Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wychnor sky

The temperatures have dropped. Ah me, I smell autumn in the air; and I think the winter-duvet may now have to be extracted from the linen cupboard.
This sky at Wychnor looks threatening to me - as seen from the church-gate. Or is it just a weather-blip?

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Pub helps win

The Black Horse pub in Edingale, I was told by one inhabitant, could be the one of the reasons that the village picked up the award for Best Kept Small Village (see yesterday’s post).
The pub had closed down, before Matt, the new owner, completely refurbished it last year, and now – like any good pub! – it takes up a rightful position at the centre of the village’s social life. The beer is pretty good too.

I suggest you visit the pub once the Rugby World Cup tournament starts in a fortnight’s time. Matt used to be a professional rugby player; and I guess he’ll be enthusiastically tuning the pub television to events in New Zealand, so it should be a lively atmosphere…
However, the opening times on the website are a bit misleading. Might be worth phoning in advance.

Monday 29 August 2011

Edingale is the best

Congratulations to Edingale, which has won the Best Kept Small Village award for Staffordshire this year.
Personally, I don’t quite understand why: it’s a nice enough village and tidy enough, and people are very friendly, but I can’t see what makes it so special. Perhaps it pulled out all the stops on the day the judges visited, a few weeks ago.
At least it's not an obvious choice (thank goodness), as it's not ostentatiously pretty, being a dormitory village (for Lichfield/Tamworth), with a lot of new build as well as heritage, and a mix of income-classes.

(By the way, Haughton won in the Large Village category).

Sunday 28 August 2011

Buddhists at Kings Bromley

Yes, there is a Buddhist monastery in Staffordshire. It's not well-known, and is actually a retreat for monks, not a public place of worship, but they do have open-days now and again when the monks (mostly from Thailand) are gently welcoming. They do courses too.

And this is not really a 'temple' I suppose. This worship area is, er, actually a former conservatory in a large Victorian house lying just outside the village of Kings Bromley.

The village has embraced the monks, and works with them to put on occasional Thai-themed festivals on the playing fields - with handicrafts, Thai boxing, Thai costumes etc.

I was reminded of Buddhavihara, as it's called, when I saw the recent BBC TV programme on the wonders of the Buddhist world. Unsurprisingly perhaps, they overlooked Staffordshire's claim.

Links: Buddhavihara / British-Thai Fayre / BBC: Wonders of the Buddhist World

Saturday 27 August 2011

Heart Fest gets rainshine

The Heart Fest community rock festival at Catholme had one of those nightmare English summer days today. First it was lashing rain, then brilliant sunshine, then rain, then sun… you get the picture.
It’s almost better if one type of weather predominates fully, no matter how bad.

By 4pm, there were barely a hundred people to see Dave O’Hara perform. I hope the evening went better.

Friday 26 August 2011

Fred Burton's hot water bottle

Fred Burton could only come from Cheadle (an odd, unique place…). He specialises in weird feats of strength, including blowing up hot-water bottles and having breeze-blocks smashed on his chest, some of which got into the Guinness Book of Records.
I saw him in action once, lifting a row of bricks just between his two hands.

This odd plaque to him – which looks like a battered old piece from a metalwork class but is in fact public-art – is one of a number of signs around Cheadle commemorating its favourite sons and daughters.
Another memorial is to a particular racing pigeon from the town.

Link: Fred does his stuff (YouTube) 

Thursday 25 August 2011

Teddy Bears - abandoned

Why these teddy bears are sitting here by the canal - apparently alone and abandoned - is a mystery to me. I passed them on a canal walk at Acton Trussell. There were no signs or possible explanations.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Freedom for, er, Mercia

The 'Acting Witan of Mercia' group seem to have been quiet for a while, which is a shame. This eccentric body wants independence for the area covered by the Anglo-Saxon, Dark Ages kingdom of Mercia (which had Staffordshire at its centre), and a return to greener, more agrarian ideas.

