Forty Years Old, a celebration!

From a seed to this in forty years, give or take a month or two:


Maybe not the biggest cactus in the world but grown from seed, surviving heat, cold, lack of water (sometimes too much) and finally placed in a nice Christmas mug and by a sunny windowsill with a view, is something to trumpet about.

A fortieth year worth remembering.


Notre-Dame, a Brutalistic church: Royan


Built on the site of a Neo-Gothic church, now stands, shall we say; a brutallistic church of Norte-Dame, Royan, France

A brief holiday was highlighted by a visit to this church, rebuilt from 1950-53 on the site of a neo-Gothic church that was destroyed towards the end of WW2 as was all its surrounding town. Flattened by two bombing raids as a strategic site of a last stronghold, this old town on the banks of the Gironde was rebuilt after the war and retains a distinctly well designed appeal from its promenading marina and beach area with its open space for a temporary arena for musical or other entertainments. Its restaurants and hotels along the front, short cut-throughs to assorted shopping streets and an easy stroll to its highest point where  we have the ‘new’ church, built almost sixty eight years ago.

From  across the wide river-mouth you can see what appears to be, a large, dark church with a spire sitting high on a hill and the town buildings settled all around.    Once in the town you can spy its tower from many points in gaps between buildings.

When you glimpse it, as a visitor, it’s appearance might cause some curiosity.  The town small is enough for the tower to guide you to the open paved space around the church. Larger than you might expect.


Describing it is not easy.  Simply: It’s concrete.  Slabs of raw concrete, striated with sides heaving upwards. Elements of curved corners but outweighed by a tower that looks too solid to grow that tall.  A couple of small elemental, external balconies higher and higher that could be niches in a cliff-face.


A building that is instantly iconic.  A dark slab of a silo.  A construction that fits into the brutalist style.  It certainly responds defiantly to the destruction of the church and town. It shouts out that buildings and communities can be rebuilt in strength.    Time may forge differing opinions but this church now also stands as a significant challenge to time.

At the base of the tower, from a distance,  there seems to be a door.  Arrow shaped and guartered with iron but as you approach you realise it is the glitter of lead around stained glass, almost as grey as the concrete walls.   


Slightly to the side of this main building is attached a low heavy lintel-like roof extending out and joining to a short walkway.  At the connection of this lowering roof, almost like an entrance to a cave, the opening beckons you into the darkness like no other church has.


Unfortunately these photographs have decreased the contrast of the darkess within the space of this huge building and the light sparkling through the stain-glass.   It is a truly dramatic, emotive, effect to stand within and feel this vast and magnificent construction.

Once inside, the dimly lit church retains its heavy power as you walk under more low (relatively) ceiling , before you are  realise you stand in a vast space of a church. The low ceiling is in fact a balcony walkway around one side of the building, a similar on the other side.  And ones above matching those outside. Light reflecting through angled stained-glass windows along the wall are all in limited colours and simple design; fascinating in themselves as some of the glass has been angled and protrudes like modern art work. As they are.  You can follow the balcony right towards the altar but I suggest you move towards the far door which in this case was open.  ( the main entrance) From here you can look back into the church and the beauty of the distant window behind the altar glowing in its limited palette.  And feel the still darkness of the huge, no, awesome, wide and high building.  No longer oppressive.  Then walk forward down the aisle, or round the sides and stand before the altar.



The altar, a plain slab placed on a simple double-curved plinth.  Effectively, theatrically spotlit  on the curves, enough to highlight them and lead your eyes upwards and behind to that arrow shaped design you first saw from the outside.  A graduating, rising, spark of colours that burst triumphantly skywards as dramatic counterbalance to the cavernous space and darkness.

My words really don’t do justice to this building.  I doubt it can compare to the huge design and minutiae of the Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona but… you knew there was a but:    for me it just might compare in grandeur for its sheer simplicity.

This is a building that defies catastrophe, lives as an iconic design and inside offers a world of stark, aesthetic solace and peace.

When in the Bordeaux region, visit this church in  Royan.



visited August 2017

Paul Nash at Tate Britain; Edward Bawden at Higgins Gallery

Paul Nash, Tate Britain Exhibition,   Feb 2017

Just managed to catch the exhibition two weeks before it closed. Typical me!

We visited shortly after the David Hockney exhibition opened, which seems to be hugely successful already but were pleasantly surprised at the numbers visiting Nash.

