Thursday, 16 February 2017

A VISIT TO BATH


Sometimes, among all the unwanted adverts, links and promotions that crop up on my i-phone, there  is something  of use. Recently Marilyn saw a very good one night deal advertised at The Royal Hotel Bath. That is not the Royal Crescent Hotel at the top of the city by the way. The Royal Crescent Hotel provides, I am sure, extreme luxury. Well, it should do. The cost of a suite for one night is £1000. The Royal Hotel is the sturdy building, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built in 1864, next to the main railway station located next to the River Avon. The deal was excellent. The hotel is probably three star but it offered a very comfortable experience. For £125 we had a well appointed double room with en-suite facilities. When we arrived we had a cream tea in the foyer. The evening three course meal began with a complimentary glass of champagne. The deal also included a full English breakfast.

The Royal Hotel ,Bath. (Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1846.)

The weather was cold but clear skied while we were in Bath. We  had to wrap up warmly.
We have been to Bath on a few occasions and we have seen the main sites before. This time we once again visited Bath Abbey and for the first  time visited the Roman Baths complex. There was quite a queue to get into the Pump Room for afternoon tea so we decided to miss that. We have been to the Pump Room twice. We found another coffee shop nearby in the Abbey precinct.

Bath Abbey with The Pump Room on the right.

Of course we walked past and along many of the sites in Bath that are connected with Jane Austen.When we arrived in Bath, we first of all parked in our usual car park, near the river, very close to Green Park buildings, and the house The Reverend George Austen died in. After booking into The Royal Hotel we moved our car to the car park in Manvers Street next to the hotel.   I discovered that Fanny Burney , the playwright and novelist, a contemporary of Jane Austen's lived in South Parade, just off Manvers Street,next to the car park.We walked up Milson Street to Edgar Buildings, which are located in George Street. We turned left along George Street to Gay Street and walked up the hill to The Circus, past number 25 Gay Street, another of the houses the Austens stayed in.From, The Circus ,we walked along Bennett Street to The Upper Assembly Rooms . Later, on our return walk back into the center, we walked down Gay Street, past The Jane Austen Centre and through Queen Square, noting Trim Street on our left.

We had never been inside the Assembly Rooms before. They were spectacular. Jane Austen describes a number of Balls in her novels, Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Northangar Abbey. She also writes, in her letters to Cassandra, about the balls she and other members of her family, and friends attended. I know about the social importance of a ball in the 18th century to the marriage market. However, actually standing in the ballroom and seeing the tea room and the Octagon card room, I became much more aware of the powerful social meaning of a place like this. The ballroom would have been set out like a sports arena with tiers of seating around the side.Mothers, fathers and often grandparents would have sat in these seats. The young participants, dressed for the part and tutored in every flirtation technique and intricate dance move were on display in the middle on the dance floor using their hard won skills to attract a partner. Emma Woodhouse is jealous of Jane Fairfax, in Jane Austen's novel Emma because of her superior accomplishments. And in Pride and Prejudice the Bennett sisters practice their dance moves, honing them to perfection. It was a spectator event, the various members of the families assessing their daughter or son's performance and also assessing the opposition. Being there made me aware of how serious a ,"sport," all this was.



The entrance to The Upper Assembly Rooms. (Designed by John Wood The younger 1769)

Thomas Gainsborough lived in a house in The Circus nearby the Assembly Rooms . It was not cheap to attend a ball. Living in, The Circus,Gainsborough, had access to the wealthy families who attended the balls and so was able to obtain portrait commissions more easily. Various masters of ceremonies oversaw the activities of the moneyed classes in Bath. Beau Nash, being the most influential and famous of these. He made sure the right people mixed together. He organised spectacular events in Bath which the rich and famous paid for.Gainsborough was favoured by Beau Nash and he and his family were given complimentary tickets to many of the Balls and events in Bath. In Northangar Abbey Henry Tilney and Catherine Moreland are introduced to each other by the master of ceremonies at the Lower Assembly Rooms, which no longer exist but were situated between the Abbey and the river.

"They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentleman like young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. "
(Northangar Abbey by Jane Austen)



The Ballroom.

We walked around The Royal Crescent where Jane Austen and her contemporaries went for strolls conversing and showing themselves off to society. We also visited Number 1 The Royal Crescent,which is the first house on the Royal Crescent. It is furnished with 18th century furniture and artifacts.in the styles prevalent between 1776  and 1796. The guides in each room told us about the people who rented and lived in the house during this period. The aristocracy and the wealthy did not live in Bath all the time but usually rented properties for, "The Bath Season."


The Royal Crescent, Bath (Designed by John Wood the elder and John Wood the younger between 1767 and 1775)

There is an area called The Northern Crescents in Bath which we had never visited before so we decided to do that. Bath is built on hills and to get to The Northern Crescents it is quite a steep climb that extends north of The Royal Crescent. We visited Landsdowne Crescent ,which is situated on Sion Hill. On Thursday 21st May 1801 Jane wrote to Cassandra describing a walk she made with Mrs Chamberlayne to Weston, a small village to the west of Bath, by way of Sion Hill. We also visited Somerset Place and Cavendish Crescent which are all spectacular examples of 18th century architecture easily comparable to The Circus and The Royal Crescent but perhaps on a smaller scale. We missed Camden Crescent which is further east of those crescents. Next time I go to Bath, Camden Crescent is a must. After all it is where Anne Elliot , the heroine of Persuasion and her father Sir Walter Elliot took rooms in Camden Place, nowadays known as Camden Crescent.

“a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence”
(Persuasion by Jane Austen)

Landsdowne Crescent, Bath (designed by John Palmer 1789 -1793)

We also walked across Pultney Bridge and along Great Pultney , a very elegant, wide thoroughfare . It was here Catherine Moreland stayed in Northangar Abbey.

The elegant Great Pultney Street. ( designed by Thomas Baldwin and completed in 1789)

 We walked the full length of Great Pultney and turned left into Sydney Place opposite Sydney Gardens and stood outside number 4 Sydney |Place, another house Jane Austen lived in. There is a plaque commemorating this on the house front. Not all the houses Jane Austen lived in have plaques on them.. It was a little disconcerting to see two black bin liners, full of rubbish, tied to the railings at the front of number 4 Sydney Place but I suppose the rubbish has to be left somewhere on refuse collection day.

Number 4 Sydney Place.

There is a rather awkward story about the time Jane Austen lived in Bath. After her father retired from his holding of the Steventon parish and when the Austens first moved to Bath they stayed at number 1 The Paragon Buildings,  with Jane's Aunt and uncle, James Leigh Perrott and his wife Jane. James was Mrs Austen's brother. Jane Leigh Perrot had been accused of stealing lace from a shop in Bath and had been prosecuted. How much of this Jane knew is speculation.

