Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas rock-maker

Christmas is a time of stories . . . traditional stories. Stories round the fire in the long, dark evenings . . . stories when sleep is elusive and Santa's arrival is imminent.
I came across this one, curl up and enjoy it . . .

Once upon a time there was a rock maker. During the summer months he did a good trade, selling his wares to the seaside towns and doing good business. But, in the winter, no-one wanted rock and he and his young wife found life very difficult.
One day his wife said to him, "Why don't you make a special Christmas rock? Then people will want to buy it in the winter."
The rock maker thought this a good idea, and he went to consult a wise man.
"How should I make my Christmas rock?" he asked, "I was thinking of making it green with red spots right through it, to recall the ivy and the holly berries."
But the wise man disagreed, "You make it pure white," he instructed, "as white as the promise of peace, as white as the innocence of the new born. And, down the middle of the rock, you place a beautiful, five-pointed golden star to remind everyone of the joy of Christmas. When people eat your rock they will get the true Christmas message. They will look beyond their own desires and anxieties. They will notice the birds singing in the bushes, they will see the spring bulbs pushing up through the earth, the stars shining in the sky, they will be filled with hope and joy and the love of God"

The rock maker went away feeling a little worried. It was a beautiful idea, but the ingredient to make the gold star was very expensive, it would take up all his remaining savings, and what if the rock didn't sell? But his wife persuaded him to give it a try, for, as she said, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So they sold all but the most essential of their possessions and they bought the expensive gold ingredient, and the rock maker made the special snow-white Christmas rock with the shining star right down the middle.
And what was the result? The people couldn't get enough of this wonderful Christmas rock. And this was the amazing thing, once they had tasted it they bought it again and again, not for themselves but for their friends. Even more amazingly, the star didn't stop shining once it had been eaten. The people who ate the rock also started to shine. The shine came out of their eyes, it echoed in their laughter, it radiated in their faces. And the rock maker and his wife would have been very wealthy - only they, too, were inspired to give their money away.
And the rock maker and his wife came to a wise decision. They decided that they would continue to make Christmas rock, even in the summer, so that the joy of Christmas would permeate the whole year . . . and they did.

So, if you are lucky enough to come across some of their special rock, why not buy it and give it away? We all have need of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Fayre!

Well, I must say it's good to be home without further mishaps!

As I walked down to the High Street to do my pre-Christmas shopping, I thought that everyone had gone away. The street was blissfully free of traffic, there were very few pedestrians on the pavement - Kensington, it seemed, had debunked for Christmas.

But no! As I entered the Food Hall at M&S I discovered my mistake - there had indeed been a mass migration, but the residents of Kensington had not moved to the country, they had moved en masse into the Food Hall to stock up on their Christmas fayre!
Never have I seen such chaos - people, people everywhere. Mothers with prams and toddlers underfoot, fathers looking bemused and wishing themselves elsewhere. One elderly lady with a walking stick had a small dog on a lead. Can you imagine the hazard caused by an active small dog on a lead in a Food Hall . . . ? Exactly! The baskets and trolleys were filled to overflowing and, as fast as the shoppers stripped the shelves, so the poor, harassed staff rushed around with replacements, restocking supplies.

It took twice as long as usual to locate my regular goods, but at last I reached the check-out queue. Even here there was a problem. The queues stretched back into the food aisles, finding the least slow-moving was quite a feat. Finally, having positioned myself behind a young couple with a small child, I was able to lay out my purchases on the conveyor-belt.

They seemed a nice young couple, although, caught up in the demands of their Christmas shop, they were a little frenzied.
"The mackerel!" cried the young man abruptly, "We've forgotten the mackerel!"
His wife obediently rushed off to make good the omission.
"Sausages . . . " she hissed in annoyance on her return, adding the mackerel to the mounting pile, "I've forgotten the sausages . . . " and she rushed off again.
Finally, all their purchases were accounted for and, at what should have been a brief moment of relaxation, the young woman's face went pale.
"Walnuts!" her voice was anguished, "I've forgotten the walnuts!"
It was too late to go in search. I tried to console her with the thought that at least walnuts would be a treat to look forward to in the New Year . She gave a wan smile, but seemed far from convinced.
My mind was taken up with thoughts of this strange Western society, where the absence of walnuts can ruin a Christmas, so I was a little surprised when the woman at the check-out till asked for my credit card. I handed it over, thinking that she had whizzed my goods through with commendable speed.
"Your number . . . " she said.
Obediently, I registered my number on the pad.
"Seventy-one pounds, fifty-nine pence," said the check-out lady.
I looked at her aghast. I knew that I'd had to buy Rupert free-range turkey as there wasn't any alternative, but surely this was ridiculous?
The young couple, who had been loading up their trolley with the overflowing carrier-bags, turned round. The check-out lady turned to me looking worried, "I thought you were all together?" she said.
It turned out that, all unwittingly, I'd paid for this young family's Christmas lunch!

They were a very nice young couple, with an attractive small daughter, but they could hardly be classified as the deserving poor - it didn't seem my Christmas role to pay for their lunch.
We none of us knew what to do. Apparently it's impossible to cancel a card once the number has been accepted.
Then inspiration struck, "Have you a cheque-book?" I asked the young couple.
They had.
They gave me a cheque, I wished them a happy Christmas - and we all said goodbye on the best of terms!

As you can imagine, rather than run the risk of being involved in any more festive confusion, I came straight home.

One way and another, this is turning out to be an unexpectedly costly Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

In charge on The Thames!

This is a story for you to read when you think that your life is a little tough. Believe you me, it has nothing on the toughness of life as a Special Needs Governor in charge of a Christmas Outing. Only Joyce Grenfall could truly understand what I mean!
Have you ever forced a large boat to change direction mid-stream whilst under Waterloo Bridge? I bet you haven't! Anyway, now read on . . .

It started on a unpredictable note.. The prospect of taking a large bunch of Special Needs kids out of school and on public transport is not one that you contemplate with total equanimity. But everything had been planned carefully. I had booked our places on the boat, ensured that the boat company were expecting us, all that we needed to do was to reach Westminster on time.

I arrived at the school to find the excited, but volatile, group far from ready. At least twenty minutes later than planned, all thirty-one children were finally making their way down the hill to catch the 'bus. The Head of the Department led the way, two more teachers were in the middle, and two helpers and I acted as sheep dogs in the rear.
Once on the High Street, we waited patiently for a ‘bus.
Finally, it arrived . . . full!
Time was already runnng short, after a moment’s hesitation, we decided that, if we were not to miss the boat, there was no alternative . . . we had to get on!
We pushed, we shoved, children were crammed up the stairs and under seats, teachers and helpers drew in their breaths and one helper, who walks with crutches, was seated unceremoniously on the luggage stand!
The driver refused to start the 'bus - he was overcrowded and he wouldn't break the rules. We pleaded, we implored, we called on his better nature, we told sob stories of Special Needs children and Christmas treats until, worn down by our entreaties, he set off!

We reached Westminster Bridge with ten minutes to spare. Everyone was exultant. In high spirits the children trooped down to the jetty where the other helpers were waiting. I went to the ticket office with the cheque to collect the tickets.
"Go to Landing Stage 2," said the man at the ticket office.
I waved in the direction of Landing Stage 2 and everyone set off.
Within minutes we had reached the landing stage (which had been in sight of the ticket office during the ticket-buying process) but were surprised to find no boat there. A rather gormless official came down the ramp.
"Who's in charge?" he asked.
I said that I was.
"Well, you've missed the boat," he said with a certain grim pleasure, "It went two minutes ago. There it is . . ."
We swung round to look in the direction of his pointing finger, and, sure enough, there it was - a beautiful red-and-white boat, sailing speedily away from us under Waterloo Bridge.
We could none of us believe it. How could they possibly have set sail with all of us awaiting instructions just yards away on the pier?
"Then it must come back!" I demanded.
"Sorry . . . can't do that. You'll have to wait and catch the next one," and he walked off.
Never have I felt more angry. With all the speed I could muster, I rushed back to the ticket office.

