Just come back from three fantastic days planning with Bicat and Co in the South of France to do some initial preparation for the 2010 Walpole project. It's great to get away and just spend some time on one focus. Tina had rented a town house in the Catalan town of Banyuls sur Mer, the last outpost of France before the Pyrenees rise up to form the natural border with Spain. A slow place where the locals, rise early and dip their bread in blood red wine for breakfast.
Together with Tina's brothers composer Nick and writer Tony and Nick's artist wife Natalie we played around with some ideas to see whether an exciting shape might emerge and also whether we can all work together.
Despite the call of the sea, the market and the table cafes we managed to get loads done, disciplining ourselves to two sessions of three hours of work a day followed by a shared meal, swim and siesta. To end the day a cliff top walk to the headland and a bottle of rose wine in the local vineyard. This relaxed rhythm made for incredibly productive work and gently we seemed to find a route forward.
I'm also finding more and more affinity with Horace, who seems to have been a man out of time, sighing for a pre-enlightenment world. I'd always imagined him to be a bit of a weedy fop, whose idle life was a poor reaction to the privilege into which he was born but time with the letters and biography have revealed him braver.
His elegant embellishments and desire to delight seemed, even as he lived, to be like something on the fade; although his near Republicanism and anti slavery views place him simultaneously in the vanguard. He is one of the last champions of a delicate age before the beastly Victorians came steaming in with their all holes barred industrial romanticism, clouding over the paler blues and pinks of Georgian skies. Horace was a serious man, who worked very hard to appear frivolous. Beside him the emerging Wordsworth and Coleridge seem imposing and brutish.
He can be very naughty. Here's a description of one of Queen Charlotte's maids of honour
'Madame Dusson, who is Dutch-built, and whose muscles are pleasure-proof, came with her.'
When one of his constituents complained that, unlike his father the grandiose Sir Robert Walpole, he had sat as his political supporters bore him through the streets.
'Madam, when I am placed in a chair, I conclude I am to sit in it; besides as I cannot imitate my father in great things, I am not at all ambitious of mimicking him in little ones.'
We talked a bit about casting. Tony saw him as Kenneth Williams. I felt he was closer to a mix of Jarvis Cocker and Willy Wonka. Guy Henry?
Later on we played around with The Castle of Otranto - gosh it's confusing! But wonderfully surreal and absurd. The first image of the sickly Conrad being crushed to death on his wedding day by a giant helmet falling from the sky or the hundred silent knights who appear baring the ancient sword of the dilating Alfonso seem straight out of Monty Python.
We packed up this morning, caught the train to Perpignan and flew back to England. Next stage is to try and get my head around the politics of the late eighteenth century and to try and link the architecture of Horace's mind to Strawberry Hill itself, a third layer, along with the novel and biography to intertwine into a fascinating story.