Number 1 The Paragon

Marilyn and I walked  past The Paragon buildings noting number 1 and photographing the exterior. We walked on and discovered a house at the end of the row where the acclaimed 18th century actress Mrs Siddons had lived. At the end of the Paragon we came across St Swithuns church. It was here that Jane's mother and father were married and also where her father,the Revernd George Austen is buried. He died while they were living in Bath. What I found also interesting was that here, in St Swithuns churyard, is also buried Fanny Burney. She  influenced Jane as a writer. I have written about Fanny Burney and General D'Arblay, her husband, when they lived in Great Bookham in Surrey. The D'Arblays knew another Aunt and Uncle of Jane's, Samuel and Cassandra Cooke. The Reverend Samuel Cooke was the vicar of Great Bookham Church.Cassandra Cooke, nee Leigh, was one of Mrs Austen's cousins.

St Swithun's Church at the end of The Paragon. ( built by John Palmer between 1777 and 1790)

Seeing Bath through the eyes of an Austenite you become acutely aware of how Jane Austen used the city, not just as a setting for large parts of Northangar Abbey and Persuasion but how the social meaning of where characters lived, who they met and what they did in Bath,  provided social meaning to the novels.

Looking down Milson Street where Jane Austen and many of her characters walked and shopped.

It sounds very much like our trip to Bath was all about the Romans, Georgian architecture and Jane Austen, but it really was about having a great time together, just the two of us.

https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/jane-austen-and-great-bookham-guest-post-by-tony-grant/

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

TO WALK INVISIBLE a dramatisation of the Brontes lives by Sally Wainwright


To Walk Invisible is a drama documentary written and directed by Sally Wainwright, about the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne , their brother Branwell and their father Patrick during the years 1845 to 1849. This date span is dealt with flexibly. There are flash backs to childhood  when Branwell receives a present of some toy soldiers and the children use these soldiers, whose individual figures, they name, to write  poems, plays and create magazines and novelettes. They place them within a world they call Glasstown. Later as they grow older, Charlotte and Branwell extend this by creating their own country called, Angria, and Emily and Anne create their world called ,Gondal. These imaginary worlds are interlaced in the programme to show their early influences and their development as authors and artists. It references the time after 1849 with obituaries for Branwell, Emily and Anne and describes what happens to Charlotte and Patrick Bronte ,their father, at a later date.

The moors near Haworth.

The programme begins at a time after Branwell and Anne have left their governess and tutor roles for the Robinson Family at Thorpe Green and its emotional aftermath. It also deals with the dramatic event where Anne and Charlotte travel to London to visit their publishers Smith, Elder and Co on Cornhill in The City. The final part fades into the present day, showing  modern tourists  inside the parsonage  and we are then taken to the tourist gift shop and a view of the wild looking statue of the three sisters that is positioned beside the shop. The end is a little confusing seemingly becoming an advert for the Bronte Parsonage bookshop and the Bronte Society. It is linked to an English Literature course provided by the Open University.

The statues of Anne, Charlotte and Emily beside the Haworth museum shop.

Sally Wainwright, who wrote and produced ,To Walk Invisible, was an obvious choice to make this programme. She is a gritty Yorkshirewoman who understands the Yorkshire way of life. The fact that she is a ,”Yorkshire lass,” imbued with the landscape, people and a Yorkshire sensibility, connects her to the Brontes in no small way. She was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 1963. She was brought up in Sowerby Bridge where she attended Triangle C of E Primary School and Sowerby Bridge Grammar School. She went on to attended the University of York reading English. Intellectually, socially and emotionally she was formed by Yorkshire. Like the Brontes she started writing from an early age, the age of nine. While at university she had a play called ,”Hanging On,” put on at the Edinburgh Festival. She graduated from the University of York and became a bus driver to finance her writing. The Brontes did what was available to them too, to earn money. They became tutors , governesses and teachers which they hated but stuck with these  jobs because there was nothing else for women in their situation and the family needed money. Wainwright came from that sort of position too, albeit in the present day. Sally Wainwright has gone on to create very successful television dramas including, At Home With The Braithwaites, Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, all plays set in Yorkshire about Yorkshire people and she has also written for Coronation Street and The Archers. You could say she was predestined to write this drama about the lives of these Yorkshire writers, the Brontes.


Sally Wainwright.

There are two main strands in this biopic. There is a focus on Branwell, his attempts at becoming a professional artist, and writer and his dissolute character; an overriding precociousness believing the world owed him recognition as a great artist and writer. This is overlaid by his increasing drunkenness and alcoholism. We see the Bronte family struggling to barely function at times. We witness Branwell, almost destroying his father and sisters. The swearing and the implied and threatened physical abuse adds a bitter edge to the whole thing.
The second strand involves the literary pursuits of Anne, Emily and Charlotte, under the unbearable stresses caused by Branwell. Eventually, they kept their literary efforts a secret from him.  They wrote separately from each other, although they did use each other as critics. The contents of their novels, The Tennent of Wildfell Hall, Agnes Grey, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, reflect the intensity of the life they lived and the self analysis they went through about relationships, moral conflicts and the many hardships they themselves underwent as tutors and governesses. Just being a Bronte seemed hard. 
Branwell wrote to the editor of Blackwoods Magazine; their father Patrick was a subscriber. Branwell had sent the editor some examples of his writing in the hope of gaining employment.
“Haworth 4th January 1837
Now, is the trouble of writing a single line,to outweigh the certainty of doing good to a fellow creature and the possibility of doing good to yourself?- Will you still so wearisomely refuse me a word, when You can neither know what you refuse or whom you are refusing? Do you think your magazine so perfect that no edition to its power would be either possible or desirable? Is it pride which actuates you- or custom- or prejudice?- Be a man-Sir! And think no more of these things! Write to me-….”
You can sense Branwell’s frustration at not getting a reply. However, he is also being rude and on the verge of insulting the editor. Branwell  did not take rejection well. Throughout his short life any job or positon or talent he had was wasted. It has been suggested, that if Branwell was living now, he would be diagnosed with attention deficit syndrome.

Haworth Parsonage today.

 Blackwoods Magazine was a periodical begun by William Blackwood in 1817. It was a combative magazine with radical views not just about politics but also religion and society. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were permitted to read these articles, in fact Patrick Bronte encouraged his daughters to read widely and no books were off limits in his library. Patrick taught his children literature, geography, history, mathematics, the classics, Latin, French and poetry. He encouraged them to go walking on the moors and observe nature and experience the elements. All these things were to influence their writing.

Related image

The front cover of an edition of Blackwoods magazine.

