Thursday, 30 June 2016

Boris...

So it’s true what they say: a week really is a long time in politics. So far this morning I’ve heard Michael Gove throw his hat into the ring, and Boris Johnson take his bat home. I’d say that puts Theresa May in pole position to become Tory leader and, therefore, PM. To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, “Politics… bloody hell!”…

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

England expects...

I watched the England v Iceland game last night. It was a dispiriting ninety minutes… for many different reasons. Before the game, losing to Iceland was, according to the pundits, “unimaginable”, “unacceptable", "impossible". One of the three possible results - win, lose, draw - had simply been discounted.

The England players looked fearful, inhibited, bereft of ideas, hobbled by a nation’s expectations. They played without joy, without enthusiasm, with a kind of pent-up panic. The fear of losing outweighed the will to win. “We are in a results business”, Roy Hodgson said, in his short resignation speech, deciding to jump before he was pushed.

When heightened expectations aren’t matched by performance, heads must roll. Someone must be made accountable for failure. The fans make more demands: the new manager must pick younger players, who have yet to be paralised by failure, or older players, who can bring guile and experience. England must play a different formation; they must go “back to basics” (whatever that means). There’ll be hand-wringing, soul-searching, scapegoating. Whatever a manager decided to do, the team should have done something else. Hindsight is 20/20 vision.

What fans cannot do is to sit back and simply enjoy the game, as it unfolds. Without having to carry the burden of unrealistic expectation, the England might have performed better. They would at least have played with freedom and smiles on their faces. They are, after all, well-paid athletes at the peak of their powers.

Iceland, with a population of just 300,000 people, fully deserved their famous victory. They’ll be writing sagas about it. I'll be rooting for them in their next game... against France...

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Climbdown...

David Cameron won the election in May 2015, and has fallen on his sword. Jeremy Corbyn was voted in with a big majority as Labour leader, but is now suffering the death of a thousand cuts. The next Prime Minister has to contemplate the possibility that his or her term of office will be entirely taken up with disentangling the UK from the EU. We're looking at years of uncertainty and muddle.

I can't see it happening, and I don't feel that the majority of people in the country want it to happen either. The referendum should never have taken place, and a lot of people have been misled about the consequences of voting 'Leave'. I don't think we will leave Europe. It may require a humiliating climbdown, brought about by a second referendum, or a Scottish veto, or a renegotiation of the terms of EU membership (or associate membership)... or some other byzantine political machination...

Ullswater...


Referendum...

Be careful what you wish for; be careful what you vote for. The referendum result came as quite a shock; I’d assumed that many undecided voters would finally default to maintaining the status quo. But 52% of the electorate plumped, instead, for going to sea in a sieve. A mere 48 hours later, both major political parties are in turmoil, and no-one seems to know where we go from here. Three million people have added their signatures to an online petition, asking for the referendum to be re-run. The future seems uncertain, and I can’t recall a time when our kingdom looked less united…

Ullswater...




Saturday, 25 June 2016

Osprey...

I met Helen mid-afternoon at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve and, without expecting to see much, we checked out some of the hides. We saw most birds from the public hide, halfway along the Cut. A greenshank was the standout sighting, along with some good views of marsh harriers. We were on our own in the hide, after everyone else had left, when a bird of prey started hovering over the water. I thought it was another harrier, but no… it was an osprey… which dived down into the water and came up with a substantial fish. It was such a perfect and unexpected moment; I half expected to hear a running commentary by Richard Attenborough. Mobbed first by a crow, then a marsh harrier, the Osprey spiralled upwards with its catch, and was lost from view. It probably came from Foulshaw Moss: maybe 15 miles by road, but only about three miles… as the osprey flies…

The Piel Island ferryman goes to collect his boat...

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Preston...

Stayed last night in Garstang where, purely by chance, I caught the last ten overs of the one-day match between England and Sri Lanka. With England eight wickets down and needing nearly 100 more runs, Sri Lanka looked odds-on to win. Buttler and Woakes kept the run-rate ticking over, then Woakes and Plunket looked to get 14 off the last over. They needed 7 off the last ball - impossible, unless the bowler bowled a wide or a no-ball. But Plunket sent the ball up into the night sky and over the rope. Six: a tie! For sheer excitement it beat any of the games I have watched in the European Championship (and I was the only person in the pub watching it, apart from the barmaid… who looked like she was overdosing on a surfeit of football)…

The names of off-licenses reflect local tastes and predilictions. In London, Bath and Cheltenham, they’re branded as ‘The High and Hampstad Fine Wine Emporium’. In Barnsley they’re called ‘Bladdered’, in Runcorn ‘Rat-arsed’. Here, in Preston, the locals go to ‘Booze Inn’…


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Remain...

