Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Our Hebe is a calligrapher, letter-cutter in stone and general jobbing artist.  The masonry where she does much of her letter-cutting is attached to A.C. Towner funeral directors.   

Ed Towner is a lay reader at St Matthews Anglican church just along the road from where we live, and at Christmas time Towners has a crib scene filling the whole window.  

The stable was made by Duncan Brown  (one of the funeral directors who also makes beautiful sacred objets d'art) and Stephen Groves a one-time Anglo-Catholic priest, now a Roman Catholic.  Hebe painted and gilded the 'Puer natus est pro nobis' ('For us a child is born') on the front edge of the nativity, and the little holly leaves on either side of the lettering.

Then this year she was asked to paint a backdrop to stand behind it.  She has painted the town of Bethlehem just before sunrise.  The exposure of the picture means you get the impression the sky is pale blue: in fact it is dawn colours of luminous rose and gold as well as soft blues deepening into mystery, and in the sky can be seen the stars that would have been visible at dawn on the day Jesus was born, including the constellation of the Southern Cross which she has painted over the stable.

I'll see if we can get a photo that shows the sky better, and add it on.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Man Traps

So I have been listening to beautiful songs on YouTube . . . songs that move me . . . this . . . and this . . . and this . . .

Can you tell (?), I do like a quiet furry voice, a thinking mind, and a certain quality of almost painful gentleness - er . . . tenderness I guess it's called.

But, oh, glory! With the songs come (sigh) the adverts.  One that comes up repeatedly for a site that promises to teach women how to catch and keep men.  Promises to show them the ten things they are doing wrong that make men want to pull away, and how to modify their behaviour so they can (presumably) trap the men and keep them prisoner forever.

Why would you want to do that?  What is love, if it is not free?  I like men.  I love the man I am married to.  But I have no desire to keep him in a cage, tied to me by promises, manipulation and fascination.  Even the thought makes me tired.  What he is, I love.  What I am, I am.   

Something I read years ago . . . when I was about 18 . . . I jotted it down somewhere . . . from Anthony Padovano’s book Free To Be Faithful . . . just a minute . . . Yes, here it is:
The woman who abides at the side of her husband because everywhere else she is homeless is a woman who has given not compliance but freedom.

Same applies to men.  At a time when many followers began to fall away disillusioned (a lot of people prefer illusions), Jesus said to his friends “Would you like to go too?”  Peter (I love his candour.  Not a flatterer!) answered Jesus: “Lord – to whom should we go?”  This happens, I have felt it for myself; it is as if there were no other place in the whole universe to be but this.  Well, not ‘as if’, even: there actually is nowhere but this place, this person, this situation: God’s gift to us of the present moment has about it a kind of imperative, which once we recognise it makes contentment possible in the most surprising of circumstances.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Just saying

I love this song.

It is full of kindness and comfort and hope.

It re-starts my kinetic melody - the connections that keep my nervous system trucking and re-integrate my mood. I mean it does, actually, fix me.  How curious.

It has taken me all day to try and recover my head from the inherent trauma of (yes, I know it's hard to believe this) asking our decorators if they wouldn't mind adding a coat of grey on top of the white now we'd found the paint.  Hebe and I went together to ask.  We didn't succeed really because both of our consciousnesses spiralled so far out of the here and now under stress of making the request that we lost coherence completely.  At the end of the conversation we said we'd paint it ourselves.  HSP.  Sigh.  It's not always easy.  That was at about 10.30.  It's now 14.27.  I've been striving all day just to get my head back.  And then I thought to listen to that song.  And now I'm OK again.  We'll still have to paint it ourselves, but that's OK, we can do that.

This morning early (this is a bit more interesting), while it was yet dark, I went downstairs to measure the windows and make a cup of nettle tea, and found Edwin (thinking inside the box in the previous post's photos) skittering wildly about. Uh oh.  What had he got?  A moth?  No. The person that ran terrified across my foot was larger than a moth.  I put the bathroom light on so it would shine through without waking up the household.  Oh, right.  Someone small and dark with a long tail.  I grabbed a towel off the bannisters and flung it over the person, to immobilise it and protect it from Edwin.  "Alice!" I hissed, in a sort of hoarse undertone to avoid waking Hebe, "Alice! Wake up!"

