Wednesday, 21 November 2012

THEOLOGIA





I have never sought a transcendent God,
nor one that sat on sovereign heights above angel wings
on sceptred thrones or in hallowed vaults
that echoed with eternal hymns.


For I have sought
only one,
who


would come and sit with me
and drink tea from a china cup
one velvet, late-summer's afternoon
when shadows stretch across evening lawns.



And who, smiling, would balance
a bumblebee on the tip of his finger
and clap his hands at a stranger's joke.


Music written and performed by Helen  Ingram

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Friends from my Bookshelf ~ 3


Book: H. Cunliffe-Jones. (1970) Christian Theology since 1600. Studies in Theology. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.

Bought for £1 in G. David (Bookshop), St. Edward's Passage, Cambridge in 1991.

Details:
  • Bright citrus-yellow, thin, cardboard cover that somehow reminds me of the lids off old Jigsaw boxes.
  • Creased with dog-eared pages and spidery margnalia
  • Thick slightly rough pages, like school cartridge paper
  • Smells of old libraries
  • Compact feel, that whispers (siren-like) how good it would be to slip it into one's coat pocket for those idle 20 minutes in a coffee shop.
  • Published in the delightful named 'Old Piano Factory, 43 Gloucester Crescent'

I found Christian Theology since 1600 in a remainder bin at G. David's bookshop in Cambridge. It cost me just one pound ~ which I judged to be extremely good value (considering it covered four centuries!). It was the last day of a vacation school that I had been attending. It had ended in the early afternoon. The sun was out and I had wandered along the Backs beside the river Cam and I was loathe to leave, so, for an hour or two, I roamed the shadowed back streets of Cambridge, feeling its pulse and drinking in the atmosphere. Nearby the bookshop was a dark, studenty-type coffee bar. For an hour I sat among the thrill of new worlds in the thick aroma of coffee and voices. I read the first paragraph over and over again.


I was entering my forties and my world was changing. I had enrolled on a four day 'vacation school' that was run by a Social Reform think-tank that was trying to establish (what they called) an 'economic system built upon biblical values.' I had completed their correspondence course and here was my first taste of proper theological thought in a real-life college setting. I could not believe that I was there. Driving in each day from my sister's I could barely contain my excitement. I was also hopelessly out of my depth. Everyone was desperately clever. They were mostly Oxbridge graduates who had studied law or economics. They used words that I had never heard before and confidently talked about books I had never seen. I barely spoke a word (even during the breaks). The few comments I did offer still make me cringe. At the end we had an 'exam.' Graciously, those running the school omitted disclosing to me my mark - although one of my assignments did come back with an exasperated remark about my appalling spelling.



But there was a fire in me to learn and I was thrilled to have been there. I was a puppy dog, who smiled and said 'hello' to everyone, and I walked the quads and corridors as tall as Nelson. I laughed too loudly and I wrote everything down in a sprawling, tangled, web of notes. Everything in me ached to study; to understand what drove these people who grappled with the big issues of life, to see and to touch the stars that soared in their minds. It was a dream that, at times, almost ripped me apart - for I knew (as this course yet again amply demonstrated) that intellectually I was below average. I had to keep a dictionary beside me as I read which made reading a slow, slooow and laborious work. I had no stomach for argument and I could be swayed by almost any point of view! Nevertheless I still longed to study.


This was really my first proper theology book. Previously I owned a number of fairly serious books that looked at fairly serious subjects in a fairly serious manner, but all of them were from (what academics call) a 'committed' position. This was a book written dispassionately for the study of theology, rather than an apologetic for a particular theological position - although glancing through it again, one can detect some of Mr Cunliffe-Jones' sympathies.


A year later I began to dare to think about the possibility of studying in a college - nothing fancy just an evening class; I did not have enough qualifications to go to university. I can remember standing in the middle of the library of a local bible college (it was their open day), breathing in that heady atmosphere of words and dust and sun-cracked, old bindings. The light fell through the window onto shelves of uniformly bound volumes. Their spines carried names I faintly recognised and many more that I had never encountered. I longed to open my arms and sink into each shelf assimilating the mass of words and thoughts they contained. A few of the lecturers were on hand to talk to prospective students. I stood in the shadows, mute, unable to say a word. In hind sight it would not have been the place for me. I needed somewhere that taught me the skills to ask the questions that burned within me but which I could not articulate. I did not need to be presented with answers that I already knew in neatly-tied dogma but in which I no longer had confidence. Nevertheless, when I got home I cried; that ache hurt so much and the possibility of study seemed so remote.  


