Sunday 29 April 2012

Before you are 11 and 3/4's

The National Trust is campaigning to encourage children to get out of doors and running around and they have put together a list of the 50 things children should do before they are 11 and 3/4. Even in the recent bad weather, I can't stand being inside for more than a few hours at a time - I love being on adventures out of doors!

The aim of the National Trust is to get children off the computer or away from the television and encourage them to enjoy the great outdoors and the joys of nature. A survey revealed a quarter of children never play outside, a third have never climbed a tree and 1 in 10 can't ride a bike. Meanwhile they spend an average of 4.5 hours each day in front of the TV or computer. ARG!

My form are 11 years old. I did a quick survey and the response was woeful! They really haven't PLAYED properly!! How disastrous it that?! The only thing to do is lead by example. Therefore, I have checked my score on the National Trust list, and intend to remedy the gaps, preferably with nieces and nephews in tow, before the Autumn Term begins in September. Meanwhile, in school, I am taking my pupils out every chance I get. You can't say you've lived unless you've done a good few of these things.

Check how you measure up! Remedy you inner child's need to play. You know you want to. Summer is, after all, the time to PLAY, especially when the weather is bad. :-)

1. Climb a tree - I lived up trees when I was a child. You had to work wonders to get me down.

2. Roll down a really big hill - Yes, Robin Hill, often. And memorably, as a teenager, after a quantity of Lambrini. Classy.

3. Camp out in the wild - Of course! And, I am going again in the next few weeks. I am learning how to be responsible enough to bring children wild camping. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

4. Build a den - Absolutely. Everyone needs a base camp in summer. Russell Park was our den.

5. Skim a stone - Our family had competitions! I was never the winner, but I loved to try!

6. Run around in the rain - Still do

7. Fly a kite - Often. And, in October 1987 it lifted me off my feet and I screamed!! I watched the same thing happen to Gemma and laughed!

8. Catch a fish with a net - Only once, at a Trout fishing farm in England somewhere. With Anto.

9. Eat an apple straight from a tree - All the time, every year.

10. Play conkers - Of course

11. Throw some snow - Whenever I get the chance

12. Hunt for treasure on the beach - What else do you do when the sea is FREEZING?

13. Make a mud pie - Naturally

14. Dam a stream - Not that I recall. I do remember trying to measure the depth of a very muddy stream with a stick though. I came out looking like a monster from the deep.

15. Go sledging - Yep.

16. Bury someone in the sand - I was normally the one who got buried.

17. Set up a snail race - I so have to do this. I saw a snails' nest this year and fell in love with it.

18. Balance on a fallen tree - Of course. And jumped up and down on it.

19. Swing on a rope swing - Over a river. Why do something only a little bit dangerous?

20. Make a mud slide - Not that I recall. We just used to wax the big old slide we had in the park and make it go VERY fast. We put cushions at the end to ensure a soft landing.

21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild - Every year.

22. Take a look inside a tree - Of course, looking for squirrels.

23. Visit an island - I was born on one. I live on another one. I have been to many. Isle de Re, Inis Oirr, Inis Meain, Mont Saint Michel, Skellig Michael.

24. Feel like you're flying in the wind - In Ireland on a windy day the wind made you fly.

25. Make a grass trumpet - And a pollen bomb, of course

26. Hunt for fossils and bones - Gemma still does this when she goes to Lyme.

27. Watch the sun wake up - Once, memorably, with my brother Stephen, having climbed down the cliffs at Malin Head especially to see it.

28. Climb a huge hill - Any chance I get

29. Get behind a waterfall - And do 'Last of the Mohican' impressions - 'I will find you! no matter how long it takes! No matter how far!'

30. Feed a bird from your hand - The little yellow chicken I held at New Grange Farm pooped on me and I laughed. I held a baby lamb that day too. It was a very happy day in my childhood.

31. Hunt for bugs - and collected them

32. Find some frogspawn - Found it, watched it hatch, loved the baby frogs hopping about when they arrived!

33. Catch a butterfly in a net - Never! But I have chased them!

34. Track wild animals - Foxes, badgers, cats, rabbits.

35. Discover what's in a pond - You mean by falling in?

36. Call an owl - How? I wish I could. I can do good impressions.

37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool - Of course!