I really think that I did the children proud! I was furious! I demanded that the boat turn round,
that they honour their agreement, that fifty people should not be forced to wait on a wet and windy jetty when the booking had been made for over a month!
I was just drawing breath, and about to charge them with negligence and heaven knows what else, when a cry went up from the landing stage. The boat was returning! The poor, harrassed ticket inspector must have signalled to his colleague to accept defeat and call the boat back!
You can imagine the cheering when the boat arrived!

So, there we are . . . it turned into a wonderful trip, everyone enjoyed themselves, even the most harrassed teacher was laughing happily on the bus journey home. As for me, I can add it to my CV that I've been in temporary charge of shipping on the Thames . . . !
Well, if you don’t delve too deeply into the details, it sounds good . . . !

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Building a cathedral

Oh, I’ve been so thoughtless.
Do you remember my friend, Samar? The Palestinian, who teaches at London University? Yesterday, I’d invited her to tea, and it wasn’t until she was sitting down that I realised it was Ramadan. She couldn’t possibly eat any tea. How stupid of me to have forgotten.
How did human beings ever come to devise such a minefield of different, and often conflicting, religious practices?

When I was quite a small child I remember complaining to my family that we were only Christians because we were born in a Christian country. If we'd been born in India, I argued, we would have all been Hindus.
I was told that these arguments were not helpful for a small child.
"And if Jesus had been a cow," I concluded defiantly, "we'd all worship cows!"
This was more than enough for my family, who sat me down on my own to enjoy the totally uncontroversial world of “The Wind In The Willows”!

Talking of reading, have you read this week’s ‘Letter’ from Bishop Spong? I know that we all of us have a tendency to admire the writings of those we agree with, but how could anyone fail to warm to the wisdom of Bishop Spong?

I’ll let him speak for himself, “The Bible .” he writes, “has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God's punishment and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the "literal and inerrant word of God," I always ask, "Have you ever read it?"”
. . . see what I mean? In a previous ‘Letter’ he also wrote that he felt the Bible should be an ‘open’ collection of books, not something that was ‘closed’ irrevocably two thousand years ago. There should, he declares, be room for more recent Christian thinkers.
I completely agree. What of Dame Julian of Norwich . . . or Bishop Spong himself? It’s an excellent idea.

All of this got me thinking about the Bible. It occurred to me that, in structure, it's rather like one of our ancient cathedrals. These cathedrals were originally created from individual blocks of stone, trunks of trees and sheets of glass. All these components were worked together, first by manual labour, then by skilled craftsmen. The resulting building was an imposing, man-made structure. It had the inevitable flaws inherent in any man-made artefact, but it was impressive.

Over the years this building was occupied by many other human beings, but these human beings had not come to work on the building, they had come to worship. They brought their prayers, their brought their hymns of praise, they brought their anxieties and their confessions. The centuries passed and their prayer and worship began to alter the building in a very subtle way. The building itself became a repository of the numinous. The walls absorbed the frequencies of the prayers, the vaulted ceilings took to themselves the outgoing waves of praise. The building became sacred. It was a man-made building, it had all the flaws inherent in a human artefact, but the very humans who inhabited it had brought it closer to the divine. Each human who visited it drew from it something to satisfy their own needs - they gave their praise and their prayers, the cathedral gave back comfort and inspiration.

Man, as God, had expressed his unity with God in stone, wood and glass - and made it sacred in its own right.

But, and this is an important point, it was never considered complete. The wisest of the humans who took care of these ancient cathedrals appreciated that the structures were still being created. They willingly accepted additions from different centuries, improvements and alterations. Rather than being an ancient, mummified body, the cathedral grew to fulfill the needs of each succeeding generation of worshipers.

I think the Bible should be the same. . . . open to reinterpretation, open to addition and change. What do you think?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thin sticks


It doesn't seem possible that it's two years since I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankles. Do you remember? It all came flooding back this morning when, very stupidly, I caught my toe on a paving-stone and nearly measured my length on the pavement. Struggling to regain my balance, all I could think of was those two months on crutches. Who knows, it was probably the memory that kept me upright!
Nonetheless, I was also reminded of something else. Do you remember my reflection on thin sticks . . . ?

I’d never recommend falling down the stairs. Nor am I fool enough to suggest that there’s anything but discomfort and inconvenience in spraining both ankles. But that accident changed my perspective. It made me recognise an everyday miracle that I'd never noticed before.

Now, as I look around me, I see myriads of talented people - people who are totally unconscious of their incredible abilities - people who stand, and walk, and run, people who leap and dance, all whilst balancing on two very thin sticks at the end of their legs. They seem completely unaware of how wonderful this is, how totally amazing . . . what a feat of balance and faith.

But you only have to watch for a while, to look at the size of those thin sticks, and note the often very heavy weight balancing above, to recognise the miraculous when you see it. They don't topple over, these talented people, they don't end up with their thin sticks broken or swollen . . . it's a daily miracle that is vastly under-valued.

When I could only hobble, I vowed that, on recovery, I'd give thanks each day for the blessing of two, fully-functioning, thin sticks.
I may not always remember, but, as I regained my balance this morning, that's precisely what I did!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sunset over Monte Carlo

Have you a spare moment to share some thoughts on Monte Carlo?
Why Monte Carlo? Well, my god-daughter, Caroline, phoned this morning. She’s just returned from a conference that was held in Monte Carlo. It had all come as a great surprise. The senior partner in her firm had been unable to go . . . someone else couldn’t make it . . . finally, rather like a modern day Cinderella, Caroline had found that she was the one to be going to this highly-desirable ball! Scarcely believing her luck, she’d packed her bag and rushed off in a taxi to Heathrow.
What is the twenty-first century equivalent of a pumpkin coach . . . ? A helicopter!
Sure enough, a helicopter was waiting at Nice airport to whisk her off to the luxury of L’Hermitage and a two-day, high-powered meeting of the mighty.

But the clock struck midnight yesterday, and Caroline is home again, wondering if she’s imagined it all. Apparently, I should be receiving a post-card in the near future - the glass slipper to prove that neither of us has been dreaming!

Caroline's adventures revived my own memories of Monaco. Distant memories from when I was just a few years younger than she is now. On a whim, a friend and I had taken off to see if we could keep ourselves for a year on the fabled Cote d’Azur.
True, we’d had no helicopters - we travelled everywhere by train or by local bus. True, we’d had no luxury meals at L’Hermitage - we’d frequently had a second breakfast when funds wouldn’t rise to a lunch. But when it comes to sheer fun . . . well, I think our experiences could rival Caroline’s any day!
Have you a moment to share my lost youth . . . ?

After grape-picking in Frejus, we turned down the opportunity of picking chestnuts in the mountains in favour of seeing what Monaco had to offer. Monaco charmed us from the moment of our arrival and, on our first Sunday, we attended St. Paul’s, the Anglican church.
It was entirely thanks to he vicar of St. Paul's that we found our first job in the Principality. A man of great charm and persuasion, he later went on to become the Bishop of Gibralter. His persuasive powers must have been stretched to the limit in convincing the committee of the Monte Carlo Golf Club that these two stray English girls were just what they needed.
"I'll put in a word for you," he said, "they can always do with caddies."
And so it was that, with little or no knowledge of golf, but a great need for income, we found ourselves caddying on a golf course more designed for mountain goats than portly millionaires.
Way up in the mountains, with an almost sheer descent to the Mediterranean, it was spectacularly beautiful.
From a golfing point of view, I doubt whether it was a good course. The fairways were too short and too steep, the greens too small. But, as a breathtaking scenic viewpoint it couldn't be surpassed.