H. Cunliffe-Jones (and a few others) got me through those bitter-sweet days of my growing. Slowly I read each page (though understanding little), spidering the margins with notes, underlining passages I thought might be important. I don't think I ever finished it, but that does not matter to me, neither does it diminish my love for Mr Cunliffe-Jones. His "modest attempt towards establishing a trust-worthy perspective of the recent centuries that lie behind us" gave me the first fingerholds in a mountain that I was to later climb. In the watery sun of that summer Cambridge afternoon, feeling self-conscious and out of place (yet with heart racing), I first opened his book and slowly read, "[t]ransitions to the modern world may be found in many places, for example in the disjunction yet close interweaving between faith and reason in the thought of Thomas Aquinas..." With that, I began my transition from one world to another.
My climb had begun.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

AFTER the FIREWORKS



After the fireworks the rains came.
Long silvered spears that pierced the darkness, silently slicing the once electric, tumultuous air.
Slantwise and lazy, it fell upon the ground and the cardboard cones that exploded in fountains of colour and light with a hundred gasps of spellbound breath.
The leaves, slippery and wet, drifted upon the same wind that carried fire into the heavens.
The wire of sparklers, as thin as dowsing rods and just as magical, pin sharp and needle hot, lay unseen upon mud and grass (where beetles forage). And the rains came for them too.


The bonfire, built by men with serious faces and the light hearts of their youth, flamed with the roaring passion of a warrior in the wintering dark. Earlier a ring of silhouettes had gathered round it to stare into its strange dance. Its tattoo beating upon the more primal hearts. Fire attracts all, but its power seems to be the lightest upon the children. Excited they run and shout to each other above the roar. It is the elderly who feel its power the greatest. The ruddy flicker deepening the lines of aged faces -contours of grief and laughter and unspent anxieties. They stand, silently staring into the deep furnace; lost to the cold and the ticking of eternity, their eyes once more ageless as they yield to a magic that once stirred their souls.


Stand here and watch those who are entering maturity, see how they will suddenly break away from the jostling throng, as if something has suddenly caught their eye; their eyes drawn to the alchemy of flame dancing under the bowl of night. For a short while they are stilled, silent, feeling the beat of the heat upon their faces. Watch their eyes, the way they stand, poised on adulthood. They see how this light discloses the deeper, truer, wilder beauty of the little group of girls alongside. They are learning to listen to this strange song of fire that is sirening their souls. For a while they stand mute and enchanted, then the noise of childhood pulls them back. But next year, they'll be here. Standing perhaps a little longer... looking a little deeper... losing themselves a little further in the great hymn of smoke and spark and flame. For evermore, each fire they encounter, in hearth or garden, they'll seek out that ancient song that called to them in their youth: The older they get, the stronger it will be.



But the rains came even for this; hissing and soughing, as the wood and hedgerows once more come alive. And now, the embers glow and wink like dragons' eyes and the ash lies thick and black upon the grass. It will remain there for many months to come - this circle of night where once the darkness blazed with light and we stood together to catch, once more, the songs of fire. And then the rain came. The glorious festival of water and light... and with it... the breathing silence of the land, once more, embracing the night.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The MAN who WALKED with ELEPHANTS


Apparently the trick with elephants is that you must gently but firmly lean into them. Using your shoulder, you need to apply a gentle pressure against the tops of their forelegs. Of course you have to press quite hard with big bull elephants because they are so large. This lets them know that you are there and that you won’t harm them. They’ll then look down at you as if to say, “Hello, who are you?” After that, they’ll walk beside you without any bother.  

He puts down his binoculars on the windowsill next to the mug of tea that is slowly cooling from tepid to un-drinkable. A pigeon lands on top of the telegraph pole across the street. It squats like a vegetarian vulture. He points to the house across the street. "They're a funny lot who live there." He smiles. "They're ok, but they're a funny lot. They love red cars. It has always got to be red with them. Look!" He points to the car parked by the hedge. It is red. "It's always red." he laughs. He looks at the pigeon and then back to the house. "People are funny aren't they?" It is where we live.

I carefully move a stack of newspapers. He likes newspapers. He has four copies of today’s Daily Mail – all neatly folded, pristine, unopened and unread. The owner of the village shop will take them back at the end of the day and refund his money – the shopkeeper also knows the importance of standing in a queue with strangers and friends, smiling, saying ‘hello’, carefully counting out a pocket full of coins; the importance of simple human interaction. A sandwich plate bearing a selection of fancy cakes and biscuits sits on the little footstool beside him. It lies untouched. It is always untouched. Whenever I bring our dog around (whom he loves), I have to negotiate her past that plate. That plate holds untold told delights for her.  

“There was this one male elephant,” he says, “that the local people wouldn’t go near. But we just did this and then we did a bit of that and we put this here so that it was just-so...” his hands chop the air with the decisive moves of a general who has seen it all before and his voice trails away; there are times when his hands express those spiralling, slippery thoughts better than words, “... and he had everything just right. You see, there was nothing nasty about him. He even followed us into this shop and everyone said, ‘Hello, what’s going on here?' Sort of like they were saying to us, ‘you’ve got a right one here, have't you!’”

