Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The National Trust is introducing "talking benches"

Above:  on the front page of today's Guardian (and all across the media) is a report that the National Trust is introducing "talking benches" in the gardens of historic properties managed by the Trust.  At first I thought this might be a spoof story, but it turns out to be true.  Which raises all sorts of questions.

Question one:  have they gone mad?  How on earth can they think that adding more electronic noise is somehow going to enhance the wild untouched beauty of Calke Abbey, or the tranquil peace of Petworth House?  And why celebrities?  Celebrities are already far too prominent in society.  And why THOSE celebrities?  Stephen Fry is far too over-exposed as it is - personally I am fed up with hearing his smug voice every commercial break on television.

Question two:  did they perhaps commission a third-party marketing agency, and this is what their creative department has come up with?  What was the agency's Planning department thinking of, and why didn't the Account Exec kill it stone dead?  And even if it got through to the pitch stage, what was the National Trust's marketing team thinking off, allowing such a turkey to go into production?

Question three:  is this some kind of sop to the political class?  Did someone from the Dept of Culture Media and Sport tell the National Trust that they were not "diverse" enough to continue to qualify for charitable status unless they made their properties more "accessible" to "disadvantaged" sections of society? (inverted commas indicate doublespeak).  That might also explain the series of lame and rather meaningless print ads the National Trust is running at the moment.

Above:  looking at the National Trust's website, they justify the benches on the basis of research.  I would like to know what this research is, and how it led to the idea of a talking bench with the voice of Stephen Fry.  "Aiding relaxation" indeed.  The idiots.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bank Holiday

Today is a bank holiday in the United Kingdom, and effectively is a ritual day - for doing nothing. 

Above:  the expected rain ("it always rains on bank holidays") is a comforting reminder of the need to do nothing.  It's not even possible to spend time in the garden.  Roses in the rain is something of a cliche.

Above:  nothing to do after lunch except read the newspapers.  Interesting article by Tim Horton in the Guardian.  Interesting article by Josephine Moulds in the Business section of the Daily Telegraph about Kraft's arrogant and contemptuous CEO Irene Rosenfeld (when are the Kraft shareholders going to realise that this woman is a PR disaster?).

Above:  at hundreds of village fetes across the country the rain sends everyone running indoors, but the Teddy Bear's picnic still goes ahead to the delight of the children.

A completely unexplored area

A village in the far north east of the county.  A completely unexplored area for me.  Only seventy miles from my home, but I felt as if I had reached the margin of the mappa mundi, and that if I went much further I would fall off the edge of the earth. 

Above:  the centre of the village has moved over the years, but I traced the probable genius loci to this bluestone boulder placed by a crossroads on the main road.  Bluestones are supposedly significant indicators of a prehistoric place of importance (the bluestones at Stonehenge for example).  As you can see, this bluestone is surrounded by nettles and close to a ditch - I would have been unaware of its existence had I not been alerted by a local historian.

Above:  the area was characterised by lush buttercup meadows.  This horse had a lugubrious expression, as if unconscious of the rural beauty all around (do animals recognise "beauty"?).  The afternoon was very warm but the sky was mostly overcast.

Above:  first glimpse of the church, which was a little way out of the village.  Note the line of almshouses which look modern but date from 1641.  The church fabric is mostly Norman, but there was originally a Saxon church on the site.

Above:  approaching the building there were dozens of molehills on the grass verge, and a thick belt of cow parsley that surrounded the churchyard.  Piercing bird calls.  Strong rosemary smell to the vegetation.

Above:  the almshouses look modern, so thoroughly have they been renovated.  Originally six cottages, now made into four.  They are maintained by a Trust which gains its income from a bequest of land which is rented out.  

Above:  before renovation the almshouses were almost unchanged since the 17th century.  Each had one room and a big kitchen range.  Until the 1930s water was brought by buckets from the old Roman well.

Above:  entering the church I was struck by the dramatic lighting which was provided by about twenty of these brass candelabra (now converted to electric).  

Above:  unusually the war memorial is situated directly behind the high altar, which indicates the importance this remote community placed on the experience of the Great War.

Above:  the church contains a notable collection of monuments, including this immense multi-columned tomb (there were so many displays of flowers that I couldn't really get close enough to photograph it properly).  The lord and lady lie as if in a four-poster bed.  Various children surround them.

