Sunday, 26 January 2014

Lord Byron


My days are in the yellow leaf.....

Newstead Abbey, the Home of Lord Byron from 1808 - 1814



It was Byron's birthday, last Wednesday, January 22nd, and we visited Newstead Abbey to pay tribute. It was a quiet day, and there were no signs of celebration, no traces of the flamboyant, broody, romantic in person, though the mellow stones, the sombre wintry park and the cool, tree-stitched lakes breathed romanticism.


The Stable Block and the lake where his father, the eccentric Fifth Lord Byron, staged sea battles


Byron may not be in current vogue, but his work still flashes with brilliance, and his life story still intrigues and excites. His days were erratic and his affairs chaotic. His marriage, to Anna Isabella Milbanke was a disaster, for both of them; his fatherhood, of a daughter (Ada) by his wife, another (Allegra) by Shelley's step-sister-in-law and (possibly) another (Elizabeth) by his half sister Augusta Leigh, was troubled, to say the less. A wayward student at Harrow and Trinity Cambridge, he shot to superstardom at the age of 24 with his narrative poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which describes his travels from Portugal to Greece and Albania. For six years he lived a moody life in the crumbling ruins of Newstead Abbey, which he had inherited from 'Mad Jack' Byron, his father, on his death in 1791, practising pistol shot in the great hall, playing with his beloved Newfoundland dog (Boatswain) in the grounds and riding furiously across the parkland. 





Occasional flurries in society brought him difficulties in love, with problems with Lady Oxford and the crazy Lady Caroline Lamb spitting scandal when rejection addled her brain. Following an attempt by his wife to declare him insane, in 1816, at the age of 28, he left his native shores for good. 

Adieu, adieu! my native shore
Fades o'ver the waters blue;
The night-winds sigh, the breakers roar,
And shrieks the wild sea-mew.
Yon sun that sets upon the sea
We follow in his flight;
Farewell awhile to him and thee,
My native Land-Good Night! 
A few short hours, and he will rise
To give the morrow birth;
And I shall hail the main and skies,
But not my mother earth.
Deserted is my own good hall,
Its hearth is desolate;
Wild weeds are gathering on the wall; 
My dog howls at the gate.


Adieu, Adieu! My Native Shore



The publication of the first Cantos of Don Juan brought more fame, but infamy as well, and for the rest of his life he wandered restlessly in Europe, for several years the cavaliere servente of Teresa Guiccioli in Italy, a country he loved and which loved him.




He met his death, on April 19th 1824, when fever combined with the medical science of the day to close his eyes for ever at Missolonghi, where he had taken responsibility for supporting the cause of Greek independence from Turkish oppression. 


         


In the late 1970s, when teaching in Rome, I was party to a naming of houses, when the school's pastoral system went vertical. Charged with finding suitable names for four houses, where the titles would be shoutable on touch lines (hence planets such as Uranus were discounted) and should promote strong values (?) my option was for George Gordon Noel, the sixth Lord Byron. The then Headmaster, one Hendrik Deelman, wished to veto my proposal, claiming that my hero may have had homosexual tendencies, had an embarrassingly uninhibited libido, and spoke his mind..... Also held against him was his reported club-foot, a handicap which apparently made him less attractive as a hero.


These accusations raised my hackles, and on behalf of the long dead lord I fought back.  Here was a highly successful writer who lived in, and loved, Italy; who may have had a physical disability but who notwithstanding could swim the Bosporus, the Tagus at Lisbon and from the Lido of Venice across the lagoon and up the Grand Canal in a race; and who effectively gave his wealth and his life to the cause of an oppressed nation.  Come on Byron!  What more could you ask for?

He may have been described as Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know (by the possibly deranged Caroline Lamb) but it would be risky to suggest that anyone is perfect, and Byron's imperfections seem to me to have been outweighed by his genius.  He was an inspiration.  And when we launched the house in his name (and indeed celebrated his 200th birthday soon after) we found much to admire, and much to draw on both for succour and for solace.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know......


