Friday 27 December 2019

A Flower Let Fall

Very few people knew her name.
She played her songs to her friends and small audiences in the back rooms of pubs.
She was the woman in faded jeans holding an acoustic guitar.
She made just one album that sold a few copies and disappeared, though somehow one found its way to me. I missed the only chance I had to see her perform live.
She died in 2009 and never knew how good she was.

Luckily, although the vinyl album and the eventual CD re-issue were short-lived affairs, there are a few videos on YouTube:
In the first I'll include here she sings her version of Dylan's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, which is enhanced by Simon Prager's slide guitar and the stunning sax of Barbara Thompson.

But over it all is that great voice....

On the other side of our imaginary 7 inch vinyl double A-side we find her own composition Closing Time, accompanied, confusingly, by illustrations of other LPs on the tiny Mother Earth label

Shoulda been a star.

Take care.

(For more interesting music see Robin Andrea's Music On Friday. I will continue to post some music next year though it may not always be on Friday!)

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Seasonal Greetings

To all those who travel
by Stargoose and Hanglands

Take care

(of yourselves,
 each other 
this battered old planet).

Monday 23 December 2019

Feet Wet And Lunch Forgot - That's The Way To Travel

Does anything look sadder than a wet horse in December? Perhaps only two wet horses.....

…..with wet walkers and photographers not being far behind! The truth is that since I wrote on this blog that our rainfall totals here are very low compared to other places, it has contrived to rain pretty much every day. At least it should have restored the water levels in our little rivers and maybe even returned Shepreth Moor to its proper soggy state. Lets go and see if I can get a few photos.

There's still plenty of puddles on the village street as I set out early on Sunday morning.

A few hardy souls have turned out for the eight o'clock Holy Communion service. In every village there's a small group who turn out in the darkness of winter mornings, or amid the early-morning birdsong of summer, and seem to almost worship a different God to the normal run of churchgoers. There'll be a lot more people at the Christmas Carol Service in the afternoon.

Sloshing across waterlogged Shepreth Moor in the murky half-light of a gloomy dawn has a certain wild charm, though it's not one that translates easily into photographs. By nine o'clock it had started getting darker again with fine drizzle blowing in the breeze.

Ain't it good to be out and about on a morning like this? Well, yes, it is actually. Lonely and forlorn as it may look, the path at this point is busy and cheerful with a flock of Blue Tits. They are probably attracted by bird-feeders in a nearby garden, for there is a handful of houses whose land backs on to footpath. There's no way I could photograph these active bundles of energy for you - though I can show you some I came across just last week.....

The birds on the right are all Blue Tits, familiar in almost any garden where food is provided. Perched on the left feeder is the less common Coal Tit. Great Tits and Long-Tailed Tits usually complete these mixed flocks, but there's always a chance of a rarer bird turning up amongst them, like the Pallas's Warbler that was associating with the Long-Tailed Tits on the edge of Cambridge recently. Incidentally I think you can see how the seemingly colourful plumage still manages to camouflage them among the remaining leaves.

There's always a little colour on the banks of the Shep too if you look for it, and the water levels seem to be back to normal having been low since the Spring. Sometimes you have to slow down, move quietly and notice where you are. Then, with luck and persistence, little details show up and bring pleasure.

It may lack the grandeur of big mountains or the exotic charms of distant lands, but on this damp, chilly morning it's all mine and I don't have to travel far to enjoy it. 

Against all expectations the clouds are slowly tearing themselves apart. A pale, watery sunlight begins to creep across the fields. Maybe I'll go back the way I came and see if I can get some photos of the waterlogged Shepreth Moor so that I can show you what it should be like at this time of year.                                                                                                          

Though in the past, before the chaotic shifts in the seasons that we've been experiencing in recent years, it might well have been frozen over or even under snow by mid-December. Perhaps I should publicly state here that we don't get proper winters any more, then maybe the Law of Natural Perversity will provide us with a little snowfall - not too much though!

This is just a fragment of undrained pastureland that's managed as a nature reserve. Wild Orchids are slowly returning to the grassland in summer, along with other plant and insect life. I showed you some of the flowers last summer and hope to wander about and photograph more next year.

I'm wearing my waterproof rubber boots, but of course I keep jumping from tussock to tussock till I finally get a boot full of water. I'm all for immersing myself in the landscape though not as literally as that. Not to worry, at least I got lucky with the weather and got some of the photos I was hoping for. And speaking of good luck....

…..look who crossed my path on the way home!

Take care.

* the "feet wet and lunch forgot" quote that is the title of this post comes from a little notebook of quotations that I kept when I used to do a lot of backpacking. I have it attributed to the poet Gary Snyder, but whether it's from one of his poems or whether it was said by the character based on Snyder in a book by Jack Kerouac, I can't recall.

Saturday 21 December 2019

The Old Curiosity Blog

As I wander the highways and byways of this fair land I come across many curiosities which do not fit into my regular blogposts. Here are just a few of them.....

A Sign Of Past Times

In the 1920s and 30s the AA (Automobile Association) erected some 30,000 of these distinctive yellow signs to help their members find their way around the country. Most of them were taken down during the Second World War when a Nazi invasion seemed a real possibility (I'm not sure how that would have inconvenienced them to any great extent). Some of these ended up in museums and a few, like this one at Anstey in Hertfordshire have been returned to their original positions.

