*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Word from Wormingford

10 April 2015

Paintings in an art gallery remind  Ronald Blythe  of the friends of his youth

I LOVE provincial art galleries. It is amazing what hangs on their walls. Is that a real Picasso? And who is this painter no one has ever heard of? It is so captivating.

This week, I went to the Minories Art Gallery, in Colchester, to see the permanent collection, which I knew existed, but had forgotten. And there they were - the artist friends of my youth, and of the Suffolk-Essex countryside I had known. Also, the ghostly assemblies I joined in a stately townhouse just after the war. I usually went with John and Christine Nash, who themselves belong to another day: John, who never looked at the paintings, and chatted away to old friends; and Christine, who sat in a tall window, endlessly embroidering.

I took in the exhibition appreciatively, longing to paint, not at all longing to write. It had been the generous custom of the artist to give a work to the gallery, and these, from having been tucked away so long, were now a kind of autobiography. Each picture, even if it was a portrait, brought to life another face, another room, another time.

There was Sir Cedric Morris, tall, his scarf tucked through a silver ring. There was my friend John Bensusan-Butt, cousin to the Pissarros. There were the poets James Turner, W. R. Rodgers, and R. M. Currie - all a generation older than myself, but we did not constitute an East Anglian collective: we were just local people who spread our wings after the war.

And, most importantly for me, there was the emergent Aldeburgh Festival, and its founders, Benjamin Britten, Imogen Holst, and Peter Pears. What there was not was wages, just little handouts and big improvisations. Simplicity was the thing. I walked and biked everywhere. I edited the wonderful programme books - collectors' items now - and did everything from setting out the stacked chairs to persuading the Suffolk priests to allow concerts to take place in their beautiful churches.

One of them forbade applause, and I still dislike the often excessive clapping of some concerts. There should be a few seconds at least, after the last notes of Schubert or Bach, to translate the audience to another sphere, but not this battle of palms and feet.

Everything took place in Aldeburgh itself in those days. But the spread of music across the marshes to Snape altered everything for the better. The entrepreneur Newson Garrett had built a vast maltings there in the 19th century, as well as emancipating women - Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was his daughter - and the entire business of concert-going was transformed by Snape.

My particular friends were Denis and Jane Garrett. He an exciting botanist, his wife a loving head of social welfare in Cambridge. Oh, brave new world! It was run on a shoestring - but a highly professional shoestring. I wrote stories, walked miles, got used to the sea, and became a writer.

At this moment, I am rereading that Essex masterpiece, J. A. Baker's The Peregrine. Once read, constantly read. One could call Baker a mid-20th-century John Clare. There is nothing like this bird book in the whole of English natural history. Its ravishing prose and scientific force remain mysterious. It was written by a rather ill young man as he cycled in the rivery countryside around Chelmsford. Each evening, he would translate his birdwatching jottings into brilliant prose. He died in 1986, having carried birdwatching into English literature.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available

 

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)