Tag Archives: Music

A VISIT TO COLCHESTER

An April Tuesday, the weather was rather wintry; it was sunny in the morning but with hail showers in p.m. My sister had a letter from the A.A. – she hasn’t joined this year. I got up early, as did sister Tiggie, which made her tired later. For breakfast we had fried egg and sausage. We took the dog out to Spur Lane on the way up to the city. Tig drove me to Norwich railway station and then went to work where she had (by her account) a dull day. She did have a phone call from the Estate Agent to say he was sending someone else to view the offices that we were trying to let.4 At lunchtime she walked Fido along the riverside at Whitlingham.

Meanwhile I was on the train to Colchester. I had bought my reading matter at W. H. Smith’s to keep me occupied on the journey. I bought the Eastern Daily Press, which I had finished by the time the train rolled into Colchester, so I left it in case anyone was interested in reading it. It takes just over a hour for the train to get from Norwich to Colchester. I had already begun my lunch on the train, although it was only 10.45, so I had to take the rest with me to finish it later.

My first call was at the Castle. Construction of the keep began in 1076, probably under the supervision of Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, who had built the White Tower in London. William the Conqueror ordered a castle to be built at Colchester on the strategic route between East Anglia and London. The building makes extensive use of Roman materials, especially brick, so it is quite different from another Norrman Castle, that at Norwich, which is made of imported freestone.

COLCHESTER…ROMAN.GLASSWARE

The collection at the Castle museum has a fine assortment of Roman artefacts. Colchester was the first capital of Britain before Londinium. Colchester was destroyed by Queen Boudicca in her Rebellion and in its rebuilt state it ceded its place to London.

Then it was to the Castle Bookshop, where I spent a couple of hours browsing. I found two 17th century pamphlets which I bought for £6.50. Right at the end of my stay I came across a little volume of songs of 1820 The Music Cabinet which cost me £24. I called at the George for a drink of Fosters. In the afternoon I found another two bookshops, the Trinity Street one was particularly good with lots of lovely books. I got a First Edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music. I walked past the Goat and Boot to the Book Exchange where I bought a biography of John Barbirolli for 75p.

On the way back to the station I got caught in a hail storm and got wet. I had to wait about 50 minutes for the train but at least I had plenty of books to read in the waiting room! Luckily the train was made up of old coaching stock, so I had a nice comfy compartment to snuggle down in. Just as I had left an EDP on the way down, someone had left a Telegraph at Colchester, so I had that to read as we sped homewards. The purchaser of the paper had begun (but not finished) the crossword.

This was before the line from Ipswich was electrified, so my train was diesel hauled.

My sister met the train and took me home; someone had hit a cock pheasant on the road, so we stopped and picked it up. This will make us a pleasant meal for us later. We had game soup for supper and in the evening I lit the fire. We watched Hinge and Brackett on the TV.

[12/04/1982]

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

MUSICIAN

DOUBLE BASSIST

My bass

I was never a good musician, perhaps barely even a competent one, but for about a dozen years I was technically described as a semi professional musician- that is I earned money from my playing, but not much. It was also a highly irregular kind of income.

Just a little background to my playing the bass; I had tried to learn the violin and piano at various stages since I was 6 or 7, with limited success. This was entirely down to my reluctance to practise; or perhaps it was also the responsibility of my elders, who never encouraged me to play at home – perhaps the sound of a youngster trying to coax some notes out of a fiddle was just too horrible to contemplate. By the time I was 15 my ability in music theory was tip top – I knew all about rests, breves an quavers, and could read music in the bass and treble clef, but my music practical – the actual playing of anything –  was still very creaky.

It was then that both the bass players in the orchestra left, and the school urgently needed a couple of replacements. The announced was made at school prayers. My friend Bill and I stepped up and were immediately recruited into the orchestra. The fact that we had neither even picked up a double bass before didn’t matter. There was no bass teacher at the school back then, except for Mr Schoenherr, and he could play everything. We had a couple of lessons which taught us the first position, and that was all the teaching I got for 15 years. Luckily the music we played in the school orchestra did not require anything above the first position, except for the occasional high ‘C’, and that position had been carved on the finger board by a previous player of the school bass.

