We woke up this morning and opened the curtains to blizzard conditions. Thank goodness I managed to plant the early potatoes this week! This time next week, I shall be setting off again upon the Via de la Plata from Salamanca, in what I hope will be milder weather. Must get back to the packing: when you have to carry what you need for three or more weeks on your back, everything you are taking with you involves a severe examination of conscience.
It's hard to keep the dog confined to the boot of our car at the best of times, but worse when Thomas is travelling with us: we picked him up from Newbury station this afternoon, over for a long weekend from Lisbon. Ah well, it was Floss's birthday, so I suppose this once...
Great to hear the Pope's inaugural Mass sermon today, delivered under the shadow of this great dome! (I photographed it when we were last in Rome, in May 2001.) Here's an extract:
"Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation! The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.
Be protectors of God’s gifts! Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women. Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!
Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!
To protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!"
Stepping from the bus this morning, I set off down Lower Washwell Lane, towards the Painswick Stream and Lovedays Mill. Ascending to Cockshoot, there were great views back to the self-styled (?) Queen of the Cotswolds, and then a good view also of Sheepscombe from Blackstable Wood.
After a few yards along the Slad road, my path soon led down vertiginously into the next valley East, Dillay Brook, tiny lambs scurrying away from me. I took this photograph on the climb back out, before the less scenic trudge up through Nottingham Scrubs.
Back at 250 metres, I crossed the Calf Way, before my third descent, to the Holy Brook at beautiful Honeycombe Farm, and the final climb leading me soon into Miserden and the warmth of the Carpenter's Arms. Not having seen a single soul since I left Painswick, "Are we following each other?" a voice asked. It was someone who had just come in from a walk in Miserden Park, and (like me) had also been walking round Dursley four weeks ago: he had seen me lunching in The Old Spot (where the food is better).
Meeting Dee on the steps of Oxford Place Methodist Centre as I was leaving Leeds yesterday made me realise what a drab bunch we were in Christian Ecology Link. I had spent the day with 70 or so fellow members and friends - the occasion of our annual conference.
"Barking up the right tree" is the title of this eye-catching creature, one of many striking exhibits I saw in Sheffield yesterday. First, I was directed to the Graves Gallery (it closes early): something of everything there in the way of 16th-21st Century pictures and sculpture, a really well-presented collection. Then, I discovered the much newer (as its name implies) Millennium Gallery, which leads off the rather spectacular Winter Garden.
Johnny White's sculpture is made up of pieces donated by the people of Sheffield: it becomes quite animated, depending which button you press, and serves to reflect the huge and varied collection of cutlery, metalwork and silverware permanently on display in one of the rooms.
Another (larger) at present houses "Forces of Nature", a temporary show on the theme of landscape: it stems from Ruskin's association with Sheffield, but apart from a host of wonderful Ruskin drawings, the exhibition includes sculpture, and paintings by Turner, Watts, the Pre-Raphaelites and many contemporary artists. There's a spell-binding video showing the progress of a large roundish block of wood from its initial deposit in a flooded stream out into the open sea over a couple of decades.
For the second time this week, I found myself catching a train from Cheltenham Station to go in the opposite direction to the race crowds. (I left it a bit later today, so was all but swept aside by the incoming tide on Platform 2.) Arriving in a rainy Sheffield soon after Midday, I saw that I could catch a tram to the City Centre: all very clean and efficient, and they accept bus passes. Then, on the look out for the tourist information office I found myself passing St Marie's Cathedral, where a mass was just starting. What luck! Because it's exactly ten years today that my mother (Mary) died.
Congratulations on your election as Pope, and I hope your new job won't turn out to be a poisoned chalice - either self-administered, or slipped to you by some corrupt member of your household (the fate which was surmised to have befallen your predecessor but two).
Although I am addressing this to "Your Holiness" - in traditional mode - I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't prefer a less lofty title, judging by the way you introduced yourself from the balcony last evening. "Brothers and sisters, good evening." What a delightful beginning!
Sam Jones had a long piece in last Saturday's Guardian about cardinals who made up the electoral college. "Then there are those who find fame for other reasons," he wrote. "Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Jesuit intellectual and Archbishop of Buenos Aires who travels round town by bus and told his compatriots not to waste their money on plane tickets to Rome to see him become a cardinal, but to give it instead to the poor..." My heart leapt to read this: someone who walked the talk!
