Friday, 25 December 2015

Favourite Writings: Jalaluddin Al-Rumi

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” 
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.”
“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.”
“The moon stays bright when it doesn’t avoid the night.”
“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”
“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”
“Stop behaving small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
“Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you?”
“Only with the heart can you touch the sky.”
“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First, to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without your feet.”
“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”
“Be like the sun for grace and mercy. Be like the night to cover others’ faults. Be like running water for generosity. Be like death for rage and anger. Be like the Earth for modesty. Appear as you are. Be as you appear.”
“Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back towards disease and death.”
“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames”
“Be empty of worrying. Think of who created thought! Why do you stay in prison when the door is wide open?”
“Put your thoughts to sleep, do not let them cast a shadow over the moon of your heart. Let go of thinking.”
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…Welcome and entertain them all. 
Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
“Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”
“All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”
“We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.”
“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside.”
“You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck!”
“Why are you so enchanted by this world, when a mine of gold lies within you?”
“There is a fountain inside you. Don’t walk around with an empty bucket.”
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
“That which is false troubles the heart, but truth brings joyous tranquility.”
“What you seek is seeking you.”
“Do you know what you are? You are a manuscript of a divine letter. You are a mirror reflecting a noble face. This universe is not outside you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you are already that.”
Jalaluddin al-Rumi

See also, Jalaluddin Al-Rumi

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Favourite Poetry - Wind


This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up -
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

Ted Hughes (1930 - 1968)

There is a marvellous BBC documentary on Hughes which should be watched 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Favourite Books - Wait For Me by 'Debo' Devonshire

Ashtall Manor
Wait For Me by the youngest of the Mitford sisters, Debo Devonshire, is a delight, describing their lives and as well as hers in a warm and humorous way. It is a life full of public service as well as glamour and beauty and she writes simply and movingly about hers and her family's many tragedies.

Delightful stories abound: her irascible father walking to the Army & Navy Stores in Victoria with a lurcher and labrador at his heel and have them sit in the entrance.

Eddy Devonshire tying flies and lying in the bath imaging that he was a salmon while Edward, the butler, pretending to be a fishing rod, jerked them over his submerged head.

Tom Egerton (a friend of Andrew's) being famous for rescuing the marmalade from the officers' mess at the Siege of Tobruk.

'When Uncle Harold [Macmillan] was very old he came to stay for weeks on end. I met him one afternoon in a passage looking rather anxious and forlorn. 'The trouble with this house,' he said, 'is that you have to throw double sixes to get out'.

James Lees-Milne advocating friendship with Germany and her father turning him out of the house. 'Poor Jim went to his motorbike but it was raining hard and would not start. In despair he found the back door and and was rescued by Mabel (a parlourmaid) who hustled him upstairs . As he was creeping out of the house the next morning, he met her father. 'Good morning' he said. He had forgotten the whole episode and offered Jim our usual generous breakfast. 

Her mother believed in wholegrain, stone-ground bread - 'nothing added and nothing taken away.' She was critical of Lord Rank, 'the wicked miller' and regarded his ghost-white loaves and pale brown Hovis a confidence trick because because the germ of the wheat had been removed.  

Her husband, Andrew Devonshire was painted by Theodore Ramos (as was Ayako).

For me too it was particularly interesting to read about her early life at Ashtall Manor, where my step-grandfather Sir Alfred Herbert lived and the Mitfords acquired after he moved to Dunley.

See also this interview here

Monday, 20 July 2015

Old Swan House Garden in July

I had thought that the garden would look near its best in June, when the euphorbias and roses were out, but in fact it seems to be flowering better in mid July, and the grasses are better too as they have gone from being green to golden, and so look much lighter. My neighbours buddleija adds a strong burst of colour now as well.

For more photos, click here

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Cascades Flower Festival in Winchester Cathedral

Cascades, a beautiful modern flower arrangement exhibition, was held in Winchester Cathedral between 23rd - 28th June 2015, some of the arrangements seemingly inspired by the Tower of London poppies of 2014. The exhibition was directed by Hans Haverkamp with support from Bill Dixon and Pauline Harran.

