Spring 2017

Spring 2017

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The Continental Quartet

The Spring equinox on 20th March 2017 was marked by a distinct drop in temperature with ice and snow returning to Northern parts but the Brexit political temperature rose.

Theresa May, our Prime Minister, told us she would be triggering article 50 to tell the European Union we would be leaving on 29th March and Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, told us she wanted another Scottish independence referendum or "neverendum" because the Scots did not want to leave the EU!

Nicola Sturgeon

As you can see from the graphic on the right, this caused great amusement amongst English Rugby supporters.

The reason for the fishy ladies demands are that 68% of Scots voted in the EU referendum to remain while 52% of the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU. She says that Scotland will be hurt economically leaving the EU and Scotland does export 15% of her GDP to the EU, however, she exports 65% to the UK and the rest outside the EU, all of which might be subject to EU tariffs after we leave.

Theresa has said "now is not the time" as none of us know the eventual outcome of Brexit which may be to Scotlands benefit and Nicola says Theresa is being undemocratic. I am unable to understand the logic of wanting to leave the UK while staying in or rejoining the EU. You gain independence on the one hand then give it up with the other?

We celebrated the coming of Spring with a lunchtime recital at Cheltenham Town Hall by the Continental Quartet, a group of students studying together at the Birmingham Conservatoire. They played Haydn's String Quartet No 3 Op 74 "The Riders" which I loved and Sue though was dull. I suppose there is no accounting for taste but I was amazed that she actually enjoyed Britten's String Quartet No 1 which, apart from the last movement, almost sent me to sleep!


A visit to South Petherton was necessary due to a celebration of Jeremy and Ann Clifford's 80th birthday delebrations at the New Farm Restaurant in Over Stratton. They did us proud with lovely food and wine and much bopping until after midnight. Ann is one of my faithful readers, Sue reckons my only one but Google Analytics tells me that I average 348 active users a month of which 30% are returning visitors so a few of you are finding some interest.


We delivered the San Francisco tee shirts to the Calvert family and took them out to Prezzo in Bridgwater for one of the worst pizza's we have ever eaten. The dough was like concrete and my un-British complaint elicited an apology but no offer of a refund. Their loss of business is therefore terminal.

As you can see from the photo above, Matilda, my No 2 granddaughter, is steadily losing her baby teeth which she seems quite proud of. Henry, my No 2 grandson, had an interview for admission to Brymore Academy the next day. We asked him what he would say if they asked if he was interested in farming and he said he wasn't. We suggested that might not be the correct answer when applying for admission to an agricultural college so agreed to modify his answer, however, he has been accepted and is made up about it. At least he will get to play rugby instead of this wendyball stuff!

We attended the AGM of Cheltenham branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A). Now I am well aware that I was as old, if not older, than most of those there but we both felt that we were in the presence of a load of old farts. You are as old as you feel and we just do not feel that old so I think that our membership may be short lived. We are going to go on a few of their walks in the next few weeks so we shall see.

An-Ting Chang

After the AGM we trotted along to the town hall for a lunchtime recital by An-Ting Chang. You can find her Concert Schedule for the rest of the year on her web site

None of the links below are of Chang playing but click here for her playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

She played a programme devoted to animals. First were those with wings; Le Coucou (The Cuckoo) by Louis-Claude Daquin, Quejas, ó la Maja y Ruiseñor (The Maiden and the Nightingale) from 'Goyescas' by Enrique Granados and the Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov arranged for piano by Rachmaninov.

Secondly came the fishes; Die Forelle (The Trout) by Schubert arranged with his usual difficulty by Franz Liszt and Poisson d'or (Golden Fish) by Debussy.

Thirdly came the animals with legs; Valse du petit chien (Waltz of the little dog) which we know best as the Minute Waltz by Chopin and The Cat and the Mouse by Aaron Copeland here performed by the precocious little 10 year old genius Kate Lee for Lang Lang in a Hong Kong hotel in 2011.

Finally Chang played Le Carnival des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) by Saint-Saëns which was her own adaptation for piano from the orchestral piece.

There is a lot that is different about this lady. Firstly she graduated from the National Taiwan University in 2007 with a Chemistry degree and a minor in Drama. Then she obtained her Master of Music in piano at the London Royal Academy of Music, later studying in Germany and is currently studying for a PhD in performance practice back at the Royal Academy. It is her stage performance which now makes her very different from the usual concert pianists.

She gives what is more like a master class as she explains the background to each piece and projects her own character with some humour. For example she told us she wondered if the mouse managed to escape in the Copeland piece then with the final little tremelo she turned to the audience with a cheeky smile as if to say "there you are, he got away".
Needless to say the audience loved her and she was in the foyer as we left to converse with us, her audience, and to sell her CD.


