We are just back from Bavaria where we were inspired by King Ludwig II’s castles,
delighted by glorious mountain views, enjoyed delicious apple strudels
and slipped into Austria where we had a lot of fun on the Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg.
But the most outstanding feature of our holiday was our discovery of a truly intriguing character: King Ludwig II. Ludwig was a dreamer and visionary whose image is now ever-present in Bavaria.
Whilst visiting his three castles – the castle on an island in a lake, Herrenchiemzee, the fairy-tale like apparition high on a mountain crag, Neuschwanstein, and the exquisite vision in a valley, Linderhof, I was fascinated by his romantic idealism, his passionate devotion to the idea of being “an absolute king” dwelling in Castle Perilous, his love of immensely rich and precious interior decoration, his total disregard of the practical implications of his various passions, and his intense relationship with the great composer Richard Wagner. His story was often tragic, and his end terribly sad – he was declared mad and killed – yet Bavaria thrives on his legacy today.
There were several aspects of Ludwig which inspired me for a major character in my WIP. So this visit to Bavaria came at just the right time as I’m about to embark on the second draft. With such a complex character, I cannot be entirely sure whether his passion, intensity and commitment to a world of the imagination will infuse my villain, hero or anti-hero. That is yet to be determined…
This weekend I joined a cast in a drama – at St Mark’s Church in Leamington Spa – which I think Shakespeare would have loved. Why? because we were rather like the little band of local workmen in that Athenian wood in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
But we were not playing “Pyramus and Thisbe”. Instead, without rehearsal, and with hastily gathered together props, we were ambitiously – and creatively – portraying the entire story of Joseph, (but not with Lloyd Webber music and lyrics).
I must admit I’d been wondering how I’d pan out as the Butler/Servant, with my son Jamie as the older Joseph. I was a little concerned beforehand about the large number of props, and the extent to which I’d need to rely on several other actors simultaneously doing the right thing – not to mention a question about whether there was going to be any kind of stage management i.e. people in charge of making sure microphones and props were in the right hands at the right times.
And it was more fun and more memorable than a slick performance by professionals would have been.
For anything that could possibly go wrong in such a set-up, did.
The two narrators doubled up as stage manager and director.
Some of the performers behaved as if they’d only been cast that morning and had never seen the script before.
I was convinced others were working to different scripts than the one I had, and I wondered whether it had been revised since I was given my copy.
The narrators forgot some of their lines thus depriving actors of cues they’d been relying on.
The one hand-held mic was being passed frantically from actor to actor.
A prop (whistle) was given to me as the Servant/Butler, which I was to blow every time Joseph gave the instruction for someone to be arrested or released from jail, to alert the jailer. But then the director whipped it away unexpectedly from me and gave it to Potiphar – who didn’t even know he had to use it and spoke his lines without using it. The director intervened and grabbed the whistle and gave it to him. Having used it, Potiphar then put it down somewhere where I, the Servant, couldn’t see it. So in the end I was unable to use it. And since my whistle had disappeared, Joseph’s brother Simeon was never let out of jail.
The actor who played the aforesaid jailer wore shorts and a helmet which was too small for him and he looked like an English policeman on holiday in Egypt.
The whole drama was like a test case for what happens when a troop of unrehearsed amateur actors get together – exactly as Shakespeare envisaged it with his Rude Mechanicals, with Wall and Moonshine and the chink and Bottom deciding he was going to get up after his character had died and tell the audience it was all right, he was alive really.
And all this fired up my imagination as I thought how it was going to feed into my new novel – my follow-up to A Passionate Spirit – which features a cast of actors filming A Midsummer Night’s Dream in some south east London woods….
Living in the Midlands, one of the things I most miss is being near the sea. Brought up in Kent, as a child I often went on family trips to Rye and Camber Sands in east Sussex.
To experience the beauty and vastness of the sea is a magical thing in childhood. I have continued to love the sea all my life.
This half term has been a wonderful opportunity to go to the sea! And I went to east Sussex again – Eastbourne, and the National Trust coastline at Birling Gap.
And I couldn’t resist taking photos – especially of one of my own personal images of paradise, an image that has the power to haunt your dreams and inspire the imagination – a silver sea, radiant in sunlight.
Highgrove Garden made me think of the plot of a children’s book, quirky, fun, playful. At every turn there is a new surprise, like something dreamed up by Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear. It was an odyssey through a quirky and unpredictable environment.
Vistas and views and angles, abundant ferns and eccentric topiary, temples, thatched tree house and giant slate pots abounded.
The downpour intensified as we went round, yet everyone was so entranced by the garden, it remained a minor issue – even when we waded through deep puddles on the unmade paths.
