THE GREEN DIARY :                                        FAREWELL MARTITA

Martita with us in Fuengirola

Yesterday I waved goodbye to my beloved Martita on whom major electrical surgery has been performed to no avail. She cannot be revived. Her mighty heart still beats but her nervous system is shot and no MOT can be declared. Sadly I completed the SORN documentation and submitted it to the DVLA vehicle tax service in Wales.

Martita, named after Martita Hunt the famous actress whose heart broke in Great Expectations as Miss Haversham, was the most elegant of ladies; with her slightly faded black bonnet, traced with verdigris from the proteins emitted by Edme Maltings, and her soignee chrome wheel trims

she struck an elegant figure among her peers in Mistley and as she swept across the Continent, to Portugal, all over Spain; in France and Italy, through Switzerland, Germany and the Low Countries, heads would turn and hearts would burn in admiration and envy.

Martita was a lady; nothing woke about her; she had no transgender or transitioning issues, strong in her feminine identity she bore no grudges and was never a snob, rooted as she was in the sensible, vorsprung durch teknik of  her Stuttgart Heimat. She took the slights that came from envious passers-by without rancour.

Even being rudely addressed as “that hair-dresser’s car” did not stall her. For eleven years she has carried us forth. Her marriage of eight years ended in divorce when a hire-purchase arrangement collapsed and she briefly attended rehab in Slough before I met her online. It was love at first sight, never once dimmed by clumsy supermarket trolleys, careless driving and bumper bumps, inflicted by others I hasten to add, and not me.

She has loyally carried friends low and high, old and young across Europe and Britain pre- and post-Brexit: Dutch aristocrats around the Castles of England, South Africans to the Battlefields of Flanders, doughty Welshmen to Snowdonia and beyond.

Martita……..never to be forgotten. How can you be replaced? And with what?

The main project this Spring has been the redecoration of our home on The Green. There has been much chucking out, carpets, curtains, books – plenty of “muckdungus” as my Scottish grandmother used to call it. The place has not been touched for 23 years as we have always believed that to travel is preferable than to make-over! But, hey………..

“There is a tide in the affairs of houses
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the colours of their rooms
Are bound to fade; on such a full sea
of Sudbury Yellow & Theatre Red are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.” 

But I am fairly certain that Brutus was not advising Cassius on new color schemes!

So – out with the old and in with the new. Kevin Gleed our Maître Décorateur is undertaking this nerve-racking journey in three tranches: top, bottom and outside. He is on the bottom at the moment. The top was completed three weeks ago but it took us that long to empty the bottom to free up space for him to wave his paintbrush around and reach those parts that other brands could not!

The new carpets (Brian Birt Carpets of Clacton) are in; Lulu Meston from The Curtain Exchange has measured for drapes; Zoey Bates will re-upholster; Tom the Plumber, Jon the Carpenter and Bob the Electrician have all joined a cast of thousands in this projet de renouveau! And don’t forget Haj the Oriental Carpet Specialist enjoined to repair and clean 80 year old rugs.

We have retreated to London as Mistley is uninhabitable now – just when we really needed Martita to fetch and carry.

So in the interim Man-in-White-Van was deployed and we buzzed all over the place in our ULEZ registered diesel Ford Trannie. Friends it’s all true. The waves part in East Anglia for Essex Man in White Van. Nobody argues with you on the highways and byeways. Bliss

But eventually we were sensible; abandoned all romantic notions of fast, stylish open air travel and have adopted a grey, Hybrid Hyundai Kona called Henrietta who will carry us further into our 8th decade safely and anonymously. We shall be invisible in this sweet young four year old and will be happy to sing that famous song from Chicago :

Cellophane
Mister Cellophane
Shoulda Been My Name:
Mister Cellophane.
‘Cause You Can Look Right Through Me
Walk Right By Me
And Never Know I’m There…

Henrietta Hyundai-Kona

OTHER NOTES

Drawing towards midsummer now and the annual visit to the Holland Park Opera with friends, Sue, Dave, Sarah and Hannah, a lovely tradition; with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and a fine picnic on the terrace what could possibly go wrong?

It didn’t!

Charlotte Corderoy conducted the City of London Sinfonia in fine form and at one point is evicted from the podium by Almaviva during the fake music lesson in an amusing take on his seduction of Rosina in the presence of her tyrannical guardian. The whole company played well together in a busy and amusing staging. One reviewer wrote “Rossini meets EM Forster?” Dr. Bartolo and his ward Rosina are English, he an irascible, selfish, sunburnt Victorian archeologist down in the Andalusian

heat looking at ruins and determined to have his ward for himself. Into the mix comes Paul Grant’s charming, wily Figaro with all his tricks and that wonderful aria. 

Lovely.

Since we returned from the epic NZ-OZ-SA visit it’s been heads down with decorating but there have been some visits to the theatre, a good book or two, a few TV binges, a cinema or two and even a visit to the Jim Deakin Retrospective at Swedeborg House which I’d never been in before. It’s immediately  opposite the British Museum and I must say I left it feeling rather depressed! He was an artist and photographer best known for documenting the Soho art scene of the 1950’s and 60’s. Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud, Edwardo Palozzi and Francis Bacon were among his subjects.

It was curated by the writer Iain Sinclair whose book Pariah Genius: John Deakin, The Psychobiography of a Photographer.

Oh dear. Not a cheerful visit.

As this is a diary I just want, really for my own benefit, to add a short list of things enjoyed this Spring, in between the sweep of paint brushes. I share them with you dear Friends.

Two books I found fascinating, both by Adam Sisman: John le Carré: The Biography published in 2015 and it’s “coda” published after le Carré’s death in 2023, The Secret Life of John le Carré. I had no idea what a complex individual he was, what a womaniser;  how difficult it was to extricate fact from fiction in this inextricably interesting life. Great read.

Some Television:

Has anyone seen  Mr Inbetween? Binge watching television. I couldn’t stop over three series billed as half hour comedies but much, much more than that. Darkly funny, deeply disturbing we follow the trajectory of a kind of Mr Fixit assassin, Ray Shoesmith, brrrrrilliantly played by

Australian actor Scott Ryan, who juggles his eventful line of work with fatherhood, a new romance and caring for his ailing brother. Operating his own moral compass and despite some of his terrifying actions emerges as an entirely lovable character.

Friends – give it a whirl!

Both Zone of Interest, Jonathan Glazer’s unforgettable and brutal Auschwitz drama and Occupied City  Steve McQueen’s production of his wife Bianca Stigler’s book Atlas of an Occupied City, Amsterdam 1940-1945  are simply electrifying. McQueen’s documentary is well over four hours long, an exhausting but astonishing marathon well worth watching.

Then recently I saw the equally electrifying Hitler and the Nazis : Evil on Trial,  largely based on the recorded wartime broadcasts of William Shirer and the witness of his diaries, which still shocked me. Especially at this time when liberal democracy is being bullied into

corners by unscrupulous autocrats, narcissistic, corrupt and self-serving politicians and an uncertain and potentially ugly future before us. This series has been remastered, largely rendered into colour, using actual newsreel footage and audiotapes to reconstruct some of the worst nightmares in world history.

And of course Shōgun! We read the book (no. 3 out of 6 in James Clavell’s Asian Saga) in 1975; we saw Richard Chamberlian as John Blackthorne in the mini series back in 1980 but this new series is a must-watch. More Japanese than English. With its exquisitely structured narratives and spectacular, rich and accurate production values. I would have binged again but this time I had to wait a little as Disney+ tantalised us with weekly releases. Lets hope they do the same with Clavell’s other five Asian stories.

Some cinema:

We both very much enjoyed Made in England: The Films of Powell & Pressburger, Martin Scorcese’s homage in a richly enjoyable documentary style to their glorious films and their complex relationship. It made us immediately want to see some of them again including I Know Where I Am Going  which was new to us.

Ken Loach’s The Old Oak perhaps not his best but touching on very current issues in a moving way. It had mixed reviews but I see Rotten Tomatoes gave it 87. Whatever you may think of Ken Loach his movies are never boring. This one made us go all the way back to Kes for another look. Such a great film.


Then there was Alice Rohrwacher’s sweet, funny, sad movie  La Chimera. Here magical realism looms large as we (try to) follow Arthur, beautifully played by Josh O’Connor, on his quest to find his lost love Beniamina via a seedy, tomb raiding group finding and looting Etruscan artefacts. Arthur has a talent for divining and this is exploited by opposing groups of looters.

Melancholy, wistful, multilayered, we were transfixed by this haunted, bedraggled story. Enchanting.

And some theatre too, Friends!

Enjoyed them all despite the flaws, starting with Opening Night, Ivo van Hove’s production of Rufus Wainwright’s over-extravagant, musical adaptation of the Cassavetes’ 1977 film about a Broadway star, Myrtle (Sheridan Smith) in a mid-life crisis meltdown on the eve of a Broadway Opening night. 

What a stupendous ensemble, truly brilliant performances, Sheridan Smith glitters; but somewhere I couldn’t quite be convinced. Ivo van Hove always seems to over-embelish. His use of TV monitors and other digital trickery for me just confused the issues and, whats more, pulled focus. While I could see what he was trying to do, for me it just didn’t quite succeed. The play received mixed reviews and tripped at the box office. It was pulled early, sadly. I’m sure with more tampering it could have been fixed!

Then there was Nye at The National, an “epic Welsh fantasia about one man’s dream of the NHS” with Michael Sheen as the charismatic Aneurin Bevan in tremendous form. The theatre was packed, I am guessing with left leaning, NHS loyalists who all, like myself, ache to see the NHS survive. It received a standing ovation (not very unusual these days!) and Michael Sheen could do no wrong; but it has had mixed reviews too and Sheen in pyjamas throughout, on his deathbed, is infantilised to the point where the real life Nye’s charisma, sexual attraction and complex character rather gives way to two dimensions.

The staging was absolutely brilliant we thought, very clever and we came away completely satisfied and hope that the upcoming General Election where the NHS as an issue, has a premier position, may save its life somehow!

Then The Power of Sail at the Menier Chocolate Factory intrigued. Very contemporary moral issues underlined by murky motives and the pitiless passions of identity politics with a brisk and gripping plot in a play by Paul Grellong, directed by Dominic Dromgoole.

Originally from the Geffen Playhouse, New York where Bryan Cranston tests the bounds of free speech, it was recast here and played powerfully to good houses.

The Divine Mrs S(iddons) at the Hampstead Theatre where we joined our Jazz (usually) Mentors Richard & Cathie, explores the life of the Welsh actress, best known tragedienne of the 18th century. A bit of a curate’s egg perhaps but Rachel Stirling is riveting as Siddons in this play by April De Angelis. More mela- than -drama it packs some jokey punches, is layered enough to have a darker side and certainly raises questions about backstage sexual harassment – nothing seems to have changed there then!

An enjoyable evening ending in culinary triumph à la table de Cathie et Richard Griffin. Thank you both: looking forward to the next round!

And Friends, thanks for listening. Midsummer is upon us with more adventures.

PEDRO

This picture has no purpose other than that it amuses me!

THE GREEN DIARY: A DIASPORA OF FAMILY & FRIENDS

It’s been a while, Friends! We have been away for sixty days; Spring is well sprung in Mistley!

Brother David died two years ago on the day we were to depart for Auckland to visit Other Brother Michael, wife Janine and nieces Caity and Laurien – all grown up, soon to be married.

David’s death meant an obvious and sad postponement.

Only one other person knows me as well as Brother Michael and that is Helena whose sandpit I shared in Cape Town 70 years ago. She lives in New Zealand, in Masterton.

And Stuart, too, lives in New Zealand. We were eight years old when we met, unwilling habitués of a prep school, Cordwalles, in Pietermaritzburg a long, long time ago. He a sad little chappie all the way from Zambia, missing his Mum and Dad, flown all the way to Durban with a label round his neck. Mine lived only 36 miles down the road but I missed them just as much. We were fellow mourners.

Only Friend Richard, well known to you all, Dear Friends, as the “CEO of Tarry Tours” with whom Tony and I have adventured many times in past years, is as old a friend – and his brother Jeremy.

Tarry Tours at Chichen Itza, Mexico 2017

The cast list continues: actor and yoga mistress Lynn Webster and husband Rod Oram** both dating from early London, LAMDA days and The Financial Times 40 years ago, now in Auckland.

And not to forget Eileen Thorns that was – Lavranos that is, once from Durban – mark that, Friend Diane Wilson – and formerly at the CAPAB theatre company where I started all those many years ago. She directed lunchtime theatre, school tours and library programmes and flogged our outreach talents across the whole of the Cape – thousands of miles of countless libraries and schools across a province the size of France. 

A Diaspora of oldest friends and family, what a rich privilege it has been; New Zealand basking in late summer sunshine, perfect weather for a drive around North Island for three whole weeks starting up north with Paihia on The Bay of Islands next the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on the 6th February, a very sacred day, a busy Public Holiday for Maoris.

Ceremonial Waka at Haruru Falls

Exploring all the way north along the impressive 55 mile “90 Mile Beach”!  to Cape Reinga.

Bay of Islands – 55 mile “90 mile Beach!” – Cape Reinga – Hole-in-the-Rock

Then down to Whakatane along route 2 through passes and mountain scenery along roads still showing signs of the terrible floods a year ago, to Gisborne now mended. It was completely cut off from the rest of the country for at least a week.  Napier next where in 1931 the country’s worst natural disaster, the Hawke’s Bay earthquake, devastated the region killing 256. The city was prettily rebuilt in the low-rise deco style and every year the town holds its Art Deco Festival celebrating its rebirth.

We picked up a car there driving down to Masterton leaving Michael and Janine to their own devices for a few days agreeing to meet at the unpronounceable town of Taumarunui  on the edge of the Pureora Forest Park.

Masterton: Helena is two years older than me. Her family where our neighbours in Pinelands, Cape Town. Her Dad was from Warsaw. Her Mum was Italian, from Turin. How they landed up across the fence from us is a tale on its own. How my own Mum and Dad landed up there is an equally fascinating story but it made them unlikely neighbours these Anglo-Scottish-Polish-Italians and that story will have to be told another time. Needless to say I was plonked into Helena’s sandpit along with Janek her brother. Apparently my Polish was better than his though I now remember nothing.

Years later, at UCT for a BA and a dramatic launchpad, I introduced Stuart to Helena, they partnered each other at a Rag Ball, fell in love and married; I was his best man. He was at the Medical School, became a Doctor; Andrina was their first and only born, herself my friend and sometime habitué of earlier blogs, living in London, teaching primary school kids.

Sadly a marriage that burned for thirty years but became a dying star.  

Ce la vie. 

Also in Masterton is EllaCapella, a special love from long ago at a time of confusion, or Elspeth, and husband Mike who showed us such lovely hospitality. Thank you sweet people. Helena took us to pretty places, particularly Greytown best known for its collection of beautifully restored Victorian buildings and boutique shops, one of the most complete collections in New Zealand.

