Friday, 18 November 2016

Ready for my close-up

If you don't mind my asking, when did you last take a photograph of yourself? In other words, when was your latest selfie? I asked myself that question earlier this week and struggled to come up with an answer. After a few minutes' thought I reckoned that the last time I took a photograph of myself was last August, i.e. August 2015, i.e. (if a further 'i.e.' is allowed) 15 months ago.

That realization produced two near-simultaneous responses in me:

1. I couldn't believe it.
2. I could believe it.

Of course, I realise that we take selfies all the time: it's now second nature to point the camera at oneself and capture a pose. I realise also that I am of the generation that has come to mobile technology 'second-hand', as it were, having lived my teenage and early adult years at a time when mobile phones and even digital cameras did not exist. But now that smartphones are available to all and that 66% (and rising) of UK adults own one, my 15-month selfie no-show feels somehow odd. I can't quite believe that I don't do what so many people readily do. What don't I get about this everyday ritual? 

But, then, perhaps I do believe it, after all. I am, by preference, a strong introvert and so tend not to feel drawn to putting myself 'out there' online or in group chats. Also, I spent the formative years of my life in the era when taking photos happened at 18th birthday parties or weddings or, perhaps, on Christmas Day. When I was a teenager, if someone came along to a party with a camera, it became something of a talking-point. Now, if someone comes along without one, it's weird. As a result, I never developed (pre-digital-photography joke, there!) the mindset that taking a photo on the spur of the moment is something that I would do.

And I do worry that I'm missing out, I really do. I don't have a smartphone full of snaps of my family and friends. And I worry that I'm the only one of my peers that doesn't. Will I regret this in five years' time? What about in ten years' time? Twenty years? And what about when it's all too late?

To end, I should own up to the fact that I don't actually have a smartphone. I did, once, for about eight months, but I found it overwhelming. I spent ridiculous amounts of time downloading apps which didn't quite live up to the hype, or occasionally taking photos which never saw the light of day. It all just felt like too much hard work. And so one day, when the battery ran out, I just didn't plug it into the charger. And I replaced it with a phone which cost me £9.99 and had no camera.

And that selfie I took 15 months ago? Well, I actually took it on an old Polaroid camera, and it was a picture of only my feet, as I walked through an ancient forest in Devon. Why I felt drawn to capture that moment, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it was to prove, as perhaps all our selfies are, that on a particular day and at a particular time, I was here.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Getting to the point

Like many writers, I am deeply interested in not only what people write, but how they write. And by that I mean literally what they write with: the medium they use to get words onto paper.

Up to the early 1990s, most writers would have used a pen or, perhaps, a typewriter to express their thoughts or to craft their story. But from that point onwards, the use of a computer became a possibility for more and more people. And in the last 30 years or so, we have gone from desk-bound systems to hand-held devices via voice-recognition and stylus input. In recent years, writers have pondered (and shelled out money on!) devices as diverse as the Palm Pilot and the Psion Series 5 in search of the perfect way to write.

The creators of such technology promised us the future, gave us yet another operating system to learn and left us with one more collaboration of metal and plastic to file away in the kitchen drawer. The paperless utopia that so many spoke of never arrived. But the writer's search for the perfect method continued.

As part of my own search, I came across this article a few months ago which reappraises the role of the humble pencil. Unlike the many smart technologies which are available to the writer, the pencil is pretty much foolproof. As the writer of that article says:

The world's most-used writing implement happens to be the least expensive. 
It never crashes or dries out. It works in outer space, underwater and everywhere in between. Technical support consists of a sharpener.

Since then, I've been slightly obsessed the pencil. I've been reading numerous articles about those who regularly use them for their own writing, and have been investigating - and investing in - some of my own, including the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and my favourite, the Tombow Mono100.

As I've spent time using them, I've found that the pencil has made a huge impact on my writing. Firstly, there is the advantage of writing by hand rather than using a keyboard and screen. There is a lot of research to show that we think more freely when we write by hand, and that the act of writing by hand forges useful links between thought and movement. 

