A Walk to Pole Hill

Yesterday, while our M.P.’s debated Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement for the third time, I decided to put on my backpack and take another long walk.

My destination this time was Pole Hill in Chingford and an obelisk that was originally erected in the Georgian age to mark the direction of true north from Greenwich. In 2008, the local council – at the behest of a member of the T. E. Lawrence Society – added a plaque to the obelisk recording the fact that Lawrence had once owned land on the hill. I am very interested in the life and times of Lawrence so it was this that I went to Pole Hill to see.

I planned my route on Google Maps. From home to hill it gave me a journey of 8.3 miles, walkable in 2hrs 47 minutes. I intended to walk home again so a round trip of 16.6 miles seemed like an excellent venture – especially since 15 miles is probably going to be the type of distance that I will be walking every day on the Camino.

She jogged, I walked.

I set out somewhere after nine in the morning. The sun was in the sky and my spirits were high. I walked down Stoke Newington Church Street with its various trendy shops and then through Stamford Hill with its strong Orthodox Jewish community. Or are they Ultra Orthodox? I wondered this as I walked and couldn’t think of the answer. I’ve just looked on Google, and it suggests the latter.

Now, I don’t visit Stoke Newington very often, and I go to Stamford Hill even less, but I know the areas. I didn’t leave familiar territory, therefore, until I took a right hand turn on to Gladesmore Road. Minutes later, I was trotting along the edge of a park and then onto the path alongside the River Lea. I remained on this path until I arrived in Chingford.

Remembering how I had not stopped on my walk last week to Ilford, I made sure I did so along the River Lea and, importantly, drank some water.

Before then, however, I took a wrong turn. Not into the canal, fortunately! No, after passing the North Circular Road (the A406), I should have taken the right hand path when the canal path forked but forgot. I realised what I had done a minute or two later, and could easily have turned back but decided to keep going. I said above that 15 miles is the kind of distance I will be walking daily on the Camino but in truth I might well be required to walk much further, so let’s get experience of doing so with the backpack now.

He knew where he was going, even if I didn’t.

This decision meant that I was now walking along the west side of the William Girling Reservoir instead of the east. It also meant that my walk to Pole Hill would now be 9.3 miles in length, taking 3 hrs 5 minutes.

The walk was a pretty straight forward one until I reached Pole Hill Road. It rose steepishly towards a dead end. I had intended to wait until I reached Woodberry Way, further up the road, but could see from Google Maps that there was a right hand turn on Pole Hill Road that would take me to Woodberry Way, which would lead me to the obelisk.

Unfortunately, I somehow missed the turn! I don’t know if I blinked and missed it or if it wasn’t there after all but I managed to walk right past it. A few moments later, I was at the top of Pole Hill Road, and my poor right leg, so quick to take offence, was telling me of its hurt feelings. Oh well, at least I got to go downhill again; that was much nicer.

I continued along the main road to Woodberry Way. At the top, I found Pole Hill. I had not looked at Google Maps properly and expected to see the obelisk there. It wasn’t, and looking at the map now it seemed to be on the other side of the hill. I thought to myself, perhaps I shall just go home now, and use the obelisk as an excuse to come back again another day but quickly dismissed that idea. I set off up the hill. There was a path leading across it at street level but I knew the obelisk was at the highest point, so up it was. And, hardly a minute later, there it was!

Pole Hill Obelisk

I sat down at the foot of the obelisk for another drink and to eat my sandwich. While there, a man came up to me and we started chatting. It turned out he had been researching his family background and had reason to believe that his father was taught by Vyvyan Richards.

T. E. Lawrence didn’t just own land on Pole Hill. After the Great War, he wanted to build a printing press there. His intention was to do this with Richards. Unfortunately, their project never happened. I hope this fellow can prove a connection between his family and Richards (who was a schoolmaster in the area). I told him that if he can, he should definitely let the T. E. Lawrence Society know.

While at the obelisk, I called C.; she is a saintly lady who instructed me prior to my reception into the Catholic Church in 1996. It was out first conversation for 18 or so months so it was great getting back in touch with her. I never come away from a conversation with C. without feeling greatly nourished.

C. and I fanboyed/girled over the upcoming canonisation of John Henry Newman

The time came to leave the obelisk. I have a muscle at the top of my right thigh (groin area, I guess) that always feels very stiff for the first few steps. It soon starts to loosen up, and did so as I began my downhill path.

I didn’t go far – I wanted to stop at a local pub for a couple of beers to see what it would be like carrying my backpack afterwards. As it turned out, the two beers made no difference whatsoever. Unfortunately, my walk home was not without struggle as my right leg felt a bit sore for the whole journey. I managed this pain by taking Ibuprofen, which – probably because of the alcohol – seemed to make little difference – and by stopping to rest along the way.

Lawrence of Pole Hill

Back at the pub, I drank my beer as the Brexit debate wound up on the TV in the background. Fortunately, the sound was turned down so I didn’t have to listen to our indecisive M.P.s natter on. Anyway, sadly for the Prime Minister her Withdrawal Agreement (W.A.) was voted down for a third tine so who knows what will happen now? I, personally, would like to throw those members of the Conversative European Research Group (E.R.G.) who refused to support her and the Labour M.P.s who, I read, support the W.A. but don’t want to be seen to do so, into the sea. If Brexit doesn’t happen they will both deserve their failure.

