"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Monday, 29 November 2010

To be a Pilgrim

"A pilgrim is someone who sees life as a sacred journey, who sees the Earth as a sacred home, who sees the universe as a process."
Satish Kumar

At school we loved singing this traditional classic Christian hymn of praise and worship:

He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster, Let him in constancy follow the Master. There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound - his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit,
We know we at the end, shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.

Whilst writing so much about pilgrimage over the last week or so I am reminded of two more relevant books:

Firstly Satish Kumar's lovely inspirational volume Earth Pilgrim, written with his usual directness and simplicity. Read it to be inspired and enriched.

Then there is the one I am currently reading, that I will be reviewing on Amazon shortly; Charles Foster, The Sacred Journey, written from the Christian perspective. Jesus was, he reminds us, himself a homeless itinerant preacher, a pilgrim, appealing most to the edges of society. And that is where we find God most, he tells us - at those edges. Who said being a Christian would ever be easy. Foster writes with a light style, often with wry humour, and I find his books immensely readable (see also for example The Selfless Gene, and Wired for God). He tells us we are all travellers at heart - this is our norm - (he himself is a great traveller) and I am sure he means this in the sense of travelling as a pilgrim rather than in the sense of the aimless tourist travel much derided by Satish Kumar et al.

I rather like Foster's idea that a new word is needed for Christian, as it now has too many negative connotations. How about "Jesus Freak" he suggests. OK perhaps not. Then how about "Jesus Wanderer" or "Jesus Follower." Maybe.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Animal Welfare

People use the expression “out of sight, out of mind," to mean that something is easily forgotten or dismissed as soon as it is beyond our range of vision. It can be used in everyday conversation for quite trivial incidents. The problem is that whether we realize it or not, we often live our lives by the same principle, and some incidents may be far from trivial.
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” said Aldous Huxley.
1 in every 30 Americans, that is 10 million people, back the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that seeks a humane and sustainable world for all animals and is America's “mainstream force against cruelty, exploitation and neglect.” That is all to the well and good, but this means that 29 out of every 30 or 290 million Americans may not care very much about animal cruelty. That is a huge number of people. Many farm animals are subjected to the most appalling cruel conditions in factory farms. Would those who love their own family pets be happy for them to be treated to the same kind of cruelty? By our inactions we appear to condone miserable birthing cages or farrowing crates for female pigs, where they are held for months and can hardly move let alone turn around or socialize with other pigs; we eat and apparently enjoy the French delicacy pate de foie gras which requires that ducks and geese are force-fed unnaturally large quantities of food through a metal tube that is shoved down their throats and into their stomachs two or three times each day. This barbaric treatment produces a liver that is fatty, diseased and ten times the normal size. It sounds disgusting and it is; goodness knows how those birds must suffer. We prefer not to know about the calves separated from their mothers within the first few days of birth and crammed into individual crates or stalls, tethered by their necks, so they can hardly move, for the duration of their dreadful short lives; and we ignore the plight of the 280 million laying hens in the United States which spend their lives cooped up in tiny cages with no more than the space of an A4 piece of paper that they can (hardly) call their own.
This is not only about cruelty to animals, although that is reason enough to do something to stop these dreadful practices. Organic humanely reared food is better for our health, and usually tastes a whole lot better as well. These factory farms are pushing family farms, farms that have practiced small-scale humane husbandry sometimes through generations, to the brink of bankruptcy. “Every new factory farm forces 10 family farmers out of business. With every small family farmer that has to leave the farm, communities lose access to fresh, healthy food and local economies are weakened.”And a sustainable environment is threatened with abnormal pollution patterns and disease.
It is true that very many organizations have signed up to a commitment to use only humane farm produce and through the efforts of organizations like the Humane Society the numbers increase daily. But America’s record on animal welfare does not compare well with that in Europe, where the entire European Union has already banned both veal crates and gestation crates, effective 2007 and 2013, respectively. As I write, in the United States the use of these abusive crates remains customary practice.

