On the first of January each year so tell the ancients, that’s you lot mostly, a contest, a trial of strength took place between Eastleach and the Rest of the World. I am, and I say this only slightly apologetically, from the rest of the world. I am here to add a global dimension.
Please can I suggest we now all close our eyes and go on an imaginary journey, go as it were through the cupboard to Narnia or down Alice’s rabbit hole I mean of course across the cattle grid at the bottom of the drive to Macaroni Downs Farm. We enter an enchanted kingdom. One of the first things that will strike you is that it is constantly changing, both physically – sometimes the river is there, now it will not be, by 5pm – and in terms of the cast. Cattle and sheep all over the road one minute, just the odd partridge the next.
We proceed on, over Akeman Street, quite what was the Roman demand to travel from Cirencester to St Albans we’ll never know and soon we meet one or two constants in the landscape. At the third cattle grid there’s Badger, after the fourth a Landrover with a paucity of doors – was it on Britain’s Got Talent, was Chris?- and finally a bald wizard at the top of the hill presiding over it all. You haven’t smoked, taken a pill, or even consumed a drop, but you are light headed and content. You have left the real world, even Eastleach, far behind, beyond mobile communications and apparently now fresh water.
I do not think I ever visited Macaroni without leaving the better, the more joyous for coming. Macaroni, the very word conjures up childish fun, not its original meaning of eighteenth century Old Etonians on their gap years.
Martin had a wonderful generosity of spirit. He operated a true open-door policy, literally. I am told by my son-in-law Matt that it sometimes extended to an open gate policy. Cattle in the barley, rams among the ewes and sick sheep running wild in search of natural remedies.
Martin in many ways was a charming man living, as he would admit a charmed life. He was certainly not fastidious. Matt once was getting into the landrover to discover the seat was occupied by the previous day’s fish and chips, which were promptly demolished by Martin. On another occasion after dagging sheep Martin felt unconstrained in picking up a sandwich without washing his hands.
All of you here will have visited Macaroni and many of you have stayed in the house or the bungalow. One of the great geniuses of Martin is that I bet everyone here believes that they had a special relationship with him and the farm and that no one else did. He really made time for all. It wasn’t a burden; he loved it.
For me and I suspect too many others the highlight at Macaroni was New Year’s Day and the hockey match. You enter to a bustle of people and drink, you can’t miss Philip Hicks’ depiction of sheep on the wall opposite exploding in a riot of old school colours and you are tempted by a glass from the jug of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge, also known as bloody marys, possibly already spiked by Trelawmey. It’s not long before everyone at the party is nearly as witty and charming as you are. If you are lucky you can seize an audience but the farmer is darting here and there encouraging mis-rule. A veritable Puck. Soon you notice people are wielding plates of delicious food prepared by the hard-working Ali. The general cosiness is disturbed at 3 by Martin turning a siren with a mole wrench and all tumble from the house into the encircling gloom. Other than its proximity to the house there can be few other points in favour of the field chosen. The crowd divides between Eastleach and the rest of the EU , sorry the world, ties on ribbons of identification, chooses their weapons and the backs on both sides cheat and narrow the goal posts. A man often Martin in a faded Oxford scholar’s gown, called the referee, blows the whistle and that is the last time he has many control of the proceedings. The teams themselves self-divide into elderly ewes and rams who guard the goal-mouths and the young and those who should know better fighting a mostly ineffectual battle over the lower centre ground. After the match, which Eastleach almost always wins, everyone recongregates around the piano in the drawing room to sing folksongs of yesteryear and most importantly 12 Days of Christmas, whose words are depicted on cardboard panels raised high at the appropriate moment.
What did this occasion tell us about Martin? It was traditional, it just happened every New Year. It was very English. Not many other races would choose to run off New Year’s Eve excesses with further consumption and an often unrewarding struggle in light drizzle. It was all ridiculously eccentric. Broomsticks on the pitch and baritones around the piano. It was kind and hospitable to invite hundreds into your house no matter what their footwear. It was also, above all hugely bonkers and enjoyable.
Martin loved acting – on the stage or off, wherever and whenever. In 1972 Jean Steel and her husband Greville founded The Leach Valley Players and for more than 20 years there were a string of seriously talented, prize-winning productions. Libby Calvert an early supporter and who had dearly wanted to be here to-day recorded in her diary that on 19th January 1973 – Leach Valley Players production dates were always defined by the farming year, notably lambing at Macaroni – there was the first production “To Live in Peace”. “Martin and Celia had invited about 40 people, Martin was very good and the cast party fantastic. I crawled to bed at 4am” 46 years later this certainly has the air of truth.
