Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Fog of War/One step enough for me

                                                      The River Ouse near Passenham

I park the car on Cosgrove's 'ornamental bridge' and move off south along the canal towpath. Soon the Grand Junction is sitting in an embankment above the fields, and then the two spans of the 'Iron Trunk' aqueduct take it high over the Great Ouse. Originally this broad river valley required the canal users to negotiate two inconvenient and time consuming sets of locks until the early nineteenth century engineers copied the system recently pioneered by Thomas Telford at Llangollen to provide one consistent level. There were a few teething troubles but ever since the barges have been able to keep moving thanks to the iron tray beneath them. I climb down the path on the far side, and stoop to cross under the canal through a narrow tunnel (and I'm only 5'7"!) Half a mile up the Ouse is picturesque Wolverton Mill where friends Ann and Margaret live. We know a couple of Knights of the Realm, but no Dames. Ann's our only hope for the future, and a sound bet for such honour. The mist is thick this morning, and I take a few atmospheric photographs of the water and trees along the attractive Ouse Valley Park. Where the A5 dual carriageway confronts me, I go left and fetch up opposite the George pub in Stony Stratford.

This town of ancient tradition, an important coaching stop on Watling Street, will always be George's place, after 'Big George' Webley, whose funeral I attended a few years back, watching from the pavement with a cast of several hundred others as his carriage passed the 'Cock' pub. If your telly-watching includes 'Have I Got News For You' you'll be familiar with its noisy, cheeky theme tune, which to this day is still credited to him. Well done, HIGNFY. Big George lived life with considerable gusto and wit, sometimes rather too close to the edge for propriety and good sense. For a while he directed the band, 'Saturday Night Live'-style, for a daily Sky magazine programme fronted by Derek Jameson, with whom George shared a certain London sensibility. Probably just to keep Terry Disley, the resident keyboard player on his toes, George once invited me down to the show, ostensibly as a possible dep (or replacement!) As has happened a few times in my career, I was thoroughly spooked by the dangerous ambience, and even if I didn't actually say so must have shown by my demeanour that this would never be a gig I'd have the chutzpah to fulfil. George was a bass player by original trade, a protégé, or so he claimed, of the late Herbie Flowers. His playing was a bit, hmm, basic for me, but on one occasion I invited him to sing a cover version of The Kinks 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' . In order to get the right vibe, this apparently required the removal of his trousers in order to deliver the vocal. The underwear was garish: more suited to Whitehall Farce a la Brian Rix than Carnaby Street.

Stony Stratford not only has a 'Cock'. It has a 'Bull' too, hence the one-time popular local group, 'The Cock and Bull Band', which featured Breton Pipe player Jean-Pierre Rasle, a rarity on the English folk scene. After a Costa coffee halfway between the two establishments, I circle the church of St. Mary and St. Giles by the Market Square before continuing my route towards Passenham. It's a 'Forward in Faith' church under the control of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet (always makes me think of Trollope this - there's something a bit hokey about the name, don't you think? - the other associations of Ebbsfleet being a station on the Eurostar line, and a large statue of the mythical Kentish white horse, Invicta...) St. Mary and St. Giles is also situated geographically outside the Peterborough diocesan boundary, so I pause only to include them in my prayers, reminding myself that the message of this project is that we are all one Anglican church despite our differences, and that building bridges is more important than emphasising chasms or voids.

I do a lot (too much?) of thinking while I walk. So a diversion, or perhaps a musical/political interlude. Bear with me a moment or two through muso stuff...

