Friday, 17 April 2009

"Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani"

As I said, I am just off to walk some more of the Compostela Way: this calvary stands by the Cathedral in Eauze, where we ended our pilgrimage walk in 2007.

This time a week ago, we had just returned from London where we heard the OAE St Matthew Passion in the Royal Festival Hall. A wonderful experience, musically, but the setting could have been more conducive to religious meditation, I found.

At the crucial phrase of Jesus on the cross, Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani, I became distracted by the fact that the singer, the excellent Roderick Williams, pronounced the last word "Asbachthani". It so happened that I was sitting opposite his neighbour at dinner afterwards. Do you know Jesus? I was able to ask her. Yes, she replied, and proceeded to introduce me; so I enquired whether or not his pronunciation was intentional. Indeed it was, he replied: an Aramaic-speaking friend had been his guide. So, is this another Mumpsimus perhaps?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Way of St James

In September 2006, Caroline and I set out from Figeac, North of Toulouse, on the Chemin du Puy, one of the pilgrimage routes to Compostela. We didn't walk far that year, but the following Spring, we picked up the route where we had left off, in Cahors, and walked as far as Eauze. Next week, I am hoping to walk the final French instalment of The Way, reaching Saint Jean Pied de Port. (Actually, it's not really the final French bit: we need to go back and start properly in Le Puy at some stage: rather mountainous, some of that first stretch.)

This month's trip involves some complicated travel arrangements: train from London to Pau via Paris; car hire in Pau (Caroline is house-sitting nearby whilst I walk), and separate trains home which supposedly meet up in Dax. Rail Europe have disconcerted me by saying there are two at the same time from Dax with different numbers.

Last time we walked, I photographed this notice pinned up in the porch of the church at Saint Antoine. (I am hoping the weather next week won't be quite as extreme as mentioned.)

Monday, 13 April 2009


Do you know about the Kenyan Stations of the Cross? They contain an additional 15th Station, Jesus rises from the dead. Simple, and expressive illustrations too! (Thank you, Barbara, for introducing me to them.)

We have been celebrating Easter at home this year, and in a quiet way. Agnes and Ida have been in Lisbon (with Thomas); Edmund and Claire at their home are seeing the boys through chicken pox, leaving Leo and Mini to spend yesterday with us here. We all went to St Gregory's for a joyful Easter morning mass. Arriving just before it began, the only room - as so often - was right at the front, which gave Mini a vivid experience of what went on: her first Christian Easter.

Fr. Bosco spoke about the descent into hell: this may sound unpromising, but wasn't at all in the context he set - his friend's daughter, locked in a depression which led to her suicide. Where we gather in His name, He is there in the midst of us - not needing to knock to seek admission.

At teatime it was warm enough to be in the garden under our magnolia tree, which looks particularly good this year (though difficult to photograph adequately).

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Cotswold stealth

Walking around the Slad Valley this afternoon, the company agreed that you could smell the money. It's a far cry from the Slad of ninety years ago, as described by Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie! That money is plentifully lavished on house, horse and (in this case) a car with something of the look of a stealth bomber. I wondered what the catsuit - sorry, carsuit - alone had cost with its dinky pockets for the wing mirrors.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


If you google "photobooks", you come up with approaching five million results! A bewildering choice exists, and I have not made any sort of proper survey. I did however look into it a bit after our InterRailing last Autumn. It seemed clear that, whilst expensive against the sort of book you can buy in a shop, a photobook was a worthwhile investment compared to the normal album: first, you have to buy your album: cheap ones are a false economy; and secondly you have to buy or print the photographs to go in it. Added up, it's cheaper to have a photobook made any day.

I only received my finished InterRailing book - the photograph is of the front cover (showing our route) - the other week: it took ages, first of all because my broadband connection wasn't adequate for zapping the data up to the publishers: the disk I sent was then lost in the post etc. etc. The saga is too long to bore you with. However, I am delighted with the eventual result, which looks most professional.

I used a company called, which is of course their web address. Despite appearances, they operate from Germany, but email communication (in English) went smoothly, and as I say the necessary troubleshooting was at length successful.

The book (132 pages all told) incorporates quite a bit of text, which I found easy to manipulate when putting it all together. You can have pictures of all sizes, with different backgrounds for variety. The colour reproduction is pretty faithful: the finish is lustrous, not glossy. The pages feel nice and thick!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Duntisbourne Abbots

What a great Spring day this has been! We ate lunch outside with our friends Colin and Jessica Russell after a gentle stroll up the dry valley to the North of Duntisbourne Abbots, returning via St Peter's Church. It has an unusual lychgate, swinging on a central post, and old gravestones stand like sentinels lining the path from it to the South porch.

Although it's 12th Century, I didn't find there was a lot to notice within the church itself, its setting on a sloped site in the village centre being the main charm of the place. However, this modern, deeply-engraved glass in the West porch window caught my eye: I wonder what its story is.

