Saturday, 28 March 2009

Earth Hour

We have enjoyed our earth hour by candlelight! Conversation flourished. Non-computer-based jobs got done. The television didn't distract us, nor the hi-fi. But you can't - as the photograph shows - escape the telephone, and - in our case - the Aga. (Sorry about that, George.)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

More Gloucestershire Way

The forecast was good: I'd dug the garden; so I decided to tackle another section of the Gloucestershire Way today - from Coberley to Notgrove. It was a sublime walk. A gentle climb up the East side of the Churn Valley, through Upper Coberley; across to Needlehole, and down to the Hilcot lane; then up nearly as far as St Paul's Epistle, and down to the Coln via Foxcote.

Sitting with my back to the bridge over the river, next to the still-closed Frogmill, I ate my sandwiches in the sunshine. Then, crossing the A40, I found myself in horsicultural Shipton: not only with a maze of fences, but now about double the number of large houses since my last visit. The builders have had a field day.

The best part of the walk was the final stretch: across from Shipton to Hampen; over to Salperton - horses in front of the big house - and down and up the lovely, grassy valley beyond Farhill Farm, into Notgrove.

Still thinking about the Age of Stupid - see today's 4-star Times review incidentally - I found myself doing a double take at the packs of bottled water delivered to the gates of one of the biggest houses I passed: as we all surely now know what it costs to produce the stuff and its plastic bottles - if not, see here - how about a fine, not only for those smoking in public and failing to belt up in cars, but those drinking anything in the way of water other than what's perfectly good from the tap? (My entry for the most impracticable idea of the year award.)

(More photographs of the walk here.)

Monday, 16 March 2009

One-eyed sparrowhawk in the garden

Taking on board the message of last night's film, I have - like Voltaire's Candide - today been cultivating my garden. What a great day for it too! The soil has dried out brilliantly.
I found myself working alongside a hawk, which was making a meal of a magpie. (We can certainly spare one or two.) She seemed to have lost her left eye.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

"The Age of Stupid"

Last weekend, Caroline and I went to Malvern, to see Waiting for Godot, a marvellous production with a set to echo some of the scenes described in Cormac McCarthy's The Road. A dazzling performance by Ian McKellen too. His character, Estragon, has the line: "People are bloody ignorant apes." And on my visit to the cinema this evening (the first time I've been to a film premiere), I came out thinking: who can disagree?

"We live in the age of ignorance, the age of stupid," concludes one of those portrayed in the film (a former oil man from New Orleans), and indeed "The Age of Stupid" is its title. Having driven down to Bristol for this event, I became acutely uncomfortable during the film that I was going to have to drive an otherwise empty car all the way back again. Did I need to travel all that distance for another lecture on climate change? Don't I have all the information already?

Well, there was an aura of gesture about Vivienne Westwood cycling - rather uncertainly - along the green carpet, as relayed to us direct from Leicester Square before the showing; but the film itself is quite nicely nuanced in some ways. The character I mentioned - despite seeing the light after losing all in the Katrina disaster - seemed to go on living a lifestyle many of us here would now not wish to emulate. A Nigerian aiming to qualify as a doctor aspires to an American way of living, "and then you would never want to die." The Indian launching a new low-cost airline seeks to take his people out of poverty. Who shall throw the first stone?

So, yes do go and see it for yourself if you can do so easily, and take others with you. It's on from Friday this week (20th) in Glasgow, Inverness, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Bristol, Belfast, Sheffield and various London cinemas - and at others you can find via its website. If the film is not shown in cinemas near you, you can rent the DVD and arrange a screening for yourself and friends, from 1st May: not expensive.

Its subject is after all the single most pressing issue of our age.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

"Our civilisation in crisis" - a matter for reflection

As previewed 10 days ago, Frank Regan visited Cheltenham yesterday to lead a Day of reflection under the auspices of Cheltenham Christian Ecology Link. The chapel at St Edward's Junior School was pleasingly full for two stimulating talks, the oldest attendee being 93, the youngest 16 months.

What follows is not a synopsis of what Frank said, rather a series of some thoughts he gave us, some questions he raised, some comments he elicited.

All the world's peoples want peace - which for believers is the experience of living in the fullness of God's blessing. Why are we therefore, since 9/11, in a situation of permanent war?

