Monday, 31 December 2012

Ballerina Flamenco

This is the name of the maiden apple tree Agnes has given me: it's for my birthday last May, but it only arrived a short while ago. That was in the middle of our cold spell, when the ground was frozen. Since then, it's hardly stopped raining, but the last day all the grandchildren are with us is today, so out we all went with the spade to dig a hole in the back lawn. Soil strata, worms, horse manure and blood, fish and bone mixture - all were subject to much comment amongst the three five- and six-year-olds.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

"Arise Sir Martin"

Edmund gave me the happy news at breakfast that our good friend Martin Smith had been awarded a long-overdue knighthood in the New Year Honours!

He it was with whom we walked and lunched yesterday in Miserden, but not a word did he then breathe of the news of his elevation: great self-control, I call that.

In my congratulatory email I suggested he and Bradley Wiggins should ride down The Mall together on a tandem, to line up for their dubbing: my photograph of Martin was taken in the porch of Gloucester Cathedral during his epic Land's End to John O'Groats bike ride in 2008. (I accompanied him for a short distance.)

That trip raised a satisfying amount for charitable purposes, but it doesn't begin to compare with Martin's other generosity over a long period: causes orchestral, operatic, scientific, environmental, educational... all have benefited enormously from Smith largesse. Never has an honour been better deserved!

Friday, 28 December 2012


Edmund drove me up to Miserden this morning. We were meeting a friend for a walk, and looked forward to it being a testing one: we were all in need of overcoming the ill effects of Christmas.

It turned out, however, to be a brief road stroll, as said friend had forgotten his boots. (He had, to compensate, brought with him the keys of his wife's car, necessitating some tricky telephone negotiations whilst we walked.)

The triangular route ended by St Andrew's Church. This (right) is an intriguing Anglo-Saxon doorhead in the North wall. It sits above a modern (well, 14th Century) opening, known according to the guidebook as "the Devil's Doorway": the devil would apparently come in by the South door and leave by the North.

The church also contains some excellent early 17th Century monuments, including one of Sir William and Lady Sandys in Derbyshire alabaster: their clothes look particularly lifelike. None of us could imagine anyone having the skill to create such a memorial today, at whatever price.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

"Dick Whittington"

We were down on numbers for our panto outing at our local theatre: Ida has had a nasty cough all over Christmas, and was a non-starter. The boys enjoyed themselves though.

But even they found the noise level excessive. Was the volume turned up so high simply to disguise the weakness of the script, the score and most of the acting? The redeeming feature was Tweedy the Clown, not that he traditionally has much of a part in the Dick Whittington storyline.

Not only was this year's Everyman effort a weak rendition of a lovely fable, but it was overlong: how the actors manage two performances a day I can't imagine: soul-destroying!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas walk

The rain having lifted, we had a perfect Christmas morning walk, parking above Coberley, and completing the Woodland Trust (Barber Wood) triangle clockwise. Not much mud to speak of, though plenty of other walkers. (Coldwell Bottom is to the right of the photograph.)

Monday, 24 December 2012

The icing on the cake

Fresh from his singing success, Edmund turned his practised hand to icing the cake, made more than 12 months ago, but never needed last Christmas. It's good to have the boys here for the festivities! We shall be 13 for lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Seamless transition

In our friends' annual carol parties, I have traditionally been roped in as one of the soloists in "We three kings". This year, however, I abdicated and Edmund took over. He did the job to perfection, as befits an ex-member of the Ampleforth Scola.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Farewell old friend

My mother used to enjoy sitting in this chair, beside her fireplace at Arrow. We inherited it (the chair), but I sense that Caroline was never that keen on it. Anyway, it's long been in need of repair. Happily, we have lots of other places to sit, so while making room for this year's Christmas tree we decided it had to go. It has now made a freecycler very happy (she said): many others were queuing up behind her.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Elvetham

The Elvetham, now a hotel hard by the A30 in Hampshire, was a private house till the early '50s when it was sold to ICI. Its then owner was the grandson of the man for whom my great-grandfather (Arthur Henry Davis) was the Agent, the 6th Lord Calthorpe. Pre-Calthorpe, it belonged to the Seymours, and now of course I recall its mention in Wolf Hall, or perhaps its sequel.

