Swanning Around with Social Activities

Recent social activities in and around Hanover House, our Cheltenham town centre B&B (www.hanoverhouse.org) have included Matthew Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’ at Cineworld and an alfresco evening social trying out the clay chiminea my kids bought me a year ago but had never tried out.

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ had never been our favourite ballet – it’s music was lovely, but it was long and compared to others had seemed a bit insipid and tedious, however a glimpse of Matthew Bourne’s male swans version at the end of the popular film ‘Billy Elliott’ (itself now a hit West End/Broadway production) gave a different impression. As a boy in the mid 1950’s, my first ever experience of television was when I was left at my father’s colonel’s house in Ballykinlar, Northern Ireland, when he and my parents went out to a function. I was mesmerised by the small black and white set, never having seen such a thing before, particularly having come back from Nigeria the year before where we had missed out on the televised Coronation of June 1953. On the television, for what seemed like hour after hour was a ballet, which I believe now to have been Swan Lake. The contrast of fascination by moving black and white pictures and the tedium of a never-ending dance left me with mixed feelings about both ballet and TV, which I think have now been successfully overcome.

The Male Swans

Sadler’s Wells was broadcasting Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake to Cineworld at the end of June and of course we couldn’t resist. It was well-attended by the classic arts lovers of Cheltenham, and very well worth the (little) effort we put in to attending. Veronica was mesmerised by those lithe young male bodies gyrating and leaping over the stage (and the girls weren’t at all bad either), but it was admittedly the most superb spectacle and cast the story of Swan Lake into a completely new light.

A few days later, at the end of the benevolent spell of weather that we had been experiencing (giving us a tantalising taste of what summer could have been or possibly will be, given luck), Veronica had decided to invite a regular guest and a friend whose wife was spending her annual yoga holiday on Paxos to a simple supper. The day had been sunny and warm although the forecast for the next day was ominous, so we decided to grab the opportunity and dine alfresco in our delightful Victorian walled garden. In the garden, sheathed in a canvas condom, reposed a clay chiminea, presented to me by my children some good time ago and not yet used. We decided to set it up close to the garden table where we were to eat, and shortly before the guests were due to arrive I unsheathed, and set the fire with kindling, some coal and a couple of small logs.

Smoking in Hanover House Garden

Our guests arrived, we supplied them with generous glasses of Pimms and we moved into the fading evening sunshine (but with a slight chill presaging the weather change in the air). However I had lost the chiminea instructions and assuming that such a simple instrument would be simple to operate I lit it and got it going. Apparently though, one has to fire up a new chiminea in advance to presumably burn off excess glaze/sealant of whatever, and I had not done that. Consequently smoke soon billowed from its orifices, made worse when I tried to cap the chimney, and inevitably the little breeze there was, wafted the smoke over the table, no matter where I moved the chiminea to. Eventually I moved it right out of the garden gate and on to the river bank under the trees.

Non-Smoking Area at Hanover House

We proceeded with the meal, and it began to get a bit chilly so I went out and checked the chiminea. By now it had settled down and was pushing out a goodly quantity of warmth and virtually no smoke at all. I moved it back to the table and for the remainder of the evening it provided a very welcome source of warmth and comfort – to the extent that we didn’t return indoors until around midnight. All in all the chiminea has proved to be a great success and we will certainly use it a lot more in the future.

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