27 May, 2014

Great British Tattoo Show

I've not been to the Alexandra Palace on a sunny day before but the views are fantastic. When you visit the Great British Tattoo Show one must expect to see huge numbers of artists and their creations but also lots of tattooed people. A Bank holiday visit did not disappoint but unfortunately my camera battery gave out long before Zombie Boy took to the stage. I did get some good shots of artists at work and samples of the tattooist's art as well as the urban lingerie and streetwear fashion show. So what happens at a tattoo show? Well lots and lots of people get tattooed, lots of artists work and artists enter their work into competitions and the winner is judged. Here is part of a line up for judging. and the line up of judges Of course while they are getting tattooed the men usually put on a scowling face that they hope says 'I'm a big hard geezer and I'm feeling nothing'. However it's a fixed expression that really says 'I am desperately trying not to wince in pain in case it ruins the artwork'. Both tattooist and subject need a steady hand. There are also vintage car displays, entertainment in the form of fashion shows,fire eaters anything spectacular really as well as general tomfoolery. The compere, Paul Sweeney a slightly built man (in the red shirt in the above pic) asked if somebody in the crowd could bench press him! Nobody rose to the challenge this time alas but I would have liked to have seen that. I also met a friend there which was unexpected but good fun.

24 May, 2014

Tunbridge Wells

Nothing to be disgusted about here although the Church of King Charles the Martyr has a controversial dedication to say the least. I don't think you could have an 'Oliver Cromwell Church' in the Church of England. The church was closed when I called and I didn't want to hang around until Evensong at 1830 so went on my way without seeing the beautiful plaster ceilings or the odd layout. Tunbridge Wells is all very civilised and they were having a food festival in the Pantiles which is the original shopping centre dating from the 17th century. The Church is at the north end and was built in 1676. The Pantiles is also where the chalybeate well is found. Unfortunately today it had dried up so there was no dipper to give you a drink from the spa. I wonder when it will flow again? As you can see from the residues chalybeate water is rich in iron salts so is basically the panacea. One thing I did notice since my last visit (pre blog) is that Beau Nash is now commemorated in Tunbridge Wells. Any mention of him was notable by its absence when I last called but now there are some reminders. It may have been scurrilous but in Tunbridge Wells they accused Nash of cheating at cards and perhaps this is the reason for his sending to coventry. They seem to have forgiven him after 200 years. I spent some time in the north end of the town, rather less refined, and had a nice meal in a pub with the obligatory camp barman. The North end is not without its points of interest. The museum was showing some gainsborough and Reynolds portraits of which the attendant was very proud. Calverley Gardens and grounds also make a fine place to sunbathe.

20 May, 2014

Oxford Street and the roof garden at John Lewis.

When people ask me if I want to go to Oxford Street I normally reply that I'd love too but I'm having red hot needles pushed under my fingernails that day and that will be much more pleasurable. I can't stand the place - it has all the shops you get in Bromley and is crowded to the point of madness. However when John Lewis recreate their first shop and open their roof garden to the public I am rather compelled to go. John Lewis started life as a draper's apprentice but when he mastered the trade branched out on his own. His son John Spedan Lewis entered the family business but after a fall from his horse where he had to spend two years recovering, tried to involve the workers in the control of the business. He did this by settling shares on employees as part of their remuneration and eventually all the workforce became partners in the business. The term Partnership is a misnomer as the company is really a PLC but all the employees are owners. I'm still not convinced it's really a co-op but I think they try quite hard at democracy, but also too at paternalism. The roof garden was lovely though.

17 May, 2014

Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the Most Glorious and Undivided Trinity - Trinity House

Trinity House had one of its rare open days today so I went along to see it. Commemorating 500 years this year, Trinity house is the lighthouse authority for England, Wales and the Channel Islands but also looks after mariners and their dependents who have fallen on hard times. They inspect local navigation aids too. Their palatial hall is not often open but was used as the Austrian House during the Olympics of 2012. Today however was access some areas and notices exhorted visitors 'Do not attempt to open this door'. As you would expect all is of the finest quality - there are Trompe-l'œil ceilings and painted ceilings, wonderful carpets and all in all a tremendous place to carry out the business of preserving life at sea.

