Archive for the ‘Art’ Category


Charmed by the welcoming staff into renewing our RSPB membership at Minsmere.  Nesting sand martins make for an enticing start.  The Coast Trail – all two miles of it – seemed like a long walk in that sun when we were not being blown about, but the pools and reedbeds are rewarding.

Finally got to see an avocet.  Not the greatest photo, I’ll be the first to admit, better one of a snipe, but avocets a big deal for me (long story touching on a bungled quiz question and a meditative Bert Jansch instrumental album).

Coast Trail also takes in remnants of the World War 2 coastal defences. Prompting thoughts embedded deep in the annals of social psychology: There’s always one …


And so, second attempt, we make it to Southwold.  Charmed, once out of the car park, sited strategically to one side of the celebrated Pier, where it does not impinge on the attractiveness of the town.  Traditional seaside with a minimum of tat.  On the pier the eccentric and imaginative slot machine arcade out of the mind of Tim Hunkin – called The Under the Pier Show, which is, of course on the Pier – provided entertaining shelter from the buffeting winds, which never gave Hunkin’s water clock a chance.

Walked up and down the High Street – not unpleasant in itself, though the pavements a bit crowded – but failing to find what the guide book had called the “ultimate chippie”.  This failure being entirely due to your humble scribe’s inability to distinguish one small Suffolk seaside resort from another, despite there being 20+ pages dividing them in said guide book; next time for Aldeburgh, then.

Nevertheless, we did have an excellent plate of fish and chips – well crispy batter – from the Beach Café, watched over by George Orwell, who spent time in Southwold – official mural by PureEvilx.

We did manage to find the right church, St Edmund’s, a four star-er in England’s thousand best churches, noted for its ‘flint flushwork exterior’.  A sign by the gate quotes from Psalm 66, though “All the earth worships Thee / they sing praises to Thee / sing praises to Thy Name“, not as obvious in meaning as it once was, sounds like a recipe for trouble in these days of instant celebrity.

Inside they were setting up for a concert, wires and equipment all over the place, but the lighting gave something to the organ loft.  Photo fails with the scary choir stall arm rests and the angels, and the impressive roof angels.

We take to the water

Saturday, last full day in Suffolk, and we take the Waveney River Tours morning hour and a half tipping your toe in the Broads trip.  In truth some of our motivation for this was down to TripAdvisor and some interesting reviews.  How to resist the likes of : “There is not much to see apart from reeds“;  “It’s a waste of money most of the people were sleeping as they were bored” (sic);  “I can see why some people would find it a bit boring“; “See some nice houses along the river and some wild life … Wouldn’t recommend to be honest”?

But it was cool, the strong breeze off the water, and while the most interesting thing in the water was a bit of a monster barge being pulled by a rubber dinghy, we did get to see a marsh harrier more than fleetingly, which counts for something.  The commentary was thankfully inobtrusive, but he knew his stuff.  A while ago, in telling us about their whole week boating on the Broads, a relative had used that ‘boring’ word.  This short trip had the value of ensuring that’s another option we can safely rule out.

East Anglia Transport Museum

For shame, there is no mention of the East Anglia Transport Museum, situated in Carlton Colville, a suburb of Lowestoft, in our esteemed guide book.  We had a great time there, riding on the old trams – overhead wires, tram tracks, the whole authentic experience – and wandering around the fine collection of buses, trolley buses and more trams, taking in the various displays and refuelling with some splendid egg sandwiches.  To take up a theme mentioned earlier in our Suffolk travels, here truly is the best of British: crazy (in the best sense of the word) enthusiasts and volunteers, who run the whole show; I couldn’t stop one talking.  Back in 1962 all that was here was, according to the guidebook, “just a large, disused meadow with a dilapidated wooden shed in one corner” … and enthusiasm; it now covers 5 acres.

On the left, Blackpool, in the middle a futuristic looking Sheffield, and a Belfast trolley bus.  You can ride as much as you want – a short journey, there and back to a woodland ‘terminus’ and picnic spot – but the ritual of the punching of the ticket must be adhered to.  We had two conductors – a sprightly older man, and a young teenager (an enthusiast’s grandson caught early?) – both delighting in the calling of “All aboard”, “Hold on tight, please” and ringing the bell.  At the end of each trip they took pride in reversing the seats – flipping the seat backs in their groove – so travellers were always front-facing.

Would have loved to have got a decent photo of this historic ‘streamlined’ Blackpool front gem, but it was having some work done, and there was a Land Rover (a classic itself) parked in front, so here’s the best looking overhead wire contact.

They don’t make bus shelters like this art deco beauty anymore.

