THE GREEN DIARY :                                   A Segue into Winter

Once more I am at the beck and call of HRH Charlotte, Dowager Duchess of Kensington Olympia DCMG + Garter. Her only staff through these chilly times while her personal secretariat suns herself in Cape Town – until Christmas! No doubt needing a long rest from the demands of Royal Duty.

Since my last appointment here, I am afraid her ladyship’s interpersonal skills have declined and rather like the late, great Garbo seems to need to be alone much more!

Friends. Greetings. It’s been a while……

It’s difficult to know what to say in these dark times.

Perhaps silence would be best?  The crisis in the Middle East dominates everything at the moment. Since my last post when none of this had happened -though of course the indications, historically, were all there – the world has changed.

On the 7th October Hamas made its beastly attack on Israel.

So much has been said, written and opined. Modern media makes everyone know best, know what they want to say, know-all.

It is almost obscene as the bandwagon of views parades across our devices in all shapes and forms – and it’s oppressive too.

Only one thing is sure: there is no agreement anywhere; no meeting of minds; no inspired leadership; not a shred of tolerance; no largesse; compassion is not the name of the game and ordinary people – as always –are the bloody victims in the macro/micro-geopolitical games played by leaders cashing in on the fears that have arisen, usually from the lies that are told them by men and women who should know better.

Tell the lie – manipulate the fear.

This video is horrendous but unsurprising. I never disbelieved the Israelis on this.

A lawyer Friend has written, and I repeat it because I think the same way:

“If Zionism is a militant form of Judaism, then at the end of the day Islam may think it is under threat but in truth the only challenges it faces are internal sects competing with each other – as they have done for millennia. I ask you to look at the Millet System by which the The Sublime Porte governed the fractious sects his huge empire encompassed.

Israel on the other hand rightly or wrongly is under threat. Their struggle is existential. Islam’s is most certainly not. One may choose to examine the historical reasons for that but whatever the root causes may be (I take these back to before the Crusades) the fact remains that Israel faces extinction at the hands of its neighbours.  And at the end of the day you cannot escape the fact that Hamas began the fight. They had to know that the Israelis were not going to take this lying down, so the question arises : just what were they hoping to achieve?  They had to have predicted the dreadful and inevitable civilian casualties so whatever political aims they had in mind those had to have been significant in order to justify the cost. The Middle East induces a deep sense of doom and gloom.  It is interesting how the Ukraine has ceased to be the main talking point. A nasty and uncomfortable thought emerges for me : did Putin have a hand in setting Hamas off as part of his Cold War offensive by focusing Western attention away from the Ukraine?  I would not put that past him.  Also he may wish to drain American resources funding more warfare, making it easier for his old buddy Donald “the Orange One” Trump, to withdraw America from foreign adventures (assuming he gets to being in a position to do so).”

My Friend Callum added, “….Hamas patently has little interest in the wellbeing of the citizens of Gaza.  They are intent only on the destruction of Israel.  The Instagram piece speaks for itself…….I rest my case.”

Those tunnels are a disgrace to humanity.

At the time of writing the first group of hostages are being exchanged – but war will continue.

I say no more.

On the 7th October, too, our friend and neighbour, the Auteur Terence Davies died suddenly after a short illness. He was in mid-project with his latest work, a Noël Coward biopic, Firefly. I have included a short piece here by Nick Newman who turned out to be the last person to interview Terence. I should also add that the James Dowling Nick refers to is also one of our neighbours and very much part of the special family of friends that inhabit our village on The Green.

Terence was an exceptionally complex man inhabited by many demons. One look at all his films show just how personal his work was. Despite the many years on and off that beset Terence in his search for funding, backing for his work, the notorious processes of film production, he remained utterly true to his personal vision and would never deviate from the truths he perceived.

On location here with Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion

He refused to compromise this integrity during the lean times; he would not direct other people’s scripts; he would not undertake the lucrative possibilities in commercial-making, advertising; nor would he suffer the slightest interference with his work. This could often lead to much tension on set and in the production offices among actors and producers alike. There could be tearful tantrums.

With Gillian Anderson on the set of The House of Mirth

But he was a gentle and loyal friend; much loved on The Green where often talk of the problems of film production were far away and a mischievous humour prevailed. “Oh….the Minx…..” he would often say. This could cover a lot of things! Tony was his literary agent and I worked with him professionally once in his radio adaption of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves:

With Janet Suzman as the Narrator, Myself as Bernard, Geraldine James as Susan, Anna Massey as Rhoda, Peter Guinness as Neville, Jane Lapotaire as Jinny and Don Warrington as Louis. Broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2007.

