Wednesday, 30 November 2011


A 3rd cousin (once removed) invited me to Leicester today, the first time I'd been there, so far as I can recall. I don't count passing through on the train. It's not a difficult journey by rail, though New Street seems to get busier each time I change there: there was only three minutes to catch the Cheltenham connection this evening, and I had to fight my way from one end of the station to the other. (Perhaps it was all those striking public service employees, taking advantage of a day off work to go somewhere...)

My cousin, having worked in Leicester for many years, knew all about the long-term successes in race relations there, a tribute to much patience and perseverance. We passed the brand new BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, on Gipsy Lane, opened only last month to great fanfares. Local residents regard it as a great improvement on the old factory that formerly stood on this prominent site. Its building (total cost £3m) took three years and much voluntary effort.

The visit enabled me to catch a glimpse of a set of photograph albums, put together by earlier generations: they fill a number of gaps in my knowledge of the family tree. I rather wish I'd known about them when researching pictures for The Diary of a Shropshire Farmer last year. Even leaving aside any genealogical interest, some of the photography is quite remarkable, and I was delighted to hear that the collection might end up in the Shropshire Archives.

Another pair of third cousins, twins, turns out to have been a teenage song and dance act that transformed itself into a business making bikinis in Florida - shortly after the days they were illegal. It thrives, so I was told in Leicester.

A pity I didn't get a photograph of the two pure white doves that fluttered around my cousin's garden: he and his wife keep a dovecote, perhaps an unusual feature on a housing estate.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Bean counters

Our runner bean plants have never been so prolific! Not only did they crop plentifully over a long period, but there are still lots left for next year's seed and the stewpot. Agnes and Ida were pressed into service to save them today, whilst I dug up the dahlias and gathered yet more apples. (Ida taking a break from her current favourite game, "Pretend...")

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Wraith willow

In this morning's bright sunshine, the trees along Coldwell Bottom took on a ghostly appearance. I often walk there, because it's peaceful, apart from the kennels over the hill, and the valley's appearance changes so much depending on the season. And it's a good way to work up an appetite when there's venison for lunch.

Saturday, 26 November 2011


We don't often go to Stroud, though it's only a dozen miles down the road. Today was my first visit to its celebrated Saturday market. We were too late getting there to sample it properly: this was because we had first been walking in Woodchester Park, then visiting Selsley Church on our way back.

It wasn't at all a bad day for walking, dry and windless for the most part. Our walk ended at the big, gaunt, never finished house, which wasn't open: peering through the windows you can still get a good idea of its astonishingly elaborate Victorian Gothic stonework. The three of us agreed it was a strange place to build such a pile, on the bottom of a narrow valley.

The churchyard at Selsley by contrast has one of the best views of any I know. And a complete set of Pre-Raphaelite stained glass atones for the rather dull church building - of much the same era (and ilk) as Woodchester Mansion. As you can see from the photograph, the Stroud street scene is somewhat different.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


My cousin, "young" Martin has alerted me to the change of name of our family firm of solicitors: founded by my great-grandfather, Stephen Gateley, it became Stephen Gateley & Sons when his two sons qualified and joined the practice. My cousin "young" Stephen steered the firm into its first major merger, it being renamed Gateley Wareing. Subsequent amalgamations made it HBJ Gateley Wareing, but a new look was announced in May apparently: from that time, it's just been "Gateley".

Now with some 800 employees, its look and feel differs rather from the days 60-odd years ago when I used to visit my grandfather in his Temple Row office, with clerks sitting on high stools dipping their pens. 13/4d was a fairly standard charge, I seem to recall, less than it now costs to post a large letter.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Transition Festival

Today, a week-long Transition Town Cheltenham residency began at our local Gardens Gallery. The different action groups each had a display.

This morning, I took along various photographs for the Heart & Soul board: we went back this evening, for the opening party, and admired all the work that had been put in to enliven the building. We learnt that 80 people had been through the Gallery during the first day. The question is, for how many of them was "transition" a new concept?