Because I am useless at catching mice.  I like the mice but their darty speed unnerves me and I am never quick enough.  I always panic and miss them.  Alice is fast and fearless and grabs them quick.  She emerged.  I shut Edwin in the bathroom.   Slowly we patted the towel and rolled it back to expose the Person.  Ha!  It tried to run but Alice was too quick for it.   We went down to the front garden (yard) which is very small but we have landscaped it like a miniature woodland dell, so all kind of creatures take refuge there.  Alice opened her hand and for a short while the mouse sat up and looked at us.  Unharmed.  That sends out a ripple of well-being and gratitude.  It was OK.  Then it ran away into the ferns and rocks and morning darkness.

I'm going back to listen to that song again.  Gradually my soul is coming back to peace.  I'm all right as long as I don't have to speak to anybody.    The sun is shining.   Through the window I can see a seagull chilling out on the chimney stack.  Blue sky, white clouds.    I can hear the song in my mind. '...lights will guide you home...'  That makes me feel both very peaceful and intensely hungry in my soul.  Do you like the song too?

The house is very quiet.  I think the men have gone.  It will be OK to go downstairs now.

Thinking inside the box

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wandering off

Walk away
from the middle of things
don’t be afraid
right out of the middle of things to walk away.

Stuff accumulates
Stress accumulates
Stuff accumulates stress accumulates stuff.

Shove it.  Blow it.  Leave it. Laugh at it.

It doesn’t really matter very much.

Whatever it is (that accumulating stuff accumulating stress)
Bills . . . possessions . . . fat . . . ailments . . . hassle . . . appointments . . . glory . . . status . . . money . . . worries (funny that, how ‘money’ and ‘worries’ go together) . . .
. . . well, all of that – it isn’t what you came here for.

What you came here for – excuse me – let me not presume – what I came here for at least, was to walk in freedom.

I came here to taste being human one more time.  Stand beside the ocean.  Walk in the gold of falling leaves.  Love the dark trees spiky in the soft fog.  Feel the warmth of the sun and the fireside.  Whatever else, I came here to see the stars.  And I think I came here to pray, and discover something about how to love, and the choices that allow peace to come through.

Sometimes it seems necessary to be what feels distinctly irresponsible.  Sometimes I end up feeling deeply apologetic.  Because sometimes the only way to stop the clinging accumulation of stuff and stress is to drop it or walk off and leave it.

How dare you?  A voice says.

How dare I not?  Life is short.

What I mean is, who cares if they paint the room white or cream, or use the duvet cover for a dust sheet?  Is it irresponsible to walk away from these decisions?  Yes, I guess.  But they don’t hold my attention.  My mind wanders away.  It’s difficult even to remember that it’s Monday. 

What I do remember, though, is that my dear friend has come through her surgery OK, and she is feeling better now, and this afternoon is a chance to go and see her, drink tea with her, and enjoy being the happiest people in the world.  

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Endless Knot Endless Story

About three years ago, I decided the Badger and I needed a new kingsize winter duvet, 13.5 tog to be warm and snuggly in the snowy weather.  I went hunting on eBay, and sure enough I found one at a very low price indeed and duly bought it.  How happy I was to have exercised frugality in this way and made a purchase, not from a big store that would ultimately impoverish the local economy to fill the coffers of powerful people far away, but a small independent UK trader working from home.

The duvet arrived, still new and sealed in its packaging, 13.5 tog.  I unwrapped it, and only then in preparing to put it in the duvet cover and settle it on the bed did I espy the label stitched into the side of the duvet: 10.0 tog.  Oh.

It had been sent me in good faith, by a trader who had evidently been pleased to get hold of a job lot of duvets, not realising why they were so cheap.  I wrote to her; she, mortified and full of apologies, offered to refund my money.  But I said it was OK – 10.0 tog would do.  And in our centrally heated house in Aylesbury with a long radiator right by the bed, all was fine.

Then we moved down to Hastings and took up residence in our garret, which (at our own request) has no central heating; we like to experience the seasons, and central heating dries out my eyes and nose and all my skin.  In the summer, the garret gets mighty hot and we open the great skylight windows to let in the breezes from the sea.  But in the winter it gets ffrrrreezing!  Last winter we piled on three blankets, wore our socks, added a couple of hot water bottles and clung to each other, and we were OK.

