A City in a Forest

Souls entwined at the Peace Pagoda

This weekend I visited relatives who live in Willen, very close to the North Lake.  Willen is one of the dozen or so ancient villages that were absorbed when the new town of Milton Keynes was built 50 years ago.  I remember driving through the area with my father when the town was being built.  I was fascinated by the ‘grid system’ of the roads, horrified by the number of roundabouts and underpasses, and amazed by the number of tree-lined cycle paths.  Driving through the city again this weekend, I was amused by the street names, delighted by the beauty of the trees and parks, and relieved to see that some of the old villages have still retained their individual identity and historic buildings.

My dream house

There are two lakes in Willen, North and South and both are beautiful in very different ways.   South Lake, and the park it is set in, is a hive of activity.  On the lake there are facilities for water sports like canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, and paddle sports, as well as an area for fishing.  In the park there are areas for golfing, cycling, football, table tennis, aerial adventures, jogging and gymnastics; as well as a wonderful children’s adventure playground.

In total contrast, North Lake is set in the most serene park I have ever visited.  It is a designated and protected wildlife and nature reserve and there are waders and waterfowl galore.  There is also a Peace Pagoda, the first ever built in Western Europe.   It was built by monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myoholi as a symbol of world peace and is meant to promote unity among all the peoples of the world regardless of race, creed, or border.   It opened in September 1980.   In front of the pagoda stand two creatures from Japanese legend.   Shishi, the paired lion-dogs are said to have magical powers that repel evil.

peace-pagoda-with-lions.jpg

Near the pagoda is the Buddhist Temple as well as Japanese and Zen gardens.   There is such an air of serenity around the pagoda and the Temple.  It draws me to it.

Near the temple is a medicine wheel of stones, which looks a bit like the ancient stone circle at Avebury.   It is said that a ley line passes through this area and close by is a single ‘needle’ stone that catches the rising midsummer sun.  There certainly are a lot of mystical and spiritual influences in the area of Willen and Milton Keynes.  If you are interested you can read more at this link.

img_5698.jpg

There is so much to see on and around the lake.  I was very impressed by all the artwork.  There is a fascinating Labyrinth and a beautiful pure white memorial statue named ‘Souls in Love’.  The sight of this statue aligned with a pure white swan and the white peace pagoda gleaming in the setting sun was totally stunning.  Of course my photos, taken with my phone, don’t do it justice; but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

souls-entwined-and-souls-flying-free.jpg

While I was at the lakeside I saw waders and waterfowl galore, as well as the most spectacular murmuration of starlings as dusk fell.  A group of ‘twitchers’ with very impressive cameras was gathered at the edge of the lake to watch the amazing aerial display.  There must have been thousands of birds flying so close together that they seem to move as one.  I watched them swoop and soar as they selected just the right spot to roost for the night.  As they got closer and the sky got darker, the sound of their wings was deafening, then silence fell as they all settled.  The whole spectacle was breathtaking, a beautiful ballet.  Do watch this video if you have never witnessed a murmuration or check out these fabulous photos from the Guardian.

All in all a very enjoyable weekend.

Layers of Love

chiselling the slate

I have always been fascinated by stone because in one form or another it has been around since the world began, and, in one form or another, will still be around when we are all gone!

As a youngster I lived for a few years in the Lake District, where slate has been mined for centuries, and still is.  There were wonderful shades of green and  blue-grey, which you can still get today.  The colours depend on what minerals and organic materials were in the shale when it was laid down. There was even a silvery grey called Coniston Old Man! Geologists reckon it was laid down over the course of 500 million years, from sedimentary rock under low heat and pressure.  This natural slate can withstand the most extreme environments and conditions, which makes it ideal as a building material.

But, when slate is turned on its side, it can be easily split with a hammer and chisel into separate layers of differing thicknesses.  It is these qualities of timelessness, strength and layering that were in my mind this week.

I imagine that inside of each one of us there are layers of love being laid down.  Daily life is the mud between the layers and the surface may be riven by life’s ups and downs.  But, hopefully we will all have layers of love laid down for our parents, siblings, children and extended family, whether natural or adoptive, who form the bedrock of our emotional lives.

There will be other layers formed by people we hardly knew but who made a deep impression on our hearts.  I’m thinking of my grandmother who died when I was just 5 but whom I loved with all my heart because she made me feel safe and loved when I was tiny.  They say children won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.  That was certainly true in her case.

Special friends will lay down other layers, which will still be there even when the friends have passed away.  I’m thinking here of my dear friend, Pat, who died in a cycling accident some years ago.   I have such fond memories of her as we had such fun together at college and for years after.

But there will be other people we meet during the course of our lives whom we respect and admire so strongly that a love develops that transcends normal feelings and is often inexplicable to others.  And this is the point of my post.

When I retired from decades working in education, I was drained in every way; physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.  My well had definitely run dry!  I knew that I needed to be in a peaceful place where I could restore my energy and regain my ‘joie de vivre’.  So, I went to work as a housekeeper at St Peter’s Grange, which at the time was a retreat and conference centre run by the Benedictine monks from Prinknash Abbey

This was a labour of love and I learned a great deal about life from the Benedictine monks I shared the chores with.  Fr Alphedge especially was an inspiration.  He was always so happy, building up the fire, sweeping the floor, even scrubbing out enormous pots and pans.  His philosophy was to treat every moment as a sacrament, and every task as a gift to God, not a chore.  He did each menial job with reverence while radiating joy, peace and stillness for almost 40 years.

FullSizeRender

Fr Alphedge in L’Astazou, Lourdes with our ACROSS pilgrimage 1993

Fr Alphedge left this life last month, and I found myself grieving and reflecting on all I had learned from him during those beautiful moments of quiet contemplation that we shared, over the soapy suds, dusty cobwebs and sooty ashes.

