The Very Old and the Very New

Sometimes the mixing of old and new can work well and the result can be quite beautiful, both enhancing the past and showcasing the new. One example of this is the south porch of St Peter’s Church in Ipswich. It has a 21st-century metal grille door set within a 15th-century stone and flint arch complete with Tudor roses.

The gates of gilded steel were made in 2008 by Paul Richardson (1967-). The work was commissioned by the Ipswich Hospital Band, when the church was deconsecrated and became a concert venue. If you look carefully you can see the two musical angels are partially constructed using metalwork from musical instruments. They also wear gowns patterned with the Tudor rose motif.
I particular liked the golden fish weaving through the scrollwork waves, referencing St Peter as a fisherman and also the proximity to the nearby Ipswich Waterfront.

St Peter’s Gate -Paul Richardson. Gilded steel, 2008.

Sadly though not all the local medieval treasures of Ipswich have fared so well where redevelopment of the harbour waterside has seen a mushrooming of tall residential tower blocks. The new blocks have replaced drab, utilitarian warehouses, but the trouble with these new blocks is that they are much taller buildings and they dwarf the Old Customs House and the medieval churches nearby.

Quay Place Heritage and Well-being Centre. The repurposed, redundant medieval church, St Mary at the Quay dwarfed by the newly opened Winerack (the tall, white residential block).

However, although the site of Quay Place from the north is no doubt nothing like the look and feel of its original 15th-century setting, the view from the east, as it lines up with St Peter’s is very pleasing. And, despite the fact that Key Street is now part of a busy one-way system, this is is one of my favourite views in Ipswich. (Sadly, my photograph doesn’t do it justice.)

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Surprise flowers, lasting well

Every year my birthday falls near Mother’s Day and occasionally on Mother’s Day itself. I am not usually sent bouquets of flowers as I am not keen on the commercialization of ‘special’ days, but this year with the Covid thing and no visiting allowed I received a bouquet of pink flowers from my daughter.

A birthday bouquet that arrived in the post.

The beautiful roses arrived as semi opened buds and unusually the bouquet included some white foxgloves in bloom, all of course grown under glass probably in Holland.

Naturally, after about two weeks the flowers gradually began to fade and we arrived at the cut-down stage for some, and the transfer to a different vase stage for others. This transfer trick also included adding a couple of stems of hellebores from my backyard.

Unlike the roses and carnations the hellebores from my garden completely drooped after a single day, but as many of you know these flowers can be seen so much better when cut with a very short stem and placed in a bowl of water. And, I can report one week later the floating blooms are still looking fresh and catching the light as they bob around.

A tricky colour to photograph

Sometimes for some strange reason, and unwittingly, I just make my life that little bit more awkward and this is one such occasion. I absolutely know that the one colour I find virtually impossible to accurately photograph is pale turquoise. Naturally, therefore that is the very shade that has ended up being THE conspicuous colour for my latest 90 x 90 cm silk scarf.

I simply cannot explain how this happened, as you can see below it all began innocently enough with simple, primary highlights of red, green, yellow and blue and then a few dark smudges of deep purple.

However, after painting in the black and grey border I pondered, considered and then decided the small corner details could be in a turquoise/sea green colour and then suddenly I find I am industriously splashing it all over the centre panel.

I expect you have heard authors say that often their characters take on their own life and lead a story off in a completely new and unexpected direction, and I, behind my hand, have thought right, okay, sure. But, after my experience with this scarf, I believe them. I am totally converted to the idea that a creative process can somehow evolve pretty much under its own steam.

So, there you have it a pale turquoise (or is that sea green?) silk scarf with a few highlights of other colours!

Town Centre Updates

In the 1990s I lived in a village 20 minutes from Ipswich and every now and then I would drive into the town with my mother and my toddler daughter to visit the shops. Just off the Buttermarket was the newly built Buttermarket shopping centre that opened in 1992 and I remember visiting one of its main shops ‘Owen Owen’, a department store, now long gone.

The Buttermarket has been some kind of street since the 15th century, but by the 20th century it had become a shop-lined urban road with passing traffic and pavements for pedestrians. However, over the course of the last 25 years the Buttermarket has been completely pedestrianized with vehicular access being time-restricted and permitted for deliveries only. It has made it a quieter, cleaner and safer space for shoppers, but even before the year of Covid lockdowns the numbers of people visiting and shopping were on the slide.