They were very vociferous last year (when the photo above was taken), when the recently-discovered treasure trove, the 'Staffordshire Hoard' - which dates back to Mercian times -, was in the news a lot.
I thought they might re-surface this summer, as the Hoard is now on a major tour across the county's main towns - but no, and their website is silent.
Anglo-Saxon White Dragon

I suppose their chances of success, are, er, slim, but they are a bit of fun.
One of the aspects of their manifesto, written by Philip Snow and Jeff Kent, who are in the photo, is that they wish to substitute the present church system with an order of priestesses. This certainly works for me.

They draw on a lot of the myths of the past. The famous Saxon 'White Dragon' symbol - sometimes known as the Worm or Wyrm - was adopted by them.
Bram Stoker, the writer of Dracula, even had this dragon, which, yes, is legless, come back into existence (in the Staffordshire Peak District of all places!!!) in his novel The Lair Of The White Worm.

It's all fun-times, living in Staffordshire...

Links: Acting Witan of Mercia / Staffordshire Hoard on tour / Anglo-Saxon Mercia

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Ashley mound of death

This peculiar 'mound' behind the graveyard of St John The Baptist's church in Ashley (in the north-west of Staffordshire) is something whose origin I had always put down to some form of building work in the past.

Well, I was right that there was some digging there, but... I found out that village historians believe it may well be the location of a mass grave of corpses dating back to the time of the Black Death in 1350.
The plague killed an astonishing FIFTY PER CENT of the population across Europe.

One day the mound and its inmates may be excavated; but, from now on, it will never be for me the innocent grassy knoll I once thought it to be.

Monday 22 August 2011

A good year for...

The weather has cut Staffordshire in two this summer - while the north of the county has had some strange sudden days of soaking wet rain, the south of the county has often missed out, remaining very dry. But the almost constant warm temeperatures have been common to both.

So, in the north, the trees and shrubs bearing apples, damsons, and currants are groaning under the weight of fruit. In this field, near the A50, the maize-cobs are growing firmly.
However, in the south, there are signs that some ponds are on the verge of drying up.

Link: Farmers' weather fears (from The Express & Star)

Sunday 21 August 2011

Angel of Burslem

The so-called Angel Of Burslem - atop the now-closed town-hall, which is back behind these roofs - dominates this town built on a hill.
She shimmers golden in what is, frankly, a grey Victorian townscape; and "it is said" (by whom, one wonders) that Burslem's fortunes will depend on her remaining where she is. Not that she is dong much of a job; Burslem's fortunes could be said to be at a nadir.

Actually, she's not really an angel; she's actually Nike, the goddess of victory in battle. I can't think why the local council thought that Nike was an apt choice when she was erected in 1854.

(Just an aside: as soon as I hear the phrase Angel Of Burslem, my mind immediately hears an echo of Angel Of Harlem - the U2 song. Just me then?... I suppose).

Saturday 20 August 2011

Clocked in Saverley Green

Clocks on exterior walls - as in this photo - are a curious thing. You don't see many of them. In fact the number of exterior clocks in general is declining. People don't need them any more I suppose.

In small villages like Saverley Green, a clock was often attached to the Post Office, especially if there was no church around. But nearly all small post offices have been closed.

Now and again, as here, they crop up again (usually with a temperature gauge on the other side). I'm not sure if they are old clocks re-located, or just modern 'antique-style decoration'. But I like them.

Friday 19 August 2011

Keeping on keeping shopping

Casual shopping is now such a part of our psyche that we can't stop dong it - even in the midst of global economic meltdown.
I saw families spending hours at this shopping centre, the Ankerside in Tamworth, apparently for recreation, even in these bad times....  And, I don't excuse myself: I do admit that 'buying something' (anything!) often gives me a warm glow too.

Bizarrely, shopping for things we can't afford is (partly) what got us into the present mess, yet, we're told, the major economies are relying on shoppers to re-boost the finance cycle.

(Why is this mall called 'Ankerside'? Because the River Anker flows into Tamworth).

Thursday 18 August 2011

Moneystone rock

Moneystone village in the Staffordshire Moorlands is well-named. For dozens of years, this small hamlet has had quarrying in it and around it. Extraction of minerals meant a livelihood for many.

