In the late '80s, we stayed a number of times at Brandsby Hall when visiting Edmund at Ampleforth: a friend had bought it from the Fairfax-Cholmeley family, owners since the 16th Century. It's a large, square, mid-18th Century house in dark stone sitting just up from the plain of York, with gardens to match the grandeur of the house.
I popped into Cheltenham's Gardens Gallery yesterday morning, where Robin Wilson (here photographed) and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley - daughter of the man who sold Brandsby to our friend - are at present exhibiting linocuts (mainly). It was good to see the Gallery with its doors fully folded back, resembling more the stage set that the building was originally.
Inside, I particularly liked Rosie's animals, but both artists nicely evoke a rather period sort of English spirit. Together with its display of their books and cards, the show looks great - one of the better ones I've visited in this gallery. (Their website is interesting too.)
Also looking was Sophia Wilson, Exhibitions & Education Manager at Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum - with time for visits, her base still being closed for work on the new extension: she reports they're proceeding well.
Yuka and Haruka (both 15) are staying with us (as lodgers) for a couple of weeks from Tokyo. By request, Caroline took them to Tesco's today and they returned laden with the ingredients for a (Japanese) meal they had offered to cook for us. It involved bacon, shrimps, eggs and cabbage - a cross between a pancake and a Spanish omelette.
"I have hard everyday to be soon," wrote Haruka in a note to introduce herself - explaining why she was always late for school. Yuka wrote, "I like painting. So I wanna go where beautiful scenery to draw the picture." Glorious Gloucestershire would seem to have been a good choice for her.
And she should have plenty of photographic memories: when we compared camera cards, her storage capacity totalled 38GB, mine 8!
We picnicked at Guiting Power on Friday night, before the opening concert of its annual music festival: not exactly Glyndebourne-come-to-Gloucestershire, but pretty perfect on a sunlit evening. On previous occasions we have used the one and only table, stationed by the swings, but this year it had been spirited away - I spotted it, across by the Hall: though we were there early, I felt that its removal might not go unremarked. Anyway the rug was all that was really needed.
Probyn Miers, Chairman of the Festival committee, thanked the audience for turning out despite the "competition" elsewhere. But was this really necessary, given the quality of what was respectively on offer - at Guiting and in the Olympic stadium?
In the intimate surroundings of Guiting Village Hall, Joanna MacGregor gave us characterful takes on two contrasting Beethoven sonatas - the Pastorale and Waldstein; and then joined with the Heath Quartet for the always thrilling Shostakovich piano quintet. High definition performances. In Stratford East - we caught up with the ceremony on the iPlayer this afternoon - Danny Boyle laid on his spectacularly quirky melange of Britishness to precede the athletes' parade etc. - an incredibly-long drawn out affair, which must have exhausted everyone in the arena, participators and spectators alike. It was certainly amusing in parts, but it tired me out, watching it even with the benefit of the fast forward facility.
At the back of my mind was the ever-resent [I'm leaving this typo: too good to change] thought: this ceremony has set us back £27m. Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the London 2012 Sustainability Ambassadors, happened to be dining here last night: he was at pains to set the minds of those of us present at rest about the Games' overall... sustainability - given that we accept the Olympics are a good thing in principle.
The Romans were appeased by panem et circenses, bread and circuses: for us it's circuses, sponsored by McDonalds. Those without bread will have to await David Cameron's Hunger Summit.
Through Agnes, we were asked to a fund-raising supper yesterday evening by the Gloucestershire Arbuthnotts (not to be confused with sundry Arbuthnotts we have come across elsewhere). Their house, The Tallet is a job to find, but once there you don't want to leave: a magical place on a warm Summer evening, especially when eating elegant and delicious food at a long table outside in the candlelit garden. (The table was covered in a beautifully-designed fabric designed by Vanessa Arbuthnott.)