If you have a spare two hours, Friends, do click on the link!

We had known Terence for a long time and we loved him and shall miss him.

Adieu, dear Friend.

We have very suddenly been to South Africa for two weeks; an unplanned event to see close family and friends in Pietermaritzburg – or “Hilton actually!” – Durban and Cape Town.

We found the KwaZulu-Natal midlands looking wonderful in an advanced southern hemisphere Spring.

It was an intensely personal visit, some friends and family are troubled by illness and it was a precious time to be there with them.

We shared the loveliness of the Midlands at the spectacular Benvie Garden founded by John Geekie from Dundee, Scotland who settled in Pietermaritzburg in 1860. Among the farms he collected was Nooitedacht where he created an arboretum importing sapling and seedling stock from around the world through Howdens & Co in Inverness. The nursery still exists today.

Benvie Garden is still maintained by the Geekie family and the estate is open to the public. We were in time for the Azaleas – just – and enjoyed a perfect walk there in complete solitude.

Abundant rains have kept the Midlands looking wonderfully green and fresh; the dams are full – though some would say too much rain and at the wrong time.

Winter rainfall in KZN is not usual. The quirky weather of the world continues – as we all know.

Midmar Dam

One special, rather overcast and rainy Sunday afternoon was spent at the Hilton College Chamberlain Music Centre where Christopher Duigan treated us to some spectacular pyrotechnic playing in a recital of works by Liszt, Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart. We met afterwards. He is a Pietermaritzburg man and manages a busy career from “Sleepy Hollow” that made my eyes water.

It turned out he knew one of the loves of my life, the pianist Melanie Horne who died tragically young at 43 at the height of her powers in 1998.

Christopher told me of Melanie’s

talented son Albert whom I met a long time ago when he was just eleven years old and who has now been chorus master and conductor at the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden since 2014.

Melanie plays Variations on a Nursery Tune, Op. 25 “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star ” by Ernst von Dohnányi . A very mischievous piece with an unlikely beginning. Have a listen!

Thanks Christopher. A great recital. Bravo Bravo all.

To Cape Town for a brief few days visiting friends Ross & Charles who wined & dined us lavishly at Marina Da Gama before a fine long walk out along the vlei; staying with Damon Galgut and Riyaz & Tobassum in Greenpoint.

Such a poignant visit.

Friends Jane R-F, Liz & Adrian B welcoming as ever and a noisy lunch with Sarah C. at Den Anker – in perfect weather too.

But no visit to South Africa these days is without its adventures: on the morning we left Cape Town the car

was burgled and yet another cell phone bit the dust! Our insurance company grows impatient with disbelief!

That was on our way to brunch with Helen B. who arrived in Cape Town the day before we left. We went to see her newly refurbed flat. And now I am looking after her London home – and Charlotte too, of course.

I’m not quite sure why Ludwig Minkus’ Don Quixote is called that; there’s a slim story about a barber called Basilio and his high-spirited love Kitri. There are matadors and street dancers, tradesmen, serving girls and beggars, and a visionary Queen of the Dryads. Then there’s Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, and his sidekick Sancho Panza stealing chickens and any resemblance to Cervantes’s novel is entirely accidental!

Carlos Acosta choreographed this version which was originally by Petipa in 1869 and much revised by Alexander Gorsky thirty years later; but the music is luscious, the dancing sublime and bewildered or not we came away with joy in our hearts.

Not much theatre this autumn though. I refused to see the new House of Bernarda Elba. Tony went off to the National Theatre with Friend Margz to see it (he is very partial to Harriet Walter!) and, as I feared came back in despair.

Why does everything these days have to be “re-imagined”? Why bother to bend the classics to your own idea? We’ve seen a lot of these sorts of plays in recent years and I am afraid they leave me increasingly unmoved and unimpressed – not to mention rather out-of-pocket! So it was with this version of Lorca’s classic, and the reason why I refused to spend exorbitant funds on it.

One asks the question why would a consummate and extremely intelligent actor like Harriet Walter agree to be in a version like this. She surely needs neither the fame nor the money – she already has both in spades – I imagine?

If you want to say something yourself, write it anew! Don’t bend the classics. It simply doesn’t work. Speaking of bending, if you have not read my description of The Ring we recently visited in Bayreuth, look:

“Sublime music and singing but there was no Gold, no Ring; the Rhine was a large, private swimming pool presided over by the Rhine Maidens whose charges were not gold but young children. It is one of these children that Alberich kidnaps and who is in turn stolen by Wotan and handed in payment to Fasolt and Fafner, the giants and architect-builders of Valhalla who are not giants and arrive in a Range Rover. I could go on but you get the drift.”

