Park Hill 29th November
Remembrance Day Service
From youth to those that served
A touching and well timed tribute from small children at the Village Nursery
Many of us will be attending the Remembrance Day church service and parade on Sunday 14th November. We are remembering the sacrifice of those who have died in the service of our country as well as the dead of other nations. The church service is at 10.00, and the parade at the memorial in the High Street is at 10.45. Tea and cakes will be available in the village hall afterwards (children welcome).
University duties mean we have lost our musician. Kati Whitaker has been asked by the PCC to step in and play the Last Post. She will be using the saxophone, as has been done previously at official events around the country. Kati will be remembering her father pictured below.
Dennis Whitaker, Fleet Air Arm. Arctic Star
Lych Gate Progress at Last
After many false starts East Meon’s fabulous church, All Saints, is getting a new entrance gate. Well done all on the work to date.
In November The Village Nursery will move to the village hall from its current base. This is a professional operation taking children from 2-4 years running five days a week (9-3pm bar Tuesday – 9-12), allowing working mothers to leave their children at the village hall. It costs £5.25 per hour. The Nursery has an established client base, many of whom come from the village. This will save the travelling time.
Local mother and school governor Anna Tebbut – who worked at the previous hall based nursery – said “There are currently children in the village who have never been to pre-school because there are families living in East Meon without any transport. Pre-school is an important element of child development and having a pre-school in the village once more would enable more of our community to access child care”.
Village Hall Committee chair David Pepper said “This is a significant new use for the larger hall and while it will reduce availability for other daytime users, having a nursery in the village again will support children who were unable to benefit from pre-school. The committee has consulted widely on this and also carefully considered how this will affect the village. Appropriate protections are in place and we will monitor how this works over the coming months”.
Hall users should note that the Village Nursery operates in school term only, the large hall is available at other times and during term after 3pm, small hall is available at all times. The Café is not affected. All regular users have been consulted, and an alternative venue is also under discussion.
Izaak Walton Changes Hands
Report to follow in December Meon Matters magazine.
Moviola is Back
The Village Hall saw a very healthy turnout for Nomadland on Friday 24th September. A full program of monthly, last Friday night whowings is planned. See Moviola in Village Life or Events for more films and dates
Flying Start for Little Steps
“Little Steps” opened their first baby/toddler and mother group in the village hall on Monday 13 Sep, and will be open in future on each Monday morning from 9-30 to 11-30. Delicious, healthy snacks were given to the little ones. Donations received from the mothers were much appreciated.
They were delighted that we had 8 babies and toddlers and 7 mothers, who enjoyed the relaxed morning with their little ones who played happily and began to socialise with each other. What a joy.
The manager, the leader of the group and staff from Home Start Butser a Charity were there and were very happy with the morning. They were supported by volunteers In the kitchen who provided refreshments for the parents and snacks for the little ones.
Sue Croft said “I wish to thank the village hall committee for the work which has been done to welcome “Little Steps” into our village hall making it safer for us all. I am also very grateful for the support from villagers who have donated to the cost of the hire of the village hall which enables us to run this much needed group and also for the support from the ladies who help with refreshments.”
For further information please contact email@example.com, 01730 233755
Where Are They Now?
So how many faces can you recognise, and in what year was this taken?
Meon Matters – Autumn Issue
Would contributors note the deadline for material for the next issue is September 10th. Contributions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send photographs separately in JPEG format. We appreciate additional offerings but cannot guarantee to print everything.
What a Swell Party
Festival comperes Chris Hollis and Richard Gaisford. Picture Nick Williams.
Hats off to David Pepper and the team who created the East Meon Village Festival and to everyone who turned out to enjoy a celebration of East Meon, by East Meon, for East Meon. Full report to follow in the Autumn edition of Meon Matters. See Village Life page for details on ordering high resolution prints of the photo below.
