Sowing Good Seeds

There are times when life seems to be getting rather busy, although not necessarily in a bad way. Recently the Lovely Wife and I are suffering what in football parlance is fixture crash, as lots of entirely separate things, booked over the period of many months or indeed not planned at all, move towards reach other in a way that makes you think, ‘can we actually fit this in?’ and ‘even if that is the case, will we be standing at the end of it?’

When we were in our twenties, a couple of big music gigs in quick success in quick succession were probably not an issue – first due to energy that you have at the time and possibly because frankly we would not have been able to afford it. Now, the latter is less of a problem but the former energy well has ebbed somewhat (although we are now enjoying the joy of being able to stay over in hotels for some events which is hugely energizing when you know you do not have to rely on the dodgy last train home if the band is particularly enthusiastic to threaten its curfew time – usually some of the best parts of a gig.

Despite these two gigs being hugely in contrast with one another, the reason for mentioning this is that in both there were moments that made me feel a little better with the universe, albeit briefly. And this was in the way that music can be a force for positive messages/protest message again what maybe we see around us at the current moment that makes us feel, at best, uncomfortable.

First – positive. The Lovely Wife was probably in the day the bigger fan of 80s duo Tears for Fears. I came to them a little later. The gig we went to this week was delayed from last May due to health reasons in the band (hence the unplanned proximity to another gig, more of later). The gig was seated (although bless him, the first thing Kurt Smith did when coming on was to exhort people to get out of their seats) and what followed was a rather intense set of hits that was hugely enjoyable to the 40+ (at least) year old crowd.  Intense, may be a very personal experience as somehow I had managed to get seats four rows from the front and it felt at times that we were being examined by the band to see whether we knew all the words.

It has never been my favourite song of theirs but on the night ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ made probably the biggest impression – at least when sung pretty much in your face. The anthemic commend to be better to one another struck a real chord with me; a song very much needed again today where what is being sown by many is anything but love.

Fast forward to Sunday night and a very different band and audience. The band was Bastille, the audience mostly under 30 (and predominantly female, which was great to see the band as while we were at the back this time generally we were as tall if not taller than most of the rest of the crowd, a rare treat for standing gigs). Most of the band’s input, delivered in high energy and to uproarious chorus singalongs was more about love, loss and despair – but front man Dan Smith got his political comment in as well at one point aimed firmly at the rise of the extreme (and less extreme perhaps, but just as insidious) Right wing politics and sung out against intolerance. And again, I felt it was right. These days most biting commentary comes from comedians, but they are preaching often to converted liberal (small l) audience. Music though can punch through that and have a wider appeal and perhaps reach those that otherwise may never listen to the voice of tolerance. The mainstream music industry seems to have gotten out of the habit of sticking their necks out and expressing a potentially controversial, possibly unpopular opinion. I’d like to see that change, personally.



Recently, the Lovely Wife and I had the pleasure of a long weekend staying in the Banqueting House on the National Trust’s Gibside Estate in the North East. The building was saved from dereliction and vandalism by the Landmark Trust, an organisation that I very much respect and support. They own or have long leases on properties up and down the country ranging from the extremely compact (i.e. cosy even for a couple) to some larger castles and houses that sleep 20 or more.

There are a number of reasons we like staying in what are often quite odd and unusual holiday cottages. One of these is that some of them are, indeed, quite odd. For example, The Pigsty, which as its name suggests was built as a house for some pigs, up on the hillside above Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. But this is a pigsty built to look like a Greek temple, a rather grand edifice for our porcine friends. Many of the Landmarks are like this; buildings never meant for people to stay in, but now converted to this use – sometimes very cleverly – in order to give them a reason to survive.

The philosophy is pretty simple – they take on places that are interesting or important or just quirky, but that would otherwise be lost. The Banqueting House was one such building, saved at the last minute and carefully restored. A lot of the buildings they own are like this – formal garden buildings, lodge houses, canal lock operators cottages and so on. Sometimes it is a fragment of a much large building such as a castle or monastic building where somehow a part has survived when the rest of the property has been demolished. But what unites most of them is this (for me, really satisfying feeling) of staying in a ‘survivor’, a little bit of heritage that is still in existence despite the odds.

There is also a kind of society of Landmark supporters and ticking them off is a bit of a thing (we’re on 28 different ones to date, all of them unique and memorable for some reason or another). There are a number of Landmark ‘tropes’. First, they are a technology free zone – no TV, no internet access – by deliberate design and choice. They clearly have, at some point, obtained a massive job lot of blue willow patterned style crockery as the supply is always the same – you know what you are getting. The massive box of local attraction leaflets and guide books is added to by anyone who stays… And the log books are a joy to behold, not just ‘we had a nice weekend here’ but veritable essays often accompanied by sketches (or sometimes even rather impressive watercolours).

Sometimes just getting to the place can be difficult – one, Robin Hood’s Hut in Somerset, another former Garden building for an Estate now gone, involves driving down farm tracks and through gates, across a field and through a wood – but that is half the charm. Although getting stuck in the snow last year while travelling to the Warren House above Kimbolton (a combined ‘eyecatcher’ for Kimbolton Castle and once home to the man that protected the warren, a valuable medieval asset) was a little scary – but mediated by the presence of helpful local dog walkers and being only a few 100 yards short of our destination.

Finally, as they are often quite remote, the chances of seeing wildlife is high. One stay in a riverside cottage in the North Cornish hamlet of Coombe not only had bats using the porch next to the kitchen as a hunting roost but allowed a long lingering look at a Water rail in the river – a rarely seen, beautiful bird. And at Gibside, on the morning we left, before the National Trust Estate was open to the public we were treated to the Roe Deer enjoying the mutual peace before melting again into the woods as the visitors started to arrive.