Thursday, 26 May 2011

"A sustainable world: reasons to be hopeful"

Jonathon Porritt spoke to a full house at our local Friends' Meeting House last evening on this, at first sight surprising, theme. (I had organised the event on behalf of Christian Ecology Link, of which Jonathon has for long been a Patron.) It was appropriate for "hope" to be the watchword at a Christian gathering, though "optimism" was how Jonathon more often referred to it - something rather different.

He spoke powerfully, and with his customary fluency - who answers questions more generously? - about the uniqueness of human knowledge; about the benefits that he perceives will come from technology, and about the new mandate existing in civil society worldwide, to create wealth with lower impact. And he suggested that, so far from being wired for agression, we might indeed be wired for empathy, his "hopeful" conclusion being that "the sheer urgency of the crisis will bring us together!"

But we need to call upon our spiritual resources, and - crucially - at present, social justice is not there in the churches' practice, even if it is in the teaching.

Monday, 23 May 2011


It's that time of year again.Today, Caroline gave me an early birthday present of a new wheelbarrow, to replace our old rust bucket. Definitely not worth wrapping up and taking with us to open in Portugal next week! On Wednesday last, it was Leo's birthday, which he celebrated in Osaka. On his return, he came yesterday to report, and whilst here baked this cake for his workmates today. Orange and chocolate.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


Last October, I photographed Zoe Shevlin, bassoonist, playing at Tetbury with the Academy of Ancient Music. Last night, she popped up in an enlarged Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for the final concert in this year's Newbury Spring Festival. We were invited by Sarah as a joint birthday present.

On paper, the programme looked unchallenging, symphonies by Mozart and Schubert and Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto with Artur Pizarro; but in the way Paul Daniel and the OAE tackled it, fresh sounds seemed to spring out all the time. In particular, the slow movement of the concerto came across as more sublime than ever.

It is always a pleasure to be allowed to join in such a friendly festival as Newbury's, church pews notwithstanding. The cavernous St Nicholas' in Newbury was of course packed. Sun streamed in through Hardman glass ("not good" in Pevsner's judgment), and there was still light in the sky as we drove homewards later along the M4.

Saturday, 21 May 2011


Clifton Cathedral was the scene of the launch, last evening, of a livesimply award scheme. The idea is aimed at engaging parishes so that they take God's creation seriously.

Christian people are challenged to live simply, to live sustainably with creation, and live in solidarity with people in poverty. CAFOD launched the livesimply campaign five years ago; but now it's been repackaged for community use. A couple of parishes are leading the way, and were represented in the Cathedral yesterday: the schoolchildren of one of them performed a movement piece to St Francis's Canticle of Brother Sun: very nicely too.

All we need in Cheltenham is a handful of people to take it forward...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Commercial consumer waste

Not often these days do you see me in a suit, and only very rarely escorted by a polar bear. I was at Cheltenham Racecourse, not for the horses, but as a guest of the Commercial Group, whose 5th annual CSR Day took place today. This was a follow up from the chance meeting I had with someone from Commercial at the Cheltenham Connect pub quiz earlier in the year.

It's quite a big deal, CSR these days. On the whole, it seems right for Commercial to shout from the rooftops about their success in meeting carbon reduction targets etc. Their Green Angels scheme sounds good fun, and really does breathe life into the organisation, as claimed. And it's good that being green doesn't have to cost more.

I was drawn to go by the prospect of hearing Franny Armstrong in the flesh: she had made an impression on me with The Age of Stupid and 10:10; but today she looked weary. And by the end I too was weary of the relentless proferring of consumer items - albeit recycled - by those manning the many stalls, which pay to finance the Day. As Franny says, the problem is that we see about 200 advertisements every day: how can we counter their effect?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

"The Diary of a Shropshire Farmer"

I mentioned last week the impending publication by Amberley of my great-great-grandfather's diary: well, now here's what it will look like. I'm told the book will be in my hands in four weeks' time.

A kind friend let me use her Claude Hayes Haymaking on the cover. Ideally, there would be a portrait of the diarist on the front, but there is none: so little is known about him apart from the two diaries - discovered by chance - which make up this volume! As I say in my introduction, it's a lot down to the fact that my father never knew his grandfather; my grandfather never knew his, nor his father his.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

High definition performance

Not only do we have a Spanish señorita staying at the moment, but a Swiss mister too. Paulo, employed by Nespresso and notwithstanding his name from the French-speaking part of his country, is here for a fortnight’s intensive work with Caroline on his English. The Japanese in particular are fabled present-givers, but nobody has ever arrived laden with so many gifts as Paolo, generous man. And game too: we were booked in to the Met. live relay of Die Walküre yesterday: “May I join you?” he asked – not having any previous opera-going experience, still less any experience of grappling with Wagner’s Ring.

Happily, Robert Lepage’s new production (costing upwards of $16m) could not be clearer for the viewer: it is in fact outstanding in all respects, with a stunning set: a simple concept, but fiendishly complicated technically – the start was delayed half an hour as computers were sorted out, so we learnt. It’s always a worry that such a delay might mean one of the stars is struggling to be fit.