The Devils Music
Latin Jazz combo East of Meon raised the roof and over £1,000 for the church with a well attended concert on Saturday 14th August. Playing through the range of jazz styles from swing to latin, with short explanations of the progress proved a bit hit with over 100 tickets sold. More please.
Summer Makes a Brief Appearance
View from Park Hill, 7th August, in a brief lull in the rain. Credit David Hart
Moviola is back
West Meon Music Festival September – Ticket Sales Now Live
Full details of all the festival programmes can be found on the festival website,http://www.westmeonmusic.co.uk, where tickets are on sale from 1st August.
Defibrillator Fund Raiser
Festival Gathers Pace
Planning for the FREE village festival on Sunday 15th August are firming up. Attactions in include four bands, a beer tent, kids competitions (with prizes), a village photo using the Bereleigh cherry picker, tea and cakes, and interactive art event, and so much more. The festival starts at 12.00, so please be there for the photo shortly after 12.00. See https://eastmeonvillagehall.co.uk/village-festival/
The Satrday 14th Jazz in the Church is going well with over 50 tickets sold so far. Get them in teh shop or here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/jazz-in-the-church-east-meon-village-festival-tickets-152485792109
PS Helpers are needed on the Green on Saturday and Sunday from 10.00 to set up tents and other facilities. Just turn up please. Pickups especially welcome.
Let them Eat Cake
Village Hall Cafe Reopens Tuesday 3rd August. Hurrah.
She Stoops to Conquer
A large (socially distanced) crowd of East Meon residents enjoyed a knock out presentation of Oliver Goldsmith’s perenial favourite mix of social manners wit and farce on the Court House’s beautiful gardens last Tuesday. The sun came out, the Berry Garden bubbled and all present thanked Clare and George Bartlett for their generous hospitality. The Rosemary Foundation benefitted.
Summer Issue Meon Matters Now Out
Cricket Sixes – East Meon beat East Meon
Strange game cricket, and many a US observer has been baffled by the rules. How did East Meon beat East Meon? The report in the forthcoming Meon Matters magazine will explain.
Plans for Village Festival Take Shape
The Village Hall are confident the Festival on August 15th will be a big success, with more and more activities, music and attractions being added every week. The plan below gives a flavour of the scale of the event. Look our for the print Meon Matters in the next week and keep checking here for more details.
And its free.
Who Scored a Century for East Meon?
See cricket report – sporting life section
New Petersfield Museum Now Open
Following its major £4 million expansion and refurbishment, the museum will be proudly opening its doors from Wednesday 9th June with innovative designs, engaging presentations and a fascinating range of information and artefacts waiting inside…
Housed in a Victorian Justice Centre (with police station, cells and courthouse) the museum has a range of unique collections including:
- The social history of the town and surrounding villages
- A national collection and study centre devoted to Edward Thomas – including over 2,000 books by and about the First World War poet
- Artefacts from one of the most impressive Bronze Age barrow cemeteries to have survived in south-east England which has been studied in detail in recent years
- Hundreds of works by Royal Academy watercolourist Flora Twort who had a passion for the town and local landscapes
- A collection of historic clothing, from the 1720s to 1950s, accumulated by Bedales School
- An archive of over 100,000 photographs by local press photographer Don Eades during the 1960s, 70s and 80s (a unique record of social life over three decades) and
- A courtyard area with a huge artwork map of the area (and café) which will be hosting a range of external events.
Early visitors have been very impressed. It is anticipated that the museum will become a significant cultural hub and visitor centre within the National Park.
Admission is currently by advanced online booking – using the ‘Tickets’ button at the top of the Museum’s website www.petersfieldmuseum.co.ukhomepage.
The Courtyard Café will also open on the 9th June: open to everyone and serving teas, coffee, sandwiches and delicious cakes throughout the day.
Opening times for the Museum are: Wednesday to Saturday: 10am to 5pm (last entry at 4pm); Sunday: 11am to 4pm (last entry at 3pm).
Do Badgers Read Meon Matters?
