29 October 2015

An Autumn Statement

It's All Too Beautiful!


Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.

The Autumn
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Gideon Oliver Osborne, aka George Osborne, aka Chancellor of the Exchequer, may think he’s a clever bunny, burying poisonous nuts in his Autumn Statement, but he was five years old before the first such statement was made…. The duty of the Exchequer to report twice yearly was introduced by the Industry Act 1975.  In tandem with The Budget, this statement was indeed first called the Autumn Statement, but then from ’93 – ’96 it was the Summer Statement, then from ’97 – 2009 it was the Pre-Budget Report. In 2010, however, with the support of the Office of Budget Responsibility, Georgie renamed it The Autumn Statement

It’s not as if there’s always been such a chalice.  It’s not as if we have to drink from his benighted cup….

But, with baited (sic) breath we await November 25th for his beneficence…..

And I cannot but connect this with the acrid tang of death that November brings:

The month of the drowned dog…..

The Keeper’s gibbet had owls and hawks
By the neck, weasels, a gang of cats, crows:
Some stiff, weightless, twirled like dry bark bits

In the drilling rain. some still had their shape,
Had their pride with it; hung, chins on chests,
Patient to outwait these worst days that beat
Their crowns bare and dripped from their feet.

Ted Hughes


Forgive me!  I love Autumn.  The sighs of plucked fungi; the chiselling teeth of squirrels; the clatter of magpies and football rattles of jays; the stinging rasp of bonfire fumes….  I love the crimson splash of spilt roadkill, the cyan bite of dying leaves, the fogs that cleave to the sleepy hollows….  

And the colours....

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind….

John Keats
Ode to Autumn

I love the change of seasons, the pepper and salt of days.  I don’t mind the coming of death: 

One watches for signals of wreck or war
From the hill afar,
On whom the rain comes down.

An Autumn Rain-Scene
Thomas Hardy

Nor the vague promise of rebirth:

For the night, with a great breath intaken,
Has taken my spirit outside
Me, till I reel with disseminated consciousness,
Like a man who has died.

At the same time I stand exposed
Here on the bush of the globe,
A newly-naked berry of flesh
For the stars to probe.

The Dolor of Autumn
D H Lawrence

It’s all too beautiful!

Over bridge of sighs
To rest my eyes in shades of green
Under dreamin' spires
To Itchycoo Park, that's where I've been

Itchycoo Park
The Small Faces
(Ronnie Lane & Steve Marriot)

Though, actually, for my particular Autumn Statement I went to Tring Park, where, courtesy of the Woodland Trust, the avenue of limes was bathed in floods of surreal colour, and children sparkled with leds and toasted marshmallows.  As the sky drained from blue to black, a vast moon dragged itself above the horizon…..

What did you do there?
I got high
What did you feel there?
Well I cried
But why the tears there?
I'll tell you why
It's all too beautiful….

Etcetera (etcetera etcetera)

So.  My Autumn Statement is this:

Don’t believe everything you see,
You can't tell how it may appear to others.
Don’t believe everything you hear,
There are those who live by the lie,
But love the world around you,
It’s all (too) beautiful. 

(Peace and love, man... Ed.)

So.  Whatever George has in store....

Come autumn's scathe -- come winter's cold --
Come change -- and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne'er be desolate.

The Autumn

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Drive on!

16 October 2015

Vaughan Williams

Illicit Emissions

The real VW Scandal

The composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (VW to his friends) was a bit of a saucy chap. He is probably best known for The Lark Ascending, which, according to The Daily Mail (April 6th 2015) is our favourite classical tune: Ralph Vaughan William's work tops poll for second year in a row

  • Topped poll after Classic FM listeners cast more than 200,000 votes
  • British composer inspired by a poem of same name by George Meredith
  • It found a wide audience last year when it was played as Hayley took a lethal cocktail to end her suffering on Coronation Street

But, and this might shock some, so stiff upper lip now.... Ralph (pronounced Rafe by the way) was a bit of a Rake.....

VW was born in 1872 into a well-to-do family in the Cotswolds, where his father was Vicar of All Saints Church, Down Ampney.  After his father's death, in 1875, his mother brought him to Leith Hill Place, in the Surrey Hills near Dorking, which belonged to her family, the Wedgwoods, of pottery fame.....

