On Friday last, Paul Newman died. For some 50 years he was an icon to my generation of film buffs; but reading his obituaries you see a bigger picture: in his long life, he suffered much personal tragedy, and whilst his success made him rich, he was also hugely generous.
Today's illustration is of another Newman, John Henry, 1801 - 1890. Here he is, shown as an old man in his robes as a Cardinal. The illustration appears on the front of the current Friends of Cardinal Newman Newsletter, kindly dropped on my doorstep yesterday by Christopher Page.
The picture, by the Birmingham artist, Claude Pratt, was owned by my cousin Tom Townsend, who would have inherited it from either his father Sir Reg Townsend or his mother Millie, the daughter of Birmingham-born Ned and Agnes Cartwright. (Agnes was my grandfather's aunt.)
Tom and his wife Betty had no children, and I was fortunate enough to inherit "Cardinal Newman" on Tom's death. But with our impending move, we have been trying to slim down on pictures, so I am very happy that it has now found its way back to Birmingham, and indeed to Newman's Oratory in the Hagley Road.
My beautiful Goddaughter, Lucy was married yesterday to her friend of long standing, Ash Mayne. It was a joyful ceremony, conducted with great solemnity by the Tweedies' local Rector, Claire Lording, charismatic in the best sense. (Never has there been a more persuasive illustration of the argument in favour of women priests!)
All Lucy's Godparents were on parade, and delighted by how she and Ash had not only chosen a church wedding, but taken such care over the selection of music and poetry, and even the make-up of the service booklet. Their reward was the best community singing I've heard at a marriage for ages - and the best possible weather! Herefordshire was looking at its very best - and in particular the Tweedie garden, albeit Charles having had to sacrifice some of this season's best fishing days!
As always, a million pictures were taken, but somehow the day wasn't marred by the urgency to take advantage of photo opportunities - thanks to a smiling and dedicated lady behind the viewfinder. (The above is an effort of mine.)
Two months ago, I posted an update on Davis family news: perhaps it's time for another one.
We took the house off the market a couple of weeks ago, as of course nobody is buying houses given the economic crisis.
Meanwhile Edmund and Claire (who sold last year) and their boys have been enjoying the huge garden of their rented property, particularly during this Indian Summer: at present their plan is to go on renting where they are in Hampshire.
Leo is off to Japan for a fortnight in four weeks' time, to stay with Mini and her family. Mini has a part-time job in Winchcombe: her visa has been extended till next May.
Agnes, apart from looking after Ida, is busy drawing children's book illustrations. She has been looking at possible places to live, and just missed getting a cottage in Kington (near the Welsh border), which would have suited well.
Thomas has settled on a flat in Lisbon, has started learning Portuguese and enjoys the warmth of the place (in her various manifestations). We shall visit him in November, when we plan to be InterRailing, initially with the Russells: Paris, Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid are our first stops. The dining-room is full of guide books and maps.
And last night, at our Everyman Theatre, the local MP, Martin Horwood, presented Caroline with her Cheltenham Arts Council award, for the contribution she has made to the arts in Cheltenham over many years. A proud moment!
Warwickshire County Cricket Club are today celebrating their victory in the County Championship - albeit only its second division. But this means that next year they will be back in the first division, where of course they rightly belong.
Born in Birmingham, I was always a staunch Warwickshire supporter, and indeed suffered for it in the late '50s/early '60s at school (in Yorkshire - and with plenty of Surrey contemporaries). It's years since I went to watch Warwickshire play, but during the season I follow their progress closely in the paper: a win the previous day always gives me a boost the next morning.
There must be thousands of men my age who share this fervency, but will future generations? I don't detect any County cricket enthusiasm in my three sons, let alone Agnes. Who will want to inherit my grandfather Gateley's oddly-shaped Ampleforth College cricket cap I wonder.
Four years ago, we were on holiday in Asturias, staying with Caroline's cousin Lizzie. She drove us up into the mountains one memorable day, to the village of Villabre, which modern life seemed to have passed by. There we picked our way amongst clogs and cats and chickens, and between ancient farm buildings, and I photographed this cobwebbed window, which I have always taken to be reminiscent of a Ben Nicholson. For his birthday last week, we gave Tim a framed, blown up version: the postman brought a lovely Timmish thank you letter this morning.
