history, landscape, Shropshire, Stone

Mitchell’s Fold

the ancient stone circle at Mitchell's Fold with Corndon Hill behind in the distance
Mitchell’s Fold with Corndon Hill behind

No-one knows who they were or what they were doing, but their legacy remains…

There are only two neolithic stone circles remaining in Shropshire, and by far the best is Mitchell’s Fold.  (The other is the nearby Hoarstones)

It’s not like Stonehenge, it doesn’t have the enormous and technologically impressive trilithons,  and it’s not like the village encircling stones at Avebury – it’s a lot smaller (about 25m across), and the stones aren’t nearly as impressive.

The circle dates from about 4000 years ago, and sits 330m above sea level, with some great views.  Some of the stones are 6ft tall, most a lot shorter. Some have fallen over.  About half of them are missing.  One seems to be buried in the centre of the circle (and is a petrified witch, if you believe the rather fanciful local legends).

No-one has any solid idea what it was for, only guesses.

I’ve been meaning to visit for over a year now, but always things get in the way. Mostly weather.  I’ve been trying to interest friends into coming along, and this week the stars aligned and I had both beautiful weather and (beautiful) friends.

It got off to a bad start when the sat-nav insisted we travel most of the way down single-width country lanes – dodging the many and seemingly suicidal baby pheasant – when there was a perfectly good A-road to take us 95% of the way.   When we finally got out of the car we decided to take a shortcut that involved hacking through head-high bracken straight up a steep hill,  although we eventually realised the shortcut took four times as long as the route would have taken otherwise.  We’d have been faster without 3 children and 2 dogs. It got a bit chaotic.

When we finally got to Mitchell’s Fold, we found a small herd of cows grazing between the stones, and in some cases using them as scratching posts.

We ate our picnic, then spent the afternoon up there chatting and throwing balls for the dogs. We’ll definitely be going back.

 

 

culture, history, language, Photography, Time, Uncategorized

Time, part 1: midnight

ungraspable timeTime is a foreigner to me.

A dark-eyed beauty who blinks seductively, hypnotically, then slips away before I can grasp it or hold onto it, leaving just the sense of Time having been and gone in a teasing, faintly mocking, clocking, tick-tocking encounter.

No wonder I’m so often just a little late (versus the precise alignment of metal lines on a disc of numbers, or liquid crystals in a set of tiny square window frames set under a glass top): I’m forever only getting the gist of Time’s language, not the detail.

Time is a foreign language to me.

I fail to understand it, no matter how loudly or slowly it continues to repeat its incessant, strident labelling of my days and nights. I have tried. I have watched Time passing, tried to feel its pulse, tried to assimilate the system by which my culture (European, for now) insists it should be measured. And I have failed. Because I cannot grasp it or sense it in any useful way, when utilising this abstract conceptualisation of time.

Time is an abstraction to me.

Abstract concepts of Time are a very Western thing. This First World determination to parcel up and delineate something as ancient and infinite as Time has been a kind of control freakery bordering on hysteria. Or arrogance. …As bad as climbing mountains “because they are there”, “conquering” them, with a view to making of the word ‘summit’ a verb (about a human climber) rather than a noun (about an upcrop of this glorious planet)… but that’s another blog, so I’d best not deviate. Not for a bit, anyway. (note the unspecific time indicator, there, and don’t even get me started on the use of ‘summit’ as a noun indicating a clutch of over-privileged, dangerously empowered Stale Pale Males taking private jets to a golf-course-sized monoculture of well-irrigated lawn with attendant 7-star facilities in the middle of a salty atoll or parched desert… breathe, Daisy, breathe!)

Time is a dark wonder to me.

Many simpler cultures (usually in a tribal or pristine state, unsullied by our greedy ‘modern’ handprints that start as a wave and turn into a slap) see time in a totally reversed way to the First World countries. They will tell you that the future is behind you, not in front of you. This took me a while to grasp, but once I did, I was amazed – and delighted – at how this concept of Time made total sense.