An underlying theme in, To Walk Invisible, is the source of their creativity and their thinking about the world. The education and the breadth of reading was one aspect but playing and imagining was a very large part of their creative development as well. Creativity is something which schools today know they should have time for but  is not easy to include in the everyday school timetable.  The toy soldiers that Branwell was given at an early age triggered the creation of whole worlds, which existed alongside their actual lives. In their letters and diaries, it is sometimes difficult to see the difference between the real world and their imaginative worlds. Perhaps they didn’t separate them.
The Reverend Patrick Bronte provided the money, from his meagre income, for Branwell’s art education and the travelling expenses to go to interviews.This caused the family to make sacrifices financially  so that Branwell might pursue a career. Branwell, however,wasted his fathers and the family’s money. This is highlighted in To Wlak Invisible most sharply by Branwell’s abortive visit to London to apply for entry to the Royal Academy. Branwell was granted an interview at The Royal Academy and travelled to London, using the families much needed money but he never made it to the interview. He spent his time drinking and so used up the money before returning to Hawarth. He got into debt and was nearly arrested on occasions only for his father to bail him out. He became a tutor to the children of the Robinson family at Thorpe Green but began an affair with Mrs Robinson, who Branwell described in one letter to a friend as dark eyed and beautiful . He complained that she wouldn’t leave him alone. He was dismissed from this post and the experience hastened  his sinking into drug addiction and alcoholism. Anne had also been a governess to the children at Thorpe Green and resigned just before Branwells dismissal. Strangely the children remained in contact with Anne.They seemed to have formed an attachment to her.

The Black Bull Inn in Haworth where Branwell would go drinking.

Branwell was  a walking, breathing disaster, not only to himself but to the rest of his family. One aggressive scene in the film depicts a burly gentleman confronting Branwell outside the Black Bull Inn, situated at the top of Haworth High Street just outside the gates leading to the church and the Parsonage. The man wants his money and threatens Branwell. Emily intervenes and stands toe to toe, face to face with the man and threatens to hit him harder than he threatens to hit Branwell.  On another occasion Branwell is in such a drunken state, dragging himself home, the three sisters walk past trying to ignore him but Emily turns and goes back to him and holds and cradles him. Emily, for all her harshness and austere outlook, can’t help her feelings of love for her brother. It is a dour production. The clothing is muted, dark colours, the skies are overcast or the lighting is toned down on cloudless scenes. The language is violent at times, with swear words delivered with strong Yorkshire accents.There are scenes that verge on the physically violent. It gives a very powerful sense of the hard and difficult lives the Brontes lead.

The Chapter Coffee House was situated near here next to St Pauls Cathedral.

One of the most dramatic scenes in the programme is when Charlotte and Anne go to London to confront Charlotte’s publishers, Smith and Elder at 65 Cornhill in the City. A problem had arisen. Emily and Anne had a different publisher, a Mr Newby. There had been a lot of speculation in the newspapers as to who Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell actually were. Mr Newby was the publisher for Emily and Annes’ aliases, Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte) and Acton Bell (Anne Bronte) while Smith and Elder published Charlotte's work under the name of Currer Bell.  Mr Newby had caused speculation by suggesting that they were one and the same person. Having suggested this and because he had the manuscripts of Ellis and Acton Bell, he put it about that he had the rights to publish Currer Bells next novel after the great success of Jane Ayre. Smith and Elder were obviously very concerned about this and thought that Charlotte (Currer Bell ) had given her next manuscript to Mr Newby. They wrote to Currer Bell ( Charlotte Bronte) setting out their concerns. Even the sisters  own publishers did not know who they were other than by the aliases. Charlotte, thought it right to visit Smith and Elder on Cornhill to set things straight. She wanted all three of them to go but Emily refused. In the end just herself and Anne made the journey. 

A map drawn by Patrick Bronte to show his daughters Charlotte and Anne where the Chapter Coffee House was located.

The scene depicted in the programme follows closely the details of the visit to their publishers that Charlotte gave to a friend, Mary Taylor, in a letter, from Haworth, dated 4th September 1848.
“ We arrived at the Chapter Coffee House ( A cheap boarding house that members of the clergy used situated in, Paternoster Lane, next to St Pauls Cathedral) .. about eight o’clock in the morning. We washed ourselves- had some breakfast-sat a few minutes and then set off in queer, inward excitement, to 65 Cornhill. Neither Mr Smith nor Mr Williams knew we were coming- they had never seen us- they did not know whether we were men or women- but had always written to us as men.
We found 65- to be a large bookseller’s shop in a street almost as bustling as the Strand- we went in- walked up to the counter- there were a great many young men and lads here and there- I said to the first I could accost- “May I see Mr Smith-?” he hesitated, looked a little surprised- but went to fetch him-We sat down and waited a while- looking at some books on the counter-publications of theirs well known to us- many of which they had sent us copies as presents. At last somebody came up and said dubiously, “Did you want to see me, Ma’am?” “Is it Mr Smith?” I said looking up through my spectacles at a young, tall, gentlemanly man. “It is.” I then put his own letter into his hand addressed to Currer Bell. He looked at it- then at me- again- yet again- I laughed at his queer perplexity- a recognition took place- I gave my real name-“Miss Bronte”- We were both hurried from the shop into a little back room…”

The site of 65 Cornhill today. This was the site of Smith and Elder , Charlotte Brontes publisher.

This portrays Charlotte Bronte's propensity for the dramatic, not only in her writing, but in her life too. Many of her letters are vivid descriptions portraying her emotions, feelings and thoughts.
There were few opportunities for work for the unmarried daughters of poor clergy men. One thing they did acquire was an education which enabled them to be teachers and governesses. Their Aunt Bronte, their fathers sister, who lived with them after their mothers death, provided the money for Charlotte and Emily to spend time at the Pensionnat Heger run by  Monsieur Heger in Brussels. Charlotte's emotional attachment to ,Monsieur Heger, that developed while she was in Brussels, is not covered by this programme however. They learned French and some Italian and German. Ability with languages made them far more employable as teachers.They thought about setting up their own school in Haworth and had notices printed advertising ,”The Misses Brontes Establishment,” offering an extensive educational experience including a range of languages, mathematics,  writing , music, drawing, needlework and history. This was not successful, perhaps because of the remote location of the parsonage in Haworth.


Some buildings in Haworth near the church and the parsonage.

“To Walk Invisible,” has received some criticism for its harsh portrayal of difficult lives, the stresses placed on them all by Branwell and the sense of desperation  the three sisters felt in needing to make a living and earn money. We can learn something of their lives by reading their letters and through their novels and now through this television programme. The themes of their books reveal much. Anne wrote about the plight and hardships of being a governess in Agnes Grey. The Tennent of Wildfell Hall dealt with the topic of marital abuse and in particular the abuse of women that was exceedingly shocking to Victorian sensibilities and is pertinent today. Anne Bronte is becoming a woman’s movement icon.
“I see that a man cannot give himself up to drinking without being miserable one-half his days and mad the other.” 
Anne Bronte: The Tennent of Wildfell Hall
Emily wrote about the strength of human passion to almost a surreal level in Wuthering Heights and Charlotte dealt with issues of fidelity and love and morality in Jane Eyre.  
“Feeling . . . clamoured wildly. “Oh, comply!” it said. “. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?” Still indomitable was the reply: “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now.” 
Charlotte Bronte:Jane Eyre

A wooden carved panel on the door of 32 Cornhill depicting Charlotte and Anne Bronte meeting William Makepeace Thackeray at the offices of Smith, Elder and Co.

