Saturday, 30 August 2008

Music for the Weekend - Richard Thompson

*Postscript: This is not the version I originally posted, which has now been removed from YouTube for 'violations' reasons. This one has a brief bit of interview before the song.

Friday, 29 August 2008

St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

St Peter's Chapel, Bradwell-on-Sea, the oldest church in England, stands on the spot where St Cedd landed by boat in 654 on a mission to bring the Christian message to what is now Essex.

Isolated in a flat landscape, overlooking sea and marshland, far from human habitation even now, how immeasurably bleak it must have seemed to the seventh-century bishop from Northumbria when he arrived after his arduous journey by sea in an open boat. (If you click on the pic above, you'll see the chapel dead centre on the horizon.)

I too arrived at St Peter's by boat, but thankfully on a beautiful, clear, calm day. It was, I'm ashamed to admit, the first time I'd ever been there. Which, given my fondness for the two islands with which St Peter's is intimately connected - Iona and Lindisfarne - is a pretty appalling piece of negligence on my part. Still, that's remedied now, and I enjoyed a memorable afternoon, sailing across from Mersea, and walking around the sea wall to the chapel.

First, for those unfamiliar with the early Christian history of the British Isles, a quick bit of background:

Having established many monasteries in Ireland, St Patrick sent his priest Columba to the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, to found a monastery there. From Iona, Aidan was sent, at the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria, to set up a similar monastery at Lindisfarne on the north-east coast.
It was in the monastery school at Lindisfarne that Cedd and his brothers Caelin, Cynebil and Chad learnt to read and write in Latin and become missionaries. The four brothers were all ordained as priests and two of them, Cedd and Chad, later became bishops.

Cedd's first mission was to Mercia, at the request of that region's king. Following his success in converting the Mercian people to Christianity, he was ordered to take the Gospel south to the East Saxons. So in 653 Cedd sailed down the east coast of England from Lindisfarne and landed at Bradwell, where he found the ruins of an old deserted Roman fort of Othona. There he built a small wooden chapel, which was soon replaced, using stone and bricks from the existing ruins, by a tall church some 50 ft long.

You can see some of the Roman tiles incorporated into the walls (above). And (I think) a portion of the Roman fort in woods nearby (below).

Cedd's mission to the East Saxons was considered so successful that the same year he was recalled to Lindisfarne, made Bishop of the East Saxons, and established a further monastery, in Lastingham, where he caught the plague and died in 664.

In its heyday, St Peter's would have functioned not only as a church and a religious community but also as a hospital, library, school and farm, as well as a base for further missions. From there Cedd established other Christian centres at Mersea, Tilbury, Prittlewell and Upminster. The church continued as a place of worship for over 600 years, but eventually - perhaps owing to the remoteness of its location - passed out of use and was employed instead as a grain store, a shelter for cattle and even a hideout for smugglers and their spoils. (In the picture at the top of this post you can see where large holes were once knocked into the side walls when it was put to agricultural use.)

In 1920 the building was rediscovered. Excavations began, and it was soon realised that this was an ancient sacred place. St Peter's Chapel was restored as a place of worship in 1920.

I didn't get any shots of the interior (it's dark inside and I didn't want to disturb other visitors by using flash) but you can see some here.

The simple modern altar (which can be see bottom left here) was consecrated in 1985 jointly by the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford and the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood. Its supporting pillar contains three stones - one given by each of the three other places central to St Cedd's ministry: Lindisfarne, Iona and Lastingham.

For more info, the official St Peter's website is here. There's also an aerial view here; details of archaeological finds on the site here; and panoramas of the location and the chapel's interior here.
Here's the Muddy Island, on the horizon, as seen from the Bradwell shore.

Back to my yacht-for-the-day by rowing boat, and, following some welcome refreshment, off across the water to its mooring near Tollesbury, and thence by motor boat back into West Mersea at sundown.

Perfect end to a lovely afternoon.

