Thursday, 27 July 2017

Hats

Back to women's accessories, this time hats. I like the idea of hats, but always thought that they didn't really suit me, and I tended to wear them just for fun, or as head protection in bad weather, rather than as serious fashion statements. I think you'll agree that I don't look my best in these examples from 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016:


I consider these hats - seen here worn in 2015 and 2016 - to be credible wear for cold conditions. But only for that:


Over the years, I accumulated a series of pictures of myself larking about in all kinds of daft hats. Here's a selection from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015:


As you can see, it was often an hilarious experience! One or two of those hats weren't complete jokes. I rather liked the one I was wearing at Cragside in Northumberland (third picture down, just above), and the cheeky hat I put on in Kirkcaldy Art Gallery in Scotland (fifth down).

More recently, in 2016, this hat of a local friend, though not quite 'me', got me thinking that I could get away with wearing something on my head that looked half-decent:

  
And then, the other day in Canterbury, I spotted this black sun hat by Bronté in the Fenwick department store:


I was with my cousin Rosemary. She thought it looked very good on me. I bought it.

Well, does it work? Here's a few very recent shots of myself with said hat on. Personally, I reckon it looks the best of all of them, but whether it really adds charm and allure is debatable. However, it's comfortable to wear, certainly does well as a sun hat, doesn't compress my hair, and won't blow off in the wind (I've sewn in a thin elastic chin strap for windy conditions):


One person I was eating with last weekend thought it looked a bit like a witch's hat. Hmm. I see what they mean. Oh well, my cousin Margaret - an ace genealogist - did discover a sixteenth-century witch in the family. I'm probably a modern reincarnation!

Jonathan Harmer, potter and stonemason of Heathfield

I touched on godly matters in the last post. I might as well continue. This post is about gravestone decoration. And why not? Makes a change from shoes, handbags and lipstick.

I was returning from Hastings yesterday evening, after visiting my friend Alice. Wanting to take a different route back, I found myself travelling west towards Heathfield on the B2096. Passing through Punnett's Town, I remembered that at Cade Street a little further along was an unusual building, set back from the road and up a rise. It was a striking evangelical chapel, painted white on the front side, that looked sternly down on some old eighteenth and nineteenth century graves. Some of the gravestones were unusually decorated with terracotta ovals.

Well, here's the chapel. We'll contemplate it first.


It's rather stark, isn't it? I suppose you could also say it was plain and simple and honest, and very much to the point.


The sundial above the porch, above the oval window, and just under the roofline, gave 1809 as its installation date. The shadow on it indicated 6.30pm. That's 6.30pm Greenwich Mean Time. Tigerlily's camera recorded 7.36pm British Summer Time as the precise moment I took the shot.

Close up, this imposing building seemed less forbidding. This is what Nikolaus Pevsner said about it (I have my own copy of his Sussex):

1809. A nice homely box with a keyed-in oval window in the façade. Inside and in the churchyard half a dozen of the pretty and naïve terracotta relief plaques by Jonathan Harmer of Heathfield; dates of death 1806-25.

A 'nice homely box'? Hmm. It looked to me like a place where no-nonsense worship would take place in earnest. God-fearing indeed. My secular interest in in the architecture, the details on the gravestones, and the photographic possibilities of the chapel, would be frowned upon were an elder to appear and ask what my business was.

But there was nobody to challenge me, and indeed nothing that said 'Private. Keep out.' So I had a good look.

I wasn't sure which Christian sect used the chapel. Rural Sussex used to have many of them, some very local, such as the Society of Dependents aka the Cokelers, whom I mentioned in my post Mud, mud, mud, mud on 2nd February 2015. I think around Heathfield they were mostly Strict Baptists and offshoots of that. This particular chapel was still used several times a week, and by a congregation who might have mobile phones with them, because there was a notice inside reminding them to switch their phones off. (You could easily see inside through the windows) I pressed Tigerlily to a window and took this shot, which shows the main room, very neat and plain, but containing two organs. Evidently (and surprisingly) music played a big part in the services.


Only the front side of the chapel was painted white. The other sides were ordinary red brick. I walked up the hill to look at the larger graveyard at the rear. It had a fine view of the distant South Downs.


These were the more modern graves. That is, nineteenth century onwards. None of them had the terracotta plaques that Mr Pevsner mentioned. Come to that, not many of the older graves in front of the chapel had either. I noticed that most of the plaques were either very badly worn, or entirely missing. It was not quite this bad when I last looked around here in 2009, taking this shot:


How were they done? There is a website that tells the story of Jonathan Harmer (1799-1849) at http://villagenet.co.uk/history/1799-harmer.php. For additional information, see also http://harmer.org/JONATHAN%20HARMER2.pdf and http://sussexresearch.co.uk/wp/jonathan-harmer-terracotta-gravestones/. He hailed from nearby Heathfield, where his father had been a stonemason. Jonathan was a potter as well as a stonemason, and would embellish gravestones with terracotta inserts, often but not always oval, mortared into a cavity cut into the stone. I've come across his work in several Sussex graveyards. Here is a fine example I saw in Mayfield churchyard in 1997:


And this is a terracotta vase on another gravestone there:


Incidentally, Mayfield churchyard had a vaguely amusing row of gravestones - the Three Teeth (Mary, Frances and William Tooth):


I've a hunch it might pay to go and look at the various locations while the terracottas are still in a half-decent state. It does appear that, after two hundred years, they are starting to weather badly. As for the missing ones, well, the suspicion has to be that unscrupulous persons are prising them out and stealing them. I suppose that getting them out might actually be quite easy, if frost has cracked and loosened the mortar attaching them to the gravestone. It's completely disrespectful of the grave, and must be a criminal act, but there are people around who would do things like this without conscience.

I wonder why Jonathan Harmer died so young. He was only fifty. Neither of the two Internet addresses given above stated how he died. Perhaps fifty was a good age in 1849, if you were an ordinary artisan living in the countryside, engaged in a trade where dust could get into your lungs.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

He's looking for somebody God-fearing

A couple of days ago I had two emails. One from Flickr, telling me that someone new was now following me. And another from that very person. This is what he said:

Hello , How are you doing this week I guess you are having a good time with your friends and family.. A colleague who found a soulmate on this site introduced me to this site, I came with the intention of meeting someone serious and God fearing but unfortunately all I have come across are younger girls asking for naked pictures of me. Somehow I got discouraged and disappointed. Looking at your pictures and profile I feel you are different, you look nature and responsible and I will like to know you outside this social network as I'll be deleting my profile. On this note I will to contact you via email. I'll be looking forward to reading from you Meanwhile here is my emailjameslancbell@gmail.com .I'll be looking forward to reading from you outside this site.. Thanks and remain positive.

James.

Now there is a Flickr page, only just set up, for a certain Dr James Ian Oates, who says this about himself is his profile:

Am Dr. James Ian Oates. Great orthopaedic surgeon with a passion for photography. It wasn't the 'miracle of engineering' that is the human body that was filling me with a mad desire to live my days and nights in a pair of scrubs. The hard truth was I did not remotely want to be a surgeon. I actually just wanted to be on 'Grey's Anatomy.'

The profile contains the additional details that he is a doctor from Minnesota, USA, and there is a picture of a handsome, dapper man with grey hair in his fifties or early sixties, dressed very smartly in an expensive suit, set against what seems to be a city-centre background. But this photo does not match the darker-haired figure in the only photo provided, who seems to be somebody else. I also don't understand why someone with a 'passion for photography' has uploaded only one picture, and a mediocre one at that.

You can see what I'm thinking. The Flickr profile is phoney. That's not surprising in itself. Plenty of people treat Flickr as part of the social networking scene. I suppose they scour the website for pictures of people they like the look of. I think it's a misuse of a platform that should be strictly reserved for amateur photographers who want to showcase their best snaps. People like me. But I know that's a forlorn hope.

I accept as a fact that of all the 18,000+ shots I've published on Flickr since early 2009, the 1,600-odd pictures of myself are far and away the most popular. I try not to be disturbed by this. But I am damned certain that there are men out there who drool and fantasise over pictures of women, and that includes pictures of myself. For goodness sake, wanking themselves into a coma over an old age pensioner! It's sad and scarcely believable, but it must be so.

What can you do? I have several reasons for recording my appearance, and if a shot of myself in my new hat or whatever makes a pleasant photo, I want to feel free to pop it up on Flickr without inhibition. Some shots serve as proof that 'I was there'. But they are, in any event, an assertion of my individual existence as a real person. I don't want to be anonymous. I firmly believe you get far more credibility as a person if you show un-retouched shots of yourself on a public platform. It's the equivalent of revealing yourself on a blog, and not hiding behind an avatar and a completely fake name, and saying nothing at all about who you are. I like to think that I am 'knowable in depth' as a real person by any reader who delves into my blog. That should be even more true from looking at my Flickr pages.

