Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Au revoir or adieu?

Sweet Juliet is still, this last day of 2014, in flower in our garden; and - below - the leaves of the Acanthus near it shine with promise for next Summer. We've sprouts yet to eat, and broccoli, Cumberland cale and rocket. There's even a picking to be made from the lettuce plants, protected only by being at the foot of the wall near the far North corner.

"I foresee the Paris Climate Conference as 2015's key event," I emailed yesterday to the Guardian, "and would like to lend a hand in making it a success. With your front page today containing only three stories, all bad news related to air travel, who will join me in a New Year resolve to give up flying?" Alas, I looked this morning, and it hasn't made it into the paper.

It's a day for resolutions, of which this year I have made several. One relates to this blog, now in its seventh year: have you noticed the posts becoming shorter? Maybe it's the proverbial itch, but I'm putting it to sleep. Perhaps forever. Thank you, if there's anyone out there, for reading it! And to those who may have Commented from time to time.

PS (2nd January 2015): I looked again in the Guardian Letters page yesterday. Still no sign of my letter. Ah well! But then today, a blistering leading article on the importance of the Paris Climate Conference, and in the bottom left corner of the next page - just when I wasn't looking for it - my letter (only slightly edited).

Monday, 29 December 2014


All Saints Stone is one of the most Southerly of Gloucestershire's churches and the 188th I have photographed - which I did this sunny afternoon after dropping Agnes back in Bristol. Its tall tower and spire can be seen for miles around this flat part of the old county, not far from the Severn.

Sunday, 28 December 2014


Where should I take a visitor from Portugal to walk in the Cotswolds? This was the question I answered with "Stanway" yesterday. Parking alongside the railings beside the old chestnut avenue, you pass through what was once a typical village in these parts, all stone built, no motor homes on the driveway. There's the thatched cricket pavilion on staddle stones (designed for J.M. Barrie), the mansion with its five-sided bay window and garden wall pierced by paired oval windows, the magnificent gatehouse, built just before the Civil War, a 14th Century seven-bay tithe barn, the church with fragments of mediaeval sculpture in its churchyard wall, papermill, kissing gate, bronze war memorial with Gill lettering - and then the new avenue, stretching Southwards through the hamlet of Wood Stanway and up and over the escarpment.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Help at hand

Sarah drove in on Christmas Eve, the car full of good things, but itself in a bad way. Today, Matt, the AA man, came and towed it home to her local garage in Hampshire.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Christmas Express

To add to the general chaos of Christmas Day lunch for 11, William's new model train set was installed on the table before the pudding - useful for conveying the nuts round.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Christmas Outing

One of Birmingham's favourite sons, John Baskerville (1706 – 1775) is commemorated in the city's Centenary Square by David Patten's Portland stone sculpture of the Baskerville typeface, Industry and Genius (1990). It makes a great climbing frame.

Eight of us were on our way from New Street Station to see The BFG at the Rep, via The National Sea Life Centre, taking in lunch at Ed's Easy Diner en route.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Tower of bauble

It's good when grandchildren can take over the decoration of the Christmas tree.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Faith Space

I ought to have been aware of our local University's Faith Space: it must have opened a while ago, but I only noticed it this morning, as I was cutting through Park Campus.

It presumably replaces what was the campus chapel, which always seemed - to a passer by - a singularly uninviting place, albeit part of the original Christian teacher training college complex.

Things have changed in Cheltenham over the decades, and the new pocket-sized prayer spot is rightly inter-faith. Unfortunately, it was closed today - I guess because it's the vacation, and there's nobody about to keep an eye on it. (In principle, it needs to be ever open, but that could be tricky, I appreciate.) It's certainly in a prominent enough position, and let's hope well-used.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Wherefore art thou?

