As the sun slinks lower and the evenings start earlier, I’m contemplating the prospect of winter with a touch of melancholy. Back in the high Summer of 2013, my friends and family paid Whitstable a visit, and it was all fish and chips, wind-burn, and the flying of kites. I look at these photographs today, and even though they are black and white and somewhat dramatised, I remember the heat, the way the noise carried across the shingle, and what a bloody nice day it was.
Okay, so just a few more skyscapes taken from Whitstable beach back in the Summer of 2009, for this week’s blast-from-the-past. Like something from the ceiling of Sistene chapel.
When you live by the sea, in a place famous for its spectacular sunsets, there comes a point where you have to say ‘no more!’. No more photographs of sunsets, however extraordinary. No more photographs of clouds, however painterly! No more! In my defense, these photographs date from 2009, so well before that embargo, and I still remember very clearly how special this particular lightshow was, boasting skyscapes so dramatic they could have come from a John Martin painting.
There’s no way around this. I’m showing off a bit about our narrow, over-stuffed strip of garden at the back of our old narrow end-of-terrace house in Whitstable. With words by Francine Raymond and photographs by Sarah Cuttle, our garden appeared this month on the cover of the Royal Horticultural Society’s The Garden magazine. The general gist of the accompanying article is ‘look how many plants you can cram into a small space!’. Just before putting this post together, I was outside chucking lots of fish, blood and bone about the garden before it started to rain. I smell a lot like cat food now. Oh, the glamour.
As a fitting book-end, I wanted to (re)share a past projects of which I’m very fond, not least because I got to work with a loyal team of generous creatives. If you’re familiar with Red’s Kingdom, you’ll recognise the likes of Emily Clarkson, Ethan Shilling, Deanna Crisbacher and kick-abouter, Simon Holland, all of whom worked on this short educational animated film about the provenance of some ship-wrecked Roman pottery. Let me also introduce you to production team members, Nat Urwin, Tom Smith, Charlie Serafini, Alan Postings, and Jeffrey Wang, whose time and talents this film absorbed so totally for so many weeks.
Commissioned by the trustees of the Seaside Museum Herne Bay and funded by Heritage Lottery, the film was also made with the help and support of the children and staff of the Herne Bay Junior School. I had the pleasure of meeting a whole bunch of the school’s exuberant pupils in our search for the ‘voice of Marcus’, a role that ultimately went to Lake Blumenthal, who auditioned for me so impressively – while dressed as a lion!
Though completely exhausting in only the way putting together an animation can be on a tight schedule and even tighter budget, Marcus & The Mystery of the Pudding Pans was a very happy, life-affirming collaboration. I was interviewed on local radio about the project, which you can listen to here – or rather, you can hear my answers to the interviewer’s questions about the development of the animation in this archive of my side of the interview.
A final set of photographs from the scrubland at Saxon Shore. I went down into the basin, where the snow was lying thicker, and even though there were people walking their dogs nearby and a line of jolly beach huts just behind me, I knew the strange corrugations of the snow would produce ‘off-world’ spectacles if I effaced any obvious measures of scale from the compositions and pushed the focus into the very back of the image. Sure enough, I’ve ended up with a set of photographs strongly reminding me of slightly creaky establishing shots of alien planets in the oldest episodes of Doctor Who. They manage to seem both expansive – and tiny – at the same time, like miniature sets purporting to be epic terrains.
As the temperature continues to drop, I’m hankering after a blast of Summer heat and colour. Yesterday afternoon, the falling snow went from quick, dry powder to lilting goose feathers, and our small garden was transformed. I took the photograph below from our kitchen door, snowflakes settling on the toes of my woollen socks. Beautiful though it certainly was out there, I couldn’t help but fast-forward the scene before me. The snow has buried the snowdrops and the hellebores, but strange to think all that saturated summer colour is buried out there too, embers, already stirring under the frozen earth.
Whitstable garden, February 10th, 2021
At last some snow – not a huge amount, and of the dry, powdery variety, but the wind chill has been fierce. That said, we went out for a very brisk walk yesterday, along the beach, past the oyster beds and up towards Seasalter.
Leaving the beach, we walked over the sea wall and along the short cut-through, to one side of which there is a large basin of tall, tufty grass. The snow and ice had turned the grass into a motionless sea, frozen boisterously in cresting undulations. As black and white landscapes, the provenance of the resulting images is difficult to discern, this patch of wild scrub roaring like unleashed flood water.
This week’s Throwback Friday leap back in time is very sleight. These photographs were taken as recently as Sunday, as we left the house in the late afternoon to walk around in the subdued Tier 4 environs of Whitstable, a few hours after the UK government had ‘cancelled Christmas’. Like many I suspect, all I really felt was a sense of relief, having long since concluded the ‘5 days of Christmas’ relaxation was a remarkably stupid idea.
It was wet and windy on our walk about the town, where even the snoozing fishing boats were bedecked with fairy lights. Up at Whitstable Castle (not really a castle at all), its facade painted in red and green light, one very tall tree was dressed in lights to impressive effect. Funny, how persistent ‘festiveness’ can be, little squizzes of finer feelings igniting spontaneously, unprompted by television adverts or the syrup of Mariah Carey, but produced instead by each and every plucky wreath hanging on the front doors of Whitstable’s narrow quiet houses.
The latest Kick-About prompt was Robert Frost’s 1922 poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Night, which returned me at once to the snowy winters in the woods in the village in which I grew up.
I was always struck by the impression of the bases of the trees, very black against the white snow. To me, they looked like the foot of some huge pachyderm or similar, with the thickening around the base of the tree like the moment when the foot of the creature starts taking the full weight of what is being carried above it.
Back in February 2018, the UK was struck by ‘the beast from the east’ – a blast of exceptionally cold weather that brought with it an ice-storm. I went out to the beach to find everything glazed with ice, with even the stones on the beach in that sort of shell of ice you find around individual prawns in the supermarket freezer cabinets.
Whitstable beach is shored up with wooden groynes that extend into the sea to keep the beach from washing away. I was reminded of my childhood in the deep dark woods of the village, less because of the proper cold (which is the way I remember – rightly or wrongly – all the winters of my youth) and more because of the way the exposed wooded groynes against the white of the beach and the frozen slate-coloured mud looked like the skeletons of sea serpents or fallen dragons.