Saturday, 30 August 2014

Christian Ecology: Blink (and I'll miss it)

Christian Ecology Link is, as regular readers of this blog may have spotted, a cause close to my heart. I was in at its inception, as the Christian Ecology Group. It happened during a conference of the Ecology Party in the Winter Gardens at Malvern: a handful of us met up for prayer, sharing the feeling that Christians needed to be involved in politics, but equally that charity was at times lacking during the conference proceedings. We sought accordingly to bring Christian insights into our party membership, and - upon returning home - Ecology Party insights into our church membership. And so it has gone on for thirty something years.

But what's this? The Tablet today reports a name change to "Green Christian" (ugh!) and that "we felt that the name Christian Ecology Link was a little bit too 1980s for communications purposes."

"Green Christian"? What's that, another denomination? It certainly doesn't encapsulate so well the important "linkage" between Christianity and the Creation, still neglected by many within their church communities, still a matter of raised eyebrows on the part of secularists in the environmental movement.

No, this seems to me change for change's sake, a distraction and an expense. I fear the above "we" does not include "I".

Friday, 29 August 2014

Fr. Jean-Marie, RIP

I last saw my friend Fr. Jean-Marie Charles-Roux in Rome, 13 years ago: he had retired there to the Rosminian house in via di Porta Latina, near to the then British Embassy to the Holy See where we were staying for the weekend. At our instigation, he was added to the Saturday night dinner party, full of diplomats, where of course he was perfectly at home. Rome was a fitting place for him to end his days: he epitomised the Roman Church - all that's best as well as all that's worst, as I see it.

This photograph was taken at our wedding, in June 1975. Then just turned 60, he lived as a curate at St Ethelreda's, Ely Place, where I first came across him when I worked in the City. We got to know each other quite well, sharing a love of Wagner's music dramas. He always needed a good supply of handkerchiefs, he said, when listening to Tristan and Isolde. I don't recall whether it was Tristan or Die Meistersinger that I saw with him, sitting in best stalls seats (unfamiliar territory for me) at the Royal Opera House. (Someone must have invited him, and then been unable to make it.) For Jean-Marie, it seemed that listening to Wagner was a mystical experience almost on a par with saying Mass. I owe to him a better understanding of the meaning of the beauty of holiness.

He came to the house I shared in Fulham and said a house Mass once, before supper. A tummy rumble nearly sent one of the others present into a fit of giggles. Yet because he took himself seriously - though not always too seriously - his way of faith seemed plausible. Seldom was he bitchy, though his oblique comments about his parish priest (Fr. Kit Cunningham) ought perhaps to have been heeded by those who mattered.

Others have of course written more eloquently about Jean-Marie, who died earlier this month, just short of his 100th birthday. I was intrigued to learn that he masqueraded during a World War II escape attempt as an English officer, Captain Charles Russell, matching the initials on his uniform.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Croft Farm Waterpark

Caroline booked the three grandchildren in for a kayaking session today, in a former gravel pit just North of Tewkesbury. Two hours was plenty. Having picniced at the waterside, and before our trio donned their wet suits, we were all entertained by ducks and swans on the look-out for food plus a gang of ice bucket challengers further down the bank.

I've been reading Alice in Wonderland to Ida. In view of current trends, too much "Off with their heads!" for my liking.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The last shall be first

Our Japanese student was late returning from Bath, so we almost missed the start of last night's recital at Syde Tithe Barn. Such is now the reputation of the Carduccis that the only seats free were on the large sofa at the Barn's East end: no complaints from us, however, as they were the most comfortable in the house, and with plenty of leg room.

Three pieces were listed, two of which I had never before heard - works by Turina and Puccini, both enjoyable. I found the familiar D Minor Mozart quartet less so, however. Perhaps it was Matthew's in this instance a little unnecessary introduction, with its attempt to provide a programme for the work. Res ipsa loquitur where Mozart is concerned.

Coming away, and creeping down the side of Syde church, I looked up at the 14th Century saddle-backed West tower, a steep staircase leading to the ringing chamber. The photograph does little justice to the exquisite evening light.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Abbey Home Farm

We drove from home to Cirencester yesterday evening, a double rainbow in the sky as we left at 6.30. GOGG had arranged a garden visit - to what might be the largest organic operation in Gloucestershire.

I am ashamed to say I had never before been to The Organic Farm Shop before: I was impressed, not only by its shortbread, with pieces of which we were welcomed by Hilary Chester-Master, but by the integrity of the operation as a whole: Al (photographed above) was describing it all well to our group - before the cold of the evening became too much for us. (How the weather has changed since last week!)

Monday, 18 August 2014

The invasion...

...has arrived. Edmund yesterday brought the three grandchildren to stay - on and off till the end of the holidays.

Caroline has set them tasks: William was on raspberry-picking this morning. "Have you been eating them?" I asked, as he presented the container half-filled. "I haven't had any out of the bowl," he replied.

Obviously destined for a career in diplomacy.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Assumption

I had company at mass this evening. Rio arrived to stay with us on Sunday evening last: she is here for three weeks, studying at the University of Gloucestershire. Her father is a professional cyclist: it seems that betting on the outcome of cycle races is big business in Japan.

Rio is studying philosophy at a private university in Tokyo, founded by the Jesuits 100 years ago. Though a Buddhist, she expressed the wish to come along to church when I said I was going. Her English is better than most, I'd say, so she was able to follow the book pretty well, but after communion I must say I was fazed at first when she inquired about "the crisp".

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Wednesday walking resumed

Two of us only set out from Staunton yesterday, in the direction of Hasfield. It's not an area I knew - on foot anyway - and I underestimated the difficulties: a longish walk, for instance, through the prevalent crop, in order to avoid brambles and nettles - yes, it was maize as high as an elephant's eye (and on O what a beautiful morning).