The fingering is different on the bass from the other members of violin family. Because of the distance involved, the instrument is tuned in fourths rather than fifths. This suited me well enough because the guitar is also tuned in fourths (mostly), and the bottom four strings of that 6 stringed instrument are identically tuned to the string bass, only the guitar is an octave higher. (The guitar was another of my instruments, which I had been teaching myself since I was 13.)

Bill, my fellow bass player, was the complete opposite of me. He too was a bad student of the piano, but not because he had no facility at the keyboars. He could play anything with great flair and apparent ability, but it was all done by ear. He could scarcely read a note because he didn’t need to; it flowed from his brain to his fingers without the need for it to pass through his eyes first. The trouble was that he would depart from the written score into flights of fancy of his own volition; apparently he couldn’t stop himself. This drove his piano teacher to distraction.

MR SCHOENHERR

I should say a word or two about Mr Schoenherr; he had turned up unannounced at the school about a year before I began to play the bass. His car was a red Skoda estate; it was full of flutes, saxophones, trumpets and clarinets -all of which he could play- and he was immediately taken on by the head. He had been born in Czechoslovakia and had by all accounts experienced some dire times at the hands of the Nazis. After the war when the Communists took over he had escaped to the West and spent some time in Scotland. He thought his wife was dead, and he married a Scottish lady. He had two sons, about my own age. One of them became an optician in Gorleston.

My father was delighted that I had finally found my instrument, and bought me a double bass. The trouble was that once I had left school, although I had my bass, I had no-one to play with, and unless you are an excellent player and can do pieces like L’Eléphant  from the Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns, it is a poor solo instrument. For five or six years I returned to playing the guitar. By now I had overcome my reluctance to practise, and put in several hours most days.

Colin Boulter in 2012

In 1977 things had changed and I had the opportunity to join a small orchestra in Norwich. I dug out my bass and went along to restart my bass playing career. All went well, but I realised that I hardly knew a thing about playing it, and resolved to get some lessons. My teacher was Colin Boulter, a bassist who had played for many years with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and was then a peripatetic teacher with Norfolk County Council. It was then that my playing really took off. I even got to play L’Eléphant in public! It was Colin who first got me into paid engagements, and by the time he left Norwich for a job in Camden Town (nothing to do with music this time) I was well into the music scene. I had given him a sketch of his cat looking into the f hole on his bass as a parting present, and I was surprised and gratified to find this hanging on his wall went I visited him in London.

I continued to play after I had married (my wife I had got to know through music, she plays the violin) and even after my children were born I did performances for a few years, but eventually it became too much and I sold my bass.

Me with my DOUBLE BASS prior to performance of Die Fledermaus at the Theatre Royal.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

LOCAL BANDS

Village bands are an old idea. In the days before organs were commonly found in churches, these village musicians were largely used to provide the music for church services up and down the land. Often a gallery was provided where the musicians sat, playing a violin, flute or recorder for example. Brass instruments like a cornet and euphonium came later and so were never part of the church band; by the times these instruments became available organs had begun to take over the provision of music in the tiniest churches. When Norwich still had a museum of church artifacts (in the redundant St Peter Hungate church in Princes Street) it had and old three stringed bass and a serpent from such a church band. A serpent was an early form of wind instrument, having a mouthpiece as used on a trumpet, but its serpentine shape was largely fashioned from wood and leather. It was played by covering the holes with your fingers – it had no keys. I have no idea where these instruments have gone since this museum closed many years ago.

Other places where the village musicians would have played included the Mayday celebrations round the Maypole, although a single instrument was perhaps more commonly employed for this jolly event. The emergence of a local group of musicians to play for the entertainment of the populace was more a 19th century phenomenon. Local organisations were prominent in providing opportunities for musicians to gather together. This coincided with the development of the brass instruments – the cornet and the related members of the family. These instruments were mass produced, and unlike the violin and cello – which were hand made – could be sold relatively cheaply.

THE NORWICH CO-OP BRASS BAND, 1913.