Adapting Archbishop Romero, you and I are prophets of a future not our own; priests of a creation not our own, and builders of a humanity not our own.

The lens through which I look upon the world is my faith vision. How does my faith impact upon those for whom I am responsible?

"I have come that you may have life, and life to the full." (John 10, 10) We are in Christ - the body of Christ, given for the life of the world.

"You are the body of Christ. Receive what you are; become what you receive." (St Augustine) In the light of this, how can we relate to other peoples in the manner of war?

Creation is good; and it is beautiful (a particularly Greek insight), clean (a Roman), harmonious (a Slav), rainbow-coloured (a Japanese). Why have we - especially in the last 250 years - ceased to care adequately for it, our planet?

The gathering in, the symbol of the state we're in is Peak Oil. Our oil-driven civilsation is coming to an end. So, why are we still being urged to consider ourselves duty-bound to consume ourselves out of Depression?

Prostitution and body-parts trafficing; extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo - they take place in our name. We are all involved. How do we relate?

These are the questions our churches should be asking. Instead, they give only answers; and sometimes their teaching has not been given reception. An implosion is needed. Meanwhile, we can be the change.

"Civilisation in crisis" - or flux. There is potential for harm, but also opportunity.

The love of God only becomes visible through us, who are loved by God. "I take my delight in you." (Luke 3, 22) "We are God's work of art." (Ephesians 2, 10)

We are not here for the life of the church: we are here for the life of the world.

Mysticism is not about people living in a cave, but about activity and practice in the world. Living simply is a collective effort, a globalised effort; so others may simply live: it needs to be a church activity. We are the saints, but there is no patron saint of equilibrium.

Jesus was known as a devil by his enemies, as a prophet by his followers. Prophets are not so much about holiness as wholly-ness: "I come that you may have life to the full" - not religion to the full!

"Mercy" (connoting nurture), "justice," "good faith" (Matthew 23, 23) are to be our watchwords. "As often as you did this to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me." (Matthew 25, 40)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A cyclist moans

Our local paper is always ready to print letters complaining about lawless, reckless and/or thoughtless cyclists. Speaking as one who has in his time been all or any of these, and is repentant, I am now retaliating.

I have been complaining for years - literally - about cars blocking cycle access to the main road crossing in Montpellier, Cheltenham. This photo, taken on Saturday morning last, shows what is happening: more often than not, the access is partially or wholly blocked by lawless, reckless and/or thoughtless drivers parking their cars/vans in the Keep Clear space!

It should be possible, with a little street furniture, to ensure the access way is kept clear. Cheltenham Borough Council: if you read this blog, please DO SOMETHING!

Monday, 2 March 2009


Today, we have been exploring North Wiltshire, so near (from home), and yet so far. Caroline had never been to the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery before - and indeed I only went there last year for the first time: currently, they have an Arts Council touring exhibition of Matisse's Drawing with Scissors lithographs. This was interesting, as are some of the Modern British works in the permanent collection, and indeed the 20th Century pottery.

The Gallery feels rather a sad place to visit though. Swindon's population is nearly twice the size of Cheltenham's, but its arts facilities bear little comparison.

Things looked up as we left to visit three churches nearby, Simon Jenkins's guide in hand. St Mary's Lydiard Tregoze was luckily open, but only briefly: I should like to return, to look longer at the extraordinary array of memorials, and some rather tantalising mediaeval glass fragments.

St Mary's Purton we thought was probably less likely to get a second look, though the setting is delightful, the twin-towered church alongside a fine late Elizabethan manor house and enormous L-shaped barn. There's some mediaeval wall painting, and a 17th Century "Last Supper" over the main altar: Jenkins describes the reredos as an "awful tapestry", but he visited at a time when the Flemish painting had been stolen, and a local artist had lovingly created a version to fill the gap. (It now hangs at the West end of the church: Jenkins was not too cruel.)

Finally, to St Sampson's in Cricklade. Its disproportionately large tower dominates the Upper Thames valley, and should certainly be seen from within, so we gathered. But the church was locked. Happily, a kind Churchwarden came rapidly along to open up for us in response to my phone call: most impressive. St Sampson, a rare bird, appears in a Kempe West window.

The cat accompanied us as we explored the church: it apparently lives locked up inside.