Part of the soundtrack to my life has been the Stephen Stills/Buffalo Springfield song 'For what it's worth'. You may know the lines with which it begins:  'There's something happening here/What it is ain't exactly clear...'  As I sometimes do, I had a little splurge of CD purchasing before Christmas which took in Eric Clapton's 2016 album 'I still do', and the Stones 'Blue and Lonesome' released in November. Both are new blues records looking back to the 1960s and before. Some of the Clapton tracks are perfect in the phrasing of his guitar, outshining most of the great black blues guitar players of the previous generation, and his vocals are sometimes pretty authentic too. The Stones' album shows off Mick's harp playing to good effect, but personally I think it all sounds rather cluttered, nasty and harsh. At the same time I bought the new-ish CD by American alt-folk act Bon Iver. The soundscapes are fascinating and challengingly contemporary, the songs fragmentary. It's very hard to know what they're about, if anything at all, and the contrast between them and the 'old man's music' of Clapton, Jagger and Richards couldn't be more stark. But of the three albums, this is the one I may keep coming back to.

Thomas L. Friedman's new book, 'Thank you for being late...' has as its thesis the idea that 2007 was a pivotal year - that the technology coming on line at that time changed the world irrevocably in a way that Caxton's printing press did. So in a way all I think Friedman's doing is actualising McLuhan's ideas from fifty years ago with up-to-date examples. And yet, culturally and politically it's hard not to agree that ten years later chickens are coming home to roost. The mash-up of Brave New World-ism with nostalgia is palpable on all fronts. The centre has lost ground, and given that the church is always slow to react to cultural change, one must assume that similar polarising trends will continue to dominate it through the next decade or two. When I listened to 'For what it's worth' immediately post-1967, it was with heady anticipation of change for the better. The lyric's still relevant (and CSN still sing it when they perform!) but now for me, it merely carries worry and threat in its wake. The same thing happens when I hear Dylan's 'The times they are a-changin'':  it's that single line: 'Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command'  Once it would have thrilled rather than chilled.

But the scene as I walk over the mist-swathed fields to St. Guthlac's church in Passenham might not have changed at all in a few hundred years, give or take a telegraph pole or two. St Guthlac, says Wikipedia, is particularly venerated in the Fens. You've heard of the Desert Fathers, well, Guthlac was a sort of Marsh Father, whose hermitage was near Crowland, the other side of Peterborough. I suppose it may be significant that Passenham is very low-lying and was probably pretty boggy in former times. Guthlac apparently suffered from ague and marsh fever. Possibly a few of the local parishioners here did too.  All this I might have learned from literature inside the church, but alas, the door is locked.

Up the road is Deanshanger to which I come via a curving concrete bridge over the A422, ignoring the opportunity to walk through a recently manured field. There are nice country smells and nasty ones, and ones which like a ripe cheese hover on the cusp. This one isn't at all pleasant, and the ordure is still steaming as the mist at last begins to burn off around mid-day. I find that what used to be Kingsbrook school is now, like the comprehensive at Roade, also named after Elizabeth Woodville (see the previous post). The nexus of relationships between these two schools, Sponne in Towcester and numerous feeder primary schools is now past understanding by someone as off-the-pace as me educationally speaking but clearly there are administrative ties. I wonder to what percentage of those actually working in schools as staff or governors are these kinds of details opaque? Is everyone clear about where the responsibilities will lie or the blame will fall when the chips are down/the balloon goes up/choose your own cliché ?

I stop at The Beehive pub, and have a natter to Lorraine the owner. It's remarkable the ground you can cover in 15 minutes about the village, the local church, our respective families, our fears for the world and so on. Thanks, Lorraine for a jolly lunchtime drink. If you want to look it up, Wikipedia has some amusing stuff about Deanshanger, Thomas a Becket and Wayne. No, I'm sorry, I do not believe the bit about Wayne. I think someone is having us on here.

When one used to pass by Deanshanger (and let me tell you, one did  pass it by - and ignore blandishments to take up employment as a teacher in its school), it was shrouded in a pall of polluting smoke from the now defunct Iron Oxide plant, which at the time tinted a lot of the buildings red. The bad news: there's now less employment locally.  The good news: the pollution has vanished now the plant's closed. The uncertain news: the new housing estates were built on the site of the old works, after long and difficult land reclamation. Personally of course I support the use of 'brown field' locations for housing projects, but it's not unproblematic, and would I choose to live there? I definitely would not.