This strange arrangement at one of its cottages is fascinating. This house abuts a large outcrop of rock at one end, as you can see. I would guess (I'm not sure) that a cave in the rock was once lived in, and the cottage, bit by bit, was built on to it, as a sort of 'extension', till the cottage became bigger than the cave - and the two are now fused together as one.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

FCUK posters

The FCUK ('French Connection United Kingdom') company started it by being slyly clever with the intials in its name. Now all sorts of crass advertisers are using the word 'FCUK' as a cheap way of shocking the already sated young consumer into noticing their products.

Do I care?
I think I do. It's a low-level usage, and vulgar for the sake of it.
But then, it's only a word/spelling. Soon it will lose its power - and unimaginative advertisers will move on to other 'shock' tactics.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Military in church

In Lichfield, there is a whole chapel in the cathedral dedicated to the military. Former soldiers are buried here, or there are sad memorials remembering officers who died in faraway places maintaining the Empire.
But there are also these banners - carried into battle, which act as reminders of great conflicts of the past, and sacrifice - mostly from the Staffordshire Regiment (and its various antecedents).

I don't mind the tombs; of course not. But I am uneasy about these banners, being laid down in what should be a place promoting peace, displayed here. Yes, they are 'holy', having been blessed, but there's something wrong about it to my mind. Why can't they be transferred to the nearby regimental museum?

Monday 15 August 2011

Car boot days in Hanley

The car boot sale in Hanley every Sunday is an institution now, having been going for yeas and years. It attracts literally thousands of people each week and takes place over a huge area - as big as a football stadium.

What i like about it is that the organisers separate the genuine car-booters from the traders, and that it is superbly well run. There's a fun atmosphere too,
I guess, the ways things are going, it's not going to be any less popular.

Sunday 14 August 2011

History for all

Community history days are fun occasions, when folk donate their old photos and old documents of a place, and then the rest of the district comes along and remininisces - or stares in fascination. They are useful to the local historian too, as a lot of identification of scenes from the past goes on.

Older people explain to younger what was where, and who did what - and so on - much to the young people's surprise. "Did that really happen here?" they seem to wonder.

This one took place in Draycott Church (in Draycott-in-the-Moors, that is. There are two Draycotts in Staffordshire). A great way to use a church, incidentally.

Saturday 13 August 2011

A milestone for Tean

You still see milestones like this one (in the village of Tean) all over Staffordshire - I think the local parish councils maintain them.
I guess they refer back to the days when people walked... and walked. When the eighteenth century writer Samuel Johnson decided to move to London from Lichfield, he walked it. Wouldn't have thought of a carriage.

Friday 12 August 2011

Birds caged in Stafford

"A robin redbreast in a cage Puts all Heaven in a rage" - so wrote William Blake. I for one think he's right, and this pathetic aviary with its two dozen or so birds - in the municipal park in Stafford - really bugs me.

I don't even know what the point of it is. It's hardly conservation or education. At a time when local gvernment needs to cut back on costs, this aviary could well be discontinued. It's a horror.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Arthur Berry at The Leopard

Arthur Berry is a poet, author and painter, but little-known outside north Staffordshire - where he was born and lived and died. His work - dark paintings and physical verse - is as rugged as this area.

At The Leopard, which is a heritage-pub in Burslem, and the one pub all visitors to the area MUST go to, the strange ballroom is adorned with fascinating paintings; and this portrait of Arthur has pride of place. (The singing dog is featured in one of his more surreal works).

Though a crochety man, he was a true native-poet of this place, and was much-loved.

Link: TV profile of Arthur Berry

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Muslim tombs in Stapenhill

Stapenhill Cemetery is the biggest in Burton-upon-Trent - so big that it can have 'sections'. There is the Catholic section, the section for children's graves, war graves, and one for the Muslim dead.
The sections are not marked, or fenced off, which heartens me. Too often we like to separate people in death as we do in life - so it's good that everyone is here all together, I think.
These Muslim tombstones are particularly stunning, with the beautiful Arabic script on them.

