Monday, 1 December 2003

The grass may be greener - but so might you

We wanted to get from Ibarra to San Lorenzo.  According to the guidebook the only way was by train (for train read converted school bus that runs on railway chassis on the tracks) and you have to get there early in the day and fight for your ticket.  As it happened when we did get there the train was just pulling into the station but would not be leaving again for another 3 days at least.  Gunnar, the German I had met in Quito, had 3 months travelling but I only had 3 weeks so couldn’t afford that kind of wait.  News then arrived somehow from somewhere that a bus was about to leave.  Bus? But we thought there was no road.  A new one.  Is it finished?  A non-committal look and mention of “landslides permitting”.  Oh well, it’s supposed to be an adventure so we piled in with all the locals.
We anticipated a spectacular journey.  Ibarra is at 2210 metres on the Andes plateau in the north of Ecuador and San Lorenzo is 193 km away at sea level.  Most of the drop occurs on the first half of the route.  You move from the relatively barren landscape of the high altitude páramo through the tropical cloud and rain forests down to the mangroves swamps of the coastline.
The bus was full by the time we set off but of course that didn’t stop it filling up further as we began our descent.  Our rucksacks were jammed onto our laps and people and the occasional farm animal seemed to be pressing in from all sides.  It was going to be a long day especially as none of the locals seem to wear deodorant.   When the bus really was full, newcomers started climbing up onto the roof.  We were trundling along at a conservative speed, slowing now and then to avoid a landslip, so I started to envy them their vantagepoint – not only the fresh air and extra elbowroom but also access to the fantastic views that were now opening up on all sides.
I was lucky.  When we arrived at a bridge that was a bit shaky, we passengers were asked to get out and walk across to reduce the risk of the bus plunging into the ravine.  I took my chance and clambered up amongst the assorted cargo.  Gunnar decided to remain below.  My fellow dare devils greeted me with a smile and soon the wind was blowing through our hair, the sun shining on our faces and all was right with the world.  Of course grass is always greener and when a double mattress was hoisted onto the front of the roof, I envied those who claimed seats that were luxuriant compared to the rather harsh comfort of the roof rack at the back.
Before long though (an hour or two say – time is relative on such journeys) more people started to leave the bus than embark.  Finally I was in heaven when I was the only remaining passenger on the roof and I claimed the mattress all to myself.  Seldom can such amazing views have been enjoyed from such a unique and privileged position.
At least that’s what I thought ….
                                                                                …. until …
….. slowly but unmistakably ….
….  the driver’s foot began to descend on the accelerator. 
I hadn’t given it much thought at the start of the journey – when I was still indoors – that the driver had quickly consumed a couple of bottles of dodgy looking beer – well everything is a bit more relaxed in a place like that!  Now I began to wonder.  At slow speed the potholes had been avoided or felt as slow lurches.  Now they had the effect of launching me several inches into the air.  Luckily the mattress had been lashed on with a couple of ropes and I hung on to these for dear life while the rest of me performed what must have been a very impressive series of trampoline stunts.  I closed my eyes and prayed …
The thought that kept me going through the long ordeal was the passport control point somewhere ahead where I knew we would finally have to stop.  So it was that I lowered myself back onto terra firma.  My hair and clothes were full of dust and I’m sure I must have looked like a wide eyed ghost.  I think the driver knew exactly what he had been doing and I made sure I didn’t catch his eye as I disappeared into the bushes behind the bus.  


The trip to Ecuador was made in 1997.