And it boils down to love.  I learned to love myself again, to love life, to love the people I come into contact with, and to love the work in-hand.  This is not a shallow kind of love.  As Fr Alphedge would be the first to admit, some people – monks included – can do irritating things that temporarily annoy one.  But, deep inside, love is laid down like the mudstone that changes over time to riven slate.  The people we meet are like the crystals of quartz embedded in it and the formative experiences we have are like the minerals and organic matter that give the slate its colour.

Many years ago, my parents picked up a large slab of slate in the Lake District and carved letters from their names into it, which they painted gold.  It reads ‘Terstels’ from Terry and Stella, and is still on the front of the house where they lived until they died.  I pass it every day and it reminds me that although they are gone, my love for them is still as strong as ever.  I guess it is the first layer of love I laid down.

Terstels 1

I think we each have a limitless capacity for love- it costs nothing, takes up no space, and it is very precious.

Another monk, a Salesian this time, who was rather irreverently known as Bro. Joe, taught me not to hide love but to spread it, share it, give it freely, and let others know that they are loved.  This poem was printed on his funeral order of service and I think it is very good advice!

If with pleasure you are viewing
Any work that I am doing,
If you like me, or you love me, tell me now.
Don’t withhold your approbation
Till the Father makes oration
And I lie with snowy lilies o’er my brow.
For no matter how you shout it,
I won’t care so much about it,
I won’t see how many tear drops you have shed.
If you think some praise is due me.
Now’s the time to slip it to me,
For I cannot read my tombstone when I’m dead.

More than fame and more than money
Is the comment warm and sunny,
Is the hearty warm approval of a friend.
For it gives to life a savour
And it makes me stronger, braver,
And it gives to me the spirit to the end.
If I earn your praise bestow it,
If you like me, let me know it,
Let the words of true encouragement be said.
Do not wait till life is over
And I’m underneath the clover,
For I cannot read my tombstone when I’m dead.

 

I need to thank Michelle at Honister Slate Mine for the great photos

The Cotswold Lion

The Cotswold Lion

 

P1000097

Cotswold Lions at Prinknash Abbey farm

‘In Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold’
(12th century saying).

This week I am thinking about texture.  

There are two types of texture, actual texture which you can feel or touch, and visual texture which uses marks to give the illusion of a textured surface.  It fascinates me that the word texture originated from from the Latin textilis ~ woven, from texere ~ to weave and the 17th century word Textile has the same root.  A textile is literally ‘that which has been woven’.   So this weekend I set out to learn more about it.

There can’t be a more random selection of textures than stone, wool, water, grass and brass; however, there is a link!  And it is at the heart of this beautiful area I live in called the Cotswolds.

The Cotswold land is ideal for sheep grazing and in medieval times the Abbeys and Monasteries kept huge flocks of the native breed, which was, and still is, known as the Cotswold Lion, because it has a long shaggy mane over its eyes.  These are stocky animals that breed well and grow quickly.  Their wool is so long, fine, white and soft that it was known as the ‘golden fleece’ ~ because of the wealth it created, not the colour.

From the earliest times the wool itself was traded, but by the middle ages whole cottage industries grew up to process the wool into cloth.  The clothier and his family prepared the raw wool then gave it to his neighbours to be spun by the women and children.  It was then woven by men in their homes.  The weavers’ cottages had long, low windows in order to give maximum light to the looms.  After processing the cloth was extremely dense and almost waterproof due to the nap, which was ideal for the military, huntsmen and landowners.

The merchants who traded in this fine cloth became extremely wealthy. They used their wealth to build wonderful houses out of the local Cotswold stone and to build and furnish exquisite churches in the market towns and villages, with stained glass, stone carvings and brasses.

Yes, the rolling fields, honey coloured stone cottages, ancient mills and beautiful churches that make up our landscape are all here because of sheep.  The names of the villages such as Sheepscombe reflect the trade, and even our pubs and inns like the Fleece or the Ram are reminiscent of the wool trade.

I visited the church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Northleach today.  It is one of the largest and finest wool churches in England.  There are some fascinating brasses in this church with images of the merchants with sacks of wool or sheep as their footrest.  They date back to the 1400s.  One or two of the brasses were particularly interesting as they showed that women could be wealthy merchants too.  And, one particularly striking couple had their 15 children shown on the brass!

By the 16th century the industry was moving away from the small towns and villages to be nearer to the Stroud valley where the fast-flowing streams supplied the power to drive the fulling mills.  In its heyday, there were around 200 mills in the Stroud valley and many of them are still standing today.  They are converted for other industrial uses now or renovated into rather swish apartments.

I learned some fascinating facts today.  Who knew that subsequent to the ‘Burial in Wool acts of 1667 and 1668’, all bodies had to be buried in wool unless they died of plague.  This law was only repealed in 1814.  It stated that,

“No corps should be buried in anything other than what is made of sheep’s wool only; or put into any coffin lined or faced with any material but sheep’s wool, on pain of forfeiture of £5.”

The old saying – “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes”, came from being buried in a shroud of wool, and meant that “I am not dead!”

You may know that there is a large wool-stuffed cushion or seat covered in red cloth in the House of Lords.  This is called the Woolsack and is where the Lord Speaker sits during Parliamentary proceedings with the Mace on the woolsack behind him.  It was introduced by King Edward III (1327-77) and originally stuffed with English wool as a reminder of England’s traditional source of wealth – the wool trade.  There is also a larger woolsack where senior Judges sit during the State Opening of Parliament.

Here are some photos from Northleach where wealthy cloth merchant John Fortey paid for the church renovations

 

Here are some photos from Bibury where wool was treated on Rack isle

 

And lastly some photos from Nailsworth where the Fulling Mills refined the texture of the cloth.

 

And lastly, to the pub, The Fleece at Bretforton!

 

I could write so much more, but if you are interested I can recommend these very knowledgeable and interesting websites:

http://www.cotswoldjourneys.com/cotswolds-guide/the-cotswolds-wool-trade/

http://stroud-textile.org.uk/history/background-to-the-local-wool-industry/

 

Happy Times Past

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

tile-spirit-squared-for-abw

The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘Nostalgia’ and my friends and I are certainly feeling nostalgic today.  We had some truly upsetting news about our old school. The huge tile frieze that we created in 1999 to mark the new millennium, was destroyed in a fire.

