My backyard

A friend who holidayed in Africa is on her way back home. Another is heading off, this very moment (probably) to Bermuda. On the beach today we spoke with a family heading back to the south of England, via the delightful M4 and the carpark we call the M25. So many people on the move, like herds of bison, or drops of water in a stream, moving, ever moving. I imagine that if we were floating above the Earth, able to see the travels of all these people, we would see a seething ant heap. Busy, busy, busy, jetting here on business and there on holiday, boats crossing the sea, students inter-railing across the continents, bucket-listers climbing mountains and deep diving in oceans, families splitting and merging, farewells and hellos… busy, busy.

It’s half term here in Wales and the narrow roads through the village are full of cars with bikes on the back, paddle boards on the roofs, or towing trailers with tents and camping gear. There are caravans and motorhomes and battered old beatnik-y vans from the last century, and as they park up and disgorge their contents at the beach there are families so ladened down with ‘stuff we might need’ that it’s comical seeing them struggle across the sand. The things we’ll do to have a ‘good time’!

Me? I’ve just come indoors after sitting in the sun for an hour, in my tiny tiny courtyard, specs off, eyes closed, having an absolute whale of a time, a real adventure. Seriously. It was great.

As I stumbled indoors, half blinded by the change from glare to shade, I found my thoughts running through a sort of Thesaurus, a reflection on my time in the sun, offering words like ‘calm, silent, peaceful, and reflective’. And then I found myself adding ‘challenging, demanding, rewarding, exciting, admonishing, nourishing, invigorating.’ It was a healing balm and an amazing experience. It was a waterfall, a rock face, a sleepy lagoon, a rose garden, a giddying cliff edge, an ocean dive, a double somersault, and a blast of trumpets.

It was prayer. The nearest we come to touching God. An hour with God. I mean, isn’t that something? Isn’t that better than… well, anything?

It’s 5 years since my last holiday and I didn’t really want to go, even then. Jane was facing terminal cancer and she had always wanted to go on a cruise. Now, she said, she never would. So, before I could stop the words escaping, I heard myself saying “Don’t be daft – I’ll come with you.” Well, I think it was about four hours later that she told me she’d found the perfect cruise and we were booked. Damn. Double damn. But I said (being a great actress) ‘Oh, great!’.


Tickets and plans and a drive across the country and a stay in a horrible hotel and then 6 days in a floating old people’s home, where the main focus was breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and then supper. Bloody hell. A continuous conveyor belt of food you don’t really want in a long day of doing not very much at all. But Jane loved it and there were three stops when she went ashore and she visited somebody-or-other’s cabin in the mountain (Grieg? Ibsen? I can’t remember) and some museum and did a bit of shopping. I went ashore too, just once, but mostly I read books and gazed at the sea and the sky. The weather was lovely and the ugly great monstrosity of a boat, with its thousands of (mostly) elderly people went up a few fjords, (when you’ve seen one fjord, believe me, you’ve had your fill) and we ‘ooh’ed at the sight of the road tunnels cutting into the hillside, and ‘aah’ed at the distant waterfalls, and … that was it really. But Jane loved it and we had a right laugh. She was a good, good friend.

Travelling is great, and holidays can be wonderful, and there is absolutely nothing to stop me setting off on an adventure. I may just do that one day although Jane isn’t here any more and the idea of being alone for a week in a strange place isn’t overwhelmingly tempting. I might, just might, one day return to a hillside in Jamaica, somewhere that I occasionally remember in my dreams. But there are adventures to be had at home, too; As I drank my first coffee of the morning I read Psalm 18, and I took the echo of it with me to the beach and later into the sunshine right by my own back door.

It is God who clothes me with strength,
    and gives my way integrity.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    and causes me to stand on my high places.
 He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of Your salvation,
    and Your right hand has held me up,
    and Your gentleness has made me great.
 You have lengthened my stride under me,
    so that my feet did not slip.

Isn’t that great? Oh, it’s not just the words that are so invigorating – they are, after all, only words. But those words are inspired and they shape our thoughts, deepening our understanding, revealing how vulnerable we are, and how loved… how weak we are in ourselves and how strong we are in God…. and then, without knowing how, we find that we aren’t just reading and thinking, we are with God. With him! In all our flawed humanity we find ourselves in prayer. Led there by the Word of God.


Is it banal and prosaic to say that this morning was, to me, better than any week away in a distant paradise? Yeah, well, there you go – I am banal and prosaic, because, to me, an hour of prayer is sublime. And unusual for me – I’m not hushed and monastic and I don’t often find that depth of worship in prayer so, when I do, I thank God and want to tell everyone. Like the man in Mark 5.

“Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

When I came indoors and my eyes refocussed, before I sat down at my desk to share these thoughts with you, to tell everyone in Decapolis, I read the next Psalm, and then the next…. and that made me pause, so that I read it again, and again, and I thought of everyone who happens upon this blog. It seemed like a prayer for you, and a blessing, and so I offer it up:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
    and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

Psalm 20.