The lead item on the Guardian website offers the 'news' that David Beckham (a man of few words; well, one too few) will vote to stay in Europe. Gotta say, that's clinched the argument for me...


Monday, 20 June 2016

England v Slovenia...

“Would you like me to top it up?”, asks the barman, rhetorically, as he hands me about 4/5th of a pint of lager. That’s not even a question, is it? I’m in Lytham St Annes. The rain cleared, the sun’s out and the cumulus clouds are stacked up behind the famous windmill like scatter cushions. England are playing Slovenia this evening; a win would put them top of the group (ie they wouldn’t go out on penalties to the Germans in the next round)…


Summer solstice...

It’s the summer solstice today, apparently, though the weather is gloomy and overcast. I still can’t find anything positive to say about the referendum, except to wish it wasn’t happening. I can imagine positive futures - and negative futures - whether we vote in or out. Similarly, one scare story sounds much like another scare story; in that respect the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ lobbies are level-pegging.

All we’ve succeeded in doing is unearthing a particularly nasty seam of political in-fighting. The referendum result is on a knife-edge, so even a ‘Remain’ win (which is what I expect) will hardly represent a ringing endorsement for our membership of the European Union. To the other members we’ll still be the awkward squad, the odd men out… and the divisions in our own country will be more pronounced, the rifts wider and harder to heal…

Pampered, over-paid Premiership players would no doubt find this pitch unacceptably waterlogged. Not Sir Tom Finney, though; he got stuck in (statue outside Preston FC)…

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Ruff...

Spent a few hours at Martin Mere, a reserve run by the Wildlife and Wetland Trust. There was a statue of Sir Peter Scott near the entrance, though I’m not sure he would have approved of the reserve’s rampant commercialism. I paid my money (more than I’ve had to pay for any recent day’s bird watching) and escaped to a distant bird hide.

Highlight: two male ruffs in gorgeous breeding plumage (both very different: one pale ruff, the other a deep purple). Their feathers said “look at me!”. Their behaviour, in contrast, seemed unobtrusive, discreet. They were busy feeding in shallow water, rather than wowing a potential mate. Maybe the plumage has already served its purpose and the birds will soon be back to their more usual, more sedate colouration. In the meantime they were quietly spectacular!

Hostilities...

As a mark of respect, following the murder of Jo Cox, politicians took a break from EU hostilities. David Cameron and Jeremy Corbeyn appeared on the same platform in Birstall. Everyone was falling over themselves to say what a great MP Jo Cox had been, even though she had only been at Westminster for 13 months.

Canvassing resumes today. It won’t take long, I fear, for all the fine words and sentiments to be forgotten, and for the usual hostilities to be resumed. We’ll have a few more days of propaganda and scare-mongering, before a confused and ill-informed electorate cast their votes…

I called in at a car boot sale this morning, in a huge field near Garstang. There were lots of caravans and motorhomes, suggesting that a lot of people had stayed the night. I used to enjoy car boot sales, but the sight of acres of junk displayed on trestle tables left me feeling a bit dispirited this morning. There were chargers for obsolete phones, old computers, rusty tools, clothes that children have outgrown, toys they no longer want to play with, books that nobody wants to read (including one of mine!). There were CDs by long-forgotten boy bands, and cassette tapes and videos; I saw George Forman Grills and foot spas. This is the bargain basement of the consumer society. I kept my money in my pocket...

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Leighton Moss...

Called in at Leighton Moss this morning, yet another RSPB reserve, in North Lancashire. It’s changed a bit since I was here last: a bigger visitor centre, more paths, more hides… and a viewing platform, accessible by steps, which offers a birds-eye view over the reedbeds. Highlights included a flock of about 70 black-tailed godwits, which flew around in a tight formation. How do the birds know where to land? Does one bird make the decision, and the other birds follow? I had a close-up view of the godwits from one of the hides; they were only a few metres away, feeding on the mudflats.

A pair of marsh harriers kept a lot of people entertained, in another hide, also an otter which swam across the open water, and a couple of red deer. I saw avocets in flight, and heard the brief, explosive song of what I thought was a cetti’s warbler (a warden confirmed that cetti’s warblers are now regular visitors)…

Friday, 17 June 2016

England...

I watched the England v Wales match with a Scottish guy, in a Penrith pub. He’d put a bet on (at 20-1) for a 2-2 draw (perhaps unable to bring himself to hope that either England or Wales would win… especially as Scotland had failed to make it to the competition). Of course, it’s hard to cheer for a draw.

It wasn’t much of a game. A 1-1 draw looked the likeliest result until Sturridge put England ahead with almost the last kick of the game. So England won, Wales didn’t, and a Scotsman lost his bet: a good result all round…

Ninekirks: one of the churches that Lady Anne Clifford restored. “It would in all likelihood have fallen down, it was soe ruinous, if it had not bin repaired by me.”

Long Meg and her Daughters...

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Cliff...

Chips Moman has died: the man who, with Dan Penn, wrote Dark End of the Street, which would definitely be one of the eight songs I’d take with me to that mythical ‘desert island’. And Chips Moman also had a son called Casey.

I read another story - or, rather, non-story - today, about no charges being brought against Cliff Richard over alleged “historical sexual offences”. According to Martin Goldman, chief crown prosecutor for Yorkshire and Humberside, there is “insufficient evidence” to bring about a prosecution. That hadn’t stopped the police from making a dawn raid on Cliff Richard’s Berkshire penthouse, having tipped off the BBC about their plans. A dawn raid? What planet were these people living on? Had they watched too many episodes of Miami Vice? The BBC got their film footage, though not of Cliff Richard himself, who was on holiday in Portugal at the time of the raid.

Allegations about sexual offences had been swirling around for years, though the singer was never charged. There was no need for the public to know anything until - or unless - charges were brought. So why was a man’s reputation dragged needlessly through the mud? I’m no fan of Cliff Richard’s music, but I can only imagine the distress caused by these allegations. The “no smoke without fire” brigade, happy to be judge and jury in such instances, will have come to their own conclusions already. As for the rest of us… we didn’t need to know…

I’m taking a break today from my rigorous routine of taking pictures and faffing about, to watch the England v Wales game. With a win from their first game, another win against England would put Wales into the next round. With a draw from their first game (against a very poor Russian team), England need a win… or they’ll most likely be going home, with a chorus of boos ringing in their ears. So the pressure is all on England, despite the fact that beating Wales has presented few problems over the years. Should be an interesting game, with lots of cutaway shots to England fans biting their nails as the minutes tick away…  

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Penrith...

Stayed in Penrith last night, parked up near my favourite cafĂ©, Oliver’s Tasty Bites. Just ordered my breakfast: a mug of tea and a well-done bacon sandwich in a fresh, floury bun. A perfect way to start the day. Penrith has free wifi throughout the town, which is handy too. Penrith’s in the vanguard, but, some day soon, wifi will be everywhere. I won't have to look for it...

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Iceland...

Just watched the second half of the Portugal v Iceland game. The commentator offered the amazing stat that one tenth of Iceland’s 332,500 population (that’s the population of Coventry, or Cardiff) was in the stadium watching the match. I support the underdog, from habit. C’mon Iceland!

Pets...

I read an article in the Guardian yesterday about the decline of pet ownership (and a corresponding fall in profits for pet food manufacturers). Decline? What decline? From the evidence of my own eyes I would have said that pet ownership was going up, not down. I see people with not just one dog on a lead, but two or three. It looks nightmarish to me, but these doughty pet owners seem to relish the sheer inconvenience of having more pets than a sane person might really need. Couples have dogs, so they can talk about dogs… rather than, say, the existential bleakness at the heart of their marriage…

Monday, 13 June 2016

Fairburn Ings...

Kipped in the car park at Fairburn Ings, another RSBP reserve, so I was ready to take a wander early this morning. The highlight was seeing a pair of great crested grebes, and their offspring. The young grebe was losing its downy feathers and developing the characteristic ear tufts, but, despite being almost full-size, it still needed feeding. The parents kept diving and coming up with sardine-sized fish which junior swallowed whole.

About twenty years ago I was walking around the lakes at Fairburn Ings, when a sizeable bird popped to the surface of the water, just a few feet away. I turned to the guy next to me and said “If I didn’t know better I’d swear that was a great northern diver”. He confirmed that’s what it was: a single bird that had taken up residence at the reserve for a few days. It certainly wasn’t a bird I’d ever expected to see in Yorkshire.

And twenty years before that, following a domestic argument, I found myself sitting in a hide at Fairburn Ings on Christmas Day morning. It took a couple of minutes to realise I wasn’t alone; a man was sitting in the shadows. “The house is full of women”, he said mournfully, “and they said I was in the way. So I thought I’d come here for an hour or two. But before I left, I grabbed this”. He produced a bottle of single malt whisky from the inside pocket of his coat, so, on a frosty winter’s morning, two refugees from the family home were able to toast each other’s health with something warming…

Pawnbroker closing down... and flags flying for England...

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Neil Young...

Saw Neil Young on Friday night with chums from York. The venue was a cavernous arena in Leeds, between the Merrion Centre and the Inner Ring Road. Good concert, good company… though the experience was a forceful reminder of why I avoid crowds… especially on a Friday night… in the big city. At such moments I feel like a ‘hick from the sticks’. Seeing Neil Young for the first time, in the company of 13,500 people (that’s the stated capacity, and the place looked full) was curiously uninvolving.

I’ve been humming his songs since Friday night, though I doubt whether I’ll repeat the concert experience. The alternatives are to listen to his CDs, or to listen to little-known singers in smaller, more intimate venues…

Selby Abbey: I've never seen a street party in a church before...


Friday, 10 June 2016

Hull...

With Hull due to be the City of Culture in 2017, I had a day taking pix yesterday. The centre of the city is a building site, with huge expanses of new paving being laid down. One thing's for sure: Hull will look very smart next year. I just hope they can meet their deadlines; there's a lot of work still to be done, and only six months to do it. I came back to the Romahome, parked by the marina, to find I'd licensed a couple of pix... of Hull...


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Highlights...

My excuse for spending May in East Anglia was to hear a nightingale… fifty years after I’d last heard them on Salthouse Heath in Norfolk. Mission accomplished… at an idyllic reserve, Fingringhoe Wick, run by the Essex Wildlife Trust. I remember walking through thick woods and scrubland on a tracery of paths, as the song of one male nightingale drifted away as another bird filled the void. The acoustics were rich and resonant: not just loud, but with an echoing effect, as though the birdsong had been switched from mono to stereo. The experience was about listening rather than watching. The foliage at Fingringhoe Wick was so thick that nightingales and warblers could sing a few feet away from visitors, yet stay concealed.

I could have heard nightingales at any time in the last fifty years, simply by heading to the south-east. Nightingale numbers are down, and there are just a few strongholds where they can still be found. Fingringhoe Wick provided just the right combination of habitats - thick cover, open spaces, water and heathland - to support a nightingale population which, as one of the wardens told me, is on the increase.

I expected to see birds such as marsh harrier, bearded tit, bittern and avocet; I just didn’t know how widespread they are these days. Avocets have made a remarkable comeback, having been reduced to a handful of nesting pairs a generation ago. Now they’re everywhere along England’s east coast - right up to the Scottish border, I’m told - wherever the coastal habitat is to their liking. At Minsmere I must have seen more than a hundred avocets, nesting on the islands, and their fluffy offspring. There were smaller numbers at the other reserves I visited. Wherever there were reedbeds I saw marsh harriers.

You know a bird has become common when bird-watchers no longer mention them. From the status of rare vagrants, little egrets have become ubiquitous. I was lucky enough to see a spoonbill; they, too, may colonise the southen counties as our climate changes. Storks and cranes may be next. I heard Cetti’s Warblers at most reserves, when I hadn’t expected to hear any. Other birds have not done so well. I didn’t see a single owl, treecreeper, bullfinch, redstart, corn bunting or spotted flycatcher, in places where I would have expected to find them.

Highlights… A dartford warbler displaying on a sprig of gorse at Dunwich Heath… A bittern in flight at Lakenheath Fen… Red-necked pharalope yesterday - a tiny bundle of energy - and a pair of spotted redshanks… A pair of marsh harriers in their display flight… Actually, there were so many highlights, and the best part was re-discovering what first attracted me to birds all those years ago. It’s not about ‘ticking off’ the rarities; it’s about the whole experience of being out in the landscape, with eyes and ears open…

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Blacktoft Sands...

I spent the morning at Blacktoft Sands, another RSPB reserve, a few miles from Goole on the south side of the Humber. I thought I might be gazing out over tidal mud-flats, but no: the reserve was mostly fresh water and reedbeds. I settled myself down in the Ousefleet hide, with a few other people… and an interesting variety of birdlife. The star of the show was a female red-necked pharalope (a new bird for me), a tiny wader no bigger than a skylark. It was in perpetual motion: wading, swimming, feeding and preening, and keeping out of the way of bigger, more aggressive birds. Even the ducklings were bigger! It was fun to point out the pharalope to the people who came to the hide; it wasn’t easy to spot.

There were two spotted redshank (yet another new bird for me), wading elegantly in the shallow water. They were joined by a flock of twenty black-tailed godwits. Marsh harriers hunted over the reedbeds. There was talk of a montague’s harrer, but I didn’t see it. I must have been in the hide for a couple of hours - watching birds, comparing notes, listening to conversations.

No-one mentioned the avocets, nesting on the little islands. Twenty years ago, they were very rare. To see one you might have had to go to Minsmere, where a few pairs were encouraged to breed. But now they’re plentiful… or, rather, they’re plentiful in their preferred habitats. It’s the same with marsh harriers; I’ve seen them wherever there have been reedbeds. I finished the morning with sightings of bearded tits, and the explosive song of Cetti’s warblers… another bird that has become more plentiful in recent years. There were about a dozen little egrets too.., suggesting that climate change is altering the distribution patterns of so many birds… 

Pantone 448 C...

According to an article in the Guadian, Pantone 448 C ‘opaque couchĂ©’ has been voted the ugliest colour. It’s the colour that’s been adopted for plain cigarette packaging. By a fortuitous coincidence it’s also (nearly) the colour of the shirts that McDonalds employees are contracted to wear…

Very warm yesterday, up to 27℃, making it the hottest day of the year so far. Slept with the windows open to get a through breeze…

Pantone 448 C...

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Ramadan...

Sadiq Khan wrote in the Guardian, yesterday, about how difficult it will be for him to observe Ramadan this year. “Because of the lunar calendar, Ramadan moves back by twelve days each year, and we’re now at the peak of long summer days. A lot of these fasts are going to be 19 hours long. It’s scary”. What, it’s scary to obey meaningless injunctions set down, many centuries ago, in some ‘holy’ book? “Anyone who knows me knows that I’m miserable during Ramadan”, he admits. So… don’t do it, Sadiq. Assert your independence of mind and spirit by doing what you think is right.

First we invent a set of rules. Then then we pretend they came from God. Then we slavishly follow them. What makes us curtail our freedom so readily? Why do we restrict our choices and hobble our creativity? Why can’t we live without our rituals and ceremonies? Why are we so keen to surrender our autonomy to authority figures that we feel impelled to invent them?…

Goole...


Fishtoft...

The ‘debate’ about Europe continues, though it’s really more of a slanging match. MPs seemed locked into the adversarial mindset of party politics, so Europe is either “very good” or “very bad”. It would be good to hear nuanced arguments instead of ever more apocalyptic visions of what will happen if the vote goes one way or the other. Maybe it’s true that we get the politicians we deserve…

This obelisk at Fishtoft, near Boston, commemorates the Scrooby Congregation, a group of English Separatist Protestants. In an attempt to escape religious persecution, they chartered a Dutch ship, in 1607, to transport them to Holland. Unfortunately, the captain betrayed them to the local authorities. They were arrested and imprisoned in the cells at Boston for about a month. After their release they managed to reach Amsterdam. In 1620 they set sail for the New World via Southampton and Plymouth… in the Mayflower…

A short walk from the memorial is this house, which looks out onto the tidal River Haven. It used to be a pub, the Jolly Sailor. There must have been a lot of traffic by boat for a pub to have survived in such an isolated spot...











Sunday, 5 June 2016

Spoonbill...

After days of grey skies, the sun finally came out today… so I took some pix around Spalding. In the afternoon I had a wander around the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh, on the Wash. At the visitor centre I was asked “What do you want to see today?” Off the top of my head I said “spoonbill” (I’ve never seen one). “Well, you’re in luck. There’s a spoonbill on the marshland. Just go to the sea wall, turn right and you should see it”. And there it was, right on cue: feeding next to a little egret… another bird I would have been unlikely to see twenty years ago. Much bigger than the egret, the spoonbill was swishing that strange bill this way and that through the shallow water.

I reported my sighting - and others - when I returned to the visitor centre. Since they’d “made my day”, by supplying a convenient spoonbill, they tried to recruit me as an RSPB member. If I refused, they were going to lock me in the visitor centre. That didn’t bother me; I’ve lived in less salubrious places. Maybe I should become a member. I approve of the work the RSPB are doing, in creating and maintaining so many valuable habitats. I just don’t want my email inbox filled up every day with ‘special offers’.

Staying in Boston tonight, in the shadow of the ‘Stump’…

Holbeach...

Kipped last night in the small fenland town of Holbeach. I overheard a woman talking on her phone to a friend: “You phoned me”. “No, you phoned me”. “No, you phoned me”. Two lads were swearing at each other in the street: “You fuck off”. “No you fuck off”. “No, you fuck off”. It’s good to know that some regional stereotypes are true…

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Greatest...

Woke up this morning to hear that Mohammed Ali has died. I remember his first fights - in the 1960s - when he was still known as Cassius Clay. My dad allowed me to stay up late to watch his fights, beamed into our living room on our black & white TV. I wasn’t just allowed to watch; I remember my dad insisting. No great sports fan, he nevertheless seemed to know that something special was happening.

From the beginning Cassius Clay was a showman. He predicted, in rhyming couplets, the round in which he would knock his next opponent out… and he did. He said he was “the prettiest”… and he was. He boasted that he was “the greatest” and, in coming back to become world champion three times, he silenced his critics.

I remember his boxing style. He was light on his feet and danced around the ring (“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”). He mocked his more ponderous opponents. He leaned back on the ropes (“rope-a-dope”), let an opponent tire himself out, then went for the knock-out.

He gave up what he called his “slave name”, embraced Islam and called himself Mohammed Ali. He was banned from boxing, during what might have been his most successful years, because he refused to fight in Vietnam. At the time he was denounced for taking a stand against the war. Yet, in the years that followed, his reputation grew and grew, to the point of idolatry, and, for the rest of his life, he was probably the best-known person on the planet.

Strange: a black man, a convert to Islam, who was beyond criticism, beyond reproach… a sporting hero who transcended sport and resonated with people from every country, every culture. He never led a civil rights march, yet he probably did more for race relations, and the status of black people, than anyone else in America… 

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Maze...

I heard one of the ‘Leave’ campaigners on the radio this morning. He talked about the “sunlit uplands” of economic prosperity, once we’ve left the EU… and he mentioned the “plague of dragons” that awaited the nation if we stayed in. I presume this was some sort of misbegotten joke, but who knows any more? The level of debate is depressingly low. I saw a cartoon this morning (in another context), which showed a blindfolded man being led into a maze. This is how I feel when I hear politicians - and others - broadcast their scare stories... about staying or leaving. Too much propaganda, too few facts…

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Church going...

The first three verses of Philip Larkin's poem, Church going. I recognise the sentiments...

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Congregation...

I had a look around the church at Aylsham this morning. There was some kind of service being held in a side chapel, and the first words I heard were “almighty and everlasting God”. I wonder how many times these exact words have been used over the last 2,000 years.

What I remember most about services in the school chapel, 50 years ago, was the repetition. The chaplain chanted something, and we replied, in our sing-song voices, with the required response. Didn’t anyone have anything new to say, or did this represent the limit of our religious lexicon? It seemed stale, derivative, ludicrous. But what can you say that’s new about a deity who has been inconveniently absent for two millennia?

The man leading the service in Aylsham Church was dressed in white, and he extended his arms to either side - like a crucifixion without a cross - as though to bless the tiny congregation of people. They all looked older than me…

Not Aylsham... but the nearby church at Salle...