The Co-op had early success with its band in Norwich, even wining a national competition. Colmans too had a wind band and later added a string orchestra to to fold. On a less formal level bands of musicians came together to play on high days and holidays. One particular band leader in Norwich was ‘Blind Jackson’ about whom I would love to know more. He appears in several of the broadsheets produced to celebrate local events. This lively local musical scene was in full swing by the middle of the century; by then the rapidly expanding railway system allowed the bands to travel to compete around the county. The local militias could also muster a band which could take part.

The band movement spread across the county; people of all backgrounds – but mostly from ordinary employments – gathered together to play for local gatherings. Blakeney had its band that we know of, and how many other such places had a band that we no longer remember? I would be interesting to know how many bandsmen could read music, especially in the early days? Obviously Blind Jackson could not read at all, but the majority of the bandsmen could do so I suggest. Although the compulsory education of all children was not instituted until later in the century, the popularity of printed broadsheets suggests that most people cold read (if not write). The reading of music is a much rarer accomplishment, and remains something that most people cannot do.

The picture below shows Blakeney band.

blakeney-band-1 (3)

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK

 

THE PASSING of the YEARS

The overlapping of the generations can soon whisk us away into distant times. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I will take musicians as my subject. In 1949, when the German composer Richard Strauss died aged eighty-five, the child who was to become the English composer of church music, John Rutter, was four years old. Strauss himself had been born into the age of Wagner; he even met the Maestro after a performance of Parsifal at Bayreuth. Wagner had been born in 1813. Just three lifetimes – those of Rutter, Strauss and Wagner – take us back over 200 years, and to a very different musical environment.

Or take the family of a well-known English philanthropists; when the 20th century dawned, one of Elizabeth Fry’s children was a still alive; and Elizabeth Fry was a young woman of nineteen at the end of the eighteenth century. That takes us back 120 years in just two lifetimes. These things lead us to consider the great changes that have occurred over the past centuries, but it also causes us to remark on how little has changed in some ways.

PRINTING PRESS

One example of continuity and change concerns the printing press. The one pictured here does not differ greatly from the machines that Gutenberg was using nearly 700 years ago, and the same movable type was still being employed in printing offices across the globe as recently as fifty years ago. Yet now the whole idea of reproducing information in a physical form, let alone the use of lead type and transferring impression through ink onto paper, now seems old-fashioned in the extreme. In many ways the invention of printing began this progress to modernity that has continued until today but at a rapidly gathering pace.

The exploration of the world took on a new urgency soon after the discovery of printing; people were anxious to know what lay over the horizon, and this knowledge could now be disseminated by printing. The spiritual changes that accompanied the Reformation happened within a century of the availability of the printed book. The rapid spread of ideas that created the Scientific Revolution was only made possible by the printing press. In the advances of industry we have seen huge strides that took place in the Industrial Revolution. Leaving aside the enormous changes that have happened in my lifetime, examine the incremental changes that have occurred since the middle ages.

One of the earliest new industries that followed the discovery of printing was paper making. The one could not proceed without the other, and my interest in paper mills is not just a random dip into history. The creation of coal mines, particularly in this country, was a necessary step in making the Industrial Revolution possible. Coal made the steam engine, and steam engines were first used to increase the output of tin mines. Iron ore was another mineral with a great potential. The iron foundries made the construction of railways possible, and the steam engine replaced sail as the motive power on the water. At this stage there is still a long way to go in the history of advancing knowledge, but first let us step back and turn our attention from industry to science.

The practical implications of scientific discovery are upper most in our minds today, but when Galileo announced his thoughts about the nature of the universe he did not envisage their application to the art of navigation. His concern was with the truth. Similarly Sir Isaac Newton was not even aware of the development of colour photography when he published his paper on the spectrum of light. These basic insights into the reality of life have now taken a back seat to the demands of industry. The great discoveries that are still to come will not be the result of a technical fix, you can be sure of that.