For more photos of the exhibition, click here

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Favourite Places - Wells Cathedral

The famous west front of Wells Cathedral contains one of the largest collections of mediaeval sculpture 
At last I have managed to visit Wells Cathedral, which I have long wanted to see. A flower festival was held in the Bishop's Palace Gardens which was interesting, but the C12th Cathedral was superb.

The famous scissor arches supporting the tower. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Mottisfont Rose Garden June 2015

Rose Tour de Malakoff

The magnificent rose garden at Mottisfont is at its best in May and June, but I don't always manage to visit in peak season. However, June 2015 was an exception and although it wasn't sunny, the roses were superb and I was able to get a lot of quite decent photos - though nothing like as good as those of Nigel Burkitt.

For the full set, click here

More photos can be seen here 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Old Swan House Garden Open for the NGS 2015

I have been a supporter of the National Gardens Scheme for years and love visiting their gardens myself, but faced opening Old Swan House garden this 2015 with some trepidation. I certainly hadn't thought of doing so in only its second season, but was prevailed on after one of the four NGS gardens in Stockbridge was withdrawn.

Fortunately the weather was kind and the plants obliged with a decent show; and the visitors particularly enjoyed seeing a garden behind a house on Stockbridge High St which they would otherwise never see.


The NGS raised £2.4m for its charities last year and Hampshire was the largest contributor. I hope we'll do as well this year.

Click here to read Paul Johnson's well-known and evocative piece on the English love of gardening.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Favourite Places - The Palace Hotel, Tokyo

The Palace Hotel, Tokyo, seen across Hibiya Park
Returning to the Palace Hotel after several years, finding it completely rebuilt and absolutely stunning. I must have spent about a year of my life staying here between 1978 and 2006.

A stunning maple on the terrace
Part of the lobby. The whole place is full of glass and light
It was redesigned by a British firm, GA Design. Brilliant work.

For more photos, click here

Friday, 10 April 2015

Lucie Skipwith 1942 - 2014

Lucie was born Marcelle Louise Othon at Cursan near Creon on 24th November 1942, one of seven children to Maurice and Georgette Othon. Her father, who composed music, died in 1966 and her mother in 1992. Lucie had three brothers, Michel, Francois and Andre (‘Prosper’), and four sisters, including Therese and Mireille. Two of her sisters died young, one at six months and another in 1965, and Lucie’s brother Michel also died, in 1998.

Lucie had a conventional schooling and then studied dressmaking. So good was she that she became a pattern cutter at the Bordeaux atelier of Ted Lapidus, a fashionable Paris couture house of the 60’s and 70’s, and she lived in a flat on Rue Bouffard in Bordeaux.  Charlie meanwhile was learning the wine trade in Bordeaux with the Ginestet’s, the family who then owned Chateau Margaux.

One spring day in 1967 Charlie was driving in his MGB Roadster when he pulled up at the lights on Cours Georges Clemenceau alongside Lucie and Therese. They were in a Renault Floride cabriolet, wearing scarves to protect their bee-hives, and he chatted them up. And although Charlie hardly needs any help, he had a doctor friend in his car who knew the girls, and by the fourth set of traffic lights, both had secured a double date with Lucie and her sister. During their courtship, they visited bars and vegetable markets – and night-clubs - notably Chez Jimmy – and La Chevriere - where they danced to ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ - and never looked back. Later on in their courtship, Charlie managed to run out of petrol on the way back from the beach and sent Lucie hitch-hiking to get some while he stayed and listened to 24 Hours Le Mans on the car radio. So romance soon took its predictable course!

I was lucky enough to meet Lucie that summer, when I was lent a flat in Florence for a month and called on my friends to come out and join me. Johnny Cooke and the late Tim Boycott raced out with girlfriends and Charlie arrived with Lucie and a tent which he pitched in a wood near Livorno, only to be rudely woken on Sunday morning by the locals moving through the wood shooting at anything that moved. Obviously they kept their heads down!

When Charlie’s time in Bordeaux came to an end, Lucie came with him back to England where initially she got a job as au pair with the Chapmans in Farnham, where she was very happy. After that she had a less amusing time looking after some spoiled brats in Ealing with the Titcciatti family.  Charlie was then in London working with Freddie Price of Dolamore and pursuing his career in wine and so Lucie took a job at the fashionable leather shop Cordoba in Bond St, and later at Gucci and moved into Charlie’s flat over Dolamore in Paddington Green.