On his birthday, in 1824, Byron penned the following poignant lines at Missolonghi, clearly aware that his time was limited:


On this day I complete my thirty-sixth year


'TIS time the heart should be unmoved, 

Since others it hath ceased to move: 

Yet, though I cannot be beloved, 
Still let me love! 

My days are in the yellow leaf; 
The flowers and fruits of love are gone; 
The worm, the canker, and the grief 
Are mine alone! 

The fire that on my bosom preys 
Is lone as some volcanic isle; 
No torch is kindled at its blaze-- 
A funeral pile. 

The hope, the fear, the jealous care, 
The exalted portion of the pain 
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain......


This poem, one of his shorter pieces, and the last he wrote, is justly famous, reading today as easily as if it were freshly composed, with a gently loping rhythm that holds up with every fourth line as if riding a horse in wind and rain, not galloping, but surging forward then reining back.  Whatever weaknesses Byron may have had, his lyrical qualities were unsurpassed, and for me his plain philosophy rings bells, even if cracked like the west front of his desecrated Newstead.





As champion of the maligned lord, I took time to travel with a copy of Don Juan, reading it in bars and on beaches through one heated July.  I read it with a pencil in hand and scored lines against passages that I found particularly resonant, the rolling ottava rima keeping me enthralled. Now, as I complete my sixty-third year (on this day of writing, also his half sister Augusta's birthday) I feel a renewed affection for his life and work, though would not pursue any likeness or pretend any connection beyond admiration.

Well - well, the world must turn upon its axis,
And all mankind turns with it, heads or tails,
And live and die, make love and pay our taxes, 
And as the veering wind shifts, shift our sails.
The king commands us, and the doctor quacks us, 
The priest instructs, and so our life exhales,
A little breath, love, wine, ambition, fame,
Fighting, devotion, dust - perhaps a name.....

(Don Juan, Canto II, stanza 4)






Outside the rain and wind spatter the garden and the street. It's not a pleasant day, and if I own to a slight despondency it is probably due to the time of year, rather than to my advancing years.  I take heart from Byron's lightness of touch when it comes to melancholy, and his shrouded optimism:

Between two worlds life hovers like a star
'Twixt night and morn upon the horizon's verge.
How little do we know that which we are!
How less what we may be!  The eternal surge
Of time and tide rolls on and bears afar 
Our bubbles.  As the old burst, new emerge......

(Don Juan, Canto XV, stanza 99)





These days the trademark Byron is much sought after, and the adjective Byronic needs little explanation. Though, despite his image as romantic hero, dressed in colourful robes, it is the courage of his convictions which still inspires, and, difficult though he may have been, I applaud his outspokenness, even when he adopts the guise of Juan:


                                           Ne'er doubt
This:  when I speak, I don't hint, but speak out.....

          I may stand alone,
But would not change my free thoughts for a throne.

(Don Juan, Canto XI, stanzas 88 and 90)


Happy Birthday, George!  And thank you!  We leave the Abbey grounds in quiet weather, enriched by the complex of nature and architecture, grateful to Nottingham City Council for preserving this for the public. From the medieval cloisters, and the remains of the 13th century Priory Church, the Great Hall with its minstrels' gallery, and the 300 acres of parkland and lakes, we take our leave, but carry with us an impression of a life much greater than our own.


So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

(So we'll go no more a-roving)






ON THIS DAY I COMPLETE MY THIRTY-SIXTH YEAR
by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824)

      'IS time the heart should be unmoved,
      Since others it hath ceased to move:
      Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
      Still let me love!
       
      My days are in the yellow leaf;
      The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
      The worm, the canker, and the grief
      Are mine alone!
       
      The fire that on my bosom preys
      Is lone as some volcanic isle;
      No torch is kindled at its blaze--
      A funeral pile.
       
      The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
      The exalted portion of the pain
      And power of love, I cannot share,
      But wear the chain.
       
