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Du Maurier Festival - 2006

[Submitted by Sam : 4 July 2006]

It's six weeks since I returned home from the Festival, and now I think it's time I put down a few thoughts on the subject. I've been sitting in a warm corner of the park reading and snoozing this afternoon, light relief, for my life seems to have been excessively busy recently and the time has flown. It's a warm Saturday evening now and although I know a number of friends have already been into very good print about the du Maurier 2006, for which I'm grateful, I guess it's my turn now.

After a tiring drive from North Lincolnshire to Cornwall, I was relieved as always, when leaving the A30 for St Austell, to see the Gribbin on the coastline away to my left. I know Menabilly/Manderley is near by, and the magic has begun again! The road swoops down a series of mini roundabouts, not so far from the old china spoil, until it reaches those last set of traffic lights. The sense of relief at having 'made it again' is very strong, and when I saw the Fowey turn off with a 'ROAD CLOSED' sign I simply didn't believe it affected me at all. Cars were proceeding so I followed, unfortunately traffic ahead of me turned off, and I eventually found myself sitting staring unbelievingly at a wire fence across the road! Apparently work on the railway bridge near Imery's (at Par) was the reason; not a propitious start to my much anticipated event. Strangely the railway was to figure prominently at the end of the festival too.

I eventually found my way around the obstacle course, and found Fowey and the Safe Harbour Hotel all I had expected. Char and Pip, the new landlords were very helpful and welcoming, and the menu was vastly improved, and too the beer was up to its usual first rate standard. I do wish that St Austell Breweries would sell their delicious 'Guest Beers' in Cornwall; I find them 'up country', but never in 'Safe'.

I was delighted to meet old friends whose company I miss, and it was particularly pleasing to meet Mildred, all the way from South Carolina with her daughter and niece, and Melanie, and Hao and Christopher Clayton. Personally, I wouldn't frequent licensed establishments were it not for the hope of meeting friends, or so I tell myself! Fortunately I know no one believes THAT particular fiction!

Another particular friend is Sue, who is one of the very kindly and welcoming stewards at the Festival Village. Over these last years the faces there have changed (sadly; I hope the retired stewards are well). I know Sue (and Roger) socially, and count myself so lucky to have friends in lovely Fowey! Sue is also part of Ann and David's team at Bookends of Fowey (and 'Bookends too'), so Sue must have a particularly busy time in May!

Not expecting to return this year to Cornwall in September, I have tried to ration my events to allow time for the lovely surroundings, consequently I managed a couple of largely free days for tripping about, for the Hall Walk and visiting a friend near Newquay. This in no way impaired my pleasure up in the Festival Village or at the Town Hall.

Even with judicious planning I found it impossible to take in all I'd hoped for. Most notably, on the two Saturday nights when both had wonderful musical events in St Fimbarrus Parish Church. There was to be a Russian Ensemble one week, and then a Handel concert, both which I had to miss. I really felt though that I ought to 'lighten up' a bit, so went to the Drifters on the first Saturday, and they were very good. It should be remembered that given the age of the Drifters franchise I did find myself wondering at the unreality of the whole evening. After 50 years it's hardly surprising that none of the performers were originals, and indeed at least two of the no doubt worthy replacements were shouting too much for my taste! I suspect that next year (God willing), I'll return to my true favoured music.

I greatly enjoyed Liz Smith's talk, in her conversation I thought her amusing, warm hearted, and completely without affectation. Her early difficult and lonely life with her grandmother, in my town, sounded not to have scarred her too much, but did evidently feed her need to make people laugh, an entirely laudable ambition I think; as a potentially (and often actually!) very grumpy old man, I approve of anyone attempting to lighten the load of others!

The Troy Players go from strength to strength! I was horrified in the first act at the way the cast were completely losing the plot. I thought someone was having a good old fashioned seizure, UNTIL I realized I was watching a play within a play. It was very well acted and staged, and was a first rate ensemble piece. I was delighted to see someone from't big house taking such a good part, and hope no one will mind too much my commenting upon the splendidly deliberate 'over acting' of my good friend John Vincent, his more ordered performance in other parts of the play only highlighted his command of his 'play acting'. I think I know what I'm talking about, but fear others won't, sorry.

'Du Maurier and the Macabre' was first rate, a really worthwhile discussion, spoiled rather by Mr Dudgeon's determination to plug his book, by inserting many words into his conversation designed to shock. I've spoken out before against maligning those unable to defend themselves, and found his approach quite reprehensible. There are ways and ways of presenting the 'truth', as perceived. Fortunately there were those present ideally situated to confront his rather crass approach. After all, he was dealing with a subject which demanded considerably greater sensitivity than he seemed willing to display.

I thought Tom Petherick's talk about the vegetable gardens at Heligan was first rate, his family connection to Cornwall and Heligan left him, I thought, particularly well placed to give his talk with grace, knowledge and self deprecating humour.

The 'Pages of Cornwall' talk given by Tim Hubbard and Jane Sleep was delightful, poetry and prose all geared to Cornwall and its people and history. The reading I most enjoyed, by Tim, was a prose quotation from Wilkie Collins (author of Women in White etc) describing how, in borrowed mining clothes (much too large) he ventured down a tin mine with a friend, and how, being physically small, he had to be lifted like a rag doll over difficult parts of the climb, by a typically burly miner! How are the mighty (not!) fallen?

Stuart Millson's talk entitled 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn', in the Town Hall was a fascinating and very knowledgeable talk about Kenneth Graham, creator of the Wind in the Willows, and was sponsored by Ann and David at Bookends of Fowey. Mr Millson does bring new insights to his topics.

Back up in the Festival Village, Michael Burrows talk 'Actor's Actors', about Spencer Tracy and Fredric March was a delight, especially for a cinema addict like me , and was followed by a showing of the 1960 film, 'Inherit the Wind', a 'black and white' courtroom drama built around Darwin's Origin of Species versus fundamentalist bible belt US creationism. It sounds dry, but the acting of Tracy and March and an ensemble cast plus a script as full of humour as bile, made the film a delight. Sadly Mr Burrows thinks this will have to be his last presentation, due to advancing years. Personally, (and selfishly I admit) I hope he will reconsider!

Anthony Mott gave a most interesting talk about 'Virginia Woolf and Cornwall', telling of the 'charmed' holidays she spent with her family at Talland House, St Ives, around the end of the nineteenth century. Helen Weir acted as the 'voice' of the great writer, and the event proved fascinating AND evocative (given the difficulties of Woolf's later life!).

Tywardreath Player's production of My Cousin Rachel, at Boconnoc a year ago, is not a happy memory, but this year with House on the Strand, at Marsh Villa, at Par, just by the railway line, the company were back on form and the play was a delight. The site, the production, the organization were all superb. The way the two time spaces was realized was fascinating, and the tension was held most convincingly, even when a number of Paddington / Penzance expresses thundered by! As was said at the beginning, the railway seems to have provided bookends for the festival this year, in a way which probably could not have been planned! I thought it was a splendid, rousing conclusion to what had been, in spite of mixed weather, a vintage festival, a time of pure delight which will 'keep me going' for another year.

Next year of course is the centenary of Daphne's birth, and the Festival is to reflect that, we are told. I am anticipating it already, but am grimly aware of what has to be endured before the next happy day when I arrive in my much loved Fowey. Keep 'hangin' in there everyone, hopefully the good days will come again.

Best Wishes everybody. Sam

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