He stops and laughs. His eyes twinkle and glow with the fire of African suns. He describes how he used to spend months over there. He and a few of his friends became so well known, the local people used to ring them up in England and ask for their help with rogue elephants.
“Everyone knew what they were doing, you see. Everything was just right... in the right place... and they said, ‘how did you do that?’ And we would said, ‘With a little a bit of mischief!’" He roars with laughter, "Oh how they loved that! They used to laugh at that! You see, with them, there was no nastiness or anything like that. And they’d say, “Oh that’s alright then!’ And elephants would just come in and go... and no one would worry. There was never any trouble or problems. We’d walk along and the baby elephants would run up to us and we’d all walk along together.”

He looks down the road and falls silent in his memories. His world is filled with elephants. Ornaments and models of them cram the shelves and tables. They all belonged to his wife. He has never met a wild elephant. He has never ever seen a wild elephant nor walked under an African sky. The closest he has been to one was when he visited a zoo. But when I look across at him, I see that he has the mark of a man who has walked with elephants.

On the wall behind him hang photographs pegged to a looped piece of string. His favourite picture is the one of him taken on a cruise. He is standing between two cabaret dancers. They wear sequined basques and feathers and confident smiles, and they have legs as achingly long as midnight heart break. He stands with them, arms linked, with that same smile that he gives to me now; his body a little awkward - trying to look at ease, but remaining unsure - a little out of his depth, like he doesn’t really belong. It is how I would feel too. I would smile just like that and I too would stand just like that; James Bond in the wrong body, with the wrong heart. 

He points to the picture of him standing with his late wife.
“That’s going back a bit.” he says. His finger rests on each of the figures, “That is my mother and my father.” It is not surprising he no longer recognises the people in the photograph. His wife is now forever young and his world is filled with the laughter of his father and half-remembered escapades and the landlord who flew his aeroplane from the field behind his pub (scaring his neighbours half to death) and the garden of his boyhood with its stacks of rabbit hutches and washing and all the neighbourhood dogs. His father was a miner who worked the seams under the North Sea miles out from the coast. Conversation always returns to either elephants or his father. When I once said, “I think you take after him.” He abruptly stopped talking and sat silently for a long time and then he quietly said, “I hope so.”    

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

TURNING to GOLD (HIM and HER)


Warwick Park, afternoon (14:51), and our coffee is too hot to drink so we sit at the little cafeteria tables watching the wisps of steam spiral and flower in the air like ghostly vines. The sky, built of slate slabs, shatters with the sun and a robin's melancholy, piping, song of autumn. 

Two youngsters - maybe just approaching their teens - stand together on the grass among the fallen leaves. 

He in his low-slung gangsta jeans and oversize trainers. A little silver scooter lies folded at his feet. She with her hair in a severe 1930's bob and her coat buttoned up to her chin; she towers over him, lanky and slightly awkward; like a newly appointed governess.

He steps towards her and hugs her. Clasping his hands around her back and waist until she breaks away, collapsing out of his arms, giggling and hiding her mouth and nose in the cup of her hands – her cheeks as red and as excited as the promise of Christmas.  

She is still giggling when, with ferocious seriousness, he stands on tiptoes and plants a light brushing kiss upon her cheek. 

Two children trying on their parents’ wardrobe; finding new bodies that have yet to fit the spirits of fire that they now possess - like adults' clothes hanging from a child's shoulders. 

Innocent? Perhaps not. Fire will always burn and there is a Prometheus in us all; moth born, we are instinctively drawn to the fire of the gods. And what strange and consuming fires burn upon the altars of our adolescence. They carve with searing heat, the fearful caverns of our adult lives.    

For a little while they talk. He picks at the tyres of his scooter. She stands, stork-like, putting all her weight on one leg and fiddling with her buttons, the way that girls in school playgrounds have always done through the stream of time itself. 

They turn and walk away, down the avenue of trees into a world that is turning to gold.       

Monday, 22 October 2012

The ASH TREE across...

... the road (friend of jackdaws and crooked hearts)
           stretches up into a dusk of glassy gold.
                 Her leaves steeped in autumn light.

A fountain of yellow falls upon the dying blooms of the carpet man's tender care.

I wait under the silent skies... silent save for the transcendent whoop of life and the distant laugh of rooks. I can feel my heart beat... and hear the pulse of blood around my head... and the sparrows in the hedgerow... and the pop and swish of falling leaves...

The church clock strikes, rolling over rooftops and fields and on and on up to the wordless woods.

