In a few short months I will reach something of a milestone. It’s a slightly notional milestone, some would say. It’s not so much that I will turn 46 years of age. It’s more to do with identity and how I see myself. If you were to ask me where I’m from, my answer might depend on where you’re from. To a Mexican, I’m British. To a Scot, I’m English. To an Englisher, I am a Londoner. To a Londoner? Perhaps I’m a bruv. I’m not sure. It’s been a while since I tuned into Eastenders. But anyway, given that I left the capital in favour of the south coast at age 23, in a few short months I will reach the point where I’m just half a Londoner, and then a day later I will become less than half a Londoner, and more than half something-else. If we are to be precise, I will be 50% Londoner, 37% Dorseter and 13% Mexican.
Would you just have a look at that! Have you ever seen something so fabulous in your life? A beautiful blue sky. My scepticism was, happily, unfounded. Fair weather has arrived and the temperature soared into the mid 20s. In the space of just a few days, barren wintry branches have sprung to life. Hesistant cherry blossom has decided now is the time to turn our dreary streets into a kaleidescope of colour. The sound of the lawnmower has returned, bringing with it one of my favourite smells – freshly cut grass. It’s almost enough to make you sing out loud Lennon and McCartney’s famous ode to our solar friend.
In school playgrounds, boys will often debate on which boys fathers could whup other boys fathers. If I remember rightly, the most common case made was with an argument that ran something along the lines of ‘my dad could beat up your dad’. But little boys eventually progress into big boys, and the competition revolves around what car their fathers drive. Ironic, really, that the boys who bragged about the Ferrari or Porsche in the drive way at home, probably didn’t have such ‘big’ dads after all. If you follow. But the pattern is clear. Boys find inspiration in their fathers. Or a curse. The latter of which is the point today.
Firstly, let’s pay a flying visit to Sherborne Castle, in the heart of the Dorset countryside. The castle itself is a ruin, destroyed in the civil war. But even by the time of it’s demise it had been replaced by a grand stately home. Castles were costly enterprises to run, and not quite so comfortable as modern brick and mortar mansions. Although you’ll find many of them keep the word castle in the name. A castle has far more street cred.
The man who built the home at Sherborne did, from time to time, need a little something to boost to his credibility. His name, however, has survived the ravages of time and the weight of history. He gave us Brits not only his glorious Sherborne stately home, but also the potato and tobacco. He was, if you hadn’t already gathered, Sir Walter Raleigh. One time favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. The scourge of the Spanish armada, looting their ships for all the gold and silver he could lay his hands on. The reason that more than one Mexican used to refer to me as the pirate. And patron to the capital of North Carolina.
By all accounts, Raleigh loved Sherborne. He made every possible arrangement to ensure that it would remain as the family home for generations to come, starting with his son Walt, by placing it into a trust. He was a sensible chap, was Sir Walter. In those days, it wasn’t hard to fall foul of a new monarch and to lose the lot. And so it was to pass. Elizabeth died, and King James failed to take to Raleigh as his predecessor had done before him.
Unsurprisingly, Raleigh came to a bloody end with his neck at the wrong end of a swinging axe. His tobacco habit kept him company to the end, and the pipe he smoked on the scaffold is one of the exhibits in the house. Worse was to come however. Lawyers pored over the wording of the legal documents that formed the trust, protecting is from seizure. They found that a single, key, phrase had been omitted. And the house was seized. Walt Junior was turfed out on his ear. First born sons have always been regarded as a potential future threat by those who have wronged the father. It’s best to deal with the threat at the earliest convenient moment. For photos of Sherborne, click here.
I followed up our visit to Sherborne with an evening movie. About a young chap called Sebastian from Colombia. I suspect that no boy ever dared to suggest that their dad could beat up Sebastian’s dad. Well, you wouldn’t, would you? Young Seb’s daddy was, after all, Pablo Escobar. Life as the son of the world’s most famous narco-trafficker had its ups and downs. Mostly downs, while on the run. Millions of dollars packed in suitcases, but no way of getting to a shop to spend it.
The Sins Of My Father is a documentary film, with Sebastian as the focal point. He recounts life as a youngster, tells the inside story of his infamous pa and deals with the struggles that has ensued since Escobar was gunned down by the police. It’s a fascinating story told by a very credible and seemingly nice guy who builds up to a meeting between himself and the sons of men who were killed by his father. It’s one of the most interesting films I’ve watched in some time. It’s on Netflix too.
Two stories separated by nearly half a millenium, with a similar theme and equally sad endings for the children of the protagonists. Who’d have ever seen the link between Pablo Escobar and Sir Walter Raleigh? Although no one thinks about it, they’ve more in common than I’ve touched on today. Their hold on power, their political relationships, their trade of choice. One clearly caused more harm that the other. Tobacco, ultimately, has been a greater curse than heroin.
A few months back, I wrote about my efforts at digitising a few dozen of my grandfathers ancient photos using little more than a cardboard box, some sticky tape and my mobile phone. A lot of the photos taken on his holidays in Europe. Others were from his home in London and around the UK. One batch were from some unknown gardens.