Charlie and Lucie got married at this church in Droxford on 12th July 1969. Lucie naturally made her own wedding dress and those of her bridesmaids. Afterwards they honeymooned in Corsica. Then, through Prue, who had arrived in London to do the season and who had hooked up with me through Nick Duke’s cousin Frances, they met John Rendall – of ‘Christian the Lion’ fame – (and who is here today) and through him became interested in working in Australia. Charlie and Lucie duly sailed for Australia in the summer of 1970 on a Messagerie Maritime paquebot, which they caught in Marseilles.  Prue and I drove them down and put them on to the ship.

Landing eventually in Sydney after calling at places like Guadeloupe and the Marquesas, Taihiti and Moorea, Vanuatu and Noumea , they stayed for a while with Arthur Johnson; Arthur then being Prue’s father’s accountant and soon to marry the same Frances (Duke).

Lucie then worked at dressmaking in Double Bay while Charlie took a job in Arnott’s biscuit factory, but their first job together was managing a pub in Melbourne – ‘Hatter’s Castle’ in South Yarra - and later a large restaurant in a chain called ‘Peanuts’. It was there that Lucie’s commercial cooking career began as they lost a chef without notice and, in what was to become her typical style, Lucie took over.

And they soon started their family. In fact when Prue and I got married in Sydney in December 1971, Lucie was only a couple of weeks away from having Naomi, who was born in January 1972.

At Cobbetts, Lucie took charge of the kitchen, working alongside and managing the chefs and choosing the menus. In the interregnums between chefs or when they simply didn’t turn up, Lucie of course took over the cooking herself.  She had a natural talent for cooking and developing the French regional recipes she had learned from her mother. Her dishes became famed locally and earned the restaurant high marks in the Good Food Guide and other publications. Her ‘soupe de poissons’ and virulent ‘rouille’ stood out, as did special ‘soirees gastronomique’ and private parties.

It was 1974 too that the Skipwith family moved from Studwell Lodge to Greywell and Lucie (and of course Charlie) found themselves managing the restaurant, looking after their own family and increasingly also Charlie’s parents as they got older. The children, now consisting of Naomi, Alissa (1975) and Georgie (1979, went to Mrs Barber’s at Hill Head, the late and somewhat lamented Rookesbury and then to St Swithun’s. There was an enormous amount of driving for both of them in those years. Once she broke her knee in a car accident and was in plaster for some time, but that hardly slowed her down. They had help on occasion from her brother Prosper who became an honorary Brit just as Lucie had herself, and for a while they employed the marvellous Nanny Reid, who helped look after most of our children in the 70’s, but Lucie’s incredible energy and dedication became evident to all who knew her. She used to organise bike rides along the Hamble and picnic trips to the sea. She also loved camping, despite her early experiences with Charlie in Italy, and would set up camp anywhere. She wasn’t one to stick to the rules, nor was she interested in things you had to buy. She always thought that doing things yourself brought you much more valuable experiences.

Lucie was faced with some difficult situations in the restaurant when Charlie was away. Once she had to fight off a thief during the lunch service by spraying him with a fire extinguisher and then holding him up with an air pistol. Apparently the thief said to her ‘That won’t hurt’, to which she replied, ‘That depends on where I shoot you!’ On another occasion two enormous drunks came into the bar fighting and started breaking the place up and there was even blood on the walls.  Naomi called the police while Lucie chased one of them out through the kitchen shouting at him in French, which probably terrified him more than anything!  

Then in 1989 a friend, Dr Milligan, who had acquired a double-decker bus to take to race meetings, allowed Charlie and Lucie to become part owners and extend their business by fitting it out as a mobile restaurant and serving lunches to the likes of De La Rue on the rooftop tables. In 1984 they visited Twickenham and took the bus to Le Mans with Spice Racing. They enjoyed it so much that in 1996 they acquired a much bigger vehicle, an American Motorhome, to cater to the race teams such as GTC Gulf McLaren at events throughout Europe. They developed that business so well that by 1995 they sold Cobbetts, and took on full-time race meeting catering until 2003.  This was even harder work than the restaurant, with the cooking being carried out under testing conditions, for instance at Le Mans when the drivers and pit crew required feeding at 2am and again at breakfast as well as throughout the day for ten days at a time. Lucie was quoted in a Sunday Times article as saying ‘They want it and they want it fast!’ They used to feed 84 people at 12 tables of seven under an awning erected on astroturf with fresh flowers on each table. The girls all helped in their holidays and the family lived in the motorhome with a kitchen a trailer behind, but Lucie loved watching the start of each race. In 2000 they sold up in England and moved to France.  

