Monday, 30 June 2014


The garlic and onions are drying nicely in this settled spell of sunny weather - the best June we've had for a few years I guess. Some of the onions have gone to seed, a bit like their custodian.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

I am Margaret

This is the title of a first novel by a friend, Corinna Turner. She launched it yesterday evening, in the company of a good crowd (50 or so), to whom she read a couple of excerpts. It sounds like a bit of a thriller, partly set in a grim "facility": the celebratory cake was made in its image. "The best thing you can do with the cake," she said, "is to help me demolish it."

Friday, 27 June 2014

Means and ends

Cheltenham's Meantime has tried to shine a light into the artistic future during the past seven or so years. Now that light has gone out, following tonight's closing party: for it, more than 50 artists who had worked at Meantime contributed pieces to a final show.

All strength to Sarah Bowden's elbow as she strives to find some new outlet for her considerable energies! This most versatile of upper rooms is destined to become someone's living space, no doubt, in the redevelopment.

Thursday, 26 June 2014


Caroline has said a sad goodbye to her pottery wheel. With minimal hassle, it fitted very snugly into the car of friends who took it to a new home in London.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Felix qui potuit

Reading Felix Dennis' obituary notice put me in mind of my great-great-grandparents Peter and Jane Davis. Their grave in Dorsington Churchyard, Warwickshire is just down the road from Felix's home, where he died on Sunday. Once an enfant terrible, Felix's can-do approach brought him both friends and fortune. Having 22 Godchildren says it all really. Oh, and he loved trees.

Having quoted the diary of F.E. Witts in my last post, I found myself walking past his former home this morning. Five of us started out from the Coach and Horses on the Fosseway and walked up through Lower Slaughter. Switching to the right bank of the River Eye, we saw what is now The Lords of the Manor Hotel on our left as we approached Upper Slaughter.

Monday, 23 June 2014

"The gay frivolities of Cheltenham"

Lunching out on a Monday is one of the perks of the retired; and we were given a good one today, in a terraced house near the centre of Cheltenham. Amongst our number was a descendant of Gloucestershire's most celebrated diarist, F.E. Witts. He it was who gave me the title for this post.

In his entry of a week previous (30th June 1827), Witts rails splendidly against the Season: "...The [Talbot] family is in town: so it is that fashionable people desert their country seats, their rich parks and lovely gardens in the finest season and live there only in the gloomiest months of the year; for when the London season is over, fashion dictates a second edition on an inferior scale at some sea-bathing or watering place or some rambling tour in search of ever-eluding pleasure."

Our "lovely garden" was looking particularly colourful this morning, as we breakfasted outside.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Belle without bow

To great applause, our hostess at the splendid Summer party we went to at lunchtime was pressed into musical service. (It reminded me of Zubin Mehta's unaccustomed double bass role in the famous Trout Quintet performance with Barenboim, du Pré, Zuckerman and Perlman, 45 years ago.)

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Syde order

The Carducci Quartet returned to Syde Tithe Barn this afternoon for the first in a Summer series of short early evening concerts. We were treated to delicious performances of Haydn's Joke Quartet and the Ravel of a century later.

What a space for chamber music - and on the most perfect afternoon of sunshine, when the Syde garden was looking at its  best. And it was our wedding anniversary!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Fracking in the Cotswolds

This was the title of a presentation given by Dr. Jonathan Whittaker today to the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network. A good number of us crowded into the so-called Jerusalem Room over College Green from Gloucester Cathedral to hear it. "I'm a dentist," Jonathan began, "so I know a little about drilling..." He was modest: fracking is clearly a subject he's studied carefully, and puts well into context.

Explaining why the Government is so keen to promote it, he uses the analogy of tobacco. The tax revenues from both shale gas exploration and cigarette sales are a pot of gold too tempting for Chancellors to resist - but the cost of encouraging fracking may outweigh its income stream in the long term, just as the cost of treating lung cancer patients puts the tax from tobacco sales into perspective.

Fracking is, Jonathan concludes, less likely a bridge to the future - more a gangplank. What if - instead - as much were spent on developing (for instance) the Anaconda wave energy converter, pumped hydro energy storage and peak demand control as is scheduled for HS2?

