Category Archives: The Arts

INTRODUCING SOME GREAT, BIG AND VERY BEAUTIFULLY GEOGRAPHICAL TREES!

chap2014

They stand at the heart of that oddly adult Children’s Classic The Little Prince: The mighty Baobab trees.  The first I met, several in fact, bloomed wonderfully, grotesquely and inspiringly in the Kalahari, at the tourist camp in Botswana, Planet Baobab. The second was the sad sight of a fallen giant, the legendary Chapman’s baobab.  It tore apart and collapsed after the hottest day ever recorded in Botswana, for those Global Warming sceptics, on January 7th, 2016.  Much more to say on that, or Green’s baobab,  we sloshed over a kilometre to reach, through unusually waterlogged ground this February, with excellent rains this year in Botswana. But for the moment you can see some of the ideas, the Art and the ambition too around them in an article in Geographical Magazine, Just Click Here. It’s the start of a great adventure, and if you’re a traveller, a tree lover, indeed a tree hugger, or just like great stories, then do please Like, for more tales and blogs of the wonderful creatures.

baobab-1-48-x-66cm-charcoal-on-fabriano-roma-2014

The photo is of a very healthy Chapman’s baobab in 2014. The second picture is a drawing by the artist Arabella Caccia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Environment, Science, The Arts

SUPPORTING THE KALK BAY ARTISTS!

Phoenix Ark are very proud to be supporting and promoting a group of four great artists in South Africa, who have founded a little Collective in Cape Town’s beautiful Kalk Bay, at The Kalk Bay Artists Collective. There Chris Bladen, Pete Strydom, Arabella Caccia and Jean Tiran now have their own workshops, but a lovely gallery space too, currently by invitation, to help support each other and to try and challenge the Gallery system too.

img_0192

Chris is a highly renowned fish and wildlife sculptor, whose almost scientifically realistic fish, birds and animals stem from his own love of sports fishing and the environment. They sell around the world.  He is also a superb jeweller. Pete is self taught, but his passion and wit ring out, and his sculptures range from gorgeous sunbirds to humorous modernist camels. Arabella is both award winning painter and sculptor whose work has auctioned at Southebys and, like all of them, is deeply inspired by nature and the shapes inside it, especially trees, to capture the vivid colours and forms of Africa. Jean Tiran is the Master Craftsman of the workshop, but also a wonderful abstract sculptor in his own right. To see them, their Mission Statement, their website and their work, just Click Here

Phoenix Ark and the artists are keen to build long term relationships with buyers, not least because work can be finished to detailed orders and editions.  Links to individual websites can be found by clicking above.  For International clients, even with the costs of shipping and tax, the work still represents considerable value. To contact them you can write directly here, to The Collective or to the artists individually, via the website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community, Culture, Environment, The Arts, Uncategorized

The Artists of Kalk Bay

image

“Ya, artists of all kinds flock here” says Arabella Caccia, as we look down on the skillful little milk swirl paintings of some very convincing birds floating in the top of our cappuccino in Ohana café. A distant descendent of the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa Arabella tells me about the never so fraught life of South African painters and sculptors. Of course here it is as tough to survive, let alone make it, as it is for any artist, probably made more so for a white half-European like Arabella by the moves towards ‘decolonialisation’ that have dried up municipal commissions and been encapsulated by the recent ‘Rhodes must fall’ campaigns.

The difference being that as the little single rail metro train chuggs along the sparkling coastline, it’s commuter carrying coaches covered in garish graffiti, roughing it in Kalk bay, Cape Town is a much more pleasant place to do it than many. I have penetrated deep beyond the so called ‘lentil curtain’, south of the city toward the Cape of Good Hope, to visit what might be described as the Greenwich Village of Cape Town. It is just edging toward High Season when tourists descend to enjoy churning turquoise waves, cloud curled blue skies that turn every day into an impressionist painting, restaurants, coffee bars and the many curio, antique, art and souvenir shops that crowd the Main Street.

Like Africa, Kalk bay is a very colorful place, and some lively and appealing art work leaps out at the eye. The witty, highly glazed Greyson Perry style ceramic pots in the window of the gallery Agapanthus, one emblazoned with the jolly motto ‘Holy Shit’. The landscapes, portraits and abstracts that pop out of every window, like those of the appropriately named Artvark. The huge hammerhead shark ever flicking statically past the little Shark Centre, fashioned out of endless strips of galvanized tyre, and bolted together with a thousand screws – recession-beating stuff back in the day, considering the price of casting bronze. On street corners poor Africans try to compete with their touristy trinkets – animals fashioned from twisted wire, metal friezes of the townships crafted out of old coke and beer cans, and piles of bangles, bracelets and beads. They are an echo of the finer but also tourist orientated African artwork on sale on the roadside near tourist destinations; endless animal woodcarvings of giant giraffe, elephant  or hippos with seats for open mouths, but also the often very skilled polished stone carvings, also commonly on sale in places like Kirstenbosch botanical gardens.

image

Considering how much is around, everywhere, you wonder how anyone makes a proper living, but then there are the more experienced fine artists like Arabella Caccia, or Andrei Stead, whose interesting sculpted human half-cutaways  being appreciated in the Christopher Moller Gallery in the centre of town. Nearby at the Everard Reid gallery they were celebrating their 20th anniversary by inviting a young curator to stage an exhibition that was all student-style installations and anguished videos that did not do it for me. They are places it is important for any artist to cultivate and yet with the very high percentages galleries take, perhaps Arabella and her colleagues and friends have come up with the perfect solution. Near always popular and very artsy Olympia café and bakery, that thrums with locals gorging on some of the best seafood in town, they now share studios, foundary and their own gallery too, a hopeful and enterprising solution to any artistic woes.

Four artists work out of the space, Arabella Caccia, bearded Jan Smutts look-alike Jean Tiran, his green motorbike parked in the forecourt, whose fine abstract bronzes and stone carvings also adorn the space, and who doubles as the bronze caster, patina specialist and master craftsman, and ex dentist Chris Bladen, who does some wonderfully realistic bird and fish sculptures. The whole place is owned by a former salvage diver Peter Strydom, whose often humorous bronzes add a fantasy element to the enterprise. Not yet open, their pieces already dot the airy main room, and adorn the long table where they plan to host several dinners to encourage interest. The problem for any artist is their engagement with their own work and unwillingness for the hard sell or to act in the role of gallery owner, even here, which is itself a full time job. Thus their mutually supporting enterprise is unlikely to replace the need to exhibit elsewhere too, while at times they do face the odd complaint from neighbors. The week before I had seen some of Arabella’s lovely symbolist sculptures in the beautiful gardens of Grand Provence winery in Franshoek, which is also showing her paintings in their dedicated gallery. But now their outfit at Kalk Bay is not only a great place to work and be, but a certain place to exhibit too.

