15 June 2019

A rainy day in Paradise....

Summer in the (Garden) City.....

Hot town, summer in the city

Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

Yeah, Right!

Flaming June!

Ebenezer Howard (1850 - 1928) set out his philosophy of urban development in his publication Garden Cities of Tomorrow.  His aim was to combine the advantages of town and country living by creating towns of limited population surrounded by agricultural land.  He founded the Town and Country Planning Association in 1899, and subsequently the world's first Garden City was declared open on October 9th 1903 at Letchworth.

I am stranded for an hour or so in this time warp while my Yeti is being serviced (some people will do anything for money).....  

I've been before, but for different reasons, and haven't had the privilege of just wandering aimlessly.   

And it is raining.....

The town hall rises from the car park, reflected in the puddles......

The coloured fountains and metal sculptures near the Railway Station don't quite enliven the street scene.....

A rare shopper hurries home before melting into the pavement....

I contemplate offering my corpse for piercing just to pass the time.....

As an enticing alternative to taking shelter in the Broadway Hotel, built in 1961 and the first licensed premises in the town (from its inception in 1903 until a referendum in 1958, Letchworth upheld a ban on the sale of alcohol).

I would visit the town grammar school, 

A shining example of the vernacular architecture, though the school long since vacated the premises.  

Other schools in the town include independent St. Chris, founded in 1915 as the Garden City Theosophical School, and renowned for its vegetarianism and policy of all (students and staff) using Christian names.  Alumni include Michael Winner  and A A Gill (who was married for a while to the current MP for Hastings,  Amber Rudd....)

I would visit the town museum, housed in the erstwhile North Hertfordshire College building....  but it isn't yet open....

And it's too early to take advantage of the somewhat retro entertainment (Live on Stage - Flanders and Swann) in the splendid Art Deco Broadway Cinema and Theatre, where my mum used to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in her school holidays in the late thirties....

So I content myself with wandering and wondering, taking in the sights.....

Such as Mrs Howard Hall.....

And the nearby collectively owned (I am speculating: this was the original theory, and the similitudes and reroofiness kind of suggest this may be the ongoing) houses in similar style:

Letchworth has its place in the arts and literature.  George Orwell lived nearby in Wallington in the 1930s and 40s, and in 2011 and 2012 a festival in his name was held here....

Lenin came here.


And, among other celebrants of local culture is John Betjeman, who poked mischievious fun at the arty crafty nature of the place in his poem Group Life: Letchworth....

Tell me Pippididdledum,
Tell me how the children are.
Working each for weal of all
After what you said.
Barry's on the common far
Pedalling the Kiddie Kar.

In 2013 Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg used many locations in the town in World's End.  

And there's a film festival coming up....

Which will form part of this year's Letchworth Festival....

Note to diary.  

Fairly busy already in June.....

I dribble through Howard Park, past the memorial to Ebenezer, where people may sit semi-circularly to discuss the merits.....

And out into the industrial suburbs, past reminders of the city's glorious role in the manufacture of corsets, dustcarts and fire engines..... although the largest employer here was the British Tabulating Machine Company, later to become part of International Computers Limited.....

And back to where I left my Yeti.....

Sadly, this rainy day has not lifted my spirits, but, to look on the bright side, things could be worse....

It ain't Paradise, perhaps, but....

I could have been stranded in Luton....

And babe, don't you know it's a pity
That the days can't be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city

Rain on......

10 June 2019

Wrong place, Wrong Time.....

Once upon a time in humankind.....

Dr John and I go way back…. We were due to meet in Kendal, in the winter of 1985. Unfortunately, however, he wasn’t well and had to cancel.  He kindly sent us tickets to see Carmen instead…..

As you do.....

Now it seems like we may never meet, though in a way he will always be with me, if you con what I intend?  [Or perhaps I will join him at the Great Rent Party in the sky?] Like many would-be losers, I often think of the words of one of his best-known songs, Right Place, Wrong Time:

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
I'd have said the right thing
But I must have used the wrong line

And to seque into a sort of non-sequitur [if you will forgive me] recently my Amanda and I visited Calke Abbey, in Derbyshire, and the song sang through the strangely derelict house, especially through the exhibition on the ground floor, entitled Humankind.  To mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Henry Harpur, 'The Isolated Baronet', this year at Calke Abbey the National Trust is exploring stories of loneliness and isolation, kindness and compassion, past and present.

Just up our street.....

As the NT website explains:

For more than thirty years, the story of Calke Abbey and its significance has been built around the tale of a reclusive and socially-isolated family who guarded the estate from modern life and lived eccentric, disconnected lives. Today, as awareness grows of the enormous challenges posed by loneliness and the harmful impact of social isolation on more and more lives, [we] are looking afresh at Calke’s past, reassessing the stories told about this place and exploring their potential to foster more, and more meaningful, contemporary human connections.