It does to Victoriana what Napier does to Deco. The fascinating Cobblestones Museum showing an example of the early settler village shed light on how colonists managed to survive so far from home and in such a different climate. Here I succeeded in losing both my driver’s licence and Forex Card! “Age thou art shamed…..!”

Then via Palmerston North for a reunion with Friends Dominic and Elin, to the tiny hamlet of Rewa along Route 54 where Stuart and Carole live in their beautiful Heritage farmhouse in the middle of a perfect landscape.  That New Zealand can be described as bucolic is an understatement!

We met with Brother Michael and Janine in Taumarunui, that unpronounceable town on the little north-south railway line between Auckland and Wellington. They’d found the most fabulous place to stay: Omaka Lodge.

Here in this beautiful location we were the guests of hosts Scott & Chris, gardeners and chefs of note; a boutique experience. This picture does not do justice to the garden which reminded us very much of Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter, not the house but in its landscape layout and style.

Down the hill and round the corner is the Forgotten World Highway a spectacular journey through some of the country’s most beautiful and remote locations with its backcountry ghost towns, pristine native bush, rugged hills and deep hidden valleys, along the now-abandoned Stratford to Okahukara railway line; a 142km construction through 24 tunnels, 90 plus bridges – all hand-built.

This little clip gives you a taste. At each stop for teas, pees and lunches we were told intriguing stories of people from a bygone age, of local histories, some funny, some tragic but all dramatic. Our journey started at the Whangamōmona Hotel, headquarters of the self-proclaimed and quirky Republic of Whangamōmona!

Three weeks flew by and it was time for a last few days in Auckland and our flight to Sydney. Thanks lovely Friends & Family!

______________________________________________________________________________

**ROD ORAM

I have to intrude here and sadly tell you that after I’d written this section and soon after our lovely meeting, we were horrified by the tragic news that our friend Rod Oram, husband to Lynn and father to Celeste had a fatal accident on his bicycle In Auckland. Some of you may remember him when he was with The Financial Times. A vital force and wonderful man. It seems inconceivable. Our hearts go out.

https://newsroom.co.nz/2024/03/20/prominent-columnist-and-environmentalist-rod-oram-dies/

______________________________________________________________

Australia couldn’t be more different. We have been to Sydney before but not to Melbourne or Adelaide – now on the radar. Once again Friends and Family in different places: Allan Momberg in Sydney was our cultural signpost and culinary advisor. We visited Art Galleries, walked our socks off round the city, the botanic gardens, the older bits and the modern pieces.

We revisited the Opera House this time to see Opera Australia’s La Traviata – it was dark last time – impressed by the ambience, the Orchestra, the Dancers and Sophie Salvesani playing Violetta and Luke Gabbedy as a powerful Giorgio but underwhelmed by Tomas Dalton’s Alfredo which though sung well, especially in Act III, lacked passion and an electricity between the lovers.

We found the design somewhat clunky too. But what a stupendous building!

We chased Pat Tucker around too but had no luck! She was a step ahead of us in South Africa! As Pat Schwartz she wrote a wonderful, illustrated book about The Market Theatre, Johannesburg, copies of which we stumbled across on our travels!

Back to Sydney! We were so struck by several art galleries in all the cities. Whoever curates these in Australia do so with incredible sensitivity and imagination.

Bearing in mind the difference in collection sizes across the world, their talent to make a little go a long way is actually more satisfying in many ways that the ocean of visual plenitude that Europe and America provide. There is a greater use of thematic display of cross-disciplinary artefacts. Somehow this makes periods in cultural history seem more accessible and we found this technique being deployed in all the galleries we visited. The added dimension of “First Nation” cultural contribution in these times of more concern over the European penetration of culture in the imperial/colonial past also adds richness. Aboriginal and Maori histories are often prevalent in New Zealand and Australia.

In Sydney there was an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ work in the astonishing postmodern, glass and steel Art Gallery of New South Wales Extension itself built over an old World War 2 oil bunker buried in the hill (Domain) beneath and part of the exhibition space – The Tank. This was drained and cleaned up. It reminded us of the huge Basilica Cisterna built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century.

Personally, apart from her sculptures, I find her works rather impenetrable and was more impressed by the building that houses them than the exhibition itself!

We were struck by The White Rabbit Gallery too. Startling to say the least – The White Rabbit Gallery was opened to showcase Judith Neilson’s White Rabbit Collection, which has become one of the world’s most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art.

This is the new extension on Domain. Impressive to say the least though controversial. I need you to note, dear Friends, the Westfield Skytower on the left, location of a recent terrorist outrage. We went up it in an attempt to conquer Tony’s vertigo. 268 metres above sea-level, the highest open platform in the southern hemisphere! Great views! He was very brave!

We took the train to Melbourne proud of its new status as the largest city in Australia having overtaken Sydney – but in area alone, not population. The train took ten hours. Very comfortable; great views though the landscape was fairly gentle – and very brown and dry. Eucalyptus everywhere of course with its gentle green colour. In my whole life I’d never seen either a kangaroo or a koala bear, except in zoos; and after this trip can boast that I still haven’t really! A glimpse of one maybe in the Cleland National Park outside Adelaide but I don’t think that counts. I was expecting them to be jumping around the countryside in their droves and nibbling away in the eucalyptus tree – but not a sausage! Well we shall just have to go back again one day soon and say “third time lucky”!

Melbourne feels totally different to Sydney. As a South African I’d say Melbourne is to Sydney what Cape Town is to Johannesburg (though Johannesburg, frankly, is a dump compared to the glories of Sydney. More of that later!).

It’s a laid back city. We wandered around it and along its riverbanks, galleries, and gardens; there was lots of good food.

And company. We met more friends, notably (Dr) Matthew Pitman and friend Maxime from Paris. This was by way of a preview because we later spent a week in Adelaide with his parental units, Julia and Guy! Matthew beguiled us with his charm and zealous commitment to research into HIV and the incredible vagaries of academic research. I must say the more I hear of academia the happier I am that I was an Actor. My profession sounds positively gentle compared to the cut and thrust of academic research, publishing and achievement.

We went swimming from the beach at St. Kilda and found Jake Schulmeyer whom absolutely none of you, well, apart from two, know; I mention it because it was one of those beautifully serendipitous moments, touching and sweet.

Jake is Friend Stacy Schulmeyer (née Jenkinson)’s son. Stacy was a recording engineer at the RNIB studios for years and years, where I recorded hundreds of books. We have remained friends. I remember her marriage to Frankie; Tony and I attended their wedding reception in Drury Lane; we remember Jacob’s birth and Tilo too! Suddenly in the midst of Australia it transpires that Jake is now an undergraduate artist, exploring the world, a twenty-something gentleperson on a mission and, like millions of young, paying his way with odd jobs, a barista in this instance, though homesick for Europe in general and Munich in particular. So……we went to find him and it was sweet. Thanks for the coffee, Jake!

So far so good. Australia is going down extremely well. We saw no live shows in Melbourne but did see Dune Part 2 in a vast cinema somewhere. Very impressive, very visual; huge picture, very violent; very, very impenetrable – we still didn’t know, really, what was going on! We are told we should read the books again. Well…….we know Paul Atreides is on a mission to revenge the murder of his family but we both felt that talented and handsome as he may be, Timothée Chalamet did not convince as a messianic figure. He is too pretty, too slight and lacks the gravitas of a Harris, Shaw, O’Toole or even a Connery or a Caine.

The Overlander

Another ten hour train journey across Victoria and South Australia to Adelaide; more delights in store. Here are Friends Guy & Julia Pitman, Laura Tomlinson and the Adelaide Festival: theatre, music, dance and Writers’ Week, putting up at the amazing Oval Hotel immediate across the river from the Festival grounds. Apart from the usual visits to galleries, drives in the countryside (notably through the Cleland National Park to Hahndorf) and a sunny day away in Carrickalinga where Friends J & G have a chalet de plage, our time in Adelaide was dominated by several visits to Writers’ Week part of the Adelaide Festival an annual event rather along the lines of the Edinburgh Festival that takes place each March.

It was extremely hot and most of the writers’ events took place under the trees on the old Torrens Parade Ground where

we were transfixed by some rather excellent conversations between the likes of Kathy Lette (The Revenge Club), Suzie Miller (Prima Facie), Anne Enright (The Wren, The Wren), Édouard Louis (Change) in conversation with Ruth Mackenzie.

The Arab-Israeli conflict and Gaza were well represented and there were interesting talks and debates involving Avi Shlaim (Three Worlds : Memoirs of an Arab Jew), Tareq Baconi (The History of Hamas) Ilan Pappé (The Israel/Palestine Question) and of course our own Mary Beard & Polly Toynbee were there, also Yanis Varoufakis, Richard Denniss, Joëlle Gergis and Thomas Keneally – by now a ‘national treasure’ – all Straight Talking!

And don’t forget Richard Ford!

A Grande Dames of Letters at the town hall included Mary Beard, Anne Michaels, Jane Smiley and Elizabeth Strout. An interesting evening. The entire writers week well represented women who dominated throughout. Yay! For a change!

And don’t forget JM Coetzee!

My name drop, you see :  Dorothy Driver, married to JM Coetzee, is an old friend of Tony’s from Rhodes days. They have lived in Adelaide for some years and we were invited to dinner at their home one evening, enjoying their company. John was also part of the Writers’ Week nomenclature but he was ‘on’ after we had departed to South Africa so we couldn’t see him perform.

Back to the Festival:

There were operas and plays: The Berliner Ensemble were at Her Majesty’s Theatre in a quite impossibly awful production of The Threepenny Opera directed by the self proclaimed “Gay, Jewish, Kangeroo” Barrie Kosky. Usually so brilliant, we hugely enjoyed his production of Die Meistersinger in Bayreuth in 2019 and his Carmen at Covent Garden was a great hit, but this was dire.

All five of us sat gob-smacked and were the more so the following day when much of the press both international and Australian seemed to think it was brilliant. How could we be so wrong; though it was clear that many in the audience were with us in their confusion and disappointment.

Let me hastily move on to an altogether different and lovelier event at The Adelaide Festival Centre where Igor Stravinsky’s The Nightingale & Other Fables directed by Robert Lepage wowed us “with a fairy tale unfurling through acrobatic shadow play, Taiwanese hand puppets, Vietnamese water puppetry – exquisite music, all telling captivating stories” : the programme notes were not wrong, it was beautiful.

Also at The Festival Theatre, at The Space, was that “pioneer of performance art”, Marina Abramović Institute’s Takeover: conceptual art way beyond my pay grade or understanding for me to offer either an explanation or a criticism!

Marina Abramović Institute’s Takeover:

There would not be a proper visit to Australia without a vineyard; so we headed for McLaren Vale where the Osborn family have been tending the vines for wines at the d’Arenberg Estate since 1912. There we attended tastings held inside the astonishing d’Arenberg Cube (see the pictures!) enjoying fine wines with names like Hunjee Heartstring (a Montepulciano), The Dead Arm (I kid you not – a Shiraz of note), a Riesling called The Dry Dam and an unlikely, low alcoholic Sauvignon Blanc, The Low Life.

A Grenache, The Custodian hit the palate well too.

On one of the floors at The Cube was a sale of “Limited Edition”, posthumous casts by Salvador Dali. One was a snip at AU$1,500,000! So, after you have tasted and purchased your wine you simply slip downstairs with your credit card and pop a posthumous Dali into your trolley. Easypeasy!

While we were in OZ the AU$ was about two to the pound.

At The d’Arenberg Cube

But time to move on. We loved Australia; much of its landscape and the way of life, the weather and general rhythm speak to our ‘SouthAfrican-ness”, I guess. It is a far more relaxed society than Britain. Blimey – we are so uptight and wound up here with our extraordinary preoccupations with class and privilege. I’m sure no-one here will deny that Britain is not a comfortable place at present. Our ruling classes are getting it all horribly wrong and muddled up. Nothing works without some sort of problem!

This is not to say that Australia does not have its problems too. Like New Zealand there are burning race issues that percolate their societies but it seems to me that next to other parts of the world these are as tiny drops in the ocean of trouble and strife.

Yes – Australia is like South Africa but without the massive guilt we carry as Europeans for the appalling impact our arrival in Africa caused.

On the way to Carrickalinga

And then we arrived in Johannesburg. Oh my God! The long, exhausting flight didn’t help our shock at the state of the city. It was never beautiful but at least it functioned. Now it doesn’t any more. There is no water because the systems have been burglarised. You turn the taps on and nothing comes out; there is no electricity because of the uselessly corrupt power distribution company Eskom’s on-going inefficiencies and the perpetual, greed of the Kleptocratic State, the ruling nomenclature having by now, thirty years down the line, accrued quite literally trillions of Rands at the expense of the very people whom they are meant to protect and represent.

The roads are ghastly; the traffic is dirty and messy; there is rubbish and graffiti everywhere; the railways have collapsed because the overhead copper wiring has been stolen – miles and miles of it; and the rails too.

Some 3,000 kms of rails have been ripped out, melted down and sent to China (probably); there is murder and tragedy lurking. We know because we have been first hand witnesses. There has never been an incident-free visit to South Africa!

Towards the end of our time there Tony and I drove up from Durban to Hilton along the old R103 route, once the road linking Durban with Johannesburg and roughly paralleling the original single track railway line as they both meander up from Durban through the kloofs –  Wyebank, Hillcrest and Botha’s Hill overlooking the extraordinary beauty of the Valley of a Thousand Hills, through Drummond and Inchanga. When we travel this route I always think of the opening paragraph of Cry, The Beloved Country which still makes me weep:

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.

It is at moments like these that I know I will never rid myself of the beautiful and tragic effects of this land, once my home.

On this day we climbed up through the hills along the old road which was in surprisingly good nick. Until Camperdown and Cato Ridge that is. Here the new main road, the vast, multi-lane motorway to Johannesburg is undergoing major changes and the green signboards along the R103, never good anyway, simply vanished and, along a route I must have driven hundreds of times, we got lost fetching up in a terrifying township, Mpumalanga (the name means ‘sunrise’ in Zulu), once Hammarsdale, invisible on the map, a throwback to the Apartheid years when such ‘people dumps’, part of the vicious Group Areas Act that ensured perpetual poverty and exploitation of Blacks, were established. Now grown into a huge, ghastly menace on the land. The roads almost impassable; poverty a malevolent presence where deep hatreds brood, where there is no work, no hope and too much Tik.

A sort of terror grips you when you start to realise you are hopelessly lost, you are the only Whites and you pray you will not be stopped. We have been there before. Last time. In Mthatha.

We were not stopped but two days earlier we later found out that another man, confused by the appalling road signage, had also fetched up in Mpumalanga, lost, and tried to get his SatNav up on his phone. His car was attacked, he was beaten and his phone taken.

Then they cut off his hands.