The funds raised went to help four highly talented young people currently in residence at The Tallet's Owl Barn, "a creative space at the heart of a new dynamic artist community" (for once the advertising blurb seemed appropriate). The lucky artists are welcomed for up to six months without charge: this is on the understanding that they will share their skills part-time with those less fortunate, who are being cared for by neighbouring charitable projects: I met a number of those running the projects at the supper, including people from the Nelson and Barnwood Trusts.
We don't often get asked to lunch with friends midweek, and today's visit to Ledbury definitely merits bringing out and dusting down that word you never hear these days, "luncheon". Salmon and Summer pudding were on the menu for the eight of us, who knew each other from of old. One couple I met during my opera-going days in London, before I moved to Gloucestershire in 1973; and another I had been introduced to very soon after I moved, at one of the first "luncheons" I went to in the country: they were more common in those days - though never of course midweek.
We've now had a whole week of ice cream weather: no rain, and temperatures in the high twenties today again. We took the boys to Ragley Hall, opposite where we used to live for so many years - but not somewhere I went much round. The adventure playground proved a hit, sensibly situated within woodland, so sun lotion not needed. At lunchtime, surprisingly few tables were taken in Hooke's Café, the rather excellent Ragley basement eaterie, named for the Hall's architect (it dates from 1680 and has worn well): all in all, a very satisfactory day.
A hundred or so gathered in Stratford this afternoon for Hugh Chatwin's funeral, the average age well below the usual upon such occasions. I knew hardly more than half a dozen of those present, but it was good to see those few very old friends again, and to celebrate Hugh together.
I have to admit to feeling distracted during the rather long service: the words "transport of delight" in the first hymn induced a frisson, reviving the memory of Hugh's car being squashed by a bus. And the lights were blazing throughout: given that the chapel was more than full of natural light on this hottest of days, that would no doubt have appealed to Hugh's sense of the ridiculous - being the good Green that he was.
Following discussions in my early days of blogging, apart from the family I generally try to avoid naming living people who are referred to in these posts - unless it's a public occasion I'm writing about. But, following receipt of the news of his sudden death, in mentioning Hugh's experience as a sailor, I included Rosalind Anderson's name - she being the third person on a not-to-be-forgotten holiday Hugh had organised many years ago; and glad I was that I had done so, as otherwise Ros wouldn't have heard about Hugh's death and been there at today's send off. "Who's the bikini girl?" asked a friend. "Let me introduce her," I was able to say!
Having lived within half a dozen miles of Stratford all my early life, I felt strange discovering for the first time the beautiful Guild Chapel and Shakespeare's adjoining school room - that's it in my photograph: how old are those formes?
It's been there since 1968, but somehow I've never before managed to visit the Winchcombe Railway Museum. You wouldn't think there could be much to it from its entrance amid a terrace of cottages, but in fact it extends as far as the playing fields, and along the backs of three or four neighbouring houses. And every square inch is crammed with railway memorabilia: incredible. My photograph, taken this morning, shows our grandsons considering my request for a third class ticket to Stoke-on-Trent.
This afternoon, I was badgered, as usual, into digging for worms. Laurie (4), spotting a rather weedy specimen, conjectured: "I think he's saying Don't feed me to the chickens, I'm only little."
Seeking to making some practical use of my young assistants, I dug in the potato patch: it's a good crop this year (after all the rain we've had), so there was considerable excitement when the yellow gold was unearthed, particularly larger bits. "Imagine," said William, 6, "that there's a potato so big it could squash all the others, so they wouldn't play with it."
Caroline has had an 18-year-old Spanish girl to teach for the past fortnight. Maria today returns to Valencia, glad to say goodbye to what she perceives as "normal" English Summer weather. In fact, it seems to be on the turn - from Thursday evening, we've had no rain and some little warmth. So I'm off to plant some more French beans, as urged by the gardening experts. And tomorrow we welcome a couple of more cheerful-looking Japanese High School girls, Yuka and Haruka.
"Puy ouverture" has just arrived in a format with which I'm happy. The first copy I received had some of its pages in the wrong order: Blurb have put this right now, I'm glad to say.
