Stepping Through Time And Space In the Malvern Hills [Cue Edward Elgar]

Lately I’ve been thinking you don’t need to go far from home to find other worlds; places where you feel taken out of yourself and far removed from familiar routines. And so it proved last weekend. We crossed the southerly border out of Shropshire, and climbed into the Malvern uplands. On either the hand, east and west, the farming shires of Worcester and Hereford spread out beneath us, Gloucestershire to the south; in every sense, then, the green pastoral heart of England. And it was all thanks to my sister Jo and her chap, Bob, who were kind enough to take us away with them for three nights in Peacock Villa in a quiet wooded corner of the Eastnor Estate.

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I should say at once that the cottage did not come with peacocks, but it did have a fine view of an obelisk. And there was silence too. Lots of silence when the pheasants weren’t calling or the woodpeckers drilling. And by night the kind of darkness that allowed you to gaze and gaze at the stars.

When I woke on Saturday morning this was the scene from the bedroom window.

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The 5,000 acre Eastnor Estate belongs to descendants of the Somers Cocks family whose antecedents arrived in Eastnor at the end of the 16th century. The family grew in wealth and status during the 18th century, and by 1811 was building for itself a Neo-Norman extravaganza that is Eastnor Castle, a country pile of (deemed) appropriate grandeur for the Ist Earl Somers. The obelisk, which stands on the highest easterly point from the castle displays inscribed highlights of the Somers Cocks family’s political successes and dynastic unions. It also commemorates the loss of a son, an intelligence officer on the Duke of Wellington’s staff who died in 1812 during  the Peninsular War (1807-14) (wherein British forces were protecting Portugal during the conflict between Napoleon and Bourbon Spain). If you stand with your back to the westerly face of obelisk you can see the castle and the deer park. On a hazy late March day it all looks more than a touch surreal.

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Later that morning we took to the path through Gullet Woods behind the house, climbing ever upwards on well-worn tracks to the Malvern Hills. Our objective, a mile or so along the ridgeway from Swinyard Hill (though after much upping and downing) was British Camp on the Herefordshire Beacon. This magnificent prehistoric cum early Middle Ages site, is a multi-phased hillfort begun in the Bronze Age three and half millennia ago, re-worked and massively ramparted and inhabited in the Iron Age and then, a thousand years on, adapted into a Saxon ring and bailey castle, perhaps by Earl Harold Godwinson himself (the future but short-lived king of England). Next, under Norman rule and during The Anarchy (1135-1153) of King Stephen’s reign, the motte and bailey  were refortified and serially occupied by Waleran de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Worcester, and then by his brother, Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester.

At its highest point British Camp stands at 1,109 feet (338 metres), and when you reach it and look out on the ridgeway tracks that snake over hill after hill you know you’ve reached the top of the world; that you’re standing on ground once walked over by prehistoric Celts, that resounded to the drumming hooves of horses as Harold and his men set off on a day’s hunting; that later rang to grim sounds of battle during The Anarchy, and finally to the shouts and hammering of determined demolition in 1155 under King Henry II.

All of which is to say my photos scarcely do British Camp justice, nor show the scale and immensity of the hand-dug Iron Age ramparts, but you can find some stunning aerial views and a detailed survey of the site  HERE

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A VERY BIG THANK YOU, JO AND BOB

 

And now for Elgar who loved and lived near these hills during different phases of his life.

If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed, it’s only me.

Edward Elgar referring to his Cello Concerto:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HqkrwgbsZ8

 

See also Ken Russell’s marvellous, if rather dated b & w  1962 film on Elgar, Portrait of a Composer. This is the link to the first of 4 parts. Watch it, if only for the opening sequence:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM2YGJCjAEA&list=PLA4421A4FC372EEDE

 

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

 

Linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

Please pop over there for a marvellously blue-sky excursion.

 

Of Things Past ~ A Little Bit Of Jazz At The Eagle Tavern

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In 2000 we arrived out of eight years in Africa and into Kent, settling for several years on the banks of the River Medway in the ancient town of Rochester. Centuries as a port town and close proximity to the historic Chatham Docks and several Napoleonic forts ensured the place had plenty of old inns, including the Eagle Tavern. On Sundays, from midday to late afternoon there was live jazz in the bar, and performances from jazzworld’s rising stars. The musicians used the venue to warm up for their night-time gigs in nearby London. They charged nothing, though we usually bought their latest CDs.

