Artist Kate Lepper gave this title to her residency at Meantime, which Caroline and I visited this morning. The words of her beautifully assembled work are "There Is A Cure For Capitalism Inside Your Imagination That Wants To Get Out."
We were glad to have Kate to ourselves for some "capitalism" discussion up in the gallery - and glad also to meet Chie Konishi, who has written - perceptively - about Kate's project.
Meantime represents something very valuable for Cheltenham - including an escape from the link that binds art to money. (It's a nice irony that it butts up against that symbol of Cheltenham materialism, the Brewery complex, whose jobsworth minion prevented us parking our bikes on its precious private pavement!) The question is, how to get more people to engage with Meantime's challenges. Is there, I wonder, potential synergy between its commitment to art for the community and Transition Cheltenham's vision of a resilient town, with renewed heart and soul?
Old friends from East Anglia were on a Wales and West tour, and spent last night with us. It was their wedding anniversary, for which they very decently supplied their own champagne. The air was warm enough to drink it in the garden, but the wind too gusty for supper outside. Anyway, we would have missed the heroics of Mario Balotelli.
Johnny and I looked at my album which included the week we were both together in Lourdes 39 years ago: he, always immaculately turned out, was there wearing the very same jacket as in this photograph, and even now hardly looks more than a year older.
Having been in the Wye Valley on Monday, I today visited the Gloucestershire gardens of Eyford House and Rockcliffe, two properties separated by the River Eye. Each is wonderful in its own way.
Last year Country Life voted Eyford England's favourite house, a judgement which I couldn't possibly query. Its garden certainly offsets the 20th Century house in a delightfully unassuming manner - hard to believe only one gardener is employed to maintain it all. Rockcliffe surely requires a far bigger team. Clipping the hedges alone would seem to be a full-time job.
But for all the elaborate planting in Rockcliffe's eight acres of flowers, trees and vegetables, I prefer the naturalness of Eyford, with its grand view - not a single building in sight - and outlook over a cow pasture: I can't imaging a cow being allowed within miles of Château Keswick. Grayson Perry should have been here to compare them when researching for the final programme of his brilliant "In the best possible taste" series.
And then there's Eyford's Milton connection, described by this plaque, hidden away down by the River Eye itself.
My friend Jerry asked me to join him today, on a visit to Chepstow. Our mission was to look at the methodist church there: it has submitted for an eco-congregation award, and independent assessors were needed to see what they had been up to.
It's a town centre church, with a lot going on, including the busy Beacon Coffee Shop, where we met: it gives good heart to the community (the church has more than 200 members including quite a decent portion of younger ones - compared to many). The recently-installed PV panels will have made a big difference to the carbon footprint.
We had an interesting discussion with members of the green team - and Jerry and I had another interesting discussion, trying to come to some conclusions on the train journey back.
Before catching our train, we visited the great barn of an Anglican church, St Mary's Priory. How do you set about doing practical green things in a building of that scale? Perhaps the event at Southwark Cathedral tomorrow night would be of interest to them: "Thinking global, acting local" is the title for a discussion on how that ancient building can become more environmentally sustainable.
I didn't remember how beautiful that stretch of railway was, running along the West bank of the Severn. It must easily rank amongst Britain's most scenic routes.
Well, we lost again: not that we deserved to win. And Italy have spared us a greater humiliation - as it would have been if we had had to meet Germany this coming Thursday. We've been enjoying the other matches, without the habitual edge-of-the-seat stuff that goes with an England game. And they have all been played in what seems like a good spirit, give or take a few theatrical dives. Of course, the logistics of a tournament straddled between two countries as vast as Poland and the Ukraine makes the mind boggle. Our local paper reports one fan to be flying out for more or less every match (and back afterwards - presumably for a very bleary-eyed next day in the office). He'll now be spared any further need to guzzle carbon - this time round at least.
Meanwhile, on our back lawn this afternoon, William and Laurie were pre-enacting that Alessandro Diamanti/Joe Hart moment.
