Sunday, 30 September 2012

Lower Strensham

It's that time of year when wild cyclamen put in their surprise appearance: we have a few at home, in the long grass by one of our entrance gateposts. And here's a photograph of many more, which I took on Friday outside St Peter and St Paul, Lower Strensham. Quite a job, it is, to track down this church, though it is hardly more than a stone's throw from the M5. You go along a single-track lane for about a mile, and when you eventually reach the redundant church, you rather wonder whether it's worth the effort.

To start with, it doesn't look much from the outside; and it's kept locked, so the question arises: how do you get in? I was lucky, in that someone happened to be there to show me where the key was kept.

Once inside, it's a different story: the wood- and stonework are magnificent. And there is a "Good Samaritan" window by an artist new to me, Florence Camm (1874-1960), a pupil of Henry Payne. She spent all her life in Smethwick, running a successful stained glass company with her two brothers - and this at a time when women artists and designers were struggling to be taken seriously.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Mark Letcher's Cheltenham visit

We had a reasonable turnout for our Christian Ecology Link meeting last evening. The 30 or so who came were rewarded by a thought-provoking talk: it was followed by a good discussion.

Mark Letcher has been promoting sustainable energy for nearly two decades: his Bristol consultancy, Climate Works, helps organisations reduce their carbon footprint - but he didn't come to plug that. Instead, he spoke about his involvement with Operation Noah, an independent charity founded by Christian Ecology Link 11 years ago - the first Christian campaign to focus upon the need to address climate change.

We will all remember 2012, Mark said, for its Summer of sport - but it has also been (to use Churchill's phrase) "a period of consequences". Illustrative of many disconcerting, but largely under-reported, events is the steep reduction in Arctic Summer sea ice.

How can we, Mark asked, accept these climate events, and merely prepare to adapt to them? It's not just the prospect of six degrees of warming, but the effect of rapid acidification of the oceans, a world population of maybe 10 billion in 70 years, and an eagerness (not to say a demand) on behalf of most of the have-littles to consume as much as we - or worse, the Americans - now do, and that in the near future. "This just doesn't stack up!"

Successive Governments have adopted policies that are letting the environment run down: what an outcry there would be were a political party to set out in its manifesto, "We intend to let the Health Service run down"!

Mark went on to say that what we face is not only a rape of the resources of the natural world, but "an unmitigated assault upon the poor." Is it reasonable, he asked, that the poorest should carry the biggest burden when they have contributed least to the problem? This is surely the real challenge for Christians.

Why is it so difficult to talk to others about climate change? If it doesn't frighten, then it can shame them - and inducing neither reaction is effective to alter a person's frame of mind.

In the past, we were prepared to make sacrifices for future generations: our parents and grandparents suffered the deprivations of wartime; and went on to accept the concept of "greenbelt" to safeguard our countryside. However, now we seem to be saying that we have the right to live as we are living, even though we know it's at the expense of future generations. Is the future we are being offered the one we want for our grandchildren? If not, then there's an urgent need to talk, to coordinate and to challenge politically.

We face a profound crisis affecting our values and our faith, as well as our relationship with the natural world. But the other side of the coin is that it's also an opportunity for an alternative vision. Something like that set out in David Atkinson's "Renewing the face of the earth." Something too like that Ellen MacArthur, for instance, has recognised in setting up her foundation. "What's missing at present is all of our voices: our eyes are closed, and we have fingers in our ears."

Friday, 28 September 2012

"Duet for one"

Too rarely do we support our local theatre, as I have confessed before. But last night, we went along to see Tom Kempinski's two-hander - and came away raving about it! Was this because we were part of such a small audience, and determined to compensate for all those empty seats? No, I believe this was genuinely an outstanding evening of theatre, something to mark it out as worthwhile in spite of the rival attractions of the multi-screen Cineworld, or just staying at home with the TV or the iPlayer.

The play is clearly based upon the gradual decline into ill-health of Jacqueline du Pré, rather poignantly still alive at the time it was written. The musician (played by Haydn Gwynne) at one point accuses Alfred Feldman, her psychiatrist (the very English William Gaunt) of putting on his German accent. Acting that was other than excellent might have provoked a smile from the audience at this irony: as it was, it only occurred to me subsequently.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

"Parade's End"

While Caroline has been in Bristol on granny duty, I have been catching up on BBC2's adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford's "Parade's End". After the first episode, I wasn't sure I wanted to persevere with it, being rather put off by what I thought was Rebecca Hall's overcooked performance. But returning after a break it seemed to get steadily better. Cumberbatch - as everyone agrees - acts his pants off, but there were numberless fine cameos from others, notably, Roger Allam's General Campion. Altogether, its baroque brilliance made it a substantial main course in comparison with the tasty snack that's "Downton Abbey".

