Singing and ringing and feeling like christmas

So: Saturday was a singing day, 3 hours or so, rehearsing, performing, singing with the audience, interspersed with beer at the lovely Ivy House.

We like to have a theme or a project for Vocal Chords, in the summer it was love songs for the planet, this autumn  it has been folk carols, learnt from Lester Simpson and dragged out of our collective record collections and memories, and performed with gusto!

The arrangements sound quite complex and the parts can get a little  competitive as to who can sing loudest, but they are actually quite simple so long as you can keep in time.

Here is a sample, my absolute favourite of the songs we sang, although it is a hard, hard choice, as I loved all of them!

This is the definition of Joyous, for me, cynical old atheist though I am.

And then Sunday we were selling Arachne Press books at a christmas market at the delightful Alexandra Nurseries (still singing under our breaths, both ‘Curly Hark’ and snatches of Britten’s St Nicholas, mostly ‘landlord take this piece of gold, bring us meat before the cold’although we weren’t cold, thanks to our lined walking trousers, winter coats, hats mittens, long-johns…) It was a very jolly day, good weather and plenty of punters.

SO apart from all the events we are going to and taking part in over the next week – Liars’ League Snow & Stars tomorrow, Story Sessions Wednesday, (where I am reading as well as compereing)The ‘work’ xmas party with my fellow WooA writers,  and christmas shopping at Brockley Xmas market & the £3 christmas bazaar and enjoying V G Lee and Rose Collis’ drollery at Bah Humbuggers (Dyke the Halls) on Saturday – all spare time is going on rehearsing for St Nicholas, which we are singing at Blackheath Halls in the Christmas Concert on Friday 20th

St Nicolas posterand for our Carol Singing in aid of Shelter with Summer All Year Long around Brockley, Honor Oak and Forest Hill on Saturday 21st.

final stop the station

final stop the station


Etruscan Smiles at the Estorick Collection

Marino Marini Quadriga, 1942 Bronze, 40 x 40 x 4 cm Estorick Collection

The Estorick’s collected twentieth century Italian art, a period and region I thought I knew nothing about, but there are a couple of Modiglianis, the piercing turquoise gaze and pursed lips of Doctor Francois Brabander standing out in a room of more muted pictures.  I did find myself thinking oh yeah Modigliani and moving on.

Then I recognised the pot-shaped women (or are they woman-shaped pots?) of Massimo Campigli with their brittle ceramic smiles looking like ancient Etruscan goddesses, until you come across one of them blandly gazing across a loom, and then another – side by side, one in polychrome, the other in red pastel (the pastel is a more accurate loom) – and the domestic usefulness makes the women seem at once more human and more unlikely.

There are some really interesting paintings by people I hadn’t heard of – I was particularly taken with Giacomo Balla‘s The Hand of the Violinist, which is a multiple image of a hand on the strings of a violin, broken into lines perhaps by the strings, and shaped like the sounding board of a dulcimer, an odd thing but pleasing.
Zoran Music‘s Horses and Landscape made me think of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, a group of multicoloured horses, spotted and striped in blues and pinks, haunches touching in a dispirited huddle against the cold, retreat into a landscape of dusky hills.  It just begs for one of the riders to turn back to the viewer and say: A cold coming we had of it.
There are a few sculptures: I especially liked Marino Marini‘s Quadriga, a wall plaque of four horses face-on, crowding through a doorway knees raised as if contemplating a delicate can-can, that had overtones of ancient Rome.
Giacomo Manzù‘s Bust of a Woman is a distorted long-necked bust wearing an expression of self-possessed happiness, that I think I could  live with if someone asked me to; although there would be days when I’d be yelling what are you smiling at, and throwing a blanket over her.

There are some works that left me indifferent, a lot of sketches that are only of significance because of who drew them, some very studious studies of still life, and a very ugly Death of a Hero by Renato Guttuso which isn’t something I’d give house room to, but led to an animated conversation with the lady on the desk about Flemish Medieval art and Gerard David’s The Flaying of Sisamnes being even more not what you’d want in the livingroom, although neither of us could remember who it was by, or the exact name, she knew it from my description and recollection of seeing it in Bruges. And this in a gallery specialising in Italian art of the twentieth Century.

A collection worth seeing, particularly with smells of Italian cooking wafting up from the caffé.

Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 to 18:00 hours.  Sunday 12:00 to 17:00. Late night opening Thursdays until 20.00.  Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

£5.00, concessions £3.50, includes permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.  Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art: 39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Feasting the senses

It’s been a bit of an indulgent weekend, feasting our senses, and there’s more to come.