Niki Whitfield has been busy again, curating this her second show at the Parabola Arts Centre within a month. I particularly liked Diana Green's etchings. Caroline bought some of Robin Walden's pots. Wine flowed and live music played: a jolly hour all told - and I met friends I hadn't seen for years.
We're so used to stories in the media - especially our local paper - about libraries being closed, that it was a nice surprise to see a brand new one approaching completion just next to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
It's vast! And appears at present not unlike a wedding cake, but is definitely set to look a good deal more exciting that the existing "office block" calling itself a library a few hundred yards further towards New Street.
The puzzling thing is, I can't for the life of me remember what was on this significant site before.
Last September, our Town Hall hosted the première of Richard Blackford's "Not in our time": yesterday evening, we went to Birmingham for the UK première of Jonathan Harvey's "Weltethos" on a somewhat similar theme - seeking common ground between the world's main religions on the basis of their shared ethical principles and values. Blackford's focus, a decade on from 9/11, was on peace. Harvey - brought in by the Berlin Phil. to flesh out musically the thoughts of theologian Hans Küng - is operating on a broader canvas: his six "movements" are humanity, the Golden Rule, non-violence, justice, truth and partnership.
You may think this a worthy event for the opening of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad. We had both been looking forward to the evening for many months: it's certainly a thrill to visit Birmingham's Symphony Hall, particularly on a big occasion. And after all, isn’t peaceful coexistence what the Olympics are about - individuals competing against each other in sport unburdened by politics?
I was glad we arrived in time for Simon Halsey's pre-performance talk: otherwise the scheme of this ambitious work would have been impenetrable. As it was, I found the 90 minutes dragged, notwithstanding the diversion of watching two conductors, a huge orchestra (there were six percussionists), with the three separate choirs bobbing up and down. I liked the idea of a children's choir to plead for us to plan for the future; but does the awfully dull music of their refrain really bear six repetitions? (Judge for yourself: the piece was broadcast live, so you can ListenAgain.)
There just wasn't sufficient variety between the sections, nor did the work arrive at a significant conclusion. Its appeal is to the head, not the heart; and what's more it is to the Westerner's head, notwithstanding the aspiration of Küng (who was in the audience) to address people of faith throughout the world.
I've been an admirer of Küng since I heard him around thirty years ago, in St George's Chapel, Windsor, eloquently expounding his belief that all the Abrahamic religions should and could work together against the real enemy of our time, materialism. Jonathan Harvey has been a good friend to Cheltenham, visiting often for early performances of his work: much of it I have appreciated in a way that I rarely do with modern classical music. Nor could you wish to meet a milder man. My criticism should not take away from the achievement of bringing together this new piece and the huge forces needed to perform it. But Simon Halsey, methinks, doth protest too much when he mentions it in the same breath alongside "Elijah" and Britten's "War Requiem".
One of the versions of the Prayer of St Francis contains the words "Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;... that where there is discord, I may bring harmony." Ultimately, "Weltethos" wont last because it lacks tunes.
We were held up by traffic on our way into the centre of Birmingham yesterday, so our intended visit to Ikon was a short one. We dashed up the staircase (shown clad in glass in my photograph) and just had time for a whistle stop tour of the two exhibitions.
On the second floor, Bedwyr Williams called his show "My Bad" - an American slang expression from the world of basketball, apparently. It was an eclectic mix, as one has come to expect from Ikon - sculpture, photography, audio and installations; but what I enjoyed most were the 50 or so very varied drawings in the little Tower Room. Thurber came to mind.
Yto Barrada's "Riffs" was likewise something of a variety show, but her large photographs of life in Tangier were what left the strongest impression in my mind.
Both exhibitions would have repaid a longer look. We came away with the Guide and read it later: a model of it's kind, I'd say, full of illumination and wit.
I enjoyed catching up with Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" last year, and so was eager to buy the sequel when it appeared in the shops last month. Having just finished it, though, I find myself left with rather a bad taste in the mouth. It's compulsive reading, but a repulsive story (that of the conspiracy leading to the death of Anne Boleyn and her supposed lovers).
