I’ve never been much good at twiddling with the controls on my camera. I even joined a photography course recently, in an effort to get to grips with apertures, shutter speeds and ISO controls. But it just made my head hurt, and I reverted to ‘Automatic’ as my default modus operandi. I decided I’m a snaphot-ist, not a photographer.
Yesterday however, just for a bit of fun, and having an hour to spare, I turned to the ‘palette’ settings and took an identical shot using every single one. Though I forgot to take one on ‘Automatic’, so the tale isn’t quite complete. Can’t do it now. This little twig of blossom (cherry?), a chance discovery found in the road, wilted in the night.
Which do you like best? As ever, click on any image to see it full size. They’re in strict alphabetical order – no favouritism here.
Three posts in three days. That’s a bit much. But I’ve pushed out all my last thoughts before taking a blogging break. I just might post the odd thing – such as Six Degrees of Separation at the start of next month – but so total will be my break that – sorry – I may not even read your offerings, fellow bloggers.
I was quite amused a while back while at our local nature reserve, watching an egret and a heron occupying the same patch of shallow water. They were both fossicking about feeding in a desultory sort of way, and they simply didn’t seem to see one another. They passed so close to each other from time to time that a cursory glance might have seemed in order. Nothing. Here they are:
Here are a few more unrelated birds showing they really have no interest in each other at all.
We have a friend whom we’d never have met if she hadn’t started following and commenting on my blog, years ago when Malcolm and I were in France. But we’d never visited her home in London. The other week, with our London family in school, nursery or at work, we put that right and travelled to Ladbroke Grove, where we had an interest -packed day illustrating so well why while I no longer wish to live in London, it’ll always be a city I love.
Take her street for example. It was built in the late 19th century by speculative builders hoping to sell to the monied middle classes who could afford live-in servants. There were gardens, front and back, and both had one or more carefully chosen trees, which gave a pleasing unity to the street. Trees grow, as we know, and now the roots of many of them are presenting problems.
Almost every other builder in some parts of London was in on the speculative building, so the houses failed to sell. They were carved up in different ways into apartments, right from Day One. They found a ready market following the building of the Hammersmith and City Tube line, which first went from Farringdon to Paddington but then was extended both east and west. This created an immediate client base in urgent need of somewhere to live. These were workers in the City, clerks mostly, on relatively lowly salaries, some single and some with families, who could for the first time take cheap and reliable public transport into the City rather than walking. So the houses were hastily subdivided into flats and rooms, where the tenants probably shared the bathrooms that were originally built for the house as a whole, usually two per house. The subdivisions were probably very basic, maybe with curtains sometimes rather than walls. Now the street has spacious and gracious apartments in the main but there’s a real social mix. Apartments can change hands for over £1 million, while other buildings belong to Housing Associations who let out their premises on more modest rents.
The whole area reflects this trend. From her bedroom window, our friend can see the shell of the notorious Grenfell Tower, scene of the disastrous fire of June 2017 in which 72 people died. The residents of 129 flats lost everything and were rendered homeless and deeply traumatised. We left her flat and began our walk on the social housing estate it formed part of, Lancaster West.
Discreetly sleeved as investigations continue, it overshadows the area, actually and metaphorically. Tributes, graffiti – the angry, the political, spiritual – seem to gather in certain spots: in a memorial garden; under a flyover; round closed-because-of-Covid small workshops.
Almost randomly, a few rows of once-humble terraced housing remain: no longer humble, but commanding large prices: perhaps because they’re traditionally built, with a small garden on an individual, human scale.
We were on our way to once notorious areas of poverty – the Piggeries and the Potteries. Well, the Piggeries are no longer there – they’ve been flattened to make an attractive urban park. The Potteries are represented by one single remaining pottery kiln, which used to turn out the simplest of wares for the working population. Here it is:
And it’s close by something else that no longer exists: the Hippodrome Racecourse. Built in 1836, it was intended to rival Ascot or Epsom. But what with its crossing old-established rights of way, the heavy clay ground being prone to water-logging for much of the year, and any number of smaller disputes, the last race was run in 1841 and the owner declared bankrupt. All that is left to commemorate it are a couple of street names: Hippodrome Mews and Hippodrome Place. These have very narrow pavements. Best that way – the area was notorious for pick-pockets, so squeezing them out seemed a good idea.
