Fowey Festival 2016 - a review by Sam Rimington
It seems strange to be writing another festival report here on the 'new' website, but given how much our festival has changed, I guess we must look forward rather than to what has gone before! Although much has changed, much remains the same, not least friendships forged over many years, and a shared desire to honour the memory of Daphne du Maurier. Add to that the attractions of Fowey, which captured her imagination, and which continues to capture our imagination to this day, then we have a winning recipe!
For reasons which no longer seem valid, I had elected to go to Fowey Saturday to Saturday, an unwise choice in the event because I missed some events which interested me very much, on the first Friday and Saturday, and the last Saturday; a large block placed out of my reckoning, and whose missing I now regret!
Others have voiced their disappointment at the changes forced upon the committee, and it's true that few people are eager for enforced change, but there was very much to enjoy, and indeed also, positive advantages, not least NOT having to hurtle up and down the hill to different venues. As a result, unfortunately this year, I missed the best view I know thereabouts, from the approach to the old festival village along the front of Fowey Hall Hotel, rhododendron lined, and sky framed; I never forget that place. I remember my dear friend Barbara giggling there as we set up our mini photo shoot! Health issues have prevented 'Lady B' from attending for a few years now, something which I know she regrets, but we remain in touch, another positive from the festival. How I miss her wicked laughter, both AT me, and WITH me!
I did spend time also visiting with friends; my first morning there, Sunday, I spent a lovely time with a dear friend at The Lost Gardens of Heligan (vastly preferred to Eden, for all its splendours!). Much work has been undertaken at Heligan over the winter months, and new paths link areas previously separated, a vast improvement; and all the livestock make a good counterpoint to the horticulture, particularly the Tamworth pigs. We had a Sunday Roast (pork actually!?) at the Crown Inn in St Ewe nearby! Delicious.
Sunday late afternoon was my first event, and I was delighted not to miss it due to other matters, Jonathan Mayo's talk 'Rewriting History: Minute by Minute' was surprisingly moving. His fascinating concept was to explore famous news stories from the position of those SURROUNDING or AFFECTED by the main event. So the Titanic sinking, the death of JFK , Hitler's Last Day, and other subjects detailed 'minute by minute', through the eyes of other people and the stories they later shared! Just one instance - Caroline Kennedy rode to her father's funeral in a huge limo, with the glass partition down so that she could reach through to hold the hand of their security officer, the whole way to the state funeral , a little thing, personal, and I found it deeply affecting!
Later that evening, I was in St Fimbarrus Church for the talk by Sir Vince Cable, 'After the Storm', talking about his time in the coalition government, and how financial matters were approached then, and how and why events unfolded. It could have been heavy, but the speaker has a lightness of touch which I found agreeable.
A space to write, Patrick Gale, Jane Darke, Jon Cleave, and Bert Biscoe was interesting, informative and humorous (especially Bert). Proceeds from this event were in part donated to the Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch Memorial Fund. This name may not be familiar to all, but Sir Arthur, an ardent patriot in days gone by, and one who resided in Fowey, could be regarded as Daphne's early mentor, adviser, friend, as indeed his daughter Foy WAS Daphne's friend!
It may be an opportune moment here to break off to insert a little speculation, The literary conundrum which Daphne appeared to be, contrasting with the loving family woman that we discover, continues to enthral her devotees. It is intriguing to wonder if, like other artists, like JK Rowling who now writes terrific mysteries as Robert Galbraith, or in other mediums, Beethoven, 'Wolfie' Mozart, Picasso, the work HAS to come out of them. Maybe that's why Daphne had to have her writing time, possibly at the expense of at least some of her family commitments. And if we accept that idea, however uncertainly and diffidently, then who or what PUT IT THERE in the first place? Or am I just being hopelessly fanciful?
Jonathan Delbridge in the evening (Monday), in church was splendid. His playing on organ and piano was masterly, and his choice of music, ranging across the musical divide was extremely enjoyable
Avril Horner and Anne Rowe in conversation with Helen Taylor. Both ladies were very interesting, having written about Iris Murdoch, a writer whose work never excited my interest if I am strictly honest. I tried 'The Bell' at the time but found it not to my liking! Heresy do I hear! My thought really is regarding their 'interrogator', Helen, whose commitment to the festival over the years is wonderful. I'm led to believe that Dr. Taylor has been involved with the festival from its inception more than twenty years ago… Indeed I gather (if I'm reliably informed!), that she, Lynn Goold and others, were the 'founding fathers' of the 'Daphne du Maurier Festival of Art and Literature” (as it was previously envisaged!).
David Hewson in Conversation with Daphne Skinnard. To my shame I guess I catnapped during this event, so fear I must own up to having no memory of the talk at all! My sincere apologies to David Hewson and Daphne Skinnard. Perhaps they will take comfort from the knowledge that this pensioner was comfortable, and not troublesome, and certainly meant no disrespect!