Leith Hill Place had also been a favourite haunt of the young Charles Darwin, who was Ralph's great-uncle. 

It might have been a slightly spooky house for the little boy, but perhaps it inspired his imagination and instilled in him a love of the woods and hills of England?

Anyway, VW was taught piano, and violin, attended Charterhouse School and the Royal School of Music and then read History and Music at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became acquainted with members of the Bloomsbury Group.

After graduating he returned to the Royal College of Music, where he became friends with Hubert Parry, Leopold Stokowski and Gustav Holst.

In 1896 VW married Adeline Fisher, a cousin of Virginia Woolf.  Although he was 41 when the First World War broke out, VW lied about his age and enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  His hearing was damaged by gunfire and bombardment, and as a result he became profoundly deaf.

In 1921, The Lark Ascending (which he had composed in 1914) was premiered, and in 1922 Sir Adrian Boult conducted the first performance of VW's third symphony, The Pastoral, which drew on his experiences in the battlefields of France, as well, perhaps, as harking back to his childhood on Leith Hill.

Ralph Vaughan Williams produced a great variety of work, from his nine symphonies, to choral works, arrangements of hymns (he edited The English Hymnal in 1906) and folk songs, to ballets and opera.  

As a celebrity, VW delighted in the company of women. Although he loved living in London after the war, Adeline became ill with arthritis and the couple, who had no children, moved to live outside Dorking, near where he had grown up. Adeline was not a happy lady; she wore black, from when her brother was killed in the First World War, until her own death. So, perhaps not surprisingly, VW enjoyed London society when he could. He was much admired, and a number of most respectable ladies have admitted that he turned their heads, and perhaps broke some hearts.....

His friends recounted that he was a very tactile person, too, and good company. He was a tall, imposing figure, never very tidy, despite his habit of wearing three piece suits. The singer, Robert Tear, then a student at Cambridge, met VW when rehearsing one of his works at St Bartholomew the Great in London, and described him as looking like an old sofa, with the stuffing coming out!

In 1937, he received a letter from a young woman, Ursula Wood, who offered him some of her poetry as a scenario for a ballet.  Ursula was married to an officer in the Royal Artillery, but was living with her parents.  VW took her to lunch.  In the taxi, before parting, they kissed, passionately.  Within dates... they became lovers. She was 26.  He was 65.

The affair may not have been a grand scandal.  Certainly it was not to disturb economies or to bring about resignations or corporate shame.  To start with, however, it was clandestine, and on one occasion VW and Adeline, Ursula and her husband, went together, uncomfortably perhaps, to see a performance of VW's Hugh, the Drover.  Friends in the arts, got to know of the liaison, but it never hit the headlines. Around the same time, Ursula had an abortion, telling both her husband and VW, but not knowing who had been the father.  

But then Ursula's husband died, suddenly in 1942, of a heart attack, and she became increasingly entwined with the composer, as his literary adviser and personal assistant.  She was invited to VW's home, and met Adeline, for whom she also acted as a carer.  It is possible that Adeline condoned the relationship, and one anecdote teases the idea of a ménage à trois. Late in the war, when V1 bombs were used to attack London, it is said that VW and his wife were in bed, in separate single beds, listening for the ominous cutting out of the flying bombs' engines.  Lying between them, on a palliasse on the floor, holding hands with both Adeline and Ralph, was Ursula.

Adeline died in 1951.  In 1953 Ursula and Ralph were married, and they moved to 10 Hanover Terrace, Regent's Park, where they enjoyed five years together before VW died, in 1958.  He left his ninth symphony unfinished, but is now regarded, by many, as the greatest English composer of the twentieth century, certainly the greatest symphonist..... 

Ursula lived on.  She wrote a biography of her second husband, volumes of poetry, four novels, and, in 1972 (though not published until 2002) an autobiography, Paradise Remembered.  She was president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, on the executive committee of the Musicians' Benevolent Fund, and worked, with Sir Michael Tippett, on the RVW Trust, founded by her husband in 1956, and still one of the most significant sources in the UK of funding for contemporary and recent British music.

She died on October 23rd, 2007, almost fifty years after Ralph.  

But I think she may have died with a twinkle in her eye?  

Naughty girl!

A lark.  Ascending.....

Leith Hill Place is now managed by The National Trust.

11 October 2015

Norwich City....


Shadows of the Wanderer - Ana Maria Pacheco

Being something of a wanderer in the land of Norfolk and its capital, I have, for this piece, enlisted the guidance of the official city website:

Which I trust will help the reader understand this little-known hub of culture, sometimes known as East Anglia's answer to Bucharest..... So, the bits in Italics are borrowed from this energetic interweb. Anything else is my attempt to add a personal touch..... 

Norwich is a thriving regional capital with a year-round calendar of events and festivals, from culture to cuisine. Just two hours’ train journey from London (or two hours seventeen minutes in a car according to AA Routeplanner so why bother with a train?), you’ll discover a city that can accommodate any pace of life; take in the history and heritage, experience some of the best shopping in the UK or relax with a river cruise and a stroll around the city’s beautiful Norwich Cathedral Quarter (not sure how the river cruise around the Cathedral quarter would work?)

This vibrant and cosmopolitan city provides the perfect base for a short stay.....

Culture is huge in Norwich, in fact it's part of its DNA! And with an incredible array of things to see, experience and do for all ages and interests, Norwich offers the unusual, the extraordinary and the unexpected!

Norwich is also a world UNESCO City of Literature with a great choice of wonderful museums, theatres, cinemas, festivals, galleries and music venues. Be surprised, delighted and captivated at what you find!

Royal Arcade

Discover the unique city of Norwich with its extraordinary heritage and outstanding buildings. Norwich is a beautiful city with over 1500 historical buildings and architecturally stunning contemporary buildings making it a city which offers a rare blend of historic interest and modern sophistication (just like Bucharest).....

The Normans marked their arrival with the magnificent Castle and Cathedral — the earliest entries in 'The Norwich 12', an unmissable collection of iconic architectural examples spanning 900 years of British history, from medieval to the modern era.

One of the city's most famous landmarks, Norwich Castle was built by the Normans as a Royal Palace 900 years ago. Now a museum and art gallery, it is home to some of the most outstanding collections of fine art, archaeology and natural history....  (Some of the most outstanding?  If they were more outstanding I would enquire, more than where?  But most begs that question....) 

Unfortunately the Castle was closed, but what I did note was that the Castle grounds were attractive to young men during the darkness of Saturday, congregating on steps, their smoky voices punctuated by the hiss of ring pulls....  I just happened to pass by the following morning, amusing myself since the Castle was firmly closed, and noticed that the lads had made a fair attempt at clearing up....

Jarrolds are proud to be widely regarded as the flagship independent store in Norwich – one of the landmarks which makes Norwich a unique city and winner twice of the UK's Independent Department Store of the Year (not bad in 900 years).

Each and every department in Jarrolds offers a special range of products – brands exclusive to Jarrolds in Norwich, ranges that are too new or too quirky to be stocked by the national chains, or distinctive items that our team of buyers have sourced from across Europe because they offer something special for our customers.....

With 5 floors, 52 departments, 3 restaurants and a coffee bar there is something for everyone at Jarrolds....  (Unfortunately, since I was visiting over the weekend, I was unable to verify the marvel that is Jarrolds....)

City Hall is one of the finest municipal buildings of the inter-war period in England (again I am bemused by the superlatives - compared to what? It may well be the most fascist town hall in England, with the most high-stepping chimera around, but have they really checked out Burnley? Or the extraordinary carbuncle that is Aylesbury's municipal building?)

Norwich's magnificent Romanesque Cathedral is open to visitors of all faiths and none. In beautiful grounds it's an awe-inspiring, welcoming building with spectacular architecture, magnificent art and a fascinating history.

One of the finest (no comment) complete Romanesque cathedrals in Europe, with the second tallest spire and largest monastic cloisters in England, it houses more than a thousand beautiful medieval roof boss sculptures (You gotta bootiful roof, boss....)

The Forum in the centre of Norwich is a unique community building (at least it is unique in Naarridge); it is open to the public seven days a week.....

Behind the stunning glass frontage you will also find a buzzing coffee bar (neat alliteration!), an open plan pizza restaurant (and again!), a tourist information centre (missed a trick there), the BBC’s regional headquarters and the busiest public library in the country (now there is a claim! My eye was drawn to a sub-Warhol soup dragon....)

It's time to take a breather.  I wander past the Cathedral, attempting to follow the river, but gates and walls restrain me, and I find myself confused....

Crossing a busy road, a young woman (I assume), who might easily catch cold, wishes me a good night, whilst seeming to support a robust fence.  I note the use of the word 'Sir' as she addresses me, and doff my toupee to acknowledge her deference.... 

A little further up the street, I realise that I am hopelessly lost, and in an attempt to retrace my steps I feel drawn towards some local vehicles.....

However, as a stranger in this lawless land, I think better of it. I hurry to regain my equilibrium, as I have a date with an old old mate, who has cycled into the metropolis to join me in a couple of bears.....

The Bear Shop offers an astonishing array of handmade Artist teddy bears just waiting to be cuddles(sic). There are also hundreds of wonderful bruins for collectors and children from Steiff, Charlie Bears, Merry thought, Gund and many more – you will be spoilt for choice... (more bruin than brawn?)

I do apologise.  An easy mistake to make, perhaps, in this thoroughly cosmopolitan metropolis....  In point of fact, Joe and I are headed for a couple of beers....

And so it goes..... If you are committed to your beer, then you might like to know, as it is important, that The Belgian Monk opened in December 2000. The main objective was to create something different yet to fit in with the way drinking and dining is changing. It has become a successful and established bar (yada yada) offering customers a choice of a regular selection of some 45 beers together with a selection of special beers. The menu is based on serving only the best products available freshly prepared  (yada yada yada....)

But, to be truthful, Joe and I are more interested in Grimbergen Dubbel 6.5% abv (Dark reddish brown, with a sweet toffee taste and a warming finish) and Gruut Inferno 8.5% abv (A delicate ale with an intense flavour. Golden in colour, this relatively new beer from Ghent is the most traditional duck in the beer pond. It’s full of taste and is yada yada....)

The Belgian Monk has a personality, it is friendly, social, inviting and of course its (sic) honest. It becomes a bit of a habit (geddit?) The Belgian Monk has respect for its origins in terms of hospitality and its cultural and brewing traditions (yada yada yada....)

Joe gets into the habit....

Norwich stands alone. Its geographical separation from the spreading sameness of other English cities has infused it with a rich character all of its own, an invigorating mix of past and present; of openness and offbeat charm. (Who wrote this?  Have they never been to Lytham St Annes?)

Actually, after a few of the above and a couple of  DeliriumTremens 8.5% abv (A golden ale. Pink elephants on the glass .... yada yada) I am sooo fond of Naarridge that I am about to place a deposit on the doorstep of the Britons Arms and never ever ever stray away again.....

[Naarridge is] a city where an unrivalled collection of heritage landmarks, spanning 1,000 years of history, blends beautifully with striking 21st century architecture. A city alive with an inclusive atmosphere, compact enough to make you feel at home in days, but with enough sights, local delights and cultural vibrancy to entertain you for weeks. (Yay!  True!.... WTF?)

The Britons Arms (actually closed at the time of drinking) is one of only three thatched properties in Norwich dating back to the 13th century....  (And I want to spend the rest of my days in the Briton's Arms....)

Now don't get me wrong.  I go to church with the best of them, and though I haven't mentioned Her.... (Mrs Delia How-to-boil-an-egg Wynn-Jones) nor have I mentioned Naaaridge City (tweet me a Canary, wharf wharf!) that neither means I can't cook nor that I don't like football. So.... in honour of everybody and everything about Norwich and Norwich City, sing along with me now....

Kick off, throw in, have a little scrimmage,
Keep it low, a splendid rush, bravo, win or die;
On the ball, City, never mind the danger,
Steady on, now’s your chance,
Hurrah! We’ve scored a goal.

(Delia's gone, One more round,
Delia's gone.....)

Culture is huge in Norwich, in fact it's part of its DNA!

Wot larks!