Mole Plough

We did a five mile walk round Little Walden, Essex, yesterday.  High up on a big open field an ancient caterpillar tractor hauled a mole plough slowly and noisily back and forth. A mole plough, or subsoiler, is used for deep tillage, loosening and breaking up soil at depths, as much as a metre, below the levels worked by conventional ploughs.  The depth depends on the soil profile.  The aim is to improve crop growth where soil is compacted – it’s nothing to do with the eradication of moles.  Critics of the technique say that it just compresses the soil to the side and creates a vertical hardpan.  This tractor has long since given up hauling anything.

Photo: Little Walden, Essex, September 2107

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‘We settle onto Room 206 at around 3.15 pm.  A second floor room with a view: a narrow strip of road; a wide shingle beach; herring gulls floating by at eye-level; and the tranquil sea stretching to a hazy horizon.  An open window lets in the soft susurrus of the restless sea; occasional waves breaking fleck the blue-grey-green water with white.  Later, figures diminished in the space, scrunch along at the water’s edge and pause at the strand line as the setting sun sends shadows of the hotel creeping across the beach.’  Brundenell Hotel, Aldeburgh, 24th April 2009.

Photo: Aldeburgh, Suffolk, 2009

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Blue sky, blue sea, blue rope. Blue is often associated with depth and stability, symbolising trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.  Blue may also mean being rigid, deceitful and spiteful, depressed and sad, self-righteous, superstitious, too conservative, unforgiving, aloof and frigid. Blue is the colour of chefs’ sticking plasters and the Virgin Mary’s dress.

Photo: Aldeburgh, Suffolk, October 2008

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Pied Piper

The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the eponymous character in a legend dating back to the Middle Ages from the German town of Hamelin.  The story describes a piper dressed in multi-coloured clothing, who is a rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizens refuse to pay once rid of the rats, he retaliates by using his pipe to entice away the town’s children, as he had the rats. There are contradictory theories about the Pied Piper: one suggests he was a symbol of hope to the people of Hamelin during a plague epidemic.

Photo: Piazza San Marco, Venice, September 2008

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Tourism – Discontent

‘Costing the Earth: Tourist Tide’, BBC Radio 4, 6th September tried to give a balanced view of the dilemmas posed by tourism’s costs and benefits.  This photo predates the current summer of discontent by almost ten years and shows that the challenge posed by huge cruise ships is not new.  It also embodies a central dichotomy.  The cruise ship is out of scale with Venice and the sudden discharge of 1000s of visitors onto the streets will degrade the experience of the city for everyone – tourism as blight.  The photograph was taken from the top of the Hilton Molino Stucky, created out of a great Neo-Gothic building dating from 1884-1895 on Giudecca Island,  here paying visitors have rescued of a landmark building – tourism as blessing.  It is then a debate about the right kind of tourists.  And who is to decide that?

Photo: Giudecca Canal, from Hilton Molino Stucky, Venice, September 2008

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Guggenheim, Venice

The Guggenheim in Venice is one of my favourite small museums (or is at a gallery?).  It embodies Peggy Guggenheim’s dedication to the advancement of 20th century art – I think Giacometti’s Woman Walking (1936) is worth the cost of admission alone.  The museum occupies the Leoni Palace Venier, an unfinished 18th century Grand Canal palace.  In September 2008 we watched the theatrically colourful Regata Storica from the terrace.  A woman photographed her family with a Polaroid camera; another was using a Rollei TLR and a neat Rollei 35.  I didn’t feel out of place photographing with my M6 (Kodak T400CN).

Photo: The Angel of the City (1948), Marino Marini, Guggenheim Museum, Venice, September 2008.

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Urban Photographs

Roger Estop has an excellent blog: ‘Reading urban photographs – What photographs tell us about places’ (  In a posting, ‘Urbanism through the window’, Roger quotes a definition that, ‘Urban design is everything that you can see out of the window’; and says ‘This prompts an approach to photographing places, whereby the window is a picture frame, like every photograph.’  I had lunch at the Golden Lion, St Ives, yesterday sitting looking out of the window.  Oliver Cromwell kept a puritan eye on the market; the bag lady made only one sale.

Photo: St Ives, Cambs, September 2017

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Delft Memorial

Christian countries and cultures discouraged cremation historically; the body was considered sanctified by the sacraments, therefore requiring respectful disposal. The dead were buried, following the practice common in ancient Rome.  However, the idea that cremation might interfere with God’s ability to resurrect the body was refuted in the 2nd Century; and some Protestant churches came to accept cremation, arguing that, “God can resurrect a bowl of ashes just as conveniently as he can resurrect a bowl of dust.”   The cremation rate in the United Kingdom has increased steadily since the Cremation Act 1902, the national average rising to 75% in 2015.  There is something rational about cremation, but it lacks the mystery and symbolism of burial that creates a place for enduring remembrance and reflection.