14 May, 2014

The Cambridge Vampire - Ronald Seth tells this story so it must be true...

Although he chooses some odd names for the characters and some odd phrasing as we shall see. In the late 1920s a a Peter Grimes (let the reader understand the name) lived in Peterhouse College, Cambridge and had ground floor rooms overlooking the disused graveyard of St Mary the less (or Little St Mary's Church) from the west end. One night he didn't sleep due to scratching on his windows and a fellow student told him about the reputed vampire in the churchyard - the only one left in England. There was nothing near the window to cause any scratching, no trees or bushes and anyway the scratching stopped when he turned the light on. A friend suggested that mice might be a possibility but the scratching sounded like glass so mice behind the skirtings were unlikely to make that noise.

A picture of the west end of the churchyard today - note the vampiric looking cat. 

 Anyway poor Peter Grimes got teased about this as it became common knowledge. But thankfully the scratching also died down. Come the day before All Saints Day, called, with no prayer book justification, all hallows even, when the dead are reputed to walk the earth (although how would they know what day it was when they are not bound by time as we are?). Grimes went to bed as normal but the scratching began again. This time when he put the light on it didn't stop. Grimes found himself drawn to the window, or so he said whilst in hospital in a state of severe shock. He thought it was the boys from the town making a nuisance of themselves, or a fellow collegian having a 'rag' [practical joke]. He went to the window and the scratching intensified, and started to be accompanied by grunts as if the entity was becoming excited. Grimes shouted at the thing to go away or he would call the porter. the thing became more excited at his words. Grime's hand went to the window catch and found himself opening the window. A clawed hand grabbed his wrist more like an eagle's talons than fingers. He caught a glance at the creature's face which had intense eyes and a mouth with two large fangs protruding from it. Grimes stated it could not be a mask. The marks on his wrist lasted a year and, until he graduated (in Seth's words) he was 'as nervous as a highly strung hare'. And here is a picture of the range of rooms in Peterhouse College viewed from the church yard.

10 May, 2014

Ely - warts and all.

It is certainly true that I once saw a tourist information site that said Ely was a meteorite in the middle of the fens that made sure that Ely women were exceptionally buxom and Ely men especially well endowed. I must say that the Ely women and men looked perfectly normal to me. And it isn't a meteorite, it's a block of Kimmeridge clay. Anyway Ely lies about 20m above the normal fenland although the fenland is shrinking year by year as it dries out.  Ely is the setting for the story in Tales of the Unexpected called 'the Flypaper' by Elizabeth Taylor (no not that one).  From that era at the very beginning of Thatcher's reign, it has the atmosphere of a sleepy cathedral town where nothing much happens, surrounded by fenland where anything could happen.  You'll have to watch the thing yourself on youtube but it is a genuinely terrifying story and the look of fright and hopelessness as the protagonists sit down to tea needs to be seen to be believed. Ely's riverside has now been developed with cocktail bars and all sorts of thatchery things, including some interactive works of light sculpture (it sez 'ere) like this one called Sluice.

