Saturday 29 June 2013

Midsummer England

As You Like It. Photo by Keith Pattison

It’s the Glastonbury Festival this weekend but we went to a more cultural version of this midsummer celebration of tribal identity – the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It in Stratford-on-Avon. Every thing the RSC do is amazing, and this was quite quite wonderful. Drawing on Shakespeare’s deep affinity with the folk customs and seasonal rhythms of the forest of Arden – the area around Stratford – the RSC dreamed up a modernised, Glastonbury-like, recreation of the earth celebrations of pagan England – a world of horned men, primal dancing, cross-dressing and fertility rites, exquisite music by Laura Marling and the kind of audience connection that only fantastically well-done live theatre can provide. An energetic celebration of the spirit of midsummer.
Alex Waldmann as Orlando and Rosie Hilal as Audrey in As You Like It. Photo by Keith Pattison
Coming out into the dark, swans float asleep on the River Avon; the trees of Warwickshire are in full sail, like ships on an inland sea; a deer crosses the road as we drive home; the year is at its height. Here's the trailer and some of Laura Marling's music for the play.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Monty's hat

British icons from the Second World War: Churchill with his cigar and his Victory sign, General Montgomery in his black beret. I read the story of the beret yesterday with the death of Jim Fraser, aged 92, a humble tank driver in the North Africa campaign. Jim drove the tank from which Monty liked to address the troops. Monty also liked to wear a broad-brimmed Australian hat. The problem was that the desert wind kept whipping the hat off; the tank had to stop so that the hat could be  retrieved.

This finally proved too much for Jim. He recalled in his memoirs: "I shoved my beret up into the turret, muttering: 'Tell him to wear this and we'll get there quicker.' The aide-de-camp handed the beret to Monty who tried it on and liked it." Immortality for the ordinary man!

James Fraser
Jim (in the goggles) with Monty in Jim's (first?) hat

 Jim Fraser
Jim, wounded three times,  a winner of the Military Cross, and a proud beret wearer to the end.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Beneath the Cretan earth

I still find myself pondering, almost haunted by, a story I was told a few years ago on a trip to Crete. I was looking for signs of Crete’s Venetian past and had come to a village that had been overlaid by Venetian houses sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. But in Crete the layers lie one on top of the other, the Ottoman on the Venetian, the Venetian on the Byzantine, far back through the Romans to the Dorians and the Minoans, sea people who came to the Great Island in boats. This village was typical – it was a site of great antiquity, of considerable interest to archaeologists

We stayed in a small hotel there, run by a local family; also staying were an English couple who were regular visitors and good friends of the owners. They related to us a curious tale, told to them by the owners.

Some while back, an English archaeologist and his family had come to live in the village; their children were the same age as those of the hotel owners, and they became very close friends.  The families spent a lot of time together; the Cretan children learned English from the visitors who would come most evenings to the hotel and pass time with them. The archaeologist was also deeply occupied studying the land and drawing plans of the ancient field systems.

One day the archaeologist was walking in some fields that belonged to the Cretan family, with, I think, all the children – certainly the Cretan children were with him. He spotted an interesting hole in the ground but nothing much was said about it.

That evening I think, or maybe the next, the details aren’t exactly clear, the English family didn’t appear at the hotel, which was extremely unusual. In due course the Cretans went round to the archaeologist’s house to see what had happened. They found no one there. Their Landrover had gone; the house had been emptied of possessions. The English family had vanished into thin air.

The children thought back to the hole in the field which had caught the archaeologist’s attention. They returned to look. It was obvious that it had been dug open. There was a pit inside which was empty. They never saw or heard from their good English friends again. Something had been found there that caused the archaeologist to scoop up his family and vanish. The Cretan hoteliers had since become very suspicious of visiting archaeologists and over-friendly foreigners… It almost has the quality of a ghost story.