And then what a great name to choose! I photographed a "St Francis" stained glass window when visiting St Alphege's Church in Solihull last month: here is a detail. You can see the saint's stigmata - reminding us of the cross Christians have to bear - and the wolf (the Curia?) alongside the rabbit (us in our pews) and the robin (Reliant? - the new Popemobile?).
I groaned when the news came of Joseph Ratzinger's election: last night, though, I was fighting back tears of joy. You are an answer to many prayers!
I photographed this lovely dip by the entrance to Macaroni Downs Farm today on our Wednesday walk, based on Eastleach. It was a beautiful day, the wind a little less cool even on the tops, with views as far as the clumps above Marlborough. But there was ice on our windscreen first thing, and ice too on the River Leach.
From the car park behind The Victoria, we walked South down the beautiful valley, keeping the river to our left until we crossed amongst the ducks at Coate Mill. Just before that, we had found ourselves on the wrong side of a fence. Attempting to cross it, the largest member of our party finished upside down, hanging by his trousers on the top wire: it was all three of us could do to detach him, and pull him to his feet - a nasty moment.
On a good day for plane spotters (Brize Norton is all too near), it was also - the second day in succession for me - one when I could stand and watch the less noisy, more graceful red kite: a thrilling sight.
Macaroni seems a rather appropriate place to illustrate what's going on at this moment: we are awaiting news of who has been elected Pope!
Undaunted - just - by the continuing bitter winds, I pedalled off this morning, to catch an early train to Cookham: it was worth it to escape the crowds coming in the other direction. There was a scattering of snow on the platform at Stroud as we passed through, but none by the time I reached Berkshire. Ten of us walked off together from Cookham station, passing Stanley Spencer's house before making for the wood that was partly the inspiration for Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. Despite an attractive few hundred yards of sunken lane and a few big, old beeches, it lacks much mystery today because of ill-management and the dual carriageway below.
Cutting short of Henley, we looped back through an attractive stretch of water meadows, still showing signs of flooding. Hardly any houses of note, I was surprised to observe, and all much more suburban than anything in the Cotswolds. It was a joy to catch a golden sunset from the direction of the Malverns as the train headed back to Cheltenham from Gloucester on the last leg of my homeward journey.
Ten days or so ago, as hinted at the time, I walked past Cheltenham Racecourse, where preparations were at an advanced stage for this week's invasion: the population of Cheltenham temporarily doubles. Tonight, at Mass, we were bidden to take home one of 115 slips of paper lying in a basket, each with the name of one of the Cardinals who will enter the Sistine Chapel on Cheltenham's opening day. However, "This isn't a sweepstake," our parish priest emphasised: "we should just pray especially for the Holy Spirit to guide the particular Cardinal whose name we pick out."
Mine was Cláudio Hummes, a 78-year-old Brazilian: quite a good egg, it seems from Wikipedia. Probably too old to be a strong candidate himself, he will surely back someone willing to lead the fight for social justice. I'm praying so anyway.
Half a million others have signed up on the Adopt-a-Cardinal website. Might all this prayer mean that the Catholic Church is not entirely a stranger to democracy?!
Its been nearly five months since our book group convened last: then we met in Birmingham, for a look round buildings in the centre, amongst them the new library in course of construction. Today, it was Worcester's huge new library's turn for a visit: The Hive there only opened last Summer - it felt good and indeed (as it boasts) sustainable. We were impressed.
The exterior, which contrasts markedly with Birmingham, is finished in a dull bronze, reminding me of the Guggenheim in Bilbao - though I rather wonder whether it will last as well. Inside is full of of purpose, comfort and peace, and (besides its 800 study stations) quite a few books. Oh, and at least a couple of quite significant new art works: Robert Orchardson's aluminium mobile, "Kaleidoscope", which hangs in the foyer, making the best use of a light space and people's ability to see it from many angles; and Clare Woods' two-dimensional abstract "Rack Alley", dominating the atrium.
Earlier, our enjoyment of the Cathedral - rather a forbidding building from the outside, especially on a rainy day like today - was greatly enhanced by having Richard Lockett as our guide. His unobtrusive knowledgeability (and wry asides) made the nearly two hours we spent there fly past.
This month Gloucestershire is hosting an international printmaking festival across no less than 26 venues. I have just been along to the Parabola Arts Centre, where "Impress '13" exhibits work under the title of "The Silk Road".
The show is dominated by the work of a Chinese artist from Yunnan province, He Kun who was there this evening. His huge, colourful "reduction" prints (immensely detailed) are made by cutting into a wooden block. Ink is then rolled across the surface: those areas not cut away retain the ink and mark the paper when run through the press. More of the surface is cut away as another layer is added - and so on, using the same block: a total of 20 different colours were used in the work on display! Every sheet of paper in the edition has to be printed stage-by-stage.
