Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Silver-white for Christmas

Leek's Christmas lights display seems to be one of the best I've seen this year. They have kept it simple - just decorations, and no flashing reindeer (thank Goodness)!

The organisers have made a decision to keep the lights this silvery-white colour, which I approve of. Red and green combos, and cosy oranges are of course attractive and seasonal - but silver-white, the colour of frost, is still my favourite shade of the season.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Autumn tree

The extraordinary autumn has produced a real feast of colour, and it’s hard to stop snapping away.

Still, I felt I had to photograph this tree at Froghall.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Elizabethan house collapsing

Sinai Park House looks like it’s falling down in this picture. In fact, that’s only half the truth – yes, it’s in a pretty bad state (and one set of eaves, to the left in this picture, did indeed recently collapse), but it’s a lot better than it was. In fact, the wing you see on the right is now lived-in, following some hard-worked restoration.

The fact is that the couple who bought it are putting their life and savings into putting it back into some kind of shape – but it’s tough going for them. Despite being Grade II listed, and five hundred years old, and in a brilliant location overlooking the Trent valley, help has not always been there for this lovely manor-house (which is located near Burton).
At one point, it was used as a barn for livestock…

It’s not open to the public yet, but there are occasional tours – often for ghost-hunting groups. The house is stuffed with ghosts apparently.

Link: Sinai Park House   /  Staffordshire Paranormal Group visits Sinai Park House

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hedgehog parking

Yes, I did a double-take at this sign too, which stands in the yard outside the Rock House Cottages (in Foxt).
I had visions of small hedgehogs lining up their carriages here.

And then the penny dropped. These are holiday cottages, each cottage quaintly named after a species of the local wildlife, including Badger, Dormouse… and Hedgehog.

Link: Rock House Farm Cottages

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advertising sign looks back to Spratts

These old tin advertisement-signs are disappearing now; and you’re more likely to see one in a curio shop than you are up on a wall anymore. So this one is pretty rare!

At one time, Spratts was THE big name in animal food. They were the original makers of ‘Bonio’, an odd, bone-shaped, amazingly popular biscuit for dogs.

Curiously, this sign remains only where it is because it is aligned to a pet-shop - that is still trading from this same spot in the West End of Stoke after all these many years.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Blood red waters

It looks as though blood from a battlefield is being washed away in this stream, but the fact is that the waters around Kidsgrove all go this orange-red colour. It’s due to the iron workings locally, and water is sifting the particles through the ground.

Sometimes the colour can turn a very thick vermilion, particularly near the Harecastle Tunnel on the local canal – and unwary trippers coming through on their narrowboats can look quite apprehensive!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Saracenic in Stoke

It looks proudly like the sort of Indo-Saracenic architecture made in British India. This building rises coolly above its rather ugly surroundings in Stoke town centre.
I always am thankful to see it – Stoke town needs this spot of glamour in it, it really does.

In fact, it is (I think) the former Co-Operative store; and is now a set of business offices.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Comic kissing gate

You can’t help but laugh on seeing this little kissing-gate. It is all alone in the field – no fence either side of it – yet, strangely, the sign on it encourages ramblers to pass through it..

It reminds me of the very funny scene in the spoof cowboy film Blazing Saddles, where the good guys erect a toll-gate in the middle of the desert plain – the cunning plan being to slow down the bad guys who are galloping towards them…
Sure enough, the bad guys (who are stupid, thus proving they are bad) queue up at this toll-gate in the middle of nowhere, additionally swearing and cussing when they realise they have to use ‘correct change’. 
The scene is surreal, very funny, and – now I see – imitates real life!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Alien gates

I’m not sure I much like these school gates at Waterside Primary in Hanley.  There’s something very cold and prison-like about them, and the thin, weedy structures coming out the top of them resemble nothing so much (to me) as alien antennae or unfriendly CCTV.

I haven’t been able to find out the symbolism yet, though the school is called Waterside because it is next to the canal, and it prides itself on an environmentally-friendly policy. I guess the wave-forms could symbolise water…

Anyway, I pity the poor children who have to go through them every day.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Auburn autumn

Another autumn spectacular at Cannock Chase!
I know it looks as though I’ve dabbled with this picture in Photoshop, but this is just how it came out. It was just before sunset, so the light was that special colour already.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Chorlton Mill

This is the closest you’ll get to Chorlton Mill. This fifteenth century water mill - at Stableford, which is in north Staffordshire - is now largely hidden from public view, being absorbed now into a private house’s property.
But you can still see it from the public footpath.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The rail carriage that never moves

When you eat at the Spot Gate Inn, near Stone, they say you “eat the old-fashioned way” for the restaurant dining area consists of two original Pullman railway carriages sited in the pub’s rear garden.
There is the plush armchair seating that you’d expect – and you get a ‘window view’ of course. There are even occasional train sound-effects!
It’s an odd experience…

Friday, 18 November 2011

Blurred trees

This photo was a complete accident - taken in too low a light, and so is somewhat blurred as you can see. It should be just deleted.
Yet I kinda like it. The pastel shades, the 'pointilliste' strokes making up the leaves on the ground  and the indistinct shapes remind me of paintings produced around 1900.
Sometimes these 'failed experiments' have a life of their own.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Jack Baskeyfield - VC

As the nights draw in, grim shadows take the places of what were once friendly landmarks. This forbidding shape is in fact a statue of Jack Baskeyfield VC, who died in action in World War Two.
The statue now stands at Hanley’s Festival Heights retail park.

