We had planned to go into Chatham today but after several attempts to negotiate the roadworks we gave up and went to Maidstone instead. We parked up on the roof of the Mall (formerly Chequers Centre) and headed inside. As Ben was quite hungry we went down to the lower level and gotÂ somethingÂ to eat from the Baker Oven. Â As Ben sat munching on his cake Sarah went into the 99p shop so I stayed with him on the bench outside.
While we were sitting there I heard a woman squeal and saw something drop from the floor above. At first I thought it was a drop of water or something someone had dropped but as the woman moved off I saw what it was. Lying on the floor was a little mouse that must have fallen off the rail that runs around the opening. I went over to see but as I got there I could tell that it was dying. The poor thing was shaking and breathing really heavily and after a few seconds it stopped.
I decided I couldn’t leave the poor thing there so I picked it up and put it into a bag we had got from the Bakers Oven as Ben ran off to tell Sarah, in a very loud voice, that we’d found a rat! There aren’t any bins in the Chequers centre, sorry the Mall, so I looked around to see if I could find the man I had seen pushing a rubbish cart around earlier. We wandered down to the end of the floor but couldn’t find him, we found the management offices but sadly they were shut. Even worse they didn’t have a letterbox so I couldn’t post the mouse through it (joke).
So we went up the escalator to the next floor where there was an information desk. I asked the lady if she had a bin and when she said she did I asked if she would like to put the carrier bag in it. She said “no problem” and reached out to take the bag from me just as I added “because it’s got a dead mouse in it!” You’ve never seen anyone pull their hand away so quickly! She did take it from me and gingerly popped it behind the counter while she radio’d the man with the rubbish cart to come at get it.
Oh well he may have had an untimely death but at least he didn’t get squashed underfoot. the leastÂ IÂ could do was toÂ makeÂ sure he had a decentÂ burialÂ in the rubbish bin
As a photographer I like to record images but sometimes I’m glad I didn’t take a picture that wouldn’t have done justice to the original vision. Two such occasions occurred within a few hours of each other while we were away in Weardale over the new year period. We had booked a cottage in a small village called Sunniside which is near Bishop Auckland in Country Durham. We knew the village because we had stayed at a smaller cottage just down the road earlier in the year. Both cottages are owned by the same man and as we had the full tribe with us this time we thought we better take the larger of the two. Most of the snow in the south had melted by the time we set off but further north there was a lot more snow around. In fact as we drove into the village there was still snow in the middle of the road and by the look of the piles on the roadside the road must have had to have been cleared by a snowplough at some point. When we reached the cottage the paths were icy and the doorstep was very slippery. After unloading the car we left the kids and headed off to the chip shop to get something to eat.
I find that there is nothing so frustrating than driving along and seeing something that would make a good photograph but not being able to stop and take one. This usually is more prevalent during the day but occasionally it happens at night too. Tonight was no exception – as we drove along the dark road the headlights of the car picked out a fence that bordered a field and hanging from the cross pieces of the fence were hundreds of icicles. The headlights of the car illuminated them and the light reflected off them, it was truly beautiful. I couldn’t stop to photograph them because we needed to get food and had no idea what time the chip shop was open till, also it wasn’t really safe to pull up as there was a great deal of snow on the roadside so I had to drive on making a mental note to maybe return the following evening to see if I could get a shot. Sadly that night the thaw started and the icicles were gone.
Icicles on hanging basket in back garden of cottage
The second opportunity presented itself the following morning and again there was no time to stop as we were already running an hour late to meet my brother at my dad’s house. The village of Sunniside is in a very rural setting and consists mostly of the main street and a few houses behind that. The village itself is surrounded by fields and as you travel out of the village the fields open up on either side of the road as you leave the village. These fields fall away from the road on both sides but on one side the slope is quite steep and there is a fine view down towards Bishop Auckland. The other side of the road has a number of wind turbines scattered across the fields which afford their own sort of beauty as they spin slowly in the breeze.