What else?  A kitted out Anderson shelter from WW2.  A roadmender’s hut with all its old mod cons –  they lived in them while the job was ongoing – you can sit in that one; indeed, Tar, sweat and steam, is a permanent display about historic road building including a good-looking Armstrong Whitworth steam roller.  A Mini same model and colour as I once had, a Trabant and a Sinclair C5, taxis through the ages, a fully fitted fifties caravan (so tiny), many other vehicles.  A fascinating wall full of loads of old road signs.  Some decent rose bushes.

We had a grand afternoon there, might have stayed longer were it not for the heat.  Here’s their website: http://www.eatransportmuseum.co.uk/We even bought a peg bag because our old one disintegrated.  It performs very well:




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Wednesday and we’re flashing the nash again at Sutton Hoo, famed boat burial ground of Anglo-Saxon royalty.  The National Trust have done a great job in telling the tale in the Exhibition Hall with its narrative boards and displays of original artefacts and – especially – the high quality replicas large and small.  It was good to hear a recording of the story of how the 1939 excavation started in the rich East Anglian burr of the local man who recognised what a big deal it all was.

As a librarian, i just thought: Yes!

King Raedwald’s fully kitted out burial chamber in the hull of a ship is an experience, while the spectacular polished replica of the iconic helmet – Rick Kirby’s giant working of it hangs over the entrance to the Hall – is a wondrous piece of art to behold, doubly so when one of the NT volunteers explains what’s going on with the symbols and decorations in all their intricacy.  The original – made with iron, bronze, tin, gold and silver – is in the British Museum.

Note the tactical placing of the fur to prevent plucking of the harp. Damn.

I was much taken by the Warrior Bards section of the exhibit, recognising their importance in the creation and maintenance of a shared identity among a population.  “They sang of ancestors and the fates of men, of dragon-slayers and family feuds, of wars and adventures … The stories of these people, not written down, were told by kings and minstrels to the music of the harp.”  Not for the first time, guilt at not having read Beowulf (the Seamus Heaney translation came in the post this morning; so far so good with the good intentions – whether it gets read is another matter).

At school they told us these were the Dark Ages.
We walked the parched lands of the burial grounds under the sun, and took some respite in the trees.

And so to Dunwich Heath and Beach.  Failed to negotiate the new National Trust parking procedures involving sticking your card in a machine; were assured by helpful volunteers we were not the first and would not be the last.  Such a welcome big breeze off the sea, but in spots of such severity as to require the donning and shedding of items of clothing.  Fascinating to see the battle for ground cover, the incursions of ferns among the heather (or vice versa? is it perpetual?)

Blown away on the beach too, but context is all.  The sea may have been brown, but it was still the sea.  And we live in Milton Keynes; it may be just another crap photo of the sea to you, but).  For a while we were the only souls in sight.  With Sizewell as distant backdrop lending a science fiction end of the world edge.

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Here at Lillabullero we are encountering something of a gridlock with at least five books and counting awaiting, plus four days touristing in Suffolk lining up just for starters.  It’s beginning to feel like how the roads around Dover and Immingham are gonna be with lorries next year when Brexit for real gets going.  Brevity and/or small chunks, then.

Bathroom curtains

Tuesday of the last week in June, already well into the heatwave, we head for the Suffolk coast.  Planned a while ago, it turns out to be a lucky; there will be breezes.  We break the journey, flashing the nash – using our under-utilised National Trust membership cards – at Anglesey Abbey, a country house, near Cambridge, and nothing to do with Wales at all.  Lifestyles of the idle rich, second quarter of the twentieth century – American money, British Baronetcy.

A gentleman’s wardrobe: jacket porn

But Baron Fairhaven restored the house, and, being an avid collector, filled it and the gardens with stuff picked up on regular bouts of travel abroad or just pursuing particular manias – some of them more interesting than the room full of mediocre landscapes of Windsor Castle.  Having said that it must be admitted the large Renaissance mosaic, constructed from thousands and thousand of tiny pieces of glass -you would never have guessed – displayed flat in a case and apparently weighing a ton, was a wonder to behold, and more than just as a feat of patience, when it was proudly pointed out to us by an NT volunteer; volunteers became something of a theme over the days.

In the kitchens – classic 1950s – one of the cooks in costume asked us what was the best thing we’d seen: sorry, but a kingfisher – always special – in the Quarry Pool!  But there was plenty of interest in the house; we were not sorry to have spent the time there.