More TBTM and some geese

Here are some more of this morning's photos. I'm not wildly happy with them, but they reflect the drabness of today's weather and, hey, a girl's gotta fill up her blog with something:

Picked up a take-out hot chocolate for my brek and was just conveying it mouthwards, perched on this jetty, when the dog tripped over, barged into my back and half of it ended up in my lap. Thanks, dog.

A great place to sit and muse.

As I was strolling along the sea wall just after dark last night, listening to the last noisy settlings-down of the birds - among them a loud outburst from some geese (greylags, I imagine, since the Brent geese don't usually start arriving until October) - I was reminded of my WildGoosefest last October. Which all seems mildly obsessive, looking back on it, but evidence of the ability of these birds - their wild, free spirit and their extraordinary journeys - to dig deep into the consciousness.

I'm ashamed to say that I never did finish William Feines' The Snow Geese last year. I must retrieve it from the lower slopes of the TBR mountain and reinstate it nearer the top. In the meantime, the uniform greyness of sky and sea these last couple of days has inspired me to reach again for Paul Gallicoe's The Snow Goose - one of the hardy marshland perennials in the bedside bookshelf - to accompany my weekend perambulations at the other end of the island.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


It's the last Friday of the school hols - so I made the most of my final peaceful early morning (children all sleeping off yet another late-ish night; so much for getting back into a proper routine . . . ho hum) to fill the lungs with sea air before work and see what the tide had brought in.

My trusty old camera finally threw in the towel a few weeks ago, and my family kindly presented me with a nice replacement. As with so much other gadgetry these days, however, I'm not entirely convinced that the upgraded and enhanced version is, in fact, that much of an improvement on the steam-driven model. (This sounds horribly ungrateful, which I'm truly not.) Apart from a few shaky pics from boats last week, I haven't really had a chance to try it out on my usual very limited range of subject matter. The light this morning wasn't great, but here are a few testers:

I wondered whether this last was by the same person who created the message I photographed here. If it was, then perhaps it marks the sad triumph of experience over hope. If it wasn't, then I hope the one to whom it is addressed sees it before the tide takes it away.

A farewell to the island itself, or just the end of a memorable holiday?

Messages in the sand - means to an end, or the ending of meaning?

Romeo, Juliet and Captain Baines

Have been catching up (several times and loudly) with this excellent Prom, specifically its first part, Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet - which is by far my favourite ballet music and would be very near the top, if I had such a list (but I don't, because I shun favourites lists), of my all-time favourite music of any kind.

I discovered part of it when I was 10 and it made the profoundest impression on me. The grand ball theme, "Montagues and Capulets" (see clip below), was used as the signature tune to a serialised adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' The Black Tulip, starring a youthful Simon Ward and Tessa Wyatt. I loved the drama, but most of all I was completely swept away by the grandeur of the music, while having absolutely no idea that it was something well-known, with a life of its own outside weekend tea-time telly.

When, a few years later, it was played in class by my music teacher and identified, I rushed out and bought the Classics For Pleasure LP version of the ballet suite, which rubbed shoulders uneasily in my prized record collection with Davids Cassidy and Essex. It has certainly outlasted both of those in my affections!

Was ever there a more searingly passionate and intense musical evocation of love? - its darkly dangerous, elemental aspects a constant undercurrent beneath the heady joy and wonder. I don't think so. (Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo are sublime in this version (skip the 2-min intro and cut straight to the Love!))

Actually, the reason I started musing on this particular topic was to wonder how often these days does routine telly-gawping introduce children to classical music which makes such an impression that it stays with them for the rest of their lives? I can't think of any. Can you?

Here's another unforgettable classic from the 1970s - the Adagio from Spartacus by Khachaturian, immortalised for ever in The Onedin Line:

(Which also, incidentally, included bits of Vaughan Williams's Fifth Symphony, de Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat and Shostakovich's First Symphony during the course of the action. Now there's something you don't get in the average episode of Doctor Who or Casualty.)

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

More Mersea Bloggers

Have you noticed? My blogroll of Mersea Bloggers - just down there on the right, under the book blogs - has recently doubled in length, with the addition of three new ones, all well worth a visit.

