Opening Doors to the ‘Other Side’

In a previous post I mentioned that I thought I might be missing out in not having seen a variety of operas.  I’ve started making up for it.

The advantage of doing a community opera of the calibre of Blackheath’s is that you get to meet people who know a thing or two, and this helps you to decide to take risks.  So when Lewis Reynolds (Assistant Director on last year’s Elixir of Love) sent us a Facebook invitation to his latest production, The Telephone and The Medium at The Kings Head in Islington, I said yes without any hesitation.

I had already experienced and enjoyed Open Door Opera’s Iphigenia at the Scoop earlier this year, and wanted to support Lewis.  I even offered to take pictures (which I did, at a rather chaotic dress rehearsal).  I can’t listen when I’m taking photographs, so we came to the performance too.

The King’s Head is TINY.  I’m used to the Warehouse in Croydon, but this is even smaller, and an interesting way of experiencing opera – the front row are practically in the cast’s laps.

The operas on offer are both by Gian Carlo Menotti, who’s centenary falls this year.  And they could not have a greater contrast in content.

The Telephone is a two-hander: Ben, off on a long voyage has something important to impart to Lucy who is obsessed with her new telephone.  The work was originally produced in the 50s, but just as relevant today, how many times have you had a meaningful conversation interrupted by someone’s b#@@*y blackberry?  The joke is updated rather neatly, to incorporate new technology. It’s a slight piece but amusing, and if you can see the punchline coming from three seconds in, it hardly spoils the enjoyment.

Rebecca Dale as Lucy is excellent, especially when explaining to the friend she has phoned having got caught out in spreading malicious gossip (Well of course, I HAD to lie…!).  I have to say her coquettish bottom waving whilst dialling added nothing, and looked very silly, but she was awfully close…

Barnaby Beer as Ben was less impressive and sounded like he was nursing a cold, his voice died on him a bit, but he rallied and I very much liked the end when Lucy is giving him the number he has just called and he is repeating it number for number, I’ve never heard numbers turned into a love duet before.

The Medium is a very different kettle of porcupines, although it has its witty moments, it is far more serious, even sinister.  I was vaguely familiar with the story, which was apparently filmed at some point.

Catherine Carter and Alexandra Stevenson Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Madame Flora (known to her family as Baba – I’d like to think this is short for Baba Yaga) is a long time scammer, making money off the misery of bereaved parents for whom she stages séances.  Unfortunately it seems some of the ghosts she conjures up are more real than she would like, with devastating consequences for her family.

Baba is played with conviction and viciousness by Catherine Carter, striking in a mixture of chavesque sports pants and hoodie and ‘gypsy seer’ turban and shawl.  She can belt and she can wist, and most importantly, especially this close up, she can act.

Monica and Toby- Alexandra Stevenson and Daniel Ash copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Her daughter Monica is sung by Alexandra Stevenson.  She has a strong vivid voice, and the haunting creepy song she sing to comfort Baba really stayed with me, (as did the Mother, Mother are you there? riff sung variously as a ghost voice by whichever of the women wasn’t on stage at the time.)

Mrs Nolan and Mrs Gobineau copyright Cherry Potts 2011

There are some delicate cameos from the two grieving mothers, Cecilia Jane as Mrs. Nolan is the more expressive in terms of acting, but it is Michelle Cressida as Mrs. Gobineau who brought me almost to tears telling of the death of her toddler,

I didn’t hear a sound,
I didn’t hear…

the restraint of the librettist in leaving out the obvious rhyme echoed by the restraint with which she sing it.

The Gobineaus, Barnaby Beer and Michelle Cressida copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Barnaby Beer reappears as Mr Gobineau in a part which really doesn’t give him a lot to do.

This is a two act opera, and I felt that act I was much stronger than act II.  The story builds to its climax of the cold hand at the throat, and then it peters out a bit. It was a bit as though Menotti lacked the courage of his convictions.  I wanted more ghosts and less psychology.  I wanted to  know whose daughter it was singing Mother, Mother are you there… and to some extent Catherine Carter had made Baba so dislikeable that I didn’t care about her as she was being driven mad, although her breakdown was very convincing.  It’s altogether a bit Macbeth, your sympathy lies with those around the character who is falling apart, not with them.

