Monday, 7 February 2011

Stasis and Ecstasies


Long time, no blog.  Deep winter stasis.  But the days are quickening and maybe I'll get out walking soon.  In the meantime, some photos from three urban jaunts.





             


A dark December day in Winchester with my friend, Cathy, and Bryony, her daughter, who travelled up to meet us from Chichester.  As usual, our best-laid plans went tits up (as Burns so sagely observed).  First, we lingered just a little too long over lunch in a very crowded branch of Pitcher and Piano.   Then we spent some time coveting our way around the Christmas market, completely beguiled by the colours ...






















... and wonderful seasonal scents that assailed us.  So gorgeous!  I treated myself to a small wreath of dried oranges, apple slices, cheery red chillis and cinnamon sticks, and hung it on my bed post when I got home.  I slept better for quite a few nights than I had in some time. 





Which meant that by the time we got to the Cathedral, it was almost dark and I missed the glories of the Morris and Co windows, the Eric Gill sculptures, and other treasures swallowed up in atmospheric murk.  Resolved, therefore, to return ...






Early January, and it was off to Oxford on another jolly with Cathy, although there was nothing convivial about the weather - a dank, bone-poking cold.  Oxford is a lovely city but for some reason, I always seem to end up there at the bleakest time of year.  


Anyhow, first up the tower of St Michael's, the church where in 1859 the young William Morris married his stunner, Janey Burden, who was almost certainly already in love with his friend, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  In a small museum part way up, a copy of their marriage certificate and this very lovely late 11th or early 12th century Sheela-na-gig.


Also, this mediaeval font at which Will Shakespeare is said to have stood godfather to the son of an Oxford friend.







On, then, to the Museum of Oxford, which covers the history of the city from prehistoric times to the present day.  It's a bit like a Soviet cultural institution, only instead of babushki installed in every room, ready to drag you off to a gulag if you so much as glance at any of the artefacts, here there are scholarly-looking students who pretend to be reading but really are ready to pounce the instant you unvelcro your camera from its pouch.  Quite strange in these days of flashless photography.  I would love a picture of my favourite exhibit, a mediaeval shoe with slits cut in it to accommodate bunions, but no such luck. Which is a shame as I'm sure there's a poem in it.


After that, we visited Christ Church Cathedral, as Cathy had never been.  I've blogged about this wonderful building at least twice already, so will restrict myself to a couple of photos, of a detail of a Burne-Jones' window depicting David and Goliath, and a set of wonderfully worn stone steps.


      



  



After lunch (venison sausage braised in red wine with puy lentils), Cathy patiently accompanied me to the one place I was anxious to visit, namely Magpie Lane, known in the 13th century as Gropecunt Lane.  (Oh dear, is this jaunt developing a theme?)  By now we were so cold that no amount of tea and cake could warm us so we did some emergency clothes shopping.  It was definitely all those extra layers that made us look like Michelin women, rather than the vast amounts we'd scoffed.  


We decided to head to the Ashmolean Museum for the final three quarters of an hour of our trip, to find - most serendipitously - an exhibition about the Arts and Crafts-influenced printer, Lucien Pissarro (son of the Impressionist painter, Camille).  A delight and a joy!  I came away in starry-eyed ecstasy, clutching a catalogue to my bosom.




Finally, it was off to Salisbury a couple of Saturdays ago with my co-jaunters, Jan and Helen.  I hadn't been since I was about five, at least a couple of decades ago, and so made a bee-line for the yet another Cathedral.  So familiar from pictures, but just astonishing to see that so graceful spire rising over the town.  




Inside, it was still Christmas.  I love the way the great churches keep their decorations up until the end of Epiphany. It would be so much easier to get through January with a little colour and light and good cheer.
   







































Talking of light, there were lots of interesting shadows, also: of metal grilles that looked like brocade and a sinister figure standing guard over a couple in effigy - surely the shadow of Death?





 




































There was some etched glass by Laurence Whistler, with quotations from Eliot's 'Little Gidding', and plenty of examples of one of my favourite obsessions, graffiti with serifs.
















But absolutely best of all, the surging, soaring, stunning dimensions of the place.



We also walked along the river Avon to Fisherton Mill to dine finely and admire the wide selection of crafts. By now it was twilight and there was no time to walk around the rest of the town or up to Old Sarum, but I can do as I please these days and sometime soon I'll be back.