As I mention in my short introduction, suggestions of the Voie du Puy's historic provenance lie all around when you walk the route - the question being how best to convey them within a series of images. Neither "Puy people" nor "Puy paysage" manages to do this quite satisfactorily. "Puy ouverture", therefore, is a third attempt.
Ouverture literally means opening. While walking the Voie du Puy, I was attracted by many openings: gateways, doors, windows – scenes or objects within their own frame. This book's images I think encapsulate the differing worlds through which the Way passes.
The word ouverture also has a musical resonance: an operatic overture serves (just as hors d’oeuvres at the dinner table) to prefigure the main work. Finally there’s an ouverture de diaphragm, meaning the camera’s aperture.
Take your pick. As with the others, you can read the book online and make your own mind up, if sufficiently interested!
Another week, another festival. I was a guest of Savills at the Cheltenham College ground for the cricket yesterday. A sunny day for once, and a very good lunch! Some enjoyable cricket too, though when they play in pyjamas I really can't think it's the same game as I used to adore. 50+ years ago I could tell you about most things going on in the first class game, and so my memory clock was set ticking when a familiar face appeared, on his way into the other half of our tent. Notwithstanding he's now 85, I recognised at once that it belonged to Tom Graveney.
Our water comes from the Welsh hills, and is plentiful. Nevertheless, with all the information to hand about the effects of climate change in different parts of the world, I've always had a nagging worry about our use of it unmetered. Mark was the man who came this morning to rectify that. It took him all of 15 minutes.
I have to admit that the decision to instal a meter was not entirely governed by a wish to show solidarity with those who have to carry it for miles upon their heads. I rang Severn-Trent last week to query a bill that had come through, and the quick-witted person I spoke to showed how metering might actually be cheaper - and anyway we could have a year's trial. Good marketing.
These celebrated words of Hamlet about man's nature go with either the preceding phrase - "In action..." - or that following - "...in apprehension" - according to whether you prefer the First Folio or the Second Quarto. At one point tonight, in Gloucester Cathedral, they fitted the latter to perfection.
We were at a performance by the Australian acrobatic ensemble Circa alongside I Fagiolini, the specialist vocal ensemble which emerged a quarter of a century or so ago out of Oxford. "How like an angel", a production shared by Norfolk & Norwich Festival between Norwich and three other English cathedrals, attempts (not always very successfully, IMHO) to fit music of the 12th, 16th/17th and 20th/21st Centuries with mind-blowing acrobatics, principally on stages at either end of the nave. However, at the mid-point of the hour-long performance, one of the five acrobats stands "apprehensively" in the spotlit clerestory before allowing himself to tumble freely down to the floor: there thankfully his fall is broken by some sort of bed that's been wheeled onto precisely the right spot. Never have I heard such a sharp collective intake of breath!
Another first today, visiting the hamlet of Hill, right down by the River Severn beyond Berkeley. We were supporting the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust and in the process enjoying a jolly lunch in a left-over marquee pitched upon a sodden lawn. Never can loitering within tent have been such a prevalent activity in any recent Summer.
St Michael's church is no contender for any revised edition of Jenkins, but it has a certain atmosphere, thanks to the generosity of various Fusts. One of them married a Jenner - not the famous doctor's family - and Jenner-Fusts still live at Hill Court. (Indeed they are cousins both of Caroline and of Nicky Talbot Rice, GHCT's enthusiastic and welcoming Chairman.)
Had a bomb dropped upon that lunchtime tent, much of the fun would have been taken away from Gloucestershire's social life. Not that I would have survived to bemoan it of course.
As might have been gathered from earlier posts, we have enjoyed this year's Cheltenham Music Festival. Tonight's "London marathon", the Bournemouth S.O. conducted by Martyn Brabbins, was no exception. Cellist Stephen Isserlis's father died three weeks ago, and the last music Stephen played him was part of the Elgar Concerto: no surprise, therefore - his spellbinding performance of this same concerto, the pivot of this final concert. An extraordinary stillness overcame the Town Hall.
