history

A Thing About Little Museums

If you ever find yourself in Gloucestershire and close to Stroud – pronounced with an “ow” and not as someone out-of-town recently said, with an “oo” – go and visit the Museum in the Park.

I’ve been living within easy reach of it for almost thirty years and have just paid it my first visit. I found out it was there only very recently, and the reason I went is because the Gloucestershire Printmakers’ Co-operative, in which I’ve been a lowly student on two past occasions, is staging a small exhibition.

It’s a nice gallery space. It looks purpose built being an extension to the main building, the former Stratford House, one time home of a family of local brewers. The original house, now passed into public ownership along with the surrounding grounds known as Stratford Park, contains a permanent museum. In essence, it is a museum of local history, though quite recent history, from late 1800s, I’d say, to the mid twentieth century.

Part of it is dedicated to the author, Laurie Lee, of Cider With Rosie fame. He was from the village of Slad, which is just up the road. Every so often, a passage from that autobiography is read out from an audio book. It’s an old voice and could possibly be the author himself. You can listen to it, as I did, sitting on a convenient chair placed in front of a grim, black cast iron kitchen stove surrounded by old fashioned kitchen paraphernalia, ornaments and books, as Laurie Lee’s mum might have done on a Winter’s evening, or the two contentious, old-aged spinsters, in their cottage next door.

The best thing for me about local museums, tucked away on the fringes of small towns, is – no crowds! Go into any one of London’s famous museums – of in any City, I imagine – and you’ll get what I mean. It doesn’t really matter to me what they’re exhibiting, the fact that you find yourself alone, wandering around the exhibits, allows for an intimate, almost illicit, sense of experience, like being a nosey parker or an intruder. I can’t resist touching and opening things I probably shouldn’t, whereas, in busier museums, I’d have to be content with just staring at stuff and making do with reading the informative plaques.

It was pissing down with rain, as it has been all June, and this stopped me exploring the Park. I think it’s a pity: when it was a family residence, they planted an arboretum which is now a small plantation of very grand trees, dominated by imposingly huge cedars and tall firs, and a curving path which leads down to a lake, originally a fish pond, presumably for supplying the house kitchens with fresh trout or carp.

The grounds look very well kept and also contain public tennis courts, lawn bowling greens and an indoor sports complex. So, Stratford Park – remember it if you’re ever down that way.

Well done, Stroud.


images (click to enlarge):

1 & 2; opposite corners of the gallery space.

3; view of outside courtyard from inside the entrance hall.

Stratford Park (wikipedia)

Museum in the Park

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Going on a Safari, almost

Today’s google safari begins with the word,

Caudle

I discovered this word from an online article about historical birth rituals and customs for our queens and nobility. The article went through some rum goings on. Unbelievably, royal births were not considered private affairs. This apparent tradition lasted until our present Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to Charles. The Home Office minister’s presence was usually required but she put a stop to that nonsense. Earlier years saw a free-for-all when ‘The obstetrician yelled out,

‘The Queen is going to give birth!’ – at which point hundreds of courtiers poured into the room”.

Jaw dropping! However, Caudle, a spiced and alcoholic oatmeal gruel, was once prescribed post partum to queens as a restorative. The word caught my attention specifically because there is a village near here called Caudle Green, and I wonder if there’s a connection (could it be like Soylent Green or possibly drinking it made one feel queasy? But seriously, there may be a reasonable connection).

Royal Birth Traditions: from drinking caudle to audiences of 200

image: detail of a portrait by Franz Winterhalter of Victoria holding Arthur, and probably not being offered caudle, and probably not by the Home Secretary.


Miserden to Caudle Green and Brimpsfield round

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far with finding the origin of the naming of Caudle Green and became fed up flicking through all the property sales and airbnb adverts in the village. Incidentally, there’s a quaint little Tudor cottage in the village, if you like that kind of thing, but it’s not for sale; I noticed it while out walking some years back.

So, I’m distracted by a google result which happens to be for a detailed 9.6 mile walk taking in Caudle Green. The website turns out to be a true labour of dedication to long walks around the British countryside; there appears to be hundreds of them, from Scotland to Cornwall. Each of the ones I viewed are accompanied by an informative and well-written introduction, then a detailed description of the walk itself, a little map and some useful information on OS maps, parking, refreshment stops etc. What more could you need?

Well, it goes further. Not only are the photos exceptionally well produced but some of the walks have associated videos (via youtube). I suppose if I were to be unnecessarily picky, I might suggest some link to GPS navigation but maybe the authors are old school, like me.

