The Daphne du Maurier Festival 2012
[Submitted by Sam Rimington : 12 June 2012]
Twelve months ago my travel plans were spoiled when my first train failed to arrive; I thought bitterly of giving up the whole idea and going back home. Fortunately I didn't! This year my journey plans worked like 'clockwork'. My journey down to Cornwall was uneventful, comfortable and relatively easy.
After staying at Safe Harbour Inn for the previous dozen years, I've taken a figurative leap and moved to The Galleon for my Festival base. (Actual leaping is long past!) It's by the side of the river, and I had a ridiculously large 'family' room all to myself, looking out onto the sun deck (?) and the river. I was very comfortable and do recommend the Galleon for its situation, comfort, and food! It seems a cruel irony that the warm sunshine I enjoyed when I first returned home was largely missing while I was in my lovely Cornwall. So many things can be planned, but not, sadly, the weather, as the Diamond Jubilee river pageant has again proved. We did enjoy good weather but it was at a premium.
My first day in Cornwall was taken up with trip to Port Eliot near Saltash and Plymouth. A dear friend who is lucky enough to live and work in Cornwall joined me and drove us there, it was our only opportunity to meet while I was in the area, and we had a
delightful day, in spite of atrocious weather. The house, however, was a revelation, rather worn but still bearing that aura of quality and timelessness that only antiquity can bring. Port Eliot has antiquity in full measure, there are the remains of a tiled floor 1500 years old; St Germanus is believed to have been involved in the foundation of the Priory of St Germans, and evidence suggests that the religious foundation was indeed in place a thousand years BEFORE it's dissolution by Henry the Eighth in the sixteenth century. Since then it has been, and remains a family home to this day. Against that context, the sensationally wonderful modern wall paintings in the round room by Robert Lenckiewicz, might seem like 'small beer'. But I digress.
I suppose it's a measure of the quality of the du Maurier Festival that my original list of bookable events was double my final selection, but even without the 'other half', I still had a splendid time. Stand out events abounded, making 'favourites' difficult to choose. Still, I'll try!.
On the Thursday evening, as a 'prequel' to the festival commencement, I was lucky enough to see the premier of a new film, The Scapegoat based upon Daphne's book of that name. It is an investigation of what may come of mistaken identity, finding our doppelgänger, and how unpredictable the future can be. The double lead was played by Matthew Rhys, an actor with whom I was unfamiliar. The supporting cast included Dame Eileen Atkins and Phoebe Nichols. The realization of the story in this new film seemed first rate; Matthew Rhys was very good indeed as the protagonists. The subsequent discussion and question time proved very interesting, as the panel on stage included the director, Charles Sturridge (Brideshead Revisited), Phoebe Nichols, and Kits Browning (Daphne's son). The discussion was chaired by Tim Hubbard. We understand that the film will be aired on British TV in the autumn.
Love's Eternal Summer. Richard Moore of the Royal Shakespeare Company performed Sonnets and talked about the bard, his inspiration and his times and accompanied by music of the time, played by Carole Bannister on dulcimer. This concert was particularly enjoyable, entertaining, and somehow deeply satisfying. Lovely words, lovely music, and in the deeply appropriate setting of St Fimbarrus Church.
Patrick Gale: A Perfectly Good Man. I enjoyed again Mr Gale's appearance at the Festival. He lives in Cornwall and seems to love the county as so many others do, including myself.
Avril Horner: Beyond the Pale. I deliberately missed this event, when I realized it to be a 'workshop'. I had not prepared for active involvement, and had no books with me on which to expound.
Ben Macintyre: "Double Cross - The True Story of the D-Day Spies" was I guess my highlight of the festival this year. Ben Macintyre had me crying with laughter as he spoke of the plans and problems faced by MI5 as attempts were made to hoodwink the Nazis about the true D Day landing site. Carrier pigeons and a pet dog figured quite heavily in this story, and I thought it impossible to invent the hare-brained schemes and dubious heroes and heroines who Ben told us about. Additionally he is a marvellous speaker, light, witty, droll, arch, and with perfect comic timing. I compare his presentation with so called stand up comics nowadays, and there really IS no contest. Full marks.