Baba and Toby at loggerheads copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Daniel Ash got the rather strange role (especially for an opera) of Toby, a mute, and the butt of Baba’s anger.  This part didn’t quite convince me; and I felt that the end of the opera   was unsatisfactory, but that’s an issue with the writing as much as the acting, though A was more accommodating in her analysis!

Special mention for the piano playing of James Batty (the Medium) and Sarah Latto (the Telephone) for keeping the whole thing together .

An enjoyable evening out.

Oh, and Gay Times used one of my photos!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Sing for Water- rehearsals

For the past few weeks A and I have been rehearsing for Sing for Water, a concert in London to raise money for Wateraid.
The concert takes place on September 11th at 2pm, in the Scoop, next to City Hall on the South bank of the Thames.
Not surprisingly a number of the songs have a watery theme!
We have reached the stage where we think we know what we are doing, and either of us is liable to burst into a chorus of one of the songs without warning, startling cats or passers-by.
So we are singing songs from Nigeria in praise of a river-god(dess?), songs about light reflecting off the Thames at Hammersmith, songs extolling love to rain down… and for no apparent reason, Dancing in the Street!

Saturday afternoons have found us at the local Methodist church with about 30 other members of the Raise the Roof tribe, singing our heads off.  This week we really felt like we’ve cracked most of the songs, although we are struggling with how the Hammersmith Bridge song fits together.

Hammersmith bridge copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Mel suggests that it’s two songs in conversation: a bright sparkly surface song and a deep flowing underwater song, complete with a Pike(!)… but that doesn’t quite get it going.

I suggest we put down the music and just see how much we really remember without it, so that we can look at each other and fit the parts together. That’s a bit better, but it keeps dropping into dreary.

Then Mel takes it up a tone, and miraculously it works – and takes off into a really lovely piece. The only problem is we can’t sing it in that key on the day as there will be 700+ other people who learnt the right key. However, at least we got the shape of it, and will have to growl along at a lower pitch on the day.

As a group we have a couple more rehearsals before the big rehearsal the day before the concert, with all the choirs together, although A and I will miss one of those.  Notwithstanding missed rehearsals they are neat songs and we are already singing them well, so by the day it will be fabulous.

It’s going to be an exciting event, you can see video of the event a couple of years ago here: and here

And of course you can come along to listen to the concertwhich is free (although I expect there will be buckets being shook).

And you can sponsor me (and other members of Raise the Roof, if I ever get the software to work) here.  Please do donate – while we are having fun, the point is to raise money for Wateraid.

copyright Cherry Potts 2011

sleeping with cats

I was going to call this dancing with cats, but decided it was derivative, and inaccurate!  Spurred by the sad demise of my next-door-cat Cundy, a cat of great age and fortitude, who will be much missed by her family, and generations of schoolchildren and commuters who have been indelibly marked by her engaging manner and sharp teeth…

So I thought I would write about all my cats.  So if you are not a cat person, you can stop reading.

woman in stripy dress plays with tabby kitten, blurred by speed

The evidence: the original Timmy with my Mum copyright R R Potts

My earliest cat memory is the arrival of Tiptoes, when I was two or three, Tiptoes was ‘my’ cat, only he wasn’t; my cat was Timmy and Mum was passing Tiptoes off as Timmy because Timmy had been run over and she felt I was too young to understand, so a replacement was swiftly found.  He didn’t look much like Timmy either, Timmy was mostly tabby, and Tiptoes had much more white on his belly and feet.  My memory is of a woman arriving with Tiptoes in a basket, and Mum saying how lucky we were that she had ‘found’ him.  I think I thought she had actually kidnapped him, and had only brought him back reluctantly.  I definitely smelt a rat, as it were.  Tiptoes was very good with us children, and I don’t remember him ever having a cross word.  In age he got very stout and lazy, but I loved him.  I was very much reminded of him by Judith Kerr’s Mog books.

Next up was Leroy, who arrived from a school friend as my sister Rosi’s cat when I was about fourteen.  Leroy was black and shiny and full of bounce, and was named after the Queen song Big Bad Leroy Brown; which Rosi hoped he would grow into, but he was always a bit of a stay at home shy thing, apart from disappearing for three days and then wandering in very casually.  Leroy had brittle bones as a kitten and broke each of his legs in turn, one of them twice.  We were terribly worried the vet would think we were abusing him.  Leroy adored my dad, but it wasn’t reciprocated, and he settled into devotion for my mum, which left Rosi catless.  I don’t think she minded much.

