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.

THE GREEN DIARY :                        Colombia 2023. 1

Tarry Tours have come to Colombia:

Tarry Tours are Richard, Christoph, Tony and myself.

We have been successful travel partners since our first venture to Mexico in 2017.

Since then the four of us have visited Thailand, Laos and Cambodia – Ecuador and Peru – and Madeira – twice. 

Good wintering places.

Richard and I are childhood friends. I was 5 when I met him and he was 7. Our families were staying in an hotel in Kloof, Natal back in 1957; both families had moved there from Cape Town and Johannesburg and were waiting to move into new homes.

Our fathers worked in Durban.

We grew up in what is now KwaZulu-Natal and have remained friends ever since.

He is a Wallace-Tarry and that is why I call our group Tarry Tours. Richard has enabled much of our travel through the Home Exchange Programme, a wonderful way to live in foreign places for nothing and there have been some handy homes in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Oaxaca – both in Mexico, Chiang Mai in Thailand, Quito in Ecuador to name a few.

And now we have come to Colombia.

View over Candelaria from the teleferique to Cerro de Monserrate.

Richard lived and worked in Bogotá for several years back in the 80’s teaching maths in a private school there. He speaks excellent Spanish. Tony speaks a little Spanish too which has made our Latin American travels much easier. Christoph – from Berlin – and I are useless in the language. I am the most useless of all having nothing more than a smattering of Afrikaans!
Plaza de Bolívar

Christoff speaks lots of languages, in the European way, but not Spanish.

First stop Bogotá:

I had no idea it was so big. The metro area is almost the same as London containing 12 million inhabitants; it’s high too at 8,660 feet. After my second bout of Covid last year my lungs have never recovered and at this height the dreaded soroche (altitude sickness) has slowed things down a lot. 
Friends! Lots of you have said, “What on earth do you want to go there for anyway?” Certainly there is poverty, crime and gridlocked traffic; drab neighbourhoods, and the weather can be dreary – wet and rainy. None of these seem to have appeared on our radar from our base in  La Candelaria with it’s colonial architecture, numerous restaurants and music of all kinds blaring out.

The weather has been glorious: sunny, blue skies and cool nights.

View from our 13th Floor hotel room.

It’s a grubby city but a laid back and friendly one too. Besides if you visit this country there is no avoiding Bogotá. It is a hub.

We confined ourselves to La Candaleria  and only ventured forth to the northern suburbs where the rich and famous live in the  Zona Rosa, once.

The city backs onto the Cerro de Monserrate, a mountain ridge topped by a church which can be reached by funicular and cable car whence are afforded spectacular views all around.

Panorama from Cerro de Monserrate and Plaza de Bolívar dominated by the Cathedral and the new Palace of Justice which was wrecked in 1948 and again during the Narcos wars in 1985.

It is a great setting for this historic city.

La Candelaria centres on the Plaza de Bolívar dominated by the cathedral, the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol and the Palacio Liévano. Much history played out here, some of it bloody. ‘Chequered’ is a good word to describe Colombia’s history. Fraught with civil wars, revolutions, guerrilla movements, drug wars and the actions of Imperial Spain and its surrogate the Catholic Church, it is a complicated one to follow – like the histories of most of Latin America and, indeed, all the Americas north, central and south.

We Europeans certainly have a lot to answer for! 

So we headed for the museums to have a lot of what we think and feel, confirmed.

There is a plethora of museums and galleries and we visited several but were most impressed by the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and the Museo Botero, a gallery dedicated to the works of Fernando Botero and his personal collection bequeathed to the nation.

The Gold Museum is a staggering collection of at least 55,000 gold, silver and platinum pieces, the world’s biggest collection of gold ornaments, charting the history of metallurgy in pre-Hispanic Colombia. It was this that urged the Spanish Conquistadores on in their greedy quest for El Dorado and its terrible consequences on the native Indian cultures that dominated here once long before Europeans arrived. The museum sadly does not chart these consequences and only records and displays the achievements prior to our arrival. For that you have to visit other historical and cultural museums which rather gloss over the sharp end, shall we say, of the imperial incursion.

There is a great deal of blood and horror. It is shameful. But the museum is brilliant.