We felt the need for lunch, so started the return leg before reaching Hasfield. Instead, to visit the church, we drove by on our way home: well, not "by" exactly - it's very tucked away, but worth discovering if only for a fine outlook from its graveyard. In fact, there are good views all round. At one stage, I was surprised by finding Gloucester Cathedral in my sights, when I fancied I'd be looking towards Cheltenham.

I read today of the death of Lauren Bacall. She thought "your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that." By Staunton church, with its 2,000-year-old yew tree, I bumped into a not-quite-so-old friend, who seemed to bear her out.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

First fruits

Caroline thought the prospects of honey from her hive were remote for this year; but lo! Here are the laden combs, dripping off into a pot on the kitchen table.

Very sweet it tastes too. And all thanks to kind Mike, photographed with Caroline.

This morning, I paid a visit to a 96-year-old lady. "I gather there's delays at the Crematorium because of problems with the ovens," she told me. "Yes," I replied. "You'll have to hang on a bit till they're fixed." "Oh, I'm not thinking of going just yet," she said. I learnt that she had been captain of the Cheltenham Chess Club's second team, until the unsolicited attentions of one of the other members plagued her to such an extent that she resigned. With the Camera Club it seems she had better luck.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Seven wheels

William, Edmund and I have been biking in London - from Paddington to the Tower, and here we are posing under the Eye. As on last year's car-free Saturday, when I went with a University friend, it was a glorious day for cycling. Even more than before turned out, though today I didn't spot so many (other) eccentrics.

At times William wiggled almost as much as his uncle Leo did at his age, but whenever I thought I'd lost him, I heard him whistling peacefully not far away in the throng.

The pocket chess set I had brought with me came in useful on the return train journey: my mother gave it me as a child, and I in turn passed it on to Edmund aged seven, but it remained in a drawer at home. Now it has a third name inside it: William's. He shows promise.

Edmund meanwhile wrestled with emails - giant haystacks of them: how lucky was I, he exclaimed, to have grown up in an era of less than instant comms.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Tangled legs

The day started early and badly. I fell down stairs. As I was carrying half a mug of tea, it seems to have splashed every surface of the hall. Luckily, it happened only two steps from the bottom, so it was just my pride that was wounded.

Caroline (leaving early for Oxford) dropped me by Leckhampton church before seven so I could walk the dog for her. The light was good, but taking photographs I always find flare a problem when there's low sun. Perhaps it's the lingering influence of our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last week that these two logs caught my eye, lying by the path on my way back home.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014


A couple of centuries ago, some of the denizens of Bourton-on-the-Water may have taken against the demolition of their church's Norman nave and tower. But was it disfigured by the Georgian replacements? Pevsner thinks not, and who am I to disagree with Pevsner?

We visited the church this morning, on our way to lunch in Upper Slaughter. And on our way back, we diverted a little further South along the Fosse, so Caroline could take the opportunity to buy bacon at Castle's. We found Northleach Square taken over by a film crew: Mark Savage's wine shop had become "Mollison's", and Pulham's bus was forced to stop in the main road, holding up all the traffic. It transpires that the great Gambon is in town, playing Howard Mollison, owner of the eponymous eatery in J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, being filmed for TV.

Not disfigurement, more transformation - putting me in mind that today is the feast of the Transfiguration.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

CAD's little Aker

We have followed Rupert Aker's career with growing interest over a few years now, and so Caroline commissioned a painting of the view from Cleeve Hill as a present for Katie and Rob. It came yesterday, and will be delivered tomorrow - they are in Tanzania on honeymoon, and therefore unlikely to have their present-opening fun spoiled by this post.

Monday, 4 August 2014

"On the Jakobsweg"

During our absence, the hard copy of my latest book arrived from the publishers, Blurb. It's more ambitious than others I have done on similar lines: it purports to be a lightweight guide to the pilgrimage route I walked in April - approximately 500 kms. from Nürnberg to Einsiedeln. I have included maps and a page of resource information, as well as a brief diary - and of course some of my photographs.

The book's aim is to encourage others to think of trying this Camino, one that is little-walked by the English (from what I gather), but particularly rich in Christian associations. Quite apart from these, it passes through some majestic scenery, and the natives are extremely friendly! You can see the whole book via its free online preview.

My photograph shows the front cover: the photograph was taken approaching Steinhausen, known as the most beautiful village church in the world.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Katie's wedding

We all danced to Gaz Mayall's band, The Trojans last night (who could resist it?), following a delicious dinner - itself following a magical reception in the gardens of Sudeley Castle. The rain stopped just in time, and evening sunshine filtered through onto the speech-givers. Somehow Katie and Rob deserved nothing less than a nine-piece ensemble of such sheer verve and excellence. (From left in my photograph: Antoin O'Doherty, Zoe Devlin and Gaz himself)

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Seven plus

No grandchildren, but all four children were with us for lunch today - plus Mini; and it's always difficult to prevent Caroline's dog from muscling in on the act. ("No balls inside, Floss!")

Friday, 1 August 2014


Our new friends from Bilbao left in their minibus after lunch today, allowing us to resume possession of the house after our three-week exile. No complaints on either side: indeed, they want to come again next year, they say, but are worried that Zoopla seems to imply we are For Sale. I must investigate.

I apologised to the head of the family for not leaving details of Mass times for them. "We don't go," he responded, explaining his reaction to a strict Catholic upbringing. Besides, in Spain, he said, people worship, not God, but the Virgin Mary. And there's a different Virgin Mary in each village. I feel I missed an opportunity to put him right, but it didn't seem like the moment for apologetics.