Back in those days he who binds books returned briefly to his camera to take a series of black and white jazz portraits. This first shot of Renato D’Aiello is one of my favourites. And here’s another: an impromptu audience looking in; also a back-to-front gig list:

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Cee’s Black & White Challenge: things musical

Something Magical for Monday

Wintergatan’s Marble Machine seems just the thing to fire up a ho-hum Monday, should you be having one. Please feel free to leave links in the comments to any other bits of Monday Magic that come your way. It’s good to spread them around.

Wintergatan is a band whose creations are described as ‘Swedish folktronica’ in the Wikipedia entry. Now there’s a genre to juggle with.

Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen! A Fine Tribute By Jacob Collier

Here’s a touching treat for Saturday. What a voice this young man has. What a sensitive and unique rendition of this most covered Cohen song.  I love the way one human’s creativity inspires and nourishes the creativity of following generations. Long may it be so with Leonard Cohen. We cannot have too much of his humane insight and compassion.

This is also post number 555 at Writer On The Edge.

#LeonardCohenTribute

#HallelujahJacobCollier

Farewell Leonard Cohen ~ You Made Me Laugh

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“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016 Selected Poems 1956 -1968

 

Leonard Cohen was in his seventy fifth year when he put on the cool hat (to go with the sharp suit), set off on a world tour (2008-2010) with a band of brilliant musicians and reinvented himself.  He mined his back-catalogue, a body of work that the media in their trite, reductionist fashion, have long classified as doom-laden, wrote a host of new songs too, and generally set about letting in the light.What a star.

He made me laugh on the inside – little pulses of pleasure – wry, acerbic, revelatory – that hit my cerebral cortex and then migrated at a cellular level to all parts including those spots under your feet that practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine call ‘the bubbling well points’. In short, he was life-enhancing. He may have delved in dark places where we don’t often care to look, but he was also very funny. And we humans do need to laugh at ourselves now and then. Even, and maybe especially, a good dose of dark laughter is always worth having.

We were lucky to see him in 2009 when he was playing the Labatt Stadium (now Budweiser Gardens) in London, Ontario. The venue was packed, with every generation represented, from a bunch of retirement home residents to babes in arms. The concert was as fine as could be, and if you want to see it for yourself the DVD of the 2008 London UK concert is a good buy.

Coming up is a clip that especially makes me laugh inside. He’s performing with U2, and it comes from the 2006 documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.

The man’s dry humour and humanity live on. Thank you, Leonard.

 

N.B. This is an update of an older post so some of you will have been here before.

“Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…

 

…and I still have my hands at the wheel.”

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My mind seems to be drawn to the sea just now, hence the posting of this video. But what a line this is – “Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…” As a writer and teller of tales, I have a huge admiration for the storytelling talents of songwriter, Billy Joel. He is a troubadour of our times (well of mine anyway); a poet, musician and social commentator. So I hope you enjoy this multi-stranded creation, musical flash-fiction if you like, and so well constructed. Please do look at the full lyrics too, at the link below.

The Downeaster Alexa by Billy Joel

Full lyrics HERE

Quoting Creatively: the ‘Out of Africa’ connection

Ngong Hills, view of Rift Valley to the west

I may be wrong about this, but doesn’t John Barry’s Out of Africa film score owe just a little something to George Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad Rhapsody? Both works ride on a swell of yearning for a life, a love, a land that is lost or unobtainable. Both composers are English, and Barry probably knew Butterworth’s small body of very English song-cycles. (Butterworth died in 1916, a casualty of World War 1).

Of course, the influence of one composer upon another is common enough, and could well be subconscious. On the other hand, Barry might have chosen deliberately to nod to the earlier work. There are many reasons to do so, and it all begins with that other very English creation, the collection of poems called A Shropshire Lad, by A.E.Housman, the work that inspired Butterworth’s Rhapsody and the several Housman poems that he set to music.

I have written elsewhere how this collection of ballad-type poems inspired several composers in their works, and not only Butterworth, but also Vaughan Williams and Ivor Gurney. At the time when I wrote that post, I had not thought about the Out of Africa film connection. But now I have thought of it, my interest is rather personal.

