Monday, May 31, 2010

Hanging Out My Old Love Letters……

Writing about the past has sent me scurrying to the Hallett Archive. Hidden away from my memory in the de personalising room.
Trying to put a time frame to things I did in the sixties means I need to look for clues.
I have thought about asking other people but I’m not so sure about this. Memories are cherished on both sides. Hearing the other version sometimes interrupts my own. Worse still it sometimes corrects it and that will never do. It feels like someone stealing treasure.
The other day for instance. I was out on the island visiting a vintage rally. Men, and possibly women as well though I feel they are generally far more sensible, were lovingly polishing details on machines that, lets face it, were past their sell by date. How amazing that we have come by enough leisure and riches to let us preserve a free standing single cylinder Bambleweeny cardoom chopper in perfect working order. Safe in the knowledge as well that Gisons of Nempnett Thrubwell still do spares and offer a comprehensive after sales service.
Such a long way from guarding the cave mouth in case the bears try to steal the haunch of mammoth.
Admiring rows of the exhibits I eventually came to the tractors chanced across the fine fellows above. I wouldn’t mock people who get excited by tractors, but then again I wouldn’t count myself foremost among their rank. These Massey Fergusons however brought a hidden tractor geek in me straight to the surface. A glorious 35X, a 135, and a 165. Back at the end of the seventies I spent weekends and summers working farms on the Cotswold escarpment. These three, restored to the point that you would think they had never done a days work in their lives, gleaming red perfection, were all tractors that I remember driving. A nostalgia overcame me to the point that I felt someone else had to be told.
As She Of The Townhouse had wandered off to the ‘Bad Mother’ stall in search of supplies for witches she was unable to share my excitement. I decided to phone my old friend Jim. Better he than she as we shared those times. He would remember them just as clearly as I. Jim would understand.
After listening a while though he corrected me.
“Strictly speaking Fred that should be a 185 and not a 165….”
I felt quite deflated.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

And So Inside

Glenavon circa 1970
Lets start then and watch a young family settle their belongings in a small cottage, crammed into a small corner of the southern Cotswold. Built of random stone back in the first half of the nineteenth century. Held on the one side by the road that eventually led me out of there and on the other by the river that ran trough our lives like time.

How my father and mother came upon the house I am not sure. We had been living near Calne in Wiltshire for the earliest years of my life. Recently though my father had gained a place to study in Newton Park College just outside Bath. He was training to be a teacher and the house in Swineford was just a few miles down the road.
My mother was probably glad to leave the old place. No electricity and water from the well would have been hard with three small children. Never mind the remote location in the middle of a field.
I was around five years old, my sister Melissa was four. My recently newborn sister Claire completed our little family.

Jumping out of the car Melissa and I ran through the gate, past two Lawson Cypress trees, and a wilderness of cabbages greeted our senses. Brassicas in forms new and horrid towered green over our heads and the whole world smelled of them. Melissa and I were soon lost among trees of sprouts, cabbages and kale. Emerging bewildered and bemused at the hand fate had dealt.

And so inside.
The unpromising front door opened on to the pavement of the only road running through the village. It was hardly ever open and in time was closed off with bricks. Beyond serving as a shallow alcove for Christmas cards and other seasonal decorations seldom thought of .
To get in to the house we had walked through a side gate, round the relatively modern bathroom extension and in through the south facing back door. A ramshackle kitchen with a roof that let more water through that it held back, leaking in every corner. To the left the post war luxury of an indoor toilet and bath. To the right a garden facing room with the exotic unfamiliar ‘french doors’. Then on from here to a dark enclosed sitting room and study, both with Bath stone pillared windows. Between these two, the corridor leading to the front door. To the side, sharing one corner, a cupboard and a set of stairs spiralling one hundred and eighty degrees up to three bedrooms. Two roadside and one facing the garden and the river.
This then was the little house we move in to. A leaky roof covered with red baked half roman tiles. Fireplaces that smoked whenever the wind was in the wrong direction. Strange smells of damp and putrefaction from the river and the drains which seemed equally gifted to flow in two directions depending on the nature of the flood.
A few small rooms with monstrous wall paper covering damp plaster. Ceilings defying gravity with only the strength of a few layers of paint to hold them. Floorboards offering holes of every size from the tubiform sponge of woodworm, to gaps where a medium sized rodent might rush and hide.
This whole tucked inside random stone walls and with a garden large enough to grow vegetables and feed a pig. Pretty much unchanged since the eighteen forties, the only real concession to its second century being the bathroom. Robust in its way and built to serve the accommodation needs of the local copper mill owner whose work force needn’t stray too far.
Outside, as well as more cabbages than one could comprehend, two ill advised, and in truth ugly, trees far too close to the main building, an asbestos garden shed. A flagstone path held a straight line down to the river Avon hidden behind an untidy hedge and a greengage tree.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Starting Here

