Anonymous aliens arrive


The anonymous aliens release their messages for all humanity.
The anonymous aliens release their messages for all humanity.

Well, that was last night the 5th November.

Screenshot of Twitter last night, 5th November 2014, following the Million Mask March in London which attempted to protest at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.
Screenshot of Twitter last night, 5th November 2014, following the Million Mask March in London which attempted to protest at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.

Protesting in London on the way to the Houses of Parliament, rowdy, serious and in the end a little violent, but in reality it’s still business as usual despite the banking crash and the supposed, virtual meltdown of capitalism! And, back in the very, very ordinary world where I live the local council had a predictable, rather safe family affair ‘fireworks display’ in the community park opposite my street. Only, the tickets were too expensive for many families and so they came and parked down my road and the children stood on the pavement trying to see over the row of houses between them and the park.



I think I'd prefer a visit from some anonymous aliens perhaps a few blue-sky thinking economists??
I think I’d prefer a visit from some anonymous aliens perhaps a few blue-sky thinking economists??

Pulls Ferry – and time flows on

Pulls Ferry
Pulls Ferry, River Wensum, Norwich.
September 2014
Most of us are so wrapped up in our everyday pressures we often fail to stop and appreciate little gems in our familiar surroundings. Pulls Ferry marks the site where a channel from the River Wensum was made into a canal during the building of Norwich’s Norman Cathedral. High quality limestone was brought from Caen in France to build the Cathedral. Limestone shipped from France was ferried up the River Wensum and along the canal to the cathedral site. The flint archway and gatehouse tower in the photograph were built over the canal in the 15th century, and the house (obscured by summer foliage but visible in Victorian sketch) in the 16th century. The canal was eventually filled in sometime in the 1770s.

Pulls Ferry Sketch drawn 1896
Pulls Ferry
Sketch drawn 1896

During the 12th century it was important for Norwich as England’s second city to have prestigious buildings. The Cathedral together with Norwich Castle were conceived of as a pair and, significantly, as such a pair, they were both dressed with Caen stone. This is the same Caen limestone that was used for Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. It is possible to view the erection of such buildings, in an almost modern ‘corporate identity’ manner, as the powerful stamping of the Norman mark across the country during the 100 years that followed the taking of England by William the Conqueror and the Normans.

Now or then?
Now or then?

Remembering a Princess

It was very, very early on a Sunday morning and my three year old daughter was standing over me, poking me and saying ‘Mummy, there’s something wrong with the telly – it’s all the same’. I remember speedily falling out of bed explaining that obviously something terrible and serious had happened if all the TV stations were broadcasting the same story. When I got downstairs I simply couldn’t believe it – Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris.

Diana floral tributes
Princess of Wales floral tributes, Sandringham, Norfolk. 1997
(My mother and my daughter after signing the book of condolences.)

Boats, Bure and the Broads

river bure
The River Bure, Norfolk.
On a river trip on the River Bure last weekend I was surprised that considering it’s the school holidays it wasn’t too busy. But I suppose the Norfolk Broads hasn’t been a ‘must visit’ vacation destination since the 1930s.


Not all the modern motor boats were tiny – a few whoppers splashed and throbbed their way along the river.

'Hi there - we're having a very pleasant holiday, thanks!'
‘Hi there – we’re having a very pleasant holiday, thanks!’

The people who looked like they were enjoying themselves the most were an older couple busy sailing this 1939 sailing boat, Hustler V.

Hustler V Made in 1939.
Hustler V
Made in 1939.

It is possible to hire a 1930’s sailing boat from the local company, Hunter’s Yard. They have two, three and four berth yachts available, but you do need to have some sailing experience.

Floor plan for the Hustler V.
Floor plan for the Hustler V.

'What's all this noise and fuss about?  - just chill.'
‘What’s all this noise and fuss about?
– just chill.’

Holidays and early tourists at the seaside

In Britain towards the end of the 18th century the fad for ‘bathing in the sea’ gripped the wealthy and adventurous. At the same time travelling for pleasure instead of travelling for necessity or duty, became more affordable and accessible. The fashion for visiting the seaside, healthy promenading and sea bathing developed as a popular extension to the pastime of attending a spa town and taking the waters. As early as 1730, one, John Atkins, wrote about the benefits of ‘Sea Bathing’ in his book, ‘A Compendious Treatise on the Contents, Virtues, and Uses of Cold and Hot Mineral Springs in general.’