Firstly, as a writer who has worked with several illustrators, I like the way one artist’s creativity can provide inspiration for other artists’ work. Indeed, when it comes to A Shropshire Lad, there is a veritable multiplier effect of allusion and quotation in other works throughout the twentieth century. This includes Dennis Potter’s disturbing play Blue Remembered Hills (A Shropshire Lad poem XL).

Secondly, Housman’s poems, and in particular the music they inspired, make reference to Wenlock Edge and the town of Much Wenlock where I live.

Thirdly, I have also lived in Kenya, the country that inspired Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa.

And fourthly, in the script of Sydney Pollack’s film of the same name, which derives more from the biographies by Judith Thurman (Isak Dinesen) and Errol Trzebinkski (Silence will Speak) than from Karen Blixen’s book, includes two very striking quotations from A Shropshire Lad.

Both arrive towards the end of the film, and both relate, directly and indirectly to Denys Finch Hatton, Karen Blixen’s lover who died in an unexplained plane crash at the age of 44. For more of their story go HERE.

The first and most heart-rending is at the burial of Finch Hatton up in the Ngong Hills. Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen reads, not from a prayer book, but from a book of poetry, and the poem she reads is poem XIX To An Athlete Dying Young. This is the final stanza:

And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girls.

 

(You can read the whole poem HERE)

While I can find no biographical reference that supports the reading of the poem at the actual burial, I can only say that it could not have been more aptly chosen. In other words, if it is a Hollywood invention, then it is a good one. It adds to our understanding of both Blixen and Finch Hatton in real life.

Denys Finch Hatton had rare glamour.  He was man who was adored and admired by men and women alike. He was a consummate sportsman, a soldier, hunter. He was an elusive adventurer and the son of an English Lord. As a great lover of poetry  he would doubtless have known A Shropshire Lad very well. More importantly, he is said to have had a pathological fear of growing old, and was ever to be seen wearing a hat once his hair began to thin.

In her biography of him Too Close to the Sun, Sarah Wheeler makes the analogy with Icarus. This too is apt. With his shocking death, burned in his plane, the self-regarding sheen of aristocratic settler life was diminished. The film’s burial scene thus prepares us for Karen Blixen’s final exile from Africa. Loss piles on loss.

Before she leaves the country, the film shows her being treated to a drink in the ‘gentlemen only’ bar of Muthaiga Country Club, a restriction which she apparently infringed when first arriving in British East Africa. The toast she gives her hosts is one said to have been used by Denys:  ‘rose-lipt maidens, lightfoot lads’.  This comes from poem LIV:

With rue my heart is laden

For golden friends I had,

For many a rose-lipt maiden

And many a lightfoot lad.

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By brooks too broad for leaping

The lightfoot boys are laid;

The rose-lipt girls are sleeping

In fields where roses fade.

 

So where are these quotations taking us? What exactly is being evoked by their appearance in the film script?

It all comes back to the unobtainable or unclaimable: of the lost life, love and land that I mentioned in the beginning. The settlement by British and European aristocrats of British East Africa (Kenya) in the early years of the last century was an epic romance, one filled with the notion of noble master and faithful ‘noble-savage’  servants. There was the pitting of human courage and wits against the African wilderness; a wilful dance of death wherein sporting valour was supremely admired.  There was a notion of overbearing entitlement; that East Africa was their own country; that only they understood it. As a dream, it was bound to fail. It is a visceral longing for something that cannot be possessed.

For Housman the loss was for a love he could not have: another man. He was a respected academic who ultimately lived as a recluse. He wrote the entire collection of 63 poems while living in London, and without setting foot in the part of Shropshire that he evokes. Of this anomaly he makes the terse comment that, having grown up in the neighbouring county of Worcester, “Shropshire was on our western horizon which made me feel romantic about it.”

And here is where Out of Africa – book, film, and the true lives behind, find common ground with A Shropshire Lad; the ‘I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills’ moment; the sense of tragic romance, ‘The happy highways where I went and cannot come again.’ Those ‘blue remembered hills.’ The human condition of longing for something we think we had, or should have, but never can.

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And finally then the music. Below are renditions of Butterworth and Barry. (The first begins with the song Loveliest of Trees, poem II, from which the orchestral piece derives). Compare and contrast, or simply ride the emotional tsunami – across Africa, or Shropshire, or wherever you think your lost Paradise resides.

