Friday, 31 October 2014

On Edge

We are planning to walk from Edge next Wednesday, if there is reasonable visibility so as to enable us to enjoy the view from the top of the escarpment. Today would have been almost perfect, though a little misty. Four of us caught the bus to Painswick, and walked a shortish distance along the Cotswold Way - there and back.

In the field just below Painswick, we passed a signpost, newly-erected, commemorating the late Tony Drake. He was Gloucestershire's arch-Rambler, so it's a fittingly elaborate memorial to someone who lived to fight for rights of way.

As it's my common complaint, when out walking, that you never see many farm workers these days, I was glad, passing Randall's Farm, to spot one in a field with just one cow in it. Wearing the traditional long coat, little seen nowadays, he gave her a pat, no doubt to say he was waiting for her calf to appear. Our path ran alongside the fence of another field containing a whole herd. "Oh, look at that handsome bull! I shouldn't much fancy being in that field." "Unless you were a cow of course."

Leaves are at their best, many still on the trees, but enough underfoot to scuff with satisfaction. It was shirt-sleeve balmy, with little wind - the culmination of some extraordinary October weather.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


After so much sunshine recently, it was a disappointment to have to walk in wet conditions this morning. Six of us set off at a brisk - for us - pace from the Sherborne Arms, describing a circle with a circumference of about the same number of miles. On a fine day, the views might be worth it, but in the drizzle, and with mud underfoot (why don't all farmers restore the footpaths across their land?), it was not one of our happier outings.

Less than a week ago, a friend had been telling us about a couple we both knew who had recently moved to Cirencester, a town of some 20,000 inhabitants. And it transpires that two of our regular walkers live in that same estate and have already met them.

Because of the weather, my camera stayed covered up during the walk: I took the photograph of Aldsworth church, visible for a mile or more when driving from Northleach, back in July.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


The burgeoning Halloween industry bypasses me, but it's hard to be a killjoy when you see what pleasure it gives children to gorge the flesh out of a pumpkin and more or less instantly create a spooky face.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Reality check?

I've been playing chess today with Laurie Arthur Davis: not yet seven, he's already able to surprise me.

The subject of the above trick picture is his great-great-grandfather, Arthur Bertram Davis - playing against himself: born in 1885, he would have sat for it while Victoria was still Queen.

I like to think the image was created by the player's father, Arthur Henry, who thus set a photographic ball of thread running down through the Davis family.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


We lunched today at the Old Crown - sitting at the self-same table as I did before the Owlpen concert in July. The friends we met there are - I guess - used to rather more upmarket pub food than Uley provides, but I reckon it's adequate, and the atmosphere is a good deal more pubby than in most other places in the Cotswolds these days.

Afterwards, on another mild, dry afternoon, three of us walked down and across to Owlpen, calling into the church before skirting round the Manor, the most idyllic setting in Gloucestershire that I know of. We watched a newly-hatched calf stagger to its feet and make shaky progress towards the food supply.

Friday, 24 October 2014

"Living differently"

Molly Scott Cato MEP came hotfoot from a sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg to address the United Nations Association Gloucestershire County branch this evening. She addressed a packed Friends Meeting House on United Nations Day on the theme chosen for One World Week this year, "Living differently", and answered all the many questions her speech raised - and more besides.

It was an appropriate theme, she reflected, as "people in the South-West are already living differently" to those in other parts of the UK. More energy from wind power is generated in the South-West than in the whole of the rest of England put together, for instance. And the wish of so many to come here and to live more in harmony with nature was the likely reason she had been elected as an MEP in May this year, the first ever for the Green Party in this region.

While working in Brussels and Strasbourg for further harmony, Molly was deeply suspicious of the move towards "harmonisation" of regulation - and the fact this was being considered in secrecy. The proposed free trade agreement between the EU and the United States ("the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership") would, she thought, serve to emphasise the power of corporations over that of citizens: a combined effort was needed to prevent it coming into force, but it worried her, how few of the 751 MEPs truly "represented" the interests of those who had elected them.

Having been thrown in at the deep end in this Summer of conflicts (in Ukraine and elsewhere), she felt that, as a delegate to the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, she could make a positive contribution from her academic background. "We need to learn from the South," she maintained, warning that our imposition of carbon limits upon the poorest countries was seen as "neo-colonialist: we need to start with ourselves, and ask how we can share technologies and change our lifestyles." After all, it’s only in recent years that our (UK) total historic carbon contribution has been outstripped by that of the USA.