      But 'tis not thus--and 'tis not here--
      Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
      Where glory decks the hero's bier,
      Or binds his brow.
       
      The sword, the banner, and the field,
      Glory and Greece, around me see!
      The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
      Was not more free.
       
      Awake! (not Greece--she is awake!)
      Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
      Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
      And then strike home!
       
      Tread those reviving passions down,
      Unworthy manhood!--unto thee
      Indifferent should the smile or frown
      Of beauty be.
       
      If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
      The land of honourable death
      Is here:--up to the field, and give
      Away thy breath!
       
      Seek out--less often sought than found--
      A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
      Then look around, and choose thy ground,
      And take thy rest.

Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/on_this_day_i_complete_my_thirty-sixth_year.html#GmyjIoxx8jsG2MuI.99
ON THIS DAY I COMPLETE MY THIRTY-SIXTH YEAR
by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824)

      'IS time the heart should be unmoved,
      Since others it hath ceased to move:
      Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
      Still let me love!
       
      My days are in the yellow leaf;
      The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
      The worm, the canker, and the grief
      Are mine alone!
       
      The fire that on my bosom preys
      Is lone as some volcanic isle;
      No torch is kindled at its blaze--
      A funeral pile.
       
      The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
      The exalted portion of the pain
      And power of love, I cannot share,
      But wear the chain.
       
      But 'tis not thus--and 'tis not here--
      Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
      Where glory decks the hero's bier,
      Or binds his brow.
       
      The sword, the banner, and the field,
      Glory and Greece, around me see!
      The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
      Was not more free.
       
      Awake! (not Greece--she is awake!)
      Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
      Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
      And then strike home!
       
      Tread those reviving passions down,
      Unworthy manhood!--unto thee
      Indifferent should the smile or frown
      Of beauty be.
       
      If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
      The land of honourable death
      Is here:--up to the field, and give
      Away thy breath!
       
      Seek out--less often sought than found--
      A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
      Then look around, and choose thy ground,
      And take thy rest.

Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/on_this_day_i_complete_my_thirty-sixth_year.html#GmyjIoxx8jsG2MuI.99

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Duchess of Malfi

 

I am Duchess of Malfi still .....
 

Giovanna d'Aragona, Duchess of Amalfi, from the School of Raphael
 
Four hundred years ago John Webster wrote the line, I am Duchess of Malfi still, for the heroine of his second great drama.  The dowager Duchess (whose name we never know) is facing her executioner, having clandestinely remarried against her brothers' wishes.  It is a line that is justly famous for its stoical majesty in the face of torture and death, but it is not as straightforward as it may seem.  Webster was a poet, and indeed dedicated the first printed edition (1623) of this play to Baron Berkeley, offering this poem to your patronage.... and his greatest skill was in language.  The Duchess, a widowed mother, who has remarried and had three children in secret, recognises her status and her title, and knows who she is, and who she still will be after death.  She is saying I am a Duchess, and will continue to be a Duchess even when stilled by your murdering hand.  It is pride of place and defiance of fate.
 
And that is the key to her character, even to the point of arrogance.  Her twin brother, Ferdinand, the Duke of Calabria, and their older brother, a Cardinal of the Church, have both instructed her not to remarry, and she has deceived them, and married Antonio Bologna, her steward.  It is not absolutely clear why they do not wish her to remarry, though it would seem that Ferdinand harbours incestuous love for his sister, and both brothers are ambitious to own her wealth.
  




The tragedy is in the revenge tradition, but it is also tragic in that the heroine falls and dies due to her love for 'an inferior,' and due to her deceit of her brothers.  Then, ultimately they die in a complex working out of the revenge for her death, and order is perhaps restored into the hands of one of her two sons....  In the meantime there has been a deal of grim behaviour, madness (including her brother's lycanthropia), waxworks of supposed murder victims, severed hands, strangulation, and stabbing.  In the end the stage is strewn with bodies, like a rugby field after an international - seven of the main characters and two infants having met untimely deaths.

