Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Steve's trip to Avening
Saturday & Sunday 6th & 7th November 1999
Well, here I am, back in London after a WONDERFUL weekend spent with Columba & Susan Powell at Lee Cottage in Avening.
I had arranged to meet them in the pub in Avening - but there turned out to be two pubs !! I phoned them but they weren't at home so I took a short walk down to Avening church.
That's the church where Michael & Thelma got married. Some of you might have seen the film of that ("Directed" by Columba) with Michael & Thelma swinging on the gate. I thought about asking Columba & Susan to emulate them later, but the gates didn't look too strong :)
Michael's grave gives his name, dates & says "Film Director and Optimist" which I think is lovely. The stone was designed by Columba.
Pamela's grave had a little plastic tub by it & remembering that (in MDM) Michael had said that she liked wild flowers I looked around for some. But November isn't the best time to find wild flowers.
As I had hoped Michael & Pamela lie side by side.
I then tried phoning again & they were in (they'd been shopping) and we sorted out which pub to meet at (The Bell) and a short while (and a half pint) later I saw Columba walking up the hill with a Welsh Collie by his side. It turns out that the cottage is only a short distance from the pub (useful) on the edge of the village.
I drove into the gate and there it was, the cottage that I'd seen in pictures & "home movies" of when Michael lived there with Pamela. A lovely shiver went down the spine :)
I unloaded my bags & went in to greet Susan & thank them both for inviting me. I know that sorting out their computer was of value to them but I thought it was a minor thing to do compared to the friendliness and hospitality they bestowed on me - I always have difficulty on putting a value on what I can offer !!
Anyway, I walked in and there it was. Imagine a small stone cottage, 2 up, 2 down but with every available wall, upstairs as well as downstairs FULL of books on every subject imaginable. We knew that Powell was an erudite man and here it was - all his favourite reading & reference books in front of me. To quote young Dickie Attenborough in AMOLAD "This is heaven isn't it"
There was lots, lots more ...
[But I'll excise the details as we don't want to detail the contents of friend's houses too much do we?]
And then there was Columba and Susan (and the dog) themselves. Wonderful people, we chatted for hours. I had taken down a few of the books from my collection. They'd seen most of them but not all. Oddly, they'd never seen the Blimp book with all the Churchill papers and the full script showing the original & final versions.
As Susan had expressed an interest in Gina's web site about the Jaques Fath dresses that Moira wore in TRS I'd printed that out (in case I couldn't get them online).
I told Columba that you'd suggested some "nice stripey pyjamas" in memory of his role in "Peeping Tom" Derek - and he loved the thought but was glad I hadn't actually got them :)
They told me that they tended to regard the house & contents as a bit of a museum (but not a shrine) and were gradually sorting everything out.
After a nice bit of lunch I thought it was time to start "earning my keep" I went to work on their computer. An Apple iMac, they were mainly worried in case it was the modem that had died, especially as it was just out of warranty. I was soon able to show that the modem was OK but their internet connection (via Demon) wasn't set up very well. That and a noisy phone line (and maybe some problems with Demon) meant it was a slow connection & kept dropping the line.
I got them set up as best as I could and showed them a few bits & pieces - like where the IMDb has a page for Columba which records his film appearances and his childhood nickname <G>
I'll be getting back on to Demon & will hunt around for some other stuff to improve their connection.
By then it was getting a bit late so we put on our glad rags and went off to this lovely little restaurant. All organic and delicious. A roquefort soufflé with pears, then a lovely bit of salmon followed by a rich chocolate ice cream. All helped along with a couple of bottles of wine. Gosh, it's not easy being a hedonist :)
Back to the cottage where we nattered into the small hours. When we'd met (briefly) at Canterbury, Columba had though I was about 10 years younger than him (it must be my boyish good looks <G>) In fact he's only a year older than me. So even when I wasn't paying homage to the works of P&P we had lots of other shared references to compare about growing up in those times.
I'd made it clear to them from the beginning that although I'm a devotee of their work I never hesitate to point out the (few) times when I do think they may have made mistakes so we were able to have a more honest talk about things like why Michael was so wicked to some people. (We decided it was mainly because he was such a perfectionist & drove himself so hard towards his ideals that if anyone else didn't have the same drive & dedication he didn't think much of them. Often cruel but that's the way he was)
And so to bed. I did somehow manage to get some sleep despite the high level of excitement (and wine).
I awoke at about 9am and as the other two didn't look like stirring for a while (it had been a frantic night) I made myself tea & found some bread & cheese (years of batchelordom mean I'm capable of surviving on my own <G>) & did a bit more tidying up on their computer.
They staggered downstairs at about 10 and I showed them what I'd got their machine to do. Convinced them it wasn't a problem with the modem (so wasn't going to be expensive) and it was just a matter of setting it up right and tuning rather than major surgery.
We settled down for a full(er) breakfast and then started to go through various other things ... [Again the details of what's there have been excised. They were burgled recently & we don't want to encourage that sort of thing by detailing the contents which probably don't have a high monetary value (the burglars didn't take anything, just did some damage) but are invaluable to people like us]
A bite of lunch and a walk with Columba and the dog up to their local long barrow (burial mound). Oh, did I say that the village is right on the edge of Princess Anne's place (Gatcombe Park) so almost every field is set up as an eventing (cross country on horseback) course :)
But then the days end approached much too quickly. After a fond farewell I packed up and headed back to London. I called them when I got home to say I'd got there OK & to thank them again for their hospitality and they told me they'd found that I'd left my camera behind !! Typical.
I said that the camera itself wasn't too valuable but that it had the photos of the graves, the church & the cottage.
When it arrived Columba had written a short note on the back of this Peeping Tom postcard
One odd thing I noticed when I got the photos developed was this photo of the graves.
What's that wraith like apparition?
Was somebody watching me? :)
Lovely people, a lovely place and a lovely time and I hope to see them again as soon as I can.
Other P&P trips