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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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Wheal Dream

Street sign in Helston

Last week in June, two days of can’t grumble, two drizzling days of miserable, two days of mostly pissing down.  Everyone saying how awful the previous week’s heatwave had been.  And I believe them.  Got seagulled in St Ives.  Pastie and sea bream in batter safely ingested, but despite the warnings with each purchase, carelessly pointing mid-consumption with cream tea flavoured ice cream in hand … whoosh, serviette and all, taken from behind.

To the museums! 

St Ives Museum a fascinating old-fashioned warren, a vaguely themed jumble of stuff, maritime, domestic, occupational.  Strictly no photos, I’m afraid, but amid the posters, portraits, ceramics, bad paintings, models, tools, flags, and myriad artefacts of the local populace:

  • a pair of boots modelled from bread and paper by an Italian POW at St Erith camp
  • a collection of ancient typewriters
  • dolls sculpted by fishermen from broken oars
  • a naval lieutenant’s cocked hat and its metal carrying case
  • a collection of policemen’s helmets and handcuffs
  • an Acme British ribbed glass washboard, perfect for skiffle
  • a steam operated printing press that unfortunately hasn’t steamed for many a year
  • a lamp hanging from the ceiling salvaged from the French crabber George le Bail, that was “accidentally run down and sunk at anchor in St Ives Bay” 11 March 1953
  • a display and video about the John Knill Ceremony Bequest of 1767: every 5 years, involving the mayor, vicar and customs officer in procession on St James Day with 10 girls aged under 10 dressed in white to dance  around his unfilled pyramid tomb to a fiddler’s accompaniment (fiddler’s fee originally £1, these days £25).  Plus the singing of the Old Hundredth psalm (“All people that on earth do dwell”) and a charitable handout to the needy.  A splendid old English custom still observed.  More at: http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/john-knill-ceremony/
  • an original poster of George III’s time asking for volunteers to become “Royal tars of Old England”

The Helston Folk Museum was more of the same, if a bit more focussed, but with a charm of its own.  It has the advantage of being sited on an incline, so it’s a slow walk up the long market-style aisle to an open area full of bigger agricultural stuff and a mezzanine of old shop fronts, and then back down again on the other side, with cases full of more stuff down the centre.  Among the joys:

  • documentation and photos of Helston’s first car
  • a collection showing the changing shape of police batons
  • bone miniature binoculars: “A souvenir of Margate”
  • a miniature dice with case “made from the tooth of a lion”

Helston was free entry but people would have happily paid an entrance fee; St Ives was £3 but well worth it for a refreshing anything is valid clutter.  Both were refreshingly free of IT flash and any obvious need to educate.  Chastening to see the stuff of one’s youth and later displayed in a museum.

A surprise, then to find The Art of Kuriology exhibition – now ended – in the art gallery space at the back of the Helston Museum.  As the rubric says, curiosities indeed – a roomful of them slightly adrift in time and space from the Folk Museum it was showing in.  Click on the illustrations to enlarge them.  And the centre piece, scenes from a science fiction disaster movie … or an imaginary future … a wheel bad dream?

Click on the image for explanation

Cornish palettes

Spent the last week of June in Cornwall, staying in St Ives.  Another time for the weather, which will only be mentioned briefly in passing.  Because …

We bathed in the glories of Tate St Ives and their The studio and the sea season.  That continuous thing: artists and the ceramics studio in Galleries 1 to 3 held our interest well enough – how not with Bernard Leach and pals and the sometimes dubious wonders of The clay revolution?  That latter subtitled California, 1950-80s, with evidence that mind-altering drugs might well – surprise! – have been a factor; that and the contemporary notion of ‘abstract expressionist ceramics’ being in play.  The Studio hand-builders: Britain 1960s-90s room also included ceramics from as early as 200 BC for interesting context.