The Museo Botero was the other exciting gem. Well, it’s more than just a gem! I had no idea how prolific this artist was nor that he possessed such an eclectic and finely balanced collection of major artists. Here are Cézanne, Courbet, Bacon and Auerbach. There are too, Pissarro, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Picasso. An enormous collection, this is turning into a list but, hey, I can’t

stop now: Miró, de Chirico, Delvaux, Braque, Chagall – nearly finished – Freud, Henry Moore, Klimt, Dégas and Matisse. Phew!

Paintings and sculptures. Many of his own works are homages to certain artists executed in his own particular style. 

The collection is housed in a colonial mansion three blocks up from Plaza Bolívar but there is a modern annexe at the back housing the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República where largely contemporary Colombian art is displayed, ranging, though, from 17th Century religious art through to modern canvases. Another gallery attached houses contemporary, temporary, largely installation art works. Very edgy. I never understand them but still, interesting.

This is one of the best museums I have ever seen and certainly along with gold, the other best choice for us here in Bogotá.

Leaving the very disappointing Bogotà Museum of Modern Art

There were other museums including the rather quaint Instituto Cultural León Tolstoi which seemed to be a hangout for aged Communists! Started in 1944 and heavily subsidised by the Soviet Government, it was meant to foster cooperation and cultural exchange but seemed keen to promote pre-revolutionary culture as much as Marxist dogma. We asked if there were still any Communists left in Colombia but received evasive answers. How it has survived the right wing era from 1948 through all the troubles, dictatorships, juntas and the powerful oligarchs is amazing.

Next, to San Agustín, a 90 minute flight to the tiny airport at  Pitalito, in a twin engined ATR 42-500 (please note Friend William S!), for a 45 minute taxi transfer to our EcoHotel Masaya at 5,404 feet. Spectacularly perched on the edge of the huge gorge gouged over millennia by the Magdalena River. 

Lower than Bogotá and breathing slightly easier.

At 1,528 kms the Rio Magdalena is Colombia’s longest and most important river; running south-north, it debouches into the Caribbean at Barranquilla. I had no idea this country was so big. Getting around it is not easy. Traffic is terrible and the road network entirely inadequate while the terrain is not easy either. Many of the roads are reminiscent of some of the worst we encountered in South Africa last year – potholed and prone to the mudslides endemic in this region. More of that later.

But – San Agustín:

It’s not much more than a large village founded round the Catholic Mission School in 1608. But long, long before this, in at least 1000 BC, there were a people living here about which we know absolutely nothing other than that over the centuries up to round 900 AD, they started making their tombs with large stone statues adorned with grinning mouths,

pointed fangs, birds eating snakes and huge round eyes. These are today contained within the Parque Arqueológico Nacional de San Agustín containing three definite  Mesitas,  A, B & C containing concentrations of tombs constructed across several millennia and about which we can only surmise. There are many theories and our lovely guide, José Adrian (I kid you not) Cordoba,

was happy to supply us with any number of these while admitting that it is a mystery as to how a largely hunter-gatherer community without access to sophisticated tools of any kind were able to lift the enormous stones, often weighing many tons, carry them up from the bottom of the Rio Magdalena gorge whence they originate, deposit them on the required sites, sculpt and shape them and place them on the levelled mesitas in specially created underground caverns – no decent digging implements, no blocks-and-tackle, no written language and no evidence of sedentary farming even, or any sort of economy to back up the endeavour. 

We have been to many archeological sites all over the world, in Peru, in Mexico and Egypt; to Angkor Wat, Petra and Ecuador, Stone Henge and others – menhirs and dolmens propped in peculiar places but never to a site where absolutely nothing is known of either the coming or going of a whole people.

On our last day Adrian, as we liked to call him, moved me much by saying that it was evident that whoever they were, material wealth appeared to mean nothing to them and that the spiritual intention of these sites and their emphasis on a natural balance in the world between nature and man, a knowledge of this balance, was the most important thing of all. Adrian was once part of the business world in Bogotà where he worked successfully for Microsoft but suffered an early crisis, giving up a lot of his material obsessions, returning to a simpler life at this time of environmental crisis. Perhaps, he said, we have something to learn from these tombs and the sculptures in them.

San Agustín. A special place. 

Next time, dear Friends, Popayan, Villa de Leyva and Mesitas. Plus THE ROADS!

No exams this time Friends. There will be three modules before the next tests.

THE GREEN DIARY: …………..and so to 2023

Happy New Year Friends-all!

I started the Pedro-on-the-Green blog in 2020 during the height of the pandemic primarily to keep in touch with you my Friends, all over the world.