It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium.  There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, computer systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really knew what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 or what the new millennium would mean for civilisation.  So, as St Thomas More School was such a huge part of my life, I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent.

In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head.

In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year ~ yes honestly, not SATs! That was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focused so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Creative Arts such as Music, Dance, Drama and painting were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.  Yes, again it wasn’t SATs that featured large in their lives.  How times changed!

For our frieze the staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, Anne Bate Williams, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. Anne had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would truly reflect the life of our school.

It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem.  In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself.  The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze.  I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze.  There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental.  While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired.  A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by Tony O’Shea, the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze stayed proudly in the school hall for the last 16 years and with it, a little piece of all of us who made it.  And now it is no more.

Nostalgia  in my dictionary is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness mixed with pleasure and affection when you think of happy times in the past.’  I think this sums up our feelings today perfectly.

So here I go down Memory Lane…

 

Doors Painted by Fr Stephen Horton OSB of Prinknash Abbey

Today I took my grandson to Prinknash Abbey for a snack in the wonderful café, and to play in the beautiful grounds of the Monastery of Our Lady and St Peter. I have written about the abbey several times before as it is a very special place for me.  I was thrilled to meet Fr Stephen Horton again, who painted all the beautiful doors above.

The Abbey is set high in the Cotswold Hills near Cranham and Painswick so the views are spectacular.  There is ancient woodland behind, and to the front, a clear view towards Gloucester with its magnificent Cathedral.  On a clear day you can see May Hill with its crown-shaped clump of trees on the summit.  They were planted in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and are visible for miles around.  Beyond that there are the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  Having observed that view on a daily basis, the monks are very good at forecasting the weather merely by looking at May Hill.  If the hill looks a misty blue they know there will be rain at Prinknash later.  If the crown of trees is lost in cloud, there will be a storm.

I discovered while working in the old ‘St Peter’s Grange’, which is now home to the monks again, that it was built in this position, sheltered by the hills and trees, as protection from the plague!  There is documentary evidence, as well as evidence inside, that some parts of the Grange were built in the 14th century.  In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “For the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.”  So we know that there was a chapel on the site then.  By the time the Grange was built the Black Death had already swept through England and people thought it was carried on the wind.  Wealthy people therefore built their homes on the side of a hill sheltered from the wind in the hope that this would protect them.

One of my jobs at the Abbey was to polish the Parker room.  This room was named after William Parker who was Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515.  He was responsible for many improvements to the building.  In July 1535 Abbot Parker entertained King Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn for a week.  They used St Peter’s Grange as a hunting Lodge because there were many deer around – as there are today nearby.  One fascinating snippet that appeals to me is that Abbot Parker had windows put into positions from which he could watch the monks about their work.  He used to spy on them.  I believe, contrary to what Wikipedia states, that this is where the phrase “Nosey Parker” comes from.

At Prinknash the monks have long been known for their art and craft work.  Vestments and stained glass were early specialities. They also made beautiful pottery for many years from the local clay.  The monks still make Incense that is exported all over the world.  One of the monks. who sadly passed away. created a huge wonderful painting for the millennium which was displayed in the Abbey Church.  He also painted and created stained glass.  Many of his pictures were made into lovely cards which were sold in the Abbey Shop.  The abbey’s walled garden is still growing a variety of fruits.  Today there were ripe raspberries to pick.

As I said, we met Fr Stephen Horton OSB who is the Prior and Novice Master.  He is a prolific and very talented painter.   I was fortunate enough to buy some of his original water colour paintings while I worked at the Grange.  They are my pride and joy.  The one I love especially is a watercolour of the Vale of Gloucester as seen from the roof of the Abbey.   When inspiration struck him for this painting he had no suitably sized paper on which to paint the panorama.  Being a monk and used to making use of whatever is available, he used two pieces of A4 paper side by side.  This painting speaks to me of so much more than the view.  It is creativity at its most basic, I feel.  The painting had to be painted there and then using whatever was to hand.  The muse could not wait for a trip to the art suppliers!  It also speaks to me of the way of life of the monks.  They waste nothing and ask for nothing.  They live such a simple life yet produce beauty all around them from whatever is there to be used.

Apart from being a brilliant painter, Fr Stephen is also a great thinker who gives wonderful sermons.  He says that “the one journey that really matters is the journey inwards”.  On occasion I have asked him for copies of his notes as I want to study his words deeply.  He says monastic silence is, “an inner stillness like at the bottom of the ocean, where the force eight gale might be going on, but deep down you do come to a stability, an inner anchoring”.

One of the saddest things that happened at Prinknash was the theft of a statue of Our Lady of Prinknash in 2002.  There are many statues at Prinknash but this one was extremely beautiful and so special.  It was about 20 inches tall, carved of Flemish Oak, and had belonged to St Thomas More. After the Reformation, it was taken abroad but returned in 1925 when the Benedictine monks founded their new abbey at Prinknash.  Of course this means it was hundreds of years old and priceless in the truest sense.   The Abbey Church was always open for visitors and those who wished to pray, and the statue used to stand on a shelf to the left side of the church.  One day it just disappeared while the monks were at tea, stolen to order presumably as nothing else was taken.  It devastated the community in the abbey and the wider community, including myself, who attended Mass there.  I almost believe it took the heart out of some of the monks and the community itself.  I have a picture of that statue and I often think that one day it will return to its rightful home.  Maybe when the current ‘owner’ dies he will leave it in his will to be returned to Prinknash ~ after all he can’t take it with him!

This coming Saturday, 11th July is the Feast Day of St Benedict who lived in the 6th Century.  I have no doubt that the monks at Prinknash, who follow the rule of St Benedict, will be celebrating with a special meal and maybe a glass of wine.

