Travelling west

Thursday, September 4th 2014

We are going on another short trip, starting tomorrow and returning on Tuesday. As the title says, we are heading west.

I took Freya to her holiday home this morning. She was not happy about it and complained loudly and angrily when I lifted her out of her carrying cage in her temporary apartment. I am sure, though, that the pleasure of returning home will make up for this temporary annoyance and restore her mood.

Heading west, but to where? I do not know our destination well enough to offer subtle clues to its identity. I think that anything I did say would give the game away forthwith. Therefore I shall for once say nothing and leave you to guess by stabbing in the dark.

I have completed my write-up of our stay in Weymouth but there have been outings since then that I have not tackled yet. The forthcoming trip will put me even further behind but I will get around to it all eventually, I expect.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | 2 Comments

To Dungeness by Train

Wednesday, September 3rd 2014but also

It seems hardly possible that it is over five years since we visited that strange beautiful place called Dungeness (see Steaming through Kent) but so it is and we are overdue for a return visit.

Map showing Dungeness
Map showing Dungeness
Click for Google Map

Dungeness is in the county of Kent, in the bottom right-hand corner of England (or the southeast, if you want to be pedantic). It lies on a triangular shaped promontory jutting into the English Channel. Although people live on it, Dungeness is a nature reserve (the RSPB has a bird sanctuary there), formed mainly of a large shingle beach that is continually reshaped by the sea. Its close neighbour is the wetland area called Romney Marsh.

How do you get there from the metropolis? If you have a car, I assume you can drive in, and there is also a bus that will take you from one of the neighbouring towns. We however, preferred to take the railway. The might surprise you because if you look on the map you are unlikely to see any sign of a railway line reaching Dungeness. Appearances can be deceptive!

Arriving at Folkestone
Arriving at Folkestone
By the HS1

To start our journey, we took the HS1 from St Pancras to Folkestone. Folkestone used to be known for its ferry services to France but the Channel Tunnel has killed that trade and Folkestone has been struggling to recover. It is still a town worth visiting and we have come here on several occasions before – see, for example, Some Pictures of Folkestone.

Like the back of my hand Like the back of my hand
Like the back of my hand
A Millennium project by Strange Cargo Arts Company, 2004

We discovered that Folkestone is very lively culturally and artistically (see Multi-cultural and artistic Folkestone) and indications of this begin right at the railway station on whose wall is affixed an art installation like the back of my hand, consisting of 101 hand prints cast in bronze. The work was devised and carried out by Strange Cargo.

From Folkestone, we took a bus to Hythe. This is a pleasant town though its name is far from unique. We know of at least three Hythes and of other cases where that word is part of a town’s name. It derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a landing place where goods are unloaded from ships. That gives a clue to the history of Hythe. (For the derivation of the name of Folkestone, see Some pictures of Folkestone.)

The Royal Military Canal, Hythe
The Royal Military Canal, Hythe
Against a Napoleonic invasion

One of the prettier features of Hythe is the waterway shown above. At first sight I was unsure whether it was a river, a canal or just a decorative water feature. Its name, Royal Military Canal, hints at its origins. It was built for defensive purposes between 1804 and 1809, during the wars with France (1793-1815), when it was believed that there was a very real threat of an invasion by Napoleon’s armies. A helpful information board tells us that it runs for 28 miles from Seabrook (near Folkestone) to Cliff End (near Hastings). Adding to its quaintness and charms is its zigzag shape. This feature was deliberately incorporated as it meant that each section of the canal could be covered by fire from cannons installed at the bends. Today, it is simply a beautiful landscape feature that also provides a habit for water fowl and other riverine species.

Hythe Station
Hythe Station
Hythe, Romney & Dymchurch Railway

Our reason for coming here was to board the train for Dungeness. We would be travelling on the Hythe, Romney and Dymchurch Railway. We arrived just as a train was about to depart and had to quickly buy our tickets and hurry aboard. I only had time to photograph the station.

Young boys (and some not so young) like to play with train sets but millionaires can afford something a little more elaborate. The two millionaires relevant to our story were Captain J.E.P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski. Both dreamed of creating a real railway system in miniature and set out to carry their plan through together. The Count was unfortunately killed in a racing accident but Howey continued the project, together with Henry Greenly as Chief Engineer and locomotive designer. A site was found in the Romney Marshes and the railway finally opened in 1927. If you would like more details of the history of this fascinating railway, you will find narratives here and here.

Let me stress that, though its description includes the word “miniature”, this railway is not a mere toy or exhibition piece. It runs a regular scheduled passenger service from Hythe to Dungeness (13½ miles), the carriages being drawn by either diesel or steam locomotives that are perfect scaled-down replicas of their full-sized cousins.

