Sunday, 30 January 2011

Back to Meantime

15 months ago, I reported on a previous visit to Cheltenham's experimental visual art centre, Meantime. This weekend's "show" is if anything more perplexing than the last. In her residency, Felicity Hammond has put together "Constructed Reality: The Remnants of Ephemeral Art". In it, she claims to be responding "to the exploration of what it means to archive," and asks: "Do we lose even more authenticity through secondary representation?"

Meantime is on two floors. What you see in the ground floor is a display of architectural plans in two dimensions; and a short video depicting something going on down the steps in the basement area of the building - or rather the next door building, formerly the printers I used to go to, Hayman's. Upstairs, there is another video projected on the end wall of the gallery, with a third shown on an adjacent TV screen. Both these include images of the artist, doing things.

I only found one of the three videos of any aesthetic interest: the camera had been set up at night in the illuminated upstairs gallery, facing the full-length doors seen on the right of my photograph of the outside - the room had presumably been used as a storage loft originally. Felicity, dressed in black and I imagine wearing a black hood, then opened the doors slowly, so all you could see of her was her hands moving.

Her residency essay concludes, "The archive may echo the original performance in its content, but takes on a new reality and validity as being read as a part of our external, present reality." I ask, what is the use of such experiments if they do not result in an evident display of virtuosity?

Saturday, 29 January 2011


Striking images of people who have become reconciled with those harming them featured in an exhibition at the University of Gloucestershire this week. Entitled The F-Word: Images of Forgiveness, it's the brainchild of journalist Marina Cantacuzino and photographer Brian Moody: they travelled across four continents to collect stories of people whose lives had been shattered by violence, tragedy and injustice - and who had chosen to take the challenging and often painful journey towards forgiveness. Huddled in the midst of the tableaux - as if ganged up against - were the University's three rather warlike figures sculpted by Lynn Chadwick.

The timing of this exhibition's local visit fits well with the end of the long-running inquest into the July 2005 London bombings, which has brought so many brave people's testimony to our attention. That too may be a step in the direction of forgiveness.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Cricket memorabilia

Sorting through some old photographs a few days ago, I came across one of my grandfather's cricket team, Sutton Coldfield. I Googled the club, which is still flourishing, and, having just bought a new scanner, I was able to send a copy to them. Now they say they are interested in anything else from that era, so I have put together an on-line collection. It includes this rather blurred image of C.O. Gray and my grandfather (then 27) going out to open the batting for Sutton Coldfield v. Walsall, at the 1910 August Bank Holiday, a century ago. I particularly like the thatched pavilion in the background, which reminds me of J.M. Barrie's design of the same vintage which still graces the Stanway ground.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

140 years of history

Day 4 of our house being overrun by plumbers is coming to an end. The temperature has dropped, as forecast, and we look like being without heating till next week!

They have removed the hot water cylinder from the airing cupboard in one of our top floor bedrooms. Behind where it stood, you can see an old bell mechanism: no doubt this originally was the servant's quarter.

We have also uncovered a patch of (Victorian?) wallpaper, with a rather interesting musical motif. But alas no forgotten stash of jewellery has materialised from underneath the floorboards.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Wormington - Sapperton gas pipeline

My first photograph of this scene near Farmcote was taken on a Winter walk from Stow to Winchcombe a couple of years ago. Today I went in the other direction from Winchcombe, but only so far as Guiting Power.

In the meantime, the massive operation to lay 28 miles of controversial gas pipeline through the middle of Gloucestershire has been undertaken. Despite National Grid's claim that the pipe, laid between Wormington near Broadway, and Sapperton near Cirencester, was essential to cope with growing demand, countryside groups were apprehensive about long-term damage to a sensitive landscape.

An extensive hub for the works - as big as a hamlet - was created more or less overnight just off the A40, not far from the Andoversford traffic lights. Driving past today, however, I saw no sign of it: without close observation, it would be hard to know it had ever been there. And the same goes for the pipeline near Farmcote, apart from a smart new wooden fence.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Integral links

I pity Chris and Mark, up on our roof in the rain today. They are fixing the Genersys panels, which should enable us to meet 70% of our hot water needs from sunlight. Even on a day like today, the dial would show some return, we are assured. I asked about maintenance, and there is none - further, the life expectancy is 35 years (which should see us out).

