Glastonbury is the capital of These Weird Isles. Forget the Festival, wander into town. It is the epicentre of the age old longing for some half hidden Celtic twilight, a nostalgia for a time that never was, a home of sorcerers, eccentrics, tarot readers and crystal magic. If towns are rock bands, Glastonbury is Hawkwind.
The Potteries was once the centre of the ceramics industry in Britain. But the industry in this country was slow to produce porcelain, the secret of which was first discovered in Dresden by an incarcerated alchemist and trickster.
Rambling through a churchyard in Amersham to see the grave of Arthur Machen I discover the resting place of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK. A small amount of digging reveals the prosecution was led by a Buddhist, the same barrister who represented the Crown in the trials of Derek Bentley and also of Timothy Evans, both hanged, and both later declared innocent and whose unfortunate lives were told in major films: ‘Let Him Have It’ and ’10, Rillington Place’.
Suffolk is a county of clouds, and on the coast, in a holiday chalet in Kessingland, we struggle to remember codes, and are not easily calmed by the decor.
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These Weird Isles – the second of two podcasts in which I explore Japan – islands as weird as the UK . I discover a space at the centre of the Japanese belief system and reflect on how the Japanese must perceive the British.
The first of a two part interlude – Those Weird Isles: Japan. This one looks at Tokyo, next time, Kyoto.
Japan, Tokyo, masks, Noh, Kabuki, Shinjuku, Shibuya
The South Downs is a one hundred mile long ridge of chalk laid down in the cretaceous period. Chalk is the remains of single celled creatures that drifted through the oceans around 140 to 66 million years ago. It makes up most of south east England and is a relatively young rock, but travel north and west and the geology of the UK gets much older. The science of geology deals with these huge time spans by creating aeons, eras, periods and epochs. But geology is not static. Change is everywhere. The world is not made up of things, only processes.
This is the ‘Happy Valley’ of Sgt Catherine Cawood, and the home of the Cragg Valley Coiners. Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate was born here, his wife, Sylvia Plath, is buried here. We stayed in a converted piggery on a hilltop, where jackdaws tapped at the window and the fog sealed us off from the world outside.
A misguided attempt to record on site, an ‘outside broadcast’ which degenerates into a pub crawl. I’m joined by Caerleon resident Will O’Connell, a man whose knowledge of Caerleon you could inscribe on the little toe of the tiny toed ant. Most of this podcast takes place in the Roman fortress town in south Wales. It’s a fascinating place, but we spent most of our time in the pub. You’ll learn nothing.
A trip to East Anglia, to the Fens and to Norfolk in search of finger in the ear folk singers, Brexit country and a vision of the future when the floods come and the UK becomes a minor archipelago, its lowlands lost and forgotten under the North Sea.