Ever Decreasing Circles

Thursday, 26th August 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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cathedralTown hallA dreaming spire and a tower of nightmares.

The Cathedral's crocketed spire, built c.1420, is still the signature feature of the Wakefield skyline. The Town Hall, built 1877-80, was described in The Building News of the time as the work of a 'true Gothicist', the design more Jacobean than Renaissance:

'. . . the clock tower,' the critic continued, 'is thoroughly mediaeval and severe in character - almost too much so . . . '

Addams family houseThat's probably being a little harsh on T.E.Collcutt, the London-based architect, but the Addams Family mansion (right) styling of the tower suits my feelings about the place since my nightmare experience at a public enquiry there some years ago.

I'm looking forward to taking part in a Readers' Festival at the Town Hall in October with not a little foreboding in case the venue for my workshop on book illustration is the dark-panelled Kingswood Suite; a room that will always have a sinister quality for me because of its associations with my mysteriously disappearing evidence (lost by the Council's planning department) and the threats made against me if I tried to make good its loss by giving my evidence - which was described as both 'unbelievable' and 'unimportant' - in person (£250,000 plus costs were mentioned, which I found scary). Sorry, if you're a regular reader, you've heard all this before!

'They're creepy and they're spooky' was the way the Addams Family were introduced in the 1960s television comedy but it's Wakefield Town Hall that still sends shivers down my spine.

* * * * *

In my imagination I might be searching for meaning in the everyday, exploring the complexity of nature and contemplating the mysteries of time but I'm aware that in real life I lead a semi-detached suburban existence:

The Greengrass of Home

'You're going to do some chimney sweeping then?' quips the assistant in B&Q (the drain rods that I'm buying have an alternative fitting for sweeping chimneys).

'I could do, couldn't I? - I could get a job appearing at weddings' (a sweep at a wedding is supposed to bring good luck).

'Like Greengrass . . .'

'So you think I look like Greengrass!'

'No! But, you know how he's always looking for moneymaking ideas; when he turned up as a sweep at the wedding they sued him for ruining the bride's dress!'

Bill Maynard

Greengrass, Bill Maynard's character in Heartbeat.

meMe, like Greengrass?!

'What have I married?!' said Barbara when she saw the photographic evidence.

homemade drain clearing toolDrain Surgeon

I'm using the plunger attachment on my new rods to clear the drain by the garage door (that's my previous home-made drain-clearing tool in the sketch). It works like a piston and soon muddy water is shooting up and spraying onlookers. It's so satisfying to get the accumulation of dead leaves moving around the U-bend: soon I've succeeded in moving the obstruction along, only to find that I have now blocked our neighbour Derek's drain too as well as mine!

Derek masterminds the tricky operation: as he prepares to insert a yellow hosepipe into a critically placed rodding point his wife Sandra comes out with a damp cloth and mops a mud spatter from his brow, like a nurse in a hospital drama.

I'm a little concerned that I find the problem-solving element of clearing a drain, not to mention the modest physical effort, a lot of fun. It's so satisfying to solve a tricky problem without calling in a professional (of course we did have the phone number of a good plumber to hand as a stand-by).

* * * * *

But I feel as if I'm sliding into a Middle England stereotype . . .

Richard BriersMole Valley Valves

High on my list of favourite sitcoms is Ever Decreasing Circles in which Richard Briers plays Martin Bryce, suburban man and employee of Mole Valley Valves.

His sense of his own self-importance coupled with his innate sense of inferiority and his earnest but ineffectual neighbourhood campaigns are uncomfortably close to the story of my own life. Briers, who in recent years has played Lear and Prospero to great acclaim on stage, brings pathos, warmth and something of a heroic dimension to Bryce; a character you really wouldn't like to have as a next door neighbour.

Like Trees in November

On just one occasion I worked on the same production as Richard Briers: he voiced one of the leading characters, the visionary rabbit Fiver, in the 1978 cartoon film of Richard Adams' Watership Down. In this scene Fiver is filled with foreboding and stammers that he feels that the strange rabbits in Cowslip's Warren are 'sad, like trees in November'.

The pen and ink drawing of roots and pebbles was my contribution to this scene: the colouring was the work of another artist in the background department while Fiver himself was drawn by an animator.

Copyright, Watership Down Productions, 1978
© Watership Down Productions, 1978

sycamoresCaddis flyCaddis Fly

Attracted by the light, a Caddis fly, flies in through the back door. As it flutters past me, I think it's a kind of moth but then it settles on the fridge door and I'm able to get a better look at it.

I think of this creature's larval life in the beck beyond the meadow: making a case for itself out of fragments of vegetation, clinging to a rock in the stream and catching the food particles that drift past it in the current.

Then it starts it's new life, as an adult insect, in the new element of air; it flies out of the wood, across the meadow, in through our open door and ends up clinging, like a magnet, to our fridge door. Next Page

Related Links

Claude Jeremiah Greengrass and Nicolas Rhea's Heartbeat novels.

Ever Decreasing Circles

Ever Decreasing Circles at nostalgiacentral.com

A film is not a book - Watership Down comes to the screen, an essay by Chris Boyce who includes a link to 'A piece of web gold dust and another by Richard Bell, one of the film’s background artists (a fact he had revealed in his 1980's book, Richard Bell's Britain) clearly shows the style and detail of the Cowslip's warren sequence dates from the Hubley year.' Chris has come up with a lot about the making of the movie that not even I knew about, my thanks to him for bringing together so much background material (and for referring to my page as 'web gold dust'!).

Hubley and Rosen

For the record though; Hubley interviewed me and offered me a job as assistant background artist at the beginning of the summer of 1976 but by the time I started work in September he was gone and I'm sorry that I never got to work with him (nor did I work alongside veteran Disney animator Phil Duncan, who I met when I was down for the interview, as he had gone off on a long vacation to some exotic location by the time I started work).

Chris is right in stating that Hubley had a huge influence on the look of the film and that it was Rosen who tightened up the storytelling side of things. I think you see Hubley's influence most in the mythological, playful sequences and Rosen's in the dark and violent side of the film (not that Rosen was dark and violent man to work with as producer/director, you understand!).

There was a lovely story-within-a-story of El-ahrairah and the King's Cabbages which was virtually complete but which had to be cut because of the long running time of the film. I felt it should have been released as a short film in its own right. Wonder if it's still sitting in a vault somewhere?

Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk

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