A personal view on a thorny issue – See Nature page https://meonmatters.com/nature/
What happened to Spike the hedghog – and what can be done.
Reverend Jane Ball leaving East Meon
East Meon Vicar Yomps 55 miles
Village Festival Date Set – August 15th
A CELEBRATION OF EAST MEON, BY EAST MEON, FOR EAST MEON
Come and celebrate our village this August with a summer party featuring all sorts of entertainment on the village green.
Village Photo – featuring the death defying Bereleigh cherry picker
- Nuthin Yet (rock)
- East of Meon (jazz/latin quartet)
- Igloo (ukulele combo)
Beer tent, Cakes, tea and coffee, Hog roast, ice cream and other food stalls, Children’s races and entertaintment, Village clubs, societies, business stands, Village Hall class stalls
Note. No car parking facilities are provided (with exceptions for less mobile) and the event is for East Meon residents only
Jazz in the Church
The East Meon Village Festival opens with a jazz concert in All Saints Church, East Meon Saturday 14th August at 7.00 pm. Cool jazz in a cool venue on a summer evening. East of Meon are a London band with local connections, featuring saxophone, bass, drums and keyboard playing jazz classics from 1930s blues through to more contemporary numbers.
Tickets £12.50 to include complementary drink
Tickets from the shop or Eventbite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/jazz-in-the-church-east-meon-village-festival-tickets-152485792109
Sample music https://soundcloud.com/eastofmeon/eom-moondance-demo
Dreaming of Summer?
Those Magnificent Men – Paragliders Target Park Hill
Two experienced paragliders were trying the air on Park Hill Tuesday 27th April. The hill is ideal for southerly winds when Winchester Hill and Butser aren’t providing the lift needed, but Park Hill is tricky – not least for the limited landing options. At present usage is limited to experienced pilots, and Bereleigh are always consulted. The pilots were disappointed to learn cattle are likely to be in residence soon.
East Meon Thrash Clanfield
See Cricket page for full report.
Nature Group Presentation at Parish Council
Great video explaning Nature Group. See https://eastmeonnature.com/east-meon-nature-video-presentation/
Village Hall Bookings Spring Back
The phased end of lockdown has seen a surge of the right kind, with many of the regular Village Hall classes restarting. So far (April 24th) we have
- Jon Watson (Karate) booked through to the end of year
- Susan Tuff has booked 3 sessions per week for Yoga, although her Monday sessions are still uncertain
- Fiona has booked her Sew Social on Weds
- Moviola Autumn season is booked
The Hall already had:
- Sonja’s roots and wings yoga,
- Baby Sensory
- Garden Club
- PC meetings
- And some ad-hoc events
It is hoped the Cafe can restart after May 18th – watch this space
Cricket Kicks Off
East Meon Cricket Clubs played their first match of 2021 – hopefully first of many. Full report on the Sporting Life page.
The Court House Stoops to Conquer
Theatre is coming to East Meon the summer with an outdoor performance of ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ . The Bartletts have invited Rain or Shine theatre company www.rainorshine.co.uk to return and perform in the Court House garden on Tuesday, 13th July 7-9.30 pm. The company have come in the past but not for a few years and as Clare says “ I thought this was the moment to have them back – to raise spirits and make the most of our new-found freedoms!”
She Stoops to Conquer is an 18th Century farce for all the family “A reserved lover, it is said, always makes a suspicious husband.” Kate Hardcastle is a young lady fixed up to meet the eligible Marlow with a view to marriage. Marlow is a young gent who is tongue-tied with the upper classes and downright lecherous with commoners. So when Marlow is tricked into believing Kate’s ancestral home is a country inn, and mistakes Kate for a lowly barmaid what could possibly go wrong? Plenty! Set against the increasingly chaotic proceedings of one very long night, She Stoops to Conquer is a delightful romantic romp filled with ludicrous misunderstanding, mischief and mayhem.