After finishing my beer, I set off again. Along the River Lea path, I met some bicyclists who were taking a rest. One of them is currently cycling round Britain, which sounds great fun. We had a super conversation about my walk and Camino.

I returned to Islington along the same route that I went to Pole Hill, which means that by the time I got back home, I had walked for at least 6 hrs 10 minutes and a total distance of 18.6 miles.

And once I got home, I rested. My leg started to recover straight away although as I write this blog post, I can still feel a little twinge. It doesn’t hurt, though, and won’t stop me going out shortly.

What did Pole Hill show me?
This: that even when my leg hurts, I can still walk. And that I can do so with a good heart; last night, when I reflected on the day, I was happy; I remembered what was good about it and not just what was bad. I’m really happy that I took that long route – nearly 20 miles! – as it shows what, despite everything, I am capable of. I’m not sure if I will do any long walks next week. I think I might just focus on stretching exercises.

Credit Where It’s Due
All the Photos: me!
John Henry Newman: The Oxford Oratory

The Day That Didn’t Happen

Today was supposed to be Brexit Day. For now, however, the U.K. remains in the E.U. Unfortunately for her, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has not been able to persuade the House of Commons to approve her Withdrawal Agreement (W.A.). Later today, she will commend it to the House for the third time.

Will it work? Reading political journalists on Twitter this morning, it seems the numbers are still against her: too many Brexiteers are remain opposed to the W.A. as does the Conservative’s junior partner-in-government, the Democratic Unionist Party (D.U.P). It looks like the D.U.P will definitely vote against the W.A. but maybe by the time the vote takes place those Brexiteers who are still against the deal will decide that the potential consequences of the deal being voted down yet again are too great to risk and come round.

It’s a high risk time. What would I do if I was an M.P.? I would certainly have voted for Theresa May’s deal. I voted to leave the E.U. because I don’t like super-states and don’t want to belong to one. I’m not concerned with immigration and I would be perfectly happy with a customs union.

Let’s say that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is voted down for a third time and, ultimately, Brexit fails. I would be very sorry for it but life goes on, and let’s face it, there are advantages to belonging to the E.U. and also other things in life that are much more important: doing good in one’s daily life, for example.

This doing good would have to include not being annoyed at the Brexiteer M.P.s whose actions ultimately killed Brexit off because it was never good enough for them. Of course, they have to vote according to their consciences but when they do I hope they realise that the world isn’t perfect and they will never get all that they want – or even half of it! For now, let’s see how they vote…

On Monday morning I experienced

a flashing in my right eye. I am very short sighted and every time I go to the optician he says ‘if you experience any flashing, go to the A&E department of Moorfields (my nearest eye hospital)’ – being short sighted makes one prone to this problem which can be quite serious.

When the flashing occurred, I looked up Moorfields A&E department on its website and it told me that they were only for eye-threatening conditions. As I didn’t feel I was about to lose my right eye, I thought I better go to the optician instead.

I went there and a space was very kindly made for me in a full schedule to see the optician on Wednesday at 10:25am – yesterday, as I write this post.

So, yesterday, I went for the appointment. The optician – I should say optometrist – looked into my eyes and could see nothing wrong. After the examination, he told me that from the way I described my symptoms, I might have had a visual migraine but advised me to go to Moorfields for a fuller check.

I could have left it until another day but as I am sure you can appreciate, when it comes to medical matters, the sooner one knows what’s up the better.

I arrived at Moorfields at around eleven thirty AM and was there until somewhere past four o’clock. God bless our NHS but it moves slowly sometimes.

Yes, there were plenty of out-patients there, but after I arrived in A&E I had to sit over here with a ticket and an immigration form to be completed. Here wasn’t so bad as after a short while, my my number was called. The person took the form and asked me to now sit over there. Actually, there wasn’t too bad, either; when my name was called, though, I was simply taken to a different waiting room. I remained there for somewhat longer before my name was called again, and a nurse took me away.

Hurray! Now, we’re moving. Kind of. She did a couple of preliminary checks on my eyes before taking me back to the waiting room. Now, the longest wait. Finally, the doctor called me and the proper examination began. Before it ended, I had to go to the imaging department on the lower ground floor to get a scan of the back of my eyes taken. Yes, I got lost on the way there and back.

Finally 2.0. I managed to locate one of the waiting rooms I had previously been in and spoke to a nurse who – despite my woeful description of him – found the doctor for me. Not long later, he arrived and we looked at the scans. The good news is that he could not see anything wrong with my eyes. The awkward news is that the flashing could happen at any time. And if it does, I should go see my optician (said the doctor)/A&E (said the optician).

Ordinarily, this would not be a problem but what about the Camino? I asked the doctor what I should do in France/Spain?

I must be honest and say that I was really hoping he would tell me it would be fine to wait until I came home; but, no; he said I should go straight to an eye hospital and ask to see a doctor.