I knew some of his work as a War Artist, probably the most obvious ones!  Also some he did of/at Dymchurch and maybe a couple of ‘scenic’ works.  For me the exhibition was brilliant in moving through the years as he worked and showing his origins as an artist and all through his developmental styles over the 30-odd years of his career.   He trained as an artist and it was pleasing to read that he encouraged his brother to paint too, who also became well known and still is.

What surprised me, was some early poetry Paul wrote and later some illustrations for a collection of war poems.  Most artists then and now do book illustrations and jackets but his had passed me by.  I always like woodcuts and their like for the finite definition on the page.

nash-early-workHis very early work and influence was William Blake’s art and poetry but he moved on, developing (changing) his style and several works show a concentration on watercolours and local scenes, including a clump of three Elm trees at the bottom of his childhood garden.  I fear they will have been killed off by Dutch elm disease many years ago but at least they will have survived in another form at least as Nash did several studies of them.

It’s always a great pleasure to me when I can make some sort of connection and it was happily made when I came across one in his most recognisable styles (for me), what I call his ‘lumpy’ style which is moving towards his method as a War Artist in WW1 but, unsurprisingly, more relaxed and summery; landscapes of Ivinghoe Beacon and another nearby view.

Following on into his so recognisable war paintings ( esp. We Are Making a New World, 1918) and it’s elements of cubism.   Following works showed how in the following years he was picking up and experimenting with artistic movements from the continent.  Surrealism found a long resonance with him, as in ‘found’ art, dreams and now including the media of photography and collage.

His work as a War Artist in WW2 didn’t find favour with the War Office but his movement towards ‘Objects in strange places’ can be seen in his pictures of crashed fighter planes and into abstract and symbolism over the following few years before his death. ( back to Blake in thinking if not quite style.)


Imperial War Museum Collection


His most famous painting is probably Totes Meer, painted 1940-41 and residing in tate Britain but alongside this I would put Battle of Germany 1944 as it is seemingly more abstract and softer in tone than the former but powerful to stand before and understand the ‘design’.


Battle of Germany. Imperial War Museum




Voyages of the Moon

My favourite of the non-WW1 or Dymchurch series (many of which I like, such as The Shore1923, but their emotional weight is a bit heavy en-masse) is probably the abstract from his later period but before WW2;  Voyages of the Moon 1934-7…….  though I have to hark back to second-place for Ivinghoe Beacon.

The last two of the exhibition highlighted his interest in the significance of the sun and moon throughout his career.  Always of mystic appeal as seen in his early work similar to Blake but here on a much larger scale in oil of visionary landscapes and the pre-eminence of sun and moon. Landscapes that include a traditional activity transformed into a wheeling sunflower/come burning sun tearing down the hillside instead of the sky  Another with aerial flower composition to link with his long held interest in flight.    It was evident that his feelings of a ‘life-force’ in inanimate objects stayed with him all his life, a belief in the genius loci  (spirit of place).  Something that many people have an awareness of but perhaps are less willing to accept in themselves.

As always I like his b&w illustrations, woodcuts and the like but they don’t have the influence of his bigger works.  There was perhaps too few of these  variations of his work but the need for display cabinets  would have distracted from the movement around the room.   However, the Tate Britain website says they have 205 of his works. I dont know how many are on display but well worth searching them out on a visit now the particular exhibition is ended.

The fact that he was brought up in South Bucks and is buried in a Langley churchyard, both but a very few miles from where I was brought up is another connection I was happy to have made.  What is sad is the length of time it has taken me to find out!  However there must be a million things I don’t know and have never missed knowing so I have an awful lot to look forward to!

Edward Bawden at the Higgins museum and art Gallery, Bedford


The Sir William Harpur Gallery

Just had a browse around the Higgins Museum and Art Gallery where there has been a huge refit and re-design of the gallery and museum. The  Edward Bawden exhibition includes items he gifted from his studio contents and the other display is of a collection of prints: ‘Master of Print’  mostly of modern artists (Picasso et al).  It is select but of superb quality and interest.  I have to wish there was a bigger display of Bawden’s work but the space is limited.  The Bawden exhibition does’t finish until end of January, 2018.

Jump on a train to Bedford and spend a good hour or three there.  Aim for the artworks but the museum side will also steal time from you for its room settings in period style and collections of everyday items as well as assorted art designs from around the turn of the 19th century and forwards.  Not forgetting the local archaeology and town development of industry and people as you walk through.

Two gallery visits in a week eh!

