Thursday, 28 July 2016

The last couple of weeks.

So what have I done in the last couple of weeks? Bits and pieces. I finished some Lewis Carroll work, and went with my friend to see "Men and Chicken" one of the weirdest films I've seen. In it, five seriously dysfunctional brothers make gruesome blackly humorous discoveries on a remote Danish island.  I can't describe it. And I certainly don't recommend you to watch the trailer. Like most trailers, it makes you not want to see the movie.   I'd say it's not very politically correct, but my friend adored it. 

We saw the last of the roses, at least for now. Some of the bushes will bloom again at the end of the summer. 

 On Wednesday I happened to be passing the Jewish Museum in London's Camden Town and realised I'd never ever been inside.  It's a modern building hidden inside an old one, and larger than it looks at first. My favourite exhibit was this cape, the property of Doris Benjamin, a nurse in World War 2.  Like the other nurses, apparently Doris begged  regimental badges and shoulder flashes from the men that she nursed, and sewed them on her cape. A nice way to remember them, and a discussion point for the patients, too, I bet.  

About half a mile away, in Primrose Hill, I spotted some bas-reliefs decorating the large, grand 1950s stone doorway of Cecil Sharp House. Named after England's most famous folk-song collector, Cecil Sharp House is the HQ of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and its library is a treasure trove of curious customs and songs going back centuries.  

This carving shows a Hobby Horse, a creature in English folk dancing.  The Hobby takes all shapes and forms and often disrupts the dance by weaving in and out of the dancers, or else it dances on its own.  They must go back many hundreds of years, possibly even before Christianity. This one makes me think of a witchdoctor as it capers about.  

Cecil Sharp House runs all kinds of activities, some rather unexpected - I even once attended a class to learn how to dance the quadrille (don't ask) and last time I went with T's cousin, there was a whole Regency costume ball going on in the basement. I snapped this pair queuing up for coffee in the interval. 

 At present Cecil Sharp House has a display of artworks it has commissioned or bought over the ages, including a gigantic patchwork quilt from 1992. This is one of the panels. 

And for those of you who have not had enough of English folk dancing, this is the Shepherd's Hey mentioned in the panel. The first few minutes will probably be enough, and the jingly sound is the bells on their legs, in case you aren't familiar with morris dancing. 

T and I went to the British Library's exhibition "Shakespeare in Ten Acts" about the way Shakespeare performances have been reinterpreted over the centuries. It reminded me of all kinds of movies and performances I've seen, and made me long to see Derek Jarman's wonderful "Tempest" again. (Here's one of my favourite clips -  Elisabeth Welch singing "Stormy Weather."

And I spotted this Shakespeare teapot, which I would love to own. 

Saw a White Admiral butterfly - don't remember having seen one before. 

And the heather was out in a sandy bit of Hampstead Heath, London felt as if it was miles away. 

I had a staring match with Ol' Four Eyes, the cat. First time I saw him peering in through the window, those markings gave me quite a shock. 

And caught the end of a beautiful sunset.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Ten Miles in Kent, Hop Picking and a glimpse of Japan.

This week has been notable because we got some SUN, after what seems like months of gloomy skies and rain.  I've been spending some of the time in planning another trip to Japan. I went in 2014 in connection with my book on Lewis Carroll, and of course, Tony took the chance to come too.  The experience turned out to be so interesting - from the curious thatched houses of Gokayama, to the historic deer herds of Nara and, of course, the food -  that we decided to go again if the chance came up.  

As it happens, London's Burgh House museum is running an exhibition of Japanese photos, "Kyoto Dreams," by a photographer colleague, Jeremy Hoare.  So I went along to take a look with more than the usual interest, and, of course, caught up with Jeremy too. Here he is with his Japanese wife Chisako, next to some striking images of geishas. Most were snapped in semi abstract "paparazzo style"  to offer glimpses of these curious, stylised entertainers in their off duty moments.    

Chisako probably has one of the more unusual jobs in London - she is a professional kimono maker, and it seems that Kitsuke, the art of dressing in a kimono, has fans of all nationalities in London. In fact, Burgh House ran a kimono fashion show only last April.  I might post about Burgh House one day. It's an elegant old mansion which was rescued and is now run by the local community. It always has something interesting to see, and there's a pretty garden where you can eat.  (Burgh House also happens to be a PokemonGO Gym, if that is your thing). 

 "Kyoto Dreams" is on till Sunday. 

After the sun appeared, T and I decided to go for a long walk. So we took the train to Sevenoaks in Kent with my National Trust pass to hand. 

 There are two great National Trust houses very near Sevenoaks, which is now a London dormitory town. The nearest is Knole, one of England's largest houses, which was originally thought to have been a Calendar House, with 365 rooms, 52 staircases and 12 entrances. (I love this idea)  Knole is a startlingly short walk from Sevenoaks High Street, and as soon as you step into the estate, you really do feel as if you are in a different world. This is the last surviving medieval deer park in Kent, with hills, valleys and more towering chestnut trees than I could ever count. 

The deer are semi wild, but friendly and used to people.  

Before long I spotted the house in the distance.... but we didn't go in this time. 

Instead, we walked past it, and across a golf course....

...then came to the curious little folly building which you see in the photo below. It is called The Birdcage, and it was built by one of the 18th century owners of Knole, Lord Amherst, to store all the pheasants he shot on his hunts. I suspect the gamekeeper lived there too.  The present gamekeeper is said to live there, anyhow, though I don't suppose he has dead pheasants hanging from the ceilings these days.
The cottage is approached by a  "ruined" arch, another folly which was created at the same time the house was built. It's in no recognisable style, but apparently it re-used carved stones from another, long demolished house not far away.

There are deer everywhere.  Or at least they are mostly deer. 