Saturday, 1 November 2003

Samuel Joshua Cooper: Benefactor of St Thomas Church

In the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century Mr Samuel Joshua Cooper was a local business man and a great benefactor to the Barnsley area, in particular to St Thomas’, the church he attended and his period of office as churchwarden (21 years) is still the longest.
Whilst in Barnsley Library Archives I found this obituary to him in the Barnsley Chronicle dated 19th July 1913.
Samuel Joshua Cooper (known as Mr S J Cooper) died at his residence at Mount Vernon on Friday at 12.30 a.m. on July 11th 1913 aged 82, (his wife having died 2 years previously).
Samuel Joshua Cooper was the son of Samuel Cooper of Park House, Barnsley who was in his day a colliery proprietor and a linen manufacturer and who died in 1849.
On the death of his father Mr Samuel Joshua Cooper inherited a considerable fortune and for some time continued to carry on a colliery at Worsborough but subsequently closed it.
He didn’t take an active part in municipal or other public affairs but was none the less interested. He tried to avoid publicity and no one knows the full extent of his generosity.
He helped the poor of Barnsley, Worsborough and Districts, giving liberally through local clergy, often remaining anonymous.
A devout churchman, those connected with the work of the church in the York and Wakefield Dioceses were familiar with him.
He lived at Mount Vernon and had estates at Snaith in the Diocese of York, often helping with central funds as well as individual parishes. Also Wakefield Diocese benefited from his generosity.
He gave endowments of £100 each to St Johns’ and St Georges’, Barnsley for Augmentations of the Living. He also helped Denby Dale.
It was mostly through his financial assistance that the new mission church of St Lukes’ Worsborough Common in the parish of St Thomas’ Worsbrough Dale, (the church Mr Cooper attended) was built.
He made a gift of £500 towards St Marys’ Church’ New Boys School in Barnsley, completed last year (1912).
He took a deep interest in education affairs and was formerly a governor of Barnsley Holgate Grammar School to which he gave £1500 for the foundation of a ‘Cooper’ Scholarship in 1893.
The most striking public gift to Barnsley and one which will stand as a lasting memory to him as a benefactor was the Nurses’ Home adjoining Beckett Hospital. This was completed and opened in 1902 at a cost of £5000.
Several months ago (1912-1913) when Barnsley Grammar School was removed from its historic premises in Church Street to new buildings in Shaw Lane Mr Cooper purchased the old school house and placed it at the disposal of the local branch of the National Reserve at a nominal rent for the Headquarters of the Club.
At this instance there is now being erected near the scene of the disaster a memorial (stone monument) to the victims of the Oaks Colliery explosion (as no steps at Ardsley had been taken towards this).
Mr Cooper some years ago was appointed to Commissioner of the Peace for the Staincross Division of the West Riding but never qualified to act as a magistrate. He was largely interested in a number of local industrial undertakings and at one time was a director of Barnsley Gas Company and other concerns.
Trustees of a charitable fund newly created called ‘The Joshua Cooper Fund’ at their meeting in Sheffield on Tuesday with the Right Rev. Lord Bishop of Sheffield in the chair, passed a resolution that they desired to place in the Barnsley Chronicle their deep sense of appreciation of the great worth of Mr Joshua Cooper of Mount Vernon.
He gave by deed dated 15th June 1912 a sum to the West Riding Charitable Society of £1000 and intended making further gifts to the same society, income being applied in assisting persons resident in what will be the Diocese of Sheffield and the Diocese of Wakefield within a 10 mile radius of the Parish Church of Barnsley.
In September 1912 Mr Cooper gave a further £1000 upon the same Trusts.
Rev. W. Elmhurst being a member of the Committee managing these Trusts with the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rector of Darfield and others.
Mr Cooper was elected a Trustee of the West Riding Miners’ Permanent Relief Society at its first Delegates’ Meeting on 18th September 1877 and continued to act as such till 1893 when he resigned having remained a life honorary member.
Internment took place at the family vault on Monday afternoon at St Thomas’ Church, Worsborough Dale. The funeral cortege being small and simple but the church being very crowded long before the arrival of the procession.
Outside the church and all the way from Mount Vernon the road was lined with men and women.  The cortege was met by Rev. W. Banham at the church. He was accompanied by most of the Vicars of Barnsley and the Rector of Barnsley.The Vicars of St Georges’ and St Johns’, St Peters’, St. Edwards’, the Rector of Darfield, the Vicar of Worsborough, the Worsborough Common Curate in Charge and the Curate of St Thomas’.
The service was simple but impressive. The coffin bore the simple inscription:
Samuel Joshua Cooper
Died
July 11th 1913
Aged 82 years
Most of the notaries of Barnsley seemed to be present including the Mayor and members of the Elmhirst family, Dr Banham and many members of Worsborough Urban District Council.
Among many beautiful wreaths was one from Mr and Mrs Spencer Stanhope, Cannon Hall and from the Sunday School teachers at St Thomas; and many others.
Taken from Barnsley Chronicle 19th July 1913Barnsley Archives.
The following shows the Trust Funds set up by SJ Cooper within our Parish:
28 Nov 1890        Deed Poll declaring trust of Cottages on Warren Common, including Canning Street for the benefit of St Thomas Church (“Cottage a/c) the property was sold in 1938 and the proceeds invested
25 May 1903       £150 4% Preference Stock on Special Trust for upkeep of the Cooper Tomb
12 Sep 1904       £1000 on Special Trust for warming, lighting and maintenance of divine service at St James Church
08 June 1905      £2000 on Trust to supply coals & blankets for the poor
01 Aug 1905       £474.2.2 India 3½% stock added to the £1000 of 12Sep1904
20 March 1907    £500 on Special Trust for repairs to St James Church
23 Sep 1907       £1500 on Special Trust for heating, lighting, cleaning and organist salary at St James Church
30 Jan 1909        1754 Sq yards and buildings (adjacent to St James Church) on Special Trust, income to be used for salary of organist or caretaker at St James Church
07 Aug 1909       £500 on Special Trust for salary of Verger or Caretaker at St James Church
28 Aug 1908       £200 on Special Trust for repair of churches of St Thomas & St Luke (Banham Jubilee Repair Fund)
19 Sep 1911       Will extract of F Cooper, £300 for the requirements of the Chancel of St Thomas Church (choir surplices, altar cloths, furniture, organ tuning & repair)
16 Jan 1912        £500 on Special Trust for benefiting the sick and poor
21 June 1912      Conveyance and Declaration of Trust of a site for a Curate's House in Worsbrough Dale (19 Bank End Road, which was later sold, and “Melrose” 49 Mount Vernon Road was bought.  When the latter was sold the capital was kept on Trust for general church purposes)
22 July 1912       £480:13:4 invested in £600 Perpetual 3% Debenture Stock on Trust for bills on Curate's House.
05 April 1913      £2000 on Special Trust for salary of female parochial worker in memory of late F Cooper

 The PCC still holds all the capital from these funds, though after reorganisation only two remain as Trust Funds: The Curate’s House Fund (currently valued around £80,000) and The Fanny & Samuel Joshua Cooper Memorial Fund (£75,000).  Nearly all the capital is now held in shares with the Church of England Central Board of Finance and the total value of the Cooper Investments (including the two just mentioned) is around £200,000 (helped by the excellent growth for the CBF shares between 1990 and 2000).  The investments provide a steady income of around £10,000 for Church funds – 90 years after his death we still have good reason to be grateful to Mr Cooper.  The Cooper Tomb has recently been tidied up and can be found at the East End of St Thomas’ Church.        
J Meek & G Holmes

Contrast

I write this on the first day of really miserable weather – cold, grey and drizzly – that I can remember for months and months.  How long will it take, I wonder, to get back into the habit of complaining that our weather is always awful?
Through the summer I have taken advantage of the opportunity to play tennis over at the Barnsley Tennis Club over at Wilthorpe.  As Brits we complain about our tennis players almost as much as we do about the climate, but tennis is a great game to play (and not as humbling as golf).
On a par with the tennis is the cycle ride home.  It’s a stiff climb up to the hospital and a bit of a slog around Pogmoor Road and then up Broadway.  But as soon as you move from Keresforth Hall Road to Genn Lane it’s like a dream.  Apart from being pleasantly downhill nearly all the way, the views to the south and west are magnificent especially when the sun is just setting away over the Pennines.  You can briefly pick out the wind turbines that are above Ingbirchworth and the now nationally famous Wentworth Castle sits proudly above the misty valley which is striped with long dusky shadows.
On such a late summer evening as you race along on a bike you can feel the heat radiating out from the wall and the black tarmac of the road – heat that has been stored up throughout the long sunny day.  But then you pass Ouslethwaite and descending more steeply you approach the sharp bend at the bottom of Cromwell Mount.  Here the wall seems to step back slightly and a broad depression runs from somewhere near Highstone Farm all the way down to the reservoir.  The effect is a distinct drop in the temperature of the air, together with a chilled cabbagey smell from whatever was grown in the field above the road.  The sudden transition is a wonderful sensation and one I think you only get when riding a bike at evening.  Though it does remind me of when I used to get home from school in Cambridge and stopping only to put on shorts and pick up a towel, run over the river footbridge and along to the outdoor pool on Jesus’ Green – diving into the cold water without a second thought.
What would life be without contrast?  We may not welcome all the changes that come our way.  Often we would prefer to stay with the long stored up cosiness of familiarity.  But life is movement and change – to resist change is to be its victim but to be immersed in it and attempt to shape the future is to live with hope.