It’s called Walking with the Taxi Driver which I think is intentionally funny-ironic. It looks a great site and I’ll be back.


Walk to Caudle Green

Look at this painting by artist, Janet James, which came up in the search under “images”. It makes me want to put my boots on and walk. I love James’ style with paint: uncomplicated yet evocative. I feel as if I know the subject.

There are many more wonderful paintings at Janet James.co.uk

Google safaris don’t usually end after three items but blog posts do. Well, mine do anyway. Maybe more safari another day.

Thawing

Greenland Is Falling Apart.

It was the sort of morning headline that had me spitting hot coffee into my “bursting with sunshine” cornflakes.

I could never help focusing on Greenland on the map, that large chunk of inverted triangular whiteness in the top left, between Canada and the North Pole. Why Green-Land? I had heard that they had named it thus to divert plunderers, making them do a sharp right before reaching Ice-Land. I mean, imagine you’re a Viking tourist who only has a couple of names, which one would you have chosen?

Of course, it’s neither too green nor that large. It’s relative scale is distorted by the Mercator effect of unwrapping a spherical world and laying it flat – it plainly can’t work and so Greenland appears as big as the USA when, in reality, it is only one-eighth.

Still, it’s big enough that when you read it’s falling apart you sit up and take notice. There’s a lot of ice melting and flowing into the sea. That ice helps maintain global temperatures within our comfort zone by reflecting solar radiation. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

There has been crazy talk about wrapping Greenland in a great white sheet, or painting the whole place white in reflective paint. It may come to that. But people actually live there, indigenous people. For me, it’s difficult to understand how anyone ended up there in the first place, coming out of Africa and all, and even more puzzling why they stayed, but they’re there, their choice, their home. And now it’s falling apart. And it’s probably all our fault.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #84 – “Ice breakers/Cracking Ice/Thawing”

image: the church at Nanortalik, Greenland

Honour #writephoto

A rose plucked and laid
red across a pallid stone
for love enduring,
memories of adonis’ wounds
mingled with a turmoiled earth
which, amongst the remains,
bore blossoms of a different kind
though red, not of a rose,
though dead, not for love
but honour.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo Photo Prompt Challenge – “Honour”

Up against Quintus Horatius Flaccus and Wilfred Owen, I ought not to try for a poem this time but I simply didn’t have a story.

I then wondered, in my ignorance, whether poetry was a higher form of literature and should therefore be truthful. From the heart, so to speak. I don’t think I believe in the sentiment of “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.

Amour sans frontières.

A Personal History of Time in Four Objects

Early on, I had a bedside alarm clock: a round, wind-up thing with hands of luminous pale green painted on by poor factory workers, and who might have succumbed to disease and died before their time for their efforts. It seems a high cost to allow strangers to see the time without needing to turn on a light.

Someone then gave me a travel alarm clock. I had yet to travel and had no prior thoughts of doing so being, as I was, not quite ten years old. It seemed an odd contraption: the square body of a wind-up clock attached to the lid of a hinged box by another hinge, so that the three hinged parts could fold in and enclose the clock part. Opened out, it formed a triangle with the base of the box being the base of the clock. The alarm, I remember, wasn’t that loud. Perhaps it’s quieter where people with travel clocks go.

I bought myself a radio alarm clock. Some mornings it would wake me with the sounds of the show before the Breakfast Show; other times I’d be woken by static. The tuning was unreliable and the threat of it malfunctioning on important days kept me awake at night. Then the cat took it upon himself to chew the aerial off. It was just a length of wire hanging down and it must have aroused the cat’s curiosity and so he bit it off gradually by degrees. He never touched the mains cable which also hung down with it. Curiosity didn’t kill that cat, not that time anyway.

The personal tablet is the Swiss Army Knife of the age: if you need something doing, someone has probably devised an app to do it. For it, the alarm clock is a cinch. You can be woken by any number of pleasant or hideous ringtones, or you can choose your favourite song, but be mindful that this can become like Bill Murray’s morning in Groundhog Day; it’s probably better to select “random” from a given playlist. Or you can have the radio. You can have the radio broadcast out of Toronto, Timor or Timbuktu. Be aware that it’s likely not to be first thing in the morning there.


inspired by the brilliant History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (BBC)

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

Worms and Casts

“A moth ate words

the pilfering visitor was not one wit the wiser

because he had gulped in those words.”


