Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Psalm 13 cont'd: crossing the line

Psalm 13. Mmm. I was musing further on it and thinking how in representing it, I've given a much bigger space to the last two verses of  'my heart rejoices' than to the first four verses of crying out 'How long will you hide your face?' Was this deliberate? I think it was a case of my hand telling me what is going on inside me, and thankfully it tells me that my life is more joy than of anguish. I feel for any bi-polar-ish person for whom the opposite is the case.

A friend spoke about how the cloud of the first 4 verses can suddenly lift all  by itself, or sometimes by the help of a friend's word or understanding, and she wondered about the theological basis for it. It made me think about how my exegesis of this psalm started with a theological or liturgical understanding - the possibility of the psalmist receiving assurance of God's presence or help - and ended with treating the move as a psychological one. I suppose biological things have to be added to the list of things that can lift that cloud, or make one cross that yellow line of satin-stitching in the cloth version; I remember a very sudden experience like that when expecting our Jez, how I experienced a very dramatic mood-lift, which I knew was heralding the onset of labour, and I rollocked about the place, going for fast walks, and playing the piano with great gusto, and never mind that bit about packing a bag, it didn't seem to matter. If I could bottle that hormone, I'd make a fortune!

Typing stops, as I try to fathom out whether crossing that line is something one can make happen oneself; if only! Sometimes it seems to be just a matter of time, of waiting patiently and trusting that it has happened before and will happen again. (Crikey - it is all in the psalms, isn't it? Psalm 40:1 etc 'I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me and heard my cry.... he hath put a new song into my mouth...) King Saul, who seems to be one of the Bible's depressives, seems to have used the young David's music to help. If you would like to meet more companions who would nod vigorously to Ps 13:1-4, then just Google for 'accidie' where you will find explanations such as this:
including the idea that this kind of melancholy can be caused by  a demon that has the audacity to walk about in the daytime, unlike most other demons. There's an awful lot of writing on the subject! It's rather good that the psalmist tackles it in this very succinct way, as I don't think  it's a good thing to dwell on it for long. The good old psalmist, who by Psalm 15 (maybe) has us setting off on pilgrimage, where you just have to get on with life; and surely (my mind runs on) making 'stories' (as in 'dismal') rhyme with 'more is' (as in 'his strength the') is surely one of the great rhymes of all time. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbNbXxQwFws It's not the camino, but I tell 'ee, tha'll like it.) That and 'I will smite 'em - ad infinitum' (Jonah man Jazz: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZX54yRc-kE  (Ah, the nostaliga! I know it word-for-word!)

But God has made us with our moods - this might be the theological angle - and I'm sure that the right way forward is for us to put them to use... I really believe this....

and so to move to something that I must have done in a Ps. 13:5-6 mood, which is my desk. It's just a plain IKEA thing that I hunted down when I wanted something to spread out on. It was plain when I got it, but then it needed sealing, and so I decided that it needed a little design on it too. I was teaching at the time, in about 1999, and reading up on the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament etc, and I was alerted to a distinction between two kinds of apocalypse: the 'vertical apocalypse' in which 'the "secrets" of the cosmos are made known', and the 'horizontal' or historical apocalypse which is a 'survey of history often leading to an eschatological crisis in which the cosmic powers of evil are destroyed.' (D.S Russell in Metzger & Coogan's Oxford Companion to the Bible). Somehow I got fixated on the first one, the idea of an otherwordly journey, and the desk started to look like a flying carpet. I'm used to it now, but at first I could only use it by covering it all over with books, as it was a bit... de trop. But now I love it, and it is growing old with me. Its slim silvery tapering legs only add to my feeling that it's going to take off at any time.(Oh crikey, where is this blog going???) Come with me!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The psalms to the rescue: Psalm 13.

The psalms to the rescue! I always wonder what exactly it is that people have in mind when they say that the Bible 'helps' them. What sort of help? I can only say for myself that it provides what I call 'mental furniture'. It's the equivalent of the ancient pieces you have, not antiques which have been bought specially to be old, but rather the pieces of furniture which have gone old while you have owned them, that you can't get rid of, however shabby or even ricketty they were to get, because they symbolise too much. And what a burden it is to be a person who lives in symbols! I have known some people who can travel light in that way, just discarding and getting new as they go. But I find it hard to get rid of so much as a sock belonging to someone, as there seems to be something of them in it. It's a burden, I tell 'ee! And also an odd kind of materialism that I don't like in myself.

But I meant to talk about mental furniture, not the physical stuff. So this morning, we sang psalm 13, which is one of those where the music really does have to reflect the mood, and so it is sung in a minor key for most of the time, and then at the end there is the up-turn and it swings into major. It's really the BP's psalm, the cry of the bi-polar, who feels forgotten by God; 'he takes no notice of me at all'. It's as though he has something like I have on this blog set-up, a 'stats' facility, thus I can count how many 'hits' there have been in a day, i.e. people reading my blog. (I try not to be obsessive, of course.) It looks as though the psalmist is doing this with God; he feels to have had no 'hits' from God at all, and he wants God's consideration, both for its own sake, and also because he doesn't want his enemy to be gloating over his cast-aside status.

