Today is a sad anniversary: 50 years ago today the playwright Joe Orton was murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell.
Joe Orton in 1967.
I have long been obsessed by Joe Orton. I was a young teenager when I first saw one of his works: the wonderful 1970 film of Entertaining Mr Sloane, based on his 1964 play of the same name. It was dark – blackly dark, and funny as hell, and full of the most joyous and brilliant language.
It spoke to me, even more so when I learned that he was from Leicester, the Midlands city where I lived at the time. From then on, I tried to find out as much as I could about him, to see all his plays and read everything he had written, and that had been written about him. It seemed so cruel that such a wicked, witty and scabrous mind had been taken from us at just 34 – what other wonders would he have created had he not died so young?
Joe in the one-room flat he shared with Kenneth Halliwell in Noel Road, Islington, 1964. (c) The Leicester Mercury.
John Lahr wrote a fantastic biography of Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, which was published in 1978. He later in 1986 published Orton’s diaries in edited form.
This BBC Arena documentary from 1982 is a good introduction to Orton:
A film adaptation of Prick Up Your Ears was released in 1987. Gary Oldman plays Orton, and Alfred Molina plays Halliwell. I can’t think of a better actor at the time than Oldman to capture not only the physical likeness of Orton, but his mischievousness and charm and sexual confidence and humour, all of which are abundantly clear in Orton’s diaries.
I have always felt a connection to Joe, even though he was a gay man and I am a straight woman: I adore his black humour, his sexual innuendos and irreverence, his pomposity pricking and subversion. He is my writer. I was even happier to learn that he had lived for his first two years in Clarendon Park, the same area of Leicester in which I had lived.
In 1988 I briefly worked in a bookshop in Leicester, and helped out when the shop hosted an evening with John Lahr, to coincide with the new productions of two of Orton’s lesser-known plays, The Ruffian on the Stair and The Erpingham Camp, at the Haymarket Theatre. He gave a very interesting talk about Joe, and Leonie, Joe’s sister, was there too to answer questions. I took all my Lahr Ortonalia along for the great man to sign: treasured possessions still.
Joe in 1965, photo by Lewis Morley. You can read Morley’s recollections of the photo session during which the photo was taken here.
The publication in 1993 of Kenneth Williams‘ diaries, edited by Russell Davies, gave another wonderful insight into Joe’s life. Lahr had talked to Williams for Prick Up Your Ears, and had been allowed to quote from Williams’ diaries, but the publication of the diaries gave us a much fuller picture of Joe, and his relationship with Halliwell and with Williams.
Joe in 1966. Photo by John Haynes.
If you haven’t discovered Joe Orton yet, I encourage you to dive in, head first. Entertaining Mr Sloane is my favourite play of his, and the film version starring Beryl Reid, Harry Andrews and Peter McEnery captures its anarchic irreverence perfectly.
1:25,000 map of the area. Each blue grid square is 1 km x 1 km.
Google Earth image with route marked. We started at Tollard Royal at the bottom of the image and walked the route anti-clockwise direction, going up the straight byway at the start of the walk.
Going up the long straight byway. A byway is open to all traffic: we met a couple of cheery off-road motorbikers.
Lovely vista of Ashgrove Bottom, one of the many dry valleys (coombes) on the chalk downland.
The path is still climbing, and on the left and centre you can see the tops of the wooded coombes in which Ashcombe House nestles.
Lovely meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense). It’s a much more vivid blue than this – the colour never comes out right in my photos.
If you just squint you can see a part of the roof and dormer windows of Ashcombe House in the centre of the photo, surrounded by the woods. It is in the most wonderfully secluded spot.
Looking down on the woods. To me, there is no finer sight than the English countryside in summer.
Not that you’ll be able to spot them, but there are two red kites (Milvus milvus) in this photo. The red kite has only colonised this area in the last 15 years or so.
A common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), just starting to go over.
Another common spotted orchid flower, slightly differently coloured (they are quite variable).
Ferne House, just to the north of the Ashcombe Estate, with its double avenue of trees. Despite looking like it has sat in its grounds for centuries, this mansion was built in 2001 for Lord Rothermere. It was designed in a Palladian style by architect Quinlan Terry.
Ferne House and grounds. I’m fascinated by the groups of trees that have been planted – squares, circles, crosses, triangles and even what might be a love heart! This is the highest point of the walk, and is only a few metres lower than Win Green, the nearby highest ground with a trig point and fabulous vistas over south Wiltshire and north Dorset.
Starting the steep walk down through the woods to Ashcombe Bottom. You can see here how Ashcombe got its name – valley of the ashes. There were also some beautiful beech trees in the woods, and luckily no sign of the dreaded ash die-back disease we’ve been hearing so much about recently.
