Getting Ready for Italy and MOSAICS!!!

Again trying to figure out how to edit this dang blog post using Blogger.  Seems like maybe I have password problems.  The usual!

OK – now it seems better.  We will see.  Why do I wait to do this just before I get on the plane?  Well, in 6 hours…

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Ubik by Philip K. Dick

I found Ubik interesting, but, well, maybe it was because I was listening to the audio version narrated by Luke Daniels, but I felt the performance by Mr. Daniels far surpassed the material. I found the characters as written really sort of flat, stereotypes. The women were completely defined by how attractive they were, and where they fit on the spectrum from evil to kind. The story itself was certainly inventive, but by the end I was really just sort of marking time, knowing that there would be some Deux ex Machina which would save him somehow. There would be some pile of techno babble which would explain it, and, indeed, there was. Maybe I’m just to durn lazy to sit and think about that paragraph explanation long enough to decide if it had some basis in some kind of science, but, by that point in time my patience was done. Yes, a lot of my lack of sympathy for the story might be because this was written in 1969, and there have been so many stories since then of the narrator discovering that he/she is actually living in a constructed world. And perhaps, my frustration was partly because Luke Daniels did such an amazing job of developing so many different character voices, that seemed to completely overshadow the sort of matter-of-fact narrative.  In fact, the Luke Daniels performance was really the best part of it, I thought. It wasn’t horrible, not at all.  But I like writing that makes me feel something and Philip K. Dick writes for the brain, rather than the senses.


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Family Visit

Saturday – Jun 25 – Today I started with a nice little run – a circuit that I was familiar with here.  I hadn’t ever stopped on the way at a little church up the hill before.  Looked at the gravestones, mostly worn away from anyone who was earlier than about 1810 or so. A pretty church on the sie of a green hill.  Then I take a bride over the A040, which is the road that gets me here and along a two-lane road, then down a country lane that is completely quiet, back under the A040, and that leads me back to Lewestone Farm, which is right the lane takes off towhere Sheila’s house, Stocklands, stands.  I saw two rabits, innumerable birds, and I think it might have been a bit of a fox.

Sheila went off to the local store and picked up a couple of croissants for breakfast!  Yum!  Then I screwed around with the Internet and writing pages and sorting pictures etc.  Trying to get back on the program of documentation.

She went off to a luncheon and looked very smart by the time she had put on her “Warpaint” and gotten into a nice dress and all.  She left me copious instructions of how to get to Jo and Peter’s, but the iPhone didn’t fail me, so I shot over totheir hous which is about 20 minutes drive away.

Jo and Sim and Zack (Ella’s boyfriend) were the only ones there as Peter and Jo and Rowen (a dear friend of Ella’s from school) had gone to Monmouth to take the Porsche out for a ride) Sim had grown about 6 inches in a year I think. He is a great kid. Zack is super lovely and interesting and is a journalist who had spent a ton of time studying biochemistry, specifically workiing on a vaccination for AIDS, but then shifted over to journalism.  Jo is doing well, still looks exactly the same, was making two big chickens with a kind of a curry sauce on them.  Sheila had made a wonderful Leek andd Onion Quiche for Becca and me – the vegetarian contingent.  She also made a bucketful of Happy Cakes, which was the name a child christened merangues in some distant year in the Bruce-Gardner family and the name had stuck. 

Eventually the three others came back from rampaging around, and it was so nice to see Ella again.  She is really very funny.  It wa her birthday celebration and she got wonderful corner cabinet from her Mom and Dad, early 19th century.  Zack gave her a dear little  children’s dollhouse pitcher in bright torquoise, perhaps 100 years old was the guess.  Very sweet.

There was a truce on discussion about Brexit as feelings are running very very high on the topic and everyone is most certainly NOT in agreement across the family.  So everyone was on very good behavior. I spent a bunch of time talking with Peter and Jo about Lyutens work and Peter hauled out acouple of books on his stuff. Peter is so knowledgable.  It seems their landscape architecture business is going really well.  They don’t bother advertising anymore, get more than enough work through word of mouth. Whew!  They’ve only been going for 10 years, so that is pretty durn good! Jo told me about a commission they just got for an Arts and Crafts style garden which sounds tremendous.  An old Arts and Crafts Mansion, derelict,  but listed, and this consortium has bought it and wants to bring it back, as well as build some other houses on the property.  So the wholegarden has to be redone, but in teh Arts and Crafts style.  That will be good fun!

