Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

A Visit to Green Knowe

The Manor and one corner of the gardens

The Manor and one corner of the gardens

One of the things I love most is the connection between places and writing, so it was a treat yesterday to visit The Manor at Hemingford Grey, near Huntingdon, which is the setting for Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe series of children’s books.

The weather was awful – it rained and rained – and it was a 162-mile drive each way, but it was worth it. The occasion was a family party held at occasional, irregular intervals every few years: my grandfather was the brother of Lucy Boston’s mother (to put it another way, my mother’s Aunt Polly was Lucy Boston’s mother), which I think makes us second cousins, though I’m not sure. So there we were with a crowd of other relatives, close and distant, to explore the house, and talk, and just be in a magical place.

The Knight's Room: built about 1130 and alive with atmosphere (picture from the Green Knowe website)

The Manor was Lucy Boston’s home, and it figures in her beautiful series of books beginning with The Children of Green Knowe. All of the stories have magical ingredients, in particular the group of children who used to live in the house centuries ago and still make their presence felt (it seems too heavy-handed to call them ghosts); but they also involve time travel, animals, patchwork, music and above all the magic of place.

Tolly's Bedroom, complete with rocking horse (picture from the Green Knowe website)

The central point about the books is the sense they give of people living in a place over the centuries, layering it deeper and deeper with the richness of their experience. Certainly standing in the Knight’s Room at Hemingford Grey, in the part of the house which is almost a thousand years old, you can feel the vibration of time and life resonating like music from the warm, metre-thick stone walls. The Manor is said to be perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited house in Britain.

The rain stopped long enough for us to explore the beautiful gardens with their old scented roses, mock-orange and wonderful topiary, and to wander by the river that flows past with its swans floating calmly on the green current.

St Christopher - the statue is at the side of the house

The rooms are just as depicted in the books, with the toys, the rocking horse, the witch-ball, the quilts and a galaxy of drawings and paintings and other art works, including the beautiful original illustrations and cover-paintings for the books, which were done by the late Peter Boston, son of Lucy Boston and husband of Diana Boston who lives there now.

The house and gardens are open to the public quite often: for details and other information about the house, the books and their story, you can go to www.greenknowe.co.uk

Literary Goalies…

Not quite my usual topic of expertise, football goalkeeping, but it is a little known fact that many a great literary / political figure has played in the position of goalkeeper. A disproportionately high number indeed. The interesting argument has in fact recently been advanced that of any position on the football field, a history of having played in the position of goalkeeper, as the most cerebral and strategic of them all, is much more highly correlated with a literary and creative career than any other.

Albert Camus: goalkeeper. In fact played in Algeria at a high level as a youngster before revolutionising the world of Philosophy with the French Existentialist movement. The classic Camus quote: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”

Pope John Paul II: goalkeeper. Obviously not while holding the position of head of the Catholic Church, but apparently played in goal at university.

Luciano Pavarotti: yes, a bit hard to believe, but perhaps the big man wasn’t always so big… Reported to have had a shot at a professional career with Italian football side Modena. Had to settle for performing at the World Cup during half time instead!

This goalkeeping blog (http://ministryofglove.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/famous-goalkeepers/) even claims that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a goalkeeper, but I’m not sure if I buy that…
A fan of both Camus and goalkeeping – it is a friend of mine, who runs a website that sells goalkeeper gloves and kit, TheGoalkeeperCo.com, who makes these claims about goalkeepers being cleverer than the average footballer. As a goalkeeper, he may be slightly biased. So does anybody know of any other good examples of famous non-professional goalkeepers?

Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chorlton’s Rock’n’Roll History

Sister Rosetta, pioneer of rock'n'roll

BBC4 continues to put out some of the best music programmes on any channel. But last Friday’s offering, ‘Godmother of Rock’n’Roll: Sister Rosetta Tharpe’ was one of the all-time greats.

Sister Rosetta, who started as a 1930s Gospel singer from the USA’s deep South, graduated by way of nightclub singing at the Cotton Club and touring work as a jazz, blues and gospel soloist, to being a pioneer of Rock’n’Roll and one of the all-time great figures. yet she’s been almost forgotten.

Listening to her wonderfully percussive guitar style you could hear at once how much Chuck Berry learned from her; and the archive footage of her hugely energetic performances, full of movement, power and infectious delight, made it quite clear that she was a – if not the – key figure in the transition from Black gospel music to Rock. Popular music history needs to be rewritten to put this lady at the centre!

But the most amazing thing for me was to learn that, when her career (like that of many blues musicians in the US) had stalled in the early ’60s, she was invited to the UK by Chris Barber of all people – and that Granada TV invited her to perform at the disused Chorlton-cum-Hardy railway station about five minutes from where I live in Manchester. Just take a look at the clips! And more important, listen!

