129. Where There is Doubt

No, I’m not planning a lecture on Maggie Thatcher or even Saint Francis of Assisi. If you know St Francis’s Peace prayer but not the Mrs Thatcher connection, here’s a link to when she became the UK’s first female Prime Minister.


And to calm you down after that, here’s another rendition of the prayer:


Before I start properly, I must apologise if my last Blog Post had errors. For some reason, once I’d typed it, I had a message telling me I did not have the authority to edit it. I am rather hoping it was a temporary glitch, otherwise no-one other than me will be reading this one. I have changed browsers so fingers crossed.

Wells Cathedral: spot Doubt

I had planned to tell you about the origins of the Jet d’eau in Geneva. It was not intended as a tourist attraction but came about due to an engineering problem. A hydraulic plant was built in 1886 to create the energy the booming city needed. Once the factories stopped work for the evening, the pressure built up, leading to the insertion of a safety valve, the precursor to today’s Jet. It’s a fascinating story so please read this:


Today’s Post, however, is nearer to home, mostly in Wells, the smallest city (by population) in England, ignoring the City of London (but not the UK, that honour goes to the Welsh city of St Davids in Pembrokeshire). We stayed in a Landmark Trust called Monkton Old Hall, near St Davids, one Christmas with my family: there’s an embarrassing photo somewhere of JD cavorting in the garden on Christmas Day.


What a pity the house is in turmoil with the rewiring and plumbing and the photos are inaccessible!

Here it is! (Doubt, not JD)

I possibly have mentioned that I’m a Trustee for The Lawrence Centre, a place offering daily activities for locals with memory loss or other health issues. There’s usually an activity or two plus lunch.


When Covid hit and they could no longer have the members attending, an Outreach programme was set up so that members could keep in touch with a visit. All of this obviously needs funding so we had a ‘Call My Art Bluff’ event. For those of you who don’t know the old TV programme, there’s a panel of three ‘experts’ who are given an object to talk about. (On the TV it was a word to define). In the past we’ve had wine as well as art.


The audience have to vote for the person they think is telling the truth, and the table with the most correct answers wins something. As I’ve never been on a winning table, I can’t tell you what the prize is. We had a very good meal with plenty to eat and drink. Amusingly, the wife of one of the experts was on our table. She was very circumspect about one painting we were shown: it turns out she last saw it on her dining room wall that morning! There was an auction and a raffle. I didn’t fancy anything in the auction this time but did buy some raffle tickets and won a painting of the Palace Chapel at Wells Cathedral, painted by a local artist who lives above the local Specsavers. I don’t think he needs them.

My prize, by Chris Lee


Cedar’s Hall, where we enjoyed this evening, is part of Wells Cathedral School and hosts many world-famous musicians, especially pianists. In order to improve (!) my playing I try to book tickets close to the piano to see their playing. The Steinway Grand has a lovely shiny surface so you can see their fingers reflected. Since September, we’ve listened to Paul Lewis and Pavel Kolesnikov but missed Stephen Hough. No, not the Paul Lewis who presents Money Box on Radio 4, but the highly proficient famous pianist. You can listen to both here so you’ll know the difference.


Pavel Kolesnikov was born in 1989 in Siberia but looks about 15, and has the endearing habit of humming along whilst playing his pieces. You can listen to him playing here (but I’m not sure the humming hasn’t been edited out).


Other events we’ve attended have been various lectures at the Wells Festival of Literature. This runs for a week in October, coinciding with our Swiss weekend, so we usually miss it purely because we don’t get our act together and plan. This year we did manage to see four authors talking about their books on four consecutive evenings after Geneva. First, John Preston gave a fascinating talk about Robert Maxwell’s life and death. Was it suicide? Murder? Accident? I don’t think anyone knows, but he was overweight and was known to pee over the side of the boat if he needed to get up in the night. On the other hand, he knew he’d be going to jail if or when he returned to the UK.

Then a talk by Dr Lucy Pollock about getting older (for people who don’t want to talk about it). She was riveting, we all said we wanted her as our geriatrician when we get old (which, of course, we never will). JD is reading the book and reading bits out to me. Thirdly, Sathnam Sanghera on the British Empire. The book, Empireland, is currently number two in the best-selling list. He is very balanced about the past and had some interesting opinions (such as tearing down statues, why do it? There are more important things to stress about). The final talk was Jonathan Dimbleby on Hitler’s invasion of Russia, which ultimately lead to him losing the Second World War and me being able to bring you these blog posts as we live in a democracy.

At the same time, Wells Cathedral held a Festival of the Moon. I’m not sure if they’ve done this before, we’ve never heard about it if so. There were events but we missed them. We did go into the Cathedral to see the Moon, I think it’s going elsewhere so you might catch it near your home one day. Wells Cathedral is famous for the scissor arches that make it instantly recognisable.

The Moon in Wells Cathedral

Still on literary subjects, I found out the other day that Stephen Fry collects ties and has written a book about them. I bet it sells well. We collect mugs, as you know from some early blog posts, should I write a book? The trouble is, he has hundreds of ties, whereas we keep dropping mugs so we don’t have enough to make a good story (not to mention the fact that Mr Fry has a great gift with words which I could not begin to emulate).


I did try some of the Hallowe’en cocktails mentioned last time, a Hocus Pocus with chocolate bitters (in itself, an adapted Negroni) and a Widow’s Kiss. The latter combined 25 ml Calvados, 12.5 ml each of Benedictine and yellow Chartreuse, then two dashes of Angostura bitters. As the bottle of Calvados we had was fairly empty, I upped the quantities until it was completely empty. We now need to go back to St-Vaast-la-Hougue to visit Maison Gosselin and re-stock all the wonderful comestibles we bought last time. I told you about it in Post 97 dated June 28th 2020 and I see that I even showed you the bottle! As it’s a sailing mecca, I’ve asked George if he and Yangtze will charter a yacht and go over there for us. A holiday for them and a good deed for the aged parents! The enthusiasm was a bit lacking so we might have to just buy some Calvados in the supermarket (or go without).

Wells Cathedral Scissor Arches

Another we tried was a Satan’s Whiskers cocktail (30 ml blood orange gin, 15 ml each of Triple Sec, red vermouth and blood orange juice, dash of bitters). I’ve been thinking about these different gins recently. There are now lots of flavoured gins such as rhubarb, and lots of flavoured tonics, specially formulated to match. I’m not sure about this situation, are we missing the subtlety of the work that goes into planning each gin? I think what we need is a clinical trial of four arms: (a) placebo or control of ‘normal’ G&T compared to (b) plain gin with flavoured tonic, (c) flavoured gin with plain tonic, and (d) flavoured gin with flavoured tonic. It would have to be single blind (that is, JD would not know which I was giving him). I’d have to use a dark glass so he couldn’t guess from the colour which was which. OR, I could find a tee-total friend to make them up for both of us, but it would still be single blind (the mixologist would still know which was which). The other disadvantage is that we’d be drinking four G&T’s, by the fourth we’d possibly have forgotten what the first tasted like and therefore not be able to do a true comparison. A dozen of us, each having a shot of each?

If I’d not finished off the Calvados, we could have had a Fallen Leaves cocktail for Remembrance Sunday: 45 ml each Calvados and red vermouth, 15 ml white vermouth and 7.5 ml Cognac. Although it does sound a little strong for a Sunday.

My cellar (dive) bar is coming along nicely, still waiting for the glass to go in the windows and the lampshades to be put up so I can’t let you have a good photo yet. I’m wondering whether to change its name. I have two new options. I thought I’d previously mentioned the Swiss carnotzet but maybe it was in the part I did not have permission to update. A carnotzet (pronounced car-not-zay?) is a basement bar where you eat cheese dishes such as fondue and raclette (a dish of melted cheese requiring a strange piece of equipment called a raclette grill) and drink (Swiss) wine.


If I decide against that (there is only so much melted cheese even I can look forward to), there is the Japanese Izakaya or drinking den with small plates of food. This sounds like pretty much our Friday nights already. We’ll not be having buzzers on the table though.


I think I need to do some more research first, here’s somewhere local to start.


STOP PRESS: We’ve had a Clipper update. In Post 127 dated 9th October I said that the plan was to re-start in February next year but I wasn’t sure if supporters would be allowed. Well, we now know they won’t be, at least into the Philippines. What a disappointment, I was so looking forward to visiting the local restaurants again (spot the sarcasm). Clipper have received a Special Events Permit allowing Crew and selected Staff to enter Subic Bay and take the boats away on the next leg.

The last time I saw Subic Bay

Circumstances could change, but as it stands there will need to be double vaccinations, PCR tests, twice weekly lateral flow tests, possible quarantines, crew bubbles, Mandatory Refresher Training and flying into Manila only on agreed dates. The earliest date to fly into the Philippines will be 18th February so the race start will be in March. All very tightly controlled. There is no possibility of them being allowed into Zhuhai or Sanya, as yet Qingdao has not confirmed whether they will be open. As the other two Chinese ports are closed due to Government restrictions it seems highly unlikely that Qingdao will allow Clipper in, although they are the Chinese Sailing City. If not, the plan is to go straight to Seattle from Subic Bay, only an extra three days (100 nautical miles, 27 to 32 days sailing). As yet Seattle and the further ports have to confirm what will be allowed. More when we know.

BUT, you say, what’s all this guff about Doubt? Aha, the statue you see is by Antony Gormley and is on loan to Wells for 18 months. It is causing much debate in the area: do we like it or not? Is it an eyesore or a fascinating commentary on today’s beliefs? Should modern statues be allowed on old buildings? Decide for yourself.


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