But here in the UK we are no saints in this regard. Those of us who care about the welfare of animals are currently hugely disturbed about plans for a mega dairy farm in Norfolk, where unless we do something to stop it, 8000 cows will be kept almost entirely indoors for their whole lives. As a dairy farmer's daughter, I watched every year the sheer unadulterated joy of the cows let out onto the new pastures each and every spring. They would run around, kicking their back legs in the air, sometimes even rolling in the grass, before getting down to serious grazing. And cows are meant to graze. Their stomachs are not designed to eat processed foods from buckets and troughs. And cows bred to produce unnatural milk yields often suffer appalling lameness, brought on by the massive and heavy udders, which themselves are prone to mastitis, a nasty inflammation of the udders which must be hugely uncomfortable for them. I could go on - but if I can only raise awareness so that you can read the facts for yourself, and reassess your own contribution to the welfare of animals, then I shall feel I have achieved something.

The animals in these photos are not of course cows, but alpacas, enjoying an English summer pasture. Will the day come when delightful beasts will be factory farmed for greater profit? I do sincerely hope not.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tourist or Pilgrim?

Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on life, love and the soul

I wrote on 5th November of the conference I attended organised by Resurgence: To be a Pilgrim or a Tourist. But I did not say much there about the session given by Peter Owen Jones, and for my money he was the most brilliant speaker of the day.
I love Peter, as indeed do many others. I am sure he has broken a few hearts in his time. But he is not to everyone's taste! Maverick priest he has been called by some. The Times has called him "the bravest vicar in Britain...a man living with his soul." But his message is clear, sincere and persuasive. We have to act as individuals and communities to restore spirituality back into our lives, for the sake of our future, because there is an emotional and spiritual illiteracy amongst our leaders, in local and national government, and indeed globally.
The computer age, Peter explained, has destroyed our calling to explore, and a general loss of hospitality is destroying the opportunity for pilgrimage. And pilgrimage is not the same as travelling. Intimacy is of the pilgrim, not the traveller. The experience of the pilgrimage enriches us, we return changed. As travellers the effect is short lived - we simply return to the life we were escaping from, the life we have created - nothing changes there.
Why are we still travelling? What are we looking for? Paradise is actually around us if we only have eyes to see. And he reminded us that holidays were actually "Holy Days," for rest and quality family time, not for frenzied shopping, consuming, driving, travelling, generally stressing ourselves!

This all reminds me of Peter's wonderful book I reviewed some time ago on Amazon; Letters From an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on life, love and the soul. (For some reason this is not available from Amazon.com).

Do read the book. It is a gem.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A New Rennaisance; Transforming Science, Spirit and Society

E. F. Schumacher once said: “man is far too clever to be able to survive without wisdom.” And we now need that wisdom in large measure.

Someone said to me today: "the trouble is, (a phrase I dislike as much as "the problem is") there are so many books on this climate change stuff and other problems of our age, but nothing ever gets done."

That is simply not true, but there is always room to do more.

I went recently in London to a day conference at the University of London, the occasion being the launch of A New Renaissance; Transforming Science, Spirit and Society. This book was born out of a vision by the Scientific Medical Network of the urgent need for action to address the now deeply rooted and dangerous ecological, political and spiritual crisis in which we find ourselves.
Members of the Network were invited to submit essays on aspects of the crisis, which would discuss the causes of, and/or the paths beyond, the current crisis, to create an important repository of wisdom.

The predominant aim was to underpin a programme of action, to help the Network to “move boldly from theory to practice,” with progressive solutions, not only within the Network itself but by working with other like minded organisations and within the wider global community.

What we have now in this excellent volume is a compilation of 25 of the best essays, many of them from some of the world’s leading thinkers, bringing the latest scientific discoveries and philosophical ideas alongside ancient spiritual wisdoms.
The book is divided into four sections, under the headings; Worldviews in Transition, Consciousness and Mind in Science and Medicine, Spirituality and New Understandings of the Sacred, and finally Global and Local Transformation: Governance, Economics and Education (and also including, importantly, a chapter on the role of music and the arts in a possible future). This final part is most important, examining as it does some possible reforms in politics, economics and education, to help "bring forth a society that can sustain the flourishing of human beings in the twenty first century."