Our next outing was to Batsford Arboretum which is near Moreton-in-the Marsh and has an interesting history.

In 1886 the estate was inherited, indirectly, by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, later to become the 1st Lord Redesdale in 1905. During the 1860's he worked for the foreign office in Russia, Japan and China. An accomplished linguist and recognised authority on Chinese and Japanese culture and politics, Mitford fell in love with the oriental landscape – a passion which directly influenced his design for the arboretum. On his return to the UK in the 1870’s, Mitford was secretary to the Ministry of Works which, at that time administered Kew Royal Botanical Garden. His long-standing friendships with three successive directors at Kew also proved to be of great benefit to Batsford!

Batsford House

On inheriting the estate, Mitford moved permanently to the Cotswolds and between 1886 and the early 1890’s, he knocked down the old Georgian mansion which stood in the grounds and built the neo-Tudor house you see today, designed by Ernest George (possibly with Harold Peto) and now privately owned. Mitford’s influence on the gardens was equally radical.

He all but erased any trace of the old layout and created a wild garden of naturalistic planting derived from his observations in China and Japan. By now he was an accomplished plants man and authority on bamboos of which there are many examples still around the garden.

Mitford built the artificial watercourse and it does look artificial with huge slabs of Cotswold stone which may have come from the "hermit's cave" which he also created. There are many other examples around the garden of Mitford's love of Asia with a Japanese Rest House and various bronze sculptures including a Buddha as he eventually became a Buddhist.

Bertie Mitford died in 1916 and the estate was inherited by David Mitford and his notorious Daughters. Nancy was the author of The Pursuit of Love which is widely regarded. Sue read it some years ago and remembers she had preconceived ideas about it due to the Mitford notoriety but loved it. It was Unity and Diana who were well-known for their Fascist sympathies as was their mother during the 1930's for being close to Adolf Hitler.

The house was sold early in 1919, together with many of its contents—including, to Nancy's great dismay, much of its library and during the Second World War and in the years following the wild garden became overgrown and fell into neglect until Frederick Anthony Hamilton Wills succeeded his father as the 2nd Lord Dulverton in 1956. It was he who rescued the garden and turned it once again into a place of beauty.

Lord Dulverton died in 1992 and left the Arboretum to the Batsford Foundation, a charitable trust set up to promote research and education into conservation, arboriculture, gardens and architecture.

We were very impressed with the garden, especially the Magnolia and Japanese Cherry blossom trees which were at their best. The garden hosts the national collection of Japanese Cherries but what impressed us most was the variety of different trees and planting that would obviously provide interest and colour throughout the year. The entrance fee was £7 for old people like us but we could become Friends of Batsford for a mere £27 which not only gave us free admission to the garden for a year but free entry to others including Westonbirt and three more.

The membership also gave us a discount in the shop and garden centre so we joined up and our entrance fees for that day were refunded. Sue immediately took advantage purchasing several items from the shop and I bought a pot of Violas from the garden centre!

Then it was off to the National Trust property of Chastleton House nearby. This is a Jacobean house which was built between 1607 and 1612 by Walter Jones and owned by the same family for nearly 400 years until it was purchased by the National Trust for £1.5 million in 1991 from old Mrs Jones who apparently drove a hard bargain.

Sarah Jewell, granddaughter of the last owners of manor, recalled her childhood re-enactments of an historic scene:

Chastleton House

"My sisters and I used to love running around searching for the secret room where Arthur Jones, the grandson of Walter Jones, hid after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Arthur was a Royalist and had been fighting for Charles II but the troops were defeated by Cromwell and Arthur galloped back to Chastleton with Cromwell's soldiers in hot pursuit. His quick-witted wife, Sarah - my childhood heroine - hid him in the secret closet over the porch and although the pursuing soldiers found his exhausted horse in the stables they couldn't find him. Sarah saved Arthur's life by lacing the soldiers' beer with laudanum and saddling up one of their horses for his escape as the soldiers slumbered. My sisters and I used to lie on the bed in the secret room and pretend we could hear the horses galloping towards us. The bed has now gone and the entrance to the room is barred with one of the National Trust's trademarks: a rope."