Hey, my friends, may he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.

And if you’re going on holiday, or coming back, or planning one – God speed!

Zip it

I mean, really, come on… zip it!

Zip it when there is manufactured scandal of TV celebrities, zip it if you stumble across a witch hunt, zip it if you object to people who don’t share your prejudices or choices, zip it if you have some really clever and biting opinions about Meghan Markle, zip it if you take offence at the wrong pronoun, zip it if everyone you know is an idiot, zip it if you want to cancel an author or a speaker because you’re right and they’re wrong, zip it if you have strong opinions about clothes or jewellery or tattoos (or anything else that doesn’t matter a tuppenny damn), zip it if you’re the best driver in the world and everyone else is a twit, zip it if your opinions take precedent over just about everyone else, zip it if you have an axe to grind. Just

ZIP it!

There. I feel better now. Thank you.

If you’re reading this in any country other than the tiny UK, you won’t know about a man called Phillip Schofield. And there’s no reason why you should, but the press and media here have been going bananas about him and his life. He’s been smeared and persecuted, run out of his job, made the subject of the most blatant witch-hunt, and now he’s being attacked by other so-called celebs, openly called a liar and fantasist… the vitriol is ugly and shocking, fuelled by the papers, fuelled by people who were once his friends. It’s dispiriting how ready the world is to throw rotten eggs and round up a lynch mob.

Mulling about this, yesterday I read Psalm 1 again. Talk about the Bible being alive and active in the world! Straight away my attention was grabbed –

‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.’

I was arrested by the word ‘scoffers’, sometimes translated as ‘mockers’ and it threw this witch-hunt into stark relief. The people who do this, the Bible tells us, are not blessed. The people who do not scoff, or mock, or conspire… they are blessed. When we guard our tongues, and don’t judge or condemn, or gossip or join in with the jeering, we are like trees planted by a stream of water. We are healthy, we bear fruit, we flourish.

If we want to be blessed, we need to ZIP IT.

Proverbs 18:2 tells us

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

I’m too free with my opinions sometimes, especially to friends who probably agree with me (and one sweet friend who delights in disagreeing with me, being totally wrong about everything always) but there are those who make a fat living from their opinions. They publish them, blog them, podcast them and make money from them. I know someone who ‘earns his living’ like this, and he’s so right about everything that he can’t pause long enough to understand the people he’s talking to. And when you speak long and often and believe that you are right and everyone else needs to hear it, sometimes cruel words come out of your mouth before you can stop them, or reflect on them, and they do damage. Damage you may not even know about. Damage you can never undo.

I don’t want my blogs to be like that, and so if, sometimes, there’s a long pause between them, it’s because I have nothing worth saying just then, and the best I can do is ZIP it.

When I think of this poor bloke, Schofield, hounded by the press and battered by his own fame, I remember going on a daytime TV show many years ago. I won’t name it. The two presenters were, in front of the cameras, all smiles and laughter, the set was bright and cheerful, the music jaunty. My experience in the studio was entirely at odds with the image on screen; behind the scenes the set was dirty, half eaten meals were strewn around, polystyrene cups, old scripts. The crew were bored and irritable and tired. The routine was deadly. The presenters didn’t so much as look at each other when the cameras were off, their silence saying more than any flowery script could ever say. Like the programme Schofield presented, theirs had been going for years, it was a mainstay of UK TV, and it was dispiriting, tired and shabby. This was the sort of life Schofield led – the moments before the cameras, on the red carpet, or up on a stage – they were just the projected image, sham. I was invited back, but once was more than enough. This is the life of a TV presenter, day in and day out, not glamour and luxury. It’s all sham. Is it any surprise that the facade will crumble one day?

Why do we put men and women on pedestals and then delight in knocking them down? Surely we’ve learned by now that no one is without sin, and that we will soon be judged by the same rule as we judge others?

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
James 3:2-5

And finally, finally, before a pal arrives for a glass of wine and a chat about good things and life and death and all that stuff;

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

And talk about them, eh? Much better than the scandal of the week.


Try to remember, Percival,

Canines are rarely submersible.

Happy chaos. Thank God.

As I look out of my window today I can see only great clouds of dust, like smoke, swirling past and coating everything in a thick film of grime; the gas company is ripping up great chunks of the street to replace old pipes with new and safer ones. They’ve erected traffic lights a few houses away, and there are diggers in the road, men in high vis vests, lots of plastic barriers, hardly any parking spaces, and – over it all – the constant noise of drills and saws and cheerful blokes calling to each other. I love it! I do. Usually my house is absolutely silent because, being a bit deaf, unless it’s really very loud, music sounds off-key to me, discordant and indistinct, so it’s just easier to have silence. I do like my silence, thinking of it as a blanket or a protective cloak, but today I’m just as happy with the background noise of the street, the confusions of disrupted traffic, the cheerful mock-grumbles as we all navigate around workmen’s trucks, and I like catching sight of a digger chugging up the hill, its bright yellow making a cheerful splash in the clouds of dust. You know what it all boils down to? I like having men around.