I had a thick head waking up this morning, the result of neglecting exercise, too much rich food, half a bottle of red before bedtime and mostly down to a cold I’ve been trying to ignore since Christmas Eve.

My eyes can’t stand to read or write, and my brain can’t bear to compute, but I need some distraction to relax and shift the ache. So I look at the Swiss Army Knife of a tablet by my side and wonder what else it can offer.

Podcasts! There’s an app for these which came pre-installed and at some point I must have selected some preferences as it’s lined up a series called The Essays, short audio pieces on Anglo-Saxon history. This is perfect because the gentle tone of an intelligent human voice can be soporific and the subject isn’t at this moment a matter of importance; I can tune in and out as desired, sipping occasionally from a tall glass of ginger and lemongrass cordial, mindful to keep my hydration up.

Actually, the podcasts proved to be very interesting and I love all those “Dark Ages” names; Bede, Egbert, Eadfrith, Ethelred, Athelstan. Why on Earth aren’t they more popular nowadays? Bladud?


The lines at the top are quoted from a podcast on Eadfrith, the Scribe. It takes the form of a riddle and inscribed on manuscripts as a warning against careless reading, the answer to the riddle being a bookworm.

As we close 2018, the Goodreads app tells me I’ve read nine books this year. Usually I average around twelve. In 2015, I entered a personal challenge to read twenty, which I achieved by the skin of my teeth but I didn’t look back on that as a good reading year. Occasionally I wonder with books whether less is more and even choosing one or two favourites to reread, again and again, would be better.

In the new year, we hope to be moving home and, as a designer, I’ve already begun sketching out plans including space required for our books. I’m looking at hacking some of those inexpensive IKEA Billy bookcases for the job.

The design involves comparing the available shelf space with what we have now, but I couldn’t help notice that though we’ve culled our library many times and kept only those books we loved, most of those have sat on the shelf, unread, for many years. Having a Kindle account means I don’t buy many hard or paperbacks now anyway, and a few of my favourites I’ve since picked up cheaply on Kindle.

Is displaying your books a bit of intellectual signalling, a boast, a pretentiousness?

I think it’s good to show that you’re a reader, to have a collection of books which you can identify with, much the same as having pieces of art around the place. But I should really try to read the ones I’ve shelved otherwise what’s the point?


The Essay Podcast: Eadfrith, the Scribe.

Aunty on Animation

It would seem that the BBC of late hides its lights under the bushel of its online only output – the iPlayer.

Following on from the very worthwhile bio documentary on British DJ David Rodigan and Reggae, another documentary caught my attention, another perennial interest of mine: stop-frame animation.

With CGI, stop-frame animation is likely seen as a niche and probably quaint pursuit. When it can take years to produce a five minute film, the first question on unsympathetic lips must be, why bother? It’s like the audience I was in, listening to an Oxford busker perform a longish piece on a didgeridoo. He was, as the didge goes, very accomplished but I overheard a boy whisper to his friend, “Uh, I can do that on my Casio”. I guess you get it or you don’t.

And so it is that stop-frame animators, to the informed at least, have the status of artisan and artists, not mass produced manufacturers of cartoons by computers.

As the programme explains, there is something quintessentially British about British animation historically. I think it’s possibly because there are no rules but also, as explained, there is no money. Anyway, I love it.

Here’s a couple of my favourites featured for those unable to view BBC iPlayer. If you can get it, the link is below.

This is from Osbert Parker’s Clothes (1988).

In this animation, he used a collection of vintage clothes and props laid out across his apartment floor in a sequence planned from a storyboard.

As with any stop-frame technique, the clothes are slightly rearranged before each subsequent shot – you get the picture.


Joanna Quinn is an amazing draughtsman. Such exquisite drawings and detailed expressions on her characters’ faces.

This is Girls’ Night Out (1987) about a group of Welsh factory workers visiting a male stripper event.

Click on either image to see the clip.


Secrets of British Animation – BBC iPlayer

One hello and two goodbyes

I have written before how I could become in time one of the last sons of Middlesex. I mention this because recently I have seen photographs of this once agrarian county of England being consumed by the creeping tide of a London expansion. Suburbia was to be its new crop, perennial and unyielding, though eventually showing signs of going to seed. Looking over these photos of precise grids of similar houses, of clean, barren streets between orderly rows of little shops, I feel sadness even though I never knew its countryside. I imagine the farms and the people working the fields, and the villagers, self-contained and neighbourly, and their children playing in the streams and brooks, under a broad, open sky.

Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life“. But I bet he never lived or worked in its suburbs.