It was a lovely surprise to see so many nettle-leaved bellflowers (Campanula trachelium) in the woods. The ransoms/wild garlic (Allium ursinum) leaves were dying off but the aroma was still pungent – delicious!
Walking down Ashcombe Bottom. Along with the estate trees (with their stock-proof cages) it was lovely to see the hawthorn bushes (Crataegus monogyna) on the hillside: such a classic part of chalk downland life.
Heading back to Tollard.
A rather crappy photo of a gorgeous comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) with its ragged wing edges.
Journey’s end: the beautiful wildlife pond at Tollard Royal.
Such a lovely walk: we saw some many wildflowers and grasses, including goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis), quaking grass (Briza media), pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), common valerian (Valeriana officinalis), field scabious (Knautia arvensis), nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), chalk milkwort (Polygala calcarea), lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum), wild carrot (Daucus carota), greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa), hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo) and many others. The one plant I expected to see and did not was the harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), an absolute classic flower of chalk downlands.
We saw ten butterfly species: small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), small white (Pieris rapae), grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae), marbled white (Melanargia galathea), peacock (Aglais io), red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), comma (Polygonia c-album), meadow brown (Maniola jurtina), speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) and gatekeeper (Pyronia tythonus). We weren’t really looking out for birds so much, but saw red kites and buzzards, plus a female blackcap and heard a beautiful male blackbird’s song in the woods. A blue damselfly settled on the drive in front of us as we walked along Ashcombe Bottom. It’s a wonderful walk in beautiful countryside, and we shall be doing it again before too long.
I’ve long had a thing for granulation in silver jewellery, and I love orbs, balls, spheres, domes, bobbles and bubbles in all their forms. So it’s no surprise that I have a few bobbly rings in my Etsy shop right now:
NE From Danish sterling silver bypass bobble ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
Modernist Finnish sterling silver bobble bypass ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
Swedish modernist ring, imported to London in 1970. This one has a little silver ball inside that tinkles around. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
1970 brutalist Finnish 930 silver ring by Valon Kulta & Hopea of Turku, Finland. Love the granulation on this! For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD.)
Bengt Hallberg (Sweden) sterling silver bypass ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.
Modernist sterling silver ring in a Georg Jensen style. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
1960s sterling silver jester ring by Anna Greta Eker. Eker was Finnish but worked in Norway, and is regarded as one of the greats of Scandinavian/Nordic silver design.
NE From sterling silver ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery. Click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
1950s sterling silver ring by John Lauritzen of Copenhagen. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photos for details.
Here’s an earlier post with a few more granulated pieces I’ve since sold, plus an interesting video showing how the bobbles are made.
One of my charity shop finds last year was this pair of watercolours in their basic wooden frames.
I’d love to know a bit more about them. They are crudely done, and are not signed. I wonder if they belonged to some countryman, maybe a farmer: a portrait of him and his fine and faithful hounds. I had thought that the fashion of the man’s clothing and the type of gun might help me date the paintings, which are clearly a pair, but … apparently the fashions of country people back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often lagged quite a few years behind city fashions. This is perhaps partly due to financial constraints, and also largely due to opportunities to buy new clothes being few and far between in the days before easy transport, plus even the dissemination of fashionable new ideas for local seamstresses to copy took much longer. So wearing decades-old clothes was not unheard of, and likewise the expense of buying a new gun might mean that a perfectly serviceable old one was carried on in use for years.
I’m not a fan of bloodsports in any way, shape or form, so like to tell myself that this gentleman was shooting for his pot.
I’m getting a very late eighteenth or early nineteenth century vibe off the paintings … but what do I know? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear!
On Saturday my sister and I did a trip round various National Trust properties in Somerset, and fitted in a visit to Kelways Nursery at Langport on the way back, a specialist paeony and bearded iris nursery. The paeonies were looking amazing, and they weren’t all in full bloom. My sister came away with a trolley load:
Paeonies from Kelways.
Some of the paeonies were on offer as they had been intended for Chelsea Flower Show but had flowered too soon, thanks to the lovely weather we’ve been having recently.
The beautiful view in my rear view mirror on the way home.
Every now and then in my Etsy shop I notice I seem to have a lot of jewellery in a particular style, or by a particular maker, or in a particular colour. And the other day I realised I seem to have accumulated a lot of blue jewellery.
Sadly none of the stones is a sapphire: blue glass, sodalite, turquoise and chalcedony, plus wonderful blue enamel on the Joid’art ring at bottom left. I haven’t listed everything yet, and two of the brooches are already spoken for, but just today I put the wonderful NE From sodalite ring in my shop. I don’t expect it’ll hang around for long …
NE From sodalite and sterling silver modernist ring. Could it be any bluer? Click on photo for details.