The earth sings such magnificent hymns to the soul.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

MAGICKRY - A Gypsy Heart

As Autumn strides laughing across the fields, scattering raindrops and berries, I thought it might be a good time for some unabashed romanticism. 
Life teaches us two things:
1. Romance does the heart good and brings a smile to the soul - and,  on these darker and chillier evenings, who would deny us that? 
2. Small boys will always be totally captivated by a smile and a wild, gypsy heart ;)




Magickry - A Gypsy Heart

There was a pretty gypsy maid
In auburn glades she’d wend her ways
And soft among the elder’s shade
In summer’s haze, and silvered days
The oak and ash would sing to her
And bring to her their autumn blaze
And butterflies would follow her
And over her, in thistle-down
Would thread a web so spider thin
Of rainbow hues to dress her in
And dew-gems for a crown.


She sang her songs of mystery
And wizardry and magickry
And spells that bind and mimicry
And filigree the stars that spun
Around her head with silken threads
Of orbits dark and distant suns

In ancient lore and alchemy,
And rune-wise, the words that she
Would weave among the grass   
 

She found a world of gallantry
Of errantry and pageantry
And though she longed to tarry there
And lose her heart and marry there
Her gypsy heart would carry there
The far off winds that harried her
Of distant lands that promised her
With silken words admonished her
Of oases green and fountains tall
Of stormy seas at the cliffs of fall
And zephyrs breathed vermilion
And gilded gold pavilions
And stallions and sherbet from
The opium fields of Avalon
In darker days, the wind would say
“There are other paths that call your way”


At night these paths would sing to her
And bring to her, and wing to her
The friends of her, of wings and fur
With wilder hearts astir.


By badger light and lantern’s sigh
And lonely flies the vixen’s cry
And all would come to sit with her
With heart and soul close-knit with her
Find comfort ‘neath the ash and briar
They sought beside her dreaming fire.

When alone among the moon beam’s dance
Schoolboy did chance to steal a glance
And held by her smile of golden bliss
He sought her kiss upon his cheek
And by this feat, he’d be a king.


As sparks flew up from firelight’s glow
And fireflies show the crystal’s globe
She held his hand so merrily
That happily and gallantly
He walked this world as new.

And now beneath the forest’s moon
And soft among the moths that flew
And swans that glide down woody steams
In dreams, he sings her tune.




Thursday, 4 October 2012

WHEN we STAND...

... beneath the silent bowl of stars

      and look up into the fire of Cassiopea's beauty.

Let us not fill it with questions

                   or doubts

                           or certainties.


But let us also be silent

      living together this one perfect moment.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Friends from my Bookshelf ~ 2


Book: Century 21 (1968) Project Sword. London: Century 21 Publishing and City Magazines Ltd.

Given to me by my Uncle and Aunt, Denham, Middlesex, Christmas Eve 1968.


Details:
        • Hardback with slightly stubbed corners
        • Spine still (surprisingly) intact
        • A cover designed to captivate the heart of a small boy
        • Thick, slightly rough cartridge-paper pages that make the sound of thunder when you turn them
        • Smells of the future and bedtimes and hot water-bottles
        • Original price marked on inside front page: 12/6d (or 62.5 New Pence) 
        • Filled with memories and excitement and snows of distant winters



Family Christmases had a European flavour to them. Each Christmas Eve my mother's brother and sister (with their families) would meet up and give out our gifts. In some ways, this was better even than Christmas; it was like having Christmas with the knowledge that Christmas was still to come. Best of all my uncle worked in publishing with Gerry Anderson's TV Century 21 and  that meant, a brand new annual each Christmas filled with colour and energy and the mysteries that had something to do with television. We did not have a television and so there was an aura of mystique about the books we would be getting. The glossy hardboard covers and the lavish primary colour also gave them an air of extravagance - like a glass of pineapple juice or finding your very own box of chocolate fingers at the bottom of your Christmas pillowcase.


The white Christmas of 1968 is tattooed upon my memories as the archetype of all Christmases. It was how Christmas should be (and now never will be again). I can remember walking up our garden path in that muffled stillness of a snowy night, half asleep, clutching this book with my other presents (soaps and sweets and forgotten toys). Soft rolling drifts of snow glowed blue under a crystal night. It was to be the first year that I knew what was meant by the phrase, 'took your breath away.' It was how snow flared with tiny colours; a rainbow of pixie lamps in the wash of our kitchen light. It is the first year I recall my hands burning with cold from playing in the snow, of repeatedly falling on the hallway floorboards because of the impacted snow under my wellingtons, of being aware of the future... and being electrified by it.   


It was the Christmas that Apollo 8 orbited the moon. I watched it on my aunt and uncle's (the same one who gave me this book) new colour television. It was before anyone had landed on the moon, but the impossible was reachable. I fell in love with science - the words, the beauty of formulae, the worlds it disclosed. I ached to be an astronaut. 


