Half term is big business for Bristol's many and varied palaces of culture. Nine organisations have clubbed together to make a trail through the City Centre: we followed part of it with the boys today, being based on Edmund's boat, visible in the centre of the photograph. This I took from the M Shed balcony, which gives a great 180 degree view over the Avon and Northwards.
You could spend a whole day in the M Shed itself, but we also packed in the best part of an hour at the Architecture Centre (model building making) and lit a candle or two in Bristol Cathedral, where we admired some weird fragments of mediaeval glass in the Cloister: finally, we visited the Library to choose a DVD. (We only just remembered to get it unlocked - something Cheltenham hasn't yet begun to require us to do.)
And the boys and I marvelled - each in our own way - at Michael Dean's "The Introduction of Muscle" exhibition at the Arnolfini. This occupies two rooms - one huge, one smaller. But "occupies" them with a total of five modestly-sized sculptures. "It's all about texture," the helpful gallery guide told us, encouraging us to feel the amorphous, coloured concrete objects. One was recognisable as a cabbage. Others resembled a tongue, a pair of arms, possibly someone's back. No "labels" are supplied. The black flooring and the (white?) lighting form part of the "show".
The boys enjoyed being able to run round: to put it another way, they took the fact that this was "art" in their stride. I had more of a problem: the acronym Grayson Perry gave us in his "Nice rebellion, Welcome In!" Reith lecture yesterday morning was MAYA, "most advanced yet acceptable". But is it?
Photography came under the microscope in the previous lecture. ("It rains on us like sewage from above.") His advice to photographers seemed to be, make all your editions limited: "if something is endless, it's giving away part of its qualification as art." You can easily tell, Perry said, if a portrait photograph is art or not. "Are they smiling? If they are - probably not art."
It was at its worst yesterday evening, as I went to church. Today's been mostly fine, though colder: the wind has changed direction.
A couple of weeks ago, our snow guard came adrift from its moorings: two lots of kind neighbours brought it to our attention. But it's high, high up, and not at a place to which anyone would want to run up a ladder.
Thinking laterally upon hearing the wild weather forecast yesterday, I removed a top floor bedroom window: leaning out I was able to lasso the fencing with a couple of ropes, tying them in to a pipe. If the final screw on the snow guard failed to hold, I calculated that it should at least be prevented from crashing onto the glass roof below, or banging against the first floor window.
This morning, following the tempest, apples have rained down, but at roof level things remain the same. Others have been less fortunate, we hear on this evening's News.
Chris James teaches at Cirencester College. Somehow, he also finds time to paint and sculpt: I met him at the Gardens Gallery yesterday, where he has an exhibition. I liked this colourful take on the Ruskin Mill lake, inspiration for a number of the works in what is a cheerful show. It is more three-dimensional than it looks - a virtual collage.
Chris moaned a little about the scaffolding surrounding the Gallery, which - he surmised - accounted for the small number of visits. Not the problem experienced by The Wilson, so we read in the paper: crowds have flooded in to see round since the reopening three weeks ago. I sat next to the Friends' Chair, Gina Wilson (no relation) last night, who enthused about the transformation.
On my other side was Barbara McNaught, whose art is non-visual: she has just published her second collection of poems, Strings of Pearls.
The art of comedy has also been on public display of late, though Jeremy Paxman's Newsnight interview (viral on YouTube) with Russell Brand was not entirely humorous. Indeed there was a deadly seriousness about Brand's sermon on revolution.
Far indeed from Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII's encyclical, published 50 years ago this year. "His is not a message of revolution," writes Bruce Kent in this week's Tablet. "We exhort our sons to take an active part in public life," wrote that good Pope. Brand, on the other hand, says he has never voted, and has no intention of doing so.
What credit will it reflect on the New Statesman for allowing him in as guest editor I wonder? It's paradoxical that someone so intelligent should wish to be so destructive - of our society. After all, "you can do everything with bayonets except sit on them." I thought Paxman was excellent.
Thomas (b. 1979, so four years Brand's junior) says that he "does seem to be able to articulate a lot of what the youth feel about modern Britain - in that there’s no point being involved in the process. The problem is that he doesn’t present an alternative. There is no alternative. So what next?"
As I see it, the RBs of this world wield immense power through their super ability to articulate. So, when their message is a despairing one, it tends to remove hope from you and me. We can only do right what we can, in the relationships we have. No? Some of the most right will be works of art.
Ruth Valerio of A Rocha - photographed last night - came up with this striking credo at the outset of her One World Week talk in Bishop's Cleeve Parish Church.
Two thoughts inspired her. First, "Food is fantastic!" - her paraphrase of Genesis 1, 31, "God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good." Matter, infused by the Spirit, matters to God: how we eat is of importance. Ruth commended Christian Ecology Link's LOAF mnemonic - to remind us to buy food that's - so far as possible - locally-grown, organic, animal-friendly and fairly-traded.
Secondly, food is gift. "I shall rain down bread for you from the heavens," God promised Moses. Even though we no longer require manna, we are still aware, or should be, of the contributions to our life support made by soil, water and the heat of the kitchen: hence the need to remember to say Grace.
With heavy hearts, we trekked down to Shurdington Social Centre this evening: the outing was to visit the three local Councils' travelling exhibition to promote their draft plan for where to locate an extra 33,200 new homes over the next 18 years. Of particular concern to the Davis family is that over a thousand of them are scheduled to interfere big time with Caroline's dog-walking.
We listened to a desperately dull presentation from one of many men in a suit, who then declined to answer questions from the floor. Whereupon the microphone was grasped by a spokesperson for the snappily-acronymed Hatherley and Shurdington Triangle Action Group, HaShTAG. Bridget Farrer (she it is in my photograph), the bit firmly between her teeth, resisted all the suits' attempts to cut her short, a doughty display, much appreciated by the citizenry.
It has to be important to safeguard the lea of the Cotswold escarpment from the building that's mooted. I go back to an idea promoted by Kit Braunholtz many years ago: develop along a channel directly between Cheltenham and Gloucester, and combine that development with a major upgrade of the public transport infrastructure - e.g. a new light railway - and a strategy for bringing together the complementary strengths of Cheltenham and Gloucester. So far from either losing its identity, there's no reason why their distinctive attributes could not be enhanced by such a process. Further, the joint attraction of the two towns would make our area a more viable alternative to Bristol for those wishing to relocate to the South-West.
As last Wednesday, the forecast was rain for this morning. Happily, it didn't materialise, and the five of us who set out to walk in a gentle anti-clockwise circle from Northleach stayed dry. Not only did the rain hold off, it was warm and intermittently sunny, as can be seen from my photograph, taken as we came back down into the Leach valley, looking forward to lunch.
We ate at the Sherborne Arms, our peace being interrupted by some continuous high-pitched barking a couple of tables away: the temptation to order a dog roll was hard to resist. By Winterwell Barn we had spotted rather more useful specimens of that ilk - four sheep dogs and a spaniel in the front of a pickup, overlooking (in the back) five sheep - a high pupil:teacher ratio.
Earlier, we chatted with the lone Stowell Park tractor man: born in nearby Withington in a bygone era, his CaseIH Steiger 485QT Quadtrac GPS-guided machine is a monster. Elsewhere than the Cotswolds, you could buy a house for what one costs. Weighing 24 tonnes and consuming 100 litres of fuel per hour, this vehicle is not something you look forward to meeting coming towards you on a country lane.
And a far cry from green economics: the other tractor man was "transitioned" when it arrived.
Before I left for Northleach, we had the Today programme on Radio 4. The Thought for the Day presenter was well upstaged by Celestina Mba an hour later, interviewed by Justin Webb.
Merton Council employed Celestina to work with needy children. At her interview, she had said she could not work on Sundays, as she was a Christian. "We can work around that," she was told, and was offered the job, which she accepted. But things changed, and the same man who interviewed Celestina told her, "We need you to work Sundays."
Justin Webb, who seemed perplexed by Celestina's stance, was told, calmly but impressively firmly: "You have to care for yourself, to be able to give care to other people. If I don't take care of my own spiritual being, I cannot give anybody anything. The reason that I work with them [autistic children] is because God enables me to work with them. It is not an easy job, but I enjoy what I do and believe I have so much to give them."
The birthday girl was feeling well below par today, alas. It's not the first time that her temperature, rather than Ida herself, seems to have risen to the occasion. Here she is wearing a smart new (birthday) pair of shoes, her first lace-ups, and opening the Simon Brett engraving I gave her for her bedroom wall.
My mother gave her son-in-law a Cox's Orange Pippin sapling. She died in 1993, so it is now well established - and this year well loaded.
Besides apples, Bill has several extremely productive pear trees in his orchard: he has rigged up an impressive scratter in his garage, worthy of Heath Robinson himself: this year's resultant juice is well on its way to becoming next year's perry. Bill describes his perry-making activities in this fine piece he has written for his parish magazine; and you can email him via this link if you would like to enquire about buying his perry. (It's delicious!)
"We are only here for the Beer," we might have said this afternoon. But not quite.
The focus for the Painswick meet-up of members of our book group was John Beer's newly-opened Arts & Crafts Museum, in Gloucester Street: it's housed in the former Christ Church, a square 19th Century building, with a fine Morris & Co. stained glass window at the "East" end, which Beer told us was one of the attractions to his securing the place.
He has been amassing Arts & Crafts (and associated) work over many decades. We first caught a glimpse of it - and him - when we looked over his beautiful but crumbling former home in Priory Street here in Cheltenham in 1994. Caroline was keen to buy it: I less so. The collection has since grown considerably - Pugin, Lutyens, Morris, Gimson, Barnsley, Waals, Russell... It must be among the finest in private hands. But the chief attraction of a visit is John Beer's extremely knowledgeable commentary about all aspects of the work he loves, with many red herrings thrown in for good measure. No pains are too great for tracking down the provenance of a Tiffany chair or extra large, curved walnut table (the BBC).
From the end of this month, the Ashton Beer Collection is only open on Sunday afternoons, over the Winter months: well worth discovering.
Over lunch, we enjoyed discussing The Great Gatsby. I'm sure I have read it before, but it seemed almost a new book - some of it like blank verse, much de nos jours, and altogether gratifyingly brief.
This almost obscenely large parade of boots is assembled outside Cowley Manor Hotel. Today's Wednesday walkers had met at nearby Cockleford - lunch at Cowley Manor is not for the short-pocketed - and on our way home, I requested a church photo-stop: St Mary's is bang next to the entrance to the mid-Nineteenth Century house, not so long ago converted into a luxury hotel with Sainsbury money.
It was the first walk I had had with the group on a really wet day - not cold, but unrelentingly damp. Making for the cover of a wood, we chose a path that turned out to be blocked by falling trees, and had to scramble steeply uphill, back out into the open. Our reward was to see a small herd of deer: they looked hard at us before scurrying away, outnumbered by five sodden ramblers.
The Severn Forum runs a programme of lectures on theological subjects, so tonight's "The mosaics of Ravenna" may have seemed a bit of a let off. It turned out to be nothing of the sort. Christopher Herbert, now the retired Bishop of St Albans, had the good fortune to visit Ravenna when his diocese was twinned with dioceses local to that city. Making full use of his red carpet reception, he has now put together a splendid talk, explaining what caused Ravenna to become the focus of so many "glittering prizes", and how they illustrate the development of doctrine in the early church.
So, through a sequence of excellent slides, we came to consider the absence of representations of Christ crucified; to observe that Jesus - shown naked in the Jordan in the late 5th Century - was not baptized by total immersion; and why the Good Shepherd was portrayed wearing a toga.
My photograph shows Dr. Herbert in front of a photograph of the figure of Archbishop Maximiamus - "drawn" in mosaic more than 1,500 years ago, he could be at home amongst our National Portrait Gallery's Contemporary Displays.
And the lecturer is clearly himself at home in the world of art - not just church/biblical - history: parallels with David Hockney's swimming pool pictures and an Anish Kapoor sculpture round out his talk, though he wears his learning lightly.
Great stuff, and deserving of a larger audience than the 50 or so who turned out. Surely it wasn't the football? I didn't even notice that it was being sacrificed: anyway, the talk ended early enough to let me watch the final 20 minutes - a satisfactory result!
On Sunday evening, we were in the (virtual) presence of another master of his art, Woody Allen - his Blue Jasmine, brilliantly over ripe, and redolent of the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Our newly-reopened art gallery and museum has given rise to much comment, especially about its vacuous name. Sarah and I went there to see the Open West 2013 exhibition on Friday evening. I let her guess what "The Wilson" signified. "Harold?" she tried. "Woodrow? Pickett?" In the foyer, I was able to introduce her to Sophie (Wilson), who put her right.
The Open West show itself is in the "old" bit of the gallery, all but a few items that is. It looks quite well there, but not as good as in the early years, at the Summerfield Gallery, in Pittville. My photograph shows co-curator, Lyn Cluer Coleman in conversation before one of the relatively few two-dimensional exhibits. I hope to return to look round the rearranged permanent collection, throughout which some more Open West objects are scattered.
The Literature Festival presented a number of events on artistic themes, besides the Alan Hancox Lecture. Caroline enjoyed Jenny Uglow on Turner, and we both found the Cornelia Parker session later on Friday evening of more interest than we'd imagined it would be: this was largely down to the intelligence and good organization of the interlocutor, art historian Anna Moszynska. Thoughts of pilgrimage and relics (The Maybe) brought Grayson Perry to mind, but Parker seems to lay more emphasis on destruction leading to transfiguration.
We are a long way from Reynolds Stone's trees and waterfalls, the product of a process through which culture grew from nature, rather than being set over against it.
Ten days is ample for a literature festival, it seems to me, before fatigue sets in. The last event I went to was this morning's "Translating China": my photograph shows (from left) writer Anne Witchard, one of the "Misty Poets", Yang Lian, and Xinran, author of "The Good Women of China", translated into 37 languages. I took it at the very end of the session, while Yang Lian's publisher was reading a translation of a piece from "The Third Shore", after the poet had read it in the original.
Hearing a poem in Chinese brought home the immense gulf there exists between our cultures, so much of which is down to language. Xinran expressed one difference succinctly: "Chinese people," she said, "first understand, then think. In the West, though, you think first, then understand."
Translation arose as a side issue earlier in the Festival, in the two (of several) sessions about Proust which I attended. He disapproved violently, we were told by the excellent Cynthia Gamble, of the translation of the title of his great work as Remembrance of things past. Neville Jason was on hand to read from the novel, and - at the second session - from various rather fascinating letters. His voice can be heard for 140 hours if you listen non-stop to the Naxos recording.
The audio publisher, Nicholas Soames (this one thinner than the MP) spoke of involuntary memory as a means of overcoming the tyranny of time. From The Captive, he quoted the passage following Bergotte's death, "They buried him, but all through that night of mourning, in the lighted shop-windows, his books, arranged three by three, kept vigil like angels with outspread wings and seemed, for him who was no more, the symbol of his resurrection." And from the last page of Swann's Way, "Remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment."
I have struggled through to half way into volume two, and am inclined to think now of the reviewer who described a book - not Proust - as "one of those works which, once you put it down, you just can't pick it up again."
The 21st and final Alan Hancox lecture at the Literature Festival was given yesterday morning. "A hugely successful series," John Randle said, by way of introduction: he paid particular thanks to Shelagh, Alan's widow, "a gentle encourager to us all."
The series, as John predicted, ended on a high note, Humphrey Stone giving a most affectionate portrait of his father, whose "life and work were one". We recognize the name, Reynolds Stone less readily than his artistic output: the Royal Arms on our passport, currency notes, the Dolcis logo, the Victory and other postage stamps... Humphrey Stone presented us with illustrations galore, projected onto screens that - because of the wind blowing outside the marquee - jumped around at times, making this member of the audience feel slightly seasick.
We saw also samples of his father's 350 bookplates and 100 memorial slabs. Mostly, they were drawn at a chaotic desk in the drawing room of his Old Rectory, three miles from Chesil Beach. Stone was essentially a miniaturist - "the eye, delighted by a small mouthful, is soon surfeited," he himself said. Pedantic, maybe, but nevertheless Stone was described by Iris Murdoch as "a totally unpretentious being," working with imagination, scholarship and good taste.
Besides lettering, Reynolds Stone's other great love was landscape, the inspiration for his "salad paintings", many featuring waterfalls and trees: in Sylvia Townsend Warner's words, it was "almost as though he was exiled from being a tree itself."
Mike Curtis and his merry men are with us this week, painting the outside of our windows etc. We find them a pleasure to have working for us, as witnessed by it being 12 years since they first started coming.
This evening, I have been part of a large audience listening to Nick Hytner at the Literature Festival. The tent was too dark for me to take notes, and anyway he spoke too fast for me to get much down. As before, I enjoyed hearing him talk about working at the National Theatre, but perhaps rather less so than when he was just embarking on his highly successful reign there. My mind swims when I think of the man's capacity for work!
"Climate change and the art of memory" was an opaque title for what turned out to be the stimulating event I attended last evening, at the Literature Festival.
There was more about memory than art though. Mike Hulme - founder of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research - spoke of us being inducted into the weather from an early age. "Who doesn't remember what it was like on their wedding day?" Weather provides the bookends round which we can safely navigate the rest of our lives, he said: an envelope of stability. So, how might we find a way to embrace weather weirding and the jumbling of seasons?
Greg Garrard, eco-critic, asked how we can widen the discussion of climate change from just the scientific. Shouldn't we be talking about human racism, he asked: the assumption that our future matters above all else. Climate change "dramatically impacts upon our culture." He offered the ambiguous role of children: we are saving the planet for them, yet we might be better off not having any. And ignoring the importance of biodiversity will lead our grandchildren into an age of loneliness. The challenge is so enormous, yet there seems so little each of us can do: the challenge is so urgent, yet the effects of climate change will only be felt over the long term. The huge number of people on Earth "dilutes our agency", and by flying everywhere we treat the world's oceans as if they were so many puddles.
I am not familiar with the work of Maggie Gee, the only "artist" who spoke. Her novels, she told us, are about threatened nature. More people read them, possibly, than the IPCC Report, which - though vital - doesn't begin to engage with our human experience. Perhaps, I reflected, there is a parallel with Richard III. Historians are only now beginning to retrieve his reputation, over which so much water (or worse) was poured by Shakespeare. And maybe Jonathon Porritt is onto something with his new fictional autobiography, now out.
For supper afterwards, Caroline had cooked the mushrooms I picked on the walk earlier, St George's and Chanterelle. I photographed - but didn't pick - these huge ones: they looked iffy. But when I looked them up, I see they were edible - Parasols.
Six of us met at Hollybush today, more than usual. The talk about Royal Mail shares made me wonder whether I had neglected to apply out of distaste for the privatisation or merely indolence.
We had the most lovely walk, notwithstanding, clockwise around Chase End Hill, at the "bottom" of the Malverns. We funked the steep climb up to the top, which - at 600 feet - lets you see all round. Even as it was, we had surprisingly long views - to the Sugar Loaf to the South-West and across to Bredon and the Cotswolds from the woodland ride leading into the Bromsberrow Place Estate: the ride runs between many tree varieties, sweet chestnuts especially plentiful.
Gil Greenall's careful stewardship of his Estate is everywhere evident, not just from the signage: the house itself looks magnificent in its parkland - lakes at just the right distance, and White Park cattle grazing before the curiously Neo-Greek West front. From a distance, the long-established trees behind and to the South of the house make it altogether an imperial setting. (It was five years ago that I came there on a CPRE outing.)
Yesterday evening, we went to our first Film Society evening of the new season, having missed the opening night. "No" recounted the final weeks of the Pinochet era in Chile, and the gathering of popular support for a No vote in the referendum. Pablo Larrain's film jerked along rather disconcertingly: the 30-year-old camera, used to convey a suitably historic feel, secured a nice degree of tension throughout. You kept thinking there would be a sting in the tail, but of course there wasn't, just ambiguity.
My disposition for acquiring new works of art could be said to be miserly. We have far too many already! So what was I doing buying six yesterday afternoon?
Biking from the Imperial Square literary encampment, up towards the Montpellier ditto, I passed garages, where my eye caught a large canvas propped up. Turning my head, I saw it was effectively an opportunistic advertisement - for someone selling their paintings. "I'm not getting any younger," she told me, "and the children won't thank me if I leave them all for them to get rid of."
Val - for it was she - went to art school late in life, experimenting then and since with many different styles. The three walls of her Cave might be thought reflect the work of half a dozen different artists therefore.
And if you tire of looking at the closely-arranged canvasses, then the floor is worth studying: what's now a garage must have been a Victorian - or earlier - workshop once upon a time.
A day late, we celebrated Agnes' birthday yesterday. Nine of us, at lunchtime (Ida had a tea party to attend). Mini made a beautiful cake, adorned with blackberries, and raspberries from the garden. It was warm enough to drink our coffee outside afterwards, but this long Indian Summer must tail off soon surely.
This evening, we have been to a play reading: No, I just don't believe it! (a two-hander by Jean-Claude Grumberg) has been performed in its original French, but not in its English translation. It's about Alzheimer's creeping up - a bit near the knuckle, both for me and (perhaps) the cast. Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour's presence on stage ensured the big tent was packed. The hour-long reading preceded a discussion between the translator, Jonathan Kent and critic Agnès Poirier - a little drawn out, but more thought-provoking in some ways than the play.
I have to confess a love/hate relationship with Bach's B minor Mass. When I first heard it, more than half a century ago in York Minster, it meant nothing more than a numb bum. What was all the fuss about? I wondered. "Ankündigung des größten musikalischen Kunstwerkes aller Zeiten und Völker" - Nägeli describing it as his "Best ever" piece of music a couple of centuries ago. And again this evening, as Bach was taking 15 minutes over his first Lord have mercy!, I wondered whether I would, despite the appropriate words, possess the stamina for another two hours of this iconic piece. After all, the Mass I'm used to takes less than an hour end-to-end even with a sermon and more than a hundred communicants. Besides, what has Bach to do with prayer?
The B minor - I have heard it a lot on record over the years - gradually began to reestablish its power over me, though, as the soloists, and solo instrumentalists, came forward in the Gloria. By the interval, I was committed to sitting it through, and by the end, just sorry that Dona nobis pacem came so soon. Jonathan Cohen directed a stunning performance! His 20-strong Arcangelo choir were superb: it's invidious to single out individuals after such an event, but Tim Mead's Agnus Dei and Rachel Brown in both her flute solos were outstanding (Mead having starred also in the Sheldonian Messiaheight months ago).
And my question "What has Bach to do with prayer?" was answered in the "...et sepultus est", a moment of utter calm and devotion. One of several.
For something completely different, there were two Cheltenham events earlier in the day: dinosaurs for Ida (I enjoyed it if anything more than she did), and another Times Leader Conference. Very entertaining. Historical characters improved: "Ivan the Not So Bad, Ethelred the I won't be a Moment." "Hedgehogs: why can't they just share the hedge?" What if Nancy Dell'Olio married Lawrence Dallaglio? And apparently Ian Fleming had an affair with Nick Clegg's grandmother. "We are digressing less than we would normally," said Danny Finkelstein.
Caroline is rightly indignant with the Cheltenham Festivals continuing to sideline the Gardens' Gallery in Montpellier. Not only do they omit any mention of the Gallery in their brochure, it doesn't even feature on the festival maps, or on the signposts. And the massed bank of festival loos is plonked just next to it, reducing it to worse than Cinderella status. (Postscript: A Festival-goer caught short, spent her penny, and then - noticing the Gallery - went in and spent a further £300.)
Until a month ago, Pascal Lamy headed the World Trade Organization: yesterday afternoon he came to Cheltenham to discuss his forthcoming memoir, "The Geneva Consensus". The Times' Philip Collins kept the discussion nice and general, though without much sympathy for where Lamy was coming from, Collins appearing both less internationalist and more Conservative.
The memoir's title was chosen to juxtapose the author's standpoint with the Washington Consensus, which has come to stand for "Liberalise and God will take care of the rest." Lamy's approach is rather to take care of how trade works - in order for trade to work at all.
He praised Gordon Brown - prescient about the need for global governance - but China's "Don't ask me to do what you haven't done!"sums up the impasse, for instance in reaching a worldwide consensus on carbon reduction. We can't, Lamy maintains, halt globalisation, because technology is its engine - and technology has no reverse gear. It brings people closer to one another, but they still have different cultures. (The Inuits have always killed seals, but Europe expresses its disgust by banning Canadian imports.) Globalisation has formidably shrunk the numbers of the planet's poor, but at the expense of greater inequality.
A stimulating hour! As was my evening session - a genial chat between Mark Lawson and Jonathan Miller. Again, the interviewer gave his subject plenty of rope: with this, he readily reprised the role of enfant terrible, by which he first came to fame. There were a few repetitions, and one or two names escaped him, but otherwise it was hard to think that this was a man in his 80th year.
Until afterwards, that is: beginning my bike ride home, I saw someone in the shadows outside the Writers' Room, puffing at a cigarette. The enfant terrible had morphed into the Picture of Dorian Gray. I turned the bike round, and asked if I could take a photograph. (Nothing ventured...) "I hate being photographed," came the response, but he was willing to chat. "I'm not a Jew, just jewish," I quoted from Beyond the fringe. Was he a believer in the divine? "Certainly not," he said, "and what's more if Jesus came back I would ensure he was brought before the International Criminal Court."
This morning, by contrast, I escaped to Tetbury again, and heard - inter alia - the sublime Sarah Connolly singing Schumann and Duparc. These repeated words of Baudelaire, set by the latter, sum up Tetbury in contrast to grungy, pragmatic, busy, eclectic Cheltenham: "Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté, luxe, calme et volupté."
Used condoms form the detritus after Glastonbury: discarded Times cotton shopping bags after Cheltenham, and statins after Tetbury.
Two competing festivals this year, less than 30 miles apart! At least till the end of this weekend. Tetbury, hub of Royal South Gloucestershire, attracts a wide local audience plus many loyal regulars from London and further afield, émigrés for the weekend, no doubt dipping into Westonbirt Arboretum for some Autumn colour during their stay. Cheltenham's twin tented villages draw many more all and sundry, an amorphous horde growing by the year, less dress-conscious than last night's gang.
Once, at a gathering near Tetbury, I fell into conversation with one of the RSG Set. "Where do you live?" he inquired. "Cheltenham," I replied. "Cheltenham?" He spoke the word as if he was rinsing his teeth with a wine he thought was corked. "Cheltenham? Completely beneath my radar."
At our Literature Festival events, you used to be able to meet up with friends: now it's a matter of chance whether or not, even as a long-established punter, you see anyone you know. Harri is one of the regulars: I remember seeing her and her mother at an early event in last year's Festival and being amazed by the thickness of their ticket bundle. Today, therefore, I requested a photograph: the wadge on her lap covers admission to 42 events, I gathered!
We were queuing to get into The Times leader conference: I loved it last year, an hour of rich theatre with a highly-articulate cast of six. The only disappointments this year were the absence of the editor, and the distraction of the large screen flickering away in the background, above the stage.
Elise Smith, inspired founder of the now well-established festival of music performed over a long weekend in Tetbury's beautiful parish church, threatened us in her speech before tonight's opening concert with a spelling test as we left. Not many of us would, I guess, have remembered "Myslivecek", the composer of the first piece on the programme, and hardly more "Bezuidenhout", the surname of the fortepiano soloist in two concertos, one either side of the interval.
I can't say I had much opportunity to fret about the possible quizzing, as the music proved all-absorbing. Both concertos, well-known works, sounded quite different to "normal" at the gentle hands of Bezuidenhout, accompanied by a tiny orchestra of original instruments. Time stood still in the slow movement of Mozart's K453.
It was the first of two Arcangelo concerts during this year's Festival: we look forward eagerly to Jonathan Cohen's take on the B Minor Mass on Sunday evening.
As last week, we were today only three Wednesday walkers. Though the sun was shining in Cheltenham, we hit the mist as we drove up Leckhampton Hill: it cleared as the morning went on. Happily, we were at lunch (at the Star Bistro) before it started raining much.
After climbing half a mile or so along the Cotswold Way, we swung down South of Hartley Farm and along its secret valley. Crossing the A436, our peace was shattered: my "Stay!" was heard as "Okay!", with near fatal consequences.
Having admired the Berkeley tombs in Coberley church, we found ourselves sitting down in the porch. Whereupon a bottle and glasses were conjured up, so we could drink to the health of a birthday-boy walker. A nice surprise, this convention, to me as a relative newcomer to the group!
As my photograph shows, the stained glass in front of which we sat was appropriate to the occasion: Arts and Crafts-looking, but in fact late 20th Century.