Sunday, 30 March 2014

Off tomorrow

As you see from the map of one of the German Jakobswegs, this year I'm walking on a pilgrimage route very far away from Compostela. Starting out on the train from Cheltenham in the morning, I get to Nürnberg late at night. After a day exploring Nürnberg, I set off on Wednesday, hoping to be in Ulm for Palm Sunday and then crossing the border into Switzerland from Konstanz.

This is a link to a map showing the Swiss Compostela routes: I aim to get to Einsiedeln Abbey before the end of the month, all being well. From there it's a question of catching seven more trains in order to join up with Caroline at Auch in France.

I view it all with some trepidation at this stage.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mother's Eve

Leo and Mini gave us a delicious dinner this evening, beef, six vegetables, and then this splendid pudding dish. And Mini presented me with a shell made of recycled bits, which I've pinned on to my rucksack ahead of Monday...

Friday, 28 March 2014

Gardens Gallery

Kate Dove, Fran Browne, Robert Goldsmith, Toby Moate and Freda Dusnic have put together an exhibition at the Gardens Gallery, which formally opened this evening. They only had a fortnight to prepare, but it all looks very professional. I particularly liked our neighbour, Freddie's photographs: she posed (a selfless perhaps?) in front of one.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Cotswold Park

The signpost points up the disused North-West drive to a large, slate-roofed, late 18th Century house, designed for a London wine merchant, "a remote setting" (Pevsner's description).

It's one of a bunch of substantial houses dotted at wide intervals along the sides of the steep valley carrying a stream from near Elkstone down into the River Churn at Perrott's Brook, North of Cirencester: Combend, Rapsgate, Cotswold Farm, Moor Wood, Oyster Well and Bagendon House are amongst the others. No paths exist to enable the walker to get very close to most of them, but it's still possible to walk through the grounds and round the back of Cotswold Park: much construction work has being going on there over a period of 15 months or more - that being the interval between my last walk past and today's.

At 9.30, the three of us set foot Southwards in the mist from Five Mile House (newly-reopened by a couple from North Wales). It's tricky walking at first, till you hit Burcombe Lane, but peaceful once away from the A417 - a good circular walk, with two decent climbs to set the heart working: skylarks, trees in bud, a distant view of a group of five deer, some mud, but no rain.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Annunciation

This evening, we have been to our local Cineworld to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. It's clever, with each frame beautifully composed, but the same goes for many a TV advertisement: Wes Anderson's film is like one long such advertisement, and ultimately it palls.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, I photographed this Virgin at the Annunciation (today's feast) in the sacristy of Lescar Cathedral last April. The separate figure of the Archangel Gabriel is a few feet to the left, with an unsightly notice in between.

On my previous visit, in the same month four years earlier, I had photographed the very wonderful ensemble (see below - then there was nothing on the wall in the middle), but the figure of Mary comes out better in the more recent image I feel.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Ron Summerfield dec'd

I remember vividly the day Ron Summerfield died (not least because of the mountain of work to which his death gave rise). Can it really be 25 years ago today? That's what the local paper tells me.

Its report is OK as far as it goes, but barely scratches at the surface of what Ron's legacy has achieved for Gloucestershire. Around £10m will now have been donated to local charitable causes by the Summerfield Trust, and the giving goes on.

I took the above photograph for a booklet published to commemorate the first 20 years of the Trust's existence. Alas, the gallery in question (at Pittville) is now closed: funding its refurbishment might be thought one of Summerfield's less successful efforts. But there's a long list of more lasting achievements. You keep coming across them in surprising places: this old graveyard (below) was, for instance, restored to community use with the help of a grant the Trust made, an oasis just off Cheltenham High Street.

Sunday, 23 March 2014


Friends have lent me a Kindle to take with me on my walk next month: we went round to collect it yesterday morning, and I had a lesson at the same time. As Ida was staying, she came too, and was given a look into the beehives at the bottom of the garden. (Our own bees have sadly died.)

This evening, I've been planting potatoes, Duke of York and Pink Fir Apple this year: it's too early for the latter to go in really, but the ground is right, and I don't want to leave them chitting till early May.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

"In wisdom God made all things"

My photograph shows Bishop David Atkinson, of Southwark driving off from Cheltenham this morning after spending the night with us. David was here to talk to Christian Ecology Link yesterday evening: the title of this post is the one he took, leading into a meditation on Psalm 104 ("one of the great nature poems of the world"), used as a backdrop to some sobering reflections upon our present relationship with the created world.