Secondly, I find that I write more efficiently by hand. When I use a keyboard to write an article on the screen, as I'm doing now, I'm thinking as I type. I spend a lot of time deleting and rewriting sentences and even whole paragraphs. But when I write by hand, I find that I tend to form the next sentence fully in my mind before committing it to paper and, as a result, I rewrite only a handful of words. This picture of one of my recent sermons suggests that writing by pencil is still a viable option in the 21st century. I also love the way that it has a sense of personality and character.

Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, with a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni pencil, grade B

But is this just a phase in my writing? After all, I once owned a Psion Series 5 and considered it to be the solution to all my needs. (Needless to say, I no longer have it.) I guess it's possible, but when you're already using the simplest, cheapest form of writing tools, why make it any more complicated?

Monday, 5 September 2016


Between the trunks of the holly and hawthorn in the lane is a tangle of brambles, full of ripening blackberries. This sign from nature reminds me that the season is changing. There is something in the way the light falls, something in the temperature of the air, that speaks of the end of summer, and of the dawning of autumn.

I always feel a sense of excitement at that first realisation that one season is giving way to another. I become aware of a sense of awe at the rhythm of the earth which is beating whilst we are occupied with the concerns of day-to-day living. There is something at work which is greater, older and more patient than ourselves. The blackberries are a small miracle which tells of the deep energy of our Mother earth, of her generosity and of her continuity.

The month of September is a gateway from one way of living to another. With the arrival of September, it feels like the carefree months of the summer are over, and that any plans we had for that season must now be put aside until next year. Although the trees still have their leaves, the days are shortening, the sun's power is waning and our thoughts turn from adventure and travel to the securities of hearth and home. Our spirits are warmed less by the sun and more by the ripening and gathering of fruits and seeds.

In this season of letting go and turning inwards there is an opportunity for us to embrace new elements in our lives. What must we let go of in order to further ripen our relationship with the Divine or with the Earth? What seeds do we need to plant into our spirits during these quieter months, so that new life may spring up with the new shoots of spring time?

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Under the hood

I spent my teenage years in the 1980s, a modern era which had no mobile phones and no internet. Thus our media focus was pop music and TV. The music is still with us, thanks to YouTube and Spotify, but the TV programmes have faded rather more into the background. And the one which sticks in my mind the most is a show I never actually watched whilst I was growing up...

In 1984, a show came onto our screens which felt very much out of sync with the styles and aspirations of 1980s Britain. This was no flashy magazine-style production promoting the trends and fashions of the decade. Rather, it was a thoughtful reinterpretation of a centuries-old figure of English folklore, Robin Hood, in an adaptation called Robin of Sherwood.

Of course, Robin Hood had made many previous screen appearances but this adaptation seemed to indicate a move to a more realistic, 'grittier' son of Sherwood. The production is authentic, with practically all of the scenes shot in outdoor locations and in genuine historical buildings. Outdoors, the natural light fills the frame; indoors, interior shadows heighten the drama.

Whereas a modern director would shoot digitally, Robin of Sherwood was shot on film. However, there is nothing pedestrian about the camerawork in Robin of Sherwood: the director, Ian Sharp, makes very creative use of camera filters and of angles which would not look out of place in any modern film.

I have discovered this telling of the story of Robin Hood only in the last couple of months. I cannot now remember why I never watched any of it the first time around, but I'm thoroughly enjoying it now, thanks to the purchase of DVDs of the show.

At the moment, I'm halfway through the first series. I'm struck by how quiet the show is compared to modern fantasy films: the dialogue is wonderfully written, but sparing; in the woodland scenes, birdsong fills the air; the actors use facial expression and movement to convey much of what they need to say; and, often, as the drama builds, there is silence. It is almost another world.

The show, though now over 30 years old, still has a devoted fan-base. Much more about the show and its creation can be found online. A good place to start is the Spirit of Sherwood site, and there are many others.

There is much more to say about this wonderful production and the themes which it draws together. For now, though, I will simply recommend you seek out an episode or two. And if you're ever up in my neck of the woods, as it were, we can wander into Sherwood together.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Proud of Pride

I don't make it to many festivals, even over the summer months. It's largely to do with the fact that I work weekends on 48 weeks of the year (people tend to be a bit upset if the Vicar doesn't turn up to church on Sundays!). But last weekend, on a day of annual leave, I went along to Pagan Pride (PP) in my home town of Nottingham.