That was no problem yesterday: all six principals were in geat voice. Though Deborah Voigt’s Brünnhilde is never going to be to my taste, all the others are perfectly suited to their parts, with Bryn Terfel the most human of Wotans, and his stage wife (the superb Stephanie Blythe) the most statuesque. During Die Walküre, there is always a heart-rending moment, depending on the performance: last night, it was Eva-Maria Westbroek’s O hehrstes Wunder! which made the hair at the back of my neck stand up. The conductor was Jemes Levine, clearly in considerable discomfort: I had no desire for 3D, but do wish we had had surround sound: the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury doesn’t run to that.

"Why does it need to be so long?" asks Caroline. Something of an answer to this is given by Alex Ross in his recent New Yorker article: "Ultimately, the bond Wagner forms with his listeners is one of pure, wordless emotion, and his gift for capturing the nuances of human feeling constantly complicates our response." This takes time.

Earlier in the day, we had enjoyed a different sort of theatrical experience, champagne breakfast with kind friends who were staying at the new Ellenborough Park Hotel in nearby Southam. No expense has been spared there either.

I spotted that today is the third anniversary of this blog. Can I really have been retired so long?

Friday, 13 May 2011

A touch of Galician Spring

On the day of the Royal Wedding, our very own younger version of Pippa arrived to stay – from Spain. A graduate of Vigo University, Lorena is looking for an internship here, where she can put to good use her excellent English and her skills in advertising and public relations. Meanwhile, she is completing a year at the University of Gloucestershire, and lodging with us till the end of next month.
She’s already had a good go at me for not making more of my photographs. I’m about to put her at work finding us casas rurales to stay in, on our way back to the ferry after our fortnight with Thomas in Portugal.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Peter Davis' diary

I mentioned last year that I was on the way to seeing my ancestor, Peter Davis' diary into print: well, I now have a date from my publishers, Amberley: I caught the bus to their new Stroud offices - pictured - on Tuesday.

And the date? Rather fortuitously, it's my birthday, 30th May! So, look out for more in due course about "The Diary of a Shropshire farmer: a young yeoman's life and travels 1835-37".

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

News from Miri

Jemima Louise Rose Lawrence is the newest name for our family tree, born 7,000 miles away in Sarawak just over a week ago, to Kate and Oliver. With her cousin Sofia Filippi, arriving six months earlier for Hannah and Fabio, she evens things up as between my father's male and female offspring - seven apiece now.

Two granddaughters will surely keep my sister busy for a few years, particularly coming as they do from the more multinational department of our immediate family: she's naturally planning a visit to Miri fairly soon.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Rattled by 3D

A friend rang to tell me he had wasted most of Saturday morning trying to book for the Dudamel concert at the Proms this year: by the time he got through, it was sold out. Simon Rattle was once regarded by the critics as Dudamel is now, but barely a couple of handfuls were all that turned up to Cineworld, Cheltenham last evening for his appearance in the world's first 3D HD symphony concert film. My photograph shows what it's like being at a 3D performance without special glasses; though I'm bound to say wearing them gave me as much of a headache as taking them off. (The sound was brilliant.)

The snapshot shows a conductor, now 56, who used to be a familiar figure in Cheltenham Town Hall when half his present age and in charge of the CBSO. Then the hair was black, there was a lot more of it - and, dare I say, the shoulders were less hunched.

The concert - Mahler and Rachmaninov - is filmed in Singapore's amazing Esplanade concert hall: the way the first part is presented puts the audience in the passenger seat on a test drive with Sebastian Vettel - an audience, that is, which normally prefers the comfort of a sedately-driven saloon car. Things improve with the Rachmaninov, where we are treated to something of a Singaporean travelogue. Very beautiful too.

Would I go again? Yes, I think so, depending on the make-up of the programme: last night, the Cineworld website gave us not a clue as to what was in store! But I'm not sure the 3D adds much.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Cerney House

Caroline had been there before, but Friday was my first visit to Cerney House Gardens. I was delighted to have seen them, the more so as there were few others there when we went, so that it seemed as if we were monarchs of all we surveyed.

Jumping perhaps to conclusions, it seems that the Anguses came to North Cerney nearly half a century ago, developing their enormous garden gradually, so that it now percolates both up and down the wide valley above the village. There has been much tree planting, including this group of four quinces, amidst many varieties of tulip surrounded by box hedges - this (for me) was the main focal point.

If truth be told, I found the whole place a little run down, as if it was proving too much even for the large team still in service there. It is one thing to foster a natural look, and another to lose that sense of vibrant coherence you get with a really convincing garden, such as Rockcliffe.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Off to Portugal

Soon, we shall be away on our travels again. We are taking dog and grandchildren (not to mention three of the children also) for a fortnight in a remote mill house in Portugal, up near the Spanish border.

So, naturally I visited our marvellous local Red Cross bookshop for some ideas, and whilst there I met 90-year-old Eileen Holloway: her hat would do for our trip, don't you think?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A red day

It started badly. A case of wine arrived. In transit from front door to larder, the carrier handle broke, and so did a precious bottle - all over the pale hall carpet. As a result, the air was blue and the carpet red.

But we have radishes too to redden our day. The first fruits of our 2011 garden, along with some lettuice (but that wasn't grown from seed). A very satisfactory crop, in spite of the lack of rain, something that today at last looks as if it may be changing.