We had a cheese and bread snack on the steps in the yard, and then there was a Hailstorm which caused us all to scurry inside. It broke off and then we all got into Wellies and walked on this nice quiet loop around “the bog”. Jo told me about her visit in APril to Harbin in Chnia, where she actually took a picture of the bank where Sheila lived as a baby for a few months!  Amazing!  Evidently all the buildings there are quite Russian and European influenced and that is where Roger (Sheila’s dad) had worked as a bank manager before the war. There are literally no westerners there now, and it is not on the tourist circuit, so they had to go there by special arrangement. She said it was fatastic, one of her favorite stops in China.

Then back and Sheila showed up and  then Graham and Becca and Emily and Ewan (MUCH MORE GROWN UP!) were there and we played endless badminton on the lawn and had picnic dinner and an ice cream cake that Jo made from vanilla icecream and broken Reeses peanut butter cups and Sim made this amazing Butterscotch sauce that went over it.  YUM! And Happy cakes. 

Drove back following Sheila in the gradual darkening light (still very bright out at 9:30) and then to bed…

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Tynesfield and Sheila

Friday – June 24 – Tyntesfield was built from a fortune made in guano, a magnificent fertilizer.  William Gibb, the owner of this fortune was a very religious man as well as a collector of fine artworks, so he built a great huge pile of a house around an older home in what is known as the High Victorian Gothis style, which involves loads of turrets and spires and pointy windows, and embellished surfaces, and complicated marble and layers of carving on every surface. He added all sorts of massive lanterns (Skylights) to allow light throughout the house which I loved.  He was quite an experimental kind of guy, like Fox-Talbot whose place I had gone to see at the Lacock Abbey.


It is an interesting place because while all the successive 3 generations that followed added their own embellishments, the core of the house and all the many outbuildings with their many purposes have survived intact.  The home was filled with a massive collection of stuff when it was finally urned over to the trust.  50,000 items had to be catelogued and the rooms were all chock-a-block full.  There was one room amusingly left sort of as it had been found with chairs stacked on dressers and rugs piled in the corner and a bed packed with stuff on top of it.  And this was a room which would have been one of the nicer bedrooms in the house!  The last inhabitant, Richard, lived alone, was focused on the gardens, and had gradually closed up most of the house other than the very few rooms in which he lived.  In it’s heyday the estate required about 40 servants to keep it going! and the house had 19.

It seems that most of this post got somehow eaten by my inadequacies with this program.  Maybe I’ll rewrite it  maybe not. Sigh.

Anyway.  I made it to Sheila’s.  Great to see her.



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Arrived Laycock

Weds – June 22 – When I made it to Lacock, I found it to be a tiny English town, with essentially 4 streets in sort of a square.  The entire town is owned by the National Trust, with the exception of the building that I was staying in, the Lacock Pottery.  It wasn’t a historical Pottery – it was an actual Pottery, a business, and my landlords, David and Simone made pottery and have a shop there in the building.  They sell other people’s works as well.  I didn’t get a good sense of their styles because they have been spending so much time renovating a house they have in another town, that they haven’t had time to build up their own stock, so the store is mostly filled with the work of other people at the moment.

The house is built in 1833 and is the only house in Lacock that is not owned by the National Trust.  We are fed breakfast and they have an evening drink with the vistors in the sitting room.

Simone was very pleasant, probably late 60’s.  The gardens around the house were very nice, small, but rich with an aesthetic pallet of colors. Loads of sweet smells in the evening.  

I wanted to do my best to sleep, so I tok a walk around the village to find where the Lacock Abbey was that I would see tomorrow, and to find some food.  The Abbey was very easy to find (there are literally 4 streets here!) and a nice fish and chips from the Red Lion was a good end to the day.  Earlier when I had arrived I saw some rowdy older men, all dressed in what looked like knee britches and suspenders and white shirts doing some kind of a dance with white balloons in the street.  Were they balloons or were they pig badders from San Sebastian?

Full and hopefully tired, I walked in the late bright evening (midsummer’s eve) back to the Pottery and waiting sleep (I hope…)

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Laycock Abbey and Longleat

Thurs – June 23 – Sleep is sort of just a memory now.  Good lord.  Awake at 4:00 am.  Struggled to just lie in bed for awhile a couple of hours, then just gave up.

