Thursday, November 29, 2012

English Notebook: One

I went to England and now I'm back again.

Listen. I've realized that if I try to arrange the notes and photographs from the trip into a neat, coherent, chronological set of entries, I will never get around to showing you anything at all.

So I'm going to post things as and how they occur to me. If you find the scattershot approach disconcerting, please consider that at least you are not trapped in my living room watching me click through slides while Dolores rests her head on your shoulder.

My very first note from this trip–scribbled after a stroll up Regent Street on arrival day–was this:

As usual, the sight of the classic Englishman in full fig is making me want to pile my entire wardrobe into a little wooden boat, douse it with paraffin, set it on fire, push it out to sea, and start over again.

I know perfectly well that not every guy in England is fashion plate. But the tweedy peacocks of Central London reminded me of the joy I used to take in dressing myself, and while my closet hasn't been set on fire it has come under close scrutiny. Time will tell whether I improve myself in any significant way. It can be tough to do while living in a city where a nice, clean Ohio State sweatshirt is considered suitable for an evening wedding.

We took the train from King's Cross Station


to Cambridge. I had never been there before.

My friend Liz lives there, and was graduated from Clare College, so she knows her way around. She took us places we would never have known to go, and told us things the tour guides would not have known.

This is Liz.


She's a knitter (to put it mildly). The fantastic hat is by Woolly Wormhead and was finished while we were eating lunch.

Here are a few things we saw in Cambridge. (There will be more. These are the shots closest to hand.)

King's College Chapel and some of Clare College, from the river.  (Click to embiggen.)

From the River

Had it been snowing, this would have been the cover of my favorite Christmas record, A Festival of Lessons and Carols. I would like to thank King's College, Cambridge, for looking exactly as it was supposed to look.

The Colleges of Cambridge put every other academic landscape I've ever seen (and I have seen far, far too many) in the shade. You can't move five feet without finding something like this polychrome archway in St John's College looming over you. (Again, click to embiggen.)


The Colleges, of course, are on the beaten path. Well off the beaten path was All Saints, a church only lately rescued from dereliction and neglect that was decorated by leading lights of the Arts and Crafts Movement. (There is a handy guide to the windows above the altar showing which designer–Burne-Jones or Morris–was responsible for which saints.)

There was a pottery sale going on in the church, and while Tom and Liz browsed I wandered freely and photographed things.




The walls–all painted and stenciled–were not to be believed, even those still awaiting conservation.

There was a time, you see, when artists didn't consider it a waste of time to apply their talents to the decoration of mundane things like walls. And there was a time, you see, when people hadn't been conditioned by the lazy brutality of Modernism to accept the ugly, inhuman, undecorated box as the only form of construction. (Dear Mies van der Rohe, I hate you and you can suck it.)

There's more. But it'll have to wait a little while. I'll aim for tomorrow.


Liz said...

I'm hoping someone has a pic of that glorious bow-tie you bought in Trinity Street... It was lovely; any time.

Slip, Knit... Meditate said...

Can I join next time you are in Good Old Engeland??
I will behave brave...I promise...and knit... showed England the way I like to see it too...the tradition...and that story of the boat.. setting it on fire...let's do it together..and after that we will dress up in tweed and live int he country on a grand house...Deal??

And Tom....No problem.. we will need a butler anyway :-)

Ann said...

OK I am in for the entire 182-part series on this trip. More, please!

Terri said...


Pretty Knitty said...

Rest up...I can hardly wait to see the remainder of your photos. I'm in for the long-haul, and I am so happy you are sharing (as always)!

Nancy said...

"(Dear Mies van der Rohe, I hate you and you can suck it.)"

That is the best thing I have read all day.

Gretchen said...

How beautiful. Did you get to hear evensong?

Leigh said...

RE: Mies = Agreed.

182 part series? I'm in too. :) That clock is fab and I love old buildings.

Stephiue said...

Hope you went to Kettle's Yard :)

Sharripie said...

I always liked a bit of Shaker philosophy I found when I was in design school: "If it's necessary, make it beautiful." So, while I am a big fan of modernism, I also like pretty. Balance, so might call it.

DW2 said...

I love the picture of the polychromatic stonework -- although when I saw the little faces I immediately thought of the door knockers in Labyrinth.....
Glad you are back and sharing your stories. :-)

Jackie said...

It's so sad that all the mindless followers of Modernism have forgotten that Mies van der Rohe was a fan of William Morris, and that Bauhaus began, in large part, as an attempt to translate Morris' principles in contemporary materials. Sigh... They've most all of them missed the point.

nosenabook said...

Lovely photos, Franklin, and thank you for reminding me to look at Jean's blog for the photo of the two of you together. It's my favorite, hands down.

LisaRae7 said...

I have a few similar pix (exteriors) of Cambridge. if you ever have an opportunity to return and see "the Backs" in springtime, with a profusion of daffodils, I do recommend it!

