Saturday, 30 January 2010

100 x 2/3

Caroline thought it very self-indulgent of me to make the point that today was my 66 and 2/3rds birthday: something that I feel sure Frodo Baggins would have been keen to celebrate, so why not me?

Whilst walking among the apple trees above Hailes Abbey this morning - see photograph - I reflected that at 33 and 1/3rd I was father to a six-month old son; my lovely wife was suffering from glandular fever whilst pregnant once again, and I had given notice to my partners of my intention to leave my firm, without any clear idea of what I was going to be doing next for a living. An interview at Handsworth Law Centre did not go swimmingly, I remember: which was probably just as well. (I ended up starting up my own law firm.)

The sun shone today; we live in a beautiful part of the world where peace (largely) reigns; I am reasonably fit, and we have a wonderful family, not to mention many good friends. What a deal to be thankful for, and indeed to celebrate on this sort of birthday!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Against the current

I was in London yesterday - this was taken looking upstream from Battersea Bridge. The occasion? To take part with a couple of hundred other liberally-minded Catholics in a new initiative called "Stand up for Vatican II". We were invited to come together to explore how we might reinvigorate the legacy of Vatican II and provide a platform to stand and declare our felt concern for our Church in the world today.

It was, Chair Frank Regan stressed, first and foremost a celebration of the growth we had experienced at the time of the Council. "Most of us here are a bit wrinkly and crinkly," he said. (There was no arguing with that!) "How do we hand on what we have received, so that the next generation will be able to build their Church in turn?"

Theologian Michael Winter urged us to work to make our parishes real communities. The danger was they were becoming larger and larger as priest numbers dwindled; whereas for people to know one another, an authentic parish community should comprise no more than about 70 people. In pre-Reformation times, Canterbury had 40 parishes: there were eight churches in King Street, Norwich, and even today Trumpington Street in Cambridge has six mediaeval church buildings.

"We are a mature society," he said, richly entitled to make non-violent protest: "Our own conscience has to be obeyed," as Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1968.

And we can build the new within the shell of the old. Start by signing the petition!

P.S. There is also an Italian version of "Stand up for Vatican II", supported by a couple of cardinals.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Above Coldwell Bottom

We often walk here, above Coberley. It's a convenient triangle, a variety of scenery within a short space.

The Winter sun was shining this morning, the sheep casting unreally long shadows on the hillside flanking Coldwell Bottom. The plantation, which we saw going in when first we came to live in Cheltenham in 1994, is now serious woodland, the track up to it only partly chewed up by the mountain bikers. It's not as bad for walkers anyway as would be the adjacent fields.

But this was a tame walk bearing in mind what lies ahead for us: on Holy Saturday, we set out from Seville for Salamanca, the first half of the Via de la Plata: the second, to Santiago de Compostela, is planned for October.

Not only longer walks, therefore, but heavier weights than a camera need to be factored in regularly from now on!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Unreal world Conservatism

Today's photograph was taken by me in 2002 from the Trans-Siberian Express, approaching Beijing.

For a public school-educated, ex-army former banker, Andrew Mitchell MP is surprisingly enlightened about international development. For more than four years, he has shadowed first Hilary Benn and now Douglas Alexander, visiting 37 countries. He came to Cheltenham last evening to address a mixed audience on the subject at St Matthew's Church: sixth formers from Dean Close School rubbed shoulders with wizened NGO campaigners and a retired MFH.

Last year, Mitchell (and David Cameron) launched his Green Paper, "One World Conservatism - a Conservative agenda for international development" - and much good it contains judging from his exposition.

The trouble is, Green it may be in name, but green it is not. The crucial words so conspicuously missing from his half hour talk were "climate change". If any member of a prospective Conservative Cabinet is likely to be able to impress upon his colleagues the overwhelming importance of our taking the most serious possible approach to tackling climate change here, in every policy area, it must be our well-travelled Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.

But as dragged out of him at question time, "There is a flaw," he confessed, "in the archetecture of government, in that the departments for overseas development and climate change are not linked." To which the riposte must be, "Fix it then!"

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

"Cheltenham under attack"

Jonathon Porritt was busy defending Cheltenham from the big planners last night - those wanting to bring on the Regional Spatial Strategy and dump unsustainable quantities of new housing onto the town in what they term "Sustainable urban extensions".

