Tuesday, 30 September 2014

September's end

It's been a great month for sunshine, which continues today, and it's still sleeveless shirt weather. Raspberries fruit still in the garden, though the big apple trees have been poor this year. Those photographed in Prue Cooper's beautiful dish on our kitchen table are from one of the heavily-laden little trees.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Tipping Megan

Our book group has now been going eleven years: the next meeting will be our 40th, so we have been regular if infrequent. Five of us came together for the first time in six months on another fine, warm September day.

This afternoon, we did Evesham, having convened in Pershore at noon. After a good look at the Abbey, it was lunchtime: we ate sitting undisturbed in the garden of a riverside pub, well looked after by Megan, a local young lady who will go far. Indeed, she had already been to Florida often, she told us: her Nan was there now, and complaining of the violence. By contrast, Worcestershire seemed peaceful enough, despite the Saturday crowds.

We were gathering to leave the pub, when the conversation turned - as it does - to the afterlife. A bystander joined in. Exchanges flowed. "We really must go," I said.  "You ought to join our book group," chirped in Richard, the response to which made us all laugh: "Do you have a website?"

Friday, 26 September 2014


I had intended that we should walk in Eldersfield parish, and lunch at the Butcher's Arms there, but they can't apparently do dishes without garlic - so, no good for one of the trio of us out today. Instead, we drove to nearby Ashleworth and lunched at The Queens Arms there - excellent food and very accommodating on the allergy front.

Ashleworth feels spread out as a village: we never seemed far away from housing, but it wasn't obtrusive, and some of the architecture was interesting, a mixture of brick and stone. The tithe barn, of course, is magnificent, but the church next door was worth exploring too. Hard to get a photograph of it, though, as the graveyard is a jungle.

Inside, you can see the glorious mixture of styles so typical of our village churches. I liked particularly this fragment of mediaeval glass, representing the beloved disciple.

Both barn and church were deliciously cool on yet another Indian Summer day.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Five of us walked from Sheepscombe this morning. The only steep bit was at the outset, up through Lord's Wood. But worth it for the view down towards Painswick.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Damson picking

As an undergraduate in the early 'Sixties, I spent weeks picking damsons for Henry Usborne at Totterdown on the left bank of the Avon just above Evesham. On my first morning up the ladder, someone walked along and addressed the picker in the next tree: he answered, and it was the unmistakeable voice of Richard Grey, but what was he doing in Worcestershire?

One and threepence a basket was the pay rate, hardly sufficient for a minimum wage, but worth it to be part of a youth scene that I sadly lacked at home at Arrow, 45 minutes away by bus. I frequently slept over, and we would sit in the loft listening to Cliff Richard singing Living Doll. One evening Julian drove us in the Land Rover to the Oxford Playhouse to see John Osborne's Epitaph for George Dillon, and another day we bumped along the track from Seven Springs to visit Little Needlehole: he was a friend of Caspar John's family, who rented it.

This afternoon, Caroline and I drove to Duntisbourne Leer for some lower-level damson picking, and we were allowed to give the mulberry tree a gentle shake too.

Family value

Half our quartet have been in the public eye this past weekend. Agnes was in Foyles, Bristol speaking at a publishing event; and Thomas was quoted in an article entitled "Who said Britons were drunk, dirty and deplorable?" in Saturday's Guardian. "People here do it slowly but surely," he was quoted as saying (a line which needs a little context).

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Shades of green

40 came round our garden in the six hours for which we were open today as part of Cheltenham Green Doors. Five were children, but all seemed more or less committed to the quest for the shortest distance from land to mouth.

At four, we shut up shop and jumped into the car to drive up to Cranham, to see one of the other properties: it was open till six. That was quite a show-stopper: a green oak new build on the site of the TB Sanatorium where George Orwell had once been a patient. It's 1,000 feet up and thus with a fabulous view, over first open fields and then Buckholt Wood, sunny from breakfast to dinner.

My photograph shows the North side, where you drive in past a new lake and bund dividing the property from Cranham Sawmill. The facing here is a wall of Cotswold stone, the other side all glass, with sedum roof and both PV and solar thermal panels.

The owner indicated a line through the pond dividing Cotswold District from Stroud: the two Councils agreed, he said, that Stroud should deal with the planning application, which they were happy to approve, being "top eco".

