Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Great Escape

This week has been a weird one.  I've been restless and sleep deprived for numerous reasons and consequently a bit out of sorts.  To paraphrase Jarvis Cocker, maybe I left an important piece of my brain in a field in Worcestershire last weekend.   

The reason I was in a field in rural Worcestershire, was VDubs in the Valley, a show we sponsor.  It has been going for 7 years and collectively - for ourselves and the organisers - the 2014 event was our first ever trading event.  The latest show, rolled over from 2020 like so many others, brought out familiar faces, sunshine galore (despite ominous weather warnings dominating the forecast) and the coolest of vehicles.  Festival fever is back!

1972 VW Two Tone Beetle with white wall tyres

Slammed Vans themed Beetle born in 1973

Split screen panel van with safari front windows

Split screen camper rocking an OG paint look

My instinct upon arriving on site and encountering a sea of people, was to turn on my heel and head back to the car, so effectively have I been conditioned over the last 18 months to become a solitary being (even more than usual).  But whilst the mood was definitely celebratory with the weekend campers seemingly never without a beer in hand post noon, it was also slightly surreal and respectful.  Everyone was happy to be amongst others, but most exercised a degree of caution still.  The new somewhat chaste social etiquette has been rolled out to festivals it seems, with many greetings starting with: "Are we doing hugs or fist bumps?"  OK, not quite the words you might hear expressed by a character from a Jane Austin novel, but you get my drift.  Reassured, I soon slipped back into my public facing role and the weekend was a big success.

I left Gareth to it and returned home in the evenings.  I'm not quite ready for music crowds just yet given the rise in cases locally and quite relished the luxury of being able to pop home to creature comforts, given that we live less than 30 minutes away.  Instead, on Saturday evening, I enjoyed a couple of G&Ts and eagerly watched the brilliant Wise Owl Films produced BBC documentary, When Nirvana Came to Britain.  

Photo credit:  Martyn Goodacre

Conversely, despite being shattered when I left him at 7 pm and I quote "ready to crash out," the following morning, I met numerous strangers who variously, claimed to have enjoyed Gareth's storytelling, shared their chips with him or who had encountered him around their camp fire.  I started to feel that I had missed out.  This tells me that we do, like much of our beleaguered covid-hit population, need to get out more!  

Trade was so busy on Saturday, that unfortunately, I did not get the gurning snapshots of certain friends and customers I would have liked to.  However, we've made tentative plans to attend next year's Green Man Festival as punters with friends we have met through the show circuit and were reunited with an old friend who paid us a visit on Sunday.  Here's Mike, posing happily in that way only old friends can,  on our surprisingly comfy inflatable show sofa (which incidentally, at least two people offered to buy from us).

There are some real labours of love in the VW community; the air cooled devotees who lavish care, attention and serious money on keeping their ageing bay windows and split screens on the road and those who prefer the comfort and relative security of the new VW vans - from T4s onwards (some even electing to spend upwards of £8,000 on a respray!)   This one seemed to somehow straddle both camps.  Lurking under this post apocalyptic metal shell is a VW T4!

I am always drawn to the air cooled buses, preferring a little history, character and the clear and present danger of engine failure in my vehicles.  Intending to photograph Sunday's show and shine display and make our selection for winner of the best non VW category, imagine my delight when I saw this mobile work of art driving slowly into the neighbouring field!

It's an old chevrolet converted into a mobile Moonshine Distillery...and why not?!  Sadly it wasn't booked in to enter the competition, drawing to a halt in the designated day visitors' car park, but in my eyes it was a clear winner.  It's owner, a dapper, white haired man, generously opened her up to an assembled group of people, their smart phones held aloft, while I patiently awaited an opportunity to snatch a few shots when no one else was in frame.  He eventually wandered off in the direction of the showground.

The attention to detail was incredible; from the little rat taking shelter here... the frog fashioned from a nut and whatever else came to hand from the toolbox.

Even the birds were catered for.

There was a wash tub and lantern hanging from the back, and beautifully crafted window frames no doubt hewn from trees felled in the north hills of Dakota, including this porthole window.  The level of craftsmanship was second to none.  

Inside was small, but perfectly formed, including a bunk, a stove, cupboard space, a handy shelf and a prominently displayed shotgun to warn off any thieving outlaws.

George Clark would have instantly christened this space "amazing."

I love seeing creativity and functionality in small spaces such as camper vans, incorporating only what is necessary to life on the road.  I just wish I could apply it to my own home.  Minimalist we are not.  Another show that always seems to be on in our house is Salvage Hunters and we both envy antiques hunter Drew Pritchard's work space.  The problem is we would probably find it really difficult to part with our finds.

Incidentally, on the return journey from our recent trip to Wales, we took a detour to Conwy, specifically so we could check out Drew's prominent high street business premises.  

The eagle eyed amongst you might spot a Voodoo Street sticker on the lamp post.  I have no idea who could have put that there!  Some people!