The Buttermarket during Lockdown 3 – 11 March 2021

Pedestrianization has been one tool in the box of tools urban planners and town councils have used to encourage visitors and shoppers to town centres. Along with the Buttermarket more recently, in 2010, the top of Queens Street at the junction with Princes Street was also pedestrianized and in the process Giles Circus was created. It has become a meeting point and the redevelopment has even included some trees.

Left photo: Giles Circus and the Corn Exchange, Right photo: Queens Street.

In normal times this area has regular market stalls, but when I passed through last Thursday on the way to the bank all was very quiet indeed.

Top photo: 1960s photo (Archant Press). Left photo: 2021 Parr’s Bank building (1899, listed Grade II) from Giles Circus now with trees. Right photo: 2021 Corn Exchange (built 1882, listed Grade II), Princes Street, Ipswich.

Hopefully, from 12 April onwards life and energy and bustle will return to the town centre even if some well-known retailers will no longer be reopening their shop doors.

Still, for the time being here is a charming bronze dog, Butch. He is part of ‘The Famous Giles Family’ sculpture erected in honour of ‘Giles’, the well-known cartoonist Ronald Carl Giles, who used to work in an office overlooking this road junction in Ipswich.

Butch, the dog, detail from ‘The Famous Giles Family’ aka ‘The Grandma’ statue, Miles Robinson, bronze, 1993.

Perhaps pristine is not always best

It’s that time of year again when desperate for spring colour indoors I buy a bunch of tulips, then watch them slowly fade away. It has taken just over two weeks in my cool, basement kitchen for these pink ones to drop their petals. And, I think I have decided that there is something more beautiful about their fading glory than the stark, brash pinkness of fresh tulips.

Spode jug and flowers.
The close-up focusses on the shrivelling process of the petals revealing the stamens strong mustardy yellow against the fading pinking.

There is something gently mournful about this process and this year it is more poignant than ever as we mark this day, March 11th 2021, when one year ago the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

The solitary single stem. Could be the visual metaphor for a solo lockdown?

Tuesday, 9 March 2021: Made in UK Day

It is the 10 year anniversary for the folk at ‘Make It British’ and as part of their celebrations they are marking the day, Tuesday, 9 March 2021, as #MadeInUKDay.

Since its launch 10 years ago, the Make It British site has been visited by more than 6.5 million people looking to buy UK-made products and search for UK manufacturers. This year alone has seen a 68% increase in enquiries since the UK left the EU’s single market and customs union. UK manufacturing is currently worth £192 billion to the UK economy and employs 2.7 million people.

The campaign, mostly using social media, is to remind everybody of the wider benefits when buying items made in the UK. Below is a series of images and graphics that will be appearing on various social media platforms in the lead up to next Tuesday’s #MadeInUKDay.

There are plenty of well-known manufacturing names listed on the Make It British directory, but let’s not forget all the small businesses and solo enterprises creating a wide range of crafted products too. And, some of these makers have offered products that will feature in a special Made in UK Day competition.

Look Away Now

If you’ve not already seen the film ‘The Dig’ (currently available on Netflix) and would like to come to it fresh and with an open mind, then don’t read on.

Views of the River Alde were used in the film although the actual ship burial was overlooking the River Deben.

Where to begin? The disciplines of archaeology and history are concerned with the substance and interpretation of the past, but interpretation of our past is not the preserve of the academic. This stuff, this substance of the past, provides material for the work of writers, artists and filmmakers to make their own reinterpretations as they create offerings that enrich our lives and entertain us.

However, there is a confidence bordering on audaciousness in taking past events, particularly people’s lives, and re-presenting them in a manner that distinctly departs from the factual, historical record. The question is how far does an interpreter go with invention to bring a history to life? Does it really matter if a film, that in no way suggests itself as documentary, changes the maturity and physicality of a central character. This is the primary difficulty for me with the film, ‘The Dig’. It is a film that retells the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial by Basil Brown and his working relationship with the landowner, Edith Pretty, who commissioned his excavations.

Portrait of Mrs Pretty painted in 1939 and newspaper clipping showing Mr Brown in 1939.

