Sunday, 30 August 2015

Big Yellow Taxi

You don't know what you got 'til it's gone







Joni Mitchell originally wrote Big Yellow Taxi in 1970, after looking out of her hotel window on her first trip to Hawaii.






She rerecorded it, with very slightly modified lyrics, in 2007, on her album Shine.






The line, You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, (which became the title of a hit by Cinderella in 1988) has been on my mind just lately, both at home and walking in the Chilterns, where we live.



 


The summer is not over yet, but the weather's changeable, and the glory of the flower days has passed.






Hey farmer
Put away your DDT
Give me spots on my apples






But leave me the birds and bees
Please






It's doesn't seem to have been a bad year for bees, but that is relative. Joni sang about the danger of DDT.  Neonicotinoids neither fit the scansion nor rhyme that easily with bees....

So they paved paradise
And put up a parking lot





Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone






Some things fly past so fast, you don't even notice.....






'Til they're gone.....






This time of year, you begin to see fruits, and nuts, ripen on the trees....







And then they are gone....  Stolen by squirrels....







The flowers that so splashed the landscape a short while ago....







Have set their seeds and flown....






So they paved paradise 
And put up a parking lot






Don't it always seem to go
You don't know what you got 'til it's gone

© 2007; Crazy Crow Music 







Hope Joni is well

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Escape to the Country

North by North Norfolk






Escape to the Country is billed, by BBC2, as a series which helps prospective buyers find their dream home in the country.  In each programme we discover why they want to move, what they're looking for and which part of Britain they've set their heart on. In their chosen area, we show them three idyllic country properties that match their search criteria and their budget. The last option is the 'mystery' house, a property that challenges our buyers' perceptions about what they really want….. At the end of the programme, our house hunters discuss all the properties they've seen and decide which one is the best option for them.

This, the MemSahib’s favourite programme (there are endless repeats on Really) might better be summarised as ageing middle class couples with pets dream of The Good Life…..




So this week, retired couple, Ricky and Mandy, with their pet dragon, Meadow, are seeking to sell their priceless accommodation in Harpenden, Herts, to relocate to North Norfolk, to benefit from the endless grey skies, the winds from Siberia, and extreme traffic at weekends.  They are quite flexible in the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but would like a library, servants’ quarters, possible a priest hole, and stabling for their entourage.  They prefer period properties but are not keen on low beams.  The kitchen should be quite separate from the dining room, and Mandy would like a room for her tapestry work.  Ricky would like outbuildings for his taxidermy, as he loves stuffing birds.  The couple don’t mind if there is some renovation work to be done, as they are up for a bit of a project.

The budget is flexible, as house prices in Harpenden are astronomic, so this should be a doddle for our presenter, who will take them to a selection of properties which are usually isolated and inaccessible. The last property of course will be the Mystery House, which will be totally out of keeping with the couple’s intentions, but which will at least make the presenter smirk with supercilious smugitude….

So, Ricky and Mandy, why North Norfolk?

Well we are great fans of Alfred Hitchcock and our favourite is the one in which Cary Grant outruns the birds in a cornfield having driven along the coast completely drunk, and then has his face chiselled on a rock near the Statue of Liberty, where Tippi Hedren pulls him up into the upper berth on the night train from Liverpool Street.  Ever since then we have yearned for a place surrounded by great flocks of birds, and want to live like James Mason…..

OK, that's great, and, well, we do have some very exciting properties lined up.  So cram into the back of my old Chevrolet while the cameraman films me driving…..


And the first property is a mile and a half from the village of Aylsham, which has a farmers' market twice a month, but our property is a Jacobean house with its own church and pub.....



Blickling Estate


First impressions?

Quite nice, I suppose, but it looks single glazed.  And can you get children to sweep the chimneys?

Ha ha, of course.  Interestingly Anne Boleyn lived here, before she was beheaded that is..... Shall we go inside?  You will see that the current owners are packed and ready to vacate....




But you will be interested to see that the table is laid for dinner with their friends, which gives you an idea of the kind of people they were.....




Ooh, I like Joyce Grenfell, and isn't David Cameron an Astor by marriage? But  Kermit Roosevelt? Wasn't he an alcoholic? And Joachim von Ribbentrop?  Was he Jewish?  What did they eat?

I'm afraid I can't tell you that, as they ate in French....




Mmmm, I like Maryland chicken! Can we keep the cook?

I'm afraid she's off, but you do get the lady by the tapestry upstairs....




And there's a chap who hangs around the piano in the library.  He's free....




Very nice.  What about the pictures?

You can have this one.....




Poor chap.  He must have worked very hard.

I think it was the table plans. Anyway, must press on as we've lots more in store....  But before we go, have a little look at the garden,




Of course you get the cows, and notice the little sign in the bottom left of the picture.... 'pumped sewer' - all mod cons....

Our next property is not far away....



Felbrigg Hall



What do you think?

