Yesterday, on our last night at Goodleigh, the Russells took us out to eat at the village pub. The New Inn is just a short stroll down the hill, though a bit of a puff up again in the dark. Julia, mine hostess, handed us the menu: “It’s all made by my own fair hands. I’ll leave it with you so you can have a little thinkette.” An actress manqué.
I was sad to leave Anderton House, our bedroom with its Sheppey chair, Heals “Cogwheels” curtains and large bronze abstract relief that glows in the early morning sunlight. We could easily have stayed a full week – two even. There’s much to see and do in the surroundings, so many books worth reading in the Landmark library: I didn’t even finish the one I had brought with me, “Wolf Hall”. (Unlike for others we know and love, the Kindle hasn't yet fired our hearts.)
I had no idea that there was another RHS garden on a par with Wisley in the West Country! The 65 acres of Rosemoor demands much more than the bare hour we spared it this morning. If it was too late in the year to see the shrub roses at their best, then the tropical border and veg both looked magnificent. As did some of the trees - this is a Prunus Serrula.
Nearby Torrington is a pretty town, with some fine buildings. Like Barnstaple and other West Country towns, it has a pannier market: just a few yards from its exit, you can join a path running high along the ridge of the Torridge valley with hardly a building in sight.
The heat wave continues - thank God, being that we are on holiday! I’ve surfed today at Croyde Bay, virtually the only one in the sea without a wetsuit. We went there once before for this purpose, a few years ago - 1997 in fact, en route for Cornwall. Today's surf wasn’t brilliant, and the tide was far out, but how lovely to taste salt, and to feel the sand beneath the feet and the warmth of the sea breeze! Not too many people there either, at this time of year. Even so, the lanes are a nightmare.
Last September, with our friends, the Russells we spent a happy weekend at one of the Landmark Trust’s more ancient properties, Stogursey Castle. Yesterday afternoon our destination was Goodleigh near Barnstaple, to join the Russells at another Landmark: the Trust’s most recently-built property.
Anderton House was the result of a commission by the eponymous Anderton family from an architect friend, Peter Aldington, some forty years ago. The house is one of few of that period to be given a 2* Listing, and you can see why as soon as you enter the front door. A simple barn-like structure has been finished in such a way as to creature a magical blend of inside and out, floor-length plate glass windows giving out to a terrace and lawn overlooking the most peaceful of valleys. Altogether, it’s a very superior bungalow, as I hope my night-time photograph shows.
The split-level living area has – at its centre – a six foot square office with built-in desk where I am typing this: it’s known as the doghouse. A brilliant solution to complaints by the wife that she never sees her husband!
We have been travelling South and West today, and - being a bit ahead of schedule - were able to make a short detour into Tiverton. Caroline used to shop there, and Simon Jenkins gives two stars to the parish church: its salient feature is a series of stone reliefs on the South side of the exterior, carved nearly 500 years ago and depicting sea-faring scenes. My photograph shows the astonishing degree of detail remaining in some of them, despite the effect of the weather: there’s even a seaman climbing up the rigging.
Walking amongst the churchyard trees, we disturbed a host of spiders’ webs.
The College Gaudy – which comes round once a decade or so – always brings back happy memories. I have no excuse for non-attendance, living only 40 miles away.
Oxford looks at its best in the September sunshine, particularly away from the crowds: University College’s lawns are like bowling greens and the front quad’s window boxes filled with late Summer colour. As an undergraduate, I had opened my first bank account with Barclays, at the branch just up the High from the college gate: Mr. Jenkinson was the manager – I briefly fancied his daughter, a nurse. I went into the bank building again yesterday afternoon, but this time for lunch with four others in my year: it’s now a restaurant.
At dinner in Hall, we numbered about 75, but prior to that we had been entertained to tea in the Master’s Lodgings, a lecture on the intellectual underpinning of Thatcherism, and evensong in Chapel. Before breakfast today I walked in Christ Church Meadow, down the Cherwell path to the Isis and back up the tree-lined avenue. Someone was busy at their laptop, sitting on a bench in front of the Meadow Building.
Seeing how I and so many of my contemporaries had prospered made me ask, was the currently proposed level of tuition fees so terribly unjust?
I have not been a member of any political party since resigning, in the 1980s, from the Ecology Party. The Stroud branch of what is now the Green Party organises monthly Coffee House Discussions: I was invited along this evening, to contribute (on behalf of Christian Ecology Link) to a discussion on what different faiths teach about the environment. The Star Anise Arts Café was packed.
