Far from Neglected (CH3)

The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect

Evelyn WaughBrideshead Revisited

Castle Howard may have struck film and TV production companies as the perfect proxy for Brideshead, but in at least one respect they are very different.

St Andrews, Roker, the church that was at the heart of my childhood and adolescence, is often referred to as “The Cathedral of the Arts & Crafts Movement“.  In a structure designed by Edward Schroeder Prior were tapestries and carpet by William Morris, painted ceilings designed by prior and complete by MacDonald Gill who elder brother Eric Gill carved the foundation stone.  There is woodwork by Ernest Gimson and Mouseman Thompson and the artist Henry Payne designed the stained glass, yet for all of this artistry I always felt the church to have a plain, artisanal aspect, probably resulting from the grey reinforced concrete of its construction.

So if that is the cathedral, how to describe the small chapel within Castle Howard?  How about dining room because that’s what the room was originally, but about 150 years ago the floor was lowered, presumably to create a more impressive space, and the decorators moved in.  Featuring designs from both William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones it has quite an impact with its Pre-Raphaelite styling._pw_9173

The windows are attention grabbers but there’s so much more. The coffered ceiling, the frieze work, the coloured pillars, decorated choir stalls, marble flooring.  I was staggered by the attention to detail (and by the expenditure it must have taken) for what was designed as a place of private family worship (though public services are held there now)

If St Andrew’s is the Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement then this must be the movement’s Sistine Chapel.




“It’s where my family live”* (CH2)

Its perhaps a consequence of the reluctant study of my school years that some of the great authors I read at the time had any future appeal completely extinguished.  The burden of completing Nostromo was sufficient to deter me from reading Conrad ever again.  Eliot’s poetry was another victim, despite the fact that a line from The Waste Land was echoed as the title for another of the books on our reading list; Waugh’s A Handful of Dust.  Waugh fared magically better; his work being an easier read I went as far as reaching for some of his other works but I didn’t make it as far as Brideshead Revisited.  Nor did I watch the TV series.  Or see the film.

The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.*

_pw_9113So there you have it; a self-confessed Philistine!  And one who can walk the corridors of Castle Howard without the moments of recognition that come from entering a film location that he’s familiar with, or equally knowingly spotting where directors have taken liberties in moving seamlessly between locations that are often quite separate in reality.  I’ve done my share of that when skiing on Schilthorn or enjoying the gardens of Villa del Balbianello.  The point is that both the series and the movie were filmed here so that Castle Howard has become synonymous with Brideshead.

The interiors of a stately home can be as much of an attraction as the exterior, and in some cases more so.  Personally I’m less inclined to wonder at the table settings and bed linen than I am at the spaces and the artistry that has been applied to them but each to their own.  Consequently I didn’t linger too much in Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom (that’s how rumours start), the Turquoise Drawing Room (imaginative name) or many places in between other than the Great Hall.

Now you might think that access to these colourful chambers was the reason for the interest of location scouts, but the truth is a little stranger.  The magnificent great hall is mostly a restoration, but the original fresco inside the dome was Fall of Phaeton by Pellegrini.  The irony being that this myth tells of Phaeton losing control of his father’s chariot which carried the sun across the sky and the earth being in danger of incineration as a result and yet the artwork was lost when in November 1940 a chimney fire quickly spread through the property resulting in several rooms being gutted and the dome collapsing into the hall below.

I sought inspiration among gutted places*

Castle Howard Garden Hall complete with screen makeover

It was those rooms where filming took place since they provided a blank canvas for the set designers but in a setting with the high ceilings and grand doorways as standard.

What does it matter when its built if its beautiful?*

For years afterwards Castle Howard has traded on its Brideshead alter ego, though when I visited a new TV series was being aired  which was filmed here and at several other locations in Yorkshire where grand buildings stood in for royal palaces.  The series is an account of the early life of Queen Victoria and Castle Howard represents Kensington Palace.  Had they concentrated on a later period of her rein the house could finally have played itself.  She came here in August 1850.

* Quotations from Brideshead Revisited




A Handful of Dust

Biology, Chemistry and Physics.


More years ago than I care to divulge I was an ‘A’ level English student, doing battle with a number of compulsory texts (Othello, The Knight’s Tale, Nostromo and Paradise Lost) as well as a range of other literature which if memory serves was categorised as “Modern”, which included both Evelyn Waugh‘s 1934 novel A Handful of Dust, and the poetry which provided its title; T S Eliot‘s The Waste Land.