We started with the visual and a trip to the Guildhall Art Gallery in the heart of the city for an exhibition of John Atkinson Grimshaw paintings.  Grimshaw started out as a bit of a fellow traveller with the Pre-Raphaelites, but quickly moved away to his own style, typified by his stunning nocturnes of both town and country.  These have a photographic clarity and use of depth of field, and an extraordinary understanding of light, natural and artificial, direct and reflected.

I discovered his work in my teens and was very struck with his silhouetted figures and lampposts against green skies.  Actually his figure work is pretty poor, he is much better at crowds where you get the essence of bustle and little knots of humanity; when he puts a solitary figure into his landscapes you feel it is there purely for convention and scale, a bit like the woman in a red coat in picture postcards of the 60s and 70s; and the proportions are frequently suspect – one group of young women all looked decidedly implausible: if the middle one had been standing she’d have been around eight feet tall!

Allegedly Grimshaw’s fellow painters were scandalised by the fact that he worked from photographs (black and white obviously and fairly rudimentary at this stage) and by his style of painting which is very smooth – there are no visible brush marks.  This gives his skies a clarity and lucidity which is very true to life – you can feel the cold of his winter moon, wrapped in scudding cloud, and there is definitely a feeling of the painting as a source of light.

Grimshaw John Atkinson Humber Docks Hull

Humber Docks Hull (wikimedia commons)

You do start to notice his tics when you see a large collection of pictures all at once – his female figure-in-a-landscape  is generally mob-capped and clutching an open basket to her waist with one hand, there is generally a bay window on the dock with a net curtain on the lower half and venetian blinds on the upper; there is likely to be a chemist in a street scene – so that the light can pour through those red and green bottles.  I would not for a moment suggest he has invented the chemist, just chosen that spot to paint because the chemist is there – I’m less persuaded of that  window with the venetian blind in Hull and Glasgow and… and its surprising how regularly the woman about to open her umbrella appears –

it’s as though he created his own clip art figures to go into his landscapes.  However I can honestly say there isn’t a single painting in the exhibition that isn’t at least entertaining.

My particular favourite is of tall ships at anchor (Nightfall down the Thames).

At first you see the moon, and then the thin cloud, then the mass of St Paul’s in the background and then the forest of masts and rigging … and then you notice that there is a small light on the rigging of the most prominent ship, and then you notice another and another … lights everywhere, tiny pinpricks, reflecting in the gentle ripples that ruck the surface of the water.  You can almost hear them slap against the wood.


Nightfall down the Thames (wikimedia commons)

Reproductions do not do these pictures justice. It is really exciting to see the real thing.

There are some gaw’blimey interiors with a bit of a Tissot feel to them (an influence apparently), though more sentimental and fussy – this is where you remember he was a Victorian, and wish he wasn’t quite so photographic in his recording of every last plate, but even in the ghastly Dulce Domum, where the woman of the house doesn’t quite manage to sit convincingly in her over decorated chair, I was captivated by a small patch of green velvet in a chair back, the nap brushed up the wrong way where someone has been resting against it.

In his later works Grimshaw turned to daylight most emphatically: there is a lovely beach scene that reminded me of Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s Panorama of Scheveningen in 1881 (though nothing like the same scale!) which must be close in time, with its crowded busy water edge, and empty sands in the foreground, but the detail is more sketched and the light is all his own, flooding and overwhelming the day-to-day excitement of children at the sea.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema 04

Pyrrhic dance - Lawrence Alma Tadema (wikicommons) If you think THIS is silly look up Pyrrhic dance on youtube!

We had a quick look at the rest of the collection while we were there, and they have a hilarious collection of large-scale historically themed paintings of great imagination, Salome dancing for Herod, (some fascinating faces in the onlookers) Greek warriors dancing a ‘pyrrhic’ dance like some ancient version of Strictly…, rival philosophic groups in a cabbage field… (why?) some predictable worthies of London, some Pre-Raphaelites, and some London cityscapes (my favourite by John Virtue, almost entirely black with a sky just emerging behind St Paul’s) and, in the basement, discovered relatively recently, the remains of the Roman amphitheatre.

There is only a scattering of foundations and a bit of wall about hip height, and a miraculous drain with the wooden lining still preserved, but the way it is presented, lit only as you walk into it, the columns holding the building up with figures drawn in light, and the rest of the amphitheatre and gladiators sketched in on the wall ahead of you as you come in, like some soon to be realised hologram, is quite thrilling: despite being in a fairly small underground space it feels like you are in the amphitheatre, and then you notice above the air-conditioning a faint hubbub of voices that occasionally peaks in roars of approval, though still very faint; like voices reaching from the past.  I’ve seen more complete Roman amphitheatres in France and Spain, including ones still in use they have worn so well, but this works.  It shouldn’t but it does.

