Something simple

Photo at Pixabay

I’m told that Mary Berry’s pancake recipe has ‘keep it simple’ at its heart. I’m with her in that. For me, simple pancakes are the best, unless we’re dining at a certain beloved creperie in Morbihan, Brittany to which we’re hopelessly devoted, when the addition of stewed pear, vanilla ice cream, crème de salidou and chantilly fit the bill perfectly!

All in a day


click / tap photos once or twice to enlarge

Lakeland. Every day something new for the watchful eye or camera lens. Half an acre of delicate snowdrops to wonder at this morning – and several acres covered with mountain rock brought down by Storm Desmond, in late 2015, this afternoon. The UK Environment Agency – with a bit of help from Jen the Pink Digger – has begun the mammoth task of clearing away the hundreds of tons of rock brought down upon the village of Glenridding and Ullswater by Storm Desmond in December 2015. More photos of Jen and co here. Meanwhile the weather forecast is for an icy, snowy night in Cumbria and the road gritters are out and about. Another log for the stove methinks.

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Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

Denise Levertov

The aftermath of Storm Doris (who seems to have enjoyed a second coming) has left our fells and mountains veiled.

And I might as well have been swimming when I returned from my walk. Beneath the layers, even my inside pockets had been given a soaking.

And there has been the sort of constant-attendant greyness that, coupled with irritation about the rain keeping one indoors has had the potential for getting under the skin.

(Oh, the perversity! – in one who is perfectly happy at the library desk!).

But the rooms of our home are presently housing assorted glass vases of Cornish daffodils – and no matter their size or shape, all appear to me to be smiling and nodding.

So it’s been up to me really. Be grumpy about the grey veils and ‘having to’ stay close to the warming hearth. Or look around me once in a while, recognising the festal presence of yellow and gold – and a million other life forms …

and witness.

Creative incubation

Photo at Pixabay

I’m grateful to fellow photographer Colin Dixon for pointing me in the direction of Andy Ilachinski’s Tao of Photography – and his posting this week of some of Joseph Campbell’s thoughts about sacred space. Photographic creativity, of course, involves ‘writing with light’ by way of a purpose-made chamber, an inner room, a camera. Illumination.

Our human creativity incubates and processes illumination in the inner chambers of our lives. Meditation. Contemplation. Comprehension. All leading to galleries of ‘images’ – made within, where space is symbolic, the whole world is mythologized, and spiritual life is possible.

Sacred space is a space that is transparent to transcendence,
and everything within such a space furnishes
a base for meditation, even for the youngest child.

When you enter through the door,
everything within such a space is symbolic,
the whole world is mythologized,
and spiritual life is possible.

This is a place where you can go and
feel safe and bring forth what you are
and what you might be.

This is the place of creative incubation.
At first you might find that nothing happens there.
But if you have a sacred place and use it,
you will eventually find yourself again and again.

Joseph Campbell
American mythologist, writer and lecturer

In inwardness

The Work of Happiness

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

May Sarton
Collected Poems

Ah yes. In inwardness.

Life school


for MWG – during and after corporate meditation

I used to love to walk to school on sunny Spring mornings. The quieter hours still possessed of the mossy, dewy scents of the night – mildest of breezes softly stirring the trees of the park, and dappled light – already suggesting the new dawns that would awaken the synapses of my ever dawdling, day-dreaming brain.

Yes. I have long thought myself familiar with the colours of the spectrum; that I could name them, that I could assign to each a musical note, that I owned favourite orchestral symphonies of light.

But every new day brings surprises – and the sometimes primal response that mists our sight with tears of yearning, or recognition, or unknowing, or delight, or prayer, or a sense of the most exquisite new openness to the charism, the gift of the Universe offering her provision – the ultimate and eternal grace of Love.

And I was surprised indeed by the glory and the colours I encountered in Barcelona’s great Temple of Light. In La Sagrada Família I mistily knew myself a member of the one great and ‘Holy Family’ the Universe herself. No single one of us ever fully cognisant of the glories of creation’s rainbow – while each of us is graced with ever-changing experience of hues and colours yet unnamed.

Robert’s good counsel

Barcelona – click once / twice (or pinch) to enlarge

‘Sorry, I’m a bit pushed for time today,’ I said to my friend Robert twenty years or so ago. ‘I’ve got to think of something to say to a large assembly of the Women’s Institute tonight. Their invitation asks me to speak on ‘any subject that takes your fancy’ and I’ve come a bit unstuck.’ ‘Nonsense!’ said Robert (and RSC will know exactly who he is!) – ‘just go and tell them about one or two things that really light up your life.’

So for an hour and a half or so I told a large gathering of women my story about what it had been like to live and study for a month on the very edge of Bethlehem, wandering into Jerusalem in the early mornings to buy my daily newspaper, about the colours of the souks, the sounds of the calls to prayer, the scent and the sound of olive groves, of sunrise, and of sunsets over the Judaean desert, of ancient history, and of contemporary youths singing together in groups outside, in late evening warmth, eating ice cream.

Many further such invitations followed. ‘You speak with stars in your eyes and in the telling’ one kind soul told me after an evening during which I’d thought I’d wittered on too much. How often, since, I have thought of Robert’s ‘tell them about one or two things that really light up your life.’ How very often since then I have noticed the things that light up my life. And though aware that tonight you won’t be able to hear me, I can nevertheless show you – as quickly or as slowly as you decide – some such recent lights in Barcelona, Cataluñya, España … with stars – and gratitude – in my heart x


Donde el arte y la pasión se encuentran


click on individual photos to enlarge

Where art and passion meet

My friend Mimi is chief among my encouragers where photo-journalling is concerned. With her usual enthusiasm and generosity of spirit Mimi spoke of enjoying “seeing Barcelona through your eyes.” If my beloved friends and family could only know how often I feel I’m seeing simply allsorts on their behalf as well as my own!

How to describe the extraordinarily vibrant and cosmopolitan city that is Barcelona?

Well: I’ve come to the conclusion that only the presentation of all things colourful comes near to proper description here. From tens of thousands raising their own heartbeats and ours in the Barcelona half marathon this morning, through a breathtaking spectrum of colours throughout the rest of the day, culminating in one of the best flamenco shows I’ve ever seen, heard or felt vibrating in my very bones, Domingo en Barcelona es

Donde el arte y la pasión se encuentran …

And I’m glad to be alive and marvel!

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Eccentric and wholly holy

Antoni Gaudi’s Catalan Basilica shocked me today – in the literal sense that I was rendered dumbstruck and tearful. Every time I tried to articulate a response I was overwhelmed. Words refused to take their usual shape on my tongue. My eyes flowed.

This House (which I saw late evening yesterday from the outside) utterly enthralled me on the inside. It ‘restored my soul’ – renewing my faith in humankind. That one person should imagine such a glorious, and eccentric, and wholly holy tribute to the Divine is miracle enough. That the thousands already involved in the project should be able to build such an edifice in this or any other age is quite another.

No other basilica I’ve encountered has a built-in Christmas tree fabricated in stone – sculptured shelter for Doves of Peace – nor giant snails sliding down its exterior walls, nor bunches of grapes, oranges and limes, horses and knights on their courses, and echoing music that appears to own colours as well as notation. This House is soaring, glorious, magisterial, stone crazy, profound, deep, high and utterly proximate. It is unforgettable. It is a covenantal rainbow. It speaks of a Christos, an anointed one, who reaches and teaches inter-faiths as openly and as far as any of us might imagine ‘universe’.

This House is not mean. It’s an abode that doesn’t look for the pecuniary counsel of the average church council. This dwelling-place is above and beyond average! – as all such temples of Life-Spirit (you and me) should be. Like that great artist of Life, Jesus of Nazareth, this earthly home spares no expense. Oil for anointing (yours, mine, or Mary’s) simply costs what it costs, and anticipates – like the Vocation of the Anointed. No cost is too high. The Divine Incomprehensible gives and anoints and lives and dies and lives extravagantly (heavens, look again at those colours), generously, and universally. And makes of every ever-changing shade and hue of humankind, indeed of all creation, a universally present Sagrada Família. Yet the basilica openly asks something of us – including an entrance fee. This tent invites us to make a gift of both our cogniscence and our ignorance, our understanding and our lack of it. And here this seems appropriate and proper.

The exchange and the offertory afford me opportunity to add something, to contribute something to the ongoing art, fabrication, consecration, adoration, admiration and – in the widest possible sense – the conversation, the prayer. And whether from the outside or the inside it invites me to be – perhaps expects me to be – overwhelmed, by a generous, and indescribable, and incomprehensible gift and grace. Yes. Dumbstruck. Overwhelmed. Surprised. Delighted. Shocked. Warmed. Coloured. Inspired. By Love.

a further photo gallery will follow here soon

Mirador de Barcelona

Footsore tonight as, after class, we took the Metro as far as it could take us before the steep climb on foot up to Parks Guell and Carmel for the panoramic mirador of Barcelona – and down again. Every muscle in our bodies, and especially in legs and feet, encountered the city’s surprise of the week. I was dumbstruck by the sight of octogenarians scaling the steep streets without turning a hair. They must have been born here. But oh, was the hike worth it? The early evening light was a photographer’s dream, and the stunning Sagrada Família quite patently Gaudi’s! What a day.

En buena compañía

Photo at Pixabay

Blogging’s a bit like exercise. You can’t always do it every day, even if you really want to! The last couple of days have flown by – even as we ourselves have flown – to the beautiful Barcelona and a curso de español intensivo. 

We’ve found ourselves in good company today with a German electrician, a Jordanian Headteacher, a German surgeon, a Saudi Arabian architect, an English chartered accountant, an English student of politics and international relations, and a Scottish viajero – a world travellerin our class alone, with bags of opportunity for relating to the other 140 international students who, like us, think that studying in Barcelona is ‘the bee’s knees’.

Our professors speak to us only in Spanish, so we’re learning to swim in the deep end fast! But they – and all our fellow students – are possessed of warmth, together with cheerfully energetic good humour, so though I haven’t a clue (yet) as to how this might translate – we think we’re going to have a ball here! Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the fantabulous food on every arty street corner. And the Fitbit? Well, 5 miles already today, despite time in the classroom, and there’ll probably be another 2 or 3 tramped between now and bedtime.

Más noticias más tarde …

Poetry & prose


I often wonder what it is about periods of time that cause me sometimes to favour the poetic, and at others the prosaic. Both matter to me hugely. A frosty morning scene like this one tends to produce a poetic response – in a daydreaming sort of way, even if not in an actual poem.

So I was delighted to come upon Austin Dobson’s cheerful Ballade of Prose and Rhyme. He gave the subject a fair bit of thought too …

When the ways are heavy with mire and rut,
In November fogs, in December snows,
When the North Wind howls, and the doors are shut,—
There is place and enough for the pains of prose;
But whenever a scent from the whitethorn blows,
And the jasmine-stars at the casement climb,
And a Rosalind-face at the lattice shows,
Then hey! for the ripple of laughing rhyme!

When the brain gets dry as an empty nut,
When the reason stands on its squarest toes,
When the mind (like a beard) has a “formal cut,”—
There is place and enough for the pains of prose;
But whenever the May-blood stirs and glows,
And the young year draws to the “golden prime,”
And Sir Romeo sticks in his ear a rose,—
Then hey! for the ripple of laughing rhyme!

In a theme where the thoughts have a pedant-strut,
In a changing quarrel of “Ayes” and “Noes,”
In a starched procession of “If” and “But,”—
There is place and enough for the pains of prose;
But whenever a soft glance softer grows
And the light hours dance to the trysting-time,
And the secret is told “that no one knows,”—
Then hey! for the ripple of laughing rhyme!

In the work-a-day world,—for its needs and woes,
There is place and enough for the pains of prose;
But whenever the May-bells clash and chime,
Then hey! for the ripple of laughing rhyme!

Austin Dobson, 1840–1921

The gales sallying forth from the mighty – and persistent – Storm Doris are howling around our house and its chimney tonight. And close to the comfort of the hearth, my response is definitely a poetic one!

Storm Doris en route

Early evening weather-watching walk today, and I want to allow these photos their own space. Across six miles the sky invited poets to let their imaginations run wild. I’m astonished every day by how quickly the landscape changes. I’m often reminded that the Coleridges and the Wordsworths routinely walked distances that would make most of us blanche today. That’s where their poetry and journals came from.

As they were friends and companions for each other, so, too, they kept company with landscape, indeed with their entire natural environment. The met office reports tonight that Storm Doris is headed for the UK. The (bit of a) panentheist in me rather approves of the recent practice of naming weather phenomena. Though no new poem has arisen in my heart and head tonight, Dorothy Wordsworth’s instinct for journal-keeping nudges. I wonder what she’d make of twenty-first century blogging. Or motorised transport?