Above:  in the chancel is this reclining lady under a Corinthian arch.  Dated 1606.  The detail of the sculpture is very fine.

Above:  best of all is this knight of about 1300.  Considerable speculation about his identity.  Other mysteries related to the carving.

Above:  the Hall dates from 1550 but had a new facade added in 1750.  The staircase was originally dyed with ox-blood.  A Victorian photograph shows the house smothered in ivy.

Above:  old photograph showing harvest time at the Hall - this bucolic way of life is still continued in many respects, although modern machinery has mostly replaced the old agricultural processes.  I was shown a collection of old photographs as I had a cup of tea in the north aisle of the church (set with small tables covered in white tablecloths).  The people in the church couldn't have been more kind, replenishing my cup and offering me cakes while the local village historian talked me through the old images. 

Above:  after the tea I went for a walk along one of the many footpaths that traverse the area.  No-one else was about.  The sense of peace seemed almost overwhelming. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Prince and the Composer: A Film about Hubert Parry on BBC4

I watched The Prince and the Composer: A Film about Hubert Parry on BBC4 last night.  An hour and a half.  At the end I felt I had watched a really important cultural analysis - one that told me things I didn't know.  Not just about Sir Hubert Parry, but also about the way music is structured and why one note might be more important than another.  Also the understated nature of Parry's music.  At the end I felt I could immediately watch it through all over again.

I really appreciate programmes like this - ones that help my mind to grow.

Everything about it was good.

More:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011g941

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stewart M Patrick giving a CFR view of Barack Obama's visit

Of all the coverage of the American President's visit to the United Kingdom I think the most interesting article is by Stewart M Patrick giving a CFR view of Barack Obama's visit.

You can ignore the Daily Mail's guff, you can try to interpret the Guardian's obliquely-coded enthusiasms, you can disregard the BBC's gushing.
But the Council for Foreign Relations should be taken seriously.
Stewart M Patrick said:
"United States still regards the transatlantic partnership as the central pillar of world order."
and then he said:
"Obama stressed the future importance of the alliance to global peace, prosperity and justice, just as it had been in the days of Churchill and FDR."
and then he gave five subsidiary reasons to develop the argument.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


In the forecourt of University College London I saw these two student lovers.  He has his hand on his heart as if he were declaiming his passion to the world.  She is fiddling with her text messages.  He is in jeans and Diesel t-shirt (but I am not sure about those flip-flops - somehow those flip-flops look uncool, whatever the precedent set by Ed Westwick).  She is neatly dressed and wearing white.  Despite the overcast sky it was hot and humid.

Recently I have been looking at the demographics of the student population in the United Kingdom.

There are c480,000 students pursuing degree courses at either university or colleges of higher education.  Where they are studying, what they are studying, how much they are paying - these are easy questions to answer.  Why are they studying (the real reasons), what they think about the experience, what they want from life - these are more difficult.

By the way, I didn't know that UCAS was a charity.

Hello, Goodbye exhibition

Above:  on impulse I went into the Lethaby gallery of the Central St Martins School of Art to see the Hello, Goodbye exhibition.  It is (was, since it closes today) a sort of valedictory display of work from various past alumni before the college moves to a new location in Kings Cross.  On the whole I thought the exhibition was a bit of a mish mash (but perhaps that was the point?).  Many many years since I knew anyone at the college - not since my own student days when I knew Jane Embleton and her friend (whose name I have forgotten).  The building had a dejected atmosphere as if it were already dying.  An oppressive experience going to the basement loos.

Above:  also on impulse I went up to Kings Cross to look at the new premises of Central St Martins.  It will be housed in a massive warehouse in the heart of the former goods yard.  I can remember walking past these buildings when the area was smothered with luxuriant vegetation including towering purple buddlias, and signs warned you that the roofs could collapse at any time (but I walked under them anyway).

I can see how the move to Kings Cross will allow the college room to expand.  It is already one of the world's most prestigious colleges of art and design.  It had outgrown the previous site.

Above:  looking at the warehouse and then looking across at the new Guardian building (Kings Place) I realised that one building had probably inspired the other.  Kings Place has a false facade immediately in front of it made of tinted glass.  Presumably this is to deflect sunlight, but it gives the structure a slightly sinister appearance, as if the building was wearing dark glasses.