All aboard!
All aboard!
Some passengers behave more responsibly than others

The railway is very popular with holidaymakers and visitors and by the time we reached the train, it was quite packed. There was no time to spare and we managed to slot ourselves into vacant seats. As you can see, the carriages are not very wide or tall but are comfortable enough for the relatively short journey. Unfortunately, the man in front of me leaned out of the window the whole way (despite notices saying not to do this), filming the journey with his camcorder and making it difficult for me to get photos except perpendicular to our direction of travel. He would be quite unaware of how annoying this was for others.

Rolling farmland
Rolling farmland
A view from the train

The name Romney Marsh may give the impression that the train was somehow travelling on boggy ground but the area traversed by the railway is, happily, quite solid. It consists of countryside and and farmland, for the most part very beautiful, especially on a sunny today like today when the sun shines down from a perfectly clear sky.

Dymchurch Station
Dymchurch Station
The first stop after Hythe

Our first stop was at the little town of Dymchurch. The railway ticket allows you to travel from A to B or to get off and get on again as often as you like. The atmosphere was free and easy and our tickets were checked only if we came into a station from the street. I imagine it would be possible to travel up and down, getting off and getting on, all day.

Dymchurch was an important town in its day because, in the Middle Ages, it was the seat of government for the Romney Marshes. Hence the name: this comes from dema, meaning a ‘judge’ in Old English, added to cirice, ‘church’. Dymchurch thus means “Judges’ Church”.

Approaching our last stop
Approaching our last stop
The ever fascinating Dungeness

We set off again and made three more stops – at St Mary’s Bay, New Romney and Romney Sands – before finally pulling into the terminus at Dungeness. Depending on your mood and the weather, you might find Dungeness a daunting place when first you catch sight of it. For one thing, the huge Dungeness Nuclear Power Station cannot be ignored.

A main feature - the lighthouse
A main feature – the lighthouse

More pleasingly, you also spot the lighthouse. Every seaside scene should include a lighthouse, I think, though many do not. I say the lighthouse because that’s how I tend to think of it, a big bold and, dare I say, “typical” lighthouse. But in fact, there have been five lighthouses altogether, of which two remain. This is the fourth Lighthouse.

The name of the place may strike you as odd but it is said to derive from the joining together of several Anglo-Saxon words describing features of the area. Thus, there is denu (‘valley’), mersc (‘marsh’) and næss (‘headland’) which, added together and simmered during centuries, evolved into Dungeness. I am told that a popular etymology claims that the name derives from a French phrase meaning “dangerous nose”, but I think we can safely ignore that!

Fully automatic
Fully automatic
The modern lighthouse

The modern lighthouse, which began operating in 1961, needs no crew to manage it as it is fully automatic and is controlled from the Trinity House Centre in Harwich, Essex. It does its job and looks like a lighthouse but I don’t think it’s a splendid as its older rival.

Captain Howey Captain Howey
Captain Howey
The diesel loco that pulled our train

Having arrived at Dungeness, where the train turns back by running around a loop, we could disembark and have a look at the miniature loco that had pulled our train. The RH&DR has a fleet of locomotives, both steam engines and internal combustion (diesel) engines. Each is named and ours commemorates one of the founders of the railway, Captain Howey. A relative youngster, it was built 1989.

The Light Railway Cafe
The Light Railway Cafe

We, and many other passengers, piled into the Light Railway Cafe. As there were already customers from previous arrivals, the place was crowded. The staff were obviously used to this and worked cheerfully and efficiently to provide drinks and meals.

Two lighthouses
Two lighthouses

After lunch we went for an exploratory ramble. The land here is flat, allowing distant views. In this one we see two lighthouses, the modern one and its predecessor. This lighthouse, in the foreground, was built in 1904 and continued in service until it was supplanted by the new one. It can now be visited.

An abiding presence - the sea
An abiding presence – the sea

We found our way to the sea, the abiding presence that shapes the coastline and, whichever way you look, continually growls in the background.

A line of sea kale
A line of sea kale

Harsh as this environment is, there is plenty of plant life. Sea kale (crambe maritima) grows along ridges in the shingle. These ridges are caused by differing sea levels, tides and, I imagine, storms. Though the plants tolerate a salty environment, I understand that they survive from rainwater that is trapped in the shingle.

Golden flowers of kale
Golden flowers of kale

The plants hug the ground to avoid damage by wind and waves and enliven their slightly dull green foliage and attract pollinators with bright golden flowers.

Old Coastguard Lookout
Old Coastguard Lookout
Now a holiday cottage for hire

In this land, buildings are scattered or present in small groups. Dwellings are mostly single-storey and only “official” structures are taller, such as this old Coastguard Lookout, no longer used as such and converted into a holiday cottage.

