The trumpet shall sound

With a flourish, and a snippet from the Messiah, trumpeter extraordinaire Crispian Steele-Perkins made a brilliant impact in the Trumpet & Organ concert at St. John’s.

Crispian Steele-Perkins, Ian le Grice, Alastair Cutting
Crispian Steele-Perkins, Ian le Grice, Alastair Cutting

It was a bit of a journey back, in a way, for Crispian, as he is an ‘old boy’ of Copthorne Prep School; and indeed started his trumpet career at the school (see this photo!). He has done so much session work over the years, you will definitely have heard him play. If nowhere else, on the theme tune to the Antiques Roadshow. With his usual style, incorporating quite a lot of entertaining trumpet history, Crispian played brilliantly.

Concert flyer
Concert flyer

The organ (and piano, and even at one point harpsichord) accompaniment came from Ian le Grice, who having assisted Sir George Thalben-Ball, was later appointed assistant organist at the Temple church, where he still plays. Ian’s subtlety of playing coaxed some delicate sounds out of St. John’s organ, the like of which I have not heard before in over 13 years here. An exquisite combination with the trumpet.

The concert was in church on Pentecost evening; and thinking of God’s Holy Spirit, called Ruach in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, meaning ‘breath’, or ‘wind’, seemed entirely appropriate. That, and the entreaty from the psalmist reminding us to Praise God on the trumpet!

Following Celtic footsteps

In May 2008 I joined a handful of others on 5-day pilgrimage. I had been to Iona several times, but only ever seen LindisfarneHoly Island – from the train window. A year later, reminiscing our little pilgrimage to the North East, I thought I would put some photos etc. up.

Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddy' Island
Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddys' Island

Today (26 May) may be the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but I am reminded of comments by a previous Geordie Bishop of Sheffield, who over 20 years ago spoke to a group of us young curates of the diocese: his faith was built on the foundations laid by the British Christian Saints such as Cuthbert, Aidan, and Hilda, and he had little time for “those Johnny-come-lately Romans such as Augustine”. If memory serves correctly, it was these saints that adorned the stained-glass windows of the Woodlands parish, where I was then curate.

Cuthbert’s base in Lindisfarne became a key launchpad for Celtic Christianity in North-East England in the 7th Century. The island, still cut off from the mainland by the tide twice a day, is traditionally approached by pilgrims wading barefoot across the causeway. (We cheated, went by bus, and then walked the causeway at leisure a day or two later.)

Pilgrims Feet
Pilgrim's Feet

Being on Lindisfarne – in blustery May – was surprisingly idyllic. I can still hear the skylark’s singing in the sky above the meadows near Lindisfarne castle. Far from the physical extremes of weather, distance and austerity that drew Cuthbert and the early settlers there. We were a bit ‘fair-weather’ pilgrims; but the feeling of being in a ‘thin place‘, as the Celtic Christians called such holy places, where heaven and earth are somehow much closer, was still very evident to us. A short, but very inspiring and refreshing and spiritual few days.

Some of the photos from our time are in this online Lindisfarne photo gallery; and we made a short photo journal book, which can be downloded in pdf format from the link below.

Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook - click for 16Mb pdf download
Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook

Oh, and here’s another panoramic photo, also in my Flickr panoramic set. I probably have way to many photos – it could have beeen more! – per page on this blog, which probably makes it load very slowly; but they are fun…

Lindisfarne Panorama - links to original on Flickr
Lindisfarne Panorama

Panoramas, Hakas and Plinths

The Aotearoa-New Zealand High Commission in London is in a 18-storey tower-block called New Zealand House, a stones-throw from Trafalgar Square. The views from the top are spectacular – it is the tallest building for miles around that part of central London. Not quite as tall or as elegant as Skytower in Auckland, but good none-the-less.

NZ HOUSE
New Zealand House via Wikimedia
Skytower, Auckland, via 'kiwi' on Flickr

Historically, Kiwi citizens were able, on the production of a NZ passport to visit the penthouse suite at the top of the London tower block and appreciate it’s spectacular panoramic views.

For years, Kay had to wait downstairs, as Kiwi friends and visitors had the chance to view London from this unique vantage-point. When she finally got her own kiwi passport (she has dual UK/NZ nationality), and the opportunity to rise to the top floor, threats of terrorism prevented access to the public after all!

Kay has finally discovered a way to get up there though. A number of organisations run events in the penthouse suite, for example KEA, (‘New Zealand’s Global Talent Community’ – never backward in coming forward these Kiwis!) presents Continue reading “Panoramas, Hakas and Plinths”

Jason Carter’s Harp-Guitar

I got to most of Jason Carter‘s Harp-Guitar concert at the National Theatre last week.