I caddied for a wide variety of the privileged and the wealthy, the most eccentric being Monsieur Philippe, the genius behind an empire built on stylish footware. After teeing off with at least six balls from every hole, he would then go in search of the one that had taken the straightest and longest line.
"Ah. zee eentelleegent ball! " he would enthuse happily . . . before hitting it, with great confidence, into the rough.
But I wasn't caddying for the genial Monsieur Philippe on the day that disaster struck. Most unusually, I was caddying for someone who actually cared about golf, who wanted to win. We had reached the eighteenth green and he was in the lead. Success lay just one putt ahead.

It was a beautiful evening, even by Riviera standards the sunset was spectacular. Slipping down slowly into the Mediterranean, it stained the sky crimson and gold and demanded an awed response. There was just one problem, a solitary tree was slightly barring my view.
I stepped back in order to see better . . . and kicked the ball off the green!

It was instantaneous. We were sacked there and then.
I don't remember what the vicar said, but he probably used the good advice of 'keeping one's eye on the ball' for a future sermon at St. Paul's!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The holy mountain

I was reading in the papers today about the major cutback in road projects. Have you heard about it? Dare I suggest that this economic downturn might have its bright side? Less roads could mean less invasion of the countryside. Less roads could even mean more walking, more climbing.
Thinking about it all, I was reminded of the story of the holy mountain.
Have I ever told you the story of the holy mountain?
That's right, take a deep breath, you're going to get it!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Once upon a time, there was a holy mountain. It was revered by the many pilgrims who took at least a week to climb to the summit. On the way up they sheltered overnight in caves, where they were ministered to by monks who tended their blistered feet and led their prayers. Those who reached the summit returned with their faces alight with joy, awestruck by the experience.
Not all the pilgrims reached the summit of the holy mountain, but for those who only made the first or second cave there was no sense of failure. On the contrary, they returned home with the glow of achievement. Some day, some lifetime, they would reach the summit; for this lifetime, the experience of their climb was reward in itself.

For centuries the holy mountain offered revelation to all its climbers. Then, one day, the Powers That Be decided, in their wisdom, that it was neither democratic nor politically correct that only the pilgrims should experience the view from the summit. So they took powerful bulldozers and dynamite and they blasted an incredible, curving, modern road into the side of the mountain - a wide road, a fast road, a road that would whip anyone up to the top of the mountain and back again all in a matter of hours.
And the tourists came, and the curious came, and they built a coffee-shop at the top of the mountain to accommodate all these people. And the pilgrims, who were horrified by these developments, stayed away. But the tourists and the curious who stood, coffee in hand, gazing out over the view, were mystified. They could not understand why anyone should have struggled for days to come and look at what was, frankly, such an uninteresting view.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Did you enjoy it? I love that story.
So, if it's not so many roads . . . not so much travel . . . the economic situation isn’t all bad! What about a little gentle mountain climbing next year . . . ?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The fish man cometh . . . and goeth

Oh dear, I do hope I'm not upsetting the apple cart . . . or, in this case, the fish pond. At least this story should give you a laugh.
I've just received a phone call from a fellow member of the Garden Committee. A neighbour in a nearby street has, so she told me, a pond full of valuable coy carp. Would we like to take her overspill? There are now, it seems, too many coy for the size of her pond and the surplus fish need to stretch their fins elsewhere.

It's such a kind offer . . . we have a pond and, as of this moment, we only have nine remaining fish (remember how the heron came in the winter and devoured ninety per cent of the pond’s inhabitants?).
BUT . . . what would the shell-shocked survivors think of an invasion of coy? Would it put their noses out of joint? After all, glorious and heroic they may have been to survive the massacre, but there's no getting away from the fact that they was originally very humble, rescue goldfish. These coy are valuable, might they also be bossy . . . and combative . . . and definitely not the sort of thing that the surviving goldfish would like to contemplate? We don't want a Balkans War in the pond!
But it was a kind offer . . . I couldn't really turn it down without sounding ungrateful . . . and these young coy carp need a good home.
I told the intermediary that we'd have them.
Think of me in half-an-hour introducing the new arrivals to the pond! I'll keep you up-dated.

(ten-minutes later)
I've had another phone call. They're not coy carp. Apparently they are small, and black, and are known as 'invisible fish'.
"The only thing that concerns me," I said, "is that they're not aggressive. If they come in peace, and don't upset the existing fish, they're welcome. If they cause trouble, then they go straight back!"

And so it's all arranged. The fish man (have you ever heard of a fish man?) will be here after lunch tomorrow, at which point I shall tip the 'invisible fish' from their bucket into the pond. (How do you know if you've tipped them in if they're invisible? Ah well, we'll doubtless find out!).

(two days later)
It was rudds that we were being given. Rudds, so I'm told. are a native British species, and much to be desired in any British pond. They are, apparently, quiet and peaceful, rather timid, and totally non-aggressive. We'll hope so!

After an uncertain morning, come yesterday afternoon, events speeded up dramatically, as you'll see . . . I was having tea with Jeri when, at four-thirty, the fish man arrived. We hurried down to the garden.
I've never met a fish man before and, if this one was typical of the breed, they are imperious and unpredictable. Fish men would seem to be one of the products of our over-affluent age. Along with dog-walkers, they have sprung into existence to cope with the aspects of our lives that we find time-consuming. Fish men come with second homes and second cars, and, in employing them we miss out on one of the great pleasures of life, that of going down on our knees and getting thoroughly mucky!
This professional fish man was young, of a strong physique, and garbed appropriately in waders and elbow-length rubber gloves. He carried a bag full of fish.
Before I knew what had happened, not only had the fish been released into the pond, but, without so much as a "Shall I?" or "May I?" the fish man had lowered himself over the edge and waded in to join them.
I was shocked - although I tried hard not to show it.
All right, it was kind to come and bring some fish, but that didn't give him the right to go striding, uninvited, into someone's else's pond for no reason whatsoever.
As politely as I could manage, I urged him to come out.
But the fish man was having a whale of a time (sorry for the pun!). He was groping around under the water and discovering all sorts of broken bricks and large stones that had found their way to the bottom.
I was not amused. He was stirring up all the sediment and making it impossible to see where the new fish were hiding. Not only that, what sort of treatment was this for the surviving goldfish? Already suffering from post-traumatic-heron-stress, this was the last thing they needed.
I finally persuaded the fish man to return to dry land, and peered into the now murky depths to see what had happened to the new arrivals. Needless to say, they had vanished from sight.
I'll go down later this morning to see if the sediment has settled, the newcomers have acclimatized, and the old guard have not been too put out by all these disruptive goings on

Was I once foolish enough to say that visits to the pond were peaceful . . . ?!

(later)
No sign of the new fish . . . the original inhabitants, renamed Dad's Army, came for their food, but seemed a little flustered . . . broken lily pads marked the fish man's point of entry and exit.
The gardeners, who come once a week, stood beside me looking down into the muddied depths. Our decision was unanimous and heartfelt . . . no more fish men, thank you!!


(Friday afternoon)
What a relief, 'Dad's Army' are fine and eager for their fish food. Of the new recruits there's little evidence - just the occasional shy, dark head waiting on the fringes for any of the food that Dad’s Army have spurned!

What a relief . . . you, I hope, have had a laugh, and peace has returned to the pond!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Curious Tale


Once upon a time there was a lady and her cat. And the lady and her cat were rather tired and exhausted at the end of a long, wet summer. And the lady and her cat decided that a three-day holiday was just what they needed to recharge their batteries for the autumn. So they got into their car, and they went off to Box Hill.

