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.


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.



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!


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!

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

Adieu, dear Friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midmar Dam

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

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

Christopher told me of Melanie’s

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

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

Thanks Christopher. A great recital. Bravo Bravo all.

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

Such a poignant visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s had mixed reviews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was the first course

Loved it! Thanks Tyger!

Two visits to the Festival Hall!

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

Here he is with his “Marsick” Stradivarius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an official one:

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

Amira Willighagen, Amsterdam 2013.

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

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

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

Sea Palling Beach

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

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

Sea Palling Beach, Ingham.

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

Blickling Hall Estate

Dutch Fair, Great Yarmouth

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

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

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

and please God


Peaceful, Healthy & Prosperous 2024!

Pedro & Tonto

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?


THE GREEN DIARY : The Ring at Bayreuth & More!


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


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:

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.


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.




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.


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, “… 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.


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?


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)


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?


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.


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…… 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.


I kid you not, dear friends.

THE GREEN DIARY :                        Colombia 2023. 3

My friend Ross Devenish sent me this quote from  Travels with a Donkey in the Cèvennes :

“Why anyone should desire to go to Cheylard or to Luc is more than my inventing spirit can embrace. For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go; I travel for travel’s sake.    And to write about it afterwards, if only the public will be so condescending as to read. But the great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of life a little more nearly; to get down off this feather bed of civilisation, and to find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”

Robert Louis  Stevenson

“I’m uncertain about leaving the ‘feather bed’ but the sense that you just want to go, rings a bell with me,” Ross added! 

I agree.

I’m not sure either about the ‘cutting flints’ though I did succeed in dropping and shattering very impressively, a bottle of Canada Dry Tonic Water in the supermercado yesterday and promptly created a bloodbath when glass got into my foot! 

With all the visits to museums and houses and burial grounds and tombs and the whole ritual of the tourist abroad, it was refreshing to find this wonderful tile outside one or other of the sites. It is almost an admonishment!

On the 13th December, 1825, in this house nothing happened and no-one important was born.

Mesitas del Colegio

Richard came to live and work in Colombia back in the late 1980s. He taught maths to the sons and daughters of wealthy Colombians, in English, at the Colegio Anglo Colombiano, considered one of the elite schools.

He was here during the era of the Muerte a Secuestradores or MAS, essentially a terrorist organisation set up by Pablo Escobar to corrupt the system with protection rackets and extortion. There were many murders, planes blown up and high profile kidnappings. Richard was teaching at the time of the invasion of the Palace of Justice in La Candelaria and urged to stay clear of the area. About nine justices were murdered, tanks invaded the building and cared not a jot for the deaths they caused among the many innocent present. The building was set alight. There was mayhem. Those extracted from the blaze were never seen or heard of again.

Richard met José Mosquera during these times. They became friends. José now has a beautiful home, to which he and his partner Hans-Peter Balle come every English winter and which is generously shared with friends and which is also home to sister Doris and brother Carlos and three beautiful dogs, Shakira, Zeuss and Max. It’s name is Finca Pradera. We were made very welcome.

Tarry Tours reaches Mesitas del Colegio

So, from Villa de Layve, Baudilio drove us down the Rio Bogotá valley through the traffic insanity of Bogotá itself, clogged with fumes and smells from the river, down the steep escarpment, dropping 5,400 feet to Mesitas del Colegio  (Cundinamarca) 2.5 hours south west of Bogotá where this little paradise is situated.

Hans-Peter has several coffee bushes in the garden and collected enough beans to begin the process towards at least three or four cups of coffee. Jorgé is supervised by José.
The open air salon

For five wonderful days we were royally treated. José is a superb cook and introduced us to many traditional dishes and others besides. The garden is rich in every conceivable fruit you can imagine and the Jugos flowed. This climate in these latitudes, on this soil just produces an endless variety of flowers, fruits, tubers, maize and beans. Chickens peck about and there are fresh eggs every day. It is genuinely a little Garden of Eden.

The kitchen

There is a pool too, who could ask for more, and we were shown around the plateau, taken into Mesitas and across the valley to La Mesa. Baudilio came from Bogotá a day early to fetch us and especially to drive us all on a massive circuit to Anapoima and La Mesa, swooping down the valley and up the other side on the return to Finca Pradera.