Though we only learnt about it after our return from five weeks away, at Easter, Cheltenham's Banksy hit the local headlines. Now, near to Christmas, the covered-up art work seems to have become just a blot on the landscape. I biked past this sunny morning when delivering Christmas cards.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Flying high again

After a good deal of rain, we four walkers took off from the Churn valley this sunless morning in the direction of higher ground. East from North Cerney, you soon reach a plateau, with views towards Blunsden and beyond. Our field path - not too muddy - crossed the White Way before coming to the Calmsden lane. We followed it down into that hamlet, past The Tallet. Pausing to admire the 14th Century wayside cross, we pushed on up along the side of Rendcomb airfield: it's much developed since I was last in these parts. The Monarch's Way was muddy, through Conigree Wood, but overall it was generally agreed to be a good walk on a dry, mild, windless day.

Not so much scenic variety in Nebraska though, judging from the film of that name which we saw last night. It was a road movie, a little slow-moving in parts, but wryly humorous and poignant.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Flying high

It was cold this morning, and Jeremy and I had to halt a chilly while on our walk up the sunless valley to Tresham while pheasants were being slaughtered. Beaters moved North-Westwards through Knight's Grove putting scores of birds up to fly high over the Guns, each with his (sic) loader. Thus Downton Abbey lives on in Beaufort country, save they now arrive in their Range Rovers, and use magnet-tipped walking sticks to collect the empty cartridge cases.

We warmed up once we were up on the ridge road back towards Alderley, Newark Park peeking through the trees to the North, across Ozleworth Bottom. From Tresham, we watched two mechanised sheep dogs rounding up the flock in order to sweep it down below Furlong's Brake.

We can recommend the pub at Hillesley, now owned by a community cooperative. On a grassy patch adjacent, I saw something yellow: a daffodil is in flower.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Glass - for Advent

I am writing this while listening to the Meistersinger relay from the Met. on Radio 3. The nearest church to my hotel in Nürnberg - when I was there in April - was St Martha’s, used as the rehearsal room by the real Meistersinger. It was officially closed, but I sneaked in through the sacristy to peak at the stained glass, much of it as early as the late 14th Century. (Here's John the Baptist, 15th Century.)

St Martha’s had escaped lightly in World War II, but just over two months after my visit, fire engulfed the entire church: providentially its windows had been removed pending renovation work.

Glass of another sort was on the bill of the concert I went to on Thursday night at the Pittville Pump Room. As the centrepiece of their programme, the estimable Carduccis played Philip Glass' Quartet no. 3. Others in the fullish house loved it, they told me, but I was left cold. I could have coped with it as the backgound to a film - for which it was originally intended - but coming after the well known Mozart D minor, its major key Andante played magically, it seemed to go nowhere, and to take twice (rather than half) the time of Mozart in doing so.

After the interval, the Carduccis tackled one of the masterpieces of the repertoire, Beethoven Op 132, its 20-minute slow movement wringing the heart. Once over, you are led to think its all going to be plain sailing, only for a wrestling match to develop - as far from music of the 18th Century as you can imagine. A thrilling performance!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Leap of Faith

There is only one church dedicated to St Faith in Gloucestershire, a remote and delightfully modest one: as I hadn't photographed it, and as it was my turn to plan today's expedition, I suggested the six of us should set out to walk to Farmcote from the car park of the nearest pub, the Plough at Ford. Did it prove a step too far? Despite another glorious day (no sign of the forecast "weather bomb"), I detected some murmuring in the ranks.

The first photo op came as we were booting up. Jackdaws Castle abuts the car park, and there was Jonjo O'Neill's string proceeding down towards us in stately fashion, before turning and galloping back up the hill, four by four, an exhilarating sight (only possible to stage if you have several million pounds in the bank).

Cutsdean, straggling along the upper reaches of the Windrush, possesses - nestling within a farmyard - a church of St James. Though it was locked, we could still admire the black scallop centred in the church gate. It looks recent - no coincidence, surely, that a James owns the village? [PS As it happens, it IS a coincidence!] The same lordly hand has left its impression upon the landscape that extends North from beside Beckbury Camp down to and beyond Stanway House. The prodigious avenue, all of two miles long, will have cost but a fraction of that string of racehorses, but will I trust endure long after horsiculture is forgotten.