I think “To Walk Invisible,” captures many of the issues in the lives of the Bronte sisters. It can be said it is a modern view and that it is sensational but the evidence shows that there were sensational elements to their lives and their lives had rough and harsh elements.   Somebody dramatising the Brontes lives in fifty years time will have a different outlook and approach to it using the same facts and evidence.“To Walk Invisible,” is a powerful piece of television drama and Sally Wainwright is the right person to have written the script and produced the TV programme. “Eeh by gum! Flippin eck!” 

References:
 http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/tv/walk-invisible

https://www.bronte.org.uk/

The Brontes: A Life In Letters by Juliet Barker

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte




Wednesday, 4 January 2017

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION (Records and rebels 1966-1970)


At the Victoria and Albert Museum  between 10 September 2016 - 26 February 2017

I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum recently to see the exhibition about the social, political, artistic and economic revolutions that took place in the late 1960s. This was a nostalgic experience for Marilyn and myself. We were teenagers in the 1960s,  the most developmental period of our lives, both emotionally and physically  . The revolutions that happened in the 1960s were very important to us, shaping our ideas, and responses to life. This personal connection with this period is a perfect example of why understanding and engaging with history is so important to the human condition. To develop as humans, we need to reflect. Understanding the past is a form of reflection and the study of history is a collective reflection.



I remember the 60’s; however the saying goes that some people who lived through those times don’t remember anything, for various reasons. I remember doing my o’levels in a small school in Shropshire and learning about General Wolfe in 1759 fighting the  battle of  Quebec; The South Sea Bubble , its causes and its implications, about Clive of India, the Industrial and Agricultural revolutions, a time which was  marked by a period of revolutions, echoing the time  this exhibition relates to. I remember reading 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell and Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Laurie Lee's, Cider With Rosie and John Berger’s, Ways of Seeing and later on , when I was training to be a teacher, The Comprehensive School by Robin Pedley.  These books, in conjunction with what was going on in the world shaped my political, and social views and shaped my emotional life too. I remember, in my mid-teens, going in a coach with a group from the school I attended in Liverpool at the time, to Liverpool Cathedral, the Protestant one, for an interfaith service and experienced Ian Paisley leading a mob of Northern Ireland Protestants in a noisy and boisterous chanting of anti-Catholic slogans and beating the sides and windows of our coach with their placards. That was thrilling.  After I finished school at the end of the 1960s I wore flared Levi jeans, my hair grew long and bushy, I grew a beard of sorts and I listened to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hendrix and Dylan and  so many more. I remember reading the poetry of Ted Hughes, visceral stuff and that of Thom Gunn, Sylvia Plath, George Macbeth , John Wain and Philip Larkin. The Second Vatican Council took place between (1962–65). That changed the format of the mass and prescribed a physical structure for how any new Catholic church should be built to fit in with the new thinking about the mass. Pope John XXIII advocated, what was thought of, as a more liberal approach to religion.Women were given a slightly, some might say cosmetic, higher profile role within the church. They could be ministers of communion.They were allowed to read the Epistle and some of the prayers during mass.Pope John XXIII advocated a more questioning approach to religion. It seemed to me you could question as long as the answers were what the church advocated.  He did not go far enough for many and too far for others. He was anti-abortion and anti-contraceptives but advocated more natural forms of birth control. This  has caused arguments ever since within the church and society as a whole. The Catholic Church remains an authoritarian patriarchy to this day. Abortion and the pill, freedom of thought, student rioting in Paris and in London against the Vietnam War; the more I sit here and think the more I remember and try and work out what it all meant and what it means now.
I remember all these things that crowd my thoughts in a sort of jumble. It was confusing at the time and even now I struggle to make sense of it. A lot of this stuff made my early life a challenging thought provoking time. My beliefs and the way I thought about life to begin with were influenced  by my grandparents beliefs and stories of their past, my parents views and the life they lived, the Catholic religion that I was imbued with from an early age and its very powerful strictures on the way to live and think. The Catholic Church was epitomized for me by Cannon Ibbit , my local parish priest in Woolston and the De La Mennais Brothers who taught me at St Mary’s College in Bitterne Park. They were benign to some extent and supportive but their guidance always lead directly to the rules of the church.There was no wavering from ,"the straight and narrow."These revolutions were powerful counterweights to these influences and my learned responses to life. This new way of living was presented in the news, the way people all around started to dress and behave, in books, in the cinema, in the music I began to listen to, in attitudes and in what people spoke about. Have you noticed that your inner thoughts and impulses remain hidden because they don’t fit what with what you have always been told. Even though you are thinking and feeling them, until you hear of others’ experiences, you can’t acknowledge them without them causing some sort of pain and rupture within you. Once you know others  think like you and are forming ideas similar to yours its like being given permission. Then you feel liberated and not alone in your inner responses and you can then permit yourself to  think and do the things you were becoming  aware of. We do need permission to do, say and believe things and it often takes others braver than ourselves to say and do these things first.
The exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum  charts the history of this time. It looks at social changes that included experimentation with drugs to enhance our minds, new ways of living, creating new social orders within communes and new economic models based on adapting to the  world in more harmonious ways. There were new concepts of communication. Cultural changes happened in music, drama, films, writing and art and a rewriting of history from the points of view of ethnic minorities, women and the working classes. Political changes included civil rights, women’s liberation, anti war movements,  education, and the creation of  new political movements. Many of these experiments have continued and  led to ways of living, doing, thinking and believing that we have now. Some experiments were disastrous such as the experimentation with mind enhancing drugs. The good effects were far outweighed by the detrimental effects. Music has gone on to develop through more and more synergies, the coming together of music  from various cultures. This is also seen in  the development of art and literature, developing new ways of seeing and thinking. Politics has changed, through new ways of communication and people feeling free to challenge, ask questions and promote alternative ideas.  Barriers to real meritocracy and equality still remain such as the two tier system of education we have, the private sector and the state sector. Womens employment still has glass ceilings and poor working practices which hamper their development within organisations. Consumerism has taken over much. There is a monitory price on everything.  It seems that we need a market economy for things to exist.
This exhibition uses three different texts from three different periods  to show how revolutions in thoughts, ideas, ways of living and politics are not just about the 1960s and that the new ideas that came to fruition in the 1960s were influenced by ideas from ages past. It is five hundred years since the publication of Thomas More’s,” Utopia ,” in which inhabitants of a fictional island reject intolerance, personal gain and property, and instead find peace and contentment as part of a community.” 



Three hundred years after More’s, Utopia, William Blake wrote “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” He raged against,” mind formed manacles,” and commented, “ if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Perhaps the use of LSD in the 1960s was  about the search for the same sort of enlightenment. 

The third text was written at the start of the 1960s. “The Port Huron Statement,” It addressed the cold war, the nuclear arms race, and called for the democracy of individual participation. It called for the means for the individual to participate in the social decisions determining the quality and the direction of his life.



The exhibition portrays Britain and America at this time but more specifically London  and San Francisco. It shows the sharing of social, political and musical ideas. The traumas created by US politics and its involvement in South East Asia are covered. It displays the counter culture and underground movements in music, art and the marches against racism, especially in the US south and the anti-Vietnam War marches in London and Washington and the student protests in Paris. It portrays the new youth cultures in the use of drugs, clothes, experimental living, music, art and writing. 