When  I left home I was briefly gardenless and therefore catless, although my landlady got kittens for her son, (Gin and Tonic… I wonder what became of them?) just before I moved on.

Zappa, not impressed with's Attempts to emulate her lightning strikes Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So my first grownup cats were Zappa and Wolfie.  Zappa was named for her lightning stripe tabby markings, and for Frank Zappa, and  Wolfie for Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, showing my cultural diversity there!  They were disappointingly unenthusiastic about music given their namesakes; they both cowered from any rock music, and Zappa was given to stalking the radio if there were choirboys, and hitting it if there was harpischord music.  Wolfie left home for two weeks in the middle of a snow storm, and was found by the diligence of my neighbour Melissa who knocked on every door in every street in a half mile radius, long after I had given him up for dead.  He wasn’t a bit grateful, and swaggered about with a ‘bad boy’ expression for days, and took to hanging about with a gang of young cats in the neighbourhood, (I never thought they really did that, but it turns out TopCat was based on fact!) and Melissa once found several strange cats in her living room, apparently having a meeting, Wolfie was one of them.  Wolfie had an endearing/infuriating habit of leaping at you from the backs of chairs, regardless of whether you were walking away, cooking, whatever; and then digging in his claws to hang on.  Not a good trick when the person launched at has just got out of the bath.  Wolfie didn’t last long, he was too adventurous, So Zappa was briefly an only cat, which she grew to like.

Zappa had opinions and liked to get her own way.  If she thought you should get up in the morning she would place a delicate paw on your eyelid and flex her claws very slightly as though planning to prize your eyes open.  She once putted A’s watch into a glass of water, in a bid to get us up.  It worked, but there wasn’t any breakfast!

Zappa & Wolfie were the offspring of a next-door cat who was known only as Mother.  Subsequently I moved into that house, and assisted in getting Mother spayed after I hand reared (and failed to rear in one case) a brood of 5 that she refused to feed.  We gave her a name at this point, Alice, which didn’t seem to make her any more inclined to love her kittens.  Alice had a habit of sitting with her feet in her food bowl to show you how empty it was.  Unfortunately she liked putting her feet in other bowls too, and there was a bit of an environmental health issue with a pumpkin pie one Hallowe’en… At the  point we moved in, she had 3 kittens still at home, 2 from the final litter (Nelson and Lafayette) and 1 from a previous one (Midnight).  What she thought about having her daughter back to add to the throng I don’t know.  Lafayette was crazy and lived in the basement except when we were alone in the house, when he would occasionally come up for company.  It later turned out that all the cats were using the basement (which was unfit for human habitation) as a latrine.  We spent an uproarious time cleaning it out, including finding a Gladstone bag completely full of urine.  We boarded up the door, and Lafayette had to cope with more company.

Alice and her brood, and her human family, later moved to Wales, where Lafayette became a prodigious hunter and only came home if the weather was really cold.

A with Cecil who ran away to sea- we hope. Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Then Cecil joined us.  Cecil Robert McDuff, long name for a small cat, another Tabby & White, was found in a telephone box by A’s middle daughter.  He lived with us briefly, but got a bad case of adolescence and joined the gang that Wolfie had founded.  Zappa disliked him, and once threw him off the bed and across the room, although she would occasionally wash his fur… just enough to make a clean patch for her to rest her head on and use him as a pillow.  He allowed this for some reason, but one night he went out on the razzle and never came home.  I hope he ran away to sea- it would have been just his style.