The rationale was something to do with freight trains and all that – the vague mythology of train tracks and the Blues. Whatever. Granada decked the old station out as a kind of Wild West scene, with a fake ‘Chorltonville’ sign which they must have thought sounded American. They put the band on one platform and the audience on the other, and delivered Sister Rosetta in a horse-drawn carriage. The horse is a typical piebald cob – a ‘gypsy horse’ of the kind you can see by the hundred at Appleby Fair every year. Her affection for the horse is typical of this immensely sweet and loving woman who seems to radiate kindness and warmth with every ounce of her being. Good to know, then, that the UK tour put Sister Rosetta back on the map and she remained a big star in Europe at least until her death.

We all knew Chorlton was special (Quentin Crisp died here, Badly Drawn Boy lives here, and of course it’s full of wonderful creative people) – but now we know it has a place in Rock’n’Roll history too. The station is about to reopen as a Metrolink stop. Maybe there ought to be a blue plaque on that platform.

Wikileaks Is the Shape of the Future

Did you go to a pub, club, or restaurant last night? Did you stand around in the street, maybe, talking to friends? If so, there’s quite a good chance that a picture or video of you is already somewhere on the internet – even if you didn’t yourself post pictures on Facebook or another networking site.

You may not be at the front of the picture: quite possibly you were just walking by or standing a few yards behind, when someone aimed the camera at someone else, and you just happened to get into the frame. Have you ever been ‘tagged’ on Facebook in a picture you didn’t even know had been taken? if you’re under about 35, the answer’s probably yes.

Did you get any spam in your email today? If so, someone you don’t want to have your address has already got it, and will pass it on. Did you send an email today? If so, the recipient can forward it to someone else without your knowledge.

What has all this got to do with Wikileaks? More than you might think. The fuss being made about the site by governments misses what I believe is the real point. If Wikileaks gets suppressed, in a matter of months (or weeks or days) other websites will spring up doing the same thing. Now that, thanks to computers and the internet, any document can be copied in a microsecond and sent around the world in a few seconds more, it is simply becoming impossible to keep anything secret.

Anywhere you go now there will be someone with a mobile phone, video camera or digital camera – usually all three rolled into one. When I was in New Orleans last spring, my friend Ken took a few pictures – as I thought. Once I was home, I found that he’d in fact made and edited a video with clips showing many of the things I’d done, and the people I’d met, during my visit. I don’t object at all, in fact I’m pleased. But I didn’t know it was being done, and by the time I did it was on YouTube. I’ve also become quite used to turning up as a bit-part player in other videos turn up on YouTube and elsewhere – as well as being tagged in photos I never knew were taken. As Ken says succinctly, ‘Video is the new paper.’ I’ve slotted in the video above in case you’re interested.

The accusations of torture at Abhu Ghraib came out because people with mobile phones took pictures. Now the police routinely check out Facebook for evidence against criminals, and they quite often find it.

Almost none of us is untraceable now: your bank card, your mobile phone, your store cards, and the countless CCTV cameras in the street mean you can be traced just about anywhere. The truth is that to a great extent privacy, like copyright and for the same reasons, is already dead. Government secrecy is going the same way. It’s simply too easy for things to get out.

Whether this will lead to better or worse things, I have no idea. It’s only just starting, and time will tell. But the bigger issue behind Wikileaks is simply this: nothing can be kept secret any more, least of all a document. What happens to Julian Assange is not going to change that. Rather than being pro or con him, maybe we need to think about that bigger picture.

The Radiant World of Peter Roebuck

Artist Peter Roebuck (right, in red) and friend Peter Thomas at Arison

Just back from the opening of an excellent new exhibition of paintings by Peter Roebuck at the Arison Gallery in Chorlton, Manchester.

Peter has I think made a unique and very distinctive contribution to the English vision of landscape – though he also paints still life, people and many other subjects. But to me, landscape is the heart of his work and he has worked with enormous dedication and integrity over many years to refine a most unusual way of seeing, and showing, the world.

The hallmark of Roebuck’s work is a combination of radiant intensity of light with a quality of visual softness, created sometimes by mist, sometimes by frost, sometimes by distance or sunset light, but always conveying a sense of stillness and fascination. Perhaps that’s the outcome of the very close and long-continued observation which you sense has gone into these paintings.

Guitarist Bob Jones (of Bourbon Street Preachers and other bands) and friend Bernie enjoy the paintings

Working in both oil and watercolour, Peter Roebuck returns often to certain favourite subjects: the waters, and the shores, of Morecambe Bay, the lesser-known areas of Lakeland, and the Mersey Valley, centring on Chorlton Meadows not far from where he lives. The radiance of his colours and the intriguing simplifications of landscape forms, which make the places portrayed appear more, not less, fascinating, mean that these paintings are haunting and, in their way, inimitably strange as well as beautiful. The longer you look at them the more interesting they get.

If you’re in South Manchester between now and 9 October, and have even a few minutes to spare, do go and take a look, to see fine work by a greatly underrated and totally individual artist.

The Arison Gallery is at 512 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton, Manchester M21 9AW (0161 881 6734).