Tuesday, 15 June 2021

So gifted!


One of my favourite things is to watch or listen to people who are at the top of their game.  Athletes, sportsmen and women, performers, musicians, anyone who is really the tops in their field. And if you dig down you find how much work it has taken them to get to that pitch. Inspiration + perspiration as the saying goes.

This is Luca Stricagnoli, a phenomenal guitarist. Here he is playing Guns 'n' Roses big hit "Sweet Child o' Mine" a heavy metal hit here completely reinterpreted. Every sound you hear is being produced by him, impossible as it seems. So sit back, marvel... and enjoy a master!

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Together again

Signs of a return to something closer to normality are slowly spreading.  This week the Fraternity of Priests met "live" rather than via Zoom for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.  This is the group of priests that I belong to who meet for prayer and support, and have done so since 1989. In fact, I am the only founder member still active in the group.  The lovely thing is that Fr Andy was also a member before joining us here at our 3 Churches!  Through the pandemic the group have met weekly via Zoom, each Wednesday at 12 noon for an hour including prayer, and another hour after lunch at 2. 

It was fantastic to be together again. Five of us met here at St Brigid's, starting as always in the church with an hour together with the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I think we all felt a deep pleasure in one another's company once more, and look forward now to many more gatherings in the future.

It seemed to be a cause for something appropriate here on my blog. So here is the famous enormous thurible or incense burner at Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Spain. I think I may have put it on here before, but whatever...

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Corpus Christi - Come, be with Me


I celebrated Mass this morning for the Feast of Corpus Christi at Christ the KIng Church.  There has been a noticeable increase in numbers these last few weeks of warmer weather and perhaps  more optimistic outlook generally. I preached about how the Mass, like all of us as individuals, families and countries, has its own history. The Mass, too, has been forced to experience differences and difficulties over these months. But the Mass goes on, and has done so in continuity, despite persecution, martyrdom and pandemic, since that Upper Room in Jerusalem so long ago.

Some lovely music had been chosen to accompany Mass, and I was particularly taken with the piece played at Holy Commmunion, "Come Be With Me". Having been here quite some years now, I know at least some of the story of most of those who were present, and I felt a great solidarity and warmth among us all at that point in our Mass. I watched as parishioners slowly made their way forward to the minister, young Ben, to receive Jesus, accepting his invitation to come. We each brought our burden, great or small. This was Communion, not ony with the Lord, but truly with and for one another.

"Come be with me, all you who carry heavy burdens, I will give you rest."

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Stranger In a Lockdown Paradise


One of the hardest hit aspects of national life under lockdown has been the arts. So I'm not surprised that some musicians have taken advantage of this to make music that is explicitly  created separately. 

One of my favourite songs ever is "Stranger in Paradise". It's from the musical Kismet but uses music from Borodin's Polovtsian Dances. I remember my mother humming the beautiful main melody, and in 1955 no fewer than five versions of it made it to the hit paarde.

In the video, from an album called Together.... At a Distance, actors and singers Julian Ovendon and Sierra Boggess sing from their own homes. It takes a moment to get used to this, but the point is that art goes on, even under lockdown. You will notice Sierra watering her plants, perhaps an allusion to the setting of the song in the musical in a garden.

Take my hand I'm a stranger in paradise
All lost in a wonderland, a stranger in paradise
If I stand starry-eyed,  that's a danger in paradise
For mortals who stand beside an angel like you
I saw your face and I ascended
Out of the commonplace into the rare 
Somewhere in space I hang suspended
Until I know there's a chance that you care
Won't you answer this fervent prayer of a stranger in paradise
Don't send me in dark despair from all that I hunger for
But open your angel's arms to the stranger in paradise
And tell him that he need be a stranger no more
I saw your face and I ascended
Out of the commonplace into the rare 
Somewhere in space I hang suspended 
Until I know there's a chance that you care
Won't you answer the fervent prayer of a stranger in paradise
Don't send me in dark despair from all that I hunger for
But open your angel's arms to the stranger in paradise
And tell me that I need be a stranger no more

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Glory to the Trinity!


