Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Rodinal 1+99 60 minutes
This weekend was the annual parade and fair in the small town where I live. There’s a little bit of history behind this.
Way back in 1440, the Abbot of Chertsey was given permission by Henry VI to hold an annual fair on St Ann’s Day. This provided a good income for the Abbey as it was able to collect tolls for ‘stallage’ ( any ground occupied by a box, basket or barrow) and for ‘pickage’ (the right to make holes in the ground for erection of a tent). At some point during the following century the name was changed from St Ann’s Fair to the Black Cherry Fair as it’s known today, and it carried on for another four hundred years. Sadly after such a long history the fair petered out during the first half of the 20th century, but was eventually revived in 1975 by the Chertsey Chamber of Commerce who saw it as a good opportunity to promote local businesses.
Originally the fair took place on St Ann’s Hill which overlooks the town, but these days it’s in the centre of town on Abbey Fields, the site of the old Abbey. There’s the usual mix of fast food and fairground rides; hot dogs and candy floss, the waltzer and chair swings – best not experienced in that order. A number of local companies run stalls and try to promote themselves with giveaways and raffles. Of course, being me, I always overthink why I’m approached by particular stallholders. Was a flyer for the local gym thrust into my hand because I look like the sort of guy who goes to a gym? Or do I look like someone who desperately needs to? What is it about me that caused the local undertakers to think someone in my family might be needing their services in the near future? On the plus side, I had a chat with a very attractive woman around my age who tried to convince me to join the local wing of one of the main political parties. Rather than tell her that I voted for the other guy, I listened patiently and considerately to her gentle encouragement, and walked away with her contact details saying I’d give it some serious thought. I’d like to think this was an attempt on my part to foster some much needed political unity and understanding in these troubled times, but in all honesty it’s because I’m so mind-numbingly shallow.
I suspect that not much has changed since the fair restarted in the 70’s. There’s still the Glamorous Granny and Bonny Baby competitions that seem like a throwback to an earlier, more innocent age. But in the five years I’ve lived here I’ve also seen some newer traditions start to gain ground. The much-anticipated ‘HE’S NOT WORTH IT DAVE!’ event has now become an annual fixture, where local youths fight outside Simpsons Chicken over some perceived slight, whilst their girlfriends try to drag them away. And becoming ever more popular each year is the Alcopop Challenge, where teenagers compete to be the first person requiring medical attention after drinking two Peach Bacardi Breezers.
Last year I took along my Yashica Mat. This time I decided go 35mm and went with the Nikon F90X.
On Sunday I went to Parliament Square to pay my respects to murdered MP Jo Cox. I also took part in the (successful) world record attempt for the longest kissing chain. Across Europe, people lined up to kiss each other in a show of love and solidarity to urge people to remain in the European Union. Now that’s my sort of demo, although I feel that both the man and the woman either side of me are now thoroughly traumatised.
For many people on both sides, this week’s referendum has morphed in to something more than just staying in or leaving the European Union. It’s become about the type of society we want to live in, and how we want to shape our country moving forward. Do we want to be part of a progressive and tolerant society? Or do we want to be dragged back to 1970? I grew up in the 1970s; I sure as hell don’t want to go back there.
Even if Britain does vote to leave the EU this week, those in the ‘political correctness gone mad’ camp are going to be disappointed when they wake up on Friday morning. As they struggle with their post-celebration hangovers, the strains of Yakety Sax still ringing in their ears, a feeling of anti-climax will slowly dawn upon them.
Miraculously, Jeremy Clarkson won’t have been ordained and Katie Hopkins won’t be Prime Minister. There won’t be back to back re-runs of Love Thy Neighbour and The Black and White Minstrel Show on TV. Climate change won’t be revealed as a global conspiracy by the Illuminati to sell more umbrellas and sun tan lotion. All workplaces won’t be allocated a solitary black man called Chalky with a comedy Caribbean accent, and compulsory passive smoking will not be reintroduced in to pubs. Women won’t suddenly realise that yes, actually, they do rather like having their bottoms pinched after all. And speed cameras and traffic cops won’t be abolished so that the police can concentrate on issues more important than the hundreds of children that are killed or maimed by cars every year.
We live in troubled times. We need to be making the world a smaller place and bringing people closer together, not prising countries and peoples apart, hunkering down and building a wall. Britain and the EU may well need marriage guidance, but that’s infinitely preferable to storming out and instigating a bitter and acrimonious divorce.
Richard’s Bicycle Book was my bible when I was a teenager. This was a time before cyclists flew round the streets in soulless tinted-goggled packs. As the cover says, this is a manual primarily of enjoyment. There was no need for state of the art gear or comical, overpriced clothing. You just pulled on a pair of jeans and a chunky jumper, and off you’d go. When you felt like it you could stop for a pint or a roll-up 1. Riding a bike was Richard’s way of combatting disaffection with modern life and the alienating effects of cars. “Now look at what happens to you on a bicycle,” he wrote. “It’s immediate and direct. You pedal. You make decisions. You experience the tang of the air and the surge of power as you bite into the road. You’re vitalised. As you hum along, you fully and gloriously experience the day, the sunshine, the clouds, the breezes. You’re alive!” I do sometimes feel that these days the only thing the typical street cyclist experiences is the lycra-clad buttocks of the dude in front of him. But each to their own.
In the summer of 1983 I was 16 and preparing to sit my ‘O’ Levels. Back then there was much talk about the unfairness of five years of work being measured on a single three hour exam, and the Board decided to include additional forms of assessment. For me and my English Language exam, that meant having to give a presentation on a subject of choice to my classmates. I was an idealistic hippie back then, and as my friend Suzie often tells me, I still am. Inspired by Richard and his ecological ideas, my talk was about the building of extensive cycle paths and the banning of cars from city centres, with free bikes available for anyone to borrow.
Fast forward 30 years or so and things haven’t worked out quite how I’d hoped. To be fair though, if you’d asked me in 1983 how I honestly thought we’d be getting round in 2016, I would have said personal jet packs. Nevertheless, there has been quite a bit of progress. In 1984 the Bristol and Bath Railway Path was opened. This is a 15 mile cycle path on a disused railway, and was the first part of what was to become the National Cycle Network. The NCN now comprises around 15000 miles of signed cycle routes. Not a great deal of this is on dedicated cycleways, but the aspiration has been to minimise contact with motor traffic through the use of pedestrian routes, disused railways, minor roads, canal towpaths and traffic-calmed routes in towns and cities. All the routes should be suitable for an unsupervised 12 year old.
As it happens NCN 4 runs right by my front door. A couple of miles down the road road it meets up with the Thames Path, a national trail that runs alongside the Thames, much of which can be cycled. These photos are from a few weeks back and my first cycle ride along it this summer.
A few miles from my house along the Thames Path the tow path peters out. Enter the Shepperton Ferry. There’s been a ferry across the Thames from Shepperton for around 500 years, even being famously mentioned in the 1897 HG Wells novel War of the Worlds. These days it’s operated by this small skiff and crossings are every 15 minutes.
When I got to Hampton Court I took a short detour from the river over to Bushy Park, which I thought would be a good spot to eat my sandwiches. And I ran right in to what turned out to be the annual Chestnut Parade. I’ve still no idea what it’s in aid of, but nevertheless it was very enjoyable.
1. [Thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure that’s in the book. It might have just been me.]↩