If you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it but I hope, hope, hope nothing happens because I speak too little Spanish. I guess I just have to hope that if it does happen, someone at the hospital speaks English.

About The Immigration Form…

Being British, I had no concerns when filling out the form. I even had some fun with it. The declaration invited either the patient, or the person completing the form on their behalf, to sign it. If you were the latter, you had to give the patient’s name. Of course, I should have ignored the question but I couldn’t help myself. I answered On behalf of (if not patient) by replying ‘myself’. The next question asked, Relationship to the patient (if not completed by patient). I wrote ‘I am me’.

There was a report recently that the Home Office had ‘rejected an Iranian asylum seeker’s claim because he said that Christianity was a peaceful religion’ (see here). In their refusal letter, the H.O. officer had select-quoted passages from the Bible to demonstrate this. Given their religious illiteracy, I reckon I could have written ‘I am who I am’ on the form and got away with it.

More seriously, asking someone to prove their immigration status while they are in a hospital is a fiendish thing to do and the government should be ashamed of itself.

  • While writing this post, I found this on the immigration form that I had to complete. You can bet I signed the petition even if it is two years old
  • If you would like to see the immigration form I completed, click here and scroll down to Pre-Attendance Form. The web page is for the Worcestershire NHS but the form looks just the same

If I was Pope…

At the start of my post on 18th March 2019, I wrote this,

Over the weekend, I met a very dear friend for a coffee and amongst other things we talked about Catholicism. Two topics that we covered were what changes I would make to the Church if I could – I will come back to this in an upcoming post…

Here is that post.

I like the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It is complimented by the Novus Ordo Mass
I like the Novus Ordo Mass. It is complimented by the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

If I had my way, I would introduce a programme of complete liturgical reform that would lead to all priests being able to celebrate Mass in both the Extraordinary and Novus Ordo form. I would require each and every parish to celebrate the Extraordinary Form at least once a week whether or not any parishioner asked for it.

This is what should have happened after Vatican II rather than Catholics being forced to write to the Pope to ask permission to continue celebrating the Extraordinary Form. It should never have been like that. The Extraordinary Form should never have been so marginalised (or maybe even replaced but that’s another matter). This has led it to being politicised leading, I believe, many people to oppose not it but what they think it stands for.

I would also restore all the Holy Days to their proper place, promote the corporate and individual praying of Lauds and Vespers, the practice of confession – the beginning of a restoration of a Catholic identity in daily life.

During the Punic Wars, Cato the Elder ended every speech with this statement: Carthago delenda est – Carthage must fall; if I had my way, I would begin every homily with this question: Are we loving fully?

The answer will always be ‘no’ because unlike God we are not love. If I had my way, therefore, I would ask Catholics to think about how they love and how they might love more. When I say ‘Catholics’ I mean all Catholics – lay and clerical and all inbetween. In fact, I would bring representatives from every group together to discuss the matter. This is because I believe we are not currently listening to the Holy Spirit enough.

Whenever a Catholic, probably liberal/progressive, speaks out in favour of something that accords with secular thinking, you can be sure that another Catholic, probably a traditionalist/orthodox one, will say that this shows that their confrère has succumbed to the thinking of the age.

It’s quite possible that they have, but also possible that the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church from outside because she has become deaf to His voice from within. For this reason, the liberal/progressive Catholic needs to be listened to just as much as the traditionalist/orthodox Catholic.

I believe this deafness of the Church is currently happening in at least one respect – that of the Church’s theology regarding LGBTQ+ people and relationships.

If something is sinful, the bitter fruits of that sin should be clear to see; the wages of sin, after all, are death. So, for example, if one is a thief, the bitter fruit of that sin is the hurt caused to the people from whom one steals; if one supports a far right or far left political party, the bitter fruit of that sin is the hurt caused to the people one must put down in order to achieve the party’s objectives.

As I look at LGBTQ+ people, however, and especially those in relationships, I see no sinfulness: I see no one getting hurt but one person or two people growing in each other. It is a beautiful thing.

The orthodox response to this would be that the bitter fruit of their disordered desire and sinful relationship is spiritual death. Well, I can only say that it is a very curious thing that what is spiritually bad can lead to a physical and psychological good.

If I could bring representatives of all Catholic groups together to discuss how they love, and how they might love more, I would ask them to prayerfully consider that the Holy Spirit is calling us to regard the fact and love of LGTBQ+ people in a new, positive, way.

One last thing on this point, it goes without saying that this meeting would be grounded in scripture. I’m not interested in emotionalism. Looking at what Scripture has to say is all the more important because it contains the (in)famous ‘clobber’ passages. Nothing can change unless new light can be shed on them.

In addition to this, I would invite the bishops to Rome to discuss the Culture of Life and ask them to come back in a year and tell me what they had done to promote this ethic from cradle to grave. Then, I would ceaselessly promote it – partly because it is worth promoting but also as a riposte to all those who think that the Catholic Church only care about stopping abortion and not what happens afterwards.