Jason Carter and the Harp-Guitar
Jason Carter and the Harp-Guitar

I have known Jason since he was hardly out of his teens, and he came and played for us – both formally and informally – at The Nave a few times. Jason is now, among other things, a Peace Ambassador for Café Diplo (who have the brilliant tag-line Stop the Pain, Start the Music! ). Jason’s Harp-guitar was made by Stephen Sedgwick.

Violin bow on the Harp-Guitar
Violin bow on the Harp-Guitar

You can hear some of Jason’s music here; or follow him on Facebook.

I tried bootlegging a bit of video on my phone, but possibly just as well, it did not work. A much better idea is to see Jason’s video instead:


Jason Carter – Harp Guitar – Rubber Planet from Jason Carter on Vimeo.

Jason's video

If you get a chance, do go to listen to Jason.

Ten Thousand – and One Other

Aside: 10,001 on #OneAndOther .

I promise not to post too many times on the One & Other project on the Fourth Plinth site in Trafalgar Square, but in less than a fortnight over 10,000 people have signed up for an hour on the plinth.


Ten Thousand and One (&) Other
Ten Thousand and One (&) Other

When I first applied (see image on my last post in this thread) I was within the national totals, with a chance of getting in. You can see a regional map of how applications are going on the One & Other site.

You can track One & Other info on Twitter too. I have been logging/twittering the change percentages on there.

In the South East, the current chance of being picked in the ballot is 21.6%, down from 24% and 29% within the last week. The worst chance you stand of getting a place in the ballot is the London area, with over 4,500 people trying for just over 300 places, making only a 6.6% chance of being picked: your best chance remains to live in or move to Northern Ireland, with a 73% chance (currently) of getting picked.

I have had trouble finding the details about the Borsetshire figures, but I am sure that Lynda Snell is making too many waves about the whole project, keeping it all in the public eye, reducing everybody’s chance of getting on in the the so-called interests of maximising publicity and participation. Pah!

Simulators

Friend is into flight simulators. I think his are computer based simulators like X-Plane, for learning the rudiments of flight, for fun.

Gatwick FlightSim
Gatwick FlightSim

We have other simulators locally, being close to Gatwick, as much training of airline pilots takes place nearby. More than just for fun.


billywells22 and friends landing with a bump at Gatwick!

It got me thinking though about other simulators, perhaps for other jobs. If they can do it for flying aircraft and car driving perhaps they can do it for other professions…

I have occasionally been involved in interviewing people for new positions, and there are times when I wish we could put people on some sort of simulator, to see what they may be like in practice on the job. Will they be any good? I suppose some places do it in some ways – I remember being sent off on Teaching Practice from Westhill College in Birmingham (sadly no more), which is that of a sort job simulation for teachers.

The idea of an apprenticeship has been revived in recent years – and not just by Sir Alan. Working alongside a more experienced colleague, to learn from them, as many trades in Britain and abroad have done, has value. It is also a pattern we see modelled in the Bible, whether it is Moses & Joshua, Elijah & Elisha, or Paul & Timothy. Thinking about it, that is also why after sending people to theological college, after ordination, new clergy work as a curate alongside a senior colleague. I suspect that, as with some other simulators, not everybody qualifying via these various apprenticeships are always great practitioners. But many are, because of it.

“Life is not a rehearsal”, as David Brudnoy would like to remind us. That is often the received wisdom, that we only have one chance at this life, so get on with it; make the best of it.

Gavin Ashenden, however, would beg to differ. On his Sunday morning radio broadcast (26 April 2009, briefly available to listen again), he mooted the idea that for those who believe in a resurrection life, this is indeed the rehearsal. A chance to make mistakes, get things right. Perhaps this is the ultimate simulation.

Please, God…

“Please, God, no more colouring…” is the astute headline on today’s Church Times.

Church Times 1 May 2009
Please, God, no more colouring…

It comes from an article on encouraging spirituality amongst the very young, which unfortunately, if you are not a subscriber, you probably won’t be able to read. Good though.

We try to do good stuff with and for kids, introducing them to Jesus, but I am conscious the we still fall sadly short at times…

Public Platform

OK, so you have a chance for a national platform.

What are you going to do? What are you going to say?

Antony Gormley, of Angel of the North fame, has a new project up his sleeve. And maybe up your sleeve too.