The leitmotif for me was "falling out". Our hero falls for Sylvia, and thus falls out of his behavioural straightjacket. He then falls out with her because she bolts, but not until the "Fall out!" at the end of the parades - post-November 1918 - does he admit that his "parade" is a charade.

Early one morning, last week, I cycled along The Parade, Pembroke, which runs below the mediaeval town wall (still some of it in evidence). From its end, I looked back towards Monkton and took this photograph: Landmark Trust's "Old Hall" - where we were staying - is the large stone building on the left. Its rather secret garden (to the right) gives an unexpectedly grand view. The massive Priory Church of St Nicholas and St John (you can see its tower only) is another surprise.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Shortly after the introduction of decimal currency, I bought a 6p notebook from Woolworth's. From 25th September 1972, it records the books I have read.

I write down just the title, author and date completed - no comments. I may not have filled in the information for every book: nevertheless the fact that the notebook is not yet even half full shows that I have really read rather little over these forty years.

Another 40, and I would be in my 110th year, and I hope a new notebook might then be needed.

Oh, I've just noticed something: in tiny letters on the last page, one of the children has written, "I love you Dad + Mum."

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

"Better ways of talking about climate change"

This is the title of our forthcoming Christian Ecology Link meeting, this coming Friday here in Cheltenham. The poster photograph (above) is captioned, Will we be seeing palm trees in Cheltenham’s Promenade before too long?. I took it in Seville when we went there a couple of years ago.

All the details have been widely circulated, and we hope for a good turnout - Mark Letcher speaks well and authoritatively, being the director of the Bristol-based sustainable energy consultancy, Climate Works.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Golden reunion

Agnes began her Creative Writing course at the weekend, and is now a graduate member of St Catherine's College - the third in the family to make it to Oxford. It's hard to believe that 50 years have elapsed (almost) from the day I first arrived at University College to begin my three-year degree course.

Caroline and I returned there yesterday for celebrations in College - a lunch followed by a symposium, "Past and future reflections". The former was splendid (we never looked forward to food of that quality in our day, even for the grandest occasions): the latter, though in part entertaining, was dominated by a few rather noisy voices. They reinforced the impression that we are a complacent generation.

The College had circulated a Matriculation list with 104 names on it. 18 are now known to be dead - we stood in silence to honour them before lunch: of the remainder, 38 turned up (from all parts of the globe), and an additional 29 spouses and others were present. It was the first time Caroline had been to Univ. on an official visit.

I had been charged with taking photographs, which ate into the time I had for chatting amiably to old friends, but also gave me an excuse not to chat too long to others amongst those present. My website now hosts the album.

On that first day in October 1962, my mother drove me up to Oxford: we parked in the High Street (now impossible) at the entrance to Logic Lane - having discovered that my first year rooms were in Durham Buildings, just nearby. The car parked in front of ours belonged to the mother of another new boy. David Mills (for it was he) and others present yesterday may have their own Wikipedia entries. For my part, I am content to be relatively anonymous.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Gateley solicitors

This photograph shows my grandfather Arthur John Gateley, on the left, arm in arm with his brother (four years older), Stephen Joseph. They were the "Sons" of "Stephen Gateley & Sons", the solicitors firm established by their father Stephen Michael, with offices in Temple Row, Birmingham. The firm continues today with the family name intact, as I've mentioned before. Today would have been my grandfather's 130th birthday.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

1,300 more houses nearby?

We have our grandsons staying for a couple of nights: by popular request, it was pancake-making time. But also, we all walked down the A46 to the Brizen Young People's Centre. Great hazel nuts collected en route!

The object of this otherwise rather unappealing walk? To see the exhibition detailing proposed intensive development in our local area - the so-called South of Chetenham - Concept Masterplan.

The general consensus seemed to be: horrifying!

Friday, 21 September 2012

National Botanic Garden of Wales

We enjoyed visiting this magnificent garden in May six years ago - not so long after it opened. Today, we called in again, on our way back from Pembroke, and found it altogether more filled out. And of course the colours were this time those of (almost) Autumn.