‘The Dig’ has made no claims for historical accuracy and itself is a film drama based on a historical novel (‘The Dig’, John Preston, 2007) which itself is a dramatised retelling of the actual events of the discovery of the ship burial in 1939. For example, in the novel a fictionalised RAF officer, Rory Lomax, photographs the dig replacing the original amateur photographers Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack, who were two visiting school teachers on holiday in the Woodbridge area during the excavations of September 1939.

Literary licence is sanctioned in historical fiction to bring a story to life and when a book is made into a film that licence is often expanded to accommodate other constraints such as, let’s say, a film’s marketability. The long held view from the film industry seems to be that for commercial success well-known stars are required. The brilliant casting of Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown (with the best Suffolk accent I’ve ever heard from a screen actor) is met with the odd casting of Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty.

Portrait of Edith Pretty painted in 1939. Still shot of Carey Mulligan playing Edith Pretty in ‘The Dig’, 2021.

My response to the whole film is coloured by this choice. Casting Carey Mulligan (35 years old) as Edith Pretty (56 years old and unwell at the time of the excavations) was possibly a choice for marketability at the expense of any vague nod to the lives of the real people in this historical drama. The sidelining of twenty years of a woman’s life and experience is seemingly of no consequence. In fact this woman, Edith Pretty, had had an unusual life for her class and times; she had travelled extensively, married late at 43 years old and had her only son, Robert, at 47 years old. However, this (dialogue below) is how her full and colourful backstory is summarised in the film. Using one scene Mrs Lyons (the housekeeper and cook), describes Mrs Pretty’s life for the benefit of Mr Brown:

She’s only been here 12 year. Came down from Cheshire. Then she married the Colonel. He first met with Edith when she was still at school. And then on her 17th birthday he asked her to marry him. She turn him down. She say she can’t possibly leave her father. She care for her father another 13 year, until he died. She finally accepted the Colonel’s proposal. He’d been asking every year on her birthday. Just after they had Robert her husband went and died too. Imagine that.

Mrs Lyons, Cook & Housekeeper. Film ‘The Dig’, 2021.

During the course of the film there were also a couple of scenes where Edith Pretty experiences episodes of illness and a trip to a London physician for her to receive a diagnosis of serious heart disease. The film gave no indication of her previous adventurous life at all and sadly, all the melancholic staring across the Suffolk landscape together with make-up to both age and make Ms Mulligan look poorly, still did not make her interpretation a believable Edith Pretty. Perhaps actors such as Saskia Reeves (59), Helen McCrory (52) or Tamsin Greig (54) could have brought some depth and drive to the role of Edith. This was after all a woman who had visited excavations in the Nile Valley, served with the French Red Cross at Vitry le Francois in 1917, became one of the first women magistrates and turned down a marriage proposal over 25 times.

Modern times and the River Deben not far from the Sutton Hoo ship burial site.

If filmmakers are going to paint a watercolour of a central character rather than give us the oil painting and thus alter the dynamics at the centre of a story why not just make a different film. This film is based on the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial where the word ‘based’ is doing the heavy lifting, particularly where the female characters are concerned.

Still from ‘The Dig’ showing Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown watching Thames Barge Cygnet from Snape on the marshy waterways of the River Alde.

The best part of the film was the gorgeous shots of Suffolk’s coastal waterways. The most surprising and unexpectedly disappointing aspect of the film was there was no grand reveal at the very end showing the treasure found on the Anglo-Saxon boat which is now on display at the British Museum thanks to the generous gift of Edith Pretty.

Buds of Potential

It’s that time of year again when I am out in the backyard surveying the residual winter mess and examining the plants already budding with potential.

Leaf buds on Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Schneeball’.

I have also been spending a few minutes poking around in the sodden vegetation to find any discrete beauties preparing for their floral entrance.

Unfurling leaves of the Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis.

And, to my surprise these hellebores had just started to bloom as the last of the snow finally melted away.

Another pink hellebore. The first flower.

Not all the plants in my backyard coped as well as the hellebores with the -5 degrees centigrade and 20 cm of snow. All of last summer’s pelargoniums that I had moved up close to the house are now a sad, blackened gloopy mess of vegetation. That is they are dead. Fortunately, last autumn I brought three indoors; one white single zonal, one dark pink regal and one pink scented-leaf variety. Overwintering in my kitchen isn’t ideal, but at least the are still alive.

