Sunday, 30 June 2013

In the orchard

Relatively new friends asked us to lunch today. It was a party, so it was as well the sun was shining, and we could be outside. They bought a new house in Winchcombe a couple of years ago only, but have already created a great garden in what was once an orchard. The conversation was almost entirely medical - not discussing ailments, but related to the working lives of those present, mostly doctors etc. I asked when we might ever get the national health service we really need - as opposed to the present National Illness Service - but nobody had an answer.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Blurb's best customer?

Another of my photobooks has now arrived, from I designed this to give a copy to each of those who walked with me in Romania last month, as a souvenir; and I have now prepared a somewhat fuller version of the book for - hopefully - public purchase. The image above is of the cover of the (rare) first edition, and here is the link to the Blurb bookstore for the revised edition - its cover subtly different for ease of recognition by me.

Though I say it myself (I would, wouldn't I?) I think it's my most successful print-on-demand book yet.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Totus to us

"A handbag?!" must be one of the most recognisable and shortest quotations in our literature; but handbags are not something you associate automatically with Caroline. Now, however, she has a glitzy new one with the label Silvian Heach: it was given her by Carlotta and Virginia, two Italian teenagers who have just arrived from Milan, due to stay for a fortnight while studying English at a local language school.

Today's Guardian carries an obituary of the British TV and film director Jim Goddard: In New York City, in 1983, the obituarist states, he took an hour off from filming... to visit Bloomingdale's to buy his girlfriend a handbag. Dithering at the counter, he was viewed with sympathy by an elderly woman wearing a mackintosh, scarf and dark glasses. "Who," she asked him, "is the handbag for?" Jim explained. "My advice," the woman said with a smile, "is that only the most expensive will do." By now the assistants had fallen silent and were watching in astonishment. "Here," the woman said. "Buy this one." She walked away. Jim bought the handbag. "Jesus," said the sales assistant. "Do you know who that was?" Jim blinked. "I mean," said the assistant, "you don't know? That was Greta Garbo." Jim shrugged his massive bulk. "Strange birds," he said, "often sing to me."

Thursday, 27 June 2013

We need to talk about Michael

I rode - a Boris bike - from Westminster to Paddington yesterday via the North bank of the Serpentine. If you are used to normal English temperatures, then wearing a Burqa - this is just one of many women I saw there who were - must be a trial on such a hot afternoon.

I omitted to say in my last post how much I enjoyed meeting again my school contemporary Michael, over from Los Angeles, in my excitement to describe our visit to The Bankside Gallery. Why are old friends better than recent ones? Not only had we been in the same school house, but we also overlapped at Oxford; yet we could never be said to have been close. So why bother to reestablish contact after all this time? We concluded it was because then was such a formative period in our lives. Maybe also ranks need closing: others we knew better at school are now dead.

Narrating our respective stories (the abridged version) made me reflect upon my good fortune. Michael, for all his celebrity as a professor twice over, has had to live through bereavement, loneliness and (to a great extent) exile from the country he calls home: he could be said to suffer from nostalgia, in its original sense. From his standpoint, my stable life in a beautiful part of England, supported by my wife and family, seems enviable indeed.

Two important things we are both it seems glad to find ourselves still sharing: good health and our Faith. Returning from the South Bank, Michael and I went to Vespers in the richly-decorated Lady Chapel of Westminster Cathedral. This was a first for me, and I was impressed, but at the same time a little alarmed by the triumphalist note sounded by placing poor old John Southworth's body in the middle of the main nave aisle in preparation for his feast day (tomorrow). What does martyr veneration do to foster better mutual understanding between Christians and those of other religious persuasions in our midst?

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Brettrospective: "An Engraver's Progress"

Earlier this month, I mentioned that an old school friend, now resident in the US, had contacted me and come to lunch at home. Today, I was given lunch in London by another such: Michael (on the left in my photograph) was in Europe on a visit from Los Angeles.

It's curious indeed that two out of the 30-odd people with whom I started in St Hugh's House at Ampleforth should have got in touch at much the same time after so long a period of silence and separation. A third contemporary at St Hugh's was Simon Brett, the distinguished wood engraver. I don't recall who told me (some weeks ago) about his forthcoming 70th birthday exhibition: I noted the dates with interest, but feared I should probably miss seeing it in London, because I had no plans to be there this month.