Anyway, we arrived there at Midday today for my nephew's wedding, a sumptuous affair. It was good to catch up with members of the family I'd not met before, such as this rather jolly great-nephew. Both being in the oil industry, the couple's friends had flown in from all quarters of the globe.

One civil ceremony is not necessarily like another: this for instance was more "This is your wife" than was Leo's and Mini's in Cheltenham Register Office. It was at length followed by a wedding breakfast (starting at 3 p.m.). We left, somewhat exhausted, after the cake cutting, but even now they will all be tripping the light fantastic and indulging in a hog roast.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Year of Faith

Here we are, well into what the Pope has decreed to be the Year of Faith, and what am I doing about it? Well, not a lot I realised; so I thought the least I could manage was to dash a letter off to the local paper to staunch the flow of anti-Christian sentiment that's flooding its Letters page. I used to write to the Gloucestershire Echo quite frequently, but today's is the first for many years: not that it will have any great effect.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

"Loose Cannons"

I'm generally well-disposed to Italian films, and tonight's Film Society offering started rather promisingly. The beautiful Nicole Grimaudo, playing the young female lead, evoked Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim in her opening scene. What's not to like? I was thinking.

But once smitten by her gay business partner, Nicole's character ceased to develop, and the same went for most of the others on screen. The gay romps were unsubtle too. However, I liked the pair of anarchic maids: their appearances were enlivened by one or two amusingly Absurdist lines in Ivan Cotroneo and director Ferzan Ozpetek's script.

As usual before Christmas, the Film Society laid on a lavish spread of wine and cheese afterwards: no wonder the membership list is full.

Monday, 17 December 2012


Though I set out (and returned home) in the dark, it was in fact sunny and bright in London today. So on arriving at Paddington I Borised to Marble Arch tube; and then from Holborn tube to my meeting. Later, I again had no problem finding either a bike or a docking station as - following lunch with Edmund at Mon Plaisir - I whizzed round Central London to catch up on photography at the National Portrait Gallery and the Photographers' Gallery, dropping in also to the National Gallery and RA (Burlington Gardens). All very refreshing for the tired Gloucestershire palate.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Some passion from Teague

Catholic writer and journalist Ellen Teague last night came from London to meet a couple of dozen of us at our final Cheltenham Christian Ecology Link gathering for 2012: her theme, on which she spoke with some passion, was “Christian ecology?” An imperative for our times!

Ellen laid out her credentials with the aid of slides she had taken whilst teaching in Nigeria, working for CAFOD during the period of the Ethiopian famine and in more recent times advocating on the climate change front with the Columban Missionaries.

During her 30 or so years’ involvement in campaigns on behalf of church organisations, Ellen said she had witnessed a growing awareness that development and the environment were connected. But it was not just those living now on the margin, with whom Christians should be showing solidarity: the problem was that so many are only getting through today by compromising tomorrow. What happens to those dependent on firewood when all the trees have been cut down?

And yet how little do we hear in our media about modern Rainforest martyrs, Chico Mendez and Sister Dorothy Stang, murdered in Brazil! Or the priests and picketing people of Mindanao in the Philippines, risking their lives to celebrate mass together on the route heavy vehicles were using to open up new mines.

Father Sean McDonagh has described the eucharist as the sacrament of ecology: how can Christians preach the good news of life in abundance, without being concerned for the disappearance of the glaciers in the Andes, the melting water of which is vital for the citizens of Lima?

As a Catholic, Ellen had long wondered why her church was so slow to embrace initiatives which were fully in accord with Catholic Social Teaching, such as Creation Time – in recent years celebrated by other Christians throughout Europe each Autumn. One reason was the church’s anthropocentric vision. Humans are effectively edging others off the planet. When considering the plight of the unborn, well, the church clearly sees abortion as a sin. But how do we describe a tragedy such as Bhopal? Someone’s sin? No, our reaction is more like, “A pity!” We seem to lack any moral code to cope with biocide: it’s as if there’s a failure of communication between religion and science.

And in a clergy-centred church, what matters greatly is the lead priests give within their parishes and dioceses: an enquiry was made to one of our leading seminaries, “How much time do you give to teaching creation theology to your candidates for the priesthood?” “Half a day,” came the reply. Not half a day a week, not half a day a month – half a day in the whole six-year course! But maybe the biggest obstacle we face is that priests don’t have children and grandchildren through whose eyes we (who do have them) can so easily see the future.

