Rough Beasts

I really didn’t want to do another political post – but there are those in positions of power and influence in Britain acting with terrifying irresponsibility and silence does not seem an option. The front pages below say it all.

This foul rag, bigoted, racist and homophobic, spews its poison across our nation. Shame on anyone who works for it, or for its equally repellent if coarser bedfellow, the Daily Express. Paul Dacre, the editor, is not an uneducated man. He knows the power of words and can scarcely be ignorant of the fact that this phrase was regularly used by both Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, as well as Hitler. There are moments when I do not recognise my own country – a popular newspaper using Nazi phraseology to condemn judges for upholding the law, a Lord Chancellor failing in her sworn duty to support the independence of the judiciary, and Farage, a rabble-rousing demagogue threatening violence on the streets if he does not get his way.

I have to remind myself that the vast majority of my fellow citizens are ordinary decent people (though not in Farage’s understanding of the words) who believe in parliamentary democracy, in the primacy of the law, and who would if allowed generously welcome refugees and the dispossessed from other lands. They – we – may or may not support Britain’s membership of the EU; there are valid arguments for both positions. Whatever our feelings on that subject, we are one when we support and display common humanity and basic decency in our words and actions. It may be that a time is coming when we all have to stand up and be counted.

Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming, has allegedly been quoted more often in 2016 than in any of the previous thirty years. I make no apologies for adding to this statistic.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

ADDENDUM: Having just heard the appalling election news from America, I would not change a word of the above. We are in a dark place.

A FURTHER UPDATE: Why not stand up for civilisation and sign the world’s letter to Trump? Sign here

That Vote . . .

Many years ago I taught English in a foreign language school. We were told that anything could be discussed except for three topics; religion, politics and sex. Since starting my now very occasional blog I’ve followed the same rule, which I now propose to break. I have nothing to say about religion, except that I find myself increasingly irreligious as the years pass. Politics, though, are inescapable at the moment. I’m British and lucky to be so. Britain is a country – several countries – that I love, in spite of its many failings. I love its landscapes, its architecture, its literature, its art. However it’s not these things, important though they are, that make a society. It’s the people of Britain, whose kindness, generosity and tolerance of strangers have been, and remain, a byword among the dispossessed and desperate of the world. That so many wish to come here is the greatest compliment a nation could receive.

I hadn’t intended to talk about immigration. The refugee crisis is huge, and is only one of many crises facing us all. I do not believe that we can solve these matters in isolation. You’ll correctly deduce from this that I believe we should remain part of the EU. I can’t comment on the economic arguments for doing so, though they seem overwhelmingly in favour of our staying in. More important to me is the hope of continuing peace in Europe. My parents’ generation, and my grandparents’, both fought in appalling wars. My generation has never had to do so, largely because the nations of Europe chose to unite in spite of their differences. I want my children (and one day, their children) to live their lives in peace.

Looking around the political landscape we can all see the resurgence of right-wing parties, gross inequalities of income, unemployment and an aggressively nationalist leader in Russia. We’ve been here before, of course, and we know how that ended. This time there is something different, and it is called the European Union. It was created in the hope of a better world. That hope and ambition still remains at its heart. How can we reject it? I urge you, for my as yet hypothetical grandchildren and for yours, to vote Remain on Thursday.

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Oh, and the third topic – sex, you ask? Any questions – see me afterwards

Season of Mists

It’s been a while since I posted here – over a year, in fact. Family matters seem to have taken up much of my time, but fortunately they have no place here. I’ve been stirred into action by the traditional sounds of gloomy whining about the weather, specifically last week’s fogs, presented by our media as either the imminent apocalypse or emblematic of our grey and miserabilist national character.

In fact this duvet covering the country was nowhere more than a couple of hundred feet thick, and a quick trip up the nearest hill revealed daily views of astonishing beauty from sunrise to sunset. And all this on top of weeks of superb weather throughout September and October – how lucky we are in our climate.

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OS

Tigress (2013)

Tigress (2013)

OS opened here a couple of days ago, and seems to have aroused some interest. It’s the start of a collaborative exercise with the poet Liz Lefroy and covers several themes, though the pictures are all still-lives. Despite a number of requests I shall not be putting them online, apart from the title image above. They are intended to be seen as tangible objects, printed to a specific size, mounted in a particular way and viewed, thoughtfully, in the context of a gallery. What’s the digital alternative? – a flow of electrons to screens of unknown size and uncalibrated colour in some distant country, where the pictures might just possibly be given a passing glance, should they even surface among the great deluge of images washing around the Web. So my apologies to those who are prevented by distance from visiting the show – but wherever you live there are makers and artists whose work can and should be seen in glorious three-dimensional reality.

