Monday 24 December 2012


"On the first day of Christmas." (Regent  Street)

OOOH!!!! “Love it or hate it.”
Here in the British Isles we eat Marmite on toast, mostly. It’s great in a cheese sandwich too, to compliment the taste of the cheese and add that extra bight, a certain oomph! to the sandwich eating experience.

There is many a  kitchen here in Britain,  in the early  morning, a young married couple with  their  toddler sitting in his or her high  chair holding toasted fingers of bread dipped in runny boiled egg in one hand, a Marmite coated finger of toast  held in their other  hand  the youngsters face  smothered, black with Marmite and a happy  grin, chuckling and chortling as  they  suck  and chew. Oh gummy happiness!

We teach our youngsters to eat Marmite as soon as they are weaned off the breast or maybe even before.However, amongst the uninitiated, a first experience of Marmite might be  rather  disgusting. Note the Marmite slogan,” Love it or hate it!!!!!. “  It is an acquired taste; hence the very early beginning we advocate for the introduction of Marmite to our youngsters.

"You either love it or hate it."

But why? you might be asking. It’s very very good for you. It contains largely yeast derived from the brewing industry. It  includes quite a bit of salt within a jar, but spread thinly on toast this is not a problem. It includes many vitamins; thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and vitamin B12.
Between 1934 and 1935 it was used to treat malnutrition in Sri Lanka when they had a malaria epidemic there.It was included in the rations of soldiers in the trenches during the first world war. Incidentally a lot of the troops also  carried copies of Pride and Prejudice too,  so Marmite and Jane  Austen actually  have something in common.
Marmite was discovered in the late 19th century by a German Scientist called Justus von Liebig.  He discovered that the extract from the brewing process could be collected and put into jars. It appeared to be a healthy food for invalids.
In 1902 the Marmite Food Extract Company was founded in Burton upon Trent in The Midlands. At first  they used earthenware jars as  containers.  The jar looked similar in shape to  the French earthenware cooking pot called a ,”marmite,” so they called the black spread, "Marmite."I knew a  French Canadian who told me that when he first came to Britain and he saw Marmite on the breakfast table he thought somebody had taken the scorched and burnt charcoal off the bottom of a "marmite," cooking pot and put it into a jar and was revolted by the idea.  By 1907 it was so popular they opened a second factory in Camberwell, London. The Marmite company is now owned by Unilever and the product is as popular as ever with some amazing advertising campaigns full of British humour  that rivals the Cadbury Chocolate  adverts in their Monty Python  style craziness and bonhomie.

You can have your face in the display.

In the 1920’s the Marmite company started using glass jars which still retained the distinctive  ,”marmite,” shape. It is still sold in the same distinctive glass bottles today with the same yellow label, although, in March 2006 squeezy bottles, again with the distinctive round shape, were also introduced.

It is not a good idea to keep Marmite in the fridge by the way. It goes hard and is unspreadable. However it never ever goes off. You can keep a jar for years and it will still retain it’s health providing qualities.

Marmite Gold and Marilyn and Abigail. (Oxford Circus crossing.)

Other companies and other nations have tried to copy Marmite. The Australians have a product called Vegemite. The Swiss and Germans have versions too  called respectively,”Cenovis ,”and “Vitamin R,” but Marmite, the British product, is dominant and nobody else can quite get the same distinctive flavour that can blow your head off!!!!!
A little boy disappears into the Marmite jar.

You might be wondering about the title of this piece,,” MARMITE!!!!! AT  CHRISTMAS.” Every year Oxford Street, the heart and pulse of British shopping puts up inventive and outstanding Christmas lights displays. This year the lights have been sponsored by guess who? Yes, Marmite!!!!!
Last night, Marilyn, Abigail and myself took the 139 double decker bus from Waterloo Station across Waterloo Bridge, through Piccadilly Circus and along Regent  Street, which also has an amazing Christmas light display based on, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and then we turned left at the top of  Regent  Street at Oxford Circus, into Oxford Street and the world of Marmite hit us. All the lights are animated. Father Christmas eats a Marmite sandwich and throws it away in disgust, his face turning green. The next one shows a little boy disappearing into a Marmite jar and  lapping it all up. The next display features the happy Marmity faces of pedestrians in Oxford Street. You can take a photograph of yourself on your i-phone and send it to,the lights, and appear for a few moments in the display yourself. Delicious!!!!!! And so on down Oxford Street.
Father Christmas throws his Marmite sandwich away and turns green,

They say you stay a," Marmite baby," for life, once you have become addicted and it is an addiction. Here are two very happy ,"Marmite babies," still going strong  Ha! Ha!

Tony--that's me!!!!!!!

Clive--that's him!!!

Sunday 16 December 2012

Jane's Birthday 16th December 1775

Jane  Austen was  born to Cassandra and George  Austen at Steventon rectory in Hampshire on the  16th  December 1775. 

