Monday, 29 May 2017

Symposiums, Stoneleigh and Gaveston

I had a whole day off from Em yesterday. Rather perfectly, I'd been booked to go up to Northampton to talk about careers in music as part of a symposium organised by the Northamptonshire Music Service. For some astonishing reason I managed to convinced my new friend Michael from UK Jewish Film to come with me because I thought, as proved to be the case, he might have expertise in the realm of film which he might be able to impart.

We started out early and the car journey up to Northampton was speedy. We couldn't park in the music school itself, which was overrun with parents coming to pick their kids up from the various ensembles which rehearse in the morning. We drove up the Kettering Road instead and parked up on one of the streets leading up to the football ground where there are no discernible regulations.

As it happened, we pulled up outside a little artisan bakery called Magee's which turned out to be one of the best bakeries I've ever visited. It's run by a set of lovely young people, and it makes glorious breads and cakes. I devoured a chocolate tart with a layer of salted caramel and a great big blob of honeycomb on the top. It was, in short, magnificent.

Tash appeared as if by magic and took us to another cafe, behind the music school which had something of a Speak Easy quality. It's some kind of former Boot and Shoe factory, and to visit, you have to go up a twisting staircase. It doesn't seem to have much of a sign, so, one assumes, it's very much a spot for those in the know! Northampton would appear to be getting its act together and, later on, upon returning to the original cafe, we bumped into my lovely friend and former desk partner Helen from music school days. She was in there with her wife and baby and told me that there are indeed one or two places like it opening in the town.

The symposium went well. I got to catch up with Beth and Peter I was fairly mobbed, largely by young singers who had been in the Northants Youth Choir when they performed I Miss The Music from Brass. They were all keen to tell me what a great and moving song it was and I felt enormously touched.

You never know who you're inspiring at these sorts of events. The right thing said at the right moment in time can be absolutely vital when it comes to shaping the career paths of young people. The bottom line is that careers in the arts are really difficult, but it's not for me to say that. If you're tenacious and you work hard enough, you might just scrape a living. Who am I to kill dreams? Many of the young people, as you might expect for Midlanders, were under-confident and painfully shy. It makes me want to weep. I wondered how some managed to function on a day-to-day basis. I hope a few of them will have taken something away with them. A little pearl of wisdom which changes their outlook somehow. 

The symposium finished at 5, and I took Michael off to Warwickshire to buy him dinner to say thank you, but also to take him on a little tour of Em locations which I wanted to take pictures of to show the cast.

We went first to Stoneleigh, visited my grandparents graves and had a glorious early evening walk across the windy hilltop which looks down on the village. I was sort of hoping the bluebells might have been out in the woods up there but it's too late in the season. Em has basically stolen my spring from me!

From Stoneleigh we drove to the Saxon Mill, which features in one of the lyrics. It's where I'd chosen for us to eat. We had a little time to kill before our reservation, so decided to go in search of a curious monument in a nearby wood which marks the spot where Piers Gaveston, lover of Edward II was murdered by barons. I remembered visiting the place about 25 years ago, on a frosty Boxing Day with my brother and his girlfriend at the time. There's a picture of me there, in a great big, somewhat pretentious cap, taking everything incredibly seriously. Attempting to commune with God knows whom. 

Anyway, it was always a little bit hard to find the monument, but these days it's almost impossible. The wood is essentially surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and the only access to it is through a field which is marked as private property in enormous letters. I actually think it's quite a shame. It's an important monument for the LGBT community and I would have thought local villagers might at least have wanted to create a designated path through the field so that people can take a look.

It's also quite an unusual monument in that is was created by Victorians, seemingly as a sort of warning to people who might be getting ideas above their station. "In the hollow of this rock was beheaded on the 1st Day of July 1312, by barons lawless as himself Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, the minion of a hateful king, in life and death a memorable instance of misrule."

It's a curious thing. It's a very large monument, perhaps twenty feet high, with a huge cross on the top of it. But why spend so much money on a monument to a hated person? And then why let it fester, unvisited, in a wood. Nothing makes sense...

The approach to the monument is deeply eerie. You walk through dark trees and a curiously heavy atmosphere hovers above the ground. It's very surreal. We were both really affected by the place. It has really dark energy surrounding it.

We ate at the Saxon Mill, taking a little stroll towards the spooky ruined house at Guy's Cliff as the sun set. A little bit of Googling reveals that the house was built in the 18th Century on the proceeds of slavery. It's the most amazingly ornate building with Juliet balconies overlooking the dusty Warwickshire countryside. The house was used as a hospital in the First World War and a children's home in the Second one. It then fell into disrepair and was badly damaged by fire when filming on a Sherlock Holmes movie went pear-shaped. These days its ghostly form merely hovers over the river so the likes of me can dream about what we'd do to it if we had all the money in the world!

We went home via a darkened Leamington Spa, where I took a picture of a house on the corner of Gas Street, where I imagine one of my characters to have come from...

And just like that we were on the M1 again and the little trip to Warwickshire was but a golden memory.

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