 


So where is the entertainment?  Why do audiences want to attend this gore-fest?
 
Three things must be taken into consideration.  The venue; the production, and the text

In this case the venue is of considerable interest.  After years of work, seven and a half million pounds, and considerable research and experimentation, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has opened within the Globe complex. 
 

The Globe complex - the conical roof upper right is part of the Wanamaker Playhouse

From the street it might be a courthouse.  From the Foyer it appears to have been shunted in, all red brick and new, with no windows, an engine shed in a bustling station.  It even looks quite large.  A bust of Sam Wanamaker smirks by the pit door, pleased that his dream has come true, but disembodied like Sir Henry Wood overseeing all those Proms (surely he doesn't like them all?)



 
And then inside the shell, there is another shell, this time of wood, and within that we enter a Russian doll version of a Doll's House, where adults perch uncomfortably around a stage, like an inverted set for Stephen Daldry's National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls.....  It seems unreal, but then all theatres invite the suspension of disbelief, and paradoxically it also seems very real, as though we have strode back in time to when John Webster first saw his play performed inside the Blackfriars Theatre, by candle light....
 

It is breath-taking, (in more ways than one.)  The proximity of 339 other men and women, most of whom would seem to be in late middle age and well fed (though I spotted one Japanese woman and her teenage daughter luxuriating in their extra space) perched on hessian covered benches,  is breath-taking (one thing the designers may have overlooked is that people are generally bigger these days!)  The hundred or so beeswax candles are also breath-taking (I wonder what it will be like in the warmth of summer?)  And the dark is breath-taking.  When the candles are extinguished, and the blinds closed, there is barely a crack of light to be seen, not even a green LED nor a Fire Exit sign.  It is like being enclosed in a time machine, or a Jacobean Link Trainer, and the grain of the oak, and the meticulous attention to decoration, even the smell of hot wax, and wick-smoke, create the illusion of another time, another country, spinning on its own orbit, testing Galilean theories to the limit.


This is what I might have photographed if I had been able to take a picture inside
 
I have not seen the film Quantum of Solace so was not drawn to see this production by the name of Gemma Arterton.  I imagine having a film star in any play will create a buzz, and draw the crowds, though somehow I doubt whether many of those sitting near me were Bond film fans either.
 
Leave that aside therefore.  Look at the Duchess as a Duchess.  And there's the rub.  She's pretty, with high cheek bones and a slightly candle-lit voice, but she is doll-like, within this amazing doll's house.  When she said I am Duchess of Malfi still, she might have said I am Malibu Stacy still, or, my name's Gemma and I'm your waitress.....  Webster's Duchess is a mature Italian Duchess, widowed, with a son, and sister to a Duke and a Cardinal.  She is not a pretty schoolgirl waiting for a boyfriend in his dad's BMW.  Very noticeably in this production the two other women parts, the Duchess's maid, Cariola, and the Cardinal's mistress, Julia, carry more stature, and their deaths are consequently more moving.  If that comes across as harsh, the context is that this is a high quality production, and the Duchess beguiles where the others allure; she charms where the others interest. 
 
 
That said, she has a problem being twinned to Ferdinand.  His skinny, floppy madness calls to mind the spitting and hysterical tantrums of Rick in The Young Ones.  His great line should be, Strangling is a very quiet death, but this is almost thrown away in an entrance reminiscent of Max Wall.  Their older brother, the Cardinal, is much more sinister; his thoughtful, Machiavellian evil is much more disturbing, and his cynical eye is not unobservant.  He chides his brother for displaying his temper:
 
There is not in nature
A thing that makes man so deform'd, so beastly,
As doth intemperate anger.....
 

But then, when all is over, they dance together, and clap, and smile; they are only actors.....  O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings....   They do as instructed, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature.....  They die, to sleep! 