In this welter of change, what has remained constant? It is time itself. The passing of the years, the changing seasons, the flooding and drought, the rain and shine. The progress from childhood to adolescence, from adulthood to old age; these are things that will always remain the same.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

 

PLAY

What are we doing when we play? The dictionary definition is ‘engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose‘. That is the superficial view of play. We are having fun certainly, but there is a deeply serious motive behind it. We are doing nothing less than preparing ourselves for the things that are going to happen to all of us. To put this in modern terms, we are rehearsing life skills. This is true of adults, children – even dogs. This means that play is basic practice for what will happen in the real world, whether it is for humans or in animals. This is what we are doing when we play chess, toy soldiers, football, even noughts and crosses. Conflict is often a large part of play as it is in life – the two teams in a sports match are an example of this, but not all play is conflict; building with Lego bricks, playing with dolls, even a dog returning a ball that you have thrown are cooperative endeavours in play, not involving conflict. It is obvious why children play so much – they have a lot to learn and quickly – but play continues throughout life, though it is less important in the elderly. You will not find much playfulness in an old folks home.

Rugby match; Norwich School against Gresham’s. (6th November 1999)

It is revealing to consider the different uses of the word ‘play’. An important one is the playing of music. Is music a preparation for life? In a much more subtle way than playing games it is. Playing in this respect is much more about cooperation than conflict, though conflict has its place. The playing of a military band helps to reinforce the unity of a regiment before going into battle. It is an important part of preparing for conflict – a real life and death scenario. Playing a hymn tune provides a church congregation with a single sense purpose. The National Anthem produces a unity among the attendees at an event. In these cases playing music is mostly looking forward, but in playing a folk song it is looking back to things that happened long ago. You could regard the playing of a piece of music as erecting a structure in sound that imitates the structure of the world around us. In playing your part in an orchestra you are participating in a joint venture that produces a sense of achievement; it is similar to the feeling of the winning team in a Cup Final.

Yet another sense the word ‘play’ concerns drama. A play is a fictional version of life that prepares you emotionally for the good and the bad, the comedy and the tragedy. That is why we are entertained by plays; they impose order on the welter of experiences that rain down on us every day, and allow us to draw lessons from apparently random events. The same thing is happening when the rules of a cricket match let us create order out of chaos; it has a wicket, overs, an umpire. It is not just wildly hitting out at ball with a bat. A play is even more structured than a sports match but both have a beginning and an end; what happens in the middle is played out before our eyes. This can be a deeply moving experience but ultimately it is not real life; ‘the play’s the thing’*. We leave the stadium or the theatre and go home.

These different uses of the word play are not recognized as having any connection by most people. I hope that I have demonstrated the underlying relationship of these kinds of play and its complete contrast with actuality. I think there is the germ of a much longer and deeper piece of writing in this short blog on play, but this will have to do for now.

*This quotation comes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF PLAY

THE NINETEEN EIGHTIES

I am showing my age when I say that it all seems like yesterday, though 1980 was nearly forty years ago. In political terms in the UK you can sum up the ten years in just one word: ‘Thatcher’.  She was PM throughout the decade. Although she was a constant feature in parliament, in my personal affairs it was a time of great upheaval; in 1980 I was living in the home I had always known, happily walking my dog every morning and hoeing my flower beds before I went to work. It was a solitary and uneventful life, and my sole source of income was the family firm that I had inherited. By 1990 my world had changed; I was a semi-professional musician, a medic in the Territorial Army and had become a freelance journalist. I even had a Union Card! I was shortly to work as a researcher on programmes for Anglia Television. At the end of the decade I wasn’t living in my old family home anymore, but in my current house. No longer a confirmed bachelor, I was married with two young children. You might say that it was a completely different lifestyle, and you would be right.