My mother has recently moved to live in a village just five miles away from us, downsizing a third time – from a big country house to a medium town house to a small town house and now to a small apartment.  Careful and thrifty like all her generation, there have been things she has hesitated to get rid of, and a week or so back she did another winnow of stored possessions.  She managed to find new homes for everything that came out of the boxes – except for a kingsize 13.5 tog quilt: had we any use for it?  Oh, well – as it happens . . .

So the quilt came home with us, just as the cold weather is returning and nights with the 10.0 tog had begun to feel a little challenging.  How wonderful!

But with the journey into autumn have come rain, mist, cold, fog and drizzle.  And we are in process of a massive re-think of the garden – everywhere is mud and plants dug up and trellis/fences/rose-arches/posts/trees/etc half in and unfinished.   So the washing line is out of commission and even if it were not the idea of trying to dry anything in this weather is merely laughable.  So there is a huge pile of laundry in our bedroom because the indoor drying space is already in use by someone else.  I have three sets of pyjamas and now two are in the wash and if I don’t overcome the laundry conundrum I shall be chilly at night indeed.  So this was not the best evening to change the bedding and add a second pile of laundry to the one we already had. 


In addition to the clothes and the bedding needing washing, the 10.0 tog kingsize quilt will have to be washed and dried before it can go into store for use next summer.  This means it will have to go to the laundrette, as our washing machine is too small for it, we have no drier, and it will never dry out of doors in this weather.  But the laundrette requires pound coins (of which I have none), and because we need to use the extra big washing machine it will need an extra lot of pound coins – probably about eight in all to get the quilt washed and dried.  The Badger has some in his loose change pot, but only about three, cos I checked.

Further more

I have given away my car now, and a kingsize quilt is a mighty big thing to lug ¾ of a mile down the road to the laundrette.  And back.

All of which goes to show that in the ending of every story a new story begins.  Every resolution carries an embryonic challenge.  Heaven and Hell belong to one another.  Every situation turns into its opposite.  The lily is in the compost and the compost is in the lily.  There is no case for complacency and no need to worry.

This is the second time in only a few days that life has reached over my shoulder to direct my attention to the Endless Knot.

I think I can afford to relax.  Surely the lesson is that in solving this one the triumph I achieve will bear the seeds of the next moment’s downfall.  Energy moves in circles.   The secret is to stop thinking about destinations and concentrate instead upon the journey.  Namaste.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Poem for today

What have you done?
The work is unfinished
and vanished
the sun.
Wild wind from the ocean
is bringing the rain;
and we have no notion
when work on the garden
can start
or continue
be feasible
set s l o w l y in motion

This was only a poem.  To be fair, it's a jolly nice day and our garden is holding its breath in good hope of work continuing to completion.  Oh . . . no . . . wait . . . that's a very big very black cloud . . .  If he can just get those fence posts set in so we can dig the new beds and put the plants we dug up back out of their buckets into the earth.  Such a small window - it's November already - the season has a tension about it like someone with a sneeze that won't come - the cold is on its way but  w h e n . . . . come the time it lets go I think we may see snow and rain clear through to February.  Why am I saying this?  I have no idea at all.  But - quick, Joe!  Get the posts in before the rain, and the wall pointed before the frosts!  Joe is an excellent workman.  Our house now has a patchy being - two parts Victorian villa to one part essence of Joe.  It is held up by the wisdom of his hands.  My, that wind is gusting!  Hurry, Joe!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

More good sense from Leo Babauta

Here at Zen Habits.  This man is on a roll !  What brilliant posts he has put up lately!

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi: guest post by Hebe

Not sure if folks overseas can catch up on the BBC programme we saw about this painting, but it's here on i-player for those who have access.

I am also not sure what pictures I am allowed to post on my blog from among those online, but to stay on the right side of copyright law, I will not display but link to a picture so you can see what we're talking about.  The one closest to the picture we saw in the programme is this one.

And, UK peeps, don't miss out on this!!

Okay - here follow Hebe's thoughts on da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (which means 'Saviour of the World')

Salvator Mundi

We were excited to watch the programme on BBC 1 on Sunday, with Fiona Bruce, on the painting which it is believed could be the lost ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci. 
It was an insightful programme about Da Vinci although somewhat dominated by many shots of Bruce wandering around, but we felt it could have had more analysis of the painting itself.  So here are some thoughts, and feel free to add some of your own.