There is some affection in the area for this young man, who came from here and who was only 24 when he died at the Battle of Arnhem in a last-ditch rearguard action.  A local school is named after him.
The fact that his body was never found shows how hopeless his situation was – and how brave he must have been to have kept on fighting.

Link: Baskeyfield VC

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Bust has a joke

This bust peers out of a high barn window looking up the country lane near Swythamley Park. The barn was empty, so I guess whoever placed the bust there was having a little joke with possible passers-by…

The figure does seem familiar though. Is it the French writer, Honore de Balzac?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Speeding train

Train lines criss-cross Staffordshire, just as canals do. Being at the heart of England, the transport revolution of the early nineteenth century really took off here.

That means that one is often walking over crossings for one reason or another.  As I approached this crossing a train whizzed past in front of me.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Hall in need of love

I came across Whitehough Hall purely by accident in the middle of nowhere, having got completely lost on a walk around Ipstones, in the Moorlands district (this happens to me a lot).

It was one of those breath-taking moments, being unexpectedly and suddenly faced with this great old building.  It dates to the 17th Century. I really love it.

Someone is doing it up now, as it had lain derelict for a while; but it will be a labour of love, as I can imagine it will be hugely costly to restore it.
Another hall nearby, Sharpecliffe Hall, was in a similar position, but is now flats I believe.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Katyn Memorial

The Katyn Massacre Memorial will no doubt have a ceremony at it today, today being Remembrance Sunday.
The memorial is hidden in a small copse on Cannock Chase, and - though there is a sizeable Polish community the county - it’s a bit of a puzzle why it’s placed there, but it is, so that’s that.

If anyone needs to understand the horror of brutal & totalitarian ‘politics’, I do recommend they see the film ‘Katyn’.  It tells the story of the Second World War massacre in which the Soviets shipped thousands of Polish officers and professional people (who had already surrendered) to a forest – and simply shot them all.
It was politics in the raw – Stalin had decided that Poland would be easier to manage with the middle-classes out of the way. The logic is impeccable, the results horrifying.
The Russians only admitted that Stalin had done it in 1990.  No wonder many Poles still fear Russia, and are happy to be in the European Union.

The film of Katyn is not gory incidentally. Instead it quietly but effectively blisters one’s spirit to its core. One is shaking afterwards.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Spectacular autumn

'They' (whoever they are) say the autumn is going to be spectacular. Well, as you can see, on Cannock Chase the autumn colours are already making a splash.

Incidentally, the same amateur weather-forecasters point to the early flowering of holly berries as a sure sign that it will be a really hard winter. I leave you to judge the truth of this.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Wreath remembers Victoria Cross man

Already it is the 11th November again - Armistice Day.  A day for two minutes silence at 11am.

A lot of remembrance wreaths have already been placed, including this one in Blythe Bridge. Somehow, it's very special, as Number 350 is just a very ordinary and quite small terraced house, yet the owner seems proud to have the plaque attached to the front wall, and to allow the wreath to be placed there at this time of year.

Sergeant Ernest Egerton was lucky to have survived his brave actions. Most holders of the Victoria Cross either die in the action or of wounds incurred.

Link: Egerton VC

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Bettie Brewer

Burton Albion’s mascot didn’t have much to cheer until a few years ago – the ‘Brewers’ were in the doldrums of non-league. Then, along came Nigel Clough (now manager with Derby County) and slowly but surely the club thrived. It’s now in League Two.
On Saturday (12th November) they play - at home – against Oldham in the first round of the FA Cup.

What’s interesting is that the mascot, Bettie Brewer, is quite distinctly female. Albion has made a point of trying to be a family club, and wanting to attract women to watch games.
Bettie does have a male counter-part, Billy Brewer, but it’s still an interesting aspect of the club’s philosophy.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Ceramic 'employees'

The British Ceramic Biennial comes to an end on Sunday (though one of its exhibitions, at the Potteries Museum, continues a little longer).
As I said in a previous review, I was a bit disappointed with the overall achievement – especially with the grandiose claim that the Biennial was going to ‘raise the profile of ceramics’ - but some works that were on show were fascinating.