This was until Michael invited me to meet him at his club. After an elegant lunch there - more elegant (it would not have been difficult) than in the St Hugh's House refectory - we made our way jointly to The Bankside Gallery, where we found Simon presiding magisterially amongst a quite extraordinary array of examples of his work over the years.

On the train homewards, I have been reading the exhibition catalogue. Seldom have I seen such a beautiful one. Not only are more than a quarter of the thousand plus images listed reproduced, some full size, but there are a dozen moving tributes to Simon and assessments of the different aspects of his life’s work. A true festschrift, and indeed itself a collector’s item!

In her essay, Miriam Macgregor writes of Simon, “His quiet and controlled demeanour hides a minefield of drama.” And it seems to me that it is theatre, even more than literature that may be Simon’s secret love. You can see this clearly, for instance, in the details of the shipwreck in The Third Voyage from the Pericles suite. And Two in the Forest vibrantly and sensually sums up Act One of Die Walküre. (A minor quibble here though: surely Siegmund has removed the sword from the tree before going to it with Sieglinde to beget Siegfried?)

"The wonder of the human imagination," Simon reflects in his catalogue introduction, "is that it allows us... to weep for Pericles and Marina as truly as for our own children." Echoes of Hamlet asking rhetorically of the First Player, "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, That he should weep for her?"

All those years ago at school, I recall Simon’s delight at his grandmother Zena Dare playing the part of Mrs. Higgins in the Drury Lane My Fair Lady; and Simon himself returning from taking part in a school play, his walk-on role requiring him to deliver bad news in the form of a letter to the King or some such. While waiting in the wings, he’d been drawing a cartoon figure, before entering to say his line on bended knee. Unfortunately going on stage he handed over the piece of paper the wrong way up: the performance ground to a halt.

The cartoon may have ended up as one of Simon's contributions to the Ampleforth News, which already showed a precocious talent. Sharing a room with him as I did, you could not escape being aware of his high seriousness. Teenage frivolity? Yes, but it knew its place.

Seeing so many works with Christian themes in his exhibition this afternoon, I asked Simon whether he was still a practising Catholic. No, was his reply, and I think he went on: “But I retain a Catholic spirit.” Seeing him I regretted not having my digital recorder, as Simon imparted much wisdom in the relatively brief time we had together.

And as if there wasn't enough to feast on in the Bankside Gallery, Michael and I walked on later to the Menier Gallery, round in Southwark Street, to see a fine exhibition of paintings by Simon’s wife: Juliet Wood, "Alone and Together - Brunel's People."

P.S. Simon's exhibition in modified form can be seen at Art Jericho, Oxford between 24th October and 10th November; and at The Holburne Museum, Bath between 16th November and 9th February 2014.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Early for school

Agnes is in Oxford for the final residential of the first year of her creative writing Masters; which explains my presence in Bristol, ensuring Ida turns up on time at school. (We were even there early today, which is apparently an unheard of event.)

The atmosphere at Ashley Down Infants bears no relationship whatever to that of my own first school, Swans Close, Stratford-on-Avon, which was relatively speaking a grim place, ruled over by a Miss Short and a Miss Walsh: odd that I can recall their names even after a lapse of 65 years. Ida's playground impressed me no end, with trouble-taking teachers and purposeful parents all milling. I suppose I was seeing it at the best time of year, warm and fine.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Cheltenham Green Doors

Last year and the year before we called it Eco Open Homes or ECOHAB: this year, we were Cheltenham Green Doors, to chime in with the Bristol model. And we brought forward the openings to June, rather than September, as they were previewed by an event in the Cheltenham Science Festival earlier in the month.

So I had an enjoyable time this weekend cycling around the fifteen venues - houses, a shop and gardens demonstrating a more sustainable way of life - and took some photographs. In most places, there were visitors at the time I called in, and they were eager to know what was on offer and to engage in conversation: our increased efforts at publicity seem to have reaped some dividend. We shall see what others, more closely involved, have to say at the meeting that's fixed for 2nd July: it's a lot of work, but is it worth going on with it year in, year out?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Talking the walk

In existence for almost a decade, Oasis International Foundation works to promote mutual knowledge and understanding between Christians and Muslims. Earlier this week, its Roman Catholic founder urged us all to recognise that our epoch is one of a "physical mixing of various - secular and religious - world views... The fruit is that in dialogue we deepen our own faith, but also live well with our neighbours: they too come closer to God." Christians (and by implications Muslims), he said, need to live their faith in every dimension of human existence - not just "calmly sip their tea".