Arabella Caccia, who until recently had her studio in her little garage at her home in Kalk bay, is clearly delighted with the new space, not least with the company and working with people she clearly likes. Art can be an isolated business. But now, achieving new success at places like Grand Province, and still hugely interested in the art scene in Central Cape Town, as well as galleries in London, New York and abroad, she is really able to spread her wings. “It’s freed me up for new ambitions and dreams,” she says as she gaffers a giant piece of artist’s paper to the wall, soon to be blooming with a livid Rothkesque red. Arabella has interest in many artistic forms, a firm believer in knowing the classical rules before you break them, and her wonderful oils of often isolated and ethereal yet also grounded woman provide a powerful contrast to the fine masculine sculptures in the gallery. But recently she has developed a series of images and colours she half jokingly describes as ‘visual Haikus’, inspired by her time in the Tsitsikamma forests east of Cape Town. In the forms of tree bark and flowers she is finding shapes not only echoed throughout nature, but also in human lettering itself. Formed into wax casts too by the crafts men and women in the attached workshops she is also turning the shapes into some highly original sculptures. If what I have seen in Kalk bay is anything to go by she and her colleagues are about to take wing.

The photos show the work of united artists Arabella Caccia, Jean Tiran, Chris Bladen and Peter Strydom in their new gallery space on Windsor Street, Kalk bay and work in progress in Arabella Caccia’s studio.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community, Culture, Education, Environment, The Arts, Uncategorized

A THRILLING, RAUNCHY ROVER, IF SOMEWHAT CAVALIER PRODUCTION

the-rover-production-photos_-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_203480

Non-stop fun is the stamp of Loveday Ingram’s exuberant, and very sexy production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover for the RSC, in the perfectly proportioned Swan Theatre, Stratford. Complete with hysterical Flamenco forays, touches of tango, a stilt walker, and excellent on-stage band. With a Conchita Wurst look-alike, the bearded lady boy among a tranch of devil masks, in what is very nearly The Rover – The Musical, I half expected someone to break out into Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

Except Naples is the setting for the late 17th Century Restoration play, at Carnival, to turn everyone’s Worlds upside down, then restore them to the same old cynical order. A steely 1920’s cast-iron stairwell backs the simple set, to represent both the keys to the Kingdom and the Whorehouse, in a very hard world, and for the arrival of four exiled English Cavaliers led by Belvile and our particular Don Giovanni, Millmore: Very possibly modelled on the notorious Earl of Rochester, he who penned poems about dildos and things and died at 33 of booze, syphilis, and genius. This production is good Karma, with The Libertine about Rochester’s life on at the Theatre Royal in London, and Millmore is played with wonderful gusto and skilled comic timing by Joseph Millson, giving a tour de force performance he revels in.

From the moment the Prologue is given to the charming and excellent Faye Castelow though, playing Millmore’s equal-to-be, Helena, so that we really know this play was written by a woman, indeed the first English female dramatist and also a spy in Antwerp for Charles II, we are in safe directorial hands. A knowing self-awareness breathes through all the strong performances, that liberates everyone to many kinds of play. Since Millmore is trying to play fast and loose with every pretty woman that meets his eye, so the director’s cuts have played loose too and streamlined things well, if you wonder if cries of “Mummy” or “Kinky” are quite 17th Century.

Then they have gone for knockabout comedy, and ad libs too, including some great audience interaction, not least when Millmore is drunk, that always delights a crowd. If turning a line about old men and impotence on a greying member of an audience that seemed predominantly over sixty might have been a bit close to the bone! No pulling of punches here then, in the lusty manhood stakes. The climax, with an explosion of rose petals from the ceiling, nearly had people up and dancing on their feet and crutches.

This Rover certainly underplays the darker side of Behn’s play, based on one by Thomas Killigrew, where even the finest women could hardly avoid being labelled Wife, Nun, or Whore. The shadows grow in the story of the very funny and then nasty Blunt, the stuttering English Gent with his hand on the purse strings, played wonderfully by Leander Deeny, who is gulled by a prostitute, described in the original cast list as a ‘jilting wench’, into believing he has found true love. There is little time in life’s seething energy for his brand of hurt though, his hatred of being laughed at, so he is driven off stage in the first half by the semi-demonic revellers. Only to return demonically himself in the second half on the edge of doing something very nasty indeed, where a comedy edges toward potential tragedy, to remind us what can happen in the real world.

What is revolutionary in Aphra Behn, and so provides the explosive energy of poetry and thought throughout, is her ‘feminism’ is no mere complaint about manly men, hate of them either, but a cry for woman to be equal in all. Or at least her and Millmore, since by the end you do believe the pair on stage have found their true match. Thus it is two sisters and their kinswoman who set the plot in true motion too, as Florinda longs for Belvile and Helena refuses to disappear into a nunnery. So, disguised as gypsies, they hit the town like the Cavaliers and paint it red.

The main plot sees the honourable Belvile trying to find his lady, against the machinations of the nasty foreigners trying to arrange marriages, and along with a joke about drawing the longest sword, a Toledo blade, a pair of splendid guilded boxer shorts appear, belonging to a very good Don Pedro, endless filthy double entendres ensue, and there’s even a burst of Rule Britannia. The secondary plot involves the Courtesan Angellica Bianca, and since Behn lived when the theatre was very close to the brothel, perhaps reflecting her own initials and sentiments too, who falls for lusty Millmore. Alexandra Gilbreath is both moving and funny as the whore who gives her ‘virgin heart’ away, to no avail. Though a special mention for her slinking side-kick in a bowler, Alison Mckenzie’s knowing Moretta, who gives a nod to Joel Gray’s compere in Cabaret. This is a world that in truth seethed with violence, sex and fear, where a true Courtesan might make much of herself, but the whore and the poor always paid the price in the end, although Blunt shows men can be victims too. Though since Behn was a Royalist – the play is also called The Banish’d Cavaliers – it is Millmore’s poverty, along with his wit and courage, that gives him his nobility and wins him the prize; not only Helena, but her lovely fortune.

You can read reviews of King Lear and Cymbeline below.  David Clement-Davies

The photo shows Faye Castelow and Joseph Millson as Helena and Millmore in the RSC’s production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover, in the Swan Theatre Stratford. Copyright Ellie Kurttz.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Poetry, The Arts, Uncategorized

CYMBELINE FINDS HER TIME, OR BRITAIN ALSO LOSES THE PLOT?

cymbeline-production-photos_-may-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_192899

Thanks to the RSC, and Gillan Doran’s wonderfully ambitious programme for the 400th anniversary, not least for bringing me to a play I’d never even read, Cymbeline. Despite a sinking heart opening the programme to see a picture of Dave Cameron, and a journalist lecturing on about Brexit and why after being neglected for so long this is a play that has at last “found its time.” Hmmm. Shakespeare is always profoundly politically attuned, though better at exposing the imperatives and mechanisms, the nasty guts, than being didactic or ever lecturing. Was the graffiti on the concrete wall then, along with the programme’s nod to Banksi, or an anguished model of a Refugee boat, to make us suffer a Referendum all over again? I think the real irritation is that for nearly three and a half hours it had me imagining Gillian Bevan’s stout, very capable Cymbeline, part Britannia, part Boudicca, as Theresa May, (with respect, a bit of a look-alike), or is that Theresa-may-not? Not that Bevan is at all Lilly livered, and now I know Cymbeline means Cymbeline and there we are!