But what really got me were the Jessica Worboys sea paintings that filled the impressive ocean facing gallery from floor to ceiling (click on the pics to enlarge the view):

Photo scanned from the Tate St Ives postcard because of the no photography rule.

Though you can get a taste from this allowed photo of the atrium.

Here’s how they were made (quoting from the guide):

Worboys works directly on the shore, throwing paint pigment onto a damp folded canvas, and then allowing the waves, wind and sand to shift, scatter and drag the pigment.

Photo borrowed from the website, to give an idea of the scale: : http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-st-ives/exhibition/studio-and-sea

Some had been done nearby.  There was an electronic soundscape gently playing all the while.  I must have sat, shuffling along, for at least 20 minutes, and could have stayed longer.  To be honest, her other stuff didn’t do much for me, and I still struggle with video installations, but those absorbing canvases will stay with me a long time.

Slight tangent.  As it happened a touch of the déjà vus the next day when we visited the suspiciously named Paradise Park, near Hayle:  “In the 1970s Mike Reynolds aimed to create a paradise for birds in a setting of exotic gardens” it say here.  UK home of the World Parrot Trust, with active rare species breeding and conservation schemes, it’s well worth a look.  We had umbrellas up all the time we were there (even the otters were hiding from the rain) but the spectacular plumage of the birds was not dimmed.  And the bird I swooned at most was the Dusky Lory (unfortunately not my photo), featuring as it does the very pigments and hues of what had been my favourite of Jessica Worboys‘s sea canvases (the one above that bloke’s head in the small pic above.

But back to Tate St Ives.  Climbing the spiral staircase to the galleries was an experience in itself – deserving better photos – thanks to France Lise McGurn‘s intriguing mural Collapsing new people.  Not forgetting to look up!

Collapsing new people – detail

She says about the stairwell (quoted on the rubric on the wall):

“It is as though there could have been a party here.” However, while all her characters cavort and intermingle, each fragment of her painting references a different story of myth, from various histories and tales.

(Again, to enlarge an image, just click on it)

Surf board paint boxes

Mousehole

Mousehole again (I think)

Greens and a subtly hued hull

Possibly the seagull that got my ice cream

Something there is about it; ‘found’ abstract expressionism

 

 

 

The Lizard in drizzle

Wet weather can bring out colours, though.  And feeling the need to end with a palate pun: ’twas on the walk down to here we munched on Annie’ famous Cornish Pasties.

 

 

 

 

Taut as a man

Sebastian Barry‘s Days without end (Faber, 2016) is one powerful piece of writing, the best book I’ve read in ages.  And in a while to come too, I’ll wager.  The sustained rhythm of the prose – the language of the first person narrative lyrical, vivid, visceral, engrossing – is an accomplishment of wonder.  There aren’t many long words, but paragraphs cover pages because they have to, to do justice to the vision, to all of what our man saw and felt.  It just flows, carries you along.  He’s telling us his story a long time after the events, but it’s like we are there.

The paperback blurb gives a reasonable brief outline of the action:

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in. Then, when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.

But there is so much more going on.  Narrator McNulty and Cole are more than brothers-in-arms but the achievement of Days without end is that no big deal is made of this and what follows; there are no physical details, you just feel the love.  They met and teamed up as 13 year olds, when things are not going well for either of them.  They join the army because as they grow they can no longer pass as paid female dancing partners – in full garb, but no funny business – in a frontier dance hall.  Thomas doesn’t mind being in the dresses and this theme develops as the years and events pass.  Extraordinary to have just read this as Donald Trump tweets away about trans people having no place in the US armed forces.  In what follows, Winona is the young Indian girl of the blurb, who has witnessed terrible events herself, and Thomas is at this point disguised in women’s clothes:

Winona loosening too, and laughing now. She just a girl and should be laughing regular. She should be playing maybe if she ain’t too old. Certainly acts the lady and knows how. We like mother and child right enough and that’s how it plays.  I give thanks for that. Maybe in my deepest soul I believe my own fakery. I suppose I do. I feel a woman more than I ever felt a man, though I were a fighting man most of my days. Got to be thinking them Indians in dresses shown my path. […] I am easy as a woman, taut as a man. All my limbs is broke as a man, and fixed good as a woman. I lie down with the soul of a woman and wake up with the same. I don’t forsee no time where this ain’t true no more. Maybe I was born a man and growing into a woman. Maybe that boy that John Cole met was but a girl already. He weren’t no girl hisself for sure. This could be mountainous evil. I ain’t read the Book on that. Maybe no hand has ever wrote its truth.