Monday, 1 September 2003

A day at the Races

Four young people from St Thomas’s are going to be confirmed next month at Sheffield Cathedral.  So, as part of their preparation, I decided to take them down to Cheltenham Racecourse last weekend.  There we were in the grandstand, waiting patiently for the main event of the day.  Thousands of others were crowding around us and in front of us was the majestic sweep of the course itself with the sticks beautifully manicured and much further beyond the curving blue hazed ridge of hills which marks the start of the Cotswolds.
The excitement was building and having read the programme I was deciding how much I should outlay in the hope of a good return!
I should say at this point that there was not a horse in sight.  The punters around us were fellow Christians of every age, shade and denomination.  The centre of the racecourse was packed full of the tents which formed our living quarters for the weekend and what we awaited was the festival Eucharist.  Our money was going, not to line the coffers of the bookmakers, but to Christian Aid to contribute towards the campaign to reform the global trade rules in the hope of a fairer economic balance for the poorest in the world. 
The service included drummers from South Africa – getting us started with a sense of vitality and passion.  It included statements of protest against injustice and the use of violence as an ultimate solution.  Unintentionally it was demonstrated that the institutional church can often be impotent (a bishop in full finery came up to give the blessing only to find that the PA had died – we could see his head bobbing around but not the faintest sound of his voice reached us) in contrast a Mexican wave (the first time I’ve seen one during worship) showed the power of collective action by ordinary people.

Friday, 1 August 2003

SHORT STORY: Steps of Faith

David stood and listened to the slow dripping of water in the toilet cistern, steeling himself to take those few familiar steps, which he felt would also take him completely into the unknown.  At his back was the door that led into the domestic part of the house and in front of him was the one that parishioners supposedly called at to visit his father in the ‘working’ part of the house.  The lobby was gloomy with a few unused coats on the pegs, a grey plastic chair, and a bucket of assorted junk – a bicycle pump, an old umbrella, that sort of stuff.
In actual fact it was rare that anyone would call to see the vicar at home and the supposed home – work divide was actually suffused on both sides with what David saw as his Father’s vague disillusionment.  Sometimes it was worse, when a thick blanket of depression would descend and at those times wherever you were in the house, even the sunny front bedrooms with views past the orchard over the paddock, you could feel the darkness insinuating itself out from the desk in the study.
It hadn’t been like that recently.  But David knew that it was up to him nevertheless.  No one else saw both sides of the story.  This wasn’t the first time he had stood here and even now he was almost paralysed by dread.  What if he was wrong?  What if his Dad just looked at him blankly and without comprehension?  Or worse, what if he responded with anger?  But David knew he wouldn’t.  He believed in the power of God’s love.  Love that could melt through ice, break through prison walls, bring the light of truth that was irresistible in its beauty.  He believed that his Dad knew this too.  Why else would he have taken his path in life?  And even though he had fallen short of his own message and become a shadow of the truth he still ostensibly proclaimed, David knew that his own willingness to step forward would change all that – it simply had to.  No longer would he be afraid to talk to his Father and share his deepest faith and feelings.  No longer would his mother suffer in her faithful misery.  All the chains would be broken and the implications would ripple out into the whole of God’s wonderful world. 
The cistern had stopped dripping now.  He could hear the rustling of papers from behind that door and said another prayer for courage.  Yet the strange enormity of those few steps kept his feet rooted to the ground.
                                                        * * *                                                  
Richard sat staring at the blank sheet of paper.  Several previous attempts were screwed up in the bin beside him.  He had never much enjoyed writing for the parish magazine but as time had gone on it seemed to get harder and harder.  Having been round the liturgical loop in this parish more times than he liked to recall, he felt he had used up all his fire – such as it had been.  Maybe not fire, but at least some of his work had been witty and clever, plays on words that were original to him, as far as he could remember.  But now he wondered how on earth he could write something about Christian Hope.  His attempts so far had been perfectly respectable – and he tried to assure himself that he could find worse in many a similar publication – but somehow the words just seemed pointless, more so, in fact, the more he tried to convey some kind of joy or enthusiasm in them.  Enthusiasm!  What did he know about that?  Once upon a time, maybe.  But then Theological College, a hard Curacy, endless bureaucracy and admin, quibbles over flower rosters, third world wars over clearing out bits of junk.  He couldn’t remember exactly when it was that he had finally given in, but given in he certainly had. 
He picked up the creamy white envelope with the flourish of Jonathan’s handwriting filling up more of the front than was really necessary.  He had already dealt with the rest of his post – the letter from the archdeacon querying the details of the faculty application for the new handrail outside the church porch, the …  Oh whatever he had forgotten already – some of them only half opened before being thrown aside in weariness.  But this one he treasured, it was supposed to be the reward for finishing his article, but what the heck.
Jonathan had been the best thing his wife and he had ever done together – along with his twin brother David of course.  They were both good looking and sporty.  David was reliable, strong minded in his own way, but never actually rocking the boat.  Jonathan on the other hand – well he was no angel, no doubt about that (Richard without realising it was smiling half a smile) but there was something about him that meant forgiveness was irrelevant, it was life, life that Richard envied but admired even more.  In his darkest moments it was a vicarious sense of being involved with Jonathan’s life that gave him enough consolation to keep going.