I figure that, pushed to rely on memory alone I would guess that it was the late summer of 1964. Nelson Mandela had been jailed for life. And if you decide to read on then please allow me some indulgences. I know that the stories I tell are just that. Remembered for the most part over a gap of forty or more years.
When other people see the words they will quite rightly want to challenge my version. In some cases they may even be annoyed but it will never be my intention to offend. These are the colours that I saw. These are the sounds that I heard. These are the smells and tastes of my memory and the times, places and objects that touched me as I hold them now in my mind.
You may not even feel they happened at all, well so be it. Let them then be reflections upon and stories from another age. Snapshots from an ordinary life.
So! I want to take you back to a dozen or so years covering the period where I grew from infant to the day I left my parental home. From around the age of six to just after my eighteenth birthday I lived in a small village straddling the border between South Gloucestershire and North Somerset. The village of Swineford. The village where I grew up.

What was that little village like back then? I have often seen it said that if you think you can remember the sixties then you weren’t really there, but this of course was directed at a different set of tastes and a generation slightly older than I was.
As my sisters and I grew there, our horizons moved from house to garden to village and later to the lure of the cities. For each in our way, it was leaving home that showed us how lucky we were

Swineford lies near halfway between the cities of Bath and Bristol, held between a bend on the north side of the river crossing known since before time was a record, and a road that the Romans marched upon. A mixture of new electrical light industries replacing the water driven copper and ochre mills of its rivers and streams. A farm, a pub, an old tin chapel marked the eastern end and to the west a small hill climbed up out of the village past elm trees and the paddock where the village landlord kept his hens.
A spot where planners shuffled the Somerset and Gloucestershire border, leading to a confusion of addresses, eventually giving up to the short lived county of Avon before returning once more to South Gloucestershire.
Less than half a mile long and strung out along a main road. You might have swept past it through it in a car taking no notice and leaving no record. Perhaps on your way to visit the Georgian splendour of Bath, or maybe opposite to the shops at Bitton. Maybe the only thing to strike you, the tall chimney of the mill, surrounded by attendant buildings, and hiding your view of the river.

to be continued

Sunday, May 23, 2010

More Sleeping Dogs

Around five in the morning the sum leaspfrogs the backbone of England.
After the barest pause for breath it soars above the sea, blurring the horizon with a heat haze and stuns Hallett’s Mountain into a surprised silence.
By midmorning the cuckoo goes off to cool its throat leaving just the small birds singing in the coconut scented gorse.
My garden jobs are done for the day and I have retired to the shade with some minted apple juice in an ice filled glass. Insects buzz round the rosemary and all is at peace in my world. All is still. Across the hillside bluebells dust the fields. The sun beats down.
Asbo lies panting in the shade below the wall, the theme from the Archers fades from a small radio on the table, Desert Island Discs starts as gently as Roy Plumley’s measured tones. The punctuation marks of Sunday morning.
Lunch is still an hour or two away from pleasant contemplation, teasing new combinations of garden herbs and salad.
Later on the bell in the old church will tempt us across the fields to stone cool prayer.
Time to spend an easy hour or two measuring my toenails. Time to wonder, slowly about …about…oh you know……you know……

Hey ho. Lets hope She Of The Townhouse doesn’t let another enthusiasm gallop away with her!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stoned Again

Don’t get me wrong. He was a very nice young man indeed. The sort that you really wouldn’t mind if your daughter….. hmmm I suppose I should add son as well in this enlightened age…. came home and introduced him. Polite, articulate and not too shy to hold a conversation. Obviously well educated. The thing is though he had an enthusiasm.

She Of The Townhouse had identified a local archaeological walk of interest. Abso and I noted that it was traversing one of our favourite haunts and elected that we would not be averse to tagging along. So it was that we met the Augustus Finknottle of all things lithic.

After a climb of about one thousand feet from sea level to the plateau above, we hove up to, an at first sight unpromising pile of gravel' close by a rocky outcrop. Stone in hand our guide held forth for the best part of half an hour regaling the assembly with tales of stone age distributions, of fine axes, of seasonal migratory populations, and all in a manner that kept us spell bound. He also took care to point out the boundary layer from which charred bones had been extracted to reliably date what to me looked like a pile of fairly recent chippings back to pre bronze age Neolithic times.

According to the ratio of certain carbon isotopes the pile was from round about 5013BC.....a June afternoon at around three o'clock.... probably the bone from the Sunday roast...this backed up by knife marks showing it had been sliced rather poorly along the grain....something like that.

Excitedly onwards then, we next inspected further trenches full of suitably fascinating gravel, again dated with intimidating ossuary accuracy.
Putting off doubters who felt that the whole upland area may have been worked in medieval times our rockmeister led us on through a bewilderment of burnt mounds, cairns, derelict hut circles, settlements and various other evidences until not a man, woman, or indeed dog was prepared to cast uncertainty. At least not out loud. Not if we wanted to get off the mountainside before tea.

