At last Caroline has treated herself to some new boots (£16 in the Bath Road). So today was green welly baptism day up near Coberley: we braved the wind and rain to do my favourite walk, up the track past the prehistoric burial tumps to Barber Wood, round it and down along the edge of the great sweep that is Coldwell Bottom. And the question for discussion was, should the countryside be treated as a recreational playground?
I'm in need of training for a projected cycle ride from home to Ampleforth, starting on Palm Sunday. So this morning a friendly pacemaker led me on a preparatory spin - 26 miles before lunch, a looped route with the Badminton estate at its extremity. (He lives near Tetbury.) The weather wasn't as Spring-like as yesterday's, but it kept dry, and I didn't miss my gloves. Coming back, the wind was behind us, which made a difference.
Probably it's only in South Gloucs. that one can pass the country homes of both a Duke and a Prince (Highgrove) within such a short distance of one another. There's a fine view of the side of the Duke's William Kent-designed mansion from the lane we took. But what's that mysterious-looking upside down top hat flying above the flagpole? I don't remember hearing any aircraft noise, and it doesn't look like a bird.
We have just learnt that the postman on a pushbike is now a thing of the past here in Leckhampton. No longer will we see Pete turn up at our gate on his cycle for a chat about the latest Manchester United news. At least, we may still get the news, but not the cycle, as he and his letters now get delivered by van nearby, and the round is then made on foot. Not a great contribution to cutting carbon, one would have thought - and what's become of all those bikes?
Here are the bright stars who make up the Danish String Quartet, playing an encore at the end of a taxing programme at the Pittville Pump Room. My neighbour confided that she doesn't approve of encores after a major work such as what made up the second half yesterday evening - Beethoven Op 127. Nor does she like quartets "without a pair of clean shoes between them." (The four did indeed resemble, not so much a string quartet as a pop group.)
However, I was in no position to strike up an argument with someone so kind: I turned up at the box office just a few minutes before the concert, but before I could buy myself a ticket, she had thrust one into my hands and wouldn't hear of my paying her for it. When my other neighbour likewise thrust a spare programme in my direction, I realised it was my lucky evening.
And very good it was too, to hear such uninhibited playing, particularly in early pieces by Nielsen and Thomas Adès, which made up the first half. When it comes to the Beethoven, I'm spoilt by having the Hungarian and the Lindsays' recordings and also (since Gloucestershire Libraries' giveaway sale the other weekend - incomprehensible!) a boxed set of performances by the brilliant Takács.
Cheltenham Connect is a worthy local initiative for revitalising the community, as I've mentioned previously. One of its generous supporters is the proprietor of The Brown Jug, not quite our nearest pub: it's one I've not visited much. Since I last ventured downstairs there, the rather scruffy skittle alley has been turned into quite a sizeable lounge - big enough for about 70 of us to sit down for a quiz last evening, organised by Cheltenham Connect's Go Green group.
Faithful followers of my blog will realise that a pub quiz is not something that features much - and for Caroline it was a first. But we thought it was time to support at least one of Cheltenham Connect's initiatives, so we signed up, tagging onto a team consisting of four habitués - who thanked us at the end for venturing outside our comfort zone.
In fact, it was good fun: we didn't do too badly, laughing a lot, and learning quite a bit too. In view of some of the questions, it surprised me that the winning team (pictured, with their prizes) did not seem to contain any street-wise whiz kids.
I paid a second visit to the open west 2011 this morning, at our university's doomed Pittville Campus. On the way in, I noticed a broken pillar. Upon enquiry inside, I was told that the emergency services had been called out and that on arrival they had duly taped off the area around it.
In fact it turned out to be one of the prize-winning entries in the exhibition! And yes, its title is Broken Pillar. The artist (from Korea), Shan Hur, spotted the cantilevered entrance to the gallery area, and exactly matched the profile of the existing rear pillars in making two totally unnecessary new ones. (The left one - out of my picture - is intact.)
Within the foyer of the building, he has another work, a fake cash machine built into the wall. Again, it has taken many of us in (the students couldn't believe their luck!). Both these enjoyably unexpected exhibits seem entirely at home in a contemporary show of this kind, but "art"?
Though we live so near, I paid two visits yesterday to parts of Gloucester that were unknown to me. In the evening, David Behar Perahia presided over a performance as artist in residence in the Cathedral, leading a very informal procession up into the spacious tribune gallery, from which I discovered there is a spectacular view of the Choir and - in daylight - the East Window. Earlier, our serried ranks had dribbled through the Cloisters, where actor/musicians had sat in each corner before blocks of stone, which they attacked periodically (and rhythmically) to give a vivid impression of what it must have felt like to have been there when the building was being erected.
The artist's starting point was "awe and wonder about the simple idea that this cathedral was built out of human measures." And admirably did he and his young cast, by this unusual and imaginative performance, convey the same sense to me - as I guess to many of the large number present, for most of whom visiting the Cathedral would be a very occasional experience.
In the morning and afternoon, I had attended the conference organised by The John Ray Initiative entitled "Energising the future" at Redcliffe College. Though it is a short distance from the City Centre, its grounds are extensive, the rear garden being dominated by this huge plane tree, ringed at present by croci. Though the four speakers contradicted one another frequently, it was all very gentlemanly. But having been duly stimulated, I was glad by teatime to be able to escape from what is essentially a talking shop.
I have this evening started a photography course at the University. I am hoping it will help me to get to grips with Photoshop better. There are 14 of us - I being clearly the oldest: I think I am going to enjoy it!
Arriving early at the Pittville Campus, I had a look round the open west, which is on in the Summerfireld Gallery till 5th March. I liked it when it began in 2009; much less so, last year's. This year however there is much to admire, including Jake Lever's amazing, suspended boat. I shall go back.
A starry night meant low temperatures again in Cheltenham, one of the coldest places in the country apparently. Having scraped the ice off the car windscreen, I was rewarded with a lift up to Ullenwood, and walked back from there - in broad sunshine. The Severn Vale was shrouded in mist, May Hill looking like a distant island.
Spring is round the corner now, with snowdrops and woodpeckers as advance guards. Despite the frost, there was still plenty of mud coming down from The Crippets and through the deer farm. GCHQ dominates the view from the escarpment here: its occupants are no doubt sitting in their shirt sleeves, the twin boilers going full pelt - as can be seen:
Visiting friends in Oxfordshire at the weekend, I found myself in demand to conduct a whistle stop tour of the Oxford colleges. Naturally, we ended up at mine, University College. We came in from Logic Lane, making for the chapel. It was a sunless day, and in the dark interior, Abraham van Linge's mid-17th Century glass dazzled us. Can there be a more vivid Jonah and the whale anywhere?
From the chapel, we hastened (via a quick look inside the hall) to leave by the college's back entrance, late for our rendezvous. There was a new - to me - slatted wooden gate barring our way, with a combination lock, but a passing undergraduate kindly opened it for us as he made for the library. Through we went, the door clicking shut behind us, but then... Disaster! The back gates into Kybald Street, 50 yards further on, were firmly locked also. So there we were sandwiched in no man's land.
We had plenty of time to let our imaginations work on a solution: one of my companions suggested climbing back in over the dustbins and the 12-foot wall; but, happily, before we had need to try this, we were able to hail another passer-by inside the college, who came to our rescue with the combination. This has not improved my reputation as a guide to my alma mater.
Incidentally, being a Univ. man, I do hate the abbreviation "uni", as in "Where were you at uni?"
The Donmar production of King Lear came to (our) town tonight as to many others with a Cineworld. Another great opportunity to hear Shakespeare at top level.
So many passages seemed fresh and new - and to the point: "Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art." This was particularly apt for Poverty & Homelessness Action Week, when it's salutary to remind oneself of how lucky it is to have a house of one's own. My two sisters and I each, outright or jointly, own a home, and have done so for most of our adult lives. But none of my four children, by contrast, though adult, have a home of their own: some I suppose may never have one.
Meanwhile our home has today acquired its new-look solar panels, levered up with great effort onto the roof and about to spring into action, we hope. The house itself is blissfully warm throughout, thanks to our new boilers: I doubt if it has ever been warmer.
After an icy seven days, Chris, Craig and Mark, our trio of patient plumbers, secured us some working radiators last night. It felt luxurious. The bees nesting in the void below our shower room are waking up, unaware of what season it is. There is honey there to be collected, so Chris tells us.
We are still shivering on the lower floors, but the outside temperature is now above freezing, and anyway tomorrow we are promised house-wide central heating! We shall not know ourselves. The battle then will be to remember to wind down the thermostatic valves, so we are not heating the whole neighbourhood.
Next step: getting three very heavy solar panels up onto the roof: our house has four storeys!