 

Dear Dad

I am writing this at night.  In a few hours time we will make the final preparations for attack.  By the time you read this it will be all over. 
I hope everyone is well at home.  Don’t let the B’s grind you down!
There has been a huge sense of expectation all day long – a sense that we are approaching a boundary that most of us have never been beyond before.  Now things are quieter and I have to confess to a feeling of dread.  I hate to admit it, but I even feel a bit homesick.  I know that if I was there though I would only want to be back here with the rest of them.
After dark I went for a walk out behind the lines.  The sky is clear with no moon and just the faintest breath of wind.  The stars are absolutely incredible.  Do you remember the first time you showed us the pole star?  I’ll never forget.  You told us it was further away than we could imagine, and that God was even further away but at the same time closer than breathing.  I don’t really know what to write – you know I don’t believe all that stuff about God but I still feel the truth of what you said.  I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Anyway, give my love to Mum and to David and tell them I’ll write more soon.
Lots of love,
Jonathan

Richard drifted from rereading the letter to gazing out of the window.  He could see the harvest dust blowing in the wind and knew that the air outside would be dry and choking.  A single butterfly appeared outside the closed window and meandered across, seeming to hesitate for a moment before disappearing from view.  He suddenly felt the rise of a sickening fear and snatching up the letter again he shot a glance at the double picture above the fireplace.  Immediately he heard (or did he imagine) a repeated crack of rifle fire.
He looked across with blank eyes to realise it was a knock at the study door.
“Hello?  David …. Come in.  What is it?”

Tuesday, 1 July 2003

Going to Church

Except it’s not church as such, though in some ways more so.
Anticlockwise round the reservoir.  Crossing Doe Lane, the path becomes narrower – or rather the encroaching vegetation reaches in further.  Watch out for the stinging nettles and the brambles that catch and tug.  But the Queen Anne’s Lace adds graciousness lighter than air.  The branches close in overhead as well and the leaves are full, making a tunnel of green gloom, which suggests a journey through the innards of the world.
In the background is the roar of the motorway, part-muffled of outright nuisance.  Precision engineering, roaring wildly, the frantic rush and possibility of horrific danger; rubber thrashing against hot asphalt. (We have made it possible to get right outside the weave of life).  Luckily it is muffled enough that the mind can sink beneath it and effectively blot it out, though not altogether without cost.
Now we’ve arrived.  To the left of the path the scarified earth drops away into the clearing by the bridge.  The space is lightly enclosed by sycamore, alder, hawthorne and ash and there is a single pew for the likes of us.  Coming a few weeks ago you would have found the choir full of ramsons (it smelled like they’d all been eating French the night before) opposite a congregation of more lightly perfumed bluebells.  Now just the odd handful of red campion, like mischievous children, have scattered themselves about the place.  Under the bridge the water breaks over the weir, foaming but then smoothing around some huge old blocks of chiselled stone – suggestive of ancient graves, or the relic of an altar whose sacrifice is obsolete – before puckering up in ripples where the stream shallows over the stones and flows on its secret way. 
There is no cross as such though plenty of trees.  An alder grows straight out of the stream’s bank.  From time to time the rising water has torn the earth away from its roots and so they lie exposed, rather disturbing as though they are tortured, unmovingly twisted.  At the same time their craving for depth suggests a strength that is both restful and vital.
The light is best at the turning points of the day when it slants in from east or west, heightening the contrasts – crisp and fresh at early morning, rich and mellow with approaching sunset – but at any time it is still a delight – being constantly tinted, mixed and broken by the moving leaves and branches.
There are angels in the architecture – complete with wings, feathers and heavenly voices – occasionally you see them darting from branch to branch.  A couple of horses amble up to the nearby fence, they look around but they’re not bothered and wander off again.
Time to sit, ponder and imagine.  With Rockley Old Hall a short walk away, what characters must have passed by here or lingered on what business in centuries long gone?  In pre-Christian ages (and more recently perhaps) what spirits would have been said to inhabit such a place as this?  And what of the divine life is manifested to us here and now … ?
We have never really arrived or concluded before time calls for us to move on again.  Time to find a smooth pebble and perhaps a stick to throw into the canopy reflecting pool.  Perhaps make a wish or perhaps not.  Content just to let them go their various ways.

Sunday, 1 June 2003

Beyond the Bounds

The week after Easter brings the chance of a favourite pilgrimage.  The A17 can be a bit of a slog, but after King’s Lynn we give the roads their names – coast road, common road, beach road, cockle road – and each transition moves us closer to ‘The Moorings’, 55 The Beach, Snettisham.  Getting there is the main pilgrimage which then makes possible the more intimate mini pilgrimages that flesh out the enjoyment – a walk in Sandringham woods, touring the charity shops in Hunstanton, cream tea at Bircham Windmill – the itinerary varies from one visit to another but there is one element that I must include at least once – a trip to the benches …
The chalets form a long line between The Wash and the gravel pit lakes.  They are constantly evolving – some falling into disrepair or disappearance, but most being upgraded – being added to piecemeal or totally rebuilt.  Put them anywhere else and many of them would look ridiculous but here, by the sea, they are fascinating no matter how dishevelled.  On my bike I pass the last of them and continue alongside the bank that hides the bird reserve.  I pass the remaining piers of the derelict jetty where in years gone by all the gravel was shipped away across The Wash.  Still a way to go yet …
The three benches form a convex arc, each looking slightly away from the others in a general westward direction out across The Wash.  They are solid and sun-warmed, which is reassuring because at this particular spot nothing seems easy to grasp.  There is a vastness that goes beyond words; it seems to exert a pull on the whole field of sense threatening it with breakdown. This is a meeting place of salt marsh, mudflat, grassland and sea with the little Babingley river flowing into their midst beneath an almost complete hemisphere of sky.  In fact the sky is so big that the horizon on the Western side seems even lower than it possibly could be. It is a place that accommodates to the mind more easily in memory than in the present moment.  I remember being here with Jemima, when the tide was at a yearly high and the wading birds, having been pushed all the way back by the rising water at last had to take to the air en masse.  The dense whirling clouds of them twisted this way and that and the reflection of the early morning sunlight was switched on and off by the synchronised altering of their angles.  Then they did a ‘fly past’ solely for our benefit, peeling to left and right just over our heads – a display of unmatchable scale and exhilaration.  I remember bending down to look into the face of a tiny scarlet pimpernel – its infinitesimal perfection the exact inversion of the vaulted blue above. 
I am brought back to the present moment by a single gunshot, for an instant it fills my mind but after only seconds it remains as no more than a pinprick in memory.  Looking around I can make out the horizontal line of the chalets and the vertical line of the spire of St Mary’s, Snettisham but the distance robs them of their substance.  In the opposite direction a few cows seem to float on a haze just above the flood plain meadows.  I watch the swallows following their own invisible lines then close my eyes and listen to the call of the black headed gulls which is half cry, half buzz.  I feel the warm tingle of the sun on my eyelids, the breeze playing cool on moistened lips.  Then a skylark starts raising its own invisible spire of diffused music in the air above my head.
To remain in the present but somehow anchor myself against the dissolving vastness I turn my attention to the benches themselves.  The second is dedicated: ‘Michael Bounds 1917 – 1999’ and the third ‘Ada Bounds 1917-1994 “Rest here awhile”’ – commemorated in a place without bounds.  The boundaries of their existence recorded like empty vessels that contained so much that was precious.  Their lives overlapped entirely except for those five years for Michael on his own. Now even that is past and their respective benches sit side by side just angled apart, suggesting a slightly different perspective on a common view; easy companionship with not the slightest trace of confrontation – a good legacy of years spent together.
I always think it would be good to spend a day here – perhaps bring a picnic.  We never have yet.  In fact I never stay for very long before moving off again.  Perhaps a quick visit to the wildfowler’s cabin.  A houseboat that was beautifully equipped and cosy before the owner stopped using it and the vandals arrived.  Now only the swallows move in for a short stay each spring.
Time to return to the moorings.  “This time I’ll write down what I’ve felt and try and make some sense of it that way.”  And so you can perhaps glimpse it too.  But there is nothing quite like being there.