Back to the Flickr profile of 'Dr James Ian Oates'. There are words and phrases in it that seem genuine enough, but the tone is flippant and the photos are lacking. I don't really think a surgeon of any eminence would present a profile like that. Moreover, the email address given is 'jamesianoates@yahoo.com', and yet I've noticed that almost without exception professional people offer only a workplace-based email address up front, and never a private one. Maybe this is one exception, but...

As for the email, it's untidy (what, an untidy surgeon?) and there are grammatical errors that an educated man wouldn't commit. The tone, content and general approach are not the kind I'd associate with a professional man of any standing, even if he were keen to declare a personal interest in me. And the email address ('jameslancbell@gmail.com') doesn't tally with the one in the Flickr profile.

Yes, alarm bells are ringing very loudly! If you said to me, 'This is a scam: be very careful!' I'd completely agree.

I wonder why the writer thinks that mention of 'younger girls asking for naked pictures of me' is going to establish rapport - and a response. Has he been chasing young women? And telling them he's got a great body? If so, I wouldn't want to know him.

I could be doing him a grave injustice. Despite the clumsiness of the contact, and the suspicious discrepancies, it could be on the level.

But there is a clincher. A rock-solid reason why I wouldn't be interested, no matter what. He says he's looking for a 'God fearing' woman. What, me? Definitely not! I hate labels, so I won't claim to be an atheist, especially as it's becoming acceptable and fashionable to pose as one nowadays. But he's supposed to be an American, and when he says 'God fearing' I've a good idea what he means. He wants a compliant, subservient woman who knows her place in relation to the patriarchy devised by God. I'm not such a woman.

There used to be sherbet sweets called Love Hearts. These had messages embossed on them. Some did say 'I love you' or 'You're gorgeous'. Rather more were negative and curtly snapped 'Buzz off', 'Get lost', and other discouraging things of that sort. I'm afraid I'm going to hand Dr Oates one of those.

Some might say I'm an absolute bitch for discussing a private message in public. But hold on, what rules are supposed to bind me? Besides, I have grave doubts that this is a genuine attempt at wooing. And if it is a scam, then I am doing a public service in putting the whole thing out in the open. In any case, the man must realise that God knows everything.

Going electric

I bought an expensive, quality car in 2010, paying cash that I actually had in the bank, with the aim of keeping it for fifteen years. During that fifteen years, I intended to look after it and generally cherish it. And to keep faith with it, so that all bills along the way, no matter how horrendous, were met.

It would consume a small fortune, but I judged that this was the least expensive way of owning a lovely car. In the course of fifteen years I would reap all the long-term benefits of completely unrestricted personal use. I wouldn't have to waste money every three years or so, buying a replacement vehicle under some contract arrangement. I would also avoid periodic car-buying hassle; the mental wear and tear of of driving to avoid the slightest damage to the bodywork; and not least, I wouldn't be watching the milometer fearfully, in case I went over the stipulated contract limit, with ugly financial consequences.

You can say to me: Huh! That car cost you £34,000 seven years ago. You've spend thousands on running costs every year, and will continue to do so. And now - with the government's announcement that by 2040 diesel cars will be banned from Britain's roads - your fine Fiona will have a depressed resale value forthwith, and most certainly a zero resale value at the fifteen-year mark. How is that a good financial position?

Well, I assumed back in 2010 that, after fifteen years, Fiona's resale value would be negligible. So nothing has changed there. My savings plans contemplate another cash purchase at some point, unassisted by loan finance, nor buying through a contract-purchase scheme, and without counting on a significant trade-in value. The act of trading-in would be only to offload Fiona at minimum personal inconvenience - rather like you'd hope to get rid of a worn-out washing machine without personal effort.

Besides, do your sums. New cars are not nearly as cheap as they look. Look at the total of (a) the initial payment needed for a contract-purchase; (b) the ongoing monthly payments, with a realistic mileage loading; and (c) the separate amount that has to be put by to fund the initial payment on the next contract-purchase. And there may be linked insurances and other fees to add to that. It's all a huge amount of money to pay out over the space of three years. Far more than I'd be paying to keep Fiona on the road, fully serviced, and looking smart.

Mind you, a time will come when Fiona's time is up. Or some change in car taxation, or fuel availability, or the introduction of a generous scrappage scheme (for what will be by then 'the older diesels') will make it worth replacing her. I will at that point be in the market for a new car, through an outright cash purchase if I can manage it, but in any event using a purchase method that ensures that I can continue to have absolutely unrestricted personal usage. I need that usage-freedom for my caravanning, which will surety continue for as long as I am physically able. And to pursue it I must have a car that has the range, and grunt, to pull my luxury hotel room on wheels. I don't think purchase-contract agreements normally countenance the fitting of towbars, and associated computer modules, and the regular tugging of a heavy trailer across the length and breadth of Britain!