“The environment is not something you can dip into,” Ellen told us. What we have to develop is a sustained focus upon the meaning of God’s covenant with creation, outlined in the Book of Genesis. Quoting theologian Mary Grey, she urged us to become “a prophetic community working for our own transformation.” As people of faith, we need to step up.

Her words were, the audience agreed during the plenary session that followed Ellen’s talk, some challenge. We were able to reflect upon this at Compline, with which the evening ended. Deacon Robin had helpfully selected as our reading a passage from the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, concluding: “God has called you and he will not fail you.”

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Bristol Nativity

What with the papers full of news of the decline in the percentage of self-professed Christians in last year's Census, it was salutary to find ourselves at our granddaughter's nativity play this afternoon.

Ashley Down Infants School clearly takes it all perfectly seriously, with contemporary songs. There was a massed band of angels of the Annunciation, and the Kings came with quite a retinue. Ida perfected her shepherd's wave for our benefit, sitting on mini chairs at the back of the hall. (I popped up to take this photograph, as happily seemed to be the norm.)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Hard walking

The no 51 bus along the valley road to Cirencester dropped me at the Rendcomb turnoff. From there I crossed the road and made for Woodmancote, taking this photograph as I slithered my way up the icy road. A car that came later failed to make it.

At the top of the hill, I passed what must be one of the smallest "churches" in Gloucestershire: the tin hut that houses the Woodmancote Christian Fellowship - considered beneath the notice of Pevsner. From there I followed the track leading eventually past the late 18th Century Cotswold Park and onto the narrow road up to the A417 below Beech Pike. My destination was The Five Mile House, now open again for lunches (save on Monday and Tuesday).

The three or so miles I covered was enough (being horribly unfit) - on the whole, an easier walk than had it been muddy, but what a pity the sun didn't shine as yesterday!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Bryter Layter

This morning started cold, dark and foggy, but the sun emerged in time for me to walk down to the shops (and so warm up).

The other bright spot is our kitchen, its ceiling newly-fitted out with LED bulbs. They make a big difference.

Nick Drake - "Bryter Layter" was his second album - was the son of friends of my parents: at one of his first schools he and Sarah were contemporaries. The web is alive with old photographs many of which I find I recognise.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Substantial nibbles

There's still another week to go even till Gaudete Sunday, and here we were today preempting Christmas. Mulled wine went down well, though I say it myself; as did Mini's and Caroline's combined efforts in producing delicious things for 60 people to eat on a sunny Sunday at lunchtime. It was 3.30 before the last guests left.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

William Tellish

We have had few apples this year, so those few we have collected up carefully. One of the last from the big russet tree fell onto the drive a while ago. I noticed it as I was collecting my bike to go shopping, picked it up and put it safely in the shed, meaning to take it into the house after I'd put the bike away.

But I forgot, and only saw it again when taking the bike out this morning. As it had of course gone completely soft, I tossed it unthinkingly up and over the garden fence, where I've recently been pruning philadelphus. Splat! it went, speared on one of the philadelphus spurs: I couldn't have done this on purpose had I tried a hundred times.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dave Brubeck RIP

When his death on Wednesday was reported, I marvelled that Dave Brubeck was still living until now: he was a jazz legend in his own lifetime. Yesterday, he would have been 92.

And today I received from Blurb the book I have put together of my freeranger posts during the first five months of 2012. As it's also volume 5 in the series, "take five" seemed a logical title. Brubeck's "Take Five" was after all the first jazz record I ever bought.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

“Sacred Earth?” - Ecological Challenges to people of faith

This was the title of Mary Colwell's talk to Cheltenham Inter Faith last evening. As you'd expect from an award-winning film-maker, Mary gave us some beautiful video clips: the dolphin, the peregrine, a rare type of shark - all took starring roles.

But this wasn't a mere nature ramble. Mary's mission is to get across that people of faith uniquely share a sense of joy and hope; that we know we are meant to be here on Earth (that Christmas tree ornament hanging in space); that we can enhance the Earth, and take the long view in doing so, since we are part of a journey. In the words attributed to the late Archbishop Romero, "We are prophets of a future not our own."

What's causing our well-documented problems are greed and apathy: we are doing the bad things to ourselves. Self-sacrifice is part of being a person of faith.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


In Saturday's newspaper there was an obituary of Joy Parker, an actor who died last month aged 90. I can't say I remember her, but my eye was caught by the accompanying photograph.

