Monday, 31 January 2011

Hampshire Views - Stocks Farm and Old Winchester Hill

These somewhat blurred images* are of Stocks cottages under Old Winchester Hill, part of Stocks Farm where I was brought up. The land here has been farmed for countless generations and doubtless even sustained the inhabitants of the Iron Age Fort at the top of the hill. From their vantage point, they (and we today) could see the southern coast of England from Chichester Harbour and the Portsdown Hills, to Southampton Water, the Isle of Wight and the New Forest in the west. Below the hill in the valley to the south is Stocks Farm which we came to in 1950 and sold on my father's death in 2002. Stocks Farm expanded to incorporate neighbouring Harvestgate Farm in 1970 and Little Stocks Farm in Meonstoke, the nearest village, in 1980, but the land remained as it has for centuries, with good well-draining chalk-based soil in the valley and lighter land suitable for grain but also for sheep, on the hills. It's an exceptionally beautiful part of Hampshire, secluded and unspoiled. In addition to being used in this television programme, it also appears briefly in a video on Hampshire (at minute 2.11), but is also the subject of countless of my photos, some of which you can see linked from the heading.

Stocks and Harvestgate Farms and the coast beyond from Old Winchester Hill

Stocks Farm Cottages with the Isle of Wight in the distance from Old Winchester Hill (in September)

*These photos are taken from the television - a repeat showing of Midsomer Murders on ITV1. The scenery was supposed to represent Southern Ireland....

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Slideshows and the Little Prince

The Powerpoint slideshows that arrive frequently from friends usually contain a series of stunning images backed by a soulful soundtrack, but I'm afraid find them empty unless they are part of someone's story. 

Our screens are increasingly being overrun with photoshopped photographs, but they only touch the heart if the friend took them or if they explain why the images are important to them.

I am reminded always of the Story of the Fox and the truths he so poignantly explains to the Little Prince

Read it again here to understand why we feel as we do about this, and so many things in this age.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Favourite Poetry - Akhmatova

I first came across Akhmatova when reading The Life of Isaiah Berlin by Michael Ignatieff, and was interested in his veneration of her both for her poetry and for keeping alive 'the soul of Russia' through the darkest days of the revolution and the years of Stalin's terror. He wrote: 'The widespread worship of her memory in Soviet Union today, both as an artist and as an unsurrendering human being, has, so far as I know, no parallel. The legend of her life and unyielding passive resistance to what she regarded as unworthy of her country and herself, transformed her into a figure...not merely in Russian literature, but in Russian history.' 
She is also a favourite poet of my daughter Kei, who can appreciate her poetry as it should be read, in Russian.
No, not under a foreign sky,
no not cradled by foreign wings –
Then, I was with my people, I,
with my people, there, sorrowing.


I learned to know how faces fall apart,
how fear, beneath the eye-lids, seeks,
how strict the cutting blade, the art
that suffering etches in the cheeks.
How the black, the ash-blond hair,
in an instant turned to silver,
learned how submissive lips fared,
learned terror’s dry racking laughter.
Not only for myself I pray,
but for all who stood there, all,
in bitter cold, or burning July day,
beneath that red, blind prison wall

Before this sorrow mountains bow,
the vast river’s ceased to flow,
the ever-strong prison bolts
hold the ‘convict crews’ now,
abandoned to deathly longing.
For someone the sun glows red,
for someone the wind blows fresh –
but we know none of that, instead
we only hear the soldier’s tread,
keys scraping against our flesh.
Rising as though for early mass,
through the city of beasts we sped,
there met, breathless as the dead,
sun low, a mistier Neva. Far ahead,
hope singing still, as we passed.
Sentence given…tears pour out,
she thought she knew all separation,
in pain, blood driven from the heart,
as if she’s hurled to earth, apart,
yet walks…staggers…is in motion…
Where now my chance-met friends
of those two years satanic flight?
What Siberian storms do they resist,
and in what frosted lunar orb exist?
To them it is I send my farewell cry.

I'm now keen to read Valeri Grossman's Life and Fate, which covers the same ground, in prose form, and is thought to the equal of War and Peace.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Treasure Islands and the Avoidance of Tax

I have been reading this fascinating book with increased distaste for the concept that one should spend much time and money minimising one's exposure to tax. I have always felt sorry for those who thought that they had to organise their affairs - and even domicile - so as to pay less tax - such as the father of a friend who has to live half his life outside the country, with the result that his family only see him periodically; to those who have moved to Jersey and seem uniformly miserable. And we would no doubt be much wealthier today had my step-grandfather not taken the conscious decision not to shield his wealth from death duties on the grounds that all taxes were properly due to society and the country in which one lived. Should such noble sentiments return (particularly in corporations) we would no doubt be able to reduce the taxes that we do actually pay and care better for our society.

Favourite Poetry - Reluctance


Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season? 

Robert Frost

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Drapers' New Year Service

Some of St Michael's Choir at lunch at the Drapers' Hall

The City New Year Service is traditionally held at St Michaels', Cornhill in January and lunch is offered afterwards by the Drapers Livery Company, who have been patrons of St Michael's for 500 years, at their Hall nearby (recently in use as the setting for some of the scenes in The King's Speech). St Michael's vicar, the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, is a traditionalist Anglican of deep learning and of often amusing and outspoken views, who holds services based on the Book of Common Prayer and King James' Bible.

The City New Year's Service follows a traditional pattern of prayers and hymns - including Jerusalem and I Vow To The My Country - and some beautiful anthems from the choir, which, led by Jonathan Rennert, is  one of the finest in London. Unlike the choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the female sopranos are taught to sing like trebles, as Rennert believes that most church music was written for boy trebles. As a result, there's a wonderful purity to their voices.

This year the Master Draper, Maj-Gen Adrian Lyons, invited a fellow soldier, Maj-Gen Tim Cross, to give the address. In a superb talk, he pointed to the decline in human values in British society (which he called a 'cut-flower society', a brief and flashy show without roots and leaving no lasting seed) and called for leaders to emerge to reinstate them.  His address can be read here.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Scottish Borders

The Countryside above Selkirk. Click for a larger view
The funeral of one of my parents' dearest friends took me to the Scottish Borders for the first time just before New Year where I found a fascinating and beautiful landscape still mostly covered with snow. I also discovered the astonishing ruined abbeys of Dryburgh, Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose and had time to visit the first two, and leaned much of the history of the area from those ancient buildings.  Click the heading for more photos