We had walked from London Bridge, and decided to walk back via St Paul’s, the Millennium Bridge and Bankside. This is a bit of the City that is hard to love, all unattractive concrete, glass and steel, whereas the walk up was all limestone, just as ostentatious and blocky, if marginally less oppressive; but I do like the way the streets still hold the medieval pattern of London in their narrow twists and dog-legs, and their names.  And there is a church on almost every corner, and mostly they are open, often with a café in the crypt.  We bought sandwiches, and A said, we need a churchyard to sit in, and I glanced up and there was a spire, we walked a few yards turned left and there we were, at the Guild church, which seemed appropriate seeing we’d just been at the Guildhall.

Walking over Millennium Bridge we passed two accordionists and a fiddler playing Autumn Leaves as a Tango, which managed to make it rather more dirge-like than ever.  The far end of the bridge there was a steel drum player who was a lot more cheerful.  We had been thinking of dropping into the Tate for the Gerhardt Richter, but we already had museum feet (and hips and knees) so we kept going and, recalling that it was Friday, instead went to Borough Market.

pumpkin and squash copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We were intending to just pick up a bit of cake for tea, but you can’t just anything there, you have to check every stall and resist what you can bear to resist, and leave only when your bags are full or your purse empty.

I may be vegetarian but these are beautiful to look at copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We found an interesting liquorish stall, and the Chocolate Artisan (of course) and a spice stall, and a cake stall which we could not resist, and plenty that we could.

Saturday, and I persuaded A away from her book proofs to go to the Union Chapel at Highbury ( I love the Overground! 34 minutes on the train, 3 minutes on foot either end) for their daylight music concert at lunchtime.

Sensibly they have a food stall, and just ask for donations to get in. The concert kicked off with Heidi Elva, a harpist from New Zealand, with an annoying giggle who is over fond of playing with her sampler and her iPhone apps.  The harp isn’t my favourite instrument, but I can enjoy the complexities of the harmonies one person can create on it, Ms Elva was more into mood music and the occasional plink repeated ad nauseam on her sampler so I felt no guilt at all in taking advantage of the daylight to read a book until she’d finished. No doubt she has fun, but it wasn’t a performance:  there was nothing to look at and I really take exception to being played sampled flute on a sodding iPhone  – she said that despite her constant plugs of iThis and iThat she wasn’t employed by Apple… just as well, she was putting me right off.

Bulgarian choir copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Flirty copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The London Bulgarian Choir were quite a different outfit, energetic, exciting and charming.  I can’t tell you the names of the songs although I recognised some of them, they ranged from flirting to death, via sock-knitting (no, really!).

Sock knitters? Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Led and discreetly conducted by Dessislava Stefanova, a long line of mostly women, in black but sporting vivid red embroidered aprons and big silver belt buckles, and men in Astrakhan hats and embroidered waistcoats, linked arms and gave it some welly.  There are some glorious harmonies, great dynamics, humour, pathos, drama.

Dessislava copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The occasional lead singer, drummer or windplayer steps forward for a moment in the limelight, then steps modestly back, smaller groups take over briefly for a verse or two, but this is about ensemble and community and having a good time.  The acoustic in the Union Chapel suited them perfectly, and they probably didn’t need the minimal amplification they had.  (UPDATE: I have been corrected, Ulrike from the choir has contacted me to say the mikes were recording them not amplifying… they really are that loud.  As she says, – It’s the singing style for mountains! ) New album launched next month.  It’s in my diary.

Off to the singaround at The Goose is Out tonight, to round of our indulgences.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Giving it some welly Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Essex extremes

Rainham Marsh copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I do like a mix and match day.  So we started with a couple of kilometres of walking round Rainham Marshes bird reserve.  Not many birds to see, but there’s not much to beat a marsh in the sun; a beautiful morning, a stolen September summer Sunday, wandering about in shirtsleeves with the end of the month in sight.

Rainham Marsh was in danger of being developed for years before the RSPB finally secured it, and they are being very conscious of stepping lightly now they’ve got it – the visitor centre makes use of natural light, ground heating, harvested rainwater… the tradition of grazing is kept up with a mixed herd of beef cattle relaxing in the scrubby grass, and dragonflies flitting hither and yon.  The walkways keep you above the reeds so there is some hope of seeing something – I have been places where all you can see are head high reeds – no doubt wonderful for the birds, but

Rainham Kingfisher copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I’d want at least a bittern under those circumstances!

I don’t mind the lack of birds when I can see the scenery, and they provide you with the odd sculpture to make up for it, and there are old military posts and firing ranges to distract from the lack of rustling and chirping.

Apparently the kestrels use the giant wooden numbers on the range as hunting posts, but not today.

