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Showing posts from June, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Photo copyright Nick Wright 2009 I have a problem, but not the usual problem I have with blog posts. Usually I am scrabbling around trying to come up with something to write about. Today I am so overwhelmed with topics, I can't quite decide what to leave out. It's now our last week in England, and looking back at the three months or so since we left Dunedin, I suppose I have put 5 or 10 % of the things that have happened to us onto Available Light. There are some fairly minor but still remarkable things I might have commented on: in Spain for example, on the Camino there are drinking fountains all over the place. One of them has two taps. One dispenses water, the other wine: good, rich, fruity, deep red, Spanish wine in unlimited quantities and absolutely free. In Hong Kong there is a pet shop where I saw for sale a toucan and large trays of wriggling live maggots. There are some other things of more significance. On our last day on Iona I was privileged to help scatter the ash

Encountering Iona

Columba landed in Iona in 563. He had recently left Ireland after a dispute over a psalter had got out of hand and led to a pitched battle in which many men were killed. Filled with guilt and remorse, he was determined to work for the Lord by converting the pagan Picts and Gaels who inhabited the west coast of Scotland. So he arrived, on the stony beach of what is now Columba Bay and set to work to build a monastery as a base for his evangelical operations. The Island is small and the soil thin. It only rises a few hundred feet above sea level but it is riven with cliffs and crags and rocky outcrops. In winter the wind reaches 70 mph and there is rain all the year round. He prayed, built his community, prayed, collected a library of holy books and prayed. He became known as a holy man and many miracles were attributed to him; consequently, he was trusted by the Pictish chieftains and became arbiter and diplomat between them. His evangelical efforts were wildly successful. When I follo

Another Set of Surprises

Me at Walsingham. The fountain behind me is not the Holy Well. I spent most of the morning in a cafe at the railway station in Wymondham (pronounced 'windom'. Proud winner of UK Station Of The Year, 2005) with my brother discussing meditation. Guhyavajra has been teaching meditation for several decades now, and there is a lot I have to learn from him. Then this afternoon I took a long ride through Norfolk, past villages with wonderful names (Great and Little Snoring, Swaffham, Pudding Norton...) to Walsingham. I had already been to Lindisfarne, Iona and Mother Julian's Cell. Next week I will go to Canterbury, so Walsingham completes the round of British pilgrimage sites I had intended to visit. I am, as most who know me will tell you, from the Protestant end of the Anglican spectrum and Devotion to Our Lady has never featured greatly in my personal spiritual practice. I knew that the modern Anglican shrine was a twentieth century reinterpretation of the cult that had been


There's nothing quite as dull as listening to someone else's breathless account of their holiday, so I'll spare you the details. But we strolled around on Hadrians wall. We went to the Lake District and stayed a night on the shore of Buttermere in a B&B with quaintly creaking floors. We saw Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived and wrote many of his most famous poems. We had afternoon tea in Cleater Moor where my grandmother grew up. We visited the lovely town of Kendall and then went to Windermere. The lake is famous as a background to many poems of the Romantic era, and as the place near which Beatrix Potter lived . Windermere is the name of a lake, and also of the town which is perched on its shore. The town is a medium sized provincial centre and town and lake, both, have the great misfortune of being, of all the lakes, the most easily accessible from the South. We had the great misfortune of being there on a Sunday. People were everywhere. I am told that people in B

Carlisle Cathedral

I'd like to write a bit more about Iona but need to take a detour first. At the moment we are in Carlisle, Clemency's birthplace. There is a castle, a real one, and a magnificent cathedral and a maze of tiny streets opening onto a market square. It is all quite picturesque, although dreary and careworn at the same time: this is a working city, not a tourist oriented museum. We have looked at the street where Clemency was born and the vicarage (now a Buddhist centre. These Buddhists are everywhere!) where she grew up. And we have looked at the cathedral. Carlisle has a smallish cathedral, built in the late eleventh century to serve, alongside the castle, as a demonstration of Norman power. It has been overrun by the Scots on numerous occasions, and been subject to the indignities which various reform movements have inflicted on the church. Nevertheless, it is more completely original than most other cathedrals I have seen. The bulk of it is still the eleventh century original an

On the Road to Iona

This trip has been full of surprises. One surprise is that Iona has proven to be the point of it all. It is an astonishing place, and one which has affected me in ways I might take a very long time to explain to myself, let alone to anybody else. I'll write something about it later. We had a look at Cambridge, and then left Norwich and drove north early this week in Chronos time, but about ten years ago in Kairos time. First stop was Durham, with its huge and lovely cathedral and its quaint old city spread over the banks of a river and its university with students noisily bustling about the place everywhere you look. Then it was Lindisfarne. The holy island is just off the main road, and is approached via a causeway when the tide allows it. We got to the causeway at exactly the right time. It was dry enough to drive on, and there was a silvery mist obliterating the bounday between sea and sky. Sea birds flew and swam. People stopped to look and stayed looking, it was so ethereall


The house above is Abbey House, Cambridge. It is the oldest inhabited residential building in Cambridge, and also, reputedly, the most haunted. My brother Murray was involved in restoring it a few years ago and for a few months lived in it. On several occasions he had encounters with some of the house's non corporeal inhabitants, as did all of the members of his building crew. Some heard music playing late at night. Some saw a white woman, a small dog and/or a disembodied head moving eerily around the house. Some had encounters with objects which moved on their own, or lights which turned on and off independently of the switches. Some found it interesting. Many found it very scary indeed. Today Murray showed us around the house, and we saw none of that spooky stuff. We just saw a lovely old building with a somewhat random floor plan and floors and ceilings which are never, but never quite plumb. There is an old bakery and a wonderful six seater long drop toilet. It is all set in a