Above:  my heart sank when I saw these buildings overlooking the Regents Canal.  The nearest section was the old Railway Mission where I was once invited to a Christmas Carol concert (with Stan and John).  Now destined to be yuppified and colonised with "knowledge workers".

The St Martins newspaper predicts that even the Lincoln Arms pub in York Way will become a student haven.

They have created a desolation and called it progress, to paraphrase Tacitus.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A large percentage of people like to be told what to do

Above:  advertisement for Greene King.  The message is for the forthcoming bank holiday weekend.  It is telling people (men especially) to forget about DIY (home improvements) and drink beer instead.

In my opinion this is a very effective ad.

But why is it so effective?  The style and creative form is derived from a government poster from the Second World War.  It is giving you permission for something you probably want to do anyway. 

Above (screen print):  the original poster from the second world war.  The image has become hugely popular over the last few years.  The reason government campaigns like this were effective is because they addressed the anxiety that most people felt most of the time during the second world war. 

What should I do when my home is bombed / my son is missing in action / the enemy are threatening to invade?  Keep calm and carry on is what you should do.  Interestingly this kind of advertising works even in circumstances far removed from a national emergency.

A large percentage of people like to be told what to do.  They find choice debilitating, even stressful.  They are also looking for meaning in their lives, and often find this in "following" (following people, following fashions, following political movements etc).

I wish it were otherwise.  I wish everyone would exercise control over their lives and reject most of the rubbishy ideas / suggestions / products that are peddled to them.  I wish they would work out what they really want from life and pursue the important goals even when they are hard and difficult.

But unfortunately a large percentage of people like to be told what to do.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ambush on the Today programme this morning

Very effective ambush on the Today programme this morning on BBC Radio 4.  Alex Salmond came on thinking he was going to talk about a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer but interviewer John Humphries threw a number of questions at him about the Sunday Herald (based in Glasgow) ignoring an injunction in the courts.  Although Alex Salmond later recovered his composure, for a few minutes he was floundering and looked a galoot.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I walked the length of the drive

After lunch a drive to the north of the county and a village once dominated by a great mansion, pulled down in the 1930s.  The day was generally sunny, but while I was in the village the clouds rolled over and it became gloomy.  Very slight shower of rain, lasting about four minutes and hardly making the ground wet.

Above:  all that remains of the great estate is this avenue of lime trees that used to lead from the road up to the Hall.  Although the air was warm, a terrific wind was blowing which created an alarming racket as I walked the length of the drive.  Intense fresh smell from the trees, although the blossom will not be out for some weeks.

Above:  all the farmhouses in the area are large and substantial.  I have noticed that in areas once belonging to a former estate, after the house and family have gone the local farming families seem to inherit (or perhaps imbibe would be a better word) the squirearchical manners of the landed gentry.  Not in a pretentious or deliberate way - it's more as if they have been involuntarily moved forward to fill the social vacuum.

Above:  in the church was this interesting tablet demonstrating that even quite ordinary families thought of themselves in dynastic terms.  Note the quotation from Exodus that relates both honour and land to the reverence of ancestors.  Why was this emphasis upon continuity in one place so important?

Above:  looking up into the murky shadows by the chancel arch I saw this hatchment.  The arms include three sprigs of vegetation - I think they are oak leaves.  I am fascinated by the origins of heraldry, particularly the way in which individuals and families choose to symbolise themselves.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Where are all your papers?" - the past week at work


As I expected, there was a terrible mess on my desk when I got to the office.  I took all the papers and just put them in a pile so they at least looked neat.  The rest of the day, off and on, I tried to get them into order.

Annoyed that of the five things I had given office junior Leo to do he had only done one.  I made him do the others immediately.  My deputy Meryl was subdued; the Information Team (six people) were working flat out; PR Officer Josie was exuberant.

An odd meeting with my boss Communications Director Tom D and some consultants.  We talked about a projected Membership Scheme for the NGO.  I suspect it will be another fiasco.

Later I talked to Tom D alone and he continued to behave oddly, as if he were suspicious of me.  I asked about the Senior Management meeting last week and he said: "we talked at some length about you as your contract is due for renewal" (I am on a six-month fixed contract).  Although previously I thought I didn't care whether my contract was renewed or not, at that moment I couldn't help wanting to be kept on.  I suppose my ego wanted to be wanted.  I asked him what the result was, and he said: "As you know, the NGO is cutting budget's across the board and it looked as if we could not justify your post.  But Ryan found the money from his budget" (Ryan M is the Operations Director, and has recently started an affair with Josie in my department). 

