) since the fifteenth century.

The view from Silver Street bridge.

Near Laundress Green,
where in summer there are picnics and punting parties.

The Mill pub is dwarfed by 
the University Graduate Centre
(the "Grad Pad")

Reflected lights
and the business end of three punts.

King's Chapel in the twilight.

The path leading to Clare College.

Wet pavement and cobbles,
Senate House Passage.

Outside King's.

Time to cross King's Parade and
make my way to the railway station.

Passing the Indigo Cafe and
the Haunted Bookshop
in St Edward's Passage.

Workers are finishing for the day
in one of the new office buildings in Station Road.

And finally the neo-classical fa├žade of Cambridge Railway Station.
(which I must show you in daylight sometime).

Take care.