Cheek by jowl are houses that were and are intended for the well off. Through the gates of one, we glimpsed a quirky statue. Then on again, past graceful terraces, This part of the neighbourhood has a few shops, but ones more likely to sell must-have accessories for dogs than a late night pint of milk and pack of digestives.
We were off now to the market areas – Portobello Road has long been famous, but a victim of its own success, is something of a tourist trap, so we passed it by in favour of Golborne Road. On the way we passed a former monastery, now the Instituto Español Vicente Cañada Blanch, an international school using the Spanish curriculum for children from 5 – 19. The Portuguese, among many other nationalities, have also colonised this area, and we wanted to lunch at the Lisboa Patisserie for a slice of Portugal in London. No luck. Already too full, under Covid regulations. Instead we went to Café O’Porto, also Portuguese, but full of Moroccan customers. Toasted sandwiches had of course to be followed by pastéis de nata.
As we walked homewards after lunch, we had a glimpse of Ernö Goldfinger’s 31-storey Trellick Tower, built as social housing in the style of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, is a well-known and well-documented brutalist building, and loved and loathed in equal measure since it was built in 1972.
And that was almost that. Time for home. There was just time to take in a little street art. This:
And the featured photo shows – not actually street art, but a work composed entirely of bottle tops – which we saw earlier in the day.
I haven’t done justice to our friend’s tour of her own neighbourhood, partly because I was still lacking my camera, and my phone battery seemed unreliable. But this post is written for me as much as for my audience, to preserve memories of a rather special day.
Poor old window. Poor old washing line. They each wanted their five minutes of fame as a Monday Window, and as a Monday Washing Line. And instead their shadows grab the limelight.
If you want to know why the window seems a bit curvy, that’s because the wall it’s projected on is pretty old. Vestiges remain from the days when it was first built, in the 15th century, for lay brothers from Fountains Abbey who lived and farmed here.
‘On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book’.
Bass Rock by Evie Wyld is the starting point this month. And, despite all the rave reviews, I’ve abandoned it for the time being – though not for ever, I hope. It’s about sisterhood, about survival. But it’s also about how women’s lives can be circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men who seek to control them. And this is the link I chose to begin my chain.
Jill Dawson‘s The Language of Birds is a fictionalised account of a family nanny, murdered by Lord Lucan, a story that ignited the British press for months in 1974. Fictionalised, apparently, to protect the many characters in this story who are still alive. This book is a page turner. Mandy the nanny comes across as a warm, likeable person, despite the very difficult circumstances of her childhood, teenage years and young adulthood. Her friend Rosemary, who plays the part of slightly unreliable narrator for part of the story is the vehicle for recurring imagery about birds and the freedom they seem to enjoy.
There’s much to savour here about the portrayal of 1970s England, about class, about mental illness and domestic violence. It’s worth reading for this alone.
The next link is not a murder, it’s a massacre. And it’s a true story: The Patient Assassin, by Anita Anand. This book has as its core the shocking 1919 Amritsar Massacre, which saw hundreds of innocent Indian families shot at and killed or injured at the behest of Sir Michael O’Dwyer. Twenty years later, in a shooting that had been all those years in the planning, he himself was shot and killed by Udham Singh.
This is the story of that massacre, and of these two men. It’s meticulously researched and involvingly told, and gives a vivid and unappealing picture of the British occupation of India, as well as of the lives of Indians who had gone to America, and specifically England, in search of a better life. This book does much to explain the wider history of the period, and it’s one I’m glad to have read.
We’ll stick with death, but lighten the mood. Mrs.Death misses Death by Salena Godden. An allegory, a story, an anthology of poems – this book is all those things. Mrs Death is an unnoticed (of course unnoticed!) black woman, by turns a bag lady or a charismatic starlet. Wolf is also black, a lad who lost his mum in a Grenfell Tower- like fire. This young man is the person to whom Mrs. Death transmits her stories of heroes, historical figures, ordinary people, whole swathes damaged by war and famine. But death has to happen so life can go on. Lyrical, poetic, sometimes funny, this is a book impossible to categorise, but it’s life affirming too, and ultimately optimistic.
