This male grey squirrel was foolish enough to climb a local three-phase power supply array, meeting an untimely death and blacking out several properties near Waterbeach.

Photo: Grey Squirrel, Waterbeach, Cambs 170624

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Docwra’s Manor

This seat by the Main Lawn at Docwra’s Manor has been given an aged weather beaten textures and is slowly being taken over by nature.  Unusable now, it looks never to have been very comfortable.  The uprights of the back have curious lead caps, split and buckled in harmony with the wood.

Photo: Docwra’s Manor, Shepreth, Cambs 170621

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Hull City of Culture

Hull City of Culture, dancing fountains switch on in May 2016:

‘Mel Chantrey, a former Turner Prize nominee, came up with the circle-inspired design two years ago and he was delighted to see his brainchild finally being given its moment in the spotlight….“It’s incredibly gratifying,” he said. “You measure success by the response of the people. You are never sure how it’s going to be received but you couldn’t ask for better than today.”….”This is an opening we’ve been planning for a long time and this is a gift from the Council to the people.”   The fountains are part of a £25m public realm facelift of the city centre by Hull City Council and John Simpson, who is one of the architects involved in the project, thinks it’s great to see money spent on public features.  He said: “As a company we have really enjoyed working for the Council and I think everybody has put a great deal of effort into the public realm work. The council gets a lot of criticism but there are not many councils investing this type of money in their cities so that is a brave step which should be commended.”….The Queen Victoria Square fountains feature 77 separate jets of water capable of changing direction and speed thanks to computer programming. One of them creates circles of mist which can rise up to two metres into the air.’  Hull Daily Mail 26th May 2017

Photo: Victoria Square, Hull 170619

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Things Past

I’ve been writing a very rough biographical memoir to leave to my children and grandchildren.  The narrative reflects the changing world since my earliest memories from the 1950s. Sometimes the passage of time is crystallised in the realisation that there are once common things you no longer see: coal men; pink paraffin deliveries; men and women in hats; grocery delivery boys on bikes; cars with rear window stickers saying ‘Running-in Please Pass and so on.  I was reminded today that you no longer see fields of stubble burning, a practice that was widespread until it was effectively prohibited as recently as 1993.

Photo: Barley, burning straw and trees near Burrough Green, Cambs, 170614

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The Nature of Photography

Two observations on the nature of photography.

‘Studying Arbus’s pictures, Leider [Philip Leider, founding editor of Artform] concluded “that Diane’s work accomplished for photography what we demanded be accomplished, under the needs of modernism, for all arts: it owed nothing to any other art.  What it had to offer could only be provided by photography.”’  Diane Arbus – Portrait of a Photographer, Arthur Lubow, 2016, p.571

‘He [Jacques Henri Lartigue] helped the foundation of an appreciation of photography as an art form bound by its own physical limitations and beholden to none other in defining its own dialectic.’  ‘Thinking Photography’, Alex Schneideman, Black+White Photography, June 2017

Photo: Fenscape, Lazy Otter, Streatham, Cambs, June 2017

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Roadway Observation Society

Crossovers between culture, art and media fascinate me.  I’ve reproduced below a panel of text from ‘The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945’ exhibition at the Barbican (photos are my additions).


In recent years, architects have found a rich source of knowledge in everyday, anonymously designed buildings. Their work promotes the value of the ordinary and the overlooked.  This section begins with the pioneering ethnographic work of Wajiro Kon who, in the 1920s and 1930s, developed ‘an archaeology of the present day’. His use of field research and inventory to record the domestic environments of ordinary people has proven enormously influential on contemporary Japanese architects. His impact can be felt most strongly in the work of the Roadway Observation Society, founded in 1986 by Terunobu Fujimori and others. This collective roamed the streets of Tokyo, photographing humorous details that others overlooked. Their irreverent approach embraced the seeming anarchy of the city, paving the way for a new vision of urban design in the twenty-first century.

In the late 1990s, as more and more people chose to live in the densely populated city centres, Tokyo-based office Atelier Bow-Wow developed a distinct method of urban research that combined sociology, biology and anthropology. In their books and built projects, they seek to extract the wisdom that lies at the heart of anonymous architecture – from 400 year old townhouses to ramshackle bus stops. Their work has become a major influence on a younger generation of architects.


Accompanying the architectural projects in this room, a collection of photobooks from the late 1960s until the 2000s provide parallel views of vernacular Japan, including folk houses, power cables, urban roads and messy interiors. Building on the incredibly rich tradition of Japanese photography, their images suggest the beauty and intelligence that underlies the chaos and clutter of everyday life.

Photos: 1. Beetles house by Terunobu Fujimori; 2. Kyoichi Tsuzuki, Hanibe Gankutsuin (from Roadside Japan), 1994; 3. Brian Human, Old Lifeboat House, Worthing, April 2015

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The Japanese House

‘The Japanese House is the first major UK exhibition to focus on Japanese domestic architecture from the end of World War II to now, a field which has consistently produced some of the most influential examples of modern and contemporary design.’  Here are: responses to the widespread devastation of Tokyo in the War; efforts to establish an architectural language for a new period in Japanese history; and the use of designs to propose radical critiques of society and innovative solutions to changing lifestyles. Lessons perhaps for some of our housing and urban challenges.