Photo: Delft, Netherlands, 2008

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Modern Architecture

On the visit to the Attenborough Building, part of the new Museums Site, Cambridge, the guide from Fauna and Flora International spoke with great enthusiasm about the modernist complex of buildings in which it’s housed (see post 9th September 2017).  It was originally designed as laboratories for Mathematics, Metallurgy and Zoology; it was in the form of an inverted ziggurat with linked towers and open spaces.  The guide stressed the clean lines, the clear vistas and the deceptively simple and slender structural features.

Someone on the tour whispered she was having difficulty in seeing the delight in all this and much preferred a few curves.  It sounded like a general criticism of modern architecture, or at least of it in its more Brutalist incantation. I agreed with the guide, and replied that it is really a matter of how well ‘modern’ architecture is handled – at its best it is as good as that from any other age, and doesn’t exclude curves.  Thinking about it sent me back to looking at photographs from an EHTF trip to the Netherlands.

Photos: 1. The Schröder House, Utrecht (Prins Hendriklaan 50), built in 1924 by Gerrit Rietveld for Mrs.  Truus Schröder-Schräder; 2. House corner of Drift/Kromme Nieuwegracht built by Sluijmer & Van Leeuwen in 2003, the smallest modern house in Utrecht.

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John Keats died in Rome in 1821.  He wished to be interred under a tombstone bearing only the words, ‘Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.’  His friends, Severn and Brown erected the stone, but added a relief of a lyre with broken strings and expanded the epigraph.

‘This Grave / contains all that was Mortal / of a / Young English Poet / Who / on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart / at the Malicious Power of his Enemies / Desired / these Words to be / engraven on his Tomb Stone: / Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821

The final words are said to echo a couplet from Catullus:  ‘What a woman says to a passionate lover / should be written in the wind and the running water.’

Photo: Venice, August 2007

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In Mani (1958) Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote of ‘the tall spike of Vatheia entirely crowned with towers’ and praised the hospitality he received there.  Founded in the 18th century, it flourished in the 19th and declined 20th as people left for larger towns and cities in the area.  Now largely a ghost town of stone towers, houses, churches with breath-taking views to the Gulf of Messenia, tourism and the magic of the Mani has brought some restoration and repopulation.

Photo: Vathia, Mani, Greece, July 2007

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‘Past the fish market and the landing area where men in blue squat gutting fish, attended by hordes of well-fed herring gulls….Fish are packed on ice in plastic crates and carted away from the quayside.  Meagre catches rest in baskets or lay on newspaper waiting for buyers.  Pervading all, the smell of fish – not the freshness of the sea, but the putrid stink of unwashed docks.  Dirty clothes, wind blackened faces, hard calloused hands – also nimble fingers mending nets endlessly.  “That’s not fish, that’s mens’ lives”, is given a stark reality.’  Essaouira 18th September 2006

Photo: Essaouira, Morocco, September 2006

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Ermine Moth – Nine Wells

Ermine moths are usually white or pale grey with many dark speckles, hence the name.  The larvae make spectacular and ghostly communal web like nests for protection, allowing them to gorge on trees, sometimes stripping them bare.  The trees may survive, though with reduced growth in the following season.  The caterpillars covering the trees here at the Nine Wells may be those of the bird cherry ermine moth (Yponomeuta evonymella).  The obelisk was erected in 1861 to mark the exploitation of the Wells as a freshwater supply for Cambridge 400 years ago.

Photo: Nine Wells, Cambridge, May 2004

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Attenborough Building

Yesterday afternoon I visited The Attenborough Building – ‘a conservation Campus like no other’ – as part of the Open Cambridge Programme.  It was good to see the clean, elegant lines of the Dowson/Arup building revealed after an environmentally sensitive renewal.  With the removal of clutter, it can now stand proud as a fine example of modernism in Cambridge’s wider architectural heritage. The 13m high living green wall in the Andre Hoffmann Atrium contains 8,736 plants of 24 species from 11 regions or countries.

Outside, an artwork by Ackroyd and Harvey takes inspiration from a black walnut tree in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.   Created from thousands of layers of slate and built up to create a layered visual effect, internal spaces provide habitats for a range of wildlife including bats, solitary bees, spiders and insects. ‘The artwork is akin to a graphite pencil drawing with subtle shading and tonalities that shift and change as the light plays across the slate surface.’  The reference to the walnut tree acknowledges the history of the New Museums Site as the original home to the botanical garden in the 18th century.

Photos: 1. Living green wall, Attenborough Building; Cambridge, September 2017;  2. Ackroyd & Harvey artwork, Attenborough Building, Cambridge, September 2017

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Murray Edwards Art

Adventurous visitors to Cambridge become urban explorers and discover that the City has much more to offer than the bustling centre and its ring of ancient colleges.  Those who climb the unenticing Castle Hill will be rewarded by the artscape of Murray Edwards College. Its collection of 450 pieces of art by women is the largest in Europe and the second largest anywhere. Artists represented include, Judy Chicago, Elizabeth Frink, Tracey Emin, Elizabeth Blackadder, Maggi Hambling, Barbara Hepworth, Marie Kelly, Gillian Ayres, Leonora Carrington, Paula Rego and many others.

Photo: Murray Edwards College, Fellows’ Drawing Room, September 2016

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