Fowey Festival 2017 - a review by Sam Rimington
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
I save all the pieces of paper I receive while in Cornwall, tickets, receipts, flyers, programmes whatever. I do it not only for sentimental reasons (though surely that’s reason enough!), but to act as aides’ memoire when I sit down to put my thoughts together. That is, thoughts on the events of the memorable couple of weeks when I return to, for me that most special of places. I say ‘memorable’ but that surely is a contradiction, for my memory is selective at best, and hopeless at worst! Those two weeks, the happiest, and most satisfying weeks of my year, pass so quickly, in such a whirl of light and shade, colour and sensation, that my old head ought not to be expected to contain it all without help!
So here we go, I will leave more extensive (dubious) philosophising until later after an initial run through the events I attended. I guess the ones I missed were equally absorbing for other fellow attendees!
(c) Bob Cooke 2017
6/5 Saturday. Al Marconi Spanish guitar: Much as I have loved ‘classical music’ (hate the term, it sounds so elitist!), and savour most instruments, the guitar has always seemed somehow, not to be part of that world. Although it is true I think, that played well, a guitar seems to have a greater emotional depth than any other instrument, even the French horn, or the oboe, my favourite instrument.
7/5 Sunday. Helen Doe: I, too, would find my Ship: Daphne du Maurier’s passion for the sea.
It is always a pleasure listening to Helen Doe speaking. As a marine historian, she brings a real understanding of the sea, and Daphne’s love of the sea. Also, Helen, as a direct descendant of Jane Slade, speaks with real authority about the sea, sailing ships, and Daphne’s link to the Slade family, and the shipyard which is down river from Ferryside.
7/5 Sunday. A Musical Evening with Jonathan Delbridge: Another splendid concert to enjoy in St Fimbarrus Church. Fowey is blessed in having one of the finest church organs in the country, apparently, and Mr Delbridge exhibits it’s potential splendidly. As a counterpoint, his playing on the grand piano is equally exciting. I maybe found the programme this year less interesting, finding only a piece by Guilmant, unfamiliar to the writer, and the Bach Toccata, all too familiar, able to do justice to the organ’s capabilities. Fancifully no doubt, it seems to me, when played forcefully and ‘fancifully’, the sound of a large organ must surely reach the ear of the Creator, and remind Him, or Her that human kind is not as suicidally mad as our media might suggest! Wishful thinking of course!
8/5 Monday. Introducing the Canterbury Tales: On Pilgrimage with Geoffrey Chaucer.
A fascinating talk, by a delightful speaker, Dr Laura Varnam, a devotee of Daphne, as most of us are, but with another life when not in Cornwall. Last year her talk on Beowulf amazed the writer with her exposé of how much Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) owed to Beowulf. In this talk she brought the fourteenth century to life, making it obvious that human nature changes little over the centuries.
I was rather embarrassed later to realize with what over enthusiasm I had regaled Dr Laura, after her talk, with additional information regarding Geoffrey Chaucer’s personal life. Happening to know, and having hugged said knowledge for sixty years, I was too eager to pass the information on, and became rather forceful in expressing myself. And while Laura very graciously accepted my heartfelt apology, to my great relief, a serious thought intrudes! Becoming too obsessed with our enthusiasm for a particular subject can result in a lack of courtesy, or consideration, which is NOT commendable! There is a guy in my local who can ‘bore for Britain’ expounding on his local football team, and he is not popular in all quarters and should not be emulated! However, it is true that ‘Katherine’, by Anya Seton was recommended to me as a teenager, by my history teacher, Miss Bradshaw, and that book, still treasured, brought medieval England and Europe alive for me. Geoffrey Chaucer was indeed, brother-in-law to Katherine, who was a direct ancestress of the royal house of England, by virtue of her not always ‘virtuous’ involvement with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, “Old Lancaster”. A terrific read, heartily recommended; but I digress.