Heart & Soul have an open space session as part of the Festival from 5 to 6.30pm next Sunday 27th November - "Faith in Transition: what do faith communities have to offer?" At a time when one or two church leaders are questioning the science upon which Transition is founded, it seems to me more than ever important that Christians should witness - alongside other people of faith - to what their belief in creation implies.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Autumn (still)

It was six weeks ago that I posted signs of Autumn colouring - at Westonbirt. With the mild weather we've had, it still seems - from the trees in our garden - to be Autumn even now in late November. Roses are blooming: snapdragon and geranium phaeum are still in flower. Meanwhile, the Christmas lights are on and the Promenade is full of tawdry German Marketeers. One of them pointed out a bat yesterday, asleep on the tree trunk just behind his hut.

The Film Society offering this evening was Patagonia, with great landscape photography veering between Argentina in the Autumn and Wales in Springtime: it brought to mind the visual shock I experienced at this time of year in 2003, flying away from our soft Autumnal colours in order to land amidst vibrant reds and blues in South Island, New Zealand.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Smiley Old Miley

We are sad to have heard of the death last week of Miles Curtis Hayward. Though Miles had been ill for ages, I still couldn't believe he was 82: he seemed the eternal schoolboy, ever-lovable. R.I.P.

Saturday, 19 November 2011


Since we last walked by the ghost-like barns at Wontley, just below Cleeve Common, a rash of signs has appeared, making this look like the Spaghetti Junction of the local footpath network. Nevertheless, stepping out with friends visiting yesterday from Brixton, we saw not a soul.

It was a good spin, from West Down, via Wontley to the windswept tree on top of the Common; but too much for our dog, Rosie. We had to leave Caroline with her by the masts, and come round with the car later. (Caroline fears she is not long for this world.)

From Brixton Market, we were presented with a pomegranate, two each of custard apples, Sharon fruits, prickly pears and plantains, and a mango!

Friday, 18 November 2011


On Wednesday, we walked with friends above the Slad Valley, starting and ending at the tucked-away hamlet of Elcombe. The landscape had a Tolkein-like feel to it, woods and fields being shrouded in mist: all very different from our last visit in sunny April a couple of years ago.

We passed artist-blacksmith Alan Evans' cottage en route, admiring his innovative stainless steel swing gates as we passed by. The once-controversial grille over the entrance to Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum is his work.

Walking down Swift's Hill, the view (on a clear day) is stupendous, but I wouldn't want to live on the side of so steep a valley.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


There was a seed exchange at the latest Gloucestershire Organic Gardening Group's meeting at Whiteway Colony Hall: I forgot to take the ones I'd set aside, but nevertheless came back with full pockets.

Local orchardist, Martin Hayes was the speaker, though it was not so much a lecture, more a tasting - of a wide variety of apple juices, not to mention cider and perry - with aphorisms.

Martin's enthusiasm, born of 38 years' experience, is palpable. He describes vividly his falling out with an early boss (still alive "because well-pickled by spray"), and meeting two long-term partners in an orchard, "by one of whom I had a lovely daughter". "Don't spray," he urged us, "or you'll never stop. If there's a maggot in there, it proves it's a nice apple. There's always juicing." And "Yes, I do hug trees, but only to measure their age. After all, perry pears flourish for 300 years." Why does Gloucestershire have so many perry orchards - or used to? "Because God went to the top of May Hill, took a bite of a perry pear, and spat it out."

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


The photographer Henrietta Butler has moved to live near Cheltenham in recent years. Yesterday, she kindly gave me some of her time (and the benefit of her considerable experience). Nothing is more enjoyable than talking to an expert in what is purported to be one's own field!

Henrietta's one-off photobook - made up of her portraits of performing and other artists over the years, taken mainly for the Guardian - puts my efforts in that line to shame. Extraordinary that she has yet to find a "proper" publisher for it! "Too old fashioned!", she calls it.