First of all, we are inclined to think it is by him, and I’m going by that assumption.
The first thing I thought when I first saw the painting (in the Radio Times) was how blue the robes are.  In fact, after googling later, I discovered that Jesus (at least as Salvator Mundi) seems more generally to be depicted with red robe and blue blanket (I think it is like a priest’s stole, but Jesus nearly always seems to have his handy blanket draped over a shoulder).  The gold braid also drew my attention.  I could be reading a lot into this, but it looks like the symbols of the chi rho [abbreviation to mean 'Christ'. Ember] sideways on (PX). 
Compare these to the Christ in da Vinci’s Last Supper.  There he is more of a man, I think, yet to undergo full realisation into Christhood.  Here he has become fully the Christ – he wears the colour of heaven, no longer red, the colour of Adam.  And what was a simple jewel on his collar has become the name of Christ.
I am interested in the jewels, and wonder if they have any significance.  I read somewhere on the internet that the 8 sided star (look carefully at the bottom jewel, it is set in an embroidered star) is the symbol for resurrection, and the gold threads are also 8 stranded.
Apart from my initial response to his great outfit, I was surprised by the muted, undefined face.  The beard is not as strongly painted as I’m used to seeing in standard depictions of Jesus, indeed the facial hair could almost be mistaken for shadows.  The whole face has an androgynous quality, and his chest has the lightest suggestion of a bosom. 
The more we considered it, the more this Christ looked as though it was supposed to represent male and female.
After seeing the documentary on BBC 1, we thought this painting also bore a strong resemblance to self-portraits by da Vinci.  The pose is very like a self-portrait, the direct eyes like the view we have of ourselves in the mirror.
We think that da Vinci might be trying to show that the eternal resurrected Christ lives in everyone, every man, every woman, in me.

In the documentary one of the experts described da Vinci’s painting technique as layering ‘glazes’, or building up washes is how I’d put it, of colour over a white background.  The gives a luminosity, as if the light comes from within the skin, rather than overpainted white highlights reflecting off a surface.  The face in this painting is very subtle, it’s possible that it has lost paint over the years, especially since it was painted over.  But I also wonder if it is meant to be painted so delicately to give the face of Christ maximum luminosity, emerging from the dark background.  Like the Light of the World; like the ‘light shining in the darkness’ in the opening of John’s gospel.

His hair has a reddish tint, which Sr. Julia tells me is typical of medieval Florentine art (I don’t know if that is true of elsewhere, but it seems there is a strong tradition of depicting Jesus with red hair)  Fair to red hair and green eyes were considered beautiful and indicated purity.
Da Vinci is known (according to the documentary) for giving angels and the holy family these light delicate curls highlighted with gold and copper.  I find them oddly thin, the strands too insubstantial to be realistic.  Ember suggested that they are not so much representation of hair as a representation of light, radiating, glinting, like a halo.
As far as I can tell, and it may be to do with the quality of images I’ve seen, but here the eyes seem amber, golden brown rather than green.  I can’t think of any meaning for this, but there is quite a captivating quality to his eyes.  I find myself trying to read the expression in them, they draw you in with their faint ambiguity yet disarmingly direct gaze.
The other detail that draws attention is the globe (or crystal ball, I like to think!)  Later depictions of the Salvator Mundi also have a crystal globe, but they seem to be mimicking this original.  I don’t know if any earlier paintings have a crystal globe or if da Vinci set the ball rolling…
It looks to me, and this is entirely subjective of course, like he painted an object he physically had.  The detail of the internal flaws suggest he had studied and I guess become fascinated by the way light passes through polished crystal. [And maybe, because it is a flawed world?  And maybe a crystal ball because Christ can look into it, ‘read’ it.  And I love that he holds it in his hand. Ember]
I wonder why he showed the world as a clear ball.  Is it a new world, made new, restored by Christ?  Is its clarity a representation of purity?  If so, I wonder if the flaws have any other significance.  Maybe they are not so much flaws as effervescent bubbles, simply joyful.
 The detail of three dots of light please me, a reference to the Trinity I like to think. 
The globe brings to mind the quote from 1 Corinthians 13, “for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.”
This also resonates with the indistinct but emerging sense of the face.  The restorer of the painting said that Leonardo da Vinci said that dusk was the best time to paint for the light, and that she found the painting became more alive at that time of day. 

Anyway, those are some of mine, Ember’s and Alice’s thoughts on the painting, I expect there’s more to say and discover.  But how about you?  let us know what you think too.