He paused and looked at me, as if expecting me to say something.  I said nothing.  The meeting came to an end.

Lunchtime and two trainers, who are to deliver a training course for the NGO's management team, bought me lunch at a local motel.  Smoked salmon sandwiches and strong cold lager.  When I went out into the sun again the heat was oppressive so that I felt giddy (or perhaps it was the drink).

Boring afternoon.


Unhurried drive to a Midlands city for a conference on European legislation.  The speakers were all dry as dust except for one young lawyer who had some interesting things to say.  Awful MEP droning on and on.


Although it is only May the weather is like high summer.  Cabbage pickers in the field as I went out to my car.  Listened to Radio 1 on the drive to work (I am not keen on Evan Davis on Radio 4).

Arriving at the NGO I parked in Tom D's place as he was away for the day.  The heap of paper on my desk is becoming intimidating.  During the morning I felt as if I were losing control of things (people coming up to me to ask things, telephone calls being put through, e-mails pinging onto my screen).

Ryan D telephoned and I went up to his little office (which he shares with several of his team, wanting to be "democratic").  It was the first proper conversation we had had since he started the "affair" with Josie S.  He seemed very bashful, more like a boy than a man of thirty.

I looked at his clear desk and the sight niggled me.  "Where are all your papers?" I asked him, "...where are all your files?"  It didn't seem fair that I was drowning in paper whereas he seemed free.

We talked about a national award he had asked me to promote (and which I privately think is a ridiculous exercise in self-aggrandisement - celebrity host, a dinner, speeches of mutual praise etc).  The campaign we did to encourage entries had been lacklustre, but he was full of thanks and praise and encouragement.  So much so that I could not take him seriously.

When I got down to the ground floor again I found that my deputy Meryl had been arguing again with PR Officer Josie.  Mindful of following the correct procedures, I talked to each of them separately and told them to behave, writing everything down.  Meryl was evasive about what they had been arguing about, Josie just said "she thinks she can order me about" (which strictly speaking is correct).

A meeting with a civil servant in the first part of the afternoon.

A meeting with a different civil servant in the second part of the afternoon.

At the end of the working day I talked to Felix S who runs the Research section (within the Marketing department - he is equal grade to myself).  He discussed plans to recruit a Research Officer, and told me that the funding for the post was now in doubt as it was certain my contract was going to be renewed.  This would explain Tom D's odd attitude on Monday - he had wanted my salary to fund the new Research post.


Things seemed more manageable today. 

In the morning a meeting with a rep from a commercial radio network, and afterwards I took the script up to Ryan M for him to approve (this was for the national award scheme). 

The national directory being produced by the Marketing department is going extremely well.  The project had been opposed by several managers in the NGO and I had been struggling to get it done without much support (apart from the Information Team who have worked excellently).  I know the directory is now regarded as a potential success as Tom D has started trying to steal the credit for it, writing a Foreward which is to be illustrated with his photo.

Lunchtime a meeting with Tom D and Felix S to discuss the recruitment of the Research Officer (which still doesn't have any funding).  We had ham rolls, cake and pots of fruit yoghurt.  I wondered how the food had been paid for.

Late afternoon Ryan M came to sit opposite, talking about the national award.  Unbidden, Josie came to join us, sitting next to him.  Ryan talked a great deal, and at one stage yawned while talking ("I'm even making myself bored"). 

At the end of the impromptu meeting Ryan and Josie left together, presumably to go up to his office.

When they had left Meryl said archly: "I see Ryan has acquired a little helper".

"She's his lover" said office junior Leo.

"She's his mistress" said Margaret in the Information Team.

"She's his tart" said Meryl.


When I got to my desk this morning I found a small note from Ryan approving the radio campaign.  The note had been written on the back of a disco ticket for the local football club he plays for.  I threw it into the bin, but had to retrieve it when later in the day he asked if I was going (I quickly invented an excuse why not).