I had a couple of canal holidays in the ’80s

The Swinging Sixties or the Dire Seventies were eras that had a certain unity of direction, but can you place any theme on the 1980s? Maybe you can, but I can’t. That is not to say that nothing happened during the period, but the events appeared to be unrelated and came out of the blue. Take the deep recession and the doubling of VAT that marked the first years of the decade; the family business, which had been doing quite well until then, never really recovered from the shock. Then, while I and many others were licking our financial wounds and vowing never to vote for that Thatcher woman again, we were plunged into a war thousands of miles away. The resolute precision with which the Task Force was assembled and dispatched to do the job of recapturing the Falkland Islands produced a deep sense of pride among the nation. After that Mrs Thatcher could do no wrong. Even the deeply divisive Miners’ Strike could not shake our faith in Mrs Thatcher. The effective destruction of our coal industry seemed terrible at the time, but who would now support the widespread use of this dirty and carbon rich fuel? Things have moved on and now we are told that renewables are the future of energy production. Mrs T never lost an election, and her downfall was a result of Tory party in-fighting; the Poll Tax was widely regarded as a debacle, but the tax was abandoned without ever being put to the people in an election. Her attitude to the European Union was broadly supportive, but increasingly reluctantly so. She clearly had major doubts about its ultimate destination.

In  weather terms the memorable event of the eighties was the great gale of the 15/16th October 1987. We were living in a flat in Norwich that was close to a copse of trees, but luckily we did not experience too much damage. Others were not so fortunate. Every decade seems to produce its exception meteorological event; in the fifties it was the East Coast Flood, in the sixties it was the Big Freeze and in the seventies it was the Long Hot Summer of ’76.

In terms of culture this was the decade when the cinema enjoyed a renaissance. The musical became the dominant theatrical experience, largely through the popularity of the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The hold of atonal music on Radio Three was loosened, and the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, which had been regularly performed, are now almost never heard. The 80s saw the beginning of this trend. In the graphic arts postmodernism continued to spread its baleful influence. The food we ate at restaurants  grew in international diversity, but the price could be high and the quality mediocre, at least when contrasted with my wife’s excellent cooking. Literature may have developed in all sorts of important ways, but if so it passed me by. You must forgive me; as you can tell, it was a busy decade for me.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

EASTER in the 19th CENTURY

After the restrictions of Lent, Easter was a time for everyone to let their hair down metaphorically; one of the principal ways of doing this involved ladies putting their hair up for the Easter Ball. The Mansion House is the Lord Mayor of London’s official residence, and in 1802 the Easter Ball there had extravagant decorations which transformed the hall into a piece of Ancient Egypt, with pyramids and obelisks. It was decorated with orange trees and flowering shrubs. Easter Sunday was the first time that the wealthy could parade their spring fashions, and for the ladies the first among the items of clothing was the Easter Bonnet. This however was far from being the only piece of apparel to be brought out for the occasion;

At Easter let your clothes be new
Or else be sure you will it rue. [Tradition rhyme]

This Easter tradition goes back long before the 19th century; there are references to the wearing of new clothes (or at least spruced up ones) in the work of both Pepys and Shakespeare.

Among the less elevated members of society the Easter Holiday was a time for more basic forms of entertainment. The Epping Hunt traditionally took place on Easter Monday (a Bank Holiday from 1871), and provided a chance for the Cockneys of the East End to experience all the thrills of the chase. After copious glasses of gin had been consumed, the stag was released and took off into the forest; the fun could then begin. Many pursued the poor animal on foot (which naturally put it at a considerable advantage), and were joined by unhorsed riders. Naturally the stag normally escaped from the Epping Hunt unharmed, except for the fact that its antlers had been sawn off. Easter was also a time for brutal bare-knuckle fist fights and wrestling matches.

Easter Bunny

In contrast to today, when they may be bought at any time of year, Hot Cross Buns only appeared for breakfast on Good Friday. This tradition remained into my childhood in our household. Easter Eggs (symbolising fertility of course) are a tradition that goes way back to pagan times, and in the 19th century they were still real eggs; chocolate Easter Eggs were first produced by Cadbury’s in the third quarter of the 19th century. The Easter Bunny is also a recent development; originally it was the Easter hare, and like the rabbit it is a symbol of fertility and of rebirth. The message of Easter, the death and resurrection of Christ, may also be seen as a symbol of rebirth.