Moving through the garden is like progressing from one chapter to another in a beguiling story. If fairies inhabited this garden they would be the wild, anarchic spirits Shakespeare portrays in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I particularly loved the juxtaposition of wilderness and artistry. HRH The Prince of Wales has invited artists and sculptors to run wild with their imagination; everywhere you may see the evidence of free expression and creativity.
In summary, this is a unique and profoundly inspiring garden.
I love Hidcote Manor Garden, near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. It’s one of the National Trust’s greatest gardens and was created by an American horticulturalist Lawrence Johnston, between 1907 and 1947.
One very special element in the garden is the Beech Allee – an avenue of majestic beeches.
Lawrence Johnston planted it knowing he’d never see the mature avenue – it was a gift to the future.
For me, it’s very moving to walk along this avenue reflecting upon how much we owe to one man’s vision and imagination.
What an encouragement this is to any creative person, who imagines things and works to bring them into reality, perhaps without ever being able to experience the final outcome, or to know how their creation may be received.
Nicola Triscott has mounted an exhibition on London’s South Bank calledRepublic of the Moon. She has transformed The Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf into ‘an artist’s lunar embassy on earth’.
During the interview we heard a quote from Article 1 of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty: “the moon is the province of all mankind”. Apparently Article 2 prohibits nation states from appropriating the moon.
But now there is some concern that that treaty should be updated, and private corporations should also be added to the provision.
In 1967 it was never thought that any private corporation would be in the position of being able to exploit the resources on the moon.
When in the history of the human race have such words on treaties and constitutions and charters of human rights ever been respected in reality?
Colonial invaders have always operated on the principle of Finders Keepers. First here exploits it all.
Such was the case with Captain Cook, Don Cortez and many such.
An exhibit on The History of Human Conflict at the Firepower Museum, Royal Arsenal Thames Riverside, Woolwich, (a brilliant museum which I recommend to all), tells us that human conflict began when men turned from hunter gatherers to farmers. Mankind began to fight over the limited resources of land suitable for cultivation. The source of all human conflict is: limited resources.
God grant there are no resources on the moon that can ever be of any economic value to mankind.
For man is greedy. I generally do not have an optimistic view of human nature. And neither does JRR Tolkien. His own view was expressed through the words of the Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: the race of men…. above all else desire power… the hearts of men are easily corrupted and the Ring of Power has a will of its own.
For exploitable resources, read the Ring of Power. If there are valuable resources on the moon, I believe that mankind WILL fight over them, and private corporations and nation states WILL exploit them to gain and increase their power.
Let the moon continue to be the sole province of poets and mystics; of those who gave us glimpses of eternity, of creative writers, and those who dream, and those who deal in mystery and imagination. And let the only lunar resources we draw upon be those of inspiration.
We spent a few days in England’s lovely Lake District during the recent autumn half term.
The Lake District is special to me, not only because of its association with numerous famous writers, with Beatrix Potter, John Ruskin, William Wordsworth; but also because of memories from childhood holidays there, and the fact that I regularly visited it during the time I spent as an undergraduate at Lancaster University (approximately 40 minutes drive from Windermere).
As a member of the university hiking club, I became familiar with the Old Man of Coniston and Scafell Pike and I soon learned that hiking didn’t mean gentle rambling, it meant something very akin to mountain-climbing except without the ropes and crampons, as we scrambled up and slid down steep slopes of scree!
Bowness-on-Windermere is distinctive for me, as I would go there with my parents when they came to visit me for the weekend. For me, it was a translation from the world of student accommodation to the Old England Hotel. I returned there on later occasions with friends, for afternoon tea on the terrace, overlooking Lake Windermere. The Old England Hotel has held a special place in my memory ever since.
It is said that the Lake District has the highest rainfall in England. Those who go there must take mist, rain, muted colours, a moist atmosphere, brooding clouds, along with everything else the Lake District has to offer; and be prepared to carry on regardless, wearing waterproofs. If you experience the lakes and mountains in bright sunshine, count yourself blessed!
The Lake District is an inspirational place that speaks directly to the spirit.
What do we do about art when we wander around great art galleries and museums?
We see wonderful things on the walls and maybe we’re overwhelmed.
These great art works are distanced from us, somehow, by the awesome spaces and dimensions of the gallery.
We could never have these original art works on the walls of our own homes.
But they speak to us. There’s something in them we want to take away, something we want to claim for our own lives. Something that tells us about ourselves, our own hearts and souls.
So what do we do?
As David Tennant’s Doctor said to his assistant Donna in the Doctor Who episode Silence in The Library, “Quick! The shop! There’s always a little shop at the end!”
On BBC Radio 4 Today programme at 8.20am on Wed 9 Oct 2013, two writers with new books out, Desmond Morris (author of The Artistic Ape and Alain de Botton (author of Art as Therapy) discussed art and how it affects our lives. And one of the things they said struck me: “If we did not have art in our lives, the world would be very drab. We need it in our lives. But what do we do about art? We go to the gift shop, and we buy postcards. That way we can integrate the art into our daily lives.”
