Cheltenham and Gloucester are like an elderly, long-divorced couple. She – for Cheltenham must be a woman – has seen better days, days of parties and poke bonnets, of Dukes and dandies. As the late, great Humphrey Littleton said, it was here that the Duke of Wellington popularised his footwear, Lord Sandwich invented the leading convenience food and Viscount Picnic introduced the two. Cheltenham, like any proud and stately matriarch, can put on the slap, squeeze herself into a still-good frock and put on a good show. Across the county her ex-husband, with whom she has always had an uncomfortable relationship, each believing themselves to be the superior whereas in fact they are simply different, is experiencing a fresh surge of energy and rejuvenation. It was one of my new year resolutions that I should put right my ignorance about our county capital. Some cities can be difficult in various ways for people who cannot easily move about. But Gloucester, with its shopmobility scheme and medieval street plan, is easy. Which is just as well as it has so much to offer.
This week we shopped at the Gloucester Quays Designer Outlet where it seems to me they virtually give away fabby clothes and then wandered – Mr Brain triumphant like some latter day Boadicea on his mobility scooter – down through the docks to the Cathedral. There is much talk about money, or the lack of it, and where it should best be used but nowhere have I seen a better case made out for 'art' as a vital food for the soul and mind. Within the Cathedral is an exhibition of 76 pieces of work from the most successful and respected sculptors of our time. Everyone is there including Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn (best known for the Alison Lapper statue in Trafalgar Square). I especially loved the Antony Gormley figure, lying spread-eagled, in a small space with a shaft of light falling from a medieval window. Please go. There will be sure to be things that you hate. There was one piece that made me angry which is always a sign that art can make you feel as well as think. It is a triumph of an exhibition, moving and exciting, and the real winner is the stunning Cathedral building itself. But, most moving of all, were the gentle groups of people there. Mostly people of Gloucester, I guess, with small children and worth every penny of investment in every aspect of their futures.
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