I got dressed for running and took a walk through the village.  There was a “packhorse bridge”, why it is titled so I have no idea, but it is down a tiny lane, only wide enough for one horse to cross, and it leads to the starts (or ends) of a couple of public walkways.  Public walkways start with a sign, and a stile over a fence and then often meander into a field with no obvious end or even direction in sight.

But it was lovely trotting around in the early morning, the grass all dripping with dew, and the smell of so many flowers thick in the air.  The birdsong is amazing.  I haven’t heard birds singing like that in California, a chorus, a full-on complicated pile of 20 or 30 conversations, yacking, chirping, singing, trilling, cheeping, cackling, all at once.  It strikes me again how quiet the redwoods are, the caw of the crow, a rude laugh from a Jay now and then, sometimes the sound of an owl, but often, too often it is silent.  It didn’t used to be that way.  Now seeing a robin is an occasion.

I ended up trotting along a road, then a quieter one, then one that I needed to push myself back into the hedges when the occasional Land Rover buzzed by.  I waved at everyone and everyone waved back. There were horses and cows and sheep in the fields, and I went over a couple of stone bridges that had ferns growing out of all their cracks, and a sweeping stream rolling below with the water grasses in it bent over, pushed by the current, to show like green lines below the surface. I trusted to the basics of topology, that if I just took every road to the right, eventually I’d end up back in Lacock, and it was true, if about 3 miles or so on the way.  Finally the great Lacock Abbey appeared in its field, and I headed back into town, now starting to stir.

Breakfast was copious, piles of food. All different tastes, again, its England, England, if the deep green of the fields and the buckets of flowers hanging standing, volunteering everywhere wasn’t enough to let you know that I was no longer in the dry world of drought.

Simone complained that the sun hasn’t been coming out enough and her tomatoes were suffering horriby.  The strawberries that she fed me were picked from the garden and they were good, but not as good as Bolinas strawberries. She said that without the sun they just don’t get sweet.

Their Wifi is bad, only barely connected, I think there is one place in the hall by the back door where if I stand, I get a good connection.  Or twenty feet in front of the front door on the garden path. At slightly after 10:30, I presented myself to the National Trust front door for Lacock Abbey and looked at the Fox-Talbot museum which explained how that owner of the Lacock Abbey had invented the negative, at the same time that Daguerre had invented the Daguerrotype, which was a positive-only process. It all stemmed from his lousy drawing abilities, which caused him to try to find a scietific solution, which I find most excellent! He was a true geek!

The exhibit was cool, and included the actual first negative, which was of a window in Lacock Abbey, which had been his home.  This was all at about 1830 or so.

Then I wandered over to the Abbey which was lovely.  In the dissolution of the monastaries, Henry the Eighth sold this particular Abbey to a William Sharington in 1540 or so, who proceeded to transform this nunnery (which had been founded in the 1200s) into a stately home. The home remained in the family until the last inhabitant, Mathilda Talbot, willed it to the National Trust in 1944.

The cloister remains in excellent shape and has been used, (along with the village itself!) in loads of movies and TV shows, etc. 

The star shaped window in the wall of the great hall is startling, and it turns out that there was a copy of the Magna Carta stored at the Abbey (one of only 3 still remaining) until the National Trust took over. It is the one on display at the British Library. Loads of books in the rooms, it is easy to see how William Fox-Talbot ended up being such a learned man..  He also was one of the people who could read cuneiform and hieroglyphics.  An interesting guy.    It was a sort of frowsty castle. Sweet, but very family oriented. The kids played Badminton in the great Hall, and there is still a piece of sugar on the nose of a stature of a goat, that had been placed there as a joke many years before. Lovely gardens all round the Abbey.  A charming rose garden which looked very modern.  I was thinking that I didn’t really like how they used modern wrought iron to hold up the roses, and then read in a book about it and found that they really used exactly the same wrought iron supports that were originally installed.  Not replicas, but the same exact ones, with new bottom pieces fixed on the end that goes into the ground as it had been rusted away.  So what do I know?