Thank you friends for making us so welcome in your beautiful home. We especially hope that Shakira’s injured leg has by now healed and we look forward to seeing you in Cartagena – and London too.

Baudilio drove us to Bogotá on our last day, for our flight to Cartagena where we picked up our rental for the next stage:

Santa cruz de Mompós (or the disease-sounding Mompox as it is called!)

The Rio Magdelena is many miles wide as it approaches the sea, a wild wetland.

The road to Mompox from Cartagena started with promise but soon reminded us of the San Agustín to Popayán odyssey. To be fair, this time the distance was 329 kms though we cheated slightly by stopping the night at Turbaco, itself only a 25 km drive from the airport where we had picked up our rental, a Renault Duster into which we managed, just, to squeeze us and all our luggage. From Turbaco the next morning it took us nearly six hours to this enigmatic, magical town in the middle of the vast marshlands through which the Rio Magdalena, now miles wide, presses. It is hot and humid. 35°C on average but feeling like 40°C. Barely a breeze.

We last saw the river from San Agustín and visited a point down in the gorge where it was only a few feet wide. Way downstream from here, at Girardot, the Rio Bogotá joins the Rio Magdalena swelling it mightily but very dirtily.
When we were driving from Villa de Leyva to Mesitas we picked up the Rio Bogotá when it was a crystal clear stream cascading down the valley. When it reaches the city everything is thrown into it and it becomes disgusting despite all the efforts of a corrupt political class to clean it up.

You can jump across The Rio Magdalena up in San Agustín!

The convergence of the filthy Rio Bogotá with the clear waters of the Rio Magdelena at Girardot

So, I shudder to think what is flowing past us here in Santa Cruz de Mompós though all the locals swim in it, all the fish we are eating comes out of it, all the thousands of Brahman cattle graze in, on and around it, all the local produce, the yuca, maize, plantains and the rest comes out of it;  it teams with iguana, howler monkeys, electric eels – apparently lethal – and the most fantastic bird life of every size and colour. Further upstream  Pablo Escobar’s Hippopotami are thriving after their release from his private zoo though we’ve not glimpsed them! 

The first thing that crossed my mind was how on earth did those Conquistadores manage to navigate up this vast river with its myriads of channels in their 16th Century ships, the current against them, barely a favouring breeze and then establish a foothold on the banks where there is nothing except excruciating humidity, flat as far as  you can see, and mud, mud glorious mud. They had armour can you believe and were dressed in Spanish clothing of the day; they’d come a long way; two-thirds were wiped out by diseases and yet here is the proof of their persistence – Mompox, this little gem of a town built of brick in the Spanish Colonial Baroque style, whitewashed walls, terracotta roof tiles, wrought iron grills over glassless windows for it is far too hot to close anything here. The slightest breeze is a gift.

Simón Bolívar started the independence process in Mompox with 400 men. Here are the leaders of the revolution signing the Act of Independence of the 6th August, 1810 in the Casa Germán de Ribón, now the fascinating Casa de la Cultura. But look at their clothes! No concession whatsoever to the humid heat! We stood in this very room wearing shorts and slipslops!

What drove these people? El Dorado? The greed for gold? Loyalty to a faraway King and Queen? Discipline? Fear? Faith? Or were things so awful at home that anything offered abroad would be a happier option?

I suspect a little of all these but nothing detracts from the wonder that they bothered.

The Plaza Santa Barbára next to our hotel, not much changed and here is Simón Bolívar looking a little like David Suchet

“Does the clock stand at ten—to-three?
And is there air-conditioning for tea?”

“Sorry, air-conditioning’s off dear!”

And it was! There was a power cut and our rooms at the San Rafael Hotel were like ovens. Thank heavens at 5pm everything whirred into action though it took several hours before caliente became frio.

Outside the San Rafael Hotel on the Albarrada. Best walks are early in the morning when it is cooler. A small ferry for a few cents can take you across the river where the farms and small holdings hint at a simpler life. Tony is with Sara Wheeler.

Early morning football on the dusty riverside field. The best time to play!

Our hotel is right on the river front in a beautiful line of old palaces, homes and warehouses that were part of this entrepôt all those years ago. Now making up a collection of boutique hotels, bars and restaurants, the rebuilding and rapid renovation is reviving the fortunes of this faded town. 