The scene is set in the first chapter (by Ervin Laszlo) by diagnosing the world’s own health problems –unsustainable living, irrational behaviours and obsolete beliefs and aspirations. But crisis brings opportunities for transformation, in enlightened politics, a more socially aware business ethic, and personal responsibility. And underlying all of this is the need for a greater spiritual awareness, a shift of our dominant consciousness towards a connectedness with each other and with the natural world, a new understanding of humans as psychic beings. This is a theme that occurs again and again in many of the essays; that rediscovery of our souls, or the spirit in matter, or a sense of the sacred, or changes in human consciousness in some way, will be essential for finding a more meaningful and spirit filled world and for healing our planet. And this new understanding of reality must acknowledge the inadequacy of reductionist materialism and the mechanistic scientific worldview.

Readers will not agree with everything here. Boundaries are being pushed to limits of thought and understanding, but there are common threads of purpose, and urgency. There are practical ideas in plenty, and there are messages of hope from some authors, whilst others seem more doubtful that we still have time for change or indeed about the nature of the crisis itself.

I enjoyed reading all these essays immensely. Some are more technical than others, some the reader will find controversial. But all have their own profoundly important message from the authors’ own hearts. They combine a rich pattern of diverse thinking, knowledge, wisdom and proposed solutions and together they form a valuable resource for healing this wounded earth.

However, all this effort will have been in vain unless the book promotes positive healing actions. As humans we have freedom of choice and the benefits of hindsight and foresight and if we want to we can put this to a healing purpose. And this, we are reminded, will variously require courage, confidence and determination to move ideas forward, changes in education, changes in mindset, hearts and minds, and a sense of personal responsibility. Some believe that change must start from small groups, within community, a bottoms- up approach, and that we have to change our beliefs and attitudes before we can change our values and behaviour. Others stress the need for careful and respectful dialogue to establish a shared wisdom, for a unifying vision of our purpose on this planet and a call for global unity in diversity.
I could go on – there is so much wisdom in these pages. But to go into detail on any specific chapter would surely offend, albeit unintentionally, those I have left out.

As humans we yearn to be happy, at peace, part of a global family. This book is an important step in that direction if we heed its wisdom and advice.

(This article, with a few small changes, repeats the review I have posted on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk).

Monday, 22 November 2010

HRH Prince Charles too old fashioned to be King?

I wrote very recently about HRH Prince of Wales and his new book Harmony. Now I am saddened - indeed worried - to hear that many of us (do not include me) believe he is too "old fashioned" to be our future king and that he should stand down to make way for his son William in due course.

Clearly his message is not getting through yet to many of the populace. Far from being old fashioned, His Royal Highness is very much up to speed with all that is going on in our world and more than happy to embrace new ideas - as long as they are sustainable and not harmful to our planet. He thinks and feels very deeply about these issues, is hugely knowledgeable about them and passionate to do all he can to promote a new sustainable way of living for us all in the interests of protecting our planet from any more harm. And if that means resurrecting many values which we have lost sight of in the profligate West, what is wrong with that? We must not confuse ancient wisdom with the derogatory implications of the term "old fashioned."

I quote again from my earlier blog on his latest book Harmony; A New Way of Looking at the World:

From the publisher's notes - this book is: "A practical guide to what we have lost in the modern world, why we have lost it and how easily it is to rediscover. Harmony is a blueprint for a more balanced, sustainable world that the human race must create to survive...Drawing on his own practical experience, Prince Charles charts how changes to how we look at the world could lead us toward a better future. He describes how knowledge and perspectives now largely lost could help us meet very modern challenges, including in the built environment, engineering, medicine and farming."

Beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written, this would make a lovely present for anyone who respects the Prince's views on these vital issues, but perhaps more importantly anyone who will be receptive to having their eyes and hearts opened to the really urgent need for a change in perception and heart to save our planet. And we need to open as many peoples' hearts and minds and souls to these issues as we possibly can.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Peace and Non-Violence

Plaques at Winchester University, UK.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern

In London the other day I went into Tate Modern to see the new Unilever sculpture exhibition in the Turbine Hall; Sunflower Seeds, by Ai Weiwei.

This is explained on the Tate Modern website by Juliet Bingham, Curator of the Tate Modern:

"Ai Weiwei's Unilever Series commission, Sunflower Seeds, is a beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking sculpture. The thinking behind the work lies in far more than just the idea of walking on it. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content create a powerful commentary on the human condition...Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today's society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?"

Oh dear. I clearly missed the point - and let my disappointment at not being able to interact with the seeds, walk in them, touch them, sit amongst them, (restrictions introduced for health and safety reasons, it was explained), cloud my perception and interpretation. Surprising when you think that the messages within the exhibit should have resonated with my own ideas on mass consumerism, materialism, human rights, the environment etc. and all dear to my own heart. As you will see in the video I made there! I think I will not be seeking a job as a TV presenter any time soon!!

And I must go there again with fresh eyes and an open and more receptive mind.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

HRH Prince Charles and Harmony

Lincolns Inn Fields is the largest square in London, built in the 1630s from an original design by Inigo Jones. In the square is the Sir John Soane's Museum, tribute to that famous architect and now a national centre for the study of architecture, housing a large collection of important drawings, books and artifacts. And just a few doors down is the Lincoln Centre, where I found myself the other evening, on a bitterly cold night, to hear a book launch lecture by Ian Skelly, co-author with HRH Prince of Wales and Tony Juniper of Harmony-A New Way of Looking at the World , hosted by the Temenos Academy.

I quote from their website: "In 1980 the poet and scholar Kathleen Raine, together with Keith Critchlow, Brian Keeble and Philip Sherrard, launched Temenos, a journal devoted to the Arts of the Imagination. The journal sought to give space to poets, artists, writers and thinkers who subscribed to the belief that man is firstly a spiritual creature with spiritual needs which have to be nourished if we are to fulfil our potential and be happy.

From these early beginnings the Temenos Academy was launched in 1990 as a teaching organisation dedicated to the same central idea that had inspired the Journal. Scholars and teachers, committed to what is known as 'the perennial philosophy' - the learning of the Imagination - were invited to lecture and hold study groups to teach an ever-growing number of students.

So of course it is no surprise that HRH the Prince of Wales should be the Academy's Patron and that it should be instrumental in launching this important new book.

Again I quote, this time from the publisher's product information. This book is: "A practical guide to what we have lost in the modern world, why we have lost it and how easily it is to rediscover. Harmony is a blueprint for a more balanced, sustainable world that the human race must create to survive...Drawing on his own practical experience, Prince Charles charts how changes to how we look at the world could lead us toward a better future. He describes how knowledge and perspectives now largely lost could help us meet very modern challenges, including in the built environment, engineering, medicine and farming."

Beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written, this would make a lovely present for anyone who respects the Prince's views on these vital issues, but perhaps more importantly anyone who will be receptive to having their eyes and hearts opened to the really urgent need for a change in perception and heart to save our planet. And we need to open as many peoples' hearts and minds and souls to these issues as we possibly can.

The scene was set for the excellent lecture with slides of paintings by the artist John Napper, a favourite of the Prince, with views of the beautiful Shropshire countryside, followed by illustrations of the symmetry and harmony to be found in nature, as then contrasted with some odious architecture which gave no thought to such beauty and harmony, and did not resonate with nature's patterns. I recall Prince Charles causing a real hoo hah many years ago when he referred to many such buildings as "carbuncles." Now I believe and sincerely hope that more of us are understanding what he meant.