woman in dressingown with calico cat

The adored 'Saint Our Edie', with A. copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Then there was Edie.  We adored Edie.  She was a tortoiseshell, and beautiful.  We first met her screaming hysterically on our doorstep. we thought she must have recently moved to the street and got confused, so we sent her away.  I feel so bad about that.  A week later, I was home in bed ill with flu, and I could hear a cat crying, and saw her on the other side of the road, at someone’s door, and then the local Tom came and boxed her ears, and she rushed across the road into our basement area.  I staggered down from the third floor and went to see what was going on.  it was pouring rain, and she was cowering in our coal hole. I persuaded her out with food and discovered that the collar she was wearing said ‘My name is Snowball, my home is nowhere, please look after me.’  I was distraught that she had been living rough on our incredibly dangerous road for a week.  And now she wouldn’t trust me.  We spent a week with both the front and back doors open at every opportunity trying to persuade Edie through to the back garden where she was at least safe from cars and toms.  It was cold too!  Zappa looked very much down her nose at Edie initially, claiming that she was all fur coat and no knickers, and a painted madam and all sorts.  Edie was a charmer though, and Zappa was putty in her paws.  Once we had convinced Edie we wanted her to stay, she set about converting Zappa and soon they were playing NATO tank exercises up and down the stairs.  Edie had obviously been brought up with radiators, she would lean on the gas fire and there were regular singeing smells and a startled Edie would rush away smoking.  She never learnt.  We didn’t know how old Edie was, but she was quite mature, and she and Zappa used to lie lovingly in each others arms in an armchair.  I was glad of this because Edie wouldn’t tolerate sitting on a human lap, she was terrified of being picked up, and the best we could manage was that she would sit beside me with a paw on my knee and purr and purr.  We did eventually manage proper cuddles but she had clearly been traumatised.

Edie had admirers.  There was Vernon, who loved her so much he sat all day in the rain and gazed at her while she sneered from the window sill; and it might have been Vernon, or some other cat, who brought her a pigeon: Zappa held the steps to the basement area like Horatio at the bridge while Edie ate it, then the admirer was sent packing.  Vernon actually moved in briefly – that all day in the rain convinced me he didn’t have a home, but he was long-haired, and didn’t suit A’s asthma, and the girls teased him dreadfully.  He went to live with a friend, and was teased just as much by her two resident felines, but at least she didn’t have asthma.

This happy partnership sadly only lasted a year, Edie was run over on the road behind our house, but not before she had converted a friend of A’ s who had previously had a phobia of cats.  Saint Our Edie, as she is still known in our house if one of us maunders on about her qualities for too long.

White and tabby cat on red carpet

Morph, a dignified moment copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We were worried about Zappa following Edie’s demise, she spent part of every evening around her supper time staring down the garden, looking for Edie; so when A’s eldest broke up with her boyfriend and moved home to her dad with two cats, one of whom retired under the spare bed and refused to come out, we offered him a home.  Morph had had too much trauma in his young life, bought from a market stall, coming from a broken home, split up from his litter mate Chas, who had gone with the boyfriend, then introduced into a house with a boxer puppy; he was in the depths of a nervous breakdown, and guess what? retired to the basement.  We got him out by putting his food bowl on a higher step every day, and then gradually taking it through to the kitchen.  Zappa took offence at him, and he at her.  She made a ritual of chasing him up and down stairs every day, and she wasn’t playing as she had been with Edie.  It was also clear that they were competing for my attention, they were both fond of A but there was a battle going on to be my chief cat.  Shortly after we got Morph clear of the basement, we took on another cat.

Hattie bonding with A copyright Cherry Potts 2011

This was Harriet, and she came from a guy further down the road who ‘collected’ animals.  She and her brother were allowed to play in the street, and we were concerned about them having seen cats come and go about every 3 months, including the glorious Gloriana who used to drape herself round my neck in the garden.  We went and asked if we could have Harriet.  No arguments were proffered and she had a collar round her neck the second she was in the house.  Fortunately for everyone, Harriet decided A was the woman for her, and didn’t try to usurp either Zappa or Morph.

Harriet settled in and wasn’t going to run away from Zappa, unlike Morph.  Morph wanted to be her uncle but she wasn’t interested.  It was a pity really, if they had ganged up a bit Zappa would have calmed down.  Sadly we never had the chance to find out how this would have worked out, Cats don’t last long in New Cross and Zappa was run over on that @***## road, aged only 7, a few days before we were due to move house to somewhere marginally more peaceful.

I’m only half way through this tribute to the felines in my life, but blogs are meant to be short and sweet, and this is over 2000 words, so watch out for part 2 at a later date.

donate to the Cat’s Protection League

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Tower, Train and Tree

Monday Bit late posting this been too busy to upload the photos!
Having finished the opera, had the birthday party and packed totally inefficiently, we are off on holiday to the tiny village of Upper Arley, and our home for the week,

Arley tower copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Arley Tower, a sandstone castellated cube overlooking the river Severn and the Severn Valley Steam Railway.

Despite many trips to Shropshire and Herefordshire we have never been near the Severn Valley Railway, and A is very excited that the station is just over the pedestrian suspension bridge.