My two-pennyworth was as follows: Christianity is centred upon the person of Jesus Christ, born 2,000 years ago in a Palestinian town on the West Bank. We believe that Jesus was the son of God, who created the universe and all it contains. Jesus gave us two commandments: love God (and therefore his creation), and love our human neighbours as we do ourselves (and therefore live in justice). One of Jesus’ early followers, Basil, an Armenian, wrote: “The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry: the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who has no clothes: the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot.” All around us in the world today, we see the hungry and the destitute, more often than not victims of environmental neglect or unjust exploitation of the earth’s resources. Christians have the responsibility, therefore, to defend earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone, and to protect mankind against self-destruction. Our tradition is to pray to God for strength, to see things as they really are; to judge what needs to be done, and to act in accordance with that judgment. As one of the oldest forms of our prayer is praise, I read – to conclude – Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun.
Seven others spoke. There was a presentation on behalf of Green Spirituality, “possibly not a faith at all”: its protagonist leads a monthly “no faith” service, usually attended by some two dozen “non-members”. A Celtic Druid was followed by a Shakamuni Buddhist. There was a Jewish doctor and Haroon from the Gloucester Mosque. One lady, a Quaker, assured us you don’t have to be a Christian to be a Friend; whilst another, a Bahai, spoke of consciousness, coherence, unity and cooperation. Tonight, she said, everyone is saying the same thing. Well, perhaps not quite, if you listen.
The last seven days have involved a fair amount of sitting and watching. Last Thursday, the National Theatre's hit production of One Man, Two Guvnors came to us via Cineworld relay, a brilliant evening of comedy. You forget how exhilarating farce can be, when done well. Getting back late meant I had to catch up on Friday with the final episode of The Killing: Nordic noir couldn't be more of a contrast, yet this has been just as exhilarating in its own unique way. Dare I get immersed in the second series? It's at the extreme scary end of my spectrum.
Another contrast (on Sunday evening) was the opening episode of Series 2 of Downton Abbey. You don't want to like this, I find, but you can't help being won over; and that must be to the credit of Julian Fellowes, whom I can't say I know, but recall meeting more than 40 years ago: he had hair then (see photograph).
Finally, last night there was The Secret in their Eyes at our Film Society, another brilliant evening: it won the Oscar last year for best foreign-language film, which is no surprise considering its masterful script and combination of humour, romance and hair-raising suspense.
I hosted a wrap-up this evening, for our Cheltenham Eco Homes open day the other Sunday. A good discussion took place between the owners of the various houses that opened up to the public. One reported a caveat she'd heard uttered by a visitor, that any "greening" of people's homes needed to be "tasteful", which seemed - in that instance - to preclude "ugly" panels fronting the road: these were perceived as lowering the tone, and therefore house prices in the area. But surely, said another at our meeting, what about TV aerials?Aren't panels the chimneys of the 21st Century? You hear people complaining about turbines being located between the Lake District and the Howgills: where have these complainants viewed them from? Why, the six-lane M6 Motorway, that scythes throught that beautiful terrain.
The name Faull first became familiar to me in the 1960s: a new law firm had sprung up, Faull, Best & Knight. The trio was a breakaway from Theodore Goddard: Jeremy Faull - he was frank enough to admit in later years - was the one who asked for his name to be first, and so it came to pass. A decade or so later, the London solicitor turned himself into a Cornish farmer, immersing himself in local politics, and becoming the first Ecology Party County Councillor: Paul Tyler, now a Lib Dem peer, was the vanquished candidate. Retirement from farming gave Jeremy and his family the opportunity to make a more eco-friendly home for themselves over the road, a clever barn conversion, with the most beautiful view from its garden. And then there was the Wadebridge Bookshop, one of a dying breed, which he owned for many years, a great attraction to literary holidaymakers in North Cornwall: Jeremy presided there with quiet enthusiasm, making available to anyone in need his immense stock of knowledge and wise counsel. He truly loved life. Nobody quite matched his combination of sportsman, raconteur, bon viveur and radical thinker. He took the piss brilliantly too.
12 months ago, on our South Coast walk together, he was struggling for breath: that struggle intensified throughout this year, and today we heard the very sad news of his death. He, the most encouraging and constant friend anyone could hope to have, will be so very widely missed.
A couple of years ago, after a tricky negotiation, I edged the vegetable garden a bit further into the lawn: this week, I have been permitted to dig up a further 15 or so square yards of turf, in the quest for some sort of self-sufficiency. Now that I have the best part of the area of an allotment, it should be possible to run more of a rotation - rather than just squeezing a row of this and that in where there's space. Less to mow, also, as we now have fewer paths.