Time harnessed

Imagine being on a train, one of those old-fashioned ones which hurtled startled Victorians across ‘new’ (to them) continents at a speed almost suffocating (to them). Imagine you’re sat at the back of the train, looking out through that little  windowed door on the end which has a railing and steps, and that you’re watching the landscape flinging itself into your field of vision, coming from behind you and to your sides, and then receding away in front of you. Well, that view is Time to many so-called ‘primitive’ peoples: Time is invisible, unknowable when it is the future; but visible (though disappearing fast) when it is in the present; and invisible (though able to be remembered) when it is in the past. If I’ve confused you, just remember that to say that you are travelling backwards through Time, not forwards, is merely a matter of differing social semantics: Time cannot be defined in relation to your physical location.

Time is out of my control.

That ‘travelling in reverse’ is one pretty important distinction, though. Humans should not think they can ever have a hope of seeing the future or controlling it, is what that ‘primitive’ view seems to suggest. Seeing Time in this way is a useful means of sweeping away the natural arrogance of assumed control, and to relax about the stressful impossibility of ever arriving ‘on time’: on whose time, exactly? And do people really have nothing better to do than fume, if the person for whom they wait is ten minutes ‘late’ in relation to their measuring of The Time? Could they not reverse their perception, and see that ten minutes as a gift? A precious little longer to engage in the present, to wonder at the Here and Now, to (gasp!) daydream and ‘do nothing’ but look. “Time to stand and stare…”

Time is a cruel enslavement.segments

And who decided, and why, that the best way to divide up each terrestrial spin was into 24 chunks (why not 25? or 10? or 3?) , then 60 minutes (which weren’t even measurable with any certainty until relatively recently in human history), then seconds and micro-seconds  and milli-seconds and nano- and and and… oh spare me, will we never break our thirst for self-flagellating in this way?  It is like a tyranny of technology: if we measure in those tiny segments, we have to live at that pace. No wonder life has become so dizzyingly frenetic in the ‘modernised’ world.

 

Time is, was, and always will be.

I sense midnight at my heels, creeping around my feet to scuttle off into shadowy depths ahead of me. I feel rather than hear it ‘strike’. Hurtling backwards into my future on that train, there are obscuring swirling smuts and steam all around. I realise that Time is indeed breathing down my neck. How appropriate, then, that we to attempt to locate and  pin down Time using the word ‘tense’.

midnight supermoon

 

All photographs (& effects) by Daisy. No reproduction without permission, please.

 

 

 

history, Photography, youtube

Genius of Photography

I’m a keen photographer, so I am enjoying watching the DVD ‘The genius of photography’. It explains the origins of the photographic process from Fox Talbot and Daguerre onwards. It can get quite philosophical at times.

Bits of it are on YouTube, including this, the opening segment from the series which is enjoyable in itself.

The DVDs are well worth tracking down.

Camera, history, landscape, Nature, Photography, Shropshire, Voigtlander

Voigtländer Bessa camera

Voigtlander Bessa
Voigtlander Bessa

In 1938, the year that someone first picked up this Voigtlander Bessa camera and looked through the viewfinder, pressing the shutter to preserve a moment in their present, our history, things were getting very unpleasant in Europe: Sigmund Freud was one of the lucky ones to flee the continent for a safer home; the rumblings of the preparations for war were spoiling the mood of the golden years of the Thirties; and the very use of photography would soon become a propaganda tool rather than one for leisure.

Meanwhile, in America, people were still dancing to a freer tune: Benny Goodman was firing up in the Carnegie Hall;  Ella Fitzgerald was at the No.1 spot with A Tisket A Tasket;  and people were taking to the skies for brighter reasons than they would do for some time hence. The Yankee Clipper completed the 1st passenger flight over the Atlantic and Howard Hughes flew around the world in 91 hours.

But this German-born camera might well go on to see darker images through its shutter. Would it capture war-weary faces, shattered homes, tank-track torn fields?

And as it aged, passed from hand to hand, shoved into a box for the attic, ending up in second hand shops on dusty shelves, maybe being used in a movie as a prop… what would it pass by, blind to images not thought of as worthy of its ageing technology?

