Wednesday, 25 June 2014

But is it Art?

As I returned the half-eaten slice of bread and butter to my breakfast plate I was struck by the portrait that I had unwittingly created. Do you know this man?

Bread by Waitrose.
Butter by Anchor.
Glass plate by Arcopal, France.
Table by Formica.

Sculpture by Martin.

The above gallery notes are not really up to the standard of those I copied down when visiting a gallery in New Zealand:

"...When at first glance his work appears heavily influenced by the documentary in its seemingly neutral composition, he uses performance and narrative to open up associative layers to place and context. ... The location forms the base for a performative response which draws on the historic and cultural connotations of the site. While this work documents the performance in situ, it also cuts away to details and forms in the area, layering them with the performance and narrative address. Together, the scenes are highly discursive and constitute a hybrid genre that at once documents, narrates, performs and liberates from the site of any final interpretation."

The 'performance' was a video film of a man drinking from a bottle of water and then spitting it out.

And that WAS art.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Record high book price on Amazon.

Those of you who wish to buy my books are probably aware that they are available from various sources. The cheapest and most enjoyable way is to come to one of my talks; if you have a social conscience, support your local bookshop. If you prefer to purchase by post then you can pay by cheque on the Queen Anne's Fan website. You can even follow the link, 'what books have I written', in the right hand column of this blog. What could be easier?

And then, of course, there is Amazon. 
Now, you mustn't always believe what you read on Amazon. They will mark titles as 'unavailable', implying that the book no longer exists when what they should be saying is, 'we don't stock the book'. This is why you should go to a local bookshop. They know what they are talking about. And there are those sellers on Amazon who assure you that they possess a stock of my books when they do not and that they will deliver within 24 hours when they cannot.

If you buy my titles on Amazon, only Cool Bag Books carries a stock of them new. Nobody else does, despite what they claim.

Record high price demanded on Amazon for a popular book whose published price is £7.99

You can save yourself £1466.47 if you buy my book The Trouble with France from Cool Bag Books, which is the Amazon storefront for my publishers, rather than from UK Bookdepot who are charging £1,472.47 (plus £2.80 postage) for a book whose published price is £7.99. 

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Cycling the railway lines

Several of the railway lines in the Peak District which were abandoned by British Railways in the 1960s have been converted for pedestrian and cycle use and what a boon they are! I love the mixture of industrial architecture and scenery. 
The High Peak Trail is the trackbed of the former Cromford & High Peak Railway and wriggles its way around rugged outcrops of rock, passing over the largest limestone mine (not quarry) in Europe.  The first time that we rode along this track we gorged ourselves on a bank of wild raspberries. This time we found one of the original fish bellied rails which had been preserved in a wall.

Original fish-bellied rail preserved in a wall on the High Peak Trail. You can just read the initials of the Cromford & High Peak Railway on it.
This pattern of rail was typical of the early horse-drawn mineral tramways of the late 18th century.

Starting from Ashbourne for our night trip up the Tissington Trail, a storm seemed to be threatening...

...but as we rode towards Buxton the sky cleared and the sun began to set. 

On both sides of the track the animals in the pastures were settling down for the approaching night. Sheep and lambs were calling to each other, calves were nestling up close to their mothers.

Taking advantage of the dry spell, a few miles away a farmer was cutting grass for silage. We watched the sun set whilst we ate a banana and then we pedalled downhill, the white surface of the trail glowing eerily in the beams of our cycle lights.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

No Trouble at t'mill.

I have just spent my annual week in the Peak District in Derbyshire. This year I visited Strutt's Mill in Belper. The North Mill is practically all that remains of an immense industrial complex whose origins go back over two centuries. 

All the mills on the site drew their power from the River Derwent which was managed by the construction of a weir to create a pound of water. 

The cotton was mostly imported from India and spun on iron-framed machines driven by the mill wheels. One of the specialist products was this style of hand embroidery on cotton stockings.

The present North Mill was apparently constructed in about twelve months to replace the previous building which was destroyed by fire. The owner, Jedediah Strutt, designed what he hoped would be a fire-proof building by erecting a framework of iron girders, instead of the traditional timber beams, and building the walls of brick.

 In this idea, it seems that he had invented the technique for building the skyscraper buildings which followed decades later. The brickwork stands as a monument to the craftsmanship of the builders of 200 years ago.

Looking at the factories that we build today I am reassured by the thought that they will have difficulty standing up for two decades and will certainly not be a blot on the landscape two centuries hence.

When the 'trouble at t'mill' period arrived in the history of industrial relations, with mobs attacking mills and destroying machinery, two firing loops were carved in the stone gateway bridging the public road, so that muskets could be fired at the expected mob. They were never used.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Pork pies on the A5

Back in the 1950s we used to trek up the A5 road from our home in Buckinghamshire to visit our cousins in Derby. The journey in my father's Standard Vanguard used to take about three and a half hours and to keep track of our progress we children were encouraged to look out for familiar landmarks: the level crossings in Leighton Buzzard where the narrow gauge quarry trains would rattle across in front of us; the cottage which had 'May's Cafe' painted on the roof in huge letters and which was surrounded by lorries, and the 'pork pies' at Kilsby, which were ventilation shafts for the railway tunnel.

A Kilsby tunnel ventilator seen
from above in 2014
Last week I went up to Derby to see the cousins again. The trains at Leighton Buzzard are now represented by a short preserved line. May's Cafe closed soon after the opening of the M1 motorway in 1960 which took away all her business but the 'pork pies' are still there.

A Kilsby tunnel ventilator
seen from below in 1838.

Kilsby tunnel was built in the very early days of railways - 1838. It was a tremendous undertaking of 2,400yds in length which, due to flooding under construction, delayed the opening of the London & Birmingham Railway by eight months. It cost £100 per linear yard to build, required 157 tons of gunpowder and used 36 million bricks.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The prison on Dover's White Cliffs

Did you know that in the nineteenth century a prison was built on top of the famous White Cliffs of Dover?  The intention was that the convicts there incarcerated would be usefully employed building the new docks and breakwater in Dover but it did not work out like that and they sewed mailbags instead. It is just as well because I don't think that the building has ever stopped in the port of Dover.

This is the port of Dover on a murky June day. For those of you who are reading my latest book, Neither Civil nor Servant, this is where some of the action took place. The pier on the left is the Eastern Arm where Fergus could not get off the ship because the gangway was too steep. Follow it around the curve of the southern breakwater to the other side of the bay and you are in Western Docks, where I caused mayhem in the passenger hall by swinging the pendant light sockets. The most modern terminal, Dover Hoverport, where I upset Germans by mentioning Spitfires (you really must read the book) has already been demolished. At the right edge of the picture is the silhouette of two rectangles; these are Dover Castle where, I am ashamed to admit, I invented the technique of bouncing passports on the ceiling.

Perhaps I ought to be locked up. 

Talking of which, these three flights of steps are practically all that remains of the prison on top of the White Cliffs. They are now used by visitors at the National Trust centre to reach the car parks which have been established on the terraced foundations of the original prison.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Naked Bicycle Ride

Yesterday, Canterbury held a naked bicycle ride from the castle, through the city to the council offices. The purpose of the ride was to draw attention to how vulnerable cyclists are when riding alongside motor vehicles. According to the local newspaper, male riders had been issued a stiff warning not to become aroused. 

I just happened to be in the town with my camera at the time. Luckily, I missed it all but I did see this chap creating a sand sculpture of a dog so I took a photo of that instead. Who wants to see photos of naked cyclists anyway?

Why does everybody call me 'Sandy'?