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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cherry Blossom

The beautiful cherry blossom, which has been scattering like confetti along all the paths and gardens, is in its last stages now but still it always brings to mind the Housman poem, Loveliest of Trees:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Friday, 24 April 2009

There are two swans on the lake at Temple Newsam. Today they were resting on the bank but when they glide across the water, they are so graceful and so beautiful that it sometimes seems that they epitomise all that life could be if we stopped chasing illusory notions and simply lived as we are created to live. It's so amusing that humanity has, for millennia, considered itself superior to other creatures and yet, as Whitman, so beautifully wrote:

...they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

For England and St. George!

April 23rd is the feast of St. George, patron of England, and on such a day, I am proud to be English and will wear a rose on my lapel!

The pride in being English doesn't come from any sense of old conquests or empires, but rather from the fells, the waterfalls, the scenery, and the literary heritage. The fact that the Feast Day coincides with Shakespeare's birthday (Happy Birthday, William!) is significant!

What makes the English so English? If ever there was a generalisation this is it!! We talk about the weather a lot because it changes a lot. We support the underdog, but as soon as the underdog gains any semblance of success, we knock them down again! We laugh at ourselves a lot and are a rather diffident race (probably due to the weather and the fact that if it's rainy - as it is a lot - we don't go out much). We know that the solution to every problem is to have a cup of tea (and it works!!) and we, being an island, are rather insular but love our Queen and our history. When we go on holiday, we sit. English people go somewhere and 'sit'. I have seen people drive somewhere lovely and sit in their cars and eat sandwiches and then drive home again. Cricket goes on for days and days and English people sit watching it. We're generally respectful but not so friendly as other nations but once we give our hearts, we give them for life. We're not very good cooks (but we make great Yorkshire Puddings) and, to return to the tea, Marlene Dietrich got it spot on!:
The British have an umbilical cord which has never been cut and through which tea flows constantly. It is curious to watch them in times of sudden horror, tragedy or disaster. The pulse stops apparently, and nothing can be done, and no move made, until "a nice cup of tea" is quickly made. There is no question that it brings solace and does steady the mind. What a pity all countries are not so tea-conscious. World-peace conferences would run more smoothly if "a nice cup of tea", or indeed, a samovar were available at the proper time.

Nowadays, England seems to be disappearing under the EU flag, but we're still here and won't go away. Funny how a long time ago Paul Guadalla wrote: An Englishman is a man who lives on an island in the North Sea governed by Scotsmen.

And to end this English-navel-gazing, I love Blake's Jerusalem, which so aptly describes the north of England even today with the remnants of the 'dark satanic mills':

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant Land.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Delicate Intricacy Of Tiny Wings

A child, lying in the long grass, peeping into the world of elves and buttercups and bluebells and butterflies, observes everything at its purest: the delicate intricacy of a bee's wings; the lines on the blades of grass; the busy movement of an ant or the slow crawling of a snail. In such tiny worlds dreams are born.

In such tiny worlds one sees how everything is ordered and guided by a more beautiful hand than the one that smacks or corrects. In such tiny worlds one sees the sheer artistry of the Great Design that grows from the roots outwards. In such tiny worlds one sees who we are - the child within us, growing and being constantly created and drawing closer and closer to the Divine Image within us.

There is something to awe-inspiring about gazing upon the intricacy of the tiny wings of creatures - the kinds of creatures that people swat and carelessly brush aside. The attention to detail in all of Nature is utterly absorbing and filled with so many gentle lessons, don't you think?

(Photograph courtesy of )

Sunday, 12 April 2009


Sending every good thought and all Easter blessings to you, if you have dropped by here - thank you for visiting this site!

I hope to goodness that this doesn't infringe copyright and, if it does, I'll remove it at once. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature I've ever read. Taken from Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" it captures the whole essence of Easter more than anything preached from pulpits, or anything that can be put into words. I missed out a great chunk of it and I thoroughly recommend the chapter: "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" for so beautiful an expression of awe and reality!!

"Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror - indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy - but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend, and saw him at his side, cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew....
... "Rat!" he found breath to whisper, shaking. "Are you afraid?"
"Afraid?" murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. "Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet - and yet - O, Mole, I am afraid!"
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
Sudden and magnificent, the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn."

Saturday, 11 April 2009


Goethe wrote, "There is a politeness of the heart; it is akin to love."

Isn't that true? And doesn't it make your day when people are polite to one another? It's not the false 'Have a nice day' politeness, but the sense that when someone serves you, or you are served, in a shop, there is genuine interaction and mutual respect; the sense that when you hold open a door, or hold a door open for someone else, there is mutual respect. Companies, I believe, send people on courses to teach them this 'skill' but it cannot be taught - it's something inside us. If we respect one another, recognize the greatness in one another then politeness is the natural response. Politeness isn't a sham - when it is, one senses it immediately - but a true appreciation of the value of the person in front of us, isn't it? It's lovely when people treat us with respect.

When I was a teenager, an elderly gentleman lived down the road and whenever I passed him, he raised his hat in so gentlemanly a fashion that made me feel wonderful! So small a thing to do and so greatly appreciated. A little more awareness of other people, and we change someone's world!

"True politeness is the spirit of benevolence showing itself in a refined way. It is the expression of good-will and kindness. It promotes both beauty in the man who possesses it, and happiness in those who are about him."
Henry Ward Beecher

Friday, 10 April 2009

What Good Friday Means To Me

(photo courtesy of )
"Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

In the grave they laid him, love whom men had slain,
Thinking that never he would wake again.
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green."

This lovely old hymn is so very beautiful, isn't it?

For the first four decades of my life, from as far back as I can remember, Good Friday moved me intensely. Growing through adolescence and early adulthood, it always seemed that the more deeply I felt the grief of that day, the more 'holy' I was, somehow. Weeping through "The Passion of the Christ" or the earlier (lovelier!) "Jesus of Nazareth" seemed the right thing to do. And it moved me intensely and on some level it felt 'good' to be so moved. Now I wonder...

Now, when we see everyone jumping on the bandwagon of other people's grief - a child is killed, a person is run over in the road, and flowers or teddy bears appear tied to railings, left there by well-meaning strangers; a 'celebrity' dies and there is a huge outpouring of tears as though somehow the world is less for their passing; and it seems sometimes that the words that Jesus spoke on the road to Golgotha, "Weep not for me but for yourselves and your children," were not, as I once thought, some kind of prophecy, but rather a statement of what was happening right there. Were they weeping for him, or for their own projected grief? For all the inner concealed crucifixions of the Christ within us all...If we are children of God, or children of Life, why do we crucify our dignity by having faith in sin, in evil, in sickness, in the belief that somehow we are at the mercy of fate? If we are Children of Life, then surely we the Kingdom of Heaven within us can shine forth and, without the need of projecting our grief, we face up to our own demons and walk on into our own Easter.

A constantly recurring question was always, "He died for my sins, so I am sorry and am born in debt to him, but what sin did I commit that deserved such a terrible end?" or, "Who demanded something so horrible? Could (the God of) Life demand death in recompense for some failure in His children? Or worse, could Life/Love demand the death of an innocent for the guilty?" No, it doesn't make sense at all. Nor does it fit with anything that this beautiful man actually said. His life and message was surely more important than his death, and yet we have filled churches and holy places with crucifixes - we have honoured the cross, when surely the whole meaning of his life is, "To have life more abundantly." If we believe we are created in the 'image and likeness' of God, and yet create a God who demands the death of an innocent, it is small wonder that religions have, over centuries, caused wars, murdered and massacred those who don't agree with our view of the world. If we believe in a God who is Life, who causes to sun to rise on the unjust as well as the just, who has no favourites and simply expresses Him (Her) Self in all that is - all people, all creatures, all creation - then there is no need for ideologies, theologies, 'isms' or any control or power-seeking.