Bar, loos, ice-creams available. Doors open from 6pm for picnics. Tickets costing £7-15 are available to buy via the the Box Office 03306 600541 (10.30am – 7pm) or (with booking fee) online https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/rain-or-shine-theatre-co/t-qoxeyn If you have questions Clare is on 07747 827751 (NB but not for ticket sales)
Villagers enjoying a previous Court House theatre interval
Village Hall Reopens – Children’s Events from April 12th
After a careful reading of the lockdown lift regulations the Hall committee has confirmed that – unless government decides otherwise – the Hall will be open from May 17th. Additionally children’s events and household groups could use the Hall from April 12th.
Sadly the café will have to wait till lockdown is lifted in June. All dates are subject to further government advice.
Charlie and Monty Special – Spring Issue Meon Matters Now Out
Easter Week Sunshine
The sun is out, rule of six outdoors applies from Monday, a mini-heatwave is forecast on Tuesday and your Meon Matters magazine has just arrived. Things are looking up. Whats for lunch next Sunday?
Cricket Sixes – now confirmed for June 26th
With only half a season possible last year, this year the East Meon Cricket Club is keeping its fingers crossed that it’ll have a full uninterrupted COVID (and rain)-free season. The Club gets the season underway with a home fixture against Petersfield on 18th April, followed up by home matches against Clanfield and XIIth Men on the following two Sundays.
Although COVID-restrictions are likely to make our teas a slightly more ‘bring your own’ affair than normal, we always love welcoming supporters to the ground on a Sunday for a chat and catch up, and hopefully at some point as restrictions lift, we’ll be able to offer you all a cup of tea and slice of cake.
The sixes competition is pencilled in for the 26th June and we’re looking at ways to hold the summer party that evening in a safe and risk-free way – keep an eye on Friends of East Meon Facebook for more information.
Anyone interested in finding out more and joining, please email email@example.com, to find out more, or come and join us at our pre-season nets (from April) or on match day to meet the team.
Who’s afraid of the big bad duck?
Dangerous place, East Meon. Wildlife everywhere. Some local warning signs.
Coots in Frogmore
Toads in Coombe (presumably displaced by the coots)
Cats in Chalk Dell
Bull on Park Hill – possibly to be taken rather more seriously – (in summer)
Meon Springs cattle. Why are they crossing the road? Looking for the bull?
Got a better one> Send us some more, to firstname.lastname@example.org
Pigs in the Car Park
The Village Hall have signed up a hogroast service to replace the short lived burger van. Anna of www.simplyhogroast.co.uk will be here on Tuesday evenings alternating with Steve Findlay’s Fish n Chips for a trial period starting next week 16th. They serve from 17:00 to 20:00. No pre order. Card payment.
The coffee team will be here next week and every dry Saturday until further notice, starting at 10.00, finishing 12.30.
The vans make a contribution to keeping the Hall funded during lockdown, and are booked to avoid Izaak serving days (Thu-Sunday). Please make them welcome.
Toads in the Road
We have a new sign in Coombe, part of the Nature Group effort to protect the toads. Look out for a full report in the spring issue of Meon Matters. And don’t forget your froglights.
Garden Club Photo Competition Now Open
See Garden Club page or https://www.eastmeongardenclub.com/photographic-online-competition
Images can be colour or B&W and must have been taken between the competition announcement date of 1 March 2021 and the closing date 30 June 2021.
Please state if entries are from anyone under 13 years old.
All classes are for amateur photographers only. Photographs will be judged on the creative use of the medium to represent the theme of each class.
One entry only per class.
Forbes Almshouses Vacancy, Church Street, East Meon
A vacancy is arising shortly in the Forbes Almshouses. No. 4 consists of living room and kitchen downstairs and bedroom and bathroom with WC upstairs.
Anyone applying for residence should be 65 years of age, suitable on grounds of health, character and resources, and have lived continuously for the past two years in the parishes of East Meon or Langrish.