End the Culture of Silence and Shame
Further to the above – I could walk into a church and easily have a conversation with another layman or with a priest during which I admitted, ‘Yes, I can be very impatient’ or ‘I sometimes feel a temptation to hurt those I don’t like.’ We might laugh about it but certainly we would move on.

It would not be so easy, however, to tell another Catholic, priest or layman, that I was gay, bisexual, or a lesbian etc. Especially if I held any kind of official role within the Church up to, and most certainly including, that of the priesthood.

This is unacceptable. In the first place, the Church does not regard simply being gay (in the broadest interpretation of the word) as sinful; how can we be in a situation, therefore, where sins can be casually admitted but a state of being can’t?

Of course, the matter isn’t as easy as that: the Church regards same sex attraction as a ‘disorder’. That is not going to encourage me to tell anyone that I am gay/bi/lesbian etc; but the whole reason we are in the Church to begin with is because we are all disordered in some way or another. The whole point of being a Christian is to confess it, receive God’s mercy and grace, and grow.

The Catholic Church should be a place where we can be open about ourselves and the meaning of things. The Church should be a place for light; in many respects, she is, but she is also a place of shadows where laypeople and ordained are forced to hide from their spiritual brothers and sisters. This is a wickedness for which anyone who helps perpetuate it will have to answer to God. We need more light!

The Vatican
If I had my way I would make the Vatican more transparent in how it conducts its affairs, then more transparent, then more transparent after that. I would not stop until it was a world leader in transparency – a model for the governments of the world to look up to. It simply isn’t acceptable for the Church to be anything else.

Generally speaking, the Vatican needs to be more open. So much trust in the Church has been lost by the various sex abuse scandals that we have now reached the point where it is now not enough for the Church simply to act but she must be seen to be acting to make sure she becomes a safe place for all God’s people once more.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not arguing for total transparency here; that’s impracticable; it would probably be sinful as well, but the Church must do better. A part of me would be happy to fire the entire Roman Curia and start again from scratch but I know that that would not be a good idea.

As I understand it, the Church has yet reached a consensus on whether or not women served as deaconesses in the early church. If it could be shown that they did, I would allow them to serve again in that role now.

If I did that, you can be sure that calls for women to be allowed to serve as priests, or priestesses, would be renewed. I would allow them to do so if they could find a woman among the twelve apostles.

Women in the Church
How many women serve the Church at the latter’s highest levels? In the diocese and at the Vatican? There ought to be more – especially in Rome. There is no need for men to have charge over all the dicasteries.

Pope Francis has taken a good first step in increasing the diversity of the Curia by appointing cardinals from unlikely places; if it is possible within a strict meritocracy, giving more roles to women, indeed to lay people in general, would make a good second one.

If I had my way, I would end it as a formal process. I don’t believe the Church of England or any Protestant community as a body will ever (want to) unite with the Catholic Church. The way forward is to help individual non-Catholics ‘cross the Tiber’.

In the title of this blog post I said ‘If I was the Pope’; the truth is, though, that if I had my way, I’d have more power than the pope. That’s too much. So, as soon as I got my way, I would resign and apply to join one of the Oratorian communities. I love Newman’s congregations so much! I’d love to talk more about it, but that’s a post for another day. Alternatively, I’d follow Sebastian Flyte to a monastery in north Africa.

Items Bought, Calls Made, & Medical Matters

In my first post of 3rd March, I mentioned the Camino items that I hadn’t yet bought,

  • A hotel room in Saint Jean Pied de Port for the 9th April (I intend to stay in an albergue on the 10th before leaving SJPdP on the 11th)
  • Walking sticks or staff. I so want to buy a staff like Gandalf’s but I imagine I will have to ‘make do’ with sticks.
  • Sandals
  • Toiletries
  • Adaptor
  • Sewing Kit
  • Travel Insurance
  • Waterproof trousers (Possibly. I might stick with what I have got)

Today, I am very happy to be able to say that with just two exceptions (although see below), all these things have now been bought and are ready to pack (incl. waterproof trousers).

The two outstanding items are toiletries, which I will either leave until the last minute or buy in Saint Jean, and travel insurance.

I’ll come back to travel insurance in a moment, but first, a money update.

I have had a quick look at my earlier Camino posts and it looks like I didn’t share as much as I thought I had about this important topic, so I will here. Please excuse me if I am accidentally repeating myself.

I am paying for my Camino out of my savings. I initially took £2,500 out*: £1,050 for the Camino journey itself, the rest for everything else. E.G. all equipment, the flight out and back, the hotel in Saint Jean and Santiago, and any other bills that might crop up along the way.

In regards equipment, when I first visited Cotswold Outdoor I had no idea how much buying it would cost – backpack, clothes, trekking poles etc; the figure of £500 swirled around in my head but it had no basis in reality.

Indeed it didn’t because having now bought everything that I need, except the two items mentioned above, I have £1,112 left of my £2,500. I have spent, therefore, £1,388. (BTW: If you are reading this in Britain and are thinking of doing the Camino, join the Confraternity of St. James: I saved about £300 thanks to the membership discount).

Now, if I had truly bought everything I needed to get me started on the Camino on 11th April, I might have been tempted to leave the £1,112 alone. However, I know that when I arrive in Biarritz I will have to pay for a transport to Saint Jean. And I haven’t yet bought my hotel room in Santiago or my flight home.

