Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Shortest, Coldest Day

Yesterday at four o'clock in the afternoon I walked from the station to the town centre and thence home, through dusk, frost and freezing fog. It was wonderful. The meadows were bluish white, the frosty willows ghostly in the fading grey light, the windows of shops and houses glowing yellow. How lucky I am, I told myself, to be living in a town where every street corner is Christmas card material, and every street is a perfect location for 'A Christmas Carol'. I felt all Back-endish and Yule-tidy, and desired to hear the lonely, far-away sound of 'O Come, Emmanuel' borne on the drifting grey mist from one of our fifteen churches. There was only some old git with a squeeze-box, wheezing 'and we all like figgy pudding, and we all like figgy pudding...' on the High Street. I snuffed out his wretched life there and then. Tomorrow evening, I said, kicking the corpse aside, I'll take my camera and get a few shots of all this Christmasmatic Englishry. Then I heard that not only is today the shortest day of the year, tonight is also going to be the coldest these islands have experienced since the days of the woolly mammoth, so bugger that. I went out earlier while it was still a toasty minus two.

This tree is so perfectly proportioned, so neatly balanced, you'd think it was man-made. In summer it would make the perfect set for a production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - look at those low-slung boughs and strong branches to deploy your mortals and spirits in. It might also do for 'The Winter's Tale' if anyone was daft enough to attend an outdoor performance in sub-zero temperatures. I dunno, though. In Cambridge, the end of the academic year is marked by loads of outdoor performances, and audiences endure some pretty dreadful weather with great stoicism. One year, when I was Corvino in 'Volpone', we were lucky and had balmy evenings throughout the run, and the only problem was the great mouthful of midges you got every time you had a speech to deliver. The following year I was in the ADC's May Week offering, 'The Country Wife' in Newnham gardens. It pissed with rain all day every day, puddles collected on the stage, and the wooden set swelled so that its doors were jammed. Drenched, shivering actors, supposed to exit smartish, were forced to ad lib: 'egad Sir, 'tis locked, stap me vitals. Demme me, this'n too!' before deciding that jumping off the stage was the only option. Costumes were sodden and rank, mine especially, as the table under which I had to hide for the space of a whole scene stood directly over one of the puddles. It was a thoroughly wretched week, but audiences simply produced golfing umbrellas, blankets and flasks of soup and sat and watched us suffer. No wonder foreign students think the English are barmy.

The town centre seen from the Meadows. Imagine Cambridge, remove every ill-conceived modern monstrosity, then shrink it to five or six streets and a few tiny passageways, and you have something like Stamford.

The cobbled street above apparently features in the film 'The Da Vinci Code'. I haven't seen it, so I can't swear that this is the one. It also features in the BBC adaptation of 'Middlemarch', with which I christened my first DVD player. I hired the series from the video shop in Kalamata. The Greek title, wouldn't you know it, was 'Απαγορευμένο Πάθος', 'Forbidden Passion', one of the stock of Greek all-purpose titles for imported films, and lead no doubt to much disappointment among punters. To be fair, if you just transliterate the English title, 'Μίντελμαρτς΄, it would be pronounced something like 'mindelmarts', some US DIY chain, maybe. I can't myself think of a suitable alternative title because I can't remember a thing about it.

Through the first of the arches is a conveniently placed and well-maintained public bog. Twenty pence a visit, whatever your purpose.

Just so you understand that Stamford does do naff when it tries. Christmas tat festooned across the High Street, outside a sorry building remarkable for its lack of remarkableness.

The George, allegedly the oldest inn in the country, practically on my doorstep. A sign on the door informs us that the Rotary Club meets here first Wednesday of every month, which should surprise nobody. 'Fine dining of the highest order' is offered, but I haven't sampled it, because this is an establishment that requires men to wear ties in the dining room, and I don't do ties for anybody. I did once press my nose to the dining room windows, which you see here, to see how ye Qualitie do eatte. I was soundly horse-whipped.

The building over the bridge is Pizza Express. The company was sensitive enough to the location not to display garish signage. Pictures below of the Meadows. I'm fairly pleased with the birds on the third one down, although I wasn't quick enough to catch the full wheeling flock, and it was too bloody cold to wait for them to do it again.

The Meadows.


Nik_TheGreek said...

Καλές Γιορτές...
I like your photos a lot.
It's also quite funny that you describe minus two as being relatively warm. Imagine that...

Vilges Suola said...

Να'σαι καλά. Είσαι στην Ελλάδα για τα χριστούγεννα; Εαν ναι, θα είχες πολύ ταλαιπωρεία, φαντάζομαι, ε;

Anonymous said...

Καλές γιορτές! Loved the post and the pictures! Athens is warm, humid, covered with rubbish and streets packed with cars (bus and train drivers are on strike...)but "Christmasly" decorated! Αμ πως!!!
Φιλιά, Άνσα

Vilges Suola said...

Ansa, thanks, same to you. Humid Christmas, παπαπαπαπα, glad I'm not there right now.

Fionnchú said...

I can see why you live there and choose to commute! Enjoy the holidays and I hope you got to see the solstice eclipse of the moon; we can't as it's raining here for the fifth day, but that makes headlines only in L.A.

Vilges Suola said...

I caught the start of the eclipse at six this morning, but after dawn the moon was not visible from my living room window. I won't be alive next time... damn.

I wish you a cool Yule.

Doomed But Cheerful! said...

Also missed the eclipse - it was raining very hard followed by a lightning storm.

I never went to Stamford - I think I should have; it looks charming without being 'English Heritage Kitsch'!

Have a wonderful Christmas.

G =]

Vilges Suola said...

Thanks, and you.

David Warr said...

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Vilges Suola said...

Thank you David for raising the tone.

David Warr said...

I wouldn't dare... Forgot to credit the poet, Joyce Kilmer.

Vilges Suola said...

I had heard it before but i didn't know who the writer was.


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