The Revd  Armstrong

THE REV BENJAMIN ARMSTRONG was Vicar of East Dereham in the latter half of the 19th century. From the published volumes of his diary we may learn that the preparations for Easter began at midday on Shrove Tuesday, with the ringing of the “Pancake Bell” from the church tower. The Reverend complained that Dereham church was so cold that many of his older parishioners stayed at home rather than attend church services during Lent. The coming of the railway brought coal trucks to the town, and this enabled the building of a gas works. It also led to central heating pipes being installed in the church.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) his High Church leanings, the vicar’s personal attitude to Lent was not particularly strict; he even attended a dinner party where wine and liqueurs were served, although he did grant that this was unusual for Lent. Regarding his own habits he intended merely to ‘smoke less’; as we have already seen, he did not expect to abstain entirely from wine during the period. He appears not to have given up anything entirely; nevertheless he hoped to ‘have the grace’ to observe these not very onerous restrictions to his pleasures during Lent.

The Royal Wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra on March 10th 1863 (a Tuesday) caused some friction in the country at large, as the celebrations fell right in the middle of Lent. Quite why the ceremony had to be carried out at that time of year is unclear to me; surely the Court could not have been unaware of the problems that this would cause. Certainly in Dereham the choice of date was not universally popular; luckily for the more devout citizens of the town a heavy fall of snow in the afternoon curtailed the Rustic Sports that were to have taken place to mark the occasion, much to the relief of many. Although the public houses were full, many of the more respectable members the community simply went home. In the event the Rustic Sports were successfully held on April 7th, after Easter Sunday.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EASTER

joemasonspage@gmail.com

WINTER JOURNEY

EAST TO WEST AND BACK

On Tuesday 6th January 1981 I got up when it was still dark and my sister Tig cooked me mushrooms and bacon for breakfast; there would be no more meat on that day, for reasons that will become apparent. It had been snowing the day before, but a thaw had set in overnight. I drove to Aylsham to pick up my friend Laura (not her real name), a middle-aged nurse. She was also a music therapist – it was through a mutual love of music that we first became acquainted. She was moving from Norfolk to Gloucestershire, and as I had a boat trailer I had agreed to take her sailing dinghy to her new home in Tewkesbury. I collected her from the stately home where her job had required her living-in (West Lodge, which belonged to the Cozens Hardy family), and drove to Hickling Broad to collect the boat. I securely lashed it and its launching trolley to the trailer and tied the mast on the roof rack.

We got on the road at 10.20 a.m. and stopped in a lay-by at Wymondham for coffee. After making sure the boat was secure it was non-stop to Bedford. There we had our packed lunch. Laura had provided me with Brie and Stilton in wholemeal rolls, but she is a vegan and had an apple and a banana. Laura was very pale in her complexion, which I am sure was because of her diet. It snowed as we travelled through Buckinghamshire. She told me that she had an osteopathic and homeopathic practice in London in her twenties, but becoming disillusioned with alternative medicine she then trained as a conventional nurse. Becoming slightly more traditional in her medical opinions did not extend to her eating habits however; this was fair enough as far as she was concerned, but when she said she had brought up someone’s baby on soya milk I thought she was being positively barmy. She was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, which rather confirms my point.

Beyond Buckingham the road left my well-travelled route to Oxford, going west through Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold. We got to Tewkesbury at 4.30 and left the trailer at the marina. (I collected it the next day.) We went to her friend Hon’s British Legion flat (she had served as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse on a hospital ship); I must say I met some unusual people on this trip. We had a cup of tea – it was  green tea. At 7.20 I left for my room in the Bell Hotel, which had a lovely log fire burning in the hearth; just what I needed after a winter’s day. I walked round town and had a drink before returning to my room to watch some telly. I had a bath before retiring to bed.

The Abbey

Being free (temporarily) of my vegan friend I had sausage and bacon for breakfast. I waited by the log fire for Laura to arrive. We went to have look round the impressive Abbey, where the BBC were preparing to record that day’s Choral Evensong with the Exeter Cathedral Choir. We got chatting to a young man from Ipswich who was repairing the organ. He worked for the 200-year-old firm of Bishop and Sons. Tewkesbury is a charming town, with well restored timber-framed buildings and of course the fine Abbey. We went to the marina, unloaded the boat and hitched up the now empty trailer.