Monday, 15 November 2010


There are so many good topics to blog about at the moment; I am totally spoilt for choice.
But here is one very important issue.

I tuned into the radio the other day just in time to hear Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford (he confirmed my son), now Gresham Professor of Divinity. He was talking about corruption.

The latest World Table of Corruption Perceptions is alarming. This measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 178 countries around the world - how dishonest are the governments and public figures. Top of the list, with least corruption, are Finland, Iceland and Singapore. Bottom is Somalia. And it is all frightening stuff - and needs our urgent attention.

What is most alarming to me is that the UK has dropped from 11th to 20th over 4 years, and the United States is in the 22nd slot. Why should this be? What has happened to our values?

Something is clearly and seriously wrong. The ethical environment within our culture is so important for the health of the world, which is undeniably very sick at the moment. Of course, Harries told us, we all have good and bad inclinations - it is a part of human nature. But more and more of us are calling for a new moral climate, recognising that something is seriously wrong. There is a new book by Jurgen Habermas, An Awareness of Something Missing - Faith and Reason in a Post Secular Age. What is missing? Religion! That underpins morality. It draws on our deepest convictions to underpin morality. But let us be clear that religion does not have the monopoly. One of our problems is that we spend too much time arguing for or against religion rather than getting on to solve our world's problems. Some even have a passionate crusade to eliminate religion. That can never happen and would not be the right way forward. We should instead use those energies to all pull together in the same direction towards honesty and justice, if we have any hope for healing this world, and that must include the healing of corruption.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


As I sit writing at my laptop I look out of my window at a hazelnut tree, of the wild variety, already laden with catkins - plump and ready to open when the first warm spell comes along! And this is autumn, not spring. Only a few weeks ago that same tree was daily host to a whole flock of bluetits, wildly excited, flitting from branch to branch clearly gorging on something - would these have been the new leaf buds they were enjoying so much? Or the embryo catkins? I fear the latter, because the catkins seem a little thinly spread this year.

In my young day catkins were harbingers of spring, both hazel catkins and pussy willow, along with primroses, wood anemones, bluebells. And a few months later as we played in the woods and fields around us we would pick the nuts and crack them open in our teeth and eat them there and then.

Those catkins now outside my window remind me that nature is certainly confused with the new weather patterns that seem to be emerging.

When I was a child nuts were a commercial crop in Kent, the Garden of England. Are they still?
Last night I ate some hazel nuts out of a packet - organic of course, but sadly not home grown. The squirrels eat all ours before they have ripened! I read the packet as I munched. Imagine my horror. They were grown in Turkey, packaged in Italy (for some reason the packet tells me this includes the Vatican City), shipped to London and then to our local supermarket. Oh dear I won't buy those again. And I thought I was careful about reading packets. Not careful enough. All those freight miles - all that energy. No wonder the world is in a mess.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Paint the Church Green

"Yes but the trouble is..." "OK but what difference will that make?" "Why should we be the first to do anything?" "How can we possibly make a difference when we see the sheer vastness of China and what is going on there?" "How can I do anything - I am on my own, consume little, have a very small footprint on this earth already!"
We were sitting around a table in one of those lovely big French style kitchens - where everyone can comfortably congregate and chat and eat and drink and be in fellowship one with another.
Who are we? Last year we formed an ecumenical group of ten or so Christians, to meet together regularly with a common purpose, to try to Paint the Church Green. * This is the name of the excellent little book by Ellen Teague around which we based our discussions, taking a chapter at a time. The book was written specifically as a group course, to enable us to explore the relationship between faith and concern for the natural world, encouraging, it says in the blurb on the back, positive suggestions for change.
And that is when the negative comments started coming. This was our first get together after a summer break, when, somewhat ironically, so many people go away - yes flying, driving long distances, getting away, as Satish Kumar and Peter Owen Jones both remind us, from what we ourselves have created!
And I was frustrated by those negative comments - perhaps reacting more strongly than was diplomatic in the circumstances. And of course they do all have good answers. For another blog post perhaps.