We walked back along the river path, trying to work out where we were on the southern bank last week, but I think we were a lot nearer the mouth of the river than last week, although we could identify Shooters Hill in the distance.

Rainham range copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We got rather lost trying to find our next stop, the Royal Opera House Production Centre, where they were having a sale of costumes.  It could hardly be more different, although the building is again ecologically minded with a Sedum roof.

ROH Rococo copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We have a great time window shopping, trying on full length white Astrakhan coats, eighteenth century frock coats and monstrous cloaks.

There were queues from four in the morning yesterday, but it is quieter today with a very comfortable, good-humoured crowd, much laughter and enthusiasm, complete strangers taking pictures of each other and offering opinions on the fit of the Cinderella dress or the Hussar’s uniform.

There is something for everyone, and then some:

Transformations worthy of Cinderella copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Rococo, Barbarian or Grand Guignol, people were pulling dresses and armour on over their jeans with a fine disregard for modesty.  And some of the transformations are worthy of Cinderella.

Sadly, nothing fits me – that’s the problem with costumes, they have all been made to measure for particular people, and it wasn’t me!

The quality of the costumes was astonishing, I had expected it to be a bit gimcrack and just good enough to be seen from the gallery, but the stitching was mostly exquisite and not too worn and sweaty either.

Exquisite stitching copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I was surprised at how heavy most of the costumes were, I can’t imagine how they stand it singing under lights in such thick heavy (but gorgeous) clothes.

If I could have found something that fitted I would almost certainly have bought it, regardless of whether I would ever wear it, just for the pleasure of looking and touching.

ROH Grand Guignol copyright Cherry Potts 2011

ROH Barbarians copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Folkestone Triennial: Art-on-Sea

A and I are a bit last-minute with exhibitions and regularly miss things because we think we’ll go ‘later’ and then just forget.  However, we actually made it to the Folkestone Triennial with two days to spare.  We followed the yellow seagulls sprayed on the pavement from the station to the visitor centre. There was a lot to see, and we resigned ourselves to not managing it all. I particularly wanted to see the Martello tower installation Towards the Sound of Wilderness by Cristina Iglesias, but it was a long way out of town and we just hadn’t got sufficient energy.  So putting that to one side, high spots were:

The Folk Stones copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Folk Stones, (Mark Wallinger) a square of 19,240 pebbles set in concrete, each one numbered, and the total number is the number of British soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme: they set out for France from Folkestone.  This is a permanent installation.

While we were there a young man was laboriously cleaning each pebble.

Out of Tune (A K Dolven) The sixteenth century church bell suspended on the beach which may only be rung every two minutes as it drives the neighbours to distraction, and can be heard tolling at…

nature taking over copyright Cherry Potts 2011

… the former harbour station, where the first world war troops moved from train to ship.  A bleak spot where nature is taking over – the perfect post-apocalyptic film set, all rusting girders, rotting wood and sprouting chamomile.  The art here is a rather odd 5 headed sculpture on a rug on the tracks; Rug People (Paloma Varga Weisz)  has a built-in anxiety – are these refugees arriving, or exiles leaving?  Either way, the train done gone; and it is the station which excites.

a perfect post apocalypse film set copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We were not alone – a girl child flitted amongst the metal columns and a man poked around the dishevelled rails, (“Isn’t this awesome?” he asked in delight) but there were not enough people to make anyone think they could possibly expect a train.

They were like ghosts, glimpsed from the corner of your eye.

scenes of devastation copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Navy in the Nave copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Navy in the Nave – a fleet of model boats floating suspended for the ceiling of the ancient church of St Mary and St Eanswythe.

A and I argued over the pronunciation, and then forgot about it as we gazed at the extraordinary collection of vessels sailing from nowhere to nowhere, seemingly jostling for space.

'For those in Peril on the Sea' copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The piece is called For Those in Peril on the Sea, (Hew Locke) and it is  as though we are looking up from the sea bed at a drowned armada, gradually settling down to join us.  It feels like something Terry Gilliam would dream up.  Oddly moving.

Folkestone in September is not wildly populated and there are a lot of dilapidated properties and empty shops.  It has only one small sandy beach, the rest are stony and a bit bleak, the harbour is attractive and there are plenty of fish shops, (more A’s thing than mine!).  We were lucky with the weather and it was a delight to walk along the seafront with warmth and late summer sun.

I’m glad Folkestone has the Triennial, because I wouldn’t have come otherwise and  it is important to visit our seaside towns, and celebrate them.

At particular points about the town there are plaques with locals’ comments on what you can see. Everywhere Means Something to Someone (Strange Cargo).  Just so.

