Friday, 30 October 2015

Tunnel for Halloween

Swainsley Tunnel on the Manifold Way path

Question for Halloween: why are tunnels so spooky?  There are some Freudian answers to this I suppose, but it gets complicated.

My favourite 'ghost' scene' from a movie occurs in Kurosawa's Dreams, which is surely one of the most imaginative films of all time.   In the scene, some soldiers - in strict march formation, their boots clacking loudly, unseen by the main character - emerge from the darkness of a tunnel.  The twist is that the soldiers are ghosts, but they don't actually know it.   That premise is scary enough, but the tunnel (as Kurosawa knew) is the key element.

Swainsley Tunnel, should you care to walk it (!), is on the Manifold Way path.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Sam Johnson is a favourite

Portrait of Samuel Johnson which hangs in County Buildings in Stafford

There are a quite few figures that vie for the title of 'Staffordshire's favourite son', but Doctor Samuel Johnson is up there. 
Of course, virtually nobody in Staffordshire actually reads much of what he wrote any more - though, at Christmas, yes, one can buy little volumes that contain his collected witticisms.
Curiously, he had a lot of strange bodily afflictions in his life, including an incurable facial tic, and what we would now call Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

Anyway, he now has pride of place (a statue in the square!) in Lichfield and in Uttoxeter; and, as you can see,  his portrait has been chosen to hang in the grand 'Judge's Room' in County Buildings in Stafford.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The gulls of St Modwen

Gulls on St Modwen Church in Burton

Gulls regularly line the roof of St Modwen Church in Burton.  They seem to find it a good look-out for the adjacent River Trent.

Burton is of course hundreds of miles from the sea, but the Trent is navigable all the way up to the East Coast (yes, this surprised me too)... so maybe these gulls floated down from the North Sea.  Hmm.  Perhaps.

Incidentally, St Modwen's parish district now consists of ... basically ... the small island in the middle of the Trent river. Now that is weird.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Sweet Ingestre

Ingestre Pippin apple

Apple Day is traditionally around October 21st, but people seem relaxed about celebrating it when they like. 
At this Apple Day event, pride of place went to the Ingestre Pippin variety, which is named after the Ingestre estate in mid Staffordshire.  It tasted sweet...

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Family feud in stone

Curious carving in Brewood

This most curious carving can be found on a house opposite the parish church in Brewood. The face (could it be a mask?) has its tongue sticking out...   There is no explanation.

However, a passer-by told me that the story behind it is that, some many years ago, a lady so disliked her own sister - who lived in a house on the same street - that she had the carving specially made as a permanent signal to her unfortunate sibling.  The sticking-out tongue pointed in the latter's direction, apparently.
Somehow this sums up an aspect of Staffordshire people - quite happy to tell it how it is (even to the point of rudeness), yet co-existing happily in the same street!

I can find no information about this on the web.  So I'm happy to believe the story I heard!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Cock-up in Leek

Municipal bench in Leek

You actually couldn't make this story up...

In Leek, there are lots of brightly-coloured benches - all exhibiting a number of symbols of the town.  The confusion is: what's the cockerel doing there?  Although very prominent on these municipal benches, the rooster isn't thought to be a bird that is anything to do with the Staffordshire Moorlands.

The local paper was so perturbed by this anomaly that it set a reporter on the case, who reported back saying that it was... umm ... all a mistake!  The bird should be a moorhen. 
The original mistake, made in 1956, has never been corrected.
See : Leek's Heraldry ... mistake

Monday, 12 October 2015

Industry's toxicity is not new

Ecton Hill toxic tip

Environmental degradation caused by industry is not new.  The patch of grey in the centre of this photograph - looking rather like a man's bald-spot - is a 'toxic tip', where the hillside is bare of vegetation.  It has been devastated for 100 years.

The patch lies just below the tiny adit (i.e. entrance to underground workings) of the old 'Dutchman's Mine', on Ecton Hill, where copper was mined up to the end of the nineteenth century.  Basically, as the spill came up from the deep mine, the miners chucked what they didn't want out of the entrance, where it then just accumulated on the slope.  The toxic minerals poisoned the surrounding few acres - as you can see.

I gathered these facts from a fabulous book of walks called 'In The Footsteps of Our Ancestors - Heritage Walks' by John Barnett, which is a terrific guide to the hidden history of the White Peak area. Definitely recommended.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Punishment central to village

A set of 'stocks' in Warslow

A set of 'stocks' sits in the centre of Warslow village.  It's thought that these probably date to the nineteenth century, but no one knows for sure.
Stocks were a gentler form of punishment than pillory or ... gulp ... gibbet, and were more meant as a medium of public humiliation. 

But I wonder why the good folk of Warslow like to use a form of punishment as a centre-piece for their village?  Perhaps they hope the stocks will act as a silent deterrent to any baddies.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Getting the blues in Leek

Pete Latham

The annual Leek Blues Festival took place over the weekend, and very fine it was too, with dozens of acts appearing in local pubs and venues, the vast majority of them free to get in.
The weather held fine too - and Pete Latham, no mean blues slide-guitar man himself - took over busking duties on the Sunday morning... as you can see.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Garden golf course

Garden putting green

There is something very practical about this householder's use of a small front garden.  He or she has installed a putting green!
Very practical.  No need to drive to the golf course; fresh-air and exercise on tap (albeit, ummm, limited amount of walking); and minimal maintenance (artificial grass, you see).
I'm strangely impressed by the thinking...