The Child is the Ring. I mean……..I ask you?

I didn’t last the course of Lyonesse either, I’m afraid and left Tony behind at the interval. It was a muddle of ideas and I was not well! The play didn’t help. So I left. Lily James hopelessly miscast – please stick to the likes of Downton Abbey – I didn’t believe that she was an upcoming film producer at all. Kristin Scott-Thomas always pleases but

as I say, the play was a muddle and had I stayed on this would apparently have been confirmed! One critic said, “Lyonesse  feels trapped between a crowd-pleasing, celebrity-tastic comedy with feminist undertones and a much bleaker answer to that. Both sections

are effective in their way, but as a whole it’s disjointed.”

Movies? Quite a few. We are at last getting back into the habit and it is much better than streaming. Covid gave us bad habits!

Anatomy of a Fall impressed us both. In fact I saw it twice. No spoilers Friends! It is more than a courtroom drama murder mystery; much more. The anatomy of the multi-layered dynamics of a marriage; everything is shiveringly ambiguous and Sandra Hüller’s as, yes, Sandra, has to be one of the greatest film performances I have seen – in three languages! An actor who can perform in three languages. Fluently. A testament too to the brilliance of Justine Triet and Arthur Harari’s screenplay.

I didn’t go much for Todd Hayne’s May December : based on a true story, a strange, confounding mix that didn’t really enlighten.

All lovely to look at and with some interesting performances but the notion that an actor can move in and study someone as complex and confused as Gracie just left me cold.

It’s had mixed reviews.

And then  Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. It reminded me of a publishing friend who told me that Nadine Gordimer reached a point in her writing career where her editors

quailed to give advice or even attempted to edit! So they let things go. This film is far too long and has the same whiff about it. Did the studio simply quail to tell Scorsese to cut, cut, cut, I wonder? There are loose ends as the hours go by. But having said that the true story – and it is epic – of the greedy Osage County murders in 1920’s Oklahoma is truly horrific and this film was riveting. Both Leonardo Di Caprio and Robert De Niro give brilliant performances, as does Lily Gladstone. It hardly seems credible that these events actually took place. It is a large and impressive canvas filmed almost as a Western.

Napoleon felt like a popcorn movie. Beautifully shot, glorious battle actions, though bearing little truth, on a vast screen, lending itself to Ridley Scott’s epic canvas, to real events.

But Joaquin Phoenix was far too tall, far too old and, poor fellow, far two-dimensional. Or at least the script was.

Where was the politics? Where were his reforms of the legal system, the land system, the honours system, the civil service? Where was there any indication that he was much more than a tyrant? That he was trying to protect the benefits of the Revolution from the Ancien Régimes hell bent on restoring the old ways? That these regimes were openly hostile to France.

The fact is that whether he won or lost, after Napoleon Europe was never the same.

So, yes, I enjoyed the movie for what it was, a shimmering love affair with Josephine and an obsession with the tactics of battle.

But Austerlitz did not end on an iced over lake at all, nor did cannonballs smash that ice and sink the Allied cavalry! But it looked good.

Now….Maestro ! I am in ecstasies! If you do nothing else try and see this in a good cinema; hurry because it’s a Netflix production and I think may soon be streaming. I went with Friend Jane B. to the Renoir in Bloomsbury where they have brilliant sound and projection facilities. I was blown away. We both were. Bradley Cooper, director, actor and writer of the whole shebang, prosthetic nose and all, along, equally, with Carey Mulligan as Lennie and Felicia produce a moving, complex, passionate double-act that does great justice to the life of this iconic man.

There is one particular scene which finished us both off when Lennie conducts part of Mahler’s 2nd, “Resurrection”, Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra, filmed in Ely Cathedral. Exuberant doesn’t cover the energy and musical commitment.

Oh joy! Oh rapture! The hairs on my arms……etc etc. Try it Friends and take some Kleenex.

And what of Saltburn? I thought I was being original in describing this highly entertaining film as sub-Brideshead Revisited meets The Talented Mr. Ripley but seeing the reviews, everybody has thought of it!

Well….it is; but no spoilers other than to say I was completely fooled by it and did not see the twisty ending at all. Barry Keoghan’s Oliver Quick shows us a great new talent on the block.