I will probably be following the yellow seagulls again in three years’ time. something dreamed up by Terry Gilliam ... copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Open Queue

Sweet Thames flow softly copyright Cherry Potts 2011

It’s day two of London Open House and we’re off to Crossness Pumping Station.  This has been a long-held ambition, but with so much to choose from over the weekend it has taken, ooh, six years? to get here.  The instigator of this sudden resolve is our friend J who phoned and said:

I’m going, come with?

cobwebs copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So we did.  Trying to avoid using the car and with the promise of a special bus to meet the train, we meet J and C at Lewisham and get the train to Abbey Wood.  There is a bus … a minibus that seats 12.  I count the queue.  The bus takes half an hour to make its round trip… We are going to be here two hours.  We rebel and get a mini cab to the gates. We walk up to the back of the queue for the door, which is moving very slowly indeed. There is a distinct smell of drains, and I find myself absentmindedly humming Sweet Thames Flow Softly which we learnt over the summer.

Overwhelming Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Forty minutes later, we arrive at the door, and are given our tickets for the engine house.  We enter, and there is another queue.  We join it with dread, but it only takes another twenty minutes to finally reach the sacred portal and to be handed our hard hats.

Now.  Why would I be prepared to put myself through this?  I am not a patient kind of gal.  And visiting a sewage works isn’t your average glamorous London day out.  Well, the several thousand people who have visited Crossness will be grinning just now.

OTT painted ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011




Overwhelming, over the top, Ro-co-co (except it isn’t) Byzantine, laughter inducing mayhem.  The outside gives no clue to the interior.  The austere if decorative brickwork could be any typical Victorian engine shed – railway architecture at its best – Lombardy arcading, arched windows, bah blah.

floor copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Inside the first hall where the queue is, it is airy, spacious and light… and then, hat on head you enter the inner sanctum, and the dazzle and razzmatazz of the theatre takes over – every surface is moulded or filigreed, even the floors.  There is a feel of Moorish palace, except that the colours are wrong, and then there is the noise.

Flywheel at full tilt copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The beam engine is steady, regular, almost relaxed and surprisingly quiet, a sort of sigh and knock and hiss as it slides up and down, and the flywheel spins.  it is awesome in its grandeur.  There are four of these gracious monsters, but only one has been restored.  And only part of the engine house is painted back to its former glory, about which I am glad – I hope they don’t restore it completely, the ironwork is magnificent and the paint is garish, and whilst amusing, once painted the true skill of the iron casting is hidden.

And the still, silent end of the hall, is magnificent in its cathedral-like space.

Cathedral-like spaces copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Up the stairs, (also pierced into a pattern) there is yet more filigree floor, which is humming ever so gently.  I find this rather unnerving.  In fact it brings me out in a cold sweat.  I am quite relieved to get down again.

Stunning ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011

And yes, there is another queue to get into the basement.  The basement is very different dark, dusty and cramped.

Basement Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I’m not surprised the queue is so long, as we spend ages going round, and they can only let people in with a hard hat.

After a cup of tea and a bit of cake, we take advantage of the fact that there is a gate onto the Thames path (not normally open) and walk back to Woolwich along the river.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Thames path near Thamesmead copyright Cherry Potts 2011

London is Open

Mary Wollstonecraft's pew copyright Cherry Potts

Every year in September, buildings of historic, architectural and ecological note open for the public for free.  In London Open House is in full swing. Take a look at the overwhelming website – it’s all going on tomorrow as well.

Most years I go and feast my eyes and wear out my feet: holidays are planned around Open House we have to be in London the right weekend!  Fortunately, Heritage Open Days  which is similar but nationwide, is usually the weekend prior so some years we’ve managed both, although for the forseeable future we will be Singing for Water over H-O-D weekend.

So, A is busy with a family wedding, and I’m on my tod, and decide to take full advantage of the lovely Overground and quarter the borough of Hackney. I set off with my ‘favourites’ list and Transport For London maps, full of purpose and enthusiasm.

Graeae exterior copyright Cherry Potts 2011

First stop Hoxton.  I’ve been to the Geffreye Museum recently so I bypass it and head for Graeae Theatre’s offices and rehearsal space, right next door.  I bump into R, who I know from BSL classes and who works there, so I get a personal tour.  The building started life as a Tram depot and stables and has great arches all along the front which make for excellent natural light and a showcase for the sculptural logo that runs the entire length of the building.

Graeae rehearsal space copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The rehearsal space is particularly fine, with a sprung floor, and sophisticated lighting rig, all of which can be accessed and controlled from ground level.  The whole building has been thought out very carefully for access issues with textured flooring, good adaptable lighting, plenty of circulation space, induction loops… And according to R it really is a pleasure to work in.