Sarah Thorley's talk to Cheltenham Inter Faith last evening was not about tea-drinking, but about the walks between places of worship she has been organising in South London over the past many years. What she said resonated a little with the theme of my recent Tablet article, but discussing that later, Sarah was reluctant to appropriate the word "pilgrimage" to what she runs; and "penitence" was not on her agenda either. Indeed, she seemed to encourage people of no faith to join in, which seemed to me perverse.

The talk itself was put across with infectious enthusiasm, and matches well a daily meditation I have just read, from the Henri Nouwen Society:

Growing into the Truth We Speak

Can we only speak when we are fully living what we are saying?  If all our words had to cover all our actions, we would be doomed to permanent silence!  Sometimes we are called to proclaim God's love even when we are not yet fully able to live it.  Does that mean we are hypocrites?  Only when our own words no longer call us to conversion.  Nobody completely lives up to his or her own ideals and visions.  But by proclaiming our ideals and visions with great conviction and great humility, we may gradually grow into the truth we speak.  As long as we know that our lives always will speak louder than our words, we can trust that our words will remain humble.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Devil

Talk of the Devil has been a recurrent theme for Pope Francis in his first 100 days. I see him - the Devil, that is, not the Pope - mainly as my personal tempter, but also aligned with evil in the world as a whole. So, when I awoke early this morning from a vivid dream ending in me being kidnapped, I could somehow see the Devil at work.

The day improved after this rather rough start: we deserved no less, as it was our wedding anniversary, and we had our old friend Sarah Thorley staying for her talk this evening to Cheltenham Inter Faith. Four of us and two dogs walked up Leckhampton Hill on a warmish morning, noting the tree clearance that's been carried out recently at the foot of the Devil's Chimney.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Winchcombe pubs

I used a two-for-one voucher today when visiting The Lion at Winchcombe with one of my two regular lunchmates. I can't recall ever going in there before: like so many, it's now very much a gastropub, and run with much Polish efficiency, it seems. My minute steak and French fries were excellent - all the better because they were free (being the cheaper of the two main courses we ordered). However, you need wine with steak, and the sting in the tail was that there was hardly a bottle under £20.

A while back we were taken to 5 North Street, along the road from The Lion. Much poncier - and still pricier: I prefered the pub. Years ago, the Winchcombe pub to go to was The George: my photograph (taken this afternoon) shows that it still retains a recognisably publike look, even now it's converted into flats.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

A heat wave!

I took this photograph in Shrewsbury this morning: both she and I were feeling the heat.

I had caught the train there yesterday, overdressed, and with my rucksack loaded down with copies of The Diary of a Shropshire Farmer. This morning, after my talk about the book to the Shropshire Family History Society, I still had a nearly full rucksack, too heavy to carry very far in the warm weather which has suddenly come upon us.

And in my room in the Old Bell, where I was billeted for the night, I cursed my first mosquito of the year.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

National Mistrust

Kind friends took us out to lunch today. We met them beforehand in the National Trust car park for Chastleton House, and had a walk together round the village to get up our appetites. (They are serious foodies.) Though we had visited the House previously, we hadn't explored the village: it's rather pretty. But feelings are running high against the National Trust amongst the villagers - judging from the irately-worded posters stuck up everywhere. The House is now open on Sundays, and there are said to be plans going in for a tea shop: what has been 30,000 visitors a year is feared to jump to 60,000, with a fair number of them driving through the village. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Fresh Air 2013

Caroline's trusteeship of the 11th biennial Quenington Sculpture Show secured me a free lunch there today. We arrived in time to have a good look round most of the exhibits before the rain came down. Lucy always seems to find something striking to be placed on display in the river: I rather liked this cheerful object, "Metal paper boat" by Lewis Davidson. Yours for a mere £550.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Another weekend, another festival

Montpellier Gardens is full of tents once more, this weekend for the Food & Drink Festival. We biked down  in the sunshine this evening, calling first at the Gardens Gallery. It's fun looking round, even though we didn't plan - as others clearly had done - to have supper there. You could spend a fortune if you wanted. Food porn?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

"Boldly not to go"

This is the title The Tablet has given to an article I wrote for them earlier this year about pilgrimage. After some delay, it is - I see from their website - included in this week's issue, dated in fact 15th June. I reproduce it here with permission of the Publisher: note the weblink I have included.

