#52 Goodbye England.

The recent Jeremy Deller statue in Manchester that commemorates the Peterloo massacre, to me, looks like a stack of poker chips.

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This seems apt because it suggests that the deaths it represents were the result of a government treating its populace like counters in a game- disposable tokens of lesser worth to those who sent the 15th Hussars into a crowd, sabres drawn.

The people who were there (exactly two hundred years ago today) had had the temerity to gather together to ask the government to reform the laws of parliamentary elections. At the time, Voting was restricted to the adult male owners of freehold land with an annual rental value of 40 shillings (£2) or more – the equivalent of about £142 in 2016 – and votes could only be cast at the county town of Lancaster, by a public spoken declaration at the hustings (Wikipedia).

The same inequality of power exists today.

We may all have the right to vote, but those we have the power to elect are still mostly cultivated in the same Petri dish of privilege and wealth as they always were. I recently heard an interview on the Guardian podcast site with Guy Shrubsol, author of the blog Who owns England? . This project lays bare the cold and mostly hidden truth that the vast majority of land ownership in this country remains absolutely in the hands of those who were gifted it by William the Conqueror a thousand years ago.

The jealous grasp of the elect continues to protect its own interests not only with regard to the huge expanse of England it owns and controls, but also furthers that wealth through blinkered, anti-democratic electioneering, lobbying and the spread of misinformation.

For example.

Boris Johnson- immoral, apeing glutton snuck at the top of the tree.

Brexit – gaping class divisions worsened & exploited through misinformation & mass media deception.

Continued use of fossil fuels and expanding interests of multi-national oil companies

The UK arms industry, which continues to excuse itself and spit rhetoric at international bodies that dare to criticise its “ethics”

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[Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA]

In today’s news-

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In fact, everywhere I look there are signs of increasing wealth division, social breakdown and a general apathy towards everything I place value in- liberal values (i.e. personal freedom), education, the environment, culture etc.

This isn’t to deny the existence of movements seeking to arrest this decline.

Extinction Rebellion is clearly a galvanising force for a sector of our society, but it would be daft to suggest that the broad swathe of England- the working class, the middle class, the upper class- feel actually personally invested in what the movement represents or how it operates.

This week, on Tuesday, I walked to the bus stop with the kids. On the hill below our house, a lone middle aged man in a suit floored his Range Rover and pointlessly accelerated past us at about 45 miles per hour in a 20 zone. My son had noticed that he had been held up by several, smaller cars and was seeking to outrun them by taking a different route. His impotent rage, his transparent, oversized, empty car, his obscene recklessness- this is England.

 

#51 Cycling and painting

My son and daughter were with me this weekend gone. We were supposed to be surfing down at Saunton Sands. The sparky woman at Walking on waves said the sea was as flat as a pancake, that she’d happily rearrange. Anytime in the future. No problem.

I put tagine in the slow cooker, made a picnic, packed water-colour materials and bikes in the car and drove over to Monkton Combe, by the Dundas Aqueduct.

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Even though they’d fought, and farted at each other while I’d sorted the parking ticket, my two were suitably impressed and calmed as we cycled beside the canal across the aqueduct. There’s a ledge beneath the balustrade that we all wanted to clamber over onto, but didn’t.

The air was soft, a light breeze scented with the sweetness of rotting leaves, the sun gradually breaking through dull clouds. Wood smoke hung in the air next to various narrow boats. The steeply banked woods on the opposite side were mostly sycamore, their outward facing leaves blushed carnelian. A drunk stumbled onto the path from the hedge. He clutched a can of Tennants’ Super-T and looked confused as we breezed past. The river ran parallel to us in the valley below, but in the other direction, south west to Bath.

My son led the way at first, his legs somehow pumping twice as fast as mine, front wheel twitching as he scanned for minor off-shoots from the main path to scramble over. My daughter followed, cautious eyes taking in all the details, cataloging, defining. We passed under a beautiful road bridge, Winsley hill road from Limpley Stoke towards Bradford on Avon.