It turns out that Unknown Gardens is also known by the name of Compton Acres. Which happens to be just a stroll away from my home here in Bournemouth. I’d never been, so I didn’t recognise it. Yes, of course I have now paid the place a visit. It would be silly not to. It was a great chance to do a ‘then and now’ comparison.
I must admit, I’m a little jealous of the greens in my grandfather’s shot. And also a little envious of the fact that he obviously knew the best time to visit. His photos were graced with a substantially more colourful array of flowers. But he, in turn, would have been rather jealous of my iPhone, I dare say he might have found even the very existence of such a device as likely as aliens landing.
All good photos need a good model. Allow me to present, on the left, Mrs P senior, and on the right, Mrs P junior. Ironically, Mrs P junior is substantially older than senior. In the photos, anyway. Not so in real life. Although you cannot see the spot I am standing on, it is, thanks to shrubbery and a single paving stone in the middle of a stream, the only spot to take this shot. That is the case today and it was the case 50 or so years ago when my grandfather took his photo. I will admit, it was a little strange taking this shot, knowing that he had stood on exactly the same stone nearly half a century earlier to create his photo.
Compton Acres is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon. You can see the rest of my photos on Flickr by clicking here. And who knows, maybe in another half century or so, Mexile Junior will be able to turn this photography theme into a trilogy.
I had my hair cut last week by a lovely chic young lady. I assumed she was from Poland, or Slovakia perhaps. Most European ladies in the UK are from central or eastern Europe. But she was French, it turned out. I should have guessed. She was chic, and chic is French. Her name should have been a give-away too, but maybe I didn’t notice the sign until later. Delphine. Not Delphinski. We chatted a little. More than I usually do. I’m not one for pointless small talk with strangers. I’m not from Europe, after all. Very British, for good and bad.
She likes England. She’d recently given Canada a try, but it wasn’t to be. And she was happy to return to England. And why not? When the sun is out, there is no country on earth more beautiful than England. Her words, not mine. She’s not the first person from foreign shores to say such a thing to me. I am always a little surprised. It’s a bit like someone confessing they came to live in England for the food.
I find these comparisons difficult to quantify. England is no more and no less beautiful than any other number of places on this little speck of rock floating around the universe. The most beautiful scene is the one around you, if you look carefully enough. Although it must be said, the sun does need to be out and shining brightly for that beauty to come to view in Blighty. What does England offer to earn such flattering comparisons though? Our mountains are not terribly high, our canyons are mere scratches in the soil. Our forests were turned into French bashing warships centuries ago. Delphine probably knows that, but she seems forgiving.
We do, however, do green wonderfully well. In summer, England is a blanket of the richest, lushest most vibrant shades of green. Green grass, green ferns, green trees, green mosses. I’ve eavesdropped on many a conversation on the National Express bus out of Heathrow as we head out of London. Look at the green! Have you ever seen so much green? I soon lose interest in their conversations once I realise they are referring to the surrounding flora.
For us natives, any beauty is largely taken for granted. It’s the same for natives in their homeland everywhere isn’t it? To a certain degree, anyway. For us natives here, the beauty is in the contrast. The contrast of the foreboding greys of winter and the bright sun splashed colours of summer. Sometimes spring works its magic oh so slowly if the climate isn’t favourable. The buds of spring delay, pause and retreat in the cold.
Other years, such as this year, when temperatures are kinder, the countryside explodes into life and colour. The bare branches of Chestnut trees are smothered with new foliage. Cherry blossom blooms. Spring flowers rapidly cycle through snow drops, daffodils and bluebells. And then there is the all enveloping green. But most of all we look forward to a deep blue sky and the almost forgotten sensation of feeling sunrays .
And we abandon the green of the countryside and get straight down to the beach. With a beer. And a barbecue. An English beach can be a beautiful thing. Just settle in to a deckchair, relax and gaze out to sea. Listen to the gulls swirling overhead and the waves lapping at the shore. You could be on any Caribbean beach if you just let your imagination go. Just don’t get into the sea. You’ll ruin the illusion in an ice cold instant.
Graffiti is good, in the right place, on the right walls. With permission.
Almost ten years ago I bought the domain, garydenness.com. Then, after a few years, I let it expire and used the cheaper garydennes.co.uk domain instead. But with the decade anniversary approaching I got all nostalgic. No one else had bought the domain, so I snapped it up again. It seems there aren’t so many of us Gary Denness’ out there. At least, I’m the only one with a narcissistic blogging trait.
Now, what to actually do with the domain? Well, I rather liked this theme. It was free. And it’s rather suited to photography. So a photography blog it is. I’m not going to post anything that overlaps with my main blog. It’s just a showcase for my photography. No essay length post. Just a few words about the photo. Newly taken photos and snaps from my Flick archives. We’ll see how it goes.
So the first photo? It’s as good as anything to start with. A few years ago I walked away from this domain myself…