A Stroll Among Graves

A Stroll among Graves                           21Sept 2016

“Before he was a grave digger he dug trenches during the First World War.  He could dig a  full grave in less than a morning.  When it was filled he had nothing left over.  The turf could be laid like there was nothing there.  Flatten it with his boots, he would.  Compressed it so nothing rose up. ‘Learnt that in the war,’ he said.    Probably dug your grandmothers grave.  Some stones are gone but a lot are still standing. You can’t read ’em, mind. Flaked off in most cases.  He wrote all their names and dates and spots in the churchyard in little books.  When he died his daughter threw ’em all out.” He shook his head sadly.

His face and demeanour belied his age, “I’m eighty-nine, only lived here sixty years.”  He did lean on his stick a little as he walked the short distance to visit his wife’s grave. ” I look after four graves now.” He said, a wry twist to his jaw.

Continuing: “I am dn r, do not resuscitate, you know.  The doctor knows.  I have a small bottle in the fridge, you know.”

We continued chatting for the walk to the gated churchyard next door.  “One of them’s in here. It’s the Catholic Church.  I’m not Catholic but I like to keep ’em tidy.”   He passed through the gate and replaced the chain after closing the gate between us.  His accent wasn’t quite local, almost subsumed by sixty years though like many people his age he had managed to retain a baseline of his child’s voice.

“Nice to meet you” he held a soft hand to mine over the top of the wooden gaterail, turned and walked comfortably with his stick towards the small cluster of headstones before the modest, modern church.

I left the church grounds via the narrow path beside the old church, it’s ancient Cotswold wall grey-mottled with age stretching skyward on one side. On the other was the green hedgery-and-ivy mix feeling it’s way through the old black railings and reaching overhead half-arching over the width of space above.

Airlander 10, latest airship from Cardington

Ready for take off, but not quite! Oh yes it did!

The first test-flight of the Airlander 10 didn’t quite happen on Sunday.  A slight technical delay late in the day meant lift-off had to be postponed.  On the Monday we drove to Cardington in hope of seeing the latest design In airships take off from the same historic airfield that R100 and the fated R101 were built and released into the air.

The years of research and development that have gone into the Airlander 10 make me and airlanderit a truly innovative and unique step into the future of transportation, albeit with this model too small for serious freight supplies and personnel ( see plan for Airlander 50) rather than its current tourist passengers and ‘proving’. There is a long history in its development as there is a long history in companies working on airships at the Cardington hangars. Still, I believe, the largest in the world.

We two were not alone in trying to see the ship. When we arrived by accidentally following the correct road to be able to park in a small layby and walk on a public footpath beside the airfield and a recently harvested field. Corn, wheat, barley? Sorry I am ignorant of what the grain stalks might have told.   However it was pleasing to see assorted people walking up and down the edge of the perimeter fence to get a view or a photo of the great white bulk sitting in the field. Interestingly it was not only old gents like me with a liking for airships, maybe a majority though, but also a couple of family groups and several locals who had lived with several if not many great occasions at Cardington.

Yes, it was me that started a conversation about the R100 and another enthusiast who spoke of the R101 disaster.  ” Do you know who designed the R100?”  A gauntlet seemingly aimed at me.  I hesitated briefly giving him the opportunity to forestall my answer.  It didn’t quite work and we both gave our names simultaneously.  Unfortunately we both said different names.  Barnes Wallis says I, Nevil Shute, says he.    We both hesitated  again, this time I got in first by saying that Barnes Wallis was one of the designers (I think maybe of the internal framework, the geodetic design….or at least it’s particular use in airships. Forgive me if I am wrong);  and Nevil Shute was a, or the, mathematician on the project.    I suspect they were both cogs, albeit most memorable, in a large design and construct team.

I had read the Barnes Wallis biography and he had read the Neil Shute autobiography…… One for me to find.     Nevil Shute went to to fame with his novels, of which I read many and Barnes Wallis may be best know for inventing the ‘bouncing bomb’ and others plus working on ‘swing wing’ designs for aircraft.  Apologies again for shuffling out memories of what I have read rather than new, detailed research.  Feel free to do your own research, I do t mind being shown to be wrong!  Much!

We did meet a old lady(sorry but true) who said that her (mothers) sister married a crew member, a survivor from the R101 crash and fireball in France.  Following with a brief description of the crowds lining 12 deep the roads from Bedford rail station to the church at Cardington where fatalaties were buried.  Again research required for specifics.

airlander largeAnother man, maybe with contacts said the craft was due to test fly the following day, on the Tuesday.      Sadly I will in Gloucestershire so no chance to check it out….. Really hope it does. Assume it will be on the news.