But then there is a change in the last two verses of this six-verse psalm, and all of a sudden it's about trusting, rejoicing, singing, because of what is really non-information - God has 'dealt bountifully with' him. ??? There is no indication at all as to why this mood change happens; some of course speculate that the psalmist has been lamenting in the temple, and a priest has stepped forward with words of assurance of God's blessing, whose words are not recorded here, only the psalmist's response. But we don't know this; all we know is that a psalm has been written which is full of misery in the first 4 verses, and then in the last 2 there is a complete change of mood, a cloud is lifted. I think it's much better that we don't know why he feels different all of a sudden. It means that there is a psalm which reflects the experience that I sometimes have (and don't we all?) of feeling 'out of sorts' (oh I love these English understatements!) and then of feeling the start of the cloud lifting, for no apparent reason. There is a psalmist who shares my experiences, even shares my character.

For some reason, finding ourselves (and I mean that almost literally - like in an old photo - 'oh look, that's me!') in the Bible is reassuring. Why? Perhaps because when that 'me' is reassured by God's presence, I can share in the reassurance he experiences there and elsewhere.  John Rogerson says of psalm 22: 'It was the cry of someone who could pray, not in a general way to any God, but to my God, who was sustained by the memory of past mercies and nourished by the traditions of a community of faith; the cry of someone who had experienced God's faithfulness and who had come to the inner assurance that that faithfulness would never prove to be an illusion'. (The Psalms in Daily Life, SPCK 2001.)

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Collagraph printing: Where now?

Kitchen table, first wave.
I began today determined to clear up the kitchen table, and it happened, but then a second wave hit it and that was that. Like the pilgrim rucksack, it contains one's entire life of the moment. The new wave was on return from the Ropewalk with my creations, my first ever collagraph prints. I discovered what I already knew, the difference between relief printing, as in linocuts where only the surface is inked, and intaglio printing, where ink is pressed into the depressions as well as the surface and then sucked out into the paper it's printed on.

Printing plate, pilgrim's progress.
Second wave: my first-ever collagraph prints.
The plates we made today consisted of mount-board, cut into and scratched, embellished with foil, wallpaper, carborundum, permanent PVA glue, French polish, and embossed with sandpaper and cloth to give texture. There's a lot of potential in this technique, it's even quite addictive. There's a lot of control in the preparation side of it, then when it is put through the mangle-press as I call it, there's an element of surprise when the thing is unveiled.

The pilgrim returns
Naturally my subject-matter was pilgrimage, but fortuitously I forgot to reverse the image I used, based on the paper camino representation of the metal sculptures on the Alto de Perdon. Thus, like it or not, the pilgrim is on the return journey! Going W to E! But on the plate, the pilgrim is still progressing. In many ways, the plates are more pleasing than the prints, as the shellac varnish gives a lovely warm tone to it reminiscent of Samuel Palmer's prints. It's a start anyway.

Having a little time left over, I worked very fast to scrawl out whatever came to my mind, which was 'WHERE NOW? which is the predominant pilgrim thought a year on. Perhaps it even says something about the mood of the moment we live in. I don't feel very optimistic, do you? Does anyone? Is it just me, or is there a mood of gloom about just about everything? There are plenty of blessings to count, but somehow the bigger picture seems sort of sad. The back garden view analysed is a picture of calm, all stately horizontals and verticals, and no riot of colour to disturb the peace. But things never stay the same, do they? I can't help but feel that the world is waiting for the next thing, and I'm apprehensive, and to me the picture looks menacing. What has happened to my hula-hoop moments? My pink-brolly mood? Reader, if I have ever made you laugh, help me out now.

The back garden through a kitchen window pane

Such simplicity.....
A closer look
The "mangle-press"
I can't be cheered up tonight, not to pink-brolly degree anyway. But two things seem to embody hope. Firstly the wonderful "mangle-press", smoothly feeding the plate and paper through, with a handle heavy and Victorian in feel. Even better still is the simple way in which the prints were held in the drying rack. Just look - see how that marble drops and gently holds the paper without causing any claw-mark or buckling. Just the force of gravity combined with the brilliance of the human mind in thinking up something so simple, effective, and above all elegant. Someone must have invented it, probably way back in the mists of time, with no name now known to us. Will someone be telling me that this unassuming piece of technology was first used in war? I do hope not.

I thought about why I felt like this; am I just being a Luddite, or a computer dunce with a tendency to favour the mechanical and the physical? Or am I right in thinking that it is 'simple ideas [that] change lives forever', as the charity Practical Action proclaims? http://www.practicalaction.org As it says on their website:

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacher

Corpus christi 2011: Stow Minster.