On and on we went, through groves of enormous, and very old chestnut and oak trees, some of which are obviously hundreds of years old. 

...and eventually we left the estate and continued down tiny lanes, footpaths and bridleways instead. 

Kent is a beautiful county, and midweek hardly anyone seemed to be about on the paths and bridleways. Except we did meet a woman with a dog, which snarled menacingly at us.  "Oh, don't worry about her. She's only like that because she never sees anyone," she said, making me wonder if she might be some kind of greenwood hermit who only ventured out at lonely times.  

Eventually we passed thes buildings below, and a notice told us that we were now on the Ightham estate, which surrounds the other National Trust house nearby, Ightham Mote.  These sheds don't look much but they have an interesting history, for they are hoppers huts. 

A hundred years ago, whole streets of Cockneys from the East End of London would come down to Kent each year and pick hops. They didn't get paid much for their hopping, but it was the nearest thing they got to a holiday, and from all accounts it was a happy time (though personally I feel the estate could have put some windows in the sheds for them.)  The hop picking experience is captured in the little film below, from 1929, (which also promises silk stockings, I see.) So the hop pickers camped in these shelters and cooked their food on campfires outside - though I'm not sure where they washed the silk stockings. Now, the huts are closed and cobwebbed.

Finally, between the trees and down in a hollow, there was Ightham Mote. 

As its name suggests it is surrounded by a moat, just glimpsed to the left and right of this old stone bridge below.  

When I was young I visited Ightham Mote, and was shown around by the charming elderly owner. Although it was - sort of - open to the public, we were the only visitors, and I've never forgotten how strong the house's own personality was, as it sat, dilapidated but dignified, getting older and older and older in its remote little valley.  Eventually, it passed to the National Trust, which did extensive and much-needed repairs, restored the garden and generally spruced it up, adding the usual shop and cafe to please the many visitors who help pay for its upkeep. I was sad that it had lost its romantically melancholic atmosphere, but it is still a wonderful place, in a slightly different way.    

Like many old houses, it has been adapted and modernised over centuries, and is full of strange corners and curiosities. This long newel post at the bottom of a staircase very battered, and I wondered who the staircase guardian is supposed to be. I don't suppose anyone knows, but I bet he was a familiar figure to many who grew up in the house in the past. 

Ightham Mote also has the country's one and only Grade 1 Listed doghouse, seen below. It was created for a St. Bernard called Dido, then became home for two tiny lap dogs.  It's now all ready for a new tenant, I hope it gets one someday! 

My favourite room on the earlier visit was the living room which is decorated with faded but still spectacular 18th century Chinese handpainted wallpaper.  The room was still my favourite, although I felt there might be rather too many knick knacks around for my taste. The room has two wonderful fireplaces, one finely carved in white

with what look like wood spirits or green men, and tiles that were put in at a later date.

The second chimneypiece runs across most of the opposite wall, and it is what the friendly volunteer guide (seen below) called the "Marmite Fireplace,"  (Marmite is something which, according to the ads, you either love or hate.)  I loved it.

The top section reminds me of the kind of painted Elizabethan tombs you see in old churches, with little coloured figures poking their heads out in high relief. 

The lower part is mostly varnished wood, with a splendid iron fireback. 

I could have spent longer in the house and gardens, but didn't have time before it closed at 5 pm. But the walk back to Sevenoaks, just under a couple of hours away through the woods, was good too, with low golden light pushing through the branches and sliding down the hill.

I squeezed right inside a hollow oak and looked up. 

And Knole seemed deserted, but for the deer.   It was too late to see inside, but I'll be back.  Three cheers for the National Trust! 

   If you get the chance to do the walk yourself, it's ten miles round trip, with a few hills and the chance to have tea at Ightham Mote. You'll need an OS map to find the footpaths and byways - they're clearly marked.  

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

In London Right Now

I'll reply to your very much appreciated comments on the last post very soon. But I've been preoccupied by the increasingly movie-like story of our lives as it unfolds around us, and I'm holding onto my hat, hoping some kind of political Mary Poppins will appear and firmly but magically settle everyone down.

I have no problem with a democratic vote that doesn't go my way.  But this, the biggest decision of our lifetimes, was heavily influenced by self-serving lies from several top politicians. Google it if you want to know the background - it's too complicated to explain here.  But in short, the result is an unimaginably huge mess with no plan and no funding to deal with it.  So I went to the big European protest march to Parliament.  Tens of thousands of people had made placards and banners to express their thoughts, some dressed up, others sang, others, like me, simply came along to join the crowd.  And I hope these photos give you a feeling of how it felt to be there.

You probably won't look carefully at every picture - there are a lot - but I hope you'll read some of the placards, and get a little bit of the atmosphere of London as it is now.  Please let me say that I apologise if  any of the pictures are offensive to anyone.  People were very engaged during this election, they came out and voted despite rotten weather,  there were very valid reasons for both sides, and most of all, I believe that democracy is the best system and must be cherished.  What many of the placards at the march reflected, was dismay and anger at the lack of respect for honesty and democracy shown in the campaign.  As one of the posters said, "Democracy and Lies don't Mix" and that - plus a great outpouring of love for European ways - about sums it up.

I spoke to this artist, his name's Kaya Mar and he specialises in political art..

This statue of Churchill below had an EU balloon, not sure he'd have appreciated it.....

Eton mess is a kind of dessert with strawberries.  But PM David Cameron, Boris Johnson (the blond one) and Chancellor George Osborne went to Eton and Oxford, where they were all apparently in the Bullingdon Club, a dining club of incredibly rich young men who dress in tuxedos, (as you see at the bottom) go out to dinner together, then wreck the restaurant, throw money on the floor to pay for it, so the owner has to go on hands and knees to pick it up.


People had come from all over the place.

This was my favourite of all  

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