In 1988, at Lucie’s request, her brother Prosper had found them an old farmhouse, Le Cros, about ten miles from Creon where she had grown up. It was a day’s drive from the Channel ports, three hours from skiing and two hours from the beaches and 20 mins from Lucie’s mother. Charlie and Lucie developed this into a lovely family home and when they moved to it full time in 2000, they ran it as a B&B, where Lucie could also give cooking lessons.  This proved very successful and they were often full, with cycling tours and numerous individual guests. She had developed an amazing ability to whip up a superb meal in next to no time whether the guests arrived at 9pm or 2am, and her cooking lessons, when she would also take guests to the local market to buy the ingredients, were much prized.

As well as the B&B, Le Cros was indeed a lovely family home. Lucie was the perfect homemaker, her energy and determination creating a wonderful warm environment for the family. She was brilliant at home renovation and was very creative – and she did as much as she could herself, hating to call in help. She was ‘debrouillade’ - meaning that she was always naturally inventive and resourceful. Not only did she make things like curtains and cushions, but when Naomi and Georgie got married, she used her dressmaking skill to make their wedding dresses and the bridesmaids dresses.

Naomi had married Nick here in Droxford in 1999, while Georgie married Simon in France in 2007.  Simon’s first introduction to Lucie was a blind foie gras tasting – two bought-in and one of hers - which fortunately he passed, otherwise he would have had to face the ultimate challenge - a plate of ‘Lamproie a la Bordelaise’! Both Nick and Simon adored her and fitted perfectly into the family, and many happy times (usually most of each August and many Christmases) were spent all together at Le Cros where Simon’s skill at mixing margaritas was frequently called upon in the tasting room.

In 2005, Naomi and Nick had her first grandchild, and Lucie became an adored grandmother to Freddie and then to Florence, born to Georgie and Simon, followed by William in London and Henry in New York. Lucie was indefatigable with her grandchildren and came and helped look after them when ever she could – and in the case of Georgie, thrice dropped everything when nanny arrangements fell through and spent weeks in New York and she even found time to make yards of bunting for Florence. She embraced American culture and food and was even seen tackling a ’15 bite hot dog’! She was also able to indulge her passion for art and culture and was an avid lover of opera. She used to spend at least 15 minutes at each of her favourite paintings at the Museum of Modern Art. One visit in 2011 included a wonderful tour of the West Coast with Charlie as well, and many wonderful photos exist of the family moving about in huge white ‘SUV’ and taking in all the great sights. 

Of course, there were also many holidays spent skiing with family and friends – usually at La Clusaz - where they went for more than twenty years. Lucie was a good and enthusiastic skier and enjoyed the break from cooking.  She and Charlie also went on several sailing holidays in Greece and Turkey. 
In 2007 Lucie suffered a serious illness, and although she recovered and carried on working as hard as ever, her immune system had been seriously weakened. In the last couple of years she and Charlie had decided to wind down their strenuous daily B&B activities and let the house out as a whole for a week or longer while they themselves lived in the ‘gite’ and took things a bit easier.  She had become a keen gardener and Charlie constructed four large ‘potagers’ for her herbs and vegetables, while she herself worked in the greenhouse far into the night pricking out seedlings, with her radio playing classical music beside her.

Lucie also found time to be very interested in history, particularly English history (which perhaps is explicable by the fact that she came from Aquitaine…). In fact she loved the English way of life such as pubs and the Sunday papers.and was looking forward greatly to spending more time in England following Nick and Naomi’s purchase of their house in Bishop’s Waltham. But sadly she fell ill early last year and on her last visit here in August/September she was already very unwell. Charlie took her back to Le Cros and then to hospital in Bordeaux and visited her daily with great devotion. Naomi, Alissa and Georgie joined Charlie as often as they could but had to watch helplessly as she declined from a combination of intractable diseases that her weakened immune system couldn’t cope with. 