In the village of Selborne, some fifteen miles from  Steventon, the naturalist Gilbert  White wrote about  the winter of 1775 in Hampshire. He said  that the Winter of 1775 was a hard one. On 11th November ,  White wrote that the trees around his Hampshire village of Selborne had almost lost all their leaves. “Trees begin to be naked,” he wrote in his diary.

So the weather was severe and must have made giving birth a much harder task, but Jane Austen was born, a healthy and vibrant child into a noisy  world of brothers and frost.

I was visiting my mother and father in Southampton today. On my way back to Wimbledon I thought I would call in at Chawton and  take some pictures of Jane's cottage on her birthday. 

The  weather in Chawton today is  not  at all like Steventon 237 year ago. It is sunny and bright and blue skied. Over the last few days we have had frost and temperatures at -2 degrees centigrade  but not today. Today the sun is out.


Sunday 2 December 2012

Tom Yates, Love is Losing Ground

Tom Yates in concert in an Antwerp club.

Two Manchester mates, Mike Billington and John Constantine, have recently begun a venture together and started a new recording label called, EPONA RECORDS. Mike and John are well-known musicians on the  pub and club circuit of Manchester.  

This is their second release on the EPONA label. It is a CD compilation of songs by another old friend, singer songwriter Tom Yates, who unfortunately died in Antwerp in 1993.  This CD, “Love is Losing Ground,”is the product of a labour of love by Tom’s widow Sonja, who agreed to release these tracks and the hard work of Mike and John.John used digital software to clean up the tapes of the songs.

The album can be best described as autobiographical; a heartfelt exposition of Toms deeply held religious beliefs and a view of the world, particularly European in essence. Although Tom was born and brought up in the tough environment of the northern mill town of Rochdale which was at the heart of The Industrial Revolution, those experiences do not seem to infiltrate the songs on this album.  However the religious beliefs expressed in the album do echo the strict Protestantism of the northern mill towns in the Victorian period that created the strong work ethic that drove the north to be the industrial might of Britain and the world. There is a similar strength of purpose reflected in these songs.

Two photographs of Tom are featured on the album cover. On the front of the CD a picture shows Tom, wearing his cowboy hat and leather tasselled jacket, electric guitar in hands as he sings into a microphone, his intimate club audience close to him. The picture on the inside of the cover shows Tom gazing wistfully into the distance with the ancient city of Athens, bleached and bright in the background. Ancient Athens was the centre of the ancients study of  gods and religion, the birthplace of philosophy.This is a reference to Tom’s religious journey exploring what god is and philosophising about the world and the human condition.  Both pictures encapsulate the essence of this collection of songs.

The opening song, “Love is losing ground,” is also the title of this album.  The lyrics set out Tom’s strong beliefs and views using powerful religious imagery delivered with a haunting clear voice. Refrains about ,”love forging the  new man,”  sets a positive note but the synical refrains  the ”word gives way to image,” and , “ love  is losing ground,” reveals a negative and perhaps depressed view of the world. There seems to be a certain pessimism here. This is a studio  album and the   reverb produced on most  tracks combined with Tom’s crystal clear vocals and reedy voice create a wistful  atmosphere combined with his spare and economical  guitar playing. The tempo is slow which adds to the haunting quality. Listening to this track gave me the feeling that Tom was close by. The intimate club atmosphere is recreated well in the studio.

The second track, Jaques Brel, immediately takes us to Tom’s adopted country, Belgium, and the city Antwerp.  Jacques Brel was a world famous Belgium singer songwriter, actor and film star renowned for his guttural singing and sparse uncompromising songs. He played to club audiences the world over. Tom tries to imitate Jaques guttural rolling of his ,r’s, with a more staccato delivery and a driving earnest tone to his voice. I don’t think he achieves it in this song. Tom’s voice is more suited to his own haunting wistful lyrics. But obviously Jaques Brel was an icon that Tom admired and  he wanted to pay tribute to his Belgium compatriot. The song brings some invention and experimentation with the introduction of trumpets to compliment Tom’s acoustic guitar playing.

Godspeed, returns us to Tom’s religious theme with a more hopeful and encouraging tone to it this time. The reverb is still very evident, still creating a wistful feel. It is a speedier number and also introduces backing singers who seem distant so as not to impinge on Tom’s voice too much. Tom has not got a powerful voice, his vocal strength lies in his perfect pitch and clear intonations. There are a lot of New Testament references. He sings about,  “showing me the wounds bleeding all the same.” He is doubting Thomas. The metaphor," ripples on the lake,"  suggest Galilee and the symbolism of water  in  Christianity sending out a message that extends like the ripples.

Tango Valentino is a big departure for Tom. He seems to include a number of genres in the one song. There is a short rock refrain which returns now and then, combined with a tango riff suggesting the title and perhaps a reference to Rudoplph Valentino, the 1920’s Italian, Hollywood heartthrob, and a hint of Jaques Brel.  The whole piece opens with a meatier base sound. There is still the use of reverb throughout which seems to be Tom’s signature. The lyrics are more depressive in this number talking about the,”world of sorrows we live in.” He berates the world, disenchanted with money, the use of credit cards and financial backers. A little note of anger about decadence which refers to movements such  as Dada in the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s that introduced anarchic ideas as a reaction to the first world  war. He thinks avante garde  movements , “try too  hard.” These references to the Europe of the 1920’s in this piece show Tom view that it was a particularly decadent and immoral period in Europe’s history which his religious beliefs encourage him to counter.This number ends with an oboe refrain, haunting in the memory.

