Wednesday, 21 May 2014

An intermission of rural England

Rural England is a small place. All of England to start with is smaller than most US states, and can fit into Scandinavia many times over. Take out the cities, take out the airports, the motorways and main roads, the growing suburbs and industrial sites, and you aren't left with a huge amount of area. Set your mind to it and in a few days you could walk across its width; in a few weeks, its length.

But, what there is still greatly varied in tone, color, views, flora and fauna. And it is a country to be walked in, not driven through or flown over. Rabbits and pheasants burst from their secluded places as they hear you coming, and leap or flap away. Herons move slowly from tree to riverbank. In the gloom of dusk, foxes trot quickly, sharply, on their routes across fields. Meadows filled with a million buttercups invite crossing. And there are thousands upon thousands of those fields, rolling and curving over hills; and hedgerows, and woods and copses and spinneys.

Yes. The trees.

So many trees.

It's a safe place; there is little that can or will kill you. And it's a gentle place, in weather and inhabitant. Everyone, no exception, I've passed this last few weeks on country lanes has nodded, given some variation of passing greeting, or observation on the current or coming weather. The invisibility cloak you are seemingly given on entering the city is not worn here.

But also, this is a visibly historical place, as you are reminded over and over. The way the country lanes either ramble off in dead straight lines (Roman), or zig zag around fields (Enclosure act), or make no logical sense at all (just ... English). The buildings, almhouses and stately homes and passing a cottage called "The New House" with a date of 1573 above the front door, and the remnants of medieval or older settlements. The many churches, stone and bell; the place names, and the dialects.

And the, thankfully enduring, traditions and customs. Stumble into a pub of several centuries, parched after rambling across fields and through woods and over brooks and streams; pat the owners dog on the head, buy a drink and some pork scratchings then notice Morris Dancers preparing to shake their bells and clash sticks outside. Or wander past a village fete, decide to check out just one stand, and a few minutes late you wonder why you've just bought three cakes made by a 90+ year old, but you are glad you have as it's probably made her day and you've contributed to some village restoration project.

Rural England is a seductive place. It's better if you have the money, and the time, to enjoy and explore it (then again, so is everywhere). But above all, it's a quiet place where nature has, at least partially, reclaimed the sounds. Sure, there is often the distant hum of traffic, or a nearby tractor, or a plane going overhead (and ... so many planes, in recent years). But there are farm animals, and birds, and church bells near and distant, the sounds of water, morris dancers and cricket matches, and psithurism (look it up, then go outside somewhere and listen to it).

Though I was born in this rural land, and spent the first 20 years here and kept coming back, and I'm here again, wandering the lanes and fields, this isn't home. That thing means something different now, and it's a long way, physically and literally, from here. But I'm finding that it's deeply satisfying, for a short while anyway, to wander down lanes, through woods and across meadows, again.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Use Libraries and Learn Stuff

Quick link to the online store:

Quick link to the logo picture: Higher quality ... Lower quality ... Twitter icon


A few years ago now, I adapted (as many have done) the Keep Calm And Carry On World War Two slogan. Parodies and variations of the original were still popping up all the time, much to the anguish of hipster colleagues who, as usual, declared this meme "over" 20 minutes before it had begun. I'm not sure why the 'Use Libraries and Learn Stuff' thing formed in my head, but it just seems logical and as simple as you can get.
  1. Go into a library.
  2. Use the services in it.
  3. And you will learn stuff.
It's that simple. I stuck it on Flickr, then forgot about it.

After a while, I noticed various people were running with it on online services, such as Tumblr, Flickr and Twitter, and on their websites. The odd request came in to do something with it, so a few variations for use as e.g. icons on peoples twitter accounts, were knocked up. Then some more requests came in, for posters (especially) and cards. A few of these were from library campaigners, and it turned out they'd been printing off copies of the logo and making protest signs with them.

But this caused a problem in having low-quality printouts, as well as burning through the red ink cartridge of their inkjet printers at alarming rates. So I knocked up a Zazzle and a Cafepress online store, and did the fiddling about to make some products for sale. The Cafepress ones were disappointing in terms of quality, so I closed that online store down. The Zazzle stuff was noticeably better quality, especially posters and cards, so I kept that running.

Here's what you get if you bought 20 cards and envelopes from the store; I'm pleased with the sturdiness and print quality of these:

Use Libraries and Learn Stuff cards

I sent off some cards in Christmas 2010 to various politicians connected with libraries (more to annoy or guilt-trip them), as well as some people in the media. No responses except a nice thank you from Jon Snow who presents Channel Four news.