We arrive two hours early owing to the school holidays having started, and paying attention to the sat nav; the most relaxed drive to the Midlands I have ever experienced. We case the joint, eat ice-cream at the local post office, talk to the local cat and wander past the not very exciting pub to the station and along the river bank (in beautiful meadows full of butterflies) to check it all out. As the time nears 4pm we trundle round to pick up the keys and at last have possession of our little castlette.

Apparently built out of spite to spoil the view (which it does- pretty it isn’t, it reminds me of Pippin Fort) it none the less has views of the river from the roof, where there is a table and couple of chairs. We at once throw open windows and doors and take a cup of tea on to the roof. The roofscape of the next few houses is enchanting, with multiple ages of chimneys and tiling. Our tower has rather an odd modern extension with felt roof and wood clad walls, however this houses a very good kitchen with all mod cons, and an equally substantial bathroom, so not complaining.

This low down, even on the roof there is no phone signal, so we walk up to the top of the hill, and sit in the churchyard with exquisite views and manage one bar, to send texts to various people who need to know we have arrived, or are away.
We usually holiday in Landmark Trust properties, but this is our first stay with the Vivat Trust, which is a similar but much smaller outfit.  Comments in the visitors book suggest that their other properties are grander and more comfortable.  I could be tempted!
There is a tonne of tourist leaflets in the cupboard and I do my ritual go-through, looking for things we might do, although our main plan is to walk and /or get on the train most days.


severn valley steam copyright cherry potts 2011

We are meeting our friend L in Bridgnorth. Because the earliest train isn’t very, we decide to walk to Highley, the next station up the line, along the Severn Way. The weather is lovely, the river is deep and fast, the flowers are in bloom, the anglers are obese and sweaty. We watch the first train go through as we walk, and wave vigorously, and then trundle on to Highley. Of course there is quite a bit of waiting around, but the station is attractively got up and we don’t mind a bit sitting on the platform and reading all the enamel signs.
The train eventually arrives and we get a compartment to ourselves, replete with sprung horsehair, upholstered in uncut moquette in a rhubarb colour with abstract cream pattern. There is nothing more nostalgic than the noise of a steam train pulling out of a station. A, of course, given her extreme age (!) grew up with steam; I can just about remember the occasional steam train coming through our station when I was very young, but it was remarkable, and only happened if the diesel engines were all playing up. It doesn’t matter, though: a real train is a steam train.

cliff railway copyright Cherry Potts

We arrive in Bridgnorth and decide to complete our antiquated journey by walking down to the bottom of the cliff and getting the cliff railway (a sort of truncated 50’s bus on a winch) to the top. We then seek out lunch, trying a number of places that were too hot, too busy or too carnivorous before settling on Cinnamon on the Cartway, which produced adequate if not very inspiring lunch. From there we went for a meander about the town, meeting the charming cats who act as vergers at St Leonard’s Church, keeping company with anyone with a sandwich.

Cats of Bridgnorth copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The surroundings of the church are very pleasing, an old grammar school, alms houses, and several ancient buildings of less municipal antecedents, and a great view. We then walked to the church the other end of town, St Mary Magdalene, which was designed by Thomas Telford, and is classical with pleasing pillars along the front, but not very exciting inside. Immediately next to the church are the remains of the castle: one corner of the keep leaning and a very worrying angle. Apparently after the civil war it was blown up to prevent it being used again, but they didn’t make a very good job of it. The castle is in a park, which also holds a bandstand and war memorial and more begonias than seem healthy. Virulent red rivers of the things hang from baskets on every available surface, they froth from every bowl and bed; and we have just missed the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The whirling teacups are being winched into position for the journey to the next fête, the puppet theatre is still playing a wheezy tune, but the curtains are drawn. A solitary bear, dressed as a nurse, sits on a blanket on a small patch of lawn not infested with begonias, with a first aid kit beside her.

We walk back to the station to meet L, and find her looking relaxed and cheerful having got back only three weeks ago from several months up a mountain in Spain getting ordained as a Buddhist. This does not stint her enthusiasm for gossip or tea, and we end up back at Cinnamon for cake, and their excellent view, until they are mopping the floor around us. We leave before they ask us to, and wander back to the park for more chat. A man is practicing his juggling moves, and a woman sits at the next bench with a large black washing up bowl beside her. There was an explanation, but I won’t blunt the image with it.