It's clear where things are heading. Electric cars are going to be rapidly developed by every manufacturer, and governments all over the world will in any case make it easier to own and run an electric car, and progressively harder to run a petrol or diesel car - with a cut-off date for on-road use already announced. This must surely be the preferred strategic policy of all Western-style governments - it restores the supremacy of their technology in global affairs, and markedly reduces the influence of the oil-producing countries. (Oh yes, it helps the planet too)

I wouldn't be surprised to see major breakthroughs soon in methods of powering the electric motors that turn the wheels. That's actually the chief issue: where to get the electricity from. Just now, the method most used is to plug the car into the mains and charge up some on-board batteries, supplemented by various on-board generation methods. The ideal for a big range (of several hundred miles) is to maximise these on-board methods.

But I could use even a present-day medium-range electric car - well, a very expensive Tesla anyway - for not only for my day-to-day Sussex motoring, but also my caravanning, provided that (a) I kept my speed down; and (b) I went only to sites where I could plug the car in overnight. Both (a) and (b) are easy to contrive, even in 2017.

An electric car with heavy batteries is in fact rather suitable for caravanning: it's an outstandingly stable car-caravan combination (the car must be heavier than the caravan), and the torque needed to pull the caravan along (and up hills) would be more than sufficient (such is the nature of electric motors).

So I rather think that Fiona's retirement will signal the moment when I leap straight from diesel power to pure electric power. And that my future car-buying strategy - which of course shapes my overall savings plan - needs to be one that has in view an electric car from a top manufacturer.

Given this decision, it seems a waste of money to buy an interim replacement for Fiona. I would do best to keep her going until the electric car I need comes within reach. It would be very nice if, with rapid development and rapidly rising sales, it becomes possible to buy what I want eight years from now, in 2025, for £30,000 or so. I could pull out the stops for that, and try to get most of that cash together by 2025. Ah, wouldn't that be a good 73rd birthday present to myself?

But it will probably be at least ten years before a suitable electric car comes within my reach. Will Fiona last so long? Well, she's a Volvo. She'll be seventeen in 2027, and an old lady, but surely not a frail and bedridden old lady.

Clearly it's a race against time: on one hand, Fiona's gradually failing health, despite her likely longevity; on the other, the manufacturers' desperate drive to get affordable and capable electric cars to the mass market. I'm hoping that the manufacturers win.

Of course, the planet must win too, although you do wonder what can greenly be made out of all those huge piles of redundant motoring metal. And indeed whether Britain can produce enough electricity for those nightly charge-ups! (But let's say it can)

I do wonder what the oil-producing states around the world will do. Their oil sales (and therefore their main source of revenue) will shrink to only what lorries, ships and aircraft need by way of fuel. Their ruling elites have made their fortunes, and won't suffer, but what about their ordinary people? What will they do? Migrate?

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Statues in the street

Not only do real human beings catch my eye. There are street statues everywhere.

Past statues to cross my path have included animals too, such as Snooks on the promenade at Aldeburgh in Suffolk, as seen in this 2001 shot...


...and Ruswarp (pronounced 'Russup') on the platform at Garsdale station in the northern Pennines, captured here in 2010...


The story of Ruswarp's incredible faithfulness and endurance was set out on an adjacent plaque, reproduced above. What a dog.

Then there have been other statues, some of them surprising, poignant, shocking or intriguing, such as the statue of Andy Capp, Reg Smythe's cartoon creation, on a street in Hartlepool, on Teesside - also stumbled upon in 2010:


Or this evocative couple on the waterfront at Cardiff Bay in South Wales, whom I shot in 2013:


Or, also seen in 2013, Damien Hirst's gigantic, very pregnant, and (depending on which side you see) very visceral statue called Verity, on the harbourside at Ilfracombe in North Devon:




Or Antony Gormley's rather narcissistic beach figures at Crosby Sands on Merseyside - they are apparently casts of himself in the nude - seen here in these 2014 shots:


Extraordinary. What exactly were Hirst and Gormley trying to say? 

There are also perfectly ordinary statues dotted around, such as this birdwatcher, observed in 2015 at North Berwick in Scotland:


Or this pair of Gordon Highlanders, soldiers from two different eras, seen in an Aberdeen square, also in 2015:


Or, continuing with 2015, this impassioned Welsh orator, a local nineteenth-century politician, seen at Bala in North Wales...