It showed Joy with the better-known Gwen Watford and Mia Farrow: they were in the title roles of Chekhov's Three Sisters - and I do well remember that 1973 production. It took place on the apron stage of Greenwich Theatre, with Charles Dance as the ghastly Solyony: his was not a performance I recall, any more than Joy Parker's Olga, but I haven't forgotten Mia Farrow's doll-like appearance as Irena.

It was a memorable evening also, being the first time Caroline and I went to the theatre together: there was a last-minute party of us, for whom she cooked supper afterwards - in the extremely primitive under-stairs kitchen of her flat in Regent Square.

Joy Parker's chief claim to fame might have been to have been married for 65 years to the same man, another actor: long stage marriages are rare. And her husband? None other than my absolute hero, Paul Scofield. (They had two children, Martin and Sarah.)

These birds were photographed in July at "Schofields", the garden.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Bronze cosmetic

This statue has been "lying" in Sandford Park, here in Cheltenham, for six years, but I hadn't looked at it before today. "The Weathered Man", by local sculptor, James Gould was commissioned by the Environment Agency as the cherry on its £21 million flood relief "cake". The project involved reshaping the surface of the park, through which runs the River Chelt, in order to accommodate a supposed once-in-100 years flood risk. (The odds may have shortened a bit since it was first planned.)

I have nothing against public art as such, but please can it be better done (than this)? From any angle, "The Weathered Man" looks a poor specimen. I'd rather the long log you can see under the trees in the left of my photograph was the basis for any commemoration thought necessary, than this lumpy creation - far from capable of redeeming the ugliness of its location, especially with litter blown up against the railings.

Saturday, 1 December 2012


We were invited to Bristol last evening, for Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis' duet recital at St George's. The seemed to enjoy it as much as did the packed audience!

The programme - all performed on two pianos, notwithstanding its provenance as piano four hands - consisted, as one would expect from these specialists, mostly of Schubert; but diluted with a splash of Brahms - and some Dvořbert to end the first half: the lovely Schubert Andantino Varié elided seamlessly - and fittingly - into a couple of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances.

After the interval came a stunning performance of the astonishing Grand Duo, which seems to gather momentum throughout its 40 minutes. It was apparently written for two young Countesses - what technique they must have had! You don't often hear it; and indeed I can only recall being at one previous live performance. On that occasion, as Schubert intended, the two young lady pianists (not Countesses, but princesses) were seated at the same grand piano in the great hall at Dartington. The year? Late 'Sixties/early 'Seventies. The pianists, displaying strong elbows and a great sense of humour? Tessa Uys and... Imogen Cooper.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Leckhampton Hill

We awoke to find the garden sprinkled lightly with snow. With the sun shining, I was encouraged to join Caroline on her morning dog walk - up on the side of Leckhampton Hill. Approaching from Daisybank, the view suddenly unfolds, with the Malverns (today) a misty blur. Walking across the ridge and furrow, you come to the point where I took this photograph: the Horse Monument, with St Bartholomew's, Churchdown in the distance.

Thursday, 29 November 2012


Having complained about the state of the Gardens at Montpellier a month ago, it's only fair to say that the newly-laid turf seems OK - at least to the eye. Whether or not those who kick balls around there will be satisfied, I rather doubt, but at least the rain seems to have gone away, for the moment anyway. I found myself biking down to St Gregory's, bathed in Winter sunshine!

Whilst at the Presbytery, Canon Bosco shared with me this little gem of surrealism: "What playing cricket looks like to Americans." A Dutch version of Mornington Crescent.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hissing "the Mysteries"

No, I didn't really hiss them - the Gloucester Mystery Plays, that is; though I'm afraid we left Gloucester Cathedral this evening at the interval. I guess we are spoilt by so much fine professional theatre, available at the drop of the hat in our locality. I certainly felt a bit guilty, not sitting it out; but the Cathedral was freezing, the acoustics as always terrible, the lights dazzling, and the performances and production mostly, well, amateurish. Should one bring a quite different set of standards along when the subject matter is our Christian bible? Hmmm, perhaps - something of an Advent penance then? Oh dear!