I had not heard of 'Project Sword'(an attempt at a spin-off by Century 21), but was instantly captivated. Commander Bill Janson (a photo of my uncle was used in the annual for his 'data file') was my hero and I faced the playground walking in his shoes. I was fast thinking, I was compassionate and strong. I was a man to whom men looked in times of crisis.

It is only on re-reading them as an adult that I can identify a disturbingly dark subtext in the comic strip stories that is so utterly at odds with my philosophy on life. It seems strange and out of step with even the values of those times; a sinister conservatism that views all outside 'the system' with suspicion and violence. My eight year old eyes were totally unaware of it. The future of my universe was much bigger than that.

Perhaps, just as the world seemed to lose nerve while teetering on the edge of a future that held no barriers, it is fitting that I should find cracks and the shadows of adults' nightmares in the book that inspired me so much and made me look up in wonder at the moon on those lost snowy nights.

The stories may have lost their thrill, but the memories still fire in me an enthusiasm that goes beyond simple nostalgia. An awkward friend perhaps, but a friend nonetheless.  



Monday, 24 September 2012

What is THAT whispered on the WIND...

... by the stone rings of Avebury?


Deep echoes like the oceans' storm-bells tolling, chiming soft against the flesh of my soul.


Strange music that plays along the wide sweep of downland ridge and makes my heart beat faster. Perhaps our paths are really guided by songways; ancient music, as gold as the dawn mist, that sing to our hearts and call us back to our first roots in this rolling landscape of flint and chalk and wide skies.



Is that what takes us out of the town and out from the urbanity of life; out of the valleys and on to the downs? This way of song that threads its path through the wildness of wind and sheep and histories that are no longer told. Is that what brings me back to this place of deep echoes of the soul?



So what is that whispered on the wind by the stone rings of Avebury?


Where, Tibetan-like, coloured ribbons fly upon ancient branches and prayers swim upon the air. At owl-time when the badger prowls, does God, with steaming breath and earth-stained hands, stand beneath this tree and let these prayers run through his fingers? Perhaps, he too is touched by their hope. That we may follow the laughter on wilder winds.




An audio version of this post


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The MOON and VENUS...

... ride high over Sunrising Hill,
       on this rook ravaged dawn.

A robin on a fence watches me
      watching the waning moon and Venus
      soar the polished sky.

We both fly off on ravens' wings.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Carpet Man...


... looks up into a sky that is as heavy and as white as baskets of laundry. The rain cascades in lazy waterfalls from the clouds and bowing leaves and my nose. He hunches his shoulders, and heads inside.

And the rain falls...


The pavement shines like night-filled mirrors. It must be nice to stand here all day - like the allotment scarecrow - in this gentle wash of rain. To feel its fingers upon the skin and listen to its music... and the rooks' call and jackdaws' laugh... and to watch the nettles and dandelions grow.

And the rain falls in a dance...


The big ash and the little oak, the young chestnut profuse with its prickly treasures, whisper and drink. High in the tall beech, on the corner where the dogs like to meet, two pigeons jostle and clash.

And the rain falls in a dance of air and light and...


Leaves and crystals fall upon the grass beneath the beech tree. The sheep continue to graze, unnoticing, their fleeces glazed with a frost of wet-light.  

And the rain falls in a dance of air and light and the softest...


The Birdman laughs and shakes himself like an old sheepdog. For a split second he is surrounded by an aura of water. The hedges of his garden shrill with tiny voices.


And the rain falls in a dance of air and light and the softest brush of life.


Is this what it is to pray?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Friends from my Bookshelf ~ 1

Book:
Raymond O. Faulkner. (1962). A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Oxford: Griffith Institute, Oxford University Press.




Bought second hand at the Tin Drum (second-hand bookshop), Fakenham, Norfolk nearly 20 years ago.

Details:

  • Deep racing-green cloth binding (scuffed, genteelly loved & marked) with fiery lettering on spine.
  • Parchment thick pages that feel like the taste of caramel cream.
  • Smells of dust and thick ink (like gloss painted banister rails)
  • Promisingly heavy to lift
  • Opening it feels like opening an expensive box of chocolates.
  • Marginalia - previous owner's emendations made in small neat letters, in blue ink. S/he appears proficient in reading Egyptian hieroglyphs. Also a freehand grid drawn on rear endpiece in blue Biro annotated for months of the Egyptian calendar -surprisingly only one box (2,4) is completed.




Unfortunately the Tin Drum no longer exists. It was a rambling town house in the middle of Fakenham, Norfolk. Four storeys (and a basement) of meandering interlinked little rooms, cluttered with wobbling bookcases and towering pillars of books. The sun had to shoulder its way through windows encrusted with grime and soot. There were alcoves that never saw daylight. Bare bulbs hung from plaited flex smelling of burnt dust. It was a favourite haunt of ours. 



