In Need of Some Colour – Part I

It’s the end of January. There is much to be hopeful about, perhaps we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic. However, here in East Anglia it is still an on/off cold and grey affair as far as the weather is concerned and so I’ve been hunting around for colour and found these photos of a summer trip down memory lane.

Thames Barges moored down on Hythe Quay near the Promenade and Marine Lake area of Maldon, Essex.

A while ago I was in Essex visiting the village where I grew up and afterwards I drove to the town where I went to school, Maldon. It was strange to be a tourist in a place I had known well as a school pupil. I hadn’t been back since I walked out of the school gates and caught the bus home over 40 years ago. Let’s just say my school days were not the best days of my life.

Through the barge rigging and across the River Blackwater to the Prom (as us school kids called it). Despondently, now reborn partly as The Promenade Park – not my kind of thing.

Anyway, back to the town. Naturally, there’s been many changes in the intervening years since my ‘I’m never going back’ exit. Maldon is a strange mix of a once local rural population (reducing in number) combined with an influx of London overspill (even these days), hosting a small yet noticeable boating and sailing clique (resident and visiting) whilst at the same time tolerating a few quirky, slightly alternative folk. Thinking about it I suppose it didn’t feel that dissimilar to when I was at school, even then, those of us travelling in from the villages further afield, were considered outsiders.

It’s quite a long High Street before it splits into Mill Road and Church Street. A walk down Church Street takes you to Hythe Quay on the River Blackwater. The church visible in the distance is St Mary the Virgin Church complete with white shingled spire. It’s located on, not surprisingly, Church Street.

Today, the High Street has changed and not changed. Some of the old buildings I remember are still standing. That’s the churches and the Moot Hall. There are three church structures with medieval traces, All Saints, with a triangular tower, Old St Peter’s, now Thomas Plume’s Library and the Maeldune Heritage Centre and just down Church St, St Mary the Virgin, also known as the Fisherman’s Church.

Clock and summer flowers decorate The Moot Hall.

So, the obviously old and worthy buildings have survived however, the cinema has gone. The Art Deco ‘Embassy’ cinema designed by David E. Nye was built in 1936 and then demolished in 1985. One wonders why it couldn’t have been repurposed or partially conserved as the old redundant St Peter’s Church tower was saved when Thomas Plume built his Library around 1700.

Archive photos.

Instead on the site now is a retirement housing complex called Embassy Court. I understand with an ageing population more purpose-built housing is required, but I think losing the cinema building is a pity. Embassy Court is functional, clean and tidy looking, but as a structure it’s not in the same class as ‘The Embassy’ was in its heyday.

Embassy Court on the site of the old Embassy cinema.

Embassy Court is not the only newish redbrick building in the locality there is Maldon’s first Town Hall. This is another less than engaging building situated just off the High Street. Built in the last century opening in 1998 at the cost of £642,000 it has the expected council offices, community rooms and hall, but, architecturally speaking does not exhibit the confidence and flare of a successful town. The architect, local Terry Wynn, said at the time of the building’s opening “We were very concerned that when it was finished it didn’t look like a brand new building, we wanted it to fit in straight away”. Well, he was certainly right on that point, it fits in completely and is unremarkable to such an extent I failed to notice it at all. If you’re interested to see what I missed, you can take a mini tour here with See Around Britain – Maldon Town Hall.

Spotted the Town Hall from the visitor shop of the Maeldune Heritage Centre located opposite in the Thomas Plume Library.

Finally, there is one other old building still standing I remember only too well. It is the Blue Boar Hotel just off the top of the High Street on Silver Street. It has been a Grade II listed building since 1951 and according to Historic England the oldest part of hotel dates from the late 14th century. When I was at school, in the late 20th century, the hotel’s small bar tucked around the back was a favourite haunt for sixth formers.

The formal entrance to the Blue Boar Hotel, Silver St, Maldon.