No, none of the self-satisfied grieving, the sense of 'I've done my duty by honouring this death and feeling mauled by it...' No. The point of it all is surely to recognize where we crucify our own expression of Life. To grieve for a man who died horrifically 2000 years ago, is without purpose and self-indulgent. We're not here to mourn the past but to live as true expression of that Life, as, I believe, Jesus of Nazareth did.

It is spring. Love is really the foundation, source and life in everything and that is what Good Friday means to me.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain.
Quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Then thy touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Still Waiting For The Herbs...

Ho hum...still no sign of growth in the herb gardens but one must be patient! The moss garden looks a little wet but the scent of it is so beautiful.

A week or two ago, I met an elderly lady who told me how to grow potatoes in buckets and even carrots indoors. She said, too, that it's great to grow beans around the flowers in a garden and she had done that for years with great success.

Is it a sign of the materialistic age moving back to where we came from, when people are tired of having everything handed to them packaged and frozen, and would rather go through the process of patience and becoming more attuned to the seasons, where you plant something miraculous, and miraculously it grows and creates such a sense of awe? I think we have all had enough of being spoon-fed, and the whole collapse of old structures is really about reminding us about who is really in charge here!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Miniature Gardens

It's become really popular recently to grow your own vegetables and plant your own herbs - and what a lovely way to be! When I was a child, we went to the green grocer's with an old bag (reserved for that purpose), asked for however many pounds of potatoes and the green grocer shovelled them in, soil and all. To bake the potatoes, we had a special sort of nail brush. Nowadays, scrubbing potatoes is a reflex action, but they never need scrubbing because they all come in the same clean shape and size, polished and packed and looking kind of clinical.

Not having a big garden right now, I am growing indoor gardens, and the joy of that, and the difference it makes to the atmosphere of rooms, having growing/living things indoors is wonderful! A couple of weeks ago, on a window sill, I began the herb garden - which is daily tended and shows no sign of life yet. Yesterday, I began the English country garden in a small tray; a conifer, some grass seeds and little shoots from outdoors, looks pretty. Also the Zen garden, of pebbles collected years ago on a beach, some sand and fork, till I make my own rake. Today my delight is the moss garden. I gathered the moss - a little at a time - from the trees in the woods (where, for the first time this year, I heard crickets singing), being very careful not to damage the bark and thanking the good old friends, the ancient trees, for letting me do that. It was so fascinating, as the sun shone through the light green-ness of the spring buds, to see where the moss grows. Still more beautiful is the scent coming from that little tray tonight. It feels like having brought the woods home with me and perfume of the earth is beyond description! More beautiful than 'cedars of the Lebanon' or the most exquisite perfumes in the world! All of these indoor gardens cost nothing, really. I have bought a couple of things - seed trays and compost and the poor little plants that were flagging on the sale-shelf, but the moss garden and the Zen garden can be done without spending a single penny and, when I read of Zen gardens, I thought they seemed a bit barren and was sceptical about their value. Now, having experienced making one, it's so clear how profoundly lovely they are!

On leaving the woods, I saw a little child sitting among the cherry-blossom laden branches of a beautiful tree, having her photo taken. The little child was smiling so beautifully at her family, and the tree seemed so happy to welcome her there. Trees and the growing things are so beautiful, aren't they? For all my dreams and aspirations, I couldn't help thinking what a perfect way to spend a morning amid the kind and wise loveliness of the trees! How blessed I was to be there and how beautiful is the Spring!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

April, April...

April, April,
Laugh thy girlish laughter;
Then, the moment after,
Weep thy girlish tears!
April, that mine ears
Like a lover greetest,
If I tell thee, sweetest,
All my hopes and fears,
April, April,
Laugh thy golden laughter,
But, the moment after,
Weep thy golden tears!

William Watson's poem so captures the season - the season that has been much the same for centuries in spite of the global warming myth!
Compared to the span of history, my life has been pretty short but I know that the weather, when I was a child, was pretty similar to what it is now. There were warm winters and cold summers. Reading back through the journals of peoples of the past, Queen Victoria wrote of 'unseasonably warm' winters, and cold summers, and centuries before her, people recorded the same apparently drastic weather when it was suddenly hot in December. Gloucester, for example, the place where the relatively recent floods were put down to global warming, was known to flood so often that centuries ago, the rhyme about "Dr. Foster went to Gloucester in the pouring rain..." was written.

Is there anything more arrogant than the idea that Man is bigger than Nature? (When you plant a tiny little seed and it suddenly becomes alive, it fills you with such wonder that you know that a greater hand is at work). It's rather like the idea that Man can somehow offend God - that Man is responsible for everything - the the Sun revolves around the Earth and we are the centre of the universe! Oh, how we need to get real about that! Man - or rather the Ego of humanity - who lives in some speck of the Universe, has so short a span of life on this planet, and yet grows grandiose ideas about his ability to offend Life Itself, is surely the child within us who failed to grow up. At the same time, the ultimate dignity of each person becomes clearer when we see our true place in all that is.

It seems that now, as the institutions collapse and all the things by which people have been bound through centuries show themselves to be meaningless, people are returning to our roots. So many people are cultivating gardens for growing vegetables; moving from, or being forced out of the coma of the virtual world of plastic money and returning to reality - a reality that is surely free from the notion that we are somehow dependent on equally frail beings to tell us what is so or not so. We need no cult; we need no violence or anger or someone to tell us what is good for us.

Ordinary people get on with their lives and blend into the reality that 'little man' cannot destroy or control.

And April laughs her girlish laughter so beautifully and weeps her girlish tears in the same hour! Times and seasons...all is surely in greater hands than those of little grasping fists!

Friday, 3 April 2009

In England now!

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

Robert Browning wrote so beautifully! Well, he was a little mistaken because this morning I did wake in England aware of the tiny leaves and chaffinch singing in the trees!
The woods of Temple Newsam House are so beautiful just now. Some trees have that lightest, almost shy, green of Spring; the scents are just beginning to take us by surprise again - that new growth smell that comes with freshly cut grass and turned earth. It was misty today as it took a long time for the sun - which was the clearest solar disc through the mist - a long time to dispel that. It gave everything such a mystical air that was so incredibly lovely.
So, a century later, Mr. Browning, what you wrote is still so true and beautiful!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

"Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour...
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages..."

Thus wrote Chaucer in the 14th century and it's funny how every April, all these centuries later, the same longing for pilgrimage begins. No matter how drastically external things change, the same basic human/spiritual instincts remain the same. Perhaps, with the awakening of the Spring comes the eternal desire to return to that freshness that pilgrimages bring. Apart from modes of transport, nothing has changed either in the way that pilgrims of whatever faith set out on their pilgrimages. Still, people tell their stories as they go along the road (or plane or train). Still, there are the amusing people, the over-zealous ones, the ones who 'adopt' you when you wish to be alone, and the ones who wish to pour out their hearts and those who wish to be quiet. It's so fascinating how the same people appear century after century - so fascinating and so lovely.

I love pilgrimages; the journey, and even the decision to take the journey, is as much a part of it as arriving at the pilgrimage centre. Having been on many pilgrimages, it still fills me with wonder about they way they begin; the time before setting off when you wonder why you're bothering; the being there and only when you come back realizing what it was all really about - like Wordsworth's description of poetry being 'emotion recollected in tranquillity'. I guess the whole idea of an external journey is the physical acting out of the real journey we all make into the true Self and our true selves.

Pilgrimages are rather wonderful and April with its sweet showers really does stir the heart towards them!