 Ely's most famous resident is Oliver Cromwell once the Lord Protector of England. The Tourist information centre is set up in his old house. However he only inherited it from his uncle in 1636 together with property in the East of England and the right of farming taxes for the bishop. THe house is truly old and dates from the 13th Century, with some wall paintings concealed behind panelling in the parlour where an introductory film is shown. From there we move into the kitchen where we look at Elizabeth Cromwell's recipes. I definitely want to make a sack posset containing as it does cream and sherry. Then it is up to the bedroom where we get to try on puritan hats, helmets, clothes and stuff, while hearing about how the church was changed by Charles. Moving on into an armoury we learn about the civil war and the equipment of Cromwell's soldiers. We arrive in the study and have to decide if Cromwell is a hero or a villain. Perhaps I'm a little too balanced because, although he did some good things, and a lot of our freedoms today were hard won by the civil war, I think the circumstances of the 17th Century caused a lot of desparation: the stuarts were particularly bad rulers and anybody would have wanted to rise against them. If anybody doubts me compare the Stuarts with the Hanoverians. We see Cromwell die in White Hall and learn that his head is buried in Sidney Sussex College. So overall, Cromwell's house is an interesting hour. Not so the Ely Museum, the former bishop's gaol again from the 13th Century. The Court in classical style looks better than this ordinary looking house. The exhibits are chronological and rather a lot is made of the use of the building as a gaol. The culmination of Ely is it's cathedral with octagon, tower tours and stained glass museum. I arrived there rather too late to take any advantage of it so contented myself with looking at the sculptures and some of the window glass. Hans Feibusch and Jonathan Clarke have sculptures in the lobby. Hans Feibusch's Christus @The arms outstretched in welcome show the wounds of crucifixion; the face shows the strength of the compassion with which Christ looks on the world.' Jonathan Clarke's The Way of Life 'is made of cast aluminium and has nine sections, each differently jointed. Like the journey of faith, its path is irregular and unpredictable; and just as the journey is sometimes hard, sometimes joyful, the surface texture and colour also vary.' Some of the windows were dedicated to commercial concerns in the town. I noticed Barclays Bank and British Railways Board. The cathedral outside is stunning too.

There was no evensong in the Cathedral today so I had to go elsewhere for that, which was a big disappointment.  Still it gave me more material to blog.  Watch this space.

05 May, 2014

Mill Hill

On one side of the Ridgeway all is suburban, on the other can be seen the unspoilt countryside of what was Hertfordshire - or you could if somebody hadn't put up a six foot fence! Still Mill Hill village is pretty although the Broadway isn't. There are some old almshouses of 1696 overlooking a duck pond and another sheep wash pond, really just leftover gravel workings. There are some cottages, a former Quaker meeting House and of course there is Mill Hill School. Founded for protestant dissenters it is now open to all who can afford the fees. The buildings designed by William Tite and the gate of honour is in memory of the former students fallen in World War one. The church was built by William Wilberforce and is fairly plain. Not open when I called it has some interesting glass according to Arthur Mee. There are no pictures but St Joseph's missionary college and its associated convents etc (a very Roman Catholic area this in spite of the school) seem to be being turned into luxury flats.

04 May, 2014

King's Lynn Hanseatic port

To commemorate Europe day I visited a port in an earlier version of European union: Kings Lynn. Beginning at the 17th century customs house I walked through the old merchant's town of Lynn.  Formerly the Bishop's Lynn but now since Henry VIII's time it is proudly King's Lynn.  This is not a post about the early Hanseatic league but the later one - although the meadieval town was well established as a port I am taking a later view - the sophisticated 18th Century town with its town walks and terraces.

The river is the place to start as that is where the ships come in. You will have to imagine it thronged with vessels because although King's Lynn is still a working port the river is not deep enough for ships of today. The Custom House with it's fine display of Hanseatic merchantmen and customs implements is my next call. The Custom House is on the Purfleet which is a small inlet now but in Hanseatic times was about 3 times the width providing a safe harbour. After that it is off down King Street to see some merchant's houses and their warehouses. And very fine these are too with all kinds of candy twist balusters possibly eccentric but delightful all the same. Lastly Hanse house holds an indoor market of antique-y crafty things that have seen better days and a fairly popular tea room. I had a lovely day in King's Lynn although the charity shops were very poor, and was rather unsure of the eateries so went for the 'safe' option of Wetherspoons, although in a meadieval house. Much more on King's Lynn later in the year.