The double walled garden is I think my favourite spot, with its Tropical House now looking particularly sensational - so many weird and wonderful specimens. (This is a leaf of Alocasia macrorrhiza.)

I feel so totally ignorant about plants when I visit a place like this.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


I must have been all of six years old when we went on holiday to Saundersfoot, my grandmother too. Was it then that the car broke down en route? I rather think so, but I can hardly claim to remember much: the steep drop from the town of nearby Tenby to its beaches was however vaguely familiar.

Today, five of us went on something of a ruin crawl - Lamphey, Manorbier, Tenby and Carew: we didn't really explore Tenby a great deal, but I guess its castle counts as a ruin. By contrast, St Mary's Church there looks very much up together, with some terrific memorials and monuments.

At lunch we were encumbered with dogs: when we had at length found a pub with a garden I then made the mistake of not choosing fresh fish - a wasted opportunity, when we are so seldom near the sea. After three fine days, we were caught in a shower this afternoon, but only a brief one: September is definitely the month for holidaying this year.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Nolton Haven

My cliff walk this morning began at Newgale, South of St David's. Having struggled in vain to find a way up from the South end of Newgale Sands (it's steep, the rocks are slippy and what looked like solid enough handholds had a disconcerting tendency to give way), I covered rather more ground than seemed likely just looking at the map. And it's very much up and down.

So, by the time I reached the Mariners Inn at Nolton Haven, I was ready for lunch. The trouble was that the others were further on, at the splendid Druidstone Hotel. But lo and behold, to my rescue came the Puffin Shuttle! Driving that bus must require more patience than on any schedule I can think of, so narrow and steep is its route.

After lunch I retraced my steps a short way in order - much to Caroline's embarrassment - to have a snoop round Bob Marshall Andrews' troglodyte ecohouse, "Malator". It's been there 14 years, nesting in the coastal hillside - no garden, but what a view!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


For the third year, we are on half a week's holiday with friends in a Landmark, this time Monkton Old Hall. 14th Century, and with a penitential spiral staircase (for those of average height or more), it has the most spectacular views over Pembroke Castle.

I've brought my bike, and went exploring early this morning. Monkton village, quite distinct from its larger neighbour, was gutted in the 'Sixties, and a horrid Council estate superseded what would now be seen as Pembrokeshire quaint. In the main street, one shop alone survives, BJ's Stores, and this oxymoronic fish and chippery.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Welsh Newton House

Caroline has Welsh ancestors, and this is the view they constructed from the rear of their Carmarthenshire mansion, near Llandeilo. I say "constructed", as it apparently involved razing a village and getting in Capability Brown to do the necessary. The result - after a couple of centuries' bedding in - is certainly pleasing.

We hadn't visited Newton House before: it's a stark place, with little but some family pictures to tell its story. Nevertheless, the setting with White Park cattle grazing is alone worth the National Trust's admission fee. Who would be a volunteer at such a place though?

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Edmund and the boys have been here today, raiding the garden for raspberries as always - it's a long season with us.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Cheltenham's wasteful Ladies

In Fathers and Sons, Turgenev wrote, "A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound."

Only a couple of hundred yards from the Lansdown Community Composting base (now up and running at Well Close), this sight caught my attention yesterday as I biked past. The bins are at the back of one of the Cheltenham Ladies' College residential houses, Sidney Lodge. Not much attempt to separate waste there, I thought: what does the College say about recycling?

Looking at its website, the answer is "not much". There's an entry dating back 18 months or so: "The Sixth Form Environment Group has been trying to raise awareness about environmental issues to the younger girls in College... We hope through this system to make the girls take responsibility for their daily actions which ultimately shape our environment." And an Environment Week was held a couple of years ago. Could do better, I'd say.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Gardens Gallery revisited

Millie Joines, Carole Bury and John Bromley's exhibition at the Montpellier Gardens Gallery is one of the brightest I've been to in a while. First impressions are important, and Millie has had the excellent idea of installing two of her pots outside, with plants in them - that's after all for what they're intended. There's more colour within, not only from the fresh flowers, but also from Carole's luminous landscapes. Some of John's plant prints look a little cold and Wintry by comparison, but they are beautifully presented. All three artists, seasoned exhibitors at this Gallery, were there yesterday when I dropped by.

And they passed on one bit of good news: Mini had reported one of the Gallery's A-boards as missing on Tuesday - they are rather expensive. It now turns out that someone had kindly posted it up a tree, from which John has now retrieved it.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Michael Peckitt RIP

Having only had one profession throughout my (paid) career, I rather envied Michael Peckitt, who started off - like me - as a lawyer in private practice. I'm not sure what constituted his particular Midas touch, but something to do with a software program for lawyers. Anyway, he was enabled to retire early from his firm, Davies and Partners, and to start a new life as a creative artist.

I first met him when he was exhibiting his whacky sculptures at Caroline's Gallery. We still have one in our spare room: from a square blue enamel basis sprout six metre-long wavy spikes, each adorned in some comic fashion: one has a mini-clothes peg with a large wooden ladybird climbing up it and a label attached: "Time waits for no one and it won't wait for me," it reads, presciently.

Over time, Michael went smaller-scale, concentrating on colourful jewellery, with which he achieved great success. He took delight in his daughter Miranda coming into partnership with him, but what a hard act to follow!

It's been cruel seeing someone so young at heart grappling with cancer, and now (that is, yesterday) finally being taken away from us at such a relatively early age. There was plenty still that you felt he could contribute. Caroline in particular is wretched that we have booked to be in Wales next week and so shall miss his funeral.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


We have long-lost relations from Canada staying with us, a mother and son. Brenda is my third cousin: my grandfather never spoke about his emigré uncle (Brenda's great-grandfather), and indeed the two branches of the family only came into contact through the internet.

On a sunny evening, we drove our guests up to the top of Leckhampton Hill to show them the lie of the land - hillier with us than with them, it seems: they come from a town twice our size which I'd never heard of.

Saskatoon sounds a nice place, but a little chilly for my purposes: the average low in January is -22 degrees C. And they take rather more words to say things than we do: "You know what, I totally agree," translates as "Yes."

Sunday, 9 September 2012


I've been thinking about this term (of abuse) as I have been doing the rounds of Cheltenham's eco houses and other buildings this weekend. Some of their owners have invited exhibitors to display their wares, and I photographed this "Krushr" device at the house of one of these.

The charming young lady gave us a demonstration: "see how it reduces the size of your cans and cartons," she enthused. The box however takes up as much space as a washing machine, and the cost? "£999 at John Lewis." I think I shall go on jumping on mine.

So, is there some absolute definition of "greenwash" we can agree upon? Or is it entirely dependent on whether one's a deep green or a light green?

At this same venue, one couple rolled up, and asked, "What's all this all about then?" When told it was part of the Eco Open Houses weekend, Mrs. turned on her heel and flounced off, saying "Oh, we don't do eco."

Saturday, 8 September 2012


This weekend, 16 Cheltenham buildings and/or gardens demonstrating a degree of eco credibility are open to the public - part of the National Heritage Open Days event. I've been there and got the t-shirt.

Numbers of visitors are a bit down from 2011, possibly something to do with a rival show on in the Promenade. Last year, our home and garden were open as part of the scheme, but having only just got back from holiday, we decided this time that the garden would be in need of attention. That meant I was free to go round other properties, which I've enjoyed doing.

There's been some good feedback: quality if not quantity (though one small garden attracted 55 in the day). A mother and young daughter, Charlotte arrived (by bike) at the open house nearest us, where there was an eco checklist available: Charlotte proceeded to go round ticking off what she saw - better than several science lessons, I'd say.

Friday, 7 September 2012

La Scala

We are home again after our eight days abroad. My head is swimming from side to side rather, from so much rail travel - six different trains today alone. It's swimming, too, from many rich experiences.

This time yesterday, we were enjoying (very much) a Debussy/Ravel concert in the wondrous setting of Milan's great opera house. I had seen it before from the outside, but it was closed for repair in 2001, when Thomas and I spent Easter Monday exploring the city.

Our train from Florence arrived in time for a pavement lunch near the Brera yesterday: thus fortified, we tackled what for me (despite only one previous visit) rates as a favourite collection. It's not too large, but nearly all top notch. And amazingly almost empty. We then set off for an ice cream, and to show Caroline a different sort of gallery, the Vittorio Emanuele arcade.

En route, you can't miss La Scala, and there outside was one of its characteristic yellow bills announcing that the Orchestre National de France (under music director Daniele Gatti) were in town - and playing at 9 p.m. that evening as part of the MITO Festival.