Friday, 3 April 2009

"She could be tricky"

This stained glass portrayal of Chipping Campden church by Henry Payne is a detail in the magnificent East window he made for the church itself 85 years ago. It symbolises Chipping Campden as a focus of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Twelve years earlier, a life commenced which a goodly number came together to celebrate yesterday afternoon in that church: Peggy Nelson had died aged 97.

When someone has attained that age, funereal faces are hardly necessary, and indeed my ears were met by a merry buzz (more like you hear before a wedding) as I entered the church. My task was to represent the family: the Nelsons (who ran Arden House, a prep school near where we lived, in Warwickshire) were old and firm friends of my parents, and Peggy had taught my sisters French at the pre-prep next door, Hurst House, a school I too attended for a year. It astonished me how many Arden House school ties were in evidence yesterday, showing the devotion which Peggy had engendered. Victoria Checksfield, in her address, brought her mother to life with a combination of masterly objectivity and the deepest affection: we all wanted to clap, but that wouldn't have been British.

In the 57 years since I left Hurst House, I don't suppose I had given the three form teachers a second thought. At that age I imagined them to be already old people, yet I learnt yesterday that not only were two of them still alive, but one was there. And so it was that I reminisced with Miss Jones, whose face I recalled clearly as soon as we were introduced, how she took us to look at the bluebells in Mayswood.

Most of those I met up with I shall never see again. None of them learnt anything about me as an adult; nor I hardly a thing about them: they were names and faces, with which I was making a fleeting reconnection. But somehow, the Spring sunshine pouring into St James' Church, it was not inconsequential.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

S. T. R. spells "stroke"

My friend Patrick Brooke included my email address in his "public service duty" round robin yesterday, asking recipients to pass it on. I'm afraid I usually bin this sort of request, but Patrick's message is a helpful one. He writes as follows:

Neurologists say that if they can get to a stroke victim within three hours, they can reverse the effects of a stroke – fully. The trick is getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within that three hours.

Sometimes the symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify; and lack of awareness spells disaster. The victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize stroke symptoms.

A bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

S * Ask the individual to SMILE.

T * Ask them to TALK and SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (coherently) – "It's sunny today."

R * Ask them to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

If they have trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call 999 immediately and describe the symptoms.

In addition, you can ask possible stroke victims to stick out their tongue. If the tongue is crooked (that is if it goes to one side or the other), that is another indication of a stroke.

Against this, my photograph looks rather flippant: our son Edmund (33 today) stroking Tosca, his cat.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Tranquility House

Members of the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network met today at Rodborough, for a visit to a remarkably energy-efficient building. We were shown round by its owner, Mike Hillard. On his website, he describes himself as a pioneering environmental architect and designer, his enthusiasm and commitment being born out of his conviction that We are facing total environmental catastrophe.

Tranquility House is certainly not low tech: never, in a private home, have I seen so many gismos, nor so many computer screens flashing away: hibernate doesn't seem to be a relevant term to Mike (let alone shut down) - nor indeed does the concept of virtual tourism, judging from the number of Lonely Planet guides in his bookshelves, his beautiful photographs of tribesmen laid out on his second floor work table, curtain materials carried back from Uzbekistan and the Amazon, not to mention the odd spear leaning casually up against a doorway. Mike speaks with passion about the generosity of primitive people in Africa.

Apart from its enormous two-storey conservatory/solar room, the house looks conventional enough from the outside. No sign of a domestic wind turbine here nor photovoltaic cells - both decried, along with combined heat and power, compact fluorescent light bulbs, multi-foil insulation, ground source heat pumps (assuming you are using a gas boiler), biomass, biodiesel. It was a somewhat controversial meeting, you can imagine!

What impresses are the costs he quotes for water and energy consumption: space heating, £30 p.a.; water heating, £8.25. The walls - two feet thick or so - have a U-Value of 0.12. My photograph shows the black-painted copper tubes in the solar room, collecting heat for water on its way up to the cylinder. This room, filled with huge ferns, orchids and banana trees, provides 19 degrees C in Winter daylight: its internal walls are the thermal mass soaking up the almost horizontal sunlight, the room's warmth being ventilated into the main house.

The house is not just about low energy use: each room features unique curtain rods, hollow tubes filled with macaroni, sunflower seeds or something similar. PVC lines the walls of one of the bathrooms, and the floors and staircase are all made from different timbers, the most spectacular being horse chestnut.

A fascinating visit even for someone as scientifically illiterate as I am, so thanks to the hecticly busy Mike Hillard for sparing us time: after our animated dialogue he ran around to ensure that we saw all aspects of the building, talking ten to the dozen as he went. The name "Tranquility House" is obviously aspirational.