8 March 2015

It’s been, I have to admit, a fairly decent week. The weather has steadily improved through the week with gradually increasing temperatures, less wind and more sunshine. As usual, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that Spring has arrived but at least everything is trending in the right direction.

March Weather

We were “fooled” on Thursday when we believed the forecast of sunshine and pleasantly moderate temperatures. On the strength of that, we set off to visit Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham for a bit of fresh air and a stroll. We’d not been before which is inexcusable since it’s only about 40 minutes down the road and even though the weather tuned cloudy and somewhat cooler than we might have hoped, it was nevertheless a lovely day out.

We took Molly which, with hindsight, was perhaps a mistake – now that she’s 105 her walking pace is somewhat slower than an Alpine glacier – which meant that our progress around the gardens was somewhat leisurely, to say the least. We’ll go again one day soon without her so that we can stride out somewhat more swiftly and see more of the gardens.

The design and layout of the gardens was largely the work of Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, who was said to be wealthier than the king. In its late 18th-century heyday, Stowe was the most magnificent landscape garden in Britain, rivalling the grandest royal gardens of continental Europe. The Temple family spent a fortune creating and extending the garden to further their political ambitions.

Stowe reached its social peak in 1822 when Richard Temple was created 1st Duke of Buckingham. In 1845 the family laid on an extravagant welcome for Queen Victoria. But three years later the second Duke was bankrupt.

The second Duke was a fraudster who took his family and Stowe to the brink of financial ruin. In 1847 bailiffs seized his assets and he fled abroad.

His son took over, selling most of the contents of Stowe, but this did little to re-coup the Duke’s £1 million debt. The scandal rocked the English aristocracy and appalled the public. The future of Stowe was in grave doubt.

The son’s efforts to secure Stowe’s future were undermined when he died in 1889, with no male heir. His daughter used Stowe rarely. When her son died in the First World War, Stowe was sold and in 1922 the estate became Stowe School. In 1990 the National Trust took over the gardens and an ongoing programme of restoration and investment has followed, restoring the gardens and the buildings at New Inn. Stowe is now one of the very few places in Britain where you can immerse yourself in Georgian magnificence on the grandest scale.

We were chatting with one of our fellow participants following our Pilates session on Friday morning who asked if we had seen the “Banksy” in town. We confessed we hadn’t even heard about it so he described where it was and off we went to have a look. After walking straight past it on our way up Butcher’s Row in Banbury, we finally spotted it on the way back down, thanks to the friendly assistance of a builder who was working on one of the shops nearby. Our informant had said that it wasn’t a “real” Banksy and as soon as we saw it we knew that it wasn’t an original but instead a copy of one of his more famous works, the maid sweeping it all under the carpet. The original (below on the left – click for a larger version) was painted in 2006 on a wall in Chalk Farm, Camden in London. Unfortunately, it was later painted over two years later. The Banbury Banksy, on the right, is a somewhat inferior imitation but still quite fun – according to the Banbury Guardian, it was commissioned by the new owner of one of the shops in Butcher’s Row. Judging by the quality, it was probably painted by a 6th Form art student from Banbury Tech.

Bansky Maid

Banbury “Banksy”

As you know, I’m always on the lookout for healthy tips and suggestions to pass along so I was pleased to read an account in the Guardian of a recent study which suggests that drinking coffee may help prevent heart attacks. I tell you – the good news just keeps on coming! I drink coffee and, as most of you will also know, I am also partial to the occasional glass of red wine, which is similarly supposed to reduce the risk of a heart attack. I guess I can tell Penny that the vigorous exercise regime she has me on is no longer necessary.

We had Annabelle for the afternoon yesterday while her parents were off to the theatre in Northampton. She arrived clutching one of her latest masterpieces – a drawing of Grandpa! Note the astonishing similarities even down to the Red Sox cap!

grandpa greg_avatar

Love to you all,