It has been phenomenal. It means a great deal to me that so many of us remain in touch at a time when great distances and circumstances separate us all.

It would be useless to sweep global affairs under the carpet; to pretend that all is now well in the world, for it is not so. The troubles that confront many, many millions of us are mainly man-made: it is human stupidity and human choice that have the appalling results we experience today. You all know what they are and I won’t have a little rant here about them. It is bad for the blood pressure!

But this is why I persevere with Pedro-on-the-Green :  

To keep in touch. 

It also serves as a useful diary for myself. Are you finding, Friends, that as we move forward to the “sunny uplands” of age, that detail and memory fade a little? 

I get a little frantic when I can’t recall something and when I think of how many years have quicksilvered tantalisingly away – how many mixed metaphors is one allowed?. 

Before Christmas we managed to catch up with friends not seen for a long while and how refreshing and wonderful that has been. I want to mention some of you by name because it has been a special privilege to be back in touch. I hope you won’t mind? I’ll not mention any data – mainly because I have none! 

Joy and David Willers were in London from Wales: thank you for a great visit; and Cathie & Richard Griffin in fine fettle, also from Wales. Food glorious food, “Gin was mother’s milk to us all!” Thank you friends, thank you. Next time it’s our turn to head west which we long to do; to Dolwyddelan and Menai Bridge, with a look-in at Glaslyn, Llanwrthwyl and  Stretton Sugwas (you know who you are!).

Then to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper to visit Jo & Alistair Michie on the coldest of winter days, icy roads and rail strikes notwithstanding, picking up a rental in Edinburgh to meet them at their harbour-side home in Pittenweem in Fife.How lovely to make contact after so many years – it’s the pandemic you know, that’s what did it! Thank you for the walks, the talks, the food, the drink and the under-floor heating in your guest cottage! Wow, it was cold – but sunny: blue, blue skies and limitless horizons.

  • Balcarres House, birthplace of Lady Anne Barnard (née Lindsay) Scottish travel writer, artist and socialite. Famous in Cape Town circa 1800 after which the romantic “bath” in Kirstenbosch Gardens is named though there are doubts she ever availed herself of it cool waters!

Train strikes meant that we had to hang onto the rental instead of returning it at Waverley Station. We drove straight through to Durham Cathedral to meet our guide and comforter, Cathy W. 

Terrible driving conditions. Clear blue skies; icy roads; the sun in the south and dazzling windscreen reflections; gritty slush splashed across glass and, suddenly no wash in the windscreen reservoir; smudged mess and no vision – just as we approached the Queensferry bridge.

Queensferry Bridge on a clear day. What a beautiful, elegant construction. Rather reminiscent of the bridge at Millau though not nearly as big

Frightening. Couldn’t see a thing. Towering container lorries gushing muck.

We managed to get off the road and find a service station where we discovered the Kia rental had a reservoir about the size of a thimble!  This needed topping up all the way via Durham, Thirsk and York, to London over two whole days while wretched headlights and glaring instrumentation meant night vision was almost nil. In the end we had to put a jumper over the dashboard so that we could see the way! Very poor design. 

I do not exaggerate this when I say it was one of the worst road journeys we have ever had –  and I can assure you we have travelled some!

But we got to Durham, to Cathy who guided us round this beautiful, and rare example of a pure, Norman Cathedral. In fact we were there at the beginning of 2022 but with no guide so this was special.

Cathy guides at the York Minster too so we tailed her to Thirsk for the night and then drove the next day down to York for a very different architectural experience.

To London. In the dark. With poor headlights and muffled instrumentation, handing the car back at Sixt under St. Pancras Station. We think we saw the flash of a speed camera in the icy fog on the Firth of Fourth. Will there be a fine eventually?

Pre-Christmas lunch at Fortnum’s. We’ve never been to 45 Jermyn St. before. It used to be a tea room years ago connected to the main building. Adam Faith used to hold office there. Now you go in off Jermyn Street. Laura and Tony had truffles. Real truffles. What a wonderful bouquet as the waitron (correct usage?) lifted the silver lid and gently shaved the food of the gods onto their risotto! I made do with Aynhoe Park Venison and Woodland Mushroom Ragout.