Below I have added some of my photos of doors for the weekly photo challenge

Vivid Blue

I am awed by stained glass windows, and have an enormous collection of photos from around the world. But very close to home there is a window that fascinates me. It is in Gloucester Cathedral. It is quite a modern window and from a distance with a cursory glance, it can appear to be simply random shapes of blue glass. On closer inspection though, this window draws the viewer in rather as an icon does. It is a meditative experience to sit and really look at this window. Soon the shape of a man appears then you are drawn to the face. It has a haunting expression of deep understanding and empathy. It represents the face of Jesus.

The window was created and installed in 1992 by Thomas Denny.  It is mainly in vivid blue and white with splashes of red and yellow.  It is greatly affected obviously by the light coming from outside but it does appear to be in shadow when the viewer is at a distance, then as you get closer it gets brighter and quite mesmerises me!   Doubting Thomas and Jesus are the central characters of the middle window and the two side windows are a song of praise for creation based on psalm 148.

Thomas Denny, was born in London.  He trained in drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art. One day a friend asked him to consider creating a stained glass window for a church in Scotland (Killearn 1983).  So began a remarkable career that has produced over 30 stained glass windows in Cathedrals and Churches of this country. (Visit http://www.thomasdenny.co.uk for the full listing.) Tom’s love for painting and drawing, especially the things of nature, is evident in his windows.   All of Tom’s windows depict biblical themes and encourage the viewer to sit in silent meditation.  Look closely, feel the colours, take the time to let the details emerge, then reflect.  It is a spiritual experience.

Even closer to home there is a simple parish church in Warden Hill called St Christopher’s, which has a set of 10 stained glass windows by Thomas Denny.   Each of them is based on a parable from the Gospels.  The windows are linked by colour too with the colours from one window flowing into the next.  They are simply stunning and anyone can visit the church to see them.  If you are too far away you can click on this link to enjoy photos of the windows  http://www.tciwh.org.uk/index.php?page=windows

I had a go at making my own stained glass windows for my summerhouse/sanctuary in the garden at my previous home.  It broke my heart to leave it.  You can read all about it here.

The Ephemeral and Ethereal Quality of Childhood

Rosie's 3rd Bithday

Rosie’s 3rd Bithday

This photo captures a fleeting moment so fulfils the brief for this week’s photo challenge.   The definition of the word ‘ephemeral’ is ‘fleeting, transient, short-lived’,  and for me that epitomises childhood.

This is a photo of my granddaughter at her third birthday party, which was 6 years ago.  The blurred quality expresses the fleeting nature of childhood I think; so brief it is to be treasured.

But it also brings to mind the word, ‘ethereal’, and captures what I think and feel about children in general, and my grandchildren in particular.   Children are such precious, fragile things; innocent, trusting and dependent.  They seem to belong to another, more heavenly world.

The light shining on Rosie gives the photo a deeply spiritual quality for me.  It reminds me of the beautiful poem, Desiderata written by Max Ehrmann 1927

She is just one tiny child, but ‘she is a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars’, and she has a right to be here.  Like every child she also has other rights:~ to love, shelter, health, education, equality, protection, and to be treated with humanity, respect and compassion.

I worked with children all my life but now that I am retired my time, energy and funds are limited.  However I have found one small, local charity with minimal administration costs that punches well above it’s weight in working with children who are less fortunate for one reason or another.  It is called Hands Around the World and I would urge you to click on the link, find out what they do, and see if there is anything you could do to support their work.  Or look them up on Facebook if you are a member.

 

All Lives Matter

I was very moved this morning by the news that over five thousand people had gathered yesterday for the funeral of the three students who were murdered on Tuesday in a brutal attack at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  This is on top of the three thousand who attended a candlelit vigil for them on Wednesday night.

I didn’t know these young people, but they were clearly much loved and respected by their community.  The people who did know them best, their friends, relatives and fellow students, describe them as inspirational, happy, caring people.

Deah Barakat, aged just 23, was known for his charitable work and volunteering which inspired others to do the same.  Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha  was his 21 year old wife and they were described as very much in love and recently married.  Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was Yusor’s sister and was devoted to the couple.  She was only 19.

A neighbour has admitted killing them apparently.  How and why someone could do such an awful thing is beyond my comprehension.   Maybe he is mentally ill.  Maybe he is evil.  Maybe he was jealous of their youth, happiness and popularity.   Or, maybe he was prejudiced because of their religion, they were Muslims.  Whatever the reason, he is in the minority of wicked people who are destroying our world, and our ability to live together with peace, justice and compassion.  And today the world is a sadder place because of his actions.  As John Donne said in his famous poem

“Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind”

But the crowds of people who gathered to pay their respects and honour their memory are, in my opinion, the normally silent majority who, though usually powerless to make change, are prepared to stand in solidarity when something is clearly wrong.

This is the mark of a caring community and a civilised society.

It is up to each individual of whatever age or background to decide whether they wish to be anti-society, or part of the silent majority who want to make the world a better place for all; not just for the people who look, think, dress and act like themselves.

I would ask today that we think about it.  And, in recognition of the tragedy that has befallen these lovely young people and their families, let us all do something, however small, to make our bit of the world a better place; a place where everyone is respected for their humanity, and is treated with dignity.  Find someone who needs your kindness, a child, a young parent, a teenager, a troubled adult, a carer, a frail, disabled or elderly person, and give them your time and attention.  Listen to what they are saying and make them feel that they are valued.  That their lives, however different matter to someone.

 

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

http://gu.com/p/45nm4

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/13/thousands-funeral-muslim-students-north-carolina-shooting

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/us-news/video/2015/feb/12/chapel-hill-vigil-muslims-north-carolina-university-video

 

The simple song that spread around the world

Church at MariapfarrThere are some times, they are rare and they are brief but they happen, when the horizon between heaven and earth melts away and the future is changed forever. It is often those who have suffered the most who experience such revelations.   Their gifts are a profound peace, the knowledge that all will be well, and total clarity about the course they must follow.