The following day, thinking that they would like to drive up the hill, they once more got into their car and turned the key in the ignition. But this time the car spluttered and refused to start. The lady 'phoned the AA, who quickly came to her rescue and put a new battery in the car - the old battery having proved to be exhausted and worn-out.
The lady and her cat drove the revitalised car up the hill, and prepared to take some photos. But the camera registered a sign saying 'Batteries Exhausted'. Fortunately, the lady had some new batteries in her bag, so she put these in the camera which, with renewed energy, worked perfectly.

The next day a friend came to visit the lady and her cat, and when the friend said that she really must leave as it was getting late, the lady reacted in surprise. She looked at her watch and said that it was still early in the afternoon. The friend pointed out that the lady's watch had stopped - the battery had given out.

The lady and her cat have now returned from their holiday, both with their energy renewed. The car, the camera, and the watch have also returned with renewed energy - all are ready to face a demanding autumn.

Had the car and the watch expired a week later, they could have caused the lady immense problems. As it was, Box Hill, as always, solved all energy deficiencies and sent its devotees away happy and renewed!

Friday, October 31, 2008

In search of the moon!

Could you do with a laugh?

Ten minutes ago I had a phone call from my American neighbour, Susan. She was, she told me, crossing the river as she spoke and was gazing up at the moon. She had never seen a more beautiful moon. "Go and look at it!" she enthused, "I had to ring you to tell you about it!"

So, after putting down the phone, I went to each of the windows and peered out . . . not a moon in sight. There must be low cloud over this part of London, I decided. The moon was restricting its charms to the City. So I phoned Susan back and told her to enjoy the moon, "We haven't got it here," I told her.

"But it's huge!" she insisted, "It's low in the east. Right over St. Paul's."
I told her that I hadn't an east-facing window, but, surrendering to her enthusiasm, promised that I'd go out into the street and have a look.

So down the stairs I went, not stopping to put on a coat, and out into the street.
John, one of the school caretakers was walking past. He looked a little surprised to see me coming out of the building at eight o'clock without a coat and clearly not dressed for going anywhere.
"I'm looking for the moon," I said.
It was hard to see his expression in the dark, but I could swear that he was lifting a quizzical eyebrow.
"The moon?"
"Yes, a friend has just phoned me from the City and told me to look at the moon."
It was evident that he thought that I needed humouring.
"No sign of it here," he said.
"Er . . . I think I'll just walk down to the end of the street," I said, "then if it isn't there I'll give up."
"You do that!" he agreed, and walked off into the school clearly musing over this new discovery that some school governors were considerably more dippy than others!

So I walked to the end of the street . . . and there . . . just visible over the roof of the pub . . . was the most splendid, golden moon you ever saw. A really wonderful moon . . . the sort of moon that would (Susan was right) get you phoning your friends just to implore them to go out into the streets and gaze up at the heavens.
I thanked the gods of Samhuinn (the Celtic festival which has just started) and, beginning to feel a little chilly without a coat, hurried back home.

"The moon's down there!" I called out to John who was standing by the school gate.
"Er . . . yes . . . I'm sure it is . . . " he agreed, as one humouring a simple-minded child.
I'd love to hear him recount the incident to his fellow site staff in the morning . . . no, on second thoughts, perhaps I'm grateful that I won't!

Goodnight . . . happy Samhuinn . . . I hope you saw the moon!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Orbs - Strictly Unorthodox!

Oh dear, I'll get myself arrested one of these days!

I was chatting with a friend last week and she happened to mention the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens. Needless to say, I pricked up my ears. A Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Kensington? This was news to me. You can imagine where my thoughts went next . . . might it have any orbs . . . ?

So this morning found me setting off for Ennismore Gardens. I don't know whether you know the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sophia? It's an immensely imposing building tucked away in an unlikely setting. Rather hesitantly, I pushed open the door and went inside.

It was beautiful . . . shadowy, serene and numinous. There were icons everywhere. It was also totally free of any commercialisation. No post-cards, no booklets, no CDs, no counter near the door with a vigilant church watcher. It was a sacred space in which everything appeared sacred. From my point of view, the chief drawback was that, unlike in an Anglican or Catholic cathedral, there were no rows of seats where you could sit quietly and remain unobserved. Chairs ringed the walls, but to sit in them was to be extremely conspicuous.

A robed man (was it the bishop?) was standing praying at the central altar. Another priest was praying in front of an icon on the far wall. A cleaning lady in a demure headscarf, who looked very Russian, was hard at work polishing the brasses. An opportunity to take photos seemed remote. You couldn't take a photo of a priest at prayer, it would be an intrusion. Yet the whole atmosphere was so conducive to orbs . . . I felt very frustrated.

It was then that I realised that, if I moved slightly, my view of the two priests would be blocked by a pillar. The picture wouldn't be very revealing, you wouldn't see the altar - so often the place where an orb is to be found - but at least I could take a photo without anyone noticing or being disturbed.

I moved . . . I quietly took out my camera . . . I took a photo from this unpromising position . . . and I hastily returned my camera to my pocket.

Second later the priest at the main altar walked quietly out of the cathedral. Moments afterwards, the second priest did the same. Now there was only me and the cleaning lady. Greatly heartened, I crossed to the other side of the cathedral where I would get a much better view. I hoped to take at least four photos to give the orbs a chance.

Hardly had I had time to settle in my new seat than a total newcomer entered the cathedral. He was a big man, a rather burly man. He walked across to me in a purposeful fashion. Clearly he spoke no English, but his miming was universal! With eloquent hand movements he showed me in no uncertain terms that photography was not allowed!
"No photographs . . . ?" I enquired, a little nervously.
He vigorously shook his head.
Then, along with the cleaning lady, he, too, left the room.
I was all on my own.
You've no idea how sorely I was tempted. It would have been so easy to take a few photos, there alone in the cathedral. No-one would have known. But I had given my word, not only that, I suspected that the orbs would not co-operate if I were to be wilful!
Sadly, reluctantly . . . feeling that I had missed a golden opportunity . . . I left the cathedral and headed home.
Past experience has now taught me that you rarely get an orb from just one photo. The chance of that one, snatched effort at St. Sophia's producing anything was remote.
I arrived home and, with little hope, connected the camera to the computer . . .

You can imagine my delighted amazement at seeing a beautiful orb over the central window, another fainter one on the pillar. and several shadowy ones in the background!

Thank you, St. Sophia!!

(a week later)

And that isn't all, just look at these photos - taken shortly afterwards at the annual Animal Service at Christ Church.











We've already discovered that orbs are attracted by happiness, by worship, by music . . . I think, don't you, that we can now safely add that orbs share our affection for animals!

(See London's Orbs click here)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Orbs - In search of the numinous

This gets better and better! Please share some more incredible orb exploration.
I don’t want to sound fanciful, but I’m beginning to believe that you really can ‘feel’ when orbs are present.
In this first instance . . . but, no, we’ll let it speak for itself . . . it’s far more eloquent than I am . . .

Isn’t that breathtakingly beautiful? It was taken in Westminster Cathedral. Moving around very quietly so as not to distract or disturb anyone, I took several photos - all of which had orbs. I’m still marvelling at those photos. But in a strange way they didn’t come as a surprise. The whole building was redolent of spirit, you could feel it as you entered. To find orbs there was not unexpected, it was inevitable.

But all this exploration had been in Christian churches. I thought I would broaden my range of places of worship. Why not a synagogue?
Have you visited the magnificent New West End Synagogue in St. Petersburgh Place? Apparently it was built by the Rothschilds at the end of the nineteenth century, and is a Grade 1 Listed Building. I discovered that it is open to visitors between ten and one o'clock daily.
So, with my camera in my handbag, I set off.
On the web-site I had also discovered that visitors were requested to go round the back of the building and ring the bell.
This I did.
The door was answered by a very pleasant-faced rabbi.
"May I come in and see your beautiful church?" I asked
"Synagogue . . . " he corrected mildly.
It was not an auspicious start! But things could only get better, and get better they did. He was a delightful guide, not only was I allowed to take photos, I was actively encouraged to do so.
The interior is magnificent, but, more than that, it exudes happiness, well-being and loving care.
Hardly surprising that it should boast resident orbs - I can make out three in this picture . . .