As for their Brexits, or their Entrances, in a proudly multi-cultural cast, what also irritated is directors (now trendily called Creatives at the RSC) thinking that a lot of running on and off stage and gabbling difficult lines passes either for theatrical energy or realism. Though when the actors settle into thinking and feeling through the words and poetry, there are some excellent performances. Not least from Bethan Cullinane as Cymbeline’s much tested daughter Innogen, the black actor Markus Griffiths as a very funny Cloten, James Clyde’s excellently malevolent Duke, and the Irish actress Jenny Fenessy throwing off the tyranny of the poor understudy to play Pisania, while a treasure chest of language is thrown open.

Jokes aside, busy director Melly Still it is quite right to suggest Brexit’s relevance, since Shakespeare was born out of the trauma and liberation of a disintegrating Christendom, (a reason today’s violent Religious and Scientific divides  or Terrorism might be even more pertinent), if Europa was a word and concept only just emerging at the time. As still Top Monarch, Queen Bess, who made a lot of cash from Hawkin’s African nastiness, and thugs like Francis Drake, saw the loss of any kind of Empire in France, though viciously trying to plant Ireland. While King James mooted but failed to achieve a Union with Scotland. So how did Britain really thrive and invent herself? By putting money in everyone’s purses, well those at the top, from little London, and ruling the waves elsewhere, away from the internecine battles  erupting in Europe. Oh brave New World.

You can argue then that much of Shakespeare is also inevitably about the very writing of a new English Imperial identity, if only through the most glorious expression of the English language. The world’s centre of Gravity was certainly shifting violently though by 1600, in a moment that probably did define how Globalisation and Capitalism would develop and which has not seen an equivalent sea change until now. It’s not just Brexit, of course, but how the Internet is probably the equivalent of the Printing Press revolution. Perhaps Shakespeare is a bit to blame then, at least for that outburst by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg limply invoking tigers, to give Cameron a prod. I think Henry V is about the conscious manufacturing of a powerful new political rhetoric, soon adopted by the ‘Establishment’.  Even as a once far more intimate Monarchy separated itself from the lower orders, and banished honest Jacks to the bilges and top sails, it conquered half the World, with planting, privateering trade and slavery, and owned it for a very long time indeed.Is that what modern Breixteers want? Not of course that Bill did all this alone, bless him. The Virginia Company was founded in the year the Globe went up on Bankside, 1599, just opposite that walled fortress of London, still a Global epicentre today in UK PLC, and the little Tudor cannons of the terrifyingly powerful and private East India Company were bristling from a fort in Madras by 1607.

That year Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund died at just 27, an actor too, and his daughter Susanna was married in Stratford. While ‘savages’ were attacking the new fort at Jamestown, King James’s town, and a little merchant ship called the Red Dragon, Henry Tudor’s badge, did performances of both Hamlet and Richard II off the coast of Sierra Leone. Britain had truly set to sea, and it was coming back in bucket loads. For hundreds of years the scholarly Establishment claimed that record had to be a forgery though, because the Common Man could not possibly understand their Bard, if still stuffing him down School children’s throats. To improve us all and claim Shakespeare was essentially Conservative and there’s nowhere like an England!

If we think Euromillions is an innovation though, the first free standing lottery was launched in 1612 to help colonise Virginia, soon taken up by all thirteen original Colonies, to give very early origins to that ‘American Dream’. Talking of which, having a snack in Café Rouge before the show I’d opened The Times to read with even more sinking heart that the usually balanced and liberal Matthew Paris had just suggested we toughen up on the asylum rules by suggesting what constitutes danger should now only be the threat of Death! Then that Donald Trump was ahead in the bell-weather State of Ohio, invoking the example of Brexit. If we think our own Liberal sentiments (or not) can sway US Politics though, when people were asked to email Americans to complain, they got some very rude replies indeed, about being stupid, Lilly-livered Brits and worse.

A little credence then to the relevance of the traumatised Brexit line, four centuries on, although the production has faced much criticism. Some slack too in Ms Still peopling a Roman court with Mafiosi Eurotrash in lounge suits, sipping cocktails and speaking in Italian, translated onto big screen sur titres, that then translate Latin too, when the big Romans claim their imperial tributes from the smelly Britains. Who dares to translate the greatest translator and interpreter of them all – Shakespeare? Well, Melly Still! That rather heavy handed moment is about the river of history, peoples and languages that made Britain and which Shakespeare’s astonishing English emerged from too. The first dictionary was only printed in England in 1604 and Shakespeare is profoundly a Renaissance writer. While to set us up for losing our heads, the set is dominated by a tree stump, in a glass box, perhaps to echo the production of King Lear. The rest is as hip, with film, and part concrete and vegetative back revolves, to suggest Nature will always break on through, complete with images of modern Rome’s Empire-littered streets and Dad’s Army Invasion maps to have you suddenly asking – Who D’yer Think Yer Kidding?

Actually I should underline that Cymbeline is a tragi-comedy. So to any grasp I got on the plot, untangling which might win you Brain of Britain. Cymbeline’s daughter Innogen and Posthumus are star crossed lovers, or most crossed by Cymbeline, so Posthumous has to flee abroad. There, boasting of Innogen’s love and fidelity, he is tested by Oliver Johnstone’s excellent Iachimo, who travelling to Blighty, as Rome seeks tribute, emerges from a chest in her bedchamber to discover Innogen asleep, nick her bracelet, and spy a starry mole by her breast, rude fellow. So being able to trick Posthumous into believing he has done the act of darkness and Innogen is false. Like Michael Gove Iachimo pays Manhood’s price later, when the War of Men without Women erupts into horror, or is that Boris Johnson?

There is a tangle of poison that isn’t poison and lots of people trying to bump each other off, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. As Cymbeline revolts against Rome, Innogen flees to the forest, to encounter an exiled General good-of-heart, Graham Turner’s splendid Belarius, and her kidnapped brother and sister, Arveragus and Guideria, emphasising all the healing Nature virtues, and played very well by James Coonie and Natalie Simpson, especially Simpson as Guideria. Though in the tangle of tree roots or Brain-stem ganglia they first appear swinging from, and the whooping hunting cries, perhaps nicking far too much from Avatar. Mind you, did you see that article in the Sunday Times about tree roots being connected and talking to each other, even nurturing or throttling their young, in this global world of ours? With a very peculiar dream Mask, when Jupiter is invoked, to explain the meaning of names via a prophecy, everyone loses identity in going to war, or finds their manhood, though the Brits win, but still need a Cultural head, so pay tribute to Ancient Rome. So Cymbeline ends with the most astonishingly uncomfortable series of resolutions, more than any in Shakespeare, that had many laughing aloud, including me.

