Tuesday, 24 December 2013

24th December: the manger waits

From this evening’s Crib Service at St Peter & St Paul, Great Missenden

And here’s my tower and moon - will we see this at the midnight service tonight?

Monday, 23 December 2013

23rd December: TS Eliot - Journey of the Magi

This is TS Eliot reading his poem “Journey of the Magi”

Dr Rowan Williams selected this poem in his Journey of the Archive. He wrote:

Another sort of birth meditation, this time about a particular birth, that of Jesus Christ. It begins famously with a passage from a seventeenth-century sermon ('All poets imitate', said Eliot, 'great poets plagiarise'), and ends with a carefully calculated set of anticlimaxes - very Eliot. What happens when a birth - Jesus's 'birth', as the poet starts re-discovering Christian faith - changes everything? The bizarre fact is that it can feel as if nothing has really changed, except that you have a sense that no one else has noticed what has happened - because something certainly has. 'Birth or death?' A new start that is felt only as the death of all that has been familiar; and yet the old world goes on, galloping aimlessly like the old white horse. Eliot never wanted to present religious faith as a nice cheerful answer to everyone's questions, but as an inner shift so deep that you could hardly notice it, yet giving a new perspective on everything and a new restlessness in a tired and chilly world. The flatness of the rhythms and phrasing, the utterly prosaic way of describing a miracle, all contribute to what turns out to be an intensely imagined and challenging poem that I first read as a boy and that still moves and disturbs me as much as it did then.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

21st December: Solstice

Today is the shortest day - the winter solstice is actually at 5:11 pm this afternoon. So tomorrow the days start to get longer - but don’t hold your breath: daylight on Sunday is only 1 second longer than today. By Christmas Day, however, things are a little better - daylight lasts 20 seconds longer than on Christmas Eve. You can see the full record of daylight times here.

Friday, 20 December 2013

20th December: Christmas Tree decorations

Here are some of the decorations on the trees at the recent Christmas Tree Festival at St Peter & St Paul, Great Missenden

Thursday, 19 December 2013

19th December: another of Jo Laurie's cartoons

Worried about over-eating over Christmas?

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

18th December: Benjamin Zephaniah - Talking Turkeys

Benjamin Zephaniah was on You and Yours yesterday lunchtime. He recited his poem Talking Turkeys. Benjamin is a vegetarian, so don’t expect a recipe!

Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos turkeys jus wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, an turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don't eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate an not on yu plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I'm on your side.

I got lots of friends who are turkeys
An all of dem fear christmas time,
Dey say 'Benj man, eh, I wanna enjoy it, 
But dose humans destroyed it
An humans are out of dere mind,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer an his wife.

Turkeys jus wanna play reggae
Turkeys jus wanna hip-hop
Havey you ever seen a nice young turkey saying,
'I cannot wait for de chop'?
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me.

I once knew a turkey His name was Turkey
He said 'Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?'
I said, 'I am not too sure Turkey
But it's nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy and waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash.'

So, be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
Invite dem indoors fe sum greens
Let dem eat cake an let dem partake
In a plate of organic grown beans,
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
An spare dem de cut of de knife,
Join Turkeys United an dey'll be delighted
An yu will mek new friends 'FOR LIFE'

17th December: Madonna and Child, Eric Gill

Will Gompertz chose this Christmas Card by Gill in his article about Christmas Art on Saturday. Although Gill spent much of his career just up the road in Speen, this engraving was made in 1922 when he was living in Ditchling near Lewes in Sussex.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

16 December: Mary, Did You Know? another track from Ken Harratt

Ken has recorded another great track. He writes “It's Mary, Did You Know?, a beautiful song with a the Christmas message presented in an innovative way, and one that is very effective. I've re-printed the words, but the arrangement I have done is just the band, no vocal. I hope that this leaves room for the listener to ponder the words.”

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
That your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Did you know
That your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You kiss the face of God?

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see
The deaf will hear
And the dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heavens perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the great 'I am'.

Friday, 13 December 2013

13th December: two Christmas Tree poems

A busy few days so I’m a little behind. Here are two Christmas Tree poems to go with the Christmas Tree Festival:

Christmas Tree - Laurence Smith

Star over all
Eye of the night
Stand on my tree
Magical sight
Green under frost
Green under snow
Green under tinsel
Glitter and glow
Applied with baubles
Silver and gold
Spangled with fire
Warm over cold.