That morning had been very misty and the sun was struggling to break through, a watery outline could be seen through the haze as it struggled to make itself known as it climbed to it’s height as the time approached midday. It was just after 12 when we set off to go to Sunderland to meet up with my family. As we drove east out of the village we passed the houses and the little farm building at the end of the street where we take Ben to see the sheep on out nocturnal walks. As we passed the last building and the fields took over we saw the most beautiful sight. the sun had broken the cloud cover and although it was itself still hidden behind the clouds the rays were protruding above and below. The bight rays of light we then bouncing off the snow covered fields and producing the most spectacular celestial display – almost biblical in it’s grandeur! Almost everyone in the car stopped and just went wow!
The sun just before we set off that morning
Once again I couldn’t really stop and I don’t think I had my camera with me anyway. I think that maybe that was a good thing as any photograph, no matter how good, could have reproduced the sight we were witnessing. It would have probably produced a really great picture but I doubt that it could ever have been as good as the real thing. So I consoled myself with this though as I drove on – I still think I was right on both occasions and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t have reproduced the images that are still in my head as I write. I guess sometime you just have to put the camera down and record those images into your brain instead.
There was another set of visual images that I witnessed while we were in the north that made me have very conflicting feelings about the same phenomenon! As we were returning to the cottage one night we drove over a hill road and as we went over the brow of the hill there was a wonderful view of the town below with all the lights from streets and houses spread out before us and I thought to myself isn’t that beautiful. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I remembered that it conflicted with another thought I had had in the early hours of New Years Day as we returned from the Tar Barrel ceremony in Allendale. The traditional new years eve event takes place in a small town on top of the moors about 8 miles outside Hexham. To get there we followed the SatNav as although we had been before we had always travelled from my dad’s house so I set the SatNav to find the best route. I should have known when we got to the end of the road through the village and the road sign pointed right to Corbridge and the SatNav told me to turn left that perhaps we could be in trouble!
The route it took us on ran down through Weardale to Stanhope and just after we left the town it told me to turn right. Initially I missed the turn off and had to do a u-turn to get back onto the route. The road it directed us on was quite narrow and started to rise quite sharply! It turned out to be a single track road that took us up onto the top of the moors through darkness and snow covered fields. The route twisted and turned in the darkness, went over cattle grids and had ominously tall poles on either side of it to show snow ploughs where the road was! We climbed and climbed until we finally levelled out and as the road did we hit this patch of ice which, in the darkness looked just like a bit of damaged road surface but it must have been about 4 inches deep in the middle of the road and the car bounced over it rattling and shaking. We slowed right down as we began our descent and we did come across two or three more patches but we were ready for them this time.
The Allendale Tar Barrel Ceremony
The road that we had travelled on had taken us to a height of around 1000ft above sea level to a place called Rookhope which is an old lead mining town where, apparently, the Poet WH Auden first realised he was a poet! I’m sure if it hadn’t been so dark and scary it would have been a beautiful trip. We slowly decended down to the village of Allenheads and got back onto a main road which took us without incident down to Allendale itself where we arrived in time for the tar barrels. Sarah had already told me that we weren’t going back that way so I figured we would head back towards Hexham afterwards and then pick up the A68 which would take us back to Sunniside.
As we left the tar barrels behind we travelled out of Allendale and along the road which runs the 8 miles down to Hexham. Although being much bigger than the road we had arrived on it still runs across the moors and as we drove through the darkness I was aware of a huge amount of light pollution in the sky. There seems to be two sources, one closer that the other and I guess the distant source was coming from Newcastle some 30 miles distant. It was this light that I thought spoiled the dark of the night and ruined any chance of seeing stars and other astronomical effects that I would later consider to be beautiful when seen in a different context a few days later. Strange how things can be ugly and beautiful at the same time!