Anyone interested in applying for residence should contact one of the following trustees of Forbes Almshouses, either Mr Leo Seymour (07891 638844) or Mrs Jane Cobley (01730 823013) for more details and an application form. Applications should be received by Friday 9th April The Trustees 2021
Bereleigh Announce Summer Events
Bereleigh was unable to hold a Village Mtg in January informing people of event plans for the year. They have now confirmed the following dates.
Lobster Shoot – Friday 25th June 2021 Bereleigh Estate in aid of The Countryside Alliance (by invitation)
Berefest – Saturday 26th June 2021 one day only – Mascombe Valley. All tickets purchased on the gate: Adults £10, Under 18s £5
Hampshire Country Sports Day – Sunday 12th September 2021 Bereleigh Estate in aid of The Countryside Alliance.
Sad End For Tawny Owl – see Nature Group page
Wild About Coffee?
Wild Kite Coffee Ltd are coming to East Meon Village Hall On Saturday 6 March from 8.30am. They are a small independent business and serve artisan coffee locally roasted at Moonroast in Alresford along with other drinks and fresh breakfast snacks. You can’t miss their bright red original Piaggio Ape – please do pop by and say hello.
Friends of the South Downs Photography Competition Winners.
Photo competitions are all the rage and East Meon Garden Club offering is offering theirs this spring. The Friends of the South Downs winners are shown on the link below. The brief was to celebrate the beauty of the SDNP – its landscape, wildlife, buildings and other man-made structures contributing to the cultural heritage of the area. Images had to be taken within the Park or as a view from outside the boundaries. The competition was open to both members and the public with the proviso that they were non-professionals.
You can see all of the images on their website https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.uk/photo-competition/
Villagers deliver hampers to Queen Alexandra hospital staff.
Emily Rich and Suzanne Sparks have started a service giving hamper baskets to the NHS staff who have been working so hard during the pandemic. The hampers contain treats for to all staff working at the Queen Alexandra hospital in Portsmouth, including cleaners, mortuary staff, reception staff, ward staff, those in the vaccination hubs, testing centres, ambulance crews etc. Last night they delivered 20 hampers to various staff members, and saw how overworked they are and how much they needed it.
Suzanne and Emily rely solely on donations of hampers, bags and treats, like crisps, cans of drinks, biscuits etc, anything that can be eaten on the go quickly. If anyone would like to donate things can be dropped to Emily Rich at 2 Kews Meadow.
There is also a JustGiving page if you would like to donate
What a fabulous initiative.
Creating Hedgehog Highways
Over 100 villagers enjoyed a great talk arranged by the Garden Club and Nature Group last Monday. A full report will follow in the spring magazine but try this link for a flavour https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH5MPGevkd0
Thank you Rob Ford, Linda Redpath, Brian Biggs, and Rebecca Powney for some lovely snowdrop pictures, now posted here https://meonmatters.com/snowdrops/
The Country Fair and The East Meon Village Picnic (edited March)
The Village Hall have decided that it would be unwise to try and run the Country Fair in May, just 4 months away, given the probability that the pandemic will still be with us.
After consulting with the Parish Council, school and the church they have chosen to hold The East Meon Village Picnic that we were all hoping to hold last summer, on the Bank Holiday Monday on August 14th provided the pandemic doesn’t interfere once again of course. The date gives plenty of time to look at the details of the picnic,
The Country Fair will also be postponed to Bank Holiday Monday 2nd May 2022 which should be well after the pandemic, helping us all to look ahead with greater certainty.
David Pepper, Chair of the Hall, said “Sadly it’s better to be safe than sorry. While we very much regret a further postponement having already had to cancel the Fair and Picnic in 2020, we have to avoid risks, disappointment and costs that would most likely follow if we went ahead and held a major event in May as we usually do, and then cancelling. Let’s hope the vaccination programme and sunshine allow us to enjoy a Bank Holiday Picnic this August and the Country Fair on the May Bank Holiday next year”.
The major acts and exhibitions for the Country Fair booked for 2020 have been rebooked for 2022.