Angel of the North - Antony Gormley
Angel of the North - Antony Gormley - photo Alastair Cutting

The Fourth Plinth, in the North-west corner of Trafalgar Square is the only one that does not have a permanent sculpture on it.

The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, an initiative of the Greater London Authority jointly funded by the Mayor of London and Arts Council England, has commissioned Antony Gormley/One & Other to produce a new work of art, and for it, he is planning to use 2,400 individuals each allowed on to the plinth for just one hour each, between July & October 2009.

One & Other
One & Other

How do I get onto the plinth?
You will be put onto the plinth by means of a special mobile lift designed for the purpose.
What can I do when I’m on the plinth?
You are free to do whatever you like, provided it’s legal!

What will I do, if I get the chance to be on there? Well, I think something visual, as I think something audio isn’t going to work well. I might, if I get selected, pursue a long-held interest in signing, possibly trying to use some British Sign Language. Wife & No.2 daughter are already well on in evening classes, and I am rather jealous. And without being offensive to those of other religions, I would like to do something on the plinth – should I get the chance – that reflects my Christian faith.

Well with the opportunity of such a national platform, being set on such a pedestal, what would you do?

When I got my application in, they were still under the 2,400 required (see above) – but fear not, all places are going to be randomly apportioned, making allowance for gender and approximate area distribution across the country. So if you would like to join in, than apply by clicking below. Looking at the regional map, after the first 24 hours, over 5,000 had applied, and proportionately, if you were from Northern Ireland, you stood the strongest chance of gaining a place.

One & Other

Amongst previous occupants of the Fourth Plinth is the beautiful Alison Lapper, in the white marble sculpture by Marc Quinn:

Alison Lapper Pregnant sculpture by Marc Quinn - photo Kokeshi
Alison Lapper Pregnant sculpture by Marc Quinn - photo Kokeshi

Made as she was pregnant and expecting her son Parys, Alison (an artist in her own right) has brought him up on her own, even though she was born without arms. The sculpture and the person are both exquisite; a moving, breathing Venus de Milo. Alison, like so many, is able in ways that I and others are not; and dis-abled is such an inappropriate, ill-informed and presumptive descriptor.

Hillsborough +20

My wife held the phone out the window… Her Liverpool-fan brother had hoped to see the match taking place literally at the bottom of our road, just 400m from our door of our new home in Sheffield. However, the closest John got this time was absorbing the sound of the atmosphere of fans passing our house towards Leppings Lane over the phone.

This was 15 April 1989. The occasion: the Liverpool vs. Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final taking place in Sheffield Wednesday‘s home-ground – Hillsborough. Before the day was out, Hillsborough’s name would forever become linked with the events beginning to unfold. These are some of my personal reminiscences of the following hours, never previously recorded – sorry for the long, and rather over-personal post.

We were not around during the actual start of the match, as we had visitors with us for the day. We had moved just three weeks before to the parish of Wadsley, on the north-west edge of Sheffield, where I was the new curate. We had gone out to walk in the Peak District, on the west edge of the parish, which also stretched east into the centre of Hillsborough. Pausing for an ice-cream from a van, the girl serving asked if we had heard about the match – we asked what the current score was. She said it had just been abandoned, and there was an emergency. They were calling for help from doctors and clergy. Two of our visiting friends were clergy.

Hillsborough 1989, in Independent: Getty Images
Hillsborough 1989, in Independent: Getty Images

So, back to the house quickly to find some of my spare ‘clergy shirts’ (with dog-collars). Pam was swamped in hers; broad-chested Andy could hardly button his. We went, as requested over the radio, to the hospital to await the arrival of the injured casualties from the ground. It soon became clear few were going to arrive. Many were dead, but very few were injured and hospitalised – despite there being over 40 ambulance available near the scene.

After waiting for some time, as the evening drew on, our friends headed back to their parishes. I had met up with the vicar of our parish, David, and he and I were re-directed back to the football ground. We walked through the Leppings Lane tunnel, stood on the terraces, amongst the bent and broken metalwork where fans were crushed to death. Coach loads of families from Liverpool were beginning to arrive. It was the Liverpool fans who had been at the Leppings Lane end, and all those who died were Liverpool fans.

There had not been many large-scale disasters in the UK before this, and national disaster procedures were not at all well prepared. On this occasion, clergy were joined by social workers with counseling skills, and asked to partner each other as families arrived. Perhaps it was a particularly agnostic or suspicious group of Sheffield’s social workers who looked across at the group of clergy, but for whatever reasons, they decided that perhaps they would be better partnered amongst themselves, leaving clergy out of the loop. As families disembarked from the coaches however, they immediately recognised the significance of the dog-collars and Sally Army uniforms, and flocked towards them, rather than the group of social workers.

