Monday, August 30, 2010

Tempting Fête

It being a Bank Holiday Monday today and seeing as how it was untraditionally sunny, I decided to take the grandchildren and the younger dog (Willow) along to the Hazlemere Summer Fête. The journey involved yomping around several fields of wheat and what a joy that was in the late Summer sunshine. As we walked I showed the kids how to winnow the wheat from the chaff and we picked and ate blackberries, elderberries and damsons from wild bushes as we passed them. I got them to try a sloe as well just to see the expression on their faces. Hilarious.

It was, in fact, the 150th such fête and there was much celebrating of the fact with the local historical society displaying photos of previous events going right back to the advent of photpgraphy. In looking at them I was struck by how poignantly they showed the evolution of the area from village to suburb. Photos from the first half of the 20th centuy showed local people out in their Sunday best with hats and bonnets in proliferation. The stalls themselves were those you associate with village fêtes; home-made cake stalls and tombolas, vegetable shows and Aunt Sallys while the local brass band played in the background to keep the atmosphere jolly. Back then, Hazlemere was an actual village, separated from nearby villages like Penn, Four Ashes and Widmer End by fields and dirt track roads. The arrival of the motor car and the ever expanding housing stock meant that the villages soon start to merge together into a circualr suburb around the town of High Wycombe. The names still exist but these days it's hard to spot where Hazlemere ends and Holmer Green begins, and vice versa.

It's a curious fact that as the villages merged, communities drifted apart. In a small village, everyone knows everyone else. But once a suburb reaches a certain size that kind of cosiness disappears. There is a theory that states that we can usually maintain no more than about 150 contacts at any one time. It's called Dunbar's Number (read more about it here). There are more than 150 people living in my street alone and, frankly, the only ones I know are my immediate neighbours opposite and to either side of my house. The villagers of Hazlemere captured in those early photographs would most likely have all known each other. But as I walked around the 150th such fête I was struck by the fact that I didn't know or recognise anyone. And I've lived in the 'village' for four years. The stalls too had changed. Instead of the community sharing and displaying their home grown produce, the stalls were mostly generic and manned by professionals who travel from show to show. There was nothing unique about the fête. Nothing cried out 'This is Hazlemere'.

That said, it was a pleasant afternoon of dog shows, face painting, ice creams, owl displays, fire engines, lamb roasts, beer tents, Punch and Judy shows and lots and lots of fund raising for local good causes. And Willow came second in the waggiest tail competition. She'd have come first if we'd had more people cheering for her. The winner, a small brown mongrel called Rosie, had brought an entourage of kids along, curse her furry arse.

Willow won a lovely blue rosette and I'd like to say that she wore it with pride but she wasn't allowed to. the same Health and Safety nonsense that meant that there was no cake stall ('We can't be sure of the ingredients') and no donkey rides ('We didn't have enough hard hats') meant that Willow was not allowed to wear her rosette until off the site 'in case she got stabbed by the pin'.
Ah how times have changed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A video birthday card

How extraordinary! The very excellent @splashman made this video for my birthday last week. Only moderately stalky. I'm checking the bushes outside my window every night.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

New interview and new blog to watch

There's an author interview with me just posted to WHO HUB if you fancy delving deep into my psyche. Don't dive too deep though. I'm very shallow.

Also, check out my great mate Chris Hale's Diary of William Thuck blog. It's all about Chris's fabulous historic 'lost' county of Middenshire and is brilliantly conceived and written. Find it here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Great Scott

I went to an advance press screening of Scott Pilgrim this evening. I'm not the sort to dish out spoilers; there are plenty of other blogs and websites that will do that for you. All I will say is that I laughed from the start and carried on laughing throughout. It's funny, clever, sexy and stylish with amazing fight scenes, superb gags, some great performances - particularly from Sera and the other Culkin brother - and Edgar Wright should be very proud of himself. If you liked those smart wipes, brilliant segues and funky montages in Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, you'll love what they look like with Hollywood money behind them rather than Film4 money.

It's a fun film for the slightly older small kid too; the fights are arcade-game silly, there's no gore, no swearing and not too much snogging either. But do see it at the cinema because it's outrageously loud and there is some great rock music to be enjoyed. I will also say this - the bass duel between Sera's Pilgrim and a wonderfully over-the-top Brandon Routh will NOT sound the same at home on your telly, no matter how good your sound system is. I felt those lower notes in my deepest dankest bowel.

Go and see it. It's out on the 25th August. There's a really good trailer here. And do yourselves a favour; read the original comic books. Amazon do a good deal on them here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

At last ... the big reveal!

Here is my cover for the forthcoming 'bind-up' softback compilation of the last three QI Annuals (E,F and G). The book is on sale on November 4th so, if you've missed any of the previous annuals, you can get them all in one hit. Then the new H annual is out shortly after.

Buy it in your droves! (click on the image to pre-order from Amazon)

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Picture Post

There is something wonderful about looking at old photographs, especially if they're of members of your family. To suddenly recognise the curve of a jaw, the tilt of an eye, a dimple, the bridge of a nose in someone long dead links you to them. You suddenly realise that these people aren't just names in a parish register or a genealogical chart; they lived and loved and died and a part of them lives on in you and your family. The subtle nuances that make every human face unique are repeated across generations. I, for instance, share my maternal grandfather's nose, my mum's hair, my dad's smile and my paternal grandmother's toes. I'm a patchwork quilt made from scraps and off-cuts of those who came before me.

I'm lucky that there was always money in my family. at least, until the years between the wars there was. Prior to the 20th century, my mother's side of the family were farmers and master masons, MPs, high ranking military personnel. On my dad's side there were shipbuilders, poets, MPs and master mariners. Trace my bloodline back far enough and you find a man so rich that he gave the estate we now call Beaulieu to the first Lord Montagu as a wedding present. Go back further still and there are scraps of evidence to suggest that my family once owned the land where about a quarter of St Ives in Cornwall now stands. The 'Faerie poet' Robert Herrick (1591-1674) dedicated a collection of his works to one of my ancestors, his 'peculiar friend Mr Thomas Shapcott' (though not a direct ancestor due to his sexual preferences) and my family pretty much built half of the village of Looe in Cornwall. As I say, there was always money. Quite where it all went is a mystery. Bad investment possibly. Or it may be (no sexist slight intended) that the women I'm descended from had to take over the running of large and complex businesses without any training or experience when their husbands, brothers and sons didn't return from the war. Whatever the reason, by 1950, my family was left comfortable but no longer rich.

The reason I mention all of this is because with money comes opportunity and the Colgans, Dawes, Shapcotts and other branches of my family tree invested some of their loot in family portraits. Consequently, I have a set of photos that stretch right back to the earliest pioneering days of photography when subjects were still strapped into iron frames to keep them still for the long shutter-less exposures. It's an amazing archive and I thought I'd share some choice images with you.

Cataloguing and chronicling our family history is a long tradition that we Colgans keep going to this day. My grandfather and father were very keen photographers - I grew up with a darkroom in the house - and my brother Simon is a professional photographer working in Cornwall today (Here's his site). My kids are pretty keen to take photos too ... even if it is just them on the lash posted to Facebook. And with the quality and availibility of cameras in phones and i-pods etc. it looks as if the tradition will continue. I sincerely hope so.

It's looking encouraging; my five year old granddaughter took this one of me on Coombe Hill, Buckinghamshire last week.
That's one for the family album.

They really didn't think this tagline through did they?

... or is it just my gutter mind? (Click on image for a larger version)