Friday, 31 January 2014

In memory of Meigh

At my office in Rodney Road, we were lucky to have the services of Martin Wright for a while, after we took over the firm opposite, Ticehurst Wyatt & Co. for which he worked. His wife Mary was one of the Meigh clan: she died a while ago, her brother Philip six years ago and her brother Walter last year. Now Harry Joseph Meigh, the survivor of his generation, has also died aged 90. His splendid requiem took place today.

Harry and Clothilde themselves presided over a large family, occupying a good proportion of the front of St Gregory's Church. Unlike at many Catholic funeral masses, however, there was nothing reticent or bewildered about the next generations' participation in the rituals. Indeed quite the reverse, Dominic leading the way both with his singing, and a very fine tribute: it was something I could not have begun to manage for either of my parents.

His father, Dominic told us, was said to have been blessed - as a child - with the face of an angel and the temper of a devil. A Christian Brother who taught at his school once admonished him: "Harry Meigh! Don't harry me." But he excelled in practical tasks, and in a career making aluminium bronze castings. More importantly, he and Clothilde worked out their understanding that the laity were as much called to holiness as the religious by bringing Equipes Notre-Dame (Teams of Our Lady) to these shores: of the 11,000 teams across the world, over 120 are in Britain. (The organisation's colourful fish symbol, with intertwined wedding rings, adorned the service sheet.)

In his homily, a monk from Prinknash described one of Harry's final acts - blessing each of his six children and asking them to forgive him. Having arranged a meeting, we were told, Harry was forever fixing a post mortem: we certainly gave him a good one.

I was sorry not to be able to track down a photograph I was sure I had taken of Harry in his prime. This one will have to do instead: it's of the representative of the local Normandy Veterans Association who attended the funeral. Harry having landed on Gold Beach on D-Day, his medals were placed on his coffin.

PS The family have now sent me this happy picture of Harry:

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Freeman of Cheltenham

Bob Freeman's funeral takes place today. Family and friends will meet afterwards at the Gardens Gallery, Montpellier, which Bob did much to help establish and support. Only last October, when few would have known how unwell he was, he exhibited this portrait of Stephen Isserlis there.

Besides his own artistic work, Bob produced a regular monthly round up of exhibitions and events: a large number of those on his mailing list will have shared my sadness at hearing - before Christmas - that he had become too ill to continue this encouraging and enlivening endeavour.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Savage culture

The sign "Savage culture" hangs above a shop in that extraordinary Cantabrian town Santillana del Mar: it's an oxymoron that came to mind during Inside Llewyn Davis this evening, and in reflecting about last night's film too.

The latest Coen Brothers offering, beautifully set in the early '60s, pivots round a young, gentle-till-provoked hobo, a talented New York guitarist and song-writer. Through many difficult and some violent relationships, not least with ginger cats, we watch his life slowly disintegrating, as his lyrical ballads are ruthlessly dismissed as noncommercial. Ulysses turns out to be the name of the no. 1 cat, but Llewyn Davis' Odyssey has no such happy ending. Why did he fail when Bob Dylan succeeded? we ask. Coming away, Caroline and I agreed: there but for the grace of God goes one of ours (similarly hirsute and entangled with cats).

Inside Llewyn Davis is an extremely funny, very sad film, a description applying equally to Dans la maison, François Ozon's brilliant second-to-last feature from 2012: our Film Society showed it last night. This centres on another male character encumbered by a busted flush of a father, but this time manipulating those around him, as opposed to being manipulated. Claude, aged 16, wreaks havoc within his bourgeois community, sending his literary Maestro mad as fantasy conflicts with reality. Culture, once again a double-edged sword.

I took the photograph in Elmley Castle. Four of us reached there starting from Ashton-under-Hill, happily a dry walk this morning, with fine, long views: the rain has come back since.  It was mostly firm underfoot across Bredon Hill, but horribly muddy on the long descent. (We trudged back the long way, around the road.)

In St Mary's Church, you can't fail to see and wonder at two extraordinary tombs. On one, dating from c1700, the first Earl of Coventry lounges nonchalantly in full wig, one hand reaching out to pick up his coronet. The other - 25 years, but what seems like a whole world earlier - depicts members of the Savage family. Three lie as if asleep, the lady holding her baby daughter; while four other children kneel attentively at their feet. And between them, the head of a stag, with golden locks and one remaining but wondrous ear: its neck is pierced with an arrow. Savage culture once more.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Visiting Bath

Reynolds may or may not have painted this portrait of the grandmother of the Bath Holburne Museum's founder, tucked away high on one of the Museum's walls. The Museum's website records a cleaning in 1992, which included the removal of "a rosebud which had been added to the sitter's décolletage at some point".