Catch you soon.


Monday, September 20, 2021

I'm Not a Number!

I have been doing a lot of clock watching this week as we've been preparing for a show.  I started this blog late last week, with the intention of finishing it before the show, but failed, so I'm now typing this on a sunny Monday morning.  To give you a flavour of the last 7 days, we were screen printing t-shirts at 10 pm on Thursday.  

It's a miracle the prints turned out as well as they did when I had one eye on Help, the care home drama starring Jodie Comer as Sarah and Stephen Graham as Tony.  It's also highly likely that a few of the garments were softened by my tears when Tony told Sarah that he loved her (shortly after calling her a soft t**t).

So, as the week begins, I am now experiencing technical issues with our wireless adaptor, which is causing me grief when I try to upload images or use the internet.  It will be resolved, but for now, I shall keep this post short and sweet.

So, back through the mists of time we go to our recent sun drenched sojourn in Wales.  En route to Anglesey, we stopped off at Portmeirion, the location for the avant-garde social science fiction and at times utterly baffling 1960s TV series, The Prisoner.  

The star of the show, Patrick McGoohan, died in 2015 and a bust of the man himself has been erected close to the entrance, in his honour.

The Italianate village was the brainchild and creation of Welsh Architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.  Now a charitable trust, Clough designed and built the village between 1925 and 1975.  Clough was a tireless campaigner for the environment and a founding member of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales.  He was also instrumental in the establishment of National Parks in England and Wales.   

Portmeirion, Clough's masterpiece, has inspired numerous architects, most notably Frank Lloyd Wright, who visited in 1956 during his only visit to his ancestral country.  

It's also the home of Portmeirion Pottery after Clough's designer daughter took over a Stoke on Trent pottery and named it after the village.  Sadly, we arrived too late in the day to have a nose around the shop, but spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring the quirky village and the surrounding grounds.  With the sun high in the sky and the temperature pushing 30, it was almost impossible to believe that we were actually in Wales and not the Italian Riviera or at the very least a 1950s Hollywood film set.  

Built on the sandy Dwyryd estuary in North Wales the village is a riot of colour; red, green, pink and ochre and, whilst it's referred to as "Italianate" there are actually other architectural influences at play, including Gothic, Jacobean and Norwegian.  

Here's the Gothic Pavilion for example, tucked away at the bottom of the cliff.

 If you've ever seen The Prisoner, you will certainly recognise the chess board.

The Central Plaza oozed glamour.  I quite expected to see Jean Harlow sipping a cocktail on one of the poolside chairs.... or Esther Williams swimming through flowers in the pool.

I confess I became a little obsessed with this area - in particular the reflections in the pool.  These photos have been flipped so that the buildings appear to be the right way up.  I think the Portmeirion looks even more beautiful mirrored in the water. 

After ice cream (mango sorbet in my case) we headed out of the village and down towards the beach, where the jet set lifestyle was much in evidence.  A wedding reception was in full swing at the hotel, which was out of bounds, but a little further along in the hotel grounds, guests were topping up their vitamin D levels.

Having successfully left the village, we felt a little deflated not to have been pursued by Rover! (One for Prisoner fans).  I wasn't the only photographer snapping everything in her path.  The interplay between the late summer sun, the contours of the landscape, the towers standing proudly above the wooded hillsides and the shadows cast by the enchanting follies was exquisite.

The woodland gardens were planted with towering Pines, Redwoods, Firs and countless other exotic species, all seemingly thriving on this part of the North Wales coast.  The steep winding paths offered multiple choices of direction with eccentricities at every turn from lighthouse folly and Edwardian garden to pet cemetery and ghost garden.  

We visited at the end of the day and pretty much had the place to ourselves, although we were somewhat envious of those staying the night.  What a place to unwind, G&T in hand.  Still, with the village's buildings now principally holiday lets and the incredible annual Festival No. 6, which I'm hoping will make a return at some point, we have at least two good reasons to visit again.

Be seeing you!


Friday, September 10, 2021

Love Island

My recent reference to our forthcoming island getaway was slightly tongue in cheek.  The phrase usually conjures images of cornflower blue skies and glittering mercury waves breaking onto sun drenched sandy beaches.  We had three nights booked on the island of Anglesey, just off the Welsh coast and the first time I made reference to it, we were dithering in the Autumn gloom and had resigned ourselves to a wet and windswept September break.  But guess what?  We got wall to wall sunshine and temperatures regularly peaking at 30 degrees.  

Making the most of our time away, we took the scenic route to our destination, taking in Llangollen and Portmeirion along the way.  I should perhaps record the trip in chronological order.  However, when it comes to editing photos from a trip away, order rarely comes into the equation.  Instead, I tend to cherry pick my favourites and attempt to recreate the atmosphere and essence of places that had a profound effect upon me. 