The photograph of Caroline's and my shadows I took walking early one morning on the Via de la Plata in Spain in April 2010: originally, The Tablet asked me for an illustration, so I sent this, which they seemed to like ("A good generic pilgrimage shot, and applicable to a pilgrimage almost anywhere"). But I see that instead they have now included with the printed article a cartoon which seems to me to miss the point I was making.

"What is the essence of ‘pilgrimage’? Martin Davis explores the question using the hypothetical meeting of a fictional Justice and Peace group of a notional Catholic parish, St Bilbo’s … but the issues raised are very real indeed.

Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate had been the subject of discussion in the St Bilbo’s parish Justice and Peace group the previous year. “We must recognise our grave duty,” members noted (in paragraph 50), “to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it, and continue to cultivate it.” Inspired by Cafod’s LiveSimply campaign, members began to ask themselves how, as witnesses to their faith, they could each live more sustainably. “We are used to fasting during Lent,” one said. “But then resume normal life. So what is the impact of the choices we make daily, upon other people and the future of the planet?”  

This led on to a study of how members used energy, both as individuals and within their families. Roughly 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent represents our UK average annual “footprint”. For those living near the breadline and in inner cities, it can be less: for others, more. They read a suggestion made by the ecumenical charity, Christian Ecology Link (CEL): a sustainable allowance for Christians seeking to walk the talk, CEL proposed, should be 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year (2.5 tonnes is a sixth of the current average: CEL concedes this is a target it will take most of us many years to reach).

The problem is this, the group realised: much of our “allowance” would be absorbed by things it’s possible to reduce, but not dramatically – food and drink, home heating. Then there’s commuting to and from work. But what about other travel? Finding the tonnage attributable to particular journeys was not difficult. London to Glasgow and back by plane: half a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent; a flight to Hong Kong: 3.5 tonnes. Clearly, flying distorts our carbon footprint considerably. “But surely, doesn’t it all depend on the reasons for our trip?” one member argued. “Last year, my mother went to Chicago to visit her dying brother: wasn’t that better than my friend flying to Vilnius for a stag weekend?” The group decided a discussion along these lines, while interesting, could only end up as negative: “We need some positive response within the parish to the challenge of carbon reduction.”

A quiet voice spoke up: “Didn’t I read somewhere that the Stations of the Cross were invented at a particular point in time, a time when it became impossible to follow Christ’s last steps in Jerusalem, on the ground, because of hostilities? As pilgrimages have never been more popular than they are today, perhaps we could find a new way of doing pilgrimage closer to home.”

But what was “pilgrimage”? First and foremost there had to be a journey. It may be enlightening, to browse through the four million links that a search for “virtual pilgrimage” gives on Google. Ultimately, though, pilgrimage is not for couch potatoes. A journey is needed, then, and one with a point in view. A pilgrim is not a wanderer.

Nor does pilgrimage equate with tourism, often though tourists chart their way to pilgrim destinations. One group member had walked to Santiago de Compostela: “Many on the route”, she said, “admitted they were there just there for an active holiday. They saw stamps in their pilgrim passports as mere souvenirs, unconcerned as they were about the historic link between pilgrimage and that unfashionable word penitence.” What defines a pilgrim is the spirit of penitence in its widest sense: it’s as necessary as a hat and a staff. Parallel to an examination of conscience, a pilgrim prepares for departure. Inessential things are left behind. Attaining the necessary fitness is a penance. Leaving home on an uncertain journey implies vulnerability and trust. Pilgrims rely on the kindness of strangers – other pilgrims and those living along the way. They put aside their usual comforts, but for what? So that they can renew their faith, and become better examples to others.

Keeping these core values in mind, the group prepared St Bilbo’s for its first alternative pilgrimage day. It was carefully planned not to be just another parish outing. Rogation Sunday was chosen, as there’s a long tradition (now largely unobserved) for Rogation-tide processions. After Mass, a quorum of parishioners of all ages set out in the rain. With them were a number of residents of the local Cheshire Home using wheelchairs, and a handful from the neighbouring St Frodo’s Anglican parish. The route lay along part of the parish boundary and then into the adjoining parish. A halt was made outside one group member’s home, where the parish sister led penitential prayers.  

“Every place on God’s earth can be a holy one,” she said. “We don’t have to travel afar to find him. We don’t need a celebrity destination. Each day, he’s there, where we are, in our midst. Didn’t Moses find himself on holy ground without even knowing it (Exodus 3:5)? So let us now walk on in silence, reflecting together on what it means to walk humbly in God’s world, to walk lightly on his earth.”  