My photograph shows the stage, which straddles the nave (audience members either side). It would have been more fun if it had been a promenade performance, like the stunning one we went to there in July. That would have allowed for more audience involvement too, which might have lessened the embarrassment.

There was some quite edgy music, not entirely fitting. The best bits were the short bursts from Gloucester's great organ. "God" was played by a number of different actors (all rather better than the rest of the large cast): each was resplendent in one of the Cathedral's fine copes, thus confirming the suspicions of those laymen who believe their clergy to be omnipotent.

The title of this post? Apocryphally, Dr. Spooner, late of New College, Oxford is said to have addressed an undergraduate thus: "Sir, you have tasted two whole worms; you have hissed all my mystery lectures and been caught fighting a liar in the quad; you will leave by the next town drain."

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

"Animal Kingdom"

When Leo and I were in Melbourne in January 1998, he went to watch tennis, whilst I explored the botanic gardens (my photograph), and also the surprisingly excellent National Gallery of Victoria. The visit to the latter came back to me this evening, watching "Animal Kingdom", our Film Society's latest offering: the Gallery was the setting for a couple of the scenes in this violent film.

I went along by myself as the Society's leaflet showed the film as an 18, and that rules it out for Caroline: in fact, it's only a 15, there's no sex and the violence is dealt with pretty discreetly. There's worse in BBC4's "The Killing III" (I'm hooked!).

"Animal Kingdom" has some excellent performances, in particular from Jacki Weaver. Moreover, it remains tense mostly throughout. (In other words, I only looked at my watch once.) You fear it's all going to end badly for our young "hero", who has a charming exchange about cricket with the main villain at one stage. In fact the ending is the best bit. And what a nice change to have all that Australian sunshine when you've grown accustomed to Nordic Noir!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Winter water - 2

I was struck - as I often find myself - by something in the Jesuit, Guy Consolmagno's Tablet column this week: "As the nuns used to tell us about occasions of sin, we are in a situation we should have avoided. Two centuries of dumping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to trouble; as surely as sitting at the bar of a strip club, pretending nothing will happen."

And linked to that, Kumi Naido of Greenpeace International made a strong impression on the World Service's "Hard Talk" recently: towards the end of his interview (at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha), he said, "Our religious leaders have been deafening in their silence, by not standing up strongly to speak for God's creation." Amen to that.

Finally, this photograph - not unconnected (perhaps): I paused illegally on the hard shoulder of the M5 this morning near Bredon, to take it just where the road crosses the River Avon. (I was on my way to visit Charlotte, having discovered that Upton High Street at least was not flooded.)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A belated birthday

The grandsons are with us this weekend, so we've been able to give Laurie his birthday present. Attaining the age of five, I recall receiving a bicycle; and Laurie seemed pleased with his equally grown up present, a basic CD player, tough enough (I reckoned) not to mind being kicked around (or fought over).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Syde three

As I indicated earlier in the year, the interior of Syde church doesn't possess much of interest: this 50-year-old window however is a little unusual: the Virgin and child being adored by three mini shepherds charmed me somewhat at least, leave aside the gooey facial expressions.

We were in Syde again today for an early evening concert in the 16th Century (?) Tithe Barn which abuts the churchyard. The standard was high: Trio Aquilon played two big pieces, the "Archduke" and the virtuoso Ravel work - preceded by a couple of rather beautiful fragments by Lili Boulanger. Violinist Eulalie Charland introduced it all delightfully, enhancing our enjoyment, making us forget the downpour we had to cope with on our way up there.

The whole evening (invitations, car parking, programme, audience mix, informality, even including interval wine...) marked a most auspicious start to the generous Neubauers' new venture.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Winter water - 1

Much to my consternation, Caroline - assisted by Edmund - removed our extra large lavender bush earlier this year, home to hundreds of bees. It was in the cause of installing a pond, with a solar-powered fountain, about which I was to say the least dismissive. Seeing it play happily in the wan Winter sunshine this morning, I am forced to take it all back: a merry sight and sound.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Souvenir de Claudius Denoyel was one of the climbing roses I planted on our boundary wall 15 years ago. As my photograph shows, it needs thinning out. The trouble is, it's grown too tall, even for me, and it's tangled in with the Philadelphus Virginalis. Just another for my long list of Winter gardening jobs.