Cymbeline is certainly about a crisis of identity, but it sits not at all in Shakespeare’s overtly Historical or straight political plays. It comes among the later Romances, like Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, when politics, life and suffering had probably confounded the Bard a great deal and he turned his hand to achieving effects through acts of artistic magic. Perhaps his brother Edmund’s tragic death was influential in that sea change. Pericles was written in 1607, for instance, all about incest and lost daughters, but with a family crest that shows a withered branch only flowering at the top. It may be more true though that rather than Cymbeline not being popular for centuries because we had an Empire now, imposing its own tributes, it is because it is a very easy plot to lose. Melly Still throwing the baby and the bath water at it hardly simplifies, or leaves us quite knowing how to vote either. Even if Jacob Rees-Mogg should be told that despite the Histories, most of Shakespeare’s plays are set in interesting foreign and Renaissance climes. I thoroughly enjoyed Cymbeline though and it did not drag for a moment, though the bloke playing the School Master at the new Edward VI museum, backed I think by Mr Gove, told me, rightly or wrongly, it originally ran to five hours! Enjoyed it because just when you’re wondering how Cloten, chasing after Innogen, can get away with possibly being Posthumous in his very ill fitting clothes, so to trick Innogen into believing her lover is dead, his beheading by Guideria is almost hysterical. While Innogen’s burial, then waking to mistaken grief, and true horror, is probably one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Not least too because Shakespeare, inventing everything, even comes up with the phrase “Brain of Britain”!

 The photo is from the RSC’s rather startling and controversial production of Cymbeline, directed by Melly Still, showing a disguised Posthumous going to war with the Romans, as everyone wrestles for their identity and they try to shake us over Brexit.  Photo Copyright Ellie Kurttz. Ticket courtesy of the RSC Stratford on Avon.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Environment, Language, Poetry, The Arts, Uncategorized

FINDING NEW GEMS IN THE STRATFORD-SHAKESPEARE CROWN

dsc_0002

It was the woman at the New Place ticket office grudgingly lending me a cheap biro, then sourly commenting that not even the Birthplace Trust staff get discounts from the RSC, that had me wondering how everyone really rubs up together in little and hugely over-commercialised Stratford-Upon-Avon.  The house on Henley Street is at the centre of it, Shakespeare’s family house, and the shop where John was a whittawer, a maker of expensive white leather gloves, though the name The Birthplace does give the Bard the gravity of some kind of British Secular Christ.  But the Birthplace Trust are the chief Guardians of Shakespeare’s historical and physical legacy, running, with Royal backing, his house, the archive, and several properties, from New Place to  Hall’s Croft, Anne Hathaway’s House and Mary Arden’s farm.

“The Jewel in the Crown” of all Shakespeare exhibits around the world is how the reopening of New Place is described, highly ambitiously, in the bumf. New Place being the site of the house Shakespeare bought in 1597 for around £120 (I thought it was sixty) and the second largest in Stratford.  The house is no longer there, though the gardens are, where that mulberry tree was, until it was cut down.  It now has a smart new wooden entrance, where Bill’s front door was,  and sculpture park, I’m afraid I found rather fey and underwhelming, with lots of weather veins and things. Though I liked the Shakespeare Processional frieze, if I think that there already. There is also a new walk through-exhibition and shop in the Jacobean house next door, that belonged to Thomas Nashe.  That isn’t at all bad, with the odd little period object in drawers about the place and good time lines to make it interactive, though very much designed for kids and families, to bring ’em in. Well, the folk in the shop, where you can buy imitation jewellery for £75 and £140, were pleased that since opening in August his year it has topped its target of 12,000 visitors.  Though I was annoyed at the door that tickets, which let you into several properties, are £17 but you cannot buy individually.  So you can make a deal out of the merciless Shakespeare industry that has developed,  if you get it right. The foodies were trying to get it right that weekend, with a three-day event of global cuisine, at the reinstated Food Festival in tents around the town, and a bright red Pimms teapot. While a Michaelmas fair at Mary Arden’s farm, my favourite in terms of hockey recreations of Shakespeare’s living world, had mummers, cider makers, basket weavers, archers, falconers and a fellow with a splendid eagle owl to delight the wide-eyed kids.

But for me the real jewels in the crown, if not owned by the Birthplace Trust at all, came just over the way from New Place. First was the splendid little Guild chapel, just across the road, I had never seen before and Shakespeare must have known very well indeed. Since the medieval Catholic frescoes have been somewhat uncovered, with excellent placards to explain and recreate, it perfectly elucidates Andrew Graham Dixon’s point in the programme to the RSC’s King Lear (see review below), about England being culturally and visually blinded in the Puritan whitewashing of images, so giving space to the explosion of the secular word to make us see again, or in a different way.

How thrilling though to stumble next door on Chapel street into a brand new exhibit, The King Edward VI School Museum.  I had often walked past, hoping to catch an imaginative glimpse at Shakespeare’s shining morning face, because he was very probably educated here, six days a week, from 6am to 6pm, for seven years, if his real education was a pastoral one, in life and nature.  So perhaps were his brothers Edmund, Richard and Gilbert. What better way to start to understand the man, and with a very mature exhibit?  Lo and behold, the grammar school itself, given royal charter in Edward VI’s brief reign, one of those 120 or so that still exist, with more mooted by Theresa May, and which is a State funded free school, have, with the help of a million and a half from the Lottery Fund, just opened the place up to pedagogy, or lovely private enterprise. Modern pupils still have morning lessons there too.

It is exceptionally well done, a beautiful building, with positive comments from theatrical luminaries like Sir Ian Mckellan blazoned on the wall, a great little film by the always infectious historian Michael Woods, in the old counting house, very welcoming staff and none-invasive but interesting touch screen displays. Upstairs in the schoolroom even a very knowledgeable Magister, in costume, to tell you about how they learnt Latin and Greek, though I’m not at all sure Shakespeare would have had fluent Latin, sat not at desks but opposite each other, and had to learn things by rote.  Quite enough to make any young Shakespeare play truant and run off to the grounds of Charlcotte to hunt deer, or to London to become the greatest and raunchiest playwright that ever lived. The Bard of course, that “upstart crow”, never went to University, unlike Robert Greene or Kit Marlowe, but still topped them all.  Probably one of the reasons people come up with their snobbish Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon theories, though what would it do to the Stratford gold mine if it was ever proved?

