Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009: the end

We have just waved goodbye to our girls, who are off to welcome the New Year with friends in furthest Worcestershire. So, the house is once more empty, and we reflect on another year in which we have failed to move from too large a home.

But six bedrooms have their uses when there are family weddings to celebrate, as in May/June. Running from room to room through icy corridors - as we have been lately - causes us to remember the light, warm days of Spring, Summer and Autumn more appreciatively. Then, it's a beautiful place to be living - with the garden making several extra large rooms, where we often eat out breakfast, lunch, tea and supper - sometimes all four. Friends from London refer to coming to see us in the country, and indeed we can see the Cotswolds from our windows, barely a mile away.

Travelling for a fortnight through Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster and Carlisle to Edinburgh in May, and back through Berwick, Durham, York, Nottingham and Northampton made me realise what a rich quality of life we have in Cheltenham. Spending time in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Yokahama in October reinforced that conviction.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas Day carols

Yesterday, we celebrated Christmas at home with great jollity. There were 11 around the dining-room table - six English, two Taiwanese, two Japanese and a Canadian.

Sitting with the sun pouring in through the windows, we ate as much turkey and Christmas pudding as ever, and then, when it had grown dark outside, all sang carols together. A very happy day (though we missed having any of the grandchildren with us this year).

Friday, 18 December 2009

"A meaningful deal?"

Looking back from a time beyond my lifetime, will today's conclusion of the Copenhagen summit be seen as a turning-point, when we started to take seriously the business of saving the planet? Somehow, I doubt it. As well as the news from Denmark, the BBC reports that the number of cars in Beijing is now nearing four million. Not a figure that is likely to decrease anytime soon, I guess.

Happy Christmas! if I don't pontificate again before then!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Spoiler Alert

You may or may not receive a Christmas card from me, with this image on it. (I took the photograph in the austere 12th Century nave of Lescar Cathedral just before setting out on my Voie du Puy walk in April. Whether the carving itself is 12th Century, I rather doubt, but I find it quite a charming depiction of Matthew 2,14 even though none of the Holy Family is apparently riding on the donkey.)

The point is, I didn't have enough printed in order for all those on our rambling Christmas card list to receive one. Which brings me to the question, yet again, of whether we need to send so many people cards. Somehow, we're beset by a conspiracy to keep it going: every year, the additions to the list seem to exceed the (usually sad) deletions. Occasionally, you meet up with someone you haven't seen for decades, but have exchanged cards with: when you realise how little you now have in common, each reaches for the red pen.

What's to stop a greater ruthlessness? Well, I suppose it's something to do with the Christmas spirit. And we enjoy receiving cards ourselves, even from those who live next door. Possibly we all wish to avoid the King John outcome, the cards upon his shelf... were... only from himself.

Crazy isn't it! Especially in the days of instant messaging - and blogging. Particularly as I somehow feel it's not the same if I haven't written the addresses out by hand. I used not to, so this is a further indication that I am moving backwards into the Dark Ages. Seems too to give a lie to what I mentioned Ben Brangwyn said the other day, "Complex systems never return to a prior state."

Having written this, I see it's all really said much more amusingly by Jon Canter in today's Guardian. (And "Martin" is the hero of the story.)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Olivier Azam is better known as the Gloucester hooker than as waiter in his restaurant in Montpellier here in Cheltenham. Today, however, I was lunching at Armagnac, and there he was, struggling a little with reading out to us the chef's specials: you could say we hung on the words of he who was suspended.

When the food came, however, it was excellent: frogs' legs, a rare delicacy, for my starter, and deliciously fresh mussels for a main course. Not that I eat out much, but on this form, the Armagnac chef has to be amongst the best in Cheltenham - and their businessmen's lunch the best value. (Too bad Caroline has 'flu.)

15 Rotunda Terrace always seems to have been a place for French food: Olivier's previous business there was fittingly "Le Quinze" - I photographed its window in June 2006 - and before that it was Le Beaujolais, scene of a number of memorable family parties as I recall.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Wave

Central London will certainly have known there was a degree of concern being felt about climate change yesterday! The noise level - at least where I was marching - was deafening. Things are rather different from when I last took part in this sort of thing: not only are participants more vociferous: everyone now seems to need to carry a placard, which makes for a great pile of rubbish at the end of the day.

An extraordinary variety of interests combined for the event, Young LibDems walking alongside Socialist Workers; Carmelites rubbing shoulders with the RSPB. The general mood seemed one of festival, though with a deeply serious overtone.

It was more than an hour from the start before the back markers left Grosvenor Square, by which time the early marchers had reached Parliament. The organisers estimated more than 50,000 taking part: BBC News at 10 said 20,000. Who is to say what significance this has?