And that’s as much of a questioning as occurs.  It’s beautifully done.  I hope you won’t see this as a spoiler; I’ll bet if you start reading Days without end you’ll have forgotten you read that earlier here pretty soon; until it hits again.

Meanwhile, there’s no shying away from the horrors of the soldiering.  There are brutal and savage passages relating his involvement.  And we get to experience the camaraderie, the hard drudge and boredom of military life.  The betrayal of the Indian Nations is laid bare in specific events, not evangelised.  But, you know, life can be beautiful.  The evocation of nature’s wonders and the passing of the seasons is never far away in the relation of events.  Normally in these reviews on Lillabullero I will pick out some quotes to give a flavour but with Days without end it’s so hard to know where to start from and where to end.  It is such an enervating – exciting, absorbing, relaxed in turn – total ride.  Here, from the final devastating confrontation with a proud Sioux chief:

Sometimes you know you ain’t a clever man. But likewise sometimes the fog of usual thoughts clears of in a sudden breeze of sense and you see things clear a moment like a clearing country. We blunder through and call it wisdom but it ain’t. They say we be Christians and suchlike but we ain’t. They say we are creatures raised by God above the animals but any man that has lived knows that’s damn lies. We are going forth that day to call Caught-His-Horse-First a murderer in silent judgement. But it was us killed his wife and his child.

This is a novel about the making of the USA, a literary spaghetti western – the later Sergio Leones – told in a vernacular by a Huck Finn who came over the Atlantic as a boy from Ireland.  And, though not obvious from what I’ve said here, there is, rest assured, a measure wit and humour in Thomas’s telling too.  I hear echoes of Mark Twain’s judgments on his land too.

When that old ancient Cromwell come to Ireland he said he would leave nothing alive. Said the Irish were vermin and devils. Clean out the country for good people to step into. Make a paradise. Now we make this American paradise I guess. Guess it be strange so many Irish boys doing this work. Ain’t it the way of the world. No such item as a virtuous people. Winona the only soul not thrown on the bonfire.

Almost at random, if you want the experience:

Big train blowing steam and smoke at the depot. It’s like a creature. Something in perpetual explosion. Huge long muscle body on her and four big men punching coal into her boiler. It’s a sight. Going to be dragging four carriages east and they say they’ll go good. The light pall of snow hisses on the boiler sheets.

Days without end is a profound and consistently brilliant piece of writing.  I love this book.  It will stay with me for a long time; I feel a Sebastian Barry binge coming on.

**********************************************************************************

And now for something completely different …

July’s Book Group book was a Marmite book.  Some hated it, others thought it had its moments and weren’t sorry to have read it.  I liked it well enough.  Meg Wolitzer‘s The wife (2003) is narrated by the wife of one of the (fictional) big beasts of post-war American literature.  On the plane  on their way to the presentation ceremony for the fictional Helsinki (one down from the Nobel) Prize for Literature (“this award for a long hard labour on the fiction chain gang …”) she decides she is going to leave him.  What follows is a skillful telling of their marriage, family and careers going back and forth between the past and present, from their first meeting in 1956 – Joan a talented student, Joe the tutor on a creative writing course – to the acclamation his pretty much career full stop.  This is the beginning of a new phase, Joan,” he tells her.  Yes, the insufferable phase,” is her response.