Today has been mild again, but windy, and there's been more heavy rain at times - more flooding for many, I suspect. In fact there's little good news to be had: the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians seems fragile; you have to search to find coverage ahead of the Doha UN Climate Change Conference (COP18), while the BBC still hogs its own headlines. What's more I feel sad for having finished my book: "Merivel" is an enjoyable read, once you've got used to the overdose of Capital Letters; and even that is very much part of its cleverness as a work of imagination. I didn't much enjoy the last Rose Tremain I read, "The Road Home": this latest work exudes more compassion.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Crib craft

Caroline and Mini have been making some more jumbo crib figures in the kitchen today. In my usual way, I have been urging against their instalation before Christmas Eve, but suspect this traditionalist viewpoint will not prevail. Meanwhile, it's too wet to do much outside, even though the temperature is no deterrent. There's water everywhere. Is November the most depressing month of my year? The other candidate is February, but at least it's a short month, and the days are getting a little longer as it goes on.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Autumn gardening

I always forget how much more there is to do in the garden when it's cold than when it's warm. This last week, I've been out for at least an hour each day, digging etc. A new piece of lawn is slowly emerging, which means I can dispense with its neighbouring patch, now ready for potatoes to be planted in March. Last night's frost has made the soil cling more resolutely to both spade and shoes - and anyway I need more manure. Caroline picked what I expect will be the last of the raspberries for supper.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Teenage virtuosity

An hour's music at Dean Close School this afternoon showcased two precocious talents: my photograph shows Emily Hoggett, 15, who played Scarlatti, Beethoven, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Copeland and Gershwin with aplomb and something more.

Giving her a midway breather was 14-year-old Laurence Kilsby, BBC Chorister of the year 2009, singing 18th Century music still (three years later) in his treble voice, but at times with the sonority of a counter-tenor.

Emily's grandfather, Chris presided informally over a gathering of family and friends: afterwards, we met up in the foyer of the adjacent Bacon Theatre, and marvelled at the performers' composure.

Friday, 16 November 2012


We are in the middle of a mini home-made film festival - or possibly at the end of one. Caroline hated "The Master", which we saw this evening, and may be hard to persuade back into the cinema for quite a while as a result.

I didn't hate it, indeed I was consistently impressed during what both is and feels like a long session. But I didn't much like it, I have to admit. Human nature in its flawed fullness seems to attract director Paul Thomas Anderson: "There will be blood", his previous film, was equally nasty, equally memorable. And what performances he elicits from his cast! Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role especially - and thank goodness not quite so enigmatic as four years ago in "Synecdoche, New York".

Why is "The Master" worth seeing? For the score (by Jonny Greenwood), apart from all else; for its loving and sumptuous recreation of the immediate post-War era; for its imaging, and for a plot which I'm still puzzling over.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Open West prizewinners

The Gardens Gallery hosts works by the three prizewinners at Open West's March 2012 exhibition this week: tonight there were free drinks for the nobs, but thankfully no speeches. It was a very black and white affair, dominated by the work of two Japanese artists: Koji Shiraya's porcelain spheres must have looked very different in the Gloucester Cathedral Crypt (I couldn't get down there on the day I visited).

On the other hand, the charming but alarming all-black assemblage of model dodos etc. created by Haruka Miyamoto stood out against the white Gallery walls - in contrast to their rather hideaway positioning in the Cathedral's alcoves: extinction portrayed through means of materials given a second life, a parable to give hope to the threatened human species. Brilliant work! And a great bit of sponsorship by Dale Vince's Ecotricity.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Transition Town Cheltenham

I photographed this "Compassion" rose a month ago, and it's still blooming merrily, as it has been since the end of May - not just on and off, but continuously, or so it seems. Moreover, the raspberries are also still worth picking, just: we don't often have those till so late in the year. Certainly we have a mild spell just now: I've been planting broad beans today, without a coat on. St Martin's Little Summer?

This evening, I have been at the newly-refurbished Footsteps Café, watching some of the films made by our local Transition group, including the one about the edible garden just off the London Road: it has won prizes, I was pleased to learn, and there are plans to expand it for the 2013 season.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

"Even the rain"

It's our youngest grandson's fifth birthday today, and Laurie's effort at photographing the photographer (in April this year) came to mind this evening as I watched the Film Society's latest offering: it's a film about filming an historical epic in Bolivia; and one of the few female characters videos the filming.