Ian Mortimer: The Time Travellers Guide to Elizabethan England was very entertaining if one did not look too closely at all of his material. This talk was less about the glory days of Elizabethan England, more about its plumbing, and other not much less unsavoury aspects of life at that time. Ian Mortimer seemed a really good speaker who invested his unlikely subject with much interest and wryly amusing detail. I enjoyed it.
The Doll and New Light on the Happy Valley. I greatly enjoyed too Dr Laura Varnam's presentation, in the Town Hall, on Daphne's literary development, although I, predictably maybe, am reluctant to attempt to dissect the writer's work too closely. There are dark corners in all lives which maybe ought not to be lightened too much. This talk really illustrated the difference between good public speaking, and it's opposite. Some have the facility to think and imagine and write fluently; clearly and interestingly but completely lack the natural facility to express their thoughts equally fluently. It may be that Dr Laura's day job as a lecturer helps her to speak so fluently and so confidently.
Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan were in conversation with Tim Hubbard, talking about their life and work in the media. I admire especially the Richard and Judy Book Club, and the influence they bring to bear on new literature. They and their team, do seem to know a 'good read' when they see one. Additionally they have an engaging manner which really draws the listener in. They too have a home in Cornwall and admit to loving it very much, another reason for me to appreciate them and their work.
Fowey Hall Hotel
Paul Young: Rambles Beyond Railways, Wilkie Collins' Adventures in Gothic Cornwall. I remember this talk chiefly for its location, in the Victorian splendour (if so it was) of Fowey Hall Hotel, which I had never penetrated before. The speaker was not as fluent as some, so I found the actual talk less interesting than I ought. Having said that, the idea of Cornwall, wild and free, beyond the reach of 'civilization', appeals a great deal.
Jess Wilder's talk on Beryl Cook. I only became aware of Beryl Cook's work in recent times; my sister, preparing to move house, tried to settle a book on me, about the artist whom she appreciates for her humour and skill. Jess Wilder has the gallery in Plymouth which handled Beryl Cook's work, and she obviously has many affectionate memories of Beryl. Cook lived an unusual life, not given to pretension, and happier in Plymouth pubs of louche reputation rather than more elevated establishments. She sounds to have been great fun, and I would have loved to have met her! Two of the slides Jess showed, Three Cats eyeing a Lobster on a Plate, and a Bowling Lady's underhand methods, had me laughing very much.
Johanna Harris: Inside Lanhydrock This talk I hoped would deepen my knowledge of the house and its history, which I suppose it did to a degree. Unfortunately, the chief thrust of Johanna Harris's talk seemed to be promoting an important former resident, Lucy Robartes, to an excessive degree, a lady who I described in my notes after the event as a 'po-faced religious n*t'. Not at all kind of me I accept, but so she was portrayed, I thought at least! Many apologies.
Simon Butler: War Horses Care and Compassion in the First World War. Horrible images of the carnage that was the 'Great War' are nothing new, but when directed to the plight of innocent animals caught up in it, makes it seem doubly horrifying. But then, pictures emerging from the horror that is Syria today show that even little innocent children are not spared human bestiality, and sadly, that nothing changes. Simon Butler's talk was curiously unemotional I thought, more of a book keeping exercise that a heartfelt lesson.
John Williams and John Etheridge: Together and Solo was a splendid concert, where little classical guitar was played, rather music from Mali, and Madagascar, and which was hugely rhythmic, evocative of sunnier climes, and downright FUN. I loved this sell out concert (deservedly so).
Helen Doe: 'Q' and his Maritime Inspirations. I have attended talks before given by Helen Doe, a very gracious lady who still lives in Polruan I think, where her family have maritime associations. Arthur Quiller-Couch was brought vividly to life as a patriot, an artist in words, and a lover of Fowey (his "Troytown"). He was a friend of Daphne's, and one would have loved to eavesdrop on their conversations.
Sarah Deere-Jones Harp with Phil Williams Guitar. I appreciated Phil Williams' guitar playing very much, but the harp did not move me. Within the acoustics of St Fimbarrus it seemed thin and uninspiring, for me at least. I probably was simply, 'not in the mood'.
Lucinda Dickens Hawksley. When Lucinda talked to us previously about her relative, Charles Dickens, the weather was bad, and she was wearing brightly coloured 'wellies' with an exceedingly short skirt, quite eye catching really. This time she was more decorously attired, but the enthusiasm she brought to her talk about her illustrious forebear was just the same. She spoke at great speed, as if she might not 'get through' all her material. I don't know whether she did or not, but I came away with my head spinning with all the new information I had garnered about Charles Dickens, not least his impassioned espousal of concerns regarding living and working conditions.
Walter Langley & The Birmingham Boys. Alison Bevan talked to us about the group of Birmingham artists who gravitated to Cornwall more than a century ago, including Walter Langley, Edwin Harris and William Wainright. I enjoyed the talk greatly, and learned much about the artists and their times. Alison Bevan obviously loves her work, as Director of Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance. I remember her previous talk, about Stanhope Forbes and his wife Elizabeth, given, as now, at breakneck speed, as though an hour was not enough time for all there was to say on the subject.
Costumes of the Gilded Age. The du Maurier Festival has sprung surprises upon me over the years; this talk is a case in point. One goes along with no expectations and little fore knowledge, only to find an absolute gem! The lady from 'The History Wardrobe' came onto the stage in Edwardian finery to talk to us about the complexities of dress in that period a hundred years ago, when the great ship Titanic sailed into history. She told us about the different classes of people who were to travel to the US on Titanic's maiden voyage, but with particular emphasis upon their clothing, First Class, Middle Class, and Third Class. Being an actress and raconteur she slowly divested herself of her clothing, down to her corsets! She reminded us that a midnight knock on the cabin door and an urgent exhortation to go quickly to the boat deck, was not so easily accomplished. She showed us, using her genuine original, and reproduction wardrobe, that laces required a second pair of hands, and even then time was needed for a successful outcome. In spite of the terrible conclusion to the story, this was an amusing, informative, enjoyable hour, so much so that I missed my final talk up in the Festival Marquee.
Steps Down into Fowey
I enjoyed the previous talk so much that I did not remember that I only had fifteen minutes to trek, or catch the frequent 'town bus' (which tended to be full at times), from the Town Hall down by the Town Quay, to the Festival Village at the top of the hill by Fowey Hall Hotel. Consequently I missed seeing the talk on The Art of the Newlyn School, again by the remarkable Alison Bevan, which I greatly regret, but I also missed my opportunity to say goodbye to friends there and who I will probably not see again for a twelve months'. Sorry, Pat, Rosie and Rob,.
There has been much debate and great concern regarding the fate of our Festival, for so we regard it, whether it can survive the existing and on-going harsh economic conditions. Remembering how Cornwall Council are reducing their grant aid to the festival year on year, to eventually drop out altogether, and coupled with a horrendous retrospective demand for VAT payments, it seems likely that the organisers might have faced a potentially impossible position.
It does seem however that the future is brighter, now that, we hear, cool eyes have studied the balance sheet; figures for the 2012 Festival have proved better than anticipated. As a result we are assured that the 2013 Festival will go ahead. Those of us who love Daphne and the festival now have hope that we will be able to meet again next year. Suggestions that the timing be moved to half term, allowing school buildings to be used rather than an expensive marquee, seem to have come to nothing, thank goodness. The subjects of ticket pricing, marquee size, tribute bands, the very name of the festival, remain on the table as it were. Burying our heads in the sand is not an option, so I hope all possibilities will be explored so that this unique, splendid, fun, thoughtful, happy gathering may continue..
I could talk much about the enjoyment and satisfaction I have found again in Fowey, in the lovely town, in the friendships renewed, the debates engaged, weather endured, meals savoured, beer imbibed. I could list the other events I would have loved to attend, and the events I attended and cannot remember anything about, but I fear these notes are already far too long so, let be!.
I mustn't forget, finally, to thank the management committee for all their efforts, and the army of dedicated volunteers who steward and generally look after us, proud to be 'anoraks', and especially to Jonathan Aberdeen our wonderful Master of the Revels.
God willing, see you all next May!
I am hoping that my festival report is also going to be posted on the du Maurier Festival Society website www.dumaurierfestival.co.uk
and I recommend that you have a look at that site from time to time, to keep up with the news throughout the year, in the lead up to next May's festival.
September Tide a play by Daphne Du Maurier
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The House on the Strand (CD-Audio) by Daphne Du Maurier, Michael Maloney
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