There is a large section in the exhibition focused on the Beatles and their development of new styles including the use of transcendental meditation, LSD, Indian influences from Ravi Shanker and their exploration of different sounds and instruments. The exhibition shows this through their musical transitions from   Revolver, Rubber Sole to Sgt Peppers. They wrote love songs, protest songs and music derived from the use of LSD. There were jokes and biographical memories included in their work. The Beatles moved from live performances to working in the studio and this helped in creating these developing styles. The development of their music was something they would not have been able to do to such an extent if they had concentrated on live performances. I always think it is a thrilling experience to see original drafts. To see the fresh, immediate creation just as it was made, gets you close to the creator and the creative process. John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for, “Tomorrow Never Knows, “is displayed. There are the handwritten lyrics for Lucy in The Sky with scribbled corrections and crossings out.
This extract from a poem entitled, “On The Move,” by a young poet, Thom Gunn, encapsulated the youth of the time.
A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self defined astride the created will
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither bird nor holiness
For birds and saints complete their purposes
At worst one is in motion; and at best
Reaching no absolute in which to rest
One is always nearer by keeping still.


Today we can see how things have developed. The internet has created a sort of universal “mind,” something that LSD failed to do. It was the students coming out of the universities of the 1960s who invented the internet. Those who began APPLE and GOOGLE, created ways of communal working  where creativity and sharing ideas, a counter culture concept, formed and grew these great organisations of today. Music and fashions were freed from the constraints of the past  and they have continued to develop and be continuously creative. However  consumerism has attached itself to what has developed  and all these countercultural concepts and ideas have in many ways been brought into a new main stream culture of business and wealth. Some of the most tenacious parts of the old order have remained . We still have a class system in this country controlled by an education system split into private and state. Some people would like to destroy the National Health Service which although begun soon after the second world war in 1948 was a forerunner of freedoms dreamt of that developed in the 1960s. Big business and government want to keep the majority poorly paid on low incomes. The next big change seems to be coming from the right wing. Donald Trump has been voted into the presidency of the United States. Britain has voted to leave Europe at a time of austerity under a right wing government. I wonder where things are going to go from here?




It is interesting to see who the sponsors of this exhibiton are; Levis, the company that made the trouser choice of the 60s. Sennheiser,  provide the sound systems for the exhibiton. It is worth wearing the headphones that are provided. Walking around the exhibition is a musical experience, a continuous soundtrack of music from the sixties with appropriate music tracks connected to each part of exhibition.The Kinks ,”Waterloo Sunset” for ,”Swinging London,” fashion and the counter culture. Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,”recalling Vietnam. That one  sends a chill down your spine. The largest exhibition room, its floor spread out with Indian patterned cushions to sit on, is a surround sound and filmic experience of the Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals provided by Sennheiser. Sassoon, the creative hairdresser who started in the 1960’s who cut Twiggys hair  also recalls the fashion of Barbara Hulanicki and BIBA and Mary Quant.  Fenwick, the store company which started in the late 1880s and owns many of our High Street outles delivering the fashion of today also contributes. The Annenberg Foundation is a main sponsor too through its charitable trust and its belief in personal freedoms and the creation of outlets for the expression of creativity and the provision of free public facilities. It sponsors free public broadcasting and has promoted education, the arts and created places such as community beach houses, wetlands restoration projects and much more. Walter Annenberg who began the foundation was The American Ambassador to Britain under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.



Pete Townsend of The Who performing in 1968 at the first Isle of Wight festival.

And finally..................................ME AS I WAS THEN!!!!!! (God help us all!! Ha! Ha!)



References:
The New Poetry (Selected and introduced ) by A Alvarez (Penguin 1962)
 The Comprehensive School by Robin Pedley  (Pelican 1963)
You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966- 1970  edited by Victoria Broakes and Geoffrey Marsh  ( (Victoria and Albert publishing 2016)
Bary McGuire ,”Eve of Destruction.”       https://youtu.be/ntLsElbW9Xo
The Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset.”                  https://youtu.be/N_MqfF0WBsU






Sunday, 20 November 2016

THE BOX OF DELIGHTS!!!!!

I don't  advertise things, but, this is one for books............



As I walked out one midsummer morning
The Little match girl huddled nearby and lit another match.
I Wandered lonely as a cloud,
Far from the madding crowd,
towards
Waterstones
Wimbledon,
On the road,
Past the
animal farm.
I had no
Sense or sensibility.
Matilda stood there browsing.
The tenant of wildfell hall hid her face.
Emma controlled everything with a look.
It was all set
For whom the bell tolls.
Ted's hawk hovered above.
A tempest blew through
the Old curiosity shop.
after
a comedy of errors
what a brave new world
presented itself.
The book  seller
Pronounced,
"As you like it,sir."
little women giggled in the corner with jack
 and
the Three pigs
scurried away
AND 
THE JOLLY CHRISTMAS POSTMAN LAUGHED.


Choosing a book is an adventure. Try it this Christmas.










Saturday, 5 November 2016

THE AMERICAN ELECTION RESULT!!!!!!!!!!!


Donald and Hillary. 

Tuesday 9th November 2016….. is so very nearly here.
The World awaits. Who will it be, Donald or Hillary?

It’s so close, we here in Britain can feel the heat from 3000miles away across a choppy Atlantic. Friction, that’s what it is. Anything that close and so abrasive causes a lot of heat.
There is the misogynist, abuser of women, bankrupt, litigiously incontinent, egomaniac,  and total nincompoop, ( that’s an English word for idiot.) Donald the Trump. I can’t bear to look at his face on the TV and  I can’t  bear to listen to the sound of his voice. 
Then there is Hillary, duplicitous, sneaky, a rather untrustworthy type who wants a national health service and wants to ban the carrying and ownership of guns. A pinky left wing socialist sort. 

So what if……………?

Trump WINS!! IT'S President Trump.