A few steps to the Royal Academy for William Kentridge – just in time as it closed the next day. The largest exhibition of his work here to date. billed as “an experimental voyage through the last 40 years of his extraordinary career.” And so it proved. We saw his Thick Time at the Whitechapel Gallery six years ago, an altogether smaller though fascinating exhibition. If I had any criticism of the Royal Academy presentation it is that there was too much! We were overpowered by the film clips, the drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations displayed through twelve rooms and spilling out into public spaces. Eclectic. Overwhelming – but ultimately fascinating, clever and energetic. We took a grandson and his girlfriend to see it and they were impressed. (Nice to see them too. Tyger is at Imperial and Zoë at Bristol. Physics and Medicine.)

Family – in the guise of a son and grandsons – talked us into going to Derren Brown’s show at the Shaftesbury Apollo in the run up to Christmas. 

What a surprise! We’ve never seen him live and only glimpsed his TV shows dismissing it all as a load of hocus-pocus. Well, we spent two and half hours utterly transfixed by his clever illusions and, even, moved by the personal aspects of his presentation. Tony and I must have been the oldest people in the theatre: it is definitely for thirty-somethings this show! In his choice of participants he cleverly excludes anyone over fifty. We think it’s because we are tired old sceptics! But the fact is, we were utterly mesmerised – and moved – by his whole show. How he achieves the things he does beats me.

The grandchildren all went on about how he distracts you, and guides your thinking, yatta-yatta-yatta. That all may be so but in the end we had a truly wonderful evening in the theatre and came away with light hearts and good feelings. A nice pre-Christmas state of affairs in crisis raddled Britain.

The same effect too at the revival of Matthew Bourne’s classic Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells the next day. A wonderful re-imagining of an age-old nursery story; and who cannot get on with that brilliant music? How many times have we seen it? Countless – and it is always as fresh as ever.

A plethora of dinners and lunches towards Christmas & New Year:

Thanks Gina & Andreas – great lunch at Hereford Road,

And Sue, Dave and Sarah at The Chelsea Arts Club,

Jo & Sacha at No. 12 The Green,

Jenny and Richard at Lawford House ,

Joy, Jorgè and Kate at The Sun in Dedham,

Kathy & Trevor – well met at No. 11 The Green,

The Finks at The Stable by Lawford Hall – the most amazing Bastila, my favourite– and for the movies too!

How wonderful to see you all in this post pandemic year,

Thank you, thank you all.

To all of you, dear Friends, all over the world, I wish you only the best for this New Year 2023. Thank you for keeping in touch. I wish I could embrace you all.


There will be multiple-choice questions only in the exams to follow and you will be able to complete all the tests on line! No black pens or pencils required! No discursive essays, parsings  or provings. You will not even have to drop a perpendicular or use your geometry set. There will be no Algorithms!

THE GREEN DIARY :     from a Funeral to a Wedding

David died two months ago. 

What can be said?  

Loss is immeasurable. Grief inexplicable. It works in many ways for all of us. The image I still carry in my mind is of that frozen face asleep in a cheap coffin, traces of the mortician’s art mocking my memories.

And look at this: the fate of the ship we would have been on had David lived:

It is certain he would not have survived that.

“God works in mysterious ways….” someone said. 

“It is written, then?” asks Auda Abu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia.

But to the living!

One of our Godsons is Friend Lois’ son, Guy Bentley and he has just got married to Jaclyn Boudreau at Great Marsh Estate, Bealeton, Virginia. Tony flew first to Canada to be with family there. I was to have flown to Washington from Auckland but that was not to be and instead met Tony at Dulles, he from Ottawa, me from Mistley, where we picked up a car and drove through stupendous autumn colours to Baltimore to be with friends Judith & Douglas who always make us feel welcome in their lovely home in, yes, Homeland!


Then the drive to Culpeper where an hotel had been requisitioned for everyone, the day before the wedding – it was a very American event! Fully rehearsed; camera angles sorted; bridesmaids and groomsmen paired off on either side of the stage overlooking the lawns and woods; those with speaking roles were positioned. The house itself looks Georgian but was built in the 1980s as an event venue. It looked beautiful in the sunshine and the autumnal colours.

After the rehearsals the bride’s family hosted cocktails & finger food at Grass Rootes, a restaurant in the old, quaint part of town – itself about forty minutes away from Bealeton where the Great Marsh Estate actually is.

Mother Loïs & Aunt Diana in Culpeper diagonally opposite Grass Rootes. A folksy Virginian country town.