And – oh dear, death again, but this book is like the last, ultimately uplifting. Laura Imai Messina‘s The Phone Box at the Edge of the World. Here, in a garden in a remote spot in Japan, a disconnected phone allows the grief-stricken to send their voices into the wind as they talk to those they have lost. Yui lost her mother and daughter in the 2011 tsunami. Tasheki’s wife is also dead. Slowly, gently, these two forge a relationship, and begin their journey of healing together. Each chapter is interspersed with random fragmented memories, which enrich the story and ground it in reality, giving just a little grit to a tale that might otherwise be just a little too other-worldly. And apparently, this phone box really does exist.
That’s enough of death. But we could stay in Japan perhaps? Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. Meet Sentaro, a bit of a loser who has a humdrum existence making and selling sweet bean dorayaki for his snack-shack. They’re not the best – he cuts corners. Then along comes Tokue, a spectacularly ugly old woman who begs him for a job, and finally he gives in. She introduces him to her highly superior sweet bean paste, and business looks up. He learns that she had been incarcerated in a leper colony for much of her life- hence her deformities – though she is no longer infectious. This is their story – one of confronting prejudice and your own demons, and in which they come to learn that being a useful member of society is not the be-all and end-all. A charming and lyrically written story, if perhaps a little sentimental for hard-bitten English sensibilities.
Here’s another book about a meeting between two people who ordinarily would never meet. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. What a romp! I galloped through this story set in eighteenth century London, in which a decent-but-dull merchant – a widower, meets an indecent-but-colourful high-end courtesan. They’re connected by a ‘mermaid’, which was brought back on one of the merchant’s ships and is exciting the curiosity of Londoners. Gowar has done her homework, and the language, the scene-setting all ring true. This is a totally implausible narrative which I swallowed cheerfully and willingly. The perfect antidote to pandemic routine, despite shades of dark intruding towards the end.
I’ve just noticed another link in this chain. All the authors are women. No. That’s not true. Durian Sukegawa isn’t. But his translator is. Without Alison Watts’ efforts, I could never have read this book .
The Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week invites us to consider wild landscapes, untouched and unspoilt by the hand of man. I’m going to break the rules (no change there then). I thought a lot about what to showcase, but suddenly had a Eureka moment, and remembered a holiday in Anglesey, off the coast of Wales, some years ago. Anglesey is bucolic, pretty, with mighty seascapes as well. But in the far north of the island is something else, Parys Mountain.
Once, a century ago, Parys Mountain was alive with people: men, women and children hacking deep clefts and canyons into the earth, in search of copper-bearing rock. Now the area is bleak, desolate, abandoned. The poisoned sulphurous soil supports little but odd clumps of hardy heather. Yet this large site, with just a single set of abandoned winding gear, a single ruined mill is strangely beautiful, elemental, and we fell under its atmospheric spell.
Last week meant a visit to London, to see the family we haven’t had sight of since last August. This was no tourist trip, but on our last day, the children securely occupied at school or nursery, we did venture forth – more of that another day. Today, I’ll simply share views from the escalator at Canary Wharf Station, because I always find this sight optimistic and full of light.
If like me you live in the country, the world does look blue and green. To fulfil Tina’s Lens-Artist Challenge, looking at the cool palette of blue and green, today I’ve rarely looked further than a few miles round our house. All I’m doing today is presenting a gallery of quiet images from the natural world. Most are from the gardens of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, and from the Yorkshire Dales. I’ve ventured to the North Sea, and to the Aquarium of the Horniman Museum. That’s about it. I think I qualify for Debbie’s Six Word Saturday too.
Last week the visit to my London primary school way back sixty years ago seemed to go down quite well, so today for Fandango’s Flashback Friday, we’ll go back to that era again, to the post I wrote in 2016. But this time, we’ll go shopping.
Off to the shops
In 1953, my family moved from Yorkshire to London. At first we lived in Earl’s Court. In the years following WWII, it was where Polish immigrants congregated and lived, so that’s probably how we ended up in this busy, grubby, cosmopolitan area.
It had shops – exotic shops to country hicks like us. There was an Express Dairy, a supermarket, one of the earliest of its kind. Rummaging round on the shelves, my mother found unknown surprises such as yoghurt. It was thin, acidic, an improbable shade of pink and none of us liked it. Not even my father. Yet my father taught my mother to set out soup bowls of milk to sour and eat as a cold, refreshing soup. It was a part of his Polish heritage.