38. Bring up a butterfly - How?

39. Catch a crab - Every year, with a rasher on a piece of string. Standard Hutton holiday activity.

40. Go on a nature walk at night - Yup.

41. Plant it, grow it, eat it - Of course. It's a life skill.

42. Go wild swimming - Under a waterfall, yes. And under Croagh Patrick in a thunder storm. More recently in the fjords of Oslo.

43. Go rafting - If this means floating down a river on a log, yes.

44. Light a fire without matches - Not sure. Not that I remember!

45. Find your way with a map and compass - Yes, but I prefer to get lost!

46. Try bouldering - Yes, and I love it.

47. Cook on a campfire - Chocolate bananas are my favourite.

48. Try abseiling - I love it very much, but have only done it a few times. When I was 11 I was never frightened. I wonder what I would be like now?

49. Find a geocache - I'm too old to have tried this, but I love the idea! I have been on plenty on non-technological treasure hunts!

50. Canoe down a river - Many times, and it is great fun!

Get out and complete your childhood adventures! Bring children with you. Enjoy!

Saturday 21 April 2012

Heaven is in the details (repost)

I published this is April 2008. I like it again now.

'Let us get right into the detail of being optimistic now. You see for me, the easiest way to stay joyful in daily life is to pay attention. Most of what worries us in life is big, non specific, an unknown looming creature. The truth is that in life's detail we find the most joy, and conversely the most sorrow.

Gemma took this picture of the apple blossom. It could have been taken in our garden, but I think she may have snapped it at the local nature reserve. To me it is a picture of optimism and happiness. I can be happy everyday when I look at the detail of Creation: the clouds, the wind against my face, the sunshine or the rain. But, when I try to think big, about the future, or the situation of the world I find optimism much more difficult. I do not think I can be alone. This does not mean that we should dis-associate ourselves from the bigger picture, but that we should always remember to give proportionate attention to the detail. In doing this we can remember that there is divine care for the world, that the little things are looked after, and if we play our part, people, those closest to us and those far away, will be looked after too.

In an excellent article about the role of attentiveness in poetry Ed Block comments: To pay attention, then, is our task. It is a challenge to live in that present that Lewis says is our only - though transitory - possession; a striving wakeful attentiveness that is openness and receptivity, and is also peace and selfless joy; as translucent (if not transparent) as the light of God that shines on all. And we take heart when we remember that, as Lewis says, "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

Poetry, Attentiveness and Prayer
Ed Block
New Blackfriars: A Review
Vol 89 No 1020
March 2008'

Friday 20 April 2012

Heavenly Fried Egg Pitta Pockets

You know those days when you arrive home from work totally exhausted, there's a pile of washing up and laundry, no food, and the prospect of a weekend at work? This is the cure for that. It won't make the work go away, but watching egg yolk fall off your partners chin will make you laugh, and with some decent tunes on the house work can be dealt with more easily than you first imagine. Fast Fridays are days to be thankful, isn't that what we always say: Thank God it's Friday.

For Two on a lazy Friday :-)

Heavenly Fried Egg Pitta Pockets

2 slices of wholemeal pitta bread
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 large tomatoes, finely sliced
4 free range eggs
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
a handful of thyme leaves
pinch of salt
an optional herb salad of a handful of parsley, coriander, dill and two handfuls of chives

Toast the pitta until it puffs up a bit, and cut the pieces in half, splitting the pockets open. Wrap them in a warm, clean tea towel to keep warm.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and slide the tomato slices in: cook for 30 seconds or so on either side and remove from the pan to a small plate. Next, crack the eggs and cook them how you like them. mine go sunny side up, but if you like over-easy, fair play. Sprinkle the spices evenly over them and take them off the heat. Fill each pitta with your tomato, your salad if you are using it, and a fried egg.

Eat straight away, messily and unselfconsciously. Drink a glass of wine. Repeat the recipe as required.

This recipe was taken from Veggiestan, a gift to me from Keith, Gemma's partner - it has the best things in it. I recommend it. They even have a blog. Look here!