In time for a late lunch, the party, a little wet, reached the hall of the adjoining parish’s primary school, where everybody pooled what they had brought, and some nursed others’ blisters. “How does it happen”, asked the parish priest, “that when we bring food to share, there is always some left over?” He then spoke about the Sacrament of the Sick, and administered it to those who wanted it. Many came forward. A member of the organising group reminded everyone how, in former days, your pilgrimage didn’t end at the destination: you had to walk home again. “However,” he said, “for those who would like a lift, I’ve arranged a minibus.”

At the St Bilbo’s AGM, there was the chance for feedback. One parishioner said: “We are a large parish. I always sit in the same pew, and used to exchange the sign of peace with someone I didn’t know. Through the pilgrimage walk, I’ve made a new friendship. How can we love our neighbour, if we don’t know them?” Another benefited from meeting the Cheshire Home residents, and had now become a regular visitor there. For a number, the pilgrimage route had taken them to parts of their neighbourhood they had never before visited: resolutions were made to explore their local area more, and to consider its needs. Nobody opposed the suggestion: “Let’s do it again next year – and invite others!”

Martin Davis is a parishioner of St Gregory’s, Cheltenham, and convenes Cheltenham Christian Ecology Link.“

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

"Charley's Aunt"

I should be enjoying the final scenes of this famous farce, which is on all week at our local theatre. Act 1, however, was enough: the interval came none too soon, and I made for the exit and a bus home. Someone said that farce was tragedy speeded up; but when the timing is out, farce becomes tragic whatever its speed.

At least we didn't miss a beautiful evening outside: this photograph was taken lateish last evening, when we sat for the first time on our newly established bit of lawn - sown in the spot where we catch the sun before it finally goes off the garden. When there is sun, that is.

Monday, 10 June 2013


It must be 20 years since we went to Chatsworth last, and things have changed a lot. That was clear from the outset of yesterday's visit: many more people make for it nowadays, and no wonder. It's a most welcoming environment for all sorts, and yet retains the quality of a family home. As when we were at Burghley last year, you felt that everyone on duty was somehow part of the family - such a different impression (again) from what you receive from your average National Trust property!

We needed more than the few hours our busload spent there to do it justice: the nearest we got to seeing the gardens was this view through one of the windows in the house. But perhaps it was as well we didn't leave later than we did, as less than halfway home the engine of our coach sprang a diesel leak: kind bikers alerted the driver to it. So we crawled off the dual carriageway and spent the evening (more than three hours) experiencing the antidote to stately homes, a suburban pub garden in the Midlands. Good for group bonding at least.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

"No Impact Man"

I don't photograph rubbish much, but this is a detail of a scene I took in April, when making a detour off my Camino to visit the Abbey of Oseira. The human-induced chaos of this far-away farmyard seemed strikingly at odds with the unspoilt beauty of the Galician countryside surrounding it.

"No Impact Man" is the title of a documentary made four years ago about a family who determined to see by how much they could reduce the impact they made on their New York environment over a period of 12 months. I asked Leo if he could get it for us to watch through "Love Film", and he came up with it on DVD this evening.

I can see that many would find the journey it describes tiresome, and perhaps trite, but it's lightly done, and raises some good questions en route to its conclusion - that whatever you do is best done as part of the community, rather than in an isolated fashion.

A couple of criticisms: the issue of needing to live without loo paper seemed to loom as large if not larger than restricting (or not) the size of the human family; and having a largish dog in the flat seemed to be a given, with never a mention of the ecological issues to which family pets should surely give rise.

Friday, 7 June 2013

America in Cheltenham

Out of the blue, an old school friend contacted me last month. He had found me via this blog, and in particular a post I put up following the death of our housemaster last year. Yesterday, he came to lunch, and we then walked some of the town's streets looking at Regency and Victorian buildings - he is an architectural historian, who has worked for three decades or so in the United States. In spite of this, he has not lost the Irish accent I first became used to hearing at Ampleforth in September 1956.

Both of us seem to have worn quite well, thank God: I had been to the doctor earlier in the day, who gave me a more or less clean bill of health. A waxed up ear is hardly cause for complaint, even though it now means I have some form of medicine for every orifice of my body apart from my tummy button.