The modern lighthouse
The modern lighthouse
Dwarfed by the landscape

Even the modern lighthouse, 141 ft (43 m) tall, is dwarfed by the landscape until you come close to it.

The 1904 Lighthouse
The 1904 Lighthouse
With subsidiary buildings at its foot

The older lighthouse, though a little taller at 150 ft (43 m), and rather more imposing in design, can also seem like a toy when seen from a distance. In the above photo the circular building once fitted around the base of the now demolished third lighthouse of 1782.

Human figures...
Human figures…
…lost in the immensity

Human figures appear tiny – less than Lilliputian – in the three immensities of land, sea and sky.

The Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
The Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
A brooding presence

The one structure not dwarfed by distance and the flatness of the landscape in the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. It started operating in 1983 and is due for decommissioning in 2018. The complex is so big that even when you are not looking directly at it, you tend to catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of your eye and its presence seems to follow you around. There is, of course, something paradoxical about the presence of such a facility in a nature reserve.

Hurricane
Hurricane
A steam locomotive

When we returned to the station, a train had just arrived, pulled by a steam locomotive called Hurricane. This beautiful machine is one of the railway’s old-timers, having been built in 1927. Such was the crush of enthusiastic people examining and admiring the engine that I despaired of getting a clear shot of it. I therefore walked across the tracks and photographed it from there, albeit on the shadow side.

Hurricane
Hurricane
Built 1927

When I returned to the platform, to my surprise, those still admiring the engine tipped one another the wink and stepped back to give me a clear view. Even so, just as I clicked the shutter someone blundered into the frame from the right (I’ve cropped him out) and the brief respite came to an end. Let me say that I am no “anorak”, one of those who chase after veteran locos and rolling stock to photograph and film them but I do appreciate these beautifully made machines that are scale replicas of full size locomotives and in full working order.

New Romney
New Romney
A RH&DR station

We started the return journey but made a pause at New Romney. This is quite a large station with plenty of facilities including a cafe and the inevitable gift shop. We had ideas of visiting the town and set out to do so but either this was farther away than we anticipated or we went the wrong way because we did not find it and after a longish walk we decided to return to the station to wait for the next train to Hythe. The above photo was taken from the station’s footbridge.

Green Goddess
Green Goddess
Another old-timer

While we were waiting on the station at New Romney, another steam loco came in and I got a snap of it. This one is the Green Goddess and is two years older than Hurricane, having been built in 1925. (Note the oil can on the ground.) Station stops are apt to be lengthy because the steam engines then have their water tanks refilled and the driver or fireman can put some oil on the joints. We are used to seeing films where the fireman on a high-speed loco thrusts coal into the furnace with a big shovel but here, the coal is put in gently with a small hand shovel, much as you would add fuel to your living room fire!

Crossing the stream
Crossing the stream
and enjoying the beautiful scenery

We took the the train once more and submitted ourselves to the hypnotic tickety-tick of the wheels and the rush of the wind – the carriage windows are unglazed. Some of the more photographically enticing moments came as we crossed bridges over waterways, as exemplified above. Almost too soon, the journey ended and we found ourselves once more in Hythe.

Royal Military Canal revisited
Royal Military Canal revisited

We made our way to the bus stop but could not resist taking a few more photos now that the scene was warmly lit by the evening sun. The Royal Military Canal may have been constructed for defensive purposes against a background of fear of invasion by Napoleon but, since then, it has evolved into an amenity, which nature has taken unto herself and beautified.

This account ends where it began, at Folkestone railway station, now quiet after the bustle of the day. It is a curious sensation swapping the minitaure railway for a full-size one!

Folkestone Station
Folkestone Station
Quiet after the bustle of the day

Dungeness is commonly described as a place of “strange beauty” and that encapsulates the character of the place. It probably requires a hardy outlook to live here but plenty of people manage to do so, though human habitation is not the first feature to strike you at first sight. I must admit to being attracted to the place, though whether I could actually live here, I do not know. I shall probably never find out but I do hope to return again to visit Dugeness in the not too distant future.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tattoo Art

Monday, September 1st 2014

Tigger has two weeks on holiday from work and we mean to make the most of it. We shall be going away for a few days (more about that later) and spending the rest of the time in London or making day trips.

The weather today is rather dull and we decided to take in an exhibition at Somerset House. It is entitled Time: Tattoo Art Today. You can see information about the exhibition by clicking on the title and here is some further detail from the exhibition itself.