Yesterday was glorious – a brilliant, sunshiney spring day when all’s right with the world. We headed north for our day out, first to Great Chalfield Manor near Melksham in Wiltshire, an amazing Tudor manor house owned by the National Trust and most recently seen in the BBC’s wonderful Wolf Hall, doubling as Sir Thomas Cromwell’s home, Austin Friars. I’ll write about this in more detail another time; we went on from Great Chalfield for a walk around the By Brook in Box, Wiltshire. It turned out to be quite a special walk, for quite a few reasons.
Detail from OS 1:25,000 Explorer Map 156 for Chippenham and Bradford-on-Avon. The squares are 1 km x 1 km.
Google Earth view with our path marked out in a rather wobbly white line. We travelled in a clockwise direction. The red dot marks the western portal of the Box Tunnel.
We parked up near the railway bridge and walked past some old mill buildings with a funky lead-clad modern extension which only today (Monday) I have found out were Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Studios, where such luminaries as Gabriel himself, Beyoncé, Björk, Pixies, Kanye West, Robert Plant, Amy Winehouse, Brian Eno, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Deep Purple and New Order have recorded. Had I realised at the time I would have taken some photos! Anyhow, no celebs were spotted, just a lad with a skateboard and other locals. We followed the footpath heading north-east along the western side of the brook, which in places was quite wide and deep: deep enough for skateboard lad and his friend to be swimming in it. Brave for this time of year, despite the sunshine.
Swan on the By Brook, Box, Wiltshire. The brook had narrowed by this point: further south it was wider and deep enough for swimming.
Unexpected moment number one came when Chap saw what he thought was a cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)perched in the windy tops of a tree over the brook. Not the sort of bird you expect to encounter on a country walk through pasture land. But sure enough, a cormorant it was.
That dark speck at the top of the trees is a cormorant. Chap has decidedly better eyesight (and bird recognition skills) than me.
Closing in on the cormorant.
He or she didn’t seem at all bothered as we passed by.
A swan nesting on an island.
Beautiful orchard in blossom.
In the distance is the village of Colerne with its prominent church tower.
Unexpected moment number two: a fairy circle of St George’s mushrooms (Calocybe gambosa). These are traditionally found round about St George’s Day (23 April), hence the name: mine are a bit early, I guess brought on by the wonderful weather. I picked some (Chap’s sandwich bag made a handy receptacle). They are good to eat, fried with butter and garlic.
St George’s mushrooms. Yummy fried with butter and garlic.
Unexpected moment number three: Box Tunnel. I knew of Isambard Kindom Brunel‘s magnificent engineering endeavour, but had never seen it. Our footpath and then a small road led us out on to the main road, the A4, and there it was! Built between 1838 and 1841 for the Great Western Railway (GWR), it was a considerable engineering feat, at 2.95 km (1.83 miles) long, and dug through difficult and challenging strata. It’s sobering to learn that around 100 labourers died during the tunnel’s construction.
The west portal of Box Tunnel.
Commemorative plaque for the restoration of the portal in 1986. The tunnel was constructed between 1838 and 1841; surveying (including the sinking of eight shafts to ascertain the geology) took place in 1836 and 1837.
The west portal of Box Tunnel: I don’t think many civil engineering projects nowadays would decorate their structures with carved stone balustrading.
Unexpected moment number four: as we walked back in to Box we passed a B&B with a blue plaque on the wall: the author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books, Reverend W V Awdry, had lived here as a child.
Blue plaque at Lorne House B&B for Reverend W V Awdry, of Thomas the Tank Engine books fame.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about his time in the house, then known as Lorne Villa, and its influence on his future career as an author:
“[Awdry’s house] was only 200 yards (180 m) from the western end of Box Tunnel. There the Great Western Railway main line climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for two miles. A banking engine was kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way up the incline. Awdry related: “There was no doubt in my mind that steam engines all had definite personalities. I would hear them snorting up the grade and little imagination was needed to hear in the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another.“ Here was the inspiration for the story of Edward helping Gordon‘s train up the hill, a story that Awdry first told his son Christopher some 25 years later, and which appeared in the first of the Railway Series books.”
Now I have a small but particular connection to Rev. Awdry. He was born in 1911 in Ampfield Vicarage near Romsey in Hampshire, and lived there until 1917. My mother lived in Ampfield Vicarage from September 1942 until some time in 1946: the vicar and his wife were the legal guardians of my mother and her brother while my grandparents were living in Borneo (and later held in a Japanese internment camp there). So this little blue plaque brought up all sorts of memories.