When I started seminary back in 1974 in Rome, one of the students in my year was Sebastian Temple. Does the name mean anything to you?  It may do, as he was a composer. His most famous piece is "Make me a channel of your peace", one of the most popular hymns since Vatican II.  He was already something of  a star in his adopted home in the USA, and he found it a bit hard that in 1974 hardly anyone had heard of him in Britain. Sadly, he didn't complete the course. I learned later that he died in 1997.

My memory of him is his slot at the end of our otherwise often tedious music practice on Saturday mornings. If you put a guitar in his hands and he sang one of his songs he'd light up the whole chapel. I remember him telling the guys "Smile when you sing my songs!" It still grates on me when I hear "Channel of my peace" dragged...

Here he sings his hymn to the Holy Trinity  "Sing praises to the living God". It's hard to capture the effect that songs like his had on Catholic music. Some may sound dated now, but they helped open the window...

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Bede and the Beda

 Today 25th May is the feast of St Bede, usually known as the Venerable Bede, and patron of my seminary in Rome, the Beda or Pontifical Beda College to give it its full name.  Living around 700AD Bede is one of tehtowering figures of not only church history in Britain, but all history. Although he hardly travelled at all from his base in Jarrow, Tyneside, hs fame spread far and wide  for saintliness,  and study. His history writings are our main source for the period after the Romans left.  We visited Jarrow on our September Pilgrimage to north-east England a few years back.



The Beda was founded in the 19th century for late vocations. The lower age limit for students
there now is 30, but in my time, when most seminarians started at 18 years old, there were many of us well under 30. I was the youngest!  You can learn all about the Beda at its website bedacollege. org
   The picture shows the college chapel, including the very moving large crucifix.


Thursday, 20 May 2021

An Indian fix


Now for something different....

After some Simon & Garfunkel songs from a few decades ago, here is a song from Coldplay, one of our best UK bands of recent years.  But this is an Indian version of "Fix You", one of their best-known songs. It is performed by Indians on a mixture of Indian and western instruments.  I've always liked music where things are mixed, often called "fusion". 

For those who don't know the song, I've included the original too, and lyrics below..
When you try your best, but you don't succeed
When you get what you want  but not what you need
When you feel so tired,  but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse
And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something, you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?
Lights will guide you home  and ignite your bones
   And I will try to fix you
And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try, you'll never know
Just what you're worth
Lights will guide you home  and ignite your bones
   And I will try to fix you
Tears stream down your face
When you lose something, you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face 
and I  promise you, I will learn from my mistakes

Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones

   And I will try to fix you

Saturday, 15 May 2021

S & G by request

Seems you folks can't get enough of Simon & Garfunkel.  I've had a few requests for 'Scarborough Fair', another of their classics. I say classics, but in fact it is an old folk song. On their recorded version they sing it in counterpoint with a Paul Simon kind of peace song,( available here at https://youtu.be/-BakWVXHSug ) but here it is the simple folk tune with some lovely harmonies between the two of them. Once again, we are at the 1982 Concert in Central Park. Relaz with the half a million and enjoy... Words below, with the Simon words in italics..

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?  
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there, 
she once was a true love of mine
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt  in the deep forest green)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme  Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested ground
Without no seams nor needle work   Bedclothes the child of the mountain
Then she'll be a true love of mine     Sleeps unaware of the clarion call
Tell her to find me an acre of land    A sprinkling of leaves
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme   Washes the grave with silvery tears
Between the salt water and the sea strands  And polishes a gun
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather Blazing in scarlet battalions
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme          Generals order their soldiers to kill
And gather it all in a bunch of heather     A cause they've long ago forgotten
Then she'll be a true love of mine           
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?  
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there, 
she once was a true love of mine

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

50 years ago in Bilbao

50 years ago, April to June 1971, I was in Bilbao in the Basque country of northern Spain. I was in the gap between sixth form and university, where I would be studying modern languages, especially Spanish. So it was a chance to have a go at some real Spanish.

I was 17 and set off with the optimisn of that age, catching the ferry from Southampton to Santurce, just outside Bilbao and finding accommodation (thanks to Lynda Barry, of Christ the King). Bilbao has been glammed up a bit since then, especially with the building of the Guggenheim Museum there (below). It was "total immersion" as I only spoke to 1 English-speaking person in three months, and that was the consul-general's secretary. I stayed with some engineering students in the apartment of a lovely, kind lady called Ines (Agnes).  At first I was the butt of all their jokes, and they were delighted to teach me how to swear in Spanish. We all ended up amigos. 