Hoxton Hall detail copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Galvanised by this first venue, I toddle round the corner to Hoxton Hall, which is a very different kettle of fish – still with a drama theme – HH is a tiny musical hall.  It has done time as a temperance hall, a Quaker meeting-house and various other things, and is typical of theatres of its time in being seriously uncomfortable!  I notice a pile of patchwork cushions in the gallery, I’m sure they are needed.

Hoxton Hall performers copyright Cherry Potts

The Hall is being brought to life by a couple of performers, singing about wanting their beer and not getting it.  Disconcertingly they are flanked by a couple of headless dummies in theatrical costume, which in the dim lighting are a bit on the sinister side!

Newington Green Unitarian Church exterior copyright Cherry Potts

Back to the station and a short hop to Canonbury and then a stroll up to Newington Green for the Unitarian Church, at over 300 years old it is the oldest dissenting church in London that is still in use. Built when religious dissenters were still breaking the law ,and expanded since, it isn’t a particularly beautiful building, though it has a peaceful, open atmosphere (they were positively encouraging a young child to play the organ) and apparently the ball-hinges on the pew doors are rare… but it is its history that matters, both in terms of religious dissent, and in terms of feminism.  Mary Wollstonecraft worshipped here (pew 19), and I have a soft spot for her.

I am struck as I have been before, by the similarity of layout in religious buildings of this period, and the musical hall I have just come from.  Something about the galleries…

Newington Green Unitarian Church ball hinge copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I have a long list of other places I could go – a tower off Mare Street, The Hackney Empire, another theatre at Dalston (in the old Reeves paint factory), a tour of the East London Line stations… But I’m hungry and its trying to rain, and we are doing Crossness Pumping Station tomorrow, so back to Canonbury station and the train all the way home with no changes.  I love the Overground!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Singing for Water

About a quarter of the choir copyright Cherry Potts 2011

What a great day of singing.  My feet are feeling it, but we’ve had a superb  day out, doing what we love best, and raised some money for charity in the process.  Our sponsorship page will function for another three months, but no need to wait, donate now! Please!!

Around 800 people, representing over 50 choirs from all over the country, looking extremely glamorous in sky blue (sopranos) purple (altos) turquoise (tenors) and midnight (basses), provided a visual spectacle as well as a darn fine noise.  We had been asked to bring along silky-shiny-sparkly things to wave at the end, which I had thought a bit naff, but it looked wonderful, because there was so much of it.

another small portion of the choir copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The rehearsal went smoothly apart from not having time to go through what Una May might ask us to do in Zema, but I had the impression it would change anyway, and I was right about that.  We had a whisper-through in the City Hall cafe while the children’s choir was on, and then it was different when we performed it anyway.

It was a very nasty crush waiting to go on, a hot, airless space and far too many people standing for too long.  At least one person keeled over, but fortunately they did so well in advance of the performance and I think made it out to sing.

It’s almost scary how good 800 people can sound belting out Mraval Zhamier, with what Stephen calls ‘pointless grandeur’.  We were  exhorted to ‘put your butt into it’ (Michael, Zema and My Mouth) ‘Sing from your barrel-likes’ (Stephen, Mraval) and also, to sing in tune (Roxane, most things)!

Equally we sounded great murmuring our way through Water Wrinkles, a song written by one of the choir members, Morag Carmichael.

It’s quite hard to get a feel for what you sound like when performing, but the feedback we got from audience and stall holders was very positive indeed.  Two separate stall holders, recognising from our turquoise clothes that we were in the choir, commented that they could hear the rehearsal and it had been exciting enough for them to have been anticipating the afternoon with enthusiasm, and how disappointed they were that they couldn’t hear the performance, as there was too much ambient noise in the afternoon … I think the wind direction may have changed too.

Another advantage (apart from being flattered by stall holders) of being dressed up, was that when we were wandering about between rehearsing and performing, people asked us if we were performing, and we were able to spread the word on WaterAid: we take our responsibilities seriously  – it isn’t just about having a good time.

Audience copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Sing for Water is in its tenth year. Over that time it has raised over half a million pounds tohelp WaterAid provide permanent sources of clean water to communities  who need it most.

The audience had a whale of a time, indeed, they may have enjoyed themselves almost as much as we did!  Stephen taught them (and us) a new song from scratch, and had us all doing actions to go with, and Una May got them joining in on Zema, again, complete with actions.

My favourite of the songs remains Let Love Rain Down, which gave us tenors a moment to lead and shine, but Ide Were and Zema came in close equal second, possibly because it was African songs that got me back into singing; I love the energy and the  vibrancy of the harmonies, and the challenge of the languages – no clicks this time, but I’ve got quite good at those.