It’s Christmas Eve and the farmer strides across the snow covered field followed by two other figures hunched against the elements. As he comes into view we see he is a hardened country figure dressed in work worn corduroy trousers which are tucked into his wellingtons. A huge woolen scarf round his neck almost obscurs his face especially as his cloth cap sits perched on top of his head. The other two figures, by comparison, are not country folk which is obvious by the way they are dressed as they stumble and slip their way towards their intended destination.
They are making their way towards a solitary tree which stands at the centre of the field alone and bent against the prevailing winds. As they reach the tree the farmer takes a pipe out of his pocket and as he stuffs it with tobacco he points with it towards the tree and says to his two companions “this be the holy thorn”. The three stand in silence for a few minutes and slowly they are joined by other people who have make the trek up the hill through the snow to the site of the tree.
As the number grow the people tell the story of the tree, which they say, has stood alone in this field for almost 2000 years. the legend is that Joseph of Arimathea had traveled to England after the death of his nephew Jesus and had thrust his staff into the ground and it had turned into the tree that now stood before the group. There were other stories that the infant Jesus had also traveled to this spot with his uncle many years before and that the golden challice that had been used at Christ’s last supper had also been buried somewhere in the area.
After some time the distant clanging of a church bell is heard signalling that it is now Christmas day and as the bell tolls the tree suddenly starts to blossom shining out in the middle of a bleak winters day.
This all happened 40 years ago but not in a snowy field but on stage at my junior school. I played the farmer on whose land the Holy Thorn stood. I wore my Grandad’s old cloth cap and the pipe belonged to my father although it was long unused after a brief flirtation my father had had a few years earlier with the idea of smoking one! I’m not even sure I remembered to get it out of my pocket during the play but I like to think it was there as a prop!
The story was of course about the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury which as I already mentioned is said to have sprung from a staff that Joseph planted in the ground on a hill overlooking the town. The tree in the play was just a fake Christmas tree with lights that came on when it was supposed to blossom but the story is based on an actual tree which has stood in and around the town for as long as anyone can remember. It even survived being chopped down during the English Civil war by Puritans but survived by people planting cuttings around the town and was eventually replanted back on it’s original spot. It flowers at Easter and Christmas and cuttings have been sent from one of the descendants of the original tree every Christmas to decorate the King or Queens table for almost 100 years.
Obviously on that night in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s I had no idea how much the town of Glastonbury would figure in my future – I had barely heard of popular music and hippies and music festivals would have been an alien concept. In fact the first Glastonbury festival probably hadn’t even taken place! And even though I started going to the festival in 1984 it wouldn’t be for a few years more that I actually made it down the road and into the town itself. Over the next ten or so years we were regular visitors and it was only after a while that the story told in the school play and the story of the Glastonbury thorn actually resolved itself in my head.
It was therefore quite sad to hear the news this week that the tree had been vandalised and had all of it’s branches cut off on Wednesday night. This mindless act has angered so many people especially the locals and those who see the tree as holy. No one knows why the tree was targeted but some have seen it as an anti-Christian act while others wonder if it was a vendetta against the landowner whose company just went bust owing millions. It could of course be just a mindless act of vandalism.
I hope that the tree can recover or if not then it can be regrown from a cutting from one of its relatives around the area such as the one that grows in the grounds of St. John’s Church in the high street from which the annual cutting for her majesty is taken every year. Glastonbury is a place loved by many people for many different reasons and it’s sad that something like this can devastate the community there.
Yesterday I went to Paris, now I know that probably sounds glamorous but it wasn’t. If you consider that the time between arriving at Gare du Nord to being dropped back there was just over two hours then I guess it was about as glamorous as going to Scunthorpe for the afternoon. Added to that the fact that I had a really bad cold so I slept for almost the whole train journey there and sniffed and sneezed my way around after that it wasn’t set up to be the best day out I’ve ever had.
