Thursday, 30 August 2012

Hidden stile

The crazy amounts of rain have produced abundant weeds and spreading undergrowth that are almost out of control.
I was on a country walk and couldn't find this stile at all - until I realised it had been virtually completely hidden by rain-fed luxuriant green growth.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Fields of yellow

This crop is still standing, a little late in the season, so the farmer must have made a calculated guess that the mild, sunny weather would persist and dry it.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Alton's constrained loops

Alton Towers may be Britain's leading amusement park, but its landscaping is quite different to that of somewhere like, say, Blackpool Pleasure Beach or Six Flags in Texas.  For a start, Alton Towers has lots of trees and is also contained in smaller spaces - because it was of course designed, 150 years ago, as the pleasure gardens of a very rich artistocrat.

So the lines and loops of its rides seem more constrained to me than the ones of the big, brash parks.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Images of Cartier Bresson

Henri Cartier Bresson took one of the most famous photos in modern photographic reportage - titled Juvisy France (1938). It shows four people, their backs to the camera, having a picnic on a river bank, and it can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It's one of my favourite photos.

So, you can imagine how I felt seeing the scene above. It was like I was viewing an echo of the Juvisy image. I managed to get round the back of the people and got this shot.

Of course, when I got back home and checked, I realised the composition wasn't as much like that of the original (pictured right) as I'd thought, which was a disappointment... 
But the wonder is how certain striking images never leave us. I hadn't come across the original Cartier Bresson image in ten years probably - and yet, there it was, embedded in my mind.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Saxon Warrior

This 'Saxon Warrior' statue was created by artist Andy Edwards to commemorate the finding of the Staffordshire Hoard, a treasure trove of one-thousand year old gold objects found – believe it or not – buried in a field (!) in south Staffordshire a few years ago.
The objects are mostly from military items - possibly from a local king's arsenal.

The Warrior is not strictly authentic, as the sculptor has added modern markings to his shield and other garments. It’s a good guessing game to figure out which they are.

The Warrior is now sited permanently in the City Museum at Hanley.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Beacon over the hills

Beacon on the Staffordshire Moorlands

This beacon, by the Mermaid Inn, near the Roaches ridge of hills in the Staffordshire Moorlands, was used to celebrate the Millennium, I believe. It gets fired up on similar occasions now.
It's a lonely spot, so it carries quite an impact when it's lit.

The badge attached to it carries the symbols of the Stafford Knot, the logo of the county, and a depiction of curlew (see comments, below).
I had thought it was a lapwing, which is a bird which swoops and darts over the moors in Spring. But, erm, no.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Jesus gets angry

Christ gets upset to the point of anger just once in the Bible, and that's when he sees money trading going on inside the sacred precincts of the Temple. The story goes that he took up a whip and beat the money-changers from the site.
This is such an unusual action for a figure who acts so compassionately and forgivingly that Christian commentators often have a hard time explaining it.

It's such a problem indeed that one rarely sees the scene depicted in churches; and I was quite taken aback to see it done in stained-glass at St Mary's Stafford.
It seems to even be a surprise to the character in the adjoining window - who appears to be turning his head toward what is happening, as though he can't believe it...!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bored in graveyard

Forever she will sit in this graveyard - in the village of Dilhorne.

When I have a drink at the pub over the road  (The White Lion - which has fantastic sunset views), I like to wander over and pay my respects to her.
I guess her expression is meant to be one of grief, but it always looks to me to be one of utter boredom - and who wouldn't be bored, stuck forever in a graveyard?
Actually, her expression makes me laugh more than be melancholy...

This post has been featured on Taphophile Tragics (the cemetery-enthusiasts' website)  

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Stafford by the sea

Stafford play-pool

Welcome to Stafford Beach!
You may know that Stafford is about as far from the sea as you can get in Britain, but that didn't stop Stafford Borough building its own beach and water-play area in Victoria Park.

The good people (well, kids) of Stafford weren't worried about the variable weather recently; instead they embraced the opportunity to pretend we are having a lovely summer.  Good for them.

I put the timer on, so for once I'm in my own photo.  A sort of Hitchcock cameo-role...