Last evening, I spent in the company of two more Americans: the almost legendary James Watson was supposedly in debate with Charles Jencks at the Science Festival, "The scientist and the landscape designer." There wasn't much debate, sadly, but the hour was informative for me, who knows nothing about DNA - let alone RNA, its sister molecule.

Most of the talking was done by Charles Jencks, in the role of artist. He acknowledged his debt to Watson and Crick for their pioneering work and subsequently to Watson for the patronage which enabled Jencks to complete his recently-unveiled sculpture for Dublin Botanic Garden. Jencks however criticised the negative metaphors surrounding so many recent discoveries – “the selfish gene,” “the big bang” (“Pentagon language”, he said) and “black holes”, to name but three. As an artist, he was trying to come up with better metaphors, “more challenging, beautiful, seductive.” His landscape designs echo the thought of the late Ian Hamilton Finlay: “A garden isn’t just a retreat, it’s an attack.”

This time last year, Caroline and I joined in a Festival visit to a Cotswold garden crammed full of scientific references: I think I learnt more last night, though, from Charles Jencks' excellent images. What I found hard to accept was the need to distinguish between the mediaeval idea of the Creator, sitting on a cloud, and what Jencks called “cosmogenesis,” the continuing unfolding of creation in which we are all playing a part. For a person of faith, these are just two ways of looking at the same thing, namely the work of God.

The need for elegance in scientific expression was recognised by both speakers. Is there an objective aesthetic? I wondered afterwards. Or does it, as with wind turbines, depend on your point of view: renewable fanatics (me included) more incline to look favourably upon them than do climate sceptics.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Imagine three days without water

This was what stuck in my mind listening to Paul Younger's Cheltenham talk today. After those 72 hours, we die. It's a frightening thought. Yet Professor Younger stressed his Jeremiad - for it sounded like nothing less - was not moral preaching; just grim warning.

"Water is not an island," he told the large weekday morning audience; and yet so often we ignore the nexus - water and food; water and house building; water and energy. Collaboration is the only way forward:. "See how Iceland is about to become a net exporter of bananas!"

As he was talking, I thought back on that chilling Film Society offering we saw six months ago, about the water wars in Bolivia - and then he mentioned it. Even the rain. "That there has yet been no major international conflict is down to the power of virtual water." Read about it!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Remembering Marius Gray

Many suits assembled to fill St Bride's Church, Fleet Street this morning and give thanks for the richly varied life of Marius Gray. Some of us also prayed (privately) for the repose of his soul: to me it was remarkable how his staunch Catholicism managed to pass unacknowledged throughout the service. Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who gave one of three addresses, confessed to me afterwards that, despite having worked with Marius for many years, she never realised he was a Catholic. Did he hide his light under a bushel? Well, perhaps you could say that, but for half a century he managed to live within an inter-church marriage, and there is another side to it too: such non-verbal communication was a Marius speciality - it summed up his modesty, but also his authenticity.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

"Surviving the century"

Our annual Science Festival kicked off today, and we went along to hear Martin Rees. As before I found him brilliant, but infuriating. It consoled me to know that, like the rest of us, he's "a worried member of the human race." But are we all? I do wonder.

The first half of the lecture analysed cogently - though some of his conclusions stuck in my throat - our present situation and the immediate future outlook. But then Lord Rees took off into the way ahead ("... if we  get through this century"). "The post-human era beckons," he told us, and we were asked to consider whether we should feel guilty about exploiting robots.

You - or was it just me? - were left feeling what's the point of seeking to improve our present situation, by (inevitably) so very little... Late though it is, like Voltaire, I should perhaps just be off to cultivate my garden. (I photographed this peony of Caroline's there this morning, using my new whizzo camera: the family presented me with it for my birthday!)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

"Peacefully, at home, surrounded by his family"

I made the request that there should be no great party for my 70th birthday: I thought it had been granted, until people started to appear after our family lunch. They came and went in dribs and drabs - and over two afternoons - so it wasn't exactly a party: indeed it was the best sort of arrangement in that one could actually talk to one's guests - impossible when one is having to introduce them to each other while also acting as waiter. And the sun shone throughout.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

77th birthday celebrations

Our eldest grandchild William attains seven tomorrow, and I having reached 70, all the family gathered to share in a great joint celebration at lunchtime today. It was just warm enough to eat outside under the apple trees.

With barely time to draw breath, I was then surprised by a succession of old friends arriving for tea: what a day!