The sculpted front garden. (Not my miserable laburnum in the background)
Home alone for a night! Midsummer! This can only mean one thing, and that's - clear the kitchen for dancing! Haven't flailed for ages, could I still do it? Best to have a go unobserved. So that meant trying 'On the Way to Bethlehem (Music of the Mediaeval Pilgrim)' http://www.amazon.com/Way-Bethlehem-Music-Medieval-Pilgrim/dp/B00000144X. Golly, those pilgrims, if they sang or danced to any of this, must have had a good time. Probably most of them slogged along in painful contemplative silence, but if you were lucky enough to be a member of a party with a band... this kind of music makes sense when you've been on a trudging pilgrimage over many miles, as some of the pieces last for about 15 minutes; but sadly now I have to make do with the kitchen floor and not the whole of N Spain from E to W. I'm the kind of person who can really get into repetitive music too, not always deliberately; I have to mow the grass for an hour and a half, and that sets off the Monty Python song 'Eric the half a bee' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_-vxAFcQIU in my head (click on this link at your peril) for the whole hour and a half. That's because I'm regretting with every step the fact that the bees on the clover... well.... I do try to avoid them, but I think that lawnmowers ought to have a kind of horn on them only audible to bees. But out in the sculpted front garden, I'm pleased to say that the ladyblackbird who formerly lived in a block of flats and came home to a bungalow seems to be doing fine, and I have apologised to her and promised to try to help her feed the babies when they start to appear.

But where was I? Ah yes, thinking it was Corpus Christi last night, and that a year ago I was sitting in a sunny garden in S France with my pilgrim feet in a bucket of warm water as we didn't have the energy to drive to Poitiers as planned. But last night we went off to Stow Minster to celebrate the festival with solemnity at the invitation of the Lincoln branch of the Society of Catholic Priests http://www.scp.org.uk/work/chapters.html. This is an Anglican organisation which tries to preserve and develop catholic spirituality and practices, while being wholly behind the ordination of women to the priesthood. I am a little concerned that loose-fitting clergy garments are not as loose-fitting as they used to be; it being the 'big society' (or am I thinking of the nanny state?) I see there are now public warnings out. Of course, I couldn't be expected not to wear a hat, and despite all the men in long black dresses, it was my funny headdress that provoked questions in the pub afterwards by curious onlookers, and so I had to explain its liturgical significance: a) I'm a clergywife who takes her duties in this respect seriously b) Rose petals are traditional for Corpus Christi, often scattered along the route of the procession (though most of mine stayed on my head; from a lovely climbing rose called 'Fairy'). I mean, what is it about church these days that brings out a rash of anoraks in people who certainly do have other clothes to wear? Why wear a navy blue anorak when you can carry a pink brolly? And anyway, t'owd man was wearing his lace alb, so I had competition. He wins on hair though, and ringlets really do suit him. He did all the catholic bodily things, and yet managed to come home with his alb still clean, which is an achievement for someone who aged 9 months always ended up in the coal bucket so I'm told. He didn't splosh through that puddle either. Nothing at all happened to remind me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7wc55oXWf8

But I must away to bed. Tomorrow I'm going to be learning how to do collagraph printing  http://www.artistterms.com/collagraph.htm  at the Ropewalk http://www.the-ropewalk.co.uk/
I might take the paper camino for inspiration for subject matter. My plans for the cloth camino are really coming on too, and as soon as I can afford the time and the money, I'll be off......

It's late, and really I need to be up early every day getting myself to a condition I call 'camino-ready', even if I can't go till 2013.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Small and portable things, including Bibles.

Oooh DEARRRRRR! I thought I'd better drag this blog back to the serious, or t'owd man'll go ballistic! He said to me: "On Facebook you go very, very very VERY silly. You must concentrate on your blog, where you tackle serious subjects in depth." So I thought that this being the year of the KJV I ought to give a little nod in that direction. So I start by reminding you of the new Transetto Bible:


Blank notebook: all my own work
To an amateur bookbinder, this version is an interesting innovation, a concept even:


Are you a dwarsligger? 

dwarsligger (from Dutch dwarscrossways, transverse; intractable, contrary and liggen to lie). A person unwilling to cooperate, who is stubbornly resistant to everything; obstructionist; troublemaker.
I don't think I am, really; I tend to co-operate. A bit of a yes-woman, which is why my diary is full of things that get in the way of My Life's Work, and is also the reason why I cannot play tennis, because I tend to send the ball back as obligingly as I can to the place where my opponent can reach it; this also comes from learning to play in back gardens where you didn't want to have to keep hopping over the fence to retrieve a ball. But back to Bibles - (I know - how did I get there?); I started looking at stuff on the Eden site, as they said I had a voucher for £3, and I'm fascinated by illustrated Bibles, children's Bibles, basically the whole way that Bibles are packaged and presented, and I found this:


which rather reminded me of the ancient girdle book idea (which tended to be books of hours, prayer books):