Still part of the modern school, that has created a trust to preserve and open the building, it is really the epicentre of the historical town too. For here before the Reformation was the Guild of the Holy Cross, that turned into the town council, one Shakespeare’s father John sat on, for all his naughty dealings.  Where a court was held too, downstairs, and upstairs perhaps professional players had to perform before snooty aldermen to get a licence. I say perhaps because with lack of records a deal is still speculation in the whole Shakespeare story, from the bogusness of Hall’s Croft, to certainties about most of the properties.  But it was there, and because it thrives as an active and artistic school to the present, that I really felt in touch with the living Shakespeare story. The ‘school master’ was a bit sheepish about how the Museum is doing, but then it is in competition with The Birthplace, and still has to be properly placed on the Shakespeare map.  It should and will be, because it’s very good indeed and should certainly have no one creeping unwillingly to school!

David Clement-Davies was given entry courtesy of The Birthplace Trust and independent King Edward School Museum. The photo is of the knowledgeable ‘Elizabethan’ school master in situ.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Community, Culture, Education, The Arts, Uncategorized

WHO FRAMED THE KING?

 

king-lear-production-photos_-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_202320Andrew Graham Dixon’s article in the programme made me realise why the RSC’s coldly magnificent King Lear stumbles in trying to make us see, and feel too. As the art critic says, Lear is all about blindness and seeing, the loss and recovery both of perspective and true moral vision. Whether or not England had been ‘blinded’ during the Reformation, with the whitewashing of frescos and Religious paintings, so its dislocation from thousands of years of history and experience, or only through that could discover an entirely new way of defining reality: The hard Modern World.

Sight though, in all its meanings, is epitomised in the myopia of the mighty King, and ultimate father figure, failing to read the cynical language of his ambitious daughters Goneril and Regan, in his unnatural parental search for the unconditional, as Lear abdicates responsibility and divides his Kingdom and himself. With his banishment both of his favourite daughter Cordelia, for refusing to unpack her true heart with words, and the loyal Kent for defending her.

Metaphor becomes physical fact in the vicious blinding of Gloucester, played admirably by David Troughton, and achieved in Niki Turner’s bold designs by placing Gloucester in a huge glass interrogation box, worthy of The Cube, symbolic both of trial and the  separations of blindness and madness, that soon becomes smeared with his and Cornwall’s blood, as an eyeball bounces off the pane. The odd giggle in the audience was either a reflection of deep unease at real horror, or our own desensitization in a world that sees so much in film and the news. Yet for all the agonies of Lear, the blinding is a very specific act indeed, far from the simply bloodcurdling violence of a play like Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare is very rarely pornographic or gratuitous. In fact the real horrors of Lear are about the inner agonies of mind and imagination, when truly exposed to the whole world. Just as Edgar’s disguise as Poor Tom imagines suffering, and the Foul Fiend too, as much as experiencing them, in an act of feigned madness akin to Hamlet’s.  Lear’s is not quite an arbitrary moral Universe either, just a blasted heath, since Lear’s vanity and Gloucester’s fatherly hypocrisy to his bastard son Edmund, not stressed enough by Troughton, directly unleash what always potentially lurks beneath and engenders the attempts at Judgement and search for poetic Justice. Or rather it puts them on trial too, whether more sinned against than sinning. In the vexed paradox too that if the truth of the World really is violence and the abyss, why should you not be as amoral, vicious or corrupt as the next man?  Pre-empting Nietzsche’s remark that if you stare too long into the abyss, you will find it staring back into you.

So to Lear’s journey towards recovering humanity, or death, his travels with his fool and encounter with Gloucester, after Edgar’s leading his father to a faked suicide on the beetling cliffs of Dover. Graham Dixon quotes Frank Kermode calling that “the most beautiful scene in all Shakespeare” and so it may be. It is more than that though, it is part exorcism and precisely what Shakespeare has Edgar call it too, “a Miracle”.  Or an attempted human miracle, in a now Godless Universe. In that Gillan Doran’s sparse, metallic and pointedly pagan production, raising Lear on a great plinth at the start, among a painted Sun and eclipsing Moon, and their inevitable, ceaseless peregrinations, in an age that still profoundly credited astrology, and used it as excuse, prepare for Anthony Sher’s studiedly formal but now ultimately impotent invocations against his daughters, or the World. Lear as King Priest too, though curses in Shakespeare usually turn on those invoking them.

It also might frame the play in terms of how others have described King Lear, as old fashioned Miracle play, banned in the secularisation of the Reformation, springing from a profound tension in Shakespeare’s own rooted ‘Religious’ instincts, although that is not its main purpose here. This Lear certainly approaches the grandeur of the Miracle cycles, yet the miracle Shakespeare tries for, and so must the actors, is now a secular and imagined one, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner forging its own language of artistic symbolism, reached with only the artistry of mind and language itself, balancing journeys of inner and outer perception and perspective.  Also as Coleridge did, making the distinction between mere fancy and true imagination, which can only be touched with real feeling. Just as Shakespeare’s poetry and vision, the stamp of his imaginative wonder, is always a constant movement between the minute and the universal, a specific act of ‘seeing’ and almost physical entering in, akin to Keat’s “negative capability’. So Edgar leads his father Gloucester through a frustrated act of self-slaughter, in an almost Christian sacrifice to the absent Gods we fear treat us like flies, then provides a minutely precise rebalancing, in describing what did not happen, now from the bottom of the abyss. So reimagining everyone’s place in the Universe, in the recovery if not necessarily of hope, then at least perspective. “Half way down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade! Methinks he seems no bigger than his head”.  It is an act of profound psychology that could give rise to the very word Shrink.

Of course, as Graham Dixon also compares Shakespeare and Lear to the arrival of an artist like the blood spattered Caravaggio, though still connected to Christian and Catholic iconography, Shakespeare is a painter too, but with words, in what was the Age of the Word, as opposed to ours of the image. It is a given then he was and is the greatest word painter who ever lived. Therein lies the rub though, if one you might expect from a strong director like Gillan Doran, also Artistic Director of the RSC. Doran’s production does not cleave enough to the source power of Shakespeare’s language and poetry, and his players discovering them in the intimate act, always the route in my view, through every character, to his ultimate vision and meaning.

Instead, ala Graham Dixon, Doran presents this Lear as almost a series of set piece paintings; Lear on his un-heavenly dais, Lear on a chariot-funeral bier that presses forwards on the essentially framed Proscenium stage, Lear at dinner with his fractious Knights, or a back-lit static battle scene that evokes the Bayeux Tapestry. The tree at the back seems to be trying to win the Turner Prize. If words always paint pictures, a play is not a painting though, it springs alive from the frame, as living theatre.

The production, which seems to have been a sell out, is startling and innovative, at times, like Lear and his fool raised again into airy nothing, not in the calm eye but the curled tear of a swirling storm. It is also somewhat superfluous, because that is exactly what Shakespeare is explaining, through the Gloucester moment, and Lear lost on the Heath, with the movement of his own language and ‘vision’; the nature and miracle of imagination, and how to see in balance again, or go Mad.