But this was all later. Back in grubby Jo’burg we are fortunate to have lots of lovely and close friends and you fall into their generous embrace with relief though the realities are never far off. We stayed with Anthony Akerman and Andre Hattingh in gracious Greenside where every infrastructural shortcoming has been trumped by installations – JoJo Tanks, Solar panels, generators, gas-fired demand heating, lots and lots and lots of keys, of security, of entry codes and security procedures.

Anthony’s new memoir Lucky Bastard was published while we were with him – a very moving account of what it means to be adopted and Ivan Vladislavic’s new book, The Near North, is about living – and walking – in Johannesburg, was released in the same week and here we are below at the Johannesburg Country Club with Minky Schlesinger, his partner. Minky had not a little to do with the founding of The Market Theatre as Pat Schwartz’ book, mentioned earlier, attests. And who should we find among the pictures in Pat’s book but none other than Edward Russell-Walling! On the right and back in the 70’s!

Anthony arranged a lunch and, Friends, we saw some of you and loved it. Can I name you? Kathie Satchwell (Constitutional eminence grise), Jan Kennedy – an intrepid traveller and only person we know to have been airlifted out of Libya by the Italian Airforce – Peter Terry of course and Phil Godawa. All with stories which I wish I could tell but can’t.

And Kate – can we call you Searle again? – at Kolonaki for lunch, with her new man, Etienne. So happy for you. Has your golf improved?

And Cousin Avril with Peter de Montille at Nice on 4th – so great to see you cuzz. Avril is a cousin on my Mother’s Scots-Rhodesian side of the family. There is never enough time, is there!

Alison Lowry dear friend and ace-editor – so elusive but will we ever forget the frogs in Goa?

We’d not been in Jo’Burg since before Covid so this was a real catch-up with many missed friends and family.

Clan Heaney, Linden 2024!

An amazing evening with Clan Heaney in Linden. An explosion of energy across such a big, loving family with you, darling Julia, calmly sitting at the centre of it all in this your 70th year. What a lovely evening. The Ubers come and go…..”talking of Michelangelo” Ha!

Actually thank goodness for the Ubers. There is no public transport to speak of anywhere in South Africa, well, none that I’d feel confident to travel on without being murdered. So, yes, the Ubers certainly did come and go.

Off to KwaZulu-Natal, flying to Pietermaritzburg in a little Embraer that barely fitted us and our luggage : I must tell you that when we boarded at Oliver Tambo, the biggest woman, very jolly, with the hugest embonpoint, draped in swathes of colourful silk tulle was cantilevered up the tiny fold down stairs and took her place across two whole seats in the front row, the seating in an Embraer being 1, 2 across, whereupon a special, long seatbelt was installed to enwrap her vastness. It was whispered that she had indeed paid for two seats. Amazing.

We picked up the first of our rentals at Oribi Airport (Pietermaritzburg) – yes, there is yet another drama involving rentals in SA, there is always one every time we visit – and drove down to Kloof to be with Sister Sally, Bro-in-law Alan and Nephew Jamie for a day or two before an early start to drive up to Phinda in northern Zululand, picking up Friends Penny & Nick at Shaka International, they having just jetted in from England, to join us there, putting up at the matchless Phinda Mountain Lodge.

The whole point of the Phinda experience is the drives. Early morning and evening, two a day, we completed six of them with our brilliant Ranger, Declan and incredible Tracker, Menzi. 

Between them we saw everything despite the recent rains and the consequent long grass. Leopard were elusive but on our last evening we did have an encounter.

Funny though because the last time we were there we had a leopard to ourselves literally all day. She was completely unperturbed by our presence and seemed not to care whether we followed her about. My favourite, and we saw lots of them, are Cheetah.

Cheetah – Beautiful creatures : my favourite.

During the day at these lodges you loll about by the pool reading books and generally eating far too much; a gentle, restorative experience tucked away in the deepest bush. Though nature is red in tooth and claw, there seems to be a coexistent peace, trembling on the edge of the next natural drama.

And there can be dramas, often! Look at this clip taken at Pilansberg where a few days earlier Friend Helen Bourne had been visiting these very elephants!

Sometimes Nature can be scary but, hey, they’re wild animals not Beatrix Potter creatures!
And there are surprises too. Just don’t go fishing around where you shouldn’t!

We dropped Penny & Nick off with their friends in Glenwood, Durban, once a genteel rather plush, old part of the city just below the University campus, now a terrifying jungle of appalling roads, rubbish, threat, razor wire and electric fencing. No-one leaves their cars parked outside – they’d vanish in minutes! So we didn’t stop too long there and anyway the rental had developed two slow punctures and we had to change cars at the Avis depot in Pinetown before driving up to Hilton, kuiering  with Friends Lorenza & Mike Cowling,  hooking up with Bobby & Kippie Keal plus Clan and with Sarah ‘Chinese Bangles’ Carlisle.

Sarah’s family have a house in Underberg, in a large garden with spectacular views towards the whole Drakensberg range along Garden Castle, Rhino’s Horn, northwards towards Giant’s Castle and Njesuthi. There was much walking, talking and conviviality – the endorphin-junkies among us putting the sloths to shame. Sorry Friends!

Such a wonderful family of friends; what a special time it was.

With Nigel Bell now 87, my English teacher, director of Henry IV Pt. 1 (Falstaff), The Merchant of Venice (Shylock) and The Gondoliers Don Alambra del Bolero – “The persuasive influence of the torture chamber will help to jog her memory!” Michaelhouse circa 1967 through 1969. I suppose in many ways, where it all began. We are very close friends.

He lives in Glenwood, Durban; that terrifying part of town!

No Cape Town this time – it’s impossible to go everywhere and see everyone though I wish we could.

That is one of the problems of having a Diaspora of Family and Friends.

Thank you one and all.

Napier, Hawkes Bay. February 2024.

THE GREEN DIARY :                  SEE IT – SAY IT – SORTED : 2024

This is a green Mamba. They are found in southern and eastern Africa, and are shy, evasive creatures. It’s possibly one of the most poisonous snakes on the planet and its neuro-  cardio-toxic venom is lethal.

They won’t seek out human interaction. But if cornered or confronted, they will strike.

But here is a thing:

In 1957, when I was a little boy of five or six, my father was sent from Cape Town where we lived, to Durban in what is now KwaZulu-Natal, to help run the shipping division of John.T.Rennie & Sons which, after the Suez Crisis, was expanding rapidly.

I’d never seen a snake before. My mother had of course, having lived partly in Southern Rhodesia. There are plenty there.

There are plenty in KwaZulu-Natal too, of every variety imaginable; and they terrify me.

My father and mother found a beautiful house in Kloof on the escarpment, facing east towards Durban and the sea, which could be clearly seen twenty miles away. They made a garden out of the large tropical grounds, much of which sloped to the edge of the kranz plunging a thousand feet to a wild valley.

It was a beautiful place, Casetta Rondini, so named by the owner builder, Noël Hobbs, an Italophile from London, and Professor of Architecture at Durban University: Swallows House because of the annual arrival and departure of the migrating swallows that built their mud homes under our eves and dipped in and out of the swimming pool morning and evening during the hot humid days of summer.

A big pantechnicon arrived one day from Cape Town and all our furniture was brought into the house. We moved from the Moorlands Hotel and came to our new home in Peace Road, Kloof along by the golf course.

One morning I was with my mother in the kitchen watching her tenderise some steaks with one of those little wooden mallets. I could just see over her arm, past the counter and into the dining room a few feet away where my little brother, David, not much more than seven or eight months old, was happily googlygurgling away with some toys and that is the moment vividly imprinted on my mind.

That is not my mother, nor brother David but the dining room and the playpen looked exactly like that.

Towering over him was this enormous green snake it’s head in the classic raised position that I later learned meant it could be none other than a Mamba. To this day the memory chills me.

My mother saw me looking, turned and in an instant became a shrieking banshee.

With the ridiculously inadequate tenderiser-mallet, a short handled affair, she ran to the dining room with every protective, maternal  instinct on high alert.

David was afflicted with polio and could not stand up, something at that age that, anyway, babies find difficult to do unaided.

Thank goodness. Had he moved or reacted with fear things may well have ended differently; but my mother’s shrieking appearance distracted the snake which turned and slithered at lightening speed across the carpet and out through the French doors into the rose garden, never to be seen again.

This is not David either, nor is that a Mamba. It looks like some sort of constrictor. David was unable to stand like that either. It’s a stock photo.

That is the day, in my memory, that anxiety first made its presence felt. The fear of the moment was palpable; I have always been terrified of snakes.

And there were lots of them in that garden. During the cooler months in Natal, that we were pleased to call winter, dry and not at all humid, the house seemed to be a magnet.  I remember an enormous puff adder sunning itself in the laundry, my mother oblivious of its presence, her back turned away as she bent over the Hoovermatic; the gardener was

always coming across them and in the bougainvilleas of which we had many and which my father pruned every season, there resided the nastily venomous Twig or Vine snake, perfectly camouflaged in the tangle of branches and leaves; a back-fanged snake to be sure but for which there was no anti-serum.

The Boomslang that resides in trees is another back-fanged, highly toxic creature. Here is another story even more fantastic:

Gladys Suttie lived next door. She was a formidable but kindly person who owned among other things, a small department store or Algemenehandelaar called Adams, in Eshowe, a hundred miles up the Natal north coast, in Zululand. She spoke fluent Zulu with a Scottish accent and belonged to another time in the Imperial Ascendancy. We’d not been long in Kloof but already, in that colonial way, neighbourliness had given way to friendship and she and my mother go on extremely well.

A poor photograph of David & Gladys Suttie. (née Adams, a well known Natal family of missionaries and entrepreneurs, of Scottish descent.)

She invited us to tea one afternoon. It was served with some ceremony under the Jacaranda tree on the lawn that sloped down to the 16th green of the nearby golf course. A beautiful, peaceful summer afternoon. The tray was laid out on the garden table, a beautiful china tea service, there were some biscuits and a cake; all very proper.

Gladys was wearing a broad brimmed straw hat and a summer dress, she was bare-armed. She leaned forward to start serving, my mother sitting opposite. A branch of the Jacaranda was inches above her hat and out of it came, unnoticed at first, a Boomslang which slithered onto the brim of Gladys’ large hat.

My mother saw it but remained calm, “Gladys………..” she said, but got no further.

“I know dear, I know its there, just stay still for a moment.”

We were electrified.

The snake slithered along and off Gladys’ arm in amongst the china laden tray.

In a trice Gladys leapt to her feet and rushed into the breakfast room along the veranda. On the wall in a special cradle was a small shot gun used for scaring off rodents and other creatures.

Brandishing this weapon she advanced rapidly down the garden, “Marjorie, move the children, get out of the way!”

Once we were clear, Gladys let both barrels off directly into the tea things. There was a spectacular explosion of shot and chinaware, smithereens doesn’t do it, and a very broken, dead snake.

I think we came to tea on another day!

Talking of Boomslangs, my brother-in-law, Alan, is a wild-life enthusiast whose favourite animals are the big cats – lion, leopard and cheetah which he photographs and follows all over Africa. Alan’s other favourite is the Black Mamba which he says is one of the most beautifully evolved creatures on Earth. He knows of my fears and constantly teases me about “arboreals” when we visit KwaZulu-Natal. Many of our finest adventures have been in his company, arranged and conducted by him, in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

He has taken us twice to Phinda, a private game reserve set beautifully in three camps among the green-clad, granite kopjes and sand forests of northern Zululand.

I say ‘camps’ but they are more than that; ‘glamps’ doesn’t do it either. Luxury in the bush; fine dining on decks overlooking waterholes where all the big five gather – and more besides.

Breakfast is served on such a deck and on one of our visits as we were enjoying fresh croissants, coffee, confitures, toasts and eggs surrounded by linen napery and Carrol Boyes cutlery, from the canopy of the Mopani tree above us, into this plethora of luxury fell a Boomslang. I am not sure who was more terrified! The snake or me but before either of us could move, the creature was deftly and gently removed from the table by a passing waiter no doubt trained in such things, and replaced in another tree off the deck.

I only know of three people ever actually bitten by a snake. Funnily enough two of them were in Europe – not Africa at all.

Our friend Stanley Uys, the legendary journalist who ran the London Office of South Africa’s Morning Newspaper Group was one of them. He and his wife Sarchen Burrell had a house on Cyprus for many years. In his eighties Stan decided to wrap up the property there and they went for a final visit one summer. Knowing the house well he didn’t need the lights on and when he went for a pee in the middle of the night he was bitten by a blunt nosed viper

wrapped round the toilet base and was rushed to hospital where he spent a few very uncomfortable days. Interestingly, he told us that the doctors there had said that he would never be ill again due to the immense boost the venom gave to his anti-body supply. Stan died in 2014 of a heart attack aged 91.

[Notes: Bites from Blunt Nosed Vipers usually cause life-threatening systemic hemodynamic disturbances, reduced functionality of the kidneys, and other serious symptoms, including hypotension shock, oedema, and tissue necrosis, at the bite site.]

The other European bite was in France. Be careful where you picnic, Friends, on your way south! The wheat fields of northern France have all sorts of creepy things hiding in them, including the common adder. One of these shot out of field near one of those Aires that we all enjoy picnicking in and bit my Friend John’s niece on the leg landing her in hospital for a few days.

Who would have thought!

Do you want any more? I have a few. Okay. Let me tell you about the Fezi:

Our friend Carol Hayman introduced us to a lovely couple, neighbours and friends of hers in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga. During dinner I couldn’t help noticing a vivid cicatrix on his wrist.

In a moment of complete insensitively I blurted, “What happened to your wrist?”

“I was bitten by a Fezi at Ulusaba Game Lodge,” he said, in a very matter-of-fact voice.

A Fezi belongs to the cobra family and is highly toxic, “Good God!” I said.

He and his wife were staying in Richard Branson’s luxury, private Game Lodge at Ulusaba. In the middle of the night he was woken by a severe stinging sensation and there, lying on the bed between them was this snake which bit him twice above the wrist.

The whole place was woken up. The nearest hospital was in Nelspruit (now Mbombela) ninety miles, a good two hours away by Landrover – far too late to save his life.

Richard Branson’s helicopter happened to be on the stand nearby and he was flown the distance in forty minutes where he was treated.

A near thing, Friends.

Why am I telling you all this? Probably because it is a diversion from the nasty news that has welcomed us into 2024 which we may see & say but which is certainly not sorted! By the way have you ever tried texting or calling the numbers they endlessly broadcast? In the tunnels? Not a peep, Friends. Not a peep! How do you sort if you cannot say?

Christmas has come and gone and here we are at the end of January. Tony’s whole family, the whole bang shoot – Canadians jetting in to join – gathered. It was great.  We looked across at this brood and could not believe our eyes. Seventeen of us sat down to dinner.

I have had my knuckles wrapped, Friends, by several of you who complain I don’t mention enough intimate, small scale events. Some of you hate being mentioned at all. Others don’t mind as long as surnames are kept out.

While I was cat sitting HRH Charlotte allowed me several outings playing away and it was lovely to lunch with Rodney P, play bridge with Jane & Edward – albeit only half a rubber, far too much chatter and catch-up – the best; and always great food and wine. Thanks.

Dinner with Dina – at The Ivy: daughter of my oldest friends – from New Zealand. Thanks for the Japanese Gin, Dina!

Not  forgetting dearest Sue or “Cleating” as I call her – and I am “Sheeting”. That’s a story for another time! Quite a funny one. To do with sailing and how bad we were at it!

And Jane B. too – the movies of course. We are more than making up for the effects of Covid and lock down on our movie-going habits. Much better than streaming.

The Lesson with Richard E. Grant  & Julie Delpy being rather good in this witty and entertaining gem.

The Finnish Auteur Aki Kaurismäki’s  gently comic Fallen Leaves we adored and it inspired us to track down other films of his.

Looking back at the BBC’s Arena found us being transfixed yet again by the brilliance of Billy Wilder and the Volker Schlöndorff documentary made in 1988, recently re-broadcast, had us downloading The Apartment for another look. [Have any of you read Jonathan Coe’s wonderful Mr Wilder & Me published back in 2020? A great treat.]

A Nearly Normal Family. Riveting Scandi-noir from Sweden. The lengths families will go to cover up their crimes.


Though I nearly didn’t watch it, speaking of normal families, The Crown turned out to be a good one, hats off to Imelda Staunton. The same could not be said for  The Tourist which bemused us even more than the first series set in Australia. 

Shetland has been our belated discovery which we have enjoyed having never seen it. A catch up decided us that we’d not want to live in such a bleak place where so very many murders within convoluted stories take place!

How the production team managed to find enough still and sunny days considering the realities of the weather there, is nothing short of miraculous; and once Douglas Henshall departed it rather lost its allure.

Hansel & Gretel at Covent Garden was beautiful – the ROH’s Christmas opera and designed for children, sung in English, unusually for them. The sets were glorious. Like a pop up picture book. No modern publisher would offer this grimm story to children today with its terrifying undertone of bad parenting, torture and death in the gingerbread machine at the hands of a cruel witch who gets a sticky comeuppance among other unsavoury events. But the savoury events are beautifully told within the magnificent Humperdinck score. My favourite is the pantomime at the end of Act II. So tender. My only criticism was the actual gingerbread house which should have had more of a gingerbread and less of a Rocky-Horror house look.

Pop up books apply also to the traditional and now annual Nutcracker ballet which never fails to please; particularly with daughters Julie and Sarah in tow. A perfect afternoon with the usual tears of joy during the pas de deux.

Crazy for You, Ira Gershwin’s romantic comedy musical at the Gillian Lynne Theatre was another pleasing treat. A “joyous love letter” one critic wrote – and it’s true. Every song is great and Charlie Stemp as Bobby Child with Carly Anderson as Polly Baker made it all look so easy.

There is nothing easy about Richard Strauss’ Elektra. Definitely from a dysfunctional family. The tragic shenanigans at the court of Agamemnon: regicide, adultery, betrayal, revenge, incest and even, yes, love, make this the perfect platform for the largest orchestra in opera (110 pieces) with a huge, emotional sound that literally tingles the blood. The last, vast notes fade as Elektra leaves a blood spattered stage in a dance of  madness and, though one is not sure, goes to her death. How Nina Stemme finds the sheer strength to project this vast role over such an enormous sound I do not know, and she is on stage for pretty much the entire 90 minutes of this one act opera. Brava…. Bravissima! It was under the direction of Antonio Pappano, the darling of Royal Opera audiences,  soon to be departing for the LSO. So, not too far away thank goodness.

I was intrigued at the age restriction placed on it. Suitable for children 12+?  I would have put it at 18! There was no restriction on Hansel & Gretel!

And what of Faggots at the Southbank?  Our friend Joy Smith, a harpist of note and poly-instrumentalist was in it and invited us along. Based on Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel of the same name, we were not sure what to make of this piece finely executed by a talented and clearly committed ensemble. It’s themes in the frame of a musical drama-comedy seemed to us curiously  quaint and out-of-date, with Woke and gender orientation squashed into a theme that was once purely gay. Homosexuals reclaiming Faggots. I am not sure it quite knew what it was trying to say but enjoyable nonetheless.

NEW ZEALAND

Brother David’s death a year ago put an end to our visit then to New Zealand to visit Brother Michael and the nieces (all advancing in age on every front!) – so we have revived plans and arrived here yesterday for three weeks; then Australia for two and directly on to SA after that, returning at the end of March. Our families are in such a diaspora. Two months away from the cold, grey mudflats of Essex can’t be a bad thing.

Onward and upward my dearios, in this dangerous and sad world.

THANKS FRIENDS ALL – SEE IT, SAY IT, SORTED!

THE GREEN DIARY :  

Baroness Estée Lauder-Blackwell of Lower Chedworth RIP

Over sixteen years ago my Cousin Rufus heard scritchings and scratchings in the ceiling cavity above his head in his office in Ho Chi Minh City – Saigon to you and me.

He moved to Indonesia many years ago following his immense talent in SFX where he has worked at the cutting edge of digital special effects in the film industry and deployed drone technology with stunning and beautiful effect, forming his Company RUFUS.STUDIO to platform his formidable talent.

When Cousin Rufus was a little boy I remember his great love of all things animal. Age has not diminished his care for the defenceless creatures of the world so when he heard the scritchings and scratchings above his head in his Saigon office, he immediately investigated and found a tiny, tiny hatchling, a teeny-weeny baby Indian Mynah apparently abandoned by its parents who were either irresponsible or had met their fate in the deadly skies of Saigon………………whatever.

The first person the squidge of hatchling saw in its tiny short life having stepped out of its egg, was my Cousin Rufus and, common to a lot of birds and fowls, ducks and geese, it assumed he was her parent and latched onto him forever.

I say ‘her’ but of course at that stage no-one had sexed ‘it’ though it turned out to be a ‘her’ in due course and her pronoun safe in this brave new world of gender assignment!

Her beautiful eyes gave her the name Estée Lauder and she has grown in love and in loyalty for her father who is My Cousin Rufus.

Estée has travelled the world. Cousin Rufus was mocked by his co-workers for his persistence in rearing this tiny, new responsibility:  she would not last the day; she could not be force fed with a dropper, she confounded the cynics and grew into a formidable presence in her Dad’s life.

She is the only Mynah I have ever heard of that has migrated by jet as she was whisked to and from the humidity of Vietnam and Indonesia to the damp chills of Gloucestershire and to other destinations besides.

For sixteen years!

Incredible.

What a character. Her bond with Rufus meant that she did not see herself as a bird but as human; no matter how long Rufus was apart from her, she would always welcome him back with hysterical adoration, recognising him the instant he appeared at the door of her home in Lower Chedworth.

And she disdained other birds. Cats feared her. Dogs were easily mastered. Her door was never shut and  she did not escape or even want to escape into the foreign skies of England.

Now Estée, beloved of the whole family of Blackwells, Keith-Roachs, Cartwrights – and many others besides – has passed from us into Mynah Heaven.

So sad.

With permission from Cousin Rufus I would like to publish his

Eulogy for Baroness Estée Lauder-Blackwell of Lower Chedworth

RIP Estée Lauder.

You tiny little massive legend.

My beautiful little Myna Bird I rescued as a tiny, featherless chick,

And hand reared in Malaysia.

I couldn’t possibly say goodbye to you, so brought you back to join the Blackwell Family.

An epic character weathering 16 winters in the Cotswolds,

A part of the a world no Malaysian Myna bird has known but you.

Estee:  you lived the most incredibly vibrant life,

Surrounded by cats, dogs and other animals,

Yet somehow you always came to no harm.

You escaped more times than we can remember,

Your cage fell from a tree, setting you free,

And you turned up at the neighbour’s,

Yet somehow survived to live a full, utterly unique life.

We will miss your amazing repertoire;

But most of all we will miss your call, “Wicked! Wicked!”

But now, in the words of Monty Python, you are deceased, you are no more, you are an “ex-parrot”, you have rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

As we bury you in this, your favourite patch of the garden,

You will forever be pushing up the daisies.

Fare thee well you tiny magnificent creature.

We all love you and will remember you forever.

Bravo, Cousin Rufus, Bravo!

(Vimeo kindly provided by Cousin Wendy Keith-Roach)

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!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/e1fs9taz3bchmbt/BBC%3AThe%20Waves.mp3?dl=0

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

A

Peaceful, Healthy & Prosperous 2024!

Pedro & Tonto

THE GREEN DIARY :                           To Iceland

Tarry Tours have come to Iceland. Richard got a Home Exchange in Akureyri, the second largest town in Iceland after Reykjavik, in the north of the island, at the top of the Eyjafjörður fjord.

We came hoping to glimpse the Aurora Borealis but so far have been visited by impenetrable rain clouds, mist and drear. 

No Northern Lights yet – if at all. 

We are here for ten days and keep our fingers crossed.

The Tarry Tour Fellowship of Four has now, over the years, covered upward of 100,000 miles. Mostly we have

been lucky in our adventures but you cannot win them all and the weather forecast indicates we shall lose this one!

Richard, Tony & I flew from Stansted with Christoph joining us from Berlin.

We squashed into a Dacia Duster at Keflavik Airport and drove for two hours, skirting Reykjavik to Borgarnes on the fjord the town it is named after, putting up at the small Hotel Hafnarfjall for the night – overlooking the Sound across the causeway towards the town.

Spectacular landscapes here. Vast volcanic upthrusts, lava fields, waterfalls and rivers softened by green, cultivated fields dotted with cows, sheep and horses. A treeless bleakness reminding us of the Hebrides and the Highlands of Scotland. Beautiful in their rugged grandeur. Lonely. Isolated.

Such a small population too – only 372,520 – it’s difficult to see how such a small tax base could sustain what appears to be an excellent standard of living. Taxes are high and it is expensive, it’s true. They have one enormous advantage though: an inexhaustible supply of geothermal heat and power, generating by far the largest amount of electricity per capita in the world. None of it fossil fuel. 

Haukadalur Geothermal Park

This enables the production of round 800,000 tonnes of Aluminium each year from several smelting works which, along with fishing, tourism and farming seems to pay the national bills. Vast glasshouse farming produces 45% of the vegetables and fruit consumed locally, from – yes – bananas to lettuces, potatoes to greens of every kind.

The financial sector we don’t mention. The failure of three banks dabbling in sub-prime debt in 2008 and the inability of the government banks to save them almost did for the country.

But they seem to have bounced back nicely.

From Borganes it is almost a four hour drive to Akureyri along the N1 via Hvammstangi and Blöndós. Don’t ask me to pronounce these names! I keep thinking of ScandiNoir and sinister conspiracy theories, Trolls and Elves.

Strict speed limits here, 30kmph in town, 50kmph on the outskirts and only 90kmph on open roads.

Traffic is non-existent but speed cameras are not!

Akureyri sits at the top of the Eyjafjörður Fjord, the longest in Iceland, smaller than Colchester with a population round 18,000 yet it has a University, a variety of schools, museums, a Botanical Garden, an interesting cathedral, shops, cafes and restaurants. Small but surprising. But not cheap! Wow – it has to be one of the most expensive places we have ever visited!

Tourism is high on the list: there is a cruise terminal and an airport; fishing is important.

We put up in Richard’s Home Exchange in pretty-much the centre of town and near – vitally – the local Netto Supermarket in a nearby shopping mall which supplied us with all we needed for the self-catering we rapidly realised would be vital if budgets were not to be broken in a matter of hours!

The weather so far? Not encouraging. Overcast, raining with outbreaks of sunshine when mists lifted. A lovely gentle light. The purples and russets and pale greens of the bracken and heather giving the landscape a gentle bleakness.

No trees, though there is a programme of planting wherever they may take hold – we are after all a few miles from the Arctic Circle – the old lava fields rocky waves of moss and lichen given an almost luminous green glow in the sometime sunshine.

It is very, very beautiful.

On one day we drove 100 Kms to the glorious thermal spa at Mývatn to soak in the sulphurous warm waters there – the Jarðböðin við Mývatn – these are part of the craters, steaming rocks and boiling mud pools surrounding Lake Mývatn which itself abuts the spectacular lava field of Dummuborgir a few clicks south of the nature baths.

Getting to the lake from Akureyri takes just over an hour through a beautiful landscape of shallow valleys, fast flowing rivers and an obligatory stop at Goðafoss, an impressive waterfall (though there are many of these) carving its way through the basalt.

Back in Akureyri we investigated various museums,  the botanical gardens and the Lutheran Akureyrarkirkja or The Church of Akureyri built in 1940 with an interesting story surrounding its stained glass windows: generations of Icelandic children have been taught the windows came from Coventry Cathedral before it was ruined in World War II; that as the war began

in 1939, the people from Coventry decided to remove the windows, store them safely and that they chose a farm in the countryside not far away; cheap glass windows temporarily replaced them but these were destroyed in the famous 1940 bombing raid.

Then, mysteriously, pictures from three of the windows got separated and ended up in an antique shop in London for sale where an Icelandic antique dealer found them and shipped them to his shop in Reykjavík.

Long story short – they exactly fitted the measurements of the new windows behind the altarpiece and one of them was used behind the altar – the one in the middle.

BUT – wait for it – all change in 1914 when research made for a BBC program called The Great Glass Mystery revealed the tale to be a myth.

Historian Dr Jonathan Foyle met up with Canon Kenyon Wright, who spent 11 years as a minister at Coventry Cathedral. Dr Foyle came to the conclusion that the Icelandic windows were not actually from Coventry at all but from another church somewhere in London; that no Victorian windows were saved or stolen.

The documentary shows the glass was simply destroyed in the raids. A myth may have been scotched, but the friendship between Coventry and Akureyri continues.

A sweet story.

On another day we drove over the causeway, down the eastern flank of the fjord to Laufás and Grenvik, tiny communities in this vast landscape. At Laufás we saw examples of turf and timber dwellings underlining the harsh conditions that the very earliest settlers suffered to survive, and those not so long ago. These dated from 1866, .

Wood is scarce and much was made of the vast quantities of driftwood that fetched up all over the island, mainly from Siberia. There is still and amazing amount of it being washed up today. But here is an interesting thing, apparently drift wood may look attractive for a lot of things but it is no good for home fires: because it is saturated by salt water and contains a high chlorine content, giving off chemicals and toxins which, apart from being poisonous, also wreck the stove! But you can build houses, furniture and boats from it.

There are other interesting things in Akureyri: Jón Sveinsson – Catholic Pastor, affectionately called Nonni – was a writer of children’s books that were immensely popular and have been translated into forty languages including English. The little home he lived in is there for inspection and next to the little church he guided, in the grounds where a handsome Deco building houses the Cultural Museum.