Tewkesbury lies on the confluence of the rivers Avon and Severn, and it is a perilous place in times of flooding.  Laura and I left Tewkesbury at 11.30 and had an uneventful journey back through the Cotswolds. From Newmarket we were back on the old A 11; none of the route was dual carriageway in 1981. We talked on  the journey, and I heard how she was always moving round the country: before coming to Norfolk she was working with disturbed children in Stroud.  I heard more of her unorthodox ideas as we drove along; her friend Hon obviously does not share all these, as she had made me some ham sandwiches for lunch. I took Laura back to Aylsham and drove home to my sister and the dogs; Suki was the only one who heard me coming, which delighted her enormously, as her wildly wagging tail showed. All in all this was an extraordinary round trip of nearly 500 miles.

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST

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 JOSEPH MASON

THE SWINGING SIXTIES

For men, long hair: turtle neck sweaters: flared trousers: for women short hair and mini skirts; Cuban heels for both sexes. These were the features of dress that immediately spring to mind – but there was so much more than fashion to the Swinging Sixties.  The transistor transformed our listening habits. For the first time we could carry a little radio with us out into the countryside. The Light Programme’s Pick of the Pops (the top twenty) had been essential listening on Sunday afternoons if you were a teenager, but that was a feature of the boring old fifties; the Light Programme had almost gone by the time the Swinging Sixties arrived. Radio One launched in 1967 and consigned the Light Programme to history. As far a telly goes, it is a toss-up between two programmes as to which was the show that epitomised the Swinging Sixties; That Was The Week That Was (or TW3 for short) that aired in 1962/3 or Top of the Pops that launched in 1964. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were the top bands of the day whose legacy has endured. You may have your own opinion about the artistic quality of the music, but there is no denying its long-lasting effect; it is a disgrace that it has taken over fifty years for Ringo Starr to get his long-overdue knighthood.

Movement in Squares                          by Bridget Riley

It was a time when all the arts were entering a vibrant period of development. In the graphic arts the stark black and white images of Op Art, often employing optical illusion, demonstrated a sophistication that was a refreshingly refined version of abstract art. In the world of serious music the time represented the high-point of serialism, that atonal music which dominated the Third Programme (the precursor of Radio Three). In literature it was the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and his followers that led the way. Sylvia Plath was already dead by 1964, but Phillip Larkin and John Betjeman were still writing (and much better work than Ginsberg as it happens) but they were yesterday’s men and women. The Sixties were all so different from what had gone before; no wonder the older generation shook their heads in disbelief.

The weather in the sixties is memorable for the big freeze of 1963. For almost three months from January 1st the temperature seldom rose above 32 degrees. If that sounds positively tropical to you, remember that then we still used Farenheit, and that 32° meant freezing point. It is unusual for British children to get their sledges out even for a day, let alone for months on end. At least they were proper wooden sledges, not the little plastic versions which even Amertcan children have to use nowadays, which leave you far too close to the snow.

As far as the means of transport were concerned it was of course the Mini that represented the Swinging Sixties; it was first sold at the beginning of the decade, and went on to embody it in the popular consciousness. The Mods and Rockers came out in force on August Bank holiday – which was still held on the first Monday of the month in the 1960s. The Triumph motor bikes of  the bomber jacketed Rockers and the Lambrettas of the Parka-clad Mods formed a new form of transport for the young, who a few years before could scarcely afford even a push bike. Jet airliners, which were scarcely known in 1960, were commonplace ten years later. The QE2 was the last of the transatlantic liners. Their time was really over when she was  launched in the late sixties, but her elan was both the last flowering of a vanished age and the epitome of the Swinging Sixties. The steam age finally came to an end with the slow disappearance of the smokey funneled steamers on the water, and on British Rail in 1968.

These obvious features were matched by a similar revolution in social attitudes. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the novel written in the twenties by D. H. Lawrence was published by Penguin in 1960, and homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. Recreational drugs, although still illegal, were increasingly used by the young. The sexual revolution was a term and a concept quite unknown in the fifties; all these things were aspects of what came to be called the counterculture, and that too was part of the sixties.