Quite a special evening actually because I went with grandson Tyger who is at Imperial at present and round the corner from Kensington Olympia, the home of HRH Charlotte et al , and afterwards he introduced me to Sushi which believe it or not in my 71 years  I have never before experienced! Just wish there had been a conveyor belt! Not a great picture of you Tyges and everyone must know that you are supremely good looking and not as narrow as this strange photo! Don’t understand the distort.

This was the first course

Loved it! Thanks Tyger!

Two visits to the Festival Hall!

Look after a Duchess in London and you get to enjoy a lot of ‘kultcha’. David Butlin, Friend Loïs’, nephew is here from the Cape and we enjoyed an afternoon with the Philharmonia with works by Claude Debussy (Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune), Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Canadian James Ehnes playing and on top form, and Prokofiev’s 6th Symphony created shortly after the end of World War 2.

Here he is with his “Marsick” Stradivarius.

The programme notes said it was later banned but this is not true, though Prokofiev along with many Soviet artists fell foul of the looney-tune guidelines for artistic expression: “…too avante-garde and not aligned with the ideology of socialist realism……”

I ask you….?  We thought the afternoon sublime.

A week later and I went again, this time with our Tarry Tours Leader and dear Friend Richard, for an evening with the London Philharmonic Orchestra who were playing Tchaikovsky again though this time, his Symphony No. 1 in the first half, and then a miscellany of songs sung by Angela Gheorghiu who came on stage with a flourish in billowing gowns and an ample embonpoint to delight her many fans who welcomed her rapturously. There were two outfits during her recital!

She has great stage presence though we felt was somewhat underpowered in some of the songs. It’s a huge auditorium and she was not miked (naturally), so it was difficult to hear her. She was completely drowned out in The Godfather’s Love Theme, one of her four encores and her rendition of Granada (really for a tenor) incensed the Spanish family sitting in front of us who booed and shouted at the end, “Sing it properly. No this is not a good choice for you….” A moment of high tension in row NN with other audience members perplexed by their disapproval!

Her most popular encore without a shadow of a doubt, was O mio babbino caro. Which you can see here taken, illegally by an audience member.

I should say that we were plagued by people around us thrusting their cameras rudely into the air, filming against the wishes of nearly everybody and generally pissing us off! Sorry for the language but hell’s-teeth they are so insensitive and annoying.

Here is an official one:

And just for fun, here is nine year old  Amira Willighagen’s rendition in 2013:

Amira Willighagen, Amsterdam 2013.

Just come from The Kiln where the unlikely named Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) is bursting with surprises. It is such a sweet treat: Salad Days meets Home Alone 2.  It’s  a British musical by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan fresh, funny, ironic, inventive and moving. Cleverly staged with a playful set by Soutra Gilmour with an inner and outer revolve piled with suitcases that themselves are pop-up story books in the action; a two-hander with Dujonna Gift (apt that) and Sam Tutty who are perfect foils for each other. Such a lovely afternoon at The Kiln – matinees for seniors: £20 a pop. Great stuff.

Gift & Tutty at a ‘pop-up book’ Chinese eaterie.

Last year and this, incredibly, son and daughter Zac & Julie turned 50! Our celebrations only took place – jointly – at the end of October: a weekend at the Ingham Swan,  ‘restaurant with rooms’, in Norfolk.

Sea Palling Beach

They have a brilliant chef there, Daniel Smith, and his menus – we had four meals there altogether including breakfasts – are uncomplicated but  well beyond the gastro-pub level, attested by the Michelin Guide.

It turned out to be one of the highlights of our celebratory weekend along with the walks along  sandy beaches and visits to both Felbrigg Hall & Sheringham Park Gardens and Blickling Hall and Estate nearby; not far from Cromer. The weather held, intermittently enough, but we were glad not to have been in the area earlier that week when low-lying Norfolk was badly inundated.

Sea Palling Beach, Ingham.

Water, water everywhere; many roads closed. It is not easy to forget that parts of Norfolk are below sea-level and protected by canals and dykes which the Dutch taught us how to build in the 17th Century. Through to the 18th Century Norwich was the second city of England; a busy cultural capital, wealthy and heavily settled by those, including Dutch and Huguenots escaping religious persecution and even émigrés from the French Revolution. Flemish and Hanseatic architecture is everywhere to be seen. Very flat, Norfolk but handsome!

Blickling Hall Estate

Dutch Fair, Great Yarmouth

Have you had enough, Friends? Probably! Thanks for getting this far.

I just wanted to add two more quick recommendations though. At the Tate Modern: Capturing the Moment – A Journey through Painting and Photography was extremely worth a visit and at the recently re-furbed National Portrait Gallery, David Hockney’s miraculous Drawing from Life consumes time deliciously.