Pelargoniums overwintered in my kitchen.

It isn’t only the temporary residents in my kitchen that are doing well, a couple of cuttings taken from the Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Schneeball’ seem securely rooted and have recently burst into leaf.

Cuttings sharing a small pot – two hydrangea and one Crassula ovata aka Money Plant.

Now, I must come clean. I don’t normally buy imported flowers but I couldn’t resist having some of these sweet pink beauties. I think it was a Lockdown 3 thing.

Of course, I could be mistaken regarding their provenance and they may have been grown under glass in Lincolnshire, but somehow at £1.79 a bunch (worryingly cheap) I think probably not.

Snow in Town . . . Less Than Picturesque

The last time the Beast from the East visited Suffolk was back in late February 2018. I remember it clearly as I live on a hill, on a residential street that never sees the gritters. Vexingly, early on the morning of the initial heavy snow I was one of the first residents who had to drive down the treacherous road on my way to a 7.45 am appointment for an MRI scan at the hospital. I had been grateful that I was parked facing down the hill. It was an unpleasant and tricky few minutes behind the wheel.

This time the Beast from the East has turned up courtesy of Storm Darcy. It arrived as I walked down early on Sunday morning to pop in to see my father and drop off his Sunday newspaper. The arrival of a snowstorm and the subsequent whitening of the town does unite the disparate untidiness of the urban view, but it could hardly be called picturesque.

Just beginning to snow.
St Clement’s Church, Star Lane, Ipswich.
Walking down Grimwade Street to the Waterfront.
Turning into Neptune Quay, Ipswich Waterfront.
That’s not fog in the distance, but snow.
View from my father’s flat as the snow sweeps in.

By the time I had walked back home my backyard was covered. I don’t consider it looks particularly picturesque either, and by Tuesday it simply looked comical.

My backyard Sunday morning left, Monday morning right and ‘peak snow’ by the end of Tuesday, beneath.

It’s now Thursday afternoon and still the temperature hasn’t risen above freezing today even though it’s sunshine and blue skies, but at least it isn’t as cold as Braemar’s -23 Centigrade!!!!

A Romantic Time of Year?

It is hard to believe or maybe not, but it is about a year since all this Covid business began plaguing our lives. I am still amazed that during February last year I visited my daughter in London who had just returned from the French Alps! We travelled around on the buses and Tube, and then spent nearly three hours sat amongst a tightly packed, full-house to see Cyrano de Bergerac in a traditionally ‘cosy’ West End theatre. I am going hot and cold just writing about it.

A year on, another February and another Valentine’s Day, but this time it will be a first. It will be the first Valentine’s Day in the middle of a lockdown. Over 10 million folk in the UK have already been jabbed with one kind of vaccine or another and some lucky people have even had the two required doses. Even so, it won’t be a Valentine’s Day of restaurant visits or theatre treats. And, despite my father being fully vaccinated, there will be no birthday trips (he’s a Valentine’s baby) to the opera or even up the road for a concert at Snape Maltings. All closed.

The marshes and reed beds backing onto Snape Maltings.

As an alternative to those standard treats, I expect some people will turn to the Internet looking for a special gift. I have read in the British press and heard on the radio and television that the pandemic has accelerated the decline of many High Street stores as more and more of us have become familiar and comfortable shopping online. What is bad news for some is inevitable good news for others and I have definitely benefited with more visits and sales from my online business.

In fact this week I have just sent one of my scarves to Canada. I think receiving the gift of a silk scarf is a romantic gesture, but I am not sure how I’d feel about being given a silk face mask for Valentine’s though! Is that a maybe or a definite no? I am not sure.

Sutton Hoo – A Very Special Place

Tomorrow Netflix is showing ‘The Dig’, a film featuring the discovery of the early seventh-century, Anglo Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The original dig was begun on 20th June 1938 when the owner of Tranmer House and Estate, Edith Pretty, invited a local, gifted yet amateur archaeologist, Basil Brown, to investigate the earth mounds on her property. The film stars Ralph Fiennes (incidentally born in Ipswich) as Basil Brown and Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty.

The Mounds with Tranmer House, home to Mrs Edith Pretty in the distance.
Mrs Pretty (1883-1942) by Cor Visser (1903-1982) Oil on canvas, 1939. Basil Brown from local newspaper clipping.