So, today, I called my bank up to ask for a further £700 to be released into my Camino account. It was no problem – I called, the call centre man listened, asked me the relevant security questions then completed the disbursal process: the money will arrive next week.

The thing is, though, I hate using the phone. I don’t know why, I just do. As a result, even though I have known for the last week or two that I would have to make this call, I have kept putting it off until now. I feel very stupid for being so apprehensive but there it is. I wish it was otherwise. When I ended the call today, I was so thrilled I got hope and did a few fist pumps! I really did feel like I had conquered the world. How silly, but it’s true.

* Not literally. I created a new ‘Camino’ account with my bank for the sole use of Camino related expenses. I didn’t want to put the money in my regular account in case I ended up accidentally spending it on books or iTunes

Travel Insurance
At the start of this week, I logged on to the Compare the Market website to find a travel insurance policy. A backpacker deal by a company called Cover for You seemed to fit the bill so this morning I started filling out their online application form.

The medical section asks you to tell them if, amongst other things, in the last two years you have been to see your doctor for an unresolved condition.

I have, and the condition does remain unresolved. It isn’t a serious one – I am not receiving any kind of treatment for it – but as it is there, I thought I better mention it on the form.

However, the website also asks you to tell them what exactly it is. The problem is, I don’t know. When I went to see the Doc. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell me. As it approximates to a muscle strain in my right leg, though, I initially wrote that. But then I thought, I better find out if that is enough. So, I called Cover for You up to ask.

It’s just as well that I did because they recommended I find out from my doctor what specifically he wrote down (if anything). This, I was told, will make things a lot easier if I have to make a claim.

So, I toddled along to my surgery to ask for my medical record. Receiving it is not the thing of a moment. I had to fill out a form and will now have to wait a week until they are ready to pass me the information. Once they do, I will go back to Cover for You’s website and complete the application form. Once it is done and ‘sent’ has been clicked, I will have completed the last necessary action before leaving for France!

I am very happy that I didn’t leave sorting out the travel insurance any later than I did. I do regret, though, not dealing with it first. I leave the U.K. in just 18 days. I would have preferred at this stage not to be waiting on any forms.

There we are, then; today has been a day of little achievements that mean a lot to me. Just 18 days to go!

One of the reasons I started Sehnsucht and Wine

was so that I could talk about politics and religion. I haven’t discussed the former since my first post so let’s do so now.

My Political Background
The first thing I have to say is that when I talk about politics, I do so as an outsider. As I mentioned in my first post, I am right-of-centre and used to be a Conservative Party member. I let my membership lapse after a year or so. Since then, I have watched on as political events have unfolded from the sidelines.

As a result, I have not made much of an effort to really understand the whats and whys of those events. From now on, and so I can write slightly more knowledgeable blog posts, I am going to try and correct that. Goodness, we have a terrific resource in the BBC website and Guardian Online, which is free to read, and I have a subscription to The Spectator, which I rarely read, so I really have no excuse.

The Current Situation
It’s the morning of 21st March 2019. Britain is in a political mess; not generally, but in respect of Brexit. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been unable to win support from her MPs for her deal to withdraw the country from the EU. Last night, she gave a statement outside Number 10 Downing Street that, judging by the responses I have seen on Twitter, went down very badly. I didn’t listen to it but it seems she presented herself as the champion of the people against recalcitrant MPs.

Brexit Mess: How Did We Get Here?
Theresa May’s lack of a significant majority in Parliament. This has given power to anyone wishing to rebel against her authority in order to advance their own cause.

It may be that even if May had the same kind of majority that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair enjoyed, the Conservative Party would still be riven but though I speak under correction I find that hard to believe.

Who Is To Blame?
On Twitter yesterday, a political journalist held a poll inviting people to say who they thought was to blame for the Brexit mess: Theresa May, the EU, MPs, all of the above. I think I would have voted for ‘all of the above’.

I respect the Brexiteers, Remainers and EU’s right to fight their corner but there does come a point where one must lay down one’s weapons and come to an agreement, and no one appears to have done this.

This, however, is not a thought I can dwell on because I don’t know in what spirit the various parties have pressed their cause. For example, perhaps the EU bent over backwards in order to meet Britain’s demands for the Withdrawal Agreement. I’d be surprised if they did as that would be bad diplomacy but I just don’t know. So far as is possible, I need to find out more.

Something I Do Know
Last night, Theresa May held talks with the various Parliamentary leaders; or, tried to; when Jeremy Corbyn realised that Chuka Umana, a member of The Independent Group had been invited, he walked out.

Reading the tweet on the left, I get why Corbyn walked out, and actually, I sympathise with him. What is one supposed to do if one feels like one has been taken for a fool? However, I don’t think he acted proportionately. It would have been far better – statesmanlike – if he had simply registered his disappointment at what had happened and let the meeting continue.

We are, after all, in a national crisis. The time has come for all politicians to swallow their pride and do all that they can to find a way through the mess. This especially applies to Corbyn because of the people he has been perfectly happy in the past to meet.