More, please! [And, in NO particular order...]

Anth said...

"Dear Mies van der Rohe, I hate you and you can suck it."

Hear, hear!

Now I am fantasizing the walls of my house are fantastically stenciled and every corner is filled with amazing wood carvings...

annie said...

All great from the hat to the stenciled walls. I am green.

Seanna Lea said...

I'll admit that I never thought of stenciling our walls. I'll have to consider that for the next house.

Lisa/knitnzu said...

Have I been under a rock and not noticed all the copyright stuff?

Spain did to me what London did to you RE your clothes. But wedding attire here is a plaid flannel not a college sweatshirt.

Are ya talkin' funny yet?

CeltChick said...

Thanks for including us (virtually) in your itinerary. Is there a subscription form for the 182-part series? I'd sign it!

Nancy E. Banks said...

Finally—someone else who thinks Mies van der Rohe killed all the really good ideas that came out of the Bauhaus with his reductio ad brutalisum architecture. Bring back the doohickeys on buildings, I say!

Liz said...

Wow, such amazing decoration, and just when I've been attempting design mittens inspired by William Morris. My great-grandfather went to St. John's College, Cambridge in the 1880s before coming out to the "colonies" (Canada) as an Anglican clergyman, and my own son followed in his footsteps, sort of, by being a chorister at Washington National Cathedral. The musical tradition is breathtakingly lovely, but I had no idea that the architectural decoration was on the same level. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The mere phrase "tweedy peacocks" is worth the wait. Regale us with your stories at your own pace.
-- stashdragon

JoAnn said...

Thanks so much for your pix (as always just the best) and for the class at WEBS just before you left. You know, a calendar with YOUR version of what needs to be photographed and how, would be a great gift to give oneself!

Kristen said...

Ahhh, Franklin, this art historian loves you, even if she is a modernist. I do, however, get great glee in telling students about Venturi responding to Mies's dictum "less is more" with "less is a bore."

Denise L. said...

What does it say about my life that watching a slideshow with Dolores' head resting on my shoulder is strangely appealing this afternoon?

Bob & Phyllis said...

whoa. I thought you lived in Chicago. When did you move to Columbus? I thought we were the only city were an OSU Sweatshirt was appropriate wear for ANYTHING other than a football game...

Beautiful peektures!

Heather J said...

I love the pics that is what I look at when on vacation the architecture and decor. More Please. Am I the only one who things that iron work looks like a shawl edging?

Andi said...

My visit to Cambridge included a stop for pizza with a painted wall preserved behind glass from about the year 1400. I can remember thinking how crazy it was that those buildings were older than the good ol' US of A!!!

Irrelevant said...

But while you were in King's Cross, did you happen to see Platform 9 3/4? Did you attempt to run through it? And if the thought didn't even cross your mind, I'm ashamed of you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures. I spent a few weeks in Cambridge many years ago and your pictures have reminded me what a fascinating place it is. Looking forward to more of your notebook.

Ruth said...

Is Auntie's Tea Shop still there? Their scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream (washed down with a pot of Earl Grey tea) were a major weakness of mine.

Judy11 said...

I look forward to another travelogue of England from you - photographed in all its wonderfulness by your fabulous eye!! My one trip to England was way too short and I continually hope for a return. In the meantime, you make my heart flutter!

It was so nice to hear you talk at Webs and finally get to meet one of my knitting idols. I await the Manteau Rose pattern to make for the grand daughter

Kay in Albuquerque said...

I love Cambridge, and I'm glad you do too! Try to make time for St Bennet's Church - the bell tower was built before the Conquest, 1036 or something like that. And there are the most marvelous polychrome heads as corbels under the arch ribbing. Oooo!

Rebecca said...

What amazing pictures. I have to agree with you about the amazing artistry that one finds in old churches and homes. As much as I love Mies van der Rohe and some of the other Modernists, they just can't compete with the talent and beauty of old church art.

Once again, thank you for the lovely pictures. I've never been to Cambridge but now I am even more determined to go.

Peg in Kensington, California said...

Those are wonderful pictures. I have stayed at Clare College and sung in the chapel. Fabulous. It would be wonderful to sing at King's, but that is just a dream. I remember my first time in King's as a junior in college. I looked up at the ceiling with the fabulous English perpendicular architecture and fan vaulting and said wow! And put money in the restoration fund.

Natalie Servant said...

Keep sharing as you've got time. Love the little note to Mies.

Martha0051 from Columbus, Ohio said...

A nice clean Ohio State sweatshirt is indeed appropriate for a wedding. But for an evening wedding, one must add a buckeye necklace.

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lunatica said...

Nope, or maybe even a necklace! It's gorgeous and would make someone a beautiful free-form pattern to add to their repertoire!

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