Thursday, 1 May 2003

Doctrinal Diversity

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off.  So I ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for.”
He said, “Like what?”
I said, “Well … are you religious or atheist?”
He said, “Religious.”
I said, “Me too!  Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
He said, “Christian.”
I said, “Me too!  Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me too!  Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me too!  Are you
Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
He said, “Baptist Church of God.”
I said, “Me too!  Are you original
Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
I said, “Me too!  Are you Reformed
Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”
He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915.”
I said “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off the bridge.
Emo Phillips, American comedian
Now I’m not having a go at Baptists (in fact some of my nicest neighbours are Baptist) but I did like that joke – taking it to be aimed at all religious people, whenever we fall prey to the evil possibilities that can form the trappings of a religious identity. 
Religion can open us to all sorts of exciting potential but sadly it sometimes does exactly the opposite of ‘what it says on the tin’.
Not least in the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that real faith goes hand in hand with a heightened sense of our common humanity with all people (especially those we think are beyond the pale) and results in the crossing of boundaries whenever we can embody compassion and practical care.  

Tuesday, 1 April 2003

Life goes on?

As I write, Baghdad and Basra are being bombarded by alliance forces and we are being bombarded by the media images of the war.  Ironically, while there seem to be more and more news bulletins there is less and less each time that is actually new.
In contrast to the bombers, heavy artillery, massing troops and ground-shaking explosions it’s almost surreal to get glimpses via live cameras into the heart of the Iraqi capital and to realise that despite everything there are ordinary people for whom life goes on as best it can.
Life goes on.  Despite death and destruction, through despair and anger, life goes on.  And at other times through new birth and happiness, in success and flourishing, life goes on.
It is a testimony to the power of life that the mass of ordinary people will regroup, earth themselves once again and, whether circumstances are better, worse, or much the same, they will continue the struggle to make life as secure and worthwhile as possible for themselves and their families.
This could begin to sound like an argument for fatalism – “Whatever will be will be.  Leave power to the people who have got it and make the best of things that you can.”  If only it could actually be a summons for the world to come to its senses and realise the simple things that are really important – giving everyone the opportunity to live with good food, clean water, a sustainable environment and security and peace.  Surely that is possible – or it would be if it wasn’t for the grasping greedy evil which is so inherent to humanity and which spoils everything.
With Easter just around the corner it might be tempting to say that there is an answer to all this.  But what good is an answer that obviously isn’t in actual fact going to change the real world?  As long as there are people there will be injustice and evil.  And no place is as dangerous as the moral high ground.  But life will go on.  Perhaps Easter simply reminds us that we can’t help it, we cannot resist life.  Time and time again, we get up again, we renew our dreams and we don’t give up struggling for something better.