I suppose it's worth it, not just financially, but because it's a small step towards a new, low-carbon future. John Beddington, the chief government scientist, was talking this morning about the impending global food crisis, in the light of the latest Foresight project Global Food and Farming Futures report: half the world is even now being failed by the food system, he said. "We have to think very seriously about taking together climate change, food, water, energy: they are integrally linked."

Monday, 24 January 2011

Solar thermal

Our drive has been full of vehicles today. Last Autumn, we were approached - who hasn't been? - about putting panels on the roof, and it seemed the right time. After much toing and froing, we decided against the initial suggestion, a ten-unit system of photovoltaic cells. The roof available is 40 degrees off South and our two large chimneys add a deal of shade to the area. So, we are foregoing the attractive 41.3p per unit on offer from the government at present as an incentive to house-owners who opt for PV.

Instead, we asked about solar thermal, to reduce the gas and/or electricity needed to warm our water. We found that it too came with a sweetener - the renewable heat incentive: some £300 a year for 20 years. So, that is what we are now having installed - but of course it doesn't end there. Further questions and answers have led us to agree that our ancient boiler - long since condemned by British Gas - should be replaced, along with most of our rusting radiators. Altogether, a very expensive business.

We are just thankful that the temperature are at this moment above freezing, though this does not seem set to continue later in the week: doors are continually left open by plumbers who - whilst their selling point may be carbon efficiency - were themselves clearly born in a barn.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Heart and Soul

James Naughtie and Boris Johnson discussed where to build new airport capacity this morning, with not a mention of climate change. It's this dislocation between business as usual and long-term realities that so distresses the environmentally-minded.

One network I find particularly helpful in coping with this is the CELprayer group. A passage, written by Henri Nouwen was recently posted here, as follows:

Building Inner Bridges

Prayer is the bridge between our conscious and unconscious
lives. Often there is a large abyss between our thoughts,
words, and actions, and the many images that emerge in our
daydreams and night dreams. To pray is to connect these two
sides of our lives by going to the place where God dwells.
Prayer is "soul work" because our souls are those sacred
centres where all is one and where God is with us in the
most intimate way.

Thus, we must pray without ceasing so that we can become
truly whole and holy.

This struck a chord with me following the initial gathering of the Transition Town Cheltenham Heart and Soul Group last Saturday: 13 of us turned up for what was an exhilarating meeting. Christians being, I would guess, in the minority, we have much to learn from those of another spirituality; and likewise much to share about our own tradition with those of different or no faith, but who are walking the same path as we are towards what we each know will be a very different future. (A mind map has now arrived with me, putting down some of our areas of concern.) Incidentally, Transition Town Cheltenham is the 349th official Transition initiative - and the 187th in the UK.

Along similar lines to our Heart and Soul discussions, I have recently admired this post by George Marshall, on the theme of the ingenious ways we avoid believing in climate change. (The videos are also available on YouTube.)

Friday, 14 January 2011


This joyous musical came to our local Cineworld last night - the fifth National Theatre relay we have caught. The colours, the energy, the dance, the singing, the rhythm, the anger and the passion came across vibrantly even for a mainly middle aged, middle class, WASPish audience in Cheltenham. I was a little jealous, though, that the audience in the Olivier Theatre were having a rather better time: there was not much dancing in the aisles in Screen 3. And they had a better view of the subtitles than did we.

Eldridge Cleaver, who crops up in the story (what there is of it), said that if you were not part of the solution, then you were part of the problem. Fela Kuti's solution was to galvanise an ever-increasing number of African people to grasp at their roots, in order to set themselves free. This provoked a violent (African) response at many points. It also involved a rejection of the Christian heritage in which Fela's father was brought up, and reinstating something altogether more in tune with Nigeria's history and culture: the most sinister - and effective - passage in Fela is towards the end, when he journeys to commune with his dead mother's spirit.

Of my great-great-great-great-grandfather, who lived from 1749 to 1824, Markus Rediker writes, "Few people in the eighteenth century were better equipped to capture the drama of the slave trade than was James Field Stanfield. He had made a slaving voyage [as a common sailor], and a gruesome one it was, from Liverpool to Benin [which borders Nigeria] and Jamaica and back during the years 1774-76, and he had lived for eight months at a slave-trading factory in the interior of the Slave Coast." Stanfield, an educated man, actor and writer, and father of the artist Clarkson Stanfield (named for the anti-slavery campaigner, Thomas Clarkson) decided to write candidly about the horrors of the slave trade, a chapter of Rediker's "The Slave Ship, a human history" (2007, Viking) being given over to his life story.