Sadly, the three men who have died in the rioting that has swept parts of the country (but not Staffordshire) appear to be Muslim. It seems they were defending their homes when they were run down by a car.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Clay-pots caged

Pottery manufacture may have declined quite a bit in north Staffordshire, but we should remember that Staffordshire University still has a world-beating ceramics department.  It's much smaller than it was, and that just reflects the decline of the pottery industry.

Outside the department, the cages of used, empty plastic pots that contain the clay show that the students are expected to be hands-on.

Monday 8 August 2011

End of Staffordshire

This is about as far south as you can get in Staffordshire. A few feet further and you'd be in Worcestershire.

This rather handsome border stone was erected on the towpath of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal, near Caunsley Bridge.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Fatality 'shrine' at Penkridge

Near Penkridge, on the Teddesley Road, you'll see this sad 'shrine'. It's dedicated to Lesley, who died in a car accident on this spot. The piece of paper says she died in 2002, so whoever looks after this spot has never forgotten. it always has fresh flowers when I see it.

You used to see a lot of these, though few are as permanent as this one. They are sad reminders of the cost of driving.
I don't know why, but there are not many now - perhaps because the number of fatal road accidents is decreasing (?)

See: BBC - Roadside memorials to accident-victims in Staffordshire

Saturday 6 August 2011

Floral Uttoxeter

'Britain in Bloom' time is upon us as I remarked a few days ago. The competition judges which towns and villages are doing their best to put on a florally attractive face.
The judges have been out and about for a few weeks now; and the results will be known in September.

Uttoxeter has certainly put on a show...

Friday 5 August 2011

Vampyre for Slash

Slash, the guitarist who played with Guns & Roses, was born in Stoke-on-Trent (not many people know this).
So, when his tour brought him to the city, the local 'goth' shop, Revolte, put in this mannequin in their shop window as a kind of tribute; Slash is famous for his top-hat.

Of course, the mannequin has a vampire's fangs and unhealthy pallor, but maybe Revolte knows something about Slash that we don't.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Shakespeare in Stoke

This lovely mosiac showing William Shakespeare is the highlight of a tour of Stoke town centre. Yet, Stoke has been allowed to run down so much, that it's virtually the only highlight...

It was created as part of the erection of the original library building in Stoke in the 1870s, when Stoke really was an important place.
It is on the exterior wall, so very easy for the passer-by to see.

But look how run-down the old library building is now!
It just looks grubby and uncared for.
It's currently used by Unison, the trades union, and lies opposite the Sainsbury hyper-market.

But having said that about Stoke town, I do have a soft spot for it. It seems lively somehow; it has the definitive Titanic pub, White Star, and a wonderfully chaotic old records shop, Rubber Soul.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Stile for Wychnor dogs

A special stile for dogs in the countryside is a new one to me. This one, by the canal at Wychnor, means that the dog in question does not have to clamber over the stile, nor be carried over it, nor slip through some other way..
It works quite simply. You see the red handle on the left? It is attached at its end to a 'paddle'. When you raise the handle, up comes the paddle, and the dog slips through the hole.

I'm vaguely amazed. I was aware that we now have man-made under-road ramps to enable hedghogs to cross country lanes safely, but ... stiles for dogs ... Never seen those before.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Doulton deserted

The industrial area of north Staffordshire was - and sometimes still is - known as the 'Potteries', because of the importance  pottery manufacture used to play in employment. Not so any more. This photo of the once-famous, now derelict Royal Doulton works in Burslem is a good illustration of that.

There is still a lot of ceramics expertise in the area, and more small businesses in pottery manufacture than you might think - but the heyday is gone.

Monday 1 August 2011

Whittington's fairy glen

This small wood near Whittington Hall in the very south of Staffordshire county (on the Worcestershire border) is known as 'Fairy Glen'.

I'm interested in why myths arise (see previous post!).
There are two possible reasons (I think) for the nomenclature in the case of Fairy Glen: the dappling effect in sunlight, and the sudden rise in the ground on on side, could lead an imaginative person to believe that there are small movements going on in the peripheral vision; and, secondly, it's a half-mile or so from the nearest farm, so anything could happen there in the witching hours... and you'd never know.
Yes, okay, even my 'reasons' are fanciful - but it's nice to ponder.