I had no expectation that Corbyn would accept he acted wrongly last night, but certainly didn’t expect him to make the statement recorded by Kevin Schofield in his tweet, below. At this point, all I can do is throw up my hands in despair.

So, what do I know? That on 21st March 2019, Great Britain needs statesmen, instead we have a Prime Minister who can’t lead and an opposition leader who is a rank hypocrite.

What Next?
Someone, somewhere has to give way. Ideally, some people from both sides of the divide should give way so that no one feels they alone have been forced to act against their wishes.

What shouldn’t happen is the revocation of Article 50 leading to the cancelation of Brexit. This would be a betrayal of the decision of the electorate to leave the EU and would make it impossible to ever trust Parliament again.

And neither should there be a second referendum. This is a tough one because it seems reasonable to ask voters if they are happy with Theresa May’s deal. But what if the choice is Yes – Leave; No – Stay in the EU? And the result goes narrowly in favour of No – Stay in the EU? The minute the terms on which we decided to stay changed, that would for fairness’ sake, require yet another referendum. And on and on it would go.

Politically, these are very exciting days. We are living through events that will be discussed in politics and history classes for years to come. If the story is to have a happy ending, though, our leaders needs to make a great sacrifice. Are any of them capable?

Stepping Up

19th March 2019

Yesterday, was a red letter day. I walked from Islington to Ilford – nine miles – with my backpack for the first time.

Google Maps reckoned the journey would take a fraction over three hours. I told my sister, to whose home I was going, that it might take me between three and four.

Normally, I walk quite fast, but with a fully loaded backpack slung over my shoulders I was prepared to be much slower.

The Olympic Stadium at Stratford

In the event, Google was right. I managed the journey in roughly 3hrs 5mins. Well, considering I thought it might take a lot longer, I was very happy with that!

I didn’t weigh the backpack before leaving. My sister did, though, and found that it weighed 1 stone and 3 pounds. I have read and heard that when doing the Camino, your backpack should be no more than your tenth of your weight. Well, I weigh 16.9 stone. Divide that by 10 and you get 1.69 so my backpack was within the one tenth limit!

That’s the good news – the bad news is that yesterday, it didn’t contain everything that I will be taking to France and Spain. The following did not come with me,

  • Sandals
  • Trekking poles
  • iPad
  • Toiletries
  • Portable battery, adaptor and leads
  • Assorted Bits & Pieces: Pebble for the Cruz Ferrero, sewing kit, clothes pegs

I haven’t yet made a final decision as to whether I will take the iPad. I would really like to but if I find that after everything else has been put into the backpack its weight is well over the limit I will have to think about leaving it behind.

The Walk
Back to yesterday’s walk – I undertook it in cool conditions; the sky was pretty overcast throughout to the point of threatening rain, though none came until I arrived back home. In the entire journey, there was no upward elevation to speak of; in Google’s opinion, I was going slightly downhill all the time. At some point, I shall need to do the old wearing-the-backpack-while-climbing-stairs thing to get myself used to steep climbs. My boots felt good, though I think if the walk had been any longer I would have been in danger of a blister.

I bought a bottle of water on the way but only drank from it once. That was bad of me and I shall have to make sure I drink more often when I am in Spain. I also wore my normal day-to-day clothes, which was also not wise as it means I now have a nice red chafing marks on my inner thighs: cotton is the walker’s bane. I am hoping that the specialist underwear that I have bought for the journey will prevent this from being in a problem but in case not, I will be travelling with a good supply of vaseline! Finally, I didn’t take a proper break during the walk. In Spain, I think I will aim to do so every five miles or so.

As important as the walk, was how I felt afterwards. Well, I mostly felt good though by the time I got home (via train) I was very tired. To be sure, I was not helped by having a slight toothache (following a visit to the dentist on Monday!); fortunately, it has now gone; I very much hope it stays gone. The tiredness was significant enough for me to do nothing in the evening.

Yours truly at journey’s end

What’s Next?
I shall take another walk on Friday. I’m not sure where to go; if I can’t think of anywhere, I shall just walk west along the Thames. I’m going to aim at walking for ten miles (five out and five back).

Over the weekend, I met a very dear friend for a coffee

and amongst other things we talked about Catholicism. Two topics that we covered were what changes I would make to the Church if I could – I will come back to this in an upcoming post – and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also, and more popularly, known as confessions.

A confessional in a Catholic church

Confessions are usually heard in church, either in a confessional like the one in the photograph on the left, or in one that is essentially a tiny room – Westminster Cathedral in London, where I go to make my confession, has one of these.

Regarding the confessionals featured in the photograph above and below. As you may have noticed, neither of them appear to have anything separating them from the world. Also, both have two alcoves for penitents to kneel inside.

In regards the lack of separation, I don’t know how common this is. The ones at Westminster Cathedral have curtains or doors. This is not the case for every church I have been to, though. Despite this, I have never worried, about saying my confession in a confessional without any separation – I don’t speak loudly, and people are very respectful about keeping their distance.

As for the two alcoves, I wonder if this is a throw over from the days when two people might say their confessions at the same time. That doesn’t happen now – not, as far as I know, in England, anyway.

