Wednesday 6th January was a day over in Herefordshire on the Black and White village trail… This fits in with our ‘trying to do a few good things in the Midlands’ before we disappear down to Cornwall…we’ve already had a couple of day trips to Lincoln (my vote for best city or small town in the UK..fantastic place, full of interest), and Lichfield (surprisingly buzzy and we didn’t see a single piece of litter or graffiti…is that a record?), and Worcester (bit of a disappointment due to sixties and seventies planners who in my opinion deserve shooting……still the cathedral was incredible). So, to today….the drive across to Herefordshire is quite long, but after Worcester there is very beautiful countryside to enjoy. We started off with a quick walk around Leominster a typical market town with lots of nice buildings but with a run-down feel to the shopping centre which spoiled the experience somewhat. You can’t help but agree with Bill Bryson that everything is there in these sort of historic towns to make them amazing but it needs investment and care to fill empty shops, do buildings up, spend money on cleaning and presentation etc etc…..there just doesn’t seem the will to do it.
Before we set off on the trail, we had lunch at the riverside inn at Aymestrey a lovely pub in a lovely spot on the banks of the river Lugg. Usually a quiet, slowly flowing trout stream (the pub has its own beat) it was in full spate, fast and angry, terrifying in fact. Service terrific, enjoyable meal. Last time we were here also doing the B+W trail (1970’s), we were served by the then owner who sat with us for a nice chat afterwards. While enjoying our meal I recounted to F the background to the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross (well as much as I could remember from revising on the Internet the previous evening . The site of the battle is just nearby. We actually were given a guided tour of it on one of our Manchester Grammar School History trips (1960’s) so that brought back pleasant memories. Setting off from the pub, we first visited Kingsland which is well worth adding to the trail, and there we popped in to Border Oak who will make an oak-framed house for you…something we have always been interested in and surprisingly good value. Unfortunately the show house was being re-decorated so we just came away with a load of brochures. Highlights of the trail in the afternoon for us were Kindersley church with its Stuart monuments where we peeped over the wall at Kindersley castle (open only occasionally), the amazing Great Oak of Eardisley which is over 900 years old and worth a major detour let alone the small one involved, Pembridge whose church has a truly remarkable detached bell tower (one of the most impressive structures you could wish to see…..great oak beams which look indestructible), the village shop in Pembridge (where we were given a super warm welcome, the log fire built up for us and a nice cup of tea provided….we bought local bread and Shropshire Blue cheese, but the cakes, pastries and meals looked delicious), and Eardisland supposedly the prettiest village in Herefordshire (but who’s to say!). A brilliant trip on a cold and dark day which certainly didn’t spoil the fun for us…if you haven’t done the trail, do make time.
First thing in the morning and last thing at night (i.e. in bed) I have been reading ’Dictator’ the last novel in the trilogy by the inestimable Robert Harris on the life and times of Cicero. Having it in hardback makes the pleasure all the greater. This was finished by me with great regret on Sunday 10th January. What a marvellous insight into ancient Rome the books give, based on seemingly immaculate research and helped along the way by real experts in the period. History deserves the touch of a novelist now and again to hook us into the times. Lots of great things in this last volume. About a third of the way through I did think it would stumble towards the end, as most novels do, but no I was proved wrong. The intensity and involvement were maintained to the last. Lots of things to remember too…one famous Ciceronian quote “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” How true. We are our books. And the fascination of finding out that Cicero’s secretary Tiro was an inventor of shorthand and that his ‘&’ and ‘NB’ and ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g’ are with us still. Just the sort of fact Bill Bryson would appreciate. And one of Cicero’s most meaningful quotations, justifying my lifelong study and interest “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” Brilliant.
My daytime reading has for a while been ‘Everything She Wants’ a biography of Margaret Thatcher. This is a wonderful read quite in the mould of Robert Caro’s masterful life of Lyndon Johnson – further instalments of which serious politicians wait for with bated breath. Both writers are so skilled and so on top of their brief that we feel we are living their subject’s lives with them……if you are at all interested in Politics or how the world gets to where it is now, I can’t recommend either of these highly enough. It’s going to take me a few weeks to finish. Because it was in reach however I haven’t been able to resist also dipping into the tactile ‘The King’s Will’ by Suzannah Lipscomb, so this is currently on the go as well during the day. Don’t know whether ‘dipping’ is a bad or a good habit…I’m also dipping into my ‘Digame’ (‘learn Spanish’ book), and various ‘Learn Ancient Greek’ books (trying to bring back to life my school course) and ‘Caesar’s Commentaries’ (in Latin and English). This is fine as long as I make progress and don’t feel the pile of books is pressurising me (as the piles of e-mails used to pressure). One form of dipping that is alright is what I have just done which is pick up a book at random and read it during the boring bits of the Man United match on TV. So, I had an excellent read of the whole of the section on Tewkesbury in Alec Clifton-Taylor’s splendid ’Six English Towns’. Must go there again soon. Tewkesbury, not Old Trafford.
Finished ‘The King’s Will’ by Suzannah Lipscomb this week (10th January). What a marvellous book this is. Such a good historian, Suzannah who has been to Warwick to speak for us on a couple of occasions, used the work of Prof Eric Ives, one of our customers now sadly dead, as a starting point. Using, however, a wealth of research, and being unafraid to dish other historians’ conclusions (I was particularly glad to see her pick up David Starkey for a number of his erroneous statements), it is not only History at its best but it is a fascinating tale that rattles along, with the added bonus of being, despite its small size, a sumptuous edition. It adds much to our understanding of what Henry was really like and what he wanted to achieve. One of those, to me, rare books that you just want to read again. I also finished by Donna Leon one of her better novels. Because they are set in Venice they are always very atmospheric, and her characters are drawn very well. I do like and admire Commissario Guido Brunetti with his two hour lunches, visits to plenty of coffee places and bars and his early finishes when it suits…..he still gets the job done! A lesson for all people who are tied to the daily grind of computer, emails and early starts and late finishes. This one had a theme connected to art thefts and disposals….there is nearly always something interesting going on.