Saturday, December 31, 2005

Window Tax

Today is the anniversary of the imposition of the Window Tax in 1695. Perhaps if it was brought back, we could price those monstrous Tesco stores out of business. Visit Evesham to see what I mean (but don't linger - it would be too depressing).

"I've always wanted an Airfix kit"

This statue to Charles Stuart Rolls stands in Agincourt Square in Monmouth, Wales. He was born in London in 1877 but his family seat was in the town and he is buried nearby. He met a sad end in 1910 when he became the first Briton to be killed in an aircraft accident.

The town of Monmouth is a pleasantly situated place although infested with clone shops. This is balanced by the presence of both a Waitrose and a Marks & Spencer Simply Food (see, I get my priorities right).

(The title for today's blog was supplied by a passer-by)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Getting the Needle

Monica came across a charity shop in Evesham today that is not allowed to sell knitting kneedles. The reason? They could be used as 'dangerous weapons'!

Take care, folks. The lunatics are running the asylum!


In the course of just a few hours, the weather in Worcestershire has changed from dull, cold and icy to dull, mild and wet - oh, the glories of the British climate.

The picture harks back to the last few days when we have experienced a real taste of winter, the sort of weather that always takes the authorities and the public in this country by surprise. We have become complaisant.

Fortunately I was able to take the photograph indoors in the warm. The object is made of glass not ice. The art of illusion.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bearing Up

We have exchanged the pre-Christmas madness for the post-Christmas version. Shops are discounting all those perfect presents that we bought at full price only a week or two ago. Why do we do it? Why can't we call their bluff and hang on? We could give our friends and loved ones IOUs on the 25th or, better still, move our own Christmas celebrations to some random date, in February, for instance. Then we wouldn't need to get involved in the Christmas rush at all and we could buy everything in the January sales (which started in Laura Ashley around mid-December).

Hang on. That’s not a good idea, I didn't think it through; physically shopping in the sales (no doubt referred to as a 'person present transaction' in modern jargon) is akin to listening to Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley - why would we want to do it? No, a better bet would be to visit the sales on-line. Then we can have the pleasure of waiting in all day later in the month for a carrier to turn up - or not (a recurrent theme).

Still, all in all, it's not a bad time of the year. We get to spend quality time (what an abysmal phrase!) with friends and family, we can eat foods that society declares off-limits throughout the rest of the year, like Christmas pudding, and we get the pleasure of giving and receiving. On balance, I think we bear up fairly well in the circumstances (new entry in the 'tenuous link to picture' category).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


So someone's stolen a bun that resembled Mother Teresa from a museum, sold a toasted sandwich that looked like the Virgin Mary for $28,000 on Ebay and found a fish finger that bore an image of the 'Son of God'. I'm not sure whether it's more worrying that people saw these things in the first place and believed they were significant or that the media felt such a compulsion to report them. We have just got to find a way to speed evolution up, at least as far as the human race is concerned!

Fortunately some of the things we see in images are less scary. My daughter, Louisa, commented on the zebras in today's picture. Not that many of them come down to the Avon to drink of an evening – we were just lucky.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

An Evolutionary Dead End?

According to an article in 'The Times' today, 343 adults were injured falling out of trees in the UK last year. As if that statistic alone doesn't show that a fair number of the members of the human race are a few pictures short of an album, 43 of them were pensioners; wisdom comes with age - I think not. More interestingly, 21 people ended up in Casualty because of accidents involving pyjamas - nasty vicious stuff, nightwear, turns on you when you least expect it.

Some animals have no choice when it comes to injury. They suffer as a result of human selfishness. An example; A precise figure for the number of swans and wildfowl injured by fishing tackle in Britain is not known but is thought to be at least 2000 a year. Does that sound reasonable? And is it avoidable? Unfortunately I don't think so, not if we can't get one leg into a pair of pyjama bottoms without falling over. Still a bit of evolution to go yet, I think.

(Apologies to Bob for yet another bird picture)

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Temple of Over-Indulgence

A traditional family get-together at Cirencester today. Subjects under discussion included;

  • Knitting, correct way to cast on and various stitch combinations - Dave (son-in-law), Louisa (daughter), Monica and my mother
  • Big lenses (we're not that interested in knitting) - Bob (brother), Pete (another brother), myself
  • Is it easier to cut a round Christmas cake or a square one? - Dad, Mum
  • Are sprouts edible delights or the devil's doodahs? - All

Mum's nut roast with onion gravy, first rate, Stilton & Nut Pie, delicious. Dad's merinque, well up to scratch - very tangy filling, good crunch and sweetness to the topping. Cake also A1 with plenty of marzipan.