I do.

Tall ones, fat ones, bosses in jackets carrying clipboards, scrawny ones, workers grimy and heavy booted, fellas with ear protectors, others with folded arms standing back to watch their colleagues working. I love them all. 35 years of widowhood with a family of girls, has made me really appreciate men.

In the months after George died I found myself consciously ‘drinking in’ the sight of a male chin, a 6 o’clock shadow, a beard, a muscled arm, and now – all these years later – I still enjoy the reminder that there are men out there! God knew what he was about when he made one lot female and one lot the opposite.

But my appreciation goes a bit deeper than that: as my granddaughters were growing up, and as we drove along through country lanes, or up on the wonderful hills, or skimmed along the motorway, I would occasionally say to the girls “Think of all the work that went into these roads. Think of all the people who went before us, first of all creating paths in the undergrowth, and then tracks, and then lanes, and then…” and the little girls would do their best to look interested…. But we take so much for granted! We miss out on so much if we never consider the people who went before us, and those who are even now making comfortable and safe lives possible.

And of course it isn’t just men – men and women together make our lives comfortable and safe. I think of the people who cart away our household rubbish, who maintain the water supply, who man the fire stations and hospitals, build the roads, service the railways, farm the land, keep the lights on, uphold the law, stock the shelves, fish the seas.

Where would we be without them? In chaos. And not a happy chaos. So I took a few minutes to thank God for humankind, for all the thousands who have supported my life and still support it, for the unseen army of workers who have made my life possible.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.

That’s a Psalm I try to remember as I drive to my quiet time, or prayer time, or whatever you like to call it, every morning. Yesterday I was stuck behind the rubbish truck for ages and ages, all the way to the beach, and I was so impressed with the energy and the speed of the men who took the rubbish from each gateway and threw it onto the cart, sorting as they went, over and over and over again.

We have so much to be grateful for.

Last week I came across a woman who was very recently widowed. She was broken, overcome with grief and loss. She seemed bewildered. It reminded me that when we lose someone we love we also lose the future we had imagined, or taken for granted, or planned. I remembered that when George died, when I was just 43, I felt as if I was on the edge of a desert – everything I had known had been blown away in an earthquake, a sandstorm, a flood. Now there was nothing. Nothing but waste for the rest of my life. I sat with this broken woman for a few minutes in the sunshine, and I didn’t quote the Bible at her, or give her any great advice. I just told her that when George died I saw only desert, a vast panorama of nothing stretching to the horizon. And I told her that I didn’t have to do anything, I didn’t have to be strong, or wise or clever, but that time stepped in for me. I told her that first of all there were little shoots in the desert, and then little flowers, and then trees, and shade and gradually streams and then a river and now, 35 years later, I stand in a world that’s green and vibrant.

And then I left her, because I know that words don’t chase away grief, but I hope that when she feels the first stirrings of recovery she will remember that desert, those flowers.

The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
    and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
    as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
    the splendour of our God.
With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
    and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.”

That’s a bit of Isaiah, that is! Isaiah 35. It’s a promise for the future, for those who love God.

HOT NEWS! I have, literally, this very minute, received an email from a dear friend who went to the gym this morning and broke her wrist. She sent me a photo of the offending and offended wrist, as she sits in A&E, as if to prove it really is broken. It’s OK, Beth, I believe you!

And so now I am thanking God, in addition to all the above, for doctors and nurses and technicians where Beth is languishing right now. Not really thanking him for fitness instructors and silly diet plans.

The many useless things I remember.

The Catholic Church had me until I was seven, and then for another few years. It was Aristotle who said ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’ and many years later Ignatius of Loyola quoted it, and so it became a mantra of Roman Catholicism. But there’s some truth in it; what we learn as children, the attitudes we see around us, even the words we hear, they stay with us, even when we deliberately ditch them, shred them and put them out with the rubbish. As I did. Over and over again. But they had me for 16 years, 16 intense years, and I was an impressionable soul who really wanted to believe, and some of those lessons remain in my sub-conscious, like a dusty old wallpaper, always there but barely noticed and not even liked.

Today there’s a daft but satisfying little quiz in The Times – ‘How well do you know your saints?’ and I couldn’t resist it. I don’t believe in the canonisation of anyone. I can’t be doing with the doctrines of the Catholic Church, but I will always have my childhood knowledge and affection for the traditions and people of the Catholic Church. It’s a bit like loving the idea of The Shetland Islands, but never wanting to live there.