To you all, Dear Friends we wish you a Happy Christmas

and please God


Peaceful, Healthy & Prosperous 2024!

Pedro & Tonto

16 Replies to “THE GREEN DIARY :                                   A Segue into Winter”

  1. Thank you, once again, for some great recommendations. What a life you lead and what pleasure I get from reading about it.

    Happy Christmas to you both and see you soon.

  2. Thanks for that, Peter.
    Must see you in London, some time.
    Off to Cape Town on Thursday, and wishing both of you a very happy Christmas.

  3. House of Bernarda Elba? Did the reimagining of this classic include changing the title? Actually, I see that the authorship is credited to one Alice Birch “after Lorca”. The Dutch are very good at reimagining classics – set them in a swimming pool, on rollerskates or wearing Mickey Mouse masks.
    Such busy boys you are that I’m exhausted even reading this!
    Lots of love.

  4. As a matter of interest, how much would you have to cough up to see the National Theatre’s production of Barnard the Elder?

  5. Hi boys,
    I’m not in he mood to discuss the “opgefokked” state the world is in, right now, but since your postcard also mentioned some current movies, can I just add to the list PAST LIVES, which is one of the very best films of the year (Oscar time!) and which opens quite soon; and THE HOLDOVERS? I was also very impressed with ANATOMY OF A FALL, but less taken with MAY DECEMBER despite it’s fascinating premise and two terrific performances from Portman and Moore. Tomorrow I’m seeing MAESTRO which I’m really looking forward to despite it’s very mixed reception.
    Happy Christmas and a healthy and fulfilling 2024.

  6. Must just add a ps to my post adoring your blog. That is, I don’t agree with your analysis of the war, if I understand it.

    Love to you both,

  7. What a wonderfully rich and varied life you two lead – I love living so many of these experiences vicariously through you! Thanks so much for news, photos and recommendations – keep them coming!
    And very happy Christmas to you too! Xx

  8. Lovely post, thank you. Great pity Maestro not being shown in any cinema here, so will have to be content with Netflix on small screen. I had a delightful holiday in Cromer in 1969 w small brother Henry, then 4. Stayed in an old-fashioned boarding house with bfast and supper. Mother took a beach hut where we huddled over pies and lemon squash! Re: annoying theatregoers. they should be warned they’d be confiscated. I think there’s a supervisory thingummy that can disable digital devices. Happy Christmas to you both!

  9. Pedro, Excellent commentary. My, you chaps get around and I’m envious of the Cape Town visit. We too saw Napoleon – well done but maybe a tad long and as you say lots missing. It made me think of my five months time on St Helena Island in 1982. I would often wander down to his grave which is still well tendered, as are all the Boer graves. Rather strange to see all the Afrikaans names on this remote island. Anyway it was a peaceful spot for the little Corsican to sleep for eternity, or at least till they dug him up to send him back to France. I have the French Consuls book which he wrote about Napoleons time on St. Helena. He ( the Consul )would periodically invite me to lunch at Longwood which is French territory. The rose garden which Napoleon planted is still there albeit missing some plants. We would sit at the same table that the famous man shared with his entourage his massive globe nearby. I pictured the little man morosely revolving it and thinking over all his victories. What must he have thought being sent to such a beautiful but remote part of the planet. In fact till recently when they built the airport it was perhaps the most isolated spot in the world. I mean you can fly to the North or South Poles or Everest but not St. Helena. When I worked there there was always talk about building a runway but numerous studies had said it couldn’t be done. Until it was by a South African company. Opened and then promptly closed for a while because of the fierce winds making landing and take off over the 1000ft cliffs an interesting exercise! On a totally different note I see your note re James Ehnes – we’ve heard him play Max Bruchs Scottish Fantasy here in Victoria. A wonderful piece of music and he is such a great violinist. One other Canadian performer if you get the chance is Jan Lisiecki. I first heard him when he was 14 performing Schumanns Piano Concerto here. Absolutely brilliant and there is a great You Tube recording of him playing the same piece at The Proms some years ago. Its worth a look. And sorry I’ve rambled on way too long.

  10. 1st of January 2024 boosted by reading your diary and is one amused or amazed by a 9yr old singing O mio babino Caro?! Certainly amused by the Judges reaction.
    Thank you for your recommendations. I’m afraid the life of an NHS surgeon is just becoming more and more frustrating and hectic. I really must get Jane over this year if only so you both can come down for a day or two.
    Very best wishes for 2024

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