Grandfathers' footsteps was the name of the game as we followed Campden Lane West from Stumps Cross.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Punching above its weight

Pax Christi UK’s General Secretary saying this evening that she was one of only three paid staff prompted surprise. “It punches above its weight,” I remarked – only to arouse a titter: we had just been discussing nonviolent protest as a way of drawing attention to planet Earth as (in Ban Ki-moon’s phrase) “a silent casualty of war”.

It reminded me how heavily our language depends upon military vocabulary. As our speaker, Pat Gaffney said, “It’s the whole of me that has to be a peacemaker.” Just as a film lover is a different animal from a film maker, so the Sermon on the Mount talks not of “Blessed are the peace lovers” – but "peacemakers". So, celebrating Remembrance Day without a commitment to peacemaking “is pure sentimentality”. In the same way, the Eucharistic “Do this in remembrance of me” is a call to action as well as devotion.

“Do I need to be a pacifist to join Pax Christi?” Pat was asked. No, Pax Christi has supporters all along the spectrum. Anyway, she preferred to use the term “nonviolent”. To develop a nonviolent attitude in all things was an aspiration: despite her 23 years with Pax Christi, it's one she had yet to attain fully. It's often easier, she says, to protest outside Downing Street than to talk to one's sister-in-law. Recently, she's had to work out a non-violent reaction to the theft of the flower pots she kept outside the front door of her home.

At the end of a year of escalating conflict in, among other places, the Ukraine, Syria and Iraq and Nigeria, it was opportune that our guest was a prominent representative of the international Catholic peace movement. Active in 50 countries, Pax Christi next year celebrates 70 years of peacemaking.

Pat (seen here with our Parish Priest), after working for CAFOD, came to Pax Christi 23 years ago, and has won renown as a campaigner, an educator and an advocate. She has travelled to Sarajevo, East Timor and (frequently) to Israel Palestine, a pilgrim visiting communities. She has been nominated along with fellow women peace workers for the Nobel Prize, and imprisoned four times for nonviolent direct action – about which Martin Luther King wrote that it “seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it may no longer be ignored.” This, Pat believes, is her Christian duty.

With the aid of illustrations, the links between war, conflict and the degradation of our planet were explored. Do we really measure the true costs of war? Pat asked: the enforced migration, the disablement, the psychological costs, “the toxic remnants of war” (the title of an independent project, fairly recently set up). 18,000 square miles of land were laid waste in Vietnam. In Kuwait, retreating Iraqis torched 800 oil wells. Over the past 50 years 800,000 olive trees, a spiritual resource for the people, have been destroyed in Israel Palestine.

Outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston Pat photographed children holding a home-made placard: “If we destroy our planet, we have nowhere to go,” it said. We need, Pat urged, to rethink what security is all about. UK military spending – at £38bn. a year – is the sixth largest in the world. But if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. What of climate change, resource depletion, marginalisation of the majority poor? We spend £1.3b. p.a. on military research and development, compared with £45m. on looking into renewable energy.

At the heart of her message was Pat’s conviction that one person putting their faith into action can make a difference: the priest who came to say Mass on the sacred rocks, threatened by the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island off South Korea; Bishara Nasser’s devotion to protecting Daher’s Vineyard near Bethlehem, resulting in The Tent of Nations project to prepare young people to contribute positively to their culture and future; the Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement.

This presentation to Christian Ecology Link was as powerful as any we have hosted in Cheltenham.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


In contrast to Monday, today was brilliantly sunny, a perfect day for Winter walking. Four of us set off from the lay-by on the A46, past the 18th Century former drying tower (now a house) up Frogmarsh Lane and through South Woodchester, a village with a past: so many fine 17th/18th Century stone properties! Then up alongside Dingle Wood, and back left on the drive towards Bownhill Farm, with a 180 degree panorama from Horsley to Randwick. We descended, skirting Woodchester Park, to Inchbrook through a large, rather incongruous vineyard, before the final climb up to pass above C.F. Hansom's Our Lady of the Annunciation and the former Poor Clares' convent.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Wartime wedding

My parents were married 75 years ago today, at The Oratory, Birmingham. This photograph shows them as gay young things, in August 1938.