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Friday Vegetarian

When I was little I went vegetarian. It must have been a sudden decision because I remember, rather arrogantly, sending back a meal my mother had cooked and announcing my new regime. It could have been during Lent, but I distinctly remember that it was all about not eating live moving things. I had a role model, of course, my big brother Dan was a vegetarian, and still is. Maybe I copied him, but I definitely developed principles: animals were not to be used or abused. In A- Level Ethics I learnt, and still teach today, Jeremy Bentham's famous quotation from The Introduction to Morals and Legislation: 

It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate [of torture and death]. What... should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse?...the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?... The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes... 
I stopped being vegetarian as suddenly as I began it. After 20 years of eating no meat I was faced with cooking a meal for 25 meat eaters on a regular basis, and just thought, 'I don't want to make something different for me.' Yes, I could have made dishes with no meat, but I didn't. I had long since fallen out of love with Utilitarianism as a moral theory: it couldn't protect the most vulnerable of humanity, never mind what it thought it could do for the animal kingdom and creation. Animals, alongside the rest of us, were in the pecking order of experimentation for the 'greater good' of the 'greatest population' residing in the future. So, I made a round of lasagnes and joined in. I have eaten a lot of different types of meat since, almost 4 years worth of eating things I did not know or could not remember. I do not suffer from the squemishness I sometimes see in others, 'I wouldn't eat a bunny! How could you?' The way I see it, if you are going to eat meat, learn where it comes from, prepare it, and don't make random distinctions on the basis of 'cuteness'. 

I am still trying to find a way to work out whether eating meat is moral. This far I have got. I would never want any new industrialised society to eat meat the way the West does. I would never want an any new industrialised society to use animals the way the West does. I believe it does damage to our society to industrialise the farming of meat in the way we have. Eating meat everyday damages our relationship with creation, with nature and with our society. I am not saying here that eating all meat is wrong, but that it is wrong in great quantities, and linked to greed. The world, creation, cannot afford it.

So, since the Church suggests people should fast on Fridays, and since my friends, twin sister and brother are all good vegetarians, the time has come for a new series: vegetarian fridays. Of course, the traditional vegetarian days of ancient monastic communities were Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so, feel free to branch out to three days a week. Twenty years of vegetarianism means I know that vegetarian food can be more varied, more delicious, more creative and more surprising than any meat inspired menu. I know it because becoming vegetarian inspired my love of creating delicious food in the kitchen. 

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Love and a cream cake

I am sorry this is late. I have been rather caught up with the beginning of term. Anyhow, in honour of last Sunday's Feast of Divine Mercy, I promised a recipe for John Paul II's favourite cake. In 1999, in his home town of Wadowice, John Paul II casually mentioned that he and his friends used to save their money together to buy the cream cake ( kremówka) from the local bakers. The next day the entire town was arriving with kremówka, suddenly renamed Kremówka Papieska, the "Papal Cream Cake". I have a real soft spot for John Paul II, what can I say? I was born in 1979. He was the only Pope I knew for 27 years. 

It is hard to find a recipe for this using UK measurements, so in the end, I have had to approximate and experiment. Don't hold back. Cream cakes are not meant to be a healthy option. Enjoy! Celebrate!

Kremówka Papieska

2 packs of ready rolled puff pasty - (I'm cheating)

475ml Milk
150g Sugar
1 teaspoon of Vanilla Essence
5 tablespoons of Cornflour
6 large Egg Yolks
a pinch of Salt

Preheat your oven to very hot (240C 475F). Unroll the puff pastry sheets and place them on lightly greased greaseproof paper, or baking sheets, flat at the bottom of deep (5 inch) baking trays. You might like to roll the pastry out slightly to fit, but not too much. Score both sheets with the requisite number of slices, 9 is an easy option to get even. Bake the pastry in the oven until it is nicely browned, about 5 - 10 minutes. You may need to turn them in the oven to ensure an even colour.  Once baked, remove them and put them to one side to cool. I pierce all the pastry bubbles to give an even texture, but be careful, as the hot air released is scalding!

In a non stick pan bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, cornflour and egg yolks to the boil, stirring them constantly to get a smooth consistency. Once boiling, keep on the boil for a minute, and continue stirring, making sure you get round all the edges. Take the pan off the heat and plunge it into an ice bain-marie. Leave to cool a little while.

Once the pastry is completely cool, pour the warm cream onto one of the pastry slices, keeping long strips of the greaseproof paper or baking sheets protruding from either side (to help you remove the cake to slice later). Place the other puff pastry sheet on top and dust with icing sugar.