The exhibition is at The Workhouse Gallery, Presteigne and runs until the end of this month, open most days including this Sunday. It’s also open on Bank Holiday Monday, when at 11am Liz Lefroy will be reading from her new work as part of the Presteigne Festival. Tickets available here or on the door – further information to be found here. UPDATE – the talk sold out and the gallery was packed, with many interesting points raised during the morning – thanks to all who came! (and apologies to those who couldn’t get in)

The Workhouse Gallery

The Workhouse Gallery (and photographer)

And finally a little late summer colour to relieve the sombre tones of this post

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Going, going . . .

It’s not every day you see the equivalent of a cathedral being flattened, so when I found myself an hour’s drive from Didcot last Saturday evening, I was immediately on my way. Three of the famous cooling towers were due to go the following morning. Like many people I’ve always considered them beautiful structures – that lovely sexy curve at their waists! – which enhance the landscapes in which they are set. They can quite legitimately be compared with cathedrals; their architect, Frederick Gibberd, was also responsible for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (Paddy’s Wigwam to the irreverent).

I reached Didcot after sunset, and eventually found a position on a railway bridge with a fine view, about a quarter of a mile away. The towers could still be seen in the last of the light.

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The bridge dates to the earliest days of the Great Western Railway, and is itself soon to be demolished and rebuilt. This place had seen the birth of a new technology, and here we were to witness the passing of an outmoded one.

The demolition company had taken the unpopular decision to destroy the towers during the hours of darkness, hoping to discourage spectators. However Didcot was not to be deprived of its fun, and within an hour my railway bridge was packed. So was every other viewpoint in the town, as well as the Ridgeway where at least a thousand people held vigil – or rather an all-night party.

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About midnight the towers were illuminated – for safety rather than for our benefit.

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It was to be a long night. All anyone knew was that demolition was scheduled some time between 3am and 5.30am. We chatted, shared coffee and chocolate, read and gazed at the towers. I thought of the crowds who must similarly have gathered during the dissolution of the monasteries, watching as another set of old certainties were buried under the falling masonry. Four o’clock – a possible time for the blast – came and went. We watched the railway workers preparing to clear up debris. For once First Great Western might have a reasonable excuse for delay – ‘cooling towers all over the line’.

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Five o’clock, and a grey dawn. Suddenly the middle tower appeared to slip quietly sideways, and an instant later we heard and felt three huge blasts. As each tower collapsed in on itself it blew a series of colossal smoke rings in its own shape, which hung for a moment in the air.

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The middle tower lit red by an explosion

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The view vanished into what looked like a sandstorm. Those of us with (expensive) cameras ran for the shelter of their cars, and in a couple of minutes little could be seen except streetlights glowing through the dust cloud.

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Dreaming of Water

Twice this last week I’ve dreamed about water. Not the clear stuff¬† into which you dive rejoicing, or pour down your throat in the heat, but an opaque brown fluid like molten chocolate flowing slowly and unstoppably down steps and under doors, and then up, and up . . . I suspect this is a collective dream (or nightmare); the shared fears of thousands of people drifting across the sleeping land. We’ve had it easier than most here in Radnorshire. Familiar views suddenly become new –

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landscapes acquire ornamental lakes –

_DSC1776But it’s the sudden violent turbulence of the rivers in this quiet countryside that’s startling. _DSC0476

Watch the video below with the sound turned up high, if you can bear to after all these soggy weeks

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/87010870″>Bridge 1</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user25228744″>Alex Ramsay</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

You wait ages for a blog (part 2)

A lightning trip to Italy recently to shoot a couple of features – first, an unchanged 18th-century kitchen in a villa near Venice, still in use within living memory

Alex Ramsay

Then a three-hour drive to the mountains around Lake Como to stay in the sort of splendidly eccentric family-run hotel that is getting harder to find these days, followed by a day working in a lovely sixteenth-century villa, frescoed from top to bottom. Wonders behind every door – here a cupboard containing some of the family archives, going back to the early fifteenth century

Alex Ramsay

And back to catch the last of the sun and a little reward for two hardworking people . . .

Alex Ramsay

And finally, my latest book has just been published, The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto. Lots of pics, of course, and a luminously beautiful and perceptive text by Jenny Condie. As a reward for those of you who’ve scrolled down this far, I’m offering one free copy via Goodreads – see below to enter

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto by Jenny Condie

The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto

by Jenny Condie

Giveaway ends November 05, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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