Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Humbug ahead

The giants are drawing up their battle lines - will Tesco or Amazon be the winner this Christmas?
Our Victorian image of Christmas (for which much credit must go to Coca-Cola) is of small independent shops with small gifts, roasting chestnuts and hanging turkeys.
The retail reality is superstores surrounded by acres of concrete, and recently the cardboard wrappings of the winter mailorderland.

The small town of Deal (and to an extent the larger city of Canterbury) is at its best around Christmas, with a good selection of specialist shops among the national chains.

In no particular order I'd like to promote some of my favourites, in the hope that their Christmas will be a bountiful one and that they'll still be here next year.

Between showers I took a short stroll along Deal pier (it is, after all, only a short pier, and to have a long stroll could be hazardous).
Stumpy the turnstone, who has returned to the pier for the last five years or so, seems to be losing the toes on his other foot now, but still manages to get around, scavenging scraps from the fishermen.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Bijou residence on the Thames

Another weekend, another historical pile....this time Hampton Court Palace, on the Thames. It's well presented, concentrating on the links with Henry VIII to whom the palace was unwillingly given by Cardinal Wolsey, and with William-an-Mary, who considerably enlarged the place when they moved in.
The buildings are decorated with tudor roses, and with dragons symbolising Henry's Welsh ancestry (Henry VII was born and brought up in Pembrokeshire, and his grandfather was Owain ap Marededd ap Tudur).One of the pictures in the palace is The Embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover, with an idealised Dover Castle in the background and two forts in the foreground. Henry is shown on of the flagships, perhaps the Mary Rose.
He and his huge retinue were going to meet Francis I just across the Channel, where the French had created a Field of Gold Cloth, in one of the relatively infrequent gestures of solidarity between the close neighbours.
The palace has an impressive skyline of chimneys, and a formidable set of kitchens below them. The trees in the area hold plenty of mistletoe, appropriately enough for the king's reputation.

Later, we strolled along another stretch of the Thames by Hammersmith Bridge, which is a work of art from the late Victorian era, ruined by signs from the modern era (don't get me started).

This is becoming a blog of history lessons. Please accept my apologies - the usual blurred snaps of little brown birds will resume shortly.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Pride of Canterbury

I love local museums - collections of stone age arrow heads, troves of coins, town reconstructions, tributes to local notables, a few stuffed animals and birds (in Dover's case, a stuffed polar bear - why?) and the overriding smell of polish.

The Museum of Canterbury is a good example, housed in the late c14 flint Poor Priests' Hospital (built on the site of an earlier house of the deliciously-named Lambin Frese, an eleventh century 'notorious moneyer').
A series of artist's impressions show the development of the city from Roman times, through the dark ages to medieval times.

One room is taken up with a frieze telling the story of St Thomas a Becket, brilliantly illustrated by Oliver Postgate. His style is immediately recognisable from Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine television programmes, and he describes the work as 'somewhere between James Thurber and the medieval illuminators'.
Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin were Smallfilms, based in a shed near Canterbury where Firmin still lives*. They are truly the pride of Canterbury, gaining honorary doctorates from the University (as did Bagpuss). They gave pleasure to generations and the 40th anniversary of The Clangers was celebrated this weekend. I took one of my daughters, OK?

Another Pride of Canterbury:
being eased into her berth in Dover harbour by a tug, giving stability in the second gale of the week.
The first gale blew a couple of red-throated divers into the harbour (and were initially found by Tony St M); they have stayed around the pier since the weekend. As usual my picture of this species makes the Loch Ness snap look clear, but I was trying to avoid being blown into the water with it.
Maybe the wind today will have blown more birds into the harbour for shelter - check tomorrow. **

*It has been pointed out that Peter Firmin does not live in the shed, but nearby - Ed.
** The two divers were still there, but nothing else had arrived.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Gales, gales, gales

The usual seawatching point was compromised today by the waves whipped up by the southerly gales. A position was found that gave a little shelter from the wind, but not always from the spray, and the cliched tang of salt was on the lips. Exhilarating, though.
SteveR joined me after a while, but had soon had enough, not as hardy as I, and left for home [where have I read that before?]. He missed nothing but the glorious day, and the first fulmar of the winter.