The sitter was born Frances Ball in 1719, and brought up in Barbados. Aged 12, she was married off to a man 17 years her senior, and bore him - esides four other children - two sons. On her husband's early death, she married Admiral Holburne by whom she had more children, before dying in her early forties.

The younger son of the first marriage, Francis had a granddaughter, Frances, who in turn had a son Francis: his posthumous daughter, another Frances, has a great-granddaughter Ida Frances, who was looking up at her ancestor's portrait with me yesterday afternoon.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

"Along the Enchanted Way"

My room-mate Mark was tucked up with this book during our week in Transylvania last May. I found a copy recently in the Cheltenham Library, and have just finished reading it.

The author, William Blacker spent some years in Romania until a decade ago. For much of the time, his home was in one of the Saxon villages with a gypsy girl by whom he had a son: he gives the village a spurious name, but that son could I suppose be known to one of the boys in my photograph, taken in Malancrav.

It's a curious book: part travelogue, part confessional, it falls between various stools, while still remaining quite a good read. I felt I was being invited to share the sense of sadness that seems to pervade the author's view of life in Romania. But I didn't myself experience that sense - instead coming away exhilarated by my temporary immersion in such another world with its beautiful people.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Still mild

Apart from the first bit, I walked today without gloves. Not often can I write that in January. Five of us set out from the Miserden pub car park at 9:45 and returned there around 12:15. We had walked clockwise via Sudgrove, Througham and Wishanger. (This is the landscape to the left of our path between the last two places.)

It was not just warm and windless, it was 99% dry too, and a wan sun even tried to poke through the clouds at times. Underfoot, the going was slippy at times - hardly surprising in view of the rain we have had - and care was needed over the stiles; but a near perfect light. I photographed a Concorde weather vane near Ian McEwan's house at Sudgrove, mist in the steep valley below it and my first lamb of 2014. All very satisfactory.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Foucault's pendulous

By way of explanation of this laboured post title - more laboured even than usual - "floppy" is said to be a synonym for pendulous. And flop the blind cat, Foucault certainly did, onto his master's lap last night after dinner. Though it was the six of us who had eaten so richly in one of Cheltenham's more elegant basements, not necessarily the cat.

This photograph of a distinguished contemporary of Frank Auerbach, Bridget Riley and Peter Blake might or might not be recognised by him as a tip of the hat to Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy.

Our host was in sparkling form considering he underwent major surgery last year, but he told me he had felt less anxious about that than the recent hassle he'd had over renewing a tax disc. "Into thy hands I commend my heart."

I've been anxious about pruning the apple trees. A couple of years ago, the experienced Martin Hayes began to take them in hand: today another Martin has been my generous guide. It's really a question of summoning up the confidence to tackle what's a huge task, when trees have been let go like ours have.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Lucas (2)

"The solo singing was wonderful. As Jephtha, James Gilchrist offered... virtuoso bravado..." So today's paper describes (with 5 stars) Tuesday night at the Barbican . And yesterday's Cheltenham lieder recital by that same tenor might, I feel, be described in similar terms.

It could be three years since I attended a Music Society event at the Pittville Pump Room, I'm rather ashamed to say. (Their programmes deserve more loyal support.) And I wasn't really looking forward to last night's mixed bag with any great relish, having been critical of a programme Gilchrist gave at our July 2012 Festival.

As it turned out, I was taken aback not just by the beauty of his voice, but the confidence and variety of tone he brought to his performance - settings of Shakespeare, Byron and Heine by Wolf, Mendelssohn(s), Loewe, Liszt, Grieg and Schubert in part one, and a glorious Dichterliebe after the interval.