Our coach driver thought it was all a waste of time, as his and 499 other coaches had been driving round all day, burning up diesel - the coach parking bays having apparently been suspended throughout the capital.

In Westminster Central Hall at 11 a.m. Archbishop Williams and his Westminster counterpart led an ecumenical service attended by 3,500 or so: neither impressed me so much as Michael Holman SJ writing in this week's Tablet: "Ours is a project of hope for a better future: that God’s Creation will be treated with reverence, that the poor will be better off and that we will be living more true to ourselves and to what God has created us to be – one family, living in solidarity with one another and with the many generations yet to come."

There are more of my photographs of The Wave day here, in case you are interested.

Friday, 4 December 2009

"A stained glass Bible"

This is the title of a book I've published via Blurb online publishing. Not of course all the Bible as seen in stained glass, but some of the familiar stories. Alongside a text derived from the New Jerusalem Bible is one of my photographs of a stained (or painted) glass panel, taken from the collection I've built up over the years - 30 or so in total.

It's print-on-demand book, so if anyone wants to order a copy, then they do so by accessing the book on the Blurb site, and filling in their requirements, just like on Amazon. You can preview some of the pages of the book online (to help you make up your mind about buying!).

How did this all come about? Well, Mini, my new daughter-in-law from Japan, is an admirer of stained glass, and this prompted Leo to commission me to put together a book of photographs for her. So, rejecting all the many non-biblical subjects I seemed to have gathered in, I restricted myself to a theme of Old and New Testament subjects.

The age of the windows I photographed is from the early 14th to the late 20th centuries. I was worried about including a couple of images taken in a private chapel I'd visited, but the owners were happy to consent to my publishing them - provided I didn't identify the location. I hope none of the other glass's "custodians" object to their windows being included, with attribution and a general acknowledgement.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Talking the talk

Over the past 48 hours, I've attended three meetings where sustainability or resiliance have been the watchwords. On Tuesday afternoon, there was quite a heated discussion in the RCE Severn Steering Committee about the extent to which we needed to sock it to our stakeholders. Should our working groups challenge businesses' CSR policies, and challenge too the whole notion of the sustainability of continuing economic growth, given Peak Oil and that we are already in ecological debt? Are children being equipped by our schools for a society based on the realities of resource depletion and global warming? What is our positive vision of a low-carbon, steady state economy or our plan for energy descent?

Some of these questions were addressed by Ben Brangwyn of the Transition Network at the University of Gloucestershire's IRIS Seminar that evening. Ben's "excited by local currencies," he tells us - not as a replacement for the pound sterling, but as a complementary process. And he's big on visioning: "Where will we need to be in 20 years' time? How do we get from here to there - year by year?" "We don't know," he stressed, "if this Transition thing is going to work: it's an experiment; but we cannot sit around and wait for someone to do a pilot." And he cautions, "complex systems can never return to a prior state." Sustainable Bungay was an example of what could be achieved with faith-based communities heavily involved. Or, talking of adaptation, what about Cheltenham becoming a City of Sanctuary? (There's a challenge!)

My photograph was taken at the well-attended meeting of the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network yesterday, where Professor Daniella Tilbury spoke of the UoG's work in the sustainability field. What is it about our lives that has got us to where we are, was the question she posed. Not, "Who dropped that plastic wrapper?" but, "What sort of society makes it necessary to have such wrappers?" Strategies to change behaviours don't work: the consumer culture is here to stay. How do we influence without preaching? "The biggest problem we have in this institution [the UoG] is students."

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Davis family history

I spotted this sign when walking down Bond Street last week. This A.B. Davis was no relation of ours (or not to my knowledge anyway). But another A.B. Davis was my grandfather. His ancestry is currently taking up quite a bit of my time, thanks to an incredible piece of good luck.

I've mentioned previously about the family's origins. A.B.D.'s grandfather Peter is the earliest Davis of which we know much: his travel diary of 1835 is a vital record, if not a literary masterpiece.

Now, to cut a long story short, thanks to the curiosity and initiative of my cousin Bruce Coates of New Brunswick, he has acquired a slightly later Peter Davis diary, amongst many other (later) family papers. And, what's more, he and his wife Genie have struggled against many difficulties to transcribe it.

Last night, Bruce sent me this poignant entry made on the day Peter's father died, 30th August 1837: "Warm clear day. This morning about ¼ to 5 o’clock my poor dear Father departed this life without a struggle having bourne a lingering illness of nearly 3 months. In the 69th year of his age. May the Lord have mercy upon the soul of my best friend upon earth."

Isn't this worth a thousand dry facts unearthed via FamilySearch?