Autumn Leaves

Well the winds outside our window are picking up, and I guess this is the early part of the remnants of hurricane Gonzalo, which has caused a fair amount of destruction on the islands off America’s east coast, and is apparently heading this way. The trouble is that the leaves are still green on the trees here in the UK, which makes them top-heavy and likely to fall if the gusts get big.

A few years ago I was helping friends cut down a poplar plantation just down the road, and the work was started a bit late in spring, which meant that no matter how we cut into the trees the major influence controlling the direction in which the trees would fall was the wind, simply because they were in leaf and therefore top heavy. That was a tricky job, but I learnt a great deal about the influence of the seasons.

Right now we’re getting autumn winds. Quite right too. They’re nature’s way of blowing the dead leaves from the trees. They’re not unseasonal, unlike most of the weather we’ve experienced in recent years due to the very obvious effects of climate change. However, what is different is the fact that the leaves should be golden brown by now. It’s October. The Germans call it Goldener Oktober, I do believe. But the only trees turning at the moment are the horse chestnuts, which really should have changed in September. They’re always the first to go.

In a few weeks time it will be firework night here in the UK. Remember, remember, the fifth of November… Well I remember ten years ago we were watching the firework displays wrapped up in scarves, woolly hats and thick coats with two pairs of socks. It was always freezing. Cups of soup were served, and we’d make the soup last as long as possible just to keep our hands warm. Breath was properly steamy. These days we wonder if it’s even worth wearing a coat.

This weekend, the middle of October, just a week or two before the clocks go back, and the sun is shining, pub gardens are still full and the east coast towns here in Suffolk are enjoying a late run of trade. It’s hard to knock it.

But tomorrow evening the TV news will be full of stories of early hurricane damage. Sensational images of a cheap wooden fence blown over in Farnborough, a tree fallen on a car in Kirby Lonsdale, tiles missing from a roof in Romford, and a mountain made out of a molehill in Minehead.

I’ll admit that I certainly didn’t fancy taking the dogs out this afternoon, and they may be lucky to get a walk at all tomorrow. We are surrounded by oaks and ash trees in full leaf just itching to fall on me. And Tuesday will be even worse.

Anyway, sleep well.

Life is sweet.

October 18, 2014

photoFor Mo and I Saturdays are usually a bit foodie. Nothing posey, you understand. No pithiviers or mille-feuille, no foams, nothing of that sort. Just well sourced, chasing-round-the-county, deliciousness. Nothing is ever planned. We might start in Framlingham market to buy bread, although not today as I’d bought wood fired beer bread from The Station pub yesterday. And as this was looking like the last warm and sunny weekend of the year we decided to take a drive through a leafy lane or two.

Our first stop was nearby Friday Street farm shop to get some vegetables, and next door we bought a couple of sparkly-eyed mackerel and some skate wings at Maximus sustainable fishing. A cold bag was packed with some ice as we knew we were not going home too soon.

Orford is a beautiful fishing village about a half hour’s drive from homeIMG_0158 and we’ve been going there for over forty years. And in the town square is a favourite old restaurant, The Butley Orford Oysterage, that has really not changed in any significant way since we first went there in the early seventies. The place is, and always has been, simply decorated (perhaps decorated is too strong a word) with a sort of cream paint and green dado rails. Tables are marble topped on iron legs, and chairs are basic; the kind that scrape on the quarry tiled floor and give up a noise that makes your fillings drop out.

But the food, oh yes, the simple fare of half a dozen Butley oysters, some griddled squid and prawns, with chunks of fresh bread. That’s it. No girlie vegetables here. No concessions to your five-a-day health Nazis. A bottle of light, Italian red wine. Perfect. Then a gentle walk along the coast path with a warm south-easterly breeze on our backs going out, but a much brisker wind in our faces on the return.

Dog-sitting does, of course, restrict the time we might normally be out and about, but so what. Home to take them for a walk, and then a leisurely couple of hours in the garden before a magnificent but light supper of griddled mackerel on griddled beer bread with tomato, mozzarella, avocado and spring onion salad. It’s been a griddlely kind of day.

Good night and sleep well.

It’s a living.

October 16, 2014

I’ve spent the greater part of today packing our possessions into the car and transporting them through four miles of meandering, single-track lanes to a delightful cottage on the outskirts of a beautiful village in the loveliest part of Suffolk. My wife Mo and I will be living here for the next three weeks, looking after the house and three small long-haired dachshunds, while the owner, I’ll call him Justin, is working in Uzbekistan selling oil pipelines.

When Justin returns we’ll head back home for three weeks or so until the next tour of duty. It’s a living, and I love it.

It’s one of a number of occupations that bring in a trickle of income and prevent my brain turning to mush. For slightly less than thirty pounds a day I am required to do no more than feed and walk the dogs twice a day, and clear up the occasional indiscretion left on the living room floor. The cottage is warm and cosy, with a glorious garden of around a quarter of an acre stretching away to a wild flower meadow and bordered by high hedges on either side.