After receiving which I took a train to Swindon for lunch and a walk round Coate Water with my friend Jeremy Rigden: as there was time before the train back, I visited Swindon Art Gallery, and marvelled at its collection - not numerous, but significant - of Modern British (and later) artists.
And there I saw a real Ben Nicholson, which of course bears no resemblance whatever to my photograph. (Perhaps Tim was more on the button in his letter, joking "Eat your heart out Rothko.")
I took this photograph standing at the window of a Chinese train: we were visiting Agnes during her gap year. I don't know if the smoke is belching from a power station or - more probably perhaps - from a factory. But it was a common sight then, six years ago.
What reminded me of it was a talk I heard this lunchtime by Dr. Andrew Minchener of the IEA's Clean Coal Centre. Most of Andrew's work is in mainland Europe and China, but he lives near Gloucester, and the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network was astute in nabbing him to speak.
We heard some horrifying energy use forecasts: that worldwide coal requirements would increase by 50% before 2030; and that energy-related CO2 emissions could increase by 60%. But we also heard positive news about the development of carbon capture technology, albeit at a steep price: the scrubbing is expensive because new plant is required; because any viable CO2 storage space may be a long way away - horizontally and vertically, and because the energy loss in turning coal into electricity having captured the carbon is considerable - meaning that we need to transport and then burn more coal to produce the same amount of energy. And our existing power stations are mainly old and unsuitable for retrofitting.
But with 50% of our present energy use coal-based, we cannot leave it out of the equation. So, we need government investment and regulatory pressure, at both national and European level, to clean up the technology, and quickly. Andrew said the most advanced countries at the moment in the necessary technology were America and China! A sobering talk.
The bungalow at the rear of the house next door is nearing completion. It's been a long time in the building, and meanwhile the market has of course collapsed. In its particulars the drawing looks rather attractive, and no doubt it could be made so, but it still looks like a building site.
Our house - floor area, 382 square metres, excluding our separate storage buildings - has been advertised since January. I have now removed its For Sale sign: it has been taken off the websites. Our asking price was only £50,000 more than that of this adjacent new bungalow, with its floor area of less than half ours. And virtually no garden.
Rosie - our springer spaniel - has not hitherto featured a great deal in my blog, but here she takes centre stage, along with my companion of yesterday morning, Maestro Smith. Elise, not in the slow lane this weekend, had left Martin a grass widower, to whom we promised a walk and lunch.
We met at Brimpsfield - Martin, fashionably late as usual (but not much) - and walked Southwards along the open valley below Eddington Wood. Here - contrast Thursday's post - you would never know you were only a mile from the A417(T) dual carriageway.
This photograph was taken as we approached Caudle Green, where we saw the largest clump of Autumn cyclamen you could hope to find, and Rosie was in her element chasing roadside pheasants. Our path went left, up another equally lovely valley through Ostrich and Poston Woods, thankfully free of the threat of being overlooked by any Syde Park mansion development. Finally, we passed Brimpsfield Park's lakes, pausing to watch a single swan cruising carelessly.
All this in shirtsleeves, and good conversation too.
Tim's jeep has seen long service. Generations, literally, have been thrilled - some terrified - to bounce about those fields on the escarpment with Tim at the wheel. So, at his 60th birthday party, it was only natural for the jeep to share centre stage - as nostalgic conveyor of dear, gallant old Miley, and for two-year-old William's bone-shaker debut. (He loved it.)
And the sun shone on a lawn bearing half an octagon of tables, white-clothed and groaning with the most delicious beef. Dom toasted his Dad, and all the usual suspects drank deep of claret that was well worthy of Nivisons' glassware.
The then Fr. Patrick Barry, our RI (= religious instruction, sic) teacher, came into class one bright January day just less than 50 years ago and asked us whether we knew what an Ecumenical Council was. Of course, aged 15, none of us had a clue. "Well," he said, "the Pope has just called one." And so began my acquaintance with Vatican II.
There are two schools of thought: did it represent a rupture with the past? Or should it just be seen as an act in the continuing tradition of the Church? I think it's worth copying to a wider (?) public the larger part of a letter to the Editor of this week's Tablet by an Dublin-based Jesuit, Fr. Brendan Staunton.