"Stake-holder" and Baptist Minister Caleb arrived unexpectedly, making his usual amount of noise.  Information Assistant Gerry went off to one of the NGO's outstations, scooping up a couple of box files that had been open on his desk.  After he had gone Caleb began panicking that he couldn't find his car keys, and said that Gerry must have taken them accidentally with the box files (which Caleb had been rudely looking through).  Information Assistant Margaret went off in pursuit of Gerry to get them back.  Caleb fussed about, talking loudly and completely disrupting the department so that I wanted to throw him out.  Then he found his keys in his jacket pocket and sheepishly left.

Three meetings in the afternoon, one of them with a PSB broadcaster that wants to make a documentary about the NGO (twelve progammes).

On the way home I stopped to go into a supermarket.  Unexpected torrential shower of rain so that I had to run for my car when I came out of the store.  Then the rain stopped and the heat resumed.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Once the commuting stops

Above:  screen print of Grant McCracken's blogpost of 17th January (which can be read: http://cultureby.com/2011/01/will-new-york-city-go-the-way-of-the-newspaper.html ).

I have been thinking for some time about the future of the urban, suburban and rural areas of the United Kingdom and the way they interact with each other. 

In part this was sparked by Grant McCracken's post about New York, which helped me articulate in my own mind thoughts I had been collecting about this topic (in a sense reminding me of things I didn't know I knew, if that doesn't sound too Rumsfeldonian).

Particularly I am interested in turning Grant's post on its head and not looking at the city, but at the implications for non-urban areas.  What is going to happen to towns and villages once the commuting stops (or slows down, since people will still want to experience city culture, network with people in person, attend large-scale sporting events etc).  Also how is this re-shaping of society going to affect government policy?

These are a few developments I can envisage:

The working day will probably increase in length.  Instead of working from nine to five, individuals will probably work a longer overall day (but incorporating breaks when required).  Consequently it will become less easy to "switch off" in the evenings).

Financial - with more high-salary professionals spending the majority of their time in the immediate area where they live, more money is likely to be retained locally which should make local shops, schools, post offices, pubs, general services, institutions etc more viable (I see this happening through an increase in discretionary spending and the levying of local taxes; spending via the internet will continue to increase).

Employment opportunities in rural areas will improve, with less pressure on young people to move away.

Property prices should even out across the country as it will be just as easy to work in Knutsford as in Camden (but with a consequent fall in property prices in urban areas some families may choose to have a city property as well as their main property and move between the two - a democratisation of a pattern that already exists for the very rich).

Health will continue to become more localised.  Already many hospital stays are of very short duration, with on-going care taking place in a patient's home.  With the decanting of the cities, medical teams may be required to become more mobile, perhaps travelling between a circuit of treatment centres.

Care for the elderly.  With more people at home more often, one would hope that the loneliness and isolation felt by large numbers of elderly people will come to an end.  The expected increase in demand for long-term care for the elderly could well be absorbed by more people working at home and simultaneously caring for an elderly relative.

Policing.  The trend for policing services to be based in urban areas will almost certainly have to be reversed as concentrated populations continue to disperse.  Already several parishes have experimented by paying for extra localised police support (though it is not clear why they should pay extra - the funding should follow the population).

The atomisation of the cities.  Although a Detroit-style hollowing out of urban areas is unlikely, as more people work from home we will probably see an intensification of local communities.  It is a cliche to say London is a collection of villages, but we can probably predict an increase in the long-term identification of individuals with a specific place (with improved motivation to solve social issues, environmental issues, planning issues etc).

The Cranfordisation of society.  This final point is more difficult to express since it relates to the impact of a broadly static society upon individuals and families.  The last time the British national and cultural entity experienced relative stasis was in the early nineteenth-century, before the arrival of the railways (the era of Mrs Gaskell's Cranford), so perhaps that period offers clues as to what will happen when people stop moving around.

Sub-headings in blue:

Relocation for career reasons will largely come to an end.  People will still move house for a whole variety of reasons, but the main impetus to move every three or four years to develop a professional career will probably come to a stop.  As a consequence families will tend to remain in a particular area across several generations, allowing support mechanisms to develop across an extended family network.  Continuity (in all its varied social manifestations) will become a profound influence on society.  Corporate culture will also be affected, companies becoming focussed on a small core at the centre (and the centre may itself be located in a non-urban area).  However the ending of personnel relocation will have big implications for the housing market, and the way we store wealth in property.