Jerusalem was already on my mind from last night, as we watched Henry IV Part 2, relayed from Stratford-upon-Avon. The king's death in the Jerusalem Chamber takes place off stage, but on stage there's plenty of fine business in Greg Doran's excellent production, in which Oliver Ford Davies as Shallow if anything outperforms Antony Sher as Falstaff. What a play!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Alan Bennett

For a national treasure, Alan Bennett (at 80) is unafraid to say brave things. His recent lecture in Cambridge (now published in the London Review of Books) contains a claim that "One only has to stand still to become a radical." This, in the light of the fact that "there has been so little that has happened to England since the 1980s that I have been happy about or felt able to endorse."

And he goes further, comparing the dismantling - as he sees it - of the welfare state with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, "with profit taking precedence over any other consideration, and the perpetrators today as locked into their ideology and convinced of their own rightness as any of the devout louts who, four or five hundred years ago, stove in the windows and scratched out the faces of the saints as a passport to heaven."

Private education, he said, is "not Christian either. Souls, after all, are equal in the sight of God." I wonder what he would make of Stowell Park, a hymn to inequality. Four of us walked through this morning.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Trench Hill

With difficulty, we found our way to the garden which was open for members of the Gloucestershire Organic Gardening Group tonight. It was worth persisting in our search. A magnificent evening, and a garden filled with colour and interest! Celia Hargrave must work all the hours that God gives to keep on top of it. The view down towards Stroud alone should sell it for anyone looking for a garden to visit in the NGS list. In the foreground just out of this photograph there are wild orchids, as big as any I have seen in Gloucestershire.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Toot commerces

Two of the grandchildren have been here for the weekend, and - as is par for the course for six-year-olds in our family - they fearlessly set up a stall at the gate yesterday, to sell buns and elderflower cordial in aid of the local vet's sick animal charity. Waving their arms at passing cars, £11 so raised.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Bee team

Caroline's handling of her bees this morning was described by Mike, the expert, as "fearless". Roll on the honeycombs!

As for England last night, well, I reckon - having seen a few of the other sides in action - they're nothing more than a B Team: destined to be so near - but so far. I am not holding my breath following the defeat by Italy. Optimism has its limits.

Saturday, 14 June 2014


Great news from our friend Sarah Thorley! She's been awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, for her services to inter-faith dialogue: she came to Cheltenham to speak about her experience last year - as I noted.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Bridge over the River Gray

For once, no photography yesterday on our Wednesday walk! Only two of us, walking from home, and back via the bus: we were deep in conversation, so the camera stayed in its bag. But the bag returned home full also of field mushrooms, which was a bonus.

Our friend Marius Gray's grave will never have a tombstone, so a new bridge is being built, destined to serve as his memorial. It replaces the rickety structure at present in place over the River Monnow near to his Herefordshire home, which he loved. His widow, Clare, and I drove to Cirencester this morning, to see it in course of construction - a massive operation! Blue is the chosen colour.

Meanwhile World Cup fever is gripping the household. So posts to this blog will be short and sweet for a bit.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Human Rights and Just War

Last night's meeting at the Severn Forum was one of the best I've attended.

Nicholas Mercer, formerly a lawyer and a soldier, now an Anglican priest, was until fairly recently advising the army's top brass about human rights: chapter and verse he gave us for why they count in today's world: a masterful lesson!

Starting with the Athenians' massacre of the unarmed Melians in 416 BC, he took us through the Beatitudes, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Grotius and Henri Dunant to George W. Bush and Death on the Rock. Thucydides' Melian dialogue should have warned us of the whirlwind we would reap - and are now reaping - from Abu Ghraib. If international law means anything, it's that the United States' military paradigm is illegal.

And we are complicit in this illegality, having allowed 1500 rendition flights to touch down in the UK. But where is the Church's prophetic voice in opposition to the chorus of those wanting to repeal the Human Rights Act? It's time, Mercer said, for a Christian to stop trying to be the referee and to start getting involved as a player.

All good stuff - and no time left (he tells me) for a mention of nuclear defence, drones, disinvestment, environmental justice, non-violent direct action or Pax Christi!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

April weather in June

We have had plenty of warm weather lately, punctuated by sharp showers. This view was taken from our bedroom this morning. As you can see, the house to the right is now looking more normal, following the removal of its artistic confection of scaffolding. For our part, we still have it up: another roof (or rather chimney) leak still has to be fixed.

Monday, 9 June 2014


Our local art gallery is hosting the National Portrait Gallery's photography show entries at present. I went along this morning, and marveled at many of the entries, which make my portraits look feeble in the extreme.

The exhibits are on two floors: when you reach the top one, you find a list of the prizewinners; but why can't the portraits awarded prizes be identified, so you can see which they are when you look round?