 

 

Related:

Songs from an Inland Sea: “On Wenlock Edge”

Caught inside a Kikuyu Garden: A Memorial to Karen Blixen’s Lover, Denys Finch Hatton

A E Housman A Shropshire Lad  A Gutenberg e-book

 

Flickr Comments prompt

Kudos to North Cambridge Family Opera and their upcoming show Rain Dance

 

 

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Art by Brian Lies  (Copyright Brian Lies)

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The North Cambridge Family Opera Company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been working long and hard for their upcoming production of Rain Dance. This will be the US premier of the young people’s opera created by librettist, Donald Sturrock (official Roald Dahl biographer) and award-winning composer, Stuart Hancock. I am honoured to say that this wonderfully witty creation was inspired by one of my short stories, The Hare Who Would Not Be King, originally published in Spider, part of the Cricket Magazine Group in the US. Above is some of the artwork by children’s writer and illustrator, Brian Lies. I especially love Brian’s hats.

Rain Dance was originally commissioned for performance in 2010 by W11 Children’s Opera in London. As such, the cast comprised entirely young people from London schools. North Cambridge has a different approach, putting on shows that involve all family members – kids and adults together. And the reason I know they have all been working so very hard is because there is a PREVIEW of the performance on their website. If you click HERE you can not only download the score and read the synopsis, but hear an entire performance scene by scene. Please listen. You truly will not be disappointed. Stuart Hancock’s score is captivating, and Donald Sturrock’s libretto is very funny.  And it is all about failing rains and lion-style political corruption down at the waterhole  (based on an original Akamba traditional story). But if you live in MA and can make an actual performance, here are the details:

Home

Directed by David Bass and Kathy Lindsay
Choreography by Rachel Zimmerman

Performances:
Saturdays March 29 and April 5, at 3:00pm and 7:00pm
Sundays March 30 and April 6, at 1:00pm and 5:00pm
AT:
The Peabody School  (Directions, map, parking)
70 Rindge Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140

 

Frizz’s challenge ‘tagged K’

Double take, double bass and all that jazz down at the Eagle Tavern

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Sunday jazz at The Eagle Tavern was a regular haunt for us in the early 2000s when we lived in Rochester in Kent. The local jazz club worked its socks off to secure a programme of first class trios and quartets. We were never members. No one even asked us to join, but for the price of a few raffle tickets we could sit with a glass or two of good Kentish ale and the Observer crossword and enjoy some of the best jazz musicians around.

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Gilad Atzmon at the Eagle Tavern

Bands would drive down from London to perform at The Eagle. Gildad Atzmon, Renato D’Aiello, Derek Nash, Alan Barnes – all top names in British jazz – were among the musicians who often came to play for a couple of hours over a Sunday lunch-time. In return they received nothing more than a pub meal and  the raffle takings, but they came because they knew that every note they played would be listened to, appraised and appreciated by the dedicated members of the Medway jazz club. Besides which, it was a good place to warm-up for their paid Sunday night gigs back in the capital.

Unfortunately the Farrell filing system – both mental and physical, failed dismally when trying to access the name of the double bass player rendered severally above. For which apologies all round, and most especially to the musician himself. To make up for this omission here is Gilad Atzmon, first  in whimsical mode, then a more serious piece.

© 2014 Tish Farrell

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TAGGED ‘D’  JOIN THE CHALLENGE: GO TO FRIZZ’S BLOG FOR MORE GREAT ‘D’ STORIES

#jazz #GiladAtzmon

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Chrissie Hynde Queen of the Castle

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It’s not often that a rock legend comes to perform practically on your doorstep, but in the summer of 2002 Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders did just that. They were booked to show in the outer bailey of Rochester Castle. At that time we’d not long moved back to the UK from Kenya and were living along the Esplanade in Rochester, Kent, a short walk from the castle. We could not believe our luck. The tickets cost £15 and we had to bring our own chairs and refreshments. Midge Ure did the opening set and it was all rather low key, with people milling around and having sunset picnics. And then the Pretenders were on and the night turned electric…

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The 12th century keep of Rochester Castle, Kent _ The Pretenders’ venue July 2002.

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And now for a classic favourite performed live:

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#chrissiehynde #thepretenders #tishfarrellwriter #rochestercastle