However, it is the view from just outside the Blue Boar across to the White House on Silver Street that is significant to me. It hasn’t changed that much since I spent five hours painting it for my A Level Art exam. That year the theme for submissions was ‘Seen on a Quiet Street’. This was long before the days of mobile phones or even digital cameras and so there’s no record of my finished picture. However, I do remember during the course of the day several people stopping to look, chat and watch my progress. It was early May and the pink blossom on the cherry tree was only just past its prime. Concluding my memory lane tour on Silver Street felt apt.

The White House on Silver Street, Maldon.

Festive Promenade, Felixstowe

During those recent festive in-between days the weather here in Suffolk, like much of the UK, was grey and wet.

Cranes, a pier and beach huts – what more could you ask for?

In fact it rained and rained and all eyes checked various weather apps to catch a time when rain was not forecasted. We looked at maps and wind directions and tried to estimate when rain would finally clear the east coast.

Plenty of painted beach huts, but only a couple as bright as this green coat!

We usually go up the coast to Orford, Aldeburgh or even Southwold, but there was only a short afternoon window with no rain and enough remaining daylight to make a visit to the beach worthwhile.

If you look carefully you can also see the containers piled up behind the houses.

With time an issue the 20 minute route to the beach at Felixstowe became our destination by default.

Time for off the lead and on to the beach with the dog too.

We were lucky the rain stopped as we arrived. There was some gorgeous light and gentle, shimmering reflections off the wet pavements.

Lumps of rock sea defences, the sea wall and a well-maintained walkway.

And, I loved it.

Almost at the end.

I only wished I’d taken my camera.

Across the River Deben estuary and bar towards Bawdsey.

Fortunately today’s phones make forgetting your camera less of an issue than in ‘the olden days’ as the youngsters like to say.

Heading back.

It might still have been too soggy to sit awhile and appreciate the view, but

And walking off into the sunset . . .

the walk back along the prom into the shimmering sunset was delightful.

Please don’t leave me behind.

Five Sunsets and a Daybreak

As I write this the jury is still out on whether the Omicron variant is making people more or less sick. However, there’s already been confirmation that this new variant is more transmissible than our old enemy Delta, sigh. With all the gloom I thought it was time for a glass-half-full blog post.

Dawn lighting up the view from my office – Stratocumulus?

Okay, it’s winter, there’s already been a couple of nasty storms and the days are short, but, oh my, when the sky is not overcast the winter light is gorgeous as the sun rises and sets.

Golden skies above the Old Cemetery – Altostratus ? perhaps

Add a few clouds, and there’s mystery and drama. Who can resist a slightly eerie stroll through the Old Cemetery as the sun sets whilst absolutely making sure you reach the grand, iron gates to exit before lock up.

A pink mackerel sky at sunset – Altocumulus, I think

And, when was the last time you walked down a bog-standard, terraced street transformed by a pink, mackerel sky into the dramatic backdrop for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film.

A very still Ipswich Waterfront at dusk – some Cirrus in the upper sky

Of course, not all winter weather is stormy. There are those surprisingly still days and, with the sunsetting as early as 3.45 in the afternoon, there’s plenty of opportunities to capture some inspirational sunset photos.

That’s the sun going down on Sunday, 5 December at 15.38 (precise time from my phone’s photo info [don’t you just love technology!])

It may only have lasted for a mere five minutes or so, but the rich, fiery orange of the setting sun reflected off the low clouds was most dramatic and in a way uplifting too.

November in an Urban Park

The full palette of golden yellows and hot oranges that makes for an autumnal scene has arrived late this year as we can see in this series of photographs from Sunday, 14th November.

As my sister and I walked around Christchurch Park in Ipswich we noticed the varied selection of deciduous trees were at different stages of their end of season show.

Some trees had already lost all their leaves,

some were at the height of their high autumn colour

War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday, Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

and some trees still had leaves of green.

All things considered it has been a reasonable, if not a vintage year for colour here in East Anglia.

The Round Pond, Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

We are now in mid-November and in this sheltered park not that far from the town centre there’s only been two or three frosts. And, as the experts suggest, it is frosts and cool nights that are two contributing ingredients for good leaf colour.