Todays’ quiz posited 5 questions, and introduced them by saying ‘In an age of mass illiteracy, symbolism was used to help peasants identify saints. So, can you work out who the saints are based on their portraits and the symbols they are associated with?” and then they reproduced 5 old paintings, with a question below each one;

  1. Which saint is associated with a cup of sweet-smelling oil that intoxicates men?
  2. Which saint is often shown half-naked in the wilderness, punishing himself for his sins?
  3. Which saint was tortured with a wooden wheel studded with spikes?
  4. Which saint is often depicted as tied to a tree and shot with arrows?
  5. Which saint was depicted with his head split open with a cleaver?

And without even trying, without having to put on my thinking cap at all, I got them all right. “OBVS!” I chortled at the screen, “Easy rotten peasy!” But I had surprised even me! These saints, the answers , are really obscure (have you heard of Jerome of Stridon? Would you know the difference between Peregrine Laziosi and Stachys the Apostle?) And then I remembered a book I was given when I was about ten years old – a leather bound, very grown-up looking, Book of the Saints. I remember poring over it, fascinated and horrified, and yet somehow envious of all the martyrs and all the suffering on those pages. Blood thirsty illustrations, gruesome prose, a sort of religious pornography; Hippolytus being torn apart by galloping horses, Elmo being disembowelled, and Sebastian … well, he had a rotten time of it, first he was tied to a tree and pierced by loads of arrows and then, when he survived that and carried on preaching the Word, he was beaten to death. Perhaps the most chilling illustration of all belonged to my namesake, Lucy. She was shown with her face bloodied and gruesome, holding a plate on which were her two eyes.

A ten year old poring over all that grim gore in her bedroom! And believing it!

The stories that surround Lucy are many and vague and kinda off-putting. In some she’s a maid who wouldn’t work on a Sunday, and so had her eyes gouged out. In other accounts she’s a virgin who was offered in marriage to a pagan and she made herself unwanted by blinding herself, and in yet others she was betrothed to be married to a man she loved but she loved God more and so she gouged her own eyes out so that the temptation would go away. Hmmmm.

I’m saying nothing. Well, I’ll just add that Lucy means ‘bringer of light’ . I have a granddaughter called Lucy, and she is a shining, wonderful light.

This morning I heard a great sermon, the sort of sermon that makes you go ‘YESSSS!” and punch the air. It was all about creation, using Psalm 19 as its text

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

It’s a powerful text and it was a great sermon, and I know that when I’m paddling in the sea tomorrow, or plodding on the sand, I’ll look around at the hills and the rocks, and down at the sand and up at the blue blue sky (we are supposed to have good weather all week) and remember the God who made it all. And thank Him.

Romans 1:20

In praise of friendship.

When you live in West Wales , and the sun is shining, even the shortest journey to the shops or the sea is beautiful. Look:

Isn’t that glorious?

Tomorrow I plunge back into the world of telly properly. Up to my eyes in it. For the last few months we’ve been developing a TV series, and then I wrote the first draft of the first episode, and it was all jolly nice and cosy and fun. Full of promise. But that’s the cosy bit over – today the dogs go into kennels, and tomorrow I get up early to drive to our first script meeting. Back in the saddle. The first script meeting is where the rubber hits the road and it all gets really real – we see the white of each other’s eyes, find out what we each really think about various aspects of the project, and discover how easy/hard/bloody impossible it’s going to be to work with each other. It helps that we start off liking each other, and long may that last!

As I print off the script and sort out a notebook (sweet old fashioned thing that I am) and put the meeting place into the sat nav, I’m so very glad that I do already know and like my colleagues. The producer was (many years ago) the locations manager on one of my films and now he’s a leading light and exec in TV production, and still – somehow- the lovely bloke he was back then. I should add that he doesn’t read this blog so I can say what I like without fear of a sudden blush. The third member of the team is the development producer and she, too, is warm and funny and altogether human. Over the next three years we three will work hard and long to come up with something that we will all be happy to put our names on. That’s the secret – working together to make something we all like, so that when the drama has hit the screens, whatever the world and the critics say (!), we can agree that we’ve had a great time and are still together, proud of what we’ve made.

I know that in the course of writing and producing a TV series, there will be bumps. There will be frustrations and disappointments along the way, misunderstandings and disagreements – but if we are ready to forgive before we growl, all will be well. In any creative industry there are huge characters but the trick is to have the personality without the ego. And to practice forgiveness. Oh, and humility, Oh, and to remember that part of forgiveness is forgetting. The word I’m groping for is ‘friendship’.

In all I’ve spent about 30 years writing many films for TV, and many series/serials, but in all that time I worked over and over again with the same people – sometimes we met as absolute newbies but then stayed together or joined up again years later to create our own projects, growing in confidence and experience as we went along. I think it’s true that friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can develop. We can learn discernment, forgiveness, patience, self-knowledge and accountability when we find a true friendship. That’s when friendship works. When it doesn’t work, life can become very messy and complicated.