Teresa, of Tarviragus, has recently started a new blog devoted to her 'knitting adventures' - Give pearls away and rubies . . . - and it's a thing of real beauty. I'm a long-lapsed knitter, but when I visit blogs like this I can feel the first faint stirrings of an itch to wind yarn around needles and see what happens.

James and Maggie - artist/chef partners and proprietors of the island's excellent Artcafé, have arrived on the blogging scene this summer, too, with The Artist and the Tartist - 'musings on food, art, life and stuff'. A blog after my own heart if ever there was.

And I discovered today The hole behind the hedgerow , featuring the artwork of Tom Knight, who also plays in The Ragged String Band - which you can see and hear in action in the video below:

Sea Change

Occasionally one plucks a book from the TBR mountain, seemingly at random, which turns out to be Just Exactly Right.

For me, Sea Change: The Summer Voyage from East to West Scotland of the "Anassa", by Mairi Hedderwick - which has been sitting on the TBR pile for literally years, since I acquired it when last in the Hebrides - proved, last week, Precisely Perfect in Every Way.

Regular readers may in fact remember that I was resolved to make a start on it way back in May, when I mused about my family's love of the author's delightful Katie Morag stories . But I was sidetracked by other books and it became submerged. My 'summer reading' has ranged from sporadic to non-existent - just too much else going on. But I suddenly remembered it and it seemed like a good choice of beach reading in Mersea Week, when boats are - even more than usual - the island's defining theme.

Sea Change opens with a couple of quotes, the second of which is from Better Small Boat Sailing by John Fisher (1955): 'Two kinds of women take to boats - those who like it and those who fear to be left behind.'

Born in Gourock, Mairi Hedderwick took a job, at the age of 17, as a mother's help on the Island of Coll in the Hebrides and there began a life-long love affair with islands and small communities bounded by sea. After attending the Edinburgh College of Art, Mairi married and had two children. In 1962 she decided to opt out of the rat race, and the family moved to Coll where they lived in a house three miles from the nearest neighbour with no road or electricity, with the only water available from a well. The Isle of Struay, setting for the Katie Morag stories, is loosely based on Coll. Though some of her grandchildren live there still, on turning 60, Mairi decided it was time to stop being 'Grannie Island' and to move on to becoming 'Granma Mainland'. Sea Change is the story of the journey she decided to undertake to mark this great turning point in her life:

'I had decided to leave the island, and live on the mainland. But before the transition, I had also decided, the water in between would have to be propitiated - slowly, lingeringly, and bravely. It would be a fitting farewell to the seascape I have loved and known so well for so long - but always with my feet firmly planted on the rock and sand of the island.

I am in awe of the sea; I am also frightened by it. "But you lived on an island!" Ah, but that is the excitement of it! To be surrounded by such an element makes for a feeling of security - in storm or calm. To look out of a salt-encrusted window at a Force 10 in the bay, kettle bouncing and blistering on the hotplate, is quite the most secure of feelings. Equally, to hear the scritch-scratching of lazy sun-soaked wavelets on the shore, through wide-open windows in the long, light nights of June, that also confirms safe encirclement.'

'Safe encirclement' - the true words of a landlubbing islander - just like me!

Hedderwick and her unnamed 'Captain', an old family friend, purchase a rare classic cruiser, Anassa, built in Rangoon in 1954, and embark on a six-week voyage from Lossiemouth on the east coast of Scotland, down the Caledonian Canal and out to sea, through the Sound of Mull and northwards around the western coast as far as Loch Nevis.

'What better way to say farewell to my island home than sail the waters between island and mainland and explore the fingers of fjords that indent the west coast of Scotland? Be an adventurer in the last true wilderness with only the silver-pathed reflection of the moon and the stars to guide the way.'

The pair's roles are clearly defined. The (very experienced) Captain is firmly in charge of navigation and sailing, while Hedderwick is cook, bottlewasher, mistress of home comforts aboard their cramped temporary home and slightly reluctant and nervous 'crew'. And, of course, records the whole journey in ink and watercolour, as well as words. And what words! She writes so directly, so honestly and so darned well. We are party to her deepest lifelong fears of the sea, of seaweed, and of hideous, nameless sea-monsters; her persistent seasickness; her sense, always, that she is out of her element on a boat and that everything that goes wrong is entirely her fault. But her dogged persistence and determination that she will do this are hugely endearing and we will her to overcome her demons and succeed.