But I do like the author's note at the end, which includes: "I am not claiming authority for my version; I am making the reader a proposal, an offer." This has to be the only way to present a historical novel.
And you can't take away from the fact that Mantel possesses an amazingly fertile imagination.
It being our wedding anniversary, Caroline picked roses for our breakfast table. With all the rain we've had, it's been such a year for them! The photograph shows just part of one of our two Rambling Rectors: on the other side of the house, there's Buff Beauty, New Dawn and Graham Thomas (supposed to be climbing, but refusing to do so). On the boundary, we have Madame Alfred Carrière, Souvenir de Claudius Denoyel, Lady Hillingdon, Zéphirine Drouhin, Félicité et Perpétue and (my favourite) an enormous Compassion, amongst others. Henry Robinson gave us one of his rare ramblers when we first moved in, which is all over our outbuilding (neither he nor I can remember which one). Oh, and the Albertine I thought had died is in flower again this year. Up the apple trees we have climbing Iceberg. By the arbour Sweet Juliet is going great guns as always.
The broad beans are enormous, and I have started digging early potatoes (Annabelle): we had both for supper last night. The leef beet and rocket have bolted, and there seem to be absolutely no parsnips coming up.
I'm not a member, but have been along to Cheltenham Inter Faithbefore. Tonight, our friend Julia Neuberger came to talk on "Why Inter Faith relations matter": as can be seen, she attracted a big audience, but not a lot of non-WASPs. At least, I'd guess many of them were WASPish: I counted the other Catholics I knew there on the fingers of one hand, and there were equally few obvious Muslim, Hindu, Sikh faces.
Julia is always worth listening to. Of religious education for children, she said, "They have to believe it matters." And that's the same, not just for children, but for all of us who wish to be taken for credible defenders of faith by an unbelieving world.
The problem is, where to go after we have got up from drinking our cups of tea together. I put it to her that, in this week of Rio+20, shouldn't people of all faiths make some joint commitment to strive for simpler ways of living for individuals and sustainable development for the world at large. "No," came the firm reply. She favours, rather, joint action for those in current need - which brought Groucho Marx to mind: "What has posterity ever done for me?" But surely it's not a case of either/or, Julia?
Nevertheless welcome back to Cheltenham! You are a lovely ambassador for your faith, and you really do walk the talk.
Radio 4 went to Dublin yesterday, and did so in style. Bloomsday has never been so widely publicised, surely! I failed to stay awake for Molly's soliloquy, but have hopes to ListenAgain.
My battered copy of Ulysses has two covers: this is the inner one. (The outer one contains photographs from Joseph Strick's film.) I bought it in July 1967, rather later than the Lady Chatterley trial: Philip Larkin, whose ‘Annus Mirabilis' also dates from 1967, had therefore already received his sexual awakening.
I can't recall Ulysses doing much for me in that regard. The linguistic ingenuity grabbed me far more than any dirty bits. I know I took a long while to struggle through it - I recall reading part one hot Summer's afternoon when lying on the deck of Freddie Harmer's boat, as we sailed down the River Alde.
The dust cover has a quote from The Times, half a century pre-Kindle: it begins: "That the format of a book can affect its readability has long been known..."
As I mentioned earlier in the month, I felt another photobook coming on: it's now put to bed, and a copy reached me yesterday. (The speed at which modern technology enables these things to happen never ceases to amaze me.)
There are numerous glossy (and far cheaper to buy) books out there already with excellent photographs of the landscape of the Le Puy pilgrimage route. Mine is not intended to compete with them: it's primarily a personal record of what I saw, in the particular seasons when I walked. The countryside would look quite different in other weather of course.
Some of the images come across as a bit dark in the printed version: perhaps this needs adjustment at my end, but you could say it adds mystery.
My ears pricked when I heard this word escape the lips of Adam Rutherford this afternoon: he uttered it in the course of a lecture defending the theory of evolution. It served as a timely reminder for me of my core belief: that God exists, and the more I heard about synthetic biology and energetic disequilibrium, the more sure I became of it.