We can’t be true friends with everybody – there aren’t enough hours in the day – but who we spend our time with is important. The friends we make and the way we interact can create joy or misery, for ourselves and for others, often without us even recognising it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has slipped into friendships that have sneakily and silently turned the world grey rather than sunny. It’s not the fault of ‘them others’, it’s usually some sort of chemistry that we make together, but once we recognise what’s happening we can call a halt to the downward spiral. I have pals, people I like and care about, who I’m careful not to spend a lot of time with because, when we’ve been together for any length of time, all the joy and hope drains out of the day. For both of us. Beware the pal who greets you with a complaint about the traffic (we really have none!) or the weather (what can we do about it?) or gossip about their neighbours (probably nice people) or some slight they’ve suffered (oh, the injustice!). What we talk about and how we interact with each other is important. Better to be silent than to join in, better to remark on the blue of the sky or the birdsong, than to add to the complaints. Together, we make the day sunny, or we make the day grey. It’s up to us.

I’m not a great one for the Message version of the Bible but this is a neat translation of Phillipians 4:8-9

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

It’s not that we have to pretend that everything in the garden is rosy, of course not. It never is absolutely-perfectly-wonderfully glowing, is it? ‘In this life you will have troubles‘. Friendship is being open to hear each other, to hear the truth of the situation and yes, of course, that means that there will be the occasional grumble. Of course there will. There will be times when we must be, and want to be, present and attentive to the friend (or stranger) who needs to break down, or to blow up. It’s not all about the individual conversation – it’s all about climate. We live in the climate that we create. If we create a climate of humour and acceptance and forgiveness, even those we complain about, even those who are really really bloody annoying, will be loveable. And when we need to break down or blow up, it’s just a necessary moment, and not a lifestyle.

I do thank God for my friends. I thank God that they forgive me. And laugh at me. And are there for me. For those of us living alone, facing the future alone, friends are precious. And I hope that in three years time the friends I meet tomorrow will be even closer, our friendship even deeper, and that the work we do together will be good, good, good.

May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us –
    yes, establish the work of our hands.
Psalm 90:17

If it’s not Greek, it’s Welsh

When I was a child there was a part of the Roman Catholic mass that I loved. It was the Kyrie Eleison. Those words were the only Greek used in the Latin Mass. Don’t ask me why, cos I don’t know.

Today in the Coronation of Charles III, those words were sung in Welsh by the glorious fabulous Bryn Terfel, and it was still called The Kyrie Eleison ( Lord have Mercy). The version I loved as a youngster was Bach’s composition in his Mass in B Minor, and I just accepted that it was a Greek prayer in a Latin mass, composed by a German and loved by an Irish girl living in England. Confusing, innit? But it’s a reminder that for thousands of years we have worshipped in hundreds of languages and cultures, different words, different music, different rituals, but the same love of God. Here is Bryn’s Kyrie.

The translation to English reveals its simplicity, the profound prayer ‘Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us.’ (sorry about the commentator chipping in briefly)

Right at the very end of the ceremony today, when the King was leaving, the hymn everyone belted out was ‘Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven’ and as the words came up on the TV screen I saw something in them that I had never seen before;

Sun and moon, bow down before him,
Dwellers all in time and space.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace!

And wham! It hit me. God is out of time and out of space. He is beyond language, beyond the now and the past and the future, he is entirely – but entirely – other. That’s why Bryn sings his heart out to overflowing, that’s why we call out for mercy when we already have it, that’s why we reach for the sublime even knowing that it is beyond us, that’s why historically worshippers have tried to honour God with all the things this world calls precious – gold, jewels, robes….. symbols…. the rituals I scorned as a teenager … a desperate attempt to show the love and adoration we feel, because God is other and all we can offer is our brokenness and humanity. Not good enough but all we have. And that is all he wants of us.

Our God, out of time and space.

Whether we worship in English, Latin, Greek or Ukrainian, God is other than all these. More than all these. Beyond us and our understanding. Still, we reach for him because he is our home, and he is where we are are going, and who we long for, and only He is worthy of all that yearning love. Like wise men who foolishly bring gold and frankincense and myrrh to a new born child, we offer our love and homage knowing that it can never be enough but that in our desperate desire to give him all we have, to somehow give a demonstration of our love, we please him.

I don’t know why I wanted to tell you all that, blurting it out like that, but I did.

Royalty, pomp and 500 portable loos

London is filling up with ultra keen, extreme royalists, hundreds of whom are already sitting in their uncomfortable picnic chairs, lining the Mall and trying to keep warm. Some arrived on Tuesday, so by the time they get a fleeting glimpse of the royal coach through the grey drizzle, they will have been in situ for 4 days and nights. I was going to say ‘Only the British would be so daft’ but I’ve just seen a video clip of the King walking among the crowd and talking to people from America, Australia and Bangkok. Daftness is not, it seems, exclusive to Brits. My London pal walked down the Mall and saw TV teams from all over the world, including that bastion of Communism, China!