There are setbacks right from the start. They run aground in the Moray Firth, caught on an uncharted shingle bar at the mouth of the River Ness, brought down by storm floods:

'There is another split second of disorientation, followed by total incomprehension and panic. I scramble up the slope of the deck to the port gunwale, as evil swirling river water rushes over the starboard gunwale. Immediately the Captain is getting me into my survival suit and lifejacket. I'm incapable of any action save clinging to the rail and looking skywards. The inflatable dinghy takes for ever to unrope from the deck. The Captain's foot inflates it a crazy speed, at a crazy angle. I am waiting for Anassa to crack asunder or keel right over. Can I swim for the far shore, where people are already stopping their cars and staring? I will not swim over the yellow fingers of seaweed that dervish-dance along the submerged port side. How far will I have to jump to avoid them . . .?

As the seconds of panic ease into minutes of possibly reassuring stability, only because I move not a muscle and shallow breath, the Captain assesses our situation. "We'll just have to wait for the tide to come back in and lift her off. No problem. Just patience." . . . He is laughing. Would you believe it? As I relax my grip on the stays . . . my knees trembling with loosening tension, I know it has all been my fault. Guilt floods in with the enervation. What damage has been done to Anassa's keel and hull? My fault, my fault . . . I was at the helm . . . Day one of the Voyage and I am quite ready to pack it all in.'

There are many other moments of adversity - some nautical, some practical, some concerning tensions in the relationship between the frequently tetchy Captain and his often frightened and frustrated crewmember. Yet somehow, despite it all, they find a shared humour and slog on, according to their original plans as far as possible.

The author's acute ear and eye for character, so evident in the Katie Morag stories, make for some delicious, spot-on, descriptions of people and boats encountered en route. And her response to the eternally magnificent West Highland scenery is unfailingly fresh, never descending into guidebook cliche, for which one can only give her extra, grateful, points.

This is a spiritual journey and a personal challenge greater than it might, at first, appear. Yet despite the deeply serious, life-changing intent and effect of the voyage, Hedderwick is adorably self-effacing throughout. Just when we think she's really getting to grips with life afloat, she'll make some desperate, yearning reference to bubble baths or luxury loos. And near the end of the return trip, having triumphantly achieved her 'foody' objective of eating only freshly gathered sustenance (no tins or packets on board - lots of fresh-caught mackerel) for six weeks, she is suddenly overcome by a dispiriting suspicion that the Captain is in fact a secret Pot Noodle eater.

Set in some of the British coastline dearest to my own heart, and written in the slightly bewildered voice of the non-boaty person rather belatedly afloat, Sea Change spoke very directly to me and I found it sheer unputdownable delight from start to finish.

Fold-out reproductions of Hedderwick's lovely watercolour seascapes, and dozens of line sketches of life on board Anassa make the book visually interesting, too, but in my view the words alone amply convey the essential truths and beauties of the author's remarkable Sea Change.

Monday, 25 August 2008

La Mer

Hello, hello and apologies for prolonged absence. Busy times here at Musings. When I haven't been at Legoland, or chained to my desk getting some legal tomes off to print, I've been out enjoying Mersea Week, culminating in the Town Regatta, with lots of splashy fun, dodgems, fireworks, and messing about on boats.

Will get back to some proper blogging soon, I promise - but meanwhile, here's a nice painting, Regatta, by Raoul Dufy, a few pics from the week just gone, and a song.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

16 August 2008

Back from Berkshire and my parents' Golden Wedding celebrations. The forecast torrential rain held off, the sun shone brightly, and we all enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a very pleasant afternoon, chatting and playing in the garden.

My sister asked her florist to re-create our mother's wedding bouquet. It turned out more of an 'interpretation', but it looked OK and provided a nice surprise.

Fifty years of happy, loving and harmonious marriage - truly an achievement worth celebrating and an occasion on which to give thanks.