She ended by quoting Nelson Mandela, "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." 

Professor Malcolm Evans OBE, chair of the UNA Gloucestershire, chaired the meeting and proposed the vote of thanks. A stimulating evening.

I wrote this for the Gloucestershire Echo, but they published instead one submitted on behalf of Transition Town Cheltenham. Fair enough, though I would have preferred to see a report on the “normal” news pages to one pigeon-holed in the paper’s green corner.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Belle Vue

Bath signage is worth a study: walking back from tea at Sally Lunn's, we saw one on a house near to our hotel last evening - an elegant "Spencers Belle Vue" above the door, and that turns out to be the name of the road too: we look down on it from our third floor bay window.

I thought the steep climb would be a slog after our long day out, but there's so much to observe, and we even went further and revisited our favourite place of all here: in contrast to Royal Crescent below (and the still more ornate Circus), Lansdown Crescent's facade is plain, its only concession to frivolity being the ironwork - assuming you don't count the sheep that safely graze below. Not that you would normally call sheep frivolous, but here they seem it, miles from any proper farmland.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


As the unexpected beneficiaries of our friends' cancelled holiday, we are in Bath for two nights, staying at the Lansdown Grove Hotel. On a windy but sunny morning, we walked down to the River Avon passing majestic trees (in their Autumn colours) and buildings to correspond: you can only glimpse them from a car.

Ahead of the first shuttle bus up the other side of the valley to Claverton and the American Museum (where we happily spent most of the day), there was time to explore Bath's wonderful Victoria Art Gallery: neither of us had been in before.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Pre-birthday tea

Ida's birthday is not till tomorrow, but the celebrations are taking place in advance this year, for one reason or another. Agnes' Mamma Mia! cake set a triumphant seal on the children's party last Friday, and this afternoon Thomas, Caroline and I pitched up in time for tea in Bristol, and seeing the joy of a seven-year-old open presents.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Two men, one bitch

John Crace would be hard put to find a "Digested read, digested" phrase for the Marriage of Figaro, the opera: my title to this post, for instance, only partially unlocks the plot. And in Richard Eyre's production at the Met, relayed last night to our Cineworld, Marlis Petersen's Susanna is anything but bitchy. In fact I thought all the women excellent, and the set and costume designs (stand up Rob Howell) were a dream. What a unique masterpiece Mozart gave us!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

No good news from Goodison

Biking back from Shurdington having had my flu jab, I stopped to extend a welcome to old friends who have just moved into Cheltenham - having been trying for ages to sell their nice house in a village beyond Gloucester. It didn't seem at first glance a particularly attractive swap, but inside is surprisingly roomy, and there's a quiet, decent-sized garden at the back. They will be fine once the dust has settled. An encouragement to us!

This afternoon, Everton trounced Aston Villa 3-0, and my hopes of a re-run of the result of the 1897 Cup Final were dashed. As my 14-year-old Gateley grandfather sat at supper at Ampleforth, the only Birmingham boy in the midst of a crowd of Liverpudlians, a telegram arrived: "Aston Villa 3, Everton 2."

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sticky moments

A farm building at Climperwell, a euphonious place name if any there is, sports this weather vane, which I spotted today towards the end of our walk. Three of us set out in the mist from Foston's Ash, traipsing through more mud than we have been used to for many a month.

But what has become of the driver of this handsome combo? Was he perhaps distracted while bowling along through nearby Buckle Woods, and - failing to anticipate a bend - ejected from his carriage? A sticky moment. Similar indeed to the one that we so nearly experienced in those same woods en route to our rendezvous this morning.

