Walking along Cathcart Hill, the other evening, a wren popped out ahead of me on the pavement. At least, I'm fairly sure it was a wren - judged by its diminutive size and jaunty tail. You can get some sense of what it looked like from the photo adjoining.
It promptly hopped off into the hedgerow - with me and my very ordinary camera in pursuit.
It turned out that the wren was so intent on gorging itself on a colony of flying ants that it was largely unconcerned by my presence. So I was able to take the photo on the left - the nearest I have ever got to one of these enchanting birds, and about the best I have ever taken close-up.
I hope someone can confirm that this is indeed a wren.
While talking about birds, I have been amazed during recent road journeys to and from Oxford by the number of birds of prey above the M40 between High Wycombe and Oxford. One day, there was group of six or eight gliding and soaring. I assumed they were buzzards. I was wrong. A web search has revealed that they are red kites - wonderfully elegant birds, and while common above this stretch of the M40 they are otherwise quite rare.
You can tell the two apart by their tails - kites have forked tails while buzzard have fan-style tails. I saw thirteen birds of prey on the drive back from Oxford this evening - of those for which an identification could be made, red kites outnumbered buzzards by three-to-one.
I had an hour to spare in Oxford one evening recently, and went for a walk round Jericho, an area I used to know well 35 years ago. I never had a Jericho address, but lived for a while not far away and patronised the area's pubs - much less gentrified then, a mix of local and student. I also did a volunteer project for Oxfordshire Museums about working class housing in Jericho - my first serious use of primary sources.
So strolling round Jericho at leisure for the first time in decades was quite a journey back in time. The streets have survived largely in tact - there's some unsympathetic modern infill which I don't remember from the '70s, some of it already derelict, but on the whole the area has done well. The daft idea of zoning the area "light industrial" - which is why the council bought so many properties here in the late '60s and early '70s and so provided deeds and other raw material for that research project - has long been buried.
But what's happened to the pubs? I remember with particular affection the 'Crown', the 'Globe' and the 'Carpenters'. Now, unless I've got my bearings wildly wrong, all three have gone. Not just renamed. They aren't pubs any more. The buildings are still there, but all are now private houses.
The 'Crown' was a schitzophrenic place - one bar local, the other acid-style with the ceiling and all walls in black. The 'Globe' was a very homely and successful mix of town and gown. And the 'Carpenters' was something else. An old style beershop, tiny, run by Ron and Else. The beer was from wooden casks. If there were more than about eight people in the place, it was crowded - and you would be ushered into the parlour, which looked as if it doubled up as the publicans' front room: settee, comfy chairs, and a huge old radiogram.
Ron and Else, already ancient in the mid-70s, moved on from the 'Carpenters' (on Nelson Street as I remember it) about 1976. The place was already changing, modernising, by the time I left Oxford a year later. And now it's been erased from the streetscape altogether.
St Barnabas - Kaihsu Tai, CC
Still there, happily, on Canal Street is the marvellous St. Barnabas, parish church of the Oxford Movement (it features in Hardy's Jude the Obscure). The church was closed when I called but from the porch there's a viewing window - I had forgotten just how wonderfully ornate the interior is. An unlikely Oxford jewel.
I ended my stroll at another church - disused this time. What was once St Paul's on Walton Street. Now a bar, still replete with stained glass windows and some of the church fittings. I recall that one of the seminal intellectual events of my youth was held here. A debate beteen E.P. Thompson and (I think) Richard Johnson on Althusser - which mattered a lot then, for reasons I can't quite summon up. I was in Oxford that evening, but didn't make it to the debate. I ended up at the pub instead. Can't remember if it was the 'Crown' or the 'Globe or the 'Carpenters'.
A view across north London taken from Dartmouth Park Hill, with a skyline on the far side of Hampstead Heath.
But which are the two spires on the horizon - one the pin-like spire of what I imagine to be a late Victorian parish church, and the other (to the left) more squat, almost a cupola, and currently swathed in scaffolding.
Below is a more detailed view - and if you want to know the details, the photo was taken from the junction of Dartmouth Park Hill and Laurier Road, looking roughly west along Laurier Road. If you recognise these landmraks, do let me know.
A disc that dates back even before 'Top of the Pops' - and I can't imagine it was ever a bestseller. But I was very happy to pick it up for £2 at Noel Lynch's treasure of a bric-a-brac shop, The Green Room, on Archway Road. (He also has a slightly obscene Margaret Thatcher 'nutcracker' - it's in the widnow, and a snip at £14 and a few therapy sessions).
It was so cheap because although this 78rpm disc is in one piece, it's so scratched and cracked as to be unplayable.
The record's from the 1929 election campaign - which resulted in a minority Labour government. Ramsay Macdonald has already had a brief spell in power - Labour's first Prime Minister. On one side of this disc is Macdonald speaking about unemployment, and the other he addresses world peace. Want to hear him? Then click here. And there's a bit more about Macdonald's oratory, and this record in particular, here.
Liz Rorison's funeral was earlier this week. I am very sad to learn of her death. I got to know Liz when she was a studio manager with the BBC working at party conference outside broadcasts. I was then a rookie political correspondent. She was always friendly and supportive, had plenty of time and encouragement for the World Service - including all those who went from the language services - and was a model of generosity, good cheer and professionalism.
She was also, I discovered, the mainstay of the Liberal Democrats Glee Club - organising, cajoling, and playing the piano into the early hours and beyond at what was, without question, the best political sing-song around. She had come across the party through song - the story is recounted here in a fond obituary - and the energy and enthusiasm of her and her colleagues - above all, the rendition of the old Liberal anthem the Land Song - aroused my interest in the tradition of British political song.
I last saw Liz a year or two ago. We ate at a Turkish restaurant near her home in Highbury. She was in poor health, but undaunted - and determined to give me every help she could in tracing the history of the Land Song, and its resurrection from the 1970s after decades in the doldrums. She followed up with letters and phone calls, and suggestions for old-timers to talk to.
Without her, I might never have come across the Land Song, or found out so much about its history. But above all, its her warmth, kindness and enthusiasm that I will remember.
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