Needless to say, in an urban park like Christchurch Park, there’s a diverse range of specimen and non-native trees, but as we wandered away from the more formal area of Ipswich’s War Memorial, the planting became more natural, with a wilder feel. You could even believe you were in the heart of the Suffolk countryside and not sandwiched between the town centre and the busy ring road.

Sizewell, Power Stations and ‘C’

This coming weekend sees the beginning of the COP26 in Glasgow. And, as many of you may already have been reading there’s an ongoing debate about the role of nuclear power in the energy mix in order for the UK to meet any future commitments on CO2 emission targets. Apparently, an announcement regarding the proposed ‘Sizewell C’ is likely in the near future and in the press yesterday’s FT front page led with an article about new funding models for nuclear plants.

Front page of FT for Wednesday, 27th October 2021.

Sadly, instead of a sincere, focussed debate on whether nuclear power is the way forward or not, the Government has instead managed to make Chinese investment in nuclear projects the bone of contention.

The blue of Sizewell ‘B’ has faded since the power station was first synchronised with the national grid on 14 February 1995.

Earlier this year my daughter, her boyfriend and I visited Sizewell to film the power stations and surrounding area for his project about family and loss.

I know visiting the site of a now decommissioned magnox power station and the newer Sizewell ‘B’ pressurised water reactor may seem a strange place for making such a film, but the backdrop of the power stations appears in photos showing three generations of our family. And, as some of you may know my mother’s ashes were dispersed on the Suffolk breeze at Sizewell a decade ago.

On Sizewell Beach – left me with my parents circa 1975 and right my daughter circa 1995.

It was a long day and we were mostly lucky with the weather. There were plenty of warning signs around the site about no access, danger and trespassers etc, but there was no indication that we couldn’t film or photograph.

Photographs of power stations ‘A’ and ‘B’ and sign about no drones, but regular filming permitted.

However, a 4×4 police vehicle did slowly cruise by along the sandy track to check us out. They were part of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, a special UK armed police force formed in 2005 numbering about 1500 police. Their remit is the protection of nuclear industry installations from the threat of terrorism. As they crawled past we all felt rather uncomfortable. My childhood family holidays here were so quiet and the beach so often virtually empty we could never have imagined an armed police patrol would one day become a routine occurrence.

Razor wire tops the high walls and fences surrounding the power stations.

As the day progressed we discussed the notion of loss in a wider context and in particular considered loss of habitats due to human activity. This was a natural response to the two large power stations and the current proposal for a third new one, Sizewell ‘C’. The area for Sizewell ‘C’ will be slightly less than the combined sites of both Sizewell ‘A’ and ‘B’ together and bring disruption and destruction close to its immediate neighbour, the nature reserve RSPB Minsmere.

Computer Generated Image of the complete Sizewell ‘C’ site – EDF Sizewell Project Team

The Sizewell Estate shares a border with this very special area of Suffolk. As well as being famous for a wide-range of visiting birds, RSPB Minsmere also includes four national conservation priorities: reedbeds, lowland wet grassland, shingle vegetation and lowland heath. On our filming day we walked along to Minsmere passing the final fenced off part of the Sizewell Estate where the new power station might be built. The boundary limit now displays the latest planning application stapled to a fence post.

The planning application for Sizewell ‘C’ stapled to the fence at the corner where the site meets RSPB Minsmere. It is dated 24th June 2020.

I can’t begin to imagine the impact on the local environment of such a massive construction project that will last nine to twelve years and employ perhaps as many as 25,000 people.

The two Sizewell power stations from Minsmere .

In actual fact the site for the new proposed Sizewell ‘C’ has long been fenced off and when ‘B’ was completed in 1995 many saplings were planted in this section. However, we were surprised at the neglected condition of the area. The trees were not thriving in the very dry conditions and had been left to fend for themselves against deer attack with tree guards strewn across the undergrowth.

Looks like this might be destined to disappear under tonnes of concrete.