I first met Philip in London, some 40 years ago, shortly after his marriage to my ebullient friend Rosalind Sutton. It was a shock at first that she had chosen as her husband one who rather obviously enjoyed a low profile; but getting to know Philip after the Kingstons had made their move to Gloucestershire, I found there was more and more about him to appreciate.
First and foremost, he was a family man, with plenty to be proud about in the way his two daughters have contributed. Professionally, he was held in high regard at Gloucester Hospital, where he was consultant haematologist, expert in treating Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. In the wider Gloucestershire community, he was valued for his work as an Advisor to the Summerfield Trust. On visits to The Croft, I was always amazed by his skill in the garden and DIY, and he was invariably good company around the dinner table - most recently in our house on 6th March, by when he knew he was living on borrowed time. And do Rosalind and Philip hold something of a record for visiting Landmark Trust properties? I wouldn't be surprised.
Composer Richard Blackford's ambitious and impressive work of this title was premiered last night to great applause. It made up the second half of a Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert - an add-on to this Summer's Cheltenham Music Festival. In the first half, works by Copeland and Barber, and narrator Simon Callow, set the sombre scene for this 9/11 tenth anniversary: his was just the right timbre of voice for a grave message - in essence that, following our disastrous response to 9/11, we must work harder for peace.
Caroline felt "Not in our time" was rather too uniformly loud and hectic (the choruses were terrific); but I admired its urgency and compassion. The twin towers were echoed by two male soloists, two choirs, two Latin hymns, each also sung in translation and two time scales (the 11th and 21st Centuries). It's a seriously clever piece, and my only concern is that its effectivenes may be found to depend on its timeliness for this particular occasion.
You can just make out, in the centre left of my photograph, a percussionist with the most wonderful billiard ball head.
Ours must be the least eco of the ten private houses open to the public today, as part of the Heritage Open Days scheme. This is the first year that eco homes have featured alongside buildings of architectural interest, such as Maggie's Centre which we visited on Thursday. There was a pretty continuous trickle of visitors, to look at our new boilers and solar thermal installation: BCL Energy set up a display in the dining-room, and Caroline sold jam and chutney, much of it made from what we grow in the garden. In fact everyone wanted to see the garden, blown about as it has been this last week or so. The chickens were a great draw of course. We were exhausted by the time the last people left!
At the risk of moral showboating, it seems to me extraordinarily appropriate to have held this first Cheltenham Eco Homes day on 11th September. On the back of 9/11 2001, we went to war in Iraq over oil; and even by reducing our demand for oil, we are unlikely to be able to avoid altogether further resource conflict. But to reduce it must be a first step.
Today, we drove over Severn and Wye, through Ross, to the Southern end of the Golden Valley, for a Golden Wedding anniversary feast. The countryside, especially across into Wales, looked majestic, a perfect match for the lunch and indeed the day generally. The only sadness was the absence of two of the children - now (with their own families) based in Australia and Canada respectively, such is the way of the world.
As with the best of such occasions, it was an eclectic mix that our hosts had brought together, half friends (some who had attended the wedding), half their marvellous extended family. (It was a job to drag the youngest from the trampoline for a photograph.)
I first knew them when they had barely been married ten years, and so have watched the children grow into their own parenthood: indeed, some of the grandchildren are old enough to be parents themselves.
On this, the first of this year's Heritage Open Days, we were able to visit the relatively new Cheltenham Maggie's Centre, open from 1 to 6 today. Our hostess Rachel couldn't have been more welcoming, though she had already had 40 visitors by mid-afternoon.
I would never have imagined such an unpromising building as the old Cheltenham College pool-keeper's house being transformed into so special a place, but architect Richard MacCormac has achieved a wondrous conversion and enlargement. The garden alone is worth a visit, with its Bill Pye fountain snaking along the entrance path. Why can't all modern buildings be as beautiful?
This is the title of an exhibition currently showing at The Gardens Gallery, here in Cheltenham. Four award winners at the Open West show earlier this year are exhibiting work accomplished since then, the most interesting to me being Ellen Nolan’s photographic project, Safety in Numbers. This she calls "an observation on the dynamics and identities of a group of Cheltenham school children within the context of a modern school." It was developed as a result of a short but intensive collaboration with Cheltenham Bournside School and Sixth Form Centre.