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." (Robert Kennedy, in a speech he made in Cape Town on 7 June 1966).

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world – indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead

There is an old story of a man who was walking along the surf at the edge of the sea. Every now and then he knelt down to pick up one of many hundreds of starfish left stranded by the tide, and threw it back into the water. ‘Why are you doing that?’ asked his friend. ‘How can that make any difference?’ ‘It makes a difference,’ came the reply, ‘to that one.’

So come on people - be positive. Start your own little ripples of hope. As Gandhi is so often quoted as saying: You have to be the change you wish to see in the world.

* The book by the way is published by Kevin Mayhew and I have not been able to find it on Amazon. The red roses were probably flown in from abroad - not a green thing to do when we have so many beautiful flowers of our own to enjoy in their own seasons - as again pointed out to us by Satish Kumar.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home

Dogs cannot know when their owners are coming home. Or can they? If you havn’t come across Rupert Sheldrake, and his book Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home: and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, I would suggest you look it up now. Sheldrake is one of that rare band of scientists who are not answerable to any fund provider; he is beholden to no one, he can speak his own mind untrammelled by any monetary influence. (James Lovelock is another).

He can therefore think and speak “outside the box” without fear of comeback, and he does! I have heard him speak before – at a regional meeting of the Scientific and Medical Network, where he told us of his theories of morphic fields and morphic resonance, amusingly illustrated with plenty of experimental evidence from pigeons – and dogs! I was therefore looking forward to hearing him talk at the Resurgence conference last Saturday (see my 5th November post) and I was not disappointed. Pilgrimages are part of a basic human need, he told us. He was himself inspired in his youth by Indian pilgrimages when he lived on that continent in the 1960’s and 70’s, and he urged us to be open to the sense of sacred in the world around us. There is a paradigm shift happening around us, he told us, and the mechanistic view of nature is breaking down, although many scientists are not yet recognising this, indeed refusing to entertain the idea since it is so “unconventional.” Sheldrake is viewed as a maverick by many in scientific circles, but I have yet to see a more convincing maverick scientist.

I have no doubt in my own mind that one can sense the spirit of prayer from centuries past in ancient places of worship – our own parish church dating back in part to Saxon times, is certainly one such place. And great cathedrals also give an air of sacred space for those who are willing to feel it. I therefore could readily empathise with Rupert when he told us how he makes pilgrimages with his children to cathedrals, walking outside around the building before entering, to maximise the spiritual experience. Tourism, he reminded us, is crowding out the spiritual pilgrimage, and we need to have a balance in our lives, taking every opportunity to incorporate a sacred pilgrimage into all our journeys. One aspect of his talk I could not agree with. He seemed to imply that the great cathedrals of our land have miniscule congregations. That may be so for some of the weekday evensongs for example, but I have yet to experience a Sunday morning Eucharist in an English cathedral where the congregation does not fill the nave, and I have attended many up and down the country. It is I believe a fact that cathedral congregations are generally growing, a response to this increasing sense of need for the spiritual or something “other,” some meaning in our lives.

Sheldrake left us with a great idea – why, he said, do cathedrals hand out leaflets when you pay your entrance fee. Why not in return for the money give the visitor, the “pilgrim,” a candle to light as a sign that something sacred is with us in our visit. Why not indeed!

(The photo is of the Priory Ruins in Walsingham, earlier this year).

Friday, 5 November 2010

To be a Pilgrim or a Tourist

Are you a tourist or a pilgrim? Do you travel within the landscape of desire and greed, never fulfilled, seldom satisfied, always seeking something more? Or do you travel in a landscape of love, recognising the sacredness of the place you visit, the sacredness of the earth on which you tread, travelling as an earth pilgrim?

Pilgrims celebrate what they find with gratitude; they do not complain. Tourists find plenty to complain about: the bed not soft enough, the room not big enough, the food not good enough, the view not pretty enough. We all can recognise ourselves I am sure.

Last weekend I went to an excellent conference in London, “To be a Pilgrim or a Tourist,” organised by Resurgence. These were the opening comments from the editor of that wonderful publication, Satish Kumar, who introduced an excellent team of speakers for the day. We heard Rupert Sheldrake, Ursula King, and Peter Owen Jones, with poetry readings from Deborah Harrison and Martin Powell, and some lovely singing from Annemarie Borg accompanied on the piano by Gabriel Keen. Sadly Caroline Lucas Leader of the UK Green Party could not be there. Between them they gave us all plenty of food for thought.

Why, asked Satish, do we go on holiday? Why do we run away from ourselves and our homes and countryside, which is so beautiful; the autumnal colours are particularly spectacular this year. Why do we fly to far -flung places just to laze away time in some “paradise” that does not meet expectations, and contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing our climate?

That is all very well – and he has a good point to make. But…..

The previous day we had delivered harvest festival food goodies from our church to another church community in our diocese; in a very poor and run down part of the city. The traffic ground along at snail pace, the streets were dingy, no sign of greenery anywhere to relieve the landscape, apart from a few trees grimy and poisoned from being bathed in constant exhaust fumes.

I am no expert on eschatology, but as we drove through this gloomy and deprived suburban sprawl towards our destination it crossed my mind that God would be justified in weeping at what we have done to his beautiful creation, and I would not blame Him wanting to destroy such as this and start again. As Peter Owen Jones observed later in the day, we are travelling to get away from what we have created.

Satish lives in a very beautiful part of England and has all the wonders of nature on his doorstep. Not everyone is so privileged.

OK, so we want to get away on holiday but do we have to travel solely as tourists? Could we reintroduce the spirit of pilgrimage into our travel?

Yes we can and we should. Rupert Sheldrake, following on after Satish, gave us some ideas, and I’ll write about his thoughts in my next post …

The event was filmed with a view to showing it on the Resurgence website. As of time of writing this has not appeared, but the link takes you to the details of the conference and its speakers.

The photo is of the Priory Ruins at Walsingham, taken on my pilgrimage there earlier this year.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


These beautiful flowers are flourishing on my back patio in spite of two hard frosts a week ago. I call them ballerina fuschias for obvious reasons. Guess they could also be called crinoline fuschias. I have no idea of the exact variety. Anyone know?

Monday, 1 November 2010

public toilets


I’ve always been suspicious of these self -contained automatic toilet kiosks you increasingly see in cities across the globe these days – designed to totally sluice down the inside between each individual use.

Now my worst suspicions have been confirmed.

We were touring in the Dordogne in 2010 (before France decided to come to a standstill over their latest pension proposals!). We were in Montignac to buy tickets for the Lascaux II Caves (replicas of the original cave paintings and incredibly well worth visiting, but that is another story).

Husband went in first, then me. OK he said as he came out – all is clearly explained once inside as to what to do, he assured me (apart of course from the usual physical bodily functions!). So in I went, nervously.

I found the light at last – it came on when I pressed the button to indicate engaged and shut the door.

And there I was, alone and nervous and confronted by a sodden wet little room – everything was wet, the seat, the floor, the walls, the washbasin; all sodden. So where was I supposed to place my large bag, and how was I supposed to keep the hems of my best trousers clean and dry? Nowhere to hang or put anything, at least nowhere dry to hang or put anything. So I went out, dumped said bag on husband, hitched up my trouser legs and went in to try again.

Have you ever been to one of those jokey gardens where every now and then you get squirted with water from some hidden source. Hilarious on a hot sunny day when you’re prepared for it! Guess what! The minute I shut the door on this toilet, water squirted at me from all directions, soaking my shoes, my feet, my trousers, and I fled! And I won’t be going in one of those ever again. No Way!

Where did the lady in this photo put her bag? And what about the water waste? I certainly hope it’s not in any way being recycled!!

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



with vapor trails


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