Somerset House
Somerset House
Looking out from the Victoria Embankment entrance

I have to say that I am not very keen on tattoos and it would never occur to me to deface my body with one. All tattoos, even if clean and bright to start with, age badly, becoming foggy and discoloured. When the body sags, as it inevitably does with age, the tattoo sags too, altogether presenting a sorry and sometimes disgusting sight. Can tattoos be considered as art? Some people (not least, tattooists) obviously think so but I remain sceptical. I think the reasons people have for acquiring tattoos are complex and have little to do with artistic expression but I shall have to leave that to the psychologists to investigate. A related question is whether tattooists, or at least, some of them, are also artists? The exhibition provides an opportunity for them to answer that question.

Photography is permitted in the exhibition and below I show five samples of the works on view. These are the ones that caught my attention for some reason or other. I did not photograph everything. You might think that tattooists, accustomed to working on skin which, though not necessarily flat, presents a two-dimensional surface, would, for the purposes of making artworks, stick to painting. Most of the items on show were indeed paintings but that there were also some sculptures. I will present  two examples.

Solitude
Solitude
Pascal “Bugs” Jarrion
Click for slide show

Despite my misgivings about much modern art, I rather like this piece. It at least prompted me to look up Pascal Jarrion to see what I could find out about him. This French artist and tattooist living and working in the US produces paintings and sculptures in a manner similar to the Cubist works of Picasso but with his own individual style. There is a personal Website with examples of his work – see Pascal Jarrion – but entering his name into your favourite search engine will produce a lot of hits. One to watch, I would suggest.

Time's Up Time's up
Time’s up
Luke Atkinson

This piece by Luke Atkinson is a human skull (lacking the lower jaw) painted with lacquer with the addition of mother of pearl and placed upon a chequered board. The design on the forehead is presumably a character from a language unknown to me and I have no further information on that. The placing of the skull on a board produces the slightly uncanny sensation (in me, at least) that this is a loaf ready to be sliced. Was that intentional? I would not place this work in the same category as the bronze by Pascal Jarrion though there is possibly a serious purpose behind it. Atkinson has a tattoo studio in Stuttgart called Checker Demon Tattoos, which includes a short biography and, for those with a strong stomach, examples of his tattoo work.

Now to some paintings.

Time Machine
Time Machine
Timothy Hoyer

This elaborate and somewhat curious painting called Time Machine is by Timothy Hoyer. He has a Facebook page and a presence on Instagram. To judge from the works displayed on those sites, Hoyer has a love of big cats and Japanese art. He is clearly a more than competent draughtsman and his works often seem highly symbolic even though the meaning of the symbolism is not clear to me. The lion in the above painting seems frightened or startled and is that a Buddha seated upon a lotus? Unravelling the meanings might be fun but I lack a key to do so.

Where is the shop?
Where is the shop?
Ichibay

“Playful” is a somewhat overworked adjective in modern art. I think it is too often used to cover the fact that the artist hasn’t bothered to think what s/he intends with a particular piece. However, I think this painting by Hide Ichibay is genuinely playful in the good sense. It imitates or caricatures classical Japanese art and the subject seems to be holding a smartphone or a GPs – the latter would fit with the rucksack on his back, implying a journey in search of something. And is that a spray can on the floor beside the painting-within-a-painting? And what shop is he looking for? You can find something about Ichibay on the Three Tides Website and some more examples of his tattoo work on Rattatattoo. Though apparently predominantly a tattooist, Ichibay is clearly a competent painter and I would like to see more artworks by him.

Hodie Faunas
Hodie Faunas
Nikko Hurtado

This painting by Nikko Hurtado stood out from the rest. To be honest, judging from what I have seen of his work, it also stands out from the rest of his art. Hurtado has a Website called, reasonably enough, Nikko, where you can see that he specializes in portraiture, both of real people and of fictional entities. It’s perhaps unfair to judge from photos of tattoos but his tattoo portraits seem to me competent but average, nothing special, and the above painting stands out all the more because of that. Crystallizing an instant and a personality and a mood, it is very successful. Is it my favourite work of the exhibition? Quite possibly.

A foggy day in London town
A foggy day in London town
Looking across Waterloo Bridge

After refreshments (and Somerset House provides several possibilities for this), we went out again into the dull weather. This view across Waterloo Bridge shows the  somewhat misty conditions. It took little persuasion to decide to go home for the day.

So, has the exhibition answered the question as to whether tattooists (or “tattooers” as some prefer) can be artists? I think it has answered it positively and there were a few works that I liked and enjoyed, counterbalanced by a ballast of those I felt overblown and needlessly fantastical. But perhaps that’s as it should be. Art, like everything else, evolves by trial and error and every success emerges against a background of mediocrity and failure. These artists show imagination and vigour, at least.

For my part, I was looking forward to getting home for a cup of tea.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 2 Comments