Village Hall Chair, David Pepper
Burger Van Cancels
Jon the OFM burger van has had to cancel given childcare issues (his wife is an NHS worker). Sobbing chesseburger fans have been spotted haunting the Village Hall car park. Findlays continue their fish and chip service (next visit 23rd February. And our very own Izaak serves takeaway Thu-Sat and a well reviewed Sunday lunch.
Spring in the air this glorious Saturday and snowdrops everywhere. Here’s a shot, but can you do better? Send us some pictures email@example.com.
New Resident in Duncombe
Poppy and Annabelle Lloyd getting to know a new friend
George Thompson Steps Down from Village Hall
After leading the village hall and country fair teams with distinction for some time, George has passed the leadership baton to David Pepper. The sharp eyed may have seen for sale signs outside his house (opposite the hall) and rumours of a move closer to the sea are circulating. David and others are hoping this either doesn’t happen at all, or takes enough time to transfer more of the accumulated know how and know who.
To thank George the Hall committee commissioned a painting from Amy Lague (www.sunnyoutside.co.uk) , who lives on the Green. This features the hall, George’s house and other landmarks. The picture was presented by David Pepper with Alan Redpath and Susan Davenport – past and current Parish Council chairs – joining to send the village’s thanks.
East Meon Featured on BBC Radio Four
East Meon recently featured on a Radio 4 documentary. Punk and folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner returns to the Meon Valley, the area in which he spent much of this early life, to find out more about its landscape and history. To listen to the 24 minutes programme on BBC iPlayer, follow the link below.
Tony Perkins – an Appreciation
Fame is a curious thing. The most arrant scoundrel fills the headlines as his retail empire collapses, leaving his employees without jobs or adequately funded pensions. A good man dies quietly in a small Hampshire village and there’s scarcely a ripple on the water. Somehow we seem to have got our focus wrong.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Ordinary people, quietly doing good things, do get elevated into the public spotlight and we recognise that it is often the ordinary that is extraordinary and celebrate it accordingly. But, all too often, it seems there is not enough room for all the people who have brought kindness to our lives.
We will each have our treasured memories of Tony. Certainly, we have lost a stalwart of the Izaac Walton Sunday evening dining club: appreciative of the food and wine that Roger and the great Creator placed before him; gentle and a gentleman; solicitous for the wellbeing of his fellow diners and of friends and neighbours more widely; inclusive of those hanging back in the shadows; engaging and kind. He had become an exemplar of those qualities that are East Meon at its best.
I can only record what I know from my brief time in the village. He came onto my radar screen soon after my arrival as the man who had laid out the garden of the Tudor house. I then met him when he invited me to join him and the other Friday evening bell-ringers at their table in the George (I was grabbing a quick bite after a late evening’s work in London); and the invitation was renewed in subsequent weeks. He was the first of many people who made me so welcome in the village. Over the weeks, he was unfailingly warm and engaging – as well as persuasive about the merits of joining the bell-ringers!
The man I met was clearly a shadow, physically, of the man he had been. But there was nothing diminished about his personality. His major heart attack would have driven a lesser man to lock down and slow up. But Tony would not be constrained from visiting friends, getting out to the pub or from his determination to see those corners of the world that had thus far eluded him. I forget the full extent of his itinerary, but there was certainly a trip round Russia. There were ambitions to go to Iran and the Balkans. There were recent trips to the Cinque Ports and to the Jurassic Coast. And there was a restless straining at the leash once the Covid lockdown was imposed; he was wise and honest enough to appreciate that there was not much left of his allotted measure of life and he begrudged being denied the right to decide what risks he might take to enjoy what was left. Better to be a tiger out among the hunters than a caged beast.
And, of course, he was a passionate gardener. I was lucky to be allowed to help him with his garden. Lucky because I also love roses and iris of which he had a wonderful selection. Lucky because I could sit in the garden with him for a coffee break, chatting about his extraordinary life farming in Africa and then working in the North of England. And lucky because he was always generous and tolerant of what I did. Many gardeners – myself included – are scarily particular about how they like things pruned – roses above all. I took on the task with trepidation and there was certainly the odd thing I did not get entirely right. But he was effusive in his appreciation. He was a rewarding man with whom to spend time.
And then he was a man of faith. I don’t mean he went to church – though of course he did. Rather he had a profound and deep faith that put mine to shame. This was rooted at the centre of his life and was the force that drove so much of what we valued in him.
You will all have your own memories of Tony, and indeed of Tony and Judith. Many of you will have spent time in his wonderful garden. Many of you will have been invited into the historic house which was such a source of pleasure to him (notwithstanding the cold of winter). And many of you will have shared his generous hospitality.
But as you sit down to eat tonight and wonder how long it will be until we can meet again in the Izaac, be in no doubt that it is a life to be celebrated rather than a passing to be mourned. That is what he wished. So, fly the flags; put on some stirring uptempo music; place a sprig of scented winter honeysuckle or Christmas Box in the centre of you table; bring out some hearty home-cooked food; break open a bottle of full-bodied red wine; and wish Tony Bon Voyage as he joins Judith in a place where there are no lockdowns but where I am sure there is a place for a good-hearted gardener and friend.
Have a good good week and keep safe.
Spotted. An Imaginative Advent Calendar – Village Shop
Well done the shop
Idea credits;- Jane Martin, Freddie Martin, Jane Sims
A LockDown Letter from the Tudor House: Light on the Horizon
The Government’s decisions on the social distancing controls that are to operate at Christmas and before do not make easy reading. We all want to see family and friends but the regimes put on place will severely constrain what we can do. We are far from the only country around the world facing such controls and it’s not hard to see the pressures that have led the Government that they know will be a hard sell to their party as well as to people across the country.
So where’s the light on the horizon? Well, it could of course be the string of announcements about successful vaccine trials. But it wasn’t that that I had in mind, heartening though these are. Advent, which begins today, is perhaps my favourite season of the year. I suppose it’s something about the power of hopes and dreams, the licence to imagine the things that can often be submerged in what life throws at us. There’s also a chunk of childhood nostalgia for the decorated shop windows, the Christmas lights, the wonderful Advent carols and then all the present manufacture and packing that’s going on somewhere near the North Pole. And it has a particular significance for those among us who are Christians. None of this is removed by lockdown, though we will need to brace ourselves for a Santa who looks more like a masked bank robber than the usual white bearded old fellow doing his Ho Ho Ho bit. So I will arrive at dinner tonigjt having soaked up some distanced advent carols from St John’s College Cambridge (Radio 3 at 3pm).
Before addressing who my dinner companions might be, I should mention that tomorrow is the anniversary of the Zong Massacre, when the British trading ship of that name threw over 130 slaves overboard to get the insurance money, having run out of water for them after a navigation error. All of this was legal. The incident was instrumental in the launch of the anti-slavery movement in Britain but also inspired Turner to paint his great but terrible picture ‘The Slave Ship’. One of those ‘not to be forgotten’ moments in our national history.
My dinner guests are a rather different bunch from last week’s, but there is no less self-indulgence on my part. That is the joy of dinner parties, and the more so fantasy ones where one can imagine ones guests to be obligingly on their best form.
My first is the great Arts and Crafts gardener, Gertrude Jekyll, who was born on this day in 1843. Trained as an artist, and admitting a debt to Turner, she was a past master of colour and texture as well as a great plantswoman, and she worked closely with Edwin Lutyens to create some of the great country houses of Britain. Her influence on later gardeners – English and beyond – has been profound. She might be persuaded to wander round my garden before a pre-dinner drink, though I fear she would be rather taken aback at my Jackson Pollock-esque mixing of colours. This could be painful, and even a little humiliating. But it would all be worth it to hear her talk about some of her 400 or so garden creations – such wonderful creations as the gardens at Sissinghurst and Hestercombe.