It put me in mind of the first of three major brushes with death I have had in the past forty years: it took place forty years ago today. At about 8 p.m. I was driving home from Kingham Station when, near Bledington - a fitting location - I ran into the back of an ill-lit farm trailer. Thank God for seat belts!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Season of mists - 2

The air was still yesterday, and the day seemed a dull one here in Cheltenham. But a watery sun was trying to break through at the top of Leckhampton Hill, and - a first for me - thick cloud more or less filled the Severn Vale, the top of Bredon Hill, like a sand spit, alone visible.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Extraordinary ordinary

Yesterday afternoon, we visited the Cheltenham Art Gallery, which has some fine Chinese work in its permanent collection, though not often on show. It has been dusted down to accompany a new travelling exhibition, just opened. "Ahead of the Curve" is the somewhat opaque title of what is a fine assemblage of contemporary objects from China. It was not something I thought would be of much interest to me when it was advertised, but in fact, as my photograph shows, there is much to catch the eye: Wan Liya calls his beautifully crafted porcelain copies of everyday containers "Birds Twitter and Fragrance of Flowers". Many of the artists studied at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute: it hosts some 1,700 students of ceramics at any one time.

Later in the afternoon, we had tickets for a poetry recital. Once again, they were intended for Agnes, but she was in Bristol. The poets were Michael Symmons Roberts and Rowan Williams.  I found the work of the former infinitely more accessible than the latter's: obviously such a nice and good man, but "never knowingly understood" seems to hit the mark for his poems as well as his sermons.

Roberts not only read well, but gave us short glosses which illuminated his thought. A poem about a photo booth was prefaced by his describing it as a secular confessional where you are confronted with yourself.

Asked about the influences upon their work, Roberts referenced Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman's Dream Songs, Donne and Edward Thomas; while from Rowan Williams came the names of Auden, Dylan Thomas, Eliot, "early to middle Geoffrey Hill", Browning and David Jones.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Season of mists

We walked up to Barber Wood this morning, with cobwebs lining the track that rises gradually across the contours above Coldwell Bottom. The mist all but obscured the pylons on the skyline the other side of the Churn Valley, which normally take so much away from one of my favourite Gloucestershire views.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Wild West wind

Accosted by a homeless and hungry young man when passing the Spiegeltent, temporary home to fine dining hereabouts, I paused to listen to the verses he had just composed - writing them as a message on his mobile phone. I was, he said, the first to be willing to pay for the privilege of his personal poetry recital. Truer to the spirit of a festival of literature than most of the events-in-the-tents you pay much more dearly to attend, I reflected.

The tented village seems to have survived the strong winds better than our fence: it blew down in the night, so this morning was spent with extension leads, electric drill and screwdriver to hand. Amazingly, I found in the shed just the right length of wood to patch it up with. Should hold it together for a while, anyway, and may even see us out.

"Truth and uncertainty" - part of yesterday's religion thread - was the title of the only event I have attended since Tuesday, with four believers and one humanist on the stage. "Everybody has been very nice," said one member of the audience given the mike and a chance to comment. Tom McLeish explained why: "Christianity, as St Paul says, is about healing broken relationships."

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Four and three

I paid a return visit to Crucible 2 yesterday morning, with Caroline and a friend who has come to stay from London for a couple of days. Through her eyes, we saw Gloucester Cathedral afresh, a glorious backdrop in the sunshine and a safe haven when it was pouring with rain: April seems to have come again.

In the afternoon, we went to a rather ponderous discussion about Bretton Woods and the EU ("not just about the price of fish... It's like riding a bike, you have to keep moving forward"). Two separate books being plugged, both authors afraid to disagree with one another.

The later session was an improvement: "Artists - can they change the world?" Answer: yes provided they move on from the merely passive aggressive. "Climate change," exclaimed the passionate Heather Ackroyd: "How can anyone be making art about anything else?"

This morning, we struck luckier still, with the session on King Lear. Michael Pennington has recently returned from New York after playing the part off Broadway. A questioner wondered if it wasn't a depressing experience, with no redemption or hope for the future. "No, you play the blues and feel better," he said. Inevitably he stole the show, but the two academics were an excellent foil, and all benefitted from the best chairing I've come across yet this year.

Finally today, Crispin Tickell chatted - superficially, I concluded - to James Lovelock about his new book. I thought the title given us by the person making the introductions was "A rough ride to the future". Having heard Lovelock speak before, it sounded appropriate, but in fact it's "guide" not "ride".

Monday, 6 October 2014

Serious food

We benefitted from it being Agnes' birthday yesterday - and her wishing to celebrate elsewhere rather than by taking up the posh lunch tickets we'd bought her. Looking through the programme a while back, she had been full of enthusiasm about Morito coming to our festival: we on the other hand had never heard of Sam and Sam Clark, half of whom were there in the Spiegeltent to promote the inevitable book. Great food, and with it six delicious wines (from Laithwaites) - and also good company on our table, though from the photograph you might not gain that impression.