...and, much more sombre, this grim soldier's head at Cardiff Castle in South Wales:


This year's crop of 'street statues' have been no less interesting or various. Let's stick with my recent holiday. First up, the Diving Belle by Craig Knowles, on an arm of the harbour at Scarborough:


Shifting northwards to Newcastle, I came upon this pair of Tyneside statues. One was a River God, up on a pole, grasping a ball on a stick, and possibly in chains, blowing his cheeks out:


At first I thought this work was referencing slavery. I'm still not quite sure. And maybe he wasn't blowing, but kissing, for he was facing inshore to this formidable female statue not far off, called Siren:


The plaque wasn't especially enlightening:


Moving further north into Scotland, and in the city of Perth, I discovered this intriguing pair of figures, linked by a metal ring or hoop. One was leaning back on it, the other pushing forward. I felt the one leaning back didn't want the other to escape, but wasn't his captor or jailer. It was another kind of relationship.


I thought it was a brilliant composition, amazingly dynamic. But what was it about? Two men; one content with the space inside the ring, the other yearning to break out. Were they linked by more than just the ring? Were they perhaps father and son? I looked at their faces.


The older man did seem to have the expression of a father watching his son. He was half-smiling, in a kind way, and you could imagine him shaking his head at his son's thwarted energy and ambition. It could of course be an older brother. Or indeed two versions of the same person, one young and restless, one older and more understanding of life's limitations.


The younger man, pushing at the ring, had on his face a grimace of frustration. He was blindfolded. Did the blindfold mean that he couldn't yet fully understand how things really were, that he might never escape the ring? And yet the precarious dynamism in the work made it clear that both men needed to support the ring, otherwise it would fall to the ground. But if it did, both could then step over it and go out into the world at large. Perhaps if the younger man could only see, he'd release the ring at once, and walk away free. Would the other want to do the same? Was he afraid of life without bounds?

It's a most intriguing work.

And just down the street was this girl sitting on a bench. You were obviously meant to sit with her.


She had a vaguely medieval style of dress. I couldn't see a plaque to explain who she was. I'm guessing she was somebody from the city's long history. She seemed pretty glum. It seemed appropriate to be glum too:


Well, there's no cheering some people up!

Scotland had plenty of other street statues. On the outskirts of Glenrothes, I saw two hands rising out of the grass, and had to stop to take a closer look.


The hands made a pair of seats. I sat in one of them. It did seem weird. What if those fingers came to life, and closed in on me?


But of course I was being silly. I put on a bright face.


Did those fingers twitch?

That same evening, I was in Glenrothes to attend the Slimming World group at Rothes Halls. Inside the Halls complex, on the ground floor, was this relief. It commemorated the agricultural and industrial history of the area:


Close by was this young couple, who reminded me strongly of the Cardiff Bay couple, who were also a pairing of a young black woman and a young white man. I wondered whether that was meant to be significant. Maybe there was no ethnic angle at all, and these works were simply saying that Sex Is Sex The World Over, and that Young Love Never Runs Smoothly. Both unarguably true.


Back in England now, in Cumbria, and it's sunny Maryport, mentioned at the end of my last post. The revamping of the harbour area had given the town this twee group of 'typical local characters' - possibly based on actual townspeople of fame and note - although to me, a mere visitor, they look rather generic, and the brown colour was all wrong:


Time to wrap up. On the breezy Lincolnshire coast is Skegness, a major resort with lovely sands, devoted entirely to the accommodation and amusement of holidaymakers from the North and Midlands. I have in mind a post specially on Skegness, or at any rate the lure of the East Coast Resorts, of which Skegness is but one. The town is proudly associated with a railway company poster depicting a frolicsome fisherman, a very carefree and jolly man indeed, skipping along the sands. The Jolly Fisherman has become the town's trademark. And I found two statues of him when visiting the place recently. 

One is outside the station:


Is it just me, or does the Jolly Fisherman look uncannily like Noddy Holder of Slade, aged a little from the 1970s picture above? Be that as it may, there was yet another version of the Jolly Fisherman near the beach, in a sunken area where you could sit and admire him. This version was skipping in a manner so carefree that he looked drunk!


Those people were clearly trying to get both themselves and the Jolly Fisherman into the same picture. I strove to do the same.


You can see what I mean about the strange way he's skipping along!


The moral is, of course, not to grow whiskers, nor wear boots like that. You'll be fine then.