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Just beyond, an elegant conservatory filled with geraniums looks down upon the canal path. The kids passed by oblivious. There were various hired narrow boats abroad on the water, some filled with lively chatter, some more morose. We branched off by the lane to Turleigh, down to the river, to picnic. Here, for half an hour, my children turned on each other again over their sandwiches, cookies and Doritos. While they traded tired insults, a dragonfly hovered nearby, a kingfisher shot upstream and several trains trundled along the elevated branch line at Freshford.

We ploughed back across a deeply grassed field and rejoined the canal path. Soon enough, we crossed our second aqueduct at Avoncliff. We descended the embankment and rode through the tunnel and up the path to The Cross Guns pub. I realised the last time I’d been here was 25 years ago. I’d signed up with the school cross-country team and, as a perverse end-of-term treat, our coach arranged that we would do a night-run along the path ending here. A single lemonade all round. Huzzah.

I don’t think it’s much changed. A traditional-style pub, all horse brasses and stone walls, fires roaring. There’s a large benched garden terraced down to the river. Nice enough on a hot day, maybe, but there was a shadowy, forlorn feel to the place today. The river is met by a minor brook here. The water is shallow and reedy, perfect for the ducks that my son fed most of his ice-cream to.

We cycled back up onto the aqueduct, returning the way we’d been, now actively searching for a subject to paint. My daughter chose the first boat we came upon, named Topsy. I unpacked our materials: a small A5 Winsor & Newton pad, three portable water colour kits, pencils, brushes, a rubber and sharpener.

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I filled our jars with water and we began.

My son focussed on mixing the right brown for the water, which he then flooded his page with. He painted a solid black boat which soon sank beneath more brown. Eventually, twenty minutes later, just before giving up, he painted another black boat with blue windows.

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I proceeded in the more traditional way of sketching first.

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The roof is partly fictional as I was sat down, and couldn’t really see it. I then spent about an hour adding colour and ended up with this.

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Not accurate, not awful.

My daughter took her time and steadily added layers of colour. Even though she was sat beside me, she painted a side-on view.

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I love her trees.

All together:

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The sun glowered at the far end of the tunnel of overhanging branches, the temperature had started to drop. We headed back. I pinched the drying paintings between my fingers, two in one hand, one in the other, steering the bike on the balls of my palms. Mistakenly, I pointed out a rabbit in a field that we’d already passed. My son turned to look, and plunged into brambles and nettles. Some tears. A cuddle.

A heron stood motionless a few feet from the path, not threatened by us. The drunk from earlier had made barely any progress in the three hours or so since we passed before. Again, a question seemed about to form in his eyes, then dissolved. We glided back over the first aqueduct, slowly enough to discern the mottled white and black neck of another static heron. The path fell away from Brassknocker Basin marina, down towards the car, its fan heater and home.

#49 Part two: Lacock Abbey’s response

Dear Jonathan Gardner

Thank you for your email regarding your visit to Lacock Abbey.

I have reviewed the incident with our House and Collections Manager who manages the Abbey after she discussed the matter with the volunteer you met and the duty staff who was there on Sunday.

I am sorry you had a disappointing visit to the Abbey, the volunteer you met on Sunday was talking to two other visitors when you came into the Hall, which is the exit from the Abbey. The Abbey has a long and complex history, as I’m sure you will have discovered, and we have planned a roughly chronological route, starting with the oldest part which is the Cloisters, through the house and finishing the Great Hall. We feel this displays the Abbey in the best way but also, since it is quite compact it minimises congestion. We’ve found this route helps visitors enjoy the Abbey most.

When you stepped into the Hall, our Volunteer, broke away from the couple she was talking to, to explain you had come in the exit and ask you kindly go in through the Cloisters. (We get one or two folk doing this each day and they are asked to do the same.) That request, for whatever reason, broke down into a situation I know neither of us would have wanted and our volunteer, thinking it may help, put her hand out to try and calm you down, but this clearly backfired on her and was obviously the wrong thing to have done.