I found Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian in a teetering stack of books that climbed - caterpillar-like - up the stairs. I instantly fell in love. Each page was a choreography of handwritten glyphs and restrained cursive script. A promiscuous profusion of sigla and numerals follow each curt definition ("mine, quarry, Sinai 47.53; Urk IV,2,5,8; varr. JEA 4, pl.q,"). It was a book into which Raymond Faulkner (D.Lit) poured his heart.  

We would buy carrier bags of books, nursing, medical (D - my wife- had already taken the plunge and had started a nursing degree), philosophy, theology, sociology - until our car (a tired 2CV) would wheeze and creak. Most we bought for 50p; £1.50 was usually our cut off point. Faulkner's cost £7.50, but I had to have it (look closely at the first page and you can still see the faint pencilled price). Here was a world of which I knew nothing, but its pages sang with the suns of ancient deserts and my heart pulled me there. Money was short, so I put the other books that I had selected that morning back on their shelves. I came out of the shop bursting with excitement.



This was the time of my awakening - when my heart and mind began to catch up with each other. My heart, had (once more) begun to talk and my mind, confused and beaten, slowly began to listen. And with it I felt the thrill of learning, of discovering, of living in a glorious world of wonders. My old world was imploding into dust and the teachings of those that held guardianship over it clanged emptily in my ears. I was beginning to find that the world was filled with hidden glory. It was before I'd seriously thought I would even be accepted on a degree course, but my mind felt the fire of hunger and I needed to fill it. There is a voraciousness that consumes those who study, those who want to know more, those who find questions in the answers and I was beginning to feel that voracity gnawing at me.



Faulkner came with me on our visits to the British Museum. I'd spend hours trying to copy down each glyph and cartouche, noting the placement and direction of each line. D helping me by finding more and more inscriptions for me to copy. We were both intoxicated by allowing our brains to run free at long last. His book still remains largely undeciphered and although I can read a little Egyptian it is mostly a closed language to me, but, nevertheless, I love him still. I love how each time I see him there on my bookshelf, I can feel that exquisite chill of facing something knew; something unknown. I can feel myself standing on that creaking, wooden staircase with its waterfall of books and finding new worlds to explore. That excitement boils and bubbles still. Many times I have had to trade other things to find more £7.50s and I have never been disappointed. Most of all Dr Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian continues to teach me to never be afraid or intimidated by new worlds or new challenges.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Banbury Town on a rainy day






*     *     *

Light dances on cobbles in the spindrift of drizzle. The sky is battleship grey and as heavy as steel. Colours from the flower stall splash and leak over the pavement, and people rush past in a flurry of unzipped coats.


*     *     *

I like it here. I could watch the world for hours. The women who pause for a moment to drink in the flower stall blooms. The men in suits who climb the steps to the bank two at a time. The clatter of push chairs and laden buggies with wheels that shimmy. The town hall clock, blind and silent. The lost man that sits below it, his half-rolled tartan sleeping bag lying amid the puddles. Sometimes he asks for change, but mostly he is silent, watching the feet glide past him. The elderly woman in an overcoat feeds the pigeons beside the sign that says 'Please do not feed the pigeons'. She is always here; her frayed coat clinging to her bony shoulders. So are the pigeons. A woman passes and tuts and shakes her head. The woman in the overcoat takes no notice. Neither do the pigeons.


*     *     *

A woman negotiates a buggy around a knot of people. Her sullen daughter clings grimly to the handle. They both seem to wear clothes two or three sizes too small for them. The mother's top is faded and stained with coffee... or gravy... or something brown. Her hair is tied straight back, close against her skull, in a lank ponytail. One of her heels is red raw from where it has rubbed against the back of her shoe. When I smile it is as if no one has noticed her for a long, long time; fire touches her eyes before they slide back down to the pavement that swims with the wash of coloured lights. She cannot see it, but she walks on a carpet of liquid jewels.


*     *     *

The preacher is here talking of Jesus - as he always does on a Saturday morning. He holds up his Bible as if it was on fire. For him, perhaps, it is. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" writes Paul. This preacher is certainly doing just that. It never seems to get any easier for him; this preaching of the gospel. After many years, his voice is still dry and a little unsure. His words do not come easily. When he becomes passionate he repeats the same phrases over and over again in that strange language of Zion, of the old Baptist and Pentecostal churches; antiquated stock phrases worn smooth by repetition. I stop to listen - as I always do. He needs someone to hear him, someone to whom he can give not just his message, but also his heart; even though that message is one of judgement and fire loosely cloaked in love, and that the scent of hell blows across the green fields of his heaven (we both ache for such different heavens). His frantic sincerity, the cloud of fear in which he appears to live, reminds me of what it is to be lost in a dark universe. Judgement seems to tower over his world. John the Evangelist writes, "the Holy Spirit will come to convict the world of sin," but most humans do quite well in condemning themselves without any spirit's help. The preacher paces his small circle. What crippling guilt weighs upon those stooped shoulders?