The following year, in September 1939, the ship burial and inhumation were discovered and found to be intact as the excavation proceeded.

A hand watercolour photographic panorama of the Sutton Hoo ship by Mercie Lack in 1939. From display on ground floor of Tranmer House.

When Basil Brown began digging Mound One he had no idea that the excavation would turn into one of the most dramatic events in British Archaeology.

Angela Care Evans ‘The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial’ (revised edition 1994)

The discovery of the ship burial and a magnificent collection of grave goods is considered to be one of the most significant finds of Anglo-Saxon art to date in Europe.

The Sutton Hoo Helmet. (Now on display in the lighter, brighter Room 41, but it was so busy when I last visited I was unable to get a better shot than this one from 2013 when it was in a temporary location!)

In a startling symbolic composition, a snake body provides the protective rim across the crown. Its beady garnet eyes and gaping mouth meet the beak of a fierce bird, whose wings make the eye-brows, whose body forms the nose and whose tail forms the moustache of the implacable human armoured face.

Martin Carver, ‘Sutton Hoo Burial Ground of Kings?'(1998)
Left. Polychrome jewellery hinged shoulder-clasps. Gold decorated with garnets, millefiore glass and gold wire filigree. Length: 12.7 cm, width: 5.4 cm, length: 5.1 cm (chain) length: 5.7 cm (pin). Centre and right. Purse lid. Gold frame set with cloisonné garnets and millefiori glass encloses a modern lid containing the original gold, garnet and millefiori plaques. Length 19 cm (frame). Mound 1, Sutton Hoo. British Museum, London.

Since 1997 the site at Sutton Hoo has belonged to the National Trust and is open to the public. Recently, in August 2019 a £4 million Visitor Centre was opened to mark the 80th year anniversary of the discovery. The site now includes a cafe/restaurant and shop joining the purpose-built High Hall, exhibition space.

The full size 27 metre long rusted steel sculpture of the Anglo-Saxon ship of Sutton Hoo.
Ship sculpture with the restaurant-cafe section of the new complex behind.

Last September, when Covid restrictions eased and visitors were allowed inside public spaces, my daughter and I went for a look. Of course, she remembered her first visit when we came down from Norwich in 2005 and it had been much, much quieter.

Visiting Sutton Hoo in 2005, and visiting again in 2020. New observation tower in background not open due to Covid.

After walking round the mounds we queued briefly, donned masks and signed in (Covid protocol) to see inside Mrs Pretty’s home, Tranmer House.

Edith May Dempster marries Lt. Colonel Frank Pretty in 1926.

Only parts of the ground floor were open and the space where 15 years ago my daughter and I enjoyed a delightful and memorable retelling of Beowulf (with puppets), is now a small exhibition space. A few photographs of Edith Pretty’s life and many photographs of the 1939 dig are on display.

Not just the great and the good had the opportunity to visit the dig. This photograph shows a party of young naval cadets at Sutton Hoo.

Before leaving, we noticed the queue for the High Hall had disappeared so following the same mask and signing-in routine we entered the exhibition to be greeted by a representation of an Anglo-Saxon, highborn warrior swooping down from the ceiling.

Left. Replica Sutton Hoo helmet by Ivor Lawton. Bronze, silver and tin. Right. The suspended welcoming exhibit.

As you progress through the exhibition many of the exhibits are high quality replicas such as the complete helmet of bronze, silver and tin by Ivor Lawton. There are a few early finds from Mound 17 (the warrior horseman and horse burial site) on display. These are similar to some of the artefacts excavated from Mound One.

Horse harness made of gilded bronze decorated with human faces and patterns of interlacing animals.
Left. Byzantine bucket. Bronze. 330 AD – 900 AD. Excavated from Mound 17, but made over 2000 miles away in a Mediterranean Byzantine workshop. The decoration depicts a hunting scene somewhere in North Africa with lions and a hunting dog. Right. Modern replica of the Byzantine bucket.

A look round Tranmer House and the displays in High Hall are interesting, but all the significant finds are in the British Museum in London. However, that’s not really the point of visiting Sutton Hoo. It is about experiencing the site, knowing the history and seeing the strange Burial Mounds set within the Suffolk countryside.

As I write only the estate walks are open due to the current lockdown restrictions.