He Kun's work highlights the way the industrial, urban way of life is encroaching upon rural and culturally traditional China: his motivation is the protection of the government-designated "new rural areas" from careless development.
The Severn and the Thames are divided by the Cotswold escarpment obviously, and the line of the Stroudwater Navigation and Thames & Severn Canal attempted to bridge that divide. Trade began about the time of the French Revolution, but the canal proved viable for barely more than a century, thus mocking the millions of hours of labour expended on its construction and maintenance.
40 or so years ago to a trust was established with a view to restoring the dwindled asset, and indeed stretches near the Western end now look very much more like the real thing than this scene I photographed today, near South Cerney.
On a dull but rainfree morning, we walked from that village through the Cotswold Water Park and up the Southern bank of the canal almost to Siddington. That bank, made of soil excavated from the canal bed of course, divides it narrowly from the zigzaggy River Churn at times; and our quintet's pleasant walk was in turn separated from the stop-start of foursomes on the South Cerney Golf Course by the watery tangle now infesting the canal itself.
Another child is on the move tomorrow: having helped Edmund pack up his cottage, we visited Leo and Mini's new flat on Sunday; and here he is in the old one, with most things packed ready for the removal van tomorrow.
Today has been warm - warm enough for me to think in terms of planting a few potatoes very soon. I've been turning a bit of soil this morning in preparation. A robin has been my companion, and the fountain has been playing to indicate sunshine - and that its mini solar panel has survived the Winter. Gloom descended this evening though, with Manchester United's exit from the Champions League. ("Always keep a-hold of Nani for fear of..." ending up with 10 men.)
I caught the bus to Stratton Post Office, just North of Cirencester this morning, with the aim of walking back home from there. In the end, I cheated somehat, by descending from Crickley Hill Country Park to Little Shurdington, and catching the bus back from there. But it was still a reasonable workout in preparation for Spain - 14 miles/22.5 kms. Even though I carried very little, I'm exhausted this evening! Am I mad, planning to walk this distance every day for three weeks? Probably.
It couldn't have been a better day for a long walk - sunshine and practically no wind. The first half was much the more beautiful: I visited five wonderful Cotswold churches as I walked up the Duntisbourne valley - dedicated to St Peter, Holy Rood, St Michael, St Peter again and St Bartholomew. Though there's no church in Middle Duntisbourne, this picture of the hamlet with its lake seems to me to capture the spirit of today's walk.
Until I reached the doggy domain of the Country Park, I saw not a single other walker. And spoke to just two men - almost the only people I saw in the Duntisbourne valley: one was a 74-year-old, working on his allotment, the other, 78, scooted up on his electric power-assisted bike whilst I was eating my sandwiches, to clear out the area round a spring, till 1954 (he told me) that village's water supply.
Edmund's "new" boat is in the water at last, initial repairs having been completed and the harbour master satisfied. We went down to Bristol to see it this morning, and very large it is too! Two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a bath), and the largest steering wheel you've ever seen.
The John Ray Initiative Environment Conference today held my attention for only half its length, I'm afraid to say. "Progress or Problem? Responding to Genetically Modified Food and Crops" was the title. "Some question whether this is even a debatable subject," its introducer warned. The first speaker, scientist Joe Perry of the EFSA, made out a good case for us to be there: a Christian and a risk assessor, he holds the firm view that GM is not productive of consequences of necessity outside God's will. And there is plenty to object in modern agriculture apart from GM. Organic farming is rarely enough. However, there was a sharp intake of breath around me when he asked, "Why shouldn't GM be integrated into organic agriculture?"
I hadn't really grasped the reason why GM product approval was so much quicker to obtain in North America than Europe: across the Atlantic there simply isn't the pattern of hedgerows and copses, the intermingling of villages with farmsteads. So what noisy local opposition is there likely to be to blanket spraying?
The JRI's Chair, John Weaver, spoke next, concentrating more on ethical and theological considerations. For a Baptist minister, he gave a surprising amount of credence to Catholic Social Teaching, especially its emphasis on nature as gift: it's not a reality to be left alone, but humanity is entrusted to evaluate and use it for the common good. The Catholic Church's overemphasis on the anthropocentric was let pass.
The supersize butterfly model in my photograph indicates perhaps which side some of the students of our hosts Redcliffe College, Gloucester were on in this GM debate.