Sunday, 13 November 2016

Now I am in a holiday humour

Sally, Emily, Alex, Janet, Harriet and Michael, the Shakespeare Birthday Boy, in Autumn

Elton Old Hall

Soft padded luxury beds, piping hot showers, stairs, levels, space to spread, a bright conservatory and a walled garden – these were some of the treats at Elton Old Hall where we went to celebrate Michael’s birthday. Michael is my “Shakespeare buddy” and the man with whom I can be a Royal Shakespeare Company nerd without irony or embarrassment. We met in 1986 (soon after I married Sally) on the RSC summer school in Stratford-upon-Avon, the year The Swan theatre opened and we’ve seen just about every RSC production since then (and, separately, a fair few before that year too.)

Michael, Harriet, Tony, Sally, Alex, Joyce, Emily and the two Shakespeare "anoraks," me with Michael

Then and Now

Back in 1986 Michael and I were young whippersnappers on the Summer School, mixing with venerable folk who had seen Paul Robeson, Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh on the RSC stage. Now, in the approaching Autumn of our lives, we are the venerable ones who witnessed Sean Bean as a “teenage” Romeo….
Bright conservatory, atmospheric dining kitchen....

Surprise! Surprise!

All the guests had done a sterling job of managing to keep various elements of the weekend secret from Michael, but of course Shakespeare featured heavily in terms of a cake, some games and puns on the menu based on Michael’s favourite play, As You Like It. It has to be said we ate like medieval monarchs on gorgeously-decorated tables.

Haddon Hall

We also made a memorable visit to Haddon Hall on the Sunday. Haddon Hall is still a family home to Lord Edward Manners but the public areas are sympathetically restored and curated by enthusiastic guides. Haddon is a medieval/Jacobean house with brilliantly-preserved 14th century kitchens, working log fires and chimneys, ancient tapestries and wood carvings, a Banqueting Hall with a minstrel’s gallery, an inspiring Long Gallery, a Great Chamber with a Renaissance frieze and intricate plasterwork ceilings.
I think the big picture here looks like Haddon: the TV series coming soon to BBC

Boar and Peacock

Crossing the River Wye to get into the amazingly preserved courtyard, you have to pass topiary in the form of a boar and a peacock, two symbols that keep recurring through the house on furniture, plasterwork and ironwork. A wall section built towards the end of the 12th century is on display (King John’s Wall) and you can also see the interior of a chapel with a Norman stone font, 16th century oak pews and extraordinary frescoes of St Christopher, skeletons and St Nicholas calming the storm.

These trees shall be my books

Michael’s birthday, like mine, is in the Autumn season so I always associate the reds, golds and browns of Autumn with regeneration and renewal – a starting again of another year. New Year is of course New Year and Spring is Spring and both times contain Rebirth and Beginning concepts – but, in my imagination, Autumn also has a sense of Fresh Dawn because I was born then – and yes, I know the leaves are falling and the trees are dying – but the trees will grow again. Winter is coming….so is Spring….so is Summer….and so to next Autumn when Michael and I will be another year older….