Friday, August 27, 2021

You can't have your cake or eat it!

Last weekend we finally made it to Chastleton House in rural Oxfordshire after being forced to abandon a recent planned excursion courtesy of a Covid isolation period.

I was happy to be venturing to pastures new and even happier about the mix of warm sunshine and interesting cloud formations which always make for better photographs.  Heads up, this is a photo heavy post.  

I'd read Vicky's informative and engaging description of the property following her visit to this National Trust managed property earlier in the summer (Vintage Vixen: The Distancing Diaries - 9th & 10th June, 2021 ( Inspired to visit and armed with some pre-existing knowledge of the place, we were able to relax and just soak up the atmosphere. Below was our first tantalising glimpse of the honeyed facade.

The pathway to the property passes a wonderful dovecote and the neighbouring St Mary's Church (built in the 12th Century).  

We were encouraged by the volunteer on the gate to take advantage of tea and cakes on offer inside the church before our timed entry slot.  The quintessentially English scene that greeted us outside the church appealed to my dark sense of humour.  A church hall cake sale with proceeds going to charity was set up inside, with visitors seated at various plastic garden tables and chairs dotted amongst the gravestones.  The volunteer's cake sale schtick obviously worked.  As we arrived, an orderly queue was already forming on the path through the centre of the graveyard.  Talk about God's Waiting Room!

Given that they had sold out of ginger and rum cake (I was only interested in the boozy cake), we opted to have a wonder around the graveyard instead.

I loved this alternative view of the house from the back of the graveyard.   Apologies for this black and white interlude, but some places - particularly graveyards - demand it.

At the far end of the churchyard, just in front of a low stone wall, with breathtaking views across the Oxfordshire countryside, I spotted this much more recent gravestone.  

It is the final resting place of former Eton student, scholar and Bletchley Park codebreaker (recruited straight from University), Stephen Freer, who died in 2017 at the impressive age of 97.  In press cuttings, he was described as "a kind and gentle soul."  Where better to rest a while?

Moving onto the main event, this stunning example of a Jacobean country house was built around the time that Shakespeare was toiling over The Tempest and MacBeth. 

Stunning from every angle... immediately had me wanting to up sticks and relocate to the Cotswolds.  With residents including Jeremy Clarkson, Alex James and Kate Moss, we all know that house prices are through the roof in these parts.  Every wealthy London type and gentleman farmer wants a piece of England's green and pleasant land.  

That said, I'm realistic in my expectations.  I definitely see myself moving into Chastleton House, but would be quite content to occupy just about any corner of the for example.  This redundant space was a bit of a mystery to the volunteers working at the house, so I posed the question on Twitter.  The Brickworks Museum suggested it would have been a good place for naughty children.  I'm going with puppet show stage.

As with houses of this size, the windows were numerous...  

... although there wasn't a puff of wind that day.  Strange.

The gardens were relatively small but perfectly formed...

...with a croquet lawn,

kitchen garden and greenhouse,


...and resident snoozing cat.

There were other garden delights of course, but you might want to discover them for yourself!

Inside, the hallway was a time capsule - relatively untouched by the 21st century.  The large windows and deep sills were a house plant gardener's dream.

As usual, I was drawn to the little details; light play,

decorative plasterwork,


...and woodworm.  This isn't just any woodworm.  This is Jacobean, National Trust woodworm.

I could happily wake up to a morning cuppa in this room.

The uppermost floor was dedicated to "the Long Gallery" a grandiose space used variously for female exercise, childhood games and dances.

You could fit several children or adults on this hobby horse!

Rather than asking about the panelling or plasterwork, we asked whether the floorboards creak at night on their own -  a way more pressing question.  The answer?  Yes of course.  Curiously, the guide also told us that on stormy days, the entire space creaks and groans like the bowels of a Spanish galleon.  I would pay good money to spend a night here with a sleeping bag and a torch.  I think the National Trust are missing a trick.  