I went to film a brief interview with what turned out to be a rather lovely lady. She is in her 70’s and lives alone in a small flat in the South of the city. She was originally from Czechoslovakia but had lived in Paris for most of her life, and on her own since her husband died tragically young.
I had staggered bleary eyed from the Eurostar and was still waking up as I wandered out into the Parisian sunshine. I found the taxi rank and there was a queue a mile long, I knew I couldn’t wait in it so I wandered off to try and find a cab on the street. Ignoring the offers from some dodgy looking people who offered me a lift for the same amount as a cab I moved away from the environs of the station. I was conscious that I had no idea where I needed to go and as I watched the lines of cars every taxi seemed to have a passenger in it.
Eventually I spotted an empty one and waved at him, at first I thought he hadn’t seen me but to my relief he pulled over and I piled into the back with my camera equipment, waving the piece of paper with the address on it at him as I did so. He punched the details into his sat nav and off we went. He asked if it was an Hotel I was going to as it was quite a small street I had asked to be taken to and I explained that it was a flat.
A Parisian taxi journey is always an interesting one. The taxis seem to weave all over the street and often they end up in positions which are not favourable to their next turn and have to cut across lines of traffic to turn right or left. Our route took us across the Ile de la Cite crossing the river twice as we went. Eventually we turned into the street and the cab driver dropped me outside the apartment block.
I had been given the code for the external door so I punched it in and the door buzzed open. I entered into a large entrance hall with a wonderfully tiled floor, on the left were some very French looking mail boxes and in the far right corner there was door and a set of entryphones. I found her name and buzzed. She told me to come up but as I went through the second door I realised I didn’t know which floor she lived on. I decided I’d walk up the stairs till I found her, which I did on the second floor.
She invited me in, the flat was quite small with about 5 rooms off a central lobby. The ones to my left were obviously the living rooms and she suggested that we shoot the interview in the second one so I proceeded to set up my equipment in there. She shouted through from the kitchen and asked if would like a cup of tea, apologising that it was only teabags, and I said that I would. By the time I had finished setting the camera up she had appeared with a tray holding two cups and a plate of chocolate biscuits – which she took great pains to tell me were organic.
The thing that I noticed about the flat were the books, both living rooms were lined on all walls with bookshelves, there were books everywhere. I could see that the ones in the room I was standing in were about art and religion. the art books were on one wall the religious ones on the opposite wall. The books on the remaining wall (for the fourth one was consumed by a huge window) appeared to be in Czechoslovakian.
After we had filmed the interview we chatted as I was packing up my equipment. We talked about families and children and finished our cups of tea. Afterwards she called me a cab and while I waited I checked out the books in the hallway. These were fiction and I was pleased to see that there were books that I had read. I also spotted the complete set of Harry Potter books which made me chuckle.
The taxi firms phone was engaged so she did a call back and while she was waiting she asked me if I liked Paris. I said it wasn’t my favourite city and I found it a bit too much. I think when I think of times in Paris I always seem to think of the negative things. The times stuck in a van on a gridlocked peripherique or the time I tried in vane to hitchhike out of the city. The man in the train station who took too much money off me or the money exchanger who robbed me in a different way. The noise, overcrowding and people also tend to put me off. She said that it annoys her when people say that Paris would be ok if it wasn’t for the Parisians because she explained Paris wouldn’t be Paris if it wasn’t for the people who live there.
I guess I have good times here too – like the day we went to Pere Lachaise to visit Jim Morrison’s grave or when we were last there and went up the Eiffel Tower but for some reason the bad experiences tend to outweigh the good.
The taxi came and I said goodbye and set off to head back to the Gare du Nord. We drove back through the streets and on the return journey I had more time to look out of the windows and take in the street scenes. I felt frustrated because there were so many things I would have liked to have stopped and photographed, the old style Metropolitan signs above the subway, the tricolours hanging from flag poles, a wall covered in graffiti, the roadside fountain, the triumphal arches or just the Parisians going about their daily routines. Sadly it was not to be.