Brutal and Cruel, brings a change of tempo. It is a faster high tempo number with a happy jolly bounce and feel to it which contrasts strongly with the theme and contents of the lyrics,”the good life we are living can be brutal and cruel. Too many  deaths.”This contrast creates a sarcastic feel which shows Tom feeling hopeless about the state of the world. He reverts to humour to deal with what  he sees as  evil. It  reminded me of the film, “Oh  What a Lovely  War,” which used music hall entertainment to  portray the horrors of trench  warfare  on Flanders  Fields, which of course again brings us back to the Belgium  link. There is also a brass intro to this number which is a departure from Tom’s usual  slow, intimate guitar  licks.

Amid The Alien Corn, sees Tom being pessimistic and a little homesick and feeling the dislocation from his roots. His , “homeland is torn from him, in these alien fields of corn.” It could almost be a reference to Joseph, in the Old Testament and his near death experience, his exile and his rise to power dealing with the harvests in Egypt. An association of strife and overcoming adversity  becomes apparent in this album and was part of who Tom was.

Wild Track, is a moment of self-recrimination laying bare his own failings. ,”Blame it on the money and the weed.” “Pound of flesh on the bathroom floor. Blood in the bowl.” Stark stuff, reminiscent of John Lennon’s Cold Turkey and Whatever Gets You Through the Night.

In Misha Madou, a song about remembrance of a past lover, there is more musical experimentation using synthesisers extensively combined with Tom’s acoustic playing. A pleasant combination of sounds. The electronic synthesiser gives a feeling of cathedral space. I think there is probably too much feedback on Tom’s voice in this number but a brave attempt that doesn’t totally work.

Stars and Sails  has Tom producing some classical guitar references played crisply and sharply. He is pondering the universe, whistling as he contemplates the stars and planets, their function and their meaning. The guitar playing is enjoyable to just sit and listen to on this one.

The final tracks bring us back to overtly religious themes. A table in the wilderness seems to combine the Last Supper Table with Jesus’s sojourn in The Wilderness for forty days and forty nights. It is an upbeat number with some harmonica to go with his guitar playing, giving a wilderness campfire feel to it. You can imagine Jesus with his disciples sitting round such a campfire eating fish from Lake Galilee caught by Peter and the conversations that ensued. And in, “A Song of sable Night,” Tom has become one of the disciples sitting at the feat of Jesus who appears to focus on Tom. A meditative reflective song There is a slightly discordant note when the message Jesus gives, “sets you free,” but, “is grief to some.”  Tom is at his most serious and introspective. Finally the CD ends with, “It’s been a while,” This is an autobiographical number, Tom in his faded blue dungarees recalling the past and finding it difficult to separate dreams and memory. Ancient civilisations and tropic isles are recalled.  Whether this is a hint at a belief in reincarnation is not evident.

This album provides food for thought. You do not have to agree with Tom’s religious beliefs but you can admire his clear honest look at life and the world around him. It is a courageous album in many ways because he tries different musical styles and techniques. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. He however uses the themes and topics that  influence him in creative, thoughtful and intelligent ways.


Sunday 11 November 2012

ARMISTICE DAY 11/11/1918

 Siegfried Loraine SassoonCBEMC (8 September 1886 – 1 September 1967) was an English poet, author and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War.

AT dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop! 

A poppy from Flanders Fields.

Myself at The British  cemetery at Arras

British graves at Arras.

Another view of the cemetery  at  Arras, designed by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens  OMKCIEPRAFRIBA (29 March 1869 – 1 January 1944) 

Sunday 14 October 2012

Jarvis Cocker discusses , “The John Lennon Letters.”

In the Saturday Guardian yesterday, (13th October), Jarvis Cocker reviewed the new tome about one of the Beatles, John Lennon. Hunter Davies, who wrote the first Beatles biography, has collated many of John Lennon’s letters for  this book. The letters are dated from 1951 to 1980.
It has been produced to commemorate fifty years since the Beatles hit the world stage.  Fifty years!!! I can’t believe it.
The John Lennon Letters: Herausgegeben von Hunter Davies
"The John Lennon Letters."

Jarvis Cocker comes up with some very creative phrases.

 “We are the children of the echo. Born just after some kind of explosion, and doomed to spend the rest of our lives working backwards to try and get as close as we can to the moment of The Big Bang.”