Wealthy people travelling by coach and horses began visiting coastal towns. On the east coast of Norfolk, Great Yarmouth, with a gentle, sandy beach became more than a fishing port and offered the early tourist perfect access to the sea to indulge in the latest health craze. No tourist was going to return home empty-handed and a selection of seaside mementos were available. Some early pieces have survived such as this cylindrical mug ‘A Trifle from Yarmouth’ or this jug ‘A Present from Yarmouth’. The jug shows the Parish Church of St Nicholas, Yarmouth, as it would have been before it was heavily renovated by the Victorians and then completely bombed out in 1942 by the Luftwaffe.

St Nicholas Yarmouth
St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
Engraving of England’s largest parish church before being bombed out in 1942.

St Nicholas Great Yarmouth
St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth.
After being rebuilt during the 1950s (architect – Stephen Dykes Bower).

With the coming of the railway to Great Yarmouth in 1844, more and more people visited the seaside and town, and more and more merchandise of varying quality was made and sold. As with many items found in museums it is not always the quality, but often just the scarcity of a piece that gains it shelf space. But these little ceramics still impart some essence of the past. The verse on this early-19th-century bowl reads,

In every state
May you most happy be
And when far distant
Oft times think on me.

Think on me

Rag Rugs – Upcycling for the 21st Century

My Kitchen Rag Rug

There is a display at the Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk that shows a 1940s bedroom with an old-fashioned rag rug placed in front of the fire.

Time & Tide Museum.
1940s bedroom fireplace at the Time & Tide Museum.

rag rug
Simple patterned rag rug.

I remember my Grandmother had one similarly placed in her sitting room only hers was to protect her polished floorboards from sparks. And, the little rug disappeared whenever there were visitors.

Now, I said ‘old-fashioned’, but perhaps I should have said vintage or ‘upcycled’. In 1997, remembering that little rug I persuaded my mother to ‘prod’ one for me. She was very patient. I drew out the design on a piece of hessian, provided her with a colour guide and gave her a bundle of old woollen cloth.

Notebook pagesThe rich colours, the dark red, brown and purple, are from old coats bought from charity shops along with some old blankets. Blankets tend to wear out in the middle leaving the edges still thick and useful. I cut off the edges and dyed them to make the oranges and pinks.

The colour guide I gave to my mother - found in my old 'dyes' notebook (bit of luck).
The colour guide I gave to my mother – found in my old ‘dyes’ notebook (bit of luck).

After several weeks, my very, very patient mother finished this three feet by four feet rag rug.

Kitchen rag rug

Originally made for a bedroom in a previous house, the rag rug is now in my kitchen. Ten years on the kitchen floor and it’s wearing very well!

Creativity and Embroidery: A therapeutic combination

John Craske Dunkirk
Part of ‘The Evacuation of Dunkirk’
John Craske
Embroidery (painting in wools). Unfinished.
So often in our modern world working with our hands is undervalued. With the recent financial crisis and extensive recession – ‘How much?’ is so often the primary concern. However, the creative process can not be viewed in monetary terms alone. The value of creating/making/producing a piece of work with your own hands can be extremely rewarding in other ways. The process of making can be intellectually stimulating. It can provide a forum for collaborative and communal working. It can bring personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement. And, for many people the activity of creative handwork is therapeutic.

Craske Dunkirk 2
A recent exhibition “Frayed: Textiles on the Edge” at the Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, shows the value of creating hand-stitched work during times of stress and anguish. There is more information about some of the pieces and how the exhibition was curated on their blog.

Craske Dunkirk 3

“The Evacuation of Dunkirk” woolwork by John Craske is a long and narrow piece of calico (I estimated about 4 metres by half a metre) embroidered with images showing the British forces being evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. Stitched between 1940 and 1943, John Craske called his work “painting in wools”. It is a piece created, developed and stitched during times of personal illness and mental strife.

Craske Dunkirk 4

Born in Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast in 1881, John had worked on the boats until he was called up for the army in 1917. Not long after this he caught flu which resulted in complications and an abscess on the brain. From this time onwards he suffered from comas and periods of debilitating depression and was often housebound. During these episodes he painted, but as his health deteriorated he spend longer periods confined to bed and at the suggestion of his wife, Laura, he began stitching his pictures instead.