Are such houses a sign of hope or of contradiction? I suppose the hope is that they can be the F1 racing cars of their time, justifiable on the grounds that they pave the way for more energy efficient roadsters. Because what we need of course is not just top eco, but middle and bargain basement eco too. Otherwise top eco will end up as unjust as Richard ("Eco") Branson's dream of Martian emigration.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Little Malcolm and the struggle against indifference

I biked to St Mark's this afternoon, to look at Malcolm's garden (and buy some of his excellent cakes). It's a picture of Autumn colour, the pair of pheasants he keeps in a cage at the end just adding to the scene.

Here he is standing by some of his collection of nascent Nerines: he's Treasurer of the Nerines and Amaryllid Society.

Malcolm attracted more punters than did the Chaplain of the University of Gloucestershire: I was the only member of the audience for his talk on Faith and Sustainability at the Greener Gloucestershire Festival this afternoon. Ah well, it was the first one of its kind.

Friday, 19 September 2014

"Applying renewable energy within a Christian environmental morality"

This was the title John Twidell chose for his talk to Christian Ecology Link in Cheltenham this evening. Two dozen of us gathered for an excellent presentation, and wide-ranging discussion to follow.

John's faith motivated him to look for work in Africa after completing his second degree - teaching physics in Khartoum University. He saw the waste of a major energy source there (solar) as a failure in stewardship of God's creation, and thus began his experimentation with renewable energy. Returning to the UK, he invented a course in the subject at Strathclyde University, and then obtained the post of Professor of Renewable Energy at de Montfort. He and his wife Mary (whom he met in the Sudan) still live in Leicestershire, where their home bristles with energy-saving measures: they are happy to demonstrate them to any who turn up.

In his presentation, John contrasted green energy - diverting natural flows - with brown energy - digging up in order to pollute. We shouldn't be surprised that renewables are only just becoming accepted: it takes 50 years for people in school to graduate to becoming decision-makers. But the technology for harnessing especially the sun and the wind is now well proven, sophisticated, available and increasingly affordable. Of course, Government help is needed to establish it - the same with any energy source. But Government can equally well scupper it: witness the harm Eric Pickles is doing by his arbitrary overturning of appeal decisions and so preventing new wind farms from being established.

The speaker ended by advocating that we each list possible "my changes" - lifestyle decisions, taking up the issues through lobbying, even career changes (standing for election). And as for leaving the EU, that would be a disaster energy-wise: UKIP want to reopen coal mines!

PS There's an open day to view a community wind turbine not far away, on Sunday 28th: details here.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Open "Doors"

The launch party for Cheltenham Green Doors took place at the Gardens Gallery last evening. Our local MP made a good speech: the chain gang were amongst the nobs present. Then off we biked for the first Film Society offering, an Indian film, "The Lunchbox". Not many green doors programmes in India I guess.

Green Gardens

Our sign has just gone up, for the opening on Sunday - the garden only this year: solar thermal panels - you can just see ours - are two a penny.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Green Doors 2014

My friend Peter Clegg has been working very hard to promote this year's open houses and gardens weekend, coming up. We had a "briefing" yesterday afternoon. All very organised. 

More than half a dozen local properties can be visited next weekend, a good many more than last year. It remains to be seen whether we attract more members of the public - or whether the same number will be spread more thinly, so we shall be twiddling our thumbs for long periods.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


I did dog duty this morning. Caroline was off to set up a stall at a car boot sale: not for all the tea in China would I have joined her.

I walked back home from halfway up Leckhampton Hill: I suppose Floss "walked" five times - at least - further than I did.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Gloucester guests

Caroline's Godson, just off to start his first year at Newcastle University, his father and sister all came to tea, for which a cake was duly baked. They went away with home-made bread and chutney.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The value of art

Instead of a walk in the countryside this Wednesday, four of us met in Gloucester, to visit the Cathedral exhibition, Crucible 2. Some of us spent more time on it than others, but there's never a shortage of things to do in Gloucester, especially on a sunny day.

100 exhibits are a lot to take in. I didn't look at them all, but one or two stood out: Kenneth Armitage's giant hand on the lawn North of the chancel; the Vulcan maquette by Eduardo Paolozzi in the crypt; William Pye's water sculpture in the South transept, to name just a few. None of these has any religious significance, so what, you may wonder, were they doing in a Cathedral exhibition?