I am sure that it was just such an experience that led a young man from a desperately poor background to create the world’s most popular Christmas carol. A carol which caused soldiers to come out of their trenches one Christmas Eve during World War One to share rations and gifts with the ‘enemy’ and even play a game of football together!

It was Joseph Mohr who wrote the words to Stille Nacht, (Silent Night).  He had a very inauspicious start to his life.  Born in Salzburg in 1792, he grew up poor and fatherless.  His godfather was the local executioner and his mother knitted to make a living.  But Joseph was a special boy.  He sang in the church choir and had a gift for music and poetry.  These talents were recognised and encouraged by the local priest who helped Joseph through school, on to university, then to work as a curate, and ultimately to train as a priest.

But times were hard in Europe during his early years.  As well as natural disasters such as flooding, which destroyed livelihoods and infrastructure; the Napoleonic Wars had seen Salzburg and the surrounding towns and villages devastated, occupied, bombarded, defeated and heavily taxed.  The ordinary people were suffering in 1816 when Joseph Mohr found consolation in the church at Mariapfarr.  There he was inspired to write the words to his carol.

It would be two more years before the carol was set to music by Joseph’s friend, the organist and choir director, Franz Gruber in Oberndorf.   They sang the carol together in German at midnight mass with guitars for accompaniment.  The aim was to bring the Christmas spirit of love, peace, comfort and joy to their community in these difficult times.  They surely succeeded then and ever since.

Joseph Mohr died penniless in 1848, having used all his earnings to provide education for the young and care for the elderly in his parish.  He would never know that his little carol would travel the world being performed over and over again.  It would be translated into over 300 languages and become the people’s favourite Christmas carol nearly 200 years after it was written.

Now that is a legacy to be proud of!

Silent Night Memorial Chapel in Oberndorfhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGA6djLsDgs

O Holy Night

Nativity Window from Gloucester cathedral

Nativity Window from Gloucester cathedral

In 2013, O Holy Night was voted as the most popular Christmas carol by listeners to Classic FM radio station.  This year’s most popular carol will be chosen on Christmas day, again by vote.  I have to say I can’t imagine which carol could be better than O Holy Night.  For me it is truly uplifting.  The music, by the brilliant French composer, Adolphe Charles Adams is exquisitely beautiful, and the words, translated from the French by John Sullivan Dwight in 1855 tell the Christmas story of Christ’s birth with reverence and simplicity.  I just love it.

The run up to this Christmas has been particularly difficult for me and not at all festive, as my husband has been in hospital.  The twice daily visits have made shopping and the usual preparations impossible.  The anxiety has meant that commercialism and advertising has gone straight over my head unnoticed.  The worry has pushed all thought of baking and cooking up the usual storm way out of my mind.  But today, suddenly, I came face to face with Christmas in the foyer of the hospital.  I had popped in to buy a cup of coffee between appointments and the Gloucester Choral Society was gathered to sing carols for the visitors and patients.  The sound of their voices stopped everyone in their tracks.  Old and young sat mesmerised.  Suddenly frowns and wrinkles were smoothed and soft smiles took their place.  A young boy of about 12 who is obviously extremely ill and disabled was wheeled to the front of the small crowd and he just glowed as they sang.  I have to say my eyes filled with tears and at that moment Christmas began for me.

For those of my readers who are Christian, I would like to wish you a truly Happy Christmas.  For the many who are of other faiths or none, I would wish you peace and joy during this holiday season and a New Year filled with health, happiness and love.

Listen to this beautiful carol and read the words ~ they are magnificent.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world1 rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Chorus
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

Chorus
He knows our need, to our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Your King! Before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Chorus
Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5n6X9sUznI

Glass cabinet Nativity Crib Scene

A Place of Great Beauty

cemetery 19

Today is the anniversary of my mum’s death.  I have written before about her last week and my memory of it is still fresh.  It was three years ago on the stroke of midnight that she peacefully stopped living and went to her rest after a brief but very distressing illness.

I went to the local cemetery where she is buried.  I was inspired to write this blog post about my visit because, far from being a sad event, it was a place of such beauty that it brought me great comfort.

The cemetery is very old, actually 150 years old!  And it is huge, about 65 acres I read, and it includes a garden of remembrance for ashes.  There is also a crematorium and a beautiful old building which houses two small chapels and waiting rooms.  The building has Grade 11 Listed status because of its architectural and historical interest.  The garden is so beautifully kept by the dedicated gardeners that at any time of year there is something colourful to see.  It has ponds and a variety of shrubs and flower beds.  There are also magnificent mature trees dotted around the cemetery which are home to squirrels and all sorts of birds including woodpeckers.  The setting for the cemetery is exquisite with a magnificent view of the Cleeve Hills as a backdrop.  A stream flows down from the hills and runs through the grounds, with Cotswold stone footbridges over it.  Today the cemetery is especially beautiful as autumn is in full swing and the trees are a delight to behold.

So it is a great worry to hear on the news and read in the papers that there are financial problems at the cemetery and crematorium caused by ‘unforeseen issues’ with the reasonably new machinery at the crematorium.  These issues have left the council who run the facility about a quarter of a million pounds short of their target.

As I tidied my mum’s grave I was struck by the sheer beauty of the setting and the peace and tranquillity of her final resting place.  I would hope that these financial issues do not mean standards will be lowered or the workforce will be cut.  They do such a magnificent job in what must be a very difficult environment.  For me they manage to provide a little piece of heaven here on earth and I want to thank them and let them to know that it is a great comfort.  Thank you.

I have attached some photos I took to this post but even better I found a video of the site here on YouTube.

Carpe Diem ~ Corn

LOGO SEPT 14

I went to Taize one summer when it was so hot and dry that the magnificent River Loire had almost dried up in places.  Too hot to stay in the car I decided to walk for a while across the fields and I had an amazing experience.    At the foot of the hill were fields of sunflowers, corn and poppies.  I stood alone in a field full of sunflowers, looking up towards the church, as a gentle breeze blew.  The wind caused the flowers to bend and the sound they made was so strange.   I experienced what I can only describe as the spirit moving.