Christmas Tree - Stanley Cook

Stores and filling stations prefer a roof
For Christmas Trees, away from the pilfering children,
And set the cost against their income tax;
Florists sell them at something a foot
And like the rest of Christmas illuminations
They use electricity in off-peak periods:
Enough to make steal an honest tree
From a Forestry Commission planting.
Isn’t there somewhere in the woods a fir
Beneath whose natural pagoda of branches
Deer bivouac, that dredges silver
From an accident of moonlight
And roofs the moss from snow that falls on higher ground?
Isn’t there a the child, beneath the presents
We heap upon him, that we are fond of?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

11th December: Evening Star

Another JMW Turner - The Evening Star. A bit early for the Christmas Eve star...

Monday, 9 December 2013

10th December: Choir of Angels

Another of Jo Laurie’s cartoons - I’m tempted to ask for suggested captions for this!

9th December: A Child of the Snows

GK Chesterton’s poem A Child of the Snows seems to resonate with a northern Advent, although we don’t have sleet or snow - yet. The poem shows us the Christmas story in a very different way.

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again;
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth,
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

One explanation of the poem says that Chesterton was inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where, near the end of the Crachet Family Christmas dinner, we read:

All this time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and by-and-bye they had a song, about a lost child travelling in the snow, from Tiny Tim, who had a plaintive little voice, and sang it very well indeed.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

8th December: The World Waits

Ken Harratt has provided today’s Advent calendar page. Ken writes:

I have specially composed this arrangement for solo piano of two Advent carols: O come, O come, and The Angel Gabriel. My thinking was, simply, footsteps. Either the journey we are all on in life, or the journey that Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem, or anything else that involves waiting to arrive, or waiting for an arrival


7th December: a new dawn

Nelson Mandela brought a new dawn to South Africa. Here’s a poem by Dennis Brutus - more about him below

Christmas 1965

Through the bruises and the spittle
the miasma of invective
and the scaled refractions of our prejudice
painfully man emerges.

Straw, shavings, hay
and the mist of the cows’ cloudbreath:
and through it flickered the lambence
of man’s inherent divinity.

Dennis Brutus, 1924 - 2009. Born in Salisbury (now Harare) in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) of coloured parents. Grew up and educated in South Africa. He taught English and Afrikaans in South African high schools. Because of his opposition to apartheid he was fired and banned from teaching and eventually jailed on Robben Island where he served 18 months’ hard labour. He was allowed to leave with his family and became an active campaigner. You can read an obituary here.

Tomorrow: Ken has arranged music for advent: The World Waits

Thursday, 5 December 2013

6th December: a poem by Ursula Fanthorpe

Ursula Fanthorpe used to wrote a poem every Christmas and send it out with her Christmas cards. Here’s one called BC:AD

This was the moment when Before 
Turned into After, and the future’s 
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing 
Happened. Only dull peace 
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans 
Could find nothing better to do 
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three 
Members of an obscure Persian sect 

Walked haphazard by starlight straight 
Into the kingdom of heaven.

Now for something very different...

One of Jo Laurie's Christmas cards - Ballast for Father Christmas

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


After yesterday’s rather energetic picture, here’s a peaceful scene from Sally Clark

... And this poem by Dylan Thomas seems to fit:

We Lying By Seasand

We lying by seasand, watching yellow
And the grave sea, mock who deride
Who follow the red rivers, hollow
Alcove of words out of cicada shade,
For in this yellow grave of sand and sea
A calling for colour calls with the wind
That's grave and gay as grave and sea
Sleeping on either hand.
The lunar silences, the silent tide
Lapping the still canals, the dry tide-master
Ribbed between desert and water storm,
Should cure our ills of the water
With a one-coloured calm;
The heavenly music over the sand
Sounds with the grains as they hurry
Hiding the golden mountains and mansions
Of the grave, gay, seaside land.
Bound by a sovereign strip, we lie,
Watch yellow, wish for wind to blow away
The strata of the shore and drown red rock;
But wishes breed not, neither
Can we fend off rock arrival,
Lie watching yellow until the golden weather
Breaks, O my heart's blood, like a heart and hill. 

Dylan Thomas

Advent as a journey

Advent is often described as a journey and although not at all Christmassy, one of my favourite journey works of art is JMW Turner’s Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway.

The train is crossing Brunel’s Maidenhead bridge over the Thames, a brick arch bridge which was for may years the widest and flattest brick arch in the world. It’s difficult to believe that this arch is made up of such small elements - but it’s still in use today!

Monday, 2 December 2013

The meaning of Advent - Oscar Romero

Sue has given me a copy of the quote that she reads at the start of every Advent which says it all to her. It’s by Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1980, reportedly because of his work with the poor:

Advent should admonish us to discover
in each brother or sister that we greet,
in each friend whose hand we shake,
in each beggar who asks for bread,
in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union,
in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves,
the face of Christ.

Then it would not be possible to rob them,
to cheat them,
to deny them their rights.

They are Christ,
and whatever is done to them
Christ will take as done to himself.

This is what Advent is:
Christ living among us