Our Daughter Went To South America And All We Got Was This . . .

llama foetus

. . . dried llama foetus from a witches’ market in Bolivia. To be buried under the threshold of one’s new house for good fortune, apparently. As it happens we are considering moving, so perhaps a highly apposite present. More importantly, it proves that we must have got something right in her upbringing – no misjudged woolly hats sustainably hand-knitted in the Andes for us. Fair warms a father’s heart, it does.

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Ways With Words

Just back from a lovely couple of days doing Ways With Words at Dartington Hall, I think the nicest festival we’ve yet taken part in. A fantastically beautiful setting, of course, and a pleasing intimacy of scale about the whole affair. The organisers couldn’t have been more hospitable, and meals in particular were something to look forward to – generous quantities of food and wine, and invariably interesting neighbours to chat to (even at breakfast). Great Gardens of Britain drew a good crowd to hear Helena and myself in joint conversation with Lorna Duffin, discussing the book and the whole process of working together. We went to as many events as we could fit in – one highlight was Helen Dunmore speaking with subtle clarity about researching and writing The Betrayal, set during Stalin’s final months. Another was Peter Snow’s brilliant high-speed exposition of Wellington’s campaigns during the Napoleonic wars. Anyone who remembers him with the famous election swingometer will get the picture – he gave both the clearest and the fastest description I have ever heard of the battle of Waterloo.

We finished with a quick trip to smell the sea at Brixham, and rounded everything off by staying a night with friends near Totnes; a perfect few days away. Pics below.

Ways With Words, Dartington Hall

Readers queue for the next event - ours, perhaps?

Fishing off the sea wall at Brixham

Summer on the English Riviera

Great Gardens of Britain

Stourhead

Great Gardens of Britain is out at last and so far to a good reception, judging by the first reviews. We’ve enjoyed seeing the other European editions, too – Germany is currently in the lead for the best foreign title with Gartenlust. Should you happen to be in Devon and anywhere near Totnes tomorrow (Tuesday 12th July), Helena Attlee and I are speaking about this book and related matters at the Ways With Words festival at Dartington Hall (4.00 pm.). And if you can find a moment, we’re always grateful for reviews on Amazon!

Just one other picture with this hasty blog post, but I couldn’t resist it – freshly churned butter in the artist Anne Belgrave‘s ‘Self-Reliant Kitchen’, open as part of the local ‘eco weekend’.

real butter

Of Courts and Courtiers

A spell of feverish activity has at last resulted in my finishing The Gardens of Cornwall. The mad rush at the end was caused by a summons to undertake jury service, a potentially open-ended and unavoidable commitment. About the case itself I can say nothing at all, for obvious reasons, but it was one of the most absorbing weeks I’ve spent for a long time. Having someone’s future in your hands concentrates the mind wonderfully. The drama is intense, however trivial the matter. The faces, the body language – are they lying, are they simply nervous? And then the atmosphere of the court, all heavily grained Victorian woodwork with the hook still to be seen where the judge’s black cap once hung.

From one court to another. There’s been a royal visit to David and Sara Bamford’s carpet workshop here in Presteigne. I found myself on the royal press rota and being firmly briefed by the (glamorous and charming) Clarence House press officer as to what I might and might not do. It’s tricky, trying to photograph people and yet keep moving backwards in front of them, so that it’s as if you don’t exist and they are moving freely through an empty room. A strange illusion of total freedom for the royal couple, who are at all times surrounded by staff anxiously counting down the seconds until the next stage of the occasion.

Meeting and greeting

A pat on the back for Phil

The Cornish book finished on a definite high with a wonderful last day, an early morning at the open-air Minack Theatre, with low sun striking across the waves beating at the cliffs below the amphitheatre. More Cornish pictures to be seen here.

The Minack Theatre, Cornwall

The Minack Theatre

The ancient chestnut trees at Dartington Hall

With that out of the way I’m free to concentrate on the imminent publication of our latest book, Great Gardens of Britain, due out on the 15th of July. We’ll be holding a small event locally to celebrate, about which more information later. Helena Attlee and I are also speaking about the book at the Ways With Words Festival at Dartington Hall near Totnes. That will be at 4.00pm on the 12th of July (all information on their website, www.wayswithwords.co.uk). I hope we’ll also get a chance to tell some stories about the weird and wonderful things that have happened to us while working together on our books. Incidentally, there are a couple of good reviews of the book out now, one by David Wheeler in the current (July) issue of Gardens Illustrated and the other by Claire Masset in the July issue of The English Garden.