Today’s Haiku prompt at Carpe Diem reminded me of that moment.

Soft wind whispering

Spirit moving through the corn

Speaking to my soul

It reminded me strongly of the beautiful words of one of my favourite hymns:
 Be still for the presence of the Lord
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Come bow before him now  With reverence and fear
In him no sin is found  We stand on holy ground
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
He comes to cleanse and heal  To minister his grace
No work too hard for him  In faith receive from him
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
Icon at Taize

Icon at Taize

My Life in the Glass Cabinet

Preserved Rose from Lourdes

Preserved Rose from Lourdes

August has been challenging to say the least. We needed a new gas boiler ~ expensive but not a disaster you would think. However…one thing leads to another … a burst water pipe in the loft filled up the loft space and soaked the insulation; water came through the ceiling and the loft door soaking all the carpets in the hall, bathroom and airing cupboard. Water then came through all the electric light fittings and the alarms. The gas fitters trying to stop the water managed to put their foot through the ceiling and made a hole in the bathroom wall. We then had a gas leak where the pipes were connected to the meter!
Result ~ 2 regular gas fitters to fit the new boiler, 2 emergency gas fitters to fix the gas leak, 2 emergency electricians to change all the fittings and make it safe, 2 plumbers to change the pipes, 1 handyman to fix the hole in the wall, 2 builders to take down the ceiling and build a new one, 2 decorators to repaint the ceilings and walls in the hall and kitchen, 2 carpet fitters to lay new carpets to hall and bathroom, 1 carpenter to make new loft door, 1 man to replace loft insulation, several insurance assessors and surveyors and a very frazzled housewife!
As if all this weren’t enough my husband then had a nasty fall and injured his leg. It will take some weeks to recover and he is in a wheelchair until it does. Undaunted we decided to go away for a couple of days as it was my birthday on Monday. Not being used to worrying about access I booked a hotel which involved getting said husband and wheelchair up and down several stairs countless times daily. Finding this rather awkward I managed to jam my little finger causing a deep gash, and losing copious amounts of blood in the beautifully tiled reception.
And so dear reader as August draws to a close I am busy getting my little bungalow back in some kind of order. I had to empty the glass cabinet so I could move it for the carpet fitters and today’s job was to clean it and put everything back.
Glass Cabinet
I realised as I put things back that this glass cabinet is a treasure trove, preserving significant moments and key memories spanning almost my whole life.
There are the two little pixies that I bought in Woolworth’s on Felling High Street in 1952 for my mother with my sixpence pocket money. When she died and the house was cleared they turned up amongst her possessions. She had kept them for 60 years and I will keep them now.
Glass cabinet ceramics

Felling High Street when i was a girl

Felling High Street when i was a girl

There is a nativity scene with a painted card background and little plastic figures. This is a poignant reminder of the traumatic Christmas of 1952 when I was in the children’s hospital at Rothbury in Northumberland. It was given to me by a kind visitor and has attained a ridiculous level of significance in my life.
Glass cabinet Crib Scene
There are treasured Christmas cards from friends as far afield as Africa, Russia and Poland. For many years I was involved in an inter-cultural linking charity called Global Footsteps/Rendezvous.
We organised Conferences where young people could interact, learn from each other, share their cultures, have fun, and generally get to know each other. This led to many close friendships, and a couple of marriages, between people who would otherwise never have met. It is a joy to me that I still receive cards from some of the youth and I treasure them.

Glass cabinet Christmas cards from Russia and Poland Glass cabinet Christmas more cards from Russia
There are little things from my children such as extra items for my Christmas crib scene, glass angels, and maple syrup bottles! One of my daughters lives in Vermont where the maple syrup is tapped right from the trees outside her barn.

Glass from vermont IMG_2530
There are paperweights that my husband used to make for me with lovely pictures inside and ornaments we collected from the wonderful places we visited over the years.

Glass from Norway Glass motorbike Glass paperweights

 There are glasses from Anjou and Vezelay, which we collected during a wine tasting holiday in the Loire and Burgundy regions of France.

Glass from Vezelay and Anjou

Glass from Vezelay and Anjou

Crystal Glass from Wales

Crystal Glass from Wales

There is a decanter given to me by a very dear friend when her husband died.  He used to write beautiful poetry and was a very holy man.  So I put a little verse inside the decanter in memory of him:

Life is only for LOVE

Time is only that we may find GOD

Glass Franks decanter 2

There are lots of mementoes from Lourdes, candles, Icons, Rosary beads, statues, crosses. Some of these were given as gifts, some were my mothers, and some I bought myself. I realise that many of my readers are of different faiths, or none, and I respect that. But today I feel strongly that, although I no longer belong to any particular church community, my faith is very important to me. It has been a constant in my life, a comfort in hard times, my anchor, the rock my life is built on.

Memories of Lourdes

Memories of Lourdes

Then of course there are the assorted glasses that I have gathered from jumble sales, trips to the Welsh Crystal factory, or as gifts.  All have a safe home in my glass cabinet…  

As long as my little grandson Stanley can’t find the key!

A Pastoral Post

Pastoral Symphony

Kimbolton in Herefordshire

Kimbolton in Herefordshire

The English countryside has inspired poets and artists since time immemorial. Today we can add bloggers and photographers to that list. I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of days in the delightful Herefordshire village of Kimbolton this weekend and it reminded me of one of Robert Herrick’s short pastoral poems from his Hesperides (1648)

I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers:
April, May, of June, and July flowers.
I sing of Maypoles, Hock-carts, wassails, wakes,
Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes.

The Herefordshire area is famous for its orchards and beef cattle. But I discovered a wealth of superb castles and gardens too. There are miles of public footpaths, many of which I walked with my little dachshund, Dayna. One delightful walk at Croft Court led through a bluebell wood which was just magical, the ground a sea of bluebells. I stayed on a farm which grows 80 tons of apples a year, all of which goes to Bulmers, the famous cider makers.
I would love to write a poem to paint you a picture of this beautiful area and I will, but for now just enjoy some of my photos and the beautiful music.