On the day, the 4th November, all the important players went into hair and make-up first and at 4pm sharp the show kicked off; we processed out of the house to take our places overlooking the dais and the woods and fields; bride and groom entered separately at the end, Jacquie coming in last and looking gorgeous.

There were touching moments but for me their promises to each other were very moving – neither of them had any inkling what each would be saying to the other.

There were tears. It was lovely. 

And so to the Reception in the Barn

The Bridal Party Enters Centre Stage
And Mama gets to dance with her boy!


On the 5th November the day after the wedding, we returned the rental to the Baltimore agency, lunched at Gertrude’s in the Baltimore Museum of Art with Friends Judith & Douglas who dropped us off at the station for the Acela to New York where we spent a week.

How nice to be back in New York. It’s been a while: four years for me and ten for Tony.

Both happy to visit the safe old haunts, so rather a cozy visit really, nothing unfamiliar except the fantastic new Whitney Museum of American Art at the end of The High Line showing all of Edward Hopper’s New York works, a massive collection, beautifully hung in what has now to be one of my favourite galleries with its vast space, overlooking the Hudson River to the west and the old meat packing district to the east through enormous windows letting in plenty of light even on grey days.

We walked north along The High Line through a canyon of new high rises, the trees and shrubs having grown up in a managed wilding, all new since our last visit, and came off at the astonishing Shed where Ralph Fiennes is appearing in the London transfer of Straight Line Crazy, onto Hudson Yards where stands The Vessel a $200 million art project by the British designer Thomas Heatherwick, 16 stories, 2,500 steps and 80 landings high, closed to the public after several suicides but spectacular to look at.

The High Line and the Vessel

The Shed and The High Line Garden

Tony had read a review in the TLC of the Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum (almost opposite The Met on Columbus) of “the uncannily original work of a self-taught painter saved from snobbish neglect”. Hirshfield was a Jewish immigrant from a shtetl in Russian-ruled Poland. Escaping the pogroms he came to New York where to cut a long story short he made a fortune in the garment industry using his tailoring and cutting skills to invent boudoir slippers which established his E-Z Walk Manufacturing Co.; but all he ever wanted to do was paint and at 65, after his slipper company went bust, he turned to painting., having never picked up a brush in his life. His auto-didactic talents were looked down on by the contemporary art establishment and he only achieved fame in the last nine years of his life after he was discovered by the wealthy Jewish collector, dealer and curator, Sidney Janis. 

It is a striking collection and a fascinating life. Entrance to the museum, unusually, is free.

The weather in New York was unseasonably warm while we were there. In fact hot. We set off across Central Park to visit all our favourite Klimts and Klees at the Berner Museum only to find it shut and prepping for a new exhibition opening, you’ve got it, the next day!

Unseasonable sunshine in Central Park

Our other favourite is of course the Frick, also undergoing a facelift and shut. So we walked down to Grand Central instead and rewarded ourselves rather egregiously and greedily with platters of oysters. 

Speaking of eating we ventured to old faithful’s like Joe Allen, twice, Café Fiorello, for The Met, Marseille on 9th, trad. French brasserie and Café un Deux Trois on 44th West, also trad. French. All excellent though the weak pound did not serve us well and New York generally was expensive.

Serafina, a franchise, was good value too. On Long Island – we visited friend Ira in Bellport – the seafood at Varney’s was great as was Eataly’s on Madison Park under the Flatiron.

We saw three shows:

Don Carlo at The Met, production by David McVicar, Carlo Rizzi conducting the immaculate Orchestra; the standard was as high as ever for this long and difficult opera but we were shocked at how poorly it was attended; there couldn’t have been more than two hundred people in that vast auditorium, the affects of inflation and the pandemic though a Monday night performance may have made its contribution too!

The Piano Lesson at the Barrymore was better attended, a rather clunky revival of one of August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle plays with Samuel L Jackson playing Doaker. We were a little disappointed. It had its moments but there was a whiff of am-dram we thought. Jackson gave a film performance and could hardly be heard betraying what should have been an enormous stage presence. I didn’t understand a lot of it though there were some good moments. We preferred Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom which we saw at The National a few years ago.

At The Barrymore

And then the revival of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at the Winter Garden, a vast hanger of a place, packed to the ceiling with enthusiastic fans of Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster playing Harold Hill and Marion Paroo. It was a Broadway production at its best, immaculately staged, choreographed and sung; one of those shows you come away from with your heart strings twanging!