Then I drove higgledy piggledy the 17 miles through loads of roundabouts and traffic and green fields to Longleat.  This was the home of the Marquis of Bath. The seventh (eighth?) Marquis still lives in the house.  The Grandfather of todays Marquis was the one who decided rather than give up the house, he’d get lions and tigers and bears Oh my and make a safari park out of it.  And support the house in that way.  It was a huge success. The house is unbelievably big. Incredible.

  I tried to ask what was the foundation of the fortune that was used to build this “Versaillis” but the tour guide in he room I was in thought I was asking how much would it cost and acted like I was a horrible American tourist because I wanted to know that.  I kept trying to ask, the question again, and finally all she got it and all she could say was that he was a very important member of Henry VIII’s court. OK.  So graft and corruption, no doubt.  The tour takes the visitor through the “state rooms” which are encrusted with gold and had lavish ceilings and piles of furniture and pictures and such. It was kept very dark, unfortunately, and you couldn’t look out the windows at the view, which felt odd as there were massive windows all around the house. Surely that was part of the glory of the house, the fabulous views all across the huge green valley, which the Marquis entirely owned, but of course they have to protect the stuff inside for the future.  It might be nice if there was maybe one window to look out, though.  Just to get the idea.

You can’t take any pictures inside.  I did have some lovely conversations with the other guards who were all obviously delighted with the palce and eager to explain about the odd reliquary, or that strange cow-shaped head on the oriental vase.
Crazy embossed wallpaper in many places. Some with what looked like turquoise background, with gold acanthus leaves in great swirls all over it.  Not at all tasteful, to my mind. 🙂

Hard to believe that the tour only takes in about 1/4 – 1/3 of the house.  That place is crazy big.

There was a nice rose garden, it was called Elizabeth’s garden but I’m not sure she ever really made it here. A massive water feature – all Capability Brown.

Then again the mad race through the green parcourse that we will call English roads.  I am looking at my speed in Miles and it seems that I am speeding everywhere. But there is always someone behind me right on my tail pushing me to go faster. 

Gad.  Made it back to Lacock and then drinks with my landlord David and his wife Simone.  He is very much the bohemian.  It turns out that he is the grandson of Winston Churchill and some maid in a grand house where he was staying.  An unacknowledged bastard son.  He said that in Eleanor Roosvelt’s memoirs, she said that when he stayed at the WHite House the maids were all constantly complaining about Winnie, that couldn’t keep his hands to himself.  Everyone there was quite forgiving, the rights of the siegneur, etc, look at it all in context, and I have always had huge respect for him as a writer as well as a natural leader, courageous, determined, bold. But I can’t condone raping the maids and I am sure glad that we are past that point in at least my small friendly part of the world. 

So, because of the Jerome connection, David the potter and I were cousins via marriage. How odd!

He sort of looked like Churchill, actually, he was a rotund guy, a potter, artist etc.  He had a way of talking which meant that he wanted to have the floor at all times, whether what he was saying really made sense or not, but he had a real charm, 70 years old but very active.  Had spent the day plastering a house he is working on in Devizes. The other people were Alex and Anne and they were staying for their 18th wedding anniversary. We had a big discussion about the referndum regarding staying in the EU or not.  Alex against because he thinks that the EU are crooks, they want the EU to be the USA (which it can’t be) and he thinks that it would be way too terrifying to Russia if the EU were to have it’s own army, which it thinks is highly likely. SO he is a strong leave.

David is all for it, (a remain vote) because he loves everyone.  Wants to invite all the immigrants in.  Anne managed to get her two cents in, and is for it as well, but more because she thinks UK is better off economically.  No idea what SImone thinks.  No one asked me what I think.

David made a glancing reference to how he even likes lesbians, giving me a nod at the time.  heavens!

Lousy sleep again.  This time I woke up at 2:00am.  This is going the wrong way.

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A Little Bit o’ Windsor

Weds June 22 – Flight from SFO was uneventful if you don’t count the family of 5 in my row deciding that the boy was sick (he threw up) so that they would stay in SF.  So of course their luggage had to be found and removed, all in all we left about 1 hour late.

Then arrived 1 hour late and had long long lines at the “border” (such an interesting fiction is a border!) so it was impossible to go to Kelmscott.  Another trip.

So I got my rental car and did the shift of mind that is required to drive on the left, and headed off for Windsor.