Surely after four days they must all be a bit grimy and stiff and bored? Surely? And there’s the problem of erm… waste products. I wonder if the nearby restrooms in shops and hotels are open to these thousands of people? I doubt it. Then I read that there are over 500 portable loos in place. Wouldn’t you want to be the owner of that business? First we had the Queen’s funeral, and now the Coronation … what a little gold mine! There’s gold in….

But dragging my mind away from scatology: I have a deep affection for Charles – he’s my age and he’s been waiting all his life to fulfil his destiny. He’s an OK bloke, I reckon, about as perfect as I am and just as flawed. He’s honoured his mother’s determination that she would never retire, respecting her commitment to a life of service. Now that she’s gone, he’s taken up the mantle with grace and an unexpected lightness and warmth. He’s plumb bang in the middle of, and leading, a huge dysfunctional family and he does so without whining or telling tales or writing books. He is gracious towards his sons and even when one of them behaves like a petulant three year old with a weak grasp of his own personal history, he keeps the door open to him.

I have all the qualifications to make me a royalist; I have an MBE, handed to me by his mother, and I’ve served in the Armed Forces, as did my father and brothers, and I would rather have him and his lot than any president. So, will I swear allegiance to him?

Not bloody likely.

The suggested oath is a nonsense – “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God. God save King Charles. May the King live forever.”

Firstly, there is no law about swearing allegiance, secondly successors can be stripped of their succession at the stroke of a pen, thirdly the Bible tells us not to make oaths and certainly not to swear by God, and finally – guess what folks – he ain’t going to live forever!

And anyway, I am not a serf.

So there. But I wish him well. I hope that the day is a glorious celebration, that the rain holds off, and that he is a happy and fulfilled man at the end of it. That’s what my prayers will be for him and for his wife and for all the people who are camping out. I hope that William and Harry keep their claws away from each other’s throats and manage to speak to each other. But most of all I hope that Charles is a happy man all day long and into the night.

I’ll be watching from the comfort of my sitting room, and yes – when the ritual is at its height and he goes out of the public gaze to commit his reign to God – I will pray with him.

But I’m not bending the knee. I save that for the King of Kings.

The photos are nicked from The Times. So send me to The Tower.

** Update: the words have now been changed. Instead of the I swear allegiance’ nonsense the phrase will now read “I now invite those who wish to offer their support to do so, with a moment of private reflection, ” which is a bit more sensible but they still end with the unlikely hope that the King will live for ever.

PS I shoulda said…..

I gave a talk this morning and when I do that I often lose track of where I’m supposed to be going. I start off with one thing to say and I end up saying something different. And even if I’m managing to stick to the topic, other thoughts crowd in as I’m speaking and they clamour for attention. While I was happily losing my way this morning, speaking to about 60 or 70 people in a lovely old ramshackle barn, something occurred to me, but there was no space in my train of thought to say it. You know? So I’m going to say it here, as a sort of post script:

If your aspiration is to be successful, to be wealthy or famous or the Number One Hombre in your line of work, it will all be down to luck. Luck and happenstance and how the world spins. It will be in some small measure down to you, yes, but even the genius and even the money-maker and even the most charismatic person in the modern world can be knocked off kilter by fate, by a turn of events, a flood or a famine or a pandemic, a financial depression, an illness, or by some tiny personal glitch like procrastination, or nervousness, or poor time management.

Failing to be a success is not failure. It’s life.

That’s why I wrote: If your aspiration is to be successful, to be wealthy or famous or the Number One Hombre in your line of work, it will all be down to luck. Luck and happenstance and how the world spins.

If, however, your aspiration is to be content and to find a deep inner joy, then whatever is going on around you is incidental. St Paul said it best;

‘…….I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ Phil 4:11-13 

This morning, as I spoke to all those entrepreneurs and creatives, I could sense the ambition and the potential in that lovely old building. They were cool people, confident, chatty, warm and interesting. Every single one of them was there because he or she wanted to think and to learn and to grow, and together they created an atmosphere of community and mutual good-will. Lovely stuff. But I should have said to them, don’t aim for success. Aim for joy.

And don’t aim for happiness either because you can wake up happy on a sunny morning and ten minutes later you’ll be fed up because it’s raining. You can be happy because the person you love is coming home, but if they decide to run the other way your happiness will vanish. Happiness is fleeting and fickle. So don’t aspire to success or happiness. Aspire to inner joy.

Joy can be found when there’s no money in the bank. It can be found when there’s only just enough money in the bank. And it can be found when there are millions in the bank. Joy is for everyone, regardless of the world’s view of success, whether you’re up on the mountain top or sitting in base camp, you can still have joy. If you believe that money will buy things that will make you happy, of course you’re right. You are! Buying that gleaming new car will make you happy. But as soon as someone nicks it or smashes into it or it starts to rust, you’ll be less than happy and it will become just one more slight disappointment.