Pirandello would have admired this layering effect, and more so the echoes between the historical exploitation (being filmed), the location's "current" (1999-2000) water wars and the exploitation of the film extras.

Not a bunch of laughs, but a very brave film, and a tribute to the difference a film can make.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Alien visitor

Thomas has been in England for the past fortnight, working in London: he hired a car yesterday, for a brief country visit before he returns to Lisbon tomorrow. Good to see him, especially as he brought brandy for me. (All I gave him in return was a sandwich.)

Portuguese austerity affects his decision about taking on new staff, he says. Otherwise he seems sanguine about life there. Or possibly he may move to... Canada. As someone who has never given a serious thought to residing outside England, I am constantly bewildered by the unrootedness of today's yoof. Not to mention, naturally, their carbon footprint.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Fauré Requiem

The St Gregory's choir excelled itself this morning, with a performance of the Fauré Requiem during the 11:15 Remembrance Day mass. A full church - and a round of applause deservedly followed.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Prospero's new clothes

This afternoon, we drove up Churchdown Hill. I must have been there years ago, before the trees were decimated, but I couldn't recall looking at the church itself. The panels of some early 18th Century table tombs are embedded in the exterior South wall (we couldn't get inside) - this rather primitive, alien carving amongst them.

From here it's a remote segue to Tom Adès' "The Tempest", relayed today from The Met. Especially as the Shakespeare-lite libretto seemed to ignore Prospero's great speech, "Our revels now are ended": with its likening of life to "this insubstantial pageant", it would have brought to mind my earlier walk through the beautiful graveyard of St Bartholemew's.

Notwithstanding Lepage's amazing production, and some astonishing singing (especially from Audrey Luna as Ariel), I really couldn't be doing with Adès' music: a waste of time and money! But plenty to discuss over dinner afterwards.

Friday, 9 November 2012

"Rust and bone"

Gritty realism is the keynote of the film we saw earlier this evening. Caroline had her head down for quite a lot of it, she said. I by contrast had a whale of a time, enjoying it the more for its honesty, and the portrayal of a compassionate man who came to learn the meaning of love.

In the days when we used telephone boxes, there was a tiny pause between connection and the requirement to insert money. Thus the word NORWICH is said to have come into use, by those panting to get back from work. The "Rust and bone" equivalent - now of course texted - is "Opé?".

I photographed this rusty shed on the side of the ancient track above Stanway a decade ago: it has since been painted black, I was sorry to see in August, on my last walk past.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

David Noton

Cheltenham Camera Club attracted a large number of us - both members and (like me) non-members - to Pittville this evening, for a slick presentation by landscape photographer David Noton. My effort at a photograph to record the occasion shows Chairman Michael Krier introducing David before his talk.

David's portfolio records beautiful places all round the world, and he cleverly brought Google Earth to bear in order to show us where he was off to next. So rapid and distant were his various moves across the planet that I couldn't help wondering what his carbon footprint must amount to.

The point he rammed home was that good landscape photography comes first from careful selection of the location, and then hanging around early and long enough to catch the moment. It also helps to have state of the art kit, no doubt. And the knack of communicating your enthusiasm to a large audience - in return for your £700 fee.

For me, David's landscape images looked a touch unnatural: I like mine somehow more spare, more abstract. The real thrill came when he showed us his portraits.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Half full or half empty?

Francesco Piemontese was performing in our Pittville Pump Room last night, and I now regret my absence. Instead, I went to Charlton Kings, to hear John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, discussing the relative successes and failures of Vatican II, 50 years on from its inception: not a particularly illuminating talk, I'm bound to say, and rather too full of anecdote. He started by asking the question, "Was the Council a glass half full or a glass half-empty?" And I suppose the answer he effectively gave was "both" - which we all of course knew. What I am more interested in is, where do we go from here? As Wilkins said, Vatican II saw the Catholic Church opening its arms to the modern world at a time when the modern world was becoming the post-modern world. "When the post-modern world comes to a close," he went on to say rather lamely, "is when we shall really need the Council's teaching." But meanwhile?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Our only Greek family holiday was to celebrate our Silver Wedding anniversary. The six of us flew into Corfu, where two small hire cars awaited us. In we piled, before setting off up the coast. An hour later, I was unpacking and thinking about a swim, when Leo came in. "Has anyone seen my computer?" he asked plaintively. It turned out we had left it together with sundry other items of luggage on the airport car park tarmac, where we had been preoccupied with sorting out an argument about who was going to travel in which car.