I don't like the motto. "Gloria Deo In Excelcis."  A bit 'in your face' isn't it? Did nuns live here? And again we have chimneys and single glazing, but it looks a little more manageable than the last one.

Well it is also Jacobean, and it is one of the largest estates in Norfolk, with 1,760 acres, including 520 acres of woodland.

Plenty of firewood then?

And you do get a pianist with this one.....





Not sure I like the children.  Can they clean chimneys?

Ha ha, I expect they would love it. Come through to the dining room. Is this to your liking?





What's on the menu?  Apart from rubber pheasants?




Bit heavy for us, don't you think dear?

But you don't have far to walk to the Drawing Room where you can sleep it off....  This is where the last owner, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cramer, sank into depression and allowed the house to crumble.

A little dark, don't you think?






But subsequently the estate was managed by Christopher Mackie, whose wife Mary wrote "Dry Rot and Daffodils" - have you read it?

No but we heard "Cobwebs and Cream Teas" on the radio.  It was quite good.  Anywhere for my taxidermy?

Oh yes.  Between the kitchen and the Dining Room, below stairs. The squire's grandfather was a keen ornithologist.....





Nice.  I can see he loved his birds. And what about the kitchen?

Fully equipped.  Quite modern.....





And so, as the sun sets over the North Norfolk Coast, we come to the end of our first day of house-hunting for Ricky and Mandy.  Tomorrow we will continue with our search, and of course we will finish with the Mystery House, which I am sure will cause waves.....

Zzzzzzzzzz.... (Time for an advertisement break)






So we start our second and final day of house hunting in the superb region of North Norfolk, in the hamlet of Oxburgh, which has a pub, though you would have to drive seven miles to Swaffham for a pint of milk and the Daily Mail.

Today's first house is a fine example of a late medieval moated manor house.  Outside you only have seventy acres of garden and woodland,  but inside you do get a priest hole as the Bedingfield family were Catholic.  





Oxburgh Hall




What do you think, guys?

Quite nice.  Is it haunted?

Well there is a curtain that is always billowing rather spookily in the Queen's chamber.....





But more to the point, a rather large lady has often been seen inspecting the furniture in the Master bedroom.....






Oh my goodness!  Chilling!  I'm not sure this is for us.

Well it does have some very nice period pieces, like this fireplace....





Mmmmm. Shame about the cat.

And I rather like the way they have made use of window seats....

No curtains.  People can see in.






So I get the feeling that this one has not got the wow factor?  Shall I take you to the Mystery House?

Indeed. We can't wait.

And what do you think it will be?

A barn conversion? A new build? A WWII airfield?

Not this time!  I'm taking you to the village of Snettisham, mentioned in the Domesday Book, and home to an RSPB nature reserve, 




so you'll get plenty of birds....







I'm afraid the railway station was closed in 1969, but Nicholas Pevsner claimed that the 14th century St Mary's Parish Church "is perhaps the most exciting decorated church in Norfolk."  This is also famous for the "Snettisham Hoard," a series of discoveries of precious metal objects from the Iron Age, currently in the British Museum.








And the property I am going to show you is just down from the Yacht Club....






What do you think, guys?


I'm blown away..... It's perfect, don't you think dear?

But can we afford it?








So we have reached the end of our house search in North Norfolk.  Retired couple, Ricky and Mandy, were looking for a detached property with room for their interests, and with a comfortable budget.  We showed them three desirable family residences, each with period features, including plenty of grounds and outhouses, but somehow none of these quite hit the spot.  The last property, the Mystery House, was something of a gamble, but Ricky and Mandy seemed really taken with it, despite the fact that there were no servants' quarters nor stables.  






On the coast of the Wash in the village of Snettisham, within a short walk of local facilities, including a fish and chip shop, and with views of vast flocks of birds as the tide sweeps in, the house caught Mandy's imagination at once.








I have to say that this just goes to show how the Mystery House tests the imagination and how, sometimes, it releases unexpected ideas. Sadly, in this case, although Ricky and Mandy made an offer on the Mystery House, they were unable to proceed, as the lease does not permit the keeping of dragons on or near the premises..... 

But Ricky and Mandy will continue their search for their dream home in North Norfolk, and I am sure that sooner or later, with their affection for Hitchcock, birds, and their pet dragon Meadow, something will turn up.....






Wednesday, 19 August 2015

I Love Bristol - Back in the Jugs Agane.....

Who Gibbs a Guano?





I'd forgotten how much I love Bristol.  No need for much detail, but I've lived, and worked, within the precincts; my wife and children were born there; and it's a city that kicks and switches like the cables to a Bessemer Converter, pulsing convulsively with power surges of life and energy. 




So I find myself there again, after an absence.  Daughter meets with Aunt; wife meets with life-long friend.  I strike a pose under the flowers that someone has hung from a tree in Fremantle Square. 