For me Lear’s true miracle then should still be achieved through the unaccommodated intimacies of the round, both the humanisation and de-humansisation of suffering, the humbling encounters with Everyman, framed by the world’s blasted heath, not something so distant and lofty. That is what ultimately rakes the heart and dislocated soul, pierces the hurt mind, and might turn terror to tenderness, to make it a play that really is a miracle of creative humanity. Also how Dr Johnson described King Lear though, and which this production is frustratingly not, namely “unbearable”. Instead it remains for me a rather cold tableaux, admittedly exacerbated by my restricted-view seat up in the ‘Gods’.

Sher is of course a marvellous actor, but only truly recovers Lear’s magnificent humanity in the second half, now a foolish, fond and human old man, but if a fool, one with a new wisdom and beauty. Too late to save him and Cordelia, but such is life, if the play or art cannot humanise or change us, and perhaps anyway. The point too though is that for all Lear’s kingly tyranny, what is at times obscene in his life denying cursing of his own daughters, engendering that terrible Nothing, he must also have the love and greatness of the Father King, to elicit the loyalty of the morally positive characters in the first place. Sher is not allowed to show that nearly enough in the long first half, despite the original and intense clinches with his ‘bad’ daughters, an actor who certainly could. Let the actors burst from the frame.

Perhaps that is why the others seem at times dislocated from one another too, in their own frames, and what are vital and very intimate transformative journeys. Which must be enacted with a commitment and love too that raise them to the spiritual and mystical, not the somewhat throw away joke by Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar, preceding Gloucester’s jump, nor Cordelia’s unsymbolic recitation of a bunch of herbs. Cordelia, played by Natalie Simpson, is at once very flesh and blood and symbol of Shakespearian earth magic, as Kent is of a neo Christian duty. I shed a tear at Lear’s description of her death, yet had not been able to love Cordelia, as you must if the play is also to achieve an insight Shakespeare is obsessed with throughout his work, the danger to the powerful masculine if the positive and honest feminine is ripped away, inside or out. That is often the very route to violence, inflation and madness. Also grounded in the story of a mythical character never really mentioned but profoundly operative in Shakespeare, also a story of sight and blinding, King Oedipus.

For me Graham Turner’s fool has skill but is too belligerent to be lovable either, first by shrugging off the audience, to break the fourth wall, and secondly in not truly discovering that tenderness that constitutes some act of healing of the Self too. What is also lost is the seething power of the sub plot, driven by the primal forces of youth and sexuality, along with those ‘New Men’ in a violently changing Elizabethan world, that can make Lear cry “let copulation thrive”. Paapa Essiedu’s Edmund is not bad, but too coy. Edmund is a life force, if a death force too. You must, in Edmund’s “now God’s stand up for bastards”, somewhere want him to succeed, as if you too would overturn the Monster Custom and an unjust and blind social order, even though the consequences may be too horrible to contemplate. It is Lear’s profound question about what Nature and human nature truly are, for Nature was Shakespeare’s Goddess too, but one that would come to cause him a lot of trouble. Essiedu gives Edmund far too much moral doubt at the start then, perhaps to justify his later attempt to save the King and Cordelia. The agony of the play must achieve that understanding and change by earning it, not pre-empting it. With a magnificently visual King Lear then you still want to come out sobbing, not left intellectualising about a walk through the Tate Modern, for as Lear comments “Life’s better at breaking hearts than art is.”

The picture shows Anthony Sher as King Lear, consoling David Troughton’s blinded Gloucester. Copyright Ellie Kurttz. Lear was on the main stage in Stratford on Avon. Ticket courtesy of the RSC.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Poetry, The Arts

WRESTLING DRAGONS ON CORFU AND QUESTIONING THE FISH!

photo (2) Hello, I haven’t run away with the cash, nor spent it celebrating the new United harmony of the British peoples, convinced the Welsh and the real Celts were always the warmest and the best, but flown off to live cheap on Corfu and write Dragon In The Post! Fire Bringer is coming too, thanks to you, although I have a lot to say about the packaged awfulness of Amazon and Createspace, while I’m pondering whether to try and Crowd Fund Light of The White Bear too, giving Phoenix Ark the USP (Unique Selling Point – eeeew) of being the only little publisher to be truly grass roots and completely Crowd Funded. Along with the tag line “The author they couldn’t kill!” I know it might strike terror in the hearts and wallets of backers, not to mention my own, but it would also make a grass roots publishing tale entirely real. Would it work though and how painful would it be?

But is the question now, never go back? I say it because after a lovely few days, following 15 solid days of rain out here and now sharp, Greek sun across that sparking blue, things are not as they seemed or were. The charming waiter on the little island of Vidos, opposite Corfu town, has vanished, to be replaced by a sullen old timer slamming down ashtrays, while I found the beautiful groved restaurant overlooking the sea, at Aloniki Bay, where we had a lovely home cooked lunch when I first arrived too years ago. Yet only to be jipped a vast 14 Euros on the tiny, oily, boggle-eyed fish. Ah me, all is change and sometimes too fast. It seems embarrassing and petty to complain when everyone is going through it, and the nice owner made some amends when he said ‘come back and eat free next time – if you don’t have the fish!” yet it troubled the perfection of this magic isle. But the place is beautiful and rich as ever, Prospero’s Isle, work is being done and the answer is, ever forward, with stories and real life too.

The picture is DCD’s, of the fishy grove and a writer’s lunch table, where at least some postcards have been written!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Community, Culture, Publishing, Stories, The Arts

THE ACHIEVEMENT OF DRAGON IN THE POST, ELTON JOHN AND THE FAITH OF READERS NOW!

Fire_Cutter_-_Dragon_in_the_Post12_001Do you know how frustrating it is being so close to a goal, small as it is at 4.5k, but 89% funded with under 40 hours to go, yet so many of the people who visit these pages not caring or doing anything. This has been a long fight, sometimes too much about a battle with mainstream publishing, than the life act of writing and storytelling itself. Seeing though, in the noise of the internet which is effecting us all, such little concern for the proper payment of a craft or protection of contracted authors. I’m referring to America but also a promotional campaign during the last crowd funding effort, that asked for support of future books, as it gave out free eBooks. Which saw no support at all, yet something like 8000 eBooks downloaded. What’s the point of saying it’s not good enough? Actually it’s tragic.