This production, at least, is faithful to the text.  Dominic Dromgoole may have his preference for dances, but his credentials are impeccable (Millfield, Cambridge, mother English Teacher, father Theatre Director, etc) and his direction is careful.  There is a considerable responsibility in presenting the first major production in this exciting and experimental space, and it would be remarkable if everything pleased everybody.  But I am not sure where the focus lies?  Was it enough to produce a well-nigh perfect doll's play, mouthing the words and acting the actions?  
 
Webster's source was William Painter's Palace of Pleasure, which retold the true story of Giovanna d'Aragona, Duchess of Amalfi from her marriage in 1490 to the time she left in pursuit of her lover (and died) in 1510.  But Webster did not just dramatize that life-story.  He lived in London, and attended the theatre, and co-wrote plays with all the big names of the time.  He was aware of weaknesses at court: his description of the Duke and Cardinal as plum trees that grow crooked over standing pools would have resonated with the public which had heard that the court of King James was like a stagnant pond.  He was aware that Penelope, the sister of the Earl of Essex, had left her husband to live with, and have children by, Charles Blount.  When Essex, in jealousy, revealed this in a confession made in 1601, she was confined to house-arrest, like our Duchess.  Webster would have known that spying was rife - he could even have known that Marlowe acted as a spy - and he would have been aware that men tried to control their female relatives (and still do?)
 
Webster was familiar with the works of Shakespeare, would have attended performances of many of his plays, and they may have known each other.  Certainly Webster quotes from, and uses similar devices to, the older playwright, and Shakespeare was always commenting on current events and preoccupations. He certainly saw Macbeth, and probably would have seen King Lear.  The Winter's Tale was most likely written only a year or so before The Duchess of Malfi.
 
So what does this text communicate?  Is it that, We are merely the stars' tennis-balls, struck and banded which way please them?  Or is that, In all our quest of greatness, Like wanton boys.... We follow after bubbles blown in the air?   Or is the Cardinal's observation, How tedious is a guilty conscience? the lesson we should take away?  Or do Ferdinand's dying words, Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust, carry the heart of Webster's philosophy? 


My Last Duchess - at Ravello (above Amalfi)

It is no laughing matter, whatever.  The play is crusted and crudded with bloody shadows, and as Bosola says as he dies, it is a gloomy world!  But Delio, honest Delio, closes the play with a note of hope. 
                                    I have ever thought
Nature doth nothing so great for great men
As when she's pleased to make them lords of truth:
Integrity of life is fame's best friends,
Which nobly, beyond death, shall crown the end. 
 

A view of the Dukedom of Amalfi - Sweet Lemons

 
The world of the early 17th Century differed from ours in many ways.  Galileo had just produced the first effective telescope, though binoculars were yet to come. The world of nature was better known to Londoners than it is today, and references to birds flutter through this play to show that Webster, like his contemporaries, would have been familiar with the avian world.  Eighteen different species of birds are referred to (though he describes exactly but does not name the corncrake, and he uses vulturous as an adjective).  The Duchess observes that,
 
The birds that live i' the field
On the wild benefit of nature live
Happier than we,
 
and the Malcontent Bosola asks
 
Didst thou ever see a lark in a cage?  Such is the soul in the body.......
 
[prefacing W B Yeats by some three hundred years
 Come, let's away to prison;
We two alone will sing like birds i'th cage..... 
 
(Sailing to Byzantium)]

Touching this, and linking with Donne and metaphysics, perhaps the tenderest thought is expressed by Antonio, when he bids his wife farewell:
 
since we must part:
Heaven have a hand in 't; but no otherwise
Than as some curious artist takes in sunder
A clock or watch, when it is out of frame,
To bring 't better order.

*     *     *     *     *     *
 
 

The show is done, and the candles snuffed, their wicks to be trimmed.  Outside the river ebbs and flows, lit by the exotic coloured candles of the modern world.  How strange the contrast!  Though yet:
 
Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright,
But, look'd to near, have neither heat nor light.

