We couldn’t visit this part of England without going to Chester of course. I have been a good few times but forgot how charming it is. Beautiful streetscapes….Wonderful cathedral….and the impressive walls….we started our walk of the two and a half mile circuit at the cathedral itself….and were soon enjoying unparalleled views…I suspect this was the Deanery with its beautiful gardens. It is now desirable but expensive apartments. What I wouldn’t give to live in a place like that!At times the walls soared on high. In this section you got a good idea of how formidable they would have been….And sometimes just occasionally it is nice to look at the backs of houses. Have you ever see a prettier back view than this?Everywhere we went was full of interest. Here, near Telford’s wharf is a sculpture of Captain Morgan’s cannon – he waste of the Royalist defenders of Chester during the Civil War.When walking West we had excellent views in the distance of The North Welsh mountains…In comparison with even York, Exeter or Berwick these walls are momentous…and what you see from them is soul-lifting in this day and age….Plenty of handsome Georgian houses….and even the Victorian terraces were special…….as indeed most of the modern buildings we saw….The walk passes very close to the race course…who would pay to get in with views like these?and daffodils everywhere as at York..Here the castle…….rebuilt in stone in the twelfth century…and later used as the county hall and for courts, as at Lincoln….The River Dee made its presence felt for a good part of the way….and whilst we didn’t manage to see much of the Roman remains on this visit we did glimpse the Roman Gardens from the walls…..It wouldn’t be possible that this was the perfect small city would it? Not when we saw two monstrous concrete car parks agreed by the Planners in, what, the Sixties or Seventies….I could see at the time what disastrous results they were inflicting on our heritage. Honestly, I would line all these so-called planners up standing on one leg in the blazing sun to gaze for ever at their works…We finished our walk at the famous Eastgate clock, it being lunch time. It really is rather special.And whilst scouting out where to eat we had a good look at the famous Rows (sadly with one or two empty or run-down premises as is almost inevitable with first floor shoppingBut on the whole we certainly got the feeling that Chester was bucking the trend for city centres and was prospering. Good to see.We made our way then to Tarporley, a small town which we enjoyed very much and which would be second equal in our list of places to live. Again thriving, busy, beautiful buildings and shops you want to go to.We couldn’t resist going into the sixteenth century Swan Hotel for a quick cup of tea, splendid both inside and out.Then into deepest Cheshire where we saw the famous two castles the medieval Beeston and Peckforton gazing at each other from their eminences…..Peckforton was a Victorian country house now turned into a hotel.on the way back we stopped at this very picturesque village with its lovely houses and pond complete with rare black swans..We were also held up for a long while by cows on their way to milking……but no bother!Home at last….
Looking to the future, we decided to go house hunting in Cheshire. I would like to be within striking distance of Manchester where I come from, with its magnificent facilities, and Cheshire adjoins it and is the epitome of rural England. I have looked at thousands of houses on-line and know we can find one somewhere in Cheshire which will allow us to free up a bit of capital and give us a bit of leeway in our plans (mainly travel and going out – theatres, concerts etc). We weren’t scouting particular houses but looking broadly across the whole county to assess where we would like to live. I booked a converted barn for a week which looked great in Sawdays which is usually very reliable, and so it proved. We were greeted by Martin, who farms the land, and one of his lovely dogs Beth. Martin was a great host for the whole week and gave us lots of good tips on where to go.We settled in very quickly and were soon enjoying the March sunshine….and on our first evening we drove to the local pub…the Swettenham Arms…just what the doctor ordered – a nice gastropub with good ales.Outside, across the car park, was the church of St Peter’s which is very unusual and interesting with its stone build, but with a brick tower….unfortunately we never got around to visiting it. Another time.On our first full day we set out from our cottage in the grounds of Kermincham Hall past the pond and down its long drive which gave us a feeling of grandeur every time we used it, and…..first of all explored Middlewich a historic town with its name suggesting a salt town and being the middle salt town in fact between Northwich and Nantwich. The Romans first mined salt here, and it was mined and processed til fairly recently. In reality the town itself apart from an attractive area by one of the three canals….and by the green surrounding the church…was a bit of a dump – very poor High Street with downmarket shops and giving a depressing, run down feeling. Reminiscent in fact of many towns today.Our mood lightened considerably however when we went next to Sandbach, a peach of a town. The first great thing about it was free parking. To the two of us who have run shops in several places it is a no-brainer. But councils everywhere seek to bleed town centres dry with heavy rates and support for out-of-town developments and the results are as obvious as they were in Middlewich. We hit upon a lovely hotel for lunch – a gastropub and boutique establishment, The Wheatsheaf. We ordered something light and settled down to read our newspaper and do the crossword between us. Forty minutes later, having completed the crossword but without food, I caught the eye of a member of staff and explained we were waiting. She could not have been more apologetic and efficient. Our open sandwiches and thrice-cooked chips appeared in no time. She explained that our order had been lost in a staff handover. Inexcusable of course, but I was gobsmacked when she again apologised and said we would not have to pay anything. Now that is, in the end, good customer service par excellenceSatisfied and satiated, we strolled through town and discovered it was market day with lots of good food stalls….but we were more taken with the buildings….. many of which were traditional Cheshire Black and White…The church and its grounds were exceptionally lovely…surrounded by Black and White houses on all sides…and the pub opposite the church Old Hall where we called in for a quick half was amazing, believed to date from 1656 and once the residence of the Lords of the Manor of Sandbach. It is absolutely magnificent.The centre of the town is picturesque with its cobbles, more Black and White houses, good pubs on all sides (!)…..and a lovely Deli (amongst many other fantastic Independent shops in town)…..and there were two impressive and massive Saxon stone crosses dominating the square. They are elaborately carved with animals and Biblical scenes including the Nativity of Christ and the Crucifixion, and probably date from the 9th century. They were originally painted as well as carved, and they are among the finest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon high crosses. Later we found several towns and villages that we liked very much, but none of them matched Sandbach, our likely destination? Anyhow, next stop was Nantwich. We had been before to have a chat to the local bookshop owner. It was as pleasant as we remembered. Again a great church and a pretty close surrounding it….The streets were full of atmosphere and with a wonderful range of Independent shops again…and everywhere seemingly unspoilt and well cared for…. Even the multiples were well hidden.And the range and quality of the buildings and streetscape was exceptional …One thing that wowed us was this boulder. The inscription reads that it was found during the building of the by-pass, is 400 million years old, and is probably from of all places Dumfries in Scotland, having been carried here by glacial action. Incredible. Having decided to look at a range of new houses here, we had a delightful walk along the river….It was a long walk so we were glad of a suitable place of refreshment back in town..A terrific medium-sized town but not quite as lovable as Sandbach was our conclusion.That evening we walked to the Swettenham Arms across three fields, by the nascent River Dane, sliding across the occasional fence to avoid the mud, and getting back just before sunset….
A lot of house walls and boundary walls in Cornwall have a veritable small world of green growth……they are almost becoming Cornish hedges.You don’t see many bricks but some incorporate ‘Looe bricks’ as a design feature…………..and here is the explanation for Looe bricks on a little glass panel to be found in a bus shelter on the front at Hannafore….I do love this feature in a tall wall at the end of the bridge in Looe……’Repeared By Ye County 1689’…..It wasn’t such a nice day when we were there this time!
Torre Abbey in Torquay was our destination in January last year but we were very much looking forward to returning. Two buses and an interesting enough journey in the daytime. Then a short walk through a delightful park to get there….The thirteenth century gatehouse is a fitting introduction to this originally medieval abbey complex….. and inside there is a fascinating exhibit about the stone used in the building and where it came from….a lot of it from the nearby headland.Although the abbey was developed into a residence after the Dissolution, the first thing you see is the medieval undercroft which is very atmospheric.Once inside we visited the chapel which we did not see last time. The chapel exhibits an unusual ‘barrel vault’ ceiling dating from the 15th century. Prior to being converted into a chapel by the Cary family it used to be the Guest Hall. We also saw inside the gatehouse with an original knocker on the medieval door, and we could clearly see how the abbey buildings had to have a defensive purpose – in fact a licence to crenellate (erect fortified defences) was granted by Edward III in 1348. What really astounded us was the thickness of the walls, easily six feet, and amongst the deepest I have ever seen.The Thrupp Collection draws art lovers from all over the country, as it’s the most extensive collection from the studio of a Victorian sculptor. It includes statues, busts and bronzes as well as plaster reliefs. Magnificent………and I liked the furniture panels by him which reflect a George Herbert poem (I studied Herbert as one of the Metaphysical Poets at school).Proceeding, we were diverted very briefly by an exhibition called Torbay Rocks which was memorabilia, mainly posters, from the 60’s and 70’s music scene. It didn’t really have much interest for me I’m afraid.I mentioned last visit the superb way in which the museum puts together how art is made……with artists’ sketchbooks…… and before and after like this plaster cast with its bronze finished article. The standard of the museum’s displays is exceptionally high and never patronising.I do like this watercolour of Torquay with its castle on the hill. This was knocked down in the 60’s. Architects and town planners in the 60’s and 70’s have a lot to answer for! This painting also shows the hilly terrain on which Torquay spreads itself out. In fact it is built on 7 hills – just like Rome!The abbey is a real maze over several floors and without a plan you never know where you will find yourself next, but throughout there are paintings everywhere. Here rather a nice marine oil…….I knew nothing of Torquay Pottery but it was widely made in its day……’‘Torquay Pottery’ has become the generic term covering the numerous potteries that made Art Pottery and later souvenir/household pottery, from around 1860 until the late 20th century, mainly using local sources of red Devon clay. These potteries were based within about 5 miles of Torquay, in Devon, but also include a few other West Country potteries which copied the Torquay style. They were usually established by craftsmen who had learnt or practised their skills in Torquay.’ Some made for the tourist market…….and some for the more genteel collectors….This time there was a display by local photographers in one room…the tobacconists with skeleton shopkeeper was amusing,and this disused quarry at Llanberis was spectacular…being reclaimed by Nature already…..There is plenty to maintain your interest everywhere including some of the rooms used by the Cary family which owned and occupied the house from 1662 to 1930. Burne-Jones was one of the most influential and successful artists of his time and supported the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He is credited with single-handedly reviving the medieval tradition of stained glass in the United Kingdom. Torre has some good examples but only one original.As elsewhere, not all Torre Abbey’s collections can be displayed in its galleries. The Behind the Scenes Gallery on the first floor was interesting as it houses a number of paintings on a racking system. This allows visitors to see how paintings are stored and gives access to some great paintings.After having our fill of culture we wandered out into the extensive ruined sections of the original abbey…… through the gardens…..and to the palm house which is always good when it’s raining….and just as we were exiting the grounds I noticed the door to the ‘Spanish Barn’ was ajar. I had asked about this building and was told it was only open when exhibitions were in there……luckily someone was preparing for one and didn’t mind us having a quick look.Rather than wait for our bus in the cold we went into the Grand Hotel for a pint for me, and tea for F. Good hotels – this is 4 star – are always a good bet for the odd drink as you have luxury surroundings for the price of the drink. The brasserie menu looked good too. We could spot the bus passing on its way into Torquay and knew then when we would have to leave the hotel to catch it on its way back. A nice end to a very good day.
This weekend to an unknown (to us) Met opera at Vue cinema in Plymouth. The thing about this particular opera for us was that there were absolutely no tunes or melodies throughout. Everything seemed like speech that was sung in one plane as it were. Yes, the singing yet again was admirable and amazing in its power and intensity, but the plot was light and, as I say, no tunes to be hummed on the way home. Not at all memorable. The divas get huge praise in the press however.
Adriana Lecouvreur unfolds in Paris in 1730. The setting reflects a nostalgia for the Rococo era that swept over Europe and the Americas around the turn of the last century when Cilea was composing, evident in other operas (for instance, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut) and in architecture.
Paris, 1730. Backstage at the Comédie-Française, the director Michonnet and the company prepare for performance, in which both Adriana Lecouvreur and her rival, Mademoiselle Duclos, will appear. The Prince of Bouillon and the Abbé de Chazeuil enter, looking for Duclos, who is the prince’s mistress. They encounter Adriana and compliment her, but she says that she is merely the servant of the creative spirit (“Io son l’umile ancella”). The Prince hears that Duclos is writing a letter to someone and arranges to have it intercepted. Left alone with Adriana, Michonnet confesses his love to her, only to be told that she is in love with Maurizio, whom she believes to be an officer in the service of the Count of Saxony. Maurizio enters, declaring his love for Adriana (“La dolcissima effigie”), and the two arrange to meet after the performance. Adriana gives him a bouquet of violets as a pledge of her love. During the performance, the prince intercepts the letter from Duclos, in which she asks for a meeting with Maurizio, who is in fact the Count of Saxony himself. He is to meet her later that evening at the villa where the prince has installed her. Determined to expose his seemingly unfaithful mistress, the prince arranges a party at the villa for this same night. Unknown to him, Duclos has written the letter on behalf of the Princess of Bouillon who was having an affair with Maurizio. Maurizio, receiving the letter, decides to meet the princess who has helped him pursue his political ambitions. He sends a note to Adriana to cancel their appointment. Adriana is upset, but when the prince invites her to the party and tells her that the Prince of Saxony will be one of the guests, she accepts in the hope of furthering her lover’s career.
The princess anxiously awaits Maurizio at the villa (“Acerba voluttà”). When he appears she notices the violets and immediately suspects another woman but he quickly claims they are a gift for her. Grateful for her help at court, he reluctantly admits that he no longer loves her (“L’anima ho stanca”). The princess hides when her husband and the Abbé suddenly arrive, congratulating Maurizio on his latest conquest, who they think is Duclos. Adriana appears. She is astounded to learn that the Count of Saxony is Maurizio himself but forgives his deception. When Michonnet enters looking for Duclos, Adriana assumes that Maurizio has come to the villa for a secret rendezvous with her. He assures her that the woman hiding next door is not Duclos. His meeting with her, he says, was purely political and they must arrange for her escape. Trusting him, Adriana agrees. In the ensuing confusion, neither Adriana nor the princess recognize each other, but by the few words that are spoken each woman realizes that the other is in love with Maurizio. Adriana is determined to discover the identity of her rival, but the princess escapes, dropping a bracelet that Michonnet picks up and hands to Adriana.
As preparations are under way for a party at her palace, the princess wonders who her rival might be. Guests arrive, among them Michonnet and Adriana. The princess recognizes Adriana’s voice as that of the woman who helped her escape. Her suspicions are confirmed when she pretends Maurizio has been wounded in a duel and Adriana almost faints. She recovers quickly, however, when Maurizio enters uninjured and entertains the guests with tales of his military exploits (“Il russo Mencikoff”). During the performance of a ballet, the princess and Adriana confront each other, in growing recognition that they are rivals. The princess mentions the violets, and Adriana in turn produces the bracelet, which the prince identifies as his wife’s. To distract attention, the princess suggests that Adriana should recite a monologue. Adriana chooses a passage from Racine’s Phèdre, in which the heroine denounces sinners and adulterous women, and aims her performance directly at the princess. The princess is determined to have her revenge.
Adriana has retired from the stage, devastated by the loss of Maurizio. Members of her theater company visit her on her birthday, bringing presents and trying to persuade her to return. Adriana is especially moved by Michonnet’s gift: the jewellery she had once pawned to secure Maurizio’s release from prison. A box is delivered, labeled “from Maurizio.” When Adriana opens it, she finds the faded bouquet of violets she had once given him and understands it as a sign that their love is at an end (“Poveri fiori”). She kisses the flowers, then throws them into the fire. Moments later, Maurizio arrives, summoned by Michonnet. He apologizes and asks Adriana to marry him. She joyfully accepts but suddenly turns pale. Michonnet and Maurizio realize that the violets were sent by the princess and had been poisoned by her. Adriana dies in Maurizio’s arms (“Ecco la luce”).
Before going to Vue we had a bit of time to kill so, for a coffee and exploration, we drove to the Royal William Yard which we had not visited before. It was a revelation…………………..an historic piece of Plymouth restored with sensitivity but very grand. Constructed between 1825 and 1831, Royal William Yard is in fact considered to be one of the most important groups of historic military buildings in Britain and the largest collection of Grade I Listed military buildings in Europe. Pretty impressive credentials.Described as the grandest of the royal victualling yards, ‘in its externally largely unaltered state it remains today one of the most magnificent industrial monuments in the country’. Released by the MOD as recently as 1992, Urban Splash have transformed the buildings into mixed-use restaurants, shops and flats, and it is all pretty special, although you do get the impression that it is not as well-visited as it ought to be.Bistrot Pierre where we had our coffee was pretty good too, an excellent looking menu, and they have just opened two of the buildings across the square as hotel rooms. They look swish.Yesterday back to Vue Plymouth this time to see the film ‘Stan and Ollie’. Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Ollie were absolutely brilliant and with oodles of preparation took to their parts with perfection. ‘Stan & Ollie’ tells the story of how Laurel and Hardy, with their golden age long behind them, embark upon a tour of the music halls of Britain and Ireland in 1953.
Despite the stresses of the tour, past resentments coming back to light, and Hardy’s failing health, the show must go on: in the end, their love of performing – and of each other – ensures that they secure their place in the hearts of the public. It’s about love, passion and comedy. You come out of the cinema just loving their humour but at the same time feeling for them….when up becomes down it’s tragic to see. For once all the five star reviews are thoroughly deserved. If you get chance, watch it…….
During our recent visit to Edinburgh I found this ‘The Daughter of Time’ on my daughter’s shelves. I had already read it but was anxious to do so again as I got terrific enjoyment the first time. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination you could call Tey a great writer….I have read other of her titles and been immensely disappointed, but this is something else. A detective recovering in hospital, flat on his back most of the time, comes across, amongst the gifts friends and colleagues have been bringing in, a portrait of Richard III. He asks himself…is this the face of a man who could commit the murder of his two nephews in the Tower, an event heinous even then. His detective brain starts whirling and he is soon loaded down with serious histories, copies of documents and more trying to sift the evidence looking for clues as to who did actually ‘commission’ the murders. A brilliant tapestry of the times is woven as he refuses to accept the history written by the winners, in other words the Tudors, unless there is factual back-up. Although a Lancastrian myself, and a historian, I have always had a soft spot for Richard III and thought him ill-used by History. Although this is a novel it grips as real history always does. My two favourite subjects, History and Detectives, and this is part History/part Detective. I really couldn’t ask for more.
Since we had a leak in the new roof in the conservatory I have had to move a lot of things out of there, including many books. Noticing one of these, ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ I picked it up and started idly leafing through it. I saw immediately that this was only part-read so I resolved to start again. I am so glad I did. It is so well-produced with clear text and beautiful images, and so well-written by ex-Director of The British Museum Neil MacGregor, that it is sheer pleasure. Neil has chosen 20 objects (not only from the BM) to illustrate various aspects of what Shakespeare’s world was really like. These range from the failed attempts of James I to put together a joint flag for the Great Britain he wanted to be a reality, to a woollen apprentice’s cap in absolutely remarkable condition, to a pedlar’s trunk complete with contents, to a brass-handled iron fork lost at the Rose Theatre, the ownership of which was a sign of absolute sophistication. And he uses the objects to telling effect, delving deeply into the full range of Shakespeare’s work. So, my other favourite subject History/Shakespeare is well catered for in this splendid book.
Which leads me on to saying that, having aroused my interest in WS once again, I could not forgo the immediate and absolute pleasure of reading again for the umpteenth time the play ‘Hamlet’ which for me represents the height of literary achievement. It was something I studied in great detail for ‘A’ levels. I have seen the play a few times. I have seen a couple of films. For me it never palls. I read this time round the Arden edition which has copious footnotes and explanatory material, but I must admit that I am easily distracted by these and actually found all of this tiresome as the Editor Harold Jenkins seemed to be engaged a lot of the time in scoring points off previous editors and commentators. Hamlet is too good for this. Best just to read it straight through and make your own sense of it.