10 July 2010

An den mond

The crops in the fields are ripening under the sun – which isn’t strong and hot yet, and from the precedents of the last few summers never will be. The sky is blue with a few clouds to break the monotony and the Vale of White Horse stretches out, flat, to the edge of the Downs. The train rushes with unseemly haste through this idyllic landscape, and I look up in time to see the white horse on its hillside to the south.

I’d rather, as they say, be running – but not all the way to Cheltenham, though it would (now I think of it) constitute only a modest ultra. Not the route the train takes, though: I am going through Swindon, Stroud and Gloucester, and the journey time is an hour and 48 minutes. Still, if I ran it I would arrive in no fit state to go to lunch, which – at the invitation of my publisher – is what I am going to do. And anyway today is marked “rest” on my training schedule. After the last six days training I need that, notwithstanding the borderline-insane stuff I have been reading recently.

It’s a leisurely sort of journey once past Swindon (and presumably off Brunel’s main line): the train does not seem to hurry through the Cotswolds, and I wonder how we can possibly fill the time between now and our scheduled arrival. One of the joys of modern technology is being able to track my progress using Google Maps on my Blackberry, so I have a good idea of how far we have to go.We seem to have half an hour to get from Gloucester to Cheltenham, which is enough time to run it – if not even to walk. But the train goes into Gloucester and reverses out again - rather like Luxembourg - which takes up the time.

From the station, a pleasant walk along what I take to be an abandoned railway line - now a cycle way - which eventually, and it seems to me inevitably, lands me in a supermarket car park. Interestingly, notices at the limits of the car park announce that trolleys will not pass these signs - on inspecting them (I must get a life) I find they are equipped with devices, branded Radlock, which presumably lock the wheels at a certain distance from base. Clever.

The purposes of my trip are to take lunch with my editor, and a newly-appointed commissioning editor, from my publisher, and later to attend two concerts in the Music Festival, the second of which is sponsored by the charity of which I am a trustee. The lunch is delightful, but it could hardly be otherwise in the company of two stunning blondes half my age. Afterwards, Gerald meets me and takes me to the Holst Birthplace museum - we arrive just ahead of the cleaner, so a little late for a visit, but we get round it and of course I learn a great deal.

The first concert of the evening is an all-Schumann affair, not something that would normally attract me but the invitation was hard to refuse: he musicians include Steven Isserlis, who must be worth seeing irrespective of the music. He doesn't disappoint and neither do the other musicians: the music is also a delight, all the more so for being unfamiliar to me. Drei Gesaengte, a soprano accompanied by a harpist, will remain in the memory especially for the singer who stood in at very short notice - she was faxed the music that morning when the billed singer declared herself indisposed, something that afflicts singers quite often and which I should bear in mind for an excuse myself in the future. The Festival director is her brother-in-law, but no suspicion of nepotism arises in an emergency like this.

before the concert Gerald and I are offered the choice of a drink on the terrace or in the VIP bar. It turns out we are the sole VIPs - at least in the bar - but at the interval I encounter an old friend who turns out to be a former chairman of the Festival. Small world. We have to leave before the final piece to get to the next event (though Meurig manages to get to it in time to introduce it, anyway).

The second concert of the evening is an all-English affair: Bliss's Elegiac Sonnet (discordant and enthralling), Britten's Six Hoelderling Fragments (discordant and tedious), Warlock's The Curlew (brilliant and absorbing), the Bliss piano quartet (English folkiness with shades of Ravel) and Gurney's Ludlow and Teme (tuneful and bucolic). Great end to great day!

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