(Also present in a supporting role, Bob's dog, Tarry, who made no comment on any of the subjects discussed but did show great interest in the food)

Almond Croissant - Latest

Sampled within last 48 hours - almond croissant at Pepper & Oz, Great Malvern - first class, 90% on the croissanometer.

Damned fine coffee too.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Christmas Visitor

My brother, Bob, is the bird photographer in our family so I apologise to him for treading on his turf today. I don't often photograph animate objects but I couldn't resist this heron which flapped its way into a tree at the bottom of our garden this afternoon. I've no idea what it was after as we've only got seed out for the small birds and we're fresh out of minnows, perch, roach, trout, etc. Perhaps it had its eye on our resident frog. Whatever, it left empty-handed. Perhaps we should have thrown it a tin of tuna.


Peter has given me a beanbag. It's something to rest my camera on when I can't be bothered to carry a tripod (which is most of the time). It will come in very handy for balancing the little Canon on when I'm crouched behind a church pew snapping a bit of ecclesiastical woodwork or groping after a Bryentonesque reflection shot off a car bonnet*.

The bag smells of lavender which is supposed to be very restful - insomniacs use it in pillows, I believe. I like the thought that my camera will feel rested and unstressed as it snuggles into the bag's invitingly scented embrace. I don’t suppose it will do much for my stress though - some of the shots I attempt play hell with my knees. It's a long way down there when you're six foot three (that's one point nine metres to the imperially challenged). Perhaps I should get some liniment-impregnated trousers**.

I could show you a picture of the beanbag which is blue and doesn’t appear to contain any beans but that would be far too tedious for words. So I won’t.

That’s all, folks, enjoy your day.

* Hood
** Pants

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Some places make the effort to be festive, some can't be bothered - judging by this decoration, Great Malvern falls into the latter category.

Fortunately Nature itself can provides the right touch. Even on a dull overcast day, this petal floating in a bird bath at St Peter's, Bengeworth can add more than a touch of the Saturnalian spirit.

If you're out hedging your bets this evening around midnight, enjoy the Mass. If you're not, curl up with a good book by Richard Dawkins.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Yet Another Sunset

I was very interested in what Peter had to say yesterday about categorising photographs with reference to Michael Reichmann's web site.

As there was a pleasant looking sunset in the offing this evening, I decided to saunter down Broadway Lane to the water meadows and see what I could fit in the frame. In order to make this as difficult as possible, I took a narrow lens rather than a wide and wore the wrong type of shoes.

This is the image that most appealed to me but where does it fall in Michael's system. Is it a snapshot, a postcard or an image? The criteria he bases his judgement on is whether it has emotional content, something to get your heart racing. That is difficult to call as I think it depends so much on the viewer. When we listen to music our reaction is in many ways culturally defined, it's what we were brought up to enjoy (how else can you explain the cult of Elvis Presley) and I'm sure that an element of that is present when we look at pictures. One person's snapshot is another person's image. (I apologise for the PC use of the word 'person' - I won't do it again).

Stiil that's all very serious - what really matters is that I enjoyed taking the photographs despite having muddy feet.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Almond Croissants - An Update

I took a trip up to Heathrow today to pick up my youngest brother, Pete, our very own web-site guru. I stopped off at John Lewis at High Wycombe to carry out a spot check on the standard of their almond croissants. I have to say they were a little disappointing, measuring only 40% satisfactory against the standard set at the Rendezvous in Leicester Square and John Lewis at Kingston-on Thames. The main problems were low to non-existent almond paste content and dryness in the overall texture. Room for improvement there; I hope this is not a warning of future performance.

The press, as usual, had spun horror stories about the state of the roads today and the millions of people endeavouring to leave our sceptred isle for foreign parts. Thus warned, I left with plenty of time in hand and, with the way these thing go, I arrived far too early. The M25 was so empty I suspected there had been an alien landing somewhere and I drove into the short stay car park at Terminal 3 without even getting stopped at a set of lights. Incidentally if Gordon Brown ever seriously wants to reduce the National Debt, he should take up a franchise on airport parking - rip-off Britain in spades.

Yesterday I contrived a link to an image by implying the need for a chat over a beer. If that were to happen, this is probably the inn where it would take place (another nebulous link - getting desperate now).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Two Heads Are Better Than One

It is the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year and it's very confusing to a simple soul like me. For a start it's not always on the 21st - next year it's on the 22nd.

