October Diary

One of the satisfactory features about living in a leafy suburb (even in London) is the leaves. Our American cousins have it right when they call this season of autumn “the Fall.” Falling leaves and the turning of their colour from green to rich reds, orange and russets are a rich backdrop throughout the season until trees are bare and stark against the sky, and form a beautiful carpet. Admittedly, when damp, they may be slippery but when dry and crunchy underfoot there is no more satisfying sound. On my regular bus route of about two miles there are some 563 trees of many varieties, shapes and sizes. The number is slightly inflated because the final stop is outside a small park stuffed with trees. They are harbingers of spring, provide welcome shade in summer and are the central reason for autumn being my favourite season. 

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Doubtless not confined to the nation’s capital, but my regular bus route from my leafy suburb to a less leafy suburb has been changed. Instead of five buses an hour there are now four; in the evening, three. The remaining buses are more crowded and much less comfortable, packed, often standing room only, particularly on those with interiors designed by people who have never travelled on buses in their lives. There are fewer spaces for wheelchair passengers and those with buggies. And all to provide an improved service to passengers.

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A review in The Spectator earlier this year opened with the sentence: ‘Running the entire course of the 20th century, Michael Tippett’s life (1905–1998) was devoted to innovation.’ Why should Philip Hensher, a very good writer, critic and novelist, execute such an irritating sentence, guaranteed to have pedants like me up in arms? In a mere sixteen words (including the dates) he contradicts himself. Why not say something along the lines: ‘Michael Tippett’s life spanned most of the 20th century.’? In the review of a biography of Tippett by Oliver Soden (‘an exceptional piece of work’), Mr Hensher speculates about Tippett’s neglect in comparison with his contemporary Benjamin Britten. Both were gifted, pacifist, homosexual, politically engaged and leftward leaning (Tippett the more radical, campaigning, Trotskyist: ‘My one hope is that the British empire will go under and Hitler win’), worked within established forms from operas and symphonies to quartets and songs. Britten was more prolific and had a more assured grasp of public significance and he founded a music festival of national and international significance. Nevertheless, Mr Hensher makes a good case for Tippett’s music. The one work of his I have heard live is A Child of Our Time, an oratorio inspired by the violent Nazi reaction to the assassination of a German diplomat by a Jewish refugee which resulted in Kristallnacht. In writing it, according to the biographer, Tippett was following a direct command from Trotsky himself. It is notable for its use of spirituals and did engage me, but it did not move me as did Britten’s War Requiem: that remarkable fusion of the Mass for the Dead and Wilfred Owen’s poetry. Nevertheless, despite his opening sentence, Mr Hensher’s review has persuaded me to read the biography and to explore some of the music.

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A unique memorial? Hobson Judkin, late of Clifford’s Inn, The Honest Solicitor, 30th June 1812. Seen in St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street, London.

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Overheard, man on mobile telephone: ‘Can I have the car for 3.40 please? Do you hire out helicopters?’

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Complimentary peanuts on a train were described on the packet as ‘sizeable and loveable.’ What does that mean? They did not induce anaphylactic shock but ‘loveable’? I cannot even begin to understand what ‘sizeable’ means. I am literal-minded enough to expect a peanut to be about the size of a pea not of a boulder. How many thousands of pounds or dollars or euros or Bitcoins was squandered on that fatuous strapline?

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For those who may like a change from examining well-manicured stately homes here are two houses offering a different perspective. Both denuded of furniture and fittings and victims of dry rot, Belsay Hall and Brinkburn Manor House in Northumberland are empty shells but fascinating and instructive. Brinkburn was built on, and incorporated, monastic domestic accommodation and was elegantly extended by the leading 19th century architect of the North, John Dobson. There are fragments of the plasterwork that hint at what might have been. Belsay Hall is an austere, Greek Revival jewel. Beautifully proportioned rooms inspired by Greek and Roman models, several with pleasing double aspects, are flooded with light. The gardens rival the House. From the terrific formal garden you take the path through the Quarry Garden, formed when the rocks were hewn for the House. Through this fantastic creation of the Gothic imagination you walk through a forest of vertiginous trees, ferns and bushes clinging to the rock face to emerge from the dank gloom into the light of a broad meadow and the medieval Peel Tower, with the former manor house organically attached to it. Highly recommended.

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Browsing in a bookshop, a fellow customer side-stepped me to avoid a collision. I complimented him as worthy of a Welsh fly-half. He was Welsh, from Swansea, went to the same school as Dylan Thomas, and told me about Thomas’s elocution lessons. We spoke of a golden age of Barry John, J.P.R. Williams, Phil Bennett, Gareth Edwards. A fascinating ten minutes.

Thurifer

 

2019-11-26T12:37:12+00:00 October 2019 Articles|