Recent research has shed new light on the lives of the people who lived at Calke. This has revealed powerful, rich and sometimes surprising stories of love, compassion and kindness, rooted in complex life experiences and events, alongside the more familiar ones of isolation and disconnection.

Spanning more than 200 years, these are stories that many of us would recognise today. The people who lived at Calke needed one another and took care of one other.  [Good for them!] Their routes out of difficulty were always aided by others – by humankind and human kindness.....  [Rare commodities, perhaps?]

In 2019 – marking the 200th anniversary of the death of Henry Harpur, ‘The Isolated Baronet’ – [we] are exploring this wider and richer history of Calke in exciting new ways. HumanKind uses these new stories and insights to challenge the stigma that surrounds loneliness and social isolation, to get people talking about this pressing social issue, to foster human interaction and connection and, in true Calke tradition, to encourage small acts of kindness.  [Right on....]

HumanKind is a research-led collaboration between the National Trust and the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester.

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
My head was in a place

Henry was gossiped about for his shyness and said to suffer from a ‘disease of the mind’ by diarist, Joseph Faringdon, who’d never met him. Over the years these fragments have been woven into elaborate stories of a family who distanced themselves from society and each other. 

But I'm having such a good time
I been running trying to get hung up in my mind
Got to give myself a little talking to this time

New research has revealed an ordinary 13 year old, doodling strange beasts and writing ‘H. Harpur is a fool’ in his books. The books he bought and the journals he subscribed to as an adult tell us that he had a curious mind and was influenced by the Age of Enlightenment. He built the library, remodelled the house, commissioned music, collected political caricatures, and used experimental techniques to make cheese! He had a sense of humour and he liked fine things. He married for love. 

All of which is very nice, and was either written by the National Trust, or by Mac Rebennack, who could have been Elton John’s uncle, perhaps, or Augustus John’s niece, or even Sleepy John Estes’s second cousin.....

But why?  Why have I borrowed these words?  What’s in it for us?


Just need a little brain salad surgery
Got to cure this insecurity
I been in the wrong place
But it must have been the right time
I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong song
I been in the right vein
But it seems like the wrong arm
I been in the right world
But it seems wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

I recommend a visit to Calke Abbey. It’s not an Abbey, of course, nor is it made of cork, but it is splendidly confusing nonetheless, and has the most magnificent park, and a wonderful walled garden, all of which is good for the soul, however isolated.  

And to think that I could have lived there, with the good Dottore Giovanni, had we both not been born in the wrong place, at the wrong time……

Or perhaps we could have lived at Kedelstone Hall, not too far away, also in Derbyshire, where Robert Adam advertised his talents in a spectacular way for the Curzon family.

Or, we could have been curators of the tram museum at Crich, ringing the bells of New Orleans, 

Where we really do stay with old friends [thank you Sue and Dennis]


I been in the right trip
But I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a bad place
And I'm wondering what it's good for

Right Place, Wrong Time
Malcolm John Rebennack 
(aka Dr John)

 (November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019)


Peace brother peace
The doctor's comin'


Dr. John told songfacts.com about "Right Place, Wrong Time", "That was my life for a long time. At the same time I was in the wrong place at the right time, and the right place in the wrong time, too. That was the problem. We're always shifting those gears."
The singer explained his inspirations behind this song by saying, "While writing the song 'Right Place Wrong Time,' I ran into Bob Dylan. He gave me the line 'I'm on the right trip, but in the wrong car'.

4 June 2019

Putting Suffolk on the Map

A love song for Suffolk.....

The land of the South Folk, or Suffolk as it is now called, is a part of East Anglia that I have become curiously fond of.  It isn't a part of the country I knew at all when I was younger, but we started exploring with our girls some twenty years ago.  Then I read W G Sebald's entrancing The Rings of Saturn, which added to the allure. 

We stay at The Eel's Foot Inn, and walk to the sea near the Sizewell Nuclear Power stations, watched warily by one of the Konik Polski ponies that graze by the ruins of the twelfth century remains of Leiston Abbey.

Sizewell A was shut down at the end of 2006.  A week later it was found that some 40,000 gallons of water from the pond where spent reactor fuel was being kept had leaked out and into the North Sea.  This Konik Polski  had obviously drunk of the delightfully glowing waste.....

Sizewell B (whose bright white dome dominates the scene) is run by EDF (√Člectricit√© de France S.A., a French electric utility company, largely owned by the French state) who intend to keep it going until 2055 (Brexiteers eat your hearts out) despite emergency shut downs in 2008, 2010 and 2012.... 

Sizewell C, another EDF reactor, is a project, like Hinkley Point C, due to be completed with the Chinese.  Oh! What price sovereignty?

