Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Fleapit revisited:Western.

"Every stone has its place" says quarry manager Adrian (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov) to his new friend and 'bodyguard' Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) as he teaches him to how build a dry stone wall. But is there a place for stone faced Meinhard himself, a taciturn loner whose weathered features sketch the outline of a story that Meinhard's few words fail to colour in?

Despite Bulgaria being far more commonly associated with the adjective 'Eastern', Valeska Grisebach's new film Western has a highly befitting title. Not only does it have many of the hallmarks of the classic Hollywood western:- a group of men arrive at a strange village where the locals, possibly correctly, distrust their intentions, wild expanses of countryside, a horse being treated with more respect than most of the women, and the threat of violence constantly lingering beneath the surface. Why, in some places it's even a tiny bit boring. Just like a proper western.


It's also a 'western' of a different stripe in that it deals with how the Western nations of Europe can sometimes mine, exploit, and misunderstand the Eastern nations of Europe. Meinhard's joined a team of German labourers sent to southern Bulgaria, near the Greek border, to build a hydroelectric plant to provide infrastructure for a poor, rural part of the country. He soon finds himself at loggerheads with his foreman Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek), a boorish, incurious, bully whose woeful attempts at flirtation with local woman Viara (Vyara Borisova) demonstrate a complete lack of cultural sensitivity and stokes further the already latent tensions between the Bulgarian villagers and the visiting German workers.

As Vincent, and the fairly sketchily drawn other Germans, sunbathe, drink, banter, and, occasionally, do some work, Meinhard finds himself spending more and more time with the Bulgarians in the village. They exchange cigarettes and beers as Meinhard is taught not only how to build a dry stone wall but how to bridle a horse and how to thread and dry tobacco leaves. Some, like Adrian and Veneta (Veneta Frangova), are friendly. Others much less so. Meinhard finds himself on the receiving end of violence more than once.



Meinhard says he's a former Legionnaire and allows others to believe he's killed but, in reality, we don't know where he's come from and we don't know where he's going. He says he's come to Bulgaria to work, to earn money, but is he escaping something in Germany? Is he escaping his past? As he attempts to keep one foot in the German camp and another in the Bulgarian one his loyalties are tested time and again and he soon becomes the subject of distrust by elements of both groups. His walks home at night, through badly marked paths in the gloaming, are accompanied with as much a sense of dread as his days are by a chorus of cicadas.

This is more a character study than it is a narrative driven piece of film making. There are many men out there at the moment taking stick, correctly, for mansplaining and telling women how to do their feminism correctly so as a female director it would seem that Grisebach needs to pitch her study into masculinity just right or risk copping some flak herself. To her credit she pulls it off with no little panache. As the lesser characters make macho boasts about guns and fighting, she paints Vincent as a man whose browbeating nature stems from his own insecurity and lets us see that young Vanko's juvenile outbreaks of violence are just his way of announcing his entrance into the world of adulthood. He's just copying the big boys.

The crisis of masculinity is most explicit in its violence but is borne from the lack of connection, the inability to talk to each other. It's not just the language barrier, when all the Germans are together awkward silences still hang in the air with all the weight of a pregnant rain cloud, but that certainly adds to the tension. We can read the subtitles so we know what each character is saying even when they don't understand each other. As ever, in these circumstances, mimes are used to convey vital information and it seems that when people really want to understand each other they find a way.


One fairly guaranteed form of language free expression would be sex, you might think, but the only moment of genuine intimacy in the film, like so many others, proves to be fleeting. While not lacking passion it turns out to be just two people, lost in their own lives, enjoying a brief moment of togetherness and communion. At one point in the film a gift of a pen knife is returned unwanted. It's sad but nothing is said. The gift of love, too, seems to have been treated equally casually.

It's a beautifully shot, slightly overlong, film that slowly, but surely, prises away at the lid that men (try to) keep on (some of) their feelings. Kevin Bashev (as Vanko), Borisova, and Letifov all deserve immense credit for their performances and Wetrek does a brilliant job in bringing such depth to a character like Vincent who on the surface has none. But most of all the plaudits need to go to Neumann for his tour de force as Meinhard and Grisebach herself for having the nous to bring together this cast (none of these people had ever acted in a film before, amazingly) and for having such a clear idea of what she wanted to achieve in a film and bringing that to fruition. It's safe to say she put in a longer shift than some of her workshy characters.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Eric Fischl:Disrupted social exchanges in esoteric tongues.

"I hate this idea that there are some people who have a right to express their suffering and others who don't, that there are those in this hierarchy of pain who own it more than you do" - Eric Fischl.

An image of Donald Trump dressed as a clown is, like the President himself, not a subtle thing. It's not very difficult to interpret what neo-expressionist New York painter Eric Fischl thinks about the Donald and in that it's something of an outlier. Fischl's work is all about uncertainty, lack of connections, nameless dread, lack of fulfilment, and intimacy without desire.

The little girl looks at the black dress hanging up on the back of the door. Presumably her mummy's dress but where is mum? Is she in the other room? Is she at work? Has she gone? Has she died? Is that man even her dad and if not what's he doing in her bedroom? Fischl's work doesn't provide you with a narrative so human nature forces you to construct your own.

 
Worry (2017)

 
Pretzel (2017)
 
The beautiful, young, wealthy, and often naked people that sprawl out around sun drenched swimming pools in Pretzel and Clearing the Table seem to have an enviable lifestyle but they don't look particularly happy. They seem unable to emotionally relate to each other. The chubby man looks at his phone, the lady in the pool stares into space, and the waiter goes about his business of laying out bananas etc; with his mind, surely, on something else entirely.
 
Like Edward Hopper and David Lynch before him, Fischl travels out to suburbia and pokes at its underbelly, or, as protocol now dictates, its seedy underbelly. It's become a well travelled road and to create work making such observations runs the danger of looking rote or, worse still considering Fischl is based in New York City, patronising.

 
Clearing the Table (2018)

 
She and Her (2017)
 
The scale, the colour, and the complex and nuanced composition of his paintings means he manages to steer clear of such concerns. Adolescent sexuality and voyeurism have long been major themes in Fischl's work but for St.James's Skarstedt gallery's exhibition of his work from the last two years, Presence of an Absence, he seems to have moved towards more complicated adult relationships and interactions.
 
If the exterior scenes suggest awkward interactions, averted gazes, and people's lives falling through the spaces made by the gaps they leave in their communication then the interiors somehow ramp this up exponentially. The lady in The Appearance has the textbook 'appearance' of the idle, and bored, rich. She holds her glass of wine far from her mouth as if to signify she's only drinking to pass the time. A dog lies on her lap, an animal that really knows how to relax. A man reads from a piece of paper but it's impossible, from his lack of impression, to know if it's a phone bill, a suicide note, or instructions on how to set up a self-assembly divan. It's a painting that captures one of many moments in the long, and often undocumented lives, of us all. We can't know what it's about but we can surely recognise something of ourselves in it.

 
The Appearance (2018)

 
Last Look Mirror (2017)
 
Last Look Mirror, with its little homage (or is it a dig?) to Andy Warhol, shows two characters who, in true Fischl style, aren't making eye contact. They're going about their day to day business in their own little worlds never fully aware of what the other is thinking and waiting for those rare moments of genuine connection that feel so magical when they finally happen.
 
Even death can't guarantee them. In After the Funeral, easily my favourite of all the works in this compact yet bijou show, two mourners stare into space. One's face is obscured by cigarette smoke, the other's behind a funeral veil. They sit, seemingly, in silence as a shadow stretches out across the table. You feel for them and you know they feel for each other but you find yourself drawn, more than anything, to the masterful shadow. You can almost feel the warmth of the sun passing through the elongated silence. It's a shadow, and a painting, I'd like to think that Edward Hopper himself would've been proud of. 
 
People often say the people sat alone in diners, hotel rooms, or public transport in Hopper's paintings look desperately lonely. I see Hopper's subjects as solitary, alone, but not necessarily lonely. The characters that populate the works of Eric Fischl are , more often than not, with other people yet their inability to communicate renders them far lonelier than those who sit by themselves. We all know you can feel lonely in a crowd. Fischl paints what that's like.


 
After the Funeral (2017)


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Andreas Gursky:A world without hierarchy?

"What I create is a world without hierarchy in which all the pictorial elements are as important as each other" - Andreas Gursky.


Beijing (2010)

Sounds noble enough but does Andreas Gurksy's self-confessed encyclopaedia of life truly contain all that life's rich pageant has for us or does Gurksy, as the photographer, impose his own personal hierarchical structure on it with himself, the artist, at the very top of the pyramid?

For the most part I don't think he does. A comprehensive overview of the German photographer's work was a brilliant way to reopen the newly refurbished (they've added some gold bannisters, moved the shop, and made the bogs more 'inclusive' (!)) with. He's popular without being populist, his art is clear, his message is pretty direct, and his photographs, for the most part, are bloody huge. It's a show that should be able to please both punters and critics - and so it proved to be. I certainly left feeling like I'd got my money's worth and I'm both a punter and a (self-appointed) critic.

It's not laid out strictly chronologically and the accompanying pamphlet uses a very loose thematic approach (sections are divided into broad categories like Architecture, Scale, Crowds, and Display) but rather than confusing the visitor it frees them up to take things in at a more leisurely pace.

Gursky was born in Leipzig in 1955 and, along with Thomas Ruff, studied under the fabulous Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Dusseldorf Art Academy. A journey from Leipzig to Dusseldorf at that time involved passing through the Iron Curtain from East to West Germany and clearly he preferred it in Dusseldorf as he continues to base himself there. Along with Ruff, and others like Thomas Struth, Candida Hofer, and Axel Hutte, he became part of a loose grouping of photographers that became known as the Dusseldorf School.


Mulheim, Anglers (1989)


Krefeld, Chickens (1989)


Ruhr Valley (1989)


Dusseldorf Airport, Sunday Walkers (1985)
 
Gurksy's 'Sunday pictures' of the eighties captured people at play, swimming, walking, fishing, doing nothing, in and around Dusseldorf. His description of them as 'representatives of a species whose mission remains obscure' can be taken in various ways. It makes him sound haughty and aloof, above the quotidian concerns of the proletariat - which isn't great - but it also suggests that he has a little of what Graham Greene called a 'splinter of ice in the heart, the ability to look at things dispassionately at least for as long as it takes to turn them into art.
 
Many of the figures in these works are dwarfed by bridges, trees, mountains, and buildings. Suggesting that Gursky was interested in loneliness, alienation, and the search for meaning in a meaningless world.. Both Ruhr Valley and Mulheim, Anglers seem to speak of a kind of yearning, whispering about vague melancholia.


Aletsch Glacier (1993)


Untitled I (1993)
 
A square of grey carpet in Kunsthalle Dusseldorf has been photographed in such close up that it defamiliarizes it and ultimately renders it abstract. Equally his triptych of Turners places just as much as emphasis on the walls, the floor, and the lighting as it does on the paintings. Gursky, as ever, is democratic in his process.
 
He's on record as saying "my images are always interpretations of places" and those places can be as small as a piece of carpet or as vast as a glacier or, in the case of Dolomites, Cable Car. a combination of both. You'll really have to squint to spot the solitary cable car suspended by a wire over the mist covered mountains. Or, ideally, go to the exhibition. Don't expect my photos of his photos to be as good as his. That's ridiculous.


Turner Collection (1995)



Dolomites, Cable Car (1987)


Schiphol (1994)
 
The windows of Schiphol airport in Amsterdam act as a secondary frame, an auxiliary lens but they also show Gursky's interest in architecture. Both blockbuster buildings and the more prosaic, even liminal, spaces we pass through on the way to somewhere more interesting. Some, like airports, we may see only occasionally. Others could be our places of work or our homes. Sites, and sights, that have been rendered meaningless through familiarity can, seen with new eyes, suddenly tell a very different story. Invite a stranger round to your house and it's likely they'll comment on something you've barely thought about for years.
 
The airport departure lounge also seems to signpost the fact that but by the time he was creating photos like this Gurksy's burgeoning success had brought with it opportunities for travel and that travel led, quite correctly, to a broadening, an internationalising, of his subject matter. Further democratisation of his process came, in photos like Karlsruhe, Siemens and Salerno I, with the epic panoramic shot that places as much attention on the vans parked up in the foreground as it does the architecture and hills in the background. These are the photos one thinks of when one thinks of Gursky and if you were to suggest some of them have something of a Where's Wally? quality about them some may laugh. I couldn't possibly comment.


Karlsruhe, Siemens (1991)


Salerno I (1990)
 
These are the works Gursky calls his 'aggregate states', worlds without hierarchies. They're fascinating to look at and new details continually reveal themselves. They don't seek to instruct but rather to let you create your own narrative. It's fun to listen to people in the gallery do this.
 
The strange shaped Kodak building and the huge Paris, Montparnasse both show the enormity of the buildings but they also, the latter especially, open a window into the multiple lives being lived out inside those buildings. 


Kodak (1995)


Paris, Montparnasse (1993)
 
Digital post-production techniques were bought in to play on works like Paris, Montparnasse (the French capital's largest residential building) and it's worth reminding ourselves that Gursky doesn't photograph reality, but creates a new reality. He's playing tricks with us but so subtle are they we fall for them each time - and thus we give him permission to continue to do so.


Cheops (2005)


Toys 'R' Us (1999)


99 Cent (1999/2009)


Pyongyang VI (2007/2017)
 
Huge toy megastores, American shops during Hallowe'en, and Egyptian pyramids all catch the eye but perhaps none more so than the incredible colours and light of Gurksy's Pyongyang VI. North Korea's Arirang festival (or Mass Games) are held in honour of Kim Il-Sung and feature over 70,000 gymnasts and 30,000 school children. Gurksy first visited in 2007 but, taken by recent developments in North Korea, went back to the photo last year and we can only be grateful he did. It's a thing of beauty and it's something that's barely comprehensible to anybody outside of the DPRK.
 
Next to that the photograph of four of Germany's recent chancellers (Gerhard Schroder, Helmut Schmidt, Angela Merkel, and Helmut Kohl) sitting in front of Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51) can look rather drab, a bit humdrum even. It does tell us quite a bit about Gursky's methods though, the way he'll happily 'photoshop' images to create a desired effect, to tell a story. After all, it seems pretty unlikely that these four ever really got together to ponder American abstract art.
 
Even more can be learnt about his career trajectory by comparing Desk Attendants, Salzgitter, Dusseldorf from 1982 with recent works taken from space of entire land masses. He once photographed representations of the Earth, now he photographs the Earth itself. No wonder an airport departure lounge appealed such. I love airport departure lounge boards. I love looking at the various destinations and imagining what I'd do if I was to ever go there, ever live there. They fill me with wanderlust.


Review (2015)


Frankfurt (2017)


Desk Attendants, Salzgitter, Dusseldorf (1982)


Utah (2017)
 
Gursky would appear to be a man whose wanderlust could easily have been sated so it's nice to see he still finds inspiration on his travels. Utah was inspired by a photograph that Gurksy took from the window of a moving car. If you've ever taken a photo from a moving train it's a pleasant effect how the background is steady but the foreground is blurred. Gursky gets paid for doing this!
 
Some of the stuff he's made in the last few years seem to hint at either a drastic change of direction or an artist, now well into middle age, having something of a crisis of confidence. Iron Man in SH I looks like something from an Athena poster, other works (like Tokyo) hew closer to what you'd expect for him, whilst in other cases he's scaled down the size of his photographs quite dramatically. The story's ongoing. The jury is out.


SH I (2013)


Tokyo (2017)
 
You would never be able to see the view in Tokyo in Tokyo itself. That's because it's constructed from dozens of different shots taken from train windows in the Japanese capital. Gursky's trying to create a reality that is more real than real reality. Really.
 
He's also trying to address salient issues of our times. Environmental degradation, working conditions, dehumanisation, consumerism. Yet he shuns overt didacticism. "I keep awareness of the problems simmering without losing sight of the beauty and complexity of the world so that interest in it doesn't disappear" he explains.


Greeley (2002)


Paris, PCF (2003)


Kamiokande (2007)
 
The Super-Kamioka Neutrino Detection Experiment (or Kamiokande for short), that comes, unfortunately, complete with this blogger's reflection (hey, I don't get paid for this, you know) is situarted one kilometre beneath a Japanese mountain and has been set up to observe the behaviour of neutrinos. To give you an idea of how unfathomably vast and cavernous it is look in the bottom right hand corner, that's a man in a boat. Why isn't this place better known?
 
Rhine II's not what it looks like. Gurksy's removed a power station on the far bank to make the picture more 'natural' though one can't help wondering why he didn't just walk a few hundred metres further down the river!
 
In this it both explains, and further mystifies, and that, often, seems to be exactly what Gurksy's work has always done. Visions that at first may be look familiar soon become discomfiting and those that at first appear odd reveal themselves to be actually very ordinary things. He makes the extraordinary ordinary and the ordinary extraordinary and as something of a magician behind the lens he does it with a sleight of hand you barely notice. A trick that good is one worth repeating and one worth devoting an entire, and important, show at this great gallery to.


Rhine II (1999/2015)


Bahrain I (2005)


Tour de France I (2007)

Thanks to Mark for the company, his always insightful comments, and for debriefing with me over a brace of eminently sensible pints in the ever reliable Kings Arms on Roupell Street afterwards.

TADS #19:Wendover to Berkhamsted (or I've Got Chilterns, They're Multiplying).

"Your hands my dear, adorable
Your lips of tenderness
Oh, I've loved you faithfully and well
Three years, or a bit less
It wasn't a success

Thank God, that's done and I'll take the road
Quit of my youth and you
The Roman road to Wendover
By Tring and Lilley Hoo
As a free man may do

For youth goes over, the joys that fly
The tears that follow fast
And the dirtiest things we do must lie
Forgotten at the last
Even love goes past

What's left behind I shall not find
The splendour and the pain
The splash of sun, the shouting wind
And the brave sting of rain
I may not meet again

But the years that take the best away
Give something in the end
And a better friend than love have they
For none to mar or mend
That have themselves to fend

I shall desire and I shall find
The best of my desires
The autumn road, the mellow wind
That soothes the darkening shires
And laughter, and inn-fires

White mist about the black hedgerows
The slumbering Midland plain
The silence where the clover grows
And the dead leaves in the lane
Certainly, these remain

And I shall find some girl perhaps
And a better one than you
With eyes as wise, but kindlier
And lips as soft, but true
And I dare say she will do"

 
That poem, The Chilterns, was written by Rupert Brooke in 1916 but in so many respects did it echo the walk ahead, the foundation of TADS, the foundation of this blog, and just life in general and how it pans out that I thought I might try and fool my fellow walkers into thinking I'd written it. It wasn't the first time Brooke had appeared in one of my TADS blogs, 1914's The Soldier kicked off my match report on last August's trip to Cambridge, but now I'm a published poet myself I couldn't help wondering if I could get away with it.
 
In the end I decided against it. I'm not, at heart, a liar. Not only that, Brooke deserves posthumous respect for his half-bitter, half-resilient ode to both the Chilterns and lost love. If Brooke may seem too highbrow a note to kick off an account of what in effect was essentially an afternoon walk through the countryside perhaps the film Grease (back in theatres as from Friday to mark its forty year anniversary) is more appropriate.
 
When I decided that April's walk would take us through the Chilterns I liaised with my Grease megafan friend Alex for a suggestion of a snappy title. I knew she'd say I've Got Chilterns, They're Multiplying and she didn't let me down. But by the end of the walk it was blisters, aches, and joint pain that was multiplying.
 
I'm fairly new to this walk arranging and writing thing and I'd miscalculated the distance by a couple of miles which led to a few understandable gripes, having to miss out a couple of sights in Berkhamsted, and some very sore legs the next morning. It did, also, however, lead to a very well earned pint or two and to Pam totting up a remarkable 46,467 steps in the course of one day. For the second Saturday in a row I'd notched up somewhere between fifteen and twenty miles.


 
Pain, however, is temporary and though experiences may be, in themselves, fleeting the memories of them stay with us. It'd been a glorious week in England and to be able to spend the best part of a whole day with good friends in beautiful countryside with the sun high in the sky meant that the pleasure had the upper hand over the pain at all times.
 
Shep, Rachael, Kathy, Pam, and I had met in Marylebone and Bee, Eamon, and Neil had joined us on the train at Harrow-on-the-Hill (Adam and Teresa were otherwise engaged on family duties and Virginie is still on long term maternity leave) which meant we were in Wendover for 1145hrs and ready to make an early start. It was one we'd be needing.



 
Wendover is a busy little market town. It seems friendly enough but the extraordinary amount of Daily Mails piled up for purchase outside Budgens suggest some of the locals may hold views that may be considered a little reactionary by any sane person.
 
Notable Wendover residents have included David Jason and former radio and stage wit John Junkin and the town, whose name derives from the Brythonic word for 'white waters', was once part of the property of Anne Boleyn. It looked spectacular under the April skies from the road side, walking down to the church before peeling off to a path on the right that took us along the side of a babbling brook and some pretty cottages to a small lake and the surprisingly large, and immaculately groomed, St.Mary's church.








 
We were on the Ridgeway proper and not for the first time. The Ridgeway runs for eighty seven miles from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon and though it's an ancient path it was only opened as a national trail as recently as 1973.
 
The Chiltern Hills cover 322 square miles across the four counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire. They stretch from Goring to near Hitchin (forty six miles) and are eleven miles across at their widest point. Our walk was taking us from Buckinghamshire to Hertfordshire.
 
It would take us along such evocatively named places as Hogtrout Lane, Cock's Hill, Barn Wood, Grim's Ditch, Hengrave Wood, Northill Wood, Pavis Wood, and through the village of Hastoe and Hastoe Farm where, briefly, the Ridgeway would join with the Icknield Way Trail (a path that goes from Suffolk to the aforementioned Ivinghoe Beacon).









Pavis Wood is the highest point of the not exactly mountainous county of Hertfordshire but many sections were unmarked and it was difficult to ascertain exactly which wood we were in most of the time.
 
Instead we took delight in cute baby lambs, bluebells stretching as far as the eye could see, and the wonderful effect of dappled light through the surprisingly dense canopy of trees that flanked us for the next five miles or so. At the little village of Hastoe (once closely associated with the Rothschilds and still a wealthy looking place) we passed hundreds of participants in something called The Big Walk and a few bored looking teenagers who appeared to be suffering for their Duke of Edinburgh awards.







 
Crong pylon and some discarded farm buildings that looked like the set for a horror film led us to a ridge and a break in the trees which offered commanding views of Tring (a place, we learnt, that means a hill with trees on it) before we passed an obelisk and another folly from the day when the gardens of King Charles II's Tring House stretched out for miles all around.



 
This led us to the village of Wigginton and a well earned pub stop. The Greyhound had a lush, spacious beer garden but as 'Camilla's Baptism' was taking place we couldn't get a table. Nevermind, we'd had plenty of sun. We supped our drinks (Shep took a Side Pocket For A Toad) before departing. It was a pleasant, if unspectacular, pub. We'd seen better but we'd seen much worse.



 
Taking an alternative route back through Wiggington we rejoined the Ridgeway just as gentle rain began to accompany a gentle breeze. The path took us slowly, and gently, down to an astonishingly high footbridge that got us over the busy A41 (where multiple police cars and an ambulance suggested an accident had taken place), through a few more fields, over the A4251 and on toward Tring Station which doesn't seem to be particularly near to Tring.







 
Just before you reach Tring Station you pass over and then descend down to the Grand Union Canal and its towpath. This meant we were on our home stretch. I'd estimated this to be three miles but it turned out to be more like five. I sensed I was not the most popular person in the group so I apologised and then strode ahead as if to demonstrate some purpose. Let's say that lessons were learnt!
 
We passed the oddly named village of Cow Roast (or Cowroast, either option seemed okay), several locks, some donkeys, loads of pretty barges, and I threw a large stick in the canal which make a very satisfying splash as it landed.

















 
Eventually, red-faced, creaking, and dying for a pint, we reached the beautiful canalside town of Berkhamsted. I put on my dictator's hat and insisted we pass the first two pubs, the unremarkable Crystal Palace and The Boat, and continue on to The Rising Sun. The Rising Sun is lovely. A choice of ten real ales on tap (and plenty more in cans, Shep had some weird marshmallow concoction), reductions for CAMRA members, piles of board games and books, quiz nights, dogs, and plenty of seats to leisurely waste one's afternoon in good company by the canal. One of my favourite pubs in the country I think. 
 
I had a pint of Drop Bar from the local Tring brewery and we were soon joined by Rob (who I'd not seen for about four months) who'd driven down from Bicester to join us. We moved on to The Fat Buddha (quite a walk down the long thin but very pretty, check out Carluccio's (!), High Street) where we met with Susannah (who I'd not seen for about four years) who'd got the train up from Hemel Hempstead. It was great to see both Susannah and Rob but it was a pity that Belinda and Neil had had to shoot off early due to Belinda suffering, mostly silently, with a migraine. It was sad that they missed the riverside drinks and the curry but it was sadder still to see a friend in pain.






 
The fact the walk had taken longer than expected meant there'd not been time to see the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle (a motte-and-bailey Norman specimen built in 1066 by Robert, Count of Mortain, the second Earl of Cornwall and William the Conqueror's half-brother) or Berkhamsted School (founded in 1541 with famous alumni including the architect Zaha Hadid, Michael Meacher, and the novelist Graham Greene).
 
Robert, Count of Mortain was one of the few proven companions of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and the castle, over nearly one thousand years, has been sieged, used as a palace, and, after falling into ruin in the mid sixteenth century, was nearly destroyed when the London to Birmingham railway was built. As a result of protests against its destruction it became one of Britain's first listed buildings.
 
Graham Greene's father was a housemaster at Berkhamsted School but the wonderful writer of Brighton Rock, Our Man In Havana, The Quiet American, The Power and The Glory, and The Ministry of Fear appears not to have been over enamoured with his fellow Berkhamstedians (if that's the correct demonym) describing them as 'slitty eyed and devious'.
 
That certainly didn't prove to be the case on our visit and definitely not in the Fat Buddha. The staff were courteous, quick, the food and beer came promptly, and it tasted great. No wonder the place was so busy. I had paneer moglai, paratha, and, again, shared some pulao rice with Rachael. It was great to catch up and, after Rachael and Kathy departed for their train, we continued the catch up in a couple more pubs before indulging in a game of Heads Up on our train back to Euston (via Hemel Hempstead).
 
It may've been a tougher walk than planned but I hope I'm not alone in thinking it was also a more beautiful and rewarding one too. Next month we're off to Eastleigh to follow the course of the River Itchen into Winchester so I need to get reading up on Alfred the Great. It should be a considerably more gentle trek than I've Got Chilterns, They're Multiplying but even so I paraphrase the words John Farrar gave Olivia Newton-John to sing in Grease four whole decades back:- 'I better shape up, I better understand. To my heart I must be true.'.