Monday, April 8, 2024

Panic!


It's been a curious week of unexpected connections, conversations, sights and sounds, underpinned in some shape or form by panic.

I was recently contacted by Ania, the model/actress featured in my recent pin up shoot with a request to step in as behind the scenes/stills photographer for a short film she is producing, titled The Third Visit. 

Hopefully I'll be able to share more in time, as the film is to be submitted to a number of film festivals this year.  But for now, I can tell you that on the sunny Saturday that was 30th March (Easter Saturday), the final scenes to be shot for the 30 minute film were a dream sequence/picnic in the park and a traumatic car crash.

The weather was a great relief after a week of incessant rain and the small crew comprising make-up team, three actors, Sarah, the director, Cam, the cameraman (easy to remember) and myself assembled in the car park of a local nature reserve.

Improvisation is common on film sets, including make-up.  Without the luxury of a studio for final touch ups, a car boot and bright sunlight did the job.  But not too bright, you understand. 


We trudged up the hill to a quiet spot and set up the picnic scene.




Filming takes forever.  There are often multiple takes, waiting for clouds to pass, deflecting harsh sunlight, checking of footage and pauses for hair readjustments and make up retouches.  


The child star of the day had no acting experience or lines and so it was a long morning for him, but with quiet encouragement from Mom...


...food and jollity...


...and a kick about, he relaxed into it and proved to be a little superstar!


After the director called "Cut" on the picnic scene, over an hour of make-up ensued to transfer the fresh faced Ania and Don into this gruesome twosome!


A quiet, but gritty urban location was selected for the aftermath of the car crash.  The warped humour derived from the sight of Ania driving into position in apparent need of urgent medical attention was not lost on any of us.


Harriet, one of the make-up team, doubled up as special effects operator, hiding out of sight of the camera in order to release a steady stream of smoke into the car... and there was much deliberation over the eventual position of Don's head on the dashboard.  


Some final touch ups (wounds need to stay fresh) and finally, we were ready to go.


In breaks in between filming, I asked Don to give me his best used car salesman pose.  What do you think?  Would you buy a used car from this man?


Filming of this scene went smoothly and before long, it was a wrap!


Thanks all for a great day!  I'll be sharing details of those involved at the end of this post.

Another weekend and another atypical day.  Remember our recent adventuring over Kinver and that glimpse of Drakelow tunnels?  Well, last Saturday was the date of our booked tour.  For those of you unfamiliar with the tunnel complex, you can read more here:  Winter Peach Photography: Tunnel Vision   But if you're short on time, the tunnel complex was built initially for use as a shadow factory during the second World War and later repurposed as a nuclear bunker during the Cold War.

The new Drakelow Tunnels Museum operators have grand plans for this site.  However, photographs were strictly forbidden during our tour.  The reason given for this was that a large proportion of the tunnel complex is utilised as a bonded warehouse for wine storage and the company heading up that particular enterprise, are extremely security conscious. But, the rebel in me could not resist a few sneaky iphone snaps when the tour guides' backs were turned.  What harm could they possibly do?

The tunnels were blasted into the hillside and the copious tonnes of spoils deposited in and around the site of the former village of Drakelow.  The sandstone walls are lime washed and you can still see the scars of the machinery used during the tunnelling process.


All good nuclear bunkers need power...


...and should the worst happen and panic sets in, a decontamination area is a must!


The tour really was excellent value for money.  I could tell you all about it, but I really think you should go and see for yourselves.  Tickets aren't cheap but the tour is approximately 2 hours' long and the guides are good humoured (ours was Mike) and extremely knowledgeable.  

You'll see a mock-up of a factory, offices, a medical facility and a particularly eerie Cold War era canteen (formerly a theatre during WW2 frequented by the likes of George Formby).  