Back down to the kitchen - those of a sensitive disposition may wish to scroll on.  Apparently, back in the day, it was viewed as bad luck to clean the ceiling of a kitchen, so here you go - feast your eyes on centuries of soot and grime!

Buoyed up by our day out, we've decided to squeeze in another short trip before the end of the summer holidays.  After wrangling with the problematic ID procedure of Airbnb, we finally received confirmation of our booking. An island destination awaits. 

To more domestic issues, the remainder of my spare time this week has been spent tackling bamboo.  I may be a nature lover but as the enormity of this task dawned on me (after we'd gone too far to change our minds), I can reach only one conclusion.  It. Must. Die.  Either that, or we dig for Britain, pot them up and make a small fortune from other suckers daft enough to plant this invasive, leaf shedding, allergy-provoking monster.  

In the midst of my battle with the bamboo, I discovered this beauty.  It's long since served its purpose, but it has been crafted from all manner of things by a blackbird with infinitely more patience than me.  So far I've spotted some oak leaves, one of my discarded anti snag hair bands and a section of our garden twine.  The presence of sweet peas is my artistic flourish.

And so we reach the end of the week.  The temperature has dropped a little, clouds are gathering and the first Autumnal arachnid has made an appearance, so I've decided to try on my latest acquisition - a vintage Anokhi co-ord outfit, paired with Lotta from Stockholm unmade socks (it's chilly) and gold clogs. I hadn't yet found an outfit that these socks worked with, until now.  I had thought that the co-ord was black, but, as is sometimes the way with Ebay photos, the reality is quite different.  It actually a really lovely shade of chocolate brown.

As for TV viewing, we're dipping into Truth Seekers, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who also share writing credits) on Amazon Prime.  It's like the love child of X-Files and the budget-busting episodes of Dr Who, with a light sprinkling of the classic humour and humanity of a Pegg/Frost collaboration. 

What are you up to?

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Faded Grandeur

Last weekend we took a trip to Bridgnorth, the Shropshire market town split into High Town and Low Town by the River Severn and one of the stops on the famous Severn Valley Railway.  We coincided with a scooter rally.  It was a dull day but the flat light was lifted by the brightness of the mirrors and lights on the Lambrettas and Vespas and the cafes were awash with green parkas and Paul Weller silver fox lookalikes.  

Mods, like their vintage scooters, might generally be of a certain age, but for a brief moment, Bridgnorth was cool.

Sadly, they began to move on as we arrived - a rolling stone gathers no moss - so I only managed to get a few snaps.  Previously, when we've encountered groups of mods at trade shows, they've been more than happy to pose for photos, peacocks that they are.

This one, parked up by a lamp post away from the rest of the crowd, was our favourite.  It looks as if it's spent the best part of a decade abandoned outside a little pizzeria in the back streets of Bologna.

For anyone thirsty for more, an photographer acquaintance later shared this article with me about a fascinating photographic history project centred around Colwyn Bay's days as a mecca for mods.

Scooter Rallies Rev Up – TAPE Community Music & Film (

We also ventured inside The Mill Antiques Centre in Low Town for the first time since before the pandemic.  It's one of those places we rarely make a purchase from (although this time was the exception), but just love exploring.

Sticking with the faded grandeur theme, just look at the patina on this window and door to an adjoining building!

It came as no surprise when cropping this image, to discover that there are no true leading lines.  Nothing is straight about it; from the opening via the frame to the door itself.  
Inside the Antiques Centre, despite the gloom and low light, I managed to snap a few photos of the eclectic wares on offer.  First up, the creepy doll.  Standard.  This would fit in a treat on the Island of the Dolls near New Mexico, which you can read about here.  Isla de las Muñecas – The Island of the Dolls (

Fantastic Mr Fox is past his prime!

One for the musos.

My old rocking horse with an asking price of £75.00.

We're both partial to a vintage travel sticker or two.

This Tuk Tuk was also an incongruous sight in a Shropshire Antiques Centre.

We came away with an anchor, which is going to get an under-the-sea shipwreck makeover (take note producers of TV's Glow Up) and a PG Tips Monkey tea towel!