The choice of my second guest, Louisa M Alcott (born on this day in 1832) is partly a tribute to my daughter. Like many adolescent girls, she went through a period of deep immersion in the world of Little Women, and I think was none the worse for it. Who has not been moved by the reach of Beth or the scene where Amy and Laurie are rowing. Whether I can attribute her liberal values to Alcott’s passionate commitment to the emancipation of women and abolition if slavery in the US I’m not sure. No doubt Alcott’s deep humanity helped. Interestingly, Alcott came to her children’s novels relatively late in life, having cut her teeth on lurid short stories and sensational novels for adults that were thick with passion and revenge; but that was what she thought would sell and she and her sisters were, from a young age, providing financially for her impoverished family. I’ve no doubt she would be a passionate and intelligent dinner guest, having in her own life held her own with the likes of Thoreau, Longfellow, Emerson and Hawthorn. And I like to think that she and Jekyll would be generous enough to be curious about each other’s passions.
Interestingly, both these women remained unmarried throughout their lives. I’m sure this had nothing to do with their merits as partners, but it was generally much more difficult in the 19th century for a married woman to combine her “duties” as a wife and mother with an active career in the arts. I’m not sure it’s easy now!
My final guest is C S Lewis, the author, academic and Christian thinker. Again articulate, passionate and thoughtful, he made his name through his children’s Narnia series, and the way in which he made Christianity accessible through his talks and books. The start of his life was problematic – his dog, Jacksie, was killed in an accident when he was four and, though christened ‘Clive’, he refused for some time after to be called anything but Jacksie, eventually allowing Jack instead – the name by which he was known for the rest of his life. His mother died when he was 9, and he then went through a series of somewhat unsatisfactory schools. He was wounded in the trenches in WW1 and then, in parallel with a highly successful academic career and, as a result of a mutual pact, he looked after the mother of a wartime friend of his who had been killed in action. She became for him a surrogate for his own mother and helped him through the disillusionment that followed his experience of the war. They were very close until she was hospitalised in 1940 and, though she was 26 years his senior, it seems very likely that they were also lovers. He married later in life but lost his wife to cancer after only 4 years of marriage.
Lewis would certainly find common ground with Alcott. On the face of it, he would find much less with Jekyll, but they were both highly cultured and it is hard to imagine there would be many awkward pauses in the conversation. Selfishly, I would be interested to hear what he had to say about his pathway from atheism to a passionate advocacy of Christianity, and I am sure he would have had interesting views about the plight of the church in the modern world. And if that failed, then he was also a distinguished writer of science fiction. The relationship between this and his faith would be an interesting area to explore.
I’m not sure what would appeal from Roger’s menu, but I think we would be looking at good solid homely food for all three – the sort of fare for which Mrs Beeton had a large following.
Today is also big on the musical side, being the anniversary of the deaths of Monteverdi, Donizetti, and Puccini. I suspect that the former would jar on the ear of my guests, though the odd madrigal whilst we walk around my warm and sunny garden might be acceptable. But I have no doubt that the subsequent proceedings would be enlivened by some good Italian opera – aided of course by a decent Barolo or Chianti.
I am more stuck on Flags. There’s a Liberian national holiday, and another for the former Yugoslav Republic. But I suspect that Malcolm will have his own surprises. I visited his amazing barn ‘café’ last week and shared an excellent cake (his) and some chocolate biscuits (mine) – all properly socially distanced. Definitely worth calling in if you’re up that way.
Congratulations too to Nicky on her second grandchild in almost as many weeks. One boy and one girl safely delivered – named Lochie (the boy – a family name) and Aphra (the girl – named after the great English 17th century English playwright and spy, Aphra Behn). I guess they’ll be a few more grandchildren popping up around the place after two periods of lockdown, though I will be a little surprised if there are any heading my way since marriages still seem some way off (they’re still young, or so I’m told 😀).
Have a good week and keep safe
Happy Christmas-Meon Matters 207
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