Finally we arrived at yet another hummocky prospect of little interest to the uninitiated. For some reason this one excited our man more than the others. This one it seems has yet to be excavated. Quivering like a rodent, animated at the prospect of a fine supper, he produced flints from nearby test trenches and speculated on the hope of bones being excavated at some near future date when funding would allow.
Now I don’t want to pretend that this wasn’t interesting. It was a real treat to see someone clarifying a subject about which many would carelessly remain ignorant. A subject about which he clearly had a great deal more to tell and would clearly love to do so.

That was when I caught sight of what Asbo was up to. Lacking some of the social skills that were keeping his human companions from expressing even the remotest ennui, he had looked around for alternative entertainment. I had noticed him snuffling up a morsel earlier from the previously unexcavated ground and had assumed that he had found the dogs end of a sausage roll, or perhaps a sandwich crust.
As he crunched his way through a particularly ancient bone fragment I calmly juxtaposed myself between him and the guardian of prehistoric knowledge……..

The bird seems to be making a nest in my bedroom and has nothing to do with the rest of this post.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dark Matters

One of the secrets of the universe seems to be just why there is so much pesky gravity. Galaxies it seems have too much of it you see. When you look at what is actually there that is. There is a load of gravity sloshing about and not enough matter to cause it to be there.
Scientists eager to protect their reputation have of course come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation. Reasonable in the same way as the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus perhaps…
They postulate thus; "If there isn’t enough stuff in a galaxy to explain why it is so attractive then it seems that it is perfectly OK to assume that there is an awful lot of other stuff nearby that we cant quite see".
Add in this so called dark matter and suddenly the sums start to make sense. Scientists who might have otherwise had some difficult explaining to do can rest without the problem of egg on their collective faces. Job's a good un.
Mind you, kind of like the x that is constantly flapping its wings all over algebra, its difficult to pin down. Just when you think you have it safely in hand it changes. Dark matter can be anything you want it to be. The only thing you had better not do, is ask childishly innocent questions about it. Things like what is it? Why is it dark? How come we cant see it…….
And you wont be surprised to find that Hallett’s Mountain has a theory about dark matter.


Dark matter is God’s socks.

It makes perfect sense and answers the innocents.
If She Of The Townhouse can make 14 brand new pairs of socks vanish off the face of the earth in a fortnight then why not Mrs Deity. The helpmate who washes God’s socks obviously bungs them in to some kind of swirling vortex. Only later to be surprised that all that is left is a whirlpool of creamy star suds.
The inky abyssal blackness of the missing God socks is now unobservable and spread in a halo around the machine.
There you go! It all makes frightening sense.
It also sorts out one of Einstien’s other little conundrums. God doesn’t play jokes. Indeed he doesn’t. That doesn’t mean to say though that he cant be puzzled.

Next week I shall be explaining exactly what Mrs Higgs did with the spare boson, and why taking your wife to Switzerland isn’t a good idea if you are a theoretical particle physicist.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Asda Man On Short Notices

Look at this idiocy.
I mean I ask you!
What do you suppose that the exciting changes are. Come on guess. I mean obviously the inhabitants of the nearby Old Town are turning in their sleep in eager anticipation at the prospect, but what do you think?
Okay there we are. I waited five minutes but none of you rang so I am going to have to tell you.
White lines.
Yep. That is what has got us all so excited. They are repainting the white lines in the car park.

I hate it when supermarkets do this. Not the white lines. They stop fights I suppose and confuse the Chelsea tractor drivers. No I mean this false bonhomie rubbish. The pretence that we are all in this for the future and if we can just get through it will all be over by Christmas. Why cant they just put up a short notice apologising to everyone for the inconvenience of half the car park being out of action and offer a free bottle of wine. I mean that would keep me going back.

And another thing. Team shirts. I hate ‘em. Not the football shirts, I can see the point there, you have to pass the ball to the player on your team after all and contact lenses can get displaced in the frenzy. A decent blob of the right colour in a suitable space must prove useful in many instances out on the field of play.
The team shirt that I hold a particular dislike for is the one in my local QuikiMart ( and in case anyone else wants that name I am going to dotcom it double quick. There you can buy it off me if you feel the need.
The team shirt in my local QuikiMart has a slogan upon it. Scrawled across the back of course, over and below the shoulders. Never on the front where it would encourage people to admire the chest…....oh dear.....Water please!
Where was I. Hmm. The slogan on everyone’s back reads thus.

“Can I Help U?”

Yes you bloomin can. Stop using damn text speak on your T-shirts and write properly!
Grrr rant rant grrr.

Eh? Oh yes. So it is. Um. Another half of mild and bitter please.