So, what is joy? For me, it’s the knowledge that God is good, and that love is all. Not soppy sentimental love, all hearts and roses and soft words, but real love. Love that picks up the homeless and welcomes the weary and feeds the hungry. Joy is the sort of love that listens when others speak. Joy is the sort of love that laughs too loud and says daft things meaning well. Joy enables us walk around our neighbour and see them for who they are, warts and all, and love them anyway. Joy accepts friendship and turns away from judgment. Joy is a strange and wonderful gift, and we can decide to have it. We can. Joy is a gift. Joy makes life rich and deep and true and precious. You know, if you want to be Number One at something, that means that you want everyone else to be lesser than. And wanting people to be ‘lesser than’ is not a good approach to life. It creates a sort of jealous, watchful undertow to your mental well being. It saps you of joy.

Bob Dylan sang a song ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ and here’s a snatch of the lyrics:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed 
You’re gonna have to serve somebody

I know people who have everything. Everything. Houses, cars, boats, money, land, investments, pensions…. and they end up serving all these things. They maintain the buildings, pay to have the cars serviced, pay local taxes on their mostly empty houses (how many rooms does one person need?), worry about the boat, pay for mooring, keep up to date on this and that, check their shares daily, fret when they dip, do a fist-pump when they rise. Their success is wearing them out, killing them, giving them ‘sugar spikes’ of happiness but robbing them of joy. We all have to serve somebody and when we serve our possessions, our success, we have a cruel master.

If we consciously and deliberately aim for Joy, will we always feel it? Will we always be aware of it? Bursting with sunshine and peace? Nope. Sometimes we will be glum and disappointed or exasperated or plain ‘orrible (ask anyone who knows me!) . But if joy is what we value most, if that’s our hope, there will always be joy within us, waiting, because it’s not a click and demand thing, it’s a way of life, a lifestyle choice. We choose it and we learn it.

This morning I should have said to all these young bright successful people ‘Don’t aim for success. Aim for joy. It will outlast the fame and money and the busyness. It will remain when everything else has gone. It will fill your soul as you look back on life, and as you look forward to eternity.’

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22

A New Syndrome

What is a syndrome? A group of symptoms which consistently occur together, or a condition characterised by a set of associated symptoms, or a characteristic combination of opinions, emotions, or behaviour.

I think I’ve discovered a new one. It’s called ‘Holiday Brain’. Holiday Brain is a temporary affliction affecting townspeople who come to the country without taking the precaution of bringing their normal senses with them. There are many symptoms ; Holiday Brain causes drivers to careen around hair pin bends with no concern about who might be coming the other way. When he (it’s usually a him) discovers too late that there is already a car on the narrow roadway, Holiday Brain causes total amnesia as far as reverse gear is concerned, and the sufferer is deluded into believing that if he slams his brakes on, and sits there for long enough, his vehicle will shrink and any other road user will be able to squeeze past him. Sometimes the delusion is that if he sits there stonily staring ahead, the other cars will sprout wings and sail over him like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There are many other effects of the syndrome – it often confuses visual signals, so that soft grass verges appear to be an invitation to park, while double yellow lines absolutely demand that every over-sized lumbering camper van stops right there, and private driveways are translated as picnic areas, and bushes as public lavatories. Another common visual effect is that a notice stating ‘Warning. Soft sand. No cars on beach’ is understood as ‘On you come. Have fun doing wheelies.’ so that every year someone (or several someones) will drive onto the beach and be amazed that a lump of metal weighing a couple of tons sinks up the axles and requires to be towed out by an obliging farmer in his tractor. Of course, the virus isn’t transmitted to drivers exclusively – it affects middle class parents too, so that they become unable to control their children, or keep track of them, or remember how many they have.

But the syndrome, with all its minor annoyances, has now left us for a few weeks. It will return briefly at half term, and then in the Summer we will have an 8 week epidemic. Fortunately, those of us who live in the areas where holiday migrations take place, have built up herd immunity. When a gleaming Chelsea tractor grins to a halt on the village street we smile and wait, when Mr Entitled from Surrey fumes that the rubbish cart is slowly wending its way and causing him to miss thirty precious seconds on the beach, we wind the window down, turn off the engine and listen to the birds. When Ms Millenial complains that there are adders in the dunes (‘Can’t something be done?’) we say a thank-you to the adders for keeping intrusive feet away from our beautiful wild orchids.

Holiday makers. Grr.

But then, but then…. there are days when holiday makers bring their lively, funny, lovely children to the beach and they play volleyball or cricket, or dads practice rugby throws with gambolling wild youngsters, and there are days when locals can sit on the garden wall and talk to passers-by who live very different lives in very different places, and there are days when our holiday guests remind us of a child’s excitement at seeing the sea for the first time. I’ve met all sorts of people from all sorts of places, when I’ve been down on the beach or in the local shops – people from Europe, Australia, Mayfair, USA, Africa. I’ve chatted with rich and poor and in-between, old and young and in-between, Black and White and in-between. It’s exciting and annoying when they all arrive, dreaded and welcomed, enjoyed and tolerated.