We have a President Trump. His own party, the Republicans can’t believe it. Nobody wants to be a part of his administration. He has decided to have a new series of the Apprentice whereby candidates for high political office in his administration compete for government roles. He is recruiting candidates from amongst the great American beer drinkers, golfing types and bar loafers who voted for him. Wolf whistling at women will be of high priority
 As America doesn’t own any shipping companies to deport immigrants  an upsurge in the inflatable airbed industry is underway. Airbed stock market rates have gone through the roof. Thousands and thousands of inflatable Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse air beds are to be seen off the East Coast and West Coast of the USA as desperate illegal immigrants paddle for the safety of the high seas. American citizens have been given the right to shoot on sight anybody they think are undesirable sorts. There are summary executions in the streets right across America. A few mother inlaws and ex wives have been mistakenly shot. This has of course preempted Trump’s  passing a bill through  Congress banning all mother inlaws and ex wives anyway.
 Illegal Mexican immigrants in the USA having been sent back across the boarder and  are now working for building companies right across Mexico. They are part of a desperate race  to build a high  concrete wall to keep out the undesirable Americans fleeing across their borders  from the USA in disgust at the Presidential result. Building companies, cement factories, brickyards, construction machinery companies,  and  yellow hard hat companies are flourishing. The Mexican economy has had a gigantic boost. 
President Putin has been invited to  the ,"Golden Gilt House ," formerly ,"The White House," A quick renovation to suit President Trump’s tastes was carried out soon after his election. President Trump has announced a ,”special relationship,” once attributed to Britain, with Russia. After all it was Russia who financed his Presidential campaign, got him out of two bankruptcies and provided him with a  docile, servile, wife who will do anything for her man.
The BBC was seen as insulting Donald in the run up to the election. Rumours that the British people were making fun of him also riled the bloated red faced one, so all political ties with Britain have been severed and the USA is now at war with its old ally. Trump is reserving a large section of the American nuclear arsenal  for the bombing and total eradication of Britain.  “Who wants those National Health Service, free education,  lefty bastards anyway? They don’t even carry guns.”, he has been reported as saying.
Also Europe is a little concerned that Trump wants to drop nuclear bombs on all major European cities.
Donald is suing all Hollywood and music industry stars for not liking him.
A new bright era of world dominance , let’s forget the Chinese, for the wonderful U. S. of A is dawning under this Donald Trump regime.
As for Hillary Clinton, the Clintons have been seen escaping to Britain,. They now live in a Liverpool, council house in the  suburbs of Liverpool near Paul McCartneys childhood home. Hillary always expressed admiration for the Fab Four in her student days. The Clintons have been made penniless after the hard fought election and are seeking housing benefits and work seekers allowances from Liverpool City Council.

ALTERNATIVELY:

Hillary is President. President Clinton the second.

The first woman President of the United States, Hillary Clinton. The world sighed a long sigh of relief after election night. She is the normal conniving, back stabbing politician we all know and love. The status quo will be kept. Americans might not get the jobs and rejuvenated industries they want but they might, unless Hillary does a U turn, get a National Health service and guns might just be banned. Which I am sure will be a good thing. Lets hope Americans get accustomed to what European countries have known for a generation. It will be best for Hillary to act quickly on these things of course while the Gun Lobby, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Drugs Industry have been incapacitated by the shock of Donald’s defeat. Best to get in there before they recover their composure.
The close relationship with Britain has been made closer. Hillary loved the sarcasm, and the denigrating commentary of Donald Trump by the BBC.
Relationships with Russia have soured even further and Putin is rather upset because the Russian economy is shrinking and he can’t finance his military ambitions of invading and nuking Europe. Donald had promised him support.
Mexico are feeling ambivalent. There is not going to be a wall between them and the USA but they had already decided they hate the USA and were looking forward to keeping Americans out of their wonderful country. They no longer have an excuse.
Donald Trump meanwhile has been spotted rowing a converted golf buggy towing suit cases full of his and Melania’s belongings, out to sea heading for Colombia. He is wondering if he can do a deal with the drugs barons there. He is bankrupt again after this Presidential campaign and he would like them to bail him out and set him up in ,"business," again. It has been discovered that Donald had mortgaged Trump Tower for every last brick to pay for the election campaign.



Election campaign badge.




Monday, 17 October 2016

VALDEMOSSA, MALLORCA. ( a Summer holiday trip)




The mountainous scenery around Valldemossa

During the second week of August this year, the 7th until the 14th, Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself stayed on Mallorca, the main island amongst the Ballearic group of islands. We had a hotel just a short distance along the coast from Palma, the capital city of the Ballearics. From Palma we could take bus trips all over the island. In planning our holiday, we researched Gaia, the little village on the north side of the island near the coast set amongst the craggy outcrops and peaks of La Serra de Tramuntana. Gaia was the small mountain village that Robert Graves made his home and we wanted to visit his house and find his grave in the little cemetery in the village. La Serra de Tramuntana is a range of craggy limestone hills and mountains, some over 1000 m high, that stretch from East to West across the whole northern part of the island. The steep sided valleys and ravines make a spectacular drive through this rugged landscape. One town we passed through was Valldemossa, set on the side of a steep mountain with a long beautiful valley extending south from it with views almost to the sea at Palma. When we got back to our hotel that evening, I found some brochures in the hotel foyer that described  Valldemossa. We discovered it had been a retreat for George Sand and her lover Frederik Chopin in the winter of 1838. They had stayed in rooms in the abandoned Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa. When Marilyn and I read this we immediately thought we must go there. The next day the four of us got the same bus we had got to Gaia from the central bus station in Palma, except this time we alighted on the edge of Valldemossa town.


Valldemossa is well signposted.

Valldemossa is well sign posted. We started walking up the crowded thoroughfare, that comprised the main street, making our way towards the Chopin and Sand museum. It was crowded with visitors from the cruise ships we had seen in the harbor at Palma. They wore their cruise ship badges so we could even pick out which ship they had come from. They looked like and sounded like, a bored crowd of tourists. You could see and hear the fractious children with their worn out parents sighing and complaining back at their children in strained and reprimanding tones.Some just sat on low walls waiting to be herded back to their ship. Valldemossa is beautiful. The streets are lined with tamarisk and holm oaks. These trees create deep shade in the streets during the hot bright summer. The town is built from the honey coloured stones quarried from the surrounding mountains. Olive green shutters are placed over every window. Stone archways encompass heavy wooden doors. The streets are paved with worn irregular slabs of the same stone. The town is rustic, mellow and creates a warm comfortable feeling of human scale. It is the sort of place you need to walk around, stop, contemplate life  and speak to people. The atmosphere of Valldemossa seeps into you and makes you feel human again, if you give it time, away from the hurly burly of your everyday lives. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and I made our way through the crowd and gradually the crowd thinned out and was left behind. It became easier to stop and experience Valldemossa properly.

Shaded streets of Valldemossa

Valdemossa is a mountain town,  reliant on tourism as is the whole of Mallorca in the 21st century but it is still home, to hillside farmers growing olives, almonds and grapes. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself walked into some of the shops on the main street. There were the usual Spanish holiday mementos. We found, a variety of straw sombreros of different circumferences. There were stuffed leather donkeys with colourful rainbow tassels for manes and tails. There was a choice of brightly painted castanets.There were garishly coloured clothing and artisan wooden carvings of fish and other animals for sale. There were traditional sangria drinking bottles with a long thin sharp spout. By holding the drinking bottle at arm’s length and above your head height you can send a long thin stream of wine arching through the air to your open mouth and straight down your throat. Watching it done is quite a skillful business. There were traditional Spanish costumes for children. There were local carved wooden statues of The Virgin Mary and Barcelona Football Team shirts side by side. Various other paraphernalia, dishes, plates and bottled oils were on sale too. We walked on. Interspersed with the tourist shops there were local shops selling bread and groceries. Bars and restaurants, with tables spilling out on to the streets and into the square at the top of the town were everywhere. We saw red banners all over Valldemossa advertising the, “Festival Chopin.” 