At another level there is delight in housing that is lightweight and open to the outside world – the houses blur the boundaries between inside and outside – and the importance of the handmade, the material and the fantastical.  A dilemma is how to reconcile by Japan’s advanced traditional carpentry with modern needs and construction techniques.  Some ‘architects open their houses to nature, incorporating plants, sunlight and even soil into the architecture so as to make the house a living organism.’

Photos: The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, The Barbican, 170607

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Beechwoods Extension 2

I commented on the differences between the new and mature woods in my post on the 4th June .  Apart from the size of the trees, the most distinctive difference now is between openness and enclosure.  The mature woods have a sense of light and three dimensional spaciousness – the open ground is complemented by the roof of the soaring canopy.  The new woods are shady and dense – half defined tracks lead into the mysterious, rustling undergrowth.

Photo: The Beechwoods, Cambridge, April 2017

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Beechwoods Extension

The newness of the westward expansion of the Beechwoods gives it a very different character to the mature woods.  How different will it eventually be?

This five hectare wood was planted in 1992 to improve the environment for wildlife and local people.  The wood is a mixture of beech, yew, ash, wild cherry, field maple and crab apple, which are all suited to the chalky soil.  As the wood matures it will provide habitats for many bird species and other animals, including butterflies and other insects.  (Wildlife Trust information panel)

Photo: The Beechwoods, Cambridge, April 2017

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Beechwoods Setting 2

On 9th April 2017 I posted two colour pictures, ‘Beechwoods Setting’, trying to show the context within which the woods are set.  They put the woods in the middle distance and show the contrast between the massing of the trees and the tilled formality of the adjacent fields, emphasised by the bareness of the earth.

These two pictures, taken from more distant viewpoints, show the wider setting and reveal something of the isolation of the woods.  The Beechwoods are what in geological terms might be called an erratic.  The first picture is from the north, Lime Kiln Hill; the second from the west, Cherry Hinton Road.

Photos: The Beechwoods, Cambridge, March 2017

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Houghton Trestles

On 17th August 1847 the railway line linking Cambridge with St Ives and St Ives with Huntingdon was opened to traffic. The line ran on trestles across the River Ouse at Houghton.  The St Ives – Huntingdon line was closed to trains on 15th June 1959.  Decaying trestles remain as traces of the route.

Photo: Railway trestle, Houghton, May 2017

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The Manor, Houghton

Recent walks have taken me through Hemingford Abbots and Houghton.  Both have a fascinating mix of houses, one on the most intriguing being the rather forbidding Manor at Houghton.  The Listing (grade II) text describes it as: ‘Dated 1905 on rainwater head…. Vernacular Revival style.  Two-storeys, red brick, plain tile roofs. Moulded brick cornice, stone-capped parapets and gable facades with finials. Central, flat-roofed, projecting two-storey porch with rusticated quoins and flat canopy to panelled double doors with detailed ironwork… Casement windows at both floor levels with stone, ovolo-moulded mullions and transoms… Interior: rich in detail. Galleried hall, large inglenook hearths, and changes in floor levels. Locally forged iron fittings to windows and doors.

It was built to designs by Rev F J Kingsley-Backenbury Oliphant, Rector of Houghton 1901-1930, who also designed Diss Cottage in Hemingford Grey. Who was he?  Google draws a blank.

Photo: The Manor, Houghton, May 2017

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College Farm, Haddenam

On Sunday 28th May Primavera’s owners, Jeremy and Sheila Waller (figures in sculpture, right) hosted an Open Garden in conjunction with the National Garden Scheme at College Farm, their Haddenham home.


It was an opportunity to roam around the 40 acres of an intact Victorian farm. This included a gallery, sculpture cattle yard and walks by ponds and through meadows with ancient ridge and furrow pasture land.  Roses, wild flowers, new water plants, foxgloves and new plantings of trees added colour and shape.  Looking out there were splendid fen views, especially towards Sutton with the unforgettable tower of St Andrew’s punctuating the horizon.

Photos:  College Farm, Haddenham, Cambs 170528

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Sun, Trees & Coffee

A good start to the Bank Holiday weekend.  First, lovely late May weather, the day dawning bright and clear, the sun rising through a blue sky flecked with the merest traces of cloud.  And warm enough to sit and have the first coffee in the garden in shorts and a t-shirt.


Second, strolling through the Beechwoods under the dense canopy that has emerged over the last month and now creates shifting patterns of light and shade.  Song reveals the presence of birds in the hedges, undergrowth and high in the treetops, but the leaves hide them from view and only calls and snatches of trills give away their identity.

Third, coffee and croissant and conversation in Balzano’s.  Outside the flower seller brings colour to the pavement.  Inside staff laden with bread, rolls and savoury dishes shuttle backwards and forwards from the bakery.  Customers settle at the tables and relax with papers, laptops or each other.  The counter is busy serving fresh Italian delights – olives, cheeses and meats – to go with the crusty, still warm, bread.

Photos: Balzano’s, Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge, May 2017

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In his column, ‘A Fortnight at f8’ in Black+White Photography, June 2017, Tim Clinch despairs of the fact that he finds many photographers in the upper age bracket are ignorant of the wonders of Instagram.  It is, he argues, ‘where more and more people are getting their love of photography from and where the most exciting and innovative photographers…are putting their pictures.’  I’ve taken the point and signed up – this is the first photo.

Photo: Tate Modern, London, May 2017

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