How To Start Your Aeroplane

This wonderful contraption was seen at the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire. The first planes had no means of starting other than have a member of groundcrew standing in front of the plane and swinging the propeller by hand: many were injured, or even killed, carrying out this task. This machine solved the problem and was on hand at the annual gathering of Tiger Moth bi-planes.

A Bridge Too Low

This bridge near Ely railway station holds an unenviable place in the record books. It has been involved in more road traffic accidents than any other bridge in the land! One can hardly blame the bridge, it's doing its best, festooned as it is with warning signs and chevrons. Short of jumping in the air it's difficult to see what else a bridge can do. But with tedious regularity drivers of trucks and vans look at the signs and think "Yeah, we can get under there" - and don't.

Ducks Crossing

Lets hope that this sign, painted by schoolchildren, is more effective at preventing unnecessary road accidents.

The Cambridge Oak

Nobody knows the exact origin of this hybrid tree or when it acquired its common name of Cambridge Oak. It's thought to be a cross between an American evergreen oak and a British oak tree. It has the unusual habit of hanging on to its old leaves until next Spring when the new copper-coloured leaves appear along with yellow catkins - I'll try to remember to take some photos next year for you. In the last few years it has begun to be colonised by fungi which may mean it's in decline and a replacement tree has already been planted elsewhere in the Botanic Garden. The fence has been placed around for reasons of safety as the gardeners have decided to let nature take its course without intervening and there's a real danger of falling branches.

Live And Let Live

This sign was included in my collection of pub signs that I showed you a while back, but I didn't know its story then. Here's what it says on the pub's website:

The Live and Let Live has been a pub since the 18th Century. The Bow Street Runners, founded in 1749, were a group of men who would solve petty crime for a fee.  Some 200 years ago landowners in Hexton called on their services to combat large scale poaching in the area. They had a tip-off that these petty criminals were discussing their next deed at the public house in Pegsdon. Finding themselves trapped inside by the Bow Street Runners, a compromise was made. With a promise to give up poaching the 'Runners' allowed the criminals to go free. To mark the occasion the landlord changed the name of his establishment to the 'Live and Let Live'.

In Memory....

This sad memorial stands just inside the churchyard of St Mary's church in Baldock. I doubt that this is the original wooden board, but presumably a replacement paid for by parishioners who still wish to remember the little lad.

A Rare Beast Is Expected!

And with that I'll bid you adieu till next time.

Take care.

Friday 20 December 2019

Carols: Some Music And Memories

My mother was a great singer. I don't mean she was famous or that she sang beautifully (though she did have a good voice and an ear for a tune) but that she sang at every opportunity, particularly as she did the cleaning, cooking and washing, of which there was plenty when she had two small boys and a husband who did farm work. She had a song for every occasion but at this time of year it was often carols. This was her all time favourite and in later years she would always watch the TV broadcast from King's College Chapel.....

…..and jolly cross she'd get if they sang it to a different tune!

I suppose we sang carols at school though I don't really remember. I recall playing the part of Joseph in the Nativity play though - the highlight of my acting career! When I was a teenager some of us joined our fellow villagers singing carols door-to-door. We were accompanied on these jaunts by the village policeman with his accordion and we'd end up singing in the pubs, which explains why the under-age members of the community were so keen to join in.

The Red Lion in Grantchester

Years later I was a walks leader for HF Holidays and spent my Christmases leading walks in the hills. One Christmas Eve we were tramping back through the Derbyshire village of Hathersage just after dusk when we got talking about the carol-singing tradition in that area. Someone said you can sing "While Shepherds Watched" to the tune of "On Ilkley Moor baht 'at" and within seconds thirty or so tired and hungry walkers were singing it at the top of our voices as we proceeded through the village streets.

But that's just one of the tunes used in the villages around Sheffield for those words. Here's another sung in the bar of the Royal in Dungworth...

There's a lot of singing of carols in pubs in that area. It came about when the Church Of England decided that certain tunes were not suitable to be sung in church. No one was going to be told what they could or could not sing, even by the parson (especially perhaps by the parson) so they decamped to the nearest pub and sang them there.

You can hear all about this tradition on this excellent podcast if you're interested. There's a video clip which accompanies the podcast, it features the Melrose quartet and shows some scenes from the podcast being recorded.....

Yes, another tune for the same carol!

To bring things up to date I'd better tell you where I spent Wednesday night. I was at an event described as "half music gig, half dance show and half pantomime"! It featured a group of people known as the Demon Barbers, a motley collection of folk musicians, clog dancers, actors, sword dancers, acrobats, break dancers, singers and all-round lunatic entertainers.....

They kept up that level of energy for two hours!

Take care.

Sunday 15 December 2019

A Calendar For 2020

It's become a regular tradition for me to rummage through my photographs at this time of year to find twelve that might make a calendar for the next year. It seems to get harder every year as things don't always occur as you'd expect - no snow in January and autumn colurs coming later and later each year. Anyway these are the ones I came up with...













Take care (and all the best for next year of course).

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 tootled 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.