That aside, I haven’t complained this time at the pain and impotence of trying to push through, as you watch a clock tick down. Instead I’ve tried to share, encourage, find a way and tell a real life story in blogs. A team of elves have supported and kept pushing, and we really have gone amazingly far, considering how hard it is, to a wonderful £3900 and 73 backers! Is that really going to fail in the last few hours though, or are you going to support something that is quite unique? If it is just a commercial equation there are very good perks up at Indiegogo; the chance of a unique signed copy of Dragon In The Post, a copy of Clare Bell’s Ratha’s Creature, many others and the sense if we could prove this model we could do many other things. In once sense it is upside down, because it’s the story that matters. Yet this has happened because of the breaches of faith in New York and London, such a terrible battle, so filled with hypocrisy, then being swallowed like so many now by the Emperor’s New Clothes of the Internet. So this involves some leap of faith by readers that, with your belief, I can again write a wonderful story, a bit like Elton John saying he could turn anything to music. I need that energy, even if you only like the gem of an eggbox and the dragon idea or believe individual stories and writers should be applauded. Perhaps we all need to see art can be crowd funded to open spirits and make it happen some more.

So with hours to go now, flap some dragon wings please, find some fire in the belly, the passion that make authors risk the life of writing and talk a leap of faith by BACKING DRAGON IN THE POST TOO

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Childrens Books, Community, Publishing, The Arts, Uncategorized

THE SOUTH DOWNS WAY’S HAPPY END, CROWD CAPITALISM AND A DRAGON HAS UNDER 65 HOURS TO GO!

horse (5)This photo of the chalk horse is for Steph, DCD walked as hard as Les Miserables for Kelly, he went with gentle irony for Justin, he spread his wings for Yasmin, he watched kites for Sol, he told stories for Jonathan, he quoted Stevenson for Di, he kept talking and trying for Sheila and he applauded the Ice Bucket challenge for Laura, all of whom have kept standing up for him, when others didn’t. You’ve really made the Street Team and those needed thanks to others too is yet to come.

You can make a difference now too to Dragon In The Post, in these racy last hours, by BACKING DRAGON IN THE POST AND PHOENIX ARK PRESS

You can help the blind by taking the £50 Perk or just sponsor a completed 100 mile walk for the RNIB by pressing JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

DAY SIX

Hooray! It’s a really glorious feeling crossing those great white hunchbacks that edge the bleached blue sea at Eastbourne, those rightly named Seven Sisters, that end at the steadily eroding Burling Gap, to stop at last on Beachy Head and look back on another brilliantly clear blue day. It seemed as if I could really see back across all those hundred miles traversed and straight to Winchester, in the West, once a capital town of ancient Wessex and the Treasury of England. Now I should study the maps, fill out the blogs (with so much missed), put up three little films I made to Facebook and The Indiegogo Gallery too and leave some kind of useful or perhaps inspiring record for anyone wanting to walk the South Downs Way themselves. I think I’ll try to ‘publish it’ and keep on trying to raise money for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Meanwhile, on the way I came up with a new term for what crowd funding might be about, in the future and an age of such impossible capital differentials. Not America’s hated socialism, not just a shop front window on the internet for the same as ever, but some new idea for a way forward where money is an inevitable part of the scenery but where some new spirit and awareness needs to develop alongside- Crowd Capitalism. What do you think?

But I did it, pack on back, hazel staff in hand, trying to have a go with Dragon In The Post too and I’m chuffed. I blogged it all as I went, even if few were reading, which you can read now by scrolling down or clicking on the page above – “The Winchester Chronicles”. Of course the lack of a ticker-tape parade at the end, or any thronging, cheering supporters, dressed in Dragon costumes, (I call it the James and The Giant Peach Syndrome) can lead to a little deflation. Or perhaps it’s a lack of contributions from folk I encountered on the walk, for a book or charity, who I told my story to. Or that’s mostly coming back into the dizzy, preoccupied world, that really started after winding out from Dean’s Place hotel, after a super-powered, fuller-than-English breakfast, meaning I ate everything. Along the little river Cuckmere, passed that mysterious chalk horse no one knows the name of, through aptly named Litlington and down to the estuary where the Seven Sisters National Park begins and the green fields suddenly exploded with bank holiday trippers, chasing dogs, children, kayakers and of course the cars and buses rattling noisesomely between Eastbourne and Brighton – nyawwwwwgn!

You start to dissolve back into the unremittingly ordinary, dare I say humdrum, the doplar shift of time and life and death. Which every traveller knows the sigh of on their return, like that Stevenson inscription on the Toby Stone on Stanes ‘Street’ – “home is the sailor home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill”. Yet especially from real walkers, there’s a knowing smile or greeting if you are carrying a pack and walking stick and look a little foot sore and many “well done’s” from folk I told, with a real glint of admiration in their eyes. No time for laughing, trendy Japanese tourists then finding the sight of windswept me very griggly – which means a bit of raughing at a weary sigh. “I’m not weary,” I cried indignantly “I just came 100 bloody miles!” No time for the irritating scruff of the traveller at Eastbourne Station either, as I asked about the absurdly long Sunday service, (over three hours, with two changes, although partly because I refused to go back more expensively to London to get to Winchester) and who quipped “Walk it the mate, will only take a week.” “I’m not your mate, mate, and I just did, in six days.” But that put me back in the world too, as did the genteel Eastbourne ticket lady objecting to my cussing. “Oh please, I wasn’t bloody swearing at you and don’t be so bloody provincial.” Still, it was good to stop half an hour in Brighton, since I’ve never been and to touch the still fizzy, saucy picture postcard, Quadrophenia feel of the merry place.

But people’s approval at coming a 100 milles reminded me of that wunderlust back in Tich, something very deep in the blood, from friends who suddenly wished they were coming too, or were out there having their own adventure, an instinct as old and primitive as being free, or wanting to conquer the world. Before you do such a thing, a kind of imagined map in the head develops of possibilities, dangers, ‘anything could happens‘, needed kit or warning notes, but the best is gaining the experience and knowledge of it all and sharing it too. Which is why I was annoyed with myself for moments of un-self-reliance, when I stopped thinking and looking and asked others instead. It seemed to lead to two big mistakes. First the day before yesterday when I went storming off too far south towards the sea, after a cracking and perhaps over confident morning. It had brought me back up to Black Cap, then to the sharp turn south ,above Ashcombe Bottom, to the campsite and weird blue-tied security guards sitting reading The Sun in their unmarked car, outside Housedean Farm. Were they spotting for drugs, protecting the Telscombe’s judge’s family out for a night’s wild camping or trying to cheer up the lonely looking fellow humping his solitary tent back to Brighton. The truth is you can sense a lot of loneliness in people too in their travels and wrestles with the wild. I saw my first seagulls tipping down that hill, and several often sullen looking young camping groups, as well as a pure white cow, not quite as noble as Shadowfax or the deer in Fire Bringer. That farm lies on the thundering A27, where I took a photo of the South Downs Way sign for Facebook, backed by the nasty motorway, then crossed the bridge. So up and out again onto the escarpment, blustery now with a more threatening breath of the sea, and massing clouds, un-wondering whether or not there was any ominous meaning in cows half standing up, half lying down. It’s sitting back in doors in the remorselsy damp of Winchester’s chilly, pre-autumn drizzle that I realise how incredibly lucky I was last week with the weather, and how miserable those downs could very quickly become, caught in a storm, or blown into over emotional shapes on the way, like the trees on the down-tops sculpted into wave forms by the wind. That’s how they grow and how we grow sometimes too, since all exists in its element.