 

Now, even the Book Group people who didn’t like The wife could see the big twist coming from a mile off, so it’s not really a spoiler to reveal about Joe that:

All he had was the look. The attitude, the reverence and the desire to be a great writer, but that was meaningless without what he called “the goods”

and that, presented with the proud draft of his first novel – effectively about his divorce and their coming together – Joan is dismayed to discover how lifeless it is and edits it so heavily as to effectively have written it herself.  Being the ’50s, and having been told that being a woman novelist was a loser’s game by a bitter woman novelist, she is happy for the illusion of his authorship to be maintained and continued.  This is not actually revealed till quite late on, which I suppose you could say is cheating.  Anyway, the story behind that first novel, The Walnut, or rather the story of the actual walnuts, is an amusing little diversion in itself, while what happens to their two daughters and the problem son – the children of a celebrated writer – give the tale more depth.

So The wife is an insightful, sour and witty look at the American literary life in the ’50s and early ’60s, the rivalries, infidelities and jealousies as the men joust and put themselves about. “Wives are the sad sacks of any writers’ conference,” she opines at one point.  Given she was born in 1959 one wonders how much of it Meg Wolitzer got from her novelist mother.  Joe and Joan’s early struggles in a New York garret, taking fun in late fifties Greenwich Village is nicely done too.  With the social changes of the late ’60s and the emergence of women writers as serious players you could say that The wife is the starting point for a literary equivalent of Mad Men.

How about this, one of the reasons he’s up for the Helsinki, for Joan’s disaffection?   And probably at least a sad half-truth:

In America it had been a year of literary deaths, one after the other, men whom Joe had known since the fifties, when they used to gather sometimes for socialist meetings. A decade later they gathered at marathon, all night readings whose purpose was to protest the war in Vietnam, and suck all the energy out of the audience.

For what it’s worth, the very first original hardback book I ever bought was Norman Mailer‘s groundbreaking account of the march on the Pentagon, Armies of the night (1968).  I’m long over him now, but still, Ouch!  He gets it in the neck again later too, the only one of those big beasts to actually get a real life namecheck.

Thirty years on since the first of Peter Robinson‘s Yorkshire Dales-based crime novels featuring detective Alan Banks first appeared in print, Sleeping in the ground (Hodder & S, 2017), is the 24th in the sequence.  I think it’s something of a return to form that also holds the promise of refreshing the slightly tired platform for what is to come next.

Sleeping in the ground opens strongly with a funeral and a mass shooting at a wedding happening 150 miles apart.  Banks is back in Peterborough, where he grew up, at the funeral – an event that affects him deeply – of his first love, Emily Hargreaves, who’d dumped him – something he still doesn’t understand – back in 1973.  He returns north to the Yorkshire Dales to be handed the investigation into the massacre of the bride and groom and 4 others at a locally high-profile wedding, which appears to be cleared up with the apparent suicide a retired dentist and  shooting enthusiast.  Except he doesn’t fit the profile and there’s no motive:

After the team meeting, he was more convinced than ever that there was something fishy about the whole St Mary’s business. […] True, profiles aren’t always accurate, and Jenny had quite reasonably complained that she didn’t have enough to go on, but the comparison between what they knew of spree killers or mass murderers and what they had been able to discover about Martin Edgeworth’s character, life and actions just didn’t match up. Then there were the forensic and pathology details. It might be a long haul ahead, but there had to be a way of getting to the bottom of it.

And that’s what the police procedural aspect of Sleeping in the ground then proceeds to do, with Banks and various members of his team relentlessly talking to people, interviewing others, following a hunch picked up from reading a survivor of the shooting’s body language, and then sitting at the computer, digging in the records and local newspapers, and involving, naturally, the full pathologist and forensics CSI armoury.  This all rolls along nicely – with the slight early hiatus of the discussion on psychological profiling descending into a bit of a textbook recitation – to a thrilling and nail-biting climax in the raging waters of a flood, the outcome of which is by no means narratively certain, because – there’s no guarantee the copper involved will reappear in the next book (and I really hoped so).  The details and mechanics of the full crime are ingenious – or you could say, incredibly convoluted – but entirely acceptable to this reader at least in the overall context of the story.