His wife stands opposite to him - as she always does. A handful of tracts curl over her tightly closed fingers, fluttering scripture in primary colours. She never looks beyond the pavement in front of her. I have never seen her smile; not properly; not a huge, wide, spontaneous smile. She stands with an uneasy solemnity listening as her husband's words snake around the passers-by. Her awkwardness mirrors the awkwardness of those who pass by, each looking the other way. The preacher tells the leaden sky that no one knows how much God loves them despite their sinful hearts. What are they really like, the preacher and his wife? They have chosen to walk this hard, hard road that seems to be etched upon their faces. A young man pushes past. He wears a stained singlet and jeans. "Fucking Christian cunts." he mutters. His voice seared with white hot rage, but he lacks the conviction to shout his rage to those around, nor to howl his fury at the one whose message they proclaim. His words mingle with those of love and spilt blood and judgement and the depths of human fears. The preacher's wife jerks involuntarily, holding herself rigid; eyes glued to the pavement. And I want to scoop her up in my arms - to scoop them both up - and to take them far away from these streets where they can see only rottenness and sin. I want to take them somewhere where they can laugh and shine and stand as tall as giants.

'We have seen the Olympics' the preacher says, 'but there are things more important than golden medals, my friends. Seek those treasures that rust doth not corrupt nor the moth destroy...' The rain falls harder as an elderly couple bend down to smell a bouquet of flowers on the stall. They look at each other and smile. The pretty Asian stall-holder smiles with them.  


*     *     *


Monday, 13 August 2012

One early morning




One early morning, 
when light was being distilled,
drop by drop, 
from gold,
A ball span 
as as it bounced 
over the dewy grass
and cobwebs spun 
from crystal and water.

Tiny rainbows
sparkled as 
Catherine Wheels of spray
lazily spiralled 
like galaxies being born.

A dog 
covered in smiles
races after it
and plucks it
from the air.

The best dog walks 
are those
where galaxies are born
and you return 
covered with
dew 
and dog smiles.






Tuesday, 7 August 2012

If YOU are to OPEN this day...

... then let it be with arms open wide to the sun and the rain and the restless joy of the seasons...



FOR IF YOU WERE TO stand on the river bank

                  beside the tall, wild rushes and the dark, reedy places where the trout and the shy chubb hide

     and you were to jump....

                                       ..... you would jump with such joy, such spontaneity, such exultant hoops of laughter, that the waters would break like crystals, hanging like a beaded curtain in the air, to welcome you.

You would, wouldn't you?


FOR IF YOU WERE TO stand beneath the stars

                    and you looked up into that cavernous bowl of giants and tiny heroes spun with the filigree lace of ancient stories
     
      and you were to dance...

                                      .... you would dance until your heart burst and the silence of the universe rushed into your soul like the floods of Noah and you would embrace what it is to be truly lost in beauty and truth.

You would, wouldn't you?


FOR IF YOU WERE TO
 stand on the grassy hill of your childhood

                     and among the golden fields of dandelion clocks you were to stretch out your arms until you felt your feet leaving the ground

      and you found yourself flying...

                                      .... you would fly fearlessly and high, shattering the silvered air and loosing forever the sullen bonds that hold you earthbound. And looking down, lark-like, you would scatter the thrill of your song upon the countryside and city.

You would, wouldn't you?


 SO... 

                  ....  IF YOU ARE TO open this day,
                           
                                    not just any day, but This very day that awaits the touch of your footstep                                  

.... then let it be with open arms wide and the joy that only you can bring to this world

Friday, 20 July 2012

The SCENT of God

I went down to that damp green place of churned earth and nettle beside the cow pasture and the rectory; the bleached wood of the little kissing gate glistening and greasy to the touch. I had not seen for a long time such a profusion of watery green in that shoulder-high, wild, profligate, tangle of undergrowth; as prodigally abandoned and as sensual as a lifted skirt. 

The rain fell as it had for so long and still its joy was undiminished. To stand there, in the midst of this writhing, dank fecundity was a joy too... 

... to feel the rain on my hands and wrists, leaching up round my cuffs, as I brushed the delicate parasols of the cow parsley, covering my fingers with those little black specks and tiny insects and pollen

... to draw dripping fingers across the scimitar blades of weeping grass and to slide them up the firm plantain stems and over their glistening heads 

... to feel the thrill of the first hot kiss of nettle as I swept my hands through the green depths of their feathery enchantment and traced, with my finger, the snaking lace-work of silvery trails of slug and diffident snail.   

Perhaps it was the proximity of the rectory... Perhaps it was the sweet scent of cows' breath and soil on the air... Perhaps it was just because I was alive and human, but I found myself thinking... 'if God has a scent what would it be?'

I have lived long enough to know that for some it is the cloud of incense and candle wax that anoints the altar. For others it is of brimstone and the refiner's fire...

I thought I smelled it once, in a small welsh chapel, washed with winter sunlight, with wooden floors and the scent of old hymnals and dust. 

But standing there in that riotous wilderness of life, I realised all those were too dry. The scent of God must be vibrant and living and wet; like the scent of sex; like the scent of birth; ... like .... like ... the scent of rain cascading from nettle to dock leaf and of fungus growing on decaying wood...

... and I set out, once more, to follow that rill of laughter across these friendly hills.  

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The other week, the Frosts...

... got the magnolia tree that shares its world with mine...

For over a week the flames of its blossom danced at the end of each slender branch; little heart-shaped cups of soft, ice-cream coloured fire. Those passing by, stopped to see this tree that flamed but did not burn and remark, "Your magnolia [as if it ever could belong to anyone but itself] is looking wonderful this year." I would smile, but could take no credit or glory for its beauty.

Then, the other week, the frosts got the magnolia tree and the petals of its blooms became burnt and brown. The slender branches have now become draped in the slimy, brown, wreckage of seaweed wrack; its little fiery hearts, torn and mildewed prayer flags. And now no-one stops to look upon this magnolia tree that shares its world with mine...

... but it doesn't seem to bear the frost any malice. It still stands, holding its broken, rotting flowers up to the sky. Whether pristine or 'spoilt', it makes no odds and so it casts its dead and dying blooms to the wind with as much pride as it  flamed its tight new buds of spring. It appears that it is only humans who privilege the 'perfection' of the unblemished over the scratched and soiled, the tattered and the torn. For few of us find the beauty in the imperfect, the half-formed and the spoiled... and so we hide the marks of our precious lives - those etched lines of time and worry and all those scars (inside and out) - with scarves and make-up and a hundred hurried words that have never touched our hearts and make strangers of friends...

Today, the rain falls on a soft easterly wind. Spheres of water run down each beautiful, burnt, heart-shaped fire. New leaf-growth buds green and glistening as I look up into the raining sky... and I too will bear my frosts no malice.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The WILLOWS stand...

... beside the brown churned Avon where Shakespeare sleeps; lime green WATERFALLS of dripping light. Almost overnight, the bare LIMBS of the chestnuts, beloved by rook and crow, fill out with new LEAVES. They flap and  flutter, hanging low like SLEEPING bats... emerald, fluttering, sleeping, bats.

Down the lanes, blossom FROSTS the blackthorn bushes; white and honey sweet.

But here, the COLOURS of spring are waterfalls of lime... and EMERALD sleeping bats..

Friday, 20 April 2012

Have YOU ever touched a LEAF...

... that buds full of SPRING upon a tree? A flame of emerald FIRE on the tip of your finger. It has waited all WINTER ... through those long nights of FROST and starlight and the aching RIBS of foxes... through those burning WINDS and sloughing rains and MISTS as brown as they are grey... It KNEW one day that this DAY would come... when it will burst with LIFE... a flame of emerald fire....


.... and for what day are YOU waiting ?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

SOMEONE tore the CLOUDS today....

.... and the SKY .... 
... wept WATER and...
  .... blackthorn  BLOSSOM...
      ... UPON the shining street...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Some HEAVEN spilt by gulls



Old Hunstanton, Norfolk, where a childhood heaven touches the sea with sandy feet... and the smell of seaweed... and a bluster of kites... and the clink of bucket against spade....

.....  It is a dog's paradise; this land of dunes and sands and retreating waters... We throw the ball, arcing through the sea-salted air, and time pauses....
           
  ... the sky is painted thickly in Prussian blue and the towering clouds, of smudged greys and whites, build and pile upon the cutting north-easterly wind. The marram grass whistles; coarse and leathery, and as parched as a camel's dream...   

  ... among the dunes and the younger lovers, my parents lie, asleep in each other's arms, under the gull crying sky. 

Slowly the bird arises above the silvered mists of dawn...

Listen, my heart... be brave and soar into this DAY of days...     .... for it is your destiny to walk footloose among the shards of broken  wonder   ...        ... to fill your lungs with air (doesn't it feel good...     this taste of LIFE that dances upon the tip of your tongue?)   ...                                        ....
        ... and to touch the preciousness of life     ...     that is drowning in a stranger's sad and SILENT smile...