Holy Trinity, Deanshanger is situated on the very edge of the village, apparently trying to escape. I can't get a sense of it from the outside, and I can't get in. Later I look it up on the web, and am interested in an item on the menu entitled 'About You', which is entitled 'Heaven: why some good people will not go...' As I said earlier, this blog is about drawing people together under the umbrella of the love of God. How should I feel about this sheep and goats rhetoric? Matthew 25.  It's all there. But still I'd rather say:  'There's something happening here/What it is ain't exactly clear...', and hope that my brothers and sisters in Deanshanger and Stony Stratford will rejoice in each other - and me. And if they start reading what I'm writing, will continue to do so...

Not far away is Wicken. These parishes, tucked away in the far south-eastern corner of the diocese, feel as if they don't really belong, even to Northamptonshire. In part it's Watling Street that does it, and the proximity of Milton Keynes. St. John the Evangelist's is a grand building with a massive tower and what looks like a priest's room over the porch: I'm sorry not to be able to investigate further, but I'm running out of light, and so I keep going over the sticky bridle paths back towards Old Stratford, where unlike at Yardley Gobion, appeals for the building of a church went unheeded in the nineteenth century. Less political clout. I pick my way through the housing and find the bridge over the A5 which lands me in the fields beyond. Across the Dogsmouth Brook, the land rises slightly to the cut of the old canal to Buckingham, at this point dry, disused and built over for a few miles to the west until it re-emerges closer to its destination. Nearer Cosgrove, there's reclamation work being done, and as dusk descends and the mist returns, I look beyond the remains of Cosgrove Hall's ice house to the outline of the old manor, burnt out after a fire last October.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet: I do not ask to see
The distant scene;
One step enough for me.

                   Cardinal J.H.Newman

Stats man:  19k. 6 hrs. 4 degrees C. Fog/mist/sun/mist. No breeze. 14 stiles. 14 gates. 6 bridges (including the lock at Cosgrove junction on my return, where I wiped my boots carefully before crossing, and didn't look down ).  2 tunnels. Disturbed: one peeved heron: one colony of bunnies.

Monday, 23 January 2017

A passing guest

It's Inauguration Day in Washington, and though the clouds may be gathering over there, it's cloudlessly sunny in Northamptonshire. The 'Today' programme tells me Donald and Melania's first dance at the Ball of Doom will be to the strains of 'My Way': 'And now, the end is near/And so I face the final curtain...'

You couldn't make it up, could you! Whose end? Whose final curtain?

The frost has been very heavy, and as I leave it in the direction of Grafton Regis, Alderton looks a picture. The tree surgeons are working around the churchyard. I have the first of several nice conversations with passers-by today: the weather's making everyone cheerful. But as sometimes happens, after the initial pleasantries, when I mention the purpose of my walk, there's a wariness in the eyes. The chap's wondering if I'm a religious nutter and considering if he may need to take sudden and decisive evasive action. I blame Midsomer Murders. But sometimes I ask myself the same question.

It's a blessing, the ground being so hard from the frost. Otherwise the first mile might have been a real pain today through the prevailing squelchy mud, but as it is I ride crisply over the top, noting the large number of mole-hills hereabouts. Does anyone know the likely population of moles in the UK? I shall Google it. Be back to you in a mo...

Answer: there are estimated to be 35 to 40 million moles in the UK (but not in GCHQ). Gosh, one between two, roughly speaking. You can have half of your own personal mole.

It's a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage, returning to Grafton Regis. Fifteen years ago I created a boy character called Thomas Adamson who supposedly lived his first years in the Manor House at Grafton, until a skirmish between the two sides in the English Civil War saw it razed to the ground (this much at least is true!) I had Thomas become a companion of King Charles and a keeper of the King's pictures, a device to allow me to follow the progress of the War up to the point of the regicide. I rather liked the book, published by the excellent Scholastic, but it didn't catch the imagination of the readership (or the Civil War was dismissed from the Primary history syllabuses!) and it was sadly deleted, perhaps before its deserving time. With the wisdom of hindsight, my writing wasn't necessarily stellar, but the ideas were good (very filmic, for any aspiring directors out there!) So here I am again, sitting outside the church of St. Mary the Virgin, imagining where the battle took place, recreating in my mind the terror of the villagers as they escaped along the ridge with their dwellings, humble and more gracious, in flames. Grafton is rightly and proudly aware of its history: they're making a special thing of it during 2017.

It's a short way to the Grand Junction Canal, where I turn right, and begin a longish walk to Cosgrove along the towpath. There's no McBoaty traffic, and there's a crazy paving of ice along the whole length of the water. The twittering birds and I have it to ourselves. Although the ground temperature is way down, the sun feels quite warm. The birds think spring is already on the way. I know we've at least got to deal with February first. A handsome bridge announces that I'm on the edge of Cosgrove village, and I turn up towards the church - a S.S. Peter & Paul. It's a charming building. An entrance through the tower takes one into a nave which is offset from the chancel by several feet, and the altar is very slightly lower than the entrance, giving a natural rake to the seating. I sit and read Psalm 39, and am struck by a couple of verses towards its close. (One of this psalm's themes is the transitory nature of existence - this is the one with the verse which asks of God: 'Lord, let me know my end...let me know how fleeting my life is'.) In its final verses the psalmist says: 'For I am thy passing guest, a sojourner, like all my fathers.'  Yes, I'm a 'passing guest' in all these lovely ancient places of worship, and it really is a privilege.

I cross the A508 and take a little lane I've often looked at but never explored, signposted to Furtho. The name means 'the ford by the ridge', and all I know is that it's the site of a 'lost' medieval village. What remains is the church, St, Bartholomew's. I didn't expect to find that the manorial farm has been quite extensively developed. There's now a little contemporary 'village' of businesses in the outbuildings which lie in front of the B&B: a sort of unconscious replacement of the original, though of course this is largely a nine-to-five community, with the limits which that imposes on the interaction between its members. It shouldn't mean there's no need of a church, but of course in practice it does: the building is in the safe hands of the Conservation Trust, and must look wonderful when candlelit for the occasional service or event. Oh, and Furtho's ancient dovecote also survives, looked after by the Council - interesting to visit if you've never been inside one before, but slightly random, taken out of context.

             (Photographic serendipity - my shadow superimposed on the sign to the church;
                                    Hat, stick, legs...all present and correct...more or less!)

Potterspury is a short walk across the fields. I hadn't twigged, when visiting Pury End and Paulerspury, that these are all references to pears, and presumably the making (and I hope the drinking!) of 'perry'. Potterspury still has a 'Pury Feast' which sounds nicely indulgent, and every year on their Patron Saint's Day (St. Nicholas), they make a girl or boy bishop. Echoes of Benjamin Britten come back to me from long ago. St. Nicholas' is in the same benefice as Cosgrove. It too is open, and is equally lovely inside, as broad as Cosgrove is narrow. While I'm admiring it, Ann(e) comes in to clean and we chat briefly. I ask about the music, because I'm thinking, hmm, nice looking revamped organ, welcoming warm church, comfy seats, obviously very loved and cared for, feasts, perry, what's not to like? The answer is that organists come and go to support the church on a rota basis and there are half a dozen or so loyal singers. Good. Would I want to add my name to the list?

It gets me thinking about the nature of parish life; that it's all very well to be a  peripatetic musician, dropping into other people's lives, and if you do a decent job, receiving their grateful thanks on a regular basis for the favours you've done them by giving your Widor or Bach or classily reharmonised last verse to O worship the King. But if you don't live where the music is, then you're a foreigner, a mercenary or a missionary, and too much of either of those occupations leads to spiritual imbalance. But just now, we need those mercenaries and missionaries until either a) we sort a new administrative structure for the Church or b) there's a sudden and unexpected revival of talented music-making among the young for the benefit of their communities (as opposed to their own personal fame and fortune). So, if I was ever asked, Potterspury maybe...