This post was featured on the International City Daily Photo website

Friday, 10 August 2012

Top Totty sales up

The controversy over Top Totty beer is now well-known. This beer from a Stafford brewery, Slaters, was removed from the bar at the Houses of Parliament earlier this year after a complaint about its offensive 'message'.
However, latest sales figures for the beer, six months on, show that there's no such thing as bad publicity, as numbers are up by an average 15%.

I'm still not sure of my own opinion on this - however, I do get sick of half-naked ladies selling cars/watches/head-phones etc, so I guess I see the point of the complaint.

Staffordshire is now much identified with this whole controversy, as the Stafford Knot, symbol of the county, is very prominent on the beer bottle's label.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Happy Oatcake Day!

Yes, indeed, somebody decided a few years ago to institute a National Oatcake Day - to celebrate North Staffordshire's own local delicacy. (For those that don't know, it's a thick savoury pancake served with melted cheese - and it's wonderful).

Chris Bates
I must admit that I've never lost my taste for oatcakes, which really are the food of the gods, even if they are a 'poor man's dish'.  As a new book published today says: "An Oatcake Is For Life – Not Just For Breakfast".

The dozens of little shops making oatcakes in this part of the world are part of the charm (oatcakes must be eaten freshly made; after a day they are half what they could be).
The Oatcake Kitchen in Dresden is one of my favourites, and it even has a range of...yes...oatcake merchandise, including mugs, greeting cards and T-shirts!
Chris Bates, who runs the shop (and appears on some of the greeting-cards even), is something of a local legend...

Links: The Oatcake Guide

Monday, 6 August 2012

War isn't like this

I'm afraid I get quite angry when I see war memorials like this (this one is in St Chad's, Lichfield). They are quite common in English churches and graveyards.
The point is that they show a knight in shining armour - a figure that is an exemplar of a soldier's great virtues - nobility, honour, chivalry, courage.  Of course, the knight is sometimes Saint George, the patron of England, but not always.

But what makes me so aggravated (and gloomy) about such memorials is that the Great War wasn't some medieval jousting tournament where men fought with the colours of their ladies tied to their armour. As we know the First World War was much messier.
To my mind, these knightly figures are not just a glorification of war, but a lie. Yes, they were supposed to comfort the bereaved families, but...honestly...!

More honest memorials started to come in the 1920s, usually showing a 'Tommy' in khaki uniform; and the knight-figure had all but disappeared by the time of the Second World War. During that war, conflict came home of course, with all the terrible bombing raids - and these sorts of 'chivalric' myths just wouldn't wash any more.

This post has been featured on Taphophile Tragics (the cemetery-enthusiasts' website)  

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bolt brings it home

Jamaican flags were in evidence as I passed the NORSACA community centre in Joiners Square. Were they there for Jamaican Independence Day (on 6th August) or showing support for Usain Bolt's attempt to win Olympic gold again?
As it turned out - both.

I was invited in to share (we hoped) in the great man's triumph. A big screen had been set up for the occasion - and sure enough, he didn't let us down: Usain ran the most explosive race.
We celebrated with Jamaican patties & chips.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Flowers get Brit-fever

Olympic fever has translated into Brit fervour, especially with Great Britain doing so well - amazingly well - in the medals table.
In Stafford, the gardeners at Victoria Park got into the spirit with this astonishing Union Jack flag of flowers...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Gedge's Surgical Shop

Parts of Stoke-on-Trent have barely changed since the 1950s. Like a number of once-important industrial cities, it saw great decline in the second half of the 20th century. Things still struggle even now.

One of the advantages of this depression is not a lot changes, so that a social historian still has lots to work with.
For example, lots of shops may have changed hands and business-type since the 1950s, but the new owners can't even be bothered to change the shop-fronts much. As we see in this photo.
Whatever Gedge's Shop was once, it's now a takeaway, but the landlord clearly doesn't think it worthwhile to remove the old name.

Incidentally, it seems hard to believe that there were once stores that labelled themselves "Surgical and Rubber Shop". I confess that I'm not even sure what such shops stocked!