Saturday, 27 February 2010

Solar gain in Hatherley

Apologies to The Oldie for pinching their cartoon, but it's too apt to resist. We've been on a Cheltenham Connect "site visit" today, to a house in another part of town, where the owners have been active in harnessing the power of the sun over recent years.

The solar panels and photovoltaic cells are working a treat - but the wind turbine is about as useless as the one in the cartoon. It's not mounted high enough up above the (suburban) house; and if it was - the owners have the necessary planning permission already - then it might possibly damage the brickwork.

Friday, 26 February 2010

"Travels in pre-Victorian Britain"

Today, I've realised a long-held ambition - to take a step towards publishing the 1835 travel diary of my ancestor, Peter Davis. I can't claim that all the hard work in this is mine. (There is a page of acknowledgments at the end of my finalised draft.) Nor can I show anyone a handsomely bound book, with pictures: that I hope will come. But at least the work's accomplished, even if many years after I first received a transcript of the diary from a kind cousin in New South Wales.

The tricky bit will be to link in some of the photographs of the places Peter Davis visited, which I took when I followed in his footsteps last May.

One of the objectives of publication is to elicit more information about my ancestor and his family: with a name like Davis, it's easy to get confused. Perhaps nuggets will emerge in due course.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

"In Transition"

Cheltenham Connect arranged a screening of "In Transition" this evening. A wonderfully positive film, about what - or rather who - makes up the fast-growing Transition Culture.

The film shows people of all ages doing their bit in samplings of 100 Transition communities world-wide. Alas, the audience in Bethesda Church was pretty uniformly made up of 50+s.

On Tuesday we went to the Open West show at Pittville. Last year was exhilarating: this year less so - too much of the "shock of the new" perhaps, such as this confection: named "Roll up a forest" I felt that its creator, Louise Sayarer, might have been better off donating both bikes and organic matter to Cheltenham Connect's Go Green group.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Walking to Prinknash

The forecast wasn't that good, but we need to do some serious walks ahead of our Camino, which starts on 3rd April. So, off we set bright and early, to walk to Painswick (from where there's a bus back hourly).

It turned out to be just right, not cold, some sun even and the only rain falling after we had abandoned our walking near one of Prinknash's lodges. (We and the dog were all exhausted by so much mud underfoot!)

We joined the Cotswold Way above The Crippetts. After stopping for coffee at the Air Balloon, and snarling at the traffic on the A417, we soon found ourselves in the magnificent escarpment woodlands which contined for the rest of the way. I specially like the look and feel of young beech trees after rain.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Our creation story

Caroline and I felt privileged to have Fr. Tom Cullinan to stay with us - for a talk to Cheltenham Christian Ecology Link on Friday evening. Fr. Tom, now 75, lives by himself in great simplicity in the country outside Liverpool: he not only gets about without a car, but (as I said the other day) has neither computer nor telephone. He arrived by bike from Cheltenham Station. "I see it's power-assisted," I said. "When you are as old as me," he replied, "you'll need one the same."

At 7 o'clock, we were in St Gregory's for mass, Fr. Tom being assisted by Deacon Robin and David Andrews. It was a worshipping experience different to what we are accustomed - from the very beginning when Fr. Tom requested us all to move up together into the first few rows before the altar. Shock, horror! But the effect was dramatic: it truly became a celebration by the community together.

I didn't count the numbers present in The Old Priory for Fr. Tom's address, but there must have been 60 of us, seated round him in a half circle. Many Cheltenham church communities were represented: this was only to be expected, since Christian Ecology Link is an ecumenical organization, but people came also from Fairford, Malmesbury, Bristol and even London to hear Fr. Tom.

The Rev. Arthur Champion and I between us have put together the following notes of what was a thought-provoking, sometimes intense, talk, to a rapt audience.

Fr. Tom started by telling us that he was in the process of making his bed one morning when he looked out of his window and noticed a wren. "Why do I think of a wren making her nest as part of nature," he thought to himself, "and me making my bed as not?" The reality of course is that, in today's age of ecological awareness, we are learning that people are as much a part of nature as are the birds; that humans are not invaders from outside planet Earth. And the agenda of our day invites us to contemplate what it is for God to embody himself in our life.