I am very sorry that this came across as inappropriate to you, we want everyone to have a great visit here. There was a misunderstanding, our volunteer misread the situation and we are all sorry for upset caused and hope you do come back and see us again sometime.

Yours Sincerely

Graham Heard
General Manager

[I’m not sure how much this address my complaint.
Feel like the shoving has been entirely misrepresented.
Any thoughts? – Jon]

Heavenly pillows

Following on from the Cakes of Portugal series… one I missed.

Salt of Portugal

No trip to Portugal is complete without visiting Sintra and no visit to Sintra is complete without eating a travesseiro at Piriquita. Travesseiro means large pillow, and that is what these pastries look like. But, instead of cloth and feathers, these pillows have layers of puff pastry filled with an egg and almond cream.

Despite many attempts, no one has been able to copy these travesseiros since Piriquita first opened its doors to the public in 1952. Some say that fairies sprinkle them with star dust. Others claim to hear sirens singing while they prepare the pastry. All we know is that for us, mere mortals, these heavenly travesseiros are one more reason to go to Sintra.

Piriquita-Antiga Fábrica de Queijadas, Rua Padarias 1/7, Sintra, tel. 219 230 626. Lines can be long in the Summer but, if you go up the street, you’ll find a second Piriquita café with…

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#48 The front garden

After Ron’s death, new neighbours moved in upstairs. After a time, they set to work on their front garden.

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Essentially, they hand-rotavated the borders, massacring flowers and weeds alike. When I first came upon what had happened, I felt sad. Another part of what Ron had left, gone.

I photographed it again a few weeks back. It has changed without anyone doing a thing.

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It’s got fuller since, joined now with a large stand of borage.

Ron’s hands planted the flowers. They were cut down, but their seeds dwelt invisible in the soil and rose up legion, even stronger than before.

How to insert a line break into WordPress (!)

For an unknown reason, I’ve returned to poetry. It’s something I did a lot as an adolescent. Maybe I’m regressing into that self-obsessed self. Possibly.

Anyway, when writing poems, it’s nice to be able to insert a line break to differentiate stanzas. Until today, I hadn’t been able to do this. No matter how many times I press return, WordPress has ignored this and displayed the text as a single body.

To intentionally insert a line break, switch the writing mode from ‘Visual’ to ‘HTML’, and paste the following where you want a line break:

<br style=”height:4em” />

Ta da.

#45 Cakes of Portugal No.2 Pasteis de nata

Monday, 27th July – Carcavelos bus/train station

Cake no.2: pasteis de nata

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Pasteis de nata, or pasteis de Belem are now familiar on smart cafe counters in Britain. Their delicate, buttery pastry and vanilla custard filling are a more refined foil to our custard tart. The pasties de Belem are esteemed as the epitome of this cake. They originated in the Belem monastery, and they continue to be produced in a large cafe/bakery nearby. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to join the queues there.

I found my first one in Portugal here

IMG_1923at a kiosk at Carcavelos. That it was extremely cheap was particularly welcome, as we had blown €80 at the worst, most overpriced restaurant staffed by the most obsequious waiters the night before – restaurante quinta farta pao. Don’t ever go.

The kiosk was humble and perfect, staffed by a cheerful old woman who, being on the short side, had a stick and a stool to assist in reaching things.

The cake.

The outer texture of the pastry was quite dry, flaky, but didn’t just disintegrate. The upper was quite burnt/caramelised.

Interior: very runny, unlike others I’ve tasted. More like custard you’d get with pudding. There was another taste in addition to the traditional vanilla, not sure what, maybe nutmeg.

Great expresso.

Coffee aficionados will note that most expressos are classed by me as great. On holiday with two kids, all fresh coffee is great.