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.