The way to make sure you get 5-a-day
I'm drawn to small portable things, for some reason; you can see it in the fact that apart from when I go to church, I carry a small chopping board, a veg peeler and a small sharp knife with me most places, all kept in a little cloth bag. I might be bohemian, but I have some sense of priorities, and a degree of personal organisation. For a bit more on the girdle book, see:


But I end with a bit of a bling Bible. It really appeals to me, but then I am trying to find a wetsuit in a pink-and-black tiger print neoprene, if such is made; if not, why not? Let me know if you see one.


Is this OK, David? It is serious, isn't it? It's all about Bibles! I did try!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Camino bore: What the camino has done for me! Plus household hints.

That word! Camino, I mean! I said I wasn't going to mention it! But up it pops into my thinking again, and while in the bath I'm getting all excited at the thought that 'the camino has done its work' - some of it - and that maybe it is 'hidden', even from me! Oh I do HOPE so! Aaaaaaanyway, I was thinking of doing a page of household hints based on my own experience as a BBP. That's Bohemian Bi Polar. You will need a definition of Bohemian to go on, and in my case it is something I heard some time ago:

"Bohemians are people who wash up before a meal rather than after it." 

Simple, isn't it! I hope you know just what it means! Of course, it is about much more than washing up; this is just an example of the kind of behaviour that comes naturally to me. I was going to include a pic of me eating the main meal of the day in the bath at 2.30pm, but in the end I decided that poppadums didn't play well in the bath, so I got out to eat.

Anyway, my discovery is that I have achieved full and total acceptance of my condition, which is BBP. I'm going to work with it rather than against it. I say! I find that depressive people, as opposed to the manic depressives now re-named bi-polar, tend to be very sniffy and see me as a person with what they call 'mood swings'; the way I see it, I'm pretty much like THEY are, except that I'm not miserable ALL the time.

OK then, what is the first household hint? It's about vacuuming. I recommend that you have one of those see-through ones, a Dyson. That way, you can see how much dust & fluff comes up each time you use it, and preferably you will not use it very often so the amount will be substantial and very satisfying. Added to this, you will never have to say 'My vacuum cleaner has worn out'. This hint is suitable especially for bi-polar people. Did you know that they, we that is, tend to favour writing articles rather than books, because we need constant and regular feed-back, preferably saying how marvellous we are? Thus, if you write one article a week, you get a lot more out of it than writing a book every 18 months. Writing a blog every day, well..... I must say, I am OVERWHELMED by the support I receive! (Ummmm!) Anyway, this really IS about housework, as with one of the see-through vacuum cleaners, you get that reward of actually SEEING the dirt, without which it might never get sucked up at all.

The second hint for today is that you make a resolution like I have done to do about half an hour of housework a day, on top of the washing up you do before a meal. As much as that! I'm afraid so. But you will do much more housework if you plan to do half an hour of it rather than an hour, because then you might actually get started.

All this takes me back to me as a newly-married dewy-eyed young housewife, doing my best. One day, t'owd man (t'young 'un, then) told me that he really didn't like women who were 'obsessed with housework'. I can claim that ever since, I have been the perfect wife in this respect! I admit I started with a challenge, which was that shortly before marrying him, he had his stuff sent home from uni by means of one of those large trunks you see in films (his dad was a railway man, so it was cheap). The last time it was sent anywhere, he had packed it with some marmalade and some soap powder. What he didn't know was that when trunks got to Durham station, they were sort of rolled over and over like barrels. Thus when the trunk got to us... I don't need to explain why some of our books still have their pages stuck together with marmalade and smell very clean.

Look, no pictures today! I'm dashing off now in my other role as furniture woman, driving a big van.... Oh, OK then, the big van....

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Midsummer: Psalm 121

Mmm, how to celebrate midsummer's day? I didn't have any trouble: it came to me that I must do a bike ride, though it didn't help that I fell asleep in the evening until 8.45! But I set off, thinking 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills; from whence cometh my help(?)' which no doubt is a bit of a mishmash of versions. But that '?' is crucial: it is not found in the KJV, but the revisers of the 1880s decided that it ought to be there, as is correct. The difference it makes is huge! (Actually, my help comes from an 18-speed gearbox on the boybike.)

1) KJV, no question mark: implies that it's the hills that are friendly, that help comes from there. "The ramblers' psalm."

Catbells across Derwentwater
2) With question mark: If one wonders where help comes from when one looks up to the hills, it implies that the hills are to be feared.Some think the psalm is relevant to pilgrims to Jerusalem returning home through mountainous terrain.

 I think my recent experiences have a bit of both in them! Lake District hills do bring help, refreshment etc; but they are also to be feared. As someone said, there are old mountaineers, there are fearless mountaineers, but there are not many old, fearless mountaineers: mountains are rightly feared, however friendly they may seem. That pointy bit at the top of Catbells had me worried when I got there.

It's the top of a hill, honest!
I got down the pointy bit!
But tonight in North Lincolnshire, hills? Well yes, actually! We have our little bit of the Wolds tapering down to the Humber bank; an excellent ride if you like puffing to the top of a hill in order to ride down it. Psalm 121 was probably in my mind because I'd done the talk on my Psalms Skirt last Wednesday, and one of the ladies present said she was hoping I'd have done a square to illustrate Ps 121, as she tended to fall a lot, and that psalm comes to her mind. I haven't got to that one yet, but I assured her that I would do one that made some reference to her. It was so easy to think up how this will be done, as it will depict hills, with a zig-zag path that makes a 'Z' shape, and her name begins with 'Z'; look no further than to the right! I hope that everyone who sees their path through life in any way as forming a zig-zag will see it as for them too. Praise be for the zig-zag path that gets us there.

The Ruth 'object' awaiting fleshing out.
It was one of t'owd man's perpetual joke-themes that the only contribution I made to preparing for the camino was to work out which coloured pencils I was taking; in fact I didn't take any! But next time I will. So the sign to the pencil museum is not to be sniffed at by me. Some of us find coloured pencils essential, and tomorrow I'll be colouring in a printout of the book of Ruth in order to illustrate its symmetry. There are so many echoes of that book in the here and now, for example in the recent news that funds do not allow all old people to receive the care they need, so that carers sometimes have to make a hard choice as to whether to wash them or feed them. But see how Ruth and Boaz both make sure that there is plenty of food for old Naomi, even though they are busy courting one another. How to get across that aspect in the Ruth 'object' I'm making... a challenge to find generous-looking colours, shapes and textures. I'm thrilled to be participating in a symposium '7 Strands: Challenging the Boundaries Between Fine Art and Making" at "Grimsby Minster" (the re-vamped Grimsby St. James; and doesn't that phrase just remind you of the catchphrase in that Tony Hancock episode '"Grimsby pilchards!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja4gHvDKEwM for background see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strand_%28cigarette%29) in July in which I hope I'll gain some extra oomph to help me in all of this psalmic and Ruthic enterprise. See http://www.womanwithafish.com/Home.html and click on '7 Strands'. Witty Jewish Netherlands textile artist Tilleke Schwarz http://www.mrxstitch.com/2009/07/23/the-cutting-stitching-edge-tilleke-schwarz/will be taking part; I'm soooo excited!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Luxuries from Rochdale.

Rochdale travels!
Luxuries from Rochdale
Back again, bearing gifts (illustr)! Wonderful veg stall on Rochdale market, you see here beautifully packaged mangoes from India, white aubergines, chillies, garlic, all of which can be bought cheaply there in quantity. Not that we can't get such things here; but I applaud all fresh veg stalls everywhere that manage to keep going despite the nation's turn towards all things pre-cooked and packaged. This is one of the benefits of having a flourishing Asian community in Rochdale. I once passed a shop  on a road out of Rochdale that proclaimed in scrawly white paint the availability of 'Luxuries from Bradford'; but I found there were luxuries in Rochdale too.

There's a nice little art gallery in Rochdale, Touchstones, http://www.link4life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=c.showPage&pageID=83 and here I sat under a beautiful domed skylight contemplating my life, like you do (that's the Yorkshire 'you', pron. 'yer' and meaning 'one'). It's funny how many things seem to become clear when one sits in such a place; perhaps those of us who 'work' in the church need non-church spaces in which to contemplate. There was an exhibition of art by Asian artists, including Sri Lankan Chandraguptha Thenuwara, who wrote:

'I believe that to be an artist you have to have a skill, you have to develop that skill, that physicality. You have to develop your hand and cultivate your eye - at the same time you have to involve the mind.'


I liked his invention of 'barrelism'. I don't know whether I am any kind of artist, but his words certainly resonated with me, and I thought of Ecclesiastes 9:10 'Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might'. I like the idea of the hand 'finding' things to do. It's like that though, isn't it? You're wondering what to do next, and then you see that your hand has actually strayed towards the things that you really WANT to do! Picked up the book or whatever that interests, as though it has a mind of its own which isn't the same as the one in your head.

As I couldn't be bothered to go and find a Bible, I Googled to find the reference for this, and in doing so I saw this blog come up on the list http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2009/07/tips-for-maintaining-a-simple-home.html , but when I logged on to it, it all looked exhausting, and no way am I ever going to take notice of anything like that. Such science-of-housework boffins always quickly get to recommending 'Make a regular schedule for cleaning/maintenance' and there was summat about a weekly prayer and planning event for housework. Oh-oh! In your dreams, Viv! Having said that, it was the kind of thing that my hand keeps going back to, as though I am fascinated by the idea of all that regular and diligent this and that; most of the headings tell me to do things that I'll never be able to do, and yet would like to think I could! I can only ever really do proper housework by getting into a lather about the state of things, which creates the energy to sort things out a bit.
I tackled many jobs that were bearing down on me

But the other day, I found a revolutionary new way to get the garden done! Like this: Idly sniffing fragrant plants in the front garden last Thursday, twiddling my front door key on a string, (no ordinary string though - it was bright yellow-green just like plant stalks, made by a Japanese braiding method called Kumihimo http://www.careycompany.com/Kumi-equip.html I twiddled a bit hard and the thing flew off my finger and into the bright blue yonder and landed I knew not where. Poking in the undergrowth yielded no key, so I thought I might as well use the day to get the garden overhauled, and it was sure to turn up. But several hours and 5 barrowloads of trimmings later - I sculpted rather than weeded - still no key. I was a bit worried - who wants to leave a front door key somewhere in the garden? But I went upstairs and looked out of the landing, and there, as I hoped, was the key on the roof of the porch below! Brill! I shall start a gardening/housework site with such tips 'Throw your door key into the garden and then you will have the incentive to get the garden overhalued in double-quick time'! Send in any similar hints to me that you have found to work.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Luttrell Psalter, Psalm 4 line decoration.

Psalms skirt version based on the above.
Sleep! I haven't had enough of it lately, which you will sense if you notice the time I've been posting. When on the camino (I say, Viv, I thought you were going to shut up about that?) we went to bed very early - about 9.30, as we had to be up at 6 with a long day of walking ahead of us. Strangely, although walking 17 miles a day on average, we didn't sleep like logs every night, far from it. The night we walked 24 miles and had a room-for-two in an inn was one of the very worst, even though we had velvet coverlets and all comforts.

I was introduced to the little 'Anon' poem below a few years ago by a dear elderly gentleman who has since gone to his everlasting sleep.

The somewhat incomprehensible Psalm 4 has 'Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still' and ends 'In peace will I both lay me down and sleep: for thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety.' (Comprehensible bits which make up for the rest.)

Quite what is going on in Psalm 149:5 I don't know: 'Let saints exult in glory: Let them sing for joy upon their beds.' Could this be a 'Fresh Expression' idea for those of us who find it hard to get out of bed in time for church on Sundays?

'Luttrell pilgrim', putting it all into practice immediately on arrival.
Sleep well!

Camino bore; a lake and some trees.

Monday 14th June 2010: A lake and some trees.
It didn't occur to me at the time on the last afternoon before we caught the overnight ferry from Rotterdam to Hull: that time was spent by a lake, under trees http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delftse_Hout where we'd been many times before, and looking back I see reminders of the garden in Genesis 2-3, and of the disciples being with Jesus on a lake shore; places where encounters and learning happen.  (I realise that neither of these biblical pictures normally include bicycles, though perhaps somewhere there is a Dutch version of Stanley Spencer, who would probably include them.) We lolled about in better sunshine than we'd had most of the time in Spain, hearing occasional cheers from the distance where there was some football match going on that seemed important to those cheering.

There's no record in the Caminella of this day - no entry at all, just a complete blank - and all I remember is lolling about on the shore, and probably we had a conversation saying, 'Well, this is it - time to go home now', and wondering just how we'd find life back at home.

Some members of the Ruth group at coffee time. New carpet!
Back in 2011, it's been a busy week; last week we were wandering in the mountains, and today I did a session on the book of Ruth, having finished going through the text verse-by-verse, I attempted to give a picture of the book as a whole. There were some moving stories about how the book resonates with our own lives.

On the way to the lake in Barton.
Tomorrow I do an illustrated talk on the Psalms for our Mothers' Union in Barton, so I have a bit of midnight oil to burn for that. It's my fault, as I spent Sunday on the lake, not walking on it of course, far from it, and this meant one less session available to me for working. But you know how it is; I don't like to waste a good little wind, and like the Satnav says 'recalculating' in that Dalek voice often, I say this about my timetable when I fancy deviating from it. Tiredness is the only penalty, and is well worth it. Anyway, it's not really an illustrated talk, it's illustrations with talk. Life flows in to fill any spaces.

But how quickly I can forget that yesterday's blog was a cliff-hanger! I was wondering what I could offer in the way of some 'enlightenment' gained as a result of the camino, and now that doesn't seem at all important, which might in itself BE the enlightenment I wish for. The book of Ruth is a good one to set alongside the camino, because people can have expectations of what a book in the Bible might consist of, just like we might do about the camino. Both of them turn out to be about very down-to-earth aspects of life, about washing socks and having enough to eat, and feeling secure or 'tucked in' as I call it. God is mentioned rarely, and alongside God there is chance, and most important is a community which cares about its members and doesn't let rules be 'rules-is-rules', but rather, life is lived in the context of rules and not ruled by them (a bit sneaky, eh?); see the SCM Queer Commentary on the Bible for more: there is room for, indeed the necessity for, human initiative making rules work for us if tricky situations are to be resolved for the good of the participants; navigating our way skilfully in systems where the norms aren't always humane if they are made into 'oughts'). And anyway, to polarise the issue a bit, who would you rather be married to, righteous 'I-do-as-I'm-told' Abraham, or Jacob the devoted schemer?
The Psalms Skirt and book.

I did wonder today though if I had turned into a Wise Woman, just a bit, or even had been all along, because we have a new carpet in the church hall, and there has been some worry about it getting stained. I thought about my own approach to red wine stains on carpets, which has for a long time been to see them as little mementoes of a jolly good party and so to be celebrated. We have a dent in our dining table caused by a candlabra falling from on high one Christmas, of which I am similarly fond.

But where was I, in 2010? By the lake, in a garden with trees. Then the book of Ruth filled my mind today in 2011, and that was the best thing that could have happened; two days ago was eldest son's 32nd birthday, yesterday was anniversary of Dad's death, and today the last day before home in 2010. Plenty of up-and-downiness to cope with. As in Ruth, enlightenment won't help me get through life so much as kindness, nous, staying-power, courage and a bit of audaciousness.

The camino has not ended now, in 2010 or 2011, but it is high time Viv just let the camino 'do its work' all on its own, undisturbed by me prodding it all the time to yield something. But if I learnt something about myself, it was how much I enjoyed writing the Caminella; reflecting on the day's happenings was something that began while I was 'being a pilgrim', and is perhaps the best way to lay a day to rest. It's time I was tucked in too.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Camino bore: the last Sunday

Sunday 13th June 2010: Maria van Jessekerk, Delft.
Another Sunday on the continent, the third language, after Spanish and French. We'd been in Leon, Santiago and Chartres on previous Sundays, and so when in Delft we wondered where to go. We didn't fancy the big rather dour Protestant barns, and thought we'd continue with the Catholic that we'd got so used to, and so went to Maria van Jessekerk in Delft centre. On entering, we heard the notes of what was clearly a very fine organ indeed, which was what we needed to hear. After the botafumeriro, one gets a bit of a taste for the grand version of everything, which one might as well enjoy while it is there. There was an air of expectancy, people kept looking round towards the back of the church. The Caminella reads:

"...and then they came, streaming in through the square-topped doors just like in the poster from Santiago, and actually much more like the poster than anything in Santiago ever was. They were of all ages, some with rucksacks, all had lit candles, and there was a bishop leading. Seems like there was some big pilgrimage from several places around, and I think I felt a little stab of envy at not being in the pilgrim procession, as I do remember seeing the poster of Santiago and romantically expecting that we would process into Santiago cathedral rather than scrambling in by a side door, and bagging a place leaning against a pillar. But all pilgrims have to be most of the time the host church welcoming pilgrims in."

There must have been hundreds of them, and it was a very moving sight; we sang a Marian hymn over and over to a tune we started off not knowing, and in the end were joining in in Dutch. The language thing was interesting, a kind of reverse-Pentecost experience. We were onto the 3rd language of our time away, but as the eucharist is of such familiar shape, there was never a sense of not knowing what was going on even if one's attention drifted away from persevering with one's schoolgirl French or phrasebook Spanish (D of course had 'A' level Spanish). It made me think that we could do with more Latin in our services rather than less, since it acts as a kind of Esperanto punctuating it, and we might as well make the most of a common language.

Maria van Jessekerk, Delft.
We returned to this church later for an evening service of benediction, having been wowed by the morning eucharist, its music and pageantry. It was one of those 'God's little joke on us' services, since the parish priest turned up 15 minutes late, having got the time wrong; and the music... well, it was led by this group of young people with a guitar played by someone with very little aptitude for it, apparently having had about 2 lessons, and I had a tone-deaf man to my immediate left droning loudly. They ended by singing a chorus-ditty in Americanised English of the kind that we had not encountered in the whole of the camino. This was the last bit of religious music we heard on our trip to the continent. Ha!

It's not England!

Back in Delft, a normal Sunday with footie fever in full swing. (We were pleased that both Holland and Spain got to the final, then we didn't mind who won. But for Spain to win in its St James Holy Year was pleasing.)

Writing the Caminella within tent.
Then, as now, I devoted an hour or two to recording where we'd been and what I'd thought. And now, I pause, because I think 'What DID I think?' and I don't know. Since I'm fairly introspective, I didn't find any new thoughts bubbling up during the camino; only ones I'd had before: ideas that might help me do some housework, or how one can achieve a lot in small bites, or how attending to basic needs is what life is about - the usual kind of thing, the stuff of new year resolutions. There really was no revelation that you might not be able to get more cheaply and without blisters from one of those tear-off calendars with little nuggets of wisdom printed at the bottom of each day's page. I didn't come home transformed into a Wise Woman.

Crikey, can't you SEE my desperation? Tomorrow in 2010 terms we come home on the ferry - just one more day to go - and I'm still lacking 'enlightenment' a year on in 2011! The other day I thought what a good idea it would be for pilgrims to sew a small loop onto every garment one takes so that it can be hung from one's travelling ruck-sack washing line with no danger of loss of a sock. Where is the longed-for Big Idea, or the attitude change that would mean I'd sail through life from now on with a seraphic smile exuding calm and tranquillity wherever I go? Be honest, it isn't going to happen in the next 24 hours is it?

The paper camino.
I've been reading the book of Ruth for a study group I'm leading. It's a story about a community where nothing very extraordinary happens. Sometimes putting one thought against another does something, which is why I made the paper camino, to arrange the days in a spiral leading to a partly random final page when it is spread out, and to see themes and new juxtapositions. It's just a page of depictions of food and drink, a sore foot, a washing line, a group of children, a well-designed staircase, a light under the door, huddling by a fire; it's very ordinary stuff. What happens if I think about the book of Ruth next to the paper camino? I shall take that thought to bed with me......

Monday, 13 June 2011

Camino bore: being a pilgrim; being alive.

High jinks at Schev: No, it isn't me, and I don't want to do it either
Saturday 12th June 2010. Scheveningen.
At this point last year, we were feeling very much that the camino was almost over; we were 373 miles from home, a shorter distance than we'd walked from Roncesvalles to Santiago. We'd bought our 'Jacobs schall' (scallop) on the pier and taken photos of sandcastles and kitesurfers and all the jolly things happening at a normal Dutch seaside town. Perhaps there was even a feeling of the imminent cutting of an umbilical cord.

In 2011 an email from some travel firm came to me offering 'easy days on the camino', a trip described thus, and showing a pic of someone with a limp i.e. almost empty rucksack:

"French Way - Section Easy days 100km - 11 Days/ 10 Nights - 111 km - From €816 -
From Sarria to Santiago de Compostela

Our "Easy Days" trip makes it possible to absolutely everybody to experience the Way of St James / Camino de Santiago and reach the world-known Santiago de Compostela. On an  "Easy Days" trip, walking days are shortened to an average of 2hours/10 kilometres. You can also decide how to organise your day, starting at the time you like with no pressure about starting too early. The daily walk will fill a half day, leaving the other half free. With this walking holiday, you will have a chance to walk the last 50 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela and still experience the feeling of being a pilgrim of modern times.

Everyday, during the walk, you are guaranteed a high level of comfort and gastronomy. The Camino is clearly marked with the “Scallop Shell” showing you the way. We have split the stages to short distances, so daily walks are of 9 kilometres on average, which means there are accessible to absolutely everybody."

I've highlighted the bits in bold to illustrate where D and I are likely to harrumph. I'm all in favour of people with difficulties finding it possible to complete the camino. What sticks in the craw (oh I love that phrase) is that there are perfectly able-bodied people who set off with the intention of finding ways to make it as easy for themselves as possible. Perhaps 'twas ever thus. Sigh. Is 'experiencing the feeling of being a pilgrim' the same thing as to be a pilgrim? (Full marks to the travel company anyway for respecting the difference.)

A witty friend writes in response:

"He who would valiant be, come join the party; 
our way is slow and free, let's all be hearty; 
there's no impediment, the brochure's eloquent, 
just pay the travellers' fee, and be a pilgrim."

I miss it
Today in 2011, we have arrived at Pentecost. For reasons... reasons, we did not have the incense I expected at church today, and I was rather disappointed. Holy fire! I'd never describe myself as a 'spiritual' person, but  I am 'religious', as I find religious ceremonies and practices rather useful. I like the things I can see and smell and touch. I like to think of my prayers rising like incense, and incense rising like I hope my prayers do. The returned pilgrim likes to be reminded of Santiago too and of the idea of 'perfuming the world with our deeds'. It seems sad that it is OK to be noisy about finding incense offensive, when there are some of us who find its omission at least disappointing. 

Other things went wrong today, like trying to pick up friends from the station... but I went to the wrong station and so missed my post-windsurfing bathtime and evening prayer. I felt overwhelmed by my own medicority, and made a mental list of the many things I can do but poorly.

Windsurfing wasn't too brill, the wind was poor, and it rained... but I found that I didn't really mind the wet (how could I?) and the other windsurfer on the lake today described at length the progress he'd made since starting windsurfing just 18 months ago, then said that the rain lashing on his face 'made him feel alive'. There were many mornings on the camino like this; it'll do for me. Thankyou for your thought, fellow-pilgrim.