Emotional and psychological impact.  Commuting tends to be stressful and tiring, so an increase in home-working can be expected to relieve that stress.  Also the proximity of nature (for those living in rural areas) has psychological benefits (according to studies).

A surveillance society.  With more people staying in one place the greater part of most days, there will be less opportunity for uninhibited behaviour.  Within marital and other relationships partners will watch each other more than they do now.  Parents will watch children more than they do now.  "Society" as a collective will watch individuals more than happens now.  Who knows what result this increase in surveillance will have.  Couples may stay together longer through a deeper sense of shared experience, or over-familiarity may split them apart as they grow sick of the sight of each other.  Families may be brought more closely together or they may explode with seething frustrations.  Introvert people in such a society may feel safer and more secure; extrovert people may feel crushed and claustrophobic.

Professor Welch's Merrie England.  I hesitated to write this section since I am not sure what I really want to say.  But the relatively enforced proximity of people within a fairly limited area is likely to result in more group activities and entertainments.

In-home entertainment will probably be the preferred choice of most people, and cities will remain the primary providers of high culture, but on a local level the ending of commuting will provide more time and opportunity for hobbies, clubs and societies.  Home-made pottery, recorder-playing recitals and Lynda Snell-style amateur theatricals may seem a nightmare to some sophisticates.  However Aldous Huxley wrote:

"The real value of folk art is psychological and social.  It is good that large numbers of people should be craftsmen, not because there is the smallest prospect of their producing a correspondingly large number of good works of art, but because craftsmanship is something which most men and women find psychologically satisfying.  Craftsmanship brings psychological fulfilment; a society of craftsmen is a society of satisfied individuals; and a society of satisfied individuals tends to be a stable society."

This is not a revolution.  These changes will not come about overnight, so there is no suggestion that this will be a swift revolution.  But each year sees an increase in the percentage of people working at home.  This change is happening everywhere.  It will affect everybody in one way or another.  Whether the result will be good or bad who can tell.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


In my view it is time for a Chinese head of the IMF.  "Europeans" (by which I mean the tired old self-perpetuating political elite) have hogged these institutions for too long.  It's time to see what China can do.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Social housing in London

I meant to add to my piece yesterday that there are strong indications that the lack of proper family homes (not flats or "units") is one of the major reasons we have seen a breakdown in family life. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ossulston Road Estate

Above:  Saturday two weeks ago I watched the debate on Social Housing in London, repeated on the BBC Parliament Channel (it went on all afternoon, so I did other things as well).  Joan Ruddock MP talked of 16,000 people on the waiting list in Lewisham, an area I know well from visiting my cousins in Catford.  She probably means well but to talk of "affordable new units" is dehumanising language - these should be homes for people not units for producers/consumers. 

Later Angela Bray MP talked about "the need for family houses rather than flats" which sounded much better.

As an aside, Don Strapzy's video for Out of the Blue is set in Lewisham:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJCINU7SXmI

Above:  Tom Brake MP said there was a waiting list of 4,000 people in the borough of Sutton.  He praised Centrepoint Outreach ("they sent a briefing out for today's debate").  Centrepoint Outreach is one of the charities I support.  You can donate here:  http://www.centrepoint.org.uk/  The briefing document is here:  http://www.centrepoint.org.uk/media/11155/wrb_committee_briefing_21st_march_2011.pdf

I am not sure about the proposals to end the right of tenure.  I know several people who would not be able to cope without state housing support.  They do not have organising skills to be able to privately rent or buy their own accommodation - by this I mean they do not have sufficient literacy skills, financial abilities, modest reserves of determination, emotional steadiness, motivation (their lives often seem meaningless to them), problem-solving skills etc and rather than cope with the pressures of private renting or buying they will probably give up and go under.

Clive Efford MP said that lack of supply was at the root cause of homelessness, but this cannot be the whole picture.  The increase in demand should also be addressed.  For instance 100,000 people from southern Ireland are expected to migrate to the United Kingdom because of the economic crisis - has any thought been given to where these people will live (it may be cheaper to pay them benefits to stay in Dublin).

Heidi Alexander MP referred to research by Family Mosaic http://www.familymosaic.co.uk/News/Which-direction-is-social-housing-travelling-in-

Frank Dobson MP referred to the social housing ordered by Neville Chamberlain in the 1920s (when Minister for Health).  This intrigued me since I am used to thinking of Neville Chamberlain as a weak and naive ditherer.  I decided to go and look at this housing, which is called the Ossulston Road Estate.

Above:  inside the Levita House on the Ossulston Road Estate.  Seven story building around a courtyard.  Simon Pepper, Professor of Architecture at the University of Liverpool, in an excellent article for the 20th Century Society said the architect of the estate (Topham Forrest) designed the buildings after being influenced by a visit to Vienna in 1927.  Standing inside the courtyard of Levita House I was immediately reminded of the courtyard castles of Austria (maybe Schloss Kornberg).

Above:  more of the courtyard at Levita House.  The enclosed balconies are a feature of the estate.  The flats were all-electric and had central heating.

Above:  the variegated roofline has been much praised.  Also not the slightly inward-sloping line of the nearest corner which is very pleasing to the eye and gives an organic feel to the building.  At street level there are shops, offices and pubs.

Above:  the entrance to Chamberlain House looking into the courtyard.  Simple but also beautiful.  Nothing brutalist here.

Above:  going into the courtyard of Chamberlain House the trees reminded me of another castle courtyard - Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.  This looks a genuinely nice place to live.  You could never say that about the Heygate Estate.

Above:  wonderful details such as this ironwork (jugendstil influence?).

Above:  pubs were incorporated into the design, a short walk down from the flats.

Above:  I really liked the look of the Golden Tulip caff and would have stopped for a cup of tea if I hadn't been in a rush.

Above:  multi-use sports area - possibly the lack of sports facilities is a criticism of the estate.

Above:  last building I looked at was Walker House, which was a real surprise - on the outside plain brick facades...

Above:  ...but on the inside this lush and intimate garden - it was like being in Campden Hill Square.

Above:  and on the corner of Walker House, reassuringly close, was a pub.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Baby raven fallen from its nest.  It sat there helpless, and seemed to be hyperventilating.  There didn't seem much I could do except leave it and hope the parent birds are nearby.

Smart black glossy plumage, massive bulk (comparatively), piercing gutteral cry.

Naturally extrovert birds.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Not pushy enough

Above:  visiting a village in the north west of the county I went first to the pub.  It was shut.  "He's very eccentric.  He inherited it from his father and just opens it when he wants to.  I think it's Saturday evenings by appointment, and most Sunday afternoons.  And darts night during the week."

Above:  we went up to a ridge to look over a little valley.  At this point it began to rain, huge drops.  I was sheltered under a tree, but still got fairly wet.  Originally the boundaries between two farms followed a meandering river through this valley.  In the eighteenth century a cut was made for the river which follows the hedge along the middle of the picture.  If you click to enlarge the image you can see the other farmhouse among the trees in the distance.

Above:  the church was nearby, a mixture of medieval and eighteenth century.  The roof was replaced about two hundred years ago, leaving the original roofline exposed against the tower.  You can see that the regular courses of cut stone change to rough in-fill.

Above:  three crusader tombstones had been built into the walls of the nave.

Above:  the alignment of the church is slightly off, although no-one can explain why.

Above:  the west window had been widened at some point in the past.  Together with the relignment this suggests that someone standing inside the church is meant to look in a certain direction.  Looking on Google maps I can trace the sight-line to a big farmhouse on a low hill about half a mile away.

Above:  in the chancel is this tomb of a knight.  The tomb is decorated with heraldry and other symbols, including several small heads.  Notice the spandrel designs. 

Above:  the carving on the monument is superbly detailed.

Above:  I think the spandrel designs must be associated with the Virgin Mary since they consist of a heart surrounded by lillies.  Probably they are the emblem of a confraternity the knight was associated with.  As well as funtioning as religious guilds confraternities raised money to send knights to the Holy Land.

Above:  I also met the owner of this farmhouse, which has a date of 1684 but may be considerably older.  The building was in a ruinous state before the present owner restored it ("the surveyer said it was basically verticle rubble").  Among the beams he had found a carved figure of an angel holding a shield.  The angel matched the angels carved on the tomb of the knight's wife.  I wanted to see this carving and I kept hoping the owner would ask me to look round the house.  He seemed on the verge of doing so, but in the end didn't. 

Perhaps I should have asked him outright.  It's the story of my life - I'm not pushy enough.  But perhaps I wouldn't like myself if I was too pushy.