Last night's playing of Grieg's Holberg Suite by the Trondheim Soloists stole that show even with Sarah Connolly performing after the interval - today's Janet Baker, my neighbour suggested. I wonder.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we went to three of the five "Time Capsule: 1914-18" concerts, devised by the fragrant Kathy Gowers. I had misgivings about these at the outset, as so many of the works seemed to come into the deservedly little-known category. But they proved ideal festival fare, the variety providing continuous contrasts, some looking back, some forward - mostly played with great pizzazz: I would single out particularly the Norwegian pianist Christian Ihle Hadland in his Rachmaninov, but also in the piano transcription of Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances. Thrilling!
Not even crying offstage babies and texting audience members in front could take away that floaty feeling you get when something special is in the air.
It was new to me, this Painswick open-air festival. Thank God for a fine day for once! We couldn't spend long there, as we were off to a charity picnic at Duntisbourne Abbots, but it was well worth the detour. All those little streets - normally you need to squeeze yourself against a Cotswold stone wall to avoid the oncoming traffic - were closed for the day. Performances took place on three stages. And the place was thronged with eccentric headwear, painted faces - and bodies!
Tenbury Wells and District History Society invited me over yesterday evening, to talk about my ancestor, Peter Davis of Dean Park. I gave them the story of the two 1830s diaries that had come to light in recent years, published last year. One of the dividends has been meeting up with new cousins and discovering resources such as this photograph: it was taken from Dean Park, looking over the River Teme to Tenbury Wells. Those present at the meeting were pretty sure that the tall house was The Court, owned by Septimus Godson at the time of the diaries.
Now it's no longer - indeed the meeting was held very close to where it would have stood, in the 1870s Pump Rooms. Mineral water was found in The Court's grounds only a couple of years after the last entry in Peter Davis' second diary.
This garden, a plaque says, was designed by Peter Healing. What a good name for someone associated with such a peaceful place, right beside Tewkesbury Abbey! I had never come across it before yesterday, when I cycled to Tewkesbury to meet Charlotte for lunch there. I started out in drizzle, but that soon gave way to sunshine, the clouds blown along by the breeze - a perfect biking day. On the suggestion of a Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Cycle Campaign colleague, I went via Southam and Gotherington, cutting across to Tredington, and so avoided the busy Uckington road out of Cheltenham. 28 miles in all, and - away from the main roads - hardly another vehicle.
At the end of last year I mentioned a spell I'd had, living in Chelsea - part of a male foursome (sharing with women in those days was hardly thought of): it included Hugh Chatwin. I'd known him since childhood, our parents being friends.
The photograph on the left was taken in July 1971, when Hugh invited Rosalind Anderson and me for a fortnight's sailing in his Atalanta, "Rakia" along the beautiful coast of South Brittany.
We didn't see a lot of each other after the flat arrangement came to an end, indeed the last time I saw him was in July 2004 (see the other photograph). I never knew, therefore, that Hugh had been a member of the Green Party, standing for election in his home town, Stratford a couple of years ago (as I did many years before in the Cotswolds). Likewise (as I have) he had been involved with Transition in his beloved home community.
What a pity! As the news has just reached me of Hugh's sudden death last week, following heart surgery. He was a man with eyes wide full of life, and with the most infectious laugh I knew. A great story-teller too.
It was a wonder Hugh never seemed to settle down with any one person: he would surely have been a magical father and grandfather. I suppose he must have suffered more than anyone realised from the very serious traffic accident in which he was involved 30 or more years ago: afterwards, he seemed to have become an exaggerated version of himself. But also, surely, he suffered from being the younger brother of so famous a man as Bruce.
Hugh’s funeral service will take place in the Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel (on the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane) on Tuesday 24th July at 2 p.m.
Emma Critchley works with free-diver models in creating still and moving images under water. She begins a residency at Meantime with her talk tonight, reviewing the work she has done during her short career to date. It's impressive.
"The fear of falling" stills sequence shows Sophie Lewis (costumed as an 18th Century lady) gradually taking off her elaborate outer garments. The slower pace of pre-Industrial Revolution life (hand-made clothes etc.) echoes a certain suspension of time under water, the model being as it were rooted in the present. "In holding your breath," Emma said, "you channel your thoughts inwards."
Contrasted with this was an agonisingly long (5 minutes plus) video of a couple diving down and coming together in a kiss: erotic at first, but making the viewer gradually aware of the increasing risk to both lives as the strength of their mutually-exchanged breaths depletes.
Emma doesn't manipulate her images, so to contrast with her monochromes, I've put this snatched shot through the mangle.
The Pump Room was full both this morning and yesterday afternoon - all to the good for the Cheltenham Festival finances. And for the first time after a lengthy gap, we once again get free tea or coffee included in the ticket price - though seeing how much they have gone up, it's just as well.
This morning's programme opened with the Escher String Quartet playing mid-period Mendelssohn (32 minutes, but it felt longer). Piano prodigy Benjamin Grosvenor - only one day out of his teens - then gave us Gaspard de la nuit: this must be hard enough to play at the best of times, but made more so when a phone goes off: this happened four times - does anyone else harbour murderous thoughts as I do on these occasions?
After the interval, the five performers combined to give us the Brahms Piano Quintet, which will surely have sent our royal patron off to lunch in a good mood: I was wondering why police were there directing traffic before the concert.
Yesterday's event that I attended was altogether more unusual: the period instrumentalists Florilegium combined with the Arakaendar Bolivia Choir to give us a nicely varied programme of Bolivian baroque pieces. From the first entry by the choir, processing to the stage, it was clear we were in for something different - a sound we don't get from European singers, even those open-throated Bulgarians.
Not everyone was rushing back to watch Federer v. Murray: an impressive percentage of the audience stayed for the post-concert discussion: Piotr Nawrot SJ and Ashley Solomon (Florilegium's director) gave a riveting account of how it has all come together. Hearing these newly-discovered religious settings removed, at last, the nasty taste left by Swayne's Missa Tiburtina the previous morning.
The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine is a new one on me: the charity is promoting a series of four lectures this weekend and next as part of our music festival. And last night we were bidden to a celebration of their work at the nearby home of one of those most closely involved.
It was a joyous occasion. The words "Open mic" are too perfunctory to describe the informal concert that threaded itself through the evening - between eclectic conversation, a garden visit (in the rain) and most delicious Indian food - not to mention the wine that flowed. A particular delight was the involvement of so many of the young (playing Take 5 on sax., accompanying Flanders & Swann classics and singing - creditably - jazz standards, amongst all else). Then there were Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel, Ivor Gurney, Gershwin, Schubert, Gilbert & Sullivan... A musical feast.
The rain more or less held off for our visit to St Mary's Priory at Deerhurst this morning. This wonderful church was the setting for a concert by the unaccompanied Wellensian Consort: looking back at this year's Festival, I confidently expect it to be amongst the highlights. I shall remember their Purcell in particular.
A school contemporary of mine, Giles Swayne was present for the performance of extracts of his Missa Tiburtina, dating from 1985. (I hadn't seen him for 50 years, so it's hardly surprising I didn't recognise him.) I don't know Giles' music, and I'm not sure - after today - that I much like it, unfair though it is to judge on such slender evidence. Granted that he has revolted against his Catholic upbringing, what is the merit in picking apart the words of the mass, to make of them some sort of musical scrabble?
My sanity was restored by a gaze upwards at the Deerhurst Angel: in real life, you don't see it like this, but I thought it would be fun to see what could be done using Lightroom's Vertical Transform tool.
Festival Director, Meurig Bowen, posing for this photograph at the end of the interval in tonight's rather splendid Town Hall concert, said, "I bet it'll be up on your blog within half an hour!" Well, it's been a little longer...
That's because we've only just returned from a second event this evening. A silent film may seem an odd choice for a music festival, but this showing of the 1923 Salomé (with its lavish Beardsley-based costumes) was something special. You could sense it upon entering the Parabola, the screen flanked by two scaffolding towers, giving platforms for four percussionists: they played throughout, the score (including a vocal tape) composed by Charlie Barber.
