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The Warp

By the lake at Longleat

By the Lake at Longleat

At the edge of the lake at Longleat there are two nymphs I cherish. Bareback, naked, they ride astride stone merhorses, bathed in spray from a nearby cascade. The girls don’t use saddles and so it’s a balancing act, their stone fingers twined in the horses’ abundant manes.

I’m a resident squeeze box player here for a short season. When the last of the days thousands of tourists have left the place to peacefulness, I drive my Cortina car up so I can sleep on costly Rajesthan cushions in the back up on that lovely lonely eminence known as Heavens Gate. I tilt it slightly downhill.

My plan is rewarded. Next morning I wake to see the valley stretched underneath, the mansion tiny like an attractive intricate dolls house and the mist rising from the waters and breaking over the super life sized Gods and Goddesses and other notables gesticulating on the roof.

I breakfast in the vaults underneath the mansion, then put on my tasseled coat, leather hat, and accordion, and go to play outside the Dr Who museum, the Longleat Arms, the maze, the magic castle, the Hitler and Churchill museum, the Lady Thynne’s pantry, and on the terraces overlooking the water. It begins to rain and I go in to play in the Great Hall, that astonishing architectural construction with its weather clock that helpfully tells you what direction the wind is blowing in, and striking reverberations. As I play, do not the shades of all those other musicians who have played here before me through the centuries stir? Amongst them the original musicians who played for the first of the Weymouths in the 1580s, so like the present lot, brazen, gorgeous in appearance, exuberantly ostentatious, in love with the world, but a world in their own image.

Today is my last. A goodbye to the girls on their merhorses and then out onto the teeming highways.

On my way home, I call in on the Scudamores, that ancient family famous for their ash blonde hair which goes back to before the conquest. The fallow deer have been here for ever too, in parkland that stretches up to Garway Hill, a heathy summit said to have been used in old times for moon worship. I spend the afternoon helping John construct a pen for driving the deer into in the winter. Deer, he explains to me, have to be culled or they multiply till the terrain can no longer support them. His wife, the lovely Jan, staggers by through the mist, a carcass across her shoulders, dripping blood onto her shoulders and the grass.

To the Bishop’s Palace in Hereford for the opening party for Rebecca Hall’s ‘Fruits of Paradise’, a celebration of the Vegetarian and Vegan lifestyles. Rebecca has asked me to do some readings from the book and I give them; ‘I know what the caged bird feels, alas! / When the sun is bright on the upland slopes / When the wind stirs through springing grass ...’

As part of the book’s promotion, Rebecca has offered ten thousand pounds to seven men or women who will simulate the lives of battery hens for a week, occupying a cage where they can’t stretch out their arms, in artificial light, and fed on rice and beans. So far she’s had some enquiries, and one set of takers who had to be let out after 24 hours in the cage. There is no toilet so excrement goes down through the floor of the cage onto the people underneath you, which may detract from the frisson.

Fire festival at Hay-on-Wye. Thousands throng the streets behind a twelve piece samba percussion band and a black hooting steam engine, and scores of lanterns, some of which double as small hot air balloons and go floating away. A patriarchal William Blake figure in white cloak stands in front of the castle. Behind him rockets burst in streams up into the sky. There is a woman on a horse representing some mythical Goddess and twenty four fire jugglers stripped to the waist.


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