The solution, the motivation for the massacre, goes back to another painful sequence of events in 1964.  So both Banks’s ruminative and nostalgic state of mind, and the origins of the crime, revolve around ghosts of the past.  Banks also considers, in passing, old cases he was involved with, and his failed marriage, and he finally gets to learn what went wrong with Emily.  The soap opera aspects of the Banks saga carry this looking back theme further with the return of two attractive characters from past books.

The profiler involved is one Jenny Fuller, last seen at about book 12, the woman Banks came nearest to committing adultery with when he was married.  She’s moved back in the area, and there’s no rush, they’re leaving things open as a possibility.  The other old face – not as previously prominent – is Annie Cabbot’s dad.  (For those unfamiliar with the books, Annie is an interesting longstanding member of Banks’ team, briefly his lover, who, frankly, Peter Robinson has lately wasted, through lack of focus).  Annie’s dad, Ray, has left the artists’ commune in Cornwall where Annie was raised – still sprightly enough, he’s feeling a bit old for all this modern concept stuff – and is looking to buy somewhere in the Dales to be near Annie; he makes a wonderful foil for Banks in his dotage.  There’s a joke about Annie warning Banks that Ray was listening to Dylan when he, Banks, was still in short trousers; to which Banks protests he was too listening to Dylan in short trousers.

So I hope that those two reappear strongly in future books, and that Gerry (Geraldine) Masterson, fast-track graduate who was impressive in the previous book and is a star in Sleeping in the ground, continues to have a prominent role.  The sparring of Annie Cabbot with Gerry and Jenny is an entertaining sideshow that also shows promise.  We also get a rare glimpse of the man back when:

It was a photograph. Banks held it by the candlelight. He and Emily in the early seventies. He was wearing a denim jacket over a T-shirt, and bell bottoms, and his hair was much longer than it was now.

For those who know the books, rest assured Peter Robinson continues to spray musical references and citations all over the place (I counted at least 35 – think it’s all getting a bit ridiculous and obscure, actually), along with a load of other cultural nods and winks.  As well as sharing musical tastes one playfully wonders sometimes just how much of Peter Robinson goes into his alter ego.  Like … here’s young Geraldine, unattached and not particularly looking, but:

When she let herself think about it, which wasn’t often, she realised that she wouldn’t mind at all going out with someone like Banks, if he wasn’t her boss, that is, that age wouldn’t really be an issue. He seemed healthy and young enough in body and spirit, was handsome in that lean and intense sort of way, and she certainly got the impression that he was interested in a wide range of subjects, so conversation wouldn’t be a problem. He also had a sense of humour, which she had been told by her mother was esential to a happy marriage. Not that she was having fantasies about marrying Banks, or even going out with him. Just that the whole idea didn’t seem so outrageous.

Anyway, the soundtrack for Sleeping in the ground (the title itself a song title, but later for that) touchingly starts and ends with David Bowie, with Starman from Ziggy Stardust played at the funeral, and Blackstar in the car near the end.  To which Geraldine says:

My dad likes David Bowie. I never really had much time for music.”
“You should make some,” Banks said. “It helps keep you sane and human in a crazy world, especially after a night like tonight.”

To which, Amen.  Banks is still reading poetry too, in particular, even before the funeral, Thomas Hardy‘s Poems 1912-1913, concerning the magic of first love; his novels get a couple of mentions too.  (Fuller details of the music and all this – not forgetting the alcohol modestly consumed – and more specific thoughts on the novel, can be found elsewhere here on Lillabullero at https://quavid.wordpress.com/about/peter-robinsons-inspector-banks-mysteries/, where it and others in the sequence are considered more systematically).

