Monday, January 08, 2007

Hoping that normal service will be resumed....

I'm writing this sitting in the post office at Chirbury and posting this thanks to a wonderful project called 'Switch on Shropshire' because, once again BT blasted Broadband has gone inexplicably awol. So until normal service is resumed or my whole cyber life rethought I shall be haunting this space.

So first off - small news in the shape of the first lamb of the year - tiny crumple-eared and vulnerable. Alone with its mother in a very big field. This is January 4th.

January 5th - Permission to Read….

With my newly acquired ‘Readers Ticket’ to hand I was admitted to the Readers’ Room at the County Archive – and if the general reference room is a hushed and learned place it is positively bumptious in comparison with this. Here is an air of serious study; the sheltered groves of academe.
I had asked to see some manuscripts on which my g.g.g. grandfather's name, William Cross, was mentioned. (I think I have some secret hope that out there, somewhere, is a vast tract of land, stately home, title etc with my name on it – but know in my heart of hearts that someone whose last known occupation in 1841 was ‘ratcatcher’ was hardly likely to have a country estate in his gift.) And indeed this is the case – the aforementioned William Cross was a tenant occupying someone else’s cottage in someone else’s land deal. A pawn in the game. A small fry.

And here is William's name:
But what a document it was. The thick parchment crackled as it was unfolded to reveal a vast and ornate manuscript – handwritten and embellished, sealed and tied. A document to put the fear of God into the common man. It’s language so precise yet also (unintentionally) poetic. As owner of the land, ‘situate in the Parish of Chirbury in the county of Salop’ this is all yours:

‘…and all and singular Outhouses, edifices, Buildings, Barns, Stables, Coachhouses, Dove Cotes, Gardens, Orchards, Backsides, Tofts, Crofts, Lands, Meadows Pastures, Heaths, Meadows and marshes, wastes, waste grounds, folds, fold courses and liberty of foldage. feedage, parks, Warrens, Commons, Commons of pastures, commons of leasing, mines, minerals, quarries, Mills, Fairs, markets, customs, tolls, duties, furzes, trees ,woods, underwoods and the grounds and soil there of - mounds, Fences, hedges, ditches, free boards, ways, waters, Land covered with water, fishings, fisheries, fowlings, court lees, courts Baron and other courts, perquisites and profils of court. View of frank pledge and all that to view of frank pledge doth belong, receipt herein fines, sums of money amerciaments, Goods and chattels of Felons and Fugitives, Felons of themselves, outlawed persons, deedants, waifs and strays, chief rents, quit rents, rent charge, rent sick (?), rents of assize, fee farm rents, boons and services, royalties, Franchises, liberties privileges and easements. profits commodities, endowments heraditaments and appurtenances whatsoever to the said manner Lordships ......farms, Lands, Tenements and heraditaments and premises belonging or in any .... appertaining or with the same or any of them respectively new etc etc etc….’

And it's no good saying you don't want the 'Felons' or the 'Waifs and strays'. They're your responsibility too.

I took a great many photographs with the intention of splicing them together to make a whole - one day perhaps.

A room with a view….

The last time we were in Portmeirion was in the mid 70’s, and we then walked, a pair of starry-eyed lovers, through the deserted streets and squares of Sir Clough William-Ellis’ sugary Italianate creation wondering at the towers and turrets, the ice cream colours and the very tweeness of it all. We even caught a glimpse of the great man himself – then very ancient indeed – resplendent in breeks and yellow stockings, hacking at the undergrowth in some hedge bottom.

It was also the setting for a very ‘cult’ 1960’s TV drama: ‘The Prisoner’ – of which I remember very little save Patrick McGoohan’s repeated attempts to escape the pastel coloured village that confined him. Who remembers: 'I am not a number; I am a free man'?

It was somewhat ironic then that on our return this weekend – over 3 decades later – to stay at the Portmerion Hotel, a security barrier had to be raised to let us in. In fact I was unable to shake off the feeling that for the duration of our very short stay we were indeed prisoners in this very, very strange place.

A long tramp through over-heated corridors to the furthest reaches of the hotel brought us to our room, elegantly furnished with antique oak and an iron half tester bed draped in dun-coloured voile. The view from the window was dun-coloured too in the afternoon’s fading light. But it was quite a view; a broad panorama of the estuary and wooded hills beyond. In the foreground the receding tide had left an expanse of glistening rippled mud. Closer to hand were some of the architectural whimsies and eccentricities for which Portmeirion is known. This view was something of a bonus as when it comes to views from hotel bedrooms we are rarely blessed. We’ve come to appreciate throbbing air-conditioning units, service ducts and blank grimy brickwork or learned to crane our necks to take in whatever delight is tantalisingly just around the corner. So here what wonders would be revealed by the morning’s light?

We drew the rather theatrical curtains on the darkness and went downstairs to party. And what a good party it was too - excellent to see Nigel and his family back on a brief visit from Australia. And Nigel, you only looked a day over 50!

Come the dawn and all is swathed in fog. There is no view, no distance. All is grey – the estuary now full of water over which the odd gull sweeps now and again. The pretty pastels of the village are jewel-like in the mist, glowing in this most dreary setting. The village now has quite a commercial air - ice cream parlours and tea shops, gifte shops purveying gimcrackerie to the tourist trade, chalets set amongst the wintery trees and in this season (admitedly not the best) a little run down, a little worse for wear. I wonder if this is what its creator had in mind - considering his views on beauty and things of beauty?

The security barrier was raised so we could drive out - through the winding tree-lined lane to the coast road south and home.

This was a very strange place. I must try and discover what if any purpose Williams-Ellis had in mind for Portmeirion when he embarked on the scheme.
This chest was of particular interest:

So it's thanks once again to 'Switch on Shropshire' and to the kind lady at Chirbury Post Office for her hospitality and 'nul points' to BT. I'm heading for home.

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