"What is nature but the creation of God," he began; hence his astonishment that a journalist - seeing him at a presentation given by Al Gore some while back - should ask, "What possible interest could the Church have in the environment?"

But it's merely a measure of the general disconnect between our faith and our responsibility to bequeath a better world to future generations. As Professor Mary Grey commented on the Operation Noah Ash Wednesday Declaration: We will encounter [the issues raised by this Declaration] in the form of a question when we face God's judgement: "What did you do to cherish my creation in its hour of danger?"

We cannot continue to exceed the planet's boundaries and expect all humanity to flourish. Realising this means we need to address difficult questions: how are our pension funds invested? Should we fly? Ought we really to light up the church spire? Where is neo-liberal economic theory going?

As was clear from the wide-ranging discussion that followed, all of us can't answer all of these questions, but each of us can tackle some of them. There's a variety of gifts: we can bear the same witness in our different ways. And muddy carrots keep one earthed. What more natural for believers in an infinite God than to live with the understanding that resources are finite! We need to discover the possibility of living differently in a way which is joyous.

Altogether, an excellent evening, which encouraged all of us to follow David's example and accept, in our teaching, preaching and living, the challenge of integrating Christian belief with concern for our world and its future!

Thursday, 20 March 2014


This week's trio of Wednesday walkers set off from the foot of Corndean Lane and walked up to Charlton Abbots. Its tranquil church (St Martin's) is rather hemmed in on the West side by conifers: the Baileys seem to have dotted them everywhere around their 4,000-acre estate. We skirted Sudeley Castle on the way out of Winchcombe, and returned past The Wadfield and its Roman Villa, along what was once the path of the Cotswold Way (now diverted). Six beautiful miles.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"Not quite what I had in mind"

The 15th annual de Ferrieres lecture took place tonight, at the Bacon Theatre here in Cheltenham. Kevin Brownlow, the film buff's film buff, was - for me - an inspired choice, but alas didn't draw the crowd he richly deserved. Whereas the Film Society attracted its habitual near-capacity audience to a showing of the little-known German film Barbara last night, a mere hundred or so turned out for "Not quite what I had in mind": Brownlow's talk was all about his failed ambition to become the second Orson Welles.

Failure though he might deem himself, he succeeded brilliantly in giving us glimpses of what turned him onto film as a young man, and turned him into an Oscar-winning film historian. One of his breaks was getting alongside the American actor and director Al Parker. Parker, who knew everyone in the Silents and that Brownlow was anxious to meet people from that era, would ring up: "Kevin. King Vidor. Hyde Park Hotel. Tell him I sent you."

From an early age, Brownlow was passionate about film, or rather "Film" - "I am a Film maker, capital F" as he recalled telling someone offering him work in television ("an ulcer-producing activity" - he quoted Jeremy Isaacs). And he clearly lived by the saying of Abel Gance, "It's impossible to make a great film without enthusiasm."

We were treated to a dozen or so film clips - some possibly a little protracted, though not the excerpt from Brownlow's own documentary on the last Glasgow tram: magical. Another clip included an interview with the great Gance: a chief debt of the film world to Brownlow is for his restoration of the silent epic Napoléon vu par Abel Gance after a 20-year struggle. With a further clip, Brownlow let us into the secret of "the hanging miniature" which Fred Niblo used to create the crowd scenes in his 1925 Ben-Hur. And in a clip about the making of Brownlow's own 1975 film Winstanley, we could observe at first hand the rigorous directing of the lecturer himself - perhaps too much of a perfectionist to achieve the commercial success he craved.

In what was a modest, gracious and witty two-hour performance, Brownlow reserved almost his only word of criticism for Charlie Chaplin. Having come across a roomful of outtakes, he concluded that at times Chaplin "didn't know what he was doing, and that's the worst thing you can say on a film set."

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

"Roman Cotswolds"

Aylwin Sampson, despite advancing years, still gives talks on many subjects to gatherings around the area. He pressed me - willingly - into ferrying him to Chipping Campden today, where he was due to speak to one of its three Probus Clubs.

Like all the best schoolmasters, Aylwin has plenty of jokes, some - as here - illustrated by his own delightful drawings. And he handles his overheads with great dexterity, demonstrating that PowerPoint isn't necessarily the only answer to the world's problems.

Woodchester's Orpheus pavement, Aylwin told us, is European's largest mosaic. "Scratch Gloucestershire and you'll find Rome," was one of his apothegms: it wasn't a saying that I'd heard before, but of course it's perfectly correct. We should know, having lived at Syreford, the site of a Roman military station (Wycomb).