And the Baron had had the grounds done up nicely.  The trees and bushes in the Winter Garden walk, practically an arboretum in its own right, boasted a rich variety of shades of green, while the stars of the Herbaceous Garden (well, borders, but big ones) were the delphiniums, in blocks of blues.  The sundial at the centre of the herbaceous garden’s parched lawn bore the legend, “Fear God, Obey the King” but made interesting shadows.

We were too early for the Dahlia Garden, but there was a phalanx of NT gardeners working on them.  Andrea jokingly, ‘Maybe they could give us some advice’ – we have our first two this year, an experiment on the allotment – but they overheard and were only to happy to help: chicken manure, they said, and, when they start to flower, Tomorite, which, ‘pretty much works for anything’.

As far as the extensive grounds went, we barely scratched the surface.  Not sure what’s going on with these statues which stood either side of the path into, if memory serves, the Dahlia Garden. Poking an eye out?  Swatting a fly, girding his lion?










And so to Oulton Broad, pretty much where the Broads begin (depending on where you’re coming from).  Shame the sun goes down in the wrong place for a more spectacular sunset.




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But first, Clapham Junction – Gateway to the South for us lazy souls choosing not to change at Euston et al, travelling from landlocked MK.  Not Balham, as Peter Sellers once suggested.  [Click on the photos for the bigger picture].

Ah, the Isle of Wight, where the preserved IOW Steam Railway is in better shape than the Island Line run by South Western Railway (yes, that is an old London Underground train).  And the ride considerably smoother:

No, early April and it was not the greatest of weather.  I’m surprised to see those shadows on that Ryde Harbour photo.

Quirky find by the roadside on the walk to Bonchurch:

And down in Bonchurch – you know those road signs that promise you deer or badgers only to disappoint: Result!

One afternoon we actually got to see the shape of the sun struggling unsuccessfully to get out from behind the cloud, but Hey: the sea, the sea!

At Compton Bay, once a Geography A-level student, always a Geography A-level student.  And I know of someone who might have made pots out of that clay:

Colourful, and in the car park – which I wish we’d realised was a National Trust car park before putting the money into the machine – a bit of street furniture (I know, I know) that’s not as old as it looks.  Yes, it was warm enough for an ice cream (and for surfing):

Ventnor strolls: a face in the cliff, an immaculate sign:

‘Enjoy your visit’ says the sign.  At the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, it would seem, it is compulsory to have a good time. Fortunately we did.  Recommended.  At the end of the line the loco goes back to the front of the train, none of this push-and-pull nonsense.

The Discovery Centre was well worth discovering as well.  And here’s one for the railway buffs: a disembodied saddle tank.

Our normal trick – or rather the trick normally played on us – is for the sun to come out on the day of departure.  When we left the Island was covered in fog, so that’s not a problem with the camera’s exposure; rickety-rackety it may be, but on the Island Line they do take pride in their stations.

Thanks to Dave and Jill and Zappa for everything.  And the introduction to the word-game Snatch It!  Haven’t laughed so much in a long time – ‘mayhem’ indeed.

All photos ©DRQ

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At least the sea was calm on the day trip over to St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly.  Drizzle, shall-we-shan’t-we open the umbrella?

Entertaining minibus tour of the island with commentary, our native guide’s scorn for the Brexit vote given full if free of expletives vent.  Pointed out as he drove around what EU development funds had meant for the island, and Cornwall, yet The Isles of Scilly the only voting district in the county opting for Remain.  Other highlights:

  • pointed out Harold Wilson’s modest bungalow, the man still highly regarded in these parts; his wife Mary still lives there, an active centurion
  • the desolation of the islands in winter, when there’s no ferry
  • speaking of which, the local RNLI lifeboat’s engines are more powerful than that of the ferry, the Scillonian III
  • the famed Tresco Abbey Gardens are being overrun by cruise ship tourism
  • which is ironic given there were no native flowers on the islands until those brought in by mariners of old alien species, then.  Speaking of which:

Caught the obligatory crab sandwich in The Mermaid, the nearest pub to the port, rather than the tarted up establishments further in; decent little local, music jam night and all.

Barbara Hepworth

Back on the mainland, ‘A beautiful oasis of calm’ was how the tourist brochure describes the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, and so it was, as the rainwater dripped down from the leaves on the trees in the drizzle.  Not expansive grounds, but the winding paths around the large structures and the gradient compensated – around each corner new combinations.  It must be glorious under a blue sky, but the wet added a dimension to the sculptures, I’m sure.  I’m not her biggest fan (at least for the works themselves) but in better weather I would have gone round at least one more time.  Here’s what I think I’ll call ‘the shot’ – I wasn’t the only one going for it – and a more general view:

Interesting to look in on the studio from the garden – Hepworth died in a fire in the house, but the studio has been left pretty much untouched – and a neat telling of her story in cabinets and on wall mounted boards downstairs.  You’ve got to love those old newspaper clippings, here one from 1950 (in the Ham & High?) about an early joint exhibition with her first husband (and folksinging partner).  Click on the photo to enlarge:


Last thoughts …

… only 6 weeks after all this occurred.  This pub sign was the only sun we saw for four whole days.  But there at St Mawes the water was so clear that when we watched a cormorant moving in the water we could see its whole body – a fine sight.  So now know not to confuse those weird-looking heads seen from afar with some odd kind of duck.