We made a diversion to Westfjords on our way back to Reykjavik, basing our two night stay in Hólmavík, a small fishing town by the large Steingrímsfjördur, and easy access to some of the most beautiful and, certainly, least visited corners of Iceland. It is dramatic, rugged, nearly on the Arctic Circle, only narrowly connected to the rest of the country, historically difficult to access. Tiny communities. Isolated farms, unpaved roads – and cold. In summer it never gets much above 10ºC and the heating is permanently in the ‘on’ position, in the car and in the buildings!

Hólmavík is small, quaint and feels like a frontier. The Riis Café, where we ate out twice, rates as one of the most expensive restaurants we have eaten in. Excellent lamb but at about £100 per head – on the first night – we only shared pizzas on the second!

The other attraction was The Icelandic Sorcery Museum: Strandir was the setting for a witch-hunting craze in the 17th century. Due to its isolation, the locals have throughout the centuries preserved stories of strange beings, ghosts and everyday witchcraft. Hólmavík boasts two centres of research related to folklore and the history of Icelandic sorcery; the well-known Museum of Sorcery and Magic, and the University of Iceland’s Folklore Research Institute.

The creepiest thing there were Nábrók (necropants, literally “corpse britches”) – a pair of pants made from the skin of a dead human, which are believed in Icelandic witchcraft to be capable of producing an endless supply of money.

It is highly unlikely these pants ever existed outside of folklore, says Wikipedia, and I believe them!

And The Northern Lights?

A drive out into the darkness from Hólmavík rewarded us with a very faint luminescent weave of light, oh so disappointing and not at all what we hoped for!

Absolutely nothing like this!

Apropos this visit, at the airport, Richard picked up a book called The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth, “Behind the Myth of the Scandanavian Utopia”, a sometimes amusing, certainly interesting account of the Scandinavian cultures. I have been enjoying it hugely.

Other books also worth visiting: The Plot, one-time associate editor and columnist at The Guardian, Madeleine Bunting’s moving account of her stormy relationship with her father, the sculptor, John Bunting  – “A Biography of My Father’s English Acre” – I have enjoyed.

Antony Beevor’s latest : RussiaRevolution & Civil War 1917-1921 I have found riveting especially in the light of the latest autocratic visitation by Vladimir Putin. Poor Russia seems never to have anything other than cruel autocracies of one sort or another. Pity for the world too!

I’m afraid on the movie front we have both been unimpressed by Oppenheimer, such a missed opportunity for an excellent moral debate, and Barbie, all pink and silly and old fashioned. Far better is the 1980 BBC Sam Waterston series available on the iPlayer.

Don’t laugh but I have also enjoyed for completely different reasons Mission Impossible and  Indiana Jones. ‘Nuff said!

And then we stumbled on the wonderful Sidney Poitier, Oprah Winfrey documentary which led us to revisiting two of his famous movies which it turned out Tony had never seen: Lilies of the Field and In The Heat of the Night. Good stuff there.

Try and see Maigret  the 2022 Gérard Depardieu version. Though it only got a three star review from Wendy Ide in the Guardian “…..of all the many adaptations of Georges Simenon’s detective series, for both big and small screens, it’s hard to imagine many were as achingly world-weary as this latest.

Directed by Patrice Leconte and starring an uncharacteristically glum and muted Gérard Depardieu as the eponymous policeman, the film creaks along on busted knees and broken spirits.Even the richly textured period details of 1950s Paris have a slightly moth-eaten quality. It’s dour, certainly, but the sense of bone-tired exhaustion and crushed hope that linger like pipe smoke works rather effectively for this particular case: the murder of a sad, lonely girl in a rented designer dress……”

I prefer the late departed and lamented Michael Gambon in the role myself but still enjoyed the new version though the subtitles were utterly appalling and seem to have been generated by some sort of AI device, incapable of anything other than a non-colloquial, direct translation. Often meaningless.

Of couch-potato territory we have both much enjoyed the shocking disclosures of the Sackler Family’s promotion of opioids in Painkillers.

And I have really enjoyed catch up with infinite episodes of the Scandi-detective series Beck, how I missed it first time round I do not know.

Also on the Scandi-detective-noir front DNA has had me going. Diabolical entertainment!

Did you all see The Woman in the Wall? The BBC’s latest mini-series about the horrors of the nuns of Ireland and what they did to the “unwanted” children removed from their unmarried mothers?

“……A suspense-laden, psychological thriller set in the fictional village of Kilkinure in Ireland, this BBC One show tells the story of Lorna Brady, a chronic sleepwalker who wakes up one morning to find a dead body in her house. She has no idea who the woman is, or even of her own culpability…..”

Gripping and shocking.  Brilliant performance from Ruth Wilson.

So it was off to the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Little Bromley, in the rain, to see their latest offering Robin Hood.

And last but not least. We have a wonderful, talented small-scale theatre company based here in Suffolk, though they tour all, called This Is My Theatre who pride themselves on creating work for all spaces from historic buildings and churches to purpose built theatres and open-air venues.

So it was off to the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Little Bromley, in the rain, to see their latest offering Robin Hood.

Gratifying to see how many young were mingled with the “cotton-tops”!

And in the rain too!

Thanks friends, speak soon?

Pedro

THE GREEN DIARY : The Ring at Bayreuth & More!

THE RING * ABBA * LA CAGE AUX FOLLES * RIGOLETTO * PIAF * DEAR ENGLAND * PATRIOTS * DR SEMMELWEISS*

We have waited sixteen years to get into Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Bayreuther Festspiele and finally, in March this year, we succeeded.

The other opera that’s impossible to get into is Parsifal, also included in this year’s festival along with Tannhäuser but we thought The Ring, coming in round fifteen hours over four nights was challenge enough!

Before I go another line further, do any of you remember, years ago a Comedienne called Anna Russell? She had an hysterically funny sketch explaining to a New York audience the story of The Ring.

Have a chuckle, it’s brilliant:

Sixteen years ago it was coyly suggested that perhaps we ought to place money in a Bayreuth Fund, adding a little with each rejection over the years so that when we were finally accepted into the ‘magic circle’, we’d be able to afford to cover the cost – I wish we had taken note!

But, hey, a chance like this is too good to miss, so we grabbed it and planned accordingly.

We’ve been to Bayreuth before, in 2019, managing to get into Lohengrin and Die Meistersinger;  they took years too.

Lohengrin and, right, Die Meistersinger

Wagner only intended to show Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal at his expensive, dedicated opera house – it was designed largely of wood and was only meant to be a temporary structure, can you believe, but efforts to raise the funding required from Wagner appreciation societies around the Confederation and latterly Imperial Germany, plus the vast financial input of mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria made demolition after one performance simple lunacy. It stayed. Now we have it for all time and only some of his operas, his German operas, are played there.

The likes of Die Feen, Rienzi and Das Liebesverbot are regarded as “early

works” too affected by Italian opera to be of enough significance, so never shown.

Having prepped ourselves on books, DVDs and CDs liberally provided by Friend John Core, an avid Wagnerite, we set off to Germany via the Harwich ferry to Hoek-of-Holland, driving a 1,288 mile round trip to Bayreuth with a stop each way, there and back, in Kassel and Clervaux (Luxembourg).

I have never experienced such rain – even in Africa. While Italy and Greece burnt and boiled, Germany was engulfed in torrents of rain, hail, thunder and lightening and autumnal temperatures, pretty much the entire ten days we were there. In fact my ageing Merc, Martita is her name – sprung a leak in her roof and we had to wear waterproof clothing some of the way!

The Ring this year is nothing if not controversial. It was met by jeers and boos when it first played last year and when, after the end of Göterdämmerung, Valentin Schwarz, the director, came out for the curtain calls, our audience erupted with jeering and booing such as I have never heard before.

There is no Gold

There is no Ring

The Rhine is a large, private swimming pool presided over by the Rhine Maidens whose charges are 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.

Are you following this?!

Freia, held hostage by the giants-who-are-not-giants, is released having been raped and assaulted so much she remains a wreck and dies early.

Valhalla is a post-modern, steel, glass and concrete structure on top of a

mountain.

Wotan has no ‘contractual spear’ on which treaties and agreements are inscribed.

It is a golf club.

Northung, is not a great sword, is not plucked from a tree in Hunding’s hut and is variously a Glock, a toy machine gun, a real machine gun, a knife and a club of sorts.

The kidnapped child transmogrifies into Hagen and eventually murders Siegfried.

I could go on.

None of the original plot, already mystifying, is there; the re-imagined story is even more impossible to understand and bears no relation to the original libretto or to the music overarching it.

The reviewers have had a field day. Sam Goodyear headlines his in the Wagner Journal thus:

Coherent incoherence – a “constructively disrespectful” Ring at the Bayreuth Festival!

Cornelius Meister & Valentin Schwarz :

His was slightly more optimistic than most and I have included the whole, very long, review here for anyone interested:

https://www.wagneropera.net/articles/articles-bayreuth-2022-valentin-schwarz-sam-goodyear-ring.htm

The message from Schwarz’s production, as Goodyear saw it, can basically be summarised as follows: 

Society has been led by greedy men and their families, who have raised their children to be focused on useless, material things.

Over several generations, we have become more and more damaged and false in our priorities, as inherited traumas, poor upbringing and a lack of proper education pile on top of one another.

In the present, we – the well-off opera-going middle class – may consider ourselves relatively enlightened. But in reality, we are like the Gibichungs, content as a group to throw our support behind political leaders ever more craven and self-interested, and then swan off to watch the Ring at Bayreuth. We are fiddling while Rome burns, almost literally.

Consequently, nothing serious is being done about climate change. If we continue like this, there will be no “Liebeserlösung”. And those who led us there, will, like Gunther and Hagen in this staging, never be held to account.

So, take a look in the mirror.

Well all that may be true but I am afraid it didn’t work for us at all and fitted neither the Libretto nor the Score.

But, Friends, many of whom may by now be switched off, since Wagner is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, the overarching music and the singing performances were sublime and worth all the effort.

The most beautiful moment for us was the love duet between Siegmund and Sieglinde in Walküre. The hairs on my arms are still tingling.

The four operas were played out over a week’s stay which gave us time to explore the lovely countryside round Bayreuth, the car giving us great feedom. Not for nothing is this part of Bavaria sometimes called Fränkische Schweiz, Franconian Switzerland; it is reminiscent of parts of Switzerland with its woodlands and steep hills, river valleys and granite outcrops.

We drove over to Waldsassen near the Czech border to see the beautiful Baroque Library, one of the oldest in Europe and the Abbey to which it is attached.

On another day we visited Bamberg

which some of my German friends nickname the B&B Town – Beautiful & Boring! But they live in Berlin so they would say that – it is beautiful sitting as it does on the valley floor by the confluence of the Regnitz and Main rivers, overlooked by Schloss Seehof and the castle at Altenberg. Fairy tale country. A short cruise along the Regnitz River was pleasant.

Pottenstein

On the way back we stopped for ice creams at Pottenstein with its Medieval castle dominating the village. You can just see it in the photograph here.

Bayreuth and its surrounding countryside was ruled over by a series of Margraves, sort of Dukes or Princelings I suppose. Plenipotentiaries of the Prussian Hohenzollerns and latterly the Bavarian Wittelsbachs, Ludwig II’s family – Wagner’s great patron.

There was a Baroque flowering under the extraordinarily talented Margravine Wilhelmine (older sister  to Frederick the Great of Prussia), the wife of Margrave Friedrich, whose influence in matters architectural, artistic and cultural was immense during their rule, 1735-1763.

They left a brilliant, enlightened heritage and we visited The Hermitage just outside the city, the whimsical Felsspalte or Rock Garden of Sanspareil, the Neue Palais in Bayreuth attached to a park that stretches up to Wahnfried, Wagner’s residence and burial place; the Garden Museum of the Fantaisie Palace was another elegant visit.

We drove back to England via Luxembourg stopping in Rotterdam for the afternoon to visit the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

The museum is in fact closed for renovation but right next to it is the

Clervaux, Luxembourg

amazing Depot Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen – the world’s first fully accessible art depot, built in a public/private partnership where inside and outside are intertwined. It is designed to give visitors an impression of the great scale of the

collection which can be seen from the central staircase and landings. The upper floors consist of exhibitions spaces and the atrium gallery, which has a glass roof, contains collections from old buildings. The construction is built with sustainability in mind. I know I over-use this word but the result is astonishing and the depot is where the entire Boijmans collection is currently housed.

Across the road from the depot is the Chabot Museum containing a collection including works from the 1920s, from the Schortemeijer collection plus 26  very disturbing works from the Second World War.

The white villa was designed and built  in 1938 for the industrialist C. H. Kraaijeveld in the style of the New Objectivity, a 1920s German movement.

A very beautiful construction we thought, full of light and space.

It housed the Gestapo and SS Offices during the German Occupation and from it you can see the vast new modern city landscape of central Rotterdam which was completely flattened by air raids. We like the wonderful, brave modern architecture that has arisen from the ashes.

And so to the Ferry at Hoek for the night crossing to Harwich. A great ten days we felt.

And of course……..ABBA!

Yes, dear Friends, I am afraid I am an unreformed, unrepentant ABBAfan, an ABBA-junkie!

Last night I went with Friend Christoph, all the way from Berlin, to the ABBA Experience for their ABBA Voyage Concert in its purpose built……..I’m not sure what to call it….. concert hall? Film studio? Cinema? A combination of all three I think. Situated in an unlikely corner of London along from Stratford by Pudding Mill Station!

This “Voyage” is quite simply jaw-dropping and combines live music with virtual reality to create a unique, immersive show with Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid appearing as digitally-mastered Avatars – or ABBAtars – in this purpose-built space using cutting edge technology and mind-boggling lighting effects.

It is true to say that you could not see the ‘joins’ in the effects, as it were, they were so real and, at the end the four stars appeared as they are today making the whole project even more impressive.

They sang all their famous songs and some new ones besides and the audience – all ages, from 16 to 76 – were in seventh heaven.

I remember seeing ABBA – The Movie made during their sensational tour of Australia in 1977, in Cape Town where I was living at the time, at the Wynberg SterKinekor cinema which had been specially revamped for the occasion with a new sound system installed! I went with my then girlfriend, Elspeth and my Friend Liz Dick gave me a copy of the record with this same picture on its cover.

I have been an ABBAfan ever since.

***********

Friends, it’s been an up-and-down summer weather-wise but that has not stopped us from two outdoor events, with the “Holland Park Five” – Friends Dave, Susanna, Sarah, Tony and I – seeing an excellent Rigoletto. The “Holland Park Five” meet every year there for a picnic and at least one event and despite whatever weather, has always been a great success.

Then at the Regent’s Park Theatre this year’s musical offering has been La Cage Aux Folles beautifully staged and ingeniously directed by the Artistic Director there, Tim Sheader. This is one of our favourite shows, for fairly obvious reasons!

We both remember seeing Denis Quilley and George Hearn in it at the Palladium in 1986 – I am what I am and what I am is an Illusion was a signature song in those AIDS-ridden days. We also remember during the interval, coming out for a drink at the foyer bar where there was a small family of three, Mother, Father and Daughter standing chatting and we overheard the daughter, indicating Tony and me saying, “Look Mum, there are two!”

Tim Sheader’s production was no less brilliant; a talented cast of dancers and singers and some great choreography by a team under Stephen Mear.

And not a dry eye in the house at the end!

We have walked out of very few plays. In fact you can count them on the fingers of one hand. There is always that nagging feeling that come the interval, a good time to disappear, there might have been something redeeming in the second half and to betray your booking just might be premature!

But we have never not turned up for a show at all, unless by an accident of omission; tickets drawing pinned to a corkboard concealed behind a recipe!

Until The Third Man – A Musical. To our horror Friends Lois and Helen, tennis fanatics, realised that our booking at that clashed with the Wimbledon Women’s’ Finals. In the meantime Tony and I had read so-so reviews and in fact could not understand why we had elected to go to this show in the first place.

But directed by Trevor Nunn, music by George Fenton, lyrics by Don Black and book by Christopher Hampton – an illustrious team to say the least – paused us and we clicked the reservation button while wondering what on earth would possess anyone to turn Graham Greene’s great story, already iconic in literature and film, into a musical? Given that nearly everything these days seems to be converted into musicals, I suppose it was to be expected.

Big mistake. Except that the reviews, actually, were okay: mediocre, 2** and 3 *** ; enough in fact to make the finals match between Markéta Vondroušová and Ons Jabour a more alluring drama than the one at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

And so it proved.

Dear England:

There have been other visits to the theatre: while Tony was off to Ibiza for a 50th Anniversary school reunion – (in his hippy years, in the 70s, he taught English and History in Ibiza at the Morna Valley School for English ex-patriot children) – I was staying with Friend Helen and managed to fit in two visits to the theatre, both excellent, seeing Dear England a new play by James Graham, directed by Rupert Goold with Joseph Fiennes playing the controversial football manager Gareth Southgate and Patriots with Tom Hollander; a transfer from the Almeida Theatre to the West End, written by Peter Morgan and also directed by Rupert Goold – a busy man! He is everywhere.

I specially liked Patriots. It depicts through debate, dialogue and intrigue the chilling rise of Vladimir Putin (Will Keen), his relationship with Boris Berezovsky (Tom Hollander), an early oligarch from the Yeltsin years, and the latter’s part in putting Putin into power, thinking he had a puppet in the Kremlin he could control.

Big Mistake! But a riveting evening in the theatre.

Dear England was equally riveting though not chilling at all; really rather warm and at times, moving. It traces the England Football team’s fortunes from the moment their diffident, upstanding and quietly revolutionary manager, Gareth Southgate (Joseph Fiennes, bearing an uncanny resemblance), comes into their lives. It traces real world events, from penalty shootouts that bring a life-like tension to the aftermath of losing a game.

The National Theatre audience for this was different from the usual clientele – all, I think, football lovers! Gina McKee

When I was 15 I won a prize at Speech Day for Reading & Recitation; these prizes were always books and, that year, one of my books was a Compendium of Famous Lives in History. I read all the lives but the one that most stuck in my mind was the story of the life of Ignaz Semmelweiss, the Hungarian physician and scientist who pioneered antiseptic procedures.

Described as the “saviour of mothers”, he discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically reduced by requiring hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics. Puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal.

He proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 while working in Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctor/surgeons’ wards had three times the mortality of midwives’ wards.

Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 2%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community, who treated him appallingly.

He was eventually tricked into a lunatic asylum where he was so badly beaten by orderlies that he died of his wounds which, ironically, became infected with sepsis.

He was only 47 years old and his work remained unrecognized for decades by the Establishment, until the advent of Louis Pasteur who confirmed his “germ theory”, and Joseph Lister who enforced his practices with great success.

A great story for a play which one of our National Treasures, Mark Rylance, thought too.  He collaborated with writer Stephen Brown and Tom Morris, the Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre.

I couldn’t wait to see it but – oh dear, what a terrible disappointment.

I am a great fan of Mark Rylance but sometimes he does not deliver; he didn’t with this, I’m afraid; here I am in disagreement with all the reviewers who have praised it to the skies. It was a polished and perfectly staged production but Mark Rylance phoned-in a mumbled, incoherent performance in a concept that did not do justice to either the medical debate or the actual story – riveting in itself – and seemed more like a rather overbearing first year drama school workshop, very “up” itself as we’d say!

It made me impatient to leave though one stuck it out of course; interesting that there were a lot of departures at the interval and the usual standing ovation now de rigueur, irritatingly, for all performances of every description everywhere, where not forthcoming here. A couple in front of us stood up and then looked round at our non-compliance, frowned in disbelief then looked sheepish when they realised how lonely they were!

I want to close with An Audience with Édith Piaf because this was special. I am also a great fan of the great French Chanteuse whose life was a huge drama, filled with passion and sadness. The tiny little sparrow.

I was for forty years a reader of audio books and on the panel of the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s Talking Book Service, variously in Great Portland Street and now at Camden Lock.

There I met Andrew Farr – or “Dex” as we all called him. He was one of the ‘engineers’ who produced the recordings and sat for hours listening to all our efforts, running two suites at a time. The four recording studios had two actual studios attached, making eight recordings going at any one time. Quite a feat I can tell you.

Anyway Dex finally left, moved to Brighton and went into the travel industry, was stationed in Tunisia for years,  came back, has always dealt with people and is a keen singer/entertainer in his spare time.

He discovered Édith Piaf when he was little and been in love with her memory every since to the extent that he has worked up a one-man show simply called Édith Piaf – Live at Niegue, an affectionate re-telling of her life and re-imagining of her last ever filmed concert in 1962.

Andrew – Dex, as I will always know him – wheels out this wonderful show every so often and had one lined up for the Guildford Fringe Festival.  We have never been able to go to any of his others so we hot-footed it there and had the most wonderful, moving, sensitive, enthralling evening – made all the better for the Piaf-junkies that filled the place!

Pure pastiche but in the best taste.

FRIENDS – IT’S BEEN A LONG ONE! THANKS FOR STAYING WITH ME AND FOR ALL YOUR WONDERFUL COMMENTS AND MESSAGES.

NO EXAMS THIS TIME!

PEDRO

THE GREEN DIARY :                Towards the Summer Solstice

 

We once saw an excellent production at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin of Three Sisters. Memorable because it was the first time either of us had ever seen a professional actor going on with a book.

Three Sisters at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin2008.

Lorcan Cranitch, playing Vershinin, became suddenly unavailable and an actor “familiar with the role” and with barely a rehearsal came on with a book.

It was a small, discreet book from which he extracted the most brilliant performance.

How? I can’t imagine. The print must have been tiny and soon we were completely unaware of its presence.

I say memorable for this, but would add that of all Three Sisters productions I have seen, and having played Vershinin myself once, this was the best version (by Brian Friel) I have ever seen. The aching relationship between Masha and Aleksandr Vershinin, despite the book, was most truthful and moving.

I mention this because last week we went to see a revival of Somerset Maugham’s 1921 romantic melodrama The Circle which, despite being rather clunky, had some excellent dialogue, amusing moments and some surprises. It survives somehow, and the Richmond Orange Tree Theatre gave it a good run for its money.

Nicholas  La Provost and Clive Francis were particularly good though we felt the re-imagined Teddie Luton played by Chirag Benedict Lobo was miscast as an Indian businessman. Teddie Luton whichever way you look at him is the ultimate hearty, buttoned-up Englishman and Lobo’s version was certainly not that.

Jane Asher did not appear as Lady Catherine Champion-Cheney as she was ill; another actor, wearing the startling wig and costume of Lady Catherine went on with an enormous A4-size script, her part highlighted in pink.

As we were above her in the gallery we could clearly see all her speeches on each page as she moved through the action giving an excellent performance notwithstanding! And with no warning at all. It chills my actor’s blood. If it were me I’d go into immediate meltdown! Even with a script in hand!

Miranda Foster

Maugham is supposed to be the missing link between Wilde and Coward – and so it would seem. It was dated but nonetheless fascinating and hats-off to Miranda Foster (Barry Foster’s daughter I believe) for bravely standing in for Jane Asher at a few hours notice.

Tarry Tours – Madeira Mayflower Festival – a 16 kilometre hike along Levada do Norte

It’s been a while since I last posted.  The Easter holidays soon segued into a rainy, cold spring encouraging a quick ten-day visit with Tarry Tours to Madeira where the sun shone, the flower festival, rather underwhelming, paraded on unlikely floats but the walking was good, the Levadas abundant with new growth and colour-colour everywhere – trees and flowers. This is the first time we’d ventured there in Spring, it has always been in Winter; lots of people and we shall probably revert the next time. Mah deah – the Heat! The Crowds!

But before that there was time to see The Motive and the Cue Jack Thorne’s dramatisation of the stripped-back production of Hamlet John Gielgud directed in 1964 with Richard Burton as Hamlet, on Broadway. Sam Mendes directing. I’m always rather nervous of what are called “luvvies-on-Luvvies” plays. Does the public want to know about the machinations of actors and writers working up their schtik? I’m not sure. Is it self-regarding? I think so. Certainly the reviews have been mixed though it is now impossible to get a ticket. This was a preview and it got off to an uncertain start; then after that, I thought it flew. It was a moving, polished production.

“Where the play comes alive is in Gielgud’s story and Gatiss’s performance. He sounds like Gielgud but captures something beyond imitation: the pained spirit of a great actor grappling with the ageing process – the old guard, reluctantly, giving way to the new. Gielgud admits to his envy of Burton and shows his insecurity as a director. We see the fear his homosexuality brings in an era when it was criminalised; a hotel room conversation with a sex worker carries great, subtle power. While Gielgud’s inner complications are slowly but searingly explored, much of what surrounds him feels emotionally sterile,” writes Arifa Akbar in The Guardian, “There is a real sense of remove too as we watch actors playing actors who, in turn, are playing characters in Hamlet, or unpicking the meanings of the play, scene by scene. Ultimately, this play-about-the-play leaves us wishing we had been there to see Burton in the real thing.”

We went round afterwards to see Allan Corduner and Johnny Flynn whose Burton impressed us, though how you play such towering personalities as these without sinking into impersonation I do not know. Impossible.

Great to see Allan back in voice and on stage again, playing Hume Cronyn.

Disabled people have sex. Meandering exploration of what dating is like for disabled people is the reality celebrated in Park Theatre’s latest show, Animal, an exceptional piece of theatre that is searingly insightful, soulfully intimate and utterly hilarious.  

Christopher John-Slater, himself Cerebral Palsy, plays David, whose mobility is severely compromised and has live-in carers. Animal follows him as he negotiates the unforgiving and relentless world of app dating;

ultimately, it is a zippy, poignant play about wanking, though the difficulties encountered by handicapped people are poignant indeed.

Donatello at the V & A, a superb display of some of the sculptor’s works. Great influencer of course, of the sculptors to come in the guise of Michelangelo among others – given that Donatello sculpted the first male nudes since the Roman era, his supposed sexuality, that he was gay, adds prurience to his story.  Apparently his lover ran off to Ferrara which so enraged Donatello that he asked permission from Cosimo de Medici, his Patron, to be allowed to pursue him there and to murder him in an act of passionate revenge!

This was at a time when sodomy or any related homosexual act could lead to hellfire at the stake; but Cosimo was indulgent in these matters and allowed his charge to run off to Ferrara where all ended happily and in much laughter.

This must surely be a topic worthy of a Netflix production! But it upped the ante of our visit to the V&A.

Next?

The launch of Kate Worsley’s new book Foxash here in Manningtree has set off the peal of literary bells. A beautiful story and part of my reading at present – “…a visceral, visual novel of rural experiment and dark secrets, set in 1930s England at the height of the Great Depression…” – not a mile away in, yes, Foxash! I am loving it.

There have been other books too which I have enjoyed. I am now a Kindle devotee. It’s true I do miss leafing the pages and riffling backwards and forwards when I need to be reminded…but you soon get used to that with Kindle and it certainly helps reduce the weight on travel expeditions!

I have loved re-visiting A Month in the Country J.L.Carr’s  bitter-sweet story of two men trying to find the peace and contentment they knew before the Great War, “…..an elegiac meditation on nature, loss and the passing of time…” published in 1980 and a Booker Prize contender, it was made into a beautiful film back in 1987 with new boys on the block Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh.

Not forgetting Letters to Camondo : the collection of imaginary letters from Edmund de Waal to Moise de Camondo, the banker and art collector who created a spectacular house in Paris, now the Musée Nissim de Camondo, and filled it with the

greatest private collection of French eighteenth-century art, dissipated, desecrated and plundered by the Nazis along with the evisceration of a whole family.  Another moving and excellent read. Go for it Friends!

Another kind of Carr, Philip Kerr this time: a return to Bernie Gunther, this time in Argentina in a thrilling story of Peronista intrigue and vile politics, A Quiet Flame, just when you thought it was safe to venture to Latin America. Good airline lounge reading as is David McCloskey’s Damascus Station.

I am a great fan of Sebastian Faulks too. Where My Heart Used To Beat I discovered the other day though it was published in about 1915 I think. Another beautiful story “……love, loss and passion…..”!

And before I move to Vermeer, I must say that I have been privileged to read Tony’s latest work, finished literally last week, now warm in his agent’s hands, hot out of the Hewlett-Packard, If It’s Tuesday a whimsical, magical-reality story which you will have to wait to experience. I’m not giving a thing away here. Just to say I enjoyed it hugely. Fingers crossed for publication.

VERMEER

A glitch on the Rijksmuseum booking site enabled us to get three tickets for this spectacular exhibition in Amsterdam. The ferry to Hoek is at the end of our local line here, minutes from Mistley. We often use it to get to the Continent and set off a few weekends-ago, sailing on a day crossing and getting to Amsterdam in the early evening for a three night stay during which we walked the crowded city, visited the ever-shocking Anne Frank story at her erstwhile home on the Prinsengracht in its recently refurbished state.

The Vermeer Exhibition was simply breath-taking. 28 out of 37 known paintings, dramatically hung at the Rijksmuseum, leaving lots of space for the crowds: a little larger than we would have liked, I am afraid.

The Girl with a Pearl Earing had been moved back to the Mauritzhuis in The Hague already and we had to make a special trip there to see it and the collection at that beautiful museum which houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings consisting of 854 objects, mostly ‘Dutch Golden Age’, neither of us had been there before.

The week before, we’d walked up to Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath to visit the Kenwood House Museum and have some tea in the garden.

There is housed The Guitar Player excluded from the Rijksmueum exhibition because it is too frail to travel stretched, as it is, over its original frame. That is one of my favourites – famously stolen in 1974 in a daring raid.