We used to live close by, and the colours dazzle me again to then, only a few years back, when seagulls would raise the reveille and dusk would lead me to the Hare on the Hill....





But, what is this?  Doors akimbo, the windows smeared white, is the dear pub dead?  Absence, and the heart will flounder!

In fact I have stumbled on a regenesis, as the Hare is being restarted, the tortoise, for once, being vanquished.  Two affable guys have taken on the task of maintaining a traditional community pub and the pumps will soon be live again. Good luck! Cotham needs you, as indeed does every corner of this land.  Pubs may not be everyone's cup of tea, so to speak, and there's no denying that the carpet has shifted underneath the fracking landscape of twenty-first century society, but there is still very much a place for the hostelry that warms and cheers.  

Loneliness begins at home....

 



By way of contrast, having dropped said daughter in the arms of Isambard (Temple Meads), we skip out to exercise our National Truss members-hip chez Tyntesfield, the home for several general rations of the Gibbs family (and I claim no connection), the richest commoners of Victoriana, so 'tis said, having cornered the trade in guano - no shit, Sherlock....






Now I'll be honest. I love the National Trust, despite all my misgivings about being far more interested in the kitchen gardens and below stairs adventures of "stately" homes than in any of Archibald's leather suitcases, left with Teddy where no one came back from the war; craftless copies of great masters, or grinning gibbons on the dining room ceiling....  I love the must and fustiness of what's left of another country, and, more, much more, I love the parks and landscapes that the Trust maintains.

But I can't be doing with the stuffed Moose heads and the empty Chaises Longues.....


 

So, what's my point?  It's the diversity.  At one point you're in a place where railway engineering hit the headlines, and then a mere twenty minutes away you are up to your ears in the Gibbs's guano excesses.  Then, ten minutes from there you cross the Avon Gorge on Brunel's stunning suspension bridge....





And then barely ten minutes later you can be sipping cider in the Cotham Porter Stores.....






Of course, things ain't what they were. The Gibbses (almost) are all gone and the antlers over the billiard table are crumbling.  In the CPS the barmaid didn't know this was once one of the cider houses in an apple crazy city (OK, they still sell cider, but from puny plastic barrelettes, not fermenting up at ten or eleven per cent alcohol through the beer engines to feed Guardian crossword aficionados at breakfast time).

I stroll on down Kingsdown Parade, admiring the local paintwork:






Down Nine Tree Hill, where the style is a little less conservative, perhaps?







(Though you could be confused by the stencilled family values portrayed in this day and age?)





On Stokes Croft the graffiti is new (see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2013/08/bristol-2-art-and-architecture.html) compared with my last visit in 2013.....







And on Picton Street I wonder what Sir Henry Irving would think if he were still around (the plaque on the wall says he once lived here)....








A few steps on the juxtapositions become even more accentuated.  On the one hand you have a certain chiaroscuro that speaks of resignation, resilience and collective stoicism:







While on the opposite wall there is the brilliance of a sentimental approach, combining Michelangelo with both Magritte and Dali, which is only marred by the collectivity of commercial landfill:







I love this confusion of expression, this vitality of colour.  How drab is middle England?  The High Streets by numbers, from HSBC to Sainsbury's, Nationwide to Iceland, W H Smith to Oxfam? All those things may exist here in bombed out Bristol, but there is a sense of daring, from more-than-pastel shades:





To decorations that express something of love beyond Bullingdon economics:






And just here, across the street, thrives one of Bristol's treasures:






For almost forty years Bell's Diner and Bar Rooms has traded on this Montpelier corner, though for the last couple of years it has been under the imaginative management of Connie Coombes and her co-conspirator Kate Hawkings, whose daughter used to share her pet rats with our girls in Nugent heaven....




Apricots and panna cotta, with a glass of Muscat, round off a colourful day.  I'm not sure that it can get better than this....



Apricot (on the left) and Panna Cotta - my dates for the night....

 


Perhaps it's the wild boar. Maybe it's the cuttlefish. But my dreams are vivid, and in the grey rain I meet with Tess of the d'Urbervilles on the edge of the Cotswolds, a fifteenth century hunting lodge masquerading as a town house, blood dripping through the ceiling.  






Bristol is nowhere to be seen. In the wads of cloth that roll in from the Channel nothing is clear. Colour is bleached in the cold comfort of the National Trust. Curtains by Laura Ashley. History by numbers. Paper aeroplanes by volunteers.







Then the sun breaks through, a lampshade by Ed Dorn dispelling my dream, seagulls crying I love Bristol with the voice of Cary Grant, born Archibald Alexander Leach just a block away from me here in the Horfield morning......








The seagull lazily flaps and turns, a stream of white deposit splattering the window glass.  A notion tugs at my Keynesian underwear and, with the brilliance of the Gibbsean genes that I never knew I had, I think there might be money in this aerodynamic ordure, money enough to leave vast estates to the National Trust perhaps?

But who Gibbs a Guano?

I just love Bristol....