At The Winter Garden

So it was back to chilly damp London, and Mistley on the  12th November where we have been on and off ever since – with a broken boiler here…..and a broken boiler there: Yes! Both addresses have broken boilers.

Last weekend we camped on ice for various dates – seeing friends and visiting some theatres. Can you bear a full report. Read on if you can!

What can be said of John Gabriel Borkman at The Bridge Theatre? “Interesting” is damning with faint praise, isn’t it? But it was indeed interesting.

I’m not sure Ibsen can be modernised. We saw Patrick Marber’s version of Hedda Gabler directed by Ivo van Hove a few years ago and thought it risible. We had similar doubts about Zinnie Harris’ A Doll’s House with Gillian Anderson playing Nora, directed by Kfir Yefet at the Donmar back in 2009.

Ibsen’s Naturalism and heightened use of language, for me, just doesn’t bend into a believable reality today. Here Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation directed by Nicholas Hytner was not only radically redacted, adapted and vulgarised, it’s long four acts were certainly evident but we were out of the theatre in just over ninety minutes!

This had the effect of undercutting any attempt by Simon Russell Beale as Borkman, to reach epic, Lear-like grandeur and envisioning a global future for trade and industry, power and wealth. He came across

as a self-pitying, unredeemed speculator who frankly elicited not one jot of sympathy from me. 

Certainly the themes had modern parallels. Speculation, corruption, state-capture not to mention misogyny, are all familiar to us these days. Trump, Johnson, Putin, Zuma, Bolsonaro to mention but a few – narcissism, greed, megalomania et al run through the veins of the global body politic – and we learn nothing new. Even Borkman’s dreams are old fashioned and decidedly “unwoke and politically incorrect”. Imagine Borkman pitching up at Sharm el-Sheikh for COP 27! He’d be taken down in seconds. So it was an uneven evening. We felt entertained by it. It is after all a tragi-comedy. Simon Russell-Beale deployed his usual vocal mannerisms and gave a familiar performance; the production design was of the usual high standard: Anna Fleischle gave us Brutalist  instead of Trad-scand architecture; Clare Higgins and Lia Williams were great; but leave

Ibsen in the 19th Century where Norwegian Calvinism, prejudices and suppressed emotions work much better. Tony saw Richardson playing it in the 70s and I saw Scofield play JGB in 1996 at the National. Both productions were left in the 19th Century. Both performances achieved an epic quality absent from this one.

And Grieg was in all of them!

And The Sex Party at The Menier Chocolate Factory? Oh dear, wake me when it’s over! At least, wake me only at the interval because this so-called comedy elicited not one laugh and we sat in embarrassed silence watching a crescendo of  sexual innuendos, clichéd romp-com situations and double entendres, wondering what on earth we were doing there. That is, as I said, until after the interval with the arrival of Lucy, a transitioning male with breasts and a penis who it transpires is shortly to complete surgery and her gender-reassignment. 

At this point the play became extremely interesting and I am glad that we resisted the impulse to leave the theatre at the interval. The tension between the different opinions and prejudices pushed the piece into didacticism of the kind I love, and it is brave of Terry Johnson to take on this subject – or should I say, these subjects since there was a lot flung at us on an uneven trajectory!

Pooya Mohseni, an Iranian actress of great elegance and beauty was excellent in the role of Lucy. Whether or not in real life, she has transitioned I do not know nor, of course, should it matter. She was brilliant and brought intelligence to a controversial subject. I read in her biography that she is a transgender advocate and a voice for immigrants’ and women’s issues from New York where she now lives. 

The Guardian review refers to her as “the grenade lobbed into the play”; and so it was. Thank goodness else it would have been a waste of time. The production is slick, the set excellent, the acting good – but I fear this will not head into the Westend.

From the Menier we zipped straight across to the Noël Coward Theatre for Best of Enemies.

At The Noël Coward

Oh Wow, what a contrast. I said I love didactic theatre and here you have it in spades in a brilliant rendering of the famous ABC TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley during the 1968 Republican and Democratic Conventions in Miami and Chicago . Playwright James Graham has added another title to his oeuvre well worth visiting and the two contenders,  Zachary Quinto and David Harewood as Vidal and Buckley Jr. were riveting.

The real McCoy!