Station Master, SVR copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We saunter back to the station in time for the last train back to Arley, and have to remember to get into the front of the train, as the platforms of most of stations are too short for the length of the train. We eat dinner and fall asleep on the sofa, and go to bed at nine.


It has been in my mind that as we are so close to Kidderminster we might go and investigate A’s Kiddey ancestors. There are several leaflets from the Kidderminster historical society in the cupboard that suggest it might have something to recommend it, but my instinct tells me Kidderminster is an unattractive hole. It does however sport the nearest shops of any size and we need bread and salad, so we drive in to investigate. And lo, Kidderminster is indeed a dive. Roland Hill the originator of the penny post was born here, and apart from being a centre for carpet manufacture (what A’s ancestors did) that’s its only claim to fame. It is pound-shop land, but at least they have a reasonable fruit and veg shop and we find a traditional sweet shop so I can indulge my aniseed addiction.

Echinacea, Arley Arboretum copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We decide we will not explore further, and head back to Arley, where we walk up the hill to the Arboretum.

Big old tree

Big old Tree in Arley Arboretum copyright Cherry Potts 2011

What a lovely spot. I don’t know much about trees, but they are big and imposing, and we have an enjoyable chat with one of the gardeners.

A peaceful place, and well supplied with places to sit and admire the view. A small selection of poultry including very free range guinea fowl given to hysteria, complete the staff. We wander back to eat lunch on the roof, and then set off for L’s recommended garden, Morville Dower House Garden.

Cloister and Maze, Morville Dower House Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

What a fabulous garden! It unfolds from one historic recreation to another, Elizabethan knot gardens, Plat gardens, Cloisters made from yew; nutteries, orchard and wild garden; ancient roses, poppies and allium; vegetables canals and wooden posts. The house itself is severe and friendly at the same time. I found myself wistful, what wouldn’t I give to live somewhere like this? the hall is stuffed with books- my kind of house.

Three jam tea, Morville Dower House Garden copyright Cherry Potts 2011

There is a large grey cat on the raised back doorstep, Bill, who is 22 and deaf and spends most of his time asleep. Katherine Swift who created the garden is dishing up teas with jam made from fruit from the garden. We try damson, greengage and blackcurrant; they are all wonderful but the greengage is the best.

Katherine gives us details of where we can buy seed for the beautiful deep purple sweet peas in the garden, and we buy her book.

Evangelist, St Gregory, Morville copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We amble back to the car via the church, St Gregory’s. This pleasing Norman church boasts some unusual wooden carvings of the evangelists. I’ve had fun with my new camera today, (thank you A) macro photos of flowers and bees, pushing up the ISO for interiors of the church, generally playing with the settings.

Allium, bee and hover-fly, Morville Dower House Garden. copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Back to the tower and cracking open the fizz on the roof, we watch a nuthatch shimmying down the Scots Pine that overhangs the roof terrace. A great end to a satisfying day.

We take our morning cup of tea up on to the roof.  It is already warm, and perfect weather for a walk; a Little Egret flies up the river.
We set off before nine towards Bewdley from Arley, along the banks of the Severn. It gradually gets hotter and we get sweatier. We both get bitten by insects, A swells up immediately, I, unusually, do not.
We pass the reservoir where crows sit on park benches, and the beautiful Victoria Bridge, a superb example of iron work from Coalbrookdale. We fail to find Northwood halt, where we had thought we might get the train, but don’t mind: we are enjoying the steady purl of deep water moving quickly, and there are enough trees to provide shade at intervals. I spot a kingfisher whisking upstream low over the water.

riverside houses

Bewdley copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We arrive at Bewdley before the first train would have got us here, and very glamorous it looks, stretched out along and rising up from the river in Georgian splendour; it reminds me of the set of wooden houses I had as a child. It is hard to imagine that those buildings along the riverfront endure floods up to their windowsills.
We stop for a reviving ice-cream at Gallery Ten, and investigate suitable lunch venues, and options for dinner in Friday… this involves a complete circuit of the town which has some lovely architecture and some unimaginative lunch menus. For some reason we can’t find my preferred option, the Colliers Arms (it turns out its not IN Bewdley, but in Clows Top, just outside, something we only discover when we get back to Arley and dig out the leaflet. )  I am intrigued by a sign pointing up an alley that says ‘old pals’ shelter’. It sounds like something to do with a Pal’s regiment, but why would they need a shelter? I imagine a retreat for ancient dogs whose old men have passed on, and have a picture of elderly lurchers and border terriers, sitting about the fireplace, with pipes in their mouths, reminiscing. Very Louis Wain. We turn into Lax street, which disappointingly is nothing to do with loose morals, but a corruption of the Danish for Salmon. I’d always wondered about gravlax, so now I know.