Desmond Morris made this point:
Art is not to be confined to museums but is part of something much bigger in life….. we do like to surround ourselves with objects that make our lives less drab.
Alain de Botton said what he proposes is that We treat the whole museum much more like the gift shop.
I now say that to my teenage son and daughter whenever we’re in an attraction. Ah-ha. The shop. There’s always a little shop at the end.
Why did I find this striking? Because of what I do, at home, in my space where I write.
I cover the wall with brochures, leaflets, postcards from art exhibitions. Bear in mind that the room needs redecorating, which is why I’ve stuck those images directly onto the wall!
No way can I afford to display original Rembrandt, David Hockney, Verneer on the walls of my home.
But I still integrate art into my life.
I have invited art into my writing space. Each of the images I’ve stuck onto the wall, is a window. A window into another world, another artist’s imagination, another dimension.
In this way, no matter how humble, I integrate something of the artist’s spirit into my own working space.
A well-watered garden is a powerful image of creativity, abundance, fruitfulness.
When asked to describe or picture heaven, I often see it as a garden.
The Prophet Isaiah, wrote these words: And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah’s choice of a garden for his image here is perfect, as are many of the images he chose for his prophecies: an image which is profound and powerful.
A few months ago during a visit to Hidcote Manor Garden, one of the National Trust’s greatest gardens, we heard the Head Gardener say that because we’ve had a late spring this year, 2013, the plants, like people, benefit from “a good long kip” and so later on, when they flower, they will be more plentiful, more colourful and more abundant.
As I spend time wandering around these gardens I reflect upon what engages me most in gardens I love:
* a series of small enclosed spaces which are like outdoor rooms – little ‘dens’ where you may sit and contemplate or dream or write or do anything else creative, which are shady, secret, beautiful, tranquil, hidden;
* a number of vistas and points from which you may glimpse things either near or distant which may intrigue or surprise;
* in a grand garden with a stunning planting scheme, I’m most enchanted by combinations of depth & colour & shape which evoke different emotions in the beholder; low misty feathery plants in front, then the tall bold gold shapes behind, and finally the purple spiky angular plants at the back: a profusion of different contrasting and complementary shapes and textures.
This is what I saw in the gardens at Upton House when I visited on Friday 23 August 2013.
A predominance of pink and gold with occasional glimmers of white, lilac, purple, burgundy.
A gentle, warm fragrance filled the air; butterflies flocked to the lavender, bumble bees feasted in every direction I gazed.
The whole was in dynamic motion, appearing to me as a vibration of life, shimmering above and around the blossoms.
We are all indebted to those whose gift is to design gardens, select plants, and work hard to create paradise on earth: surely the goal of all the great garden designers. In this life, there is a place for all of us; those who work, those who act, those who are practical, and those who come to see, and to drink deeply, who dream, who draw inspiration, who see visions, and who believe.
Great gardens are places that feed the imagination, provide a source of inspiration, nurture creativity, enrich our dreams, lift our hearts to the divine.
What could be more poignant than a formerly grand mansion, standing on a cliff, now partially demolished, abandoned and desolate?
Gaping staircases you cannot climb; stone balconies you long to stand on to gaze at the view; empty windows you feel sure a shadowy figure should flit past.
Just such a gaunt mansion is Guy’s Cliffe House, our local romantic ruin, perched atop a cliff above the River Avon, catching the imagination of all who pass by on the other side of the river.
Gothic stone tracery, an ornate balcony, evidence of a flambuoyant builder, remain to tantalize you.
For one of those who occupied the house embellished it with Roman, classical, mediaeval and Gothic elements.
Guy’s Cliffe House so caught my own imagination during the past few years that I occasionally wished that, if I was hugely wealthy, I could pay for it to be restored to its former glory.
In reality, I’d like it to be made safe for people to enter and explore, and for new timber staircases and walkways to be constructed, so we could climb to those balconies and gaze at the view.
And I’d like all the original formal gardens to be restored so people can wander around in them and enjoy the romantic setting.
I feel that Guy’s Cliffe is a poignant illustration of what happens when wealthy property owners do not successfully pass on their property to an equally rich and prudent and competent heir.
One developer/house-breaker deliberately demolished part of the Guy’s Cliffe House, then all the contents were auctioned off, and and accidental fire and neglect did the rest.
We all find it difficult to understand how such a grand property gets damaged, ransacked and neglected like that.
8 foot tall bamboo now crowds close to the cave in the cliff, where Guy of Warwick, in the tenth century, returned from the Holy Land and mysteriously chose to live for two years, rather than reuniting with his wife and child in the house above.