Monday, 1 December 2014


Three of us set out this dank morning from Naunton: we walked up the Windrush and across to Guiting Power, then to Barton and East towards Huntsman's Quarry, cutting downhill back to the Black Horse in time for not a very good lunch. Fact acquired: the Guiting Amenity Trust owns 73 properties. Photo: Longford House, next to the pub - built around 1800.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Sagittarius Rising

Cecil Lewis' book about his flying experiences in World War I and shortly afterwards was chosen by our Book Club's newest member and chewed over today. We liked it.

Part of the book's charm is its frequent digression into something more akin to poetry than real-life Biggles. "Many times have I been carried away," Lewis writes, "by the unexpected beauties of the foreign scene. But, finally, a man comes home. For nowhere else, I think, does the beech grow just so, noble and straight, crowning the rounded hill."

After the lunchtime discussion, we adjourned to look over the former Cirencester Brewery complex, of which LoCo Glass occupies part. Colin Hawkins made us welcome. Interesting to compare their contemporary British studio work with painted glass of five centuries earlier, such as this St Lawrence fragment in the South Sanctuary window of the great Parish Church, which we wandered round before lunch.

Another part of the Brewery is home to Dorothy Reglar's Colours of Asia. The cloth that Dorothy uses to create her designs is produced on handlooms in Laos - she visits each year: again, her beautiful clothes were a contrast to the richly-decorated blue velvet cope on display in the church - made in 1478.

Yet again, a mild day, and dry. Before catching my bus, I was raking leaves.

Friday, 28 November 2014

One-sided debate

My former College's annual London seminar, in the relaxed and august setting of Carlton House Terrace, features a panel of Old Members who have a common area of expertise. The subject this year was "Beyond Fantasy or Fear, The Future of Britain outside the European Union", billed as a debate.

It was nothing of the sort, as all five speakers - some admittedly more strongly than others - endorsed our membership of the EU. Hooray! But the question is, how do we articulate "our" position in such a way as to persuade people?

Particularly impressive on the platform was Professor Anand Menon, pointing out that European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy talks about a British departure in terms of "amputation". Britain's is one of the most influential voices within the EU, says Anand: leaving, our impact on the world stage would be vastly reduced.

I enjoyed the evening, but I feel the format needs looking at. First, five speakers is one too many. And the speakers didn't appear to have been encouraged to agree the areas each would cover. In the audience were a number who made valuable contributions to help it in the direction of a true debate, but I suspect others too had expertise such that it would have been valuable, time permitting, to hear their views articulated. Secondly, at previous seminars Old Members on the platform have been willing to share confidential insights. Apart from Mark Blythe, I thought, frankly, that this year’s bunch, though highly competent, came across as a dull lot!

Finally, as Master (and chair for the evening) we are fortunate to have a man described by a former national newspaper editor as one of our most brilliant political analysts, yet of his own views we heard nothing. A pity!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

"Who are you?"

Grayson Perry's recent TV mini-series "Who are you?" made essential viewing for both of us, so we were happy to be able to catch the art works he made during the filming, on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The Memory Jar attracted much the biggest crowd, unsurprising given today's general concern about Alzheimer's. Christopher, the victim portrayed so poignantly by Perry, both on the small screen and through this pot, had been my contemporary at school, which brought it all home.

Earlier we had spent a couple of unforgettable hours in the company of late Rembrandt next door at the National Gallery.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Luckily, we happened to be coming to London anyway today, so could be part of the celebratory lunch party after our friend Sarah received her MBE at Buckingham Palace - well-earned by many years at the inter-faith coalface in South London and elsewhere.