So out passed Loose Bottom, down Jugg’s Road, by Slump Bottom, with posh Lewes to the East, reminding me of the nice bloke in the George and Dragon that lovely sunny lunchtime in Houghton and thoughts of Black Tie picnics at Glyndebourne too, to Swanborough Hill by Home and Long Bottom. That made me think of a children’s series years back about War Time refugee kids in long grey shorts meeting a Mrs Gotobed, in a place called Granny’s Bottom – so coming up with the laughing cry “Go to bed, in Granny’s bottom!” Tee hee. That made me ponder my flatmate Norm’s puns back home though and hurry on to Beachy head. I am almost sure now it was at Swanborough Hill I must have missed the sign and tipped off too far south, after some guy on his Mobile Ap said Southease was 2.8 miles away, but all down hill from here. The truth is I was really trying to tell him about Dragon In the Post, but I took the wrong Down, down the wrong hill! That extended bit of the Way was repaired by Roger and Hazel though, elder walkers as tough as ferrets, who marched me back passed the young stud horses, through the charming village of Telscombe, where that important security guarded judge lives, according to Roger, though centred for big cases in Lewes, and where there is also a neglected Youth Hostel. They kindly pointed out the road again at the motor cross circuit on the hill. Looking at the map now it is 2 miles, so my total detour must have been six. Yet any irritation I’d got it wrong so close to the end, or that long metalled roads just hurt more, was eased by eating wild apples o, and the fact that the sun seemed to blaze again and the weather clear as soon as I got back on The South Downs Way. It felt like magic. It snaked me towards the River Ouse in the valley and so to really charming Southease, with its little railway line beyond, worthy of the Watercress Line back in Arlesford. It wasn’t the newness of the hostel there that appealed, although it was built last year, but the pleasant farm barn style and its busy energy; the original way it’s done too, for adults and children. Like the giant Connect Four set in the garden or the interesting information about nearby Ramdeen, haunt of Virginia Wolf and that Bloomsbury Set we are clearly failing (though not entirely) to re-start back home in Tichborne. So, after the sweet girl in the cafe extended her hours to make me a delicious toasted ham and cheese banquette, with a bottle of larger, irritating her grumpy, plump table wiping colleague and my continued struggles with my draining mobile phone, trying to contact a friend, at 5pm came the momentous decision whether to stay here, or march on over the top for the six and a half miles to Alfriston.

I’m glad I did, if it was quite a hike, because the girl’s remark that “I wouldn’t get the satisfaction” if I cheated a little with a cab was absolutely right. Besides, I wouldn’t have met a young man in a Macmillan Cancer t-shirt who had just run 48 Miles in a day from Woking, training for real charity raising, nor a sweet girl with her black mongrel about to walk up Beddingham Hill. Either youth, hope or memory stepped in there, because she was quite wrong that it was only twenty minutes over Firle Beacon to Alfriston – the long evening journey down Bostal Hill took a good forty minutes. But so to private recitations of Gray’s Elegy In A Country Churchyard about drowsing tinklings lulling the too-distant, bloody folds, among the fish eyed sheep, a warm, golden evening, that stealthy fox and the growing shadows of over Alfriston, long before the sun set on the hill, nestled as it is into the darkling folds of the valley. It is an odd place, surrounded with wealthy modern homes, several with Solar Panelled rooves, pompously named driveways and sleek, rich cars, but with a very old centre. So it was a delight to pass The George Inn and see a sign saying its beer licence had been granted back in 1597. That year Shakespeare bought New Place in Stratford, six months after his 11 year old son Hamnet’s death, his brother Edmund was just seventeen, and in the beery, bear-baiting, brothelly reaches of semi-outlaw Southwark, the Rose theatre was still working hard by Winchester Palace in London. While the Swan theatre in Paris Gardens was closed for the summer for staging that lewd and seditious Ben Jonson Play “The Isle of Dogges“. Shakespeare’s troupe had triumphed North of the river in Shoreditch though, their new patron Lord Carey had been enrolled in The Order of the Garter, to become Lord Chamberlain too and for which Will probably wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor, set with Falstaff at the Garter Inn. Two years later The Globe would go up in 1599, after the troupe dismantled the wood from The Theatre and took it south of the river. If the bod at Deans Place is right about the super rich Record Producer’s raves in his mansion nearby though, or the steamy inter marital goings on in the finest hotels, then England is as thankfully as lewd as ever, to be gently reprimanded by Shakespeare’s pricking Fairies. In Shakespeare lust is not the crime, betrayal is.

So to that astonishing purple-blue misty morning yesterday, on walking day six – allowing time out to return to Southampton, and the last push. Not exactly a push, because from Alfriston it all seems to hurry towards you instead and sweep you back into the tide – that was the river, this is the sea. The second irritation at asking the way though was the irritating nasal bloke who stopped with his mates and went on and on and on about what you might see or miss, as the South Downs Way seemed to split into many little tracks here, like its own estuary, then who came out with clunking guide-book phrases like “very historic Alfriston“, or the vital importance of the Long Man of Wilmington too. Which you can only do if you take the eastern track around the Seven Sisters Reserve. The choice of seeing that is balanced against that un-named chalk horse though and the beauty of meandering along the Cuckmere instead at the valley bottom. I confess to a mile’s cheat too by hopping a lift with a Swedish redhead, but even in times of yore they wanted an adventure and I like testing the hitch hiker spirit. So to the sea and up, up, onto those roller-coastal Downs again. As you look along of course, at the Dove- white edges and back along the snaking Down tops to Winchester too, with true pride, you again remember that’s what the Downs you have just crossed are – billions of years of steadily accreting crushed sea shells, chalk, eroded and sculpted by wave and then wind, and given a thin and so very recent layer of earth and grass, farm and housing, forms and passing meanings. Who can remember it all? All being eroded too, as everything is really moving and changing, like the houses at Burling Gap, below the little light House where they shot The Lives and Loves of a She Devil, that are year by year falling into the sea. No wonder the South Downs Way is so clearly marked with wooden signs, to give even more poignancy to those mournful wooden crosses and flowers memorialising sadder endings at Beachy Head, saying CLIFF EDGE. But there, it’s done and it was great.

David Clement-Davies set out on Monday last and reached the absurdly busy Beachy Head Pub on Sunday August 24th, 2014, around 4pm.

Leave a comment

Filed under America and the UK, Books, Childrens Books, Community, Environment, Publishing, The Arts, The Phoenix Story, Uncategorized