The political scene was different, worse than I and probably most people in the UK realised. Franco was still in power, and you felt it in all sorts of ways in daily life, not least the fact that the Basque language was banned. I remember Ines speaking it in whispers on the the phone, in case someone overheard.  On a few occasions it was quite scary, such as the military parade on the day the government celebrated "liberation day" which most of the people had seen as "invasion day".  The tanks rolled down the main street where there were only planted onlookers....

Although it was a bit scary to be thrown in the deep end on my own, I learned a few lessons, grew up a bit, and certainly got a grip on Spanish as it is spoken rather than taught. Cincuenta anos, fifty years...

Thursday, 6 May 2021

One of my spiritual homes

I recently came across this picture, which shows one of my own spiritual homes. It is the chapel at the General House of the Little Sisters of Jesus at Tre Fontane on the outskirts of Rome. It is probably the place more than anywhere else where I discovered and learned how to be quiet - truly quiet, and especially quiet in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Rome can be a very noisy, busy place, and seminary life also didn't quite fit the bill. Although we had a lovely modern chapel, you knew your room was close by, as was the refectory, the common room - ordinary life for me at that time. I needed somewhere accessible, yet inaccessible in a way.  

The Little Sisters are part of the religious family founded in the first half of the 20th century in the spirit of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, soon to be canonised (left). I had come to know some of the Little Brothers, who impressed me enormously, and then someone told me that the Sisters HQ was just a short bus ride away.  I decided to investigate, and so one afternoon a few of us set out.

The convent is in the grounds of Tre Fontane Abbey, a Cistercian monastery built where tradition says St Paul was beheaded (Tre Fontane = Three springs which appeared at the spot). A simple drive wound up through the eucalyptus and other trees, and brought you to the rustic-looking wooden buildings, built partly by the sisters themselves. Then we entered the chapel, to discover that the Eucharist was exposed there every day from lunch until evening, just as in the picture above. There were some pews, but most people sat or knelt on the wooden floor. Everything was arranged with beautiful simplicity, acccording to the desert spirituality of de Foucauld and his followers. Uncomfortable at first, I was slowly drawn into the absolute silence, the quiet, the beauty for the eye and the soul.

On periodic return visits I realised I was becoming very comfortable with all this - remembering that adoration was not so, if I can use the word, "fashionable" as it is now. Silence, peace, calm do not come easily to many, and especially in front of the Lord who waits for us. Thank you, Lord for the sisters and the place, the time they have created which was for me, exactly the right place and the right time.  

You can find out more about Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the Little Brothers and Sisters and other congregations inspired by him, at  www.charlesdefoucauld.org and also at www.jesuscaritas.info/

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Line of Duty

I started watching "Line of Duty" in about series 3 or 4, and went back to binge watch the previous ones. Since then, I've been a fan. 

Now you might be expecting me to say "What a disappointment" after Sunday's final episode of the latest series - and I have to admit that this was my first reaction. But after a few more days and reading one or two things, I'm coming to the conclusion that it was better than I originally thought. True, the revealing of Buckells as 'H' seemed disappointing or even far-fetched, but is there  a little more to 'Line of Duty' than meets the eye?

One of my favourite words or sayings (ask any parishioner who has to sit through many homilies) is that life is messy. So having the likes of Buckells promoted in his lack of ability, having Hastings labouring under his (Catholic and just) guilt. may not fit into the normal run of TV dramas, but perhaps it does reflect life in its variety and messiness. We all know of people promoted above their abilities,  and we all know that there are still many in our world with a solid and uncompromising conscience.

So now I don't feel that the series left a bland or boring taste after the finale. Maybe just a taste of reality that some may feel was a little too real...   

Saturday, 1 May 2021

St Joseph the Worker

 Today is the feast of St Joseph the Worker, a feast instituted I think early in the 20th century at a time when communism was on the rise and many countries were instituting a Labour Day. Joseph is a very appropriate patron of the world of work, being what is called a tekton in Greek. Although this is traditionally translated as carpenter, it would have in fact included other manual work too, such as with stone. The pictue left shows the traditional site of the workshop in Nazareth.