A banner informing about the Chopin Festival.

We eventually reached the great monastic church belonging to the Carthusian Monastery at the top of the town. An old lady with a weather beaten faced  was selling entry tickets. She sat at a rickety wooden table. We asked about tickets to see around the old monastery and its church. She explained that the ticket allowed us to see the monastery. I asked where the rooms Chopin and Sand had stayed in were. She waved her arm in the air and grumbled at us with some guttural Spanish phrase gesturing to her right and then she had a go at English and said in a vague comment, “On thee urther side.”
The Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa, dates back to 1399. It was secularised in 1835 under the Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizabel. At the time there were anti clerical liberal movements in Spain and the government wanted to use the land to help the middle classes expand. The land and buildings of the monastery at Valldemossa were sold to a number of people.  The towns people,however, felt that it was wrong to use the old Carthusian property for their own benefit so the new owners would merely rent out the rooms to visitors.


Inside the Carthusian church.


Entering the vast monastic church from the sun drenched courtyard in front of the entrance it took a moment to adjust our vision. The inside of the church was cool with its white washed walls reflecting any light that entered from the large roundel window positioned high in the barrel vaulted roof at one end. It was strange in the sense that were no other windows, none of the elaborate gothic arched stained glass windows of a cathedral or local church. Carthusian spirituality is about solitude and living in silence. This is one of the Carthusian statutes.
 The primary application of our vocation is to give ourselves to the silence and solitude of the cell. It is holy ground, the area where God and his servant hold frequent conversations, as between friends. There, the soul often unites itself to the Word of God, bride to the groom, the earth to the sky, man to the divine. “
The church seemed to cut us off from the outside world. The interior was virtually empty. At one end there was an elaborate altar with a gilt painted baroque framed painting of The Virgin Mary hanging above it and a life size statue of St Bruno, the founding father of the Carthusians to one side. The walls were lined to about half height by intricately carved wooden stalls and friezes where I presume the monks had once sat during mass. There was no seating for a congregation. The body of the church was an empty space floored with stone tiles.  As we walked from the church into dimly lit whitewashed corridors this sense of the Carthusian contemplative life seemed palpable in the structure of the buildings. We came to a small verdant, cloistered square. To one side, appearing almost cartoonish, were two giants, two statues, at least twice life size, one representing Frederik Chopin and the other George Sand. They seemed totally incongruous. I can only suggest they had something to do with the Chopin Festival. I guess, either that they must stand in pride of place as the festival of Chopin piano concertos proceeds, or perhaps they are the outer costumes and masked heads of stilt walkers and the two creative, “giants,” walk amongst festival goers creating a sense of circus and fun.  

Frederik Chopin, myself and George Sand!!!!!

At the far side of the cloisters there was a long corridor also with a high barrel roof. Every place throughout the monastery was whitewashed and this was a plain white thoroughfare too, dimly lit like the rest of the interiors. We could see  to one side, set within the the wall opposite, the  courtyard,  a row of evenly interspersed wooden doors. They were each numbered. There were thirteen doors we discovered, each being the entrance to the cell of a past monastic occupant. Cell number four was the reputed abode of Frederik Chopin and George Sand and Sand’s two children during their stay in Valldemossa.


The balcony garden outside of the cells where Sand and Chopin stayed.

The rooms are interconnected nowadays and Chopin and Sand occupied at least two of them. There are two pianos within these rooms. One is the Pleyel piano that Chopin had shipped to Mallorca and eventually brought to Valldemossa for his use.  Pleyel was the company of piano makers that Chopin preferred above all others. His last concert was played on a Pleyel. There is another piano there that Chopin also used while he was waiting for the arrival of the Pleyel. The rooms have  a number of Chopin and Sand artefacts and manuscripts.There are receipts for the sea voyage they made to Palma from Barcelona. There are letters to friends and a first edition of Sand’s book ,"Un Hiver en Majorque,"(A Winter in Mallorca.)  


"Un Hiver en Majorque."

There are sketch books that belonged to Sand's two children, Maurice, born in 1823 who was fifteen years old at the time they visited Valldemossa and her daughter Solange, born in 1828, who was ten years old at the time. Their father was George Sand’s estranged husband, Casimir Dudevant. One particular artefact is a cartoon drawing that George Sand herself made depicting Chopin and her two children meeting the local priest. She is a true cartoonist, using caricature, depicting her nose and Chopin's nose far larger that real life. Sand has handwritten a legend stating that the priest was lecturing them about snow. He thought they might never have seen it before and Valldemossa experienced snow falls in the Winter. The facial expressions are very good. The two children are depicted sitting  politely showing quiet interest as she is but Chopin is grimacing in almost a snarl. 

George Sand,Frederik Chopin with children, being lectured about snow.

Chopin composed most of the preludes, opus 28.  while here. He had a prolific creative period during that winter in Valldemossa which is remarkable since he was suffering from pneumonia. Chopin wrote to his friend, Julian Fontana, a fellow Polish composer  in December from Valldemossa.
"Palma 28 December 1838
………………….or rather Valldemosa, a few miles away; between cliffs and the sea a huge deserted Carthusian monastery where in a cell with doors larger than any carriageway in Paris you may imagine me with my hair unkempt, without white gloves and pale as evert. The cell is shaped like a tall coffin, the enormous vaulting covered with dust, the window small. In front of the window are orange trees, plams, cypresses;opposite the window is my camp bed under a Moorish filigree rose window. Close to the bed is an old square grubby box which I can scarcely use for writing on, with a leaden candlestick( a great luxury here) and a little candle. Bach, my scrawlsand someone elses old papers…silence…you can yell….still silence. In short, I am writing to you from a queer place. I received two days ago your letter of the 2nd of this month…….”



Chopin at Valldemossa.


Chopin’s prelude in A minor  was undoubtedly composed at Valldemossa. It has a melancholy air. The weather during the winter of 1838 was cold and misty. The mood of the abbey at Valldemossa during that winter seems to have permeated this piece

A doll that belonged to Solange.