Our lecturer, aptly-named for a talk on the origins of life, has little time for Craig Venter's Synthia. There was an embarrassing moment at the end, when Adam asked a member of the audience whether he was Craig Venter. "No," came the response. (Perhaps he was a clone.)
Oh, and my claim to fame is that I volunteered to sing (on one note) - becoming part of "the world's first human repressilator circuit." After which I paid a quick visit to Cheltenham's Food and Drink Festival: give me a chocolate heart instead of primeval soup any day.
Tony Juniper spoke on the above theme today, Day 3 of the Cheltenham Science Festival. He sought to highlight the choice we face between protecting natural systems and growing the economy in conventional terms. George Osborne, for instance, talks about "green tape" (environmental regulation) as a drag. No value is placed upon nature, and yet our economy is dependent on its much-threatened diversity. Bio-mimicry, pollination, water all came under scrutiny, but he would perhaps sum it up like Arthur Fallowfield: "I think the answer lies in the soil." An excellent talk, if a little short on jokes.
These were however in regular - if infrequent - supply in the National Theatre's "Frankenstein". I missed the live relays earlier in the year: to tell the truth, science fiction isn't my usual cup of tea, but having heard praise for both production (Danny Boyle) and acting from so many quarters, I plucked up courage to go along to the repeat this evening (with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature).
First and foremost this is a triumph of production - both in the theatre itself and in relaying it to a cinema audience. Since Phèdre almost three years ago, the RNT's technique has improved dramatically, in both senses of that word.
Then there's the cast, led by the amazing Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, but with excellent support from amongst others Naomie Harris (one to watch).
And finally, underlying it all, the imagination of Mary Shelley: truly, a remarkable achievement on her part to prophesy so acutely on the theme of Tony Juniper's lecture: we interfere with nature at our peril.
The photograph shows the entrance to The Screening Rooms, Cineworld's recently-hatched boutique sibling - to go there is certainly a luxury experience when compared to ascending the escalator to the popcorn-infested multiplex next door.
Robert Llewellyn used my post title to describe the Renault Twizy in which he drove to Cheltenham today, to speak at our Science Festival. His was one of the three "environment" events I sat through, my enjoyment decreasing as the day wore on.
Taking wind power as a subject for debate, the day began really well.
The "motion", that this house believes that Britain should be a fan of wind energy, was proposed by Andrew Garrad, supported by Jonathon Porritt: it was opposed by blogger Ben Pile, aided capably by John Constable. The audience's view (two-thirds in favour) was monitored both at the outset and at the conclusion: only a couple of minds were changed, but the debate's chair, science journalist Vivienne Parry, conducted proceedings very fairly and with some degree of flair - going amongst the audience, for instance, to elicit questions created a much more level playing field between us and them on stage.
The dialogue was typified by Ben Pile's "complaint", that policy makers seem to think it's their responsibility to get us to change our behaviour. To which all we (in the majority) would reply, "I wish!"
Compared to that for the debate, the audience for Roger Kemp and Robert Llewellyn's talk, "Can we keep warm and still save the world?" was made up of the converted. No tricky questions there. But two amiable speakers, with good wit (Robert) and slides (Roger). Their joint conclusion, that a socialist-type solution is needed (e.g. to convert us to using combined heat and power) felt surprisingly acceptable in Cheltenham.
This evening, we turned out to sit for a further hour in one of the many excruciatingly uncomfortable tents that have taken over Imperial Gardens. (Not only are the rows of seating far too close together, but the temperature control leaves much to be desired - and why turn the lights down so low that it's impossible to take notes?) This final event of the day was possibly the most bizarre ever to have taken place in this Festival. (Interviewer Jonathon Porritt confirmed as much to us over a much-needed whisky afterwards.) The meat of it? Well, several hundreds of us sat there while "charismatic fashion designer and businesswoman" Vivienne Westwood demonstrated, by what she did NOT say, how vital it is to walk the talk. She praised Jonathon for his credibility: there was alas no way he could return the compliment.
It's our Science Festival once again, and I attended the opening event at lunchtime: two academics from UCL discussed whether it's the sun that causes climate change. It was all rather above my head, but I think the long and the short of it was that the cause is not so much the sun itself as our use of fossilised sunlight - coal, gas, oil.