On the way to Yardley Gobion, I have a friendly chat with a Geordie in green wellies walking his Jack Russell, and am then surprised to find the village has a proper housing estate, with cars illegally parked on the verges and pairs of trainers thrown high over telephone cables. The only part of YG I ever see is the pretty bit along the High Street when I occasionally divert from the main Stony Stratford to Northampton road because of traffic difficulties. Near St. Leonard's church is the solid and superior Victorian villa of Prospect House. Once upon a time the view over the Tove valley and away to the Greensand Ridge at Bow Brickhill would indeed have been very splendid, but now it's blocked by modern housing.

St. Leonard's is a quiet chapel-like edifice dating from mid-Victorian times. Mr B. Pittam has traced a magnificent letter to The Times, printed on Friday September 21st 1860, in which a 'Yardley Gobionite' petitions for a re-balancing between the easy living offered by Furtho (four houses and sixteen individuals at that point) and YG (population 700 and no church). The letter ends: 'It is absurd to speak of ours as a national church so long as any of its revenues are used for making or keeping up snug sinecures, while at the same time large populations are crying out for ministers and churches.'  But I suppose it's worth reminding ourselves that this is the ecclesiastical counterpart of the abolition of rotten boroughs between 1832 and 1867.  It begs the question why originally there was no church in YG. Did a chapel in the now lost castle at the north end serve the spiritual needs of the village? Anyway, thanks largely to the Duke of Grafton (yes, there is one, although the family pushed off to Suffolk some time ago!) the Yardley Gobionite got his way just a few years later.

My route back to Alderton takes me via the 'Queen's Oak', in legend (and probable history) the trysting place of Elizabeth Woodville (of Grafton) and the future Edward IV, near a little ravine on a branch of the Tove. I had hopes of a lingeringly romantic spot still, but no chance, the vegetation is tangled and scrappy with the traditional countryside adornments of old tyres, discarded plastic piping etc., and the person who owns the fields above the river towards Alderton (perhaps the same one as has the solar farm mentioned a few walks ago) has been quarrying stone from the hillside leaving a right midden to be negotiated.  Bah! Humbug! Where's the Northamptonshire Tourist Board when you need them?

Stats man: 20 km. 6 hours. 3 degrees (Centigrade, not Prince Charles' favourite Soul Divas).
The lightest of breezes. Two marinas on the canal. One flock of Canada Geese. Magpies, jays, crows, and many LBJs, though my discrimination of these is pretty hopeless. 12 stiles. 11 gates.

Even in the depths of winter
I am continually astonished by the beauty that is all around us.
Move the hearts of people
Across the whole world
That together we may be good stewards
Of your marvellous creation.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

To Boldly Go...

Stardate 2017.  Through the medium of this blog, will you this year be my Will Riker, my Deanna Troi, my Worf, my Data, my Doctor Beverley Crusher, all beloved of memory? Will you accompany me virtually as I pursue my mission to seek out new worlds of Anglicanism in distant parts of the galaxy, to thoughtfully ramble around the diocese as the Spirit leads?

To recap. I've set myself the challenge of walking to every church in Peterborough Diocese by a series of circular, connected routes. Between April and December last year I visited ninety out of a total of about four hundred so there are still many miles to go before I sleep. The motives are curiosity and fitness, to explore how we can be members of one another within the eccentric, usually lovable conglomerate we call the Church of England, and to write a bit about the things that tickle my fancy as I walk.

I pick up the post-Christmas pieces in Pury End, following the Grafton Way a little way south east before veering due south towards Lillingstone Lovell. And yes, here I go breaking my 'rules' as soon as the new year begins, because LL is in Buckinghamshire, and until 1844 was actually an enclave of Oxfordshire: its church is still in the diocese of Oxford. But if I want a nice circular walk today, and I do, it fits the bill as my first point of call in 2017.

What difference does it make, worshipping in a particular diocese as opposed to any other? Having lived all my Anglican life in a single one, and experiencing the others only on holiday or in casual visits, I haven't a clue: you may know more than I. What I think I do know is that not much can ever be taken for granted. Things that seem obvious to one congregation or community can be seen as rocket science or abject nonsense in another. Expect the unexpected. And this may be a good thing. Let a thousand flowers bloom, perhaps. Resist conformity or uniformity, maybe. The Bishop of Peterborough has just released the 'charge' of his visitation to the Cathedral. I've read it, and some comments about it, and am still pondering its significance. There seems to be an agenda about promoting good governance throughout the C.of E., as well as in Peterborough, and possibly about a shift of power away from the Deans and Chapters of cathedrals: a challenge to their independence? And how does this sit with cathedrals as potential powerhouses of the Faith, with their attractive umbrella mix of solemnity and colourful celebration? And in this new and slightly scary era of politics, how does our renewing understanding of democracy interact with our Church?

More than twenty years ago a friend invited me to Geneva to help make a short film about one aspect of the work of the World Council of Churches. There was a steep learning curve as I encountered world Christianity, and over a few days a lot of my assumptions were turned upside down. I couldn't readily understand much of what I heard, and that was the stuff in English! Seeing the potentates of the churches worldwide all in one room together, dressed in their sometimes outrageously dandified finery, I was reminded at the time of the intergalactic gatherings which occasionally feature in Star Trek episodes. Like Socrates then, often best to consider yourself truly wise because you know nothing.

The fields are properly mucky now, and as I make my way on past Buckingham Thick Copse, each of my boots attracts several extra pounds of sticky clay, which is then washed off in the squelchy grass, a process that is repeated many times during the day. By the time I reach Lillingstone Lovell the sun's out. I stop and eat a sandwich on the Jubilee Bench outside the Church of the Assumption, which like our own St. Peter's sits atop a little bury. Whatever the first building here, quite a lot of earth was moved before its construction.

Down the road comes Philip Green pushing his trolley. Philip has Parkinson's. It's a trial. The tablets sometimes control the symptoms well, but then the effects suddenly wear off, and he has to rest when he'd rather not. Philip used to enjoy walking too, and on Exmoor, near where they lived back then, he and his wife would put in twenty miles a day. Oh, that's too much for me, I protest. Well, it was a score or so years ago, Philip admits. We talk a bit about the disease and the hopes for a cure, and then bid each other a cheery farewell. There's an ultra-physical word that's used in the Gospels for the emotion Jesus feels when an individual's plight moves him: it often precedes a healing intervention. I can identify a similar gut reaction, but of course have no means beyond tender prayer to do anything about it.

I turn north-west with Silverstone in my sights. The other side of the A413, the paths become vague again, so I zig-zag along the field margins to avoid dragging myself across tracts of tilth where the path should be. At the crest of a low ridge a grassy track takes me up between two strips of woodland until the stands of the Silverstone track at Becketts Corner come into view. A pair of red kites follow me for half a mile or so, swooping down overhead to within fifteen feet: I presume they've learned that humans will sometimes feed them, or perhaps they're hoping that I will die conveniently at their feet and they can pick me clean.. Their interconnected flight reminds me of the Falklands War when pairs of  USAF A-10 'Tankbuster' bombers would criss-cross each other in the Northamptonshire skies, diving and climbing, diving and climbing, confusing incoming fire, perfecting their deadly skill.