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
8/5 Monday. Du Maurier Storytime with Dr Laura. Sitting around the stage, being read to by Dr Laura, in rocking chair, was a really relaxing pleasure, just surrendering to our imagination for a quiet hour, as images from Daphne’s stories were evoked. A guilty pleasure, like too much deliciously dark and bitter chocolate! Yummy.
8/5 Monday. Recreating Daphne’s Inspirational Ship: The Jane Slade Project. Much as I enjoyed the festival as a whole, taking pleasure in practically all of the events I attended, I must confess that this item stirred considerable excitement when I saw it advertised. Apparently, others thought so too, for the Town Hall was packed, possibly with standing room only. The thought of recreating the schooner “Jane Slade”, so important in Daphne’s life, really hits one very hard. Built, quite properly, to modern standards of safety and construction, the mere thought of her coming into Fowey Harbour under sail, from the open sea, perhaps on Daphne’s birthday, as an integral part of the festival, I find inexpressively moving; and what I wonder would Daphne have thought of it!? One realises that many matters have to be resolved, and hoops passed through, but I am watching the website created janesladeproject.org with great interest. I gather that crowdfunding cannot begin before charity status is arranged; only then can tangible support be put in train. I really appreciate too how involving and beneficial the project might be for the Fowey and Polruan localities, hopefully bringing the original community together with incomers, so that we visitors, (lemmings, emmetts), who all wish to be involved, are allowed to do so. Visitors in town for the annual festival, and the Regatta later in the summer, would surely too be delighted to see such a beautiful schooner in the harbour!
9/5 Tuesday. St Austell Brass Band & Fowey River Singers. Last year I made a point of sitting well to the back of St Fimbarrus Church for the Brass and Choral Concert, but decided to sit nearer this time, simply in the hope of a better viewpoint. As I walked forward I noticed a couple of friends, Pat and Collin sitting in the second row, and joined them. Although I am a ‘Friend of the Fowey Festival’, and therefore entitled to sit in any of the three front rows at events, I have usually preferred to sit further back. Only when the concert started did I realize how perfect a position I was in to see, and more significantly hear the performers. I’ve always preferred brass bands out of doors, and so this occasion was initially demanding. After the first few minutes my ears ‘re tuned’, and I was fully able to enjoy the performances. Watching the instrumentalist play was a very good experience. It should be noted too that the Fowey River Singers were really on form, with a varied and very enjoyable programme. I must confess that the item in the programme which really brought a lump to the throat, was an impassioned rendition, by band, choir, audience, and children from a local junior school, of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, from Carousel (and a myriad of football terraces!) Some of the children were grinning delightedly watching the ‘grown ups’ all around them singing at full, very full volume. Obviously popular, the item was reprised at the end as an encore. The atmosphere really was electrifying.
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
10/5 Wednesday. Du Maurier Film Evening - Rebecca. Although, like most people there I guess, I could almost recite the dialogue in this film, it really was a delight to join an almost capacity audience to watch Hitchcock’s masterpiece and hear Olivier and Fontaine and Anderson ‘again’ at Manderley. I guess, like enthusiasts everywhere, sharing one’s enthusiasm with others is a satisfying experience. So, watching Rebecca again on a big screen was very pleasing indeed.
10/5 Wednesday. Reading Group Dr Laura – The Flight of the Falcon, Fowey Hotel. I rather enjoy invading the lovely old Fowey Hotel, it has a sense of history and permanence which is pleasing in our oh so transient world! Dr Laura Varnam leads us through the intricacies of this pseudo renaissance story set in secretive Urbino/Ruffano, one of my favourite of Daphne’s stories, a story of a power-hungry guy and his family; a story I found typically dark and atmospheric, even though the conversation was anything but dark, it was light, airy, amusing; and it was good to be a part of it.
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
11/5 Thursday. Lyn Goold & Dr Helen Taylor: Twenty Years of the du Maurier Festival. This talk was an opportunity for a wonderful ‘all our yesterday’ moment. Many memories were evoked for those who have attended for most or all of the festival’s life. An overriding thought for the writer was my delight when I first found the festival; I have attended from the third year, made so many good friends, had the satisfaction of seeing Daphne’s memory honoured as it should be, and having had an excuse (not that I needed one really), to visit lovely Cornwall and especially Fowey, every year.
11/5 Thursday. Roger Ryman Master Brewer-St Austell Brewery. Roger admitted that his talk included little new material from last years, but was pleased to discover that the vast majority of a very good audience were ‘newbies’ anyway. Repeat attendees enjoyed the ‘peripherals’ (read ‘small batch beer samples’), anyway!
11/5 Thursday. Sir Karl and Lady Jenkins. Maybe because of where I was sitting in the church, I heard little of the talk, or questions afterwards; a pity for the event was very well attended, as indeed I gather were the vast majority of events. The fact that Festival dates are already in place for 2018 is hopefully, indicative of a healthy balance sheet.
12/5 Friday. Tatiana de Rosnay: Manderley Forever. A fascinating talk, by a truly charismatic lady, whose charming French accent enhanced what was already a delightful event. I was unable to start putting my thoughts together, and starting my Festival report, until I had ‘read the book’ I have to say that I really thought this interpretation of Daphne’s life, the best I have seen, almost as though Madame de Rosnay had inhabited Daphne’s personality. Other writers have simply pegged the recorded information about her, with little empathy (I think!), where here, one feels that the biographer has understood, partly at least through their shared English and French heritage, Daphne’s complex personality.
Why three siblings should ALL exhibit such complex personalities seems interesting, and one may speculate on the old potato regarding ‘nature versus nurture’. did their father’s wish for a son colour all three girls personality, or was there a genetic factor, better understood now than it could possibly have been a hundred years ago?
This attendee, who never buys books, having easy access via itinerant public library employment, was motivated to rush immediately after the event, to Ann and David’s ‘Bookends of Fowey’ to BUY a copy, (appreciating too my ’Friend of Festival’ discount). Neither do I queue to have a speaker sign my copy. I did do on this occasion; actually, later in the day after the author shared a panel group in St Fimbarrus church. See below!
12/5 Friday. UK Film Premier and Panel discussion: Daphne du Maurier: In the footsteps of Rebecca. This panel discussion complimented the new filmed biography of Daphne, in French with English subtitles, directed by Elisabeth Aubert Schlumberger. A film which I quite enjoyed, particularly so for the inclusion of film clips of Daphne, and an interview with Daphne’s daughter (and, with respect, doppelgänger) Lady Tessa Montgomery. Academics and other enthusiasts were also interviewed, most who the writer likes to think of as friends, fellow admirers of Daphne. “We band of brothers and sisters”.
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
12/5 Friday. Gypfunk: A Musical Soirée. Madam de Rosnay might have enjoyed this event, a group from Devon (‘up country’!), who performed wholly in French. I understood little of the lyrics, but greatly enjoyed the music, especially the accordion.
As an ‘aside’, my thought was that this was another repeat from before, and highlights a weakness in the programming. However, when I discussed it with someone ‘in the know’, I was told that the situation also highlights a problem faced by the organisers when planning the festival and booking ‘acts’. Apparently named performers will through their agencies, agree to speak, or perform at a festival, bringing cache to said festival. Unfortunately said agreement is not binding apparently, because previous contracted work elsewhere takes precedence. If a ‘name’ on the Fowey list is contacted later to ‘film’ for the BBC for example, or a film company as part of an ongoing programme, then they are obliged to honour that commitment, and summarily ditch the Festival gig! Given the sterling work that our festival planner Brenda, puts into the festival, it must seem frustrating, and leave a gap in the programme to fill at a late date! One wonders if all festivals, (Hay-on-Wye, London, for example) face the same problem; and one must wonder about the moral implications of agreeing to work when previously contracted elsewhere!