Does he mean born after the dropping of the first atomic bomb or does he really mean the bang that began the universe?  I presume the birth of the Beatles is some sort of Big Bang in the world of creativity and music. Jarvis is a little vague on his precise meaning in this statement. However I can see his point about working backwards. We have come so far in this world with trivia, useless pursuits, greed, consumerism and ego mania we need desperately to put the genie back in the bottle and get back  to a more frugal, purposeful and purer life. Well, maybe that is what he means. The Beatles as some sort of purer reality?  Well I’m not sure. Maybe he means the purity of their music? The innocent honest lyrics and so on. Or maybe the world they came from wasn’t as tarnished as the world now? The second world war had only finished so maybe not that. Oh  well, I’m sure he knows what he means.
  Jarvis is hoping to find an answer to the question,

 “ Just how did those four lads come to “shake  the world”?

He  hopes the letters of John Lennon will help.
However what he finds   in this book are short notes such  as; (they are so short  I even have time to transcribe one or two here.)

“Degs, no fucking George,  Yer Cunt, Jack” ( letter 238: memo to Derek.)

And even better;

“Fred, lights in kitchen(bulbs),
Honey  candy,Kitchen aircon is “On heat” (something wrong),Cabbage,Grape oil, (ask where),Onions,Peas (the Korean shop shells them),Sesame oil,
Tomatoes, berries, yoghurt, hamburger meat (for the cat), (letter 255: Domestic list for Fred.)

Mind blowing! I am sure you agree.

According to Jarvis Cocker what Hunter Davies appears to have done is contact anybody and everybody who has ever bought a piece of John Lennon memorabilia at auction. These are not the treasured kept letters of family and friends. These are valuable scraps of writing because they have  been auctioned and are worth money. They are little investments in bits of John Lennon. Their inanity is not the point. Lennon touched these pieces of paper and scrawled things on them. 

A John Lennon letter, a little more substantial than his ,"post it notes."

They  are artefacts. Jarvis Cocker tells us that next to each transcription is a photograph of the original piece. The photographs of the artefacts are more important than the content transcribed next to them.  Jarvis Cocker may be exaggerating to make a point here. I am sure there must be some insightful, letters amongst the items in this book. Actually, my local Tescos has some copies for sale. I am not going to buy the book but I might spend a little while trawling through it for free as I do my weekly shop for apples and oranges, pasta, milk, butter and bread. I’m sounding like John Lennon now. He would approve no doubt. Nobody is going to tell me off!!!!!!
Towards the end of the article Jarvis makes a comment which really lit up my  thinking.

“… the  whole point of the Beatles is that they were ordinary. Four working class boys from Liverpool who not only showed that not only could they create art that stood comparison with that produced by the establishment- they could create art that pissed all over it……the  greatest creative force of  the 20th century.”

Again this is an over exaggeration. “The greatest creative force of the 20th century,” I don’t think so but a great creative force all the same. But the comment, " they were ordinary," got me thinking. Just recently myself and some friends were in Liverpool for a school reunion. We all got together at The Monro Pub in Liverpool’s docklands in the evening for a meal and few drinks. During the day, before the evening festivities began, some of us decided to take a Beatles tour. We booked the National Trusts Beatles tour which enabled us to visit John Lennon’s childhood home in Menlove Avenue ,Woolton and also Paul McCartney’s childhood home at Forthlin Road.

Me and some mates outside 251, Menlove Avenue, where John Lennon lived with his Aunty Mimi

I agree with Jarvis Cocker's point that the Beatles were ordinary. John Lennon’s home was a semi detached house in a middle class road. It was his Aunty Mimi’s and Uncle George’s house. They looked after him because his mother Julia wasn't cable of doing so. Anyway she had divorced his dad, Alfred, who was a merchant seaman and never at home. Julia had a new family to bring up. So John was the typical, unfortunately more so these days, damaged child from a broken disrupted home. His Aunty Mimi moved heaven and earth to try and stabilise his life for him. She had ambitions for John.  Music was a sort of rebellion for him and something he could retreat into.

Paul McCartney on the other hand lived in a typical terraced council house on a council estate. He came from a very stable background. His father was a working class docker in Liverpool docks and his mother Mary was a nurse. They were a stable family. Paul enjoyed his music and wrote songs because he loved to do so. He tried out his songs on his family. His father collected records so Paul had music to listen to as well.

Paul Mc Cartneys childhood home  at 20, Forthlin Road, Liverpool

In visiting their houses it brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. My family, like Paul McCartney’s family, started in council property but in Southampton. After the war when my dad returned from Burma he got a clerical job on board the transatlantic liners, The Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, as a pursers assistant. When he met my mum he decided to get a job ashore as a clerk in the accounts department of a seed company in Southampton. They had little money and so lived in council accommodation. But my dad had ambitions. He studied hard for his accountancy exams and became a qualified accountant. Eventually my mum and dad bought their own house. They had ambitions, for myself and my two brothers too. Just as John’s Aunty Mimi had ambitions for John. My parents made sure we had a good education. How many people now really and truly value and understand the importance of a good education? We attended, first of all Charlton, a junior school and then the secondary school, St Mary’s College, Bitterne Park, in Southampton  both run by the Christian Teaching Brothers, (the ,”de la Mennais Brothers,”) a religious teaching order from Brittany . The point is, from a lowly start in life my family had ambitions and we progressed.

