Having inveighed earlier this month about Grand Prix mania, I found myself this afternoon with the grandchildren at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury, watching a play all about racing cars. The character on the right of my photograph was Farmer Green, whose secret apple and raspberry-based biofuel ensured the victory of the little guy against the big bad favourite for the race. But there wasn't a lot of reflection on the need to stop all this motor racing malarkey in its tracks. At least one can say - and it's rare these days - that the plot involved neither casual killing nor alien monsters. The grandchildren of course lapped it all up, and I felt worthy - he says, sanctimoniously - having resisted pleas to buy "merchandise", as well as for having taken them there and back via two buses each way.
We've been eating mainly in the garden, and from it: our first picking of French beans this evening. Earlier, I took the grandchildren to the Holst Museum: it's as much sold as a quaint Victorian house as the birthplace of the eminent composer. There was a day of flag-making, and a sandpit in the back yard, making use of one of the old bath tubs. The Museum's chairs and sofas are "protected" by beribboned thistles, which Laurie, four in November, assiduously collected up and gave me in a bunch.
There's a comfortable bench at the Southern edge of the Woodland Trust's Barber Wood, from which this great view unfolds, down the side of the Churn Valley. I often make for it when on dog-walking duty, as this morning. Altogether, a near-perfect English Summer's day, even though with only fitful sunshine.
The clouds over May Hill weren't quite so dramatic today as in this old photograph; but it was still a delight to walk alone on Leckhampton Hill (five minutes from home by car) in the cool of the evening, after quite an oppressively warm day in our back garden with three boistrous grandchildren around. There are still plenty of wild flowers, though no orchids, and the trees have all grown up somewhat since the last time I was up there, which shows how long ago that was. As well as May Hill and the Black Mountains beyond, there was a clear view to the North-West, as far as Clee Hill I reckon, some 50 miles.
On the fence along the sheer edge of Salterley Quarry someone has placed a sign saying "Grandma" in large letters. Was this where she jumped, or was it just where she wanted her ashes scattered?
The publisher, Blurb's third volume of my freeranger posts reached me today, its cover as above, with an image from when we visited Cascais, Portugal, with Thomas in May last year: since then, he has moved there from Lisbon, renting a flat near to where the photograph was taken.
I'd say the quality of Blurb's photographic reproduction seems to have improved: so, it's a very pleasing record to have, though I honestly don't expect anyone other than me to be interested in buying a copy!
When we moved to Whittington Parish in 1983, there were people living there who doubtless had hardly left the county: certainly, some would have lived out their lives there never having required a passport.
We were bidden back to Whittington Village Hall at lunchtime for a friend's surprise birthday party. Not far for us to travel, but a long way for many of those who came, some even from abroad. One daughter is married and living in Hong Kong, but all four other children (and a grandchild) were present, which for this multi-national family is an achievement in itself. And, orchestrated from Kenya, it was - what's more - kept as a real surprise until the last moment.
We took our macs with us to Poulton this evening, for a garden visit organised by the Gloucestershire Organic Gardening Group (GOGG) of which I am a somewhat passive member. In fact, it turned out fine, and indeed there was a memorable sunset over the Vale as we returned via Leckhampton Hill. Mike and Stella's one-third of an acre back garden is only lacking in one thing: a lawn. For this there is absolutely no space. But it is crammed with cultivation of every other kind, raised beds jam packed with brassicas, carrots and leeks; a greenhouse full of tomatoes, peppers, grapes etc. and room for dozens of different clematis and even the odd sunflower (as shown here).
The multi-talented Martin Clare was celebrated today in St Mary's, Fairford, a church in which he had worked in various guises, and whose roof (amongst others) he had climbed. Martin was not, however, a believer, so this beautiful pre-Reformation church was put to use (as it would have been in centuries long ago) for an essential community purpose: his friends and family packed it, for the most joyful and moving funeral I have been to for many years.