I arrived at Gare du Nord and would loved to have wandered about taking pictures but I didn’t have anywhere I could have safely left the video camera and tripod that I was hauling about with me. So I ended up going into the station and finding somewhere to get un sandwich et un verre de vin rosÃ©. I then caught the train back to Ebbsfleet where I had started earlier that morning.
While on holiday last week we stopped in Machynlleth on our way to the Centre for Alternative Technology to buy some sandwiches from the Co-op. Unfortunately the Co-op didn’t have any toilets so we drove around the corner to the car park where there was a sign for public toilets. What we didn’t realise was that there was a charge for using them.
There was a little window where you paid your 20p and were duly given a ticket by the attendant to show that you had paid.
Now I’ve got no problem with Councils charging for use of toilets and to be honest 20p is not excessive by London standards. However if you are asked to pay a fee to have a pee then I would expect to find the toilets in a decent condition and frankly these weren’t. They were dirty, shabby and smelly – obviously the money collected didn’t go towards cleaning them.
I did however stop there again on the way home to take Benny to the loo. Now the sign outside said that Children were admitted free so I went in without paying and guess what! I used the loo while I was in there – just don’t tell them ok. Oh and Benny had a poo so we got our moneys worth!
Today I thought I would pop into St Pauls cathedral in London
As I went thrugh the door I noticed a sign that said “This is our father’s house and these are the gates to heaven”
Just inside the door was another sign that said Admisssion Â£11
Snow started falling on Sunday afternoon and by any standards it wasn’t that heavy where we live. Buy hey this is England and any snow is bad news. As a nation we are totally unprepared for it and every thing grinds to a halt. Admittedly it was heavier in central London and everything there effectively stopped – Buses, trains etc.
The first I knew about it was on Friday evening when Sarah rang me up to tell me it was on it’s way. She suggested that I might like to bring anything I needed to do on the Monday home with me as she knew what I would be like if I was trapped at home. So I packed up the edit suite and took it home with me – I would be thankful I did by Tuesday.
After the initial snow fall it calmed down a bit and then more snow fell later that evening. I was expecting more to fall overnight but when I woke up the next morning it hadn’t. I got up to go to work but when I put the radio on it became apparent that I wasn’t going anywhere. There were no trains running out of Gillingham towards London and almost all of the schools were closed. I rang the office and was told that the car park was solid and they couldn’t get the trucks out so I figured that staying where I was would be the best option!
So I set up my edit suite in the dining room and got on with some work. The problem I had was that I had a show installing that afternoon so I spent most of the day on the phone trying to sort out what was going to happen. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and this is the first time I can remember us being defeated by the weather!
This post was delayed because I forgot to publish it!
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Sarah’s Dad is in Australia at the moment visiting her sister….
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Sarah’s sister rang us up the other day to tell us she was pregnant again and set us off wanting to go back over there……
As if it wasn’t bad enough that we celebrated our wedding Anniversary the other day in the middle of winter when we got married on a beautiful summers day……
Then I had to go and discover Google maps have created Street View for Barwon Heads!
So I typed in the address of the house we stayed in and then pressed street view and hey presto there I was standing outside 79 Carr Street!
So I decided to go for a walk! I wandered down to Bridge street and looked across at “At the Heads” and the sea out beyond the mouth of the river.Â I turned and wandered up Bridge street back towards the town. On my right was the little cafe where I had stopped for coffee on my birthday bike ride, further up was the drive through booze emporium and next door to that the small supermarket where we used to shop.
I wandered further into town and turned right into Hitchcock Avenue. I wandered along past the chippy till I found Tonik the surf shop where I paused to reminisce for a while. Finally I wandered down to the end of Hitchcock Ave where I turned left and went to see the school crossing that we drove past everyday which is made of wooden soldiers.
Oh to go back then again sometime soon…….