Anyway, we walk back to the Eel's Foot (another by-product of nuclear power?) through the RSPB Reserve at Minsmere, in time for the weekly folk night, where ageing minstrels serenade us from their word sheets with The Last Thing on my Mind, a strangely appropriate song under the circumstances.....

Ben Britt and Bill Budd

The morning after we drift down the coast to Aldeburgh, home of Benjamin Britten.  I waxed a little lyrical about this place and its  tin scallop in August 2013 (see my blog entitled Great Britten) so won't eulogise unnecessarily.  

Its shingle beach is scruffily used and the pastel shaded holiday homes evoke the future of holidays by the North Sea (when Europe is way beyond the Dogger Bank).

And the produce fished up is smoked in the Meerschaums of locals who welcome the money of strangers.....

But I sense a slight tension when I note a photo of the Springwatch team on the wall.  The face of Chris Packham had been cut out....  He should be shot! extols our fish-smoking brother.  Protecting crows and pigeons?  He should be shot.....

"Starry Vere, God Bless you!"

Sutton Wat?

Slightly dazed we motor on.  We stop to pay our respects to the dead at Sutton Hoo, where nothing is as it used to be.  The visitor centre is in a state of upheaval, as £4m worth of work proceeds to ready expositions in the High Hall to rival the Titanic in Belfast.  If there was an Anglo-Saxon King alive today, he'd be turning in his grave.....

It's which?

And so we proceed, suffolkating under the weight of Kulture and Anarchy on offer all around.  We moor at the Novotel Ipswich, and quench our thirst at the Briarbank Bar and Brewery (a long time favourite) which is hard by the Custom House and the mighty Orwell.  

It is a little known fact that Ipswich is the 42nd most populous town in England and Wales.  But it is the home of the UK's newest University (prior to 2016, Suffolk was one of the only counties in England not to have one at all) and, in 2017, the Royal Mail (who he? Ed.) voted Ipswich the seventh most desirable place to live and work in England....

The seventh?

.... Despite the fact that many people know it as the home of the Suffolk Strangler (though he was originally from Norfolk), Steve Wright, responsible for the murder of five Ipswich female prostitutes in 2006 (committed to Life Imprisonment in 2008).   

The Car Stall on the Hill

And speaking of crimes against humanity....

Benjamin Joseph Levin and Edward Christopher Sheeran are famous people. The latter, at least, is one of the only famous people (if you discount Robert Hindes Groome or Frederick Bird) ever to have come from Framlingham (which Country Life Magazine voted, in 2006, the number one place to live in the country) and between them the two writ a song about the Castle on the Hill, the official video of which has been seen 372,289,930 times on YouTube (though only 2.2 million liked it - and 68,000 actually took the trouble to say they didn't!)

These figures may have something to do with the lyrics, such as:

We found weekend jobs, when we got paid

We'd buy cheap spirits and drink them straight 
Me and my friends have not thrown up in so long, oh how we've grown
But I can't wait to go home

and, perhaps more memorably:

I'm on my way
Driving at ninety down those country lanes
Singing to "Tiny Dancer" 
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it's real 
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill 
Over the castle on the hill 
Over the castle on the hill

Mr Sheeran, when interviewed on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, had this to say about his masterpiece:

This is a love song for Suffolk, because I don’t think anyone has ever done that.

That was the second song I completed for the album, so… I’ve listened to that more times than anything else, and it just sounds completely different. I wrote that mid-2015.

I shot the music video in Suffolk, and they cast a group of friends from my high school, and all the extras are kids from my high school, and the main guy, who looks exactly like me, is in my sixth form. It’s really weird.

So it’s all putting Suffolk on the map.

Perhaps, dear reader, you should be the judge of that?

Hey! Wayne....

And so to PC Jack, RA, the painter of Dedham Vale....

We are on our way home, now, and stop at Flatford Mill for breakfast (the Ipswich Novotel breakfast was neither to our tastes nor our pocket....)   Flatford is remarkably unspoiled (at this hour) and Willy Lott's cottage still stands more or less where Constable painted it.....

And the dry dock where he pictured Boat Building near Flatford Mill (in the V and A) is still pretty dry.....  (certainly drier than witnessed in  my 2014 Blog, Mr Constable....)

Flatford Mill itself is a Field Studies Centre, but none the worse for that.....  It really is lovely round here....  The village of East Bergholt, the river Stour....  

Constable Country....  

So, there we are....  it’s all putting Suffolk on the map.....  

A love song to Suffolk.... 

because I don’t think anyone has ever done that.....

Ever read Ronald Blythe, Ed?  

Or Roger Deakin?

Or W G Sebald?

(or my 2013 Blog, Great Britten?)

(or my 2014 Blog, Mr Constable?)

A love song to Suffolk

Nobody done that!