The music ranged from Bach to the Beatles, with flamenco, Anna McGarrigle and a haunting Dead Man Blues to conclude. These are only a few of the pieces that crammed a nearly two-hour service, together with six or seven tributes, Psalm 98 and Edward Lear. All the members of Martin's family contributed with an astonishing composure, which contrasted markedly with that of many in the congregation.
How little we knew of Martin in our book group! I learned that he dubbed it "the scary book group". (How salutory for us survivors to hear that!) What an example of self-effacedness he gave!
Sale particulars for the house on the left of this picture came yesterday, as Caroline is always looking for us to downsize. It's no good, as it has virtually no garden, and no West sun to speak of either. Generally, it's too small; but it is certainly conveniently situated right in the very centre of Cheltenham and next door to the former Cheltenham Chapel graveyard, now lovingly restored and known as Jenner Gardens. And at this time of year it's ablaze with yellow (roses and potentilla), blue (Hidcote lavender) and red (poppies). Another project to which the Summerfield Trust contributed: what would we do without it?
We took advantage of a sunny evening and Mini staying the night to drive up to Elkstone before supper: she hadn't visited the village before, with its fine church surrounded by tall trees: the main attractions are the 12th Century nave and chancel, but my eye was drawn to the figures carved high up on the 15th Century tower. One (on the North-West corner) is playing the citole, while this odd fellow on the N-E blows his shawm. (Pevsner supplied the details.)
I last visited the magnificent Palladian Harewood House whilst on my bike trip through Yorkshire in May 2009. The current (7th) Earl clearly not only cherished his immense inheritance, but had enhanced its collections in so many ways. Of his renowned collection of 20th Century paintings and sculpture, the first glimpse you have upon entering the house is Epstein's still-shocking "Adam". My photograph shows Astrid Zydower's 1984 work, "Orpheus".
As an eager opera-goer in my 20s, my bible was Kobbé, in its radical revision by the same Lord Harewood, who seemed to know everything there was to know about opera. And so indeed Tom Sutcliffe confirms in his comprehensive obituary of the 7th Earl in today's Guardian.
It mentions "the competition between the Wells and Sir Georg Solti's Garden, which faintly echoed the royal operatic rows involving Lord Harewood's Hanoverian forebears in Handel's day." I wonder if he knew this: the 1st Earl's younger brother, Francis, 14 when Handel died, never married, but fathered ten children by one of the day's Covent Garden superstars, Ann Catley. A properly comprehensive biography of her is eagerly awaited, but from what we already know, she (and therefore Francis Lascelles) would certainly have been at the centre of many of the operatic controversies of the day.
Our children (no opera singers amongst them, alas) are part of Francis and Ann's immense brood - 4th grat-grandchildren.
It was some seven years ago now that our friend Steve convened a boys' book group. News has just reached me of the death of
its youngest original member, Martin Clare of Fairford.
Besides being excellent company, Martin seemed to be a jack of all trades: a fine musician and, I gather, amateur dramatist; brilliant with children and young people; a cricketer (winner of the Fairford President's Award in 2005 I note); handyman and house restorer; as an ex-publican himself, an expert on local pubs, and so far as the book group went, a bringer-to-our-attention of wonderfully oddball books such as "The Eyre Affair".
A quick google is frustrating, as he's easily overtaken by the singer Clare Martin, but it reminded me of a typically delightful contribution he made to the Guardian's Notes & Queries. To the question, "Are there any examples of books being improved in translation?", he replied, "I don't know about improvements, but I once saw a French edition of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes book His Last Bow translated as Son Dernier Coup d'Archet. Stupidly, I didn't buy it; I'd love to have known whether the translation of the stories was of a similar quality."
His funeral in Fairford next Monday promises to be a great occasion: so many people will miss him dreadfully, but especially his beloved Nicky, Nick and Gummo of course.