 In the 1950’s and early 1960’s council estates were full of people on the bottom rung of society and many of them worked hard and they had ambitions to progress in life. One friend of mine who lived in a council house too is now a professor at Belfast University, another is a managing director of a company, many are teachers, or became solicitors. Often people on housing estates, because they had mundane blue collar jobs, poured all their imaginations and creativity into hobbies. I’ve known judo experts, enthusiastic boxers, gymnasts, ballroom dancers, musicians who played at weddings and at local pubs, model makers, go cart enthusiasts, mechanics building their own kit cars,pigeon fanciers, whippet owners who raced their dogs and many many who  grew their  own  vegetables on council allotments and the list of activities goes on. Housing estates used to be bursting with creative people. Paul McCartney is a prime example, perhaps also George Harrison too. Ringo Starr was a local drummer who inadvertently tacked along. Nowadays I am not so sure people on council housing estates have this same drive and purpose to their lives. For a  start  much council property has been sold off.

The Jarvis Cocker article:

Tuesday 9 October 2012


"I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land."

The final verse  of, “And did those feet in Ancient Time,” also known as the hymn ,”Jerusalem,” England's unofficial national anthem. It was first published as part of the preface to,” Milton,” by William Blake in 1804

In the late 1950’s very few people had cars. They were beyond the income of the majority. People relied on buses, coaches and trains to  get around the country. When I was about seven years old,  the  Hants & Dorset  bus company had a small booking office situated on the corner of Portsmouth Road and Victoria Road in Woolston.  Woolston was the part of Southampton where myself and my family lived, next to the Itchen River. I was always fascinated by a large colourful poster displayed in the window of the booking office. It advertised, “Mystery Coach Tours.” The tours promised a drive through a picturesque part of the Hampshire countryside. You would pay for your ticket a day or two in advance, arrive at the coach office at a given time, board the coach and be taken on a mystery trip in one of the distinctive Hants & Dorset dark  green single decker buses. Nobody knew where they were going.  However, those people who had been on one of these trips would return and tell neighbours and friends and in turn they would tell others. The mystery trips that left from the coach office in Woolston always travelled along the beautiful valley of the Meon River, north east of Southampton and situated to the east of Winchester.

West Meon High Street in the heart of Hampshire.

Over the last forty years I have lived in Wimbledon, South London and my parents, in their old age have continued to live in Woolston, Southampton. I always enjoy driving down to Southampton along the rural route by way of Guildford, Farnham, Alton and along the Meon Valley. I drive through the village of West Meon that is situated on the A32 road. It is a very beautiful part of Hampshire, rolling chalk downland, lush green fields, thick clumps of woodland interspersed with small villages of rose and wisteria clad thatched cottages and clay tiled roofed houses, walls of flint and, locally made russet red bricks. Cars are required to slow to 30 miles per hour or less as you drive through West Meon. So I always get a chance to look and take in the beautiful gardens and rustic buildings. Sometimes I stop and park the car. It is a wonderful experience to just walk around the village.  West Meon surrounds you with old buildings, stone walls and thick shrubbery. There are modern houses but they are hidden within groves of trees off  the main road and out of site but the old is most obvious and prominent in the village. The village hall commemorates Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Cottages cluster together and stretch around the curving serpentine high street winding downhill towards the valley bottom and the River Meon that slips like pure liquid silver and as clear  as glass over it’s pebbled bottom through and on past the village.

 The stone cross at the centre of the village.

In Kelly’s Directory of 1878 it is described thus;
“WEST MEON, a parish and a large village, pleasantly situated on the banks of the small river Aire, or Meon, 8 miles W of Petersfield and N.E. of Bishop’s Waltham, in Droxford union and county court district and Meon Stoke hundred, had about 931 inhabitants in 1871 and comprises 3774 acres of generally light and fertile land, rising in bold undulations and including WOODLANDS hamlet, two miles north of the village, and several scattered farms.”

Nowadays West Meon has shrunk slightly in population to 690 inhabitants. It was possibly mentioned in Anglo Saxon documents. A few miles away at Corhampton there is a very rare example of a complete Saxon church that is dated 1020. The Normans didn’t leave many Saxon buildings untouched. They preferred to eradicate the world of the Saxons, ruthlessly. There is evidence of early Stone Age activity going back 50.000 years in the vicinity. Old Winchester Hill, nearby, a good defence point to protect against attack from neighbouring tribes, has evidence of flint tools 20,000 years old. The village of West Meon itself has remains dated to the Iron Age and bronze ages when people had progressed from the hunter gatherer period to create settlements and  become farmers. There is also evidence that the Meonwara tribe lived here.  There are the remains of a Roman Villa in Lippen Wood. 

A West Meon thatched cottage.