 





Still, the Duchess is the Duchess, murdered by her family.  Does she stand for victims of domestic violence?  Does her case make us think of Diana?  Does the intrigue make us question the confidence of politicians (A politician is the devil's quilted anvil)?  Is the world a better place?
 
As the Cardinal says:
 
Fare you well.
Wisdom begins at the end:  Remember it.




I do recommend this experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed it......  I am Duchess of Malfi, still.....
 

 
 *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *
 
 
 
 




{With many thanks to John Davison, who introduced me to the play at A Level, several years ago!}



Friday, 10 January 2014

London 9 - From Kew to Putney

Down by the riverside.....


  

 
KEW GARDEN

A poem in two Cantos, 1767

HAIL to the fpot, where Britain's laurel fprings
With item renewed, and rears its growth to heaven ;
What moral beauties, in their claffic robe
Tranfparent, thus in regal ftate exprefs'd,
With fweet benevolence enchant my foul ?
What new creation rifes to my view ?
Where niggard nature every boon denied;
Where earth and water, with ungenial bent,
To form and tafte, and order feem'd averfe.
What powerful Fiat call'd this Eden forth,
Like that firft paradife from chaos form'd,
And o'er the wafte a beauteous world bid rife?
 

& fo on & fo forth

by Henry Jones, an Irishman

whose drunken habits, indolence, coarse manners, and arrogant temper disgusted most of his patrons (according to Wikipedia)





On the finest day this winter I chanced to find myself at the gates of Kew Garden.  My plan was to stroll through the gardens and then take the Thames Path to Putney, but there was an obstacle.  A lady of Irish origin, who I want to call Maeve, wished to extort £14 from me for the pleasure of perambulating dans les jardins!  And this was the discounted price. 

And what, pray, do these parterres offer which merits more funds than my journey here from deepest Hertfordshire?
Well,  she said,  there's three hundred acres...
Madame, we have at least that many acres in Hertfordshire!
It's what they charge.....  They're doing a lot of work....



I realised that my options were to pay or not to pay, as so often is the case, these days.  Where's the healthy art of bargaining gone?  Had I known at that point that winter had denuded all but the most evergreen of trees and that precious few plants flower at this time of year, and, most especially, had I been informed that the Temperate House, a place that chimed with the sense of New Year Resolution that fired me at that particular point in time, was CLOSED (fermé, geschlossen, chiuso per restauro) then I would really have fought for a further discount.  But, gentle reader, I am but a meek soul, conditioned by a lifetime of bureaucracy to respect minions behind glass, and so, I paid.


And then, Lo, what did I behold?  Something akin to a Hobbit (an Hobbit?) was helping itself to Holly Berries, as if this was a public park!

I rest my angst.....



At least the Palm House, the first and greatest wrought iron and hand blown glass construction in the world, a grounded airship, half deflated, stranded like a whale..... was open, and so, temporarily, my hopes were raised.





Even though it seemed to have been appropriated by a crèche.....


And then, the mortal blow, the Temperate House, far larger than the Palm House, a gleaming steamer of the line, though some years younger, closed, as I said.  Chiuso per restauro!  Agh!  I should have read the small print on their website:

The Waterlily House is now closed until April 2014.
Kew Palace and the Royal Kitchens, Queen Charlotte's Cottage are now closed until 29 March 2014.
The Temperate House and the Evolution House are now closed for a major restoration project. The anticipated completion date for the project is summer 2018

I have only myself to kick!  But how can they justify the entrance fee?



 
Anyway, it is a lovely day, and my friend and I make the most of the scenery:



Canada Geese water-skiing,




Aeroplanes stuck in the trees,




and Pochard (eyed up by a lusty Mallard) enjoying the Chinese Lanterns.