He was on good form. The numbers had emerged after "multiple meddling" by Government at every stage of the RSS development process. The challenge, he said, with any new housing development was to achieve a genuine "sustainability", such that, "as you uttered the word, you didn't trip up over your own despicable hypocrisy." What chance was there, at this point in time, that Government was going to provide the infrastructure needed for any substantial new housing development?

Senior politicians, he observed, have no difficulty these days in talking about climate change, and "even possibly with some sincerity," but they exhibit deep discomfort about going over to a truly sustainable low growth economy.

Last night, despite the thaw, Jonathon wasn't looking quite as summery as in this photograph - taken at last June's Cheltenham Science Festival.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Today is the 43rd world day of peace

For (I think) the first time since I began my blog, I have borrowed someone else's image to illustrate my post for today, Peace Sunday.

The man in the picture is John Gebhardt, a Chief Master Sergeant in the USAF serving in Afghanistan - as high as you can go in enlisted ranks (E-9). The little girl's entire family was executed. Insurgents intended to execute the little girl also: they shot her in the head, but failed to kill her. She was cared for in John Gebhardt's hospital and is healing, but continues to cry and moan. The nurses said John is the only one who seems to calm her down, so John has spent recent nights holding her while they both slept in that chair.

(Thanks to Frank Regan for sending me this story.)

Friday, 15 January 2010

"Which is the true religion?"

A ring with the power to make its owner loved by both God and his fellow man is passed down the generations, father to son, until one father has three sons he loves equally. To avoid choosing between them, he has two other rings made. No one now knows which is the authentic ring and arguments between the sons ensue. A judge advises them that, if the ring really possesses its reputed power, the true owner will make himself known, so they should each act as if theirs were the true ring.

A parable told to Saladin by Nathan the Wise at the time of the Third Crusade (1192), as retold by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in 1779

Saturday, 9 January 2010


"A stained glass Bible", which I published last year, has just entered a new edition, with some extra pages. The latest image is this rather tender Victorian "Transfiguration" panel: friends have it in their house, rescued from a London church riddled with dry rot and demolished in the 'Seventies.

I'm rather pleased to have been able to include some glass which, whilst it fits my biblical theme, is not stuck away in a little-visited church, but instead much cherished by private owners: it hangs in their front porch, but was taken down specially for my (by appointment) visit.

Well worth my rather dicey bicycle ride through Cheltenham's unsalted streets, in order to take the photograph this morning!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Clinging on

A fine day in Capetown seems and is a far cry from frozen Leckhampton. It appearing improbable that England's last seven wickets would last out for a draw in the Third Test, I was particularly delighted that Ian Bell was the lynchpin of our successful rearguard action, a player I've followed since his teenage debut with "my" team, Warwickshire. (Odd how these loyalties never die: I was glad to find out recently that not only my mother's father, but also my father's grandfather were staunch Aston Villa supporters, a tradition I've clearly inherited.)

Between listening to the fluctuations in the cricket, we had a great walk in the snow, coming back through the big meadow with its ancient oaks. Developers, keep your hands off!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

12th Night

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey..."

We provided a refuge for one, nearly two, stranded in Cheltenham last night, as three inches of snow fell even down here. And it's snowing again now. The heaviest we've had it since we came here in 1995.

As I sit here tapping away, and Caroline rings round the family, we can hardly say, with Eliot's Magi, "But there was no information".

Monday, 4 January 2010

Victorian U-Values

We have lived in our house (built: 1870) nearly 15 years, over which period a running battle has been fought with draughts. Most of the rooms have open fireplaces: apart from the couple in which a fire is ever lit, I had long ago stuffed the chimneys with fibreglass.

Last week, though, there was much reference in the paper to chimney balloons, which were new to me. Would these be a better solution for our unused fireplaces, I wondered. Well, in the process of inspecting our chimney openings, I discovered that no less than three of them had neat little trap doors, hinged so that they could be pulled down when the fire was not lit. And I'd never even realised. Amazing!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

In praise of the LumaLoop

This cold and frosty morning we went for a long walk in the Winter sunshine. And I was able to try out my Christmas present from Thomas, which took me a bit by surprise - that something so ordinary-looking could be so very useful!

My new camera strap replaces the conventional one supplied with my Nikon D40: taking it over my head and shoulder in order to make a picture was a continual hassle. With the LumaLoop, there is no problem. Brilliant!