Normanton-on-Cliffe, Lincolnshire – St Nicholas

After a day at Belton House, lovely National Trust property, but the church was locked, we drove to Ancaster, where the church was locked. Then we headed up the A607 and in Normanton-on-Cliffe there was a CCT sign beside the road saying “church open” – SK 048463. Lovely to be able to enter a church (that isn’t my own), just somewhat ironic it is a closed parish church that is open! St Nicholas church – https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/visit/church-listing/st-nicholas-normanton.html. Apparently there are 24 CCT churches in Lincolnshire, that should keep me quiet.

It’s a medieval church with C11 origins. Changes were made in late-Middle Ages and again during the C19. A very high ceiling, and the Royal Arms is George IV, reigned 1820 to 1830.

I like the cross and candles on the altar and the aumbry – but no details of those in the leaflet.

A C17 hexagonal pulpit, and a rather unique War Memorial – I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like this before. I wonder if it was locally made.

The font is C12, with a later font cover. The medieval chest is, well, medieval.

The south aisle is C12, and I like the waterleaf capitals – very tactile.

I also like the lead plaque under the tower – that’s the way to remember a churchwarden – along with the Benefaction boards. In 1758 Captain Lewis Gwin bequeathed £100 to be invested and distributed amongst the poor, in the form of coal. The board also records an annual donation of £2 by an anonymous donor.

Nice walk round the outside, so nice to be back in a church with my camera.

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northernvicarwalks – March 2021

This lockdown is harder than last year’s. We were encouraged to take part in a National Day of Reflection on 23 March, which they said was the first anniversary of lockdown. In fact it was the day lockdown had been announced, but it didn’t come into force until 26 March 2020 – I wonder how many died because of that tardiness. The death toll since Christmas has been worse than the death toll last year – though somehow the Government has managed to hide that statistic. Having clapped for carers last year, NHS staff have been offered a 1% pay rise this year – while elsewhere the profits made out of Covid have made a few people very rich. The vaccination programme continues to be a great success – thank you NHS. This was the video we produced for our church reflection:

I have worked. Some funerals, lots of preparation and trying to sort out dates for weddings – some of our lovely couples have moved their weddings four or five times. We kept our church buildings closed and have Zoomed every Sunday (and every night during Holy Week) – you can find them all linked from our “Archived Worship” page at https://www.stedsandstmatts.co.uk/copy-of-worship-while-our-buildings. We have tried to keep in touch – many people are happy zooming, some can’t, others won’t.

We have also found time for some excellent courses on line. I am doing the History of Art from the National Gallery, and used the Spring Term to do York University courses on “The New Testament in Art” and “Northern England in the Dark Ages”. I did a York afternoon on “Bede the Historian”, an English Heritage podcast on Aelred of Hexham, an Historic Religious Buildings Alliance update day, a Selwyn talk on the CU Aerial photography unit, a King’s talk on Saxon excavations on Barton Road in Cambridge, a week of Inspire events from Nottingham Libraries (Arabella at Hardwick, Land Girls at Clumber Park and the National Trust Colonial Countryside project at Kedleston), Railway and Canal Historical Society talks on Thomas Brassey and on Early railways of the East Midlands, a couple from the Churches Conservation Trust, and Literature Cambridge on “Playing for time in Hamlet.” Our daughter-in-law Sarah, the real brains of the family, had an article (based on her PhD) published in Nature – www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-84278-7

I continued to produce a daily Facebook Ramble. Here they are, saved for posterity (I hope posterity will be grateful).

I had a day in Sheffield to give platelets – and reached 250 donations (each platelet donation counts as three).

Julie and I have enjoyed four lovely days out at Kedleston. Enjoy these photos.

In the Vicarage, enjoy the bulbs and the magnolia.

I walked 28 miles in January, 5 in February and 41 in March – so I have done 74 miles in the first Quarter. Quite a way to go.

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Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”

Hamlet is one of those plays that you know is marvellous, but you also know is long. We haven’t seen it that often ‘in the flesh’ but we have DVDs with Kenneth Branagh, Maxine Peake and David Tennant. For some reason my wife chose the latter.

It is the RSC production from 2009, and the actors had obviously played it on stage many, many times before it was filmed. Yet this is so fresh – almost as if they are playing it for the first time. Elsinore is somewhere in central Europe, the clothes are modern, and some of the action is watched through CCTV. Very cleverly done. There is one scene where the floor is almost a mirror, and you watch from an angle you don’t expect, but it is stunning. There is a very good write-up about the production on the RSC website – https://www.rsc.org.uk/hamlet/past-productions/in-focus-gregory-doran-2008 – I have enjoyed reading the diary of Gregory Doran, the producer.

Tennant has so much energy. One review says “Tennant brings out the bitter wit, the conceits and the wordplay like nobody else; he’s the Hawkeye Pierce of Hamlets, mercurial, brilliant and unbalanced, and intelligent enough to have thought up all those incredible speeches – so many actors sound like they’re quoting something they don’t actually understand.” I find that part of the trouble with Hamlet is that it has so many quotes, I get side-tracked by which quote is next. There are times when he brings out the humour, though the pain is only just below the surface.

Patrick Stewart plays Claudius and Penny Downie is Gertrude. That is a fascinating relationship, and you wonder what sort of relationship she had with Hamlet’s dad. Mariah Gale is Ophelia – such a sad ending. I had forgotten how many skulls there are in the graveyard scene, and that the gravedigger is also a Clown. Mark Hadfield plays him. In my job I often have a chat with the gravedigger, wonderful people.

There was no point when you thought “get on with it”, which is sometimes the reaction I have. We did have an ice cream break at one point – the only time I get exciting ice cream is in the theatre! (There is a comment in the Doran blog about how they decided where to place the interval). I do wonder how an Elizabethan audience coped with a play that is so long. Did they stand silently and watch, did they gossip, did their attention wander? It was written between 1599 and 1601, and was one of Shakespeare’s favorite plays from the beginning.

I have not filled this with photos as I am struggling to find ones I am allowed to cut and paste. Look at the gallery on the RSC website, or watch the play yourself!

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Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

We watched The Winter’s Tale on a Saturday evening in March. I am writing this blog up on a snowy day in April. The version we watched was the one Jonathan Miller produced for the BBC in 1981. I remember going to a lecture he gave in Cambridge in the early 1980s – at that time he was regularly on television, often described as a “renaissance man”.

The staging of this production is a long way from the Globe. The BFI’s review describes it as “one of the most daringly stylised productions of the entire project, its stripped-down approach to design and staging working particularly well on television.” It wasn’t a play that either of us knew. There are lots of fur and thick costumes in this production, while the changing seasons are marked by minor changes to the colour of the set and the lighting.

It is a very serious production. Others have described it as “dull”. A lot of speeches to the camera, and not a lot of laughs. Jeremy Kemp plays Leontes – apparently he played a lot of “second male leads” in the 1970s and early 80s, but I can’t say I remember him. Anna Calder-Marshall was his wife Hermione, and he really does not trust her. None of the others, Polixenes (played by Robert Stephens) or Paulina (Margaret Tyzack), are able to get him to see sense.

The second half is more cheerful with, to quote the BFI a “joyously bucolic celebration of spring, and a delicious cameo by Scottish comedian Rikki Fulton, whose roguish Autolycus frequently involves the audience in his conspiratorial asides as he plots to relieve yet another hapless victim of his possessions.”

It was probably written in 1610 or 1611, and published in the First Folio of 1623. We have the DVD of a Globe Production and the box for the DVD that was shot of the Durham Shakespeare Company’s production in 2007. Hannah was in this production, and it is probably her who has lost the DVD!

“Exit, pursued by a bear” is the most famous line in the play. The bear does make an appearance in this version. Mamillius warns that “a sad tale’s best for winter”, and it was good to watch this while wrapped up warm on the sofa.

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northernvicarwalks February 2021

I called these monthly blogs “northernvicarwalks” because the dream was 1,000 miles a year. The reality for the last couple of years has been 500. January was 27, February has been 5. We have been staying at home with a vengeance – one week I left the house/office twice, once for the Crematorium, once for the dentist. We ended the month with our Covid jabs, so that’s a bit of hope.

Otherwise we have Zoomed, phoned, watched too much telly and read so many books. The snowdrops have been lovely, and little daffodils at the end of the month.

Julie wrote her 1,000th Northern Reader blog and I Rambled on facebook every day.

Selwyn appeared on our Zoom Service.

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Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

I don’t know why it has taken several weeks before we got round to sitting and watching our next Shakespeare. “Romeo and Juliet” is one of those plays we are are convinced we know. We are sure we have seen it several times (though the only performance we can remember was one in Chester a few years ago). We know “West Side Story” very well. Julie did a while as an Supply Teacher in English, and had used Baz Luhrmann’s version in her lessons, so we watched that.

I wasn’t really expecting anything like this. I assumed Mr Luhrmann was an American, but now discover he is Australian. I had seen “Moulin Rouge”, but I wouldn’t have known he was the director. Romeo + Juliet was released by 20th Century Fox in 1996. It cost $14.5 million, and grossed $151.8 million. It starred Leonard DiCaprio and Claire Danes. I can see why a teenage class would enjoy it – he is a bit too pretty (I think), she is rather lovely.

The Capulets and Montagues are rival business empires at Verona Beach, on the west coast of America. Benvolio and Romeo gatecrash a Capulet party, and Romeo meets Juliet through a fish tank. There are some interesting balcony scenes which also include the young couple getting very wet in the swimming pool.

The fight scene takes place at the beach, with Tybalt, Mercutio and Romeo. The Prince is played (by Vondie Curtis-Hall) as a Police Chief – quite effectively – and he banishes Romeo from the city.

Miriam Margolyes is Juliet’s nurse, and she brings Romeo to Juliet for their wedding night. She was a breath of fresh air.

Pete Postlethwaite plays Father Laurence (he is Friar Laurence in the play). I commented on my daily Facebook post “I have decided that, however much I get wrong in the next six months, I will probably be more successful than Friar Laurence. He marries Romeo and Juliet (two very young people) as part of a plan to end the civil strife in Verona, he spirits Romeo into Juliet’s room and then out of Verona; and he devises the plan to reunite Romeo and Juliet through the deceptive ruse of a sleeping potion – basically he causes the death of both of them. BBC Bitesize describes him as “trustworthy, wise and compassionate” – I disagree.

At the end Romeo enters the church where Juliet lies and bids her goodbye, and, thinking her dead, drinks a vial of poison. Juliet awakens just in time for them to share a final kiss before Romeo dies. A distraught Juliet picks up Romeo’s gun and shoots herself in the head. The two lovers are soon discovered in each other’s arms.

I read that Shakespeare wrote the play between 1591 and 1595, basing it on an Italian tale written in poetry in the 1560s. It was, and has remained, one of his most popular plays – although Samuel Pepys wrote in 1662: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.” I can’t say it is a one I really enjoy – the youth of the two of them is a problem, the role of the clergy frightens me, and it is not particularly cheerful. Mr Luhrmann’s film was certainly different.

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northernvicarwalks January 2021

We moved into the new year, opened the schools for a day to give the virus lots of opportunities to spread, then went into lockdown again. I find it hard to believe that any government can be so incompetent. Vaccines started, and the NHS are doing an amazing job – if we’d give the NHS the responsibility for track and trace, rather than giving it to Tory friends, we probably wouldn’t be in such a mess. On Tuesday 26 January, the 11th anniversary of our Theo’s death, we passed the 100,000 point of those who have died within 28 days of a Covid diagnosis. I feel angry and impotent.

In this lockdown churches were not instructed to close. We made the decision to do so – worshipping together in our Holy Places is important, but not when it puts people in danger. We have gone onto Zoom, usually with about 65 people attending, then put the video on youtube when we usually find another 20 or 30 views over the following week. If you search for “Peter Barham” on youtube you will find them.

I continued my daily facebook ramblings. Here are this month’s:

Julie and I had one walk at Kedleston, but the rest of the time we stayed at home. There was an incident when Derbyshire Police fined people who had travelled five miles to go to Calke Abbey for a walk. A couple of days later the Prime Minister was driven seven miles so he could cycle and the Metropolitan Police said he had done nothing wrong. The Derbyshire fines were quietly withdrawn! The 27 miles of walking I completed in January were nearly all done round the garden.

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Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor

“Have we ever seen this?” I asked the Oracle as we decided what we watch on a cold, frosty, lock-downed Saturday evening. “No” replied my wife. We pooled our collective knowledge of the play – “Falstaff is in it”. So we took ourselves to The Globe in 2010 to watch the production directed by Christopher Luscombe. The following day I read about the play and this production – my complete set of Globe DVDs has an information book too.

They had put extra bits of staging in, which seemed a little bit complicated, but they used it well. It was fun watching the groundlings when they realised the action was behind them. The costumes were gorgeous, I decided I want Falstaff’s dressing gown (below, with Frank Ford pretending to be Master Brook), and the music was wonderful. Sharon Lindo, one of the musicians, plays violin/tenor and bass recorders/alto shawm/alto curtal. I know a shawm is the forerunner of an oboe, but a curtal? “The curtal is a Renaissance woodwind instrument, with a double reed and a folded (doubled into a ‘U’) conical bore to produce a more compact instrument than the larger shawms).” So now you know! And Sharon has her own website – http://www.sharonlindo.co.uk/ – she has done 14 productions at the Globe. We always concentrate on the actors, and forget everyone else who makes a performance.

So now I will tell you about the actors. Christopher Benjamin plays Sir John Falstaff. This is a younger Falstaff than in the Henrys – not as large or as old, and able to have a better time. He is not trying to succeed with Mistress Quickly or Doll Tearsheet, he is writing letters to nice married ladies, Meg Page and Alice Ford, in the hope (expectation) they will enjoy his company (and he theirs’). Meg is played by Serena Evans and Alice by Sarah Woodward. Falstaff may be hopeful, but the ladies are not going to betray their husbands, rather they will teach Falstaff a lesson. George Page (Michael Garner) and Frank Ford (Andrew Havill) eventually learn to trust their wives. Falstaff finds himself in a basket of dirty washing dumped in a ditch.

Rob Maslen has written a learned article in the Globe booklet, and discusses the view of England that this play gives us. He takes the party in Henry IV part 2 as his starting point – an alternative England, “a land engendered by the sheer force of the comic knight’s imagination.” A happy genial society – which contrasts with the one where Hal denies knowing Falstaff, Bardolph ends up hung from a tree., and the country descends into War. Legend has it that Elizabeth I “compensated for Henry’s bad sportsmanship by insisting that Falstaff be granted an imaginative kingdom of his own.” Even when Falstaff is being taunted in this play we keep being assured that no-one gets hurt. The scene at the end, where Falstaff is crowned with the antlers of a stag, then surrounded by characters dressed as fairies, is all in good humour. Maslen comments that the stag, the king of the woods, is also the contents of a venison pasty.

There is also the story of who Anne Page, daughter of George and Meg, will marry (Anne is played by Ceri-Lyn Cissone). Will it be Abraham Slender (played by William Belchambers), her father’s choice, Dr Caius (Philip Bird), her mother’s, or Fenton (Gerard McCarthy), her own? Some lovely comedy with Dr Caius, who’s French, and with Sir Hugh Evans, a Welsh parson (Gareth Armstrong) – there must be a PhD in Shakespeare’s use of the foreigner to make us laugh.

Maslen ends his essay “In the Merry Wives merriness is vindicated, laughter liberated from slaughter, and the shadow of civil war dispersed from a land where everyone enjoys warmth and enough to eat. It’s not the land where the Elizabethan’s lived; but thanks to Falstaff and his friends they could go home from the performance nurturing the hope that one day it might be.” Sentiments which fit this Covid time in this Elizabethan Age.

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Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

We continue to work our way, slowly, through the canon of Shakespeare’s plays, but when Julie said “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I wasn’t very enthusiastic. We did it at school – my recorder ensemble provided the music – and have seen it many times. We did a version with our Performing Youth Group at St Edmundsbury Cathedral and Hannah was in a production in Durham which then toured the States. We have seen it in the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, etc. It’s a lovely play, ideally outside on a summer evening (though these days my back needs a decent chair), but not for a January evening in Covid lockdown.

We watched the BBC production directed by Russell T. Davies in 2016. It starts with the Athenian Court and John Hannah as Theseus. No Greek scenery, classical statues, flowing drapery, Mediterranean sun, but a fascist court with troops, surveillance (clever use of ipads). At this point I realised I was watching a different “Dream”. Hippolyta (played by Eleanor Matsurra) comes on. The picture shows wheels, and I assumed we had Hippolyta in a wheelchair. No, she is fastened to a trolley, wearing a leather mask. This is no love-match, but the forced marriage of a captured prisoner. Later on at the marriage feast her bride’s dress is fastened with padlocks. It is profoundly uncomfortable – not what I was expecting. Later I read some of the reviews, and it is pointed out, quite correctly, that Theseus is the sort of Lord who will condemn a girl to death for loving the wrong man.

The lovers are played by Prisca Bakare (Hermia), Kate Kennedy (Helena), Matthew Tennyson (Lysander) and Paapa Essiedu (Demetrius) – my only complaint was that Lysander looked a bit too much like Harry Potter. Apparently they filmed the forest scenes over four nights in October – and were fortunate it never rained – then did some bits in the studio. They are beautifully done, beautiful and natural, put with an added zing of fantasy and effects.

You can tell Russell T. Davies did “Doctor Who”. The effects he uses with the spirits are wonderful – disappearing in colourful trails of light, circling the earth with the effect of a shooting flare. It is brilliant. Maxine Peake is Titania (a long way from Doll Tearsheet), Nonso Anozie is Oberon, and Hiran Abensekera as Puck. Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth and Mustardseed are no gentle flowers, they are incredible lively, colourful spirits, but with a hint of menace.

The biggest surprise was Elaine Page as Mistress Quince. We never saw her as “Evita”, but listen to her regularly on Radio 2. This is the first time she has played Shakespeare. I thought she was good, but it hasn’t led to any other Shakespearean roles. Matt Lucas is Bottom, with a very believable donkey costume, Richard Wilson as Starveling and Bernard Cribbins as Snout were lovely. Javone Prince is Snug and Fisavo Akinade is Flute. They cut quite a lot of the rehearsal part, but the play at the wedding feast was as fun as normal.

The wedding feast is given an edge by Theseus not just laughing at the mechanicals, but taking the i-pad and deleting them. Then he starts to feel unwell, and we see his death off-stage on a security camera, being watched on the i-pad by Philostrate (Elliot Levey) who leaves him to his fate. Hippolyta finds love, and will share her future, with Titania – some reviewers complained about their passionate kiss. I wondered where Oberon will fit in this relationship.

Various reviewers described it as a “Dream for our time” or similar phrases. Vibrant, young, multi-cultural, breaking the stereotypes of gender. Yet Julie pointed out that no-one in the play had a disability, the wheelchair did not exist.

It was certainly worth watching on a cold January evening.

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Shakespeare’s Henry V

As we’ve watched the last three plays in the BBC’s Hollow Crown series of 2012, it makes sense to do the same here – and it is good that the main characters are played by the same actors as before. This was directed by Thea Sharrock – she had had a lot of theatre experience, though this seems to have been the only thing she did for television. In the bonus film she talks about taking Tom Hiddlestone for a run and making him do the speeches as they ran – when she couldn’t hear him, she made him do it again.

Hiddlestone is an excellent King – and I enjoyed his rendition of the St Crispin’s Day speech. A few years ago St Crispin’s day (25 October) fell on a Sunday, so we slotted hymn 410 “Creator of the earth and skies” in to the morning service. It is sung to the tune “Agincourt (Deo Gracias)”, an English fifteenth century melody – which is also the tune that William Walton weaves into his “Agincourt song” from the 1944 Olivier version.

Olivier’s is the version I have watched most, always with the understanding that it was filmed towards the end of the Second World War when Britain stood alone. It seems very dated, but the performances, and William Walton’s music, are wonderful. We won’t make any comment about how performances of “Henry V” have influenced our relationship with Europe – in the week when we were dragged out of Europe, and the Prime Minister’s father has applied for French citizenship!

We saw Kenneth Branagh’s performance at the Barbican in 1985, in the version produced by Adrian Noble for the RSC. I had forgotten it was “post-Falklands”, so another interpretation informed by a war – https://www.rsc.org.uk/henry-v/past-productions/in-focus-adrian-noble-1984. Branagh’s film gives him a bigger role than Tom Hiddlestone seems to have, but I haven’t seen that film for a few years. Patrick Doyle’s music for that film is special as well – we sang “Non Nobis Domine” with the Bailiffgate Singers in Alnwick and it has a great tenor part – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmYcpUtvR9U. I think I saw Terry Hands production for the RSC in the late 1970s, I remember one school trip to Stratford – but Julie doesn’t remember going to see that. More information about that performance at https://www.rsc.org.uk/henry-v/past-productions/in-focus-terry-hands-1975. There is so much to read about each play at their website – perhaps I can retire early and do more research.

Anyway, back to “Hollow Crown”. John Hurt is the chorus. He makes a visual appearance at the end when they explain that Henry died quite soon after he had married Kate. I checked, Agincourt was 1415, but he didn’t marry Catherine of Valois until 1420. In this production she is played by Melanie Thierry – rather lovely – but the French scenes are not as amusing as I have sometimes seen them played. Indeed, there are not many laughs anywhere – I seem to remember lots of dialogue about leeks in other productions.

There isn’t much about the death of Falstaff and the scenes in Eastcheap have been shortened. Julie Walters gets a few minutes of screne time. The hanging of Bardolph after he steals from a church is over quite quickly, and they don’t spend much time on Henry’s reaction to the execution of one of his friends. They don’t spend much time on the reason for the execution of the French prisoners either – and they change the reason why it happens. Rather a lot of messing around with Mr Shakespeare.

Henry’s “Band of brothers” speech is addressed to the nobles around him, rather than being a rallying cry for the whole of the English army. It is still very powerful. “Once more into the breach” inspires the men at the earlier action.

It was an enjoyable film, but I would like to watch a straightforward (i.e. sticking to what the Bard wrote) stage play at some point. Having said that, “The Hollow Crown” has been an enjoyable four evenings.

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