I also sent one to Buckingham Palace in the extremely remote hope of seeing it on the mantlepiece behind the Queen when she did her Christmas Day speech. No such luck. Oh well.

Interest died down, and sales went to less than one a month. Until a while later, when interest oddly started again. A look at the referrers for the Flickr pictures revealed that some traffic was due to the rise of Pinterest, and people putting the Use Libraries ... logo on their Pinterest erm thing (wall? pinboard? virtual pretty space?).

I dusted off the Zazzle store - it's still clunky, visually unappealing, and has an interface that's a nightmare, but that's what they provide - and added a few more products. Thankfully, these look a heck of a lot better in real life than in the store. The proceeds go mostly to Zazzle, who get around 90% of the price of each product sold. I get around 10% so it's not a "get rich quick" scheme. That which I do get am funneling into other library advocacy projects and initiatives.

Because libraries are good.

Using the image

1. Want to use it in a pro-library non-commercial manner? Then please do, and use as you see fit. No payment needed, and attribution is optional.

2. Want to use it in a pro-library manner and make a profit off it? Speak to me first.

3. Want to use it in an anti-library manner? No you can't. Go away an educate yourself as to the benefits of libraries.

Thanks for purchasing / reading,

Friday, 9 May 2014

The here and the now

I'm sitting in a chair, in someone else's apartment, in an English market town. This abode is near the centre, close to the parish church; but, despite the road outside, it's surprisingly quiet. This place is not home, and it is not permanent, but it will more than "do", for now.

I have reliable and fast wifi. I have a small but comfortable place to stay for a little while, with a good housemate. I have a little spare cash in the bank, and opportunities to make more. Both body and mind are healthier than they have been for a long while. The continued identification, and jettisoning, of bad habits, though processes and people, is a large part of this.

This is the first time in five years - half a decade - I have lived in England but not Birmingham. Retrospectively, it is good to wrench myself out of big city suburban living, and reside in a place where hills, more natural fields, and surrounding countryside without the march of house estates are all visible. It's a reminder that if I have another period of living in the UK, I should try and make it a border town; somewhere with amenities, but also in and surrounded by good countryside. Hay-on-Wye or Bridgenorth; somewhere like that. And not the terminally traffic-choked, endlessly suburban, city.

There are exactly eight weeks until the 4th of July. Papa allegedly wrote The Old Man and the Sea in eight weeks. I will not write a classic book in this time period, but it would be good to get a lot of useful things done and see where I am (in several senses of the phrase) then.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

An English summer

To some, summer arrives with the clocks going forward, or with the end of the school year, or for the diminishing number of people in "traditional" work patterns, when their two week summer leave arrives.

To some, summer arrives when the weather becomes warm enough to break one into a gentle sweat when mowing their tiny, rectangular, English lawn.

And to some others, it arrives with the start of the cricket county championship. Our domestic, national long-format game, featuring 17 English and 1 Welsh county.

This years starts in a few minutes; 11am on Sunday April 6th 2014, with many counties in (rain affected) action. Worcestershire, as their own ground dries out from the obligatory winter flooding, are away to Hampshire. I'll be tuning in, for the first ball of the season, hopefully the last ball as well on the late afternoon of Friday September 26th, and whatever cricket action I can get in between.

There are other competitions. Today, both the women and mens international T20 competitions have their finals; England are hosting Sri Lanka and India for summer tours; and there are various T20 and one day matches and competitions to be played.

But there is one, only one, strangely enduring English Cricket County Championship.

So, come on, you Pears. Or, whatever people say.

Worcestershire Royals v Northants Steelbacks T20 June 2010 067

Thursday, 3 April 2014

New places in old countries: future travels

Amongst the many timelapse videos that float around sites such as Vimeo and YouTube, two in particular stand out for me. They both look great, are high quality, and (unlike many such videos) have decent soundtracks.

They also are filmed in countries (though not specific places) I've been to, and aspire to go to again. And both highlight the wide open, big sky, panoramic nature of those places. So, as motivational cues, they hold strong and personal and central to me.

In both cases, it's better to view or stream from the site directly, in HD, full screen and in a dark room.

The first is of a road trip around the USA. Mainly rural places, and the open highway.

The second is the Aurora Borealis in Norway. Most of this is one slowly moving shot that occupies an entire night.