"May I suggest," he asks, "a small parable as a possible way out of this dualistic impasse? Consider Cézanne, “the father of modern art”, who, having been converted to Impressionism, became dissatisfied with its immediacy and asked himself the question: “How can I create depth without resorting to the traditional means?” By traditional means he meant perspective, a method grounded in projective geometry, the discovery of which had transformed the history of European painting. Now there is depth in a Cézanne, but it is not the same as in a Raphael. Something new has emerged, and Picasso would see the latent Cubism in Cézanne, and push the new out further. Yet Picasso and Matisse are often referred to as “traditional modernists”.
Matisse said he wanted to be a “modern Giotto”, the bridge between the two being light, albeit two different kinds of light. So, could the story of art illuminate the intellectual debates around the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council? Discontinuity or continuity, rupture or reform of tradition. Event or text?
Modern art embodies these notions and this debate and suggests a way out. This could become even more likely to provoke good arguments as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the announcing of the Council, which Pope John XXIII insisted be called Vatican II, implying that he was not interested in continuing the work begun but halted by the Franco-Prussian war at Vatican I. He wanted Vatican II to be new. Which view is more in tune with this, Alberigo or Pope Benedict XVI? Can both be true?
The novelist John Updike wrote:
“Cézanne, grave man, pondered the scene, and saw it with passion as orange and green, and weighted his strokes with days of decision, and founded on apples, theologies of vision.”
The apples in today's photograph are from the smallest tree we inherited - an orange-flavoured variety, but we don't know exactly which.
glouc This morning, with the mist clearing, I went with Caroline (and Rosie) up to Crickley Hill. Having parked the car, we walked South: this photograph was taken at the Park's noisiest extremity, with traffic on the A417(T) roaring away below us; and yet it is the most peaceful of scenes. For the deaf, Crickley must be a haven!
After our cold and stormy spell last week, it was warm enough for shirt sleeves, though the oak and beech are already beginning to turn in the huge old wood above the cricket field. Gloucester Cathedral stood out clearly from the hill fort, as did the C&G head office at Barnwood: there will be many working there today, who are nervous about their future job prospects: Lloyds TSB surely won't want to keep two large building societies in parallel.
A little less than five years or so ago, a long tube arrived at our door via carrier, containing a bare-rooted apple tree. It was a sixtieth birthday present for me from our old friends Mark and Eva Fudakowski, whom we met when they lived not far from us at Northleach: their daughter Alex is my Goddaughter, and Mark is a kind Godfather to Thomas.
This was no ordinary apple tree, but one of the very rare Bardsey Island variety. I'm glad to say that - as my photograph shows - it has settled in well in our back garden, where it is in good company: we inherited five apple trees of varying ages and species when we bought the house - there were more, but they fell to the axe when the building plot at the bottom of our garden (a developer had bought it before we came on the scene) needed a drive to it.
This year, all six trees have cropped well: the question is where to store all the good fruit. Thanks to the juicer we bought following advice from John Seymour - ages ago - windfalls are not a problem. Is there's anything - non-alcoholic - better to drink than fresh apple juice? It smells delicious too.
I like the idea that anyone buried on Bardsey Island is guaranteed eternal salvation. Does it work the same, I wonder, if one's ashes are scattered round the roots of a Bardsey Island apple?
Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, characters in Sheridan's 1777 play The School for Scandal, are supposed to be modelled on the then Duke of Devonshire and his wife Georgiana - who ran up huge gambling debts using her husband's credit. This and the Duchess's sad and brilliant life generally is all graphically described by Amanda Foreman in her excellent biography "Georgiana". Now it's been made into a film (The Duchess) starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, currently on in Cheltenham.
In May 1957, The School for Scandal was the - perhaps slightly surprising - choice of play made by Fr. Kevin Mason and Fr. Leonard Jackson (both monks of Ampleforth) for that school's Exhibition weekend entertainment. Sir Peter was played by Edmund ffield, from Cheltenham: he is currently a member of the community of the Monastery of Christ the Word in Zimbabwe, having morphed into Fr. Richard ffield OSB. And I was Lady Teazle - the summit of my acting career.
