Having visited Leonard Rosoman’s studio yesterday and since the weather has been so foul today, I have been trying to find out more about him. I feel I should have met him as he was a long-standing RA, but he was already in his nineties when I arrived and I don’t remember him coming in to meetings. At the NPG, I was very familiar with his delightful and angular portrait of John Summerson, which used to hang on the ground floor, and his group portrait of all the RAs in the early days of Casson’s Presidency. But I hadn’t realised that he had been a student of the Royal Academy Schools in the 1930s, nor the quality of his war work for the Auxiliary Fire Service, nor the fact that he had been such a long-standing teacher at the RCA with Peter Blake and David Hockney amongst his pupils.
We managed to make it to the tail end of the Eric Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich having been told how wonderful it is and castigated for nearly missing it. We did indeed enjoy it and were impressed by the abstract qualities of his watercolours and drawings, the touches of surrealism, the quality of the work he did as a war artist and the quality of his depiction of the Sussex Downs near Firle. We were speculating on the use of barrage balloons, when someone kindly explained that they were used as a form of defence from low-flying aircraft in wartime, but why then do I remember barrage ballons flying over the local heath in my youth ?
I’m very delighted to see that our local hostelry in Anglesey, the Marram Grass, has made it into the Good Food Guide. It’s the café on the local campsite and does pig roast on Saturday evening with music which floats across the fields. I would love to say how much we enjoyed it this year except that the only time we arrived for supper at about 7.30 one evening it was absolutely packed with happy and noisy diners and we were looked at as completely mad expecting to have dinner without booking. So, I can only recommend their excellent cooked breakfast, including Eggs Benedict, and the fact that one can sit out on the porch and feel that one might be in Wyoming.
We have spent a happy afternoon on the last day of my holiday leafing through Sally Clarke’s new book, 30 Ingredients, which is in every way a beautiful book – beautifully written, so expressive of her perfectionism, her love of California and the Luberon, of fresh ingredients and the freshest fruits and vegetables, above all her devotion to the philosophy of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse; but also, beautifully photographed by Tessa Traeger who grew the pumpkins in her own garden in Devon; and a beautiful piece of book production by Toby Treves and Simon Rendall. So, that solves what to give for Christmas.
Several people have said to me that, now that I am working in Blackfriars, the best place to have lunch is Sweeting’s. It first opened in 1889, as someone remarked the year that Hitler was born. I was invited there today by John Morton Morris whose father had always promised to take him there when he was a child, but always took him to Sheekeys or Simpson-in-the-Strand instead. You have to be there by noon to get a table. Then black velvet, smoked eel and fish pie. A perfect meal to ease the return to London:-
We had lunch yesterday with Mark Fisher, the former MP for Stoke-on-Trent. He spoke with extraordinary vehemence and conviction about the need for the Labour Party to elect Jeremy Corbyn as its leader: the benefits of a revival in mass membership; the fact that Corbyn’s views are less radical than represented by the press; the benefits of replacing the smooth-faced opportunism of Westminster apparatchiks with someone who has a set of defined and deeply felt political views. This is from someone who comes from the heartland of the Labour Party, was elected to Westminster on the same day, and who, although he comes from a different spectrum of the party, respects Corbyn and his views. We tend to read in the press about those who oppose Corbyn, not those who support him.
After four days walking, I took the Welsh Highland Railway from Portmadoc, bumping slowly over the fields and hills and through the blackest of tunnels, to Beddgellert and then down the other side, to where one can look out over fields to Anglesey, and on to Caernarvon, stopping arbitrarily and intermittently at halts on the way.
In the intervals of walking the Llyn Peninsula, I have been reading Byron Rogers’s spectacularly and oddly critical, whilst also possibly subtly reverential, biography of R.S. Thomas, The Man who went into the West, which I bought in the post office at Aberdaron. It presents Thomas as a self-invented, self-obsessed, ruthless loner, seen through the eyes of his son Gwyddion. But much of what is presented as evidence against him – the punctuality of mealtimes, the tendency to silence, the hostility to modernisation, the rigorous self-discipline – don’t strike me as symptoms of eccentricity, merely the characteristics of normal middle-class life in the post-war period.
It rained all through the night. It was raining as we left Aberdaron and it rained most of the morning and the afternoon, too. We ended up wading across a river. I found it hard to appreciate the landscape because I was concentrating on surviving, but half registered that the northern coast of the Llyn is softer and more agricultural, less tourist-y, much of the coastline owned by the National Trust which avoids too many of the caravan parks beloved as a source of income by the small farmers.
I took photographs of stone walls for Mariana Cook:-
Aberdaron feels, as indeed it is, a bit end-of-the-line, the last town on the Llyn Peninsula where R.S. Thomas was vicar from 1967 to 1978 and taught the local youth to play croquet. The church of St. Hywyn is where pilgrims assembled before the crossing to Bardsey Island.
This is the churchyard:-