Saturday, 1 March 2003

Pembrokeshire Coast Path : Part 6

Having pitched my tent on the dunes just behind Barafundle Bay, I settle down to calculate exactly how many miles I’ve walked each day so far (not including detours and diversions) – 14, 17, 24, 18, 16, 15, 19, 12, & 18 miles respectively.  Now there are about 25 miles remaining.  My feet are no longer troubling me like they were and I decide to try and finish on a high note by completing the walk tomorrow.  I have enjoyed planning and reviewing my progress along the way.  I also realise now how obsessive I am about ordering my campsite, keeping things tidy and efficient.  I take great delight in making a cup of tea – using my petrol stove to boil just the right amount of water in the billy can which fits snugly back into its nest between frying pan and saucepan.  Finally, I make my way back down onto the beach and make a good bonfire but before long it starts to rain so I kick sand over it and go to bed.
Later, in a state of semi-consciousness I hear the breathing of a great creature just outside the skin of my tent.  Its huge deep measure sounds like that of a giant and my body tenses for the inevitable ….  As I emerge more fully from my sleep I recognise the muffled steady grating roar of the waves curling over and running up the beach before drawing back against the pebbles.  No giant after all, but my thoughts turn back to the unsolved murder and I feel vulnerable again.  I repeat my night prayer,  “I will lie down and sleep in peace …” and try to lull myself with the rhythm of the waves but every time I’m about to drop off “Fee Fie Foe Fum …” runs through my mind instead. Eventually I sleep fitfully between heavy showers. 
I wake to more showers but they soon pass and at 6 am I get up to blue skies with scattered clouds.  I am ready to go at 7.15, and with a last look back at the beguiling beauty of Barafundle, I set off into what is promising to be a perfect day.  The cliffs are as dramatic as ever and topped by limestone grassland like a sweet green carpet woven with the blue, pink and white of wild flowers.  Using an identification guide I’ve managed to learn some of the different species along the way.  The names are poetry enough in themselves: wild thyme, common storksbill, rock sea-spurrey, thrift, sea campion, bird’s foot trefoil, common centaury, sea mayweed, viper’s bugloss, heath spotted orchid and scurvygrass.  I stop and chat for a while to a widower.  He’s very friendly and loves being out on the cliffs – but I rather sense that the beauty can’t quite fill the emptiness.
Will I manage to finish today?  I don’t know.  I’ll have to see.  The thought of it feels a bit like the end of life after all that I’ve been through.  What will it feel like when I do finish …?  I turn my attention from such questions to the hot pasty and cup of tea that I have just bought at Freshwater East.  When I get to Swanlake Bay, I am almost tempted to stop and camp.  My guide book is accurate in describing it as one of the most secluded and least visited bays in Pembrokeshire.  There is plenty of driftwood for a good bonfire too but the day is still young and I press on to Manorbier.  As I approach I pass a magnificent house which is being extended to provide yet more opportunity to sit and enjoy the already panoramic views of the bay and the cliffs.  I am envious.  I think about the effect it must have on someone who is lucky enough to live with such a view.  I think of the little flat I’ll be going back to. Its views aren’t too bad actually.   To the east I can see the crematorium and to the west glimpses of road, railway, river and canal, a steelworks, a retail park, cleared industrial land, and residential areas – certainly interesting.  There are flats not far from it, however, which look straight out onto a brick wall and hardly get any light – soul destroying, I should think.
In Manorbier, which is dominated by its mediaeval castle, I make a diversion to the Church.  It is full of interesting features, strange angles, and enticing views, which draw you to go in further.  Continuing on the path again there is a sudden spectacular view of Lydstep Head.  I go back up the way I’ve come to take a detour around it.  Then I go on round Giltar peninsular with spectacular views over Caldey Island with its living monastery.  Once again I am overwhelmed by wind, sea and clear sky and I honestly feel that if I jumped off the cliffs I could fly – though I decide not to for now.  Rounding the point, I get a new view and suddenly feel a lump in my throat.  For the first time, as I look at the distant coast, I can’t say “That’s where I’ll be walking tomorrow”.  I can see beyond Amroth and know that the end is nigh.  However, there are still plenty of miles to cover today and I push on towards Tenby, making an entry by way of the beach, where they seem to be filming some kind of period drama on the sand around St Catherine’s Island.
I pass the very quaint harbour, devour a cream tea and visit the Tourist Information Centre.  Then I push on again.  Tired now I pass along in a bit of a dream through the pinewoods towards Saundersfoot and on.  My right heel is beginning to seize up.  It’ll all be over today whatever happens.  Just after Saundersfoot the path plunges into a tunnel – once the route of a narrow gauge railway that connected coal workings to the harbour.  The exit is partially obscured and it is so dark I can’t see the sides.  The roof drips with cold solemnity.  There are hidden alcoves that recede further into darkness and the metaphor of death seems to become more powerful.  More so again when I emerge from the gloom into what feels like the last judgement.  The old railway course is just above the sea at its high tide and the waves come crashing in between the groins, tearing at the rocks on the beach so that they roar like lions waiting to pounce. The heavens above open for a while in a solid downpour.  Then the sun breaches the clouds and a full rainbow arches over the path.  What more can there be?  I can almost believe I have entered a new state of being with a weight of glory founded partly on the suffering it has taken to get here and partly on the sheer beauty of Life.
Then suddenly it is over.  No lights, no cheers, no welcome party.  Nothing much at all really.  Just a modest sign by the sea wall where I pause for a time before making my way into the welcoming warmth of the pub.
I sign the visitors’ book.  They are very friendly and quite impressed by my ten-day effort especially as I was carrying all my gear.  According to them about 25 people complete the full walk each year.  Some do it unencumbered by baggage and with full backup – the record is 2½ days.
(The end)

A Seaside Blessing

May the salt of the spray cleanse you;
The glistening of the waves lighten your heart;
The touch of the breeze refresh you;
The fire of the sunset calm your fears.
And may the
ocean of God’s love
carry you gently till you reach
His haven of peace and rest forever.
© Blackpool Parish Church
Time flies and it’s a couple of weeks already since I got back from the Diocesan Conference – 3 days in sunny Blackpool.  The conference was not without its moments – not surprisingly maybe, given the challenging times the Church faces for various reasons.  But it had its highlights as well.  The North-Pier-and-sea view from my (otherwise basic) room at the Grand Metropole, being one of them, and another being the Tuesday evening Speaker John Bell.  He is the genius behind much of the Iona Community worship material, which I often use especially on Thursday evenings.  He is also a Scot who bears a passing resemblance to Billy Connolly, in humour as much as in looks.
Amongst many other things, he spoke about the early Celtic Christians on Iona.  The beautiful abbey wasn’t built until many years later.  At first they built simple little cells and the faith they communicated was lived very much in the midst of everyday life – not within the confines of a religious building.  Our heritage can easily obscure our faith if we are not careful.
In the Parish statistics last month I forgot to mention one new initiative that has been very encouraging – the monthly service in the community room at Maltas Court.  We were there yesterday with 26 attending and 18 receiving communion.
Another example of the Church moving beyond its walls was at Christmas when the choir went carolling round the pubs.  Not a new idea by any means but a good one nevertheless and part of the kind of approach we should take more often.
Incidentally, in a similar vein it has been mentioned that we should get a trip up later in the year to see the lights at Blackpool – watch this space.