We haven't ever planted teazles in our garden, but two specimens - taller than me - have just arrived this year: rather majestic.
Saturday was the day for the annual Sponsored Ride (or walk) in aid of Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust, and a beautiful day it was too! After all the rain we have had, many prayers were no doubt offered - and they were answered.
At about 12.30, Fr. Tom Smith and I set off from home (Tom on Caroline's bike), and by the time we returned at 4, we had notched up 21 local church buildings on our list. (I have made a photographic record for my sponsors - see here). There are of course many more than that in Cheltenham, altogether. Ten of those we visited were locked, and there was a wedding at Christ Church, but we were able to see inside the other ten.
Very interesting it was. A huge amount of love is lavished on our churches - not to mention money; but to what end? Today, society in general is Godless. Children are not taught to pray. The Ten Commandments? How many can name them all, or even a few?
"See how these Christians love one another," pagans would say in the early days; but how can we love one another if we don't so much as acknowledge that we are part of the same faith-based community? Are we not spending too much time conserving our historic church properties, at the expense of the Christian mission, "Go and teach all nations"?
I echo the words written following a visit to Rome more than fifty years ago by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, in a letter to the subsequent pope, Paul VI, "I am sure that such personal contacts as we enjoyed during this visit are the best way of creating that spirit of love and understanding between members of different theological traditions which is a prerequisite for closer unity in the future."
On Wednesday, I put on a brave face and cooked supper for four. This happens only once in a blue moon. The marrow was grown by brother-in-law Bill: plenty left still - it was enormous.
The mince ended up rather too dry and too salty; but our guests - Robin and Felicity Littlewood - were too polite to say so. The pears in red wine weren't cooked enough, on the other hand. Better the next night, when Thibaud de Saint-Quentin was staying; but cooking for a Frenchman is not something I feel up to.
I have been stewarding at St Gregory's today: it is open under the Civic Trust's Heritage Open Days scheme, as it was also last year. We didn't get many visitors, but those who did come along seemed to be seriously interested. Hugh Greenhalf had put up a most informative display illustrating the history of the church and of the Cheltenham Catholic community: I loved the contemporary newspaper's description of the incredibly grand opening ceremony, with Cardinal Wiseman in all his pomp. This of course is what the Latin Mass Society's adherents want us to return to! (God forbid!)
One of our "visitors" - as I at first took him to be - was none other than our new parish priest, Fr. Bosco MacDonald: I took this photograph of him, for the rogues' gallery in the church porch, but I haven't the patience to remove the evidence of rain from his coat, in Photoshop; so I shall have to take another one in due course.
This is "stodgy" Cheltenham House (Pevsner's description), in Clarence Street, Cheltenham. "Offices to let" signs are up; and despite it being mid-afternoon of a weekday (today), no traffic is to be seen along this, the Cheltenham inner ring road. Yes, we are in a recession.
Built in 1972 for the HQ of what was then the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society, Cheltenham House cruelly conceals the town's only mediaeval building, the neglected and not-at-all-stodgy St Mary's Church. Barbara Hepworth's sculpture Theme and Variations, attached to Cheltenham House, provides some compensation for this: it is Cheltenham's most prestigious (though hardly most conspicuous) piece of public art.
The C&G left Cheltenham for Barnwood, near Gloucester, abour two decades ago, since when parts of Cheltenham House seem to have been more or less continuously vacant. What hope is there now, therefore, that someone will ring DTZ to say "Yes please, I would like to become your new office tenant," as the advertising boards invite us to do?
Actually, I feel that Pevsner is a bit hard on Cheltenham House: I rather like the building's gentle curve, its ashlar facing and copper-coloured window trim: it's just in the wrong place. And those five hideous posters completely overpower Theme and Variations.
And so does recession compromise art. It puts artists and craftsmen out of work: commissions are stalled, even cancelled. There is less ready money to ensure great works of art - particularly historic buildings - can be adequately maintained. Craftsmen builders, picture restorers, musicians all find their skills untreasured.
The paradox is that recession brings unemployment, meaning more time for those who, having lost mindless but well-paid jobs, seek to develop hidden talents by creating new works of art, notwithstanding there may be no present market for it. And doesn't hardship so often bring out the best?
A friend of mine at university once described another as one who not so much drops names as hurls them. Caroline is the exact opposite: she hates it when I so much as suggest I know anyone at all celebrated, but as she doesn't read my blog, I am going to risk doing it all the same.
Last Saturday, Agnes had a friend to lunch who turned out to be the great-niece of Christopher Lee, a.k.a. Dracula; and the niece of the actor Harriet Walter, whom we have always much admired.
Last night, we were invited to dinner by Lady Ottoline Morrell's grandson; and here is a photograph of the celebrated artist and art historian John Golding. He was a fellow-guest at the delicious and delightful lunch to which Caroline and I were invited today.
We have all three of our grandchildren at home with us at present. It's exhausting, especially for Caroline. But relief comes at lunchtime today!
Last night, the youngest, Laurie Arthur Davis, gave in first, but William Nathaniel and Ida Frances (here, with Agnes) were not to be fobbed off without several stories. William is in the habit of posting books under his door if he thinks he has been put to bed too soon.
Richard hosted yesterday's book group meeting. As at our last session, six weeks ago, we were fairly evenly divided about the merits of our choice, The Road Home, by Rose Tremain. Two of us were reminded that we had read her earlier Restoration, and hadn't much enjoyed that either. I for one was baffled that The Road Home should have won the 2008 Orange Fiction Prize: it must have been a bad year. A book with a large hole in the middle, I felt: the main character was a cipher.
We have gone for non-fiction next time: Jonathan Raban's Passage to Juneau: a sea and its meanings. This ties in with the new-found celebrity of Alaska's lipsticked pitbull Governor, and echoes one of our earliest choices The Black Sea when Steve first convened our group, four years ago this month.
The cover of Passage to Juneau includes a puff with a reminder of our last book: "Adrift in foreign lands, eternally questioning the concept of home, Raban crafts a more immaculate, shipshape habitation out of the language than almost all his contemporaries." It's an excerpt from a FT review. The reviewer? Rose Tremain.
I'm not sure when we shall be able to meet next: Richard is usually away in October, and he and Simon were encouraging me to firm up a vague plan to go InterRailing - which means we would be away till late November. We shall see.
Before our book discussion, we were looking forward to a visit to the Moreton Show. With all this rain, though, it would have been a sea of mud so, not surprisingly, it was cancelled. We went instead to the recently-opened Court Barn Museum in Chipping Campden.
A couple of years ago, Richard had taken us round the Court Barn when it was still at the development stage. We were all immensely impressed with the finished product: the displays pull together comprehensively the major contribution the Arts & Crafts movement has made to the life of the Cotswolds. And happily, when there we bumped into one of those most responsible for helping people to appreciate it, Mary Greensted.
But we worried for the Museum's future success. It suffers from real lack of visibility: how can its landlords, the Landmark Trust be persuaded to be more flexible on this front? Would some form of laser projection on the adjoining wall be possible?
Almost the highlight of our day: Richard took us (and his Airedale) round Monique's and his wonderful garden - and the rain stopped.
Last night, there was a great gathering in St Gregory's School here in Cheltenham, to say goodbye to our Catholic parish priest Fr. John Blacker. He is moving on Wednesday next week to Marlborough, and we have a new parish priest arriving (from Bristol), Fr. Bosco MacDonald.
Fr. John will be specially missed for the kindness he always showed to the children of the parish - in this photograph, he was reassuring those just about to process in to their First Holy Communion mass, in June this year.
Fr. Bosco has a heavy workload facing him: St Gregory's priests are taking over responsibility for the adjoining St Thomas More's parish, as their priest, Fr. Mark Moran is also leaving Cheltenham for a new parish, Amesbury: such is the shortage of priests that the Bishop can't replace him.
From the back entrance to my former College, Univ., it was only a short distance to the Canterbury Gate of Christ Church ("the House"), so I passed that way often when I was up at Oxford (in the early 'Sixties). I took this photograph on Tuesday morning, standing just inside the Gate. On the left is the East end of the Library which faces onto Peckwater Quad, scene of much partygoing.