All along the quay there are names (of boats?) set in brass letters and little plaques saying what commodities were landed there: Salt and Sugar, Raisins, Sherry, Madeira, Port and Brandy… it sounds like a recipe for Christmas pudding.
We end up having lunch in the excellent museum, which is free, and under interpreted in a satisfying make-of-it-what-you-please way. The building is an old shambles, and rich in brick arches and places to sit and consider. We each have a well-filled sandwich then check out the books in the next-door charity shop, with some success.

station cat kidderminster copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We walk back across the bridge and round to Bewdley station, where we get the steam train to Kidderminster, have a glass of beer in the station pub, talk to the station cat, and come back again; this time all the way to Arley, where A gathers up the only Guardian in the post office, and we retire to a shower each and ginger-beer shandies on our roof terrace. While searching the map for Clows Top, my eye falls on the outskirts of Kidderminster- and The Heath. This is where A’s Newcomb ancestors lived, on what turns out to be the Habbersley Road, not Haggerley as I had it written down. I wonder if Cambridge House still exists? We will go and investigate!

We wake to rain, which dies out quite fast, but we decide to check out the Heath on the way to Clows Top to investigate the Colliers Arms as a potential dinner venue. There is nothing on the Heath that looks like it’s old enough to be the Newcomb house. There are two large modern estates so probably it is under one of them. We find the Colliers’ Arms which is no longer a pub, and as a café serves food only til 5. However it seems to still be run by the same outfit, and there is a small farm shop selling local produce including eggs from the hens out back. We buy eggs tomatoes and fresh bread. It looks promising for food, but not suitable for us today.

We drive back through Kiddey and out to Kinver Edge. A sandy heath, replete with adders (though we don’t see any), rising to a ridge with splendid views and an iron age fort; and buried somewhere beneath us, rock houses built into caves in the sandstone, but can we find them? The National Trust obviously don’t expect people to approach from above and haven’t bothered signing the route. We eventually make it, having made several false starts down steep slopes which we then have to reclimb. The stone houses are enjoyable, but not worth the hassle of finding them. We walk along the ridge and back to the car. We are starving for lunch and try out the café just by the car park, a cavernous hangar, completely deserted. I start in on the bread bought at the Colliers, and we drive round to Bodenham Arboretum in the hope that they have a café and are still serving lunch. They do and they are. They also have a charming black and white cat hovering at the entrance who greets us as long lost friends. We have an excellent lunch, marred only by the chairs by the lake being rather wet.

Victoria bridge copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We come back to our tower and collapse, then go out to walk the far side of the river down to Victoria bridge so we can film a steam train going over. I know, anoraks; but they make such a lovely noise! There are amazing wild flowers all along the river bank: rest harrow, comfrey, hemp agrimony, hop trefoil, hairy vetch, cranesbill, soapwort, chamomile.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Blackheath Onegin book launched

Most of my free waking hours since finishing the opera (apart from work, singing, partying, holidays…) have been spent fighting with the software to get the book to look beautiful.  Anyone planning to do a photobook on Blurb be warned you need a lot of free RAM.  It does very strange things, like randomly copying chunks of text and shoving them in somewhere else each time you try to format something.  To be fair they do warn about pasting large amounts of text, but it kept crashing, and even when I put it on my new laptop, with nothing else loaded apart from the virus guard, and it didn’t save except when you shut it, so if it crashed you lost the lot- so I got in the habit of saving at the end of each page and after every loading of a photo.  Its taken three times as long as it should have… But it is finally done, and I’ve ordered a proof copy.  waiting eagerly!

UPDATE: Comment from Readers:

You chart the gradual emergence of the opera in such a lively and insightful way – it’s a kind of scraggy, no- hoper kitten that turns into a fat cat with presence. It’s a real window into how nourishing participation in the arts can be.

Lovely reminder of the intensity of that time in the summer. Great text and pictures, apart from me on page 10 looking like an elephant about to charge !! I sat up late last night chortling away  and am now regretting it as eyes on stalks.  Thank you Cherry. A terrific job.


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