Talking of airships and coincidence, they have loomed  a little large recently as I have found some poems relating to the first bombing raid of WW1 airships on London and researched a little on the event.  Shortly after that my sister was asked to research on a local WW1 event of an airship landing/crashing in Essex and being set fire by the captain so it could not be salvaged, re-used or whatever.  This event is still almost in living memory, as are the R100 and R101.

Leads me to realise that we are all so close to history, past or present.

airlander landingBack to the present, Wednesday 18th August at 18.40  first test flight began followed by take-off  for a twenty minute first flight. Success all round.

Shame I wasnt there but pleased to see snippets on the BBC news, the Airlander Club and their website:  www.hybridairvehicles



A Nature Study

Looking for Nature in our garden is not quite as difficult as looking for a needle in a haystack.  Mainly because our garden is a little threadbare except for quite a substantial old hedgerow (sounds better than it looks).

We have had lots of bouts of wind (gales, tail-end of hurricanes, no less) rain in many forms from fine drizzle to stair-rods at angles sharp enough to pierce you if you ventured outside. Most recently we have had days, weeks of clouds in all their sumptuous forms.  If you like turgid grey then the rainy weeks were for you. Since then we have the billowing, high-rising clouds that would graze across the sky with their edges drifting out and dissolving into the blue sky.  The sun became quite chipper as the clouds were moved and thinned and turned into visible animals separating from the herd, even like mushrooms with crooked chimneys (!) or just giant white tumbleweed flickering across the sun.

Which brings me down to earth, well daises and clover surrounding clumps of grass we call lawn. Which is most of the garden except for two big shady trees, a hazel and birch.  Or is it a willow or maybe a poplar?  The tree-surgeon  visiting to remove an unpredictable branch reckoned it was a hybrid of one or two of either of the three.  So I suppose that’s  Nature in the Raw for you.    That led me to list the visitors to the garden, here in (now) sunny East Anglia.  Dont worry, it is not endless but maybe the start of a new un-interesting blog:

Nature as I see it:

We always see sparrows so I wont keep mentioning them, unless they disappear as all the hedges around us seem to be cut down and front gardens rough or otherwise replaced with block-paving.

So what are the rarities?  Almost everything  in any quantity except pigeons.  We have two resident two pairs of blackbirds that keep having young but they dont nest in our garden. They choose the ivy and bushes in next door’s garden OR THE ONE ACROSS THE ROAD!  We really must get our habitats sorted out.

We have a wren, possibly two (next door’s). A Robin, possibly two (next door’s). Three visiting Goldfinches, ditto four starlings. (Do you see the way this is going?) I think five pigeons and two ring-necked doves.  One Song Thrush has been visiting this week and has given us some really wonderful songs. This is my highlight of the summer.

Bored yet?  Havent seen any squirrels recently, grey or black so I cant mention them.

I have seen one toad crawl its way under the raised flagstone supporting a waterbutt.  The highlight of this list is that I have seen two frogs, seemingly living under a different frog sitwaterbutt to the toad.  One of them I see almost every time I go to water the flower and fruit bush pots and the now collapsing raspberry canes.  In the second photo you can see he/she is very relaxed about meeting me.  We have nothing like a pond, or marsh or running water  in our or any garden round us so they must have arrived purely for the benefit of our leaking waterbutts.   So I cant even replace those!

I do have a line of now old silver birch logs to help the insects and two compost bins that are favoured by teeming slugs of all sizes and a now growing number of small, spiral coloured snails.   These no doubt attracted the thrush, frogs and toad.

Across the lawn, under the pots and even in the dog’s hair are the countless ants, flying or wingless, fighting or aimless, Yesterday I saw a Red Admiral.  Sadly I feel I have to frog lounge 2ignore the ‘cabbage’ white butterfly that seem to flutter endlessly across the garden. The one item of nature we seem to have in plenty, though not so many at present, are bees, solitary bumble bees (at least, not honey bees).  Few around the baskets and rasperries at present but earlier in the spring I estimated 50 were zooming through the flowers of the raspeberry canes, all at the same time.   I know some live in the low cracks in the mortar on the sunny side of the house, but that many!  Not that I am complaining.  Though the dog might if ones she plays with when found get angry.

I really hope the green woodpecker that visited a few years ago for the ant-fest comes soon.