Yesterday we embarked a flat bottomed river boat belonging to Freddie who guided us for several hours through the waterways and smaller channels that criss cross this vast ecosystem. How Freddie knew where we were and often in alarmingly shallow water, I’ll never know. He pointed out many things, birdlife, iguanas, monkeys and small communities living simply on the impenetrable banks scraping existences from farming, fishing and market gardening. Freddie assured us that we were safe and that he trusted his Johnson Outboard motor to bring us through.

No Evinrudes, Yamahas or suchlike for him he declared in Spanish rather enigmatically.

On the river with Freddie

We returned to the hotel as the sun set over the river in that fast way it always does in the tropics.

The Cemeterio Municipal and the Casa de la Cultura, an original building.

Our friend, Travel Writer Sara Wheeler is here and we have enjoyed her company very much. Her book Travels in a Thin Country  all about Chile, is one of my favourites. She recommended Wade Davis’ Magdalena: River of Dreams which we found and downloaded to our Kindles. It looks fascinating and now joins a queue. She and Tony visited the extraordinary forgotten theatre of Mompox, the once grand Teatro Colonial, built in 1942 and abandoned more than twenty years ago, its roof partially collapsed and its faded grandeur now home to several, squatting local families. It’s a totally bizarre, crazy looking place, with home comforts lodged in between the old balconies.

The forgotten theatre of Mompox, the Teatro Colonial, mainly it seems, used once as a cinema.

Mompox Silver was interesting: blending Spanish, indigenous and Arab techniques there is a long tradition of silver craftsmanship here and along the Calle Real del Medio there are many workshops showing these techniques and offering some beautiful pieces for sale.

Lent has come round again in the Catholic Calendar and every town has its Carnival – not least Mompox where the local rhythms pumped out over excited crowds all dressed in impossible costumes and spraying foam over everyone from long cylindrical cans.

It’s that time of year again!

We spent almost an entire week here. At first we thought that too long but in fact once we had been lulled into the slow pace induced by – and got a little more used to – the heat and humidity it turned out to be a good choice. We loved it here.

Time to pack up the car and drive back to Cartagena de Indias for our last week here.

I have been thinking so much about my dear, late brother David. He and I stopped off here on our way through the Panama Canal, on the Celebrity Infinity out of Miami, fetching up in San Diego, just three years ago. With his compromised health he was unable to disembark in Cartagena and decided to conserve all his strength for the main event – the Canal. I have been reading my diary. I went ashore on my own:

Cartagena is a beautiful city, at least the tiny part I saw. Of course you are given very few hours to explore these ports we visit; but enough in this case to encourage another, longer visit at some other time. The city was of vital importance to the Spanish political and economic control of its colonies here. It is one of the oldest. It is dominated by an impressive fortress, San Felipe Barajas, and the Old Town is surrounded by a ten kilometre wall. The natural harbour is beautiful. It is made up of a maze of islands and large bays and inlets. Beyond the Old Town is the New which is reminiscent of Miami. There are wonderful beaches and it is a tourist paradise! Well, I only had time really for a good wander through the Old Town and the Barrios, after the obligatory visit to the Fort. No time even for the Convent occupying the highest point over the city; a look in at the creepy Inquisition Museum on what is now S. Bolivár Square – a sort of early Lubyanka you might say, except it was religious commissars who undertook the purgings. Time too for some churches and the impressive Monesterio de Pedro Claver, redeemer of slaves and now a saint. Before long we had to return to the ship in a torrential tropical downpour. It was hot and humid and the air conditioning was a welcome relief; but I definitely want to come back here.

I’ve never stayed in a skyscraper before.

And I am back here, with Tony this time, for nearly a week. Tarry Tours have put up on the Bocagrande in an AirBnB at Palmetto Beach. One of a forest of shimmering white skyscrapers, we occupy a three bedroom apartment on the 15th floor with spectacular views towards the Centro Histórico; the beach is across the road and there is a swimming pool on the rooftop, floor 38.

The view from the Convent towards Bocagrande and the Old Town . You can glimpse the cruise terminal where there is a liner docked, in the same place David and I arrived at. It is not all glimmering perfection. There are favelas and much poverty here too. The traffic is terrible, long queues and an inadequate infrastructure. We are glad of the cooling, off-shore breeze to blow the fumes away.