Smaller subgroups were singing around the place before we performed, and we caught a group from Bangor (Wales) whose repertoire seemed to be mostly sea shanties, which meant we could join in on the choruses whilst sheltering from the (only) rain shower.

I’ve never made it to the Thames Festival before, I think it may become a permanent fixture in the calendar from now on.  There’s a friendly neighbourly atmosphere you don’t expect from central London, and I love the Thames.  We were too tired to stay for the fireworks, and with the hurricane and rain approaching it didn’t look a terribly attractive idea…  Maybe next year!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Roaming Round Romsey

I’ve been trying to create a montage of the glorious stone cats of Romsey Abbey, but no matter what  I do with it, I can only get half of them into the featured image at the top of the page, so here they are in their full glory.
11 carved stone cat faces

The Romsey Abbey Cat's Line Up Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

They leave me wondering whether the stone mason(s) working on the Abbey really liked cats, or definitely thought they were creatures of the devil, to have so many gargoyles look feline.  I fear the latter, but they are a formidable line up of humourous grotesques… I probably missed some higher up the building.

Romsey Abbey Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So, what are we doing in Romsey? 

A and I always promise ourselves Fridays for pleasure: seaside or a walk or a garden if it’s fine, exhibition or historic building if not.  We have only been intermittently successful this spring/summer owing to illness, and other more pressing priorities.  It was several weeks ago that we managed this trip; I was still not up to a walk, it was blisteringly hot and I was desperate to get out of the house.

Romsey has been on my list for a while, I’ve always vaguely known that the Abbey was worth a look, and we discovered that A had ancestors there, which gave it further interest in a general sort of way.
In terms of a day out, it’s just about at our limit: two hours travel each way just about justified by what’s at the end of the journey.  Getting there was surprisingly easy by train and the station is an easy walk from the centre (unlike a lot of places!).

Romsey Library copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We discovered that Romsey is actually rather charming, and like its Abbey, has neither been ruined by neglect nor by over restoration.  On our way from the station we passed the library, housed in a pleasing red brick Arts & Crafts style building that had once been a school.  By the time we were in the centre of the town, I was muttering, “I think I could live here, let’s check the politics of the local council… do yo think these houses have much back garden?” Not that we’re planning on moving, it’s just a litmus test; like the occasional National Trust property we walk into and say, “Throw everyone out, send a carriage for the cats, we’re taking possession.” (Lindisfarne Castle and Hill House, Helensburgh; take a bow).

The two main streets are lined with attractive old buildings  and the corn exchange has been preserved as a bank.  On a sunny late May lunchtime, the streets were peaceful but anything but deserted, with a few market stalls operating, and the inhabitants extraordinarily friendly.  We got into conversation in shops, restaurants and on the street with all sorts without any initiative on our part.
There is a proper sweet shop, so I got myself a fix of aniseed balls.  (I love aniseed sweets. Twist for the sharp swift sugary rush, balls for slow release consideration – plus they always escape into the bottom of my bag and, being pretty much indestructible, can be a happy surprise weeks later). 
There are a lot of café/ tea shop/ pubs/ restaurants, though none stood out as the-place-to-eat.  The place we chose was disappointing in that it looked interesting and wasn’t, the dish I picked with care, for not mentioning cheese, arrived smothered in it; and A’s raspberry juice was actually some kind of cordial and so strong we had to water it down with half my Sicilian lemonade to make it drinkable; my own fault for not asking, and A’s for not complaining, but still, poor selling technique and service on their part.  If we went back I’d go for one of the purveyors of sandwiches and baked potatoes.
The other thing Romsey has in spades is charity shops, and pretty high quality too. I got a good haul of books and we also found several elements of costume for the opera; and they let us leave our purchases behind the till to pick up on our way home.
Garden with arch of roses

King John's Hunting Lodge, the garden. Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

 Probably the oldest building in the town (apart from the Abbey) is known at King John’s Hunting Lodge.  That guy must have been a prodigious hunter, his lodges litter the south of the country.  Romsey has documentary evidence that there really was a KJHL in the town, but archeology has proved that this isn’t it. Name not withstanding, it’s an interesting building, well interpreted, friendly staff, and it has a knucklebone floor (which I’d always imagined was a term for decorative flint work or something, but no, it’s actual cow knuckle bones ) and medieval graffiti, and satisfying windows that used to be doors, and windows that are now cupboards and so on, and a very pretty garden.