Here is Ellen at the exhibition's opening - Caroline and I biked down there this evening - talking with some of the students who posed for her impressive photographs. It was good to attend a Private View where the average ago of those present was about half my own.
Yes, tonight it's Prom 69 (out of 74). It has to be the finest classical music festival of all, and this year I seem to have heard most of its offerings, thanks to Listen Again. Of many special moments, there is one that stands out: that's the Mahler symphony no. 1, performed in Prom 63 - I don't have a photograph of that number!
It came at the end of the first of two concerts last Friday given by the Budapest Festival Orchestra. I reckon I know this symphony pretty well, but I have never heard it sound as beautiful as in the performance conducted by Iván Fischer. The thunderous brass of the opening bars of the last movement was matched by a glorious, shimmering pianissimo at the work's opening.
The orchestra would have been exhausted by the evening's end: it went on to give the late-night crowd 90 minutes of encores, played without rehearsal: pieces were selected by audience ballot from a list of some 250, printed in the programme which each ticket-holder was given. A risky but wonderfully innovative approach to music-making!
Yesterday - the feast of St Gregory - was an appropriate day to go for some "training" about the new mass wording. It's been handed down to us, somewhat controversially, from the Vatican: was Pope St Gregory equally authoritarian in his day? (In this mid-19th Century stained glass image, from one of the windows in our Cheltenham St Gregory's Church, he is seen instructing Augustine and six other Benedictine monks, before their departure for England in AD 597.)
Jenny Baker, from Catholic Faith Exploration, led the training at Sacred Hearts Hall: I thought she spoke well on the whole, starting with an examination of what baptism is all about: really, she said, the Anglican "Christening" is a better word, denoting the conferring of authority to exercise ministry, that is to be Christ-like. "All ministry is ministry of humble service, with Christ as the model," she reminded us. Hospitality is a non-negotiable element in the life of the Church: not an innovation! We need to risk rebuff, and recall Hebrews 13:2, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
Good to concentrate on this, and in doing so I expect we shall soon learn to accept many of the infelicities of the new translation.
Once again, it was a fine afternoon for the annual show at Whittington, the parish where we lived between 1983 and 1994. The queue of vehicles stretched back to the A40: Rose Randle, of the famous Press, thought she had never seen so many cars parked. It never ceases to amaze me how such beautifully printed books emerge from a former gardener's shed, the contents of which are in such seeming disarray. But there is method in the Randle madness: in its 40 years or so the Whittington Press has earned a worldwide reputation, and the Open Day is a magnet for collectors and lovers of fine printing. The Show too, spilled over from the Village Hall and Green into the adjacent field, attracts its own regular adherents from all round the place, not just the many Parish alumni who turn out.
A delightful New Zealander has been at work here today, in the late Summer sunshine. Arden Grant (for it is he) impressed us with his handling of our bee drama a couple of months ago, so Caroline asked him back to improve the quality of life for herself and her beloved chickens, called Bridget and, yes, Duck (so christened by Ida, aged 3). Query: as a result, are our delicious eggs now going to be the most expensive on record?
My first "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was the then 28-year-old Peter Hall's 1959 production at Stratford-upon-Avon - in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. It was a pastoral "Dream", as I recall. On the evidence of the matinée yesterday on the same site (but in a rebuilt as well as renamed theatre), I doubt many of the cast of the production by Nancy Meckler will be as well-known to theatre-goers 50 years hence as Charles Laughton (Peter Hall's Bottom), Ian Holm (Puck), Albert Finney (Lysander) or Vanessa Redgrave (Helena) are today.
Yes, there were a couple of understudies yesterday, but this does not account for the loss of so much poetry. I exonerate the stand-in Bottom, Felix Hayes, and Alex Hassell, an excellent Demetrius; but few of the others, bent as they were on displaying more larynx than lyricism, gabbled lines often jarringly shouted.
Meckler has some fine credits to her name, but her Gothic production (designed by Katrina Lindsay to place the emphasis on "night") smacked less of 24th June than Walpurgisnacht: the dismal Puck even carried a broomstick. It was amusing to have alternate readings from Folio and Quarto spelled out at one point, but what was the dramatic value of Bottom and Flute revelling so explicitly in each other's erotic capital? This was a production of effects, but little magic. There were moments when it took off ("Tie up my love's tongue, bring him silently"), but precious few.
I expect all this carping comes from age and from having a slight ear infection. After all, most of the others in the audience seemed to enjoy themselves hugely. (As of course I did, really.)