Saturday, 1 February 2003

Pembrokeshire Coast Path : Part 5

I am now travelling west along the southern coast of the estuary and can see places I passed through yesterday over on the other side.    By getting into the right frame of mind I find that I can enjoy the rain.  It’s still torrential but my gear is good enough to keep the worst of it out.  The last mile-and-a-half is along the beach with no defined route.  I strike out across the mud where it’s less rocky but risk going in up to the eyeballs.  Arriving in Angle I lunch in a welcoming pub and consider pitching my tent but, as it’s still pouring, I opt for a second night in B&B.  The house is lovely and clean so I feel a bit awful when I trudge in, soaking wet and plastered (with mud).  I have a delicious bath and watch ‘For the love of Ada’ and a bit of ‘Oprah’.  Feet are sore but nothing like yesterday.
I wake early having agreed to breakfast at 8 am.  It doesn’t look bad out and I’m itching to get going, feeling really guilty that I didn’t camp.  I sort my kit out and make a work of art out of patching my feet again.  When I go down it’s still only 7.30 but the breakfast is all laid out so I eat and set off at ten past eight.  The weather is dry but the undergrowth is sopping, so I wear plastic bags between sandals and socks to keep my foot-art intact.  I pass the little fisherman’s chapel, which I visited last night.  The stained glass sets bible stories in the context of the village and its life – Jesus asleep in the boat in the storm, Jesus calling Peter out of the boat to tread the waves, being two of them. 
I continue on along the headland, feeling good.  Rounding the point, I leave the Milford Haven estuary behind, at last, and coming over the top, I am back to what I love best about this walk.  The sea looks somehow colder and clearer with a savage beauty which makes it seem utterly detached from all other existence.  The wind is freer and carrying in its saltiness a memory of its long journey across the ocean.  Here, I could contemplate for hours, but without reaching any conclusions.
Then all of a sudden it is snowing, except this snow is a dirty grey.  In fact it is foam, collecting in a gully, whipped up by the wind and then falling over the cliff top.  I seem to walk on through an elemental drama  and when I reach a ruined watchtower, I climb in to eat my lunch, except that I have to keep stopping to watch mid-munch as wave explodes itself on rock.  Before continuing, I remove the bags (which are now just tattered shreds) from my feet.  It was comfy at first but eventually became sweaty until thorns and brambles did their worst.
Later on, I reach the vast expanse of beach at Freshwater West.  I stop to snack again, this time in a hut used for drying seaweed.  Beyond this point the cliffs continue, as spectacular as ever.  Unfortunately, thanks to the MOD, the route has to detour inland and I am back to the pains of road marching.  A dream is keeping me going now.  If the army aren’t on exercise there is a road that will take me back to the cliffs sooner rather than later and I will be able to get to Stack Rocks and Govan’s Chapel.  My dream is that if I get there late enough and no one else is about I might be able to spend the night in the chapel itself, which nestles remotely in the wild cliffs.  I get to the crossroads and approach the security point.  The barrier is down and a sullen and uncommunicative official eventually tells me the whole area is shut for the foreseeable future.  Oh well!  More road slog all the way to Bosherton.  Here I have beans on toast and a cream tea in a little café next to the Church.  The Church is locked – much to the chagrin of a coach load that turns up to visit it.  The route continues, through a system of delightful freshwater lakes (part of the Stackpole estate) back to the coast at Broad Haven.  Now the drama begins again making this morning seem tame by comparison.  My feet and legs had been griping along the long road stretch but now they go quiet, or at least I cease to notice them.  This is pure exhilaration.  The sea a boiling cauldron, throwing waves like mountains onto the cliffs then erupting into the air.  Choughs soar above me and Razorbills and Guillemots, here in their hundreds, labour into the gale before turning suddenly to be hurled back towards land.  In that moment they seem completely out of control and I’m amazed that not one of them gets splattered onto the sheer face of the cliff.  Church rock stands out some way from the cliff.  It is the size of a small Church with a roof and steeple but the waves, with all the fury of the forces of hell, crash right over the top of it.  They don’t prevail and the little ‘building’ always emerges ready to take another battering.  Further on, there is a collapsed cave into which the sea surges only to be forced out again at high pressure.  And later a finger of cliff points out into the swell.  I take my pack off and crawl out along it, peering over the edge to see down onto the seabirds and through tide worn arches of rock.  Everything is awesome – built of sheer power and illuminated now by glorious sunshine. 
Finally, with the approach of evening, I make my way down into the intimate calm of Barafundle bay.  It’s National Trust land so really there’s no camping allowed.  However, I can’t resist it and settle down to wait till everyone else has gone home.
There are not many people around but having said that those that are provide plenty of amusement for a quiet onlooker.  First there is the little family building a sandcastle against the tide.  It’s an interesting and challenging spot for them next to a small rock face on the shelving sand.  Before long a wave comes round the rock and rises up quickly to soak their clothes.  Mum decides to stop but Dad and boy continue.  Dad keeps shouting “14 years!” repeating it every time he pauses.  (What can it mean?  He’s shouting it defiantly, almost angrily now, at his wife.  As though he means they’ve shared 14 years of misery or it’s 14 years till the son grows up and leaves home and he can finally divorce her!)   They are on the brink now – but perhaps the tide is at its full flow already and their castle will just survive … No!  Another wave comes over.  They leap back … but then return, frantically rebuilding and repairing and prevailing again for precious minutes … Surely they are safe now … Then a huge wave comes in, twice as big as even that last one.  In an instant, man and boy are soaked and the sand obliterated beyond recognition.  They jump out and run back to mum.  Dad’s emotion seems released now and he explains all, “14 years we’ve been building that castle!”  He is obviously completely cuckoo, but it was a great castle and they’ll sleep well tonight.
As that family leaves another one makes a late arrival.  A couple in their seventies and a woman I presume to be their daughter.  When they reach the middle of the beach, Father ‘plants’ his two walking sticks, takes off shoes and socks and (obviously a well used system) plugs one set onto the top of each stick.  Mother and daughter leave their footwear on the sand nearby.  The waves are still rolling in so I’m surprised when the three of them saunter down into the water.  I’m thinking, “Another of those unusually big ones and they’ve had it – how could I possibly rescue all three of them?”  But age breeds experience and the old man, who has casually gone in furthest, performs dainty ballet steps that keep his neatly rolled trousers just clear of the water.  They haven’t reckoned on the tides continued stealth though and only a last minute sprint by the daughter saves the non-elevated shoes from a soaking.  The next bit is incredible.  The old man crouches forward and shakes his fist over the oncoming waves.  He then shouts something I can’t quite make out, but which I’m sure is the 1930’s version of “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!” I think I’ve seen it all.
At last they depart and so do the people who were fishing and the two women who sat in matching deck chairs with matching dogs on matching leads. Now I have my own private beach and I pitch my tent secretly among the sand dunes.