And then, with William Empson, once famed for decorating the bar of the Star and Garter close by the Arts Tower in Sheffield University, in mind, we leave the Gardens to the likes of Thom Gunn, in order to watch the Fuller's Griffin Brewery, Chiswick, float past on the high tide.
Note on Local Flora

There is a tree native in Turkestan,
Or further east towards the Tree of Heaven,
Whose cold hard cones, not being wards to time,
Will leave their mother only for good cause;
Will ripen only in a forest fire;
Wait, to be fathered as was Bacchus once,
Through men's long lives, that image of time's end.
I knew the Phoenix was a vegetable.
So Semele desired her deity
As this in Kew thirsts for the Red Dawn.
by William Empson

Fuller's Red Dawn, the Griffin Brewery at Chiswick
 

As Fuller's state on their website, Cultures define themselves heavily through their food and drink. There is nothing more British than beer and Fuller’s is acutely aware and protective of its place in British life.  I am not sure that the same can be said of Budweiser (of St Louis and Newark), especially since the American Eagle can be seen in this photograph to be warding off complaints from the Budweiser Budvarís beers [which] are brewed only in one place in the world, at the Budweiser Budvar brewery in Cesk.....  And neither of these companies belong on the Thames in the Stag Brewery at Mortlake, where Watney Combe and Reid brewed from 1889 (having moved from Victoria) until Scottish Courage leased the premises to Anheuser-Busch Europe Ltd, who have recently announced that, having planned to close it, they will keep it open until 2014, at least...... 
What was it Empson said, in the Star and Garter, about seven types of ambiguity?



Anyway, we move on.  Leaving poetry behind, we stumble on serious music and the origins of the Royal Ballet, no less, at Edris Stannus (aka Dame Ninette de Valois, 6 June 1898 – 8 March 2001, an Irish/Englishwoman from Wicklow)'s bijou riverside cottage in Barnes.  And only a few doors down,




lived Gustav Holst (Gustavus Theodore von Holst: 21 September 1874 – 25 May 1934, an Englishman from Cheltenham), from 1905 to his death music master at St Paul's Girls' School, Hammersmith.



The two no doubt coincided, and one can imagine them enjoying the likes of Humphrey Lyttleton and Ronnie Scott, or the adolescent Rolling Stones, in the music room at the Bull (or Bull's Head to the precious), though sadly Holst predeceased them all.





The current management have spruced the place up since I was last there (well that was some forty years ago), purging the residue of fifty years of Zoot Money and Phil Seaman, though they still allow in the odd soul brother (see below, smile please) and keep the jazz traditions going with polyglot bar staff and exquisite sausage rolls..... 


 


In the meantime, Holst's girls still catch crabs down by the riverside, here seen training outside William Morris's home,






And pairs lay down their heavy loads against the flow not far from






Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham FC, a place to put on your long white robe, yessir.....






The Thames path, puddled and weedy in places, allows for exercise, or contemplation, for heirs, and for Gracies.  At times, such as in this inclement season, it floods (notably at Chiswick, where you park on Chiswick Mall at your peril; or at Mortlake, where an alternative route is signposted; and the northern banks and islands, such as Chiswick Eyot, are ripped and strewn by high tides and heavy rains).  But the sunken cottages behind the newer banks, and the views across the powerful stream, are unspoiled and bright in the unfiltered light.  Uncluttered air enfolds you, and whatever the weather the way is there to follow.  Unencumbered.....




Of course, some people could have started earlier,




And others could have made more of an effort to be sociable,



And still others could have spared the time of day, perhaps....



But, when all is dead and sunny, the rather wonderful thing is that the space is free and each is to his, or her, own.  As Putney approaches and a pint at the Bricklayer's Arms, Waterman Street, beckons (in preference to the Star and Garter where one just might get involved with William Empson and his dyspepsia) my rancour at Kew's entrance charges has worn off, and the afternoon's sense of wandering with a river that Ratty and Mole enjoyed so much in The Wind in the Willows, has taken over. 
I am going to lay down my sword and shield.  I am not going to study war no more..... 
 Gonna meet my loving mother.....
Down by the Riverside,
Down by the riverside....

Mahalia Jackson

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eiwb67-TMd0