Before the lunch, I had been to another Times Leader Conference on stage. Much talk around the subject of poor Alan Henning - as David Aaronovitch, to applause, described him, "a modern martyr".

In the evening we drove to Tetbury for our one and only visit to this year's music festival on its final evening. It was a happy choice, as the Dunedin Consort's Bach St John Passion was one of the very best TMF concerts we have experienced - and there have been a good few over the years. A superb performance all round.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Gathering in

Yesterday - St Francis' Day - may have marked the end of Creation Time, but today was our harvest Sunday at St Gregory's. Sadly, I couldn't cajole any of our three grandchildren - who are staying - into coming along to Mass with me. Exemplum non docet.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Seven and a half candles

My brother-in-law celebrated his 75th birthday today, with a lunch and tea party, and sundry friends and relations - children, cousins etc. - in attendance. (I wonder when he last had a birthday party.)

Friday, 3 October 2014

Billy Jo-King

It's Festival time again in Cheltenham, and given the shortage of parking spaces the tall statue of King William IV in Montpellier Gardens has been appropriately adorned. I went to two Times events, one more enjoyable than the other.

The Leader Conference - for a third year in succession - took place "live" at Midday, half a dozen journalists discussing what should appear in the three slots in tomorrow's paper. Last year, former Ladies' Coll. Head Enid Castle, in the Q&A towards the end of the hour, suggested a topic that hadn't been canvassed - and they went with it. This year, I put in a bid for tomorrow's feast of St Francis and the opening of the Rome Synod on Monday, but Oliver Kamm had other ideas, and he's apparently the one who writes "religious" leaders, despite being by his own admission "devoutly irreligious".

At this very moment he'll be polishing the third leader on the vital question of Um and Er. Can't wait.

Despite this failure, I found the hour's exchange of ideas entertaining and provocative. Is the suggested reform of human rights legislation just a political gesture?  Does it matter that Milliband's Conference speech was much-derided? (What, for that matter, differentiates Cameron's speech from "the old policy of populism" in Venezuela? And don't pledges of tax cuts undermine austerity?) Should we send the army into Sierra Leone to halt the spread of Ebola? What are the knock on consequences of making cycle helmets compulsory, as in Australia and now Jersey? Should they also take the brakes off cars?

The Times, News in pictures event this afternoon was by comparison low key, the star of the show - photographer Jack Hill - not being a naturally-gifted communicator in words. So his narrow escape last year, from capture at the hands of the Syrian man he thought was a friend, didn't register with me as I know it has done with others - an  appalling ordeal.

More people than ever throng Cheltenham for this year's Festival. No doubt it's no longer PC to say that the world and his wife were there.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


There are currently signs pointing to "Rosie" as you approach Miserden, and the road through the village has been covered with gravel. Not only that indicates filming in progress: the Carpenter's Arms is currently "The Woolpack" and strange posters adorn the noticeboard under the tree. Yes, the BBC are doing a remake of Laurie Lee's "Cider with Rosie" and clearly despaired of securing any peace for the project in its true location, nearby Slad.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Disturbing the peace

Not many places in Gloucestershire can be as tranquil as the upper reaches of the valley of the Holy Brook. Five of us were walking that way this morning, starting from Miserden - just the smallest sprinkling of ran could be felt for a minute or two, but otherwise yet anther fine, warm Autumn day. There were no mushrooms, but nuts and blackberries were gleaned, and above Honeycombe Farm a touch of Spain and Italy too: for Our Leader produced Cava, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, no less, from his backpack, with which we all celebrated his reaching that milestone that is three-quarters of a century.

Returning via Sudgrove, I had a word with Lawrence and admired his pumpkins. I had spotted his Concorde weather vane earlier in the year when we walked that way, and wondered what connection Concorde might have with such an outpost of civilisation (pace Ian McEwan). "There used to be a cat up there," Alex told me, "but I've always been a plane spotter: Concorde was based at Fairford during its testing, and when it came over and they were playing cricket, the game ground to a halt. I found the image in a weather vane pattern book, so I ordered one to replace pussy." From purr to roar.