It’s a privilege to live in a place so beautiful that people will travel half way around the world to get here, to walk on our damp sand, to get stuck in our winding streets. And if we laugh at them sometimes, it seems only fair if they laugh at us in return.

‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ Ephesians 4: 31&32

And that means everyone!

In praise of growing not-young

Today is a happy sort of day, and a slightly daunting one, and a very exciting one. Just over a year ago I had an idea for a TV series. And after a few weeks thinking and dithering, I sent the first document, really no more than the first vague suggestion, to two producers. Then came zooms and emails and meetings and a couple of lunches and great input from our new little team of three, and a lot of hope and a bit of pessimism, and when I’d done the words and structure the others created a fabulous selling document and then…. and then…. months of silence.

Today we have the commission.

It’s taken a year to get to the point where I could type, with some optimism that the thing would ever be made, ‘Scene 1. Ext Dockside. Day’

A year.

That’s good, eh? But there’s a way to go. If the commissioner likes this first script it will probably take another year to get all the episodes written (not all by me), and then a few months pre-production, a few months in production, a few months post production, and then some more waiting time while the TV company slots it into their schedule. So, stand by. You may just see something on your screens in about two years. Or three.

And the postman delivered a book today:

Collated and published by Miranda West, of the Do Book Company, it’s a dip-in-and-taste book, a collection of writings by people who have particular interests and talents and energies. There is all sorts of stuff in there, from the inspirational to the practical. There’s Buddhist teachings, and lifestyle wisdom, gardening and sustainability advice, life stories and … well, all sorts of inspirational stuff and in the middle of all that, there’s a couple of pages from me.

It’s on Amazon, it may be in your local bookshop, and you can find links on @dobookco and

Why am I telling you this`? After all, everyone who has contributed to the book is donating the royalties to charity, so even if you buy it, you aren’t putting butter on my bread.

I’m telling you because the arrival of this book, coinciding with a drama commission, has made me think about talent and creativity.

The book is a celebration of creativity and energy, everything from writing, or music making, or teaching, to whatever your creativity happens to be. It could be baking, carpentry, leadership, therapy, anything – my creative passion is for writing and on days like this I realise how writing has nurtured and fulfilled me. Talent is something outside ourselves – we can’t struggle to get it, we can’t follow a proscribed process to become talented. It’s an indefinable gift. But, of course, being indefinable, I want to define it. And a couple of years ago I came up with a loose definition and reading it again today I am reminded that the long wait, the hopes raised and dashed, the long days and longer nights, they’re all worth it, always, because even if the project doesn’t go ahead after all that work, it’s been a fabulous journey and my life would be poorer without it.

Talent is the human spirit reaching out, hungry to connect, to understand and to be understood, to shed pretence and reveal the truth of who
we are. To look beyond the visible and tangible to the eternal. Talent is vulnerable. It demands that the artist, writer, musician invites rejection with everything they do. Talent is that struggle to put potatoes on the table not by ploughing but by dreaming. Talent is not an easy lover. It’s a bugger to live with. It’s demanding, relentless and exhausting. But it’s precious and the greatest gift of all.

And then, of course, of course, as a Christ follower, I turn to God and thank him for whatever talent there is in my past or future, because today is never the end of the story. Last night, when I was in bed, my phone chirruped and I saw that some new friends in Canada had sent me a link to a concert. This couple are musicians, she sings and he plays the Hawaiian guitar, and keyboards and something else that looks like a horizontal guitar. It’s good lusty melodic Gospel music. Fabulous. Like Jim Reeves on acid. Great. One of the songs that I listened to in my peaceful bedroom (with only Percy, Pip and Pico snoring softly at my side) was ‘One more river to cross.”

I’ve had a lot of troubles and trials in my little life span
When I’m standing alone and the battle gets hard, I always do the best I can
I’ve crossed a million valleys and shed a million tears
But when I come to the River of Jordan, Hallelujah, then I’ll have no fear

And the singer struts her stuff and the musicians play their hearts out, and it’s such a celebration! Now, listen, this group of fantastic singers and lively musicians and warm, funny people are all in their 70’s and 80’s! All of them.

And this woman who’s just been commissioned for a TV series is in her mid 70’s.

And a great many of the contributors to that inspiring book are well into their latter years.

So whoever you, however young or old, whether hale and hearty or poorly and glum, don’t give up! You are not alone, you are precious and unique. And if he’s spared you this long, well, he must have something for you to do, eh?

This is what Isaiah said, and although he wasn’t speaking to the world in 2023, God’s nature and love never changes, so we can claim this for ourselves.  

I have created you and cared for you since you were born. I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Saviour.’