Monthly Archives: January 2014

19 – Old Wall

St Mary's wall
This is part of the chancel wall of The Hemel parish church, St Mary’s. I will later write more about the church as it is not only one of the few Norman churches in Hertfordshire, it is far larger and more imposing than you would expect from what, in the 12th Century, would have been a smallish agricultural hamlet. There will therefore be a picture to show the 200ft leaded spire, which is really quite elegant.For the moment though I want to concentrate on building materials and how it was built from an agglomeration of bits and pieces, even though it is mainly flint. There is even the on bit of Roman brick.

When I look at this and other flint buildings in my area I tend to contrast them with those of Sussex and find them rough and ready. It is almost as if the Sussex builders found the material interesting, packed it densely and used it with care and artistry, whilst those in Hertfordshire seemed to slap it in and I can almost imagine them thinking ‘That’ll do’.

Later this year I will go to Sussex and take some pictures of flint work to show the difference. I will also take some pictures of St Albans to show how Roman bricks have been reused

18 – Coincidence

I recently wrote about an idle fascination with movement, soon after I read an old interview with William Faulkner (Paris Review, Spring 1956) in which he talks about motion. I like the false coincidence of thinking something and then, as if by chance, finding something related.
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Critics also suggest that your characters never consciously choose between good and evil.


Life is not interested in good and evil. Don Quixote was constantly choosing between good and evil, but then he was choosing in his dream state. He was mad. He entered reality only when he was so busy trying to cope with people that he had no time to distinguish between good and evil. Since people exist only in life, they must devote their time simply to being alive. Life is motion, and motion is concerned with what makes man move—which is ambition, power, pleasure. What time a man can devote to morality, he must take by force from the motion of which he is a part. He is compelled to make choices between good and evil sooner or later, because moral conscience demands that from him in order that he can live with himself tomorrow. His moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.


Could you explain more what you mean by motion in relation to the artist?


The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.


17 – DIY and Boats

DIY boat

My idea of heaven
I enjoy the fixing of a flat tire
I like art made of garbage
A little pain is good for you 
I don’t want everything to be made easy for me
Fast ain’t always better than slow, you know …
I’m a hunter gatherer surveying the junk yards
Warrior monk with a month long bus pass
Odd job Casanova
I write nothing down and keep my clothes in a guitar case
I run with the bulls and swim with the pool sharks

That is an extract from a song by Buck 65 called 50 gallon drum. Along the canal you see so many boats being patched up, owned by people recycling, making ends meet, doing odd jobs, working on things others discard. Yep the canal is home to many Buck 65s

16 – Date Bricks

Date brick

I am always pleased to see dates embedded in buildings; it is such a help in trying to read the past. This date brick is in a lock in Berkhamsted , by the Kings Road Bridge. I don’t know what works are being commemorated as this section of the canal was constructed in 1798/9. Perhaps it the gates were replaced 70+ years later, or perhaps the lock need massive repair. If I find out I will add it as an addendum to this post

15 – Ducks Pt II

Duck & motion

This is one of those moments that really takes a camera to show.  The duck is stretching upwards, displaying its chest and beating its wings. With the eye one sees just the movement of the wings but with the camera one can see that that movement is isolated and the rest of the body is much more still.

There is an endless fascination in watching the way animals move. It is not a zoological interest as I gather no information. It is more a matter of having ones attention held by shape and movement.

13 – Of Cricket And Seasons

Cricket pitch

On a bright winter’s day, walking past the cricket pitch, seeing the sight screens parked until the season turns, thinking that will not be too long, sunshine and warmth always return, loving the idea of cycles and rhythms, enjoying the way traditions survive and cricket is embedded in so many towns and villages, already hearing the sound of leather on willow.

12 – The Canal

 Paper mill pub

The Grand Union Canal  cuts through the south western edge of Hemel and is a source of great pleasure. Too constant an enjoyment to be called a fleeting pleasure but it nevertheless has to be mentioned.

If you want a marker of the social change in Britain in the second half the the Twentieth Century you could do worse than look at canals. At their beginning they were a facilitator of early industrialisation, carrying raw materials, goods, and linking towns and factories. But their dominance was short lived as they were overtaken by the railways and they fell into decline then disuse. They tended to cut through the back end of towns, close to smoke grimed workshops and narrow streets, so neglect meant they were often dark sinister places; places you wouldn’t want to visit for a leisurely stroll.

The Inland Waterways Association was not formed until 1948 and it is from that year we can date an increasing interest in restoring what had been lost, recognising the romance of their history and seeing a future for carriage and leisure. It is amazing that sometimes a group of committed enthusiasts, at the right time, can change the world and we owe a lot to those who fought to preserve our heritage from unimaginative, or economically circumscribed bureaucrats. In the 1950s the British Transport Commission saw canals only in terms of commercial potential and as there were other more efficient ways of carrying goods that was a difficult role to sustain. Indeed in 1955 there was a proposal to downgrade and dispose of 771 miles of canal. Such an outlook and such proposals can only be fought by enough people getting together to influence the argument, drum up support, and show practical commitment. The IWA carried the day and the subsequent opening up of the waterways for both for leisure and an environmental amenity is their legacy. Canals are now highly valued facilities.

This improvements however goes hand in hand with the deindustrialisation of the country, better air quality, the redevelopment of redundant factories, gentrification and more leisure time. From the towpaths we can see all this. Along my home stretch there are two clear examples: land that was once owned by the pioneering paper manufacturer John Dickinson. Their first mill was built at Apsley in 1804 and it was soon followed by another, a short distance away, at Nash Mills. Both are now gone, as is this once great company,  and the land has mostly been turned into housing (though the Apsley site also contains a retail park, which is another sign of the times). What was once industrial has become a place to live and the canal has been opened up.

Last year we walked the canal to Birmingham and saw an even more stark reminder of an industrial past that has now gone. We were near Sparkbrook, Small Heath and got to talking to an old boy who was out for a walk. He pointed and said: “See that? That is where they made motor bikes. It’s the old BSA factory. It used to extend all over this area.” There were decayed factory buildings and an area that had been redeveloped as an activity park with climbing wall and zip lines. But the mere mention of the name BSA was nostalgic. They were once the largest motorbike manufacturer in the world who somehow managed to lose any advantage they had and go bust.

So that is today’s fleeting pleasure: not the canal but those moments when you can sense the past, what has been lost and what has been gained.

P.S. The picture is of the pub sign on the redevelopment of the John Dickinson site. The picture comes from the company archive and shows what the mill looked like at its peak