This evening, we were off again - this time out of Cheltenham to see round what the programme described, with its customary self-effacedness, as "a spectacular garden" inspired by scientific facts and theories. My photograph shows the sort of thing we found, its meaning needing to be unpacked for us by our generous hostess. It's set in... Elysium and indeed a garden to make the eyes pop, but overall I can't help preferring mine somewhat more natural. Flowers, shrubs and trees come anyway in so many varieties and with such a riot of structure, what need is there really and truly for all these interpretative extras? In other words, I can do without the thick white line down the side of the winding path, the red stair carpet up the stone steps and the metal gate incorporating barbed wire to indicate the risk of a stock market crash: they get in the way of (in this instance) a stunning display of aliums, poppies - oh, and those vegetables! But so far advanced for 800 feet above sea level! Surely not all organically grown?
This is the title of a show just opened at our local Parabola Arts Centre - "a mixed-media exhibition of soulful work that speaks of mystery and struggle, peace, hope and love." Curated by Niki Whitfield, it brings together a handful of artists of contrasting styles, and runs in collaboration with a more overtly Christian art show at the nearby Christ Church Hub Gallery. I visited the Hub on Thursday evening: despite some interesting work, I found the juxtaposition of styles there unsatisfactory. At the Parabola however, a very different mood is created: in one room, Chris Hoggett's marvellous dream pictures opposite the burnished gold of Jake Lever's meditative hand works, and in the other Pam Crook's enigmatic reliefs alongside Claire Watson's very physical pottery - Niki has conjured up a degree of synergy that I haven't felt in a mixed exhibition for some long while.
Art presents itself as a gift for the photographer: less easy is it to find illustrations for experiences such as hearing, late at night, Angela Hewitt play Couperin, Rameau, Fauré - and Bach. I missed the live relay, but Listening Again I was mesmerised by the pieces Hewitt selected from this mainly - to me - unfamiliar genre. Catherine Bott's advocacy (as presenter) undoubtedly helped. You have four days left to catch it!
I went to the plant sale at the FootSteps Cafe this morning. The cafe is part of the Rendezvous Society charity, which encourages inter-cultural understanding and sustainable living: it's flourished in Cheltenham for more than 25 years now. This wind and rain has wrought havoc with our roses, and the damp weather generally seems to have done for our beans, hardly any of which have come up. (Next year, I shall revert to planting them under glass, rather than direct into the open.) I half thought I might find some replacement bean plants, but came away only with a few items for Caroline's border - all healthy-looking specimens, unlike some of those to be found in commercial garden centres.
The High Street gives the Cafe a good shop window, but in due course it will be moving back to its less well-positioned home in Portland Street. Meanwhile, the coffee is excellent; and good for Lorraine and other Transtion-ers for organising a successful plant sale!
Caroline's been involved in the Cheltenham Montpellier Gardens Gallery since its inception. This explains my presence there this evening for the second time in a week, for the party to mark its fifth birthday, as it were. The great and the good were present: not just our new Mayor, photographed here with Mini, but sundry other illuminati/ae, including our MP. (I forbore from berating him again for his support for the idea of gay marriage, as I had done when last we met in the Gallery.) Speeches were spoken about the blessings the Gallery has brought for the artistic life of the town, and fizzy wine flowed, while the wind howled outside. And the best news of all: my picture has been sold!
I haven't seen a Tom Stoppard play for a while, so when it was announced that his 1980s comedy "The Real Thing" was coming on tour to our local theatre, I felt the urge to go and see it. It's not one that I knew, and of course it's a bit dated in different ways, some of which matter, and some not. It was interesting, sitting there with Agnes alongside me, as the play was written in the year she was born. She enjoyed it, and I too, though I couldn't suppress a feeling at the end that there is less to it than meets the eye. English Touring Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse have done a good job on the production, in which Marianne Oldham as Annie stands out. What a pity the audience wasn't a bigger one! Come on, Cheltenham! (Though I can hardly talk, the little we do to support our Everyman.)