Dunkirk Rescue Craske

These photographs do not do justice to the whole, long work which sadly remains unfinished as John Craske died in hospital in 1943. However, he has left us with a beautiful, delicate, almost shimmering interpretation of a traumatic moment in history.

Nowadays, in Western culture embroidery is viewed as a woman’s hobby with a long tradition of ladies occupying themselves with their needles. However they are part of a continuum stretching far back to when both sexes stitched. Opus Anglicanum (English work) is a type of fine needlework known across medieval Europe. Much of it was silk vestments embroidered with gold, silver-gilt and silver thread, and, it was created by men and women. The names of some of these embroiderers, both male and female, are recorded in contemporary documents.

The Syon Cope on display at the V&A, London.  Made in England 1300 - 1320.  Linen, embroidered with silver-gilt and silver thread.
The Syon Cope on display at the V&A, London.
Made in England 1300 – 1320. Linen, embroidered with silk, silver-gilt and silver thread.

Yarmouth – Could I have a time machine please?

royal hotelGreat Yarmouth on the east coast of Norfolk was once visited by Charles Dickens. Apparently he stayed for a couple of days at the Royal Hotel on Waterloo Road in 1849. If you’ve every read or seen film/TV versions of David Copperfield you will know that David goes to stay in Yarmouth. Here’s young David’s description of Yarmouth.

When we got into the street (which was strange enough to me), and smelt the fish, and pitch, and oakum, and tar, and saw the sailors walking about, and the carts jangling up and down over the stones, I felt I had done so busy a place an injustice; and said as much to Peggotty, who heard my expressions of delight with great complacency, and told me it was well known (I suppose to those who had the good fortune to be born Bloaters) that Yarmouth was, upon the whole, the finest place in the universe.’

Winter beach huts

The facade of the Royal Hotel is looking a bit tired these days, but facing the North Sea it probably needs repainting annually. Unlike the beautiful Victorian Winter Gardens which has been closed since 2008 and needs a lot more than paint. According to Darren Barker, senior conservation officer at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, the building requires extensive renovations as much of the glass is barely held in place by rotting wood. This elaborate glass palace was originally built for Torquay, but was bought and re-erected on the seafront at Yarmouth in 1903.

Winter Gardens

It looked very miserable and sad today. I wish I could have seen it in its heyday. These fish didn’t look to too cheery either!

Herring  Herring fishing was once the major industry of Gt. Yarmouth
A Barrel of Herring
Herring fishing was once the major industry of Gt. Yarmouth

UPDATE – sadly as of 2018 the Great Yarmouth Winter Gardens is now in the Victorian Society’s top 10 endangered Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the UK.

Inside Llewyn Davis and The Shoals of Herring

Inside-Llewyn-DavisWhy go to the cinema? Why make the physical effort to go somewhere else when it’s all available (eventually) at home? Why get hassled with winter weather, parking and queuing? Well, for most of us we go to be entertained. A word of warning here, I loved ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, but it’s not an easy, gentle type of entertainment. The Coen Bros are renowned for making films they want to make in the way they want to make them. Here, with ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, they don’t attempt to soften the overall relentless, low-level dreariness of existence. They have chosen the early 1960s US folk scene as the medium for their commentary on the nature of a creative life. If you want to go to the movies to see a film pushing an optimistic, ‘we can all achieve our dreams’ theme, concluding with the obligatory Hollywood happy ending, then this movie is not for you. For me this film is a superb antidote to our contemporary celebrity obsessed culture.

Absolutely beautifully shot – worth seeing on a big screen just for the visuals. Sometimes I get annoyed with productions that are underlit and grey, but here the muted palette worked to enhance the bleakness. Also it contrasted well with harsh lighting of the night scene at the motorway services. The film draws you along Llewyn Davis’s (Oscar Isaac) life, not into his life, but closely observing his dwindling energy from the sidelines. There have been many films about creative people (fictional or biopics), individuals struggling for recognition, enduring setbacks, but ultimately ending with them standing in the spotlight of success. Parts of this film are funny, just how funny depends on your own appreciation of black humour, but overall it’s a film more about the nature of reality than the glories of fame.