National Service had ended in 1960 and this opened the way for young people to enter into the world of adulthood without any period to instil a sense of discipline. This, together with the postwar boom, produced a heady mix of unheard of wealth and unrestrained hedonism. Maybe it is because I was young then, but the sixties seemed to be an era of exciting new possibilities; in contrast the fifties had been a time when things were much the same as they had been pre-war, while the seventies were a dreadful decade of industrial action and political strife. There were many changes in the 1960s, and many are changes that I now regret, but there is no denying that we are still living in that brave new world that the Swinging Sixties ushered in.

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 JOSEPH MASON

WENHASTON STATION, SUFFOLK

The Heronry

The Heronry – the railway ran by here.

Wenhaston was the last station before Halesworth on the Southwold railway. This railway closed in April 1929, with just a week’s notice. A year or two earlier my mother had travelled on the Southwold Railway as a teenager. She was on a family holiday from her home in Buckinghamshire, and they came along the Great Eastern Railway to Halesworth station and then transferred to the narrow gauge line. When it closed the rolling stock was simply abandoned to rot at Halesworth station, and the company was not formally wound up until the 1990s! The locomotives and track fell victim to the scrap drive of the Second World War, and raised a grand total of £1,500.

The plan by the Southwold Railway Trust to build a short length of line through a rebuilt Wenhaston station seems to have hit the buffers; the planning process is long an involved. Fifty yard of 3 ft gauge track were laid in 2016, and the fencing has been restored. At present it is promoted as a wildlife haven, and most of the activity of the Trust is concentrated in Southwold, on the circle of 7″ gauge track,  the Blyth Valley Light Railway.

Sixty years ago, the best part of the former trackbed for walking was (and still is I believe) the section from Southwold to Blythburgh. This crossed Southwold Common, the river Blyth (by the Bailey bridge that had replaced the railway bridge blown up in the war), Walberswick Heath, Tinkers Walk and the Heronry. You go past the site of Walberswick station before reaching the site of Blythburgh station. The fine medieval church dominate the skyline.  It looks majestically out over the river Blyth. Continuing beyond the second stop on the line towards Halesworth the railway is less accessible; when I was a lad it was overgrown with stinging nettles and brambles, and I doubt it is any better now.

As far as Blythburgh we would walk along the former railway line, but when we went on to Wenhaston it was by car. The reason for our visit was not to see the remains of the railway, but the Wenhaston Doom, the most famous historical feature in the village. The Doom is a medieval painting which had been covered with whitewash by the Puritans in the aftermath of the Reformation. It remained hidden from view until 1892, when the wooden panels it was pained on were removed as part of a Victorian restoration. The wood was left out in the churchyard overnight, prior to being burnt the next day. A providential shower of rain dissolved the whitewash and revealed the painting underneath to the astonishment of the onlookers. This is the Wenhaston Doom. This would have been nothing special before the middle of the 16th century, when many churches had similar paintings; it was its survival which has raised its importance. That said, it is a well executed example of medieval art. It is now mounted on the wall facing the door but originally it would have filled the chancel arch.

A picture of the Last Judgement (the Doom) was a common feature of pre-Reformation churches, but such things were deemed superstitious by the Protestant reformers and were removed or overpainted. Those parts of Europe that remained Catholic fared rather better in keeping their religious art, although the French Revolution produced lasting problem for the church in that country too. The town of Beaune in Burgundy has a nine panelled altarpiece in the former chapel of an alms house, by the 15th century Netherlands artist Rogier van der Weyden. This picture of the Day of Judgement played a large part in converting the journalist Peter Hitchens from his former atheism, according to his account. The theological implications of the Day of Judgement are no longer popular in our times. We think very little about eternity and even less of eternal damnation; however there is no doubt that for many hundreds of years the prospect of the Jaws of Hell played a big part in people’s lives.

Among the residents of Wenhaston is the composer Gordon Crosse. After many years during which he had a break from writing music, aged over 80 he is again composing. During his young adulthood he was in a member of Benjamin Britten’s circle, which accounts for his home being near Aldeburgh. His early life was spent in the Manchester area. I know this because, since my friend Bill Wragge was a child he has known Gordon Crosse as a family friend. Bill’s father was involved in Gordon’s upbringing during the war, and has remained in touch with him afterwards.

JOSEPH MASON
joemasonspage@gmail.com

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