In the presence


What a long week! More howls of horror. Winded, as though punched, forced exhalation causing words to spill uncontrolled from some mouths, whilst others can no longer articulate any response. Noise doesn’t help. It’s interesting and hopeful that solidarity gatherings in public squares are predominantly silent and contemplative.

I’m sitting in the presence of arum lilies, a generous Easter gift. Entirely silent, glossy, slowly unfolding to the light, they beckon me into precisely such wordless being, into reaching searchingly inwards, and hopefully thereby more graciously outwards. Silence changes and hopes in me, embracing our wondering, yearning world.

Pass me a palm

Way to go! Pass me one of those palms. We’ve all been waiting for this fellow.

At last! Someone who’s going to make us great again. Transport’s a bit odd. Never mind, for now. We’ll make him a superstar if he sorts us. Hell to pay, though, if he doesn’t. We’ve neither the time nor the stomach to talk it all through with folks. So give him your vote. Just let him make us great again. Hey! You! What’s up with you? Here he is! Wave that flag!

Ah, friend, replied the contemplative: a week’s a long time in politics …

Visceral art

A quick trip to London has shunted every day this week into the next. But worth it. Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, at the Royal Academy of Arts, was a visceral and spellbinding encounter! Just as I’m awed by the quality of light emanating from one of Rembrandt’s utterly honest self-portraits, so also by colour gradation in Monet’s Giverny water lilies, or by attention to detail in Alfred Parsons’ Orange Lilies – the light in the garden pavilion window, and the little writing table and chair on the right. Divine co-creation touches white canvas. Like vivifying prayer.


Quick, tiny and everywhere. Interested, you might say. Nosey, someone else might. Yellow duster always to hand – for close attention, you understand, to particular window-sills, outside which anything at all might be thought to be going on.

Sometimes it was necessary, of course, to step outside, shaking the cloth over the rhubarb – for clearer hearing and better view – shafts of warm sunlight catching dust-flecks, signet ring and watchful eyes, her own and the ginger cat’s on the stone garden wall.

Housework’s delights! Nothing got by her cheerful aliveness. Many years have passed since. And still we miss her.

Pedestal table

A warm sunlit bay-window overlooks the ocean. Between two chintz covered wing armchairs a mahogany pedestal table, sweet smelling, polished daily, is an elegant exhibition stand for a large blue and white striped milk jug, a wedding present filled with bright flowers, daffodils preferred in season, for sixty-seven Springs.

Apple Blossom scent, Bay Rum cologne, Toffee pipe tobacco, baking smells wafting from the Aga in the mornings, casseroles and dumplings in the afternoons. He slept, smiling, thankfully home again, in his beloved chair. She read, quietly, overwhelmed with relief, in hers. Thank God for that lovely young surgeon.

Photos – and Virginia Baily

Amongst the lovely places on earth to host a literary festival the Theatre by the Lake –  (Derwentwater) in Keswick @tbtlake takes some beating. What we’ve shared of this year’s Ways with Words (brochure) has been perfectly superb.

There’s a person and a process, a “heart behind the art”, that I frequently find as engaging and fascinating as the work itself. That’s why reading the work of people we’ve encountered in person – no matter how briefly, no matter the context of the encounter – always has a special edge to it.

Today we bowled along expectantly to hear Virginia Baily

Turning Ideas into Stories

A trumpet, a golden ring and a steamy jazz club
in 1950s Rome: co-editor of the short story journal
Riptide, Virginia Baily uncovers the objects, music,
images and places that informed and inspired her
second novel ‘Early One Morning’ and discusses the
transformative elements that can turn ideas into

from Ways with Words (brochure)

And of course we bought the book! But now for the confession: haven’t begun to read it yet. Thus far, anyway, we can’t get past the gorgeous front cover!

Sometimes she used a photograph, Virginia told us, and she’d stare at it for a long, long time until the stories contained in it began to take root, to take shape. We were transported to Rome with Star Trek immediacy.

For a lover of the “poetry” in images, from the great artworks of the Masters, to careful photographic studies of our garden flowers, to iPhone snapshots, this was an Alleluia moment! Ah for the fruits of gazing upon something or someone for a long, long time.

Virginia’s talk progressed and the storylines, the process, the literary techniques were generously shared, appreciated and noted. One could hear everyone present mentally signing up for the “Early One Morning Tour”, shepherded by the author through golden streets (and golden fresh-baked pizza) of Rome some sunny day soon – the sooner the better.

We were captivated by quiet and emotionally involved account of the novel’s genesis, busting to buy the book, sit next to coffee-pot and stove and just dive in. But at that point we hadn’t reckoned with the front cover photo of the hardback book being one of the most exquisite imaginable. To place the book in one’s lap and gaze upon this golden image for a long, long time cannot be other than the most splendid preparation for immersion in the chapters within.

So, even before we’ve progressed beyond the cover we know that this author has succeeded in Turning Ideas into Stories and that hers will merge with ours – yours and mine. That’s art. That – is – art.

Thank you. See you in Rome Virginia!

Leaderless teacher

Not for the first time Dr Bill Wooten set me on the trail of another good book today – and I’ve tracked down Ecopsychology a collection of essays that includes one on The Way of Wilderness by Steven Harper. I’m looking forward to its arrival here in a day or two – having a sense that I’ll be as taken with the collection as I was when I read the late, great Dr Gerald G May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness seven or eight years ago.

It’s Lent, of course, and every year, and for that reason, I have an eye out for some new insight on wilderness and what it might have meant for the Hebrews, and later for Jesus of Nazareth, and might mean for any of us, wherever in the world we are, in our own personal growing, in fractious, stirred and evolving times, physically and metaphorically – refugee camps and modern-day exiles in mind on the one hand, and the miracle of the International Space Station on the other!

Harper is writing about opt-in experience of course – a privilege not presently granted to refugees, who are where they are because they had little or no other choice. Dare we hope that the “leaderless teacher” (again, physical or metaphorical, outer or inner work) may instil something of “faith, hope and love” in any and all who encounter her? I need to hope and so dare I must …

When we are truly willing to step into the looking
glass of nature and contact wilderness, we uncover
a wisdom much larger than our small everyday selves.
Uninterrupted and undisturbed nature takes care of
itself. One of my favorite guidelines for facilitators
comes from Esalen Institute’s cofounder Richard Price,
who used to make the same distinction I am making here
between therapy and practice with respect to Gestalt.
Price liked to say, “Trust process, support process,
and get out of the way.” He frequently added, “If in
doubt, do less.” Personal evolution then becomes like
nature; instead of being a struggle, our process,
uninterrupted and undisturbed, becomes unfolding
growth. Wilderness is a leaderless teacher; there is
no one preaching change to us. The only personal
transformations that occur arise from within ourselves.

Steven Harper

And that’s how the Hebrews, and the man from Nazareth, and many others before and since, came upon such a deal of Wisdom to be shared – on the other side of wilderness encounter.

Doctor Thorne

Andrew Davies described his screenwriting approach to War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice yesterday. Captivated by Julian Fellowes’ ITV adaptation of Doctor Thorne (1/3) tonight. It’s a sumptuous delight – and there’ll doubtless be more written about the detail later. Suffice to say, for now, that I think Tolstoy, Austen and Trollope would be spellbound and delighted. Even post-Downton I hadn’t realised quite how much the great modern screenwriter is a supreme artist in his or her own right.

Adapting the Classics

A super afternoon at Words by the Water at Theatre by the Lake.

David Ward did a great job of interviewing screenwriter Andrew Davies – “prolific writer of film scripts, adaptations, screenplays, novels and books for children” – most recently lauded for his BBC adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, (which he reckoned to have read on a beach holiday), but also the pen behind the wonderful Jane Austen’s (Firth/Ehrle) Pride and Prejudice, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and R F Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days. 

We learned about the dynamics between writers, script editors and executive producers, and about the always-via-the-director etiquette involved in a writer’s wanting to improve an actor’s performance. I warmed especially to an answer to perhaps the most obvious question: “HOW do you go about adapting these great classics for television and screen?” Well, came the reply, “I suppose I think in pictures. I have real sympathy, actually, when people tell me ‘oh, she doesn’t look like that.’ That’s good.”

We’re gripped and inspirited when words help us paint pictures.

A vitality

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy,
a quickening that is translated through you
into action, and because there is only one of
you in all of time, this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through
any other medium and it will be lost.

Martha Graham
quoted by Agnes de Mille
The Life and Work of Martha Graham, page 264
and today at Business in Rhyme (to whom, thanks)

Here’s another biography newly added to my wish list. Martha Graham (1894-1991) was a renowned dance teacher – and what she had to say about action, life force, energy, and unique expression tells me that her sensibilities were poetic too, and indeed that dance itself (word-in-flesh) is poetry – a vitality, a making something.

In an instant

In an instant I was no more than a couple of feet from another’s brush with death this afternoon. A passenger in a stationery car, in a traffic-jammed city, I was stunned by the speed with which another car came roaring out of the blue, wrenching a modern-day unicycle-form-of-transport (I don’t know what they’re called) out from under the feet of its rider – who, thankfully, was thrown in one direction whilst the whatever-it’s-called was pulled under the car. Screeching, anger, ashen faces, dozens of startled onlookers. In a tiny fraction of an instant it could have been catastrophically different. Shattered husbands, wives, children, parents, friends, gathered around the catastrophes of mere instants. Blame-apportionment at that stage becomes merely academic.

For pity’s sake, andante, andante, andante. Slow down. Nothing’s ever worth that kind of push and shove and risk and rush. Nothing.

Immense and inward

Radiant Word, blazing Power, you who mould
the manifold so as to breathe your life into
it; I pray you, lay on us those your hands —
powerful, considerate, omnipresent, those
hands which do not (like our human hands)
touch now here, now there, but which plunge
into the depths and the totality, present and
past of things, so as to reach us simultaneously
through all that is most immense and most inward
within us and around us.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Hymn of the Universe

In quiet morning light and contemplation I am awed by the gift of consciousness in human persons – and by Teilhard’s de profundis recognition and prayer.

Here a dormouse, there a wren. Beneath me the dust out of which I am lifted, shaped, fed and watered. Above me the ever-expanding.

Presence – most immense and most inward – touches me.


Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world.
The forms may change, yet the essence remains the same.
Every wondrous sight will vanish, every sweet word will fade.
But do not be disheartened,
The Source they come from is eternal, growing,
Branching out, giving new life and new joy.
Why do you weep? –
That Source is within you,
And this whole world is springing up from it.

From A Garden Beyond Paradise
Translated by Andrew Harvey
Excerpt here appears in Soul Food, page 89