The present order is the disorder of the future - Saint-Just. Little Sparta, Scotland

Put Out (yet) More Flags

The Welsh Guards are given the Freedom of the County in Presteigne

The High Street

The town remains as usual neatly balanced with one eye to the future and the other fixed firmly on the past. The last few days have demonstrated this to perfection. First, what is still the world’s only rally for the electric bike took place, as usual a combination of mad costumes and futuristic technology. This was almost immediately followed by the Welsh Guards marching through the town to the Judge’s Lodging, where they were awarded the Freedom of the County. Said freedom being not, as some hopefully suggested, to drink the pubs dry and ravish the female half of Presteigne, but to march with ‘bayonets fixed, drums beating and banners flying’. The occasion was straight out of Thomas Hardy, and was attended by all the great and the good of the district, plus the rest of us. The rain mostly held off on both days, though when it did arrive it was tropical. Scroll down for some pictures, while more pictures of the Tour de Presteigne are here and of the Guards are here.

Tour de Presteigne 2011

They're off

Tour de Presteigne 2011

Pete Mustill, organiser of the Tour de Presteigne, takes it easy

The Welsh Guards are given the Freedom of the County in Presteigne

The Guards arrive

Tour de Presteigne 2011

Boudicca on her tricycle

The Welsh Guards are given the Freedom of the County in Presteigne

Outside the Judge's Lodging

Tour de Presteigne 2011

Ian Marchant and fans take shelter

The Welsh Guards are given the Freedom of the County in Presteigne

Through the churchyard

The Welsh Guards are given the Freedom of the County in Presteigne

Broad Street

Tour de Presteigne 2011

Britannia rules

The Welsh Guards are given the Freedom of the County in Presteigne

Queen Victoria and friends

Somebody got married last week

Yup, Presteigne has celebrated in style, with bunting, balloons and sandwiches. The high street was impressively packed, and a lot of people had worked hard to feed the five thousand (or thereabouts). A van was selling plastic tat which neatly divided the hordes of children into two camps, tiara’ed pink princesses or riotous small boys with machine guns – gender stereotyping, anyone? A good time had by all, I think.

More party pictures can be seen on Facebook here

In other news, the M5 is becoming far too familiar as I beat a path down it to continue work on my Cornish gardens book. I do find myself in some incredibly beautiful places at the far end of it, though, so I’m not complaining unduly. Some pictures below, with more to be found here

Magnolia petals and primroses

Bluebells at Glendurgan

A champion magnolia at Trewidden

The perfectly composed view at Trelissick

A new feature (Oslo) and other matters

A new feature in the April issue of The World of Interiors on Oslo’s extraordinary City Hall, or RĂ„dhus, filled with murals and frescoes as dazzling as anything to be found in a medieval council chamber in Tuscany. Also an article and a mildly scabrous book review in the first issue (out now) of the excellent Marine Quarterly, a new journal covering all matters seafaring.

mural in Oslo City Hall

German invaders attempt to destroy the state of Norway

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying shooting at The Judge’s Lodging here in Presteigne for a magazine feature. The sepulchral gloom of the servants’ quarters, lit only by the occasional flare of gas, presented some interesting technical problems.

victorian kitchen

The kitchen at the Judge's Lodging

candles

handmade candles in the pantry

As a break from the darkness and the smell of gas I followed a friend’s suggestion to explore a local valley unknown to me, where a ruined cottage stood surrounded by snowdrops at the foot of the still bare woods.

snowdrops

The long awaited sun is fetching us all outside at last, blinking but grateful.

Tony Bird, Presteigne antique dealer, and Sally

A quick trip to Oxford to go to the local launch of James Attlee’s new book Nocturne: a Journey in Search of Moonlight, timed to coincide with the appearance of Saturday’s ‘super moon’. Helena and I waited expectantly on the cold hills above the White Horse at Uffington, but a cloudbank rolled in and nothing could be seen. Then as we drove towards Oxford the huge and impossibly apricot-coloured disc hung over the city like the star over Bethlehem.

Many thanks to all those who’ve kindly responded to my fundraising effort for the disaster in Japan. Your prints will be sent out later this week – I shall be in touch where necessary regarding payment, addresses etc. It’s not too late to order – click here to find out about it.

And finally I believe an explanation has now been found for the shortage of wildlife in our rivers here – see below

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