Another England

The day we left London there was a tube strike. A dispute over a couple of sacked drivers meant an overground train, two buses and an hour and a half to get from Putney to Liverpool St. Station. It only took that long for the second train of the morning to get us halfway up the country, and into a part of England where tube strikes are something that happens to someone else on a planet far far away. Norwich is bigger than Dunedin but smaller than Christchurch. We aren't actually staying in Norwich but just outside it where every village has a church: the old ones have square towers because they are Norman; the really old ones have round towers because they are Saxon. We are staying in a tiny cottage nestling in manicured parkland in what was once the glebe of an 18th century rectory. At the end of the drive is a church (square tower) and underneath the drive is, apparently, a plague pit. When the plague hit, more years ago than anyone can remember, the villagers of Hardingham reali

Old and New

Days have been full. I've made a good contact with the World Centre for Christian Meditation, been to a wide range of London churches, had lunch in CS Lewis' favourite Oxford pub and managed to see some of the sights. This morning we went to Reading, expressly to see a bit of embroidery. Clemency's great grandmother, Lady Elizabeth Wardle was the founder of the Leeke Embroidery Guild, and in 1886, along with 34 other embroiderers had constructed a faithful copy of the Bayeux tapestry. This object had been the stuff of family stories for as long as anybody can remember, well, back until 1886 at least. For reasons I won't bore you with, the tapestry was no longer in Leeke but in Reading, and seeing as we were more or less in the neighbourhood, we thought we might just as well go and take a look. We found the Reading museum, easy enough, there's not a lot else in the town, and Clemency introduced herself at the front desk. They were quite pleased to see us. Delighted,


Today we caught the tube across the city to Walthamstow to attend church in the parish where my friend Tony Cant ministers. Walthamstow, deep in the East end of London is a parish with four centres, and St. Luke's in the High street is one of them. Sort of. There is no real centre at St. Lukes if you make the mistake of thinking of church centres as buildings. There is a congregation, which meets in a house on Wednesday evenings for worship, instruction and Holy Communion. On Sundays they have a stall in the local farmers' market selling cheap but excellent fair trade coffee and cake. Tony manages the market and spends his Sunday morning helping people erect tents, minding the shop while stall holders nip out for a quick smoke, and making sure the whole thing runs smoothly. For an hour, while the market is running, a dozen or so people gather in a nearby cafe to read the Bible and eat a leisurely brunch and chat. It's church, Jim, but not as we know it. There is a public pa

Home Thoughts From Abroad

My grandfather, who I think had never been out of the South Island, always called England "home". Certainly it is home for Clemency and for nostalgic reasons, we entered it as she had left, 47 years ago, by ship. There was a fast train to Lille and then a slow one to Calais. After a bit of trouble finding the wharf - it was a public holiday in France and nothing, but nothing was working - we sat on the windy deck of a roll on roll off ferry, talking to a nice couple who were camino veterans and scanning the horizon for any sign of white cliffs. And there they were. White, and, no doubt about it, cliffs. For Clemency it was a powerful moment. She cried and sang Land of Hope and Glory. I thought of the reason she had never been back: that she had given most of her adult life to working for the Anglican Church on a stipend that made overseas travel utterly impossible. I thought of the fate and state of the wider church, and by comparison, of the wonderful support of our own par

Camino Pictures

I've put some pictures of the Camino Santiago here

Veni Sancte Spiritus

I didn't take any photos of worship at Taize. Cameras are not encouraged, and neither is talking. The community church isn't a spectacle or a show to be recorded and ticked off on one's inner checklist of must do experiences. It is not a place to meet and greet your chums. It is a place to be still enough to to lose your amnesia; to recall, no matter how dimly, the great truth we all keep forgetting: Emmanuel, God is with us. The church, like everything else at Taize is simple and functional. It is huge, a concrete building that reminds me of a school gymnasium. There are no seats, only a thin industrial felt covering glued to the gently sloping concrete floor. Benches and steps are provided around the edges for those unable to sit for too long on the floor, and there are a few low prayer stools. It sounds spartan, but it doesn't feel that way. The walls are sprayed with some sort of thick material to aid the acoustics and there is a display of cloth and candles at the


At Lyon our bodies began to protest at their treatment over the past few weeks. I developed a pain in my right shin. Clemency's feet began to swell. Strange how that works isn't it? When the pressure comes off, the body knows it can shut down and repair some of the damage. The trip to Taize through the Burgundy countryside is stunningly beautiful, and the village of Taize itself is chocolate box perfection; a group of large and immaculately kept old farmhouses gathered round a small, ancient church on a hillside overlooking rolling hills. White cattle, soft green woods, vineyards. You know, perfection. The trip was rendered slightly less wonderful by the growing pain in our lower limbs. On the day after our arrival my left ankle came out in sympathy by producing the worst case of gout I have ever had. I spent the first evening in a wheelchair.The atrocious Taize food didn't help of course, but in reality it was all the inner systems telling me 'time to stop, lad'. N