We went to look at the Rhododendrons too while we were there – they flower in May and are prolific on the lawns outside the House – and were shocked to find that they have been pruned and chopped

back almost out of existence. No-one seemed to know why though apparently in future seasons they will grow back.

The Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

I have never seen so many bicycles in one place in my life!

Back in Amsterdam then – our visit there was short but sweet and we were able to see friends, dining at the lovely Café Schiller Restaurant on Rembrandtplein on one evening and the oldest Cantonese Restaurant in A’dam on Oudezijds Voorburgwal, on another. Great food and good company; but it is a young person’s city we have concluded! I have never seen so many bicycles, you take your life into your hands when you cross the road! It’s also a victim of its fame and success. 18 million visitors last year and the city can barely cope with the masses and the mess; nevertheless it remains one of my favourite places. We could learn a lot from the Dutch!

  1. Bridge over Groenburgwal.
  2. Anne Frank Huis.
  3. Cafe Schiller.
  4. Oriental City.

Back in Blighty much else to amuse and shock not least the Westminster scene which seems to play like a TV Sit-com these days.

Will Boris… or won’t he…?  Will Rishi….or not? What will Reece-Moggie do?

And could one care less? We are used to being a laughing stock. A rant-in-my-pant is narrowly avoided!

You can only laugh like a drain so we took ourselves off to see the unlikely musical comedy of Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre. A startling subject for a musical you would think, specially as it is rather overshadowed by the recent movie of the same name. At first I thought it a little tasteless but after a while became amused and rather moved by the handling of such a serious topic.

The plot is based on the Operation

Mincemeat, a Second World War British deception operation. It premiered at Southwark Playhouse as a small scale piece but its success moved it into the Westend; it has only five actors who interchange roles and sexes so that it never matters who is who, who is what and what is what – if you see what I mean. They were all extraordinarily talented and in the end we thought it a clever piece of theatre – even thought-provoking.

And don’t forget our dear Jazz Mentors, Richard & Cathie G. who took us to Jazz at Lauderdale House where  John Etheridge riffed with his friends, entertaining us lavishly with their incomparable talents. A great evening.

Simon Butteriss excellent as King Gama & The Narrator

Two  evenings of Gilbert & Sullivan from the sublime to the ridiculous: Princess Ida at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, an enchanting platform production by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the brilliant baton of John Wilson.

Not a G&S that I know well but certainly one of their best.

To the ridiculous, though fun, all-male Mikado at that Music Hall treasure Wilton’s. It looked like an amateur show that might be put on by an enthusiastic, rather camp, Scout troupe temporarily lost in the bush somewhere – making do with whatever material might make convenient cozzies and props!

G&S purists were not impressed and there were some departures at interval. Personally I thought it rather diverting and good fun. Period. Katisha, I should mention, an elderly lady of the Mikado‘s court, reminded me of Margaret Hamilton’s Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz!

Friends – the end is in sight. That is if anyone has ploughed this Bloggy field to its conclusion: but I wanted to mention the ballet rehearsals we attended at the Opera House. Not usually my thing at all as I am not all that keen on modern ballet. I prefer the grand set and frocks of the great classics – not to mention their romantic music; but this was a triple bill –  Untitled, 2023, a brand new ballet by Wayne McGregor; it fascinated with bleak landscapes “invoking infinity” and with music written by the Icelandic composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, itself conjuring the bleak spaces of that island. I don’t know her music at all but thought it beautifully evocative.

Using the five movements of Bernstein’s Serenade, Corybantic Games, conceived by Christopher Wheeldon, didn’t really float my boat but the last piece in the bill, Anastasia Act III most certainly did, ‘old hat’  though some may think it. The madness of Anna Anderson whose delusions really serve to underline the tragic awfulness of the murderous demise of the Romanovs in 1918.

Lets lighten up!

I know lots of you didn’t like it but I thought the New Hockney Exhibition at Lightroom in Kings Cross was spectacular. I know this so-called immersive art trend is the thing these days. This one is described as  “visually astonishing, alive with sound and rich in new perspectives”. Well – it is all that – and more; but do you know what: I sat in that four-storey hall for an hour watching the colours and shapes unfolding and it filled me with joy and peace – and not a little optimism. It had real love in it and I cared not a jot for any of the niceties of clever-arse criticism. Those of you who can – get on down there and have a look. It is fabulous.

Thanks for being here, dear Friends. Enjoy the summer now that the Solstice is upon us.

Pedro of the Green

With Friend Jane Balfour at Kings Cross for the Hockney.

THE GREEN DIARY : London Kultcha Katchup

March/April 2023

Back in London for a few days. Some excellent theatre, a book launch, Hot off the Griddle – the Alice Neel exhibition at the Barbican and “putting on the Ritz”, a thank you to Tarry Tours for our wonderful Colombian adventure.

Tarry Tours Thank You lunch at the Ritz

Standing at the Sky’s Edge at The National kicked us off to a good start. Originally staged in Sheffield, in 2019, aimed at transferring to The National, it fell victim to Covid but was resurrected last year and now fits perfectly on the Olivier stage.

I wouldn’t call it a rock opera though there are moments when I felt I could, it is a “hybrid musical”, a love letter to Sheffield, springing from the idea that the walls of the Parkhill Estate* in which it is set, retains the imprint of its inhabitants, past and present. The estate’s interior and exterior are cleverly created on stage; the action

by its inhabitants ingeniously choreographed as they pass each other across 60 years. We see how the nation’s political gyrations leave their marks on the lives of three families and the city, from 1960 to Thatcherism, Brexit and beyond. The estate chugs inexorably towards gentrification until it becomes the Grade II listed trophy building of today.

*The Parkhill Estate is a housing estate in Sheffield. It was built between 1957 and 1961, and in 1998 was given Grade II listed building status. Following a period of decline, the estate is being renovated into a mostly private mixed-tenure estate made up of homes for market rent, private sale, shared ownership, and

student housing while around a quarter of the units in the development will be social housing.

On one London evening we went along to Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street for the launch of Sara Wheeler’s new book, Glowing Still – A Woman’s Life on the Road.
I started reading it the moment we left the launch. For anyone interested in serious travel this is a great read. It is a luscious book.

It is funny, and moving and do you know that feeling when an author so absolutely says what you think and feel about so much but you simply don’t have the words, the articulacy to express them? Well, that’s what Sara’s beautiful book does for me.

We are friends and concomitantly spent a week recently in Mompox, one of our stops in Colombia, where I noticed, and I hope Sara does not mind my saying this, that note book and pencil were always to hand, not a camera, (am I betraying a modus operandi?!) and I longed to have a peek at how she does it. On page 15 in the Introduction to the book there is a photograph of a shelf-full of the notebooks on which she based her book. She is brilliant. All her reviews have been too. How lovely. I wish I could travel like that.

Talking of books the other one that I have read that impressed me was Joshua Cohen’s The Natanyahus for which he won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize.

It’s a sidelong portrait of the Israeli prime minister’s father based on an anecdote he received in an email from Harold Bloom, the celebrated critic and long-time Yale professor. The Netanyahus is dedicated to Bloom’s memory, and fills out a story that the critic told Cohen about playing chaperone to Benzion Netanyahu, the Polish-born, Israel-based academic better known as Benjamin’s father, during a visit to Cornell.

Fills out, and wildly fictionalises: Harold Bloom, defender of the western canon, becomes Ruben Blum, a specialist in American economic history at Corbin college in New York state.


He is chosen, as the only Jewish faculty member, to host an obscure historian of late-medieval Spain – Netanyahu’s real speciality – who is coming for an interview.
Fiction it may be but hilarious – and rather worrying it was too, especially in the light of what is going on in Israel today.

It’s a great read. Go for it!

What can we say about Guys & Dolls?

Everything!

At The Bridge Theatre and wowing London, we adored this promenading  production with its gutsy enthusiasm and the immersive effects of the staging in a radically re-arranged theatre. Nicholas Hytner directing.

The last time I saw Guys & Dolls was in 1982 when Ian Charleson and Bob Hoskins, both now, sadly, no longer with us, were brilliant as Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit. Julia McKenzie and Julie Covington were Miss Adelaide and Sarah Brown. It was directed and choreographed by Richard Eyre and David Toguri, FORTY-ONE YEARS AGO! I can hardly believe it.

It was also a brilliant show which transferred into the West End with my friend Lynn Webster playing Sarah Brown where I saw it again.

Here at The Bridge Theatre Daniel Mays and Andrew Richardson were stupendous too as Nathan and Sky. Like Charleson and Hoskins, neither Mays nor Richardson have much experience in musical theatre at all. In fact for Richardson this was his debut on the London stage, making his performance the more amazing.

The Dutch actor Celinde Schoenmaker as Sarah Brown was perfect but Marisha Wallace’s Adelaide stole the evening for me. Wow.

Some of the reviews said they thought the re-arranged staging cramped the choreography. I agree. Richard Eyre’s production back in 1982 on the Olivier stage had space for David Toguri’s routines and the iconic Sit Down You Are Rocking The Boat was better there than at The Bridge. It was far more opened out and could breath better.

Nicholas Hytner’s production hints at the possibility that Sky might just be gay and “creates a thrilling spark of subversion but is an isolated moment, gone in a flash, as if a scene from a far more daring reconception” (The Guardian)

Yes!

Tony and I did not promenade and don’t think we missed anything by not doing so.

It was a great evening.

And what about Philip Glass’s Akhnaten?

Akhnaten At the Coliseum

I like to think that John Adams’ Nixon in China prepared me for the mesmeric, repetitive music of Philip Glass, the slow motion; that maybe I could grow into it with age. I was wrong! I am not ready.

Is esoteric a good word to describe Akhnaten? Or just plain Chinese water torture? At the Coliseum the ENO’s production certainly kept us awake and wondering.

Glass’s work is built up from repetitive, phrases and shifting layers, says Wikipedia, and Glass describes himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures”, which he has helped evolve stylistically…..throughout the 1960s his music focused on the rhythmic

processes, exploring small amounts of musical material used with extensive repetition.

The new musical style that Glass was evolving was eventually dubbed minimalism.

Hypnosis inducing rhythms!

But the story is interesting: Pharaoh Amenhotep IV ascends the throne in the sacred robes and double crown of Upper & Lower Egypt, symbolising power over all. In an act of hubris that will result in chaos and tragedy, he becomes Akhnaten and forces monotheism and the worship of the Sun’s disc on pantheism being the old religion, the old order.

The ENO’s production was beautiful to look at but I came away thinking of Opera as an Art Installation.

I can’t move back to Mistley without mentioning the Alice Neel exhibition, Hot Off The Griddle at the Barbican Art Gallery.  She was an American visual artist, known for her portraits depicting friends, family, lovers, poets, artists, and strangers; she uses expressionism in her work, there is a psychological acumen, and an emotional intensity. Her work contradicts and challenges the traditional and objectified nude depictions of women by her male predecessors. She was a figurative painter during a period when abstraction was favoured, and she

did not begin to gain critical praise for her work until the 1960s. She was considered by some as “one of the greatest portrait artists of the 20th century”.

She was a member of the American Communist Party and came to the interest of the FBI and HUAC at one point. This may also have explained why it took a while for her to get recognition – she was already in her 70s when that happened.

We both loved her paintings – for us a new discovery: always a good thing.

Meanwhile back in Mistley a trip to the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich proved amusing. Given the effect of Covid, Inflation & Brexit on the Arts, for a long while the erstwhile Repertory Theatres have been creating cooperative productions to stretch shrinking funds. Ramps-on-the-Moon is one such and we went off to see Village Idiot written by new writer on the block, Samson Hawkins. Presented by Theatre Royal Stratford East, Nottingham Playhouse and Ramps on the Moon, a collaborative partnership of six National Portfolio Organisation theatres led by the New Wolsey, funded by the Arts Council, and including Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Leeds Playhouse, and Sheffield Theatres.

We weren’t quite sure what to make of it.

It was clearly meant to shock with appalling language, deliberate political incorrectness, conscious unwoke-ness in everything; but somewhere rather quaint and with its heart in the right place. It seemed a cross between the iconoclasm of Jerusalem and “agitprop” going as pantomime.

The play is set in the Northamptonshire village of Syresham where compulsory purchase orders threaten to tear apart a 1000-year-old settlement to make way for HS2.

Like Jerusalem, Village Idiot has serious questions to ask about identity, nostalgia and modernity.

If anyone takes offence at its equal-opportunities upturning of intolerance and liberalism, they will be badly missing the point.
It is witty, romantic and politically fresh, perhaps too long, but you relish the company of these characters and when the laughter

subsides and the HS2 bulldozers move in, you are left wondering who the village idiot really is.

We enjoyed it.

We have never seen Prokofiev’s Cinderella although of course have heard the music before – so not at all well known to us really. The Royal Ballet’s new production at Covent Garden is sumptuous to say the least and looks good with sets and costumes newly designed by Tom Pye and Alexandra Byrne though some might say a little overdone perhaps.

Cinderella, Marianela Nuñez dancing beautifully, is always a great story and nothing can change that. Vadim Muntagirov, while not as pyrotechnic as other leading men, pleases as The Prince and both do justice to Frederick Ashton’s slightly underwhelming choreography but somewhere there is a disjoint between the story, the production and the music. Prokofiev wrote it when

Russia was in the throes of a fight for survival during the Nazi invasion and there is a darkness in the music that I felt belonged more to tragedy than the fairy tale qualities of this magical story. Romeo & Juliet remains by far my favourite though I am very happy listening to all his music.

We are both fond of the eclectic music of Erich Korngold, neither having seen anything of his on stage and certainly not Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), a story of obsession, remembrance and grief – can true love last forever? Familiar themes; well, it’s opera isn’t it?  Our collections of his music range from Hollywood film themes  through to classical compositions for piano, for violins and for orchestra. Tuneful narratives. The ENO’s production was directed by Annilese Miskimmon following the success of her debut of The Handmaid’s Tale staged last year at the Coliseum.

An interesting evening and possibly one of the last appearances of the ENO here in London before its forced removal to Manchester.

Watched some good television recently but by far the best film is without doubt the exquisitely beautiful Close, a ‘coming-of-age’ drama set in rural Belgium about two 13-year-old boys, Léo and Rémi, best friends, and the unravelling of their friendship. It is a heart breaking story which I’ll not spoil for you by explaining the plot any further. How on earth director and writer Lukas Dhont and Angelo Tijssens got not only such extraordinary and sensitive performances out of the two boys particularly but the whole cast generally,  is nothing short of miraculous.

It won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival last year and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Film Feature this. A host of other awards have been heaped on it. With justification.

Thank you Friend Mary Mouse for recommending this – heads ups are always welcome, dear Friends.