So, this was a liberating, but also a disturbing evening, a world removed from the Bootleg Beatles.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Peace Sunday

For the first time in a number of years, there will be a special collection at our church this Sunday in aid of Pax Christi. I support this international Catholic organisation, which aims:

* by the witness of its members, inspired by the word of God and the Eucharist, and acting in accordance with the spirit of the Beatitudes and of Christ’s commandment to fight injustice, to forgive one’s enemies and love one’s neighbour

* in considering the problems of the world and the church, to study the Christian peace ideal and to find ways of realising this in the light of the Gospel and

* by appropriate initiatives to promote this ideal among all people and institutions.

In his message for this year’s Peace Sunday, the Pope says, “I ask all Catholics for their prayers and support for their brethren in the faith who are victims of violence and intolerance.” In particular, he mentions the Christians of Iraq, but he could equally have referred to those in Egypt, India and Pakistan who have been in the recent news. The Holy Father goes on: “It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty. In other areas we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols.” Maybe each of us has experienced a degree of this prejudice and hostility in our own lives.

I would commend the Pax Christi prayer:

Thank you loving God
For the gift of life
For this wonderful world which we all share
For the joy of love and friendship
For the challenge of helping to build your kingdom.

My determination to work for a world of peace and justice
My conviction that, whatever our nationality or race, we are all global citizens, one in Christ
My courage to challenge the powerful with the values of the Gospel
My commitment to find nonviolent ways of resolving conflict - personal, local, national and international
My efforts to forgive injuries and to love those I find it hard to love.

Teach me
To share the gifts you have given me
To speak out for the victims of injustice who have no voice
To reject the violence which runs through much of our world today.

Holy Spirit of God
Renew my hope for a world free from the cruelty and evil of war so that we may all come to share in God's peace and justice. Amen

The image was from our 2004 stay with Caroline's cousins in Asturias. The sea there is very rough - perfect, I thought, for surfing, and I borrowed a board. But I hadn't reckoned with the force of the undertow: it carried me out, and I had to be rescued, with difficulty, by the Spanish Baywatch equivalent. It was the last afternoon the beach was being monitored in that way: God was with me. The following evening, I took this photograph of a calmer-looking sea, but one I was fearful to re-enter.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The alternative to growth

Writing in today's Guardian, Deborah Orr draws our attention to the HSBC report, The World in 2050. It predicts that in 39 years time we (the UK) will be the sixth largest economy in the world, barely affected by the vast Eastward-moving structural adjustment in the global economy. I share Deborah's view that this is sheer fantasy, and commend her formulation of an alternative vision:

It involves the adoption of serious, sober, studious, self-improving and circumscribed lives that are quiet and careful, disciplined and thrifty, packed with work, mostly unpaid, highly reliant on "simple pleasures" for satisfaction and self-fulfilment, and held together by a small but tremendously reliable and highly decentralised state.

She concludes: There was a brief vogue for discussion about the adoption of such Quaker-like existences just as the crash came, but people very quickly realised that they didn't actually fancy it all that much, really. Instead, the hope is still to have it all, for ever, and in this the only real difference between the mainstream left and the mainstream right is how the fantasy gets dressed up. Happy 2050.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Dorset glass

Laurence Whistler engraved this window, one of a full set in the luminously light church of St Nicholas, Moreton, between Wareham and Dorchester. I paid a visit today, after staying last night with a second cousin in Swanage. (Thanks are due once again to Simon Jenkins for his invaluable "England's Thousand Best Churches".) The quality of the engraving is remarkable, and must be justly described as Whistler's masterpiece.

The subject matter is appropriate for today too, as I was on my way to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Dorchester, to pay final respects (along with some hundreds of others) to our good friend Giles Gleadell: who would contest his claim to be the only member of Cheltenham (Racecourse) also to be a member of the Royal Cruising Club? It was the best send-off I've ever had the privilege of attending: Giles must be cooing quietly up there.