Friday, 30 January 2009

Free Range Photography

It's been a while since I looked at my website. So, after many hours of trial and error, it's now had a revamp. Web design is not something I have any expertise in, so I'm not particularly proud of the result, but it will have to do for the time being.

Here's a photograph I found on one of the old versions of my homepage - me plus dog, shown in silhouette at Pinkham, where I go on one of my favourite walks. Not our current dog, I rather think.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Body heat

Thanks to Christian Ecology Link's Jo Rathbone for this: A suburb of Barcelona – Santa Coloma de Gramanet – contains a cemetery holding the remains of 57,000 people. At a cost of 720,000 euros, the authorities have erected 462 solar panels on its multi-storey mausoleums, generating enough energy for 60 homes and saving about 62 tonnes of carbon emissions a year. Although the scheme was initially treated with derision, families who use the cemetery now support the idea and there are plans to erect more solar panels and triple the amount of electricity generated.

(No solar panels on La Sagrada Famila though, to the best of my knowledge: we didn't make it up onto the roof when we visited last October.)

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Sunny lady

This afternoon, we visited Painswick's Rococo Garden. It is to be the venue for a blessing and reception following Leo and Mini's marriage, on a date that Mini's family (from Japan) can manage.

Here the happy couple are, standing where the blessing is to take place, in front of the Red House, a folly at the head of the garden with a tiny room behind its rather exotic facade. "What happens if it rains?" I ask. "I am sunny lady," my future-daughter-in-law replies with sang-froid.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


More Gloucestershire Way walking today, from Notgrove to Stow-on-the-Wold. It was a beautiful day for it. The Pulhams bus did what it said in the timetable, and it was an easy walk from the main road into Notgrove village, glistening in the early morning frost.

I mentioned before how I first heard about the Second Vatican Council. Well, tomorrow is the exact anniversary of its being announced by the good Pope John XXIII 50 years ago.

I read in this week's Tablet that one of only two aims set out by the Pope on 25th January 1959 was to issue "a renewed cordial invitation to the faithful of the separated Churches to participate with us in this feast of grace and brotherhood." Rather appropriate therefore that I should be walking with a former ambassador to the Holy See. He said that I, as a Catholic, must find it sad to go into beautiful old churches (like St Bartholomew's, Notgrove), and think that they were "once yours, but no longer." "Not at all," I responded!

I just rejoice that they are well cared for, and that such treasures as this early 14th Century Madonna and child (in Notgrove's vestry) and the even earlier (possibly Saxon?) crucifix in the East wall are available for all to wonder at. We have had our ups and downs along the ecumenical way opened up by the Council. This last decade in particular seems to have seen a stalling in the process, which is sad. But we are in a totally different atmosphere to that which prevailed pre-Vatican II: my mother never went into a non-Catholic church except for a wedding or funeral.

And the good health of specifically Christian organisations such as Pax Christi and Christian Ecology Link demonstrates that we can today work together in areas where we are not in the least troubled by doctrinal differences.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

"Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip"

This is the title of an 11-minute animated video made last Autumn by Leo Murray of the RCA. Here is a link to his site. I recommend it.

Yesterday, at the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network meeting we heard about Transition Towns from the green economist Molly Scott Cato. She lives in nearby Stroud, which has followed Totnes down the Transition path. As Molly says, "We are in a situation of total unpredictability." Her message: we face the challenge of how to move to a steady-state economy. We have to respond positively, or succumb to fear and depression, our two great enemies. A Transition Town aims at becoming a more stable, resiliant society, whose members enjoy closer, more convivial relationships within their community. We can start by smiling at people we pass in the street.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Musicians from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra for Peace released a statement, expressing their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before a concert at La Scala, Milan last Sunday.

"We, the members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, are convinced that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The last decades proved the futility of this type of reasoning, and we represent an alternative model based on equality, co-operation and justice for all.

This alternative model is not utopia. It has been put to the test for 10 years, obtaining evident musical results and allowing each member of the orchestra to change their perspective and have a profound understanding of the "other".

We aspire to a total liberty and equality among Israelis and Palestinians, and it is on this basis that we are here today to make music. The actions of the Israeli government of the past two weeks are not the way to resolve the existential differences. The actions of Hamas do not contribute to creating mutual trust.

We deplore any action that results in the death of civilians. We call for an immediate repudiation of all violence, which will lead to honest and just negotiations between all the sides involved, without exceptions.

A cease-fire is merely the start and will undeniably build the foundation of coexistence between the two populations, whose destinies are intimately tied. A sovereign Palestinian state can only really exist with the end of the occupation. The Palestinians must be guaranteed the same freedom and independence that Israel has had since 1948. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a conflict between two populations that are profoundly convinced of their right to live in the same land, and must accept their mutual rights to do so.

The time has come, after so much bloodshed, to find a lasting solution of coexistence rather than short-term tactical remedies. In this spirit, we hope that you enjoy today's concert."

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

A for America

People sometimes show surprise when I say that I usually only watch television for the football. But today wasn't a usual day: I had it on, and was watching, for the inauguration, perhaps encouraged by press reports that the new President's speech would only last for 17 minutes. I must say, for all its fine words, and I applauded in so many places, it seemed longer.