My book of photographs of the people I saw on my French walk last month has now arrived from Blurb. It's in the small square format I've used before - but somehow the images seem rather too poky this time round. It may be because I slurped the pictures direct from Adobe Lightroom into Blurb, rather than using Blurb's discreet BookSmart program: the Lightroom app. is that bit less flexible, I find.
I've since been working in a larger format for a book of all my various Puy landscapes. We shall see how that turns out - shortly: watch this space.
Meanwhile, you can preview "Puy people" in full online.
It's hardly on the Burlington House scale, but our very own Montpellier Gardens Gallery currently has its first Summer Exhibition: it opened tonight - here (in my snap) is Catherine Stuart, the organiser, being bunched. And the really exciting news for me is that at last I have a photograph up in the gallery - my debut appearance there as a selling artist. You can just see it - the portrait-style window fourth from the right on the far wall. I chose this one as it looks (to me) quite painterly, and I knew there wouldn't be many photographers exhibiting. There are two or three red stickers already - not on mine though. Ah well. It was an enjoyable party anyway.
The dismal bank holiday weather continues: tents put up by St Faith's for their Diamond Jubilee Garden Party this afternoon remained unused - it was far too cold, not to say wet, for the oldies to be taken out of doors. Mr. Collywobbles Punch and Judy and the "Ain't Misbehavin'" Jazz/Swing Duo had to do their stuff cramped in the basement sitting-room. A former client of mine lives there now, for whom I hold a power of attorney - hence my chance to photograph the groaning tea table just as the hordes were about to descend upon it.
My Goddaughter Polly comes over from Spain each Spring to Somerset to teach violin at the annual residential course for aspiring young string players. The admin., fund-raising etc. is down to her mother, Sarah, with whom we have been staying. What I hadn't realised was how involved Sarah was with the Magdalen Project generally. She showed us round, proprietorially, yesterday morning, and most impressive it is too. Evidence of creative activity lies at every turn, and we didn't even begin to explore all of the 60 or so acres. My photograph shows the Bug Hotel, which has a "Vacancies" sign hanging over it.
When champion ballroom dancers get married (at last!), their first dance is well worth watching. This rather blurry image will, I know, be far surpassed by others: a large proportion of the 150 of us present seemed to start flashing away when the music began. Staying in Somerset for two nights, we drove down to Cornwall and back yesterday for the nuptials, the first time I can ever recall going to a wedding on a Sunday. Events weren't in the least spoilt by the rain, which anyway fell more gently than in London. In order to compensate for lack of bunting outside our house, I sported my Union Jack tie for the wedding: it attracted one or two comments, especially from some members of the large French contingent. Altogether, a very happy day.
With the bank holiday traffic, it took us two hours, almost, to get to Bristol for William's birthday yesterday: apart from a couple of uncles, he was surrounded by all his family at various times of the afternoon, and we all enjoyed Rachel's particularly magnificent cake, decorated with strawberries. Earlier, there had been school and other friends, and a magician. 59 years ago, it was raining for the Queen's Coronation, and news came of the first ascent of Everest.
We have had two of Mini's friends staying this week. Mikiki (on the left here), who came last year, is off again tomorrow, but Cheko (right) - or Shan, as she prefers to be known - stays till the middle of this month. Miki remembered my interest in Sudoku, bringing me no less than three books, which should keep me going for a while.
Our good friend John Davidson died on Saturday last. His death, long-expected, was announced in today's papers. I must have a better photograph than this, but try as I might, I've been unable to find it: not for the first time I've missed my crashed Expression Media catalogue, with all its keywording.
This snap dates from May 2006, taken at Whittington Village Hall. It was typical of John to come and support Leo's Vietnam fundraising efforts: he did so much for so many good causes, not just Groundwork, which he helped set up, guiding it for more than a decade. Judith, and John's family, have had a harrowing time seeing his strength decline inexorably over the past many months, but what a blessing that he could remain living at his beloved home for most of that time! Typically, instead of flowers, we are bidden to support Interclimate Network, which the great man founded - a splendid way of doing him honour.