Actually, I'm quite comfortable with the idea that our great religious buildings should be used for the widest possible range of activities. What's more vexing is the way our perception of art differs according to the monetary value placed upon it. Crucible 2 is not a selling show, but we are all aware of the astronomical prices for which contemporary works of art are sold. Indeed, security is obviously a major concern for the organizers of this exhibition, though the hordes of people going round - no wonder, when entry was free - were very far from being frisked.

My photograph juxtaposes one of the well-secured exhibits in Crucible 2 (Kate Parsons' "East West - matter of interpretation") with - in the foreground - a cheerful framed colour photograph of May Hill, left by the local Free Art Friday group for anyone to take home with them. Does this subversive placement make it a Disobedient Object, as currently on show in the V&A?

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Plenty of space

Our friend Maryse (now aged 80) invited us to tea today at her home on the other side of Cheltenham. She has been there seven years, and in that time has transformed her diminutive garden into a wonderland of fecundity and colour.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Severn and Wye

I took this photograph, walking through the orchards of Corse Court Farm, just West of the River Severn, this warm afternoon. (We are enjoying an Indian Summer.) The adjacent St Margaret's Church, Corse must be one of the remotest from its village in Gloucestershire. To have gone round by the road would have meant a long detour, so we walked across to it. It's an idyllic setting, but there is nothing very remarkable about the interior, save for an excellent set of boards explaining about the Chartist Movement. One of five rural utopian communities was briefly established in the neighbourhood in the late 1840s, to my shame not something I knew much if anything about.

Earlier, we had driven just beyond Ross, and I found myself looking down on the River Wye, glistening in the sunshine. Away from the A40, you are soon in narrow lanes with high hedges. Good brakes are needed - and (my advice for the driver of a Chelsea Tractor we encountered) it does help not to be on the phone.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Whittington 2014

Another village show, another fine day (for the most part). Silver Band, ice creams, dog show, white elephant, the Press thronged. I went up on my own, and met an old friend, Richard who hadn't been before. So it was especially good to see it all through his eyes.

At the Court, we paid for entrance, an excellent £2 worth, I reckon. (I had never done this before.)

There seemed to be more present than ever, and no wonder. It's the epitome of a traditional village day, with something for everyone.

Friday, 5 September 2014

There and back

This morning I went to Bath, catching the train from Cheltenham, and changing at Bristol Temple Meads. Having climbed onto the London-bound train and sat down, I realised that most of my newspaper (and a couple of magazines I'd brought along too) were still where I had left them, tucked behind my table on the earlier train and now on their way to Plymouth. Bother. So while waiting on Bath Station to return this afternoon, I bought another copy of the paper, not wanting trouble when I got home. At Bristol, I boarded an Edinburgh-bound train, and entered a carriage with a couple of screaming children. Going right down to the end, I found an empty seat.

And yes, it was the same seat on the same train as I'd caught this morning, my "lost" papers still all there behind the table.

Sadly, I can't say anything about the really interesting part of the day - a talk and discussion 20 of us had over lunch on the subject of the Ukraine: Chatham House Rules applied. But we ate well, my third lunch out in a row. And Vladimir Putin was said, with some confidence, to be the richest man on the Planet.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Bell, Sapperton

I was taken out for a posh lunch today, and it was warm enough to sit in the open. I liked the sign they put out to drum up business.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Four Gentlemen of Leisure

A quartet of Wednesday walkers started out from Leighterton this morning, and made for the Silkwood at Westonbirt, not a walk I knew. Though the sun didn't come out till later, it was very warm, and the scenery varied. Rather too many stiles for my liking.

I've come home this evening from an RSC live relay (to our Cineworld). Another first for me - Two Gentlemen of Verona. Though it's early Shakespeare, with a far from plausible plot, there are still plenty of good lines, and they came across well in Simon Godwin's production. Michael Bruce's music played a big part in creating a playful atmosphere, though no setting of the celebrated song is ever going to be a match for Schubert's An Sylvia.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Bee Team

17 pots of (very delicious) honey have come from Caroline's bees to date, but after a thorough inspection today, it seems that will be our lot for this year. It was a game of "Hunt the Queen", so far played without success.