Our Greek island muddle - we were soon able to laugh about it, a reunion taking place very speedily - was nothing to the fictional situation so well imagined by Michael Frayn in "Skios", published earlier this year. It's Caroline's book club choice, and I have now also read it - with huge enjoyment, a lovely comic riff on the theme of owning and disowning your personality.

My photograph shows netting placed in one of the olive groves above Agios Stephanos, where we stayed on our visit 12 years ago.

Monday, 5 November 2012


I called at Toddington this morning for a couple of reasons, one of which was to photograph the church as part of my Gloucestershire Churches project. Not for many years had I turned off the B4077 down the lane leading to St Andrew's - which I don't ever recall going inside before. We went past once, many moons ago, to look at the adjacent Manor from the outside: then, it was in a relatively early state of neglect - very soon, matters became a lot worse, until Damien Hurst bought the estate a year or two back. The whole of the Manor is now swathed in scaffolding, awaiting a new incarnation as an art gallery - assuming Hurst doesn't go the same way as Timon of Athens.

Like the Manor, Toddington church is vast and rather forbidding. But the oak hammerbeam roof looks magnificent on a bright morning such as today's: there's not much stained glass to darken the interior, and what's there stimulated little excitement in me. A large chapel to the North contains white marble effigies of the ancestors of our former guide - the 1st Lord Sudeley and his Tracy missus, dating from the late 19th Century, yet in the style of the 14th. So, one can't help wondering what if any impact Hurst might have upon "his" church in due course.

Coming away, I spotted this relic of the past. There are not many fingerposts left in Gloucestershire - I tried to capture some of the plainer variety by photographing them a couple of decades ago, before they were replaced.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

"Timon of Athens"

In recent months, we've missed a couple of National Theatre Live relays, but tonight's "Timon of Athens" made up for that: Simon Russell Beale's performance was, as we have come to expect, a tour de force. And excellent Shakespearean verse-speaking, in the main throughout.

Not that I have anything to compare the production with, as it's the first time I've seen this play. It's a strange one, possibly because it's not all Shakespeare. A lot happens in the first half - not much in the dour second.

Nicholas Hytner's modern-dress production (with Alcibiades the leader of the Occupy Movement) recognises that the play has a contemporary feel to it: we can perhaps think of people who have been generous to a fault, then repulsed by those who failed to return the favour. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," urges a more circumspect Shakespearean character.

There's a touch of Job about Timon, not to mention the echo of Jesus driving the traders out of the Temple - the parallel being rammed home by El Greco's celebrated painting adorning The Timon Room, the clever setting for Act 1.

By way of contrast, this week's Something Understood - always one of the highlights of my radio week - saw Mark Tully looking at misers. I particularly liked his anecdote about the Delhi Press Club member mocked as "pencil shy" because he never stood his round: when it's your shout at the bar there, no money changes hands, but instead you just sign the book - or not, if you are mean.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

"Mao's last dancer"

I took this photograph from the train when we were in China in 2002. The journeys we then made came vividly back to mind this evening, as we watched our Film Society's latest offering, "Mao's last dancer". That true-to-life film's scenes of its hero's childhood in rural China contrasted dramatically with the footage shot in Houston and Washington, where the eponymous dancer, Li Cunxin ended up as a ballet star. An extraordinary story! And told with great sensitivity to both sides of the political struggle which ensued when Li's visa ran out.

Never enough handkerchiefs for this one's audience, I'd say.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Walking on the Malverns

We were not out for long, despite the fine weather, but it was enough to enable us to admire the 360 degree views from the top of "the Pinnacle", which rises up behind the house of our friends in Malvern Wells. Not that it's a particularly "pointy" point on the ridge: from it I took this photograph looking South towards the British Camp or Herefordshire Beacon - 338m, and far more of a landmark.

Being six, we paired and changed pairs during both the walk and the ensuing lunch, covering a number of bases: photography; Edward Wilson, the polar explorer; Syria and the Lebanon (having two Arab-speakers amongst us); live opera relays; the Congo; adoption; Bangladesh; the WWF; Transition in Wales, and the difference between sustainability and resilience; Weltethos... the list isn't exhaustive, I guess.