So to take it up the  windswept, sunlit hill of Caer Caradoc seemed like setting this camera free again: Bessa opened her eye and squinted at the strong light, peering through a lens smeared by hair and dust, struggling to focus.

Caer Caradoc
View From Caer Caradoc

Bessa and I were looking out over the landscape from Caer Caradoc over lesser-known hills like the Ragleth and the Lawley, as well as the famous Long Mynd, a slumbering dragon of a hill.  If you want to find Caer Caradoc, you’ll have to get to Shrewsbury and head due south for 13 miles. Hence the name of this range: the South Shropshire Hills. Not the most iconic or romantic of names, but this is an official Area of Outstanding National Beauty.

For Bessa, this day out represented a renaissance of hope: now her view could fly and soar over freed skies and calm lands. But that’s just the imagination talking. Let’s get back to the reality of the machine…

It is a folding camera, that has pleating (like an accordion or a set of bellows) to allow it to fold down into its case.  It takes the medium format film: the negatives are 6x9cm, with an optional internal plate for 6×4.5cm shots (16 shots per roll for the smaller size, 8 for the larger).

You have to set the focus ring to the distance. It’s not like SLR where you see through the actual taking lens until the moment you fire the shutter: you are framing through the tiny square on the top (or side, depending how you’re taking the shot). Not until the advent of rangefinder cameras could you set the focus, and that was a separate lens to the taking lens.

You have to cock the shutter separately from winding the film: the shutter is so quiet, sometimes I wonder whether I’ve remembered to.  Bessa is a quiet camera: even the unfolding of the accordion-pleated bellows gives not a whisper or a sigh.
And it has a satisfyingly mechanical routine to its use: you have to unfold the lens and the door opens on thin metal hinges and struts. You essentially rebuild the apparatus each time: there is no quick-click short-cut here. With this camera, you must be the photographer: you don’t just take photographs, you take part.

You have to follow a sequence to take a photo, like a magical spell or incantation… Unlock the door, fold it out until the hinges click into place… Set the aperture, the shutter speed dials, cock the shutter, lift the device to your eye and gently depress the shutter lever… You hear a whisper of a click, of clockwork. Then carefully wind on the film until the next number shows in the red window on the back: It’s very easy to wind too far.

Shooting film is different to digital: you are capturing a moment in time, but almost gently, like a butterfly, knowing that this instant must be caught but not knowing until later whether the net is empty or not. It’s not trying to capture hundreds of butterflies, then deciding later which to keep. There is a sweet agony to the wait…

This camera feels as delicate as a steel contraption could possibly be. It’s fairly sturdy in truth, but I’m always careful : this is a grande dame of a camera. My Voigtlander Bessa has seen a lot. It will continue to be idiosyncratic as it approaches its 70th birthday.

Voigtlander Bessa
Voigtlander Bessa, alternative view

You can see the photographs from the walk by clicking on the link here. Please do comment on them or this blog.

And let us know if you, too, are the proud owner of a Voigtlander Bessa .

Avebury, documentary, history, Stone, youtube

The ‘Truth’ About The Barber Stone

Some stories refuse to stay buried. Some ghosts refuse to stay quiet.

There is an oft-repeated tale of a man found buried beneath one of the toppled Avebury stones, with skeletal injuries initially suggestive (when his skeleton was discovered in the early 20th century) of his being crushed to death by the stone itself. However, later inspection threw doubt on this theory, and more murderous ideas were floated. Old assumptions about the possessions found with him were also questioned: the supposed “Barber” or “Surgeon” might have been no such thing…

This two-part Channel 4 documentary from 2002 suggests that many of the details are suspect. It’s well worth a watch.

We are so convinced by the later theories, that we wrote the track “The Tailor” (on our Haven Avenue album) in reaction to them. Daisy began to wonder “what if..?” and suddenly there was a whole back-story spinning out into her imagination; Andy began to spin mystery, love and murder into his music: and a powerful, imagined tale for this pilgrim was woven.  Avebury is a generously rich source for restless imaginations.