She found chinese gooseberries. We didn’t like those either. These days we call them kiwi fruit and realise the ones we had bought must have been rancid and fermenting.
Now let’s go on to Tachbrook Street Market. That’s where we mainly shopped, once we’d moved to Victoria. I loved it. It was a whole community of shopping streets and market stalls. Even though I didn’t then drink coffee, I loved to pass the coffee blenders’ shop, and smell the rich aromas drifting through the door as the coffee beans gently roasted and toasted on giant metal grates.
I remember the neighbourhood Italian restaurant. We didn’t have the money to eat there, but I could see through the window and watch as waiters wielded those giant pepper grinders they seemed to like so much.
We’d pass the neighbourhood grocery store – ‘Home and Colonial’ . I seem to remember we actually got our groceries in Sainsbury’s. There was a Tesco store, a very early example of a supermarket. We didn’t shop there (‘Supermarkets won’t catch on’ opined my mother).
There was a MacFisheries. I was fascinated by the glistening fish laid out on the marble counters of the open shopfront and watched as my mother’s choice for the day was expertly de-boned and filleted in seconds.
There were fruit and vegetable stalls. I loved to hoard the richly decorated tissue papers that protected each orange, each tangerine. Occasionally, in late summer, my mother would buy us a peach each, as an exotic treat.
Once I got to be about eight or so, I’d be sent off to Apple’s the Hardware Store to buy a gallon of paraffin (Aladdin pink, as opposed to Esso blue) to feed our paraffin heaters. There was Mr. Apple himself, with his bristly grey moustache and his grubby brown overalls. The paraffin glugged out of its storage tank into our can. I’d count out the money, then I’d struggle home, the heavy can banging against my shins, the contents splashing my socks, along the street, and across the busy Vauxhall Bridge Road.
Because my father was Polish, we did quite a bit of shopping at the delicatessen near Buckingham Palace Road.
Here were thin sticks of kabanos, the drier the better. Nobody but me ate this at school, and my friends assured me it was donkey meat. There was Polish boiling ring – a horseshoe shaped sausage that was my favourite meal, boiled and served simply with mashed potato and cabbage. Sauerkraut of course, and bigos. The plain cookery of 1950s Britain was largely unknown to me apart from school dinners, but that’s a whole other story.
Besides Polish foods, we’d often have pasta or risotto or wienerschnitzel. Oh – apart from two things. On Saturdays, my mother always bought a pint of brown shrimps from the above-mentioned MacFisheries. Saturday tea times would see us all sitting round the table with a pile of brown bread and butter, peeling those fiddly shrimps. And she was very partial to a kipper too.
I can’t leave out ordinary grocery shopping though. We went to Sainsbury’s in Victoria because it had fresher, better goods according to my mother. It wasn’t a supermarket. We’d go into the shop, with its brightly-tiled floor, and there, to left and right were the counters. Dry goods, dairy products, bacon and ham… and so on.
Young women, their hair concealed under net caps, skilfully wielded wooden butter pats to reduce great slabs of butter into manageable half-pound portions.. Others bagged up sugar into dark blue ‘sugar paper’ bags. There was always a man at the bacon slicer, turning a lethal looking metal disc to slice bacon and ham according to the customer’s particular requirements (Thin? Thick? Gammon rasher?) .
There were glass-topped tins of biscuits – digestives, custard creams, Lincolns, nice, arrowroot…..: these were sold loose. People on a restricted budget would choose a mixed bag of broken ones. My mother regarded all of these with disdain. We made our own.
And when it was time to pay, we’d find that all our receipts, from each counter we’d visited, would have arrived at a small wooden kiosk near the centre of the store. An efficient type would add it all up, we’d pay her ( it was always a ‘her’) and we’d go off with our groceries.
The scenes played out here are so clear in my mind, but I can’t find a single image to support them. Not one. Can anybody help?
One thing we never had to buy at the shops was milk. That was delivered, every single day including Christmas Day, in glass bottles which we rinsed out and returned, on an electric-powered milk float something like this….
I remember our shopping trips fondly. They were time-consuming, certainly. But the rich variety of a morning walking from shop to stall to shop again was quite a highlight in my week.