On the way back, we tried to get into Saintbury Church, to see the stone dole table: it was locked, but the trudge up the steep path brought back memories of a near-mutiny on one of my bike trips with the children. My route home involved climbing Saintbury Hill: Thomas and Paddy took a look upwards, and then at the alternative, an invitingly flat road to Broadway. Only by threatening a hawny paw did I prevent a parting of the ways.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Drying out

Last month, we found the footpaths in the Evenlode Valley difficult for walking where they were not impassable: today, the three of us hardly returned to Oddington with mud on our boots. And this evening's journey to Forthampton for a jolly dinner involved no detours of the sort needed to avoid the floods of February. In between, there was time to set some lettuce plants between the rows of broad beans.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Old friends have recently moved from a large house on its own in open countryside to a smaller property in a village the other side of the watershed. We were invited for lunch there today. Moving house represents one of life's major traumas, but our friends have come through theirs with colours flying, it seems, an example for us - if, that is, we could only agree as to where we wanted to live.

Friday, 14 March 2014

On foot, and Benn

"Foot and Benn Disease" is said to have been the illness Labour suffered from in the 'Eighties. Michael Foot was often seen in Cheltenham during the literature festival - I bumped into him, shopping on one occasion. And in 2011, beside Imperial Gardens, Tony Benn was just too late to say that I could not take this photograph.

Benn's death aged 88 - hardly a shock - removes from the scene one of the great characters of late 20th Century political life in Britain, like him or loathe him. I was mainly in the latter camp, except in respect of his stand on the Iraq War. How you long for people in politics today to have the same courage of their convictions!

I set off to walk from Brockworth to Slad yesterday morning, but was so exhausted climbing Cooper's Hill that I decided Sheepscombe would be far enough. In contrast to the 99% dry-under-foot walk on Wednesday, it was heavy and uncertain going as I made my way up through fog from the Cross Hands. Even high up in the Beechwoods National Nature Reserve the paths were muddy, another hazard being the trees that had fallen recently.

Arrival at the Butcher's Arms was delayed by my retracing my steps in a vain effort to recover a lost lens cap. I suppose it must have rolled away off the track through Lord's Wood.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

A glimpse through the mist

Three of us (only) met for our weekly walk yesterday morning at the Craven Arms, Brockhampton. The fog thickened as we climbed up through the Quarry en route for Hawling, and only began to lift as we descended Baker's Wood Lane. The Upper Coln Valley unfolds mysteriously beyond the newly-laid hedge, no houses, main roads or pylons to disturb one of my favourite views.

On the Quarry itself, my eye was drawn to four curious stone sculptures leaning against a wall. They are inspired by prehistoric rock art, so we were informed by the artist, Liz Poraj-Wilczynska, who lives there: she has been making a specialist study of the Archaeography of Belas Knap.

Liz's neighbour is Doris, instrumental in our meeting up with my cousin Trevor from Sydney. Just up from there, I admired Nicole and Charles' hunting scene weather vane. A minute or two later, I heard with sadness from Di of Ellen Timbrell's recent death, and then, before lunch, chatted to Sid and Gert. about fuschias and family, just like old times. Steve Leach, working opposite them at the moment, reminded me how - many years ago - I had introduced him to Classic FM, which he listens to all the time. Another memory lane trip, in other words.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A glimpse of Clubland

Last night, Caroline's Goddaughter's engagement was celebrated with a party at Brooks's Club, which looks over St James's Street to Boodle's. Her fiancé William had known her for some while, but they only became an item in fairly recent weeks.

His mother told me that when she had had them both to dinner as long as 18 months ago, she sensed there was good chemistry between them. "I told his father as much," she said, "immediately afterwards, adding that I wondered how long it would take for them to realise." Me: "I hope you didn't mention it to William," She: "Goodness no! That would have been fatal."

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

On the rails

It's Festival time again - the racing version - and the daffodils have come out to order. This little array lines the railings of a house in Park Place - I biked past this morning en route to the (deserted) shops. Everyone is bent on getting up to the course in good time.

Yesterday, we drove West into the setting sun for my talk to the Lingen History Fellowship on my ancestor's Diary. En route, we stopped in Kingsland, but neither pub there was then serving food. We found something eventually at the Mortimer Cross Inn, near the place where 4,000 soldiers were killed in February 1461. So I read in the menu - enough to spoil your appetite.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Trinity + Brompton

The three musicians who played last night - a house concert for us lucky few who were invited - are all soloists in their own right, Matthew Trusler, Thomas Carroll and Ashley Wass. Though they came together 18 months ago, to date they are just known as the TCW Trio. At supper after the performance various more or less conventional names were tossed about as possibilities for the future: as we departed, being told we must come to their October performance at the Tetbury Music Festival, I tossed out the idea of "Three Line Whip". That would at least raise a few eyebrows.