We found another Lukas Dhont film at the Curzon – streaming: Girl. 
In short, Lara, a 15-year-old girl who was born in a boy’s body, is committed to becoming a professional ballerina; this is a story about gender dysphoria. We thought it brilliant too. Dhont really gets into the minds of his characters in a way one wishes Hanya Yanagihara would do with Jude St.

Francis in A Little Life (see below) – and doesn’t.

The performances in Girl boggle the mind. How does Dhont do it and, indeed the actors too?

Apparently the casting call for the protagonist was genderless, open for girls, boys, and those who were neither. 500 people between 14 and 17 auditioned but none of them could both dance and act well enough, so the filmmakers decided to cast the rest of the dancers first, and there they found 21 year old Victor Polster whose performance is also nothing short of miraculous.

During COVID I read  A Little Life , Hanya Yanagihara’s 700 page book, an epic bore say some,  about the little lives of Jude St. Francis, a disabled genius with a mysterious past,  and his friends Willem, Malcolm and Jean-Baptiste “JB” Marion.

It took me an entire year to read. Interspersed with many other books and certainly a great deal of binge TV!

It drove me into frenzies of impatience and frustration. It went on and on and on but you never got any nearer the mystery revelation. Everyone who had read it refused to enlighten me so I trudged on with the project of discovery.

In my view it is far too long and the

‘shifting narrative perspectives’ very confusing. Who is talking about whom and what, for goodness sake, happened to Jude that should cause such trauma, pain, self-harming and eventual suicide?

All this has now been put on stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre where £195 bought me the last seat in the stalls at a Saturday matinee.

It was three hours and forty minutes of gut wrenching  blood-soaked brutality and misery directed by Ivo van Hove, originally in Dutch with sur-titles, now in London in English with James Norton as Jude and  Luke Thompson as Willem. 

There is no question that the staging and performances here are brilliant and brave; the play is true to the book, obviously mightily compressed, but neither Yanagihara’s writing nor Norton performance convey Jude’s inner life and though others round about were weeping and covering their eyes, I did not and remained unmoved by what seemed to me a ‘naïve and psychologically incurious narrative of abuse’ aimed at manipulating my sensibilities.

Like the book it has had mixed reviews but it borders on pornographic and there was a taste of guilt in my mouth at the voyeuristic implications of the play.

These four friends are all supposed to be genius Ivy-Leaguers ; but their responses to the difficulties and horrors of their lives would not indicate that they had any sense at all!

I remain, I am afraid, very unconvinced by either the book or the play; and now I understand there is to be a TV series?

Strewth!

Jonathan Coe Tweeted: “Such a joyous 2 hours of theatre watching The Unfriend last night. Brilliantly funny writing from Stephen Moffat, expert direction by Mark Gatiss, comic performances par excellence from Reece Shearsmith, Frances Barber & Michael Simpkins who practically steals the show …”

This is a Chichester Festival Theatre production, in London for a mini run;  at the Criterion, Piccadilly. We hied ourselves forthwith and managed to get the last seats in the house on the last day, a Sunday matinee.
Thanks Jonathan for the tweeterly heads-up. It was great. An excellent antidote to A Little Life of the day before  – and half the length!

It’s a comedy, which follows Reece Shearsmith’s Peter and his wife Debbie, Amanda Abbington, an uptight middle-class couple who go on a cruise and meet Frances Barber’s Elsa, a kooky old American who invites herself to come and stay with them for a week. I cannot begin to describe the situations that arise.

It was hilarious and I am sure may well return to the West End in a longer run sometime in the future.

I hope so.

Thanks Friends. Hope to see you soon.

Pedro.

PS No exams this time, it’s the Easter Holidays.

THE GREEN DIARY :                                    Colombia 2023.     4


Cartagena – St. Barths – Miami : The Last Leg

The last Margarita in Colombia resplendent with black, spicy salt-laced rim, decorative daisy and whole, dried chilli for the best ever. What a drink!

Black resin sculpture outside our AirBnB on Bocagrande.

The way to St. Barths from Cartagena is an adventure in itself. One in which you pray that any of the dominoes will not fall; for if they do, you are up the proverbial creek with no paddle and knocking vainly on the doors of the travel insurance companies.

So, this is how it worked, and because there are no services of any kind to either the Dutch or the French Antilles, these were our dominoes. From Cartagena we flew to Miami; there we put up at an hotel for one night, more-or-less at the end of the runway. The following morning American Airlines flew us to the island of Sint Maarten where we spent another night in the Holland House Beach Hotel a hundred yards from the little ferry terminal for St. Barths whence we wheeled our katunda next day for the 45 minute transfer to Gustavia.

Our friend Laura has the most beautiful home on top of the hill above Colombier, at the north-west corner of the island,  with a 360° view. It is a paradise. For a whole, glorious week she introduced us to her special places, the beaches, the restaurants and bars, the shops, markets and even the little Anglican Church where on Tuesday evenings in candlelit quiet (busy nightlife outside notwithstanding), Taizé music takes place; and Friends Penny and Nick H. were there to share. They flew from Guadeloupe into the terrifying little airport at Gustavia – which confirmed us in our ferry decision as it is the ninth most dangerous and difficult airport on the planet!

Terrifying Gustavia Aerodrome. No jets allowed – they arrive at the wrong angle!

St Barths, a glance at google will tell you, is what they call a “high end” holiday destination. Absolutely everything on the island has to be shipped in – everything. There is no water here, only run-off, which is carefully collected, and a massive desalination plant, a by-product of the small power station; this makes being here an expensive option and the myriad yachts both of the sailing and motor variety confirm this. Just above the beach at Colombier is the haunted residence of one or other Rockefeller, reputedly deserted now  and housing upmarket squatters. The Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, had his yacht, Eclipse (is it called? He has three of them so I’m not sure which) parked here until recently when he hurriedly moved it as threats of impounding resonated.

The island is immaculate. Beautifully kept. Groomed with beautiful, clean beaches, white sand reflecting through clear, turquoise water. 

Our only sadness was the amount of traffic in such a small place but given that it is difficult to get about without transport, we couldn’t see how else to handle the issue. Hopefully there will be some sort of moratorium on the numbers of visitors and residents allowed there.

The walk from our suite at Plumbago up to the beautiful deck usually for more sharpeners and cuisine.
We spent an afternoon on the catamaran Wayayai pleasantly cruising to the bay at Ile Fourchue for snorkelling and then on to Colombier Beach, site of early morning swims – with Master Michelangelo.
Yes, you are right, they ARE rum punches! On the way to Colombier beach pictured below. The low lying building nestling on the headland is the Rockefeller property apparently peopled by rich squatters!


We felt extremely pampered and spoiled. What a privilege to share even for a moment such a place.

Solutions at Santa Fe

The little ferry, Big B appeared on the dot to whisk us back to Sint Maarten for another night at the Holland House Beach Hotel before flying back to Miami. The cluster of palms on the top left were our last view of Plumbago from the ferry as we bustled past the gigantic, dreaded cruiser, Riviera on our way back to Sint Maarten.

And here one of the dominoes has fallen. Thankfully at the end not the beginning of the line else the knock-on could have been disastrous. Our plane developed some mysterious, mechanical problem and after long delays American Airlines issued us with hotel and food vouchers, unloaded the luggage and taxied us to the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort at the end of the runway for the night. The offending plane was a Boeing 737 Max 8 seen here at the Princess Juliana International Airport.

We know it well! The airport I mean. It is a half completed, extremely noisy echo chamber reverberating with incomprehensible announcements by officials with no microphone technique whatsoever. It was a nightmare.

In all my years of travel this has never happened to me. I once spent an uncomfortable and cold night in a snowed in Geneva airport; there have been flights that were cancelled and we were immediately found alternatives  – but not this. Of course you read about these sort of things and I often wonder what they would do if there were no empty hotel rooms to accommodate such a large group of people on the spur of the moment.

Just look at all those Fords waiting to pick us up at Miami Airport. There is even an obliging American Airlines plane in back (as they say) but whether it is a Boeing 737 Max 8 I know not. William Shearer? Input? I have a feeling NOT as the AA livery is old and not like that any more.

30 hours late we finally took off into the night, a day wasted, champing at the bit in Immigration, luggage astray but not lost and the most terrifying experience yet, the Yellow Cab ride to Miami Beach conducted by an affable driver from Mumbai. The ancient Ford Crown Victoria (1992, V8, 4.1 litres) on soft, squeaky springs and shot shocks, vroomed us in bursts well over the speed limit, our driver hunched over the wheel frantically steering and peering past other speedsters while we clung for dear life to our broken straps in breathless expectation of imminent death. I was reminded of Bob Newhart’s Bus Driver Training skit:

That’s it…….accelerator, brake………accelerator, brake……..you got it…!”

But we did finally get to our hotel, the Albion on the corner of James and Lincoln so the last domino did not fall though the gap narrowed and the stay shortened.

We have never been to Miami before; only passed through it several times on our way to other places; to the home of that mouse, with the grandchildren; to Key West; cruises leave from here of course; and along the panhandle through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana to New Orleans – but never Miami proper.

We thought it was fabulous. We stayed in Miami Beach which has the largest collection of Art-Deco buildings on earth, beautifully restored and saved from the wreckers who nearly swept the whole thing away for a Riviera of high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Much is pedestrianised and all of it pristine. There was a Miami Beach Walking Tour which Tony enjoyed. There are 109 listed Deco buildings in Miami Beach alone; many more than the impressive collections in Tel Aviv, Prague or Napier New Zealand. Interesting that originally they were put up in that style because it was cheap;  many were only three storeys high, needing no elevators, obviating extra expense. 

Gianni Versace’s home was just along the block from here.

Casa Casuarina once the home of Gianni Versace, a Mediterranean Revival building unlike any other on Ocean Drive where Deco dominates.

Built in 1930 by Ronin Wolf for the gay Standard Oil bachelor and heir, Alden Freeman, it is now known simply as Gianni’s and is an extremely expensive restaurant and luxury boutique hotel.

Strict dress code and entrance by appointment. Platinum credit cards only!

We were struck too, by Miami City, also immaculate.

First high rise building in Miami, the Freedom Tower built in 1925 as the Headquarters for The Miami News, with 17 storeys; based on the design of the Giralda tower of the Cathedral of Seville.

The 30 hour delay on Sint Maarten meant we were left with only two full days and a morning to “do” Miami. Far too short of course; also there were no concerts, ballets or operas on anywhere – wrong time of year, so we shall have to go back one day and investigate properly.

Because of time constraints we thought the good old Hop-on-Hop-off bus would serve us well which it proved to do, on its two hour circuit, giving us an excellent overview and orientation in a sometimes confusing city: starting from Bayside Market Place, running south-north up Miami Beach, turning west across Biscayne Bay to the Design District and Wynwood Walls, then south and east to Little Havana. 

The weather was perfect; a cooling breeze to offset the sunshine.

The Pèrez Art Museum was an excellent recommendation from Friend Helen B. who knows and loves the city, the building an artwork on its own, featuring two special exhibitions alongside the permanent collection of modern art, we found fascinating: Leandro Erlich’s Liminal and Yayoi Kusama’s Love is Calling.

From PAMM’s own schpiel is best :

Liminal has been conceived as a sequence of spaces that one might encounter in the course of an ordinary day: elevator, subway, classroom, hair salon, sidewalk, swimming pool, laundry room – even a window through which the neighbour’s windows can be seen. Each space is fabricated to serve as a precise simulation of the place it references so that the encounter with Erlich’s illusion tends to occur as a surprise on the viewer’s part that such an ordinary spot should conceal such extraordinary qualities.

 “Love is Calling is the largest and most immersive and kaleidoscopic of the artist’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Representing the culmination of her artistic achievements, it exemplifies the breadth of her visual vocabulary – from the signature polka dots and soft sculptures to brilliant colours, the spoken word, and, most importantly, endless reflections and the illusion of space. The darkened, mirrored room is illuminated by inflatable, tentacle-like forms – covered in the artist’s characteristic polka dots- that extend from the floor to the ceiling, gradually changing colours. As visitors walk through the installation, a sound recording of Kusama reciting a love poem in Japanese plays continuously. Written by the artist, the poem’s title translates to Residing in the Castle of Shed Tears. Exploring enduring themes including life and death, the poem poignantly expresses Kusama’s hope to spread a universal message of love through her art.

Love is Calling – Yayoi Kusama – an immersive experience. 

The Hop-on-Hop-off Bus on The Red Loop.

Along the MacArthur Causeway looking towards the Cruise Terminal. It was from here that I left with my late brother David on our last trip together in 2019.

It is the largest cruise terminal in the world.

The glorious graffiti of The Wynwood Walls

There are lots of places to eat. We tried a few including near South Pointe Park Pier, on 1st Street, Joe’s Crab Shack, famous since 1920 when Hungarian-born Joseph and Jennie Weiss opened their first fish restaurant on the front porch of their home there. They’d moved from New York in 1913, cooked and waited tables at Smith’s Bathing Casino across the road from their home – still in the same location to this day though no longer in the Weiss family.

The list of the good, the bad and the ugly that dined there is endless and we were shown the table frequented by Al Capone who also had a home on one of Biscayne Bay’s millionaire islands, which we’d seen earlier from a boat trip we’d enjoyed as part of the Hop-on-Hop-off experience.

Great atmosphere and excellent eating. Crab claws are the signature dish. Nobody knew they were edible until Joe Weiss discovered them in 1913.

Interestingly (and shockingly too) the Weiss family were the first Jews to live in Miami. No Jews were allowed in Florida until 1797.  They had a torrid time of it. By 1915 there were only 55 Jews there. They were prohibited to live north of 5th Street in Miami beach, nor could anyone of colour, Hispanic or otherwise. Only in 1949 were these restrictive barriers removed though in reality many of the Art Deco buildings were designed, built and operated by Jews and it was a Jew who launched the campaign that established, restored and preserved the Art Deco District.

They just couldn’t live there.

Miami City from Miami Beach

Tony went on his walking tour on our last morning while I packed up, had a last swim in the hotel pool, a last bask in the warmth before returning to the hypothermic depths of Essex!

But I just have to have one little rant before I let you go to your homework: British Airways flew us home in one of their Airbus 380s taking slightly longer than usual because a rocket was being launched at NASA Cape Kennedy; a comfortable flight, a full complement of 469 crew & passengers (or customers as we are now called). We landed at Heathrow at 6.45am;  we whizzed off our double decker giant and zoomed through UK Border Control, the auto-

-mated ePassport Gates working perfectly for once.  We both said we thought this incredible efficiency couldn’t last – after all, we were back home in strike-torn, post-Covid, stagflated, understaffed, underpaid Britain!

And so it proved. In baggage reclaim, at carousel number 5 in Terminal 5 we waited for TWO HOURS for our bags to arrive. Not just us! All 469 of us including a few of the flight staff who’s baggage was in the hold.

I kid you not, dear Friends.

BEST WISHES AS ALWAYS, DEAR FRIENDS – PEDRO

I kid you not, dear friends.