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)