The link to my illustration? Tenuous: Gilchrist started adult life as a doctor, and the portrait is supposed to represent another such, St Luke. It's one of the images in a garish-looking East window dating from 1850 in the Norman church I visited on Wednesday, All Saints, Salperton. The glass, "possibly" - Pevsner - by David Evans, is much eclipsed by two splendid late Kempe windows in the South wall.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Lucas (1)

The papers currently overflow with reports of media idols on trial for sexual offences, so The Hunt was an appropriate choice for the Film Society last night. Members of a small town Danish community hunted down one of their own, Lucas, a likeable kindergarten teacher, following an unhappy pupil's made-up story of his inappropriate behaviour towards her. There's a happy ending, though the scars of the chased/chaste Lucas will remain with him.

This simplifies greatly a complex piece of cinema: director Thomas Vinterberg makes it work well on nearly every level, particularly in terms of suspense - at times quite unbearable. The Lord of the flies came to mind.

I'm still hunting down Gloucestershire churches. Today, Salperton was added to my bag. This gravestone struck me for its uninhibited inscription, commemorating "my beloved husband Bill" (William George Dwight, 1949-2009). It stands to the North-West of the church.

We were walking from the Puesdown Inn, whither the three of us returned very wet. And were then disappointed to find it closed.

Tonight, I've been participating in my first MOOC. "Climate change: challenges and solutions", put on - quite efficiently, it seems to me - by the University of Exeter. Testing for a scientific duffer like me.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


This morning, I went to Cineworld to pick up the tickets I'd ordered online for a National Theatre live relay a while ahead. My dialogue with the young woman (early 20s) on the till went as follows:

YWET (looking at screen after my credit card had been inserted): There you go. "King ..." [pause]
Me: "... Lear?"
YWET: That'll be it.
Me: It's by Shakespeare.
YWET: Shakespeare?
Me: Didn't you do him at school?
YWET: That was ages ago. I can't remember.
Me: Which school did you go to?
YWET: Cleeve Comprehensive. I think it's got better since I was there.

Earlier, we had a visit from our friendly neighbourhood piano tuner, who admired our roses, still flowering on both sides of the front door: he might suit the part of Lear, don't you think? Though in view of his back problems, he wouldn't want to be lifting even a featherweight Cordelia.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Royal Oak

The only pub locally well recommended by the Good Pub Guide is the Royal Oak in Prestbury, which used to be run by Tom Graveney. In all my years living in these parts, I had never been there till yesterday.

We booked a table for lunch. 12 or 1.45, we were told: I chose the latter, but it was 2.15 before food arrived. Clearly, it's an institution at lunchtime on a Sunday, the bar being thronged, and people playing cards and reading the papers. But the service was cool, when we wanted it to be attentive, and the food wasn't brilliant. Not somewhere I'll rush back to therefore.

Today, in the morning sunshine I finished the main ladder work on our hornbeam hedge, with the blackbird singing: here he is above Old Father Time on the neighbours' summer house.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Root ball

Ten years ago, we inherited two ornamental box trees from my mother. They fitted easily into the car, as they lived in plastic flowerpots on her tarmac driveway. We decanted them into the soil of our back garden, placing them as sentinels at what was then the end of our vegetable patch.

Well, the vegetables have crept well beyond their previously tolerated limit and the trees have grown considerably. So, it's been decided they must go - in the interests of food security. Caroline managed to move one before Christmas, and it's now settled in elsewhere in the garden (we hope). The other - much larger - remains, so far resisting our efforts to uncover its roots in full. The axe hovers.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Blow about the Beacon

Caroline brought me a snowdrop this morning, the first of the year. Who needs to travel to Painswick House or elsewhere to see them en masse? Which reminds me, a notice by Painswick Beacon implies that it is (or was) in the ownership of the Blow family. And the next house we passed on coming down from there yesterday, Spoonbed Farm, has what looks like a Blow connection, in the form of this stained glass window. "IDB 1995" it says at the bottom. (Rather odd that this should appear facing outwards, when the window can only really be seen to advantage from the inside.)

Detmar Blow of Hilles House - barely half a mile West of this farm - was the husband of Isabella Delves Broughton. It was Isabella's second marriage, one scene in several acts of a tragic life.

The eldest of four children, her only brother was drowned in the family swimming pool aged two. At 14, her mother shook hands with her and her sisters and left home. More or less cut off by her millionaire father, she worked as a cleaner. By 23, she was married to an American, but divorced after two years. Despite success in the world of fashion, she was usually broke.

Passing 30, she married Detmar Blow. They later separated, she going off with a gondolier. 18 months later they came together again, after she had been diagnosed as bi-polar. Soon she was found to be suffering from ovarian cancer. Half a dozen suicide attempts were botched before - one Sunday in May seven years ago - she followed her father-in-law's example and swallowed Paraquat in the middle of a house party at home, dying next day in Gloucester Hospital. No children came from either marriage.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014


Mild, fine and still weather - and relatively little mud - made this morning's walk particularly enjoyable. And for me it was another voyage of discovery.

We climbed steadily through the Northern reaches of Painswick, crossing the golf course to the Beacon. (I once walked North starting from there, with Leo, but don't remember the outlook being so extensive - not that one could see any great distance today.)

Descending Westwards, the four of us passed across the Gloucester road and through the various Holcombe farmsteads, eventually climbing back via the drive to Painswick House.

This hundred-year-old letter box would be at home in The Shire.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Above Sheepscombe

Being deprived by festivities of our last two Wednesday walks, we met at Foston's Ash yesterday morning, to shake away some cobwebs. The mud was our main prospective enemy, because of the terrific rainfall recently. (Our drawing-room alcove ceiling almost gave way: just in time, Edmund drilled holes to channel the water leaking in.)

To avoid the shooting at Climperwell, we walked towards Cranham and then leftwards into the beechwoods above Sheepscombe. Hard core has long been laid on the tracks there, providing a firm path for us as well as the forest machinery. This giraffe-like trunk caught my eye.

Delaying our start till a squall had passed, we then missed any more rain, and indeed the sun lit up the tree tops on our final stretch, through the woods that the late John Workman gave to the National Trust.

That is an organisation evidently not solicitous about its punctuation: "Workmans Wood" on one sign, and "Workman s Wood" on two others. Should one be surprised when one of its top brass sends us a family round robin displaying a similarly cavalier approach to the apostrophe rule?

Oh dear! Bang goes my New Year's resolution - to be less nerdish. It contrasts somewhat in scale with Ian Jack's. Writing in today's Guardian, he says:

New Year resolutions rarely see out February because they're born in a… wishy-washy sort of hope, too weak to resist the seduction of old habits. Fear, on the other hand, keeps you on the straight and narrow… Domesticated ruminants are the largest source of anthropogenic methane and account for 11.6% of greenhouse gases that can be attributed to human activity…The use of highly productive croplands to produce animal feed is [also] questionable on moral grounds because this contributes to exhausting the world's food supply. Other well-known consequences include tropical deforestation and the erosion of biodiversity, but unless governments intervene… it seems unlikely that the demand for animal flesh can be curbed. 

But which popularly elected government will ration meat or deliberately price it as a luxury?… 

Nonetheless, my resolution this year is to become a vegetarian… I doubt that I can stick to it. Where's the terror at three in the morning that will change my behaviour? A gale may be tearing over the house and a flood running down the street, but the link to a lifetime's mince consumption will be hard to fix in my imagination. When it comes to the bleak future of the world, the complicated route between cause and effect is the greatest barrier to our doing much to change it.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Strings attached!

Mini has given us yet another marvellous, hand-crafted New Year's card. "Beautiful sunshine and warm wind bring you Spring," it proclaims, in Japanese and English; and "generous mind brings you happiness." The man himself looks far from happy though! Why? Perhaps it's because strands of cotton are affixed to the his shoulders and taped to the back of the card. Is he a prisoner? A drone? A kite?

Thursday, 2 January 2014


An elderly neighbour died some months ago, having lacked the strength to do much gardening in his later years. As a result, wildlife flourished, and Sleeping Beauty's palace had a rival. The house has been sold recently, and it shouldn't have surprised us, therefore, to wake up this morning to the whine of a chain saw. Nevertheless, it's one of those sounds that always goes through you, trees being such precious objects. Not to mention the wildlife.

The other - more cheery - sound I awoke to was a very fresh take on the Today programme. Polly Harvey, guest producer, left her mark in no uncertain fashion, calling for assistance from John Pilger, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Julian Assange and other champions of the anti-establishment. The Mail and Telegraph have already sharpened their pencils.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

...from a rainy Cheltenham: we are supposed to be on our way to watch Bristol Rovers v. Cheltenham Town at the ground which overlooks Agnes' house in Bristol; but for the second year running, it's been rained off. So, a lazy time at home is in prospect, with the grandchildren slow to get out of their pyjamas, and the youngest, Laurie (6) much enjoying his new camera.