Lamb at Chastleton House

The trust spent about £10 million to repair and preserve the house but did little to restore the interior which they left much as they found it in 1991. We saw photographs of the interior just after the Trust purchase with piles of rubbish, peeling wallpaper and plaster hanging from walls. In the long gallery on the top floor we saw old armament chests dating from the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The garden has been partially restored and in the 1860,s two croquet lawns, were laid out by Walter Whitmore-Jones who is credited to have invented it. You can now play the game in its birthplace and just in case you didn't believe it was Spring, there were plenty of juicy Spring Lambs frolicking about the estate.


The last lunchtime recital of the series at the Cheltenham Town Hall was Ulrich Heinen (cello) and John Humphreys (piano). We had enjoyed John Humphreys a couple of months previously when he played a piano duo with Allan Schiller in the first recital of the series. John now teaches at Birmingham Conservatoire as does Ulrich who was the principal cellist and section leader of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from Sir Simon Rattle's invitation to him in 1984 to his retirement in 2012.

We could therefore expect an exceptional recital from these two old stagers and we were not dissapointed.

GCHQ poppy waterfall

Before we went into the concert hall we noticed for the first time a display of poppies off to one side of the foyer. This was the GCHQ 'poppy waterfall' which was very much a community effort, with staff, friends and family crafting 9,000 poppies as well as local schools, village “stitch and bitch” groups and a number of local WI branches. Most of the poppies were knitted and it was previously on display at GCHQ’s Cheltenham Headquarters over the Remembrance period late last year helping to raise £19,500 for the British Legion poppy appeal.

Ulrich Heinen

The recital featured the Bach Gamba Sonata No1 in G major followed by Beethoven's 7 Variations in E flat on 'Bei Männern, welche Liebe ... welche Liebe fühlen' (In men who feel love) from the opera 'Die Zauberflöte' (The Magic Flute) by Mozart. The theme is based on a love-duet sung by a soprano and a baritone (Princess Pamina and bird-catcher Papageno) near the end of Act 1. The piano plays Pamina's initial declaration, and the cello follows with Papageno's response. Following the theme are seven brief elaborations of the theme, played as you would expect with much feeling.

The recital concluded with Schubert's 'Arpeggione' Sonata in A minor which Ulrich played entirely from memory.

We enjoyed a completely different change of musical mood the following week with the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. We had pre-booked for a recently re-opened Daffodil restaurant function featuring the Camilla George Quartet on which much praise had been lavished by the music press. The link above will take you to them playing a number which features their pianist Sarah Tandy who for me is outstanding.

The Camilla George Quartet

Sarah studied Jazz at the Royal College of Music but more interestingly is that she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year piano final in 2002 playing Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto.

All the members of the quartet are accomplished musicians, however, the concert was billed to include a variety of jazz standards and original material and was almost entirely Camilla George's own compositions. These were not all to my taste and I would have preferred a few more melodic jazz standards in the programme.

The Daffodil, which is a lovely old cinema, provided us with some good food and wine and we sat at a table with two other couples who were all Rugby Union fans and all Brexiteers so we all got on like a house on fire!

Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cambray Place sound stage.

Last year at the jazz festival we were quite impressed with a group from London call Latimo and they were once again in Cheltenham. Here is a link to a video of them where vocalist Katie Birtill belts out "Just love me one more time" which was one of the songs that they performed on the open air sound stage at Cambray Place. As in the video she was wearing her leather hot pants on stage although she did complain that the weather was not entirely suited to that dress code!
They now call this style of jazz "funk" but I think it resembles the music that "Chicago" used to play in my youth. Here they are at the festival last year playing Stevie Wonder's "Superstition"

On May 2nd we jetted off to Greece for some more island hopping. You can see a new page describing our travels here.
The last time we were in Athens was in 1974 when the Turks invaded Cyprus and we found ourselves stranded. This time there was a general strike including the air traffic controllers and all flights were cancelled including our return flight. History does sometimes repeat itself!

Is it a plane? Is it a Bird? No, it's Superman!

While working on the new Greek page I discovered by accident that my pages that displayed video mp4 and audio mp3 files were no longer working. I resolved the issue for the video files by uploading the files to YouTube and embedding them on each page.

As usual with web page coding it was far from straightforward as certain coding worked and others didn't.

I did manage to resolve the coding to embed a audio player on the web page but this means that the many pages of caving songs will need now to be re-coded. Modern technology continues to show no respect for standards! You can see the result here if you are interested.

The weather began to warm up on our return from Greece although we still needed the heating on in the evening. Another trip to the Malvern Hills saw us driving to Upper Wyche and walking to North Hill and back.


Last year at this time there were masses of bluebells but this year they were only just beginning to flower, an indication of how cold it has been this spring. I blame global warming!

We skirted around Worcestershire Beacon and left it for another day. Summer must come soon.

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