Man!  What a way to immediately know that YOU ARE IN ENGLAND!!!! Windsor Castle is a total E-ticket ride – a charming little town nestled in the shadow of the magnificence of the Castle. 160 people live there (besides the Royal Family, who pops in now and then.  The flag was flying so that says that the Queen was in residence.  Didn’t see her. No one must’ve told her I was coming.

I hadn’t really heard much about St. George’s Chapel, almost was thinking about giving it a miss as I really wanted to make sure that I saw the State Apartments and I got there rather late in the day.  But I did go in, and oh my word, so very very worth it!  Everything you have ever heard of the Order of the Garter is founded, centered in St. George’s Chapel.  It is full of light – almost like St. Chapell in Paris, so much light is let in from all sides.  Beautiful many colored windows everywhere, loads of fabulous stone carving, an amazing ceiling, not only long but wide (buttresses required!) and in the center is an amazing series of wooden stalls, chairs, dripping with wonderful carvings, where the knights of the garter are all represented, with brass plaques for each knight that ever has been.  Over 800 brass plaques on the walls now, with plumed headresses on the top of each wooden head over each chair, fabulously carved. Everyone who is anyone (among the kings of England) is buried here. Elizabeth’s father and grandfather, her sister Margaret, Henry VIII, William and Mary, Charles I (after his beheading) The very early Edwards, Henry V (I think), so quite an assortment. A glorious church, well worth it. Rich in artistry and history. I bet there was some religion in there as well.

The walk around the tower hill from the St. George, goes along what was the moat and is now a luscious garden. All the way up alongside the garden and the impressive wide tower, and then into the State Apartments.  I did see the Dollshouse, and it was delightful with a garden in a pull-out drawer, and working electiricty and water, and detailed furniture – all in all well worth more than the cursory glance I gave it. (note: More about this on another day!!!) but it was the state apartments that were the real deal.  Good heavens.  No expense spared. Regal grandure everywhere you look.  Unending state rooms, drawing rooms, presentation rooms, formal bedrooms and the private bedrooms.  Rich and complicated dining room with Grinling Gibbons carved pheasants and wreaths and fruit and fish and vegetables all in a welter of long riotous garlands made of oak. Ceilings painted with allegories of the kings and queens as gods giving to their people. One room dripping with gold.  There was a horrible fire that started in a smallish anteroom in 1992.  It is believed that a spotlight was too close to a curtain, and a blaze went up. Anyway, a horrible disaster and a number of the state rooms were trashed, demolished actually.  A massive effort to rennovate, exactly as were previously, and the work is astounding.  A big effort was put in to build the new bits using exactly the tools that were used at the time of original construction.  The result in the rooms with the new guilding is that they absolutely shine, glow, and what had started to look, I’m sure it wasn’t “dowdy”, but perhaps “dulled” is the right word, was replaced with an airy shimmer.

We saw the throne room of the Knights of the Garter, where evidently the new knights (two new ones this year) are invested each year, as it happens, just a few days before we were there. All royal blue and gold. Why does the queen get a color?

What does it mean to be a queen? Lordy. Beyond my pay grade. The fire must have been heart-wrenching to go through for everyone. I remember reading about it when it happened, as seeing pictures of the Queen, looking absolutely stricken.  Her Horrible Year. But such a cool comitment to rebuild it all with the challenge of craftspeople all using the original tools, trying to relearn skills and crafts that must’ve been scattered and rare if not yet forgotten. Maybe that is what it means, to be a queen, to feel you are a keeper of a kind of flame, like the knowledge of how to build and carve and gild and such, in just that way.  You might not be able to do the crafts yourself, but you can support those who do have that knowledge, who commit their lives to those skills. A patron. Oh there is all that commitment to doing good works as well, of course, the job is so complex, religious, political, morality gets in there somewhere, and a huge historical link with the past. As I get older I feel so much more clearly that life is fragile. And that thread of a family line stretching back so far, which I once took for granted now seems astoundingly delicate. Do I think there should be Queen, a Royal family?  My logical mind should have discarded the concept years ago, but I never could reach that state of mind.  I guess it is because life is not all about logic, there is a huge portion of it that is about not only doing the aesthetic, the symbolic, and even the ridiculous, but embracing those odd, “unimportant” quirky magnificent moments in life. 

I’m glad I took the time to see Windsor.  It was worth the trip and more.

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