Archive for the ‘ General ’ Category

Welcome to Ruritania

Well, here it is – the day that most of the country never expected would come; nor would we have seen it, had more of us bothered to vote. As it is, 17 million people ( many of whom are now regretting their decision) have radically changed the future for the whole 64 million of us. Why did they do it? Frustration and a sense of lacking control, certainly. Undoubtedly bigotry and ignorance motivated some. The majority of my generation (and above) chose to leave, heedless of the wishes of their children and grandchildren. Was it nostalgia for the golden mornings of their lives, when half the map was still, just, coloured pink? You might be forgiven for thinking so, when our ridiculous Foreign Secretary is seriously proposing the purchase of a new toy yacht for our toy royal family. In our Houses of Parliament, with their mock-medieval fantasy architecture, our toy MPs (with a number of honourable exceptions, I’m pleased to say) vote dutifully according to the wishes of our toy Prime Minister, herself bobbing up and down at the behest of the Daily Mail. We want to feel important once again? Let’s have some very expensive submarines fitted with nuclear weapons – alas, no toys these. Meanwhile the adults on the other side of the Channel continue to battle against the resurgent forces of neo-fascism and authoritarianism, while trying to cope with an ever rising tide of refugees. But what does that matter? These aren’t our problems any more, are they? For the next two years we shall hold the proud position of Europe’s stupidest country. But none of this matters, so long as the Tory Party can be kept united and in power. We were once a successful manufacturing economy. A previous Tory administration did away with much of that, preferring instead to make London into the financial centre of Europe. Well, that is going to disappear too – to Dublin, to Strasbourg, perhaps even to an independent Scotland – and what will be left to us then? A country that is not so much split as fragmented, however much May pleads for unity.

Along with well over 100,000 others I marched last Saturday to mark the EU’s 60th anniversary and to celebrate the peace it has maintained for over two generations. There was much sympathy from onlookers. We laid flowers and held a minute’s silence in memory of those recently killed and injured by a British-born madman, before hearing a series of passionate speeches. These were not solely by politicians, but also by students, NHS workers, immigrants and representatives from the rest of Europe. This was where true unity lay, among people who could not be more diverse but shared their aspirations for the common good.

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From time to time we hear the Brexiteer’s jeering taunt “you lost – get over it”. The answer is “Yes, we lost – and so did you, so will your children and so has Europe”. We will not ‘get over it’, however. If you haven’t already, join one of these organisations and fight on.

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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

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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You wait ages for a blog . . .

. . . and then two come along at once. It’s been such a long time since my last post, back in May, that I think I’ll have to publish in instalments. That amazing summer is now just a memory of lazy evenings after work spent by and in the river, and meals in the garden.

Alex Ramsay

summer evening by the Lugg

Wonderful working weather, too. But before starting on that, the significant (to us) news is that we are not moving. Our house sale fell through at the very last instant, which gave us the chance to look at where we stand in a new light – and behold, it wasn’t so bad after all. In fact we’ve had all the fun of moving somewhere new without actually going anywhere. Now back to some pictures. A good spread of stories this summer, stretching from Marc Swan’s extraordinary ‘showman’s ship’ (seen here proudly floating among the Herefordshire hills)

Alex Ramsay

Sir Joseph Swan

to, among others, Dorian Bowen’s intimate reconstruction of a Welsh ‘Ty Unnos’ or one-night house

Alex Ramsay

Ty Unnos

What else? It seems to have been relentless, in a good way. Some wonderful shows, notably Salgado’s Genesis, perhaps the best exhibition I’ve ever seen. (Not to be missed either is Tony Ray-Jones at the Science Museum – Only in England). Parties, weddings, work – no holiday, but then who needs one of those in this glorious climate? A trip to the fantastic NoFitState Circus was followed the next day by a team of tree surgeons in the garden doing much the same sort of thing, but with added chainsaws

Alex Ramsay

Enough for the time being, before I ramble further. More next week.

Death, in Florence

Alex Ramsay

In the Cimitero Inglese, Florence

Back again and full of the joys of Spring, as you can tell from the picture above. I’ve just had a few days in Florence, combining a shoot in the curious ‘English Cemetery’ with a modest birthday celebration. I took the sleeper from Paris for the first time since about 1965. Nothing about the train, including the smell, seems to have changed much in the intervening years. I think I may be getting a little old for the intimacy of a six-berth couchette. An early breakfast in the astonishing Milan Central Station was a treat, however – coffee and brioche surrounded by a dictator’s imperial fantasy.

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And home to find that at least one creature in the garden had decided that spring was imminent, despite all evidence to the contrary:

Toadspawn

Toadspawn

April Fooled

Which is what seems to have happened, what with snow to the top of the hedges and the woods gone all Brueghel. For those of you lucky enough to be in other parts of the world, this is what it looks like now. ‘Oh to be in England now that April’s there’ – Home Thoughts from Abroad is the title of that poem, of course, and I bet most of us are thinking the other way round just now.

Alex Ramsay

Alex Ramsay

Alex RamsayAlex Ramsay

Came down for breakfast this morning to find that daughters home for Easter had remembered the date and consequently filled coffee jar with raisins, put eggs in unlikely places etc. However we managed to catch one of them with heavily salted early morning tea. Revenge (unlike the tea) is sweet . . .

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