If you do decide to go, be warned.  Advance booking is essential. Further information can be found here.  Drakelow Tunnels (drakelow-tunnels.co.uk)

Our top tips? Wear sturdy footwear and lots of layers.  It is very cold and damp in the tunnels.  We emerged, hands almost blue with cold, like moles blinking in the sunlight, amazed to discover that the mercury had climbed to a staggering 19 degrees while we were dithering below ground.

Even though the weather remains unpredictable, the garden is definitely getting on with the business of Spring - so far with minimal intervention from me.  

The tulips and primroses are flowering.




The robins and blackbirds are nest building in the garden.  The robin is exploiting the upside down umbrella that is our burgeoning Gunnera Manicata, eating up all of the fat ball remnants that the squirrels drop as they make their hasty getaways.


Plus, Noah, Lotte's former nemesis, has made friends with us.  Well, sort of.  He's very vocal and will now stop for some fuss whenever he's passing through our garden.  He did bite Gareth the other day, after tricking him into touching his belly, but that was a schoolboy error.  I'm not falling for that!  He always looks startled, but is a bit of a bruiser and very vocal!


Our final panic themed excursion was last night's gig at Wolverhampton Civic.  On the bill?  Johnny Marr (legendary guitarist, aka Johnny F**kin Marr, formerly of The Smiths and "Panic" fame) and Gaz Coombes (former frontman for Supergrass).  

I'd clocked this gig some months ago, but had planned a photo shoot on the day and couldn't commit.  However, the shoot was ill feted and fell through.  Storm Kathleen would have put paid to it in any event.  I therefore decided to see if we could get tickets last week.  We were in luck and I honestly couldn't have asked for a better way to spend a Sunday night. 


Wolverhampton Civic Hall is only a short drive away for us and is, in my humble opinion, the best music venue in the West Midlands.   We were excited to see Gaz Coombes, but were only vaguely familiar with Johnny Marr's solo stuff and wondered just how many hits from his days with The Smiths he would perform.  We weren't disappointed.  Both are supremely talented artists, but Johnny Marr blew us away.  He struck the perfect balance between new material, songs from his solo back catalogue and Smiths classics.  Everyone was singing along.  The atmosphere was electric, even if he did have to - in his words - "...be the vibe police" and reprimand one inebriated and "gnarly" audience member.  

Sadly, my big girl camera wasn't allowed, so I only took my iphone.  I had an interesting conversation with an Instagram follower Ken (a seasoned photographer) who tried his level best to help me secure a precious camera pass (including forwarding Johnny Marr's record company details and suggesting he would have asked Billy Bragg for help "...but he's in America at the moment.")  In reality, it was just too late in the day.  But he did give me some great tips moving forward. Thanks Ken!

So forgive the grainy images. I did my very best, holding the camera high in the gaps between the thick-necked six footers standing in front of me and trying to maintain some level of focus.

Gaz Coombes

Johnny Marr

As we suspected, we came away with that definite feeling that we had witnessed something very special.  As much as I would like to leave you with a clip of his Johnny's performance of Panic, I somehow managed to fumble with my settings and film it at a speed that makes Johnny sound like the spawn of Satan. 

So instead, I'll leave you with his performance from last night, uploaded to YouTube by someone with both a better position and filming expertise!


*******


The Third Visit Film credits:

Writer/Director:  Sarah France
Cameras:  Cameron Sheldon
Actors:  Ania Cummins and partner, Don
Lead HMUA:  Kacey Comarsh
MUA:  Bella Whitlam
Harriet Smith

Monday, March 25, 2024

A Wondercrump Weekend

 Those of you not reared on Roald Dahl books might wonder what this title's all about.  "Wondercrump" is one of Dahl's inventions and pretty much translates as wonderful or splendiferous.  The reason for hijacking it for this blog?  At the weekend, we headed 100 miles south easterly to visit a small village in Buckinghamshire where I spent pretty much a decade of my life - from the age of 11.  