But their music making speaks volumes by itself, in particular (last night) the performance of Tchaikovsky's great - almost symphonic - piano trio. Staggering. After which we set off for home, but only reached the end of the drive: one of the back tyres had picked up a nail. Hence the enforced - but very pleasant - stay for supper while, having given up the struggle to change wheels, we awaited the breakdown man: the wheel nuts were on too tight, he said.

Trio yesterday - Triple Crown day today, with England's emphatic victory in the rugby. And the welcome news this evening that our parish priest has bought his first bicycle - a Brompton. Can we call this a win for Cheltenham Christian Ecology Link?

Friday, 7 March 2014

"Stop the world"?

Littlechap's plea comes to mind. We are hosting this very sweet Japanese 15-year-old for a few days: she is part of a large school party over here - but all that way for the inside of a week only!

And at lunchtime, members of the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network met (the first time in some while). Where? The Grange, Bishop's Cleeve, now part of the Zurich/Capita empire. On a mild Spring day, a gale of heat greeted us as we made our way into this gaunt temple of commerce, a handful of Daniels into the lions' den.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Memory lane

This week's Wednesday outing started from the Royal Oak car park, Andoversford. Apart from the task of finding (lost amidst the new houses) the footpath opposite the old market, it was plain sailing. This is because of our time (1973-94) living along the way we took.

Mind you, everything has changed, as Gill Hyatt agreed when we chin-wagged briefly in Sevenhampton Churchyard. Syreford's once-reasonably humble dwellings are all mansions, with the trappings of the prevalent horsiculture, electric gates, weathervanes and the like. Sevenhampton seemed deserted, many of the properties being second homes. A large house seems to be going up along the tranquil lane to Brockhampton (Gassons). The trees on Elsdown have been thinned no doubt to afford the now-converted barn there a view. Did the walk make me homesick? It's not a world where I would now feel at home, but I was glad to have renewed its acquaintance, especially on a fine Spring day.

The same goes for Saudi Arabia. Wajda, at the Film Society film last night, unfolded a delicate, wry and at times painful-to-watch picture of life in that country, all the more affecting because filmed by a female director. "Is it any wonder," Caroline asked, "that Muslims criticise us for the laxity of our children's behaviour?"

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

"City of kites and crows"

Shakespeare's Coriolanus is not a bundle of laughs. But it does have one or two memorable speeches and phrases. An earlier NT live performance relay - we were turned away in January when the connection to Cheltenham failed - was encored yesterday afternoon.

My companions left at the interval: I admit to being tempted to follow, but on balance I'm glad to have sat it out, bloody though the hero's (literal) comeuppance was.

Josie Rourke's Almeida production fills that small stage with action rather than props. It's a pocket battleship version, and you miss the scale of unfolding events: I have a dim memory of Peter Hall's epic 1959 rendering at Stratford, with Olivier in the name part and Edith Evans, Mary Ure and Vanessa Redgrave as the three main women (Diana Rigg, Ian Holm and Albert Finney in minor parts). Tom Hiddlestone at 33 looks and may inevitably seem lightweight when compared to Olivier at 52, but his coiled energy, if not his mainly soft-spoken poetry, makes for a compelling performance.

Meanwhile, our garden boasts neither kites or crows, but a robin settled happily on my spinach basket this morning.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The Carducci Quartet

We were at Syde Tithe Barn on Saturday evening for a short recital by the excellent Carduccis. It was lovely to be able to watch them at such close quarters - playing Haydn Op 20 No 5 and Mendelssohn Op 80. They milled around with us all afterwards.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

"The Testament of Mary"

This was the subject of our discussion at our book group lunch in Cheltenham yesterday. We hadn't met for more than four months, yet still expressed relief that it was a short read. Is our stamina failing as we near our group's tenth anniversary?

I liked the juxtaposition of the mannequin's anorexic legs with the Big Issue salesman feeding a sandwich to his molly-coddled dog in the Promenade.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

St David's Day

Today dawned with evidence of a sharp frost on the car windscreen, the first for ages. Last night was clear, but we failed to look out for the aurora borealis as we left Whittington, having had supper there. The Press has recently published a beautiful volume of super-size posters: I enjoyed poring over them as Caroline was upstairs looking at materials.

I took this photograph of today's Saint (the window is by Kempe) in St David's Church, Moreton-in-Marsh last week.