In case it seems odd for a priest to hear two confessions at once, one must remember that he is not primarily there to listen and counsel, although, of course, that can happen; his primary duty is to hear and forgive.

A Digression
What’s the difference between listening and hearing? If I listen, I take in, I absorb, I interiorise; if I hear, I don’t take in, I simply acknowledge or register. That’s all a priest needs to do in a confessional. The confession, after all, is being made to God through him, and while it may be best for the priest to pay attention – hence we no longer have two confessions being heard at once – God doesn’t need the priest to do so in order to grant His forgiveness to the penitent. Having said that, I’m getting into much more theological territory than I meant so let’s move on.

You Shall Go To The Sacrament!
The Catholic Church requires Catholics to go to confession at least once a year. I don’t know how many Catholics today do that, but I vaguely recall that in the 90s, when I was received into the Church, the sacrament was talked about as being in decline; since the Second Vatican Council in the early 60s, fewer and fewer Catholics were going. It was, in short, the Cinderella of the Seven Sacraments.

Cinders and Me
That’s such a shame. In 23 years of being a Catholic, I have only had one negative experience in a confessional. It was years ago, late 90s or early 2000s, and I’ve long since forgotten what happened. As I am usually (and unfortunately) very good at remembering negative experiences, I take this to mean that what happened on that day was not that bad.

I have never made a perfect confession. I have no doubt made very bad ones. I once went to confession, forgot to mention something so went back; the priest gave me short shrift. He told me not to worry as I had been forgiven. Of course, I would have loved for him to be all sweetness-and-light but perhaps my scrupulous self needed to be spoken to a bit more firmly.

Even the Pope goes to confessions. Normally, one would kneel in one of the alcoves on either side of the priest. I expect Francis has chosen to face the priest for the sake of the photographer so people can see clearly what he is doing and be encouraged thereby

As I write this post, I can honestly not think of any other occasion when the priest was anything other than a priest, hearing my confession in persona Christi. I’m sure I have made plenty of confessions to priests who were not in a good mood, fed up, or tired, etc but if so, they sure hid it well.

This gives me such joy! I will never stop being apprehensive when I go to confessions – its embarrassing to admit one’s faults, after all, and who knows what the priest will be like – but to know that the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of everything being alright, that I will say my confession and that Our Lord through the agency of the priest will forgive me, is a very great encouragement.

A Short Walk to Freedom
I love seeing people walk out of a confessional as I know I am looking at a Saint – a person who is in a state of grace; I love walking out of the confessional myself. I don’t usually think of myself as being in a state of grace, but I certainly feel fresh and renewed, ready to start again.

There’s more that I could say. I don’t know how it’s coming across in this post, but as I write, I am really feeling rather passionate about confessions! I guess I’m trying to get across what a great sacrament and experience it is.

Yes, there’s more that I could say; I will try to say it, perhaps later this week. In the meantime, here are the great words that a priest says as the penitent makes his Act of Contrition:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.

(The “+” is there to show you when to cross yourself)

Like Joseph’s coat, Undivided is a book of many colours.

Primarily, it is Beeching’s autobiography. She takes us on a journey from Kent where she grew up, to Oxford where she studied, then Nashville from where she pursued her career in the Christian music industry with great success, before ending in London, where she lives now.

Most importantly, Undivided is Beeching’s coming-out story. In her teens, she realised that she was attracted to girls. Coming from a religiously conservative family, this was a calamitous realisation. Believing homosexuality to be sinful, she tried to have it prayed away; it didn’t work; although not a Catholic, she confessed to a Catholic priest. The attraction remained. For years she tried to bury the truth that didn’t just lay within her but was her. It couldn’t be contained. Ultimately, the truth was like a volcano and eventually it erupted, leading to her decision to come out.

Undivided is not a literary work, but does not suffer for it. That’s because Beeching is not writing for scholars, but rather, saints who think that what they are makes them sinners. She is writing for hearts as well as minds.

There is a touch of the fairy tale about her story: once upon a time, there lived a girl who grew up with a dark secret; it wasa monster who haunted her life and scourged her from within. For many years, she let it slowly destroy her. One day, however, she found her courage, and after a hard-fought and bitter struggle, she finally vanquished it. 

Having said that, Undivided is not a fairy tale in the Disney mould, for it contains no happy ending. The struggle to defeat the monster leaves the girl grievously wounded and the story ends with her dealing with those injuries. In this sense, Undivided is the stuff of Tolkien, of Frodo who also grew up with a dark secret, a monster that was also slowly destroying him, but who found his courage and who, if he did not destroy the monster himself at the end, was the one who did the most to see that it was vanquished after all.

It might be considered that this is not the most hopeful of analogies. After returning to the Shire, Frodo is unable to settle down. The wounds caused by his battle against the One Ring are too profound. In the end, he has to leave Middle-earth with the last of the elves in order to find some measure of peace for the remainder of his life. Where can Vicky Beeching go?

The question is irrelevent. There isn’t anywhere that she needs to go because she’s already there. The Undying Lands for a Christian is our relationship here on earth with Jesus Christ. Amazingly, Beeching’s love for Him has survived all that has happened to her.