This work by Lawrence Epps is called ‘Employees’. It shows his interest in what happens to people who become part of the corporate world…

Anyway, despite my misgivings, I hope it does come back to Stoke on Trent in two years.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Black's Head

The Blacks Head pub in Tean

I was surprised to see The Blacks Head in Tean still sporting its long-time name.  A lot of these kinds of pub-names are now deemed politically incorrect, as they hark back to a time of widespread racial prejudice.
For example: ‘The Black Boy’ at Cobridge, whose sign showed a young black lad in servant’s livery, closed for economic reasons some time ago, but had had issues with the community…

The story of the ‘Labour in Vain’ pub in mid-Staffordshire is the daftest, as its sign related to a folk-tale of two ignorant peasants trying to wash clean the first African lad they ever came across. The sign was taken down in 2003 as politically incorrect, but put up again in 2009 (as it was re-interpreted: as ‘part of local tradition’).

It’s all very confusing, and is part of the problem that anyone has in trying to ‘correct history’.  (Should we leave statues up of Oliver Cromwell – whose troops massacred so many in Ireland?  It’s a moot question).

But I do notice that the pub-owners here in Tean have not attempted to put up a pictorial pub-sign.  Neither has another ‘Blacks Head’ – the one in Stoke.
It’s probably for the best.

Link:  Labour In Vain sign restored

Monday, 7 November 2011

Steak/Stake out

This did make me laugh, I'll admit it. A lot of shops (especially hairdressers) have punning names, and some are funny, some not.

This one from a burger takeaway in Leek I thought was very clever - mostly because it's so apt. It works on nearly every level...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Church beauty

This quite beautiful stained glass window can be found in St. Peter's Church at Broughton. The church is a gift for people who love churches because – unlike nearly every other old church in the country – it wasn’t ‘modernised’ in the Victorian period.
It’s almost frozen in time, having been built in the 1630s.

But, this window is clearly Victorian, almost pre-Raphaelite in style.  I think it’s terrific even though it’s actually quite small.
Trouble is, I forget what it depicts…

Saturday, 5 November 2011


Taking photos of fireworks is relatively easy on a digital camera. You just find the fireworks setting, point and click ... again and again and again. You have no idea what you’re going to get, so there’s no point being too anxious.

I know that the purists will not be happy with that attitude, and I know I‘d get more life-like pix with a more studied approach, but, hey, at least I stood out in the cold and took some shots.
And yes, it was cold! Winter arrived just in time for Guy Fawkes Night.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Mining tribute... in blue

The landmark pit wheel monument at the Apedale Park stands proudly on the high hill above the site of the former colliery.
This country park (near Newcastle) supports not just the open space of the countryside it now encompasses, but the Apedale Heritage Centre, with its collection of historic mining artefacts.

It’s worth a walk up there. It’s a bleak landscape, but that only serves to remind one of how tough the mining life must have been back then.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Flinty in Cheddleton

These crisp days are really good for ‘bracing’ walks, especially when one knows there is a pub and a fireplace at the end of the walk! 
Walking round the Deep Hayes Country Park area, one comes across the old Cheddleton Flint Mill, which lies by the canal.It is now a museum run by volunteers.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Speaking Polari in Piccadilly

The ‘pink quarter’ in Stoke-on-Trent lies in Piccadilly, in Hanley. A famous gay bar can be found there, as well as other gay-friendly places.
The Polari Lounge (seen here) is the place to meet up. It is a sort of mix of coffee-bar and LGBT advice centre, but is open to anyone, including shoppers and passers-by who fancy an espresso and cake in stylish surroundings. The coffee is pretty good...

Its helpful menu explains that Polari is the name given to the secret language or ‘argot’ used by gay people, circus-people and others up till the 1960s or so. It even outlines some of the vocabulary: thus 'zhoosh' would have meant 'to smarten up'; and 'bonnaroo' would have meant 'very good'…

Link:  Polari Lounge

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

All Souls Day

Tomb at Enville Church

It’s All Hallows Day / All Souls Day / All Saints Day – take your pick! The devils had their chance yesterday, now today the good spirits are out in force.

In the old days, you’d pray on this day for the spirits gone before, and you might even give some cake (‘soul cake’) to those you could persuade to pray for your dead relatives. In St Mary's at Enville, this formidable couple - Thomas Grey & wife, from the 16th Century - lie now, but they look too stern to thank one for praying for them…

Incidentally, here is an old souling song. It was traced to Staffordshire by Frederick Grice in his book Folk Tales From The West Midlands:
Soul Day, soul day; we have all been praying
For the soul departed, so pray good people and give us a cake
For we are all poor people well-known to you before
So give us a cake for charity’s sake, and our blessing we’ll leave at your door.

By the way, St Mary’s is a lovely old church, if you enjoy visiting churches, and has some really ancient monuments.

Link: St Mary, Enville