Somehow, we managed to miss the Open West show this year, but the above photograph shows part of one of the entries, still left in situ outside the rear of 51 Clarence Street: an untitled viscose yarn installation by Londoner Stella Whalley.

Sunday, 8 June 2014


Yesterday afternoon, 13 of us convened for tea on Edmund's boat, with live music and the nostalgic hiss of a steam train in the background. Caroline had slaved over a hot stove all Friday, confecting - aided by the internet - a castle cake for William's eighth birthday. It arrived intact, retaining the desired wow factor despite one of its towers looking distinctly Pisan from the journey in a hot car.

Pieces of eight continued this afternoon with Glyndebourne's much talked about Octavian delighting us in the live relay of Der Rosenkavalier: more than eight times simpler to watch it at home than struggle into dinner jackets and drive all the way to East Sussex. And then there's the cost of tickets...

Thursday, 5 June 2014

"Being and remaining authentic"

This is the expressed objective of Commercial Ltd., the in-many-ways-admirable office supplies firm based here in Cheltenham. I went - rather at the last minute - to their CSR Day today, at the Racecourse.

I posted a bit about the 2011 event, the last one I attended, and came away with much the same misgivings today as then: enough is enough.

The attraction today was hearing what a psychologist from Unilever had to say: Dr. Richard Wright, comes with the wondrous title of Director of Sustainable Behaviour. "To achieve sustainability," he told us, "it's critical to change behaviour - and industry has a key role; so we try to change the behaviour of our consumers." He used as an example the health benefits in the Third World from the use of Unilever's Lifebuoy soap. "And from eating Wall's ice cream?" chirped Steve McDonnell, Gloucester City Council's Environmental Coordinator. "Well," came the response. "We still need to have a bit of fun in life."

My photograph shows one of the other speakers, the passionate-about-organics Tim Westwell, founder of Pukka Herbs (one of his colleagues alongside): to the question, what if your competitors mimic your environmental/ethical trajectory? he said he'd be delighted - and the Unilever man went further, saying effectively that if other companies didn't, we were sunk.

The only note of hesitation came from the "fiercely competitive" Simone Hindmarch-Bye of Commercial itself, so I became not the first person to ask whether the word “authentic” has lost its authenticity.

The killer question remains, How do we consume less? Yes, half the world lives on $3 a day or less, but what future for Planet Earth if their standard of living rises to the level of ours?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A question of trust

This indifferent photograph from near the back of the Town Hall's Pillar Room was taken at the end of last night's fracking discussion, part of the Cheltenham Science Festival. It shows the main participants, energy economist Paul Ekins and (right) Andrew Quarles, Cuadrilla's exploration director.

Ably though Richard Bacon chaired it, the self-styled "debate" could have done with being a little more adversarial. And of course it needed longer than an hour, to allow more of the audience's expertise, and I suspect concern, to make itself heard.

The context of climate change and the neglect of the 5th Fuel (energy conservation) needed bringing out more too, IMHO; but the speakers both did well to prevent it just becoming an emotional tussle.

Cuadrilla is asking for "a social licence", but Prof. Ekins queries whether the public trusts the energy companies to tell the whole story, let alone the Government to regulate them effectively: fracking would have no impact on gas prices; 50 wells need to be dug to see what the fugitive emissions would amount to, and whether UK fracking was viable at all - and then 300 new wells a year to meet industry expectations. On top of all this, it's likely to become a substitute for nuclear or renewables, rather than coal. Wouldn't we be better off looking for energy security through renewables? Precisely.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


Two of them have been showing work at the Gardens Gallery here all for a week. I went along to admire their work on Friday night, by when there was already a healthy rash of red dots scattered amongst the exhibits.

Monday, 2 June 2014


In Cheltenham on Saturday morning, I must have seen a dozen old buses of similar vintage to the one in my picture, most of them in service for the day. Needless to say, I was not the only one to whip out a camera.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

End May, I WILL!

Into a family that's pretty full of Williams already, comes another yesterday - when Caroline's cousin and Goddaughter Harriet married her Will. The final hymn was "Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer", composed by William Williams, and earlier we sang lustily "Tell out, my soul", where "stubborn wills are put to flight." Surely no accident, coming from a stable so redolent - pungent even? - with japes.

Altogether a glorious wedding. And this morning, it has, for the first time this year, been sunny enough for us to have breakfast outside.

Small world postscript - I thought I recognised the rather good-looking man escorting the groom's mother: he turns out to be my Goddaughter Lucy's father-in-law. And the grooms' step-mother is someone I used to sail with half a century ago.