The manor of West Meon was listed in the Domesday Book as being owned by the Bishop of Winchester. The Domesday Book was instigated by William I (The Conqueror) .The first draft was completed in 1086 and contained records of 13,418 settlements.  William wanted to know what exactly was in his kingdom and what it was worth. This enabled the Normans to assess the taxes they could exact and  what wealth they could derive. The book was written in Winchester. Data was gathered from all over England. William’s officials scoured every corner of Britain. They recorded  landholders and their tenants, the amount of land they owned, how many people occupied the land (villagers, smallholders, free men, slaves), the amounts of woodland, meadow, animals, fish and ploughs on the land and buildings such as churches, castles, mills and salt houses.

If your internet breaks down you can still phone home.

A charter in 1205 showed that the land was granted to the prior and Convent of St Swithun. St Swithun was important to Winchester because he was the local patron saint who pilgrims came to pray to in the great cathedral.It remained in the hands of the convent until  the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1541 it was granted to the dean  and chapter of  Winchester Cathedral.In 1544 Henry VIII granted it to  Thomas Wriothesley Earl of  Southampotn. Thomas Wriothesley is most famous because of his friendship with Shakespeare. There are suggestions that Shakespeare visited and stayed on the earls estates at Titchfield in the Meon Valley and wrote some of his sonnets in honour of the Earl.

During The English  Civil war  West Meon was the sight of several  skirmishes before The Battle of Cheriton, which took place about six miles  from West Meon to the north  west, which was  fought on  29th March 1644.
Some famous people, who lived and died in West Meon, are Thomas Lord (1755-1832) the founder of Lords cricket ground in St Johns Wood, North London. Also there is the grave of the infamous Guy Burgess. Guy Burgess (16 April 1911 – 30 August 1963) was a British radio producer, intelligence officer and Foreign Office official. He was part of the Cambridge Five spy ring that passed Western secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War.

St John the Evangelist, West Meon.

The fine flint built church in the centre of the village, St John the Evangelist, was designed by Gilbert Scott and was built in 1846 on the site of the ancient church. In an extraordinary twist, the design was taken to New York where an exact replica was built as the church of St Thomas, Mamaroneck.

West Meon is situated in a beautiful valley in the South Downs about 66 miles south of London, 15 miles  east of Winchester and 25miles north of Southampton. The South Downs is a range of chalk hills that extends for about 260 square miles across the south-eastern coastal counties of England from the Itchen Valley of Hampshire in the west to Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, East Sussex, in the east. It is bounded on its northern side by a steep escarpment. The South Downs National Park forms a much larger area than the chalk range of the South Downs and includes large parts of the Weald.

It is characterised by rolling chalk downland with close-cropped turf and dry valleys, and is recognised as one of the most important chalk landscapes in England. It was formed from a thick band of chalk which was deposited during the Cretaceous Period around sixty million years ago within a shallow sea which extended across much of Northwest Europe. The rock is composed of the microscopic skeletons of plankton which lived in the sea. The chalk has many fossils, and bands of flint occur throughout the formation. The Chalk is divided into the Lower, Middle and Upper Chalk, a thin band of cream-coloured nodular chalk known as the Melbourn Rock marking the boundary between the Lower and Middle units.
The strata of south-east England, including the chalk, were gently folded during a phase of the Alpine Orogeny to produce the Weald-Artois Anticline, a dome-like structure with a long east-west axis. Erosion has removed the central part of the dome, leaving the north-facing escarpment of the South Downs along its southern margin with the south-facing chalk escarpment of the North Downs on the northern side.

The River Meon begins its life high on the South Downs as spring water seeping out from the edge of the water table contained within the structure of the chalk downland. Chalk is porous and so absorbs rainwater easily and acts as a great aquifer. It naturally regulates the flow of water into the river systems of the South Downs. Chalk streams transport little suspended material  but are mineral-rich. The surface water of chalk streams is often described as 'gin clear'. The channel bed consists of angular flint gravel  from the natural flint deposits found embedded within the chalk.

The unique characteristics of chalk stream ecology are due to a stable temperature and flow  combined with  transparent  water and lack of sand grade sediment particles. The river stretches for 21 miles flowing through the Meon Valley. The river  supports valuable wildlife habitats. Within the river system it is home to water crowfoot, brown trout, kingfishers and otters. The reed beds at Titchfield create their own unique habitat too.

A thatched cottage in West Meon.

The River Meon is renowned for its fly fishing particularly at The Meon Springs where the river is stocked with brown trout and rainbow trout. Izaak Walton, who wrote The Compleat Angler in the 17th century lived  towards the end of his life, in Winchester. His tomb is in the Silkstead Chapel inside Winchester Cathedral. It is a chapel dedicated to anglers. He went to Droxford, near West Meon, to fish in The River Meon. He said that it was the best river in England for trout.

Izaak Walton born August 9th 1593, died December 15th 1683  fished  in the  River Meon.