The museum next door (included in entry, more charming staff) is fairly typical how-life-used-to-be lived, but has two stand out exhibits, a recording on wax cylinder of local celebrity Florence Nightingale, sounding like Celia Johnson on speed having just been goosed; and a recreation of the hunting and fishing and general hardware shop that used to be here, complete with mannikin of the erstwhile owner which talked if you pinged the brass ‘attention’ bell.  The gent in question was an enthusiastic inventor of clever garden gadgets, and we had a whale of a time exploring his ideas, and the drawers of the shop which held everything from cheese graters to fishing flies.
The Abbey itself is very fine, preserved without too much intervention from over enthusiastic restorers, as the parish church.  It is mainly Romanesque and reminded me of Winchester cathedral, but lacks the dark, sinister, quality Winchester has, which consequently made it a good deal more attractive.  A number of the nave columns have a single foliage detail on the base as though a leaf has fallen from the more complex decoration at the top.  A nice touch.  The Abbey have a no commercial photography of the interior policy, and while this doesn’t really count as commercial, I’m not using my interior pictures.  There are some brilliant tombstones (I love tombstones, social history, art, intrigue and often humour all in one) from some ancient brasses to florid 18th Century brutes replete with cherubs and urns, but my two favourites were these:
A simple floor slab deeply engraved:
 Here lyeth ye body of Mr Tho
Warren. A learned pious
and faithfull minister of Christ
A solid Nervous assertor
of discriminating grace
and freed will Jan ye 27 1693/4.
Now then, what does that mean? A nervous assertor?  Discriminating grace? Freed will, as opposed to free will?  And why the two year dates? We didn’t move from Julian to Gregorian calendar until Wednesday 2 September 1752 (which was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752) so what’s that about?  Was there some issue about when the new year started, like not on the 1st january?  Surely by the 27th the year was well and truly launched?  Or was the tombstone carved so much later that no one could remember which year he’d died? Bizarre.
I get quite a picture of  Thomas Warren from those few words, probably completely wrong, but it keeps me amused.
The other high point tomb-wise is from 1658, and has a painted half-length  sculpted double portrait of John Sainte Barbe and his wife Grissell (not one of those antique names people like to resurrect, like Lettice, its apparent derivation gets in the way.)
Below the inscription are shown their children, a bundle of 4 cheerful, plump, slightly surprised moppets in red.  At first glance it looks like 2 girls and 2 boys, but the inscription says 4 sons, and given that their mother was only 22 when she died (the same day as her older husband) the implication is that the two youngest hadn’t yet been ‘breeched’.
There is extraordinary poetry on this inscription which is difficult to follow as it has been set out very oddly, it isn’t obvious which line you read after which, and culminates in an anagram on their names:
Be in shares, in Blest Glorie. 
This feels a bit shoehorned in, and I imagine a scholarly friend, perhaps the tutor of the eldest son, doing his best to meet a passing fad for cod mysticism with this rather paltry effort.  I’m saying no more on the poem, you should really go and read it yourself; but it reminded me of the title of an Ellis Peters detective book (not a Cadfael):

A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs.


Title page of Elegy

Title Page of the Elegy

This brings me back to genealogy and A’s ancient ancestors.  This was a bit of a detective work too.

In the ‘broody box’ a metal cash box owned by A’s father, there was among various other family documents a printed Elegy in memory of a Mrs Dunn.
This is Dunn the gentlemans outfitter, though not that specific branch of the family, and rather earlier in the family tree.  Now, because it only mentions the initial of her husband, and her name not at all, it took a while to work out who she was.  The number of children left motherless was a further clue, and we had a death date, and age at death and we assumed she’d died in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.  However, the fact that the Elegy was printed in Portsmouth suggested a Hampshire link.
A bit of research found her first name to be Elizabeth.
Elizabeth married William Dunn in around 1782 and had six children, William Webb, Elizabeth Witt, Anne Parsons, Joseph Stephen, Maria and Benjamin (the family habit of using other family surnames as middle names is a godsend when doing research, the 1st daughter being called Elizabeth Witt really helped.) 
So with Witt as a possible maiden name, we checked out births in Trowbridge and couldn’t find her, so we back tracked to the Hampshire connection.  We eventually found that Elizabeth Witt was born in 1762 and died in June 1790, that she was the daughter of  Stephen Witt who died in Romsey in 1792, and his wife Elizabeth who died in 1804.  Our Elizabeth had a younger brother, Robert, born after the family moved to Trowbridge.
second page of elegy

second page of elegy

Another typical find: Elizabeth’s brother Robert married Mary Dunn, one of the cousins of Elizabeth’s husband William. This happens a lot in the Trowbridge woollen merchants of A’s family tree, the best example of this is a Mr John Cooper, marries a Miss Wilkins, and his father, also John Cooper, for his third wife then marries the youngest sister of his son’s wife.  That seems a bit over the top to me!  But what a great story there is buried in there.  Not bad from a document too coy to mention the actual name of the writer or the deceased.

So that’s why we were in Romsey.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011