And then, across the road from Lorne Villa, came unexpected moment number five: a ruddy great steam thingamybob parked in someone’s front garden:
“the boiler for a portable steam engine of the type used for powering belt-driven machinery, typically threshing machines used in separating grain from straw and chaff. The wheels indicate that it was pulled from place to place by horses, and not self-propelled. The engine is gone, too; all that remains is the boiler that generated steam to drive the engine.”
At 18.04 pm on 6 April I can see there are still two eggs on the nest. I do hope she lays more. Last year’s brood had four eggs. (By the way, do use the ‘full screen’ facility for the webcam: it’s a tiny screen otherwise and the details will be barely visible if you don’t enlarge.)
A peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) on the beautiful stonework of Salisbury Cathedral.
Also great to learn is that one and possibly two other peregrines have been spotted around the Cathedral. These might be the juveniles from last year’s brood.
Five eggs. The webcam view on (a wet) 16 May 2017.
Apparently three or four eggs are the norm in the wild, but in urban areas where there is plentiful prey (read: pigeons) clutches can number as many as six.
UPDATE 22 May 2017: I’m not sure when it was born, but there’s a chick in the nest now:
The first hatchling!
UPDATE 30 May 2017: Great excitement while watching the wonderful BBC Springwatch programme last night as they are featuring the Salisbury Cathedral peregrines. The first part is here, starting at 49:25. They are doing a follow-up part tonight. I hope it’s good news: every time I have looked at the the webcam the adult is sitting on the nest, so I have no idea how many chicks there are. I guess I’ll find out tonight.
Beautiful shot of one of the peregrines from the BBC Springwatch footage.
Peregrine on the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, from the BBC Springwatch footage.
UPDATE 31 May 2017: Well, the BBC is keeping us hanging on … another wonderfully-shot update last night on Springwatch, full of beautiful images, but so far no news of any chicks. The second instalment is here, from 24:26. One thing I did learn is that the peregrines are feeding on kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) and greater spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major), among other prey. I guess the kingfishers come from the nearby River Avon with its watermeadows. One of my few ever kingfisher sightings was one darting across the road that enters the central car park by Sainsbury’s in Salisbury: a small tributary of the river runs alongside it.
UPDATE 1 June 2017: Finally we learn from Springwatch that a lone chick hatched, out of the five eggs laid – talk abut stringing it out! This is in contrast to four chicks (only two of which survived to fledge) out of four eggs last year. The non-hatched eggs have been removed from the nest for health reasons, because if the spoiled eggs break the chick could be affected by the rotten contents. The eggs will be analysed to see why they failed: worryingly the spectre of insecticides causing thin shells was raised as a possible cause. The upside is that the lone chick is getting all its parents’ attention and is being fed like a king, with consequent fast growth. The third instalment is here, starting at 49:41.
1 June 2017: the lone chick in its salubrious nest, surrounded by carcasses, shit and flies!
1 June 2017.
UPDATE 2 June: Just a brief update in last night’s Springwatch, with a live web cam view of the satellite-tagged female on the nest and film of the male eating a hapless green woodpecker (Picus viridis). The segment is here, starting at 8:13; it’s followed by a longer segment on some cliff-nesting peregrines.
UPDATE 8 June: Well, what a difference a few hours make! I checked on the webcam yesterday morning and it was down; I didn’t check back so got the surprise via Springwatch last night: a second peregrine chick has been successfully introduced to the nest and is already being happily fostered by the adults.
The new chick on the right; the original, Cathedral chick on the left. 7 June 2017.
The foster chick was one of three chicks in a nest in Shropshire; tragically last weekend the parents were found dead, cause as yet unknown, on the ground below the cliff along with a dead pigeon. Toxicology tests are being undertaken, but poisoning is suspected. Utterly shameful if that is the case. Luckily the chicks were unaffected. They were removed from the nest by RSPB experts, checked over by a vet, and rehomed in the wild: the other two have been fostered to another nest in the Midlands. The segment on last night’s Springwatch starts at 10:51. The male, 25-day-old foster chick was put in the nest at around 8.30 yesterday morning, and was accepted immediately by both the parents and the original Cathedral chick. He’s a bit bigger than the Cathedral chick, as he’s six days older.
Just after introduction. 7 June 2017.
The female (with her satellite tag) feeding the new foster chick. 7 June 2017.
Grumpy! Why aren’t you feeding me, mum? 7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
Not long and the chicks were snuggled together, and being fed by both parents. 7 June 2017.
The new family. 7 June 2017.
Such a beautiful sight. The new family. 7 June 2017.
More food. 7 June 2017.
The new siblings snuggled together with mum. 7 June 2017.