The Disasters Emergency Committee reports that over 10 million people are just now at risk in East Africa, due largely to some areas being affected by the worst drought in 60 years. In our church this evening, an emergency retiring collection was taken up for this latest DEC appeal.
Before mass, our friendly Parish Priest enquired of me: "Did you watch the Silverstone Grand Prix? I was gripped." He was one of - it seems - about 600 million people around the world in a similar "grip". TV coverage of all the Grand Prix events is universal.
So, when are we going to grasp (grip) the correlation between burning a zillion gallons of petrol by racing round in circles at vast speed, and the global warming which contributes to our African neighbours' water shortage?
John and his wife Ann have lived, these past six years, on the side of one of those steep valleys near Stroud. Their back garden rises vertiginously to way above the level of their chimney pots, with narrow tiers of productive level ground carved out as you ascend. They fight the good fight against the woodland scrub that encroaches from above, and the badgers which lumber destructively, right down as far as the bird feeders by the back door of the house. And they seem to be winning: seldom have I seen so much cultivation within such a small area, with 30 fruit trees, a greenhouse and a polytunnel all loaded and stuffed with produce. When if ever can they go on holiday I wonder? It certainly makes me feel inadequate, achieving so little, on our flat, badger-free patch.
The garden we visited is one of 37 open this weekend under a scheme devised by Transition Stroud: only by chance did I hear about it on Thursday, via the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network.
At this morning's Cheltenham Festival recital by the Carducci Quartet, I sat next to a Sixth Form pupil from Dean Close: it is the quartet-in-residence there, a great boost to the school's budding string players, much as the Tewkesbury Abbey "residency" is for the school's young singers.
The programme included the European premier of a Festival commission, Arlene Sierra's Insects in Amber. I am not greatly in favour of programme music, such as this was, but I have certainly endured less pleasant quarters of an hour at previous Festval premiers. The performances of Shostakovich's 8th Quartet and Dvořák's American were excellent, and sent me off in a good humour.
Normally, we are in the cheap seats at the back of the hall - excellent acoustics there - but today I was able to sit close enough to take a photograph (at the end of the new work) because we were the guests of the Summerfield Charitable Trust: it had made the Quartet a grant in the past. The Trust was launching an initiative, seeking to add to its endowment by entertaining a cross-section of the town's lawyers and accountants, so we all went on to a jolly lunch in the Royal Box at Cheltenham Racecourse - one of the perks from Edward Gillespie having taken over as the Trust's Chairman.
On Friday evening, we went to a party in aid of the local branch of Home-Start. As was made clear to us, this is neither a substitute for the AA/RAC, nor a way of getting onto the housing ladder. Up and down the country its schemes support vulnerable children through use of volunteers.
The generous owner of the house where the reception was held invited us to explore not only her amazing Arts and Crafts home and its garden, but one of the fields in the valley below, still presently carpeted with lovely wildflowers, including orchids of differing varieties.
It has taken, she said, a dozen years since fertilers stopped being used there for the orchids to spread back.
In Portugal, the informal economy was at its most visible in the stalls of cherries for sale by the roadsides. Yet we didn't see a single tree with them growing.
Within the past six days I have been to Glyndebourne and the South Bank, but travelled a mere sixty miles to get there and back. The peerless Glyndebourne Die Meistersinger came to Malvern on Sunday afternoon, and last night we had The Cherry Orchard at our local Cineworld direct from the National Theatre in its sublime production by Howard Davies.
The durability of both is that they have something timeless to tell us, and yet so much more than that: in the Wagner, we see the possibility of romantic happiness with a beautiful girl flitter across the consciousness of an eligible widower, before he concludes that a liaison would be in the long-term interests of neither. In the Chekhov, there are similar dalliances, but chiefly the conflict is between the unconstrainable romantic imagination of Mme. Ranyevskaya and her situation's grim financial reality. Andrew Upton's brilliant translation makes us very aware of the parallels with our recent banking crisis.