One of the greatest effects of the pandemic has been on the world of work. Families have lost
breadwinners, workers have lost jobs, furloughs and redundancies are all around, etc etc.  So we need someone up there to put in a good strong word for the world of work, and who better than St Joseph?

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

The Lord + turmeric = success

Some people have been commenting that I seem to be getting around a bit better recently, so I thought I'd do a bit of autobiography.

For several years I found myself unable to whizz around on my feet as I always had. Back in 2000 I broke my ankle very badly, and from 2013 I'd had a series of problems to do with my right foot and leg. So when around 2015 I started to notice a more general slowing down I thought it was to do with these problems, or being out of shape or whatever. But in myself I thought, no, it's something else - I'm not tired or out of breath, my right foot improved, but I still was slowing down.

Then in 2019 things got worse. I found I couldn't do some simple things involving my legs, until the week I took in York on holiday, when I had to buy a stick to help me get around - the one I still use. The "last straw" was that year's September Pilgrimage, which almost finished me off, especially a climb through a village in France (Vezelay, left) and also up on to the ferry at Caen. I got home and felt pretty dreadful.  Luckily that's also when Fr Andy came on the scene - what a gift from the Lord!  I felt traumatised. For example I now had to sit on my bed for 30 minutes before I could even move to get to the bathroom in the morning. Getting up onto the altar at St Brigid's was impossible. A bit of research landed me on "osteoarthritis of the hips", and a visit to the GP confirmed it along with X-rays at the Heath, though they said "mild to moderate" there. So now at least I could put a name on this underlying problem. Docs put me on Paracetamol for the arthritis, and on the whole it handles it - as long as I remember to take it during the day! 

But then a year ago things got worse, when I started to get awful muscle pains in my upper legs, especially when changing between sitting, standing and walking. By September I decided to see the consultant, the top man in rheumatology. It turned out to be a great decision. After pulling me around the shop in every direction, he declared I was nowhere near needing an operation as actually my mobility was pretty good. But the muscle pain was different, it was an effect of the arthritis, and he suggested a different painkiller for that. 

Just on the end of the conversation he mentioned turmeric as the only "alternative" that he had any time for, as it contains  a natural anti-inflammatory, so I bought some capsules, 1 or 2 a day. I started taking one, but not much difference, so I upped to two. Within a  few days the muscular pain was disappearing and more or less vanished, not to return (please God). By Christmas I was realising I could get to the bathroom very much quicker, and I was soon  moving more quickly too, though still with my stick. More recently I am trying to go without the stick more and more in the house, and as the weather improves I aim to be out and about more and more. 

I appreciate that confidence also plays a large part in these things, but I am very very grateful for those words about turmeric, of which I am now a great advocate. So that's where we are. Slow and steady we're getting there. I don't know yet where 'there' will be, but hopefully the dark days of 2019/2020 have receded - at least for the moment! Thankyou to everyone for your patience, love and support.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

S & G : 'Late In the Evening'

At the risk of overdoing the Simon & Garfunkel bit - one last song from the Concert in Central Park. And it's one that is not so familiar as the others I've put on here like Bridge Over and Sounds of Silence. But I love this performance for its liveliness, the communication between S & G (especially as they were not getting on very well) and between them and the crowd.   Don't miss the great brass section and crazy drummer, Steve Gadd, who creates the distinctive background rhythm by holding two drumsticks in each hand - you can just catch it as the camera zooms in on him a few times.

Most of all, I love the sight of half a milllion people, mostly young(ish), dancing and just enjoying themselves in the park. So, turn it up loud, and enjoy - words below.

First thing I remember I was lying in my bed
Couldn't've been no more than one or two
And I remember there's a radio comin' from the room next door
And my mother laughed the way some ladies do
     When it's late in the evening and the music's seeping through
The next thing I remember I am walking down the street
I'm feeling all right I'm with my boys I'm with my troops,
And down along the avenue some guys were shootin' pool
And I heard the sound of a cappella groups, singing late in the evening
And all the girls out on the stoops, yeah
Then I learned to play some lead guitar I was underage in this funky bar
And I stepped outside to smoke myself a "J"
And when I came back to the room and everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and began to play
    And it was late in the evening and I blew that room away
First thing I remember when you came into my life
I said, "I'm gonna get that girl no matter what I do"
Well, I guess I'd been in love before and once or twice I'd been on the floor
But I never loved no one the way I loved you
    And it was late in the evening and all the music seeping through