We relocated due to the recession which blighted Thatcher's Britain.  Dad, a master butcher by trade and always up for an adventure, felt that the village would welcome his traditional skills as he took over the village butchery business.  They certainly did.  


This was home during that time, a grade II listed building.  Like several of the high street buildings, it dates back to 17th century, but was subsequently encased in 18th century brickwork.  In its time, it's been a coaching inn, a butcher's shop and now a private residence.


Great Missenden is a small, quintessentially English village nestled in the Chiltern Hills.  We lived right on the bustling High Street (once the main coaching road from London to the Midlands), which boasted a green grocers, bakery, sweet shop (Kandy's), numerous pubs, a hairdresser's, wine shop, book shop and the cutest little vintage shop called Fumbles run by a lovely woman called Win and her friend, Lady Campbell.  I actually think that Fumbles and the fact that London's Camden Market was a mere 30 minute train journey away, cemented my love of vintage fashion.  


The village was thriving at the time and my Dad soon turned the ailing business around.  It was common for customers to be queueing outside on a Saturday morning and despite our strange Black Country accents, we were welcomed with open arms.  

It seems surreal to me now, but the village's proximity to London meant that the area was awash with celebs (even the odd royal) who would often frequent the village shops.  In a strange parallel, I only discovered years later that local Brummie boy Ozzy Osbourne and his family lived just up the road from us during our time in Great Missenden, in a gated manor house, not that we ever laid eyes on him.  I've read interviews with his kids over the years, both of who have referenced places (Kandy's sweet shop being one of them) that played a big part in my childhood.

The most notable resident of the village was the author Roald Dahl, who moved there in the 1950s, taking up residence in Gypsy House.  His tall frame (slightly stooped by age and war injuries) could often be spotted walking around the village in his trademark maroon coloured corduroy trousers.  He soon became a customer of my Dad's and when I became school friends with the daughter of Roald's secretary, her mom organised a visit to his house so that I could get my treasured copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory signed.  My main takeaways from that visit were being shown inside his famous writing hut, discovering that the family dogs had their own room, eating biscuits in the kitchen and being teased by the man himself, who told me: "Your Dad puts sawdust in his sausages!"

The reason I'm sharing this information is that on a return visit several years ago when our son was at the perfect age to appreciate Dahl's books, we took him the Roald Dahl Museum, dedicated to the author's life and work.  The museum was created after his death in 1990 (shortly before we moved back to the Midlands) and I was gobsmacked to discover that my Dad's shop features on the front cover of the official Village Trail and gets a mention too.  It's Number 7 if you're interested, but more of that later.

Towards the end of his life, Roald and his wife Felicity (both keen cooks and foodies), wrote a book - Memories of Food at Gypsy House, in which they again mentioned my Dad's shop.  The author even posed for a photo outside.  I remember the excitement of that day, but nothing more as I was busy being educated.

Here's a photo of the relevant extract and the personal dedication.


The reason for our long overdue 2024 visit was to document the places in and around the village that will always have a special place in my heart.  Like most people, I bitterly regret not taking more photos in my youth.  

Home for the night was a room in Missenden Abbey, a conference/wedding venue with accommodation.  The Abbey's history stretches back over 800 years. Strap in or scroll down! It was founded by a group of Augustinian Cannons from Arrouaise in Northern France.  It was a favourite stop over for Henry III who enjoyed the hospitality of the Abbot on numerous occasions.  


With the dissolution of the monasteries, the land was forfeited to the crown and eventually left by Henry VIII to his daughter, Elizabeth.  Soon after her accession to the throne, Elizabeth granted the Abbey to her favourite, Robert, Earl of Leicester and he in turn in 1574 to Sir William Fleetwood, Recorder of London and MP for the city.

The Fleetwoods retained the Abbey as a manor house until the mid 18th century when the male line died out.  

In 1806, after the previous rich ironmonger owner died, it was purchased by John Ayton, who again largely rebuilt the Abbey and left the Neo-Gothic structure as it is today.