It occurred to me that since 2009, EDF the operator of the site has had little interest in preserving the wooded area as they believe it will all disappear under the tonnes of concrete for the new power station.

There are many environmental concerns regarding the building of another nuclear power station here at Sizewell even before the more general ‘nuclear power good or bad’ question is considered. For example there’s the serious issue of coastal erosion, a point raised by Suffolk Wildlife Trust when giving their response to the proposed nuclear power station.

The local coastline is incredibly dynamic and it is hard to predict future levels of erosion and deposition. However, a new power station located further forward than Sizewell A and B, is likely to increase erosion north and south. This will impact on Minsmere frontage and the sluice, which is needed to control water levels at RSPB Minsmere and across Sizewell Belts SSSI. There appears to be limited clarity on how future management will adapt and indeed, how this will be paid for if Sizewell C does cause increased erosion. 

Proposed Sizewell C Nuclear Power Station – Extract from Summary of our Concerns‘, Suffolk Wildlife Trust
RSPB Minsmere across to the old to ruins of the original Leiston Abbey built in 1198.

As we walked back from Minsmere the police 4×4 drove slowly passed again adding to our already despondent mood as we discussed the broader environmental ramifications of the seemingly relentless climb of CO2 levels.

From Sizewell ‘B’ to the white building on Dunwich Heath and Southwold far across the bay.

In the end we concluded that we should not be adding more deep-rooted problems for future generations, specifically dealing with the long-term storage of radioactive nuclear waste. All in all we decided that we are not in favour of building Sizewell ‘C’.

 Together Against Sizewell C and Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth gathering for a protest at Sizewell. 19 September 2021

Like many youngsters of their generation my daughter and her boyfriend have mixed feelings about the Climate Crisis. On good days they are optimistic for more technical advancements in the production and storage of clean energy. And, at the same time they are willing world leaders to embrace a degrowth economy moving to a sustainable way of living. On a bad day they mourn the loss of a shiny, promising future. That would be the kind of future that I and the rest of my family had once carelessly believed we had and assumed that future generations would have too.

From the left – grandfather, mother, grandmother, sister and me. 1976

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!!!!

Winter Walk in the Park

Last Saturday, we had blue skies with winter sun in Ipswich from dawn to dusk and despite the temperatures hovering all day around freezing, plenty of people visited the local parks for their permitted exercise. I was walking through the park as the sun began to set and stepped away from the busy paths to stand for 10 minutes to capture the sun doing down.

You can see there were both family groups and joggers making circuits of the pond,

My favourite photo from Saturday. All taken on my phone as only space for food shopping and not camera in my rucksack.

and also plenty of dog walkers too, but everyone began to rapidly vacate the park as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Nobody wants to be locked in by mistake in these freezing temperatures.

The sun almost behind the buildings on the horizon and time for me to leave.

When I got home and scrolled through the pictures I liked the ‘through the big old trees’ shot so much I am now using it for the background on my phone. Even though it’s a winter scene and the trees are dark and towering, there is a warming glow (much more noticeable on my phone than it appears here) which I find genuinely uplifting each time I open the phone. For me this is an example of the usually insignificant aspects of daily life that have become those brief pleasures helping many of us get through these grim days.

It was the night before the Covid Christmas

Twenty-twenty, what can you say? Goodbye and good riddance I suggest.

On the topic of watershed years I have found some photos from the last century when all we were concerned about was the possibility of the Y2K bug wiping out technology as we knew it.

A worried angel circa 1997

First I dug out a couple of grainy prints of one of my daughter’s contributions to school nativities. Then to my surprise I found another Christmas photo from a now forgotten Boxing Day trip to an Old Time Music Hall evening in Norwich. The event organisers had suggested the audience might like to attend in ‘Good Old Days’ attire. We had a go donning long skirts and velvet chokers. I seem to remember we were in the noticeable minority.

‘Say cheese’! My late mother, daughter et moi.