And so to the title.  It’s an obscure Blind Faith song, credited to Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood, and performed at that Hyde Park concert, though the song was never released until it appeared on the Clapton Crossroads box set.  It’s a mean-spirited, unredemptive and highly derivative – I might go so far as to say ‘nasty little’ – blues, that doesn’t constitute, be assured, anything like a plot-spoiler.  The Hyde Park rendition is also available on Youtube, but here’s some better keyboards:

I won The grandparent (Michael Joseph, 2016) at our annual street barbecue raffle.  Chose it, even, from the prize table loaded with various smellies and assorted other passed on ex-presents.  I guess the first couple of these Ladybird Books for grown-ups were a good joke, had something about them – contemporary situations wed, or rather mis-matched, to that original period Ladybird art that it is hard not to fondly recall – but, hey.

Now I’m a grandparent, and, yeah, some of it hits (the all-purpose child-minding), but there’s no consistency here as to the generations.  Sure, probably my parents had a kettle like that, that you heated on the stove I vaguely remember, but so what?  (And it was never that clean).  Not sure what “Janet is always popular with her rotarian [sic] friends because she has gin stashed all over town” – pictured at a naming ceremony for a boat – is doing here, especially when you turn the page and some old duffer in a sports jacket, apparently called Bill, “is telling his grandchildren about the time his band opened for The Sex Pistols.”

Glad it wasn’t a present, then.  Kids, do not let your parents persuade you to give this to a grandparent this Christmas.  It has a price tag of £6.99, which more than 10p a page, though Amazon are selling it at half-price.  I noted it was listed as being the No.1 bestseller in their ‘Grandparent’ book category.  That’s a link as a grandparent you have to follow, right?  No.2 is the Kindle edition of My grandpa is NOT grumpy; no comment.  No.3 is the Kindle edition of The incest diary (the physical book is there at No.7).  Don’t you just love unedited computer listings?

MK: a living landscape

Glad I managed to catch this beautifully presented exhibition at Central Library.  You wound your way round the organised space, high quality photos on boards – and on the floor (a grass snake!), on the ceiling – augmented with greenery.  Hardly a pioneer, but I’ve lived in Milton Keynes for 34 years now, and I’ve never understood the comic status, now thankfully receding, it was landed with for a long time (you know, like that British Rail sandwich joke).

MK was/is a more than decent bash at Ebenezer Howard’s idealistic garden city concept, delivered with style, ingenuity and wit.  Most of us love our concrete cows.  Shame the city centre resembles and out-of-town shopping mall and mammon threatens further, but all is not lost.  The struggle is to maintain the vision, which is where  the Fred Roche Foundation (http://fredroche.org/), the exhibition’s organisers, come in; Fred was a main man at the Development Corporation (the semi-legendary MKDC) that set the ball rolling.  The exhibition quotes John Ruskin, a man whose progressive thinking, I would say, while I’m here, is long overdue a major revival.  There’s a decent short summary of his thoughts here: http://www.ruskinmuseum.com/content/john-ruskin/who-was-john-ruskin.php.

Why you should trust Alison Graham …

… at least as far as tv crime thrillers and drama go.  From this week’s Radio Times:

The Loch; ITV 9 0’clock Sunday, July 9

It’s the penultimate episode and I’m still no wiser than I was at the start of this convoluted, baffling, messy thriller.  Just a tiny clue as to what might be going on in the little Scottish town would be most welcome.
Instead we get bluster, lumpen dialogue and a tone that veers alarmingly.  Is The Loch cosy crime, like Hamish Macbeth?  Or is it Reservoir Dogs in the Highlands?  Who knows.  The writing is all over the place and none of the characters convinces, notably that flipping maverick forensic psychologist.  “Go way, Blake,” a police chief yells at him.  Yes,  Blake.  GO AWAY.
It’s a great backdrop, but viewers cannot live by scenery alone.  Sometimes we need a plot.