When we first came we found the trio of little shit machines to be undisciplined, ill tempered and sullen. The deeply unpleasant next-door neighbour, a crusty old lady who fancies herself as some kind of dyed-in-the-wool countrywoman, but is in fact an opinionated old busy-body who moved up from Essex in search of peace and quiet, hated them, perhaps not without good reason, for their incessant barking. She has, for good measure, a foul-mouthed thug of a son who arrives once a week to mow the extensive lawns surrounding her ugly little bungalow, and to hurl disembodied abuse over the hedge. Her unyielding, relentless complaining to Justin made his life a misery, as if his life wasn’t made awful enough by the death, just over a year ago, of his beautiful wife, Carla. For some time that was the downside of this idyllic commission.

But we’ve been coming here for nearly a year now, and in that time the dogs have transformed themselves into adorable, fun-loving companions.

ImageSometimes I feel that words are unneccesary.

ImageI have recently begun a regime of morning walks in an attempt to both kickstart the day and to lose several pounds of unsightly fatty substance that somehow seems to have accumulated, uninvited, about my midrift. The truth is that I’ve been quite neglectful of my body for some time, and whilst i can never claim to have treated my body as a temple I nonetheless rarely had weight problems in the past. But that’s all probably due to the fact that I used to be naturally active and would unthinkingly leap up stairs or ride my bike to the pub instead of drive. And there you have it in a sentence. Driving to the pub has been my downfall. And I can only partly blame that on the closure of my local which was a reasonable half mile walk away. Not exactly marathon training.

ImageHowever, a small leaf has now been turned and each morning will see me striding manfully across the beautiful Suffolk countryside calling to an imaginary dog and greeting passers by in my best ‘hail fellow well met’ cheery manner. Setting out from home I’m immediately offered a number of choices for the route to take. I usually set out northwards and then, after a mile or so,  either west via Hall Farm and take a wide circular route around the village and head home past the church, or east via Sweffling village and Dodds Wood, where I used to go beating in the winter, and back via White House Farm in the Alde Valley. Plus the many variations on those two.

And there is also a new added interest since my visit last week to London and the quite extraordinary David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. To say it was inspirational is rather understating it. I now view every aspect of a quite familiar landscape in a completely new perspective, and my camera is rarely left at home, as the accompanying photomontages will testfy.

Also, as the weeks progress I can see myself returning to landscape painting again. So a morning yomp of maybe four or five miles is turning out to be good for body and mind. All in all very satisfactory.

Decent exposure

May 7, 2010

I do enjoy writing this blog when nice things happen, and today I discovered that the May edition of EADT Suffolk Magazine carries a very generous six page article about my photography under the headline ‘The Colours of Summer’.

The introduction reports that ‘You can almost feel the warmth on your back and hear the lazy hum of bees with these bright, sunshine-filled scenes from Suffolk photographer Bill Philpot.’ And I’m quite sure that I couldn’t have put that better myself. Well, perhaps I might have slipped in a few words like ‘startling’ and ‘fabulous’.

I was told by the magazine’s art director Sandra Roberts that the work would feature in this month’s edition, but that was a long time ago and the information had slipped from my feeble memory bank until today when I happened to notice the publication on the racks in the supermarket, had a quick flick and the pages just fell open at this article. It contains about a dozen shots of Suffolk coastal images and landscapes, including a shot of Blaxall church almost obscured by a field of poppies that they’ve used as a full double page spread.

Now I shall be practising a nonchalant air as I stroll in the pub with the magazine under my arm and casually allow it to fall open on the bar. It has to be done. And for those of you who might not be in the pub at that particular moment there is a link to these pictures and more at ‘the suffolk snapper’ in the ‘my other stuff’ section on the right of this page.

Journey’s end

April 28, 2010

This week I received some quite devastating news. I have lost the loveliest job in the world. For the past five or six years I’ve been running tourist river trips from Snape Maltings in Suffolk, down the River Alde to Iken Church and back, forty-five minutes of perfect tranquility. The river is completely unspoilt, a slow meandering estuary that offers habitat to some of the most beautiful wetland birds, particularly Avocets, Marsh Harriers, Oyster Catchers, Cormorant, Little Grebe, Redshank, Shelduck, Kingfisher, Godwit, Snipe, Heron and Curlew. And the boat, The Cormorant, a converted twenty-five foot coastal fishing boat, was the perfect platform from which to observe these lovely creatures.

It was always such a pleasure to just be a part of the Snape Maltings community. From the beginning of May to the end of October, depending on the weather, I became a familiar face on the quayside taking up to twelve passengers at a lazy pace along the river maybe five times a day, tides permitting. And it is, after all, the occupation that gave this blog its user name.

But now the health and safety department of the local council have introduced new rules requiring extensive and expensive modifications to the boat which have made the whole operation unviable. OK, it didn’t offer big bucks by everybody else’s standards but it was a lot to me and I was frequently told how envied I was to have such a job. And it supplemented my meagre income as an artist quite nicely, especially now when nobody is buying pictures. I’m very sad.

Oh, well. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll.