Saturday, 29 November 2014

Sagittarius Rising

Cecil Lewis' book about his flying experiences in World War I and shortly afterwards was chosen by our Book Club's newest member and chewed over today. We liked it.

Part of the book's charm is its frequent digression into something more akin to poetry than real-life Biggles. "Many times have I been carried away," Lewis writes, "by the unexpected beauties of the foreign scene. But, finally, a man comes home. For nowhere else, I think, does the beech grow just so, noble and straight, crowning the rounded hill."

After the lunchtime discussion, we adjourned to look over the former Cirencester Brewery complex, of which LoCo Glass occupies part. Colin Hawkins made us welcome. Interesting to compare their contemporary British studio work with painted glass of five centuries earlier, such as this St Lawrence fragment in the South Sanctuary window of the great Parish Church, which we wandered round before lunch.

Another part of the Brewery is home to Dorothy Reglar's Colours of Asia. The cloth that Dorothy uses to create her designs is produced on handlooms in Laos - she visits each year: again, her beautiful clothes were a contrast to the richly-decorated blue velvet cope on display in the church - made in 1478.

Yet again, a mild day, and dry. Before catching my bus, I was raking leaves.

Friday, 28 November 2014

One-sided debate

My former College's annual London seminar, in the relaxed and august setting of Carlton House Terrace, features a panel of Old Members who have a common area of expertise. The subject this year was "Beyond Fantasy or Fear, The Future of Britain outside the European Union", billed as a debate.

It was nothing of the sort, as all five speakers - some admittedly more strongly than others - endorsed our membership of the EU. Hooray! But the question is, how do we articulate "our" position in such a way as to persuade people?

Particularly impressive on the platform was Professor Anand Menon, pointing out that European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy talks about a British departure in terms of "amputation". Britain's is one of the most influential voices within the EU, says Anand: leaving, our impact on the world stage would be vastly reduced.

I enjoyed the evening, but I feel the format needs looking at. First, five speakers is one too many. And the speakers didn't appear to have been encouraged to agree the areas each would cover. In the audience were a number who made valuable contributions to help it in the direction of a true debate, but I suspect others too had expertise such that it would have been valuable, time permitting, to hear their views articulated. Secondly, at previous seminars Old Members on the platform have been willing to share confidential insights. Apart from Mark Blythe, I thought, frankly, that this year’s bunch, though highly competent, came across as a dull lot!

Finally, as Master (and chair for the evening) we are fortunate to have a man described by a former national newspaper editor as one of our most brilliant political analysts, yet of his own views we heard nothing. A pity!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

"Who are you?"

Grayson Perry's recent TV mini-series "Who are you?" made essential viewing for both of us, so we were happy to be able to catch the art works he made during the filming, on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The Memory Jar attracted much the biggest crowd, unsurprising given today's general concern about Alzheimer's. Christopher, the victim portrayed so poignantly by Perry, both on the small screen and through this pot, had been my contemporary at school, which brought it all home.

Earlier we had spent a couple of unforgettable hours in the company of late Rembrandt next door at the National Gallery.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Luckily, we happened to be coming to London anyway today, so could be part of the celebratory lunch party after our friend Sarah received her MBE at Buckingham Palace - well-earned by many years at the inter-faith coalface in South London and elsewhere.

Pope Francis' Strasbourg speech yesterday rang simultaneously a warning to and an endorsement of the EU - the latter being something Sarah's Islamic friend and I passionately agreed upon. Unfortunately she had moved round the table by the time I found myself in a radically different conversation on the same subject with my other neighbour, a UKIP sympathiser.

Having been brought up short by this, I was again by something in the Times, a paper I normally never see. Columnist Janice Turner - in her Notebook - writes about a friend with a home that makes Janice want to change her entire house. How does she achieve this? Why, by abandoning "dim eco-friendly bulbs". "Sod the planet," the friend says, and Janice follows suit. Haven't they heard of LED?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


In the West window of Sapperton Church stands a fine arrangement of poppies, which would be lost against stained glass. Yesterday I was there showing Dido round the local Arts and Crafts connections - they were new to her. Beforehand, we had a brisk walk up the valley from Duntisbourne Abbotts - a little too brisk (and far) for Murphy's short legs: to get him back to Long Ford he had to be put on the trip-me-up.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Stir up Sunday

All three grandchildren were with us yesterday, stirring the Christmas cake in turn.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

"Medicine Unboxed"

I missed Day 1 of this year's jam-packed Medicine Unboxed weekend, and only lasted the morning session today. "A tendency to be arty-farty?" Yes, but what a mind-stretching joy it is!

Tim Dee and William Fiennes were discussing their work under the heading "horizon" - it being foreshortened by Dee, kneeling down to examine blades of grass in his Four Fields; but the opposite for Fiennes, following Snow Geese from Texas to the Arctic (and eating them) - birds that know no border controls, carry no baggage. The horizon always remains, however many miles a day one treks (pointing up, for me, the comparative rewards of pilgrimage: to travel hopefully, yes, but also eventually to arrive).

Philip Gross then read from Deep Field, poems inspired by his dying father's loss of language. One of those next up, sociologist Yasmin Gunaratnam, had long studied in a similar area: she introduced actors to perform two powerfully dramatic scenas that touched upon the crossing from life to death of those in the immigrant community.

Before the lunch break, the winner of the Medicine Unboxed Creative Prize was announced. Out of 80 or so entries, seven had been picked out, including Agnes' idea for a musical to deal with - once again - the development and disintegration of language. Brief descriptions of the entries on the shortlist were read out, Agnes' being last. What did that signify? Well, nothing as we soon learnt. The award went to Tiffany Atkinson, already a published poet. So, disappointment within the family - though we aren't allowed to show it; and brilliant to have got so far.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Medicine box

We don't have one - a medicine box, that is. We have various stashes and a glass-fronted cabinet, with rather an awkward key and too few, too shallow shelves. The "medicines" tumble out, difficult to locate when you need them (I find). Big Pharma would come in and throw most of them away for being out of date.

Anyway, it's on my mind this past 24 hours, recovering from a sudden bug: possibly flu, though I had my injection. Feeling the end of the world was near, I have to remember I was out walking earlier in the week.

Odd though that on Tuesday's walk, none of those taking part so much as mentioned my message to our Leader (cc'd to all) of six days previously: "I look forward to being with you in the Malverns," I wrote, "but alas can't commit myself to the attractive-sounding walk you suggest in Croatia next Summer: all our energies are going to be bent in another direction then. You ask for our thoughts: as you know, I am an advocate of low-carbon travel, and would earnestly hope that some of you who do decide to go all that way (Total Flights Footprint = 0.43 metric tons of CO2e​) would look into the no-fly option. The cons are extra monetary outlay, extra time required and a degree of planning. Amongst many other pros (beside carbon-saving) I would cite no airport/aircraft hassle, a journey through a rich variety of scenery and the opportunity to meet people you would never normally come across. The Man in Seat 61 website gives you all the leads you need, but just to make it that much simpler, here are the main options..." I attached an A4 sheet. But silence.

This photograph of Paddington Station was taken a couple of years ago: I might have been passing through today, had I felt committed to book for the annual members meeting of Christian Ecology Link. That I didn't is partly because it now alas has to be known as "Green Christian"... (This is where Leo would start making scratched record gestures.)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Four of us met at Nettleton Bottom this morning for a shortish walk in the Brimpsfield area. It wasn't as muddy as we feared, though there was plenty of climbing over stiles. Brimpsfield itself is a more extensive village than I had realised, but with few buildings of much real interest apart from the church: we explored that at some length, and John kindly advanced me the wherewithal to buy one of the excellent guidebooks.

This evening, we have been watching old film, brought (on DVD) by Caroline's cousin, who is staying: it included joyous scenes of a 10-year-old Caroline as a bridesmaid in Lincolnshire, and later with her donkey in Devon.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Romania reunion

Seven of those of us who walked together in Transylvania last year met up in the Malvern Hills this morning, for a stroll Southwards towards Eastnor. The view from the Herefordshire Beacon wasn't as extensive as it might have been, with the mist slow to clear, but it was a pretty perfect day for a walk nevertheless.

Monday, 17 November 2014


Quink is the felicitous nickname of a relation of mine, given her because she was the fifth (and last) of her family, and born to a clergyman father - my grandfather's second cousin - on Quinquagesima Sunday. We called upon her in Canterbury today, as we progressed homewards.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Lunch at The Grange

It was dark enough at lunchtime for us to relight last night's candles: we didn't expect November would bring deckchair weather, but the prolonged rain showers have become a bit repetitive. Even on a sunny day, this South-facing dining-room would need some illumination, with its "En Avant" wallpaper in a red/pink colourway, made to match the original, a piece of which was found beneath a door architrave.

Seven of us gathered round the table for quail stew, our last meal together, as some of us had to leave before nightfall.

It's been a glorious stay, dog-free and with the scent of wood smoke pervading the house. In breaks in the weather, I stepped out onto the tower roof, and, walking in the town, we looked back and saw the sun setting over the harbour.

This afternoon, Catriona Blacker came with the benefit of her extensive Pugin expertise. There remains the puzzle of which Old Testament scene is portrayed in this Flemish roundel in the Library window: Jacob’s flight from Laban in Genesis 31?

Saturday, 15 November 2014


For each of the past few years, we have had a short stay in a Landmark Trust property. This year, it's The Grange, on the West Cliff at Ramsgate. Augustus Pugin designed the house and all its fittings for the use of himself and his large family.

What would he have thought about Old Chelsea china, ubiquitous in 200+ Landmarks to date (but now, we read, out of production)? I photographed the above in one of The Grange's tower rooms. Currently a bathroom, I guess it would have been part of the servants' quarters: a great view out to sea, but extremely cold in Winter.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Old times

On our way down to Kent, we called at Crowborough to visit a former colleague of Caroline when she worked at the Courtauld Institute. We have been married nearly 40 years, and Caroline "retired" before our wedding, so it's been a while.

Now 95, Elizabeth lives with her only slightly younger sister. They were brought up in Constantinople (sic) and remember learning long division on the Bosphorus.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Vita brevis

Old friends have lost their younger child, aged only 31. I drove over the county border into Warwickshire in order to attend a sad Mass of thanksgiving, ending with the draped coffin being carried from the little church by members of the family.

The Gospel - unusual for a funeral - was from the Sermon on the Mount, the new standard higher than the old. It was a passage Hugh was said to have written out, found in his room. And a saying of his was printed on the back of the beautiful service sheet: "If you look well, you may find beauty everywhere." RIP.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Seven up

Our youngest grandchild achieves 7 on Thursday, and we anticipated the event this afternoon, at Sydenham Road, where seven children and seven adults gathered round for the cutting of Caroline's cake.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Back to Bath

A fortnight after our brief break in Bath, I was there again yesterday. It was wet, not a day for photography, but in a lull on my way back to the station I spotted this sign: is it soliciting customers or warning them of the presence of a latter-day Demon Barber?

The purpose of my visit was another lunchtime meeting and talk. Turkey was on the agenda, but not on the menu. David Logan, formerly our ambassador in Istanbul, speaks with beguiling lack of emphasis, but no wasted words. He mapped out for us the complex, not to say intractable, set of relationships between Turks and four sorts of Kurds: we also glimpsed behind the scenes within Turkey itself, a country clearly not to be ignored.

19 of us attended, one of the ancillary pleasures being meeting people of differing backgrounds: I sat next to another former ambassador (to Chile), who also worked for many years in Geneva on arms control. He argues strongly now against all armed intervention in either Iraq or Syria.

With Caroline away in France this week, I was given supper by friends on Tuesday: for Trishe's birthday, Christopher was getting her Gerry Hughes' new book, Cry of Wonder, so I thought I'd have a look at it in Bath's elegant Waterstones. I couldn't find it, and on the train home I saw in the paper that its author had just died. RIP.

He was a gentle, shy man. 29 years ago this month we had him to stay for a Winchcombe Action for Peace meeting - in the Methodist church, as the Catholic priest said No to it being in St Nicholas'. On our way down the hill into Winchcombe, Gerry realised he'd left his Jerusalem Bible in our spare room - he needed it for his talk. "No problem," I said. "We have to pay a courtesy visit to the Catholic priest, and we can ask to borrow one from him." But, "The Jerusalem Bible!" exclaimed Canon Morrissey. "I don't have that."

Arriving at the door of the Methodist church, we were greeted warmly by the Minister. I told him about Gerry's Jerusalem Bible oversight. "Just a moment," he said, "I'll get Fr. Hughes my copy."

The Royal Court's new play about the climate crisis, 2071 has just begun a short run (till 15th). It "is better than good: it is necessary", concludes Michael Billington in his 5-star review. The same might be said of Gerry Hughes' God of Surprises.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Edge upwards

Four of us met at the Edgemoor Inn this morning, and walked along the Cotswold Way to Haresfield Beacon. It was misty for the most part, limiting our views South and West from the trig point, but the light was good. Though the rain of late has brought many of the leaves tumbling, rich colours remain, particularly - today - in the patchwork quilted floor of Stockend Wood, tepees amid the beeches below.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Bachs and Syde

Miklós Spányi played the Syde harpsichord for us last evening. It was a rare privilege to hear one of the world's foremost scholars and performers of CPE Bach. That composer's works made up the first half of the programme, and his father's the second: then, to clean our palate after extracts from Johann Sebastian's densely-textured Art of Fugue and Italian Concerto, two further movements of a CPE Bach sonata were given as encores.

The harpsichord's maker, Huw Saunders was present, alongside many of those living locally who have come to look forward to Syde concerts. As well as providing top notch musicianship, Andrew and Penny also give us all such a friendly welcome, and so the audience develops as a community. Some who come I'm sure rarely get out, and particularly to hear music, but feel safe in the warm and informal surroundings of the restored 14th Century Tithe Barn, almost as if at a private performance.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


"Is a bishop's Visitation like an Ofsted inspection?" someone asked our parish priest ahead of time. In fact, though my photograph may seem to indicate otherwise, this weekend at St Gregory's with the Bishop of Clifton has been more celebration than inquisition - a short parish meeting, chaired by a layman (with lay women asking most of the questions) followed by a joyful Mass for All Saints. Pity, though, that the wonderful variety of ethnicity present at the latter was absent at the former. And I worry about the episcopal health.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Merlin, a 14-year-old from Göttingen, has been with us this week, part of a group on a half-term twinning deal. We were to have had a second boy, but he cried off at the last moment through illness - which meant that Merlin had to work that much harder on his English.

He wasn't missing anything, he said, being away from home on Halloween. All the action takes place on St Martin's Day, when children process from house to house with colourful paper lanterns made in school, sing a song - the last line of each verse is "Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum" - and get sweets in return. No trickery required. (I have since discovered that the lantern procession symbolises the light that holiness brings to the darkness, just as St Martin brought hope to the poor through his good deeds.)

Merlin's father is Martin (too).

The book Sarah kindly gave me last Christmas tells us that Göttingen "has nurtured 40 Nobel Prize winners". Compared to how many from Cheltenham I was wondering.