Inland was safer, and although no birds were to be heard it was good to kick up the leaves.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

CND - Campaign for a Nuclear-free Dunge

Good news that Dungeness has been passed over as a site of the next generation of nuclear power stations, leading to dreams of the levelling of Dungeness A and B within our lifetimes.
Which genius chose it as a site for a power station in the first place? At the enquiry back in 1958, evidence was submitted to show it to be 'the most significant shingle foreland Europe, and one of the major coastal depositional features to be found anywhere in the world'.

The enquiry was also warned of the (rather evident) nonsense of building a large structure on eroding shingle, and subsequently the power station has needed constant beach-feeding.

The reason given for rejecting the site this time was 'significant negative effects on several national and internationally protected nature conservation sites, and that as well as the Dungeness SAC and the Dungeness to Pett Level SPA, these include the Dungeness SSSI and National Nature Reserve (NNR)'. Local MP Michael Howard did not seem to be sure whether this was a good thing or not when interviewed.
It seems astonishing that, after so many protests in the 70s and 80s against nuclear power, we now appear to be back in a position to prefer nuclear to 'dirty' coal and gas, because we failed in the meantime to develop alternative sources or power quickly enough. Perhaps it was politically easier to scar the poorer areas with coal-fired power stations, and dump nuclear generating plants on Dungeness than it was to put wind-farms in the backyards of swing-voters.
A further three sites were examined in this recent review - at Druridge Bay in Northumberland, Kingsnorth in Kent and Owston Ferry in South Yorkshire, and although "worthy of consideration", have been rejected for now.
Druridge is one of the loveliest areas of the country - please consider it sacred.

In looking around for information, I happened upon an interesting website, called Greenie: It's actually compiled by a chap called John Ray, not our own cuddly Fred and is well worth a read..... this world is going straight to hell.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Roman Holiday

Currently imprisoned in the house by a cold (strange that men get far worse colds than women, who consequently can't understand the suffering and don't give the appropriate sympathy) I'm forced to bore any remaining readers with holiday snaps from our recent trip to Rome.
During a hot slog around piles of rubble in the forum, many tourists enjoyed the light relief of a wall lizard sunning itself.
The Romans had an advanced notion of sea monsters, in common with other sea-faring cultures that suffered from the occasional and capricious violence of the sea.

The Vatican museum holds an interesting collection of Egyptian artifacts, including carvings of ibises and other stylised animals. All hail the meerkat god-king!
Michelangelo's statue of Moses suffers from an unfortunate mistranslation of the Hebrew, with a word for 'dazzling' being understood as 'horned'.
Bernini's elephant. Strange that Dan Brown didn't use its pointing trunk as a clue in Angels and Demons.
Hooded crows abound in the parks - they outcompete carrion crows in Ireland and Italy, but not in the places in between.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Ethelburga of Limninge

The unassuming village of Lyminge holds an impressive amount of history in its churchyard. A large Roman villa was hereabouts, although nothing but reused tiles remain to show it was here.

But in the year 633, after her husband's defeat at the battle of Hatfield Chase, Queen Ethelburga was exiled from Northumbria, and was given land at Lyminge; here she built a church, convent and monastery on the site.
Parts of her church can be seen in the small windows above, and in the herringbone blockwork below. The single flying buttress is a later addition, to stop the building from falling down the hill.
Ethelburga (grand name!) was daughter of Ethelbert, king of Kent, and Bertha, who is credited with bringing St Augustine to England in 597, and for converting the Anglo-Saxon king to Christianity.
After her death, the site became a shrine to St Ethelburga's remains, until they were taken to Canterbury cathedral in the eleventh century. Little is heard, however, about her sister, St Edburga, who joined her at Lyminge.

The source of the Nailbourne stream, which flows north from Lyminge along the Elham valley, is known as St Ethelburga's Well, housed in this bizarre little shelter.

But what, you may ask, is the relevance of all this to Kingsdown and its natural things? Admittedly little, but I've not seen much of natural beauty recently, and at such times I find a comfort in historical buildings which seem to be hewn from the natural world itself.

But here are a few natural things from Kingsdown: