Sunday, 18 October 2020

In Passing by Lisel Mueller

 In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness
and the closed bud shrugs off
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost

and become precious.

by Lisel Mueller

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Favourite Gardens - Old Bladbean Stud Garden Sept 2020


Old Bladbean Stud Garden is a most unusual place, created by one woman from a rough smallholding on ground high on the Kent downs from 2003 onwards, and without a gardener. It's a deeply felt place where the creation of each internal garden and the placing of every plant is the result of philosophical as well as botanical enquiry. Carol Bruce's written guide to her garden is a meditation on the usually hidden forces of artistic expression as she aligns them with nature. A fascinating garden, even in the dog days of summer, that I will return to in spring or summer to see it as intended. 

For more photos, click here 

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Sunday, 30 August 2020

Is the Church of England Intent on Killing Off the Parish Church?

The importance of our parish churches to their communities seems to be under attack in several ways but particularly, though shortfalls in funding. 

The issue has been brought into the open by an article in the Church Times by Rev'd Stephen Trott on 10th July 2020. He argues that the decision of the Synod in the 1970's to 'centralise' the funding of parish churches has lead to a withering of the centrality of the parish church in the life of the community in favour of the diocese. 

The explanation of what has been happening cames a great surprise to many who had scarcely appreciated the danger, and it might have remained of minority interest before the issue was taken up by Canon Giles Fraser in a fine piece in the Daily Telegraph:

This, in turn, was followed up in a more explicit piece by Giles Fraser in Unheard on 6th August in which he argues that: 'The ancient institution has been asset-stripped by an expanding bureaucracy of management-speak types'

Finally, Jason Goodwin has spoken up strongly for the parish churches in a powerful piece below

Ignore parishes at your peril

St Carantoc built one as instructed by a dove. Another was raised at the spot where St Wulstan’s faithful oxen drawing his funeral bier stopped. They were built in places where people thought miracles had happened, or were blessed by spirits or where holy water bubbled out of the earth, in wastes and on pagan shrines, by the sea and by rivers, in the hills and on the plain. They were constructed where people congregated, in villages and towns and, eventually, in the heart of industrial cities.

Saints built them, sinners built them; improvers and committees; barons and crusaders; wool merchants and kings. In Christchurch, Dorset, the final timber was dropped into place by a stranger supposed to be the Lord himself. They were built for the people of Britian. They are the glory of our island: our parish churches.

In consequence, a lot of us took their closure in the spring as an affront. For the first time since the general papal interdict placed on King John in 1208, our parish churches were shut at Easter. We have had plagues, invasion scares, civil war: but at Whitsun, the churches were all closed too. Time was when the priest stayed with his flock and the church was a place of refuge and support. Instead we were enjoined to phone in or watch on Zoom.

I duly watched the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter address. My attention slipped as he went on but my wandering eye fell on no memorials to the dead, nor watched the play of coloured light on stone. The Archbishop was in his kitchen and I was at home. Every now and then, his sermon was interrupted by a video and, after a cut-away to a talking head, I noticed that someone appeared to have sneaked in to take a Magimix from the kitchen counter.

It struck me that an archbishop who thinks his kitchen is as good a place to preach from as Canterbury Cathedral may possibly think too much of his own gifts and too little of what has been bequeathed over the centuries. Churches serve believers and non-believers at various stages of their lives: at funerals (which were banned), or holy days (see above) and on Sundays (closed). Churches are places of withdrawal, for prayer and private worship – until they’re shut down.

I suspect the Church of England views parish churches as a burden and a nuisance. The diocesan bureaucrats would rather do the things the rest of us have no idea they do, such as providing strategic oversight of a growing mission area where energised parishes cluster around a resourcing church. Renewed, released, rejuvenated!

It will come crashing around their ears, like the tables of the moneylenders in the temple. The higher-ups ignore parishes at their peril. As they set about polishing their inclusivity templates, like buffoons in a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, people of faith and of no faith, people looking for something and people looking for escape, to connect with the landscape, or reconnect with their past are criss-crossing the land.

They are going to the woods and the wastes, the wells and the holy places, to the churches and chapels built by their forbears. I think it may be their experience that endures long after the corporate mission statements have been forgotten. You can lock up the parish church and turn the awkward and ungainly people away, but our churches are never quite empty, even when there is nobody in them.

Jason Goodwin

PS I have played a very small part in this debate by raising an idea in the Daily Telegraph that arises from the arrangement that exists at my church as the result of a benefactor deciding to adopt an ancient solution to the problem of funding the parish priest. It appears that this solution has since been discussed with approval at higher levels within the clergy. 


Saturday, 22 August 2020

Old Swan House Garden in August 2020


The summerhouse is the focal point of the garden and at the same time provides one of the best viewpoints. It is also the main spot for tea or an early drink. It took some time to acquire its present colour. For some years it was painted the usual blue/grey, but I grew tired of that 'safe' shade and taking my inspiration from a friend's garden in which he had installed a Chinese bridge, I decided to follow the ancient rule that a garden should always contain a building in red. Getting the right colour was tricky as I wanted the shade used in Japanese temples such as Fushimi Inari, and of course, I wasn't able to find it as it's a closely held secret, but this was the closest I could have mixed. This winter I will have it varnished in marine varnish, both to preserve it - as the colour is now 'settled' - and to bring out a richer and a slightly more orange hue closer the Inari temple red.

The main lawn has come back well after all the rain, and everything's looking lush. The vine has arched over the path to envelop the quince. The Raphael seat though has stubbornly resisted all attempts to get it to age quickly, despite being covered at various times with seaweed manure, pond silt and yoghurt. I'll just have to wait for nature to take its course! 

This bed - the lower drive border - suffered worst during the exceedingly wet winter and took a long time to recover. I had dug out the old euphorbia wulfenii in the autumn and replanted some new ones but they were still small and I had hoped to rely on large plants like the archangelica to provide interest - but it was killed off and its replacement got caught up in the chaos of the closure of the garden centres and the scramble in the nurseries to catch up when they reopened. So the new plant didn't arrive until June and is even now only about the height of the rest when it should be towering above. Fortunately, though, the trusty nepetas and alchemillas, along with, sedum, stachys, rosemary and some euphorbia martini, saved the day. And Penny Burnfield has just given me a lovely plant - Succisella inflexa 'Frosted Pearls' that complements the verbena and the self-seeded dill.

 The box walk after rain - with the armillary sphere presiding. Hydrangea seemanii is doing well on the wall in the corner and the newly planted erigeron is doing predictably well.  

The two sedums in the grass garden are both strong reds and stand out against the pale gravel. Plants that are absolutely no trouble and always look good are a joy!

Another view of the lower drive border showing the mass of verbena (though I would love more) against the rosemary with stachys and sedum at its base

Hydrangea 'Annabelle' has been grown in a pot for several years because it hides and old tree-stump at the back of the wild-flower garden. It's the only version in this garden, though it provides many gardens with a huge display.

Perfectly trimmed box (by the sainted Bruce Williams) in the grass garden backed by one of the dark red sedums, calamagrostis 'Karl Forester' and perovskia 'Blue Spire' 

Allium spherocephalum seedheads in the grass garden 

A moody sky frames my neighbours' catalpa and the magnificent Scots pine. Invisible in the darkness is the spire of St Peter's. 

The first flush of hazelnuts brings out the squirrels who bury those they don't immediately eat and in the lawn

My early morning view down the garden with a cup of coffee from the window in the scullery while checking what's changed in the night. 

Another view of the box, sedum and perovskia, overseen by 'Karl Forester' but also showing the relationship with the rose-covered west wall. 

'Annabelle' gets another look in in this photo of the wildflower garden, with the base of rose 'Wedding Day' (which already reaches the top of my neighbours' yew tree) and a newly planted euphorbia stygiana that will one day dominate. The whole area (except of course the euphorbia and the begonia) will be cleared in September, and partially regrow, before dying down in the winter. 

One of my favourite views taken from the summerhouse at tea-time, though the lavender to the alchemilla, the pheasant grass and the mass of eryngiums and echinops below rose 'Compassion' on the West wall

One of the box balls leads the eye through the brick piers towards the deckchairs where tea is taken on hot days, as the hazel casts a lovely cool shade. The pelargonium is 'Pink Capricorn' originally introduced by Gillian Pugh 

The box from another angle, with the pheasant grass (anemanthele lessonia) 
and a potted euphorbia 'Arctic Blue'. 

The is what the garden is all about. Places to sit and eat, or drink, or just read a book while cocooned by tall hedges to keep out the wind, and given a panorama of plants to look at. Here the table is backed by perovskia and miscanthus 'Prof Richard Hansen', the tallest of he grasses.   

The view from the Lutyens bench on 'Venky's Terrace', though the orchard towards the summerhouse and the grass garden. The closest tree is an apple - 'James Grieve' - that has a trachelospermum jasmine trained up it. The plum tree on the right has rose 'Felicite et Perpetue' trained onto it. 

I have a love/hate relationship with this echinops, here at its best showing its gorgeous mauve/purple globes, but otherwise too much of a 'thug', pushing everything else out of the lower wall border. 

Earlier in August the allium spherocephalum was still at its dark red best against the grasses, delicate beside the powerful urnin pressed brick. 

Another favourite view - looking towards the wildflower garden with the lower wall border flanking the path with teucrium and echinops competing with the eryngiums. Teazle and wild carrot stand guard at the gate into the wildflowers.In the grass garden, perovskia hasn't yet achieved full wattage and the alchemlla is still fresh.

There are now mnay shades of echinacea - and I have forgotten which this one is....

The black bamboo is doing well against the west wall, and has a tower of reclaimed bricks for company. 


The 'other' red sedum in the grass garden, not as vibrant as the other but softer against the perovskia 'Lacy Blue'

There are teo kinds of perovskia in the grass garden and this one, 'Blue Spire' is perhaps oo big (and has been somewhat flattened by heavy rain). But it makes up for its size by its incredibly strong colour.  

Another classic view - this one from my 'reading chair' in the shade of the orchard. The grass garden pays homage to the great Scots pine in the background. 

This is not a fake! The perovskias really are as bright as this, and now compete with the helenium 'Moreheim Beauty' and the echinacea

A complete contrast with all the colour at the other end of the garden; a calm green oasis of lawn and clipped box. 

Verbena, angelica, dill and stachys backed by rosemary in the lower wall border

The view under the hazel through the brick piers towards the house. The Portuguese laurel looks like a huge variegated box ball

Another view of the grass garden looking west to the Scots pine. 

Euphorbia 'Arctic Blue' in an urn in the grass garden

The teazel and wild carrot self-seeded and making sure no one gets in our out of the wildflower garden.

The wild carrot ages beautifully

The orchard now has some decent specimens. Greengage in the foreground and Mirabelle on the left.  

The wildflower garden is fenced with out-of-scale estate fencing that is rusting beautifully. The urn contains sage.

This wide-angle view is dominated by the self-seeded wild carrot and the somewhat wild sky.

A favourite view enhanced enormously by the 'borrowed landscape'. 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

On Society in an Age of Populism - Edmund Burke

How did Burke get it right about the ultimate course of events in France — and, by extension, so many subsequent revolutions that aimed to establish morally enlightened societies and wound up producing despotism and terror? The question is worth pondering in light of two main ideological currents of today: the tear-it-all-down populism that has swept so much of the right in the past five years and the tear-it-all-down progressivism that threatens to sweep the left.

At the core of Burke’s view of the revolution is a profound understanding of how easily things can be shattered in the name of moral betterment, national purification and radical political transformation. States, societies and personal consciences are not Lego-block constructions to be disassembled and reassembled with ease. They are more like tapestries, passed from one generation to the next, to be carefully mended at one edge, gracefully enlarged on the other and otherwise handled with caution lest a single pulled thread unravel the entire pattern. “The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity,” Burke wrote. “And therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature, or to the quality of his affairs.

Burke’s objection to the French revolutionaries is that they paid so little attention to this complexity: They were men of theory, not experience. Men of experience tend to be cautious about gambling what they have painstakingly gained. Men of theory tend to be reckless with what they’ve inherited but never earned. “They have wrought underground a mine that will blow up, at one grand explosion, all examples of antiquity, all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament. They have ‘the rights of men.’ Against these there can be no prescriptions.”

“The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us …. They give their whole form and color to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.”

Burke’s understanding of the centrality of manners to norms, of norms to morals, of morals to culture and of culture to the health of the political order means that he would have been unimpressed by claims that Trump had scored policy “wins,” like appointing conservative judges or cutting the corporate tax rate. Those would have been baubles floating in befouled waters.

Trump’s real legacy, in Burke’s eyes, would be his relentless debasement of political culture: of personal propriety; of respect for institutions; of care for tradition; of trust between citizens and civil authority; of a society that believes — and has reason to believe — in its own essential decency. “To make us love our country,” he wrote, “ our country ought to be lovely.”

Then again, Burke would have been no less withering in his views of the far left. “You began ill,” he said of the French revolutionaries, “because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.”

For Burke, the materials of successful social change had to be found in what the country already provided — historically, culturally, institutionally — not in what it lacked. Britain became the most liberal society of its day, Burke argued, because it held fast to what he called “our ancient, indisputable laws and liberties,” handed down “as an inheritance from our forefathers.” Inheritance, he added, “furnishes a sure principle of transmission; without at all excluding a principle of improvement.”

Bret Stephen - New York Times August 2020

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Stockbridge in the Age of the Coronavirus - July 2020

The story began far away on 4th January 2020 when the WHO tweeted that there was a cluster of pneumonia-like cases of unknown cause in Wuhan. On 9th January the Chinese Authorities determined that the outbreak was caused by a novel coronavirus, named later by the WHO as Covid-19. On 21st January WHO tweeted that there was evidence of human-to-human transmission and the first two cases in the UK were publicised on 31st January. By 9th March, there had been 100.000 confirmed cases globally and the WHO categorised the virus as a pandemic.

In the UK, our inaction has been well documented, but on 23rd March the government, at last, ordered us all to 'stay at home'. The Lockdown, as it became known, lasted until 13 May when some easing was allowed and further on 14th June, when all non-essential shops were allowed to reopen. On 4th July, pubs and restaurants could again welcome customers, though under strict conditions. The Lockdown, therefore, lasted 51 days or almost two months.

The town responded to the Lockdown magnificently. A plan called 'Help for Stockbridge', written by Roger Tym and David Roberts, divided Stockbridge up into 12 sections while Chantal Halle recruited volunteers who were then assigned to each section*, Particularly vulnerable people were identified and leaflets distributed offering help, with a named 'buddy's' email and telephone number and list of what could be given. Listed services provided were shopping, prescription pick-up and drop off, posting letters and friendly chats to help with people feeling too isolated and alone. Counselling services from Ali Deveral were also offered for those who were struggling with Lockdown, together with medical assistance in case of emergencies from Emma Montgomery, a nurse.

As the group developed, they were offered the use of the kitchens at Stockbridge Primary School by Emma Jefferies, the head, and free lunches were cooked by the school chef, Shawn, and delivered to vulnerable residents as requested until the children started to return at the beginning of June.  

Thereafter, some of the traders stepped in and Prego, Thyme & Tides and Robinson's donated lunches at a very low price (£2.50 per lunch for Thyme & Tides and Prego and cost price from Robinson's for their fresh-frozen meals). Vishnu at the Co-Op also offered free baked goods when he had deliveries available. Chantal Halle prepared Robinson's meals with some vegetables and the buddies picked them up and distributed them.  On Mondays and Fridays, various volunteers cooked, and again the buddies picked up from their houses and distributed them.  There was no charge for the lunches, but donations were welcomed and given. Thanks are also due to Cllr. Andrew Gibson of HCC and  Imogen Colley and David Gleave of TVBC for grants.

And some of us were lucky enough to be on Liz Cox's list for her delicious lemon drizzle cakes that she would normally have sold in the Community Market (which has fortunately now re-opened).

There have been no deaths in Stockbridge from the virus, although some have fallen ill and and strictly isolated themselves, before recovering.

Stockbridge was strangely quiet throughout Lockdown, and even now has not recovered to its usual busy state. The government guidelines have become beset by mixed messages so that people aren't really sure what they can and can't do, but the wearing masks has become mandatory and the shops have been assiduous in making themselves as secure as they can, with one-way systems and hand sanitizers and in the case of Beccy's the greengrocer, allowing ordering only from outside the shop.

The Parish Magazine of July 2020 included these two pieces, thanking those who had provided help and food to those unable to get out:

The gardens at the east end of the town were to have been open for the Church in July, but had to remain unvisited. I did, however, manage to visit them and a photo of each of the gardens was included in the Parish Magazine. 

The latest development (29th  July) has been the introduction of barriers along the High St to allow better social distancing, particularly outside the main food shops where people tended to gather. 

And, slowly, the churches are reopening with small numbers allowed inside, and no singing. Sadly, however, the bells can't yet be rung. It will be a significant day in the town's history when they can.

*The list of volunteers includes:

Sarah Burnfield
Jesse and Chantal
Sarah Couch'
Robert Eastwood
Jean Farnam
Felicia Green
Richard Guterbock
Bea Halle
Paul Kidd 
Jennifer Kidd
Sarah Madden
Becky Marcantonatos
Emma Montgomery 
Claire McLaughlan
Karen Malim
Tony Molyneux
Miki Nadal
Ollie Payne
Diane Shirley
Deborah Smart
Madeleine Smart
Tallulah Smart
Emma Smythe
Diana Tym
Anno Webley
Dilys Wilde
Catherine Williamson
Andrea Zanthi