George Sand wrote, “Un Huiver a Mallorca,”during this stay in Valledemossa. Sand’s book is a curious, mixed sort of affair. It provides a history of Mallorca. It lambasts the Spanish Inquisition. It is part travel book and part autobiography using a dark gothic style first begun by Horace Walpole in his  “Castle de Otranto.”At times it also employs a Romantic element in the style of Wordsworth.In January Sand wrote to her friend Mariliani, 
“I write to You from my hermitage in Valldemossa […] In this no quarter is given me by the warbling piano of Chopin working in his normal, beautiful, way, to the astonishment of the eavesdropping walls of the cell’. 
 Sands also wrote,
"He could not curb his restless imagination. Even when he felt good, the monastery seemed to him to be full of phantoms and frights […] I found him at ten in the evening sitting pale at the piano, with a vague look in his eyes, with his hair on end…’ 
Chopin wrote to Julian Fontana, a Polish composer and close friend,
 "I send You the Preludes. Transcribe them, You and Edward] Wolff; I think there are no errors. You will give the transcriptions to Probst and the manuscript to Pleyel. […[ In a couple of weeks’ time You will get a  ballade [F major], polonaises A major and Cminor and a scherzo C sharp minor. Tell Pleyel to agree on the timing of the publication of the preludes with Probst. I still have not yet received any letter from my parents!’" 
In another letter, this time  to Pleyel, the piano maker, Chopin wrote, ‘At last I send You my preludes, completed on Your piano. […] I advised Fontana to hand You my manuscript. For France and England I want for it one thousand five hundred francs. Probst, as You know, purchased the German rights for Härtel for one thousand francs."
Sand’s book ““Un Huiver a Mallorca,”(A Winter in Mallorca) begins with an assessment of a book she  read about Mallorca written by  J B Laurens who had visited Mallorca a couple of years before Sand and Chopin. She enjoyed reading about the vegetation and the history and reading Lauren’s view of the island. George Sand took great interest in facts such as population numbers and the number of square miles the island consisted of. Sand uses the facts from Laurens book and goes into great detail about the temperatures at different times of the year and the differences between sheltered and unsheltered areas. An unfortunate overtone of the book though is that Sand complains about the |Mallorcan people at almost every moment.This comment provides a view that Sands held about Mallorcans in general, 
" There is nothing as sad or pathetic in the world as this peasant who knows nothing but praying, singing and working and who never thinks. His prayer is a mindless formula which seems to make no sense to him..."
and she goes on and on in this vein. She starts complaining from the beginning. They get to Mallorca by way of the ferry,” El Mallorqn,” a ship the Mallorcans had bought to help their trade with Barcelona and the rest of Spain. 

"El Mallorqn,"the ship Sand and Chopin sailed from Barcelona to Palma in.

There is a humerous description in her book that describes how she and Chopin got to Mallorca because of pigs. The Mallorcan sailors on board treated the 200 or more pigs they took aboard with far more care and respect than the human passengers. If it hadn’t been that the pigs were going to Mallorca Chopin and Sand would not have got there themselves. Sand’s was seasick, so that probably didn’t help matters. According to Sand, an apartment in Palma was merely a white washed box. Washing and cooking facilities were non existent. There were no windows in the rooms. According to Sand the people were lazy and stuck in their ways. They, after a short time, moved outside of Palma to a friends furnished house at Establiments, a rural area beyond Palma. She describes the cultivation and surrounding mountains in some detail. This was a silent place and she could hear babies crying at night and the slightest sound but the final straw was when winds the rains started. The deluge went on day after day. The book is worth reading because although it is a jaundiced and somewhat partisan view of Mallorca and does the people of Mallorca no favours, it is a wonder that Valldemossa actually celebrates the two of them, it is entertaining at times in its exaggerations and  ridiculous  negative descriptions of Mallorca. The book goes into all sorts of incongruous descriptions of buildings. There is a whole section on the three most important buildings in Palma for instance, The Cathedral, The Exchange and The Royal Palace. There are some dark gothic parts to it. Apart from the monastery at Valldemossa Sand’s also comes across another ruined monastery in Palma itself, one where the Inquisition had held sway. She goes into  detail about the beliefs and methods of the Inquisition. She had visited an Inquisition site before on mainland Spain and been into the caves used as prisons beneath the site, caves with walls hundreds of feet thick in places. She describes in chilling detail how the Spanish Inquisitors would imprison, Jews, reformers and anybody who didn’t toe the Catholic line. The worst offenders to the Inquisition were obliterated from existence, their names removed from any documents, their bodies burned to ashes, no record kept of their very existence. This persecution would go as far as their families too, mothers and fathers and siblings so there was no living memory of them either. Sand’s seems to take a prurient interest in this cruelty expressing her horror at the same time. Valldemossa, gets much description and similar negativity, especially about the local people, who she thought uneducated and coarse. 


A portrait of George Sand on a wall of their cell at Valledemossa.

The rooms that Chopin and Sand occupied , although cramped and cell like, had doors that opened out on to balcony spaces. These small enclosures to this day,contain pots of flowers, palm trees, shrubs and plants of all types. They were and are, small, luxurious gardens. A low stone wall ,at the furthest extreme, creates  the extent of each space and from that wall, looking south from the monastery,  down the v shaped valley created by the surrounding mountains you can see Palma and the sea in the far distance. The garden, its rustic stone surrounds and the mountains and the magnificent view affects all the senses and creates an uplifting experience. Sand and Chopin, for all their travails, were both inspired by Valldemossa and you can see why. The surroundings and the views are spectacular.

As well as commemorating Chopin and Sands the various cells in the Carthusian monastery also recall the life and works of the Carthusian monks who had originally lived there. There is an extensive library that the Abbot of the monastery possessed. There is also a pharmacy. The monks were great herbalists and chemists. They also had a printing press.


A monks cell.

The abbots library.


The monks chemist shop.
 Valldemossa was also home to the local saint, Saint Catalina Thomas. She was born on the 1st May 1533 in Valldemossa. Her house, next to the towns church, is now a chapel and a shrine and they celebrate her on the 27th and 28th July every year. While we were there in the second week of August, the white raffia streamers still crisscrossed an area of the town square and her portrait remained hanging amongst the fluttering decorations.

A statue of Saint Catalina Thomas.

She lived a life of prayer experiencing visions from an early age. She was visited by angels and devils and was reported to have experienced a sort of ecstasy for the last years of her life.  Walking along the narrow streets and alleyways of Valldemossa, making our way to the church and the home of St Catalina Thomas, we saw glazed porcelain plaques on many walls depicting scenes from her life showing her experiencing some of her visions in the countryside around Valldemossa. It is easy to explain her experiences as an overactive imagination. Her life, though, has encouraged people to prayer and devotion. 

A plaque on a house wall in Valldemossa depicting one of Saint Catalina Thomas's visions.

We can talk about all sorts of secular and religious techniques for harnessing the mind to create well being and improvements in our lives. Meditation techniques, mindfulness, forms of self reflection are helpful in both our own relationships and in our work place. Mentally rehearsing actions we are going to take, is another way to harness the power of the mind. Sports people use mental rehearsal in many situations. Maybe that is all Catalina Thomas experienced, some or all of those type of things and we can dismiss her for that. However she means something very powerful to many Mallorcans to this day and that is what really counts. She left Valldemossa and  went to Palma where she worked as a servant in a household before joining a religious order, the Canonnesses of St Augustine at the convent of St Mary Magdelene in Palma.

A shaded bar.

Valldemossa and the surrounding area is good walking country. The landscape is spectacular. It is worth exploring for the wildlife, the vegetation and the breath taking views. The town itself is very photogenic. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and a few rustic hotels and guest houses.

References:



Chopin’s prelude in A minor  :
Played by Martha Argerich: 

https://youtu.be/8wegyayhHcU

"A Winter in Mallorca," by George Sand (translated by Shirley Kirby James)
pub: Classic Collection Carolina