Pope Francis' Strasbourg speech yesterday rang simultaneously a warning to and an endorsement of the EU - the latter being something Sarah's Islamic friend and I passionately agreed upon. Unfortunately she had moved round the table by the time I found myself in a radically different conversation on the same subject with my other neighbour, a UKIP sympathiser.

Having been brought up short by this, I was again by something in the Times, a paper I normally never see. Columnist Janice Turner - in her Notebook - writes about a friend with a home that makes Janice want to change her entire house. How does she achieve this? Why, by abandoning "dim eco-friendly bulbs". "Sod the planet," the friend says, and Janice follows suit. Haven't they heard of LED?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


In the West window of Sapperton Church stands a fine arrangement of poppies, which would be lost against stained glass. Yesterday I was there showing Dido round the local Arts and Crafts connections - they were new to her. Beforehand, we had a brisk walk up the valley from Duntisbourne Abbotts - a little too brisk (and far) for Murphy's short legs: to get him back to Long Ford he had to be put on the trip-me-up.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Stir up Sunday

All three grandchildren were with us yesterday, stirring the Christmas cake in turn.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

"Medicine Unboxed"

I missed Day 1 of this year's jam-packed Medicine Unboxed weekend, and only lasted the morning session today. "A tendency to be arty-farty?" Yes, but what a mind-stretching joy it is!

Tim Dee and William Fiennes were discussing their work under the heading "horizon" - it being foreshortened by Dee, kneeling down to examine blades of grass in his Four Fields; but the opposite for Fiennes, following Snow Geese from Texas to the Arctic (and eating them) - birds that know no border controls, carry no baggage. The horizon always remains, however many miles a day one treks (pointing up, for me, the comparative rewards of pilgrimage: to travel hopefully, yes, but also eventually to arrive).

Philip Gross then read from Deep Field, poems inspired by his dying father's loss of language. One of those next up, sociologist Yasmin Gunaratnam, had long studied in a similar area: she introduced actors to perform two powerfully dramatic scenas that touched upon the crossing from life to death of those in the immigrant community.

Before the lunch break, the winner of the Medicine Unboxed Creative Prize was announced. Out of 80 or so entries, seven had been picked out, including Agnes' idea for a musical to deal with - once again - the development and disintegration of language. Brief descriptions of the entries on the shortlist were read out, Agnes' being last. What did that signify? Well, nothing as we soon learnt. The award went to Tiffany Atkinson, already a published poet. So, disappointment within the family - though we aren't allowed to show it; and brilliant to have got so far.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Medicine box

We don't have one - a medicine box, that is. We have various stashes and a glass-fronted cabinet, with rather an awkward key and too few, too shallow shelves. The "medicines" tumble out, difficult to locate when you need them (I find). Big Pharma would come in and throw most of them away for being out of date.

Anyway, it's on my mind this past 24 hours, recovering from a sudden bug: possibly flu, though I had my injection. Feeling the end of the world was near, I have to remember I was out walking earlier in the week.

Odd though that on Tuesday's walk, none of those taking part so much as mentioned my message to our Leader (cc'd to all) of six days previously: "I look forward to being with you in the Malverns," I wrote, "but alas can't commit myself to the attractive-sounding walk you suggest in Croatia next Summer: all our energies are going to be bent in another direction then. You ask for our thoughts: as you know, I am an advocate of low-carbon travel, and would earnestly hope that some of you who do decide to go all that way (Total Flights Footprint = 0.43 metric tons of CO2e​) would look into the no-fly option. The cons are extra monetary outlay, extra time required and a degree of planning. Amongst many other pros (beside carbon-saving) I would cite no airport/aircraft hassle, a journey through a rich variety of scenery and the opportunity to meet people you would never normally come across. The Man in Seat 61 website gives you all the leads you need, but just to make it that much simpler, here are the main options..." I attached an A4 sheet. But silence.

This photograph of Paddington Station was taken a couple of years ago: I might have been passing through today, had I felt committed to book for the annual members meeting of Christian Ecology Link. That I didn't is partly because it now alas has to be known as "Green Christian"... (This is where Leo would start making scratched record gestures.)