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
13/5 Saturday. The Story Republicans - Celebrating Charles Causley’s Centenary. While I thought these ‘troubadours’ very inventive, accomplished and likeable, I did not warm to the material, possibly influenced by my awareness that this was my last event, and that my festival was over once again.
In addition to all the indoor events listed, I did enjoy a morning walking around Fowey in hot brilliant sunshine visiting, with my friend Linda, gardens open as part of the programme. Stunning views, beautiful gardens, lovely spring flowers; one wonders what might seem more perfect. My high-flown thought somewhat marred by the independent activity of a freethinking seagull, depositing an unwelcome package upon my pristine person! Sometimes called ‘lucky’, I saw little luck in having to beat a hasty retreat back up the hill to Dagland’s Road to change!
I do miss my car now that I no longer undertake journeys further than the supermarket, or family who live close by. I first drove to Cornwall (approaching 400 miles from North Lincolnshire!) before the construction of a motorway, and driving alone, in vehicles of more character than reliability was an exciting challenge, I remember overnighting in places away from my planned route. To this day I remain convinced that road signs in Coventry were wrong! Why else would I become lost in the same place three years running! And sitting on the promenade in Weston Super Mare, legs swinging as the sun rose after an overnight journey, and waiting for a garage to open! I was never seriously bothered by getting lost, it was all part of the adventure. That of course was when Newquay was my destination, when the ‘swinging sixties’ swung for others, but not for me.
Eventually Newquay’s attractions waned and my devotion to Daphne, even then, moved my allegiance to Fowey, her spiritual, and practical, home. For an inarticulate romantic, Fowey did, and does, exert a powerful spell; even though now arguably more articulate, (should that be garrulous!) Fowey still exerts its magic. Magic enhanced this year, by the opportunity to stay for another week after the festival, with kind friends in their rented accommodation. One was opposite ‘Ferryside’, across the river, where I tried (almost successfully) not to gape at Daphne’s former home! The other apartment was halfway ‘up the hill’ on Dagland’s Road, and afforded magnificent views across the harbour to Polruan, and Pont, and had uniquely, a direct line of sight to St Willow Church at Lanteglos by Fowey, where Daphne married Tommy, early one morning, to catch the tide. Her dad, Gerald, was not a happy bunny apparently, being the archetypal theatrical ‘luvvie’, needing coddling, and preferring late rising after late nights in the theatre.
Nowadays I travel by train; I had booked well in advance to obtain the best deal possible, with an ‘open return’ ticket allowing me to remain until I outstayed my welcome, which I fear I may have done. Also, negotiations provided me with comfortable seats, and I must commend Customer Service for their patience. Once again, I despatched the heavier of my luggage in advance, by carrier, (MyHermes), a method which I find very convenient.
The apartment which I book for festival week, ‘Spinnaker’, from my friends Sue and Roger, is central and very convenient for the festival events, for eating places and shops, not to mention ample pubs too so I had a very comfortable week’s stay there again. The roof top patio is particularly pleasing, affording splendid views all-around, of both town and river.
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
Although the festival in its new form, still divides opinion, and the withdrawal of support by Cornwall Council, actions mirrored by local authorities all over the country, has caused much hurt in some quarters, this writer still finds the festival deeply satisfying, varied, entertaining, and true to the original concept, a living memorial to Daphne du Maurier. Of course, we miss the ‘glory days’ when the ‘Festival Village’ was our mecca, and Jonathan Aberdeen was the festival’s wonderful, efficient and friendly Director, and the plethora of big Names were so alluring, but those days are gone; indeed, it might be argued that only support from Cornish council tax payers, (read ‘rates’) allowed the festival to continue as long as it did in that form. As I might resent my rates being ‘squandered’ upon Sports Arenas or the like, it seems fair and not illogical to assume that not everyone in Cornwall appreciated contributing to a festival that they were unable, or unwilling to attend! The popular perception then was that the festival brought business to the area. And may have held some truth. Although we understand that having the festival in the town centre has brought MORE business into Fowey, rather than when it was primarily at the top of the hill by the Fowey Hall Hotel. However, even now, and in its vastly changed form, the festival is a great opportunity to meet old friends again. We miss absent friends too, but accept that the world changes, with or without our consent! One can only hope that those absent will one day be able to put the past by and meet us again, which would be an additional pleasure, in lovely Fowey.
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
Although I had a couple of meals at Safe Harbour, where we all stayed for so many years, and which I greatly enjoyed, I must also commend the meals at the Lugger! It’s a typical riverside pub, not carpeted, and with a traditional feel, but the meals are delicious, large, and very good value for money! The steak pie, or the fish pie, are particularly fragrant memories.
On the first Sunday, Linda and Bob invited me to join them for a service at Daphne’s church, St Willow, which was a wonderful experience. Local worshippers were very friendly, and made we visitors very welcome. After the service we explored the churchyard, and found Jane Slade’s grave, a lovely resting place as the views all around are very beautiful, especially on a bright sunny Sunday morning. After service, we decided to try for a pub lunch, at the Britannia on the A390 near St Austell, but found it fully booked unless we were prepared to eat al fresco We decided to return to Fowey and try our luck there. We found a good meal eventually in the new bar restaurant, Haveners, on the town quay.
I had a lovely day out too with Sue, who I first met many years ago at the Festival, and with whom I became very good friends. We both had issues then, and were able to help each other. that’s what friendship is all about; I’m constantly thankful that we met all those years ago. Sue lives in, and loves Cornwall, coming, as I do, from the north! We walked on a huge beach at Polzeath, we visited a huge garden centre (we both love gardens), and had a delicious meal at ‘The Quarryman’, near Wadebridge. We spent a little time in the town, Sue’s favourite in Cornwall. All in all, a lovely day, not least because it gave us time to catch up on each other’s year in a way that was better than email or snail mail!
I’ve been really lucky this year because in addition to my day out with Sue, I also managed to have a day out with Rose and Rob, dear friends who have attended all but one of the festivals since its inception. Indeed, they took part in a competition in the early years, and, winning it, had as a prize, a conducted tour of Ferryside with Daphne’s son, Mr Browning! We visited Trelissick Gardens near Falmouth and had a delightful time, enhanced by the presence of a large second-hand and antiquarian book outlet, sponsored by the National Trust, who administer the property. Rob and I explored the lovely gardens while Rose refused to be parted from the books. We met later for refreshments, before travelling to Looe for a look round. Very interesting shops there!
(c) Sam Rimington 2017
One of the essential things we like to do while in Fowey each year is to have a meal if possible at the Old Ferry Inn, which is situated at Bodinnick, just up the hill from the car ferry, by Ferryside’. Weather permitting, and it did permit, we ate on the terrace, enjoying food, companionship, and glorious views in warm sunshine. In addition to Rosie and Rob, Beverley and Adrian joined us from ‘up country’, just down for the day, for events, and to ‘do’ the Hall Walk. Bev being one of our original group of festival goers. It was lovely to meet them again and our meal was accompanied by much laughter and conversation.
It occurs to me that this year, for almost the first time in twenty years I have not attempted to do the Hall Walk. That lovely round walk, across by the passenger ferry to Polruan, then around the hill tops, through the woods to Pont Pill and on to Bodinnick via the Q Memorial. I was put off by the state of the path near the Quiller-Couch Memorial, where last year I was almost defeated by a long steep slope, with neither steps nor rail. Only an undignified scramble avoided my having to return by the route I had just taken. Memo, must inform the National Trust, who own, or at least administer the land on which the walk is placed!
So that’s it again; all the planning, the preparation, the anticipation, over for another year! If not a vintage year, it was great fun, and has left me with many photographs to enjoy through the winter when it comes, and many happy memories, of events, meetings, meals, laughter, and all that constitutes our much-loved Fowey Festival, which many of us still insist upon calling THE DAPHNE DU MAURIER FESTIVAL.
(c) Bob Cooke 2017
Review (c) Sam Rimington 2017