Lucie’s funeral was at Cursan, the setting of her childhood, on a bright December day. The event was beautifully managed and in addition to her sisters Therese and Mireille, her brother Francois , Prosper and their spouses and children, the village and many friends attended. It was a traditional service very like the one we are having here and her close friend Nicole, who has come over for this one, gave a beautiful address. Following the church service, Lucie was cremated in Bordeaux and we were all greatly moved when the music included an echo of Charlie and Lucie’s courtship when ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was played.  

Despite the tragedy of her early death, her funeral was not all somber.  There was a short delay at the beginning as one of the drivers of the cortege went off with the keys of the hearse in his pocket; leading some to smile at Lucie (who was always late for everything) being late for her own funeral.  There was also the case of the posthumous speeding tickets on Lucie’s Renault Clio, which Charlie was about to send back to the authorities with a sharp note, before Simon owned up to having made a rather swift run in it up to St Emilion and back. Lucie had also posthumously acquired three points on her licence, leading to the thought that if Simon had done much more driving, she might have lost it altogether.

Four months have passed since Lucie died and we have come together here in Droxford to honour and celebrate her life and memory. And although that time has passed, it’s still difficult to realise that she’s not still with us. She was much loved by everyone and her determination and energy was greatly admired by those who were close to her. She was completely devoted to her family but extended her love and care to all those around her. 

Georgie has written: 

From a very young age I used to watch my mother and wonder how someone could always be so thoughtful of others all of the time. Just the small things like always making sure everyone else was taken care of first, serving out the best to others and making do with whatever was left for herself. She was always trying to make sure that everyone was happy. It was something I used to watch carefully from a small child's perspective on life and felt so lucky to be so loved.

I think that is my abiding memory of Lucie too, as the completely unselfish centre of one of the happiest and most united families I know. 

Herry Lawford
Droxford Church
10th April 2015

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Favourite Cities - Beirut

Beirut by Sorgul

Nowhere can you find combination more breath-taking of sea and snow, age and vigour, history and persiflage. Only at the Levantine end of the Mediterranean could a Beirut exist, with all those undertones of antiquity, graft and tolerance. Is she really a great city, this wayward paragon? Scarcely, by the standards of Belin or San Francisco, Tokyo or Moscow; but she is great in a different kind. She is great like a voluptuous courtesan, a shady merchant-prince, the scent of jasmine or the flash of a dazzling sandal. She has scarcely achieved greatness or even had it thrust upon her, but greatness has often spent a night in her arms, and a little lingers.

Jan Morris

Monday, 2 March 2015

One Hundred Books Famous In Children's Literature

Winnie The Pooh by AA Milne
This is the catalogue of a marvellous exhibition held in the Grolier Club in New York between December 2014 and February 2015 and curated by a friend, Chris Loker. I first heard Chris talk about this project in 2011 and was greatly intrigued as to which books would be included among the list she was putting together of The One Hundred Books Famous In Children's Literature. The catalogue itself is a work of art, containing beautiful illustrations of the books' covers and fascinating detail about their original publication and their authors as well as some erudite essays on subjects such as their illustrations. The whole exhibition was the result of five years intensive scholarship.

The exhibition of the books - mostly priceless first editions printed between 1600 and 2000 - was a great success and attracted wide attention. Everyone has their own much-loved favourites and few are omitted, and though I would have loved to have included 'Harry, The Dirty Dog', no one would argue with the inclusion of classics like 'Struwwelpeter', 'The Wind In The Willows', 'Winnie The Pooh', 'The Secret Garden', 'Le Petit Prince', 'Barbar' and of course the comparatively recent 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' and 'Where The Wild Things Are'. But two more of my childhood favourites, long forgotten, also featured - 'The Story Of Ferdinand' and 'The Children Of The New Forest', so this was no mere roll-call of predictable best-sellers.

A full listing of the 100 books is here
You can order a copy of the catalogue online here.
A link to the New York Times photographs of the exhibition is here

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Le Petit Prince by Saint-Exupery

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Tom Sawyer by Samuel Clemens

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Peter and Wendy by James Barrie

Barbara by Jean De Brunhoff

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein

The Cat In The Hat by Dr Suess

Strewelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann

100 Books Famous in Children's Literature