Afterwards we visited Sheekey’s, where we have not been in years! Excellent fish and the juiciest oysters; we were amazed to get in at a moment’s notice as London is jumping at the moment; in fact I’ve not see it this busy for years. Everyone wining and dining and looking at the lights and visiting the theatres and clubs; very festive; quite like old times and certainly despite the prevailing terrifying global circumstances of war, famine, inflation and disease.

We couldn’t resist The Nutcracker at Covent Garden with the Royal Ballet. How very many times have we seen this ballet? When I was growing up in Durban the local ballet company put it on at Christmas as Cassa Noisette. I loved it then and I love it now. A pop-up book of perfection; a magical, jewelled music box; a confection of sweet sentiment and all to the timeless tunes Tchaikovsky gave us where to this day the glorious   Sugar Plum pas de deux makes me cry. 

Have a look at this clip with Nuñez and Muntgirov at Covent Garden being exquisite.

Just beautiful, Friends. Beautiful.




THE GREEN DIARY : My Brother David

Last week on Thursday the 22nd September I was to have met my brother, David, in London. We were to fly to Los Angeles to connect with a Princess cruise across the Pacific to New Zealand to visit our other brother, Michael and his family, not seen for seven years.

This was a journey I would have shared with you, dear Friends, as I always do. It was long in the planning and much anticipated by us both.

But last week on that same day, Brother David died and a new and very sad journey has been undertaken to KwaZulu-Natal instead. He was 65.

Tony and I flew out to Durban last Sunday the 25th coinciding with the arrival of Brother Michael and Janine after a gruelling 38 hour flight from Auckland.

It has been a great shock to us all.

You think that in life you know someone well, especially a brother, but in death you find out how little you really do.

David was a private man; he was a bachelor who, though he wanted so badly to share his life, never found anyone to do so. He was lonely and to a certain extent a recluse and our family shared in wishing him happiness and fulfilment but were saddened that this never happened.

During this horrible week dealing with the bureaucracy of illness and death, we have uncovered some of the life of our brother we never knew. He seemed to have few friends; we agonised over what to do to celebrate his life? Would we have a wake? If so, who would come? His Will indicated the simplest of funerals, no services, no church and no medical prolongations that would lend indignity and pain to what turned out to be a horrible end, gasping for air after a long struggle with emphysema.

He chose cremation and the Funeral Company, Doves, performed this rite, slotting in a “viewing” at 12.30pm last Tuesday the 27th., in the absence of a chapel service.

It was ghastly.

Greyville, Durban.

Even accessing the Doves facility on the east side of the Greyville race- and golf-course had a grotesque, Kafkaesque quality. Everything in South Africa is behind bars, electric fences, coded entry pads; nailed down against theft, vandalism, corruption and death. We drew up outside the facility before an iron gate barring entrance to the dedicated car park on the roof. It took a phone-call and a visit to the front desk to get this opened remotely before would could park – the only two cars on site. The gate slid shut, effectively imprisoning us. It was impossible to gain entry to the premises through the small, revolving gate without biometric recognition, a thumb print, and eventually a phone call had to be placed to central office in Johannesburg who in turn alerted the front desk in Durban as to our predicament.

Someone came and let us in to what I can only describe as a broken down, empty factory, reminiscent of SingSing. We were eventually ushered into the “viewing” room, a small, bare, unadorned, scruffy space in corporation colours where David was perched on a plinth in a cheap, deal coffin.

I have never witnessed an open coffin before and I never want to again. I do not know why we agreed this awful procedure. He was ice-cold, not defrosted, the coffin still perspiring. Sister Sally said that at least he looked more peaceful than when she had last seen him struggling for air, ashen faced, thin, exhausted, pipes protruding, and had whispered in her ear, “Please put my shoes on and take me home”.

We were ushered out and returned through the complicated security to our cars and let out through the sliding gate to the humid heat of a dirty Durban street.

Then an extraordinary coincidence occurred. My niece, Caitlin, messaged Michael from New  Zealand. A friend had texted her from Durban to say that she had seen in an Instagram that Tina’s Hotel were arranging a farewell get-together for David that very evening. We knew nothing of this at all and this underlined the disconnect between the various parts in David’s life.

Tina’s is a small hotel in Kloof where David or ‘Doc’ as we have always known him, always came for drinks. It was his watering place. We’d known he went there but had no idea how often, for how many years or how many friends he had there.