In and around West Meon there are watercress beds to be found. Long regular troughs have been dug into the land bordering The River Meon. Through the use of sluice gates to regulate the flow of the water they are  filled with  pure chalk stream water from the  river. At times of the year they are lush with the greenery provided by the water cress floating on the surface of these ponds. The stems of watercress are hollow so this makes the plant buoyant on the surface of the water. The leaves are pinnately compound, which means petals are arranged on either side of a stem and the watercress produces small white flowers in clusters. The Latin name for the watercress is nasturtium officinale,N. microphyllum.

Many of the cottages, garden walls and houses in West Meon, as well as the church ofSt John the  Evangelist,  are  constructed with knapped flint. West Meon’s position in the chalk South Downs is well situated near to a source of good quality flint for building.
Flint is one of three forms of compact crystalline silica which have been used in building. It is found in Chalk geological formations. It is closely related to quartz, chalcedony, chert and jasper. Flint, chert and jasper are important rocks for building, with flint the most common.

A young flint knapper with Box Hill behind him. (The Stonebreaker by John Brett exhibited 1858)

 Its origin is generally  thought to be the siliceous sponges once inhabiting the waters of Cretaceous seas.
Flint and chert are concretions, natural growths of mineral matter which form around a centre or core. Sometimes the core may have been a sea urchin or a sponge. The silica solutions from which flint was created could also have flooded cavities formed by marine borers. The colours of flint are black or dark blue-grey, and they are usually nodular in form, and coated in a white calcium carbonate. The nodules break forming sharp edges. Axes, adzes, spear points and arrowheads were made from flint by Stone Age tribes by hammering and flaking the  flint.Flint knappers were common in the Victorian countryside. There is a Pre-Raphaelite painting of a knapper working on Box Hill in Surrey. West Meon is full of buildings constructed with blue, black, glassy silica flint pieces.

 A  flint  wall in  West Meon churchyard.

Another characteristic of buildings in West Meon are the number of thatched cottages. Many of the cottages have clay roof tiles too which  proved to be a cheaper option but both thatched roofs and clay tiled roofs provide a warm natural effect and fit perfectly side by side within this rural community. A thatched cottage looks warm and cosy like a house topped with a thick head of hair. It’s contours are rounded, and rough textured. Thatched cottages are built with local materials. The houses people live in are the soil and rocks and grasses grown and formed naturally scooped up and skilfully fashioned.  The straw from the wheat fields or the reeds from the marshes become the roofs. People used whatever was available locally. This meant materials as diverse as broom, sedge, sallow, flax, grass, and straw were used. Most common is wheat straw in the south of England, and reeds in East Anglia. Norfolk reed is especially prized by thatchers, although in northern England and Scotland heather was frequently used.  Some of the cottages in West Meon have walls constructed from timber frames formed from large oak or ash branches hewn from the local woods and dragged to the building site. The spaces between the oak beams were filled with wattle and daub, itself a mixture of ash fencing, clay from the ground mixed with  straw to bind it and solidified with cow dung and sealed by lime from the lime quarrys. Some were constructed in bricks from local clays baked in fiery kilns. The very elements were combined and used to form these homes. 

In constructing a thatched roof   first the thatch is tied in bundles, then laid in an under-layer on the roof beams and pegged in place with rods made of hazel or withy. Then an upper layer is laid over the first, and a final reinforcing layer added along the ridge line  It is at the ridge line that the individual thatcher leaves his personal "signature", a decorative feature of some kind that marks the job as his alone. In West Meon a couple of the cottages have straw pheasants standing on the roof ridges. There also seems to be decorative stitching created with twigs along the roof lines. These are individual designs to show the thatcher’s personality and trade mark.

Having visited West Meon many times, it is a diverse and vibrant community. Not only does it have it’s church community with it’s social gatherings, festivals and religious year, there is a village hall for community parties and meetings. There is a junior school for the young children of the village and there are two pubs to socialise and relax in. There are a number of local grocers and  general stores too. It comprises people of all ages and situations  amongst it’s numbers. It appears to  me to  be a happy and lived in place.

The Thomas Lord pub in West Meon.

West Meon Parish Council:

A History of The Meon Valley:

The Thomas Lord public house:

Thatching information:

Friday 31 August 2012


“I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus
I’m  Spastiicus Autisticus
I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus
I’m  Spasticus  Autisticus
I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus…”

Ian Dury of The Blockheads 

If  Ian  Dury  had still been alive, he died in March  2000, he would have been  on that  stage in the middle of that  Olympic cauldron in  Stratford,  East London the other night, yelling and  screaming out those lyrics. Instead it fell to the wonderful Graeae Theatre Company to proudly play his part. Those words sung by Drury, a polio victim, full of manic energy, staggering in his crippled state and hanging on to the microphone  precariously for support, exploding with  energy and anger at  the gaze of most,  pounding out that song, dripping with sweat,  on a stage, confronting everybody  with his  disability showed  us what paraplegics are capable of. They are capable of everything. Ian Dury wasn’t hiding his disability, he was thrusting disability at us, telling it how it is. The 4,200 paraplegic athletes at that wondrous opening ceremony of the Paralympics  were there to show the world what they can do, to show the utmost effort, skill and achievement. In the words of Seb Coe the organiser of both the 2012 Olympics and the Paralympics here in London,
“  prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved.”