I have an urge to use this photo, of a bridge over the track of the St Ives branch line, and can’t help but admire the  local Methodists reaching out to surfer dudes for trying:

And finally … banging a drum in a downpour in Truro (where the cathedral is only not long over a century old though you wouldn’t know it) the day before we went home, and the inevitable weather on the morning of our departure:

The drummer aka An Tabourer – Tim Shaw

Outset of our journey home







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And so, early in March, to Linford Wood, in Milton Keynes, while the trees are still bare:

Sad to say the wood sculptures are not what they once were – the grand old bearded philosopher and the big gorilla are long-lost to the elements – but it’s still a worthwhile wander, eyes primed for the crafted creatures; the bluebells will be out again soon and there’s a decent chance of seeing a jay.  Here’s one of the survivors:



Meanwhile, back indoors …

Engrossing evening of a dialogue outside ‘the bubble’ with Milton Keynes Humanists guest speaker Salah Al-Ansari, Senior Researcher with the Quilliam Foundation, an academic theologian and a practising imam.  Salah is one of the leading lights of the liberal wing of his faith – what is becoming known as Reform Islam – which recognises the Koran as a sacred text but significantly also regards it very much as an historical document – pretty much as the Christian Bible is seen by most these days.

A wide-ranging, open-ended conversation ensued, which was both enlightening and entertaining.  Salah kicked off the discussion with the view that we should be talking about Islams in the plural.  Interesting to learn that when he was studying to become an imam in an Egyptian university, his professor was a woman.  It was agreed that secularism does not imply atheism.  Positive change, albeit slow and not so often visible, is happening among the Islamic communities.  An ex-Muslim atheist in the audience added spice.  There is more about Salah at www.quilliaminternational.com/about/staff/salah-al-ansari/ and from there, if you are not familiar with them, it is well worth exploring the work of the anti-extremist (from all sides) Quilliam Foundation further.

Because it was there

I have piles of books I intend to read but I often take an impulse book out from the local library for no other reason than because it’s there.  The library I mean.  Use it or lose it!  Hence the next book, that happened to catch my eye.

I’ve always looked upon the American artist Edward Hopper as the painter’s equivalent of a one hit wonder – you know, the haunting Nighthawks, all the lonely people in that late night cafe.  Ivo Kranzfelder‘s Edward Hopper 1882-1967: Vision of reality (Taschen, 1995/2006) has disabused me of this but, to continue the metaphor, I still wouldn’t want more than a single disc ‘Best of’, and vinyl at that.  A bit samey, and I’m not convinced by the (please don’t take this the wrong way) proportions and posture of some of his women (like the one on the book’s cover, actually).

It’s a handsomely produced volume, with some stunning black and white photos by Hans Namuth of the man himself, not least those taken in places he painted.  Frankly, sometimes I struggle with writing about painters and what they were trying to do, and a chapter head like The secularization of experience doesn’t help.  Apparently he didn’t say much about it himself, but what did strike me was that 1942’s Nighthawks, and a number of his other more well-known paintings, were being done at precisely the same time as Abstract Expressionism (not that I’ve got much against …) was evolving and taking hold of American art in New York.  So good for him for sticking to his guns to the end.

Anyway, not to in any way get things out of proportion, I have to claim it was a bit of a trauma – after all the landscapes, townscapes, buildings, room interiors, urban scenes and absorbed individuals, all the mustards and terracotta, muted browns, dull turquoise, beiges, greys and olive greens – to turn over from page 105 and suddenly be all at sea; as it happens one of these was the first painting he ever sold.  Normal service was quickly restored.

What it says on the poster

Staying in the library, I learned a bit and was mightily entertained by this FoSSL (Friends of Stony Stratford Library) presentation. The turbo-driven opening chords of musical director Paul Martin on the mandola suggested we were in for a treat and so it proved.  Shakespeare – a musical celebration, curated by Vicki Shakeshaft, was a fascinating and nicely paced mix of music, songs (take a bow soloist Simon Woodhead), readings and contextual history with a colourful morris dance duo thrown in for good measure.  And all, if my powers of recall are functioning properly, without resort to “If music be the food of love …”  Came as a surprise to me that “Who is Sylvia / What is she” was the Bard’s (from Two gentlemen of Verona – if asked I’d have said music hall), and my English teacher never told me that Hamlet’s advice to the players was a rant and that “Let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them” was a gripe at Shakespeare’s company’s erstwhile clown, Will Kemp, who once morris danced from London to Norwich.