Returning at 8.30, you could see at once that this was a high fashion occasion. I felt a little under-dressed in my shorts, but despite the plentiful décolleté all round us, there were no armed soldiers turning away the scantily clad, as at the entrance to the Duomo earlier. The box office seemed more than happy to let us in to the Gallery - the tickets, a mere five euro each. What's more, the concert began with a bonne bouche: to commemorate the life of Milan's late beloved Cardinal Martini, there was the Ave Maria from Otello, Act IV. I can't think of any religious leader whose passing might attract quite such treatment at our Royal Opera House.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Thanks to Charlotte's introduction, we are staying for our last two nights with an Italian friend in her apartment at the top of a palazzo near San Ambrogio. In other words, we have a room with a view - over San Miniato al Monte to the South and Fiésole to the North.

Two nights, but really only one day, so we have been making the most of it, and are now completely exhausted, what with so much walking. We started off at Santissima Annunziata, its beautiful square and del Sartos - rather a shock after Siena's Gothic. Going backwards in time, we moved slightly West to San Marco: they were dismantling a dinosaur exhibition behind the church. Fast forward to Fra Angelico, however, and those extraordinary frescoed cells. On to San Lorenzo, and Michelangelo's Medici tomb sculptures ("Let me have men about me that are fat." Women too in his case.)

But even after all of this, and a caper through the Duomo and over the Ponte Vecchio, Santa Maria Novella has been the highlight of today. The church's outside appearance is no preparation for what's within, particularly the Ghirlandaios. All the history of which our hostess has been explaining to us over tea in an amusing way and in faultless English!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


After three days of country living, and most generous hospitality, we have once again become townspeople. Last night, we booked in to Hotel Almadomus here in Siena. It's not visible in my photograph, but very central, below San Domenico. We are here for less than 24 hours, so there's little point in being anywhere else. And anyway the hotel came with a warm recommendation from a knowledgeable friend.

Arriving at dusk last night and opening our bedroom window, there was the Duomo looming above: turning my head to the left, I found myself looking immediately into Santa Caterina's Sanctuary, and at the saint's more than life-size statue, arms outstretched: this morning, I was able to get to the 7 a.m. mass in its Church of the Crucifix, despite sleeping until woken by the tolling bell. (I was one of about 20 in the congregation, which included five nuns, who form the resident community and maintain the Sanctuary, an oasis in this busy city.)

We have had an exhilarating time, walking the narrow streets, exploring churches and other buildings of different periods, as well as the famous Campo. But the highspot has certainly been the Duomo, its Crypt and Museum. From the latter, we climbed up onto the facade of the unfinished "new" (that is, early 14th Century!) Cathedral, from where I took this photograph. Isn't it extraordinary how, when in these high places, one always feels a bit of an urge to jump off?

Monday, 3 September 2012

Tuscany - 4

In a previous post, I surmised that the wide view from where we are staying was - as it were - "unspoilt". Today, a clearer day, mostly sunny at last, I know differently: my zoom has picked up these two cooling towers, far away to our West, a reminder that we are not in fact on another planet.

When you're on holiday, it's easy to be comforted by those words of Sir Toby Belch that I've quoted before: "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" Nevertheless, swimming up and down and seeing those plumes of steam does make you reflect upon the logistics of transforming a ruined farmhouse in the middle of nowhere into a luxurious marble-floored holiday home, with half a mile of drive properly laid down, new garden - trees included - planted up, all services (electricity, water, drainage, wifi...) buried beneath the soil etc. And about the energy required for such a transformation, not to mention the sustenance of the establishment once it's done. No matter how much greenwash you apply to this exercise, the needle must swing far across to the left (on the "How bad are bananas?" scale).

Ah well, that's us crossed off the list for any future invitation...

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Tuscany - 3

It's been another dull day, weather-wise. After the rain, I left the others watching Spiral (we had contributed our boxed set to the household) and set off for an evening walk. From "our" farmhouse garden, it's easy to cross onto an overgrown track leading into the valley below. A group of three deer gave me a long look before scurrying away: otherwise I saw no sign of wildlife, and certainly neither wild boar nor porcupine, as was suggested might be on view.

But what was this curious lump halfway up the stalk of a dog rose? It was quite solid. Created as a shelter by an aestivating animal perhaps, or a bird?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Tuscany - 2

If we had come all this way for unbroken sunshine, we would be feeling disappointed. The rain has bucketed down at times today, but luckily we weren't caught in the worst of it on our visit to San Gimignano this morning. And it is specially good fun swimming in the rain, as I did on our return, before lunch.

We are just off to eat more - to a restaurant in nearby Casole d'Elsa: we have been warned, it's a menu with no choices. Who's worried about that here though?