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!


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!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The story of the unused sketch books

Before I forget, I promised you a story with a moral - the story of the unused sketch books. You remember my friend, Susan, the friend who came down to Box Hill and walked with me on the hill? This is her story as she told it to me.

Susan’s mother’s second marriage was to Barrie, a man twenty-one years her junior. They married when she was forty-two and he was twenty-one. You can imagine the unsupportive comments, the misgivings, the doubts. Well, everyone was proved wrong (everyone, that is, except for Barrie and Susan’s mother). Their marriage lasted for forty years until Barrie died suddenly and unexpectedly a month ago, leaving Susan’s mother, now aged eight-two, absolutely devastated.

Susan had also been devoted to Barrie. On learning of his death, she and her husband hurried north to offer support to the grieving widow. To spare her emotional stress, they worked together clearing out Barrie’s possessions Much to their surprise as, to their knowledge, Barrie had never sketched, they found at least thirty untouched sketch books.

There were sketch books in the study, in the bedroom, kitchen, living room, workshop, shed, caravan, car and in assorted bags and pockets. Some of the sketch books were still in their original paper wrapping, seemingly untouched. Only one had been used. This was a sketch book in the garden shed in which Barrie had carefully and lovingly sketched the view from the shed to the back of the house, together with a reverse angle showing the view from the house to the shed. Both sketches had been drawn with painstaking care and attention to detail. As Susan said to me, some people want to cruise the world before they die, Barry just wanted to draw a better shed.

No-one, not even Susan’s mother, had known of Barrie’s desire to sketch. He had always been so busy. His job had been busy and, when at home, he had loved doing repairs and work around the house. There had always been a task needing to be done. But somewhere, in the back of his mind, must have lurked this insistent desire to express himself on paper. Why else had be bought a sketch book every time be visited a new town, every time he and his wife went on holiday? Had he, on each occasion, thought that this new sketch book would be the one that would finally get him started? That this time, at long last, he would really get down to doing what he wanted to do, what he needed to do?

We’ll never know. All that Susan and I knew for certain, as she told me this touching story, was that, come what may, people should do whatever it is that they feel an urge to do. The repairs can wait, the outings can wait, we none of us should die at sixty-one leaving thirty barren sketch books behind - sketch books that will never cease to haunt all those who loved and remember us.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A new flight path at Heathrow!

What a day! Just in case it's one's next-of-kin who is notified when you're marched off to the police station (I'm afraid I don't know the protocol in such matters) perhaps you should know that if someone at Heathrow is over-attentive to the CCTV cameras I could be arrested!

Pravina came today. Do you remember me telling you about Pravina? She's my teacher friend from Mumbai. This was her first organised trip out of India and she’d visited six European countries in twelve days, ending up yesterday in London. This, her final day, was to be spent with me.

She arrived at eight-thirty. A wonderful, bubbling character, bursting with excitement and news of all her adventures. Bearing in mind that she’d only seen Central London, I asked her if she'd like to visit Richmond Park and the Upper Thames. She was thrilled. Everyone on her coach, I gathered, had invariably wanted to go shopping when asked what they wanted to do, she had wanted to see nature and hadn't had the opportunity.

The Upper Thames at Ham proved an enormous success. Such is my woeful ignorance of Hindu practices that I was a little startled when Pravina, a devout Hindu, strode down to the water's edge and drank liberally from her cupped hands. I wouldn’t have fancied Thames-water myself, but, drunk in a spirit of faith and trust, it will. I’m sure, prove beneficial. Richmond Park was also popular, as was lunch at Kingston Lodge. Pravina was due to pick up her suitcase from the Sheraton Hotel by 3.30. As we sped down the motorway to Heathrow, she thanked me profusely for having provided a tranquil end to her hectic holiday.

Tell me, have you ever got hopelessly lost at Heathrow? I'd never driven there before, and, believe you me, I've no desire to do so again. We drove down a long, poorly-lit tunnel, that we learned later was not for the general public, then tried to turn in a bus station and nearly got arrested. Rushing on, it’s impossible to stop, we passed a 'No Entry' sign that we didn't notice, sought help from an official who threatened a hefty fine, and finally regained the dual-carriageway only to see the Sheraton Hotel mocking us tantilisingly from the far side.