Wednesday, 1 January 2003

Pembrokeshire Coast Path : Part 4

I wake at 1 am because of the throbbing pain in my feet.  Turning round in the tent I stick them out into the cool air to soothe them.  Later I move back to ‘position A’ as it starts raining hard with a thunder storm close overhead.  I snuggle into my bag and edge away from the tent-pole: I had chosen a high and exposed pitch to make the most of the view.  When I wake again the sound of incessant rain has been joined by that of a foghorn.  I pack carefully and set off in the rain at 8.15 am
I have decided to go for it and aim to walk around the Dale peninsular in time to reach and cross The Gann while it is still possible with the tide.  This is a real test of motivation: cutting across the neck of the peninsular would have saved 5 miles from the walk, and they were to be miles without views because of the fog; and they crossed boggy pastures covered in sheep manure, which didn’t make for pleasurable walking in sandals! There were redeeming moments, however: the sands at Marloes, the harbour at Martin Haven, the Old Lighthouse at the point (where a friendly chap signed my card for me), and the sudden revelation through the fog of a yacht resting serenely at anchor.  I meet some Americans in pristine boots looking for a “well marked path”.  I explain the discrete ‘acorn’ marker posts to them and wish them well on their first walk in Wales
I press on into Dale itself.  It seems pleasant but I now find it takes more effort to walk slowly and anyway I’m worried about the tide, so I pass through in a hurry.  As it happens I cross The Gann quite easily.  Now the sun suddenly appears and full waterproofs and thermal shirt are immediately stripped down to shorts only.  I continue to Monk’s Haven – a lovely valley and a church with real character – a bit like St Non’s, “I can pray here.”  It is dedicated to St Ishmael, a contemporary of St David, St Patrick, et al, but not one I had heard of before.  It’s only early afternoon but I’m feeling the pain again now, so it’s a slog up the hill, down to the village and up again to the cricket ground where I can camp.  It pours with rain for two hours during which time I put my tent up, have a drink in the clubhouse (“You can have a good session – no need to drive” – but I have enough problems just walking already!) then take a delicious shower in the changing rooms.  They invite me to play cricket tomorrow – a cup match – I laugh.  I sleep for two hours then go back down to the village pub for fresh mackerel and chips followed by a sickly pudding and pots of tea.  This is a very close-knit village, but very friendly too.  Romantic hits from the 80’s are playing as I eat – reminding me of my school days!  Two new blisters on my left little toe.  They’ll need bursting later tonight.
There are showers during the night.  When I get up at 6 am on Trinity Sunday the skies are blue but it soon clouds over again with just the occasional glimpses of sun during the day.  I feel surprisingly good – legs slightly fatigued but feet okay.  The half-day rest has done me good.  I set off at 7 am and get to Sandy Haven at 8 am.  At this point there is another tidal river crossing to make and I have to wait half-an-hour until the causeway and stepping-stones become visible.  Patience isn’t always my best virtue so I take my sandals off and cross while there’s still 6 inches of water – well, it’s more fun like that anyway.  I push on alongside the Milford Haven waterway, with its recently redundant oil refinery workings, not wanting to stop in case I seize up.  Milford Haven is the first really built up section of the path.  Not much of note to rave about, just lots of road walking to punish feet and legs.  At Neyland it’s up onto the A477 for a high level and very windy crossing over the estuary.  For now it’s simply a slog and the lack of interest adds to the demoralising effect.  However, my sights are set on Old Pembroke and after limping through the dock I finally arrive at the Tourist Information office at 2 pm – a hard and punishing 20 miles completed. 
I enquire about campsites but the nearest is 1 mile out of town in the wrong direction.  Immediately I am aware that my legs and feet are totally crippled and there is a swelling on one of my thighs.  I opt for a nearby B&B with no feelings of guilt whatsoever.  Just getting there is a struggle and despite the relief of being without my pack, the short distance back into town to find food is even worse.  All the cafés are shut. **##!!X#X#** - pardon my French.
I park myself on a bench on the corner of the main road and take my feet out to let them breathe (a few funny looks).  Then I go into a miserable pub and consume one and a half pints of Guinness and a packet of pork scratchings.  “I really am going to give up now.  It’s not as though I’ve even got any choice any more.  Have I? Yes.  No.  Well?  I can wait and decide in the morning, can’t I?”
The Anglican Church is nearby and I decide to go to Evening Prayer.  There are seven of us in the congregation plus organist, lay reader and vicar.  The service is depressingly depressing but the people are friendly.  One of them gives me a lift to a recommended Chinese restaurant where I treat myself.  I also ponder the conversations I had in Church after the service.  Most of the folk had encouraged me to continue walking – easy for them.  But one woman had advised the contrary.  “It’s dangerous on the Coast Path, you know”.  I think she means the cliffs – where the path is crumbling it can be a bit hairy, especially if the wind is up – that doesn’t bother me.  “Yes,” she went on, “They never did solve that murder.”  My eyebrows say “!!??”
“A couple were walking near St David’s.  No one was about at the time.  But later they were found, having been tied together and shot.  That was four years ago and the mystery has never been solved, the murderer never caught.”  She then went on to discuss the organist and choir but my thoughts had become somewhat distrait.
After the meal I walk back to the guesthouse and pamper, pamper, pamper my feet.  The newest blister has 3 heads and breathes a combination of fire and ice or am I hallucinating?
I wake up on Monday morning, after a good sleep, to the firm and level-headed decision to have a day off.  There are still some 55 miles remaining and I have 2 days left after today so I’ll just have to make the best of what I can do.  Having decided, I go down to breakfast and discover there are no rooms available for tonight – so I’ll probably set off after all.  Angle is only 12 miles away, so that won’t be so bad.  I had been looking forward to exploring Pembroke Castle but then again, knowing me, I would only have got restless.  There are a group of 4 at the next breakfast table to mine – an old couple and two younger men.  They can be best described as Van Gogh’s ‘Potato Eaters’ gone senile and impersonating The Goons – quite incredible.  Now I can place the strained querulous voice from the corridor last night: “You’re always getting at me.”
I eventually leave the B&B at 10 am in pouring rain.  It soon gets harder and becomes torrential in the strong wind.  The ground is very muddy in places and there are no other walkers about!  Physically, I feel reasonable at first, with my toes vaselined and taped up or taped together as appropriate.  However, sandals-and-socks is no great weather protection and before long all the careful taping simply disintegrates.  I think about my motivation for doing all this: whenever I’ve been for a day’s walking I’ve always wished it didn’t have to end – that I could just walk on into the sunset, but was this the reality I had in mind? I can’t believe I am still walking after my thoughts last evening.  No matter what I think though, the will to continue is simply there pushing me on.  Despite everything, it would in some strange sense be harder to stop than to carry on … I think about those back home who love me and for a moment salt mingles with the rain on my cheeks. I think about my Grandfather, another Geoff Holmes, who died before I was born.  He was lost for three months crossing the Congo on his own – I don’t think he’d even told anyone that he was setting off.  At least I have got some sense.  I pass a derelict church and am surprised to see one fresh grave in the graveyard.  Two men watch me from a white van.   I remember the story of the coast path murder but I am not anxious –  “No murderer in his right mind would be out in this weather.”