They say that the entire human population can be housed in average sized family homes, with a small garden, in a suburb not much larger than Texas. I think this would be a good idea. And we could all go to work in Oklahoma, leaving the rest of the planet to be “rewilded”. Or at least managed in a sustainable, close to natural way.

I, myself, had a desire to leave as early as ten years old but had to endure it a further fifteen years. Yet, after a further quarter of a century in my adopted home, I can see the invasiveness of urban culture around me. Expansion seems inevitable, grace, peacefulness and beauty is discounted and up for grabs. Our government has promised 300,000 new build homes each year to solve a “crisis”; it’s not clear for how many years.

Idealist, or fantasists, I’m not quite sure, talk of going to Mars. It may come to that and I feel as sad for that generation to come as I do for the generation I imagined in the old photos, losing their lifestyle, their future and their culture. For progress.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #65.

Middlesex was an English county, known as a “Home County” for being close to London, the capital and traditional seat and home of the monarchy. In 1965, it was divided between Greater London and neighbouring counties; it ceased to be although addresses containing Middlesex were valid until the introduction of national alpha-numerical “post codes” made this inclusion unnecessary.

The name derives historically from the domain of the Middle-Saxons, the collective immigrant/ invaders/raiders (along with the Angles and other Germanic peoples) who came to rule some time after the Romans, around the 5th Century and up until the Norman conquest in the 11th Century.

The radical north-west suburban expansion into what was coined “Metroland” on account of the above ground extensions of the London Underground rail networks, began in the early twentieth century. Further sprawl was partly contained by the “Green Belt”, a narrow ring of permanent countryside, though this is continually under threat.

In Samuel Johnson’s day, London more or less finished at about Hyde Park.

It’s raining in Baltimore

It is.

Even though I am in England – it’s raining here too though that’s never surprising – I checked the weather out in Baltimore. Drizzle. Isn’t that the worst kind of rain? It’s hopeless trying to dance in it. A bloody insult, I call it.

I began this post by considering its title to be, It’s raining in Gloucestershire after that Counting Crows song. It’s a funny thing with Americana that when you try for the British equivalent, it just doesn’t sound right. I blame history: we simply have too much of it. We were hey-nonny-no-ing with pig bladders on sticks centuries before Bill Haley rocked around his clock. It’s not easy shaking off a first impression.


Plans thwarted by weather, I had an extra half hour in bed, thinking about things. Like,

Why do we Follow, instead of just remembering who the good ones are and thinking, “hey! I wonder what they’ve been up to recently?”


I thought about Relaxation and became aware that though I was recumbent on a good mattress and with my head on a comfortable pillow, I wasn’t completely relaxed. I noticed a tension in my muscles between the shoulder blades; for some inexplicable reason, I was unconsciously lifting my upper back imperceptibly off the bed. I practice a little yoga so I’m used to monitoring the old bod for unnecessary tension and managed with some mental effort to switch the offending muscle off.

Relaxing, or the process of it, is quite frightening. It’s psychological. It is essentially overcoming the fear of letting go, akin to falling. I find the biggest hurdle to fully relaxing is around the chest, all that physical apparatus which deals with breathing. Though there’s plenty of scope to let go of the unnecessary tension, it feels to me like I might stop breathing altogether and won’t be able to start up again. Nonsense, of course, but that’s the treachery of the thinking mind.


Now if you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the A road that’s the best
Get your thrills on the A-Thirty
It winds from London to Land’s End, less than three hundred miles, give or take a bend
Get your thrills on the A-Thirty
Now you go past Camberley, Basingstoke, and Egham…

When I was small, the family would head in the car to Cornwall for our regular annual holiday. From NW London, we’d pick up the A30 somewhere south-west of our house and it would take you all the way to the far edge of the country. It’s not called Land’s End for nothing. This way is mostly defunct now as you’d be mad not to hit the motorways, M4 and M5, but you’ll be hard pressed to find the poetry in those.

I was attempting to fine tune the version then I remembered Billy Bragg’s parochial parody of Route 66. As small as we are, I’ve no knowledge of Shoesburyness or why it would be anyone’s destination. It must be part of the parody.


I nearly forgot to say I downloaded an app to tune guitars and the last thing I did before getting into bed last night was tune the guitar beside the bed. It was easy, but what was more amazing was it hardly needed any tuning. Maybe there’s hope yet.

Now if you ever plan to motor west……🎵

A13, Trunk Road To The Sea – Billy Bragg