Once inside the gym-turned-make-shift-morgue, some details were taken. Many families were already aware that their members had died – it was mainly groups of fans standing together, and when one of the group had died, the others immediately passed the information on, mainly by land-line home phones of local parishioners of mine, as it was long before the predominance of mobile phones.

I will not ever forget the wall with dozens of Polaroid photos of the deceased stuck on it – ‘do you recognise your son from any of these photos?’. Did I mention we did not have many good procedures in place?! 20 years on I am part of the Gatwick airport emergency chaplaincy team, and regularly train in case (God-forbid) of a future disaster. Our plans and procedures are so different; partly as a result of Hillsborough.

I was with ‘Andrew’s’ family. He was in his early 20s. Tall, strong, fit. A most unlikely crush victim. But he had had the life breath squeezed out of him.

By 3am, David the vicar said to me that probably one of us ought to go back home to bed, and lead the services on the Sunday 16th morning. It was a couple of weeks after Easter. We decided David was still deeply involved; I would go home, sleep briefly, then lead the services in church. Many parishioners were shocked by what had happened so close to us. A number of people had opened their doors to the fans, wandering around in need of refreshment and needing to contact families and friends back in Liverpool. Some of my folk shared the gruesome experience of the unfolding horror.

I was just about holding it together for the service, when the door busrt open, and 4 red-clad fans came in to be with other Christians in church in prayer on Sunday. A young lad of about 14, we were informed, had lost his mother yesterday in the crush. I can’t remember what plans I had had for the service – they promptly went out of the window. Our welcome as a church, and our prayers, felt so inadequate; but were so warmly received. I wish I had known their names.

A few days later, ‘Andrew’s’ family were back at the Sheffield city mortuary, for the formal identification. I went with them again. Then a few days later I went across to Liverpool, and at the request of the family, read a lesson at his funeral service. (Later I was embarrassed by the fact that there was another woman clergy colleague, much more experienced and pastorally sensitive than me, who had also been involved – but as a woman deacon, the Roman Catholic clergy leading the service did not know what to do with her, and I was the one who ended up reading.) Years later I saw ‘Andrew’s’ mother on tv, still involved in Hillsborough related campaigns.

Again a few days later, and the bishop of Sheffield, David Lunn, very wisely got the clergy who had most closely been involved, together for a bit of a de-brief. The Archbishop of York, John Habgood was there: as was one of the clergy involved a year before at in the Kegworth disaster. It was a most helpful and cathartic experience. It directly dealt with post-traumatic stress issues for me. Except for one thing…

There were a couple of tv crews there too, later, asking questions of those involved. I kept a very low profile. I waited until all the cameras were put away, and then takled one of the reporters. Much of the coverage was – rightly – focused on “Liverpool – a city in mourning“. But as I had shared in the shock and tears of members of my own congregation, I reminded the reporter that Sheffield too was a city in mourning. The football ground now the focus of the disaster had in the past regularly accommodated nearly three times the number of fans quite safely. Here were others who ached with pain for those who had died too. Thank you, said the reporter, I will bear that in mind. And a moment later, with a tap on my shoulder, he was back, with cameras unpacked again, asking me to go over the conversation again.

In a classic piece of sub-miss-editing, the trailer that went out before the main national news that evening said ‘local vicar speaks out against Liverpool’. I rang my bishop, in horror, claiming I was sure I had said no such thing. He wisely counseled me to await the actual broadcast, where indeed I had not, but simply pointed out Sheffield also shared in the grieving that Liverpool was experiencing.

Hillsborough Memorial, from Wiki
Hillsborough Memorial, from Wiki

The following year, 15 April 1990 fell on Easter Day. For me, for us at Wadsley parish on the edge of Hillsborough, no day could have helped us to better deal with the thoughts and emotions of the year before.

So, what reflections, 20 years on? David became chaplain to Sheffield Wednesday, a post he relished for a further 15 or so years. For me personally, to have been involved in Hillsborough was a painful, but rare privilege. It has been profoundly formative on my role as a parish priest. It has helped me find particular meaning in the resurrection story of Jesus. I am not sure I have any new answers that will make sense to others – but it has been a consistent bolster to my faith over the last 20 years.

May those who died, rest in peace. May those who grieve, also find peace in Jesus, the Prince of Peace.