We have been keeping up with various museums of course, and also re-visited (for me) the Museo Histórico once the Palacio de la Inquisition and the Santuario de San Pedro Claver whose actions partially off-set the appalling policies of the Catholic Church and its main instrument of terror here, The Inquisition. Don’t get me started.

There is a lot to soak up; a great atmosphere; people are more off-hand here than in the other towns we have visited. It’s a busy tourist entrêpot and for the first time we have encountered the dreaded hawkers who, thankfully, are not as oppressively insistent as their counterparts in other parts of the world, notably Araby and India. It is so difficult to explain that I already have a hat, a T-shirt, fridge magnets – yadda yadda. Endless, cheaply made tchochkes usually in the worst taste and which Christoph calls Schnick-Schnack‘s . Far rather you pointed me in the direction of a good Margherita or Mojitos or a vacant taxi, my good man!

How poncey is that?!

And what about this: my paternal grandmother was Cecily Cartwright née Drake. She claimed descent from one of the many Drake Brothers of whom Francis was the oldest. There were twelve of them. Poor Mrs. Drake had a torrid time of it. This would make Francis Drake a distant uncle but I am not sure how proud to be of this dubious fact bearing in mind the mayhem he caused in the Spanish colonies. He was basically a legalised pirate, slaver and plunderer of note. Forbes puts his wealth in today’s terms at $144,000,000 most of which came from his dubious deeds. He famously sacked and occupied Cartagena in 1586 in The Battle of Cartagena de Indias all in the name of Queen Elizabeth I who was at war with Philip II of Spain. I won’t mention what Drake did in Ireland else I’ll have no friends left.

José and Hans-Peter have flown down from Mesitas for a few days. They took us last night into the throbbing heart of the narrow streets of Getsemani, once murder alley but now far less edgier, where things are very lively, full of young people, and foodstalls, bars, clubs and street performers. Gentrification is on its way – a pressing issue for the district’s remaining citizens.

To-day, 25th February, we fly out of Colombia on the next stage of our journey, to visit our dear friend, Laura T in her island paradise at St. Barthélemy : usually just called St. Barts. Quite difficult to get to from here and entails a flight to Miami, a one night layover, a flight to the Dutch island of St. Maarten – or half of it at any rate – another layover, and finally the ferry to Gustavia. Laura thinks we are nuts but it should be intriguing.

More news from there, dear Friends All, and once again thank you for all your responses. Some of you have done very, very well in the multiple choice exams and seem to have at least enjoyed the pictures!


THE GREEN DIARY :                        Colombia 2023. 2


The old monastery cloisters of what is now the Hotel Dann Monasterio. You can see the attached Iglesia de San Francisco adjoining.

The road to Popayán from San Agustín is an adventure on its own: a gruelling 126 kilometres of mainly dirt road over the mountains, through the impenetrable Parque Nacional Natural Puracé, it took us nearly eight hours to negotiate, with Adrian Cordobá’s brother Carlos at the wheel. Mudslides are endemic here and an already poor road network, hopelessly inadequate for the country’s transport needs, means that often roads can be closed altogether and are in a terrible condition.

There were many lorries inching over the piste passes. This is a major trans-Andean Link.

Long, one way stops where repair works are being undertaken can mean extending the journey by many hours and it is certainly true that we were able to read books and things at these long waits! The road through the Parque itself is the worst section and the impenetrability of the bush on either side mean that you cannot really see down the vertiginous sides. A good thing perhaps, though we were able to espy the active, Puracé Volcano, after which the park is named, in the distance.

All was peace and quiet in the piazza until a demonstration by a local Teachers’ Union burst upon us with loud, cheerful Salsa and speeches familiar to us : Pay and Poor Services.

Eventually we arrived in Popayán, founded in 1537 and called the White City for fairly obvious reasons; it has been devastated by several earthquakes, the latest being in 1983 which destroyed most of the historic old centre, now beautifully restored. It seemed dominated by government offices, small businesses and the many faculties of the Universidad del Cauca. It is the regional capital of Cauca and a great place to wander around though we did of course look into several museums celebrating the town’s colonial history.

