The year 2004 was what I shall call my ‘Suffolk Year’, one in which I immersed myself in Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes through a workshop and performance at Covent Garden and a concert performance elsewhere. Britten is a magician. He can conjure up the sea, rivers and salt marshes of Suffolk, the battering North Sea storms and the endless blue skies that seduce you into believing the calm will endure; and the isolation too, which is one theme of the opera.
And then there was my ten-day stay in the last of the old timber-built fishermen’s cottages in the remote hamlet of Shingle Street just south of Orford, a strand of shingle, as the name implies, but during my childhood holidays in the 1930s still a small fishing village of cottages built in line behind rising banks of shingle, with huts for fishing nets and tackle, and smokeries for herring. Then the Lifeboat Inn (destroyed by friendly fire in the Second World War – it was used for target practice) kept company with the solid buildings housing the coastguards.
Above all, 2004 introduced me to Julian Tennyson’s Suffolk Scene. It was written in 1938 at the time of the Munich crisis and published in June 1939, just before the outbreak of war. Tennyson called it a book of ‘Description and Adventure’. He was 23, and hoped for a career in writing. In 1939, like many other young men, he could not stand by with war imminent, and so he enlisted in the London Irish Rifles. His optimism that he would survive was sadly misplaced. He was killed by a Japanese mortar bomb at Arakan in Burma in 1945.
Julian Tennyson was one of the three sons of Sir Charles Tennyson, grandson of the poet, and his links with Suffolk began, like mine, with family visits when he was a young boy. These awakened his interest in the county, and from 1930 his stays there became regular, and then permanent when he made his home at Aldeburgh. Subsequently he moved inland (from his writings I suspect to a
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