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Ex Vivo

Waugh’s tale of a society marriage break up, and the ultimate fate of the wronged and ineffectual husband was surely a poor choice for teenage scholars whose personal experience could never resonate with the story being told of Tony Last’s loss of his son through a riding accident, wife to a meaningless affair, and his liberty in a Brazilian jungle.  What begins with the “bright young things” ends in corruption and decay.

With perhaps unfortunate timing, I’ve finished two other books this week which deal with loss, but meeting me later in life have had a far greater impact.  Sebastian Faulks‘ A Possible Life comprises a handful of tales that revisit some of his favourite subject matter; France, war, the history of psychology and the workings of the brain.  The last tale though is one of lost love, and the narrator, a fading rock star is forced to choose between his beautiful, yet relatively unexciting partner, and a shooting star with incredible talent (clearly based on Joni Mitchell).  He chooses the latter, and the manner of his failure to acknowledge the end of the first relationship is agonising for the wronged partner, but his agony is all the greater, when his new all-consuming love is shattered as the star takes flight and disappears in reaction to a drug fuelled mental breakdown.

Had I encountered this story as a skinny 17-year-old, the emotional impact would have been just as alien as that of Tony Last’s downfall (though the music element would doubtless have appealed!), yet now I was moved to tears by the ways in which we manage to destroy each other.

Those tears, I learned from the other book, have a different chemical composition from the lubricants that keep our eyes healthy, emotional tears containing both hormones and painkillers.  Recommended by fellow blogger Becky Kilsby, Peter Carey‘s The Chemistry of Tears was to continue the theme of grief.  That snippet of biological information makes up no more than a couple of lines of this book which, in intertwined stories, contrasts the construction of an automaton swan (as in my recent posting The Things We Do For Love…) and the reaction of its conservator to the loss of the love of her life.  Catherine’s trauma pervades every aspect of her life and once more produced an empathetic reaction.

Ex Vivo

The complexities of human emotion are incredible when you consider, as one of Faulks’ characters does, that we are no more than collections of atoms and on our death will decay away, leaving those immutable atoms to recombine into some different aspect of the world.  There is so much that can be achieved by a handful of dust.

Daria France
Daria France

Pictures from photography workshop at Bananastudios featuring Daria France

Ex Vivo

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What’s in a name?

The writer Adam Gopnik was sharing his view that he will never achieve immortality in his field on the radio this morning.


Because he suffers from a curse, the curse (as he puts it) of having a ridiculous name.  His theory is that people associate you and your work with the sound of your name.  Citing Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Trollope among his examples of those whose mere name guaranteed them success as writers.  Plenty of others have adopted a nom de plume when their own name would not suffice (George Sands, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll), or used their initials (J.K. Rowling, J.R.R Tolkien, P.G. Wodehouse).  E.L. James does both, though I don’t really think Erika Leonard bears comparison with these others!

There is a field of study called phonetic symbolism which adds weight to his argument, that certain sounds “feel” right for a certain meaning, and that this might be considered by corporations looking to brand their products.  Certainly in recent years there has been a slew of vehicles with meaningless names produced by some vehicle manufacturers, where the sound of the word seemed to be all that matters.  (Mondeo?  Ka?)

Sometimes this backfires of course.  General motors thought Meriva sounded appropriate, but not in Israel.  It means argument or quarrel, but this is mild compared the faux pas that Mitsubishi made with their Pajero in Latin markets.

I was still musing on this when I walked the shoreline this morning.  The recent rains having brought more driftwood downstream the beach was littered with timber once again, providing the mysterious totem builders with more opportunities?

“What would be an appropriate name for someone who builds structures out of driftwood?” I thought.  Nothing commonplace I suspect.

Today’s portrait is of Colin, Brian and Trevor, two brothers and a friend setting out for a walk this morning.  Their names to me are archetypally blokey, so when I posed them together I wasn’t too surprised at their reluctance to get really close, leaving me with the dreaded gaps between heads that I don’t like.

Nothing for it but to resort to digital alteration to get the result I wanted.  Now what would be a good name for a photoshopper?  My own name is one of the most common in the UK so perhaps a pseudonym is needed.  Best I could come up with though was Tony Razor (tone eraser?).  Any suggestions?