Halloween at Awkward Hill
October 31 dawned with a suitably misty, murky morning. The garden was festooned with cobwebs and shrouded with fog. It's great gardening weather, though, because with no wind and no rain, you can put in plants and bulbs without having to wipe your glasses or have your hair blown in your face every five minutes.
I went to a concert on Saturday night, to hear Elgar's Piano Quintet in A minor, played by my friends Tony Frewer (first violin) and Monica Frewer (piano), with Tony's string quartet. This was a great Halloween choice, since the inspiration for the piece is a ghostly legend.
In 1918, Elgar and his wife Alice rented a cottage called Brinkwells, near Fittleworth, in West Sussex. Nearby, in Flexham Park, was a group of twisted dead trees said to be the remains of a group of Spanish monks who had taken part in blasphemous ceremonies in the park and been struck by lightning for their sins. The first movement of the quintet has a Spanish theme which suggests the monks bemoaning their fate, and the tapping of dry branches against a window.
There is apparently no evidence of any Spanish monastery or community in the area, and neither is there any history of a local legend involving Spanish monks. However, one of Elgar's great friends was the ghost-story writer, Algernon Blackwood, who visited the couple at Brinkwells.
Blackwood was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose members also included Aleister Crowley, who was notorious for his fascination with black magic and the occult. It's highly likely that Blackwood made the whole thing up.
Never mind, it's a terrific piece of music, and I love the idea of Elgar and Blackwood sitting in front of the fire in the isolated cottage, telling each other ghostly tales. Perhaps I should make up a legend about the fastigiate yews in my garden (see third picture down).