"We live our lives as we dream-alone." Joseph Conrad

Friday, 4 June 2010

Joss Ackland: At home in Clovelly

This week's COUNTRY LIFE carries an interview I did recently with the actor Joss Ackland over a day with him at his rectory home in Clovelly, North Devon. It was a brilliantly sunny day as i drove from our farm near Exeter up the A377 and over to Clovelly.

Arriving early, I went to the Red Lion by the harbour and ran into Johnny Rous, Clovelly's owner, very smartly dressed as he was hosting a German film crew that day. I had anticipated spending an hour with Joss Ackland but what followed was a memorable day and lunch at the Red Lion.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Camel Lights in Dorset

This forms the basis of my monthly 'Mad, Bad, and Dangerous' column in The Field (June issue, just out) which involved me camel racing for the Countryside Alliance. Whilst I had no hesitation in taking part, I think what swung it, was that John Gardiner, head of the political wing, is married to the noted sculptress Olivia Musgrave.

Olivia's father, Sir Richard Musgrave, shared a study at Stowe with my own father, Nigel Knight Bruce, and he always looked kindly upon me. When he was president of the Irish Rugby team, he would always take me out to dinner in Edinburgh when his side were playing at Murrayfield.

Exmoor vs Dartmoor: Moor the merrier

Each year I am honoured to be asked by COUNTRY LIFE to contribute to their West Country issue (Just out, 26th May). In this I feel I am humbly following in the footsteps of Henry Williamson and Charles Kingsley.

This year's essay was to take both Exmoor and Dartmoor and see if I could come up with the nigh on impossible task of finding in favour of one over the other. I am fortunate in having friends on both moors, have hunted on both pretty frequently over the last twenty years and been to not a few of their splendid inns.

The COUNTRY LIFE article has been beautifully illustrated by Hannah Firmin. Quite apart from my own offering, there are plenty of other fine articles and houses to gaze upon. But this, below, is what I have written (although in the published version it has, as always, been tweeked brilliantly by my editor at COUNRTY LIFE, Kate Green):

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

All Souls are cheap today

The decision by All Souls, Oxford, to scrap their entry requirement of an essay based on a single word seems odd. Is it too difficult now for people to put pen to paper and construct an argument on the subject of say 'water' or 'air'?

I have received an email from Detmar Blow from Spain where he is writing a biography of his later wife Isabella. His frustration seems to bear this out. Asking friends for recollections, he tells me, he has been amazed how seemingly educated people cannot write down even the most basic memories and make them entertaining.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Letts be having Bercow

Even by the strange behaviour of politicians, the onslaught last week by Speaker Bercow against the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts may be measured as extraordinary. Bercow, flustered and fraught, seemed to have got into a tangle with Letts about his own parentage as the son of a Poplar taxi driver and what he perceives as Letts's status as 'a minor public school boy.'

Anyone who is is doubt about John Bercow's ability as a Commons' debater should utube his chamber speech setting out his stall to be elected Speaker of the House. It is one of the finest examples of oleagenous oratory in modern times.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Ash to Ashes

Readers notifying the letters pages of the Daily Telegraph upon their first annual sighting of the swallow has long been a parody in Private Eye. For the first time in fifty years of living on my farm I can date this year's appearance to the 8th April, so I have clearly reached the age and stage for satire.

These doughty little birds, which I recall my late father saying (in his own distinctive way) "Always F**K in flight", nest in the tallots as the upper parts of barns in Devon are called. Daily they criss-cross the farmyard like rapier points slashing at the air.

We have two ginger farm cats who pay them no attention. The terrier sometimes looks up in bemusement, wishing he could fly. Just once or twice in the nesting season I take my daughter to look at the nests, and to understand why we leave the tallots undeveloped.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Tescos: Tyrant or Triumph?

Nothing much for the good or prosperity happens in our part of Devon. The Monmouth Uprising lost steam here. Cromwell couldn't be bothered to 'sack' Exeter and when, about eight years ago, they panned for gold in the Creedy Valley, the miniscule seam stopped just short of my farm.

For those who live in more sophisticated or metropolitan areas, the arrival of a new Tescos might not raise an eyebrow. Here, and it has been going since Christmas, I can say things have been little short of a revolution.

For years the town of Crediton (where my father and grandfather used to meet with the foxhounds, long since hounded out) resisted Tescos. It would, rightly as it has turned out, result in the closure of a number of small shops. The wine-merchant closed shortly after my father's death (which may or may not have been a coincidence) twelve years ago and the remaining delicatessan seems to stock mostly jam and pickle.