The Opening ceremony to The Paralympics 2012. The statue of Alison Lapper.

The theme of  the opening ceremony  was Enlightenment. There was more than one  layer of meaning  encapsulated  in that  theme. There was the historical  Enlightenment which involved, Sir Isaac Newton and his understanding of gravity and the universe right up to the recent Hadron Collider based in Lucerne that has smashed atoms at  such  speeds that scientists  have detected the Higgs  Boson particle which has changed the study of physics  and how we understand the universe. The whole stadium, using a light show, became the Hadron Collider with a moving commentary by Stephen Hawking the paraplegic  professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.

A giant copy of the 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights flicked over it’s pages in the middle of the  stadium.

Article 1.

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

 Ian McKellen  played Prospero from Shakespeare’s, The Tempest with  Nicola Miles Wildin, who used her wheelchair at times, playing Miranda. Prospero sent Miranda shooting high into the air above the stadium  to smash the glass ceiling that blocks so many avenues of progression for paraplegics and the ceiling crashed to the ground in a multitude of shards. Destroyed!
Miranda looked about her and proclaimed,

“ o wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankingd is! O! Brave new World that has such people in it!”

I must add, not, The Brave New World of Aldous Huxley, far far from that.A human loving Brave New World. We can only hope and strive.

Marc Quinn’s giant sculpture of a beautiful, erotic, naked, and  pregnant  Alison Lapper sitting squatly with stumps for arms and deformed legs, dominated the stadium at one stage.

The theme of enlightenment not only covered the historic period of Enlightenment in Britain in the 18th century and all its  great themes of exploration, discovery and science but it was also about enlightening us about people with physical disabilities. The main theme seemed to be saying there are no disabilities just different ways of perceiving and doing.

The end of the ceremony had Beverley Knight singing,
 “I am what I am
I don't want praise I don't want pity
I bang my own drum
Some think it's noise I think it's pretty
And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle
Why not try to see things from a different angle…”
Her voice is so powerful and strong. She filled the whole stadium with her voice and 80,000 voices sang along with her. I had tears in my eyes.

Ian Dury's Spasticus  Autisticus being performed at the opening ceremony of The Paralympics.

“Iam what Iam…….. I’mSpasticus, I’mSpasticus, I’m Spasticus autisticus!!!!!!!!”

The period of Enlightenment. Isaac Newton perceived an example of gravity when an apple fell on his head.

To end the ceremony, Royal Marine, Joe Townsend, who lost both his legs while on duty in Afghanistan after standing on a hidden explosive in a road, flew into the stadium along a zipwire from the top of Anish Kapoors adjacent observation tower  holding the Olympic torch aloft. Margaret Maughn, who received Britain’s first Paralympic gold medal at the first Paralympics in Rome in 1960, waited in her wheelchair to receive the torch. She lit the Olympic cauldron.
The Paralympics were an invention by Dr Ludwigg Guttman at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948. Soldiers returning from the conflict in Europe with horrendous injuries improved their whole disposition by playing sport.  Dr Guttman discovered that by taking part in archery and other sports adapted to their needs  soldiers recover mentally, socially and emotionally from horrendous amputations.


Saturday 25 August 2012


Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson is one of our most successful recent novelists and author of The Finkler Question which won The Man Booker Prize in 2010. He is  a journalist, broadcaster and novelist born in Manchester in 1942.

In the article below he berates us readers for killing the novel.

Reading his article entitled, “ Readers are killing the novel, warns Jacobson,” Source Books and many of their readers come immediately to mind. Source Books is a publishing company with  many  parts to its octopus like, many limbed body,  the most life withering and  destructive tentacle  of which publishes Jane Austen  spin offs. I should say more specifically, Pride and Prejudice spin offs. Darcy and Elizabeth must appear. That is the only one of  Jane Austen’s creative  works  that  has the pulling power to  sell. Yes, it's all about money and the duping of innocent ladies who are happy receiving pin money to sweat away over writing  nice sweet sentences for Source Books.  Surely anybody aware of this should hear the warning bells immediately and certainly not read this stuff. However some people apparently do read it.

So what is Howard Jacobson’s main point? It is that we as readers are reduced to liking novels that have a character with whom we empathise.  That is not what Jacobson thinks reading should be about and it is not what I think reading is about.

One of my favourite analysts of good writing, Pie Corbett, an ex teacher, writes,
” Literature should jolt the senses, making us feel alive... we should  have only time to  read books that bite and sting…if books we read do not wake us up  with a blow to  the head what’s the point in reading? A book must be an axe which smashes the frozen sea within us.”

When I read I want to be challenged, made to think and have my world turned upside down. I want to be made to feel uncomfortable and challenged. The comfortable safe world of another Pride and Prejudice spin off is doing two things, killing the novel  and killing  me.

Here is Howard Jacobson’s article: