Wednesday, 27 October 2010

No Wealth but Life.

Tuesday 26th October.

The rains came today, but it didn't much matter as we drove down to Coniston to catch the steam ship Gondola across the lake to John Ruskin's house at Brantwood for an early afternoon snoop about. The mist and drizzle made for a really evocative scene as the boat plied its way low in the water, billowing exhaust steam for all the world like the tug boat in Turner's The Fighting Temeraire. The twenty first century seemed very far away.

The boat is a labour of love for the local enthusiasts who maintain and run it. In high season up to eighty people a voyage make their way across the lake. Today, on one of the last trips of the year, it was just us, which gave the chance to get warm by the engine and talk to Paul, the stoker. He explained that essentially the boat runs like a steam train with the pistons working on a vertical to drive the propeller rather than a horizontal to turn the wheels. It's a glorious noisy, smelly thing and of course, as it belongs to the National Trust, we began to make lots of plans for future shows set on board.

Brantwood itself was also enchanting, tucked into the hillside with Grizedale forest to its back. Eleanor, for whom Ruskin is a bit of a king pin in Victorian thought, bounced happily from room to room only concerned that we didn't have enough time before the boat home. I was slower trying to move beyond his championing of the rather laboured Pre-Raphaelites, whose work does little for me, to learn some more about his ideas on social reform, education and the importance of living well. He just seemed unshackled, involved and invested in everything around him.

My favourite story was of him dressing as a Magpie to deliver a lecture questioning Darwinism. He made his anti-evolutionary point by singing 'O for the wings of a Dove' at full volume to a stunned crowd of Oxford undergraduates - including Oscar Wilde who, for once, must have felt completely upstaged.

We had ten minutes to whizz round the garden before Gondola emerged again on its last tour of the lake and to pick us up and begin the late night journey back to London. It's good to get away.

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