The Gothic Summerhouse



In 1815 the Abbey was purchased by a family of West Indian Planters (the Carringtons) who settled down in Bucks and devoted themselves to managing their extensive farms in Missenden and other villages in the county.  

The Carringtons remained in occupation until 1946 when the family sold the house to Buckinghamshire County Council for use as an Adult Learning College.

Other fun facts.  It's said to be haunted by a monk and a woman in black.  The Chiltern Hospital (just down the road) was originally a convent linked to the Abbey by underground tunnels.  Here, another monk is said to haunt the building.  The story alleges that he took his own life by slitting his throat after being caught with a nun in 1297.  There's also a direct descendant from Newton's apple tree in the grounds.

Here's the part of the Abbey's history that I remember - the major fire of 1985 - which gutted the entire interior.  I remember the sirens and the fire service draining all of the well heeled villagers' swimming pools to help put out the flames.  But the Abbey was faithfully restored to its earlier splendour, including vaulted rooms, the ceremonial staircase, stained glass and ornate plasterwork; an incredible feat of craftsmanship following the architectural traditions of the original building.  This was completed within three years and the new building was officially reopened by HRH the Duke of Gloucester.  


Since the 1990s, the Abbey has been owned by Buckinghamshire New University.

So, after the history lesson, let's see the sights!  I'll incorporate the places referenced on the Roald Dahl village trail, but expect some of my memories and a few of my additions own too!

1.  The library.  In Roald Dahl's Matilda, the central character was often left at the library while her Mom went off to play Bingo in Aylesbury.


2.  The Station.  Roald Dahl wrote a railway safety guide for children, published after his death.  Teenage me could also often be found waiting for her train to Camden on this platform, with the intention of hoovering up vintage Levis and silver jewellery.


3.  The Roald Dahl Museum, diagonally opposite my former home.  The building now bears the words of the author and a mural of the BFG.  The gates were donated by Warner Brothers (the gates featured in the 2005 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory proved to be too big). 



4.  The Petrol Pumps.


The petrol pumps at 64 High Street inspired the description of the garage in Danny the Champion of the World.  "It was a very small filling station on a small country road, surrounded by fields and woody hills."  Danny the Champion of the World (1975).  Roald Dahl also worked for Shell Oil after he left school.  You can read about that in his book Going Solo (1986).

And because they're so pretty, here's a photo of them under cover of darkness.


5.  Crown House.  This timer framed private residence was the inspiration for the orphanage ("norphanage") in the BFG.


6.  The Church of St Peter and Paul, via the picturesque Church Lane.




It's here that Roald Dahl is buried.  His grave is relatively modest.  Since we left, a memorial bench bearing the names of his children and a poignant quote from The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me has been added:  

"We have tears in our eyes as we wave our goodbyes, 

We so loved being with you we three,

So do please now and then come and see us again,

The Giraffe and the Pelly and me."

There are two giant footsteps leading to the grave.




We had a wander around the old graveyard, higher up the hill.  As I may have mentioned, I love exploring old graveyards...



...but on this day, at this time, we suddenly experienced a wave of overwhelming sadness, thinking of time and people passing, so headed back into the village.

7.  Number 7 on the village trail is The Butcher's.  You can read it here for yourselves.  

Roald-Dahl-Museum-village-trail.pdf (b-cdn.net)

But for added authenticity, here are a couple of photos, courtesy of my Mom.




8.  Buryfields.  This is a play park and amenity ground often frequented by dog walkers.  You can see from the rain laden sky that April is fast approaching.


9.  I once did a school project on this property, one of the oldest in the village.  The oak panelling inside was something to behold.



10.  I received my very first pay packet inside this pub, after a brief stint as a waitress.



11.  Once Town End Farm, I recall visiting the farmer's wife, May, and her sister, shortly after moving here.  I would sometimes deliver their order to the farm house.  Even as a child, the farm house seemed from another time.  I can remember a busy kitchen with a huge pine table, plate racks and fly paper dangling from the ceiling.



12.  House of Letters

Another way I made money as a teen, was to help an elderly lady with failing eyesight stay in touch with her friends.  Remember when people used to hand write letters?  Well, I would sit and studiously write this woman's letters as she dictated expressively to me -  "Dear Bunty..." - all the time thinking which album I would buy with the proceeds.



13.  A collection of cottages and handsome houses.

As you might imagine, nothing really changes in a place like this.  The community spirit still seems evident, but most of the people I knew have moved on or passed on.


14.  The Misbourne River

The mysterious River Misbourne...sometimes visible, sometimes not.  In order to stop this blog from spiralling out of control, I'll pop a link here by way of explanation.   River Misbourne - Wikipedia   It's certainly in rude health now.


15.  The Woods.

After grabbing a hot drink back at the hotel, we ventured out once again and via the back lanes of Missenden, passing Roald Dahl's old house (now occupied by Sophie Dahl and family)... 

...we headed into Hobbs Hill Wood.  For the vast majority of my life I've lived very close to woodland, starting with my time in Great Missenden.  I just feel at home amongst trees and love the nocturnal sounds emanating from them.



Soon, hunger pangs and the dying sunlight persuaded us to retrace our steps towards the village.  We took a slightly different route back and just in time, I was able to capture this stunning pink sunset over Angling Spring Wood, which, incidentally, is said to have inspired Fantastic Mr Fox. Could I have asked for a better memory of our single night stay?



16.  To the pub!

In the Victorian era, Great Missenden was home to no less than 11 public houses.  It's lost a few over the years, but there's still plenty of choice.  We opted for The Cross Keys and enjoyed quite possibly the best fish and chips we have ever eaten.  I even braved the mushy peas, which would probably be better described as "smashed, minted peas" using chefy terminology!  


Above the fireplace it says "Time is precious...waste it wisely."


The place was bustling and the staff and customers very friendly.

There was a wedding celebration in full swing by the time we returned to Missenden Abbey.  In the past, we have been known to gate crash the odd wedding, but decided to behave ourselves on Saturday night and retired to our room for a nightcap and the late film.


Sunday dawned bright and breezy, but I had a couple of places still to visit.  In fact, there was quite a list, but I always need an excuse to return!  

Where were we?  Number 17 I think.

The excellent 2009 stop motion film version of Fantastic Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) features The Nag's Head pub.  Here's a film still.



Now, compare it to the real thing.  Can you see the resemblance?  This was Roald Dahl's favourite pub.


Back in the High Street, I had to photograph this gorgeous Corvette Stingray.  I tried to tell the owner that it would suit me way better, but would he listen?


Somewhat reluctantly, we got behind the wheel of our VW Beetle and said goodbye to Great Missenden, heading just a few miles out to Great Hampden and our final destination.

18.  Hampden House.

Fans of classic British horror might recall the 1980s TV series Hammer House of Horror.  Hampden House was purchased by and served as the HQ of Hammer Films during the filming of the series, popping up in many of the thirteen episodes, as well as featuring in the opening credits.

You can read its fascinating film history here:  Hampden House, Gt. Hampden - Hammer House of Horror TV Series

The red kites were circling, but my lens wasn't up to the job so you'll have to take my words for it!





The house is now a very swanky wedding venue (and also once again on my radar).

Sadly, it was time to head home, but we couldn't resist briefly followed the footpath running in front of the property into an area of woodland, only to be rewarded by the sight of this beautiful specimen.  No, not Gareth.  A Giant Redwood.


From one Big Friendly Giant to another.  A fitting way to end my nostalgia trip.







Panic!

It's been a curious week of unexpected connections, conversations, sights and sounds, underpinned in some shape or form by panic. I was ...