Further musical adventures

No poster for the early March Vaultage, but it was a good ‘un.  Folkish duo Phil Riley & Neil Mercer – guitar and mandolin – did a great set of their own material with a singalong of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the free world somewhere in the middle, finishing with a thrilling Russian folk dance-based tune.  Oi!  The March Aortas – nice and varied – deserves a mention too.

First Scribal I’ve managed this year  – Out! Damn virus! – was another good one too.  Stephen Ferneyhough kicked off with a musical history of the Brackley Morris with one of those squeeze box things – I can never remember which is which.  A storming set from featured singer Bella Collins – great voice and material (folk, blues and beyond), skilled emphatic guitar, foot stomping on the floor.  Own songs and a couple of covers – Jimmy Reed’s Shame, shame, shame morphing into Prince’s Kiss and back again!  Stephen Hobbs is wearing his bardship well, as if there was any chance he wouldn’t.  Mark ‘Slowhand’ Owen’s dazzling fretwork on one of his songs had a couple of us fearing for our own fingers just thinking about it.

And finally … best book review ever (click on the picture if you can’t read what’s between the cat’s legs):




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Of lidos and Lowestoft

A wet walk one afternoon in Waterfields Rec, by the banks of the River Colne, in Watford.  More a park with a pitch, nicely developed of late with a big nod (and a wink) to the area’s heritage.  Can’t really get too excited about the recently restored Grade II listed Coal Duty Obelisk of 1861, but this rain-affected photo really doesn’t do justice to an impressive statue of an Edwardian bathing colossus.  Under his knots-in-four corners handkerchief helmet there is a head of hair more than hinting of older creatures, of mythical beings.

watford-swimmerwatford-swimmer-explanationYou’ll have to take my word for this, because the photos I took that reveal more of that detail suffer from even more of the rain drops that despite the umbrella kept falling on my camera lens.  The statue stands on a slim plinth in the middle of a splendid bit of planting only hinted at in the explanatory text.  Good one, Watford Council.

I give you this inadequate photo because I cannot resist placing it near those of two statues of Triton, the Greek god of the sea, that you can find on the esplanade at Lowestoft:

triton-1-lowestofttriton-2-lowestoftTriton, a merman he should be – messenger of the sea: blowing that conch shell he could calm or raise the waves.  Son and herald of Poseidon, the sea’s main man.  Or rather, god.  Why two statues?  Who knows.  As it happens at least one of them is Grade II listed too.

Why spend an afternoon in Lowestoft?  Because it’s there.  And the availability of a cheap coach trip to the eastern-most settlement in the UK (which must count for something) (mustn’t it?) from our deeply land-locked abode.  The sea, the sea.  Cue obligatory East Anglian seaside photo of beach huts:

Blue skies, fish and chips as commended by some blokey TV chefs at Nemo’s, a beach to stroll, ice lowestoft-north-piercreams to be had. This photo on the left is a detail of the structure colourfully holding up the North Pier.  The dog-free beach was immaculate, the pebbles where there were pebbles eminently pick-overable.  What with all these cleaned-up beaches I do miss a whiff of rotting sea weed mixed in with the ozone, but such is progress I suppose.

All seemed well, but one road back, parallel to the seafront, signs of poverty and desperation – empty premises, non-chain charity shops, a Salvation Army Hostel, another uninspiring drop-in day centre.  House prices interesting, except you’d have to live there in winter too.  A thriving leisure boat harbour, but the fishing industry has pretty much gone.

You can go on the Mincarlo, the last side-winder trawler built in Lowestoft in the early ’60s and now maintained by a charitable trust; I opted to go linger aimlessly awhile at the end of the South Pier but my traveling companions went on board, could not believe the noise of the engine, tried to imagine what time spent at sea must have been like with that constant – not much to romanticise … save the bravery and community, of course.

Decorated pebbles, a lovely touch at the War Memorial by the South Pier (click on the photo, then click on it again on the new page to enlarge it for more detail):

A pleasing geometry of rocks, sand, wood and sea

A pleasing geometry of rocks, sand, wood and sea

A late late summer English sea-side. Glad we came.

A late summer English sea-side town. Glad we became briefly acquainted.


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