We went along to what turned out to be a most moving and revelatory wake. About thirty people, none of whom we knew, attended; the manager of the bar, Rachel, was a sweet person who knew Doc well. She gave a spontaneous eulogy. She explained that for years David would attend at Tina’s, he had a reserved stool at the bar, his own beer mug and shot glass kept behind the bar, a heater specially installed on the wall behind, for he felt the cold; he would sit there quietly on his own, pen in hand, with the newspaper, the crossword or sudoku on the go. Windhoek was his tipple and he always ended the visit with a shot of Zambucco. Everyone liked him. She described him as a gentle man and a gentleman, with a sense of humour and a kindliness. Everyone there agreed with these sentiments. They agreed he was a private, sensitive man who had let on that he had been much bullied by life, that he had loathed boarding school where his physical disability had been much mocked, that he had extraordinary knowledge about many things.

We knew none of this. The evident respect and affection in which he was held was very moving indeed. That he had loathed his time at Michaelhouse was news to us though we knew that his disability had always figured largely in his life, forming much of his personality.

His disability precluded much of the obligatory sporting activities at school but he was an enthusiastic member of the Michaelhouse Venture Club which arranged weekend expeditions to the Drakensberg and other places in the Natal Midlands and was run and often led by his Housemaster, whom he liked very much, Hugo Leggatt. Longer more complex expeditions were mounted during school holidays and Doc very much enjoyed these too. He grew to love the Midlands and the Midland Meander was one of his favourite routes when his breathing difficulties forced him to rely on his car. When we started clearing his home we discovered that his new BMW bought exactly two years ago had clocked up 93,000 kilometres during the pandemic – many of these on solo trips visiting and revisiting the wilder, higher places in KwaZuluNatal.

He loved travel. Cruising worked well for him because of his health issues. He visited, usually alone, many places in Europe, often along rivers, and seemed happy with his own company although I joined him enthusiastically on a successful cruise round the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal – which excited and impressed us both very much – up the west coast of Mexico, Baja and San Diego. We very much enjoyed each other’s company and loved the whole experience; it was good to be so close.

It was a similar plan we hatched together now, though this time to New Zealand, to visit family, which was aborted the day before he died.

Doc caught polio from his Godfather at his Christening six weeks after his birth. He had a pronounced limp and a weakened left side, had always had balance issues and could fall easily. This lead to many scrapes. Mum was a physiotherapist and worked on Doc during his childhood so that at least he never had to wear callipers. But the scars from this disease had a lasting effect.

Doc’s first Passport issued in 1965 where incredibly at ”Special peculiarities” is written LIMPS.

The staff at Tina’s all came up to speak with us and all his friends too. Here at least was a genuine wake filled with affection which by sheer luck and a message from New Zealand we stumbled across and found a side to our brother we hardly knew and could celebrate.

We decided that there would be no further service and that we’d scatter his ashes when they were “ready for collection” at a site to be chosen.

In the meantime it has been a week of packing up a life, rationalising belongings, visiting lawyers, making claims to insurance companies. Uncovering little projects Doc was working on, discovering other characters in the great drama that is Life. We have laughed too and reminisced well. There have been many tears for this was a life cut short and Doc was very much loved by us all.

Today we scattered his ashes. 

When our family moved to Natal from Cape Town in 1957 and Doc was only four months old, my father found a beautiful house in Kloof on the edge of the escarpment with views to the south east towards Durban. Our parents made a garden out of the large tropical grounds and outside the wall planted six London Plane trees, saplings, carefully transferred from the nursery to the garden in the little Fiat Topolino they owned, with its canvas roof down.

These beautiful trees have flourished and grown tall in the sixty five years since then and it was along this shaded line that we sprinkled Doc’s ashes today. He loved our home there where he felt happiest and safest – at 53 Peace Road, Kloof. 

Dear Friends this has been our latest journey then. So unexpected and unwanted. Many of you did not know Doc but many did and I thank you for you all for your kind thoughts and condolences at this sad time. 

This is a new era. The Queen has died, a madman is running Russia and in England we have a nutty Prime Minister with idiotic policies presiding over a broken down Britain. The seas are rising and everywhere there is anger and protest, cruelty and greed.

And My Brother David has died. I am glad on two counts, that he did not die on our cruise and that he does not need to see any more of the mess that the world is in.

Tony and I are returning to Blighty this week on separate days.

Thank you all for listening.

Dearest Brother Doc, Rest In Peace. With love from your boeties Peed & Miggy and Sister Sal.

The Times, Tuesday 27th September, 2022.