Back at home, the extra curricular highlight of the week has been Gareth fixing our telescopic garden loppers.  He did so, by using a spring from an Anglepoise lamp (!) thus enabling me to have a fun session chopping anything within my puny reach and giving me a decent upper body workout in the process.  The downside?  Even after 40 minutes' toil and having completely filled the newly emptied green bin, I can't see much difference.  It's a jungle out there!

Maybe I should have called this post "Mods and Loppers!"

Another day, another fleeting trip to a Shropshire market town.  This time it was Shrewsbury, famous for being the birth place of one of my ancestors, Charles Darwin, or Chuck as I now like to call him.  

On arrival, there was a small group assembled around the pay and display meter, all seemingly unable to obtain a ticket from the machine.  Finally, I had a go and whilst it was unnecessarily complicated, I managed to obtain a ticket, but was encouraged to remain and supervise the queue that had formed, ensuring that they could all shop to their heart's content, safe in the knowledge that they were legally parked.

Faded grandeur is obviously this week's photographic style.  The changes to this town since my last visit can be summarised as new builds and boarded up businesses.  Strange times we're living in.

I have a thing about bridges.

This is an English bridge for English people!

Again, with family in tow, my photographic output was limited and I was distracted by the charity shops.

You might recall in my last post, I mentioned that the surprise package we found hidden on the edge of a local field had given me an idea.  That's slightly untrue.  I've been cultivating the seed of an idea for some time.  Not sure if anyone else remembers it, but as a child, I was completely entranced by the Kit Williams book Masquerade.

Written and illustrated by Kit (artist, author, illustrator), it was published 42 years ago in August 1979 and sparked a nationwide treasure hunt for a jewelled 19 carat golden hare hidden by Kit somewhere in Britain.  The book's exquisitely detailed illustrations concealed clues to its location.   In 2009, author and hare were reunited after it was tracked down to Egypt!

 Unearthed again – golden hare that obsessed a nation | Children and teenagers | The Guardian

Obviously I never came close to finding the hare, but the sheer excitement and playfulness of this concept never left me.  

Finding the little package last week was something of a catalyst and I decided to take a similar approach with some photographs.  We all know that we have gained much in this digital age.  But we also stand to lose a lot in terms of historical records.  We rarely print our photos anymore, preferring to amass thousands of throw away images suspended in Cloud storage and rarely revisited.  Should some evil mastermind with a fluffy white cat blow up the internet from his remote island hideout, there will be a huge gaps.

With this in mind, I have decided to obtain prints of some of my photos in an affordable and retro style 90s Instax format.  

I was so excited to receive the first batch in the post (I'd forgotten how much fun it is to await the arrival of developed photos, even though I already know how they will look).  I doubled up on them so I could retain a copy of my own, but my grand plan is to place them around the area and in many cases close to the subject featured in the photograph.  If I were to describe it in airy fairy terms, I would say it's an alternative photographic exhibition - site specific - featuring images taken during the course of a tumultuous year, reminding people to make more tangible memories.  I'm adding captions, sealing them up, keeping a record of which ones I have placed and where and hoping that people will engage and tag me to let me know they have been discovered.  I've made it clear that the photos are to be kept by those who find them.  

I've hidden in plain sight 3 so far, so we'll see what occurs.  I have 50 in total.

In the meantime - and this will appeal to vintage fashionistas - a parcel arrived first thing this morning containing a lovely matching Anokhi skirt and top.  Thanks for the heads up Vix!  It's just perfect for Autumn, but because there's a monsoon outside with little sign of abating, I can't yet post a pic.  

Lotte is not impressed and I have grave fears for my little photo packages.  But fear not, summer is set to return next week, or so they say.

In the meantime, I'm off to start building an arc.   I knew that anchor would come in handy!

Have a great weekend!

A Balancing Act

  I always find myself in a reflective, pensive mood at this time of year.  Life moves at pace and I'm finding it increasingly difficult...