Leave the cake in the fridge to set for a minimum of 4 - 6 hours. Carefully remove the cake from the deep baking tray and slice. Or, if you haven't the courage, slice the cake in the tin, and serve on individual plates with a few strawberries.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Anima Christi

ANIMA Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Iesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te
in saecula saeculorum.


SOUL of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Separated from Thee let me never be.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
At the hour of death, call me.
To come to Thee, bid me,
That I may praise Thee in the company
Of Thy Saints, for all eternity.


The origin of this prayer is unknown. It appears in the Roman Missal, and at the beginning of St. Ignatius of Loyola's spiritual exercises. It could not be Ignatius' though, as it appears in a document from 1334, a good century before he was born. Some have attributed it to Blessed Bernadine of Feltre (1439-1494), but again the prayer was around at least a century before his time. It is also know as 'The Prayer of St. Patrick', and many say its origins lie with him, in 7th Century Ireland, but there is no copy that dates that far back. Whatever the origins, I love it and always have. I first heard it, or rather just snippets of it, in the film 'The Mission'. A group of three missionaries are gathered at the bottom of a raging waterfall before the drama of the film begins. The camera is taking a wide view of the scene, and the figures are small, we do not yet know who they are. As the camera draws nearer you hear them praying, Jeremy Irons is leading, 'Soul of Christ..' he says, and they respond, 'Sanctify us.' I watched the film as a child, but was caught by that prayer, and years later looked it up in a library. For me it is prayer for the adventure of life. I brought it with me, on a small laminated card, when I walked the camino - and have carried it on my travels ever since, never far from my handbag or pocket.

I chose the Anima Christi particularly for today because of those confusing lines to which I have become so attached, 'within Thy wounds, hide me. Separated from Thee let me never be.' I used to find those words so macabre and off putting, but after a while I grew to love them. Today is the day of the gory Gospel, as I used to call it, Thomas the doubter peers into the side of Christ to make sure he is real, he touches the wounds of the risen Jesus. The question is, if you are going to rise from the dead, why keep the battle scars? Timothy Radcliffe OP recalls that Charles Peguy told the story of a man who dies and goes to heaven. When he meets the recording angel he is asked, ‘Show me your wounds.’ And he replies, ‘Wounds? I have not got any.’ And the Angel says, ‘Did you never think that anything was worth fighting for?’ Those lines in the Anima Christi remind me, that God thinks I am worth fighting for, and because of that, I can hide in His side: Dieu mon abri. 

In 2000 John Paul II proclaimed that the Sunday after Easter should be the Feast of Divine Mercy. The Feast has its origins in the private revelations of the Polish mystic St. Faustina Kowalska. It is a celebration of God's unfailing love and mercy. You can read about it here, or hear the devotions of the day here.

Since this Sunday is dedicated to a Feast inaugurated by John Paul II, and the Feast is one of his favourites, I think the food to match it should be one of his favourites too: Kremowka Papieska, as it has been renamed. Then, God can save the whole world and we can all eat cream cake. What better? :-) xx

I've put the recipe here.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Reading the cookbook with love

I bought a new cookbook yesterday. I love it. It has inspired me to get out all my cookbooks and have a good nose through. Reading cookbooks is an art form. I know you might not think so, but you can't go reading a cookbook like you would pick up a paper or read a magazine. Cookbooks aren't like that. They have to be read with creative love. I read mine with post-it's in hand. The post - it's get inscribed with secret initials and codes indicating times, seasons, people and place. Sometimes the people are the well loved, wonderful, precious stars that surround me everyday, friends, family, loved ones; sometimes they are saints or angels; sometimes a recipe reminds me of a feast day. I was delighted to look through my new cookbook in the shop, I bought it for a bargain £3, each time I turned the page names and places leapt out at me: 'this would be good for a family feast'; 'this one is for a picnic with your love'; 'make this next time you cook for your Da'; 'Ma would love this'; 'try this with the kids, you won't see the going of it'. I was delighted to get it home, and have looked through it more than once now, memorising different dishes for different days, chalking up my ambitions for creating the right thing for the right time. Reading cookbooks is reading with all those you love bouncing around in your head and being delighted by the experience; sometimes I get requests, or hear another express a preference. Post-its just help you record that. Then, one day, all in good time, you know you will be able to say, 'I made you this', and watch a smile, hear a laugh, and see someone truly satisfied. 

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Wordle Reveals Cloisters' heart

This Wordle was created using the RSS feed of my blog. It is reveals the fascinations that turn up repeatedly in the these pages. My friend Silvana started it. She has a gift for words, and likes the way internet toys like this one show up funny combinations. There are a few giggles here too:

'Disciples almost pass'
'Anything Mother'
Love(s) wine much'
'Love Christ Church Renewal'
'Jesus like(s) Easter'
'Joy often'
'Respond (to) life resolutions'
'Rejoice Friday' - typical of a teacher
I like 'Quite Bear', but I am not sure what that means.
There's lots of food in there, but the combination of black pepper and parsley is fairly typical of my taste buds.

The words grow the more you use them. Apparently in April I wrote a lot about Mussels. I like that, because they are my favourite and I have an ambition to cook them in a pot, over a woodfire on a beach as the sun sets. Maybe I should make a wordle from this blog periodically, just to see what themes have been catching my attention.

What can you see?

Monday 9 April 2012

Twitter Resolutions Recorded

Do you have anything here to eat?

Happy Easter everyone. I adore this season.

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

That's the opening lines of the Exultet, sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. It shows me, quite simply, that this is a season of great joy.

Tarta de Santiago
But. you know what? Although I really love the celebration of the Vigil and Easter Morning, the ringing of the bells, the fire, the candles, the turning on the lights, the Hallelujiah!, the exclamations of 'Christ is Risen!', the singing and the rejoicing, after everything goes quiet again, the Gospel of Luke comes to me. Jesus' resurrection appearances in Luke are wonderful for many reasons, but I like His simple words to the astounded disciples best. Jesus appears to them and says: 'Peace be with you'. Then, after looking at their faces, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your mind?' He does not get too much response from the disciples so he tries: 'Look at my hands and see my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see, a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.' I always hear almost a note of exasperation is Jesus' voice here  - as if he is willing the disciples to catch up and get with the programme! But, when people are in shock, sometimes the best thing to do is to give them something to do. The disciples still have not said anything, so Jesus says: 'Do you have anything here to eat?' And then the disciples move, and they give him some broiled fish (I think they could have done better, but hey, they were fishermen). I love the fact that Jesus is so everyday and matter of fact. Yes, he has just risen from the dead. But first, let's have some lunch and then we will talk about the next part of the plan, viz. the disciples going out to tell people the Good News.

I never make New Year resolutions, or if I do I never keep them. But, Easter resolutions make much more sense to me. You see, we spend the whole of Lent contemplating how it is possible to change, through grace, and become 'good'.  Well, Easter is the time to start. It is a whole season after all, and I always think it ironic that it is so easy to emphasise Lent for 40 days, and then forget all those resolutions the moment Easter arrives.  Little changes work best for me. I am a creature of habit. Last year, because I was returning to the classroom, I focused on my language. I won't say I have not uttered a swear word since, but I have improved slightly. This year, I would like to get outdoors more and take care of my health. Hopefully, I can combine this with going on a few long pilgrimages for the sake of prayer and witness, perhaps to Lindisfarne where I walked as a teenager, but have not revisited since, and Iona, where I have never been. 

First though, I better respond to Jesus' question: Do you have anything here to eat? 

My big sister made this for us yesterday, and it was really tasty, so I recommend it. I would call it a 'broiled fish', but I don't want to put you off. I made a Tarta de Santiago to go with the tea and coffee after lunch, and that was tasty too.

Baked Salmon with Green Beans (Serves 2, but go forth and multiply)
400g green beans
200g cherry tomatoes
1 to 2 handfuls black olives, destoned & sliced
2tbls olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh basil, picked
2 x 200 gram salmon fillet steak
1/2 lemon
12 anchovy fillets

Preheat the oven and a roasting tray at the highest temperature. Tail the green beans, blanch them until tender (6 minutes) in salted, boiling water, and drain. Put in a bowl with the cherry tomatoes and the destoned olives. Toss in the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the basil.

Give the salmon fillets a quick wash under the tap and pat dry with kitchen paper towels. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon over the fillets, on both sides, then season both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle a little olive oil over the top.

Take the hot roasting tray from the oven. Put the salmon at 1 end of the roasting tray. Add the green beans mixture next to the salmon in the tray. Lay the anchovies over the green beans! (Don’t forget)

Roast in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Or to your liking. I like the salmon to be almost or a little raw on the inside. Serve with chilled white wine and merriment. 

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Behold, behold

"To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often paradoxically, by getting lost......

Merlin sends the future King Arthur as a boy into the greenwood to fend for himself in The Sword in the Stone. There, he falls asleep and dreams himself, like a chameleon, into the lives of the animals and the trees. In As you Like It, the banished Duke Senior goes and lives in the forests of Arden like Robin Hood, and in Midsummer Nights' Dream the magical metamorphosis of the lovers takes place in a wood 'outside Athens' that is quite clearly an English Wood, full of the faeries and the Robin Goodfellows of our folklore.....

The Chinese count wood as the fifth element, and Jung considered trees an archetype. Nothing can compare with these larger than life organisms for signalling changes in the natural world. They are our barometers of the weather and the changing seasons. We tell the time of year by them. Trees have the capacity to rise to the heavens and connect us to the sky, to endure, to renew, to bear fruit, and to burn and warm us through winter."

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees
Roger Deakin

This post is for Good Friday. The hymn is traditional to the somber liturgies which take place on the day the Church recalls Christ's death. Actually, it is one of my favourites, and has been stuck in my head for weeks. I have deliberately juxtaposed the work of Roger Deakin here because, for all the sadness, tribulation and horror of the crucifixion, Good Friday is a liturgy of renewal. To enter into the wood of the cross is to pass into the realities of this world: it is where you travel to find yourself, often paradoxically, by getting lost......The cross is the barometer of my spiritual weather and changing seasons. I tell the time of year by it. It has the capacity to rise to the heavens and connect me to the divine, to endure, to renew, to bear fruit, and to burn and warm me through the cold and dark of winter. Behold....Enter.....

Monday 2 April 2012

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

 Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

It is not often that I would choose Philip Larkin to begin Holy Week, but here he shows that he does do hope. And, well, because he is someone I often associate with having 'grumpy old man' syndrome, it is twice as beautiful to read his lines of renewal than it would be to read anyone else's. I love that line: 'The trees are coming into leaf, like something almost being said...' Too often we leave unsaid those things that give us life: love and religion are 'private' occupations, not talked about in company, whispered of behind closed doors. On the lips of those we love we often see the something that is almost being said, and respond to it: a joy, a sorrow, a worry, a grief, a hesitation, an excitement, a delight - that, often, is the nature of love. I like also: Their yearly trick of looking new is written down in rings of grain. A reminder that Easter's call to resurrection is a call not to begin again as if returning to the innocence of childhood, the past forgotten, but a renewal in grace to walk uprightly in adulthood, formed by our experiences, not entangled within them.
Today I am off on my bike to Shipton Under Wychwood - a gentle undulating cycle up into the Cotswolds from Oxford, where I live, to the home of my parents. It is about 25 miles and takes just over an hour and a half. I love it, but it has been a while since I last got out, so I am hoping it will not cause me too much pain! I am quite sure I will see many beautiful things on the way, maybe some new born lambs if I am lucky. On my way I will remember those pilgrims currently walking the Student Cross Pilgrimage to Walsingham. I only ever walked it once, Essex Leg, and I am not known to many that walk now, but I loved it very much......

I went, and remembered my friends out in the countryside. It was wonderful to be out of doors. I also had the excitement of seeing three lambs born. I was passing the field as the sheep were in lamb, and stopped to watch the miracle of nature. One ewe was clearly in trouble. She gave birth to one new born baby black lamb, who rose to his shaky wet feet and nudged her for food. However, another new born was on its way, and struggling to arrive in the world. I was worried. But, the farmer arrived in his truck, and as he crossed the field I pointed to the ewe. He pulled up, jumped from his cab, and pulled the sheep to the ground, soon the newborn was released, and he rubbed it to life. It took a while, and I thought the young one might not make it. Then it jumped, and struggled to it's feet, falling almost immediately, but being brought up again my its Ma. Once the farmer was sure the little one would be okay he went back to his cab and drove across the field. He opened his window to shout: 'Well spotted', to me across the field, and then went to help another new mother with her delivery. I was honoured to have played a small part in such a miraculous everyday event. Well worth being out of doors, and a wonderful physical reminder of the nature of renewal: sometimes, we need a helping hand.