St Austell Town Band & Fowey River Singers. This event was in the Parish Church, fortunately, since none of the other venues could have contained it, either practically or aurally (if there is such a word!). And it was truly wonderful! The programme was well chosen and varied and a delight! If I had a comment it might have been that the choir's programme lacked a little variety and volume! I must apologize to all concerned in retrospect, for it may be that singers were conserving their vocal chords for the last piece, “I was Glad”, by Parry. A fixture at major royal events, I wondered how the choir would avoid being swamped by the magnificent St Austell Brass. I need not have worried, the choir coped brilliantly. The whole concert was delightful, and the standing ovation was well deserved!
'My Daphne du Maurier' workshop led by the redoubtable Helen Taylor. We were grouped in small units (six or so), and had to discuss favourite quotes, and expand our thoughts to encompass favourite books by Daphne. I had prepared nothing in advance, but in my flat were three of four of the books, and I was able to quote from 'My Cousin, Rachel', a long standing favourite “They used to hang men at the four turnings in the old days”, the opening line (and ending too), always makes me shiver with foreboding. I do remember vividly too Richard Burton's voice over from the black and white film referring to "Rachel my torment", that too sends a shiver down the spine! The workshop was a surprisingly liberating experience, and produced many interesting comments when we merged later.
“Du Maurier Story Time”. Dr Laura Varnam read to us, various short stories by Daphne, and while Laura's choice of story was unfamiliar to me, and full of Daphne's contrary, off centre attitudes and thoughts, the sheer delight of being READ TO, was wonderful! I must start listening to the radio again, not just music, but all the other things on offer!
Beyond the High Blue Air, a talk by Lu Spinney, was a very heartfelt, and instructive, indeed 'thought-provoking' talk. I thought Lu very brave and surprisingly upbeat about a subject so irredeemably bleak! Watching for years a much loved son in a vegetative state after a snowboarding accident, until his final escape years later into the cosmos, defies the imagination. Indeed the 'right to die' debate was highlighted by this particular story.
In and around St Fimbarrus Church, a history talk and tour, with Al Trenary. I really enjoyed Al's talk, about the church, and it's links with the town, and all the strands that make up a community over long periods of time.
St Austell Brewery by Roger Ryman, Master Brewer. It isn't really surprising that this talk was noticeable in that there were more MEN in the audience than women, for a change! Although the speaker's talk was interesting and illuminating, it might be thought that teaching the audience how beer is made, in all it's wonderful diversity, could be considered the same as 'teaching your grandma how to suck eggs'! Fortunately Mr Ryman was humorous and interesting regarding his personal journey to his very prestigious position within the industry as a Master Brewer. It was amusing too in that his words occasionally were almost drowned out (to coin a phrase!), by the conversations in the hall as bottles of different 'brews' were shared and tasted. Good beer is as diverse and interesting as is wine, and as pleasurable. I've heard of no accidents leaving the hall, thinking of those ancient stone steps, so guess that quantities actually consumed were maybe not enough to upset the Rechabites!
Dr Laura Varnam introducing Beowulf. For me personally, although I've delighted in the whole festival, and enjoyed one way or another all the events I've attended, I might rate this as maybe my favourite! I mean no disrespect to the other contributors, but as a devotee of JRR Tolkien and his epic Lord of the Rings, I was amazed , more than amazed, by the debt Tolkien owed to Beowulf! So many of the characters, so many story lines seem to be pulled directly from Beowulf, the Dark Ages epic! Indeed it could be argued that Tolkien plagiarized Beowulf as surely as Daphne was accused (though acquitted) of stealing another's work for Rebecca!
Each year my Festival friends and I, try to arrange time together. Not easy given the unmissable events, but Rose and Rob spirited me away to Caerhays Castle and Portloe nearby! The gardens at Caerhays were stunningly beautiful under blue skies and hot sunshine; and Portloe was a delightfully restful beautiful village by the sea. So restful indeed that my younger friends allowed me to nap for a while high above the 'surging main'. We were not too late back to Fowey, and met again later to dine at a Chinese restaurant, where I was instructed in the correct etiquette. I couldn't match my friends’ expertise with chopsticks however, I guess I might have been a danger to life and limb if I had attempted them!
Sadly all good things come to an end, and on Saturday I had to leave Fowey and take the long road home, longer than usual, as previously planned railway work en route made it easier for me to return home in two staged, Par to Paddington, and Kings Cross to North Lincolnshire; an interesting journey, but very enjoyable. My only caveat would be that Festival 2016 was over for another year. Why oh why does time fly when we are happy, but drags on leaden feet when we are less so! I gather that there should BE a next time, given the resounding success of Festival 2016. I hear that ticket sales were very good, which augers well for 2017. I do hope it will happen.
Best Wishes to all my friends in Fowey, and at the Festival, and a huge thank you to all responsible for its successful translation to its new format.