The story line takes little time to relate, but every twist of the plot was here played out in ultra slow motion, like a Noh play almost. Without music it could have been risible, and perhaps even with a conventional piano accompaniment. But the tension created by the quartet of musicians, and clever lighting changes, made it a gripping 70-odd minutes. There were some astonishing performances in the film itself, not just from Alla Nazimova in the title part. I had vowed never to see Salomé performed again after the last time I went to the Strauss version (at ENO), but am now glad that I'd forgotten this when booking the tickets for this evening!
Earlier, I'd been apprehensive about paying £35 for a bench seat to hear a bunch of young amateurs from Singapore tackling a programme that included Delius and Holst, hardly my favourite composers. But my ear warmed to the sound of the Orchestra of the Music Makers, and Holst's Oriental Suite was a genuine surprise - a pleasure to hear.
For one day at least, it's been dry, and so well-chosen for one of our regular walks. We met at the car park above Foxcote, so as to admire the orchids in the common land below St Paul's Epistle. After Needlehole, we trespassed uncertainly through Hilcot wood - rather wet underfoot, and few paths going in the right direction.
It was when we emerged onto the land leading from Upper Coberley that we came across this sad sight, our noses leading the way past (as quickly as possible).
Another Festival has come round! The programme has something of an austerity feel about it: not many big names are in evidence. However, the subject matter lacks compromise, as evidenced by this evening's Parabola Arts Centre recital.
But was "recital" the right word for it? Normally, James Gilchrist (tenor) with a pianist for a set of English songs (Britten, Finzi, Tippett) would warrant that description, but here the accent was upon a stage setting of a "long and silent night passed by a nightwatchman", with grainy video as a backdrop: no interval, and no clapping save at the end. More Voix humaine than Winterreise.
The technical side went off splendidly, particularly the beautifully weighted singing of Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook's accompaniment. But even with Gilchrist the words (all Hardy T. and Hudson W.H.) are never so distinguishable as one would like, and no "libretto" was on offer - nor even much of a programme note. So, I emerged rather baffled: what was the object of the exercise?
The George Hotel in Newent today was amazing value: only £2 for a pint of beer, plus a two-course lunch for £5. How different from pubs in the Cotswolds (hardly 15 miles distant). Though succulent wasn't perhaps the first word that sprang to mind to describe the meal, it fitted well the splendid Yellow Book garden we visited this afternoon.
I hadn't come across the Land Settlement Association before. During the 1930s, 21 estates of smallholdings were created by the Association - with government funding - for unemployed men, some of whom were coal miners. Prophetically, you might now say, the scheme was promoted by those who believed that post-industrial society in the UK meant a permanent “surplus” of men from heavy engineering occupations, shipyard workers and engineers as well as coal miners. The only alternative to long-term unemployment and perhaps social unrest was thought to be a return to the land.
John and his wife Linda came as tenants in the 1970s, growing three-quarters of an acre of tomatoes hydroponically under glass. When the LSA scheme was wound up in 1982, they were able to purchase their holding, subsequently (with retirement) turning it from a market to a pleasure garden.
The result is "Schofields": just a mile from the Newent bypass, but down a narrow lane, it's not open except by appointment, and really only for groups. It was kind of John to spare us two non-experts so much of his time, as he and Linda certainly have full hands: their two and a half acres of woodland, underplanted with hellebore and daffodil, must be best in the Spring, but the three-quarters of an acre round the house was a mass of colour. Best of all, one of the vast tomato houses (1000 square metres) is full of cacti and similar exotica, a mini Eden Centre in West Gloucestershire.
Caroline and I both order books from Amazon from time to time - painful (to local bookshops) this is to admit - but they invariably come addressed to one or other of us. So, who could be sending us a book addressed to "Caroline and Martin"? This I wondered when the postman came today.
Well, the answer is, our clever daughter Agnes, two of whose poems are published in Cheval 5, edited by Alan Perry - " a selection of the writing submitted by talented young entrants [there were 51] to this year's Terry Hetherington Award..."