With others, Fr. Tom told how, when visiting a learned professor at Jodrell Bank, he asked innocently: "What is an electro-magnetic wave as it travels through space?" "We don't know," came the answer: "all we can see is the effect on our instruments." In the same way, we can only know God through what he has created.

Our knowledge of God is partial: it points to God beyond ourselves, known to unknown; just as the Temple at Jerusalem had an outer court and an inner, dark holy of holies. "When we stop pointing beyond ourselves, religion can become very dangerous."

Our mindset, Fr. Tom said, has traditionally been that the Earth is a backdrop for the human stage. Only in recent years has there been a breakthrough in that we now recognise the inter-relatedness of everything. We are becoming aware that the human narrative and the narrative of our planet are the same story.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said: "That which I call my body is not part of the universe that I possess totally, but is the totality of the universe that I possess partially." Today we have been given an understanding of what it means to be Earthlings!

Christianity is not about spirituality. It's about embodiment: God's embodiment in our story. How, is a deep mystery: God is most present when least obvious. Christ is part of the evolutionary process.

Why does Paul say in his letters that our full individual realisation must await the Second Coming of Jesus? Perhaps because, if we as persons are part of the story, God cannot fulfil his purpose with us until he has completed that story. No previous generation has been privileged to obtain a glimpse of that as we have.

We are not spirits freed from our bodies, but spiritual beings with bodies. The Holy Spirit is always taking the initiative: we are invited to respond. God is not a spectator, but an activist.

The question of suffering doesn’t have an answer. Job struggled with it and, at the end, all he received was a call to go deeper in trusting God. Jesus underwent crucifixion in all its awfulness, yet God was there. Dame Julian of Norwich, writing in the aftermath of the Black Death, was assured that "All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well…" On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples' conversation implied that Jesus' death was a disaster. But God works in our world through crisis, through catastrophe. The wealthy, learned and powerful turned against Jesus: the poor and simple came on board.

We are living at just such a moment of crisis: a time of Peak oil, when the rate of consumption exceeds the rate of discovery of new oil fields. During the next 50 years, the human population is estimated to need more food for consumption than has been produced in the whole of recorded history. It is a time when we are invited to live absurd alternatives. "Until Western culture has gone through economic collapse," a missionary priest once said, "people will not be able to hear the good news again." On the continent of Africa, in contrast to Europe, people are poor enough to recognise God at work.

Being aware of the environmental crisis can somehow make us think we are not part of it. We need to beware our addictions; and beware too a tendency to self-righteousness. Our involvement must start with a transformation of ourselves. With grace, we are enabled; but it in no way replaces our responsibility.

Tom closed by leading us in his new version of the creation story (Genesis, chapter one), said in the form of a litany.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

J. & W. Mitchell Ltd.

Mitchells was my father's place of work, and his father's before him. At the request of John Randle of The Whittington Press, I wrote my recollections about the business for Matrix 26, which was published in 2006. Some long time after that, someone from the British Association of Paper Historians rang and asked if I minded my article being reprinted. "Not at all," I said, and forgot all about it.

Now, a couple of copies of the BAPH's journal, The Quarterly (for January 2010) have plopped through our letter-box. Re-reading the article, I rather think it should have been re-written!

Mitchells' sample books are now deposited with the Sir Kenneth Green Library of Manchester Metropolitan University, as an addition to their special collection of fancy papers.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ash Wednesday

On Monday, I mentioned The Times were doing an article featuring the Davis family and its "ashcan". How appropriate that its publication should be today! (There is even a second photograph in the print version.)

It's been quite surprising how many people have telephoned and emailed: The Times is evidently still the paper for many - in spite of the impossibility of such an article appearing in The Times as it was when I was first introduced to it. Our headmaster promised a Mars Bar for any boy who managed to have a letter printed: one did, but the promise seemed by then to have been forgotten.

Meanwhile, at my former office, a petition is circulating to save the family dog...