Several professional reviewers have commented that it is not an accurate portrayal of the 1960s New York folk scene, but it isn’t a docudrama. Perhaps the Coen Bros chose that period as folk was having a resurgence in general and because folk songs are traditionally the songs of ordinary people. I am too young to remember the 1960s ‘folk scene’ at all. Folk has really passed me by, but this harsh yet melancholic film has been a revelatory introduction for me. Once again the globe contracted that little bit more as I heard mention of the Norfolk seaside town of Great Yarmouth when Llewyn Davis sang:

O, it was a fine and a pleasant day
Out of Yarmouth harbour I was faring
As a cabin boy on a sailing lugger
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring

This is the opening verse to Ewan MacColl’s folk song about the collapse of the herring fishing industry off the east coast of England (where I live). A song of everyday folk losing their livelihoods, not to mention the near annihilation of the herring.

herring boats
Herring boats at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, UK
At one point in the early 20th century there were over 1000 boats out of Yarmouth.
Photo: Time & Tide Museum, Norfolk

I appreciate a film if it makes me stop and think and look again at my assumptions, particularly if the film is subtle and engaging. We all know that a movie is a fiction, and if you were to record even a couple of hours of real everyday life you might get a few minutes of compelling material, hopefully more interesting than watching paint dry. I think on one level this film has captured the futility present in most peoples’ lives. Through Llewyn Davis the Coen brothers have shown us a personification of the bitter pill. Not every film has to be plot driven, fast paced and packed with special effects – they have their place, but so does a film attempting to reflect how it is – grey.

Counting the Birds

long-tailed tit
Long-tailed Tit
Photo taken by my father.
A couple of times every year the British charity the RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) asks the nation, or anybody that can spare an hour, to join their ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’. People can take part watching for birds in their garden or watch from a bench in their local park. The idea is to get a snapshot of the numbers and varieties of birds present in our local environment. I’ve been taking part for the last seven years, but the survey has been going for 35 years.

I did the survey this morning. It was very dreary in the winter garden, but sitting waiting to catch sight of anything alive (other than plants) I noticed how much wind damage has been done in the recent storms.

back garden in winter
Midwinter and a dreary back garden – not a bird in sight.

Twenty minutes into the hour and I still hadn’t seen a single bird, but then all of a sudden four blue tits flew in and started flitting all over the half-pruned wisteria. I’ve just uploaded my count to the survey page. I’ve definitely had less sightings this year. In a couple of weeks’ time and after a lot of number crunching the RSPB will publish an online map and report for the whole country and I will be able to see if my garden bird numbers fit with the general trend. I hope not especially as I didn’t see a single finch this year.

Storm Surge & Local Sea Defences

Waxham Norfolk
Beautiful Waxham Beach
Just 7 miles up the coast from Hemsby
I have lived in East Anglia on and off since I was five years old and spent most of my childhood holidays on the coast not far from Aldeburgh and so it was with great anxiety I listened to the local radio last Thursday night as the predicted North Sea storm surge battered the coastline.

Hemsby collapsing house
House falls down into sea as cliff collapses – Hemsby, Norfolk
Photograph: Jeremy Durkin/
The North Sea storm surge turned out to be the biggest for 60 years, but unlike the surge in 1953 when over 300 people died and 24,000 properties were flooded in this region, this time there was no loss of life. It wasn’t all good news though, about 1,000 properties were flooded and for a handful of people they had to endure the sight of their homes falling into the sea as the soft, sandy cliff at Hemsby collapsed.

wooden groynes Waxham
Wooden groynes and granite boulders extend out into the sea at Waxham.

Hemsby in Norfolk is a small coastal village just north of Great Yarmouth. The eastern coastline of East Anglia is a gentle undulating mixture of sand dunes, shingle beach and salt marshes. Every now and then the coast rises into low cliffs 10-15 metres above the sea. These cliffs are soft sandstone and easily eroded. Coastal erosion along East Anglia has been a constant problem for hundreds of years. The Suffolk town of Dunwich is now almost gone, disappearing by chunks into the sea. In the 11th century it was a town of over 3000 inhabitants but is now a small village of less 100 residents. The loss of property at Hemsby is just part of this ongoing process.

sea defences
Granite boulders (brought in – not local) wooden groynes and a concrete sea wall.

However, there is good news, after this most recent surge, it appears that the sea defences put in place since the 1953 disaster have mostly held and were effective. Seven miles up the coast from Hemsby is Waxham where some of these defences can be clearly seen.