I know that many of my theories about orbs have come to nothing, but of one thing I am absolutely certain . . . orbs and tourists don't mix.
There were no orbs at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields (and I've been there three times), no orbs at St. Mary Abbott's, nor at St. Margaret's, Westminster. All are beautiful buildings, national treasures, but when I visited each one of them I encountered sightseers, not worshippers. I'm sure that they were respectful, interested and knowledgeable. But it would appear to be worship, music and happiness that attracts orbs . . . not curiosity.

Yes, I know, this doesn't explain the orbs at the school prize-giving (proud parents, happy students?). . . nor the orbs on the ceiling at The Ritz . . . but who ever said that mysteries need simple explanations!

(See London's Orbs click here)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Too much of a very good thing!

Remember the strasberries? Remember Shelagh’s ice-cream recipes web-site? Well, I’ve just participated in another ice-cream venture and it’s left me a little . . . no, we won’t anticipate. Let’s start at the beginning.

Poor Shelagh, I felt so sorry for her. There she was, up in Cumbria, with a master gelatiere, Gino Soldan, coming to display his talents in Morelli’s Gelato at Harrods. Had it been humanly possible for her to get here, I know she would. As it was, all she could do was to phone and enlist the help of someone who, although possessing a camera, had very limited knowledge on the subject of ice-cream.

“Could you,” she’d asked hopefully down the ‘phone, “go to Harrods whilst Gino is there to take his photograph? He’s agreed to be featured on the website, and a photo . . . perhaps two photos . . . would make all the difference . . . ?”
“Of course,” I’d agreed, “I’ll be happy to go.”

And I was happy to go. The assignment intrigued me. I’d never met a master gelatiere, I hadn’t even known there were such people.
It would be fascinating to meet him . . . to see his creations.
“I told him that you've worked for the BBC,” Shelagh had said, “this will give you credibility.”
I was a little worried about this aspect of the story. It's many years since I worked for the BBC. Might he expect coverage on the BBC News?
But I put this thought to one side. All I had to do was to take some photos . . . it should be simplicity itself.

Yes, I know, you’re smiling to yourself, anticipating complications! How right you are!
In accepting this assignment, it hadn't dawned on me that it would involve not only taking photos, but also consuming ice-cream . . . consuming vast quantities of ice-cream!

Gino, a charming as well as a talented man, was on the look-out for a woman with a camera. Barely had I taken three exploratory photos when he came across to speak to me. Willingly, he agreed to having his photo taken, but, clearly thinking that my knowledge of ice-cream ranked alongside that of Shelagh, insisted that I sampled one of his creations.
“A gift, from me. . . .” he insisted, “for the BBC!”
It would have been impossible to refuse. And, after all, who could want to refuse such a generous offer?
I thanked him and took my place on a high stool by the counter.
The ice-cream concoction took at least ten minutes to create. Finally, Gino reappeared bearing his masterpiece infront of him.
My face must have conveyed my feelings! It was magnificent . . . it was an incredible feat of inspiration and ingenuity. How could so much ice-cream . . . so much fruit . . . be contained in one glass bowl . . . ? But, equally, how on earth could I ever devour such a banquet?!

In half-an-hour I'd consumed as much ice-cream as I've eaten in the past five years! Not only that, every mouthful was eaten under the anxious, watchful gaze of the gentleman who'd created it . . . did I like it . . . what did I think of it . . . would I like some more . . . ?

At first I tucked in with genuine enjoyment, but, as you can see, it was a very generous creation. There was vanilla ice-cream . . . whipped cream . . . shortbread ice-cream . . . strawberries . . . blackberries . . . chocolate . . . coffee sauce . . . raspberries . . . banana ice-cream . . . do I need to continue?
What's more, I had to enjoy, and appear to enjoy, every mouthful. There was never the slightest question of not finishing it.
Finally, as I gulped down the last spoonful, Gino relaxed a little.
"You liked it . . . yes?"
"It was delicious . . . " I assured him.
"You live close? You come on Thursday, we have a special new blend . . . ?"
I gave what I hope was a grateful, appreciative smile . . . and fled!

So, please, for just a while, don't mention whipped cream . . . or clotted cream . . . and definitely not ice-cream!
Never has a period of stringent fasting sounded more attractive!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mirror . . . mirror . . .

Have you been to The Old Vic theatre in Bristol? If not, you've missed a treat. As I've told you, I was with the BBC in Bristol for several years so I enjoyed going to The Old Vic.
This memory came to mind yesterday when I was listening to the radio, they were talking about the considerable fuss that has arisen over plans to close the theatre for refurbishment. Apparently they are definitely closing, but there are no definite plans for re-opening. The theatrical world is up in arms. Every actor loves and venerates The Old Vic.

All this furore reminded me of my outstanding memory of the theatre - which, surprisingly enough, has nothing to do with plays or players.
As I remember it (and my memory could be playing tricks with precise details), as you entered the historic foyer of the theatre, there, on the left was a large, gilt-framed mirror. It was a beautiful, tall mirror which immediately captured your attention. Underneath the mirror, on a small, embossed notice, were the words:

"This mirror only reflects what is true and beautiful."

It was fascinating to watch the reactions of the theatregoers as they read this notice. They would laugh rather nervously, try to pretend that it was all a bit of a joke, but, when they finally looked into the mirror, it was with genuine trepidation. No-one seemed to have the confidence to expect to see their own reflection. Surely, they seemed to say, I can't really be considered true and beautiful? There was real relief, quickly masked with a joke, when they saw their own, rather anxious, faces reflected in the glass.

Why are we all like this? Why can we accept that all of creation is beautiful, truthful, and wondrous in every way . . . except for us?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Autumnal reflections . . .

Yes, I agree, I love the colours at this time of the year, but, for me, one of the most magical and wonderful qualities of Autumn is the scent.
Spring doesn't have a scent - not unless you think of the fresh smell of new greenery. The smell of Summer is one of heat and perspiration. Winter has no discernible scent. But Autumn . . . at a point about half-way through September you go out one morning and you sniff. And you stop in your tracks, and you wonder. Is it there? Is it really there? And then - rather like that wonderful moment in 'Lawrence of Arabia', when Omar Sharif shimmers onto the horizon and you wonder whether you're imagining it - you know for certain that the annual miracle has happened. Clearly detectable in the air is a haunting, wonderful perfume. It has arrived, every bit as real and tangible as a visitor stepping over your threshold and you taking their coat and making them welcome.

It is a magical, unmistakable scent. A scent that conjures up scuffing your way through deep leaves . . . and maturity . . . and ripeness . . . and dewy grass . . . and rich, autumnal sunsets. And you breathe it in and it has the instant effect of making life seem better, and happier and full of hope.
Don't you agree?

(a week later)

You're quite right . . . how could I forget the smell of a bonfire. And you haven't mentioned blackberries, and the sparkle of dew on the cobwebs that appear so miraculously on bracken and heather on Autumn mornings.
My favourite Autumn walk? Oh, it's hard to choose. Possibly the Kentish beech woods of my childhood, because this is where my love of Autumn started. .

I'll tell you something.
When I first went to boarding-school, as an only child I was both over-joyed to acquire so many companions, and over-whelmed at losing my customary solitude. The school was in the middle of a wood and I solved this problem perfectly.
Right in the middle of the wood, way off any path, was an ancient beech tree. It was so venerable that the branches touched the ground in a circle round the trunk. To push your way through the branches was to find yourself in a natural cathedral.
I named it Jonathan. And Jonathan was my support and friend. Whenever life got too busy, too perplexing or too complicated . . . I'd slip away and spend an hour with Jonathan.

Speaking from personal experience, I'd say that we all need a Jonathan in our childhood!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Waiting for Auntie

Good morning. .. . what a glorious morning . . .

Did I tell you that I’m meeting Beverly this afternoon for tea at The Royal Garden Hotel? It’s our quarterly act of sheer self-indulgence. To sit there, sipping tea, gazing out over Kensington Gardens, and being thoroughly spoiled . . . it dissolves anxieties, puts life in perspective, and sets you up, refreshed and revitalised, for the next three months.
If the English version is anything to go by, I can fully understand the value placed on the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Which reminds me, did I ever tell you how once, in my youth, I spent a night at the world-famoous Carlton Hotel in Cannes?
Sit back . . . it's a good story!
I was working as a grape-picker at the time, was totally impecunious, and was awaiting the arrival of an equally impecunious friend at Nice airport. Her flight was delayed and, when she did arrive, we'd missed the last 'bus back to the vineyard in Frejus.
Where to spend the night? It was hardly possible to sleep on the beach.
Then inspiration struck. After tidying ourselves up and straightening our skirts (there weren't any jeans in those days), we polished up our best English accents and strolled nonchalantly into the lounge of the Carlton Hotel. We were, we told the porter, waiting for 'Auntie'. `He smiled indulgently. We smiled back. We then settled down in the comfortable chairs and 'waited'.
The hours went by, the afternoon turned into evening . . . no 'Auntie. Evening turned into night . . . and still 'Auntie' had failed to arrive. The Night Porter took over from the Day Porter, but, as he'd clearly been told that we were waiting for 'Auntie'. he didn't disturb us. Come morning, with still no 'Auntie' in sight, we apologised profusely to the staff, said that there must have been some misunderstanding . . . and hurried off to catch the bus back up the mountain!

Scandalous behaviour . . . I'd never tolerate such duplicity in my god-daughter today!!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Orbs . . . ? Music made manifest . . . ?


I'm lost for words . . I don't know whether I'm excited . . . or overwhelmed . . . ? Whether I'm delighted . . . or totally confused . . . ?
Has the Large Hadron Collider collided with my camera?
But enough of inadequate words. I'm going to give you the bare facts and let the pictures speak for themselves.

As you know, I went to the Albert Hall the other night. A kind friend, who hadn't been able to use her tickets for the Proms, had given them to me. I'd invited Anna to join me.

There were three parts to the programme. The first was Vaughan Williams' 'Sinfonia antartica'. Then after an interval, came 'Pleiades', a contemporary composition by Xenakis, written for percussion. Finally, after another interval, there was 'The Planets' suite by Holst. I anticipated enjoying the first and last items, whilst sitting baffled and ear-battered through the second.

In the hope of maybe photographing orbs, I'd taken my camera. After the opening symphony I took a photo, which later proved to be unremarkable. Then came the first interval. Anna and I went out and stretched our legs, returning for the 'Pleiades'.

At first I was totally blown away . . . the frantic rhythm . . . the incessant vibration . . . the sheer volume of noise. Then, slowly, it began to win me over. More than that, I totally succumbed . . . it was utterly magnificent! Six young percussionists, 4-Mality, and O Duo, working in utter unison . . . the vitality . . . the discipline . . . the energy . . . the dedication . . . I was utterly enthralled. It lasted for forty minutes - forty amazing, quivering minutes - then it was all over and the audience relaxed into ecstatic clapping.
I took out my camera . . . .










Can you explain it . . . can you understand it . . . ?
What are they . . . ? Sound waves . . . ? Angels . . . ? Musical notes made manifest . . . ?













Not knowing what incredible 'things' I was recording, I continued to take photographs.







The next one, of the audience, was taken minutes after the ones you've just seen. Clearly the amazing energy was still in the air, lighting up the hall (in fact, I was surprised at the time that there seemed little or no need for the flash, even though the hall appeared as dark as before). Can you see the orb just infront of the pillars?


It wasn't until after the interval that I looked into the viewer. You can imagine my incredulity!
Had my camera gone beserk?
I showed them to Anna. She was equally stunned.
Tentatively, I took a photo of the audience reassembling . . . the camera showed nothing unexpected.




Finally, after The Planet Suite, I took my last photo of the evening. Everything was reassuringly back to normal, with nothing more spectacular than a beautiful, ordinary orb.

Ridiculous, isn't it, to describe the marvel of orbs as 'ordinary', but that was how they felt after the amazing sights that had gone before.

I don't know . . . I just don't know . . . I'm lost for words.

Bless you for sharing my amazement.


(See London's Orbs click here)

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Story of the Long-Distance Strasberry

Oliver, as you know, is my god-son. His mother, a dear friend of mine for over thirty years, designs websites. In addition, she has her own website on which she provides ice-cream recipes. Such is the popularity of her website that she has hundreds of hits every day. Not only does she provide recipes, but each recipe comes accompanied by a story. It could be a story of how that particular ice-cream was invented . . . of the celebrities over the years who have promoted it . . . of where the ingredients come from . . .

Which is where we come to the story of 'The Long Distance Strawberry'!
To be precise, it isn't a strawberry - it's a 'strasberry'. What is a strasberry? I didn't know until yesterday, then I learned that it is a recent hybrid, a cross between a strawberry and a raspberry that has been produced in Holland. It is delicious, it is very delicate, it is hard to come by . . . and the only place, believe it or not, where it can be bought in the UK is at Waitrose in Kensington High Street! Or so, Shelagh, my friend in Cumbria was told.

Directly she'd read about this wonderful delicacy she'd straightway thought about incorporating strasberries into a new ice-cream recipe. But how to get hold of this new fruit? She phoned the producer in Holland, he told her of the run on his new product and said that her only hope of any remaining would be, as I said, down here in Kensington. She phoned Waitrose in the High Street . . . they had none in stock, but hoped to have a few punnets on Thursday!

Well, you can guess what happened next! Shelagh phones me with a most unusual request. Could I possibly go to Waitrose, take some photos of the precious fruit, package up two punnets very carefully and post them to Cumbria? I was only too happy to help. I, too, phoned Waitrose and spoke to a helpful man named Neil. Neil promised to have two punnets waiting for me this morning.

And so it was that I arrived at Waitrose at nine-fifteen. I located Neil. He took me to the fruit counter . . . shock horror, one of the precious punnets had been taken, there was only one left! Poor Neil was so mortified by the loss of the punnet, that he insisted on giving me the remaining one 'courtesy of Waitrose'.

I thanked him profusely, then asked if I could take a photo of him with the strasberries. If, I explained, they arrived in Cumbria indistinguishable from a strawberry mousse, at least we would have the photos to recall what they had looked like. Going a little pink with embarrassment, Neil agreed.

I then carried the precious punnet to the Post Office where I packaged it up in the box I'd taken for the purpose . . . plenty of bubble-wrap . . . coccoons of selotape . . . copious instructions saying THIS SIDE UP and FRAGILE and PERISHABLE . . . and it's now on its way to Cumbria.

IF it arrives intact . . . IF Shelagh can then transform the strasberries into a delicious new ice-cream . .. then the accompanying story on the web-site will be all about the strasberries' epic journey- together with the photo of Neil!
If all this takes place, you can be sure I'll send you the web-site!


4.30 on Friday

I've just had a phone call from Shelagh.
At mid-day, so she told me, the postman had come hurrying up to their door. In his hands he'd held a package which, rather disturbingly, was oozing thick globules of deep pink liquid. The accompanying correspondence, bills, junk mail and letters, was also richly stained.
"What do you want me to do with this?" he'd asked, “I don’t think it’s body parts - it smells too good!”
Shelagh had looked down at the dripping package. After offering the postman a shortened version of the story, she had carefully carried the package into the kitchen where, on the table, the ingredients for the ice-cream were sitting awaiting its arrival. Taking a sharp knife, Shelagh had delicately removed the soggy cardboard, the bubble-wrap and the plastic container. With a spoon, she had cautiously probed the contents. There weren't enough undamaged strasberries to make up the ice-cream she'd planned . . . but, if she reduced the recipe by fifty per cent . . . ?
This she did. The remaining strasberries were crushed and mixed with the other ingredients . . . the ice-cream was whipped and stirred and folded into its bowl . . . the resultant, sweet-smelling conglomeration was put into the freezer.
However, before it went in, both Shelagh and Oliver took a spoon . . . and tasted this exotic new strasberry mixture . . . which, according to Shelagh and Oliver, is very good indeed!

I'm just a little sad that Cumbria is so far away . . . I would rather have liked to have had a spoonful myself!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Brief encounter

Remember how I told you that I was going to St. Ethelburga’s today? How I’d read their web-site and was going for the mid-day meditation, as well as seeing if I could photograph any orbs? Little did I anticipate what was going to happen . . . who I was going to meet . . .
No, I'm not going to tell you. I've no intention of spoiling a good story by giving away all the highlights in advance . . . you'll just have to read on!

I arrived at St. Ethelburga's at twelve-fifteen. This, so I thought, would give me time to look around and take photos before the meditation started. I nearly missed the church, such a small door tucked into the wall. Luckily, it caught my eye and I entered through the iron gate and up the passage into the garden.
The whole place appealed to me at first sight, it exuded peace, and welcome. It also had the sense of being the hub of a working community. However, as I entered the building, I was reminded of the story of 'The Marie Celeste'. The table by the door was piled high with food. There was a steaming thermos of coffee, and another one of tea. Alongside these, there were plates of cakes, and other plates of biscuits. There were cups, and saucers, and napkins - but not a soul was to be seen or heard. The smell of coffee was very tempting - particularly as I'd come out in a hurry and forgotten to bring any lunch. As a distraction from all this bounty, I decided to go and investigate The Tent.

What a wonderful concept. I loved the windows - extolling every faith - the comfortable seats, the instruction to remove your shoes, the traditional construction. I sat down and quietly meditated for a moment or two before going back into the church.

Once back in the main building my attention was caught by the scraping sound of chairs being pushed back. Curious, I went towards the chapel - and there I had a shock.
As you know, the chapel is behind a plate glass wall. A passage runs along the near side of the glass, from which you can see in. Standing in this passage I was surprised and disappointed to see a gathering of people in the chapel. Clearly I'd misread the announcement on the web-site. The meditation started at twelve-fifteen, not twelve-forty-five. I was cross with myself for having made such a stupid mistake, but all wasn't lost. If I walked very quietly down the passage alongside the glass wall, I could sit in the comfortable chair that was positioned at the end of the passage and feel that I was a part of the group. As quietly as I could manage, I crept along the passage. It was a very comfortable chair positioned at the end, it looked just as though it was sitting there awaiting someone. Gratefully, I sat down and started to meditate.

After no more than five minutes I once again heard the scrape of moving chairs. I opened my eyes to see that all those in the chapel were now on their feet. I, too, rose to my feet as the door from the chapel into the passageway burst open . . . a figure was hurrying towards me . . . to my total astonishment I found myself face to face with Rowan Williams . . . !

It was one of those bizarre moments. A moment when a face, so familiar through television and the Press, suddenly, and unexpectedly, takes on physical reality . . .

Panic took over. . . !
The chair . . . ? The chair that I’d been sitting in . . . ? Surely this was the rightful occupant of the chair . . . ?
The Archbishop looked at me, and smiled . . . clearly he thought I was part of some reception committee. I smiled back . . . it didn't seem the moment to tell him that I was there
by mistake . . . that I had nothing whatsoever to do with St. Ethelburga's . . . and that I only wished I'd never sat in his chair! He continued to smile, his eyebrows raised enquiringly . . . I continued to smile apologetically . . . heaven knows how long we'd have stood there - our smiles becoming more enquiring, more apologetic - had not the vicar put in a merciful appearance.
The vicar pulled the Archbishop to one side and I tried to make good my escape. It was useless, they were blocking the way. The vicar then turned to me. Clearly, having found me with the Archbishop, he, too, thought I was someone of note.
"I'm so sorry," I blurted out, still convinced that I’d missed the meditation group, "I mistook the time . . . I arrived late . . . "
"But you made it!" exclaimed the vicar enthusiastically, clasping both of my hands in his, "I'm so pleased you made it!"
This time I did manage to get away. Not before I'd looked back and been tempted by a thought. Had I the audacity to go back to the Archbishop and say, "Please your Eminence (or whatever you call an Archbishop), may I take your photo?"
You'll be grateful to hear that I lacked the nerve!
As I came out into the courtyard I was approached by a very pleasant, fresh-faced woman.
"Have you come for the meditation?" she asked, "It's starting in a moment. We have it in The Tent."

And so it was that I ended up in The Tent. What the other service was I've no idea - it didn't seem the moment to enquire. The Tent was bright and welcoming, there were ten people for meditation, and it was a wonderful and profound experience - by this time I felt truly in need!
I did return to the chapel before I left. As one would expect after the visit of an Archbishop, there was a beautiful bright orb at the top left of the picture (just to the right of the light) and more can be seen against the woodwork behind the altar.

A memorable day . . . ? Definitely a memorable day!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Orbs - A scientific study . . .

All right, I know that you want to remain open-minded on the subject of orbs. In many ways, it’s helpful that you should. It makes me all the keener to be sure of my facts.

With this in mind, have you the time to share a scientific experiment?
Well . . . perhaps not strictly scientific, but it was as fair and free of influence as I could make it. After all, I can’t influence my camera.

This morning I determined to see what a photographic survey of well-known establishments in Piccadilly would produce. So far, orbs have favoured churches, they also seem to be attracted to music. But what about shops . . . or galleries . . . ? Do people need to be happy or worshipful to attract orbs . . . ? They were at Farm Street . . . would they be at St. James's? And what about Fortnums . . . or Hatchards . . . or the Burlington Arcade . . . ? I got on a bus and set off to find out.

I know it sounds silly, but it’s years since I went on what you’d call a sight-seeing trip on a bus. I didn't just find orbs. I discovered all sorts of changes along the way. Buildings that had gone . . . new buildings that had appeared . . . crocuses in the park . . . blossom on the trees . . . a University of Malaysia most surprisingly in Piccadilly . . . many more cake shops . . . and coffee shops . . . and did you know that there is now a boat ferrying passengers across the Serpentine? I was every bit as intrigued as any tourist! At the Piccadilly end of the Burlington Arcade there was the most wonderful, golden, French, chocolate shop, dealing exclusively in the most beautiful and appetising chocolate and strawberry meringues . . . a dream of a shop. I'd never seen that before.

And so I took photographs . . . I rather like this one of the Burlington Arcade (you can see the golden, French, 'chocolatiere' on the right . . .

- and I photographed Hatchards, and Fortnums's and the Piccadilly Arcade.

Finally, I reached St. James's. Here, my anxiety levels heightened, for this was what it was all about. I didn't really expect orbs in the Burlington Arcade, but surely . . . in St. James's . . . and it didn't fail me . . .


- can you see it? Above the altar, on the right . . . ? And I think there's another small one near the bottom, also on the right.

Needless to say, there were none in Hatchards or Fortnums - although I'm fast accumulating a collection of photos of London commerce that I'm rather pleased with. Do you think anyone would like them for a web-site . . . ?!

I've returned feeling rather like an explorer returning to base camp - glad to be home, but very pleased that I went!

(To see London's Orbs click here)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A penny for my thoughts!

You ask if collecting for Christian Aid was fun.

Well . . . fun could be one word for it, I could think of plenty others!

Contributions didn’t exactly come in a steady flow. In the course of an hour and a half only fourteen people had dropped money into the bucket. Nonetheless, that was better than thirteen!

However, there’s one thing I must say - the outcome of my efforts on behalf of Christian Aid may have been very slight, but the outcome of my efforts on behalf of lost tourists was immense! Dozens of them, mainly Italians, streamed past me looking confused and uncertain. All were heading towards Shepherds Bush, and all stopped to ask me the way to the Portabello Market. I turned them round, cheered them up, and sent them off happily in the right direction. Perhaps I should also add that, despite being profuse in their gratitude for having been saved a long walk in the wrong direction, not one of them put a penny in the bucket!

Would you like to share a laugh? . I didn’t feel like laughing at the time, but I can just about smile now!

The weather seemed to be deteriorating, so I returned for a second stint earlier than I'd intended. I had hardly been there five minutes when I was approached by a stocky Irishman in jeans and a sleeveless singlet. He put a handful of copper coins into the bucket and then, as though this gesture had bought my attention, proceeded to do an excellent imitation of the Ancient Mariner! Fixed by his beady eye, I heard all about the railway extension works at Shepherds Bush, and the impressive new overheard railway that was planned. I then learned, in great detail, of the corruption in Ireland . . . of the Fascist and the Communists in power (did I really look that naive?) . . . and did I, he demanded, know of the wonderful holiday I could enjoy, should I ever have the wisdom to visit Ireland?

By this time, hemmed in and desperate, I was quietly praying for a diversion . . . but no diversion arrived. What really goaded me was the thought of all the people walking past. People, maybe of generous intent, who couldn't even see my bucket, far less reach round his ample frame to put an offering of money inside!

Finally, after three false starts which raised my hopes to no avail, my inquisitor departed as speedily as he'd arrived. Was he drunk? I couldn't smell beer? Was he on drugs? It seemed unlikely. I think he was just a loquacious Irishman who recognised a sitting target when he saw one!

One further memorable encounter to share with you. It came half-way through the second session. There had been a long interval since the last contribution when I spotted an attractive girl, probably in her twenties, cycling along the pavement. She was weaving her way through the shoppers and, on seeing me, dismounted.

She propped her bicycle against a wall and came across to where I was standing.
"What are you collecting for?" she asked.
I explained about Christian Aid, pointing out how countries suffering from natural disasters were in desperate need of such support.
She stood and listened.
I came to an end and paused hopefully.
My new encounter turned away and reclaimed her bike.
"Just nosey . . . " she explained with a grin as, remounting, she blithely cycled off!

One thing I've learned is that donations come from where you least expect them. I was touched by the gift from the man with Downs Syndrome, by the generosity of a lad with a heavy limp, and the contribution from the young Malaysian girl who didn't look as though she could afford a cup of coffee, far less give money away.

There isn't much rattling inside my bucket . . . but you can’t buy wisdom, and I'm a great deal wiser!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mouse at large! (2)

You'll remember the mouse who got left behind on the window-sill when the scaffolding went down. I'm totally baffled as to how to rescue him/her. Any suggestions?

As you can see, he/she has burrowed out a positive stately home below the roots of the long-suffering petunias in the window-box! What I'm beginning to wonder (and worry) is whether there could be more than one mouse? True, I only saw one, but what if there were a whole family of them hiding in the background?
As for the trip-trap that should be solving all my difficulties, I've a nasty suspicion that it may be too small. Do you think they sold me an 'ant-trap' instead of a 'mouse-trap'? Whatever the reasons, the trap - set with stilton and cranberry as instructed- has proved a positive Mecca for the ants, but of no interest whatsoever to the elusive mouse! I've just closed the trap door down for the evening, perhaps in the morning, when it's more familiar with this strange arrival, the mouse will venture in.
You don’t think so . . . ? No . . . to be honest, nor do I!


(a week later)

Straw was a wonderful idea on your part, but, as with all things concerned with my window-sill wildlife, it posed problems!

"Straw . . . " I asked hopefully at the pet shop.
The assistant disappeared and returned staggering under a bale that would have bedded down a small pony.
I looked at it aghast . . . where could I put such a quantity . . . under the bed . . . ?
"It's only one small mouse . . . " I said (in point of fact it could be more than one, but this didn't seem the moment to burden her with my difficulties).
She looked at me, a little pityingly, and led me to the supply of stores at the back of the shop. Here were vast bales of straw . . . but also, I noticed with relief, smaller bales that were labelled 'Organic Hay'.
"I'll have the hay," I told her.
Back at the cash-till, waiting to pay, I noticed a pile of packets. Inside were small red, cubes which, so the packets claimed, were carrot-flavoured vitamin chews for rodents.
What the hell . . . in for a penny . . . so I bought a packet of those as well!
My mouse (mice?) has now cost me seven pounds in hay and vitamin pills, but at least I'll have peace of mind during the next downpour!

LATER

From the depths of a snug, hay-lined, up-turned flower-pot, the mouse asks me to give you his/her heartfelt gratitude.
After all, as long as the mouse is happy (which it seems to be), why shouldn't it enjoy a long and happy life on my window-sill? No predators, a constant supply of nourishing food, hay to curl up in, strange human figures to wonder at through the window . . . perhaps the whole thing was a carefully planned coup? Not so much an accident as a planned invasion of squatters!
I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A left-over mouse . . . (1)

Oh dear . . . I can’t believe it. Look directly behind the unicorn's tail on this photo and you'll see a small, inquisitive mouse peering in through my window. I couldn't believe it when I saw it.

How on earth did it get there? This is the third floor, for heaven’s sake! Can it get back to ground level? Is it expecting me to rescue it . . . ??!!
Help . . Now, let’s be calm and rational about this. It must have been left behind when the workmen removed the scaffolding. Short of flying, that’s the only way it could have got here.
Do you see its beautiful, round ears? Surely that means that it’s a field mouse, rather than a house mouse? It really has a very beguiling expression.

But what do I do . . . ? What is the poor thing going to eat . . . ? Is there any way that I could catch it . . .?

Clearly I can’t tell you any more at the moment. But, as soon as there are any further developments . . . well, you’ll be the first to know!


((four days later)

There have been developments . . . after seeking advice from all and sundry, I have purchased a trip trap.
What is a trip trap? Well, it’s supposed to entice the mouse inside, without harming it. Once inside, it keeps it safe, but contained, until you empty it out to enjoy a new life, preferably at the far end of the garden.

I consulted the pleasant girl who served me at the pet shop as to how best to set the trap. What did she advise as a lure, I wanted to know, cheese or peanuts?
"Something sweet," she said, with the air of one who knew about such things, "I'd recommend a piece of cheese coated with cranberry sauce."
Thinking this over, I can't help wondering how, in the course of an uneventful life in the garden, my mouse could have cultivated such exotic tastes. Nonetheless, cheese with cranberry sauce he/she will get.

I don't intend setting the trap until the weekend. To be trapped in a plastic tube in this heat would be terrible - even in the company of cheese and cranberry sauce. Even worse would be to be trapped in a thunderstorm. The poor little creature could die of fright. So, come a cooler weekend, I'll set the trap and await events. What's the betting that he/she will be a vegan who has sworn to abstain from dairy products! Or, far more likely, that after having so established himself/herself in the window-box (there is now a spacious back entrance as well as a front one) she/he will be crafty enough to remove the bait without getting trapped!!

I'll keep you posted!