They do things differently in America. There's this curious informality - handshakes, backslapping etc. - combined with a ponderousness, a self-importance that detracts from the ostensible (and I'm sure genuine) intent. However welcome is The Change, yet there seems nothing more certain than that in this case desire will outmatch performance.

In contrast to the sub-zero temperatures in Washington, we had no frost last night in the Severn Vale. But up near Birdlip, where I went to walk the dog, there was ice galore. This is a photograph I took of a prescient puddle.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The sheep and the goats

This morning, I visited Worcester. Although it's hardly ever been much more than half an hour away from where we've lived, it's terra virtually incognita. As I had to go anyway (see below), I thought I'd look up Jenkins's verdict on houses of possible interest. As a result I found myself going round The Commandery.

This has to be one of the best museums I've seen. There are six layers of history specifically peeled back via the free audioguide, but even if you haven't the patience to listen, its displays can't fail to impress.

I particularly liked the room painted (probably about 1500) with murals, including this one. An archangel (Michael?) is holding scales in which lie the souls of the recently departed. (The Commandery was once a hospital: were the dying left - to die - in this room?) It's a tug of war, whether each soul goes to the devil (below left), or whether Mary prevails, with the aid of those heavy rosary beads.

Sobre to reflect on this after I'd left The Commandery and was kneeling in Worcester Crematorium! An old friend of my mother had died, aged 93. I often asked my mother why they were such good friends, as on the face of it they didn't seem to have much in common. "She was very good to me when your grandmother died," my mother said. In 1947.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Pinter RIP

I've just caught up with an interesting article by Peter Stanford in last week's Tablet. He interviewed Harold Pinter in 1992 for a proposed Radio 4 series on those on the outer fringes of faith.

Pinter died an agnostic, but he had much admired the Sandinista Government, which contained (at least initially) three Catholic priests.

Stanford reports Pinter as saying: "The synthesis of politics and religion in this case was that these priests and these people in Nicaragua were seeing the two things as one – that there was no distinction between the fate of people on earth, and their fate in the universal context – the longer view, if you like." He adds, He seemed, at this moment, to be reaching for the phrase “eternal life” or “heaven”, but was holding back from saying it. Or perhaps I just imagined it.

Here in England, Pinter went on to say, "to put it mildly, such a synthesis is out of the question. All we have here is a very bleak separation of one life from another. Your life from my life. We are two totally separate individuals. There is no sense of coherent unity, of a shared world. The only thing that is shared is total misery by millions of people, being rejected by the status quo or taking their place in the status quo as rejects. What I think happened in Nicaragua, and what is expressed in the best minds of the Catholic priesthood, is a respect for life. Whereas we are faced with this very dark wall of contempt for life, which is expressed through so many of our leading politicians."

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Gloucestershire Way

Yesterday, I set out to fulfil a New Year's Resolution: to walk the Gloucestershire Way. I shall leave the more remote bits till later in the year. It was easiest to start near home, from Crickley Hill.

The photograph was taken looking back North-Westwards at the Hill, across the A417. It must be the most hazardous crossing on all the 100-mile route: three lanes of traffic without any central reservation. But walk for five minutes up and away from the road and - noise apart - you are in the most glorious landscape: on a day like yesterday especially.

You couldn't find a better example of Cotswold walling than here at Coberley, supporting the garden of the former Rectory, a couple of miles down the Gloucestershire Way from Crickley Hill.

The church is certainly in need of a signpost: you can't see it at all from the village road. You approach it through a gate in a house wall, leading to a garden path. It's what Pevsner calls "the shadow of an outer courtyard of Coberley Court (demolished 1790)." The church contains some handsome 14th Century memorials, but was more or less entirely rebuilt 500 years later. Apart from its situation, it's not one of my favourite buildings though it feels much loved and cared for.

Pevsner seems to have missed the rather mysterious face in the farmhouse wall high above the entrance to the church from the road.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Lost in Whittington

Caroline has been teaching this week: we have a young man from Chile staying with us, here on his Summer vacation to improve his English. As a result, I was on dog duty today. It was sunny at home, so I decided to drive up to Whittington, the parish in which we lived for nearly 12 years. There, however, the fog was dense. The footpath I remembered was easy enough to find and follow, through the woods, but when I emerged into the high, open country I felt surprisingly lost. Though the traffic on the A40 seemed nearby, there were none of the usual landmarks - until this familiar, rather beaten up copse came into view - and the sun poked through.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Water and St Bob

"Water," the final (rather bleak) film in Deepa Mehta's Elements trilogy, was shown at our film society last evening. It describes the tragic lives of widows in pre-Second World War India: their treatment "disguised as religion, it's just about money," as the male lead says.

Bob Dylan must have made a great deal of money from his songs over the years, but their indebtedness to the bible does not, by contrast, seem to me in the least exploitative. The lecture by Malcolm Guite at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations last month may have surprised Dylan by the number of connections it drew out! See "In the time of my confession", Memory, prayer and religious roots in the music of Bob Dylan. You can read it to the accompaniment of lots of the songs referred to just by subscribing to Spotify: it's free! A no-brainer.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Planet Cheltenham

I've carped about Holst's statue previously. Here he was today, in the snow, conducting in the direction of the "Eagle Star" building.

Pevsner describes this 40-year-old monstrosity as a "lumpish... insensitive 13-storey... mistake."

Who am I to say that statue and building weren't both ill-judged?