Monday, 15 February 2010

Rubbish photos

The Times has been interviewing Agnes, Caroline and me for an article about ways in which families argue over what it is to live the green life. It's been rather interesting, and today they sent a photographer along to try and secure an appropriate illustration for the forthcoming feature. We happened to be going over to Herefordshire to visit Agnes anyway, so it all fell into place.

And what more photogenic than Agnes on top of a rubbish bin?

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Oak and beech

Another decent walk, yesterday, up to the escarpment. I returned along a path barely a mile from home, but which I had never before come by. At one stage, I encountered three white deer: they run freely in a large Christmas tree-filled enclosure at Lynfield Farm.

I passed this unusual juxtaposition of mature trees on Crippetts Lane.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Tom Cullinan is coming to Cheltenham

A monk/priest for fifty years, Fr. Tom Cullinan is one of those rare people who walks the talk. I visited him last May in his ashram outside Liverpool, our first encounter for perhaps thirty years. He has no phone or email, so all correspondence is by postcard (recycled). "Come before 12," he wrote, "as that's when we have mass."

His directions were drawn precisely, though the turning off the main road seemed unpromising - it was much overgrown. About six of us worshipped together, sitting on the floor mainly. It was intensely prayerful. Then he led me upstairs to his kitchen, where we ate a delicious home-made soup with bread (also home-made): whilst we ate, he talked about a million subjects and picked the remains of my legal brain. A stimulating session indeed! At 2.30 prompt, I was left in no doubt that the time had come to depart. He had (physical) work to do.

Next Friday, 19th February, he is coming to stay. I offered to collect him from Cheltenham station, but no. "I shall bring my bike - just send directions." At 7pm, he will celebrate mass in St Gregory's Church, and following that he will speak to anyone who cares to listen in The Old Priory, next door, on the theme: "Learning to tread lightly in God's planet".

The author of several seminal books - 'If the Eye be Sound', 'The Passion of Political Love', 'Presence' etc. - Tom's words are always well-weighed: don't miss it if you are anywhere nearby!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Winter walking

Fed up with staying inside to assuage my sinusitis, I accepted a lift to near Ullenwood this morning, and walked the couple of miles home. The Today programme had reports of an early Spring, but it wasn't much in evidence on Crickley Hill, above the snow line.

Over this short distance, there is an interesting variety of trees and terrain. Old beeches stand in amongst the new planting in the Country Park, and in the National Trust land along the Cotswold edge. Then, as you approach Greenway Lane, there's a large stand of fir trees. And crossing over to The Crippets, former home of the ill-fated scientist Edward Wilson, you enter a world of oak (and Jacob sheep), before coming in amongst rather sad old orchard land near Leckhampton Church. Only in the last quarter mile did I hit tarmac.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A celebration

What a great diversity we can celebrate in Cheltenham! Here are some of the local Filipino community, who came together at St Gregory's this afternoon, to commemorate the second anniversary of their Rosary Circle. I suppose I have met many of them individually, but it was wonderful to see so many together.

Interesting too that the Rosary was recited in English, not in Filipino: apparently, it's an unknown tongue for many of the young ones, born here.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Converging World ("TCW")

This is the name of a charity based in Bristol, the brainchild of John Pontin. He was at the UoG talking about it yesterday. I felt privileged to be able to go along.

TCW aims to generate equality through self-sufficiency; to reduce emissions, and to supply sustainable energy solutions in order to create long-term funding streams, to continue to finance the achievement of the main aim. Ambitious? Yes!

But it's an attractive and eminently practical idea. John has primed the pump via a family trust, which put up £1.4m for a wind turbine, on stream in Tamil Nadu, South India. Another wind turbine, erected with borrowed money, secured on the first, is also up and running there. Four more turbines are planned for 2010.

The revenue from these turbines goes, as to three-quarters for future wind turbine investment, and as to the other 25% for social change and development: TCW is working with SCAD in Tamil Nadu on climate change adaptation.

A great idea: needs packaging in a way that everyone can see its merits. And (as its name implies) its concentration is of course on convergence, not the equally vital matter of contraction: very important not to lose sight of that.

We can support TCW by donations (as with any charity); by buying its Gold Standard carbon credits, and by spreading the word.

("My" turbines, I saw whilst crossing the Mersey from Birkenhead last May.)