Talking with her made me think of the importance of knowing what one's aiming for. "Free range photography" is all very well: targeted photography might get me further in the long run.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Helen Brown, who has just died aged 99, was, with her husband Watty and daughter Prue, one of our closest neighbours when my parents arrived to live in Wootton Wawen, shortly after I was born. That she was a fine-looking woman can easily be seen from this photograph, taken by my father (I guess) on my first birthday, eight days before D-Day: that's her in the centre of the back row.

There was something wonderfully sophisticated about Helen, which it's hard to put a finger on: perhaps it was her skill as a raconteur (with mordant sense of humour), and her penchant for a cigarette, not to mention gin. I loved it when her eyes creased into a smile, as they did so very frequently. The Priory was accordingly a happy house to visit, as was the Browns' subsequent rather grander manor house near Worcester. There I remember once counting the leaves on a pineapple.

After Watty's death, Helen moved to her beloved Cornwall, her new home barely a 3-iron from the golf course at Trevose. I looked for it when we were staying at Mother Ivey's one Summer (1997). Arriving unshaven at the Constantine Bay Stores, I enquired of the proprietor exactly where the bungalow was. No response: she clearly looked upon me as a potential mugger or worse. Luckily Helen drove up just then in her battered Fiesta, claiming me for an old friend - "whose pram I used to push". Cue for another infectious chuckle.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Now we are 4

Our youngest grandchild, Laurie, celebrated his birthday yesterday with a chocolate-covered cake filled with blackberry and apple, and a Scalectrix to amuse himself with. (It was good fun for the adults too.) Roary the Racing Car also put in an appearance, but only after Laurie had been persuaded that the recycled wine box in which it arrived might contain something more interesting than... wine.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Yesterday was one of our regular - if infrequent - social walking days, and gloriously warm it was for it. We met up at Elkstone, looked round the beautiful church - new to some of us - and then set off down the hidden valley towards Combend: though you are less than a mile from the A417, you can't hear a sound apart from birdsong. Turning up left, we reached the ridge road. After a look down into and across the Churn Valley, we turned back towards the cars. A short walk, not too muddy, and perfect for whetting the lunchtime appetite.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

"The Wild Bride"

Last evening I paid my first visit to the recently-reopened Cheltenham Everyman Theatre. In the auditorium, things look great: the original Frank Matcham decoration sparkles from loving refurbishment. The foyer by contrast looks dire, with its new 50s-style carpet. Whoever did they get to advise on this?

The Cornish-based (but internationally-constituted) touring company, Kneehigh took away all painful thoughts, however, with a brilliant new fairy-tale show, "The Wild Bride": I enjoyed it even more than their famous "Brief Encounter". The synopsis promised not nearly so much as the performance delivered, which was epic theatre, but on a boutique scale. A sextet of performers conjured up images which played upon all the emotions: at times, you couldn't believe how things could happily be resolved for this latter day Mother Courage; and all the while, she - there were three of them - and her trio of male accomplices animated, sang, danced, somersaulted and played a variety of instruments (Patrycja Kujawska's violin standing out). A tour de force, and how criminal that there were empty seats!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Corduroy etc.

An email came in overnight from Canadian cousins, who go to great lengths, it seems, to commemorate Armistice Day. Good for them. It's easy to forget. Today's picture combines the red and black of my poppy - in verticals, to mark, in addition, the moment of the day that most resembles corduroy, as the clock moves from 11:11:11:11:00:00 to 11:11:11:11:11.11.

It was three years ago that the Guardian offered readers the chance to download an original Keith Tyson History Picture. This is "mine". Each work consists of a unique randomly-generated sequence of vertical stripes in red, black and green - the roulette colours. Every image has its own title, based on the geographical location of the user: hence "Cheltenham" at the bottom left.

