So, I've finally seen Penda's Fen and I would say that it lived up to its considerable reputation. The picture and sound quality were ok but deteriorated badly at the end - someone's home video - when is this going to be released on DVD with other examples of David Rudkin's work? What I liked most, apart from the strange unsettling visions, was the unashamed introduction and discussion of powerful ideas about religion, politics and national identity. The Only Way is Essex it wasn't. As I've written here before, I loathe the 'Spacehoppers and Spangles' media view of the 1970s: the Dominic Sandbrook series that's just finished was adequate, but had a distinct right-wing bias (constant reiteration of 'unreasonable' demands by workers) and didn't take enough risks - also couldn't the BBC have used someone who was an adult at the time? Anyway, Penda's Fen addressed many of the issues at the heart of the 1970s in a far more interesting way; at one point I thought it was going to turn into an episode of the X Files and there was an intriguing reference to the construction of a large bunker for government personnel (similar to Burlington) in the local landscape. There is an excellent review of it here which says much of what I would probably have written here - I love his phrase ' a world of controlled triviality' (unfortunately the links at the bottom don't work). The writer puts it in a trilogy with The Owl Service (see post below) and The Changes by Peter Dickinson, which I shall now have to seek out. Found it on You Tube but it will take a while to watch - don't remember it, but it definitely looks like the kind of thing I would have watched.
On Sunday we went on an excellent tour of subterranean Winchelsea. The guide was a member of the Winchelsea Archaeological Society and did a really good job of explaining the history, geology and archaeology of the town and Cinque Port (or, more accurately, Ancient Town). We visited three medieval cellars, which were much larger than I had been expecting - when I saw the size of the group I thought we would have split into two groups but there was plenty of room underground. One of the houses above was for sale, if anyone is interested in acquiring a property with a cellar large enough to host some great parties. The guide thought that they were originally used as wine shops rather than purely for storage and advanced some convincing evidence to support this thesis. At the time of their construction the wine would have come from Gascony in the two great voyages from Bordeaux to English ports that took place each year; apparently because of its low alcohol content medieval wine had to be drunk within a year and couldn't be 'put down'. There are a number of these tours each year and more information can be found here. All photos by me.
Just finished watching The Owl Service on DVD - how this could have been shown on children's television seems inexplicable these days, with its very adult subject matter. I found parts of it quite disturbing and I'm still not sure if I actually understood it - no wonder Granada included a resume at the start of each installment telling you information that hadn't in fact been made clear in the previous episodes! Based on the book by once-popular author Alan Garner (I asked for it in East Sussex libraries and they don't have a single copy)it tells the story of a recurring piece of Welsh folklore and its effects on a two boys and a girl in their late teens. The girl is played by Gillian Hills, a bit of a cult star, with a career in French pop and parts in A Clockwork Orange and Blow Up (now married to the manager of AC/DC apparently). There are some amazing camera angles in the earlier episodes that make parts of it fairly avant garde and a scene at the end that prefigures The Exorcist. It's one of those productions that is supposedly 'cursed' and I was very upset to read that Michael Holden who played the Welsh boy Gywn (not a great performance but he showed promise) was beaten to death by two louts in the Rose & Crown pub, just off Piccadilly (mentioned in my Folklore of London) in an unprovoked attack in September 1977. Talking of cult early 1970s television - Found Objects (see list opposite) has a link to Penda's Fen mentioned in an earlier post (Old Weird Britain) - at last I (and you, dear reader) have a chance to see it in its entirety.
One of the most impressive Roman works of art that I've seen is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome (although since 1981 the original has been in the Capitoline Museums). This week I've been reading the emperor's 'Meditations' (Penguin Classics edition, 1964, trans. Maxwell Staniforth) in which the following can be found: 'When meat and other dainties are before you, you reflect: This is dead fish, or fowl, or pig; or: This Falernian is some of the juice from a bunch of grapes; my purple robe is sheep's wool stained with a little gore from a shellfish; copulation is friction of the members and an ejaculatory discharge. Reflections of this kind go to the bottom of things, penetrating into them and exposing their real nature. The same process should be applied to the whole of life. When a thing's credentials look most plausible, lay it bare, observe its triviality, and strip it of the cloak of verbiage that dignifies it. Pretentiousness is the arch deceiver, and never more delusive than when you imagine your work is most meritorious.' '...does the bubble reputation bother you? Keep before your eyes the swift onset of oblivion, and the abysses of eternity before us and behind; mark how hollow are the echoes of applause, how fickle and undiscerning the judgments of professed admirers, and how puny the arena of human fame. For the entire earth is but a point, and the place of our own habitation but a minute corner in it; and how many are therein who will praise you, and what sort of men are they?'
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer