Visiting The Nest And Going Abroad

Autumn is well and truly here.  The weather has been very variable.  Days of heavy rain sufficient to test guttering, fill the local streams to brimming, and force a frustrating postponement of a Forest Green Rovers Football Club fixture, have been followed by frosty nights and wonderfully cloudless, sunny days.  The trees are turning brown at different rates depending on their species and health.  The woodland views from my normal walk routes are glorious patchworks of subdued colour.

Autumn: Long Shadows, First Frost And Full Streams

Last week, Long-Suffering Wife LSW) and I used one of the days we had once reserved for a trip abroad, long since postponed, to do a more modest excursion into East Somerset.  Over the last five years or so, we have become quite familiar with the countryside there and some of the pubs, restaurant and galleries around Bruton.  It’s a lovely area and Time Out Magazine calls Bruton ‘a bit like an abridged Stoke Newington with better air quality’ with its interesting shops, eateries and architecture.

This time, we visited a new garden set in the grounds of a large mansion that has recently been developed as a hotel called The Newt.  The garden has only been open to visitors in recent months and is still under construction.  However, the main bones of the garden, services and on-site workshops (producing cider, bread and other delicacies), are in place.  It has great views over the local countryside and is already somewhere I would recommend highly.

£15 initially seemed a bit steep for a garden that is so young and new.  But whole enterprise exudes class, attention to detail and quality; the visit (including a lovely lunch) was very good value.  We arrived just in time for a very interesting garden tour by one of the 18-strong operational gardening and woodlands management team.  The guide was every bit as impressive as the things he pointed out and he was able to give a few insights into the history of the house and garden.

The Newt Reception: Apple Display And Roof Sculpture

The Newt Reception: Apple Display And Roof Sculpture

The estate, of which The Newt has become a core feature, was created in the 17th century.  From 1785 it was home to several generations of the Liberal Hobhouse family, including Arthur Hobhouse, a founder of the national parks system in England and Wales.

The Newt: Views Through The Woodland

The Newt: Views Through The Woodland

The South African pair of Karen Roos and Koos Bekker (a telecoms magnate) then bought the property in 2013.  They had previously developed Babylonstoren near Cape Town which is a marvellous garden and winery that LSW and I had loved during our visit to South Africa in 2017.  At The Newt, they have converted the Palladian fronted mansion into a luxury hotel and invested hugely in a transformation of the garden and outbuildings.  The have used the garden designer (a Frenchman called Patrice Taravella) they employed at Babylonstoren.  As a result, by design, The Newt has a similar feel to Babylonstoren but is a tribute to the apple and cider rather than the grape and wine.

Panoramic View Of The Parabola Garden

Panoramic View Of The Parabola Garden

The centre-piece is a walled, egg-shaped garden, called ‘The Parabola’ with multiple centres, terraces and running water.  It is filled with 250 varieties of apple tied to laths (thin strips of wood) pinned to the walls or being trained up metal arches.  All are under-planted simply with a relatively small variety of herbs.  The whole ‘Parabola’, is tilted south towards a huge view and is already spectacular.  It will be even more so when the apple trees are more mature.

The Newt: Water Runs In The Parabola Garden

The Newt: Water Runs In The Parabola Garden

This central show orchard is surrounded by a variety of differently cultivated areas.  These include cottage gardens, grass gardens, lawns populated by chickens, and three small walled ‘colour’ gardens filled with plants of white, then blue, then red.  Below the long lawn and bathing pond (now for newts!) in front of the hotel, the vegetable garden is particularly impressive (and clearly devoid of the badger and deer damage we are so familiar with at home!)  The woodland provides gentle walks away from the main buildings and we saw plans to open these up further.

The Newt: Old Hunting Dog Kennels, Now Chicken And Duck House

The Newt: Old Hunting Dog Kennels, Now Chicken And Duck House

The Newt: Vegetable Garden, Long Lawn and Hotel

The Newt: Vegetable Garden, Long Lawn and Hotel

The Newt: Quirky Fountains

The Newt: Quirky Fountains

We are planning to re-visit The Newt both in Spring and in about 4 years, by which time further developments will have taken place and the planting will have matured.

The Newt: Conservatory and Olives

The Newt: Conservatory and Olives

Now Autumn has arrived and LSW has finished work for the season, we plan to go on more trips like the one to The Newt.

Also, finally, we have scheduled a short trip abroad. With Brexit being postponed again we are slipping in a trip to Venice in November.  Given it is only for 3 nights, travelling by train is impractical so we are opting to offset our carbon expenditure in the air.  Ryan Air include this option in their booking process but it appears not to charge enough given that the ‘bad’ gases from flights go immediately into the upper atmosphere where they are not broken down.  I used Solar Aid to top up the offset contribution.

We have always recognised that we needed to visit Venice – so many have told us that it must not be missed and that it is unbelievably beautiful.  Hopefully the weather will be as kind as it was when we visited The Newt but I’m sure we will love it anyway, and won’t have damaged the planet too much.

Postscript: Goodbye October Celebrated Nicely In Our Local Pub's Octoberfest

Postscript: Goodbye October – Celebrated Nicely At Our Local Pub’s Octoberfest

Climate Emergency Action

Well, I did, as I anticipated in my last blog, manage to plant both trees this week and Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has planted about 150 bulbs; so mission accomplished on that.

Our Newly Planted Cherry Tree

Our Newly Planted Cherry Tree And Our Maturing Hornbeam Hedge

However, we have made no progress on booking a holiday.  A couple of new obstacles have emerged on that.  LSW wants sun and warmth but we both recognise that, as part of our new climate emergency consciousness, we should be reducing (if not eliminating) greenhouse gas-emitting flights to warm places from our life-style.

Also, we have now left it so late in the year that any city-break type holiday in Europe using the train rather than plane may fall foul of extra security checks if the UK leaves the European Union without a ‘deal’.  My idea of hell is spending a large percentage of the holiday waiting in a queue to have a visa check or whatnot.  So we are waiting and seeing what ‘deal’ emerges and may try Lyon by rail in November.

LSW and I have attended a few meetings regarding the climate emergency in the last week.  I have been regularly attending (and documenting) a meeting of people in our village interested in moving the local parish to carbon neutrality by 2030.  We both attended a larger meeting along similar lines in our nearby town, Nailsworth, which set up a climate action group about 4 years ago.  Then we both went to a local Extinction Rebellion introductory session to find out more about the approach of this organisation towards the climate emergency.

Recent Mural By Jane Mutiny In Shoreditch, London

Recent Mural By Jane Mutiny In Shoreditch, London

I mentioned, a couple of blog posts ago, that our local village Parish Council has just committed to planting a 1,000 trees to help offset carbon emissions across the Parish.  Nailsworth is already undertaking a similar exercise and have firm plans to landscape and plant 100 trees around a large playing field in the town.  LSW and I will plan to help directly with that and might also sign up to planting a few more trees in our field.

Our Newly Planted Whitebeam

Our Newly Planted Whitebeam

Of course, our reduction in flights, our migration to an increasingly vegetarian diet, our attempts to reduce waste, our upgrade of our sash windows to double glazing, and the recent acquisition of an e-car powered by sustainable electricity are all tiny steps in the face of a global calamity.  The scale of the climate emergency, and the challenge of reducing global warming given the number of tipping points that have probably already passed, were certainly brought home to us at the Extinction Rebellion meeting we attended.

Replacing Our Sash Windows With Double Glazed Versions - Not Insignificant Work!

Replacing Our Sash Windows With Double Glazed Versions – Not Insignificant Work!

 

However, we need to start somewhere.  Despite now being retired and so possessing a flexible schedule that would allow me to spend a little time at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, I’m not yet sure I’m ready to be arrested for the cause (as many Extinction Rebellion participants evidently are).  While I’m thinking about that protest option, I will continue with some lower key changes.

Extinction Rebellion Protesters

Extinction Rebellion Protesters I Saw In London During My Last Visit

As I do so, I will keep in mind what George Monbiot (a columnist, political and environmental activist) wrote as he was arrested as part of a non-violent Extinction Rebellion protest:

“I know this action will expose me to criticism as well as prosecution. Like other prominent activists, I will be lambasted for hypocrisy: this is now the favoured means of trying to take down climate activists. Yes we are hypocrites. Because we are embedded in the systems we contest, and life is complicated, no-one has achieved moral purity. The choice we face is not between hypocrisy and purity, but between hypocrisy and cynicism. It is better to strive to do good, and often fail, than not to strive at all.”

So, I do worry that China and Russia and, now, the US Government are not at the table joining in to set global carbon emission reduction targets and that governments setting emission targets then take insufficient action to get close to them – a challenge that town and Parish Councils will also have to rise to!  I do worry that oil and gas companies are investing billions more in resource extraction than in renewable energy.  I do worry that our measures of well-being are overly oriented towards gross national product growth and consumption not health, relationships and happiness.  None of that is going to change any time soon despite Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion’s clarion calls.

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LSW and I live very comfortably; we are ‘embedded in the system’ and maybe we are the ‘hypocrites’ George Monbiot identifies.  We are hardly holiday paupers having been to Australia earlier this year.  I’m looking forward to roast chicken dinner on Sunday.  We still buy blueberries grown in Peru for goodness sake!  But we are starting to strive to do a little bit towards reducing our carbon footprint and that’s something.

Dipping Into Culture

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I still haven’t quite planned our trip away this summer/autumn but we have both made an effort to attend some local cultural events to keep our entertainment levels up.  Indeed, as I write this, LSW is attending a couple of talks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and will no doubt return full of much new thinking.

We went to two contrasting concerts recently.  The first was a programme of what I suppose are modern classical music composers and performers.  The concert had been arranged by a local magazine and creative arts consortium called Good On Paper.  The five performers were a mix of local and internationally renowned musicians.  All were interesting – especially avant-garde cellist Sebastian Plano and Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit – and there were passages I really enjoyed.  The final act was the now famous Lubomyr Melnyk who demonstrated his ‘continuous music’ piano playing; it was technically impressive but, by the end, for me, overbearing.

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Later in the week LSW and I went to the Tetbury Music Festiival.  Despite the proximity to our home, this was, rather shamefully, our first visit to the festival.  We saw an excellent performance of three piano trios (by Haydn, Schumann and Schubert).  This was the first classical music concert I had been to for many years and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.  I also surprised myself in that I actually knew the last work by Schubert; it must have been one my Dad had taken me to see played when I was a teenager and he first introduced me to classical music.

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

It felt good to support these local cultural events and I hope their success breeds more in the future.  The atmosphere for both was reverential and enhanced by the beautiful surroundings of a church.  Whatever the concert – modern classical, classical classical or just modern, I do like to be able to listen to the music rather than the chatter of the crowd.  A third concert I saw this week at the wonderfully eclectic Rich Mix in London also provided these sorts of listening conditions as I saw one of my favourite bands: Kefaya.

This concert was totally different from the other two.  Kefaya is a cross-cultural collective who play jazz with Middle Eastern, south and south-east Asian and Caribbean influences.  I have seen Kefaya in various guises many times over the last few years.  Here, they mostly ran through their latest album of Afghan songs fronted by an Afghani singer.  There was a lot of energy in the largely Afghani audience but, again, there was respect for the music and full attention to the band.  I loved it – especially when they let loose with their trademark jazzy duelling between guitar and keyboards, all backed up by phenomenally pacey and intricate tabla playing.

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Apart from music LSW and I have also taken in some local art.  We have known local artist, Maggie Shaw, for many years and have bought many examples of her work; several remain our favourite pieces of art in our house.  Unfortunately she died last year.

We were honoured to be part of her memorial exhibitions at the beginning of this year and lent one of her largest pieces for this.  Last week there was a further exhibition of her more recent work alongside that of two of her companion artists.  As usual, Maggie’s work stood out for me as truly remarkable.  Had we not already been in possession of so much of her output (and not starting to think about further downsizing of our house and wall space) we might have bought another of her pictures.

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw's and Others' Work

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw’s And Others’ Work At Stratford Park, Stroud

The absence of demands on my time from any work, continue to make it easy to fit in trips to Nottingham to visit my parents, and to London to see sons, exhibitions and gigs there.  This week, on the back of a regular meeting in London with my financial advisor and the Kefaya gig, I was able to catch up with Eldest Son, his girlfriend and Youngest Son’s girlfriend; a real pleasure.  I also visited the new exhibition at The Barbican where I am still a member and so can feel I am attending for free.

The latest exhibition at the Barbican is called Into The Night: Cabarets and Clubs In Modern Art and, as the title suggests, it is about the relationship between art and nightlife.  It examines this relationship in the period from 1880 to the late-1960s through focus on a dozen nightclubs in a variety of cities including Tehran, Ibadan in Nigeria, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City and New York.

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City. It Seemed To Me To Sum Up The Atmosphere These Nightclubs Tried to Engender!

As usual, the exhibition was very well presented.  My favourite section was probably that on Vienna’s Cabaret Fledermaus (1907-13).  The posters, menus, programmes, ashtrays, flower pots, chairs and other accessories to an experience at this club were all exquisitely designed along consistent lines.  The set and costume designs for the performances were flamboyant and smacked of decadence.

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

For each of the clubs chosen for the exhibition, drawings, pictures and photos helped to bring it must have been like to actually be in the nightclubs.  Aiding this further, the exhibition included reconstructions of parts of four of the nightclubs.  Particularly striking were the zinc shadow theatre models for the Chat Noir club in Paris.  For each reconstruction, despite the recorded sound, the only thing lacking was the smoke, bustle, heat and pandemonium that must have driven the fun of the customers in between – and maybe during – the cabaret and other performances.  It was a well arranged exhibition and was very enjoyable.

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir's Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir’s Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Top tasks for this week: planting the whitebeam and cherry trees I mentioned we had bought in my last blog post, planting lots of bulbs and organising that long-considered trip away.