St Albans Cathedral

A cathedral is a hodgepodge of styles, designed to intimidate, perhaps, at best to inspire with awe. At St Albans, the Normans tore down the English cathedral to build their own. Nothing says “We are the masters now” quite like that. And different parts are from different ages: the brick tower, the stone nave, then the newer, faced stone porch, tediously symmetrical. You enter the west door then, unusually, climb stairs to walk down the “longest nave in England”. The important people are at the far end. This is intimidating.

It’s not the highest nave in England, because of the Norman arches in the north aisle. They cannot support the same height. Yet there are Gothic arches in the South aisle. I found that weird, ugly and unsettling when I first saw it. I wonder how the builders felt, when news filtered through to them of the new, fashionable Gothic arch.

The earliest of the mediaeval wall paintings dates from 1215.

All are faded, some almost unrecognisable.

So the curators have set projectors, which can indicate on the site what the original might have looked like. Between restoring with new pigment and covering over the original work, and leaving the faded originals, this is brilliant and beautiful. A touch on a tablet, and she is transformed.

This is “The Leaves of the Trees”, a touring artwork inspired by Covid.


This is the latest art added to the cathedral:

The shrine was broken up, and used as infil when the East end was walled off. When the wall was taken down, it was rediscovered. It has just been restored, with a new canopy. You can see the precise way it was broken, with pillars cracked and repaired in the same place. Here is the reredos.

That’s the best nourished dead Jesus I have seen. His head could be bowed in prayer, rather than death.

Here is the sculpture, which the priest would see, facing this altar:

It is Victorian restoration: the older screen was empty of statues. At the time, crucifixes were illegal in Church of England churches. The Reformers got at the older sculptures:

And here is a Chantry chapel, a bribe to God to get a rich man out of Purgatory early. What is so oppressive as religion enslaved to the interests of the rich.

Norwich cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is filled with Dippy the diPLODocus, and ropes, barriers and closed doors to distance it from the rest, which still has church-like aspects. My train was delayed, so I went to see the cathedral. Everywhere there are signs saying “No entry to Dippy here”. Gawpers are directed to a specific entrance at the south west corner of the cloisters, then through a guide with pictures of dinosaurs and parallels with the climate catastrophe, and finally into the nave. I associate the DIploDOcus (?) with Roman arches, because of the Natural History Museum.

I wanted my picture with it, and the man left out the head.

Initially I had no idea of the illustrious guest, and found a way in through the South door. Why can’t I get into the nave? I want to see the cathedral, not some dinosaur. A volunteer on guard at a closed door into the nave reluctantly let me through, telling me he should not really. The effect is to divide a museum, the nave, from the holy bit, transept and choir, which is normally big enough for any Sunday services. Yes the nave should be a public space for the city and landward areas, but why close off the worship bits? The restrictions inhibited my relaxation into timelessness. I went out into the cloisters, and there was another barrier, aimed at shooing the pilgrims to Dippy’s relics out. Again, the man there allowed me to step over the rope.

This is what a cathedral is for: commemorating important people.

This is a very important person indeed. His crest has a helm, meaning that he went out slaughtering peasants, and a coronet, meaning he told mere barons what to do. I have no idea who he was. I prefer the roof bosses:



The cloisters could be timeless, a place for aware contemplation. See, there is a labyrinth. There are also Dippy-seers, and photographers. I did not quite get in the mood. I feel a bit resentful.

Here are some dark works about refugees:


This one is trans- breasts, but no hips. Jesus was crucified at “the place of the Skull”.

I like this art work, an engraved door with lines from Eliot. It is hard to see the whole thing, but I take it by the handle, and move it back and forth to examine it. In the chapel I find some contemplation.

Ely Cathedral

The lady chapel has a powerful feminine energy, focused by a human Goddess above the altar. I love it.

Elsewhere, though, the chapel shows signs of Reformation: the original pigment on the figures, and the way their heads have been struck off. Beware men with hammers who know the Will of God. They will pick up guns if they can.

These hundred glass feathers, Solace by Layne Rowe, are inspired by the pandemic.

Cathedrals should commission new art. Here is Mary Magdalene recognising the risen Christ:


and here is Christ in Majesty:

In the chantry chapel, endowed by someone for monks to say masses endlessly to get him out of Purgatory quicker- hope he’s not in Hell, chantry-magic does not work for the damned- there are other alcoves without a figure.

This is the Octogon, at the centre of the building, above the altar. The nave is visible.

If I had not photographed it, I would not have seen how enthusiastic these thurifers are. With a long chain, the censer would normally not reach a higher angle than a swing pushed by a careful nanny. With a short chain, held by a priest, it can reach the horizontal, but never this high. Mercy!

The nave ceiling was repainted in the 19th century. Here is Christ in Majesty:

Here is a far more conventional Mary, left holding the baby:

I don’t like tombs in cathedrals. Christianity should not be about death and the dead- we are not ancient Egyptians- but I have a soft spot for this reclining bishop. He looks comfy:

This is the West porch. All its alcoves are empty. I wonder if they always were. See also where part of the building has fallen or been demolished, taking away symmetry, and how even the doors dwarf that tiny human, and my bicycle:

The arches both sides of the nave show their age:

The face of this chap on the floor looks Mediaeval in style, but I don’t think he would be that well-preserved if so:

Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Writing out of the Silence

The world has depth. The world is magical. There is infinite complexity and beauty beyond the surfaces we impose and the concepts we use to manipulate the world. We need the concepts to get what we want.

The world is huge. There is God in all of it: all the people and all the things. I want to bring treasure back, for the delight of Friends. I find it within. I shall find the beauty and truth in myself, and use it to bless others.

Imperfection is only in our minds. I don’t want to say “All I need is freely available” facilely, but I have usually had what I needed- except at the trauma. I don’t want to say “Flow like water” facilely, as conscious incompetence is good too: but that is also Flow, as its desire is not divided, like mine is- for appearances, what I ought to want, propitiating my inner Idol. Out of many desires, I will make one, by submitting to God within.

God, Love, is who I am. I am who I am. I am waiting for what I want to happen, or I am maturing, changing like a chrysalis, reordering within. I do not know what that would look like. False ideas of God get in the way of the reality of God. What must I let go?

I submit, to God, or to a great lie that is my enemy, an illusion that promises little and gives nothing. If I am struggling, the struggle is unconscious. I could not bear my fear and sadness if I were conscious of them, but sometimes I become conscious of them and the world comes alive.

I am never safe. The way I seek safety is barren. Only love is real.

The heron

I love moonlight on snow. I want to find a reason for that- something in evolutionary psychology, some association- but just do. The skies were forecast to clear just after midnight on Sunday night, and the snow forecast to melt in 3°C weather (it hasn’t yet) so I went out to enjoy it, and perhaps photograph it. A friend feared I might be assaulted, but there was no-one about. It’s magical. The moon is waxing gibbous, 83%, high in the sky, Orion is just below it to the left, and I can see for miles. The lights of the town shine across the valley.

and- that’s it. How much of what I see is phenomenological- my associations, my joy- how much the actual light captured by my eyes, what is the difference between light in eyes and in camera, what is association with the photographic image, I don’t know, but the photo does not capture the experience.

I can take a picture of snow on bushes at night, and, well, that’s it. Or a snowman, you can see what it is, I can’t make the light beautiful.

By day, though, the light is so bright that snow on bushes can be lovely, even in the image. I don’t want to photograph just the landscape, I need birds doing something interesting to make a photo.

There they are.

I waited on the bridge for a while, to see if they would circle round again, but they did not. But, someone tells me these are heron tracks.

That’s not really a good stream for the heron to hunt. The lake has flooded over the path, so this is the way people go.

I did not want to make it fly, as flying uses food up, but, well, this is the path where the people go and will disturb it. I could approach quite close, but when I pointed my camera it knew I was paying it attention, and no creature likes that.

In the light, the sheds are pretty.

Pushing tomboys to change their gender?

The Department for Education has issued guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, and the Daily Mail started a culture war. “Teachers are told to stop pushing tomboys to change their gender”, it said. “Tomboys must not be encouraged to think they should change sex just because of the way they like to dress or play, schools have been told.”

I agree. I don’t like the word “tomboy”- girls ask, “Why call me a ‘boy’?” Just because they don’t like pink, or skirts, or even worse because they climb trees as well as liking ballet, does not make them any sort of “boy”. I disagree with all gender stereotypes, and find the adjective “harmful” tautologous. Oddly enough, neither the Statutory Guidance, nor the separate Guidance, uses the word. Where schools depart from statutory guidance, they “need to have good reasons”. Guidance is less binding. The Mail is wrong to call it “instructions”.

The Mail quotes out of context, from the Guidance.

You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material.

I don’t know whether that was written out of ignorance, or with the intention of permitting Mermaids to continue to provide resources. Mermaids never suggested that non-conformity was synonymous with having a different gender identity, only that some children really do have a different gender identity and they will flourish if allowed to transition. Trans people exist. We should be worried, if the guidance echoed transphobe organisations, suggesting that gender identity is a falsehood, the product of gender stereotypes, but it does not.

The Mail quotes the “Safe Schools Alliance”, so I looked them up. They are a transphobe organisation, currently taking legal action to get the Crown Prosecution Service to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, and against Oxfordshire County Council because they believed the council’s guidance was too accepting of trans people. The first thing they say about themselves is that they are against gender identity policies they find too pro-trans. They do not disclose their funding. They are happy to damage Britain’s leading LGBT charity because of their loathing of trans. They object to “trans lobby groups push[ing] policies which allow males into female spaces”. Well, they call trans girls “males”. They want to prevent transition.

Enough of the propaganda. What do the Guidance and Statutory Guidance actually say? Continue reading

Liz Truss and Anna Akhmatova

The world is changed utterly, since December, but one thing that continues is conservatives seeking out vulnerable minorities to hate, so as to spread division. Trans people, especially trans women and children, have been targeted by Liz Truss, “Minister for” (actually against) “Women and Equalities”. I will write to my MP.

Truss says she wants “Protection of single sex spaces”. She is lying. Gender Recognition has no effect on single sex spaces, which are governed by the Equality Act.

She wants us “Free to live our lives as we wish”- as long as we behave in increasingly constrained acceptable ways, restricted for the good of others. “Checks and balances,” she says. Oh, totally reasonable rules for the good of everyone. Ha.

And she says she wants to “protect” children and young people. Truss claims she is better qualified than specialist gender psychiatrists and endocrinologists to determine what is good for under 18s, and that is to make sure none of them have treatment to aid transition. She produces the Tory bugbear, the ordinary child hoodwinked by trans ideology rushing heedless into “irreversible decisions” to prevent trans children getting the care they need.

Meanwhile I went out for my daily exercise, and also wanted to take some photos of the eerie silent world we are now in. This out of town shopping centre would have been hoaching, but for covid 19.



And it was odd to see a Police Community Support Officer walking along this unmetalled road. We are allowed to be there for exercise, and I want to be there for time in nature, too, time with the birds and the lakes, to preserve my mental health. It is a lone young woman, I don’t think she’ll be arresting anyone, but she might be seeing if there were breaches of rules for a more heavy handed presence later. I saw her twice, both times studying a phone.

I am frightened, by a conservative government which handles the crisis badly, with more people dying of slow suffocation here than elsewhere in Europe, and with the deaths not accurately counted, but which still finds time to promote hate- quietly, subtly at first, with this new target. I am fearful for my vulnerable friends. And the world is beautiful. Never has the contrast been so sharp for me: it is always there, but it is so much stronger now.

Fear and loss.
Wonder and beauty.
Death and God.

Anna Akhmatova puts it beautifully:

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death’s great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses
something not known to any one at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

I am afraid. I read a piece in the New York Times about how covid suffocates people so they don’t realise it, and immediately ordered an oxymeter. It is predicted to arrive in June. There is a small risk of my dying in the most hideous way, and a much greater risk for all the people I know who are over 70 or with certain conditions. Liz Truss chooses this moment to announce her campaign against trans people. Trans children must not be treated, as a political decision. Single sex spaces- No Transwomen!- must be maintained or extended. This is couched in terms of “protection”- protecting vulnerable women and children from the Trans Threat. I am more afraid than ever, and today the sunshine is beautiful.

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I wrote that, and then thought, possibly I should give the minister the benefit of the doubt, until I hear more. In Scotland, the government offers a good reform, but still talks about single sex spaces. It is reassurance for the phobes rather than a serious threat to our rights. I am fearful and unknowing at the moment and it reduces my ability to trust. Then I remember she wants to stop treatment for children, and that is unequivocal. She trusts Daily Mail editorials over doctors. She trusts herself over specialist psychiatrists.