a country weekend

July 12, 2010

Flicking idly through the pages of ‘Country Living’ Magazine in the front room of your townhouse will give you a distinct impression of how you visualise your perfect country life. In the house of your dreams. Of how you might enjoy your time in a tiny cottage in a remote village were you just able to maybe give up work or forgo the conveniences of city living. The shops, the public transport, cinemas, theatres, museums. How beautiful would be the roses over the door, and the intertwined clematis and honeysuckle clambering up a barge board wall. The vegetables growing in a tiny patch of land at the back of the cottage. Leeks, rocket, runner beans and fragrant sweet peas clinging to a woven hazel wicket fence.

On Saturday evening Maureen and I drove over to Mark and Jane’s cottage in ‘Akenfield’, a cottage completely filling the bill of everybody’s ideal country residence, for a wonderful evening eating in the garden. Jane cooked Moroccan lamb with apricots, aubergine and mozzerella casserole and cous-cous, followed by polenta cake and a side dish of wild cherries picked from the hedgerow that afternoon. We took with us presents of Maureen’s home made bread and some fresh peas, plus the bottle of robust vin de pays. We were introduced to Jane’s crazy friend Jill, a healer and follower of lay lines who lives in a van and has just returned from eight years living in Spain, so is now readjusting to life in the old country. So we sat in the early evening sun on this quiet lane used only, it would seem, by solitary dog walkers and occasional cyclists, and we watched the sun set while Mark placed candle lamps in the trees. This was perfection. Thank you Mark and Jane for a beautiful evening passed in idyllic surroundings and in excellent company. This is the life.

Yesterday we took Felicia to Heveningham Hall Country Fair. There seems to be so many events and festivals in the area at this time of year, including Latitude next weekend, Helmingham Hall Classic Cars on the 25th and small music events around and about, like Hachfest at the end of the month, where my good friend James is playing on Saturday night with his band Brigade. So much to do in the country, so little time to do it.

Heveningham Hall is a vast palatial pile sitting in hundreds of acres of gracious rolling parkland, which gives the impression that the owner and occupier must be at least a Queen.

Felicia so loved this day and was very disappointed to learn that its only once a year. So at a gentle pace we started, of course, at the fun fair where she enjoyed the usual kids rides but then dragged me onto the twister (terrifying), then to the fresh strawberry stand, on to the orangery with Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’ being performed outside, which she loved. Then Punch and Judy, fish and chips, sitting on the grass, Hello Kitty balloon, heavy horses, birds of prey, tiredness, sleep in the car and bouncing back to life on reaching home. A perfect day. A perfect weekend.


Apart from the now very famous ‘Take Five’ by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, which actually made the charts in the mid sixties (now there’s a thing in itself) my first real encounter with jazz was listening to a single that my mate Tony Hammersley had just bought of Miles Davis playing ‘On Green Dolphin Street’.

I mention this because, for no reason in particular, I just became reminded of this piece of music and, through the magic of the internet was able to simply go into YouTube and listen to it for the first time in nearly fifty years and be transported. This is Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers, giants among men. Have a listen, see what I mean:


Lovely or what? But the remarkable thing is that I was just able to do that. In the sixties music was so hard to find. There were no music radio stations worth the name and no specialist record shops outside central London. A very narrow range of records were sold from small booths in the corner of shops that dealt in musical instruments and sheet music, or otherwise tucked away on the top floor of some dreary department store in Grays or Romford. So we just had to sniff the music out and that meant going to London for a start, a distance of twenty-five miles and three train journeys from South Ockendon to dangerous places like Transat Imports, a tiny independent record shop up a rickety iron staircase in Lisle Street, off Leicester Square if memory serves me well. It was only open on Saturdays, and sometimes not even then if the owner didn’t fancy it, but here in this magical room we could rummage through boxes of records imported from America by bands we’d never heard of and just take a chance on the shopkeeper’s recommendation.

It opened up new avenues of music for me, as well as my first date with Maureen, as I mentioned in an earlier post. We saw Miles Davis at the Hammersmith Odeon a couple of times, Archie Shepp, Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, MJQ, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Ben Webster at the Marquee, and at The Royal Festival Hall we heard Stan Getz playing this:


This album was, as it happens, the first Christmas present that Maureen bought me forty-four years ago and I have it still. And it’s still very cool.