As if that isn't difficult enough, although the daylight hours now start to lengthen, the time of sunrise continues to advance - in Pershore today it was at 08:13, on January 4th it will be 08:16 and only after that date will it start to recede. I went in search of an explanation and the BBC obliged - it befuddled me (and I hate befuddlement). The Times also tried to explain it a few weeks ago -they also lost me.

What I did glean from these two impeccable sources is that the Earth is a bit wonky (to put it scientifically). I could really do with someone explaining it to me over a pint or two. After all, two heads is supposed to be better than one and that is the most contrived link to a picture I've yet attempted.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Small Triumph

A small triumph for the rational mind over the irrational occurred in Dover, Pennsylvania today.

A Real Fire

Nothing beats a real fire in the grate; a flickering red glow in the room, crackling logs, sparks spitting out, cats diving for cover, the sweet scent of wood smoke, the acrid smell of singed rug.

This is the alternative - it provides none of the above but is probably better than looking at a sooty black hole.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Ethereal Window

I stayed in all day today waiting for a parcel to be delivered. It was a perfect day for photography and Peter rang to see if I could come out to play - I couldn't. It was a perfect day for cycling - warm sun, no wind; I spent it indoors, doing house work (don't worry, chaps, nothing too strenous) and paperwork. Capital punishment is the only method suitable for dealing with the scum who run these delivery firms. You might get away with murder, treason and arson in a naval dockyard nowadays but failing to deliver on time deserves the axe (and a blunt one at that).

On a lighter note (pun intended), I continue with my fascination with sun through windows. This projection is of one of the west windows in Pershore Abbey.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Portraits in the Sun

We get used to seeing paintings displayed in galleries under subdued lighting, sometimes with illumination so dim the subject is barely discernible. Thus it comes as a bit of a surprise to see these pictures of Oliver Cromwell and Sir Charles Lucas in Stow Town Hall so boldly lit. As it happens they are not the originals but copies painted in the 1930s so perhaps it doesn't matter - it's no concern of mine anyway.

The Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold was the last fought in the English Civil War. The action took place on March 21st, 1646 and resulted in a defeat for the Royalists. We are fortunate in mainland Britain not to have suffered a full-blown civil conflict since then although doubtless we could find an excuse for one if we tried hard enough; such is the nature of the beast.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Where The Wind Blows Cold

We took a trip to Stow-on-the-Wold today pursuing the relentless quest for the perfect present. It was unsuccessful but we are not downhearted - there are one or two counties in southern England that we haven't visited yet.

Stow is a strange town. We saw more than our fair share of Hooray Henry's (if there is such a thing as a fair share of these strange examples of the human race). There was a sale of cashmere clothing on in the town hall; the style of the garments offered would have not looked out of place in films like 'Gosford Park' or 'Howard's End' yet they must meet a need. We also encountered that curious breed of shop assistant that is indigenous to such towns, the twenty-something year-old blonde who enlivens your day with a stomach churning display of flabby midriff. Her well-honed customer skills consist of total oblivion as to your presence coupled with the placing of a series of phone calls to her friends who are obviously as vacuous as she is.

Image-wise the weather continues to bless us with solar radiance. I had a couple of attempts at making something out of this old brewery office - not sure what I was after or whether I like what I've got. I just felt there was something there I ought to be photographing – hopefully this strange compulsion is curable.

Friday, December 16, 2005

FIsh Fingers and a Leaf

According to The Times, the British eat one million fish fingers every day - yes, 1,000,000 breaded or battered composition fish pieces every single day. Where the hell do they get them all from? If you believe what you read, the average Grimsby trawler skipper only has to land one cod a month before his quota is up and the hit men from the Fish Police are breathing down his neck.

The above mini-rant has almost nothing to do with today's pictures except that there is a water connection. There are no cod in the River Avon as far as I know. What fish there are will no doubt be bone-ridden and unpalatable. Nor are there any fish in the fountain by the canal basin at Stratford-upon-Avon but there was a leaf. Just out of interest I photographed it both across the light and against it. The difference is quite dramatic and not the least bit fishy.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Happy Honda Day

Businesses need to be inventive if they are to maintain customer loyalty. It's not enough to just send Christmas cards or, as one Ford dealership did to Monica, flowers (I tried to pretend they were from me but couldn't pull it off). No, now they've branched out into delicacies.

Monica's Honda Jazz was one-year-old this week and through the letter box popped this birthday cake. We haven't tried it yet but we may once I've found out what E500, E471, E260, E262, E405, E413, E422, E202, E171, E172, E153, E104, E135, E122, E124, E131, E132, E110, E102, E155, and E129 do. The last thing I need is to become hyperactive.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bench & Shadow

A couple of days ago I flung wide the curtains and there it was - another glorious winter's day. Time to take the Nikon D70 out to play; it hasn't done much to earn its keep since our trip to France in August. I drove over to Winchcombe in search of a change of street furniture.

I quite like benches. They often make good images as well as being handy places to prop the bike up when I'm cycling. They're a comfortable (compared to a bicycle saddle) perch for knocking back a pork pie or home-brew ham sandwich. However sitting on a bench will present you as the proverbial duck to all and sundry. Sat on one you can interact with the local drunk who will impress you with his knowledge of the real ales of Gloucestershire or the real meths of the DIY store. Or you can fall victim to one of the charity muggers who have invaded our towns recently, financial thugs, anxious to sign you up and take their obscene cut of your donation.

Happily Winchcombe was deprived of any of these worthies on Monday as far as I could tell. I was safe to approach and photograph this fine example of the iron-founder's art, lit almost horizontally by the mid-morning sun.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Little Comberton Church

My matutinal peregrinations today took me off across the northern slopes of Bredon Hill. The weather was ideal for winter cycling - minimal wind and intermittent swathes of golden yellow sunlight flooding the Vale.

During one of the bright outbursts I snuck into the church at Little Comberton. The south facing windows are quite small but allow some good shafts of light into the interior whose effects I have tried to capture.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Two Chaps in Silhouette

Every now and again Peter and I are let off the leash and allowed to roam while Jane and Monica go off and do girlie things. It's not usually for more than about thirty minutes but that's plenty of time to grab a few images on a cracking winter's day.

Neither of us has exhausted Pershore yet. It might not have the striking street furniture of Florence, Sienna or the towns of Provence but it can still produce a few surprises such as the window projection I put up a couple of days ago. We spend a lot of time investigating alleyways and yards, trying desperately not to look as if we're eyeing the premises up for a bit of smash and grab! Today's image is the result of such a foray down a snicket to see if we could get to the river. We couldn't but, looking back, I caught sight of a bit of red which might fit this month's theme. I then clocked the silhouette of the two intrepid photographers. Two for the price of one, you lucky people!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Electric Fan

One of my daughters (sorry, girls, I can't remember which) told me a terrible joke years ago that involved clapping your hands and chanting the word 'electric'. The punch line doesn't need much explanation - the image gives it away.

I noticed it while wandering down a side street in Moreton-in-Marsh yesterday afternoon looking for red objects for my Theme of the Month. Monica was ferreting around in a charity shop and I was wondering how much longer we could hold off before descending on Tilley's for scones and tea (this blog gets more like a food column every day - gorgeous fruit scone, by the way, and first-rate apple & cinnamon cake).

The search for red was unrequited; I was overwhelmed by a plethora of Christmas objects. Roll on the New Year!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

An Extra Window

I should know better than to go to the Post Office on a Saturday morning particularly at this time of year when the madness descends. The queue was stretching to the door. I may be British (a heady mix of Norman, Anglo-Saxon and a touch of Celt) but I don't stand in line. Life is too short. I took my parcel back to the car and succeeded in upsetting at least one motorist who thought I was going to drive off and leave him a space. I don't queue in car-parks either.

All was not lost however. Even walking around Pershore, a town I've known for over twenty five years, I'm still finding images in unexpected places. I must have walked past the town hall building hundreds of times and never clocked this window reflection before. Another benefit of the mid-winter all-day magic hour.

Friday, December 09, 2005


What are valances about, eh? We bought a couple at a shop in Tiverton last weekend - £39 reduced to £2.

If you've not met them before, all I can say is that they're a sort of skirt which apparently come in plain or pleated. Perhaps frilly is also an option. You use them to hide the base of your bed. I mean, how Victorian is that? Are bed divan bases erotic or something? I can't say they arouse me.

And the installation! What a palaver! Haved you tried moving a mattress? It's about as easy a job as herding cats. Hernia and/or rupture-inducing effort is required and all so that you can hide the bed's immodest bottom.

Someone's having a laugh.

And, what's more, these particular valances are Australian. They must have sent them over as a joke, see what else they can fool the Poms into buying. After all they've been successful with Foster's and Castlemaine 4X (and 'Neighbours').

Still, £2 each (Yes, we bought more than one - well, you have to, don't you, at that price).

A bargain.

A Retail Outlet from the Past

There are still a few places in Great Britain where retailers provide the sort of service that would be seen as unprofitable or unnecessary by many of the companies that inhabit the shopping malls and retail parks. I know it's difficult to credit but there are still shops where the staff have been trained to serve and provide advice rather than chat amongst themselves and sniff.

Brays of Malvern are one of the few who have hung on to the quaint notion that the customer is an essential part of the business and to be cosseted - the staff are friendly, helpful and courteous, even my size 12 feet are no trouble (and, in fact, seem to have acquired some notoriety).

I've always wanted notorious feet.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Woody Words

Back in the 1970s the writers of 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' came up with a sketch about Woody and Tinny Words. I don't know whether this was an original concept of theirs or something they'd picked up elsewhere but I'm sure there's an element of truth in it. Some words do sound woody - they have an earthy natural resonance - words like rotund, rump, burble. These are pleasant words you wouldn't mind spending a day with, strolling arm-in-arm through dappled shadow, surrounded by the sounds of leaves rustling, birds trilling.

Ah, now there's the rub - in that last sentence, the theory fell down. Rustling, trilling, are these woody? I think not; both have a strong tinge of tinniness about them yet they describe pleasurable experiences. Admittedly they are not harsh, hard words like spike or bin-liner but they're still on the tinny side. I suppose it works both ways; boom has a good woody feel yet it is often associated with disaster. Doom has a warm sound although this is easily countered by one of its partners, harbinger, which is about as tinny as you can get. Prophet doesn't help, nor laden, nor watch, all words with stannic tendencies.

Right, I've no idea where I'm going with this now so, in the best Monty Python sketch tradition, I'll just........

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Partial Bicycle Reflection

Reflection shots are part of the armoury of images snapped by the photographer-about-town with his dinky little digital gadget. Actually I'm sure I took the above with my D70 which is definitely not the least bit dinky or a particularly subtle piece of apparatus. I had a contretemps with a very rude and ill-bred woman in Cirencester earlier this year after her daughter managed to walk into it as it hung from my shoulder - hopefully it taught the child to look where it was going.

Today's image, which was shot in Aigues-Mortes, features a bicycle, possibly one of the most photogenic of man's inventions, way ahead of the motor car and only slightly behind the steam engine (why anyone would want a car in a photograph is beyond me, other than as a reflective surface for some more interesting subject).

If I could be bothered I might succumb to the urge to photoshop out the brightly lit leaves on the right; since I can't be, I won't.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Retail Park

There is very little positive that you can say about the Maybird Retail Park in Stratford-on- Avon. It combines hideous architecture with a nondescript and depressing array of shops. If you keep your back to it, however, it is possible to find something verging on the photogenic. Looking out across the car park just after sundown, the blight is obscured and nature holds sway.

Monday, December 05, 2005


I've already written about my coffee addiction. I'm pleasantly surprised by how much better the British are getting at producing a decent brew. Even some of the big chains like Costa can come up with something presentable, to my taste buds, at least. The restaurants in John Lewis and Waitrose stores are consistently superior to more run-of-the mill establishments. However small independents can usually better them - locally that would be the 'Pastry Case' in Pershore, 'Pepper & Oz' in Malvern and an unpretentious little cafe in Ludlow that I can't remember the name of (I was PDA-less that day).

The standard is still set abroad. I began my quest in the 1980s after a visit to a small patisserie in Chateau Gontier in France. The peak so far has been achieved by Cafe Creme in Woollahra, Sydney which uses Toby's Estate Coffee. At home I'm into Taylor's of Harrogate's Christmas Blend, purchased from Capers in Pershore.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005


I have a reputation as a human dustbin with an abhorrence of wasted food. It appears that others do not always follow my example. Still it's probably for the good - these snacks are pretty revolting, full of salt and artificial flavourings. Best not made at all.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Civic Sculpture

In many towns and villages the only sculptured objects outside the church are the war memorials, most of which were erected after the Great War. They take many forms from simple tablets to large set-pieces. Early examples often used war paraphernalia such as cannon captured from the enemy.

I'm always taken with the elegance of those employing a winged figure representing 'Immortality'. In January I published an image of an example in Pershore Abbey in my yearly journal. Today's was taken a few days ago in Skipton in Yorkshire.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005

December 1st

It is about now that those of us who celebrate Christmas should be thinking of giving it some consideration - nothing too hasty, just some thought to the festive opportunities ahead. Unfortunately the supermarkets, department stores, DIY sheds, garden centres and the like have been pushing it down our throats since as early as September; I can single out Notcutts as a particular offender.

Commercial greed and stupidity will always overcome tradition if we allow it to. The last day for posting to the farthest corners of the earth (other than perhaps Antartica) is in the second week of December - plenty of time to buy that pair of socks with animated reindeer that you're sure Uncle Darren in Tuvalu will appreciate. Don't buy anything before today. Don't do it, you know it makes sense! Make Christmas special again!