I've been to PP once before, in 2014, so knew something of what to expect. The festival is a wonderful mixture of talks, workshops, dancing, bands and the chance to meet old friends and to make some new ones. There is also an eclectic mix of stalls selling clothes, books, jewellery and hand-crafted items ranging from musical instruments to wands.

The atmosphere at PP is very relaxed and friendly - there are folk from all sorts of spiritual paths but nobody is trying to prove a point about their own path or to convince anyone else that they should abandon theirs. Indeed, one of the talks I attended was given by Matt Arnold. Matt is a Christian minister who spoke about his journey from 'grey to deep green' and the way in which Pagan folk had both welcomed and enlightened him. The comments he received from the audience were ones of genuine interest and support. It was a wonderful thing to be part of.

Throughout the day, I was struck most strongly by the individuality of the festival-goers. It may be the clothes they wear, or the piercings and tattoos on display (lots of these!) or simply their willingness to turn up at the festival to declare their allegiance, but at Pagan Pride people seem to be free to express something of who they are. I came away from the festival feeling inspired to continue my own journey into the green, and to have a little more courage in expressing my individuality, too.

Goddess bless Pagan Pride. I'll definitely be there next year!

Monday, 6 June 2016

(Radio) Silence

I was listening to the Today programme on R4 this morning. Just before it ended, there were a few seconds of silence which were, in fact, part of the link to a brief article about silence.

The bulk of the article was an interview with Dr Helen Lees who spoke about the importance of silence in our lives. In her responses, Dr Lees mentioned a forthcoming film about this topic, called In Pursuit of Silence, in which she features. The trailer for the film (below) is astonishing...

Just watching the couple of minutes of the film trailer started me on a train of thought in which I realised how little silence - real silence - there is in my life. There is, I suspect, a strong link between that fact and the lack of stillness, peace and 'belonging' which I often feel.

The film is due to show in only one place in the UK, and I think that a trip to the US to see it is probably beyond my means. I wait for the film to be released on DVD in due course and, in the meantime, seek out some of the silence which it celebrates.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Many ways, many paths

A lot of my inspiration for blogging comes from reading other people's blogs. One of my very favourite bloggers is Nimue Brown whose excellent blog, Druid Life, can be found here.

In a recent post Nimue considered what Paganism actually is, and the temptations and dangers which come with attempting to say who is and who isn't a true Pagan. Of course, there are similar opportunities for such games within any spiritual path, tradition or religion: the Christian faith, within which I earn my living and become increasingly aware of my shortcomings, is no stranger to this.

(Rather than comment on my own experience of this, it is, perhaps, better to say very little and to consider the words of the Teacher from Nazareth in the forty-second verse of the sixth chapter of St Luke's gospel. That alone would be a lifetime's work for me!)

But Nimue's article is not negative. Rather, she encourages all who would seek to embrace the name 'Pagan' to remember that all paths are valid, and to use that as an inspiration and encouragement for their own path. Furthermore, Nimue suggests that Paganism does not have to be tied to particular affiliations, badges, memberships, rituals or teachings: it is our very humanity that causes us to respond to the sacredness of life. She says:

Paganism is a human response to the experience of being alive that finds sacredness in being alive. It’s a response to the seasons, life changes, the moon and tides, the agricultural year, the land, the weather. It’s a response to living and dying and to the constant cycles of life and death in this world. Anything that comes from a human response to life, is inherently Pagan. 

And it is in the natural cycle of the seasons and the turning year that each one of us could own the name 'Pagan':

So the urge to make light and festivity at the darkest time of the year – that’s a Pagan urge. The urge to dance and party in the summer evenings, that’s a Pagan urge too. Celebrating the harvest, singing about the dear departed, honouring relationships, respecting the land we live on – no one needs telling how to do this. Every last one of us could come up with a way of being Pagan in response to life with no reference to anyone else.

I have now begun to ask the question, are all those who love the land, the seasons and the ebb and flow of relationships and emotions partly Pagan? Perhaps we are, and - if we can avoid the temptation to judge and differentiate -  that is something to celebrate.

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