So this blog will be devoted to the time we spent on Ynys Llanddwyn, a staggeringly beautiful tidal island off the west coast of Anglesey and the original love island.  When we first visited on Wednesday morning, the island was inaccessible, so we decided to head back to our digs (a 15 minute car journey), enjoyed a leisurely lunch and returned a little later when the heat of the sun was a little less intense.   

It's a 40 minute walk to the island at the far end of a glorious sandy beach flanked by pines forming part of the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve.  The pine forest approach to the beach reminded us of our time in Lacanau, the famous seaside resort and surfing hotspot on the French Atlantic Coast, but what Newborough beach lacked in waves, it more than made up for in scenery.  

To our right, we had views of the pine forest and sand dunes and to the left, an incredible vista of Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula.  

There was no low lying cloud or horizontal razor sharp rain, just pure, unadulterated views of mountain peak after mountain peak.

Ahead and curving around to the left, lay the mystery and promise of a once inhabited island retreat. This girl in her white beach outfit, reminded me of Sylvia Plath in her white bikini top and shorts and her famous quote: "I'm as solitary as grass."

Sylvia Plath photographed by Gordon Lameyer

Whilst I like to have some idea of places to visit when travelling somewhere new, I also hate to be too informed.  It's a tricky balancing act because we don't always have time to waste, but information is so accessible to us nowadays, it's refreshing to experience the feeling of exploration and the sense of wonder at a new discovery, even if it is a well trodden path.  So rather than a verbatim recount of the tourist information, I will give you the facts that fascinated me and hopefully a little of the essence of the place.

The island's name (Llanddwyn) originates from St Dwynwen, the Welsh Patron Saint of lovers.  She's the Welsh equivalent of St. Valentine and her feast day is 25th January.  

Dwynwen (pronounced dooIN-wen) was alive during the 5th century AD and was apparently the prettiest of the 24 daughters of a Welsh King named Brychan Brycheiniog.  She was also said to be very kind and had no shortage of admirers.  She fell for a prince named Maelon Dafodrill, but rejected his advances.  History is inconclusive as to the reasons for this rejection.  It was either because she intended to devote herself to God and join a nunnery or (and this seems to me more likely) because her father had betrothed her to one Maelgwyn Gwynedd, who was a much needed ally for her father and not a man to be crossed.  Whilst it is said that Dwynwen's true love, Maelon was content to just be with her, she was forced to reject his advances and the relationship ended.

Either way, Dwynwen prayed to be delivered from her unhappy situation and for the strength to forget her forbidden love.  In her dreams, she was given a potion which had the unfortunate result of turning Maelon to ice.  Still within the dream, she then prayed that she be granted three wishes:-  1) Maelon be defrosted 2) all true lovers find happiness and 3) that she should never again have to marry.   She somehow escaped to Llanddwyn island and lived out her days there, (as a nun or hermit, depending on which version you read) in perfect solitude.

Judging by the startled look in her eyes, I'm wondering if the effects of that potion had completely worn off when this portrait was taken.  

The island later became a place of Medieval pilgrimage.  Women could test the strength of their relationship by scattering breadcrumbs on the surface of the water in the old well, then laying her handkerchief on top. If the inhabiting eels disturbed it then her lover would be faithful.

Sadly, on arrival, we saw no evidence of the wild ponies I have since discover often graze on the island...just a farmer making hay.

This celtic cross, commemorating Llanddwyn Church which at the time was largely ruined and overgrown is inscribed with these words:  "They lie around did living tread, this sacred ground now silent - dead."

Our afternoon exploration of this island on an unseasonably warm September afternoon will stay with me forever.  This really is an enchanted island.  Even prior to my editing of the photos, I was struck by their soft light and magical, dreamy tones.

The second cross, visible through the ruined church arch, commemorates the death of Dwynwen. 

Four pilot houses built to house the pilots who guided ships through the treacherous Menai Straits and manned the island's lifeboat until 1903.

There are two towers on the island.  The larger one, pictured here, is the original lighthouse. 

The smaller tower is a day-mark signalling the entrance to Pilot's Cove.  Texture overload!

From these vantage points, there are several craggy islands inhabited by seabirds (notably cormorants) and basking seals.  One seal waved at me, but I didn't have my zoom lens and in any event, had recently read of the plight of UK baby seals, forced into the water before they are ready by over eager tourists and ultimately separated from their mothers and effectively orphaned, so was happy to keep at a safe distance.  

Instead, I focused my attention to the light play on the surface of the sea.

Here's the view looking back from the lighthouse to the commemorative cross.

According to legend, Dwynwen's dying wish in 465 A.D. was to be carried up to watch the sunset through a cleft in the rock which still stands to the north west of the ruined church to this day.  It's not hard to understand why.

I'm not a religious person, but some places are good for the soul and totally uplifting...and as St Dwynwen once said: "Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness."  


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