Ahead of the offer, Keith wrote that his computer "will generate a sequence of the numbers one to 32 which relates to the roulette wheel. Each number has an assigned colour. If you hit the jackpot, you'll come away with an entirely green work. But the chances of that happening are 1 in 37 x 37 x 37, 49 times." Even I, who am red/green colour-blind, can see this is not a jackpot that I've won. But the consolations are that Caroline remembered it's St Martin's Day, and I've been asked out to lunch by an old friend!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Carducci Quartet

My enthusiasm for this still-young quartet (led by Matthew Denton) has been voiced before, and it's none the less intense following this evening's performance at Dean Close School, where they have been "in residence" since the beginning of the year. Drab decor and distracting piles of scores in the background of the Prince Michael Hall couldn't take away from a vibrant performance - of what was a challenging programme.

It began with a quartet by Philip Glass: it had been described, Matthew said, as Rock music for Buddhists. The opening movement of this, his 4th Quartet rocked, but more in the sense of a lullaby - as if Bach might have been looking over the composer's shoulder. The real rock music came after the interval, with the Allegretto furioso of Shostakovich's 10th Quartet.

In between, we heard a couple of minimalist jewels (Kurtág and Webern), and a surprisingly enjoyable work, inspired by Australian birdsong, by David Matthews: he was there to introduce it himself, whistling us a preview of each of the motifs. I liked the idea of the Australian cuckoo singing the same interval as ours, but upside down. And particularly appropriate to hear this piece at a time of year when our garden is more or less a song-free zone.

Leopold/Wolfgang, Fanny/Felix, and Colin/David. I can't think of many other musical family pairs apart from these three Ms, Mozart, Mendelssohn - and Matthews.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

"Hope for Creation"?

Two years ago, we were all getting very excited in the run-up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Copenhagen. Its perceived failure was a big disappointment. Now, we are barely three weeks away from the start of this year's equivalent COP - 17 - to be held in Durban: nobody seems to be holding their breath, but that doesn't mean to say people shouldn't be praying for a positive outcome this time round. And that's the purpose of Hope for Creation, a day of prayer - today - for action on climate change: Christians in 60 countries around the world have signed up.

Right on cue, I read yesterday of both good news and bad news: the latter first - a record rise in greenhouse gas emissions is reported, putting global warming ahead of the worst-case scenarios envisaged by scientists.

And the good news? China's lightbulb moment. Incandescent bulbs are being phased out in the Peoples' Republic over a five-year period, which is more than the US is committed to.

I photographed this fennel head just over a week ago: it has self-seeded in amongst the carrots.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

"A celebration of Shropshire agriculture"

Paul Dobraszczyk, Andy Wigley, James Bowen, Douglas Grounds, Pamela Sambrook and I were the speakers at this rather interesting day meeting, organised by the Shropshire and Marches Georgian Group. I spoke first, about The Diary of a Shropshire Farmer: it must have been pretty well-received, as I only came back with one copy of the book left unsold. We stayed with friends a little way South of Culmington Village Hall, where the event took place: as we were going to be rather early arriving, we made a minor detour up the lane from the A49 in Bromfield, to take a look at King's Head Farm. The Diarist lived there throughout the 1850s, and indeed my great-grandfather was born there. The place looks a bit desolate today. Culmington village is a surprise: at first you think it must be all along the main road, but tucked away to the East are a number of black and white houses and farm buildings, together with a curious church (All Saints), with Saxon origins clearly visible and a Kempe-like St Michael in one of the South Nave windows. We left before the end, to travel home mainly by daylight, and were rewarded by a remarkable sunset over Ludlow.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

1st November: déjeuner sur l'herbe

Well, this one was taken in August, but we were outside again for lunch today, albeit wearing jerseys. Just a few Wallace and Gromit-like clouds (Caroline's description) hovered far above. One might as well make the most of this Indian Summer. After lunch, we picked more of our huge crop of Bramleys, some for storing under the stairs, some for juicing. The tree still looks laden: how many of Earth's - now 7 billion - people would cry for joy at having a few!