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.