Martin invariably was acting with and, dare I say it, in competition with Tony Reid. It was of great importance between them as to who had the most lines. Tony is described by Libby as having been gorgeously handsome, Eastleach’s matinee idol. I am indebted to Tony’s widow, Rhona for further information. She recalls The Shoemaker’s Holiday or at least the apres-cast party driving around the district in the early hours at Martin’s behest blocking one friend’s back door with straw bales and putting a bag of cement in the pouring rain on the roof of another’s car. “The Rape of the Belt” saw Martin as Heracles in an enormous headdress and a toga. He was lucky as the other male members of the cast (and I use that term advisedly) wore short, indecently short, tunics. Overnight job for wardrobe.
For “A Servant of Two Masters” the Adjudicator wrote “The Young Waiter was so often upstaged by Martin Squire, The Old Waiter, who only had to appear to be greeted by howls of laughter. Here obviously was a much loved local actor with a great sense of comedy” Another friend Judith Geake has sympathy for The Young Waiter. “Performing with Martin was a bit of a nightmare – you never knew what lines you were going to get or in what order”.
My own memories of Martin include a phenomenal Falstaff in “Merry Wives” but a genius Rev Dr Chasuble in “The Importance of Being Earnest”. It is a minor role, but nobody told Martin. In a play of famous quotes, (Found!!! In a handbag!!! The line is immaterial) Chasuble has lean pickings but Martin played him like a budgerigar on speed, his bald pate pecking up and down at the back totally mesmerising the audience If the great Oscar had been there he would have thought of renaming the play “The Importance of being Dr Chasuble”
Martin came to a party Tessa and I held in Bampton Village Hall. It must have been in the Martin Squire- the pre-organic years as Martin had chosen to dress in one of those large white square plastic-webbed containers for sacks of fertilisers and chemicals. He squeezed through the green room door into the hall, knocked over the drums of the band, and with just his head poking out he looked like nothing so much as a giant sugar cube. He read an incomprehensible poem he had written and then re-trod his path of destruction. Why, I asked about the get-up. Oh just a comment on your size.
I have an aversion to thin wiry men. Anyway he was given a taste of his own medecine at his “Nymphs or Shepherds” party. Friends were invited to Cupid’s Boudoir to celebrate the fading of the last whisps of youth – it was Martin’s 50th. Tony Reid, Bob Landray, Andy Moore, and Ernest Rosengard dressed in black fishnets, boas and little else planned to surprise Martin as the strippers routine booked for midnight. Although the party was happening in a field miles from the house Bob remembers that the four all in a car dressed in not much female attire were stopped by a policeman. He wished them “Good Evening”, looked inside the car and bade them on their way across the field, completely unfazed. At that moment Bob felt proud to be British.
In the Nineties I began to notice small changes to if not the Magic Kingdom then the Fairy Castle. That old Christmas tree, a relic of the original Nativity, was no longer hanging off a beam in the sitting room. The kitchen looked more salubrious. The telly room was yellow, and a delicious buffet lunch was generously offered on New Year’s Day. Town mouse was visiting Country mouse and not just visiting but staying. She had come looking beautiful, coiffed, designer-dressed and BMW-driven. Ali Macdonald had a farmer ei ei oh! I don’t believe Ali would claim to be a natural country girl and with justification as one time when she was involved in the harvest Martin overturned the tractor with both of them in it Martin crushing Ali. I understand Sam Wade made some unfortunate comment about vigorous foreplay. Unsurprisingly, Ali preferred the kitchen to the field. After all she was an habitue of trendy Alan-Bennetty Primrose Hill. Mind you she must have thought there was not much difference from “Lady in the Van” and the cars in the yard. Soon everyone’s favourite farmer was more likely to be found in St Petersburg or Guatemala or more presciently in the yet undestroyed Syria and Yemen than on the Far Bank where the wild thyme grows and often the wild time was had.
Thank-you Ali for all the new perspectives and experiences you brought and the love and care over so many years but especially in these last weeks or months. These are dark and difficult times for you and you are very much in all our thoughts along with of course Lyndall and Tom and your families.
Finally as Martin’s illness took its inevitable course we all hope that the pain he must have been suffering but didn’t show was to some small extent alleviated by the stream of visitors to Macaroni. For me it was back to being a naughty school boy again. On each visit I managed to sneak a wee dram from the bottle and prompt my host to do likewise. I am sorry Martin, it was probably not good for you, but I am not that sorry because it was fun, like everything else around you at Macaroni and the rest of the world. We will all miss you dearly. I am told that your godson’s favourite saying of yours was:
“Never let it be said that I stood in the way of anyone having fun” Don’t worry, Martin, you never did. You never did.
Also read : Eulogy for Dad, Martin Squire by Tom Squire