For the way her church has treated her through its teachings;for the way her peers in the Christian music industry treated her after she came out; for the way many Christians to this day treat her, for example, on social media, she would have every right to reject Him; how can He be real when His people are so full of hatred?

That Beeching remains a Christian I think can only be accounted for by the fact that she loves Our Lord with a very deep love indeed. In that respect, Undivided functions as both a prayer and billet-doux, a love letter to God, in which she reveals herself to Him just as lovers do. This aspect of the book reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ masterpiece Till We Have Faces,

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

This is Undivided – the speech at the centre of Vicky Beeching’s soul is the truth of her sexuality; for years she has spoken it to herself over and over; in 2014, by God’s grace, she found her face and came out; in Undivided, she speaks to God face to face.

She doesn’t just speak to Him. Through this book, as much as in her public career now, Beeching speaks to us. And each time she does speak, she puts herself in the firing line of those who disagree and are fuelled by hatred. For someone who has to deal with significant mental and physical ill health she is very brave. 

Undivided will be read easily by anyone – Christian or otherwise – who shares Vicky Beeching’s LGBT+ religious views. I recommend it to them but also to anyone who doesn’t. The book makes no demands. As all good thinkers do, Beeching proposes and leaves it to her readers to decide. Of course, if they come away agreeing with her, all to the good; but even if they don’t, I think it would be enough if theyat least take on board the quotation from Billy Graham that Beeching provides. To paraphrase it, let God judge, the Holy Spirit convict, and us, love.

At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love – St. John of the Cross

Credit Where It’s Due
Front Cover of Undivided – Audible

Remembering Luke Perry & Jan Michael Vincent

Luke Perry’s death on 4th March – last Monday – came as a great shock; in the early 90s I was very taken by his portrayal of the super-cool but vulnerable Dylan Mackay in Beverley Hills 90210 and people I admire have no business dying on me.

As much as I liked Perry’s Dylan Mackay, however, I might have forgotten about him if I hadn’t watched one particular scene, and if that scene hadn’t contained a particular song that made a permanent impression me.

The scene in question saw Dylan and girlfriend Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) break-up. The song was REM’s You Are The Everything

REM You Are The Everything

What made You Are The Everything so special? The insistency of the music that really drove home the message of the lyrics? The vulnerable speaker? Yes, yes, and no doubt much more besides. It all went straight to my heart and stayed there.

After hearing of Perry’s death, I went to You Tube to see if I could find the break-up scene. Upon a moment, I found it,

Dylan and Brenda break-up in Beverley Hills 90210

I started watching and REM started playing… except, the featured song was Losing My Religion. My memory had let me down. Thanks to this 90210 fan wiki I discovered that You Are The Everything was actually used in a different scene; this one, to be exact –

Dylan remembers his past

Except, if you listen to it now, another song plays over it. Judging by the comments, it looks like the programme makers replaced REM in the DVD version of the episode, from which this clip is taken, with another band.

That’s a shame, but if we imagine You Are The Everything playing over this scene it creates the perfect storm of vulnerability. Creatively speaking, vulnerable characters are the best because they are where the most drama can be created. No wonder this scene made such a big impression on me. Also, and I know it’s shallow, but I really like Dylan’s top. Even when sad he was cool.


Although Jan Michael Vincent died on 10th February this year, news of his death only emerged towards the end of the week. While he appeared in a number of well known films in the 70s and early 80s, I only knew him from Airwolf, in which he played Stringfellow Hawke, mercurial pilot of the super-helicopter from which the programme took its name.

I don’t remember Hawke as being a particularly vulnerable character but he did have some chinks in his macho armour: in between using Airwolf to right wrongs and kill the enemy, Hawke was searching for his brother, St. John, who had gone missing in Vietnam.

I have to admit, I don’t remember (m)any episodes where we actually see him searching but knowing that he missed his brother and wanted him back was enough. And if I doubted that he really cared, there was always the soulful shot of Hawke playing his cello outside his cabin in the credits sequence to remind me of his sensitivity.

So, Stringfellow Hawke had a heart even if the programme did not make all the effort it could have done to show it. A shame, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. I made do with what, as it were, I was given: As a teenager, I loved reading American comic books; so much so, I started writing my own stories of superheroes. I called my own Uncanny X-Men series Enigma Force and created for it a character named Jan after Vincent.

My Jan’s code-name was Maverick. This would have suited Jan Michael Vincent for in his personal life, he walked a rocky path involving too much drink, trouble with the police and even a road accident that saw him lose a leg.

It doesn’t end there. When I was young, I always imagined that I would call the children that I have (so far) not had, Jan after JMV and Cally, after the character from Blake’s 7. So, as you can see, he – through Stringfellow Hawke – made a big impression on me.

For this reason, even though he lived a life a million miles away from mine, I am just as sad to read about Jan Michael Vincent’s death as I am about Luke Perry’s. In their own way, they were part of my formation. Now that they have come to mind again, perhaps in death they will play a new part in my life. If so, I hope I can do them justice.