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

The Boxer in Central Park

It's time for more music. And another Simon & Garfunkel favourite from the famous Concert in Central Park in their home territory of New York City. 'The Boxer', like 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters' and 'The Sound of Silence', is not immediate in its meaning. We just get drawn into the melodies, the harmonies , the lyrics - and even the mistake they make in the first line of this version.  Their Concert in Central Park would have to be one of the great performances of popular music preserved for us - even my mother watched it when it was first shown on TV in 1982.
Sit back and enjoy part of one of the great acts of our time.  The lyrics are below.
I am just a poor boy though my story's seldom told
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles
Such are promises, all lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.
When I left my home and my family I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers 
in the quiet of the railway station running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know.
   Lie la lie, lie la lie la lie la lie

Asking only workman's wages I come looking for a job
But I get no offers just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there la-la-la-la-la-la-la
Now the years are rolling by me, they are rocking evenly
And I am older than I once was and younger than I'll be
But that's not unusual, no, it isn't strange
After changes upon changes we are more or less the same
  Lie la lie, lie la lie la lie la lie

Then I'm laying out my winter clothes wishing I was gone
Going home, where the New York City winters aren't bleeding me
Leading me to going home
In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving", but the fighter still remains, he's still remains
  Lie la lie, lie la lie la lie la lie

Friday, 16 April 2021

Corfu to Windsor

Every so often over the last decades a youngster in the parish asks me to write and sign a sheet for them, most commonly one of the altar servers. This is the 'service' part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, Like many others I have watched bits of the TV coverage of Prince Philip's life. For me, it has been these individual moments with youngsters that has brought him closest, and we are being shown that he had a similar keen and personal interest in many other aspects of national life.

My other encounter with his life was on a visit to Corfu back in 1994. On a coach tour of the island we were shown Mon Repos, a large house (below) where, we were told, Prince Philip was born. What a strange journey, from a sunny palace in the Mediterranean, to a life serving Queen and country in distant Britain.  May he rest in peace.  


Monday, 12 April 2021

Came the dawn

The Gospel in today's Mass is the first part of St John's account of the wonderful meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. ChristianArt sent this interesting painting of the scene.  Th egloomy tones evoke the nighttime when Nicodemus came, while a light from what looks like a grave points forward to his role in the burial on Good Friday.  Jesus is shown very much as the teacher, with Nicodemus the Pharisee seated before him. We are to be born again of water and the Spirit, he learns, and God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son.  There was a lot to take in during that night, but John says the dawn came...


Thursday, 8 April 2021

Mr Byrd's "Haec Dies"

Time for some music - some Easter music to be precise. "This is the day the Lord has made" is one of the ancient texts of Mass for Easter Sunday - or "Haec dies quam fecit Dominus" in Latin. Here is a well-known setting of the prayer by the great English (and Catholic) composer from Tudor times, William Byrd. If you can read music you'll be able to follow the score too.  I sang this when I was in our cathedral choir as a lad back in the 60s. And I was one of the top line trebles I'll have you know! Here it is sung by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

An Eastern Easter

Every Easter I look around for any images of the Resurrection that catch my attention. Of Western traditional artists I like Titian's "Noli Me Tangere" in the National Gallery in London. But for the sheer dynamism of Easter I have not found anything to beat the Anastasis in the 'Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora', in Istanbul. Details can be seen via the link.

It was in 1995 that  I joined a tour of Turkey that included, of course, the great city of Istanbul, formerly Byzantium, formerly Constantinople. On a free afternoon I got a taxi to the Chora Church that dates back to the fourth century. Like Saint Sophia it later became a mosque and, later again, a museum. Layers of whitewash were removed to reveal astonishing mosaics and frescoes. Like Saint Sophia, it has been returned to a mosque, just last year I think. To the right of the main altar is a chapel believed to have been used in funerals, and there, over the altar is the Anastasis.

The Byzantine tradition of representing the Resurrection is to show Jesus descending to Hell, trampling on Satan and releasing those who are waiting, like Adam and Eve, Moses etc. This is a powerful, energetic Jesus, not like the rather washed out one we sometimes see in Western art. I know he's been dead for a while, but the Resurrection is about life!