Looming large over the town’s history is the Valencia family whose patriarch

Botero’s iconic painting of the 1983 Popayán earthquake.

was Guillermo León Valencia. He’s everywhere. Even the airport is named after him and his sons and grandsons all had an influence on the town’s business, political and social history.

Not as ubiquitous as Simón Bolívar who seems to manage being just about everywhere in Latin America!

Popayán has produced no fewer than

15 Presidents of various versions of Colombia, and poets and politicians of note. Valencia himself was a poet-politician while the influential Mosquera family headed by José María Mosquera contributed very much to the political, social and financial life of the city in a salon society of the colonial and early independence era.

There is an opera house. The current Artistic Director was an enthusiastic guide who showed us into every nook and cranny of the theatre and told us of his company’s efforts to keep live arts going in such a small place.

Édgar Negret the Modernist artist, is a native of Popayán; his former home has been turned into a museum exhibiting his work from abstract prints to twisting, layered, painted sculptures. He is everywhere in Colombia, every city seems to have his work. Not entirely my cup of tea but the rest of Tarry Tours with higher brows enjoyed the museum and his work.

Onward dear Friends – to Villa de Leyva from the tiny airport, via Bogotá where you must always go to get anywhere and where the trusty and kind Baudilio was waiting to meet us with his equally trusty VW people carrier and drive us north to this showcase of colonial architecture with its whitewashed houses and cobbled streets.

On our long drive there Baudilio suggested we stopped off at Zipaquirá for ajiacco, a substantial tradtional dish, a sort of chicken soup served with arepas (flat corn bread) and plenty of patacones (fried, crisped up plantain) which he said would ready us for a visit to the eerie, impressive Salt Cathedral, in a mine that’s been in use since pre-Hispanic times.

I’m not entirely sure it’s quite on its own up there as I remember on a visit to Krakow I went to the 13th Century salt mine in Wieliczka which we were told was 327 metres deep with nearly 300 kilometres of subterranean galleries. But who is counting?

The Polish Cathedral at Wielicka.

Lots of funny little nipping bugs in this park that caused an unpleasant and painful reaction.

Confusion over our hotel when we finally arrived in “Vi de Le”! We had to be relocated and there was much humming and hawing with credit cards that wouldn’t work. Baudilio was supposed to drive the four hours back to Bogotá and return three days later to pick us up. He said he couldn’t be bothered and if we needed, he’d drive us to some other sites out of town if we were interested. Turned out to be an excellent idea. “Vi de Le” is beautiful but not very big – it is walked easily and we had plenty of time to see the amazing Museo del Fósil a few miles away where the star of the show is a 120-million-year-old Kronosaurus, a prehistoric marine reptile that has occupied what was once a huge flood plain revealed by the retreating sea. Here and very interestingly displayed, is the country’s largest repository of marine fossils.

Kronosaurus – 120-million years old. The museum was built over the actual fossil where it lay.

Baudilio next drove us on to Santo Ecce Homo Convent. Founded by the Dominicans in 1620 completely constructed from stone-and-adobe and indicating a dedication to their faith and shear perseverance in the face of every odd. Why didn’t they just go back to Iberia and give up their quest I’ll never understand. No gold for them just rewards in an imaginary heaven for reaping the souls of Amerindians. Extraordinary.

And then the most eccentric of all. The Casa Terracotta. A house made out of 400 tons of baked clay designed by architect Octavio Mendoza. Very Gaudi-esque. No straight lines, no right angles and built-in furniture to boot. Tiled floors. An impractical experiment in local raw matériels it took 15 years to make, each small section baked in situ with the architect and his family giving up on actually living in it due to the public interest and perpetual intrusions.

The Terracotta House near Villa de Leyva

And last but not least, Baudilio took us to the source of all terracotta at Raquira where colourful houses blended with endless artisanal terracotta works and bric-a-brac beyond your wildest imaginings!

Have you ever seen so many Tchotchkes in your life? All those terracotta mobiles and more besides.

Baudilio then transferred us via the Rio Bogotá valley to our next port of call : Mesitas.

But you will have to wait breathlessly with your pens and pencils poised for the next exciting episode in the Tarry Tour Itinerary 2023 which will soon be brought to you by the proud makers of Blog, Blog and Blog a unique company showing all potential travellers the way to fun and frolics.