In 1765 General John Guise, an Old Member of the House, died leaving it a collection of some 2,000 drawings and 200 paintings. They were hung - or a few of them were - in the Library until the late 'Sixties, when the Christ Church Picture Gallery was built - to "House" them properly. It's celebrating its 40th anniversary with a special exhibition and has on display some of the best drawings, prompting our visit - my first for a long while.
What an amazing collection it is! And what a place on its own is Christ Church! We were there with Caroline and Andrew Meynell, having been staying with them. This gave us easy access to the Cathedral - Andrew being an Hon. Canon - via Cardinal Wolsey's Tom Quad.
Today's post is stimulated by our good friend Martin Smith writing from holiday in America. (What he says is in italics, followed by my comments.)
My, what an August…
- Oil and commodity prices plummeting/£ going the same way/Darling in a panic – are we approaching a bottom?
From my very local, "at home" perspective, my bank balance is healthier for not having had to buy €€€ to holiday in Europe. I'm glad to be paying less for petrol; though food in the shops doesn't seem to get any cheaper. (Reports say we are cutting back on buying organic products; but as Sir Terry Leahy recognises in an article in today's Guardian, "People's values do not change simply because the economy is going through a bumpy patch.")
I'm not sure Chancellor Darling can actually be said to be panicing, just because he gives one unusual - and surprisingly refreshing - interview from his holiday fastness. But it will need a miracle for Labour to recover in the opinion polls. I'd be inclined to agree with the suggestion that, as Gordon is going to lose the next election anyway, he should go for broke and bring to fruition all those radical ideas which induced people to vote New Labour into power - and which he's shelved because he now thinks they would damage his prospects of reelection.
- Beijing Olympics twice as interesting as expected. Brits did amazingly well, but did you see that Stanford got 24 medals, eight of them gold?!
Guess where M. Smith went as a post-graduate student! I'm solidly in favour of the Olympics as a means of bringing people of all the nations together; but as a spectator sport I found them a turn-off. Give me a half-decent football match any day!
- US politics approaching fever pitch – Obama riding high, McCain thwarted by Gustav, and backing a gun totin', creationist anti-environmentalist woman as VP. Please God let Obama win.
Hear, hear! From this viewpoint, the two sides seem very ill-balanced: it's hard to see what can be said for McCain as President, let alone the extraordinary Palin as Veep. We had a neighbour here recently, with her family "over on vacation" from the Mid-West - solidly creationist: even as a fellow-Christian, you just don't know where to start in on the discussion.
- A month of rain in UK and of sun here (sorry)
Actually, it hasn't been that bad, in Cheltenham at least. It could certainly have been warmer, and dryer - but at least those who wanted to watch the Olympics haven't felt guilty about being inside. The fruit and veg. have been prolific, nor have we had to water the garden! And we've certainly saved on sun screen.
To Maestro Smith's list, I would add:
- For the first time in history, the Northern ice cap can this Summer be circumnavigated. And as Oliver Tickell says, "With melting ice, more sunshine is absorbed rather than reflected back into space. The result is more warming, and more melting. In turn this increases the degassing of methane from Arctic bogs, lakes and thawing permafrost - and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, 70 times stronger than CO2 over 20 years."
- The Russian army went into action beyond its country's borders for the first time since the invasion of Afghanistan, and it did so against an Orthodox country with deep cultural and human ties to Russia.
- Every night at the Proms seems to be better than the last. There have been great visiting orchestras, but none better than the dear old BBC Symphony Orchestra, at least on the evidence of their Verdi Requiem on Sunday night. Superb conducting by Jiří Bělohlávek, and the best lyric tenor I've heard since Fritz Wunderlich - the 30-year-old Joseph Calleja. (Listen Again - quickly - if you missed it.)
Edmund and Claire invited us to stay at The Coach House for a celebration on Saturday: an olive tree was to be symbolically planted, to grow up alongside Laurie (born on 13th November last year).
So, his parents, brother, cousin Ida, aunt Agnes and uncle Leo, grandparents and great-aunt Sarah assembled, along with five good friends of Edmund and of Claire. We all drank champagne and Edmund made a nice speech. The sun shone, we ate too much and a happy time was had by all.