Fearless: ITV 9 0’clock Monday, July 10

For some reason the Americans let campaigning human rights lawyer Emma into the US, though they wised up quickly and threw her into detention.  But not for long.  She’s back and she’s very annoyed.  Of course, she has uncovered a conspiracy at the highest levels of the British and US governments that reaches right back to the second Iraq War.  Blimey!
But Emma still wants a child and a stable boyfriend ….

I’m not immune to the pleasures of this kind of literature, though there are times when the tedium of the photo captions prove I’m only a fellow traveller in the land of the railway enthusiast.  There is only so much you can say about a railway photograph: time, place, train, loco details and history blah blah blah, while any semaphore signals in evidence might well get a mention.  I pity the poor caption writer if he has aspirations to rise above railway nerd status; most don’t.

So I’m puzzled as to what is going on here, with this, the second most boring photo – the most boring is also an even less distinguished DMU (diesel multiple unit) – in David Cross‘s interesting enough compilation Diesels around London: a colour portfolio (Ian Allan, 2006), that I borrowed from the local library (use it or lose it!).  The photo credit goes to one Michael Mensing, but I’m not sure if the caption belongs to him or David Cross.  Anyway, you don’t need to click on the photo to read the caption, because:

Formed of a four-car Derby DMU, train 2C59, a semi-fast service from Bedford to St Pancras, is 8 miles into its journey as it emerges from Ampthill Tunnel in May, 1965.  these DMUs would provide the commuter service for many years until electrification of the line between Bedford and Moorgate in May 1982.  Since the photograph was taken the station at the small market town of Ampthill has closed, passengers now being directed to use the station at Flitwick, some two miles to the south.  Just out of sight on the right [my italics] is Houghton House.  Designed by Inigo Jones and built in 1615, this was reputedly the model for the ‘House Beautiful’ in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.  Empty since 1935, the pollution from several nearby brickworks having eroded much of the stonework, it is presently being restored by English Heritage.

To his credit, Cross does, in describing a photo of a ‘footex’ special – yes, they used to put on special trains for away football fans as late at least as 1984 – give the result: Spurs beat Luton 2-1.

As an occasional poet I remain intensely proud of the lines:

Yes I’ll admit I trainspotted
In the boy’s time allotted –
British Railways then,
What a crazy scene!

This usually gets a laugh.  Then was late 1950s and early ’60s, when the British Railways Modernisation Plan of 1955 was just taking hold.  The programme of  steam locomotive withdrawals hadn’t got up much steam yet (sorry) and an intriguing variety of new diesel locomotives were suddenly appearing all over the place.  Many of the tribe eschewed these modern interlopers but modern boy I was well up for it as well.  That diesel throb, and they looked so good in the traditional green livery.  Like that Warship on Diesels around London‘s cover, and the two-toned green with white outlined cab windows of the Deltic on its title page.  Then they moved into what is now known as a re-branding exercise – from British Railways to British Rail – and two dead artistic hands were brought into play:

  • i). Health & Safety painted an un-aesthetic yellow warning blob on the diesel locos’ noses, a blob that got bigger and bigger as time went on, and
  • ii). Modern design conceptualists (fine in their rightful place but …) painted everything apart from the yellow blob an un-vibrant blue, and the romance was gone.

With the proviso that this is not railway photography, rather photos of trains, Diesels around London carries plenty of photos of that era (and some up to the 1980s) that document in passing this uglification well enough.  Compare and contrast the early pre-yellow blob etc liveries below with the degraded aesthetics on those further down (click on the photos for a bigger picture):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK.  It’s a shame that cheap decent colour photography wasn’t more widely available back then, but I still get great satisfaction from books like Diesels around London because they can remind me of a time … the decades fade away … when I could get excited, as I skipped between London termini, by a sight like the one below, at Euston in 1961:

This one IS railway photography, I’d say. Credit to John Edgington.

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