Sunday, 8 April 2012

Working late

Up the Soho Road for various errands. The weather's wet, windy and chilly. I think of Giles. No cartoonist could better evoke a dreich British day. Spring has receded, but rain is welcome on the allotment...
Cabbages protected by sticks and netting
...where I've planted four rows of potatoes, five fruit trees, a row of cabbages, a rhubarb, and runner beans, and five rows of onions...
The soil still puzzles me. Should it be a perfect homogenous medium like branded compost in plastic bags from garden centres? It's far from that, far more interesting, far stranger.  I keep picking out larger stones, couch roots, miscellaneous human-made debris like bricks, glass, bits of plastic and metal fragments and other weeds. I lay the small onions about four inches apart roots down and water the trench after sprinkling them with bone meal and chicken manure. Have I planted too deep or too shallow? Is it  enough? Too much? I rake heaped soil back over the trenches picking out more large pebbles and couch roots. I'm only slightly confident these plants will survive and grow. The trees - yes. The other crops I've yet to see. All the time the soil's becoming easier to work, more couch grass removed and larger stones set aside. Everything tells me you can't really leave an allotment to itself. If it's not me someone else must work it daily.
Rhubarb and runners
What else? I've started composting in a set of heavy duty builder's bags, made two more slab paths, arranged with my neighbour Gill to place her bees on the plot next month, and of course there's the shed with its veranda - my base - inside whose door I've just noticed a wasp nest. Going in and out of the shed is going to present a lot of opportunities for us being seen as a threat, so despite all the benefits of wasps as insect predators, pollinators and recyclers, I'm going to need to move this nest to a more mutually satisfactory place.
Wasp nest in the shed
How the wasp nest was removed without killing its sole inhabitant.
*** *** ***
I had a go at giving advice to someone who sent me a first chapter of the book on which they're working. I am of course addressing myself:
Thanks so much for entrusting your authorship to my judgement.
I enjoyed what you’ve written and will come back to it. I am not an editor and, apart from academic papers, have never published anything other than my blog - read by a nice minority that would never get me a book deal!
So much for my qualifications to say anything about your history of xxx - which might languish on a shelf or in a hard drive or enter the world - after the typical procession of rejections - as a best seller, crowding the modern outlets (of which bookshops are an increasingly small part) and spreading via e-publication across the universe of cyberspace. You know, I’m sure, that self-publication gets easier every day; that what used to be called - demeaningly – ‘vanity press’ is a recourse of many authors prior to discovery by the larger market. Changes in methods of getting the word out to the world is altering in the way it did with the arrival of the Gutenberg printing press, so all’s to play.
My niece - Anna Baddeley - runs a website called the Omnivore. She’s gained much experience in publishing though hardly 24 years old. Her plan is to e-publish very short books by good writers she’s been lining up. There’s going to be more and more space for short essays, stories, manuals and histories on the web.
Where does this put you, given that actually getting published in the 21st century is not a serious problem? The depressing side of this is the deluge of superficial, short attention span self-indulgent tat that has spread. The human ego unharnessed is not a pretty sight. On the other hand we associate the Renaissance and the Enlightenment with the spread of reading and writing. Slaves were forbidden books as indeed were young woman from such subversive writing as Pride and Prejudice with its crazy implication that a man and a woman should marry for love.
Where does this leave you? Publication and diffusion are less important than the quality of your book and the style of your writing. I know my stepfather who wrote three short books spent his life on this; not least studying other writers and being fascinated by first lines - many of which he would enjoy quoting 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’  Take your first paragraph
 (I quoted an opening para’; suggested minor changes)
OK so that’s just a few comments. Imagine if we sat together with the whole manuscript, what a drag I’d become!
I know of writers who get sick - literally - before they start writing. it’s as hard as any manual labour. Martin Amis says it’s a physical process. See Seamus Heaney on his dad: '...Through living roots awaken in my head. But I've no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it.' (I've printed out this poem, had it laminated and stuck it up inside the shed on my allotment)
I think you’ve done brilliantly. You’ve started. I wanted to read on. You’ve done research and you love the subject. Let that shine through. It comes with time and effort - both of which you have. Don’t write to publish. Write as though you were writing for an unborn child or indeed one already here but who may not really understand your drift until you are gone. I feel this about Jack’s writing. ‘It is one of the most excellent provisions of Nature that chub are to be angled for on hot summer afternoons ... When the grass is high and full of hum and rustle, when the comfrey blooms along the edge of the water and the air shivers in the heat, the chub lie just under the surface in slacks and corners and eddies all along the bank. You will see them and you will think they have not seen you.’  I saw this book of Jack’s in the 1950s. I didn’t get to read it properly until last year. Writing is as near, in this secular age, as you may get to praying. It’s hard and yet, as Proust said, it’s not about trying too hard, more like dreaming the words without waking yourself up. Keep a jotter. A good phrase can make a sentence and that can make a chapter. Riddle the adverbs and adjectives! Look: (I quote another paragraph, shorten it by taking out unneeded intensifiers, repetitions - 'save them for when they seem essential or suit the flow) That’s a poor example (by me) and I apologise for interfering with your words but don’t they read better - silent and aloud?  And they're still yours....
Someone said don’t wipe out something you’ve just written but, on re-reading, dislike. Prose can be like wine or a sauce. Leave it for a while and you may find it’s mellowed and you like it more than you thought at first. Don’t buy all criticism and certainly not rejections. They come so plentifully to good and bad writers alike.  Most of all; the best advice I’ve had (much good it does me); whether you’re writing a novel. a manual, a dictionary or a history you’re not in the first instance writing about those things. You are writing about yourself. That’s what makes your book unique. You.  Don’t fret too much about punctuation, spelling and typos. These can be cleaned up in moments. Indeed software may do it for you! Don’t worry about length or structure. Just write.
If you need help with an overall approach have you tried a mind-map? Putting down messy but connected ideas on one sheet of paper ignoring sequence - as in a map (we read books - linear - but we also ‘read’ maps - non-linear). I mentioned jotting down choice words and phrases  - wherever you are - or having a mini-recorder to speak into when an idea or a sentence springs unbidden to your mind - when on a bus, driving, cycling, walking, gardening, cooking, in the loo, just as you wake, just before sleeping. Cherish these, as also something someone says to you that strikes a chord. These jotted sketches are more likely to be you than the chunks of other people’s writing you may need to collect for your research.
A sheet of paper on which you propose to write is scary. I’ve heard painters say this of a blank canvas; musicians of silence. If a pen doesn’t work try a pencil. On paper if lines are better, try them instead of blank pages - but try hand-writing instead of keyboard. Neither is better than the other. It’s just worth trying - like using a different spade. Good luck and keep writing! Best wishes, Simon
***** *****
At Plymouth on Tuesday John Rose and I will be collecting the Jack Hargreaves collection from South West Film and Television Archive (SWFTA) and bringing it back to temperature controlled storage in central Birmingham, minus the tapes of Old Country which will go with David Knowles to his home. David will meet us at the archive on Tuesday to help with the loading and, most of all, cast his experienced eye over the contents of the collection with a view to helping with the work we are planning to make this material accessible. The Facebook page for Out of Town is getting busier:

  • Simon Baddeley At last - someone who was there at the time! Thanks David.
    Friday at 08:54 ·  ·  1

  • Mark Smith As you say Simon, it great to hear from someone actually involved with the programmes when they were being broadcast. This is certainly a step in the right direction! Now, dare I ask Dave, is there anything you can do to help Simon with the restoration of these films? If not directly, do you have any contacts that might be interested in this project?
    Friday at 10:04 ·  ·  1

  • Dave Knowles Hi Mark.
    Firstly thank you for your comments and offer of help. There are two things I think needs to happen first one is see what we have and as although I think I know what will be there without checking them it is impossible to tell. I suppose the good thing is I did edit a lot of the Out of Town and was directly involved in its production so should be able to help Simon find out what is there and what can be done with it. Secondly and maybe more important is the rights to this material needs to be established and I know that this is top of Simon's list of things to sort out. Until this is established it will be very hard to get anyone to invest in the project. I do have some contacts in Abu Dhabi who may be interested (I have not spoken to them) but like everything to do with the television and film industry they will probably want a return on their investment which could be quite high.
    Therefore lets do things one step at a time and if we do I feel sure that we will get there eventually but it is a long term project.

    Friday at 10:41 ·  ·  3

  • Paul Eades Excellent stuff Dave. So glad you are on board with Simon on this.
    Friday at 15:11 ·  ·  2

  • Simon Baddeley I'm confident there's a book to be written on this project - it has many twists and turns involving technical, legal, personal complications plus all the different characters involved and the value of new media in giving momentum to the recovery of older media, in the context of Jack's powerfully and entertainingly presented theme - our loss of connection to the the countryside and the land.

  • Paul Eades I think the last sentence says it all!
    Friday at 15:40 via Mobile ·  ·  2

  • Teal Jacks great to hear that JH OOT and OC has come back to its roots and now has some original people back and involved , can only mean good news
    Friday at 19:43 ·  ·  3

  • Neil Maidment I hope this really gets the support it deserves. And Dave, thank you for all your work with Jack, I was riveted to the TV set every time he came on. Jack influenced my fishing world and extended it to include all things "country". I had the privilege of meeting him twice on my local Dorset Stour, memorable days indeed!
    Friday at 20:26 ·  ·  4

  • Paul Eades Lucky man!!
    Friday at 20:28 via Mobile ·  ·  2

  • Mark Smith Paul beat me to it...I too, was going to say 'lucky man'! So few of us ever get to meet the people we admire and look up to.

  • Simon Baddeley I am learning - late in life - more about what I owe my stepfather from the thoughts of people who never met him but still know him, sometimes better than I. My sense of responsibility to him as reflected in these films grows stronger with this enthusiasm, experience and respect.

  • Mark Smith During life, we often find ourselves in positions we did not expect. Circumstances put you in just such a position, a position that none of us could ever begin to imagine! Now you have the opportunity to help save a large portion of Jack's life's work for posterity. Quite an undertaking but a project that is so worthwhile as this material may well contain the only record of crafts and skills that have long ago disappeared, denying future generations to learn about them without Jack's films and narrations. Most of us on this forum are powerless to assist you in this task in any practical way and can only offer you moral support but we are all behind you!
    Yesterday at 11:00 ·  ·  2

  • Paul Eades Spot on!!
    23 hours ago via Mobile ·  ·  1

  • Simon Baddeley I’m going to need some pricing - on 16mm to digital, full quality and ¼” reel to reel sound tape to digital full quality. I David is right and it's unsafe to try the matching using original material, then only once this is done we can begin the matching process - sound to image. Any ideas or information most welcome. I recognise that a more precise specification within the media types I've mentioned will be needed. Many thanks Mark. The quote 'this material may well contain the only record of crafts and skills that have long ago disappeared, denying future generations to learn about them without Jack's films and narrations' is what I'm looking for and it will help when we have a clearer inventory of content. This is the best we have so far thanks to Roger Charlesworth at SWFTA where I should be on Tuesday
    17 hours ago ·  ·  2

  • Mark Smith Wow! What a great wealth of material in those lists. I do recognise some of the films as they appear in the DVD set and some of the others ring a distant bell from the TV days. Alas, I never watched any of the Channel 4 series 'Old Country' and was not even aware of it's existence before joining this forum. It is a sad thing, but Channel 4 run some excellent and informative programmes in between the crap. The problem has always been...finding them! I am not one for pawing over the Radio Times or other such publications so must miss a lot. Mind you, one advantage of the new digital TV age is that it is easier to find these programmes if you happen to fall on them at the right time. Are there any complete episodes of Old Country in the Channel 4 archive do you know?
    16 hours ago · 

  • Paul Peacock This is one of those must do projects. David, I am going to re release muy bio of Jack, but with extra material in it, can we chat sometime?
    16 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Dave Knowles Paul - No problem...
    15 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Dave Knowles Mark - We made a total of 60 programmes of Old Country over the period of three years and the viewing figures reached just over 1,000,000. Then when we talked to Channel 4 about a fourth series they said they were not interested in continuing.
    15 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Mark Smith What a shame Dave! As I said earlier, I had been unaware of Old Country until joining this forum. However, I never missed an episode of Out of Town. It was a great favourite of my late father and I and was broadcast in the London area on a Sunday lunchtime. Are you aware if Channel 4 did have / keep master copies of the Old Country programmes it did broadcast?
    15 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Paul Eades Also, have you ever heard what happened to the Country Boy tapes?
    15 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Simon Baddeley Those have disappeared - so far!


  • Dave Knowles Mark, Simon and I are hoping that some of the tapes in Plymouth are Old Country programmes. As soon as we know we will let everyone know.
    15 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Simon Baddeley David or should I say Mr D! When are you going to give me a chance to give attention to your knowledge of thermal cooking 

  • Dave Knowles Paul...watch this space.
    14 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Dave Knowles Simon Goodness knows I will try and get you some details for Wiki one day...Maybe when you get back from Greece.
    14 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Simon Baddeley It doesn't matter where I am. In cyberspace no-one but the security services knows or often cares where you are (:)) Just get me something to kick off with by way of a CV that includes eco-friendly food prep...
    14 hours ago · 

  • Paul Peacock We have been making films for the Mirror and I have been trying to emulate Jack and the ways he made his films. I'm making some films for a number of sources and have to say Jacks is the most logical for this type of filming, He
    Was a genius - and the people around him too!

    14 hours ago via Mobile ·  ·  2

  • Ian Wegg Mark, there is no such thing as the Channel 4 archive. Channel 4 only commissions programmes, it has never made any so doesn’t hold any masters. The SWFTA catalogue lists ALL the Old Country episodes on Beta (including the rare episode 28) so with luck those are the masters. Hopefully Dave will find out this weekend.
    2 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Ian Wegg Dave, thanks very much for that fascinating insight. I hadn’t realised that the sound effects had been put onto the films, I’ve just watched an original OoT and the corresponding DVD version to check it out! How bad is the reversal stock then? I understand that good quality 16mm is HD standard but it sounds like this reversal film isn’t. Why was it used anyway, was it to make editing easier?
    2 hours ago · 

  • Mark Smith Thanks for the information Ian, I did not know that Channel 4 does not actually make programmes.

      • Mark Smith It is wonderful how the SWFTA tapes have got us all talking and really brought this forum to life! Good luck to Simon and all of you working so hard to rescue these films. I am sure that this will become a long term project due to cost / time etc but it will be so worthwhile, even if only a small portion of the collection makes it to public viewing again. Keep up the good work chaps!
        about an hour ago ·  ·  2

      • Dave Knowles
        Hi Ian, Each bird, each splash of the fish I laid individually from sound effects from the library. Jack did not really want any sound and would then turn it right down. He said it was a dream and people would imagine the effects which to an extent was true. To hear them you may need to listen with headphones.....you may be surprised what you don't normally hear.
        With regards to 16mm and HD video this is a huge subject and I am no expert. You must however remember that in those days there was no wide screen and that NTSC (the American standard) was different to PAL (our standard). The other thing was that 16mm film was 4:3 and had to go through a telecine before appearing on your screens so this has to be added to the equation. I for one loved and still love film but it was not so sharp as video partly due to the grain. I was always told however that 16mm resolution was less that BVU U-Matic which I think was around 280 lines. This of course was the way resolution was measured then and not pixels. Betacam SP then came with 330 line resolution and this was a great jump forward. With 16mm a lot came down to the physical size of a frame. Super 16mm on the other hand was much better as the frame size was that much larger.
        Southern Television was almost unique (I know that does not make sense) in shooting a lot on reversal stock. This did save money as you did not have to make prints of the negative. But of course as an editor you were handling the original not a cutting copy so any damage it received in the cutting room was for good...Hope this helps a little. Must go to cook my Beef Bourguignon in the thermal cooker for our 11 lunchtime guests. Dave
        11 minutes ago · 

      • Ian Wegg Hi Dave, Thanks for that explanation. I did listen yesterday with headphones and I can tell a lot of work went into the effects (just for once I was wishing Jack would keep quiet so I could hear them properly!) Enjoy your Beef ... Lamb for us! Cheers, Ian.
        3 minutes ago · 
    • *** ***
I was down at the Rag Market yesterday. Had one of my favourite snacks from the stall just inside the covered part, a marfona, or is it an estima, baked spud with plenty of butter and a cup of tea. People recognised and greeted Oscar sat in the basket on my Brompton just outside the big glass doors. Roaming I bought a 1970s Ladybird Book on Transport through the ages, held together with sellotape, remaindered from St Chad's Roman Catholic Primary School...
...a book published in 1970 just after the landing on the Moon when people were intoxicated by roads and cars. Bicycles, once so liberating, had become mere toys or things some dads were  still forced to ride because they had no 'better' choice. My photo (top) of Soho Road, taken only the day before yesterday, exemplifies that bleak 1970s vision of 'improvement', but how things have changed in 40 years of long campaigning against the ravages of autodependency. I wrote in 2007:
I have just seen my car driven away by a friend who's got it for free. I've been 'deciding' for 5 years - maybe longer. But the final decision to be rid of it came a week ago, since when it's sat in our drive, insurance cancelled. It helped that the cost of repairing its transmission was assessed as more than its worth. I have not been without a car since the 1960s. This evening is a moment long anticipated, regularly postponed. My family seem to have had cars since they were toys. I recovered an old photo of Barbara Maine, my maternal grandmother Bar, in her Peugeot smoking a cheroot. I recall having some of my happiest childhood times in cars, with my family. What I best remember (something written about and filmed at the time) is the accessibility to places all over Britain we got from having a car in the 1950s. I realise we drove - 50 years ago - on roads that most people now see in absurd advertisements - filmed on locations in Croatia or Albania. My mother and step-father were writers and journalists through the late 1940s and '50s. Cars were part of their salaries. We had the means to drive. We would arrive at places where there would be no cars for miles - or very few. We could park next to beaches, cliff tops, and high ridges with mighty views (see what I mean about advertising?). We reconnoitred long, lightly-paved rural lanes ending in cul-de-sacs where, after a word with a the farmer, we set up tent and fished in clear trout streams. We ate our catch fried in butter. I was often very happy - innocent of being in a vanguard of social change. My step-father remarked once, when I was going on once about the 'beauties of the countryside' (I was a literary youth) that this sort of thing wouldn't last. 'We're doing things the very rich could do... Soon everyone will be doing it! We're part of the rot.' ...."
*** ***
I have so many good and interesting things on my British plate. Even so I long to be in Greece, to touch her ground and see our friends.
Ἀγαπητέ, περὶ πάντων εὔχομαί σε εὐοδοῦσθαι καὶ ὑγιαίνειν, 
καθὼς εὐοδοῦταί σου ἡ ψυχή.  ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ Γ΄ 1
About this time last year Katerina shows Linda how to make orange pie πορτοκαλόπιτα.

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