Eventually there was a gap allowing us to cross through the central section and turn back. A few minutes later we drew up by the Sheraton’s 'Entry' sign. So far so good, but there was no way in. Entry was barred by one of those barriers that only lift up if you put an identification card in the slot. I had no such card. However, having overcome all obstacles up to this point, we were determined not to be defeated by a mere barrier. The gap to the left of the barrier was quite wide. My car is only small. After a quick check to see whether anyone was watching, I drove up on the pavement, skirted round the barrier, sped up the drive, and finally deposited an unperturbable Pravina at the front door of the hotel!

Justice should have ensured me a quiet journey home. Not on your life! My troubles had only just started. Getting out of the hotel complex was nothing like as simple as getting in. Heaven knows why any hotel should try to prevent cars from coming in; or, come to that, why they should want to stop those that are in from getting out. But wherever I drove there was a wretched barrier that wouldn't lift up! Eventually, all other avenues having been explored, I decided that desperate measures were called for.

Praying that no-one was watching, I sped in the wrong direction down the now familiar 'In' driveway. As I once again mounted the pavement to skirt the barrier, I met another car head-on. The startled driver braked in surprise. Rushing past him with an apologetic smile, I made the junction . . . and the open road . . . and, finally, the motorway back to London!

Looking back over her holiday, I think Pravina will consider that her day with me was more memorable than she’d anticipated . . . and for totally unexpected reasons!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Orbs . . . ? (2)

Yes, I know what you’re saying . . . and I can understand you being sceptical . . . but, please, look at this picture. . . . look at it quietly for one minute. Look at the larger orb, which looks for all the world like a stained glass window . . . and the smaller, brighter orb to its left (you can ignore the silverpaper star made by the Sunday School!) . . .

If, at the end, you say to yourself, "Refractions of light in the lenses!", then so be it. But, if you do, may I ask you to consider that I've taken over eight hundred photos on this camera. The only times that I've had problems with refractions on the lenses have been at St. George's, St. Bride's and Farm Street (with the single exception of that photo of the sunset on Christmas Day). In over seven hundred and eighty photos there has been no refractional trouble at all. I've sent you a great many photos, look back at them and see for yourself.

Now your friend may well be perfectly correct. I may be utterly delusional and gullible. The whole subject may be moonshine. No-one likes to think of themselves as credulous and gullible, but if that's the case, I accept it.

On the other hand, what if I’m right? Just think about it, what if these refractions are orbs? Then it's something quite amazing . . . quite mind-blowing . . . quite incredible.
And, if there's the slightest possibility that I am right, can't you understand my anxiety that you should share this excitement and this wonder?

One last request. Look at the second photo, same place, same angle . . . look at the 'shooting orb' . . . can you really call that refraction?

Be a Doubting Thomas by all means, you are fully entitled to be, but please allow me the very smallest possibility of being right.

(to see London's Orbs click here)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Orbs . . . ?

Boxing Day 2007

Did you see the wonderful sunset yesterday evening? The sunset that followed all the rain - rather like a rainbow!

What makes this photo so interesting is not the sunset, it's the faint, white circles that you can see etched out against the sky.

Can you see them? They're known as 'orbs', and I've recently come across a book on this fascinating subject. Apparently they’re appearing on any number of digital photos. This is the first time I've recorded one - even more remarkable to think that it happened on Christmas Day. Orbs are nothing to do with the camera, and everything to do with . . . but, no, that can wait until my next letter!

Ten days later

This isn’t urgent, so please put it to one side until you have the time. It's something I'd appreciate you reading slowly and thoughtfully as I'd like to know your feelings.

Let's start with the photo of the orb on the crib. I must have taken at least thirty photos since that one of the sunset on Christmas Day, and there hasn't been the slightest hint of an orb on any of them. Photos of friends, photos of my cousins, more sunsets, pictures of Rupert . . . and not a single orb. Until this morning . . .

As you know, I was going with a friend to Farm Street for the Epiphany service. I love going to Farm Street. It is such a beautiful church. I love the singing, the incense, the challenge of following the Latin text, the lighting of a candle afterwards and remembering those who are dear to me. I love it all. All right, perhaps I'm not wholly in agreement with the Creed or some of the testaments of belief, but the sense of worship is tangible . . . you can almost reach out and touch the angels at Farm Street.

So when I left home this morning I popped my camera in my handbag. The thought did cross my mind that if the orbs had needed a sunset on Christmas Day to put in an appearance, then surely Epiphany at Farm Street would get them going? I took six photos. When I examined them on the computer I found that three had orbs, three had not. And the orbs weren't on a sequence of photos, they were dotted randomly. You've seen the one by the crib, in another an orb was hovering over the altar, in the third there were three orbs dancing over the choir balcony. On the others - better compositions, photographically speaking, than the ones with the orbs - there isn't an orb in sight.

Yes, I know. I don't understand it either. All I do know is that the photographs I've taken of orbs have been on occasions when you could feel the angels in the air. More than that is pure speculation.

Please let me know what you think of my very surprising Epiphany at Farm Street.

(To see London's Orbs click here)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Too good to eat . . . !

Did I tell you that I’d been invited to a strawberry tea at the House of Lords? No, I don’t think I did. I agree that it seems totally unlikely, something way outside my normal orbit, but thanks to the kindness of a dear friend, and my participation, many years ago, in the launch of . . . but no, you don’t want to hear all this. Let me tell you what happened today. There is also a story to make you laugh, but that comes later.

The tea was to launch ‘The Village Well’ - an inspiring and innovative social enterprise project. Our host, a Lord who was himself a GP and a keen supporter of complementary medicine, had invited about fifty guests, and we were to present ourselves at the House of Lords at three-thirty. When you’ve always looked upon the House of Lords as no more than an imposing backdrop to sweep past in the bus, there needs to be a considerable mental shift when you find yourself approaching, invitation in hand, in the role of potential guest. I mingled with the other guests on the pavement, all of us trying to look worthy of the splendour of the occasion, but finding it hard to curb our excitement. At three-thirty, on the dot , I displayed my ticket at the door and was formally ushered in.

The whole event was moving . . . and memorable . . . and magnificent . . . The surroundings were mind-blowing. You didn’t want to be there as a guest, you wanted to be a fly on the wall so that you could just stand back and drink it all in - freed of the need to converse and the anxiety that you were in the right place and doing the right thing.

The first ‘right place’ was the splendid room where we assembled for drinks. Heavily ornate, it demanded robes and flunkeys, not a crowd of eager tea-goers in their best summer clothes. The tea took place in a room overlooking the river. In no way could you forget where you were as a vast window offered panoramic views both up and down the Thames. And, if you weren’t hypnotised by the scene out of the window, your attention was captured by the splendid ceiling. Draped with fabric, and hung with chandeliers, it transformed the room into a fabulous Eastern tent.

Never have I met more people whom I really wanted to get to know - fascinating people from all over the world. People of all faiths and all walks of life. A most impressive woman who had worked to get complementary medicine accepted as part of the NHS in Northern Ireland. Another estimable woman who worked with long-term prisoners and their families. A very engaging man who persuaded me to get his new book on the scientific origins of God! And our lordly host who insisted, most courteously - and, I’m sure, without really knowing who I was - that he would love me to come again!

Before leaving, we were offered drinks on the terrace. The boats chugged past below us, in the distance the rays of the evening sun reflected on the dome of St. Pauls. Way beyond . . . was that the Gherkin? What an incredible view! What a privilege to be there. As we stood, sipping champagne under the slowly revolving gaze of The London Eye, no-one could have doubted that The Village Well had received the launch in deserved.

And now the quiet chuckle I promised you. I've only one regret (and don't repeat this because it makes me look terribly greedy!) but we really didn't do justice to a magnificent tea. Oh, I've never seen a more delicious and more lavish tea. There was every conceivable type of sandwich - all small and delicate; there were bowls of strawberries and bowls of cream; there were mouth-watering scones; there were stands of the most appetising and elegant cakes . . . yet no-one seemed to want to eat anything. I know that they were all eager to discuss the project, but it is possible to eat and talk. And, as I saw it, it was positively ungrateful to send such exquisite food back again.

So I started passing it round . . . I handed the sandwiches to the neighbour on my right . . . the scones to the neighbour on my left . . . I did my utmost to persuade them that it would be ungrateful to leave it all. But leave it - or most of it - we did. Not a single cake was eaten, half the sandwiches remained on their dishes, and bowls of strawberries remained untouched. I can't eat strawberries because of the acidity, but it did seem a shame. Mind you, I did have one of the scones with cream and jam and a lighter, more delicious and mouth-watering scone I've never tasted!

But, I don't know, perhaps it's better to come away visually satisfied (and it did look so beautiful), with not a trace of indigestion and not a whit of extra weight, than to have made a thorough pig of myself and regretted it afterwards!

Driving home in the bus, my mind strayed to the hope that perhaps those beautiful cakes and scones were not being wasted after all. Perhaps, at that very moment, they were providing an unexpected and welcome supper for the fish and wildfowl of the Thames.
Alas, I doubt it!