Silverstone was a Second War airbase, training the crews of Wellingtons for night bombing sorties. A memorial to the flyers stands at the entrance to the village. Of course, the protection of the view into today's motor-racing circuit is total, but for a couple of miles I follow its perimeter. In contrast to the previous pre-Christmas walk there's very little noise: just the occasional rasp of what might be a touring car. I've only ever actually watched one afternoon's racing at Silverstone, but there were a few years when I occasionally played at post-meeting parties in the workshop of the Eddie Jordan team, then bossing the world of Formula 3. These were Tom Sharpe-like episodes of raging testosterone excess (not mine!) I remember bodily sheltering my keyboard rig from showers of water and beer, some of it directed from the audience at the band, and, to be fair, some of it headed outward from the band towards the punters. 'Route 66' was always a point of danger, as lead singer Brendan would include heroic, rabble-rousing excerpts from Henry V at its climactic moment: 'Or close the wall up with our English dead etc.' A condition of employment was that Eddie should play drums on a couple of numbers: a southpaw. He could hold a tempo, usually frantic, more or less. But then, I shouldn't think he's ever contemplated giving up his day job!

At the top of the descent into Silverstone village I pass 'Graham Hill' and 'Brabham Close', and I spare a thought for my erstwhile classmate Tony Brise, killed in the aircrash that also saw the tragic death of Hill, a driver whose demeanour was so apparently in keeping with the fighter aces of WW2, moustachio-ed, debonair, gallant and modest. Tony was a karting champion, just beginning to make his mark on the world of Formula 1. At school he took little part in organised games because he was a chronic asthmatic, but none of us were in his league for sporting achievement. But for the accident, he too might now be regarded as one of the greats of British motor-racing.

A funeral is taking place at St. Michael's, Silverstone. From the church come the strains of 'Praise my soul, the King of Heaven'. (A friend has jovially taken me to task for referring to 'an organ playing', in a previous post. He properly reminds me that organs are generally - although not exclusively these days - played by humans, and I'm letting down the fellowship of organists by implying otherwise!) Outside St. Michael's the undertakers loiter in the street, discussing the route onwards. One of them crosses to the pub for a pee. His comrades banter that he'll be in trouble with the boss for drinking on duty. As I've said before, funny job: exact time-keeping, and the intensity of stage-acting combined with occasional flurries of disc-slipping physical activity and considerable periods of boredom. Wouldn't suit me.

The light is good, but fading. I take the simple option and walk the road to Whittlebury, rather than retracing my steps and using the fieldpaths. It's a longer pull up to the village than I'd reckoned and my quads are complaining as I turn into the path behind the church. St. Mary's is locked, so I look out over the churchyard and read a psalm. Whittlewood Forest (lovely, evocative name!) was once a great expanse of hunting woodland. The O.S. map shows some of the extent of the original, either side of the Silverstone complex. I'm sure there are good topographical or land-owning reasons why some parts remain and others have gone under the plough, but I'd need a geographer to tell me. A gentle, mostly downward path returns me to Pury End as the light ebbs away under clouding skies just before four o'clock. The day should have started and finished earlier. A man was killed in mysterious circumstances on the M1 during the small hours, and all the surrounding roads were in gridlock throughout the morning. An immigrant? A robbery with violence gone wrong? Alcohol? Whatever, a very sad, rather Midlands story...

Stats man:  18km. 5 hours. 10 degrees C. 10 stiles, 13 gates, 2 bridges. One goat-like hop over a brook. Robins, blackbirds, and more kites than the books say should be in Whittlewood. Two random walkers, one of them particularly disorganised and lost. One charming young woman on a handsome horse.

A sense of New Year disorientation,
A need to find my wobbly feet again,
A fear that I've lost my touch,
A concern that the light won't hold.
And oh, that flimsy, friable, fragility of life!
The gift that could in an instant be snatched away.
And what then?

I come back to You.
I rest in Your presence.
I ask that You will provide what I need;
That You will shelter me from the storms;
That You will give me the strength to endure;
That you will grant me the creativity to realise
Joy in my heart and
Celebration in our community
As I understand again
The nurturing love You hold for everything You have made,
Including me.
I ask it in Jesus' name,