On that note and with smiles all round, I’d like to wish everybody the Season’s Greetings and a very, very Healthy New Year.

V-Day – 2020

The first person I know to get the Covid vaccine has been my father. I took him to the GP’s surgery this afternoon and the whole process ran very smoothly. All the staff and nurses were pleasant and kind. The ‘Covid Vaccine Clinic’ was well organised especially considering the need to keep the elderly folk, many with walking sticks or wheelchairs, the appropriate two metres apart. And, of course, it was masks for everybody.

After the nurse ran through the usual health questions with my father I asked her how many people they’d vaccinated so far. She said they had been allocated a batch of 900 doses and had already vaccinated over 600 elderly Ipswich residents this week.

Reading the Covid Vaccination leaflet.

As you probably have already heard in the news everybody has to sit and wait for a further 15 minutes after the jab. This is a precaution in case of an adverse allergic reaction. It soon became obvious that waiting for 15 minutes was more bothersome for some people than the actually jab, but helpfully they were all given a Covid Vaccination information leaflet to help pass the time.

“Can I go yet?”

It’s Tiers and more Tiers

Last week with all the recent positive vaccine news there was a sense of relief and from some folk a hint that it’s nearly all over. However, although there is most definitely a strong light at the end of the tunnel, there is still a long way to go dealing with this virus.

Explaining the tightened Tier system . . . Tier 1 . . . Tier 2 . . . Tier 3 . . .

Today, following government presentations and briefings it appears that it’s Tier 2 and Tier 3 for most of England. It is only the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight that will be in Tier 1. There are also, we now know, rules for Christmas and all those that are going to do Christmas this year they can go ahead with preparations for their own ‘Covid safe’ arrangements.

What, sorry, you mean you don’t understand. Well, for example take West Suffolk, it has the lowest case rate for over-60s in the whole country, yet will be in Tier 2 with the rest of Suffolk.

Family and friends that know me well, will know I like to root around behind the managed political announcements and simplistic headlines. I am not sure if any news outlet in the UK has uploaded a similarly helpful sequence, but this ‘Aerosol transmission of Covid’ in English published by El País, is fascinating. This is by no means a peer reviewed science paper, but an enlightening visual representation of how this virus spreads so efficiently inside rooms. I thought it was worth sharing before the Christmas get-togethers.

So when travelling during the festive Covid season it’s wear a mask. And, perhaps with visitors inside it might also be wear a mask. And, it should most definitely be all about ventilation.

Note. I would just like to say thank you to Sophie Mitchell Photography, London, (top three images) taken as part of a commission for UCL.

A Media Storm: the Covid Christmas

Shall I just begin with saying that I find it disappointing to be writing about Christmas Day in November, but this year the issue of the ‘Corona Christmas’ is all over the media. You can’t switch on the news, pick up a paper or scroll down your social media feed without being bombarded with headlines and commentary on what could be the situation come the 25th December and what rules may be in place. There is plenty of speculation, but mostly it looks like it’s going to be a numbers waiting game for the government before plans are announced.

Whatever the authorities decide the Covid vaccination programme will not be up and running to any significant extent for us ordinary folk. Individually it will come down to how risk averse people feel about spending hours indoors with relatives and friends. Of course there are alternative possibilities, you could meet up for a festive walk somewhere beautiful or failing that reach for your screens for a zoom Christmas catch-up or even postpone the whole Christmassy thing until February, March, April . . . . or even Christmas 2021.

Our annual Christmas Day walk 2014 – sadly none of those gorgeous dogs were mine.

Regardless of our personal choices at least here in Ipswich the usual Town Centre and Waterfront Christmas trees have been installed. On my way home last night after checking in the weekly supermarket order for my father, I noticed the Waterfront Christmas tree was lit and twinkling.

This contemporary Christmas tree changes as the baubles cycle through a sequence of colours.

There was a slightly strange moment when the colours changed through the blues to turquoise, on to the pinks and then the top bauble beneath the star turned red and, to me anyway, it had an eerie resemblance to models of a certain virus!