Grandma’s Angels

P1070488

She’s 5 going on 25 with long red hair that gets tangled in the shower. She has a smiley face and the loveliest nature. She lives with her brother who’s 8. He has the same red hair but short. He’s cool with a cheeky grin and a mischievous nature. They live in a small market town in Wiltshire with mum, dad, 2 guinea pigs and a whippet-cross dog from the rescue centre.
She loves to copy her mum; her hair, her makeup, her clothes, and especially her jewellery!
She would love to go horse riding, but it costs too much, so she goes trampolining instead. I watch open mouthed as she bounces; doing front drops, swivel hips, back somersaults, straddles and turns. She is fearless.
He loves to copy his dad; playing football, tennis and golf; soaking up anything sporty. 2012 will be his best year yet, Olympics in Great Britain, what a dream! He is already collecting commemorative 50 pence pieces. He knows every design and every sport. He has collected 15 so far with 14 to go. I could order him a complete set but there’s no fun in that. It is far better to search in pockets, purses and change.
I love it when they come to stay for the weekend to give mum and dad a break. All thoughts of housework fly out of the window as our home is transformed into a tiny version of Disneyland. We do beading and baking, chalk patterns on the patio, create fairyland in the shed, tie imaginary horses to the gazebo and sail pirate ships on a gravel ocean.
He wanders off to find grandad. She sits on my knee and we chat. Tugging at my gold cross and chain she asks,
“Grandma, why do you always wear that?”
“My mummy wears pretty necklaces. She changes them all of the time. She has lots.”
I’ve heard this question before and I usually say,
“I wear it to remind me of my dad because he bought it for me a long time ago.” And that’s true, but today I will tell her the whole story.
A long time ago before your mummy and daddy met, your daddy lived by the seaside in Somerset in a fisherman’s cottage. The cottage was 200 years old and it was a wreck when he bought it. It had pine panelling all over the kitchen and lounge. When he took the panelling down he found 57 types of mould growing on the inside walls. It was very colourful mould, some of it quite pretty, but not healthy to live with, so he had to pay someone to come and treat it. The cottage roof leaked, the windows didn’t open, and the walls were damp. But bit by bit he repaired it and made it beautiful. He put on a new roof, damp-proofed the walls, sealed the floors, replaced the windows and doors, and put in a new white bathroom. He did all this quite cheaply because he searched through scrap yards for things he could use. One day he found an old church window in a scrap yard and he bought it for his bathroom. He knocked down part of the wall and put in the beautiful stained glass window. It was full of colour, rich red and blue, and it had angels on it. When the sun shone into the bathroom it glowed with a heavenly light.
Now he was happy with his cottage and he decided to invite the whole family down for the weekend to celebrate the end of the work. Grandma and Grandad went of course, and your daddy’s three sisters. They were teenagers then and they had a little mini car which they shared.
It was a perfect weekend, sunny and warm. We scrambled on the beach and hunted for bits of pink quartz washed out of the rocks by the tide. I still have them in the garden.
I had my cross and chain on then too, it wasn’t long after my dad died. I felt that when I wore it he was close to me and he would watch over me and keep me safe.
It was a long and tiring day so we all went to bed early. I took my cross and chain off and put it on the cabinet beside the bed. We slept really well then got up early to go home. I had a shower in the bathroom and I was fascinated by the coloured lights shining through the stained glass window. It was so beautiful that I said a little prayer before we left. I said thank you for my beautiful family and thank you for a lovely weekend. Then off we set for home.
On the way back home I realised that I had forgotten to pick up my cross and chain. I was a bit cross with myself for forgetting it, but I wasn’t worried because I knew it would be safe. The girls were staying for another day so I guessed they would bring it home for me when they came. There were no mobile phones in those days so I couldn’t call them!
The next day was Sunday and the girls were sharing the driving home after a lovely weekend. They had found my cross and chain and remembered to pop it on the dashboard before they set off. They were very happy driving along, listening to their music and singing. They reached a sharp bend in the road just as another driver was speeding along. He misjudged the corner and crashed right into the little mini. The car was dreadfully smashed up and my 3 precious girls were taken off to hospital in ambulances.
The policeman who came to the crash shook his head sadly thinking the girls would be badly hurt. But at the hospital they were absolutely fine, just a few bruises and a bit shocked. The girls did not want to tell me about the crash as they knew I would be really worried and upset, so they phoned their brother to come and collect them. He got into his car and drove along the same country roads that his sisters had travelled. When he reached the bend in the road he saw the mini being towed onto a breakdown lorry. He got out to watch and was shocked to see the damage to the car. Just then he noticed something glinting in the road. It was my cross and chain. He picked it up and put it in his pocket, then drove on to the hospital to pick up his sisters and bring them home.
When I saw them and heard the whole story I knew that my dad and the angels had been watching over my girls as they travelled in their car that day. They protected them from harm. That is why I always wear my cross and chain. It reminds me how blessed I am.
One day I will give my cross and chain to her, my angel.

P1100279

Its a Perfect day

Stanley finds pegs fascinating

Stanley finds pegs fascinating


One of the songs sung by the choir I belong to at our recent concert is Perfect Day.
Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Today has been just perfect. It is usually called Grandma day as I look after Stanley on Wednesdays and Thursdays. But today it was Turtle Day as I had bought a turtle shaped sand pit for him to play in.
Stanley really is a delight in every way and just spending time with him makes me feel wonderful.
It was especially good today for two reasons
1. We have both been feeling very unwell until today, with chest infections followed by throat infections
2. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky and it was lovely and warm.
Stanley usually arrives at 8am to be greeted by my little dachshund, Dayna who races out of the front door to greet him. They both then race in to get to the best armchair ~ Dayna, and the Chuggington corner ~ Stanley. Now when my children were little it was all Thomas the Tank engine and I do feel a bit disloyal saying this but Chuggington is just so much more exciting! I have collected all the trains ~ wooden and die-cast, some track, two carrying cases, a hard back story book and a floor layout for imaginative play. Now Stanley is only 16 months old but he plays with Chuggington things for hours. He ‘rides the rails’ around, across and under furniture whether or not the dog is sitting on it, he builds tunnels with mega bricks (or grandma’s legs), and he drives the trains in and out of their sheds in the carrying cases endlessly. He just never seems to tire of it. At lunchtime as a special treat he gets to watch an episode of Chuggington which I have pre-recorded while he eats what I have prepared. I have 78 episodes recorded now so that pretty much guarantees peaceful lunchtimes until he starts school!
I jokingly say to my daughter that if I were to go on Mastermind, the BBC high brow quiz show, my specialist subject would be Chuggington ~ I know so much about it I have started creating new storylines as I watch. I also make pictures for Stanley by cutting out the card trains which come with each new toy and building a scene around them with the train names written on. I then laminate them. Stanley loves these and it is how we both learned all the names.
But today, even Chuggington came second to the TURTLE sandpit. I sited it on the patio near a gazebo so that Stanley would have some shade and Grandma would have somewhere to sit. Having forgotten to buy buckets and spades etc., I gathered old plastic containers, a colander and a jug, spatulas and wooden spoons, which worked almost as well. And then the fun started.
When Stanley had enough of that exercise he thoroughly inspected the garden. Being his first Spring at an age where he could make sense of his surroundings it was a joy just to follow him watching and listening. But the highlight for me was sharing the discovery that two of the birdhouses my daughter made for me are occupied by nesting blue tits. Stanley adores watching birds in the trees and bushes, in the sky or on the ground, at the water table or on the feeders. So to show him where they are nesting was a joy.
After that he toddled up to my shed. Now anyone who has read my post “Windows” will know that my sheds are very special places for relaxation and meditation and usually no-one else ventures in there. However, today Stanley looked at the shed, pushed at the locked door and said, “Open, Yea?” in a voice that would totally melt the polar ice cap. Of course I said yes and in no time at all the nicknacks in my sanctuary were all rearranged. There was a moment when I looked at him, ancient toy car in one hand and orange wooden rosary prayer beads in the other and the happiness I felt took my breath away. And I realised that at that moment Stanley and I were both in that place where ‘heaven happens’.

Palm Sunday 2014

I have celebrated Palm Sunday in many different countries, Kenya, Spain, France, Poland, Italy and UK and it is a church tradition that I love. When I was at work (teaching primary children) one of our jobs was to make the palm crosses for the local church each year. It was an eagerly awaited treat for the 10/11 year olds in their final year of primary school, to learn how to weave and fold the crosses from simple palm leaves.
I have written about other Palm Sundays before and the links are below if you would like to read them. I hope you do.
This year I am laid up in bed with a very nasty case of tonsillitis on antibiotics so I have not even seen a palm!
But I did look at the Vatican website to see the celebrations in St peter’s Square. My overriding impression is that this Pope, like Jesus is adored by the people because of his common touch and understanding of what it means to be poor in this world. But my fear is that like Jesus, he is rattling too many cages and there will be those who plot against him. I also see in his face that after only a few months in the job he is looking exhausted and strained.
Two Haiku I wrote last year sum up my fears.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Cheering throngs gather

In Messianic fervour

Fronds fall at His feet
~
Calling for His death

Crowds that cheered Him now decry

Innocent, He’ll die

You can see the Palm Sunday in Rome here http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-celebrate-palm-sunday-mass-in-saint-peters
And my previous Palm Sunday posts are here:~
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-y
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-t
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-i

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Threshold

On the threshold of the new millennium

On the threshold of the new millennium

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘threshold’. Looking through my photos this one of the tile frieze made at the end of 1999 for the year 2000 leapt out at me. It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium. There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really new what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 and what the new millennium would mean for civilisation. So I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent for my school.

St Thomas More School was a huge part of my life. In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head. In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year, that was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focussed so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Music, Dance and Art were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.

The staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, ABW, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. ABW had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would reflect the life of the school. It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem. In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself. The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze. I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze. There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental. While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired. A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze is still there in the school hall. And with it is a little piece of all of us who made it.

NaPoWriMo 2 ~ Shishi ~ The paired lion-dogs that guard the entrances of temples

napo2014button1
This haiku is inspired by one of the creatures from from Japanese legend. Shishi is the paired lion-dogs, one male and one female, that guard the entrances to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The Shishi have magical powers to repel evil.
Jp. = Shishi 獅子 or Kara Shishi 唐獅子, Chn. = Shíshī
Also known as Koma-inu 狛犬 (lion dog) in Japan

I chose this topic for two reasons. Firstly I have a cast iron garden chair which is very decorative and it has a lion head at the end of each arm rest. Secondly, one of my daughters used to be a dancer and she worked in Japan for a year when she left LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). She loved Japan and the people she worked for who were so kind to her. One day she went for a trip to see a newly built temple. In order to raise money to complete the temple roof tiles were being sold with a dedication on them. Knowing that my interests are spiritual she Paid for a tile to have my name and a blessing carved on it. I think it is probably one of the most unusual, the most thoughtful, and the most wonderful thing anyone has ever done for me.

Serene and smiling

Weathered guardians of childhood

Casting out evil

Buddhist temple in Willan, UK

Buddhist temple in Willan, UK

P1030050

Pilgrimage

This post is inspired by the February theme of ‘Pilgrimage’ on  Carpe Diem

Seeking solitude
I journey into my soul
A Prayerful Pilgrim

I have written about my idea of pilgrimage before and have posted links to these posts so